Monday, June 19, 2017

A FEW TRUTHS I KNOW – To My Beloved Grandchildren


Here are some things I’ve found to be true. You will not be able to wrap these words in your own truth until you are old enough to have seen their meaning for yourself, perhaps many times. But I hope that even a cursory look at them now might help open your heart and mind to them then.

Just because I—or you—know these truths, doesn’t mean they will be easy to live by; for some you will be trying your whole life. Merely caring enough to do so will make you a better person.

                                       ~  //  ~        ~  //  ~        ~  //  ~

  • What you see has more to do with what’s inside you than with what’s right in front of your eyes. People see what they expect to see. Expect beauty and goodness.
  • What you think or say is not who you are. What you do is who       you are.
  • You are not always in control. Sometimes other people get a turn. Often Nature will be in charge. And once in a while there's no choice but leaving it to pure dumb luck.
  • There are some outcomes whose realization depends not on trying harder to make them happen, but on having the patience and faith to LET them happen. You turn them over to a wisdom that’s greater than yours, and you’ll be surprised at how often things turn out for the best.


  • No matter what anyone may say, no matter what the daily news appears to show, the world and our fellow human beings are essentially kind and beautiful. Others have their own reasons for wanting you to doubt this. Don’t listen to them; keep expecting only the best of life.
  • In those rare instances where someone abuses that faith and threatens your health, freedom or peace, fight back as hard as you can. But do so not in fear, but as a wise parent disciplines a child—with calm, confident authority.
  • Attention is a zero-sum game: however many tasks you juggle, the sum total of your focus can never exceed 100 percent. Whenever possible, do one thing at a time and do it all the way.
  • There are many challenges whose solutions may prove to lie just beyond—perhaps even opposite—what you’ve been taught all your life. Welcome those chances to learn new ways; listen to your inborn curiosity, creativity and good instincts.
  • Whatever your spiritual beliefs, a fundamental truth that encompasses nearly all faiths is that none of us is alone. We are as one with every other living creature and with the earth. There is a constant, immutable love in this reality. You are loved by Creation—no matter what.


  • Pain, loss and sadness, like lousy weather, are parts of life. They’re given to us as opportunities to grow and to help. Storms remind us how wonderful the clear, sunny days are.
  • Take care of your body; it’s the only one you’ll ever have. Other people—or even your own emotions—may tempt you to abuse it, but choose instead to listen to your body. It will tell you what it needs.
  • People will have all kinds of opinions and warnings about what’s best for you—always do this; never eat that—but often the best advise is: everything in moderation.
  • Live in the moment as much as possible. Acknowledge the past for its lessons, but do not regret it. Prepare for the future, but do not fear it. The only time that’s real is now.
  • No matter how unsure and self-conscious you may feel, no matter how much you might envy others for being more attractive, accomplished or confident, know that many of them see you in that same way. Few will ever tell you this, but it is the truth.

ILLUSTRATION: StripyArms.com

         Seek a point of view—and a mindset— 

         from which you can see things as if for 
         the first time.
  • Many people tout their “resume” virtues, the strengths they recognize—or would like to recognize—in themselves. And then there are one’s “eulogy” virtues—the strengths others have seen. They are not always the same. Decide by which you want to live.
ILLUSTRATION: Dave Cutler
  • If you’re taught, as I was, to be modest and unassuming you may tend to avoid the limelight, deflect praise, minimize your own accomplishments. But remember, shining your own light—demonstrating your competence, confidence and faith—not only helps others, it just might show them how to do the same.
  • You may well aspire to do amazing things and change the world. But don’t let visions of the great keep you from doing good. To the world, you might be just one person, but to one person you might just be the world.
  • Two things you might think would fall at opposite ends of a scale—of time, size, space or value—might actually lie right next to each other…or even coincide. Large encompasses small; bad includes good; beauty has its ugly side. In every problem lie the seeds of a solution.


  • Honor your parents and grandparents. At times, they may seem to have nothing to do with your life. But, like Nature, they are part of you. Recognize their gifts and pass them on, and know that, no matter how unworthy of it you may feel, their love is unshakable.
  • Part of any child’s job in growing up is to question—and sometimes challenge—their parents’ authority. But your parents are amazing, loving, very smart people who do only what they feel best protects you and keeps you healthy and happy. It is only when you become an adult with children of your own that will you truly understand that.
  • No matter what your age, never let go of your childlike curiosity and wonder. Seek a point of view—and a mindset—from which you can see things as if for the first time.
  • Never stop learning. You may go through a stage in which your education seems like something not of your choosing; you do it simply because it’s expected. But there will come a day when the stakes in learning become yours alone. You choose it because of the places it can take you, or simply because you’d love to know. The sooner, the better. 



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Slew of Subarus? Who Knew?

The very first new car I ever bought—In Brattleboro, Vermont, back in 1973—was a wimpy little yellow Subaru DL sedan. I paid $2459 for it. I remember lamenting that its engine was the same size as that of a large-ish motorcycle.


Subarus have come a long ways. Now every time I visit Vermont, I’m struck by the staggering number of them—old and new—I see on the roads and streets.



I’m guessing Subarus, with their relatively small models and across-the-line four-wheel drive, resonate with not just practical needs—the snow, the mud, the rugged landscapes, the small-town and rural digs of many Vermonters—but also their values—love of the outdoors, respect for the environment, an appreciation of scale, responsible consumerism—and perhaps even, as touted in Subaru’s marketing, LOVE.

       The choice of a car is a statement, part 
       of the uniform we wear to show the world 
       our stripes.

THEY’RE MULTIPLYING!
Lately, I’ve been noticing a tremendous surge in the number of Subarus plying the streets of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis / St. Paul MN). I wondered if it was just my imagination—or perhaps a self-reinforcing result of my leaning toward a Subaru for my own next car.

So yesterday, while out walking, I conducted my own little survey. I postulated that, if my theory bore out, I’d spot—among the 45 or so vehicle brands sold in
the U.S.—at least four Subarus in the time it took me to walk the eight blocks
back home.

I saw seventeen. And this morning, of the 30 or so cars parked in my office building’s west lot, seven are Subarus.

I decided to check out my theory, and I find—at, of all places, iSeeCars.com—a
list of the ten states where Subarus are most popular. No surprise to me: Vermont is number one. But among the other nine, Minnesota is nowhere to be seen.
 
           Might folks be at least trying to make 

           a modest, sensible choice?


BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
So what’s going on? Are Subarus even more popular than I thought in the rest of the country? Has the apparent Subaru boom here in the Twin Cities happened so recently that it simply hasn’t yet made the iSeeCars list?

Perhaps it’s just my neighborhood; like maybe we’re sort of the Vermont of Twin Cities communities. I’ll keep my eyes open as I wander around the rest of the metro, but I suspect the phenomenon is widespread.

My reasoning might best be explained in its own post here, but I’ll bet it has something to do not just with consumers’ needs and the effectiveness of Subaru’s marketing, but with the mood of the nation in this bizarre, post-reason period in
our history.


Given how difficult it is to function in this culture without a car, might more
and more folks, given the paucity of practical alternatives, be at least trying to
make a modest, sensible choice—one that lays claim, symbolically as much as functionally, to their values in the face of the most sweeping attack by an administration on wise environmental stewardship seen in our lifetime?

After all, the choice of a car says a lot about a person. It involves much more than
a practical convergence of needs and features. It’s a statement of personality and beliefs, part of the uniform we wear to show the world our stripes.


The hopeful yet misguided Trump base can have their rattletraps and pickups. And the new oligarchy they’ve chosen to lead them—the only true beneficiaries of this regime’s largesse—can have their Range Rovers, Escalades and stretch limos.

Me? I have more concern and more hope for my grandchildren's future than that...and I’m secure with my masculinity; I’ll take that wimpy little Subaru.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

MY AMAZON ADVENTURE – The Nature of It All

Check out Part IV – Nature – of my series about a recent cruise on the upper reaches of the Amazon River in Peru. It's on my travel blog, El Viajero Contento.


Monday, May 29, 2017

MEANWHILE Back in the Amazon Rainforest...

Check out Part III – Art & Craft – of my series about a recent cruise on the upper reaches of the Amazon River in Peru. It's on my travel blog, El Viajero Contento.



Friday, May 19, 2017

THIN SPOTS – Close Encounters With Eternity

Recently, the mother of my dear old friend, Charlie, died. She was an incredible woman, smart, civically engaged and, at 97, still living independently. As a minister—ordained when she was in her sixties—and someone with a life-long passion for music, it came as no surprise that she’d orchestrated much of her own beautiful memorial service.

Some time before her death, while discussing that eventuality with her minister,
she had noted some of the most important aspects of her own, personal spirituality. Among them was her belief that human beings—at least those of us open to the possibility—regularly encounter “thin spots” in the self-made barrier between our largely-mundane daily busy-ness and other, more transcendental realities.

She felt it was her job, as a minister, to encourage people’s awareness of those convergences, because, among other reasons, they are good places to find God.


          If I could choose between this state and 
          deep sleep, I’m not sure I could tell you 
          which I’d pick.

BLISSFULLY AWAKE
The other night, perhaps facilitated by that posthumous sermonette, I encountered one of those thin spots in my consciousness.

I’d already had a unique and memorable night. Unable to sleep for some reason—
I seldom have that problem—I’d been lying there, resting quite nicely, though acutely aware of my surroundings, my body, my thoughts. It wasn’t that anything in particular was on my mind, nor even that I was unable to turn off my thoughts;
I truly wasn’t thinking of much more than how amazingly comfortable I was, both physically and mentally.

Instead of any sense of urgency or frustration with not being able to sleep, I just felt utterly at peace. I remember thinking, If I could choose between this state and deep sleep, I’m not sure I could tell you which I’d pick.

Now, to be honest, I can’t say I might not have drifted briefly off to sleep now and then during the night, but it sure didn’t seem that way.

            A tear—a real, cool, liquid tear—
            rolled down my cheek.

THROUGH THE MEMBRANE

Then, some time in the wee hours, I was suddenly aware of a presence. Not a flesh-and-blood presence, but a presence nonetheless. It was my dad. (In the 20 years since he died, I’ve had just one other significant connection with him, so I knew right away this was something special.)


We talked. I don’t remember saying anything out loud, but we talked. My “voice” felt real and true, and his…well, it seemed completely spontaneous, by all ap-
pearances his true voice, not one of my own creation.

So I asked Dad some of the questions I, because of both my reserve and his, had never thought to bring up while he was alive. “What were some of the high points of your life?” I asked. Without hesitation, he said, “You and your brother.” A tear—a real, cool, liquid tear—rolled down my cheek.

“Were you happy as an old man?” I asked. “You and mom seemed pretty detached by then, if not downright fed up with each other.” He replied, “Oh, you should have seen us when we were younger! When we got married, we were happy…and we were in love. Back then, we could talk, we laughed, we were affectionate...or as affectionate as conservative, German Americans could be (he winked)—we shared dreams…”

“Yeah, but were you happy during your final years, after you sold your homes and business?” I pushed. He thought for a few seconds. “I guess it was a different kind of happiness, the kind that comes from fulfilling a responsibility. Once I got your mom situated where I knew she’d be looked after, and sewed up some financial matters, I figured I’d fulfilled my purpose. I kind of let go.”

     In a kind of role reversal, I felt I’d taken 
     on the role of parent, and he was the child.

Dad and I talked for quite a while. I filled him in on my life since he passed away—during much of which he smiled and nodded knowingly, as if he already knew. I had to catch myself a couple of times running on about myself and tried to turn the conversation back to him. After all, I told him, this was about him.

He disagreed, but I guess that’s one reason this encounter was so amazingly special; in a kind of role reversal, I felt I’d taken on the role of parent, and he was the child.

I told him how proud of him I was…and am, and how much I love him. And how sorry I am that I wasn’t able to express that pride and love more overtly while he was still alive. In one of Dad’s patented responses—usually issued when the rare mention of love came up—he said simply, with that familiar, twinkly-eyed smile of his, “Ditto!”

Finally—I don’t know if I eventually did drift off to sleep or if it happened consciously—we said our good-byes. But not before I made him promise that he’d come back. He promised…and I’m waiting...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

WONDERS OF THE RIVER SEA


See the new series about my Peruvian Amazon River adventures at my travel blog, El Viajero Contento.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

OFF TO THE AMAZON

Some people experience a special kind of bliss when they’re near the ocean. Others find this fulfillment from being in the mountains, or the forest or the desert…
I find my special joy of place on rivers.

THERE'S A RIVER...AND THEN THERE'S THE AMAZON
I recall, as a boy, having a special fascination—along with tornadoes and the sinking of the Titanic—with the Amazon River. Stories, maps, photos, news reports—I couldn’t get enough of them. I dreamed of one day seeing the great river for myself.

PHOTO: Enrique Castro-Mendivil / Reuters

Well, I’ve been in a tornado; I’ve seen the Titanic—okay, I guess James Cameron's documentary footage will have to suffice; and now, at last, I’ll be fulfilling that final dream, being on the Amazon.

Tomorrow, I fly to Lima, where I’ll meet my brother, Dan, for the adventure of a lifetime. After a couple of days exploring the Peruvian capital, we fly for two hours northeast over the Andes to Iquitos, where we board La Perla, a 24-passenger river boat, for a week cruising the upper reaches of what is arguably the world’s largest and most important river. *

I’m not at all sure if I’ll have access to the Internet—I guess I’ll be disappointed if we end up no further from “civilization” than that—but I promise to journal and take lots of photos. I’ll look forward to producing a series of posts here about the experience. Stay tuned...

PHOTO: RainforestCruises.com

* Size of watershed: 7,000,000 square kilometers (more than double that of the Mississippi)
Length of river: 6,296 km, (second only to the Nile and 326 km longer than the Mississippi)
Discharge: 209,000 cubic meters per second (12 times that of the Mississippi)

 
There is another alphabet, whispering from every leaf, singing from every river, shimmering from every sky. ~ DEJAN STOJANOVIC
 

Friday, April 7, 2017

CHICKEN BUS TO PETATLAN – Plucking Away At My Own Joy

“Peta Peta Peta!” The young ayudante hangs nonchalantly out the clunky bus’s open door barking our destination to folks along Zihuatanejo’s bustling back streets. 

My compadre, Silverio, and my friend, Larry, have come down here to the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero, Mexico from Minnesota to help me celebrate my birthday. And today we’ve hopped aboard the second-class “chicken” bus for the hour-long trip to Petatlán, a pueblo of 25,000 located 35 kilometers southeast of Zihuatanejo.

(Petatlán is best known for two things. Foremost is the Sanctuary of the Padre Jesús de Petatlán, a church less notable for its architecture than its display of a highly-revered statue depicting Christ collapsing under the weight of the Cross, steeped in legend about its mysterious discovery in the 16th century. The town’s other claim to fame is its busy handcrafted gold jewelry market.)


OPENING MORE THAN WINDOWS
Among the first aboard the bus, the three of us spread out, grabbing the few precious seats with both unobstructed views and working windows.

Finally clearing Zihua’s maze of narrow streets, we head out into the countryside on federal highway 200. It’s hot, already in the upper 80s, and the constant humidity wafting in over La Costa Grande from the Pacific belies the tawny, dry-season hue of much of the landscape. It’s mostly just the irrigated commercial groves of coconut palm and mango that remain green this time of year.


By now a few more windows have been pried open and the moving air feels delicious. The ayudante, the fingers of one hand neatly interlaced with color-coded peso bills, totters down the swaying aisle collecting the 30-peso fare.

At the stop for Los Achotes, a few folks get off and a lovely young woman and her three-year-old daughter get on and sit down across the aisle from me. I say, “Hola, buenas tardes,” and both turn toward me with the kind of generous, open-hearted smiles I’ve come to associate with Mexicans.

Somehow, those smiles penetrate the corners of my consciousness, places I try
to keep open, but which too often evade the light of day. It’s as if all my petty concerns —boarding the right bus, having change for the fare, getting dropped off at the right stop, the quality of my Spanish, and making sure my buddies have a good time—simply evaporate.

  I feel completely comfortable, completely safe,  
  completely engaged, completely…well, complete.

MULTI-SENSING
Suddenly, I’m utterly in the moment, acutely aware of all my senses. I’m struck by the colors and textures of the bus’s gaudy interior, the passing scenery, the people’s clothing and skin; the happy, polka-like strains of  ranchero music the driver’s just cranked up; the smell of that slightly sweet, smoky, sweaty breeze.

I’m sitting there, turned slightly toward the aisle, one arm draped easily over the back of the adjacent seat, feeling sublimely relaxed. Here I am, I reflect, on the chicken bus to Petatlán, a shaky, noisy metal box with hard, lumpy seats and about enough leg room for a child.

And there’s absolutely no place on earth I’d rather be.

In the company of good friends, immersed in a culture I believe I’ve inhabited in a previous life, swept up in exactly the kind of adventure I so often dream of, I feel completely comfortable, completely safe, completely engaged, completely…well, complete.

I’m happy…very happy…maybe as happy as I’ve ever been!

I savor it as long as I can, but my reverie soon starts fraying at the edges, nibbled by other thoughts. As it unravels, I scan memory for other times I’ve experienced such quiet, certain joy; there have been, I regret to say, very few.

         As my guilt and my self-respect have this 
         nervous little dance, I wonder what kind 
         of a person I really am.

THE “SHOULDS,” “CANS” AND “MUSTS” OF WANDERLUST
Now I’ve never been very good at preventing second thoughts from muddling first ones. And so the rest of the trip is tinged with guilt as I wonder how a man as blessed as I’ve been could possibly count a bus ride among his peak experiences.

For God’s sake, I’m thinking, you’ve been gifted with two amazing children and two grandchildren. You married an incredible woman who has enriched your life. You’ve been to  so many amazing places and so deeply bonded with Nature. You’ve seen loved ones face mortal challenges and survive. You’ve given and gotten so much love.


And yet you consider the simple, fleeting joy you’re experiencing on this bus to
be among the happiest moments of your life? Have I unmasked some kind of shallowness here…or am I just being honest and spontaneous?

PHOTO: HealthyPlace.com
As my guilt and my self-respect have this nervous little dance, I wonder what kind of a person I really am. Should I try to change which of my life experiences most tap into my soul? Or should I just accept that this is an authentic part of who I am—the kind of stuff I live for—even though I can barely avoid calling it selfish?

THE CHOICE
By the time we pull off onto the dusty bus stop at Petatlán, I’ve come to at least a tentative peace with my dilemma. In a kinder assessment of myself I realize that the joy I’ve just experienced in no way diminishes those other, perhaps weightier, gifts of life and love I’ve received.

I conclude that I can no more choose which of life’s experiences truly move me or bring me joy than I can which joke makes me laugh. No, I figure, those opportunities, those all-too-rare gifts of perfect presence, choose me.

And that’s just going to have to be okay.

So, as my friends and I start up the long steps to the church and zocalo, I turn and watch our bus pull away in a cloud of dust. I celebrate the few moments of precious clarity and centered-ness I’ve just enjoyed. And I chuckle to myself at the thought of my plucking, clucking little self doubts…still on that bus.


Friday, March 31, 2017

MARAVILLAS PEQUENAS 9 – Small Wonders, Mexican Style

One too many mescals for Raggedy Andy.

Blue agave leaves. An impression.

Don't piss here, you bastards!

An artisan beads a fine Huichol mask.

He couldn't be...not in the bucket!

The heroic pescador by the fish market

A man whose story I'd like to hear – Petatlán

Padre Jesús de Petatlán

Croton – Codiaeum variegatum

Santuario Nacional del Santo Señor de Petatlán

Roseate spoonbills nesting at Playa Linda

Behind bars – Building the new Kau Kan Kondos

Wood storks at Playa Linda

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

MARAVILLAS PEQUENAS 8 – Small Wonders, Mexican Style

Tinaco, angel and green

Termite trunk highway

Emiliano Zapata?

Iguana hold your hand!

Got crackers?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

MARAVILLAS PEQUENAS 7 – Small Wonders, Mexican Style

A few shots from our visit to El Refugio de Potosí in La Barra de Potosí, Guerrero, Mexico.


Sperm whale skeleton

Papagaio bathing

Porcupine

Frangipani flowers

Hola!

Green iguana


Los Morros from El Refugio de Potosí