There is a word…but not in English. Here’s one to add to your list, along with Schadenfreude and Cafuné (Portuguese for running your hands through the hair of someone you love, according to 41 Fascinating Words From Other Languages We Should Definitely Import to English) :
Dayenu. Or, as it says on our refrigerator magnet,
Jews and other folk who participate in Passover will recognize this word from the Seder ceremony. In Hebrew it means, roughly, “It would have been enough…” with the added connotation of, “…and yet, God did even more! Wow!”
Passover may be behind us for this year, but the season of Dayenu is just getting going, at least here on Lopez Island. Our normally gorgeous woods and fields have somehow become even gorgeouser (hey, I just invented Word #42 for the list) with wildflowers.
Like our woodlands even needed decorating–let alone by hot-pink orchids that look like something invented made by fairies…
…or golden-blooming succulents whose leaves want to get in on the color wheel action themselves:
And those are “just” the wildflowers. Then there are the lilacs planted all over our island, some 100 years old. Don’t get me started on lilacs. Or better yet, do–then read about them in this blog post I wrote some years ago on that heavenly-scented topic.
Extra color, extra scent, in a place which makes daily work of overloading our senses, year ’round? What else is there to say? At a loss for ways to express the feeling, I wrote this song–again, “some years ago.”
Had the rising sun not overwhelmed me…Dayenu.
Had my humble daily bread not filled me…Dayenu.
Had your arms not simply held me…Dayenu.
Had the lilacs never breathed so sweetly…Dayenu.
Had the wild fawn not leapt so neatly…Dayenu.
Had you not loved me so completely…Dayenu.
It would have been enough,
It would have blessed us to the core.
Had this morning been our only gift,
We would not have needed more.
Had the sunset not shanghaied my breathing…Dayenu.
Had the starlight not adorned the evening…Dayenu.
Had you not promised never leaving…Dayenu.
So my “Dayenu” these days–apart from my Mate–is spring flowers, wildand tame. What are yours? What’s better than sharing a cup that’s runnething over?
Costa Rica, I’ve learned, is the size of West Virginia. But with such diversity, it’s really better to imagine all of California scrunched into the Almost Heaven state. Which is why, just a few hours after leaving the mountains with down vests on, we were sweating in our tank tops down on the beach.
Luckily for us, Son One’s company, Liana Travels, is all about lesser-known spots, so instead of parking us on the obvious stretches of sand we were driving along, he guided his rental car down a very iffy road, crossed a stream, and introduced us to Windows Beach, Playa Las Ventanas, where we could splash, but then rest in the shade.
Our overnight was Hacienda Barú, a wonderful private preserve, reclaimed from cattle pastures and rice fields by an American, starting in the 1970s. (Ahead of his time, that guy.) He planted a ton of trees preferred by wildlife, and slowly, over the decades, lured the monkeys and sloths and coatis back.
Some of the trees were just plain pretty…
…and some, like this spiky monster, I learned were a sloth favorite.
Seems the mama sloths, when they want to wean their babies, go into the spiky forest and leave their babies. The babies take much longer to work their way out of the spiny trees, and by the time they get home–all done, no more nursing!
The cabins themselves were worth the stay…
…but the best thing about Hacienda Barú was its trail system.
I went out for a solo walk the morning of our departure, and just dug the heck out of the quintessential jungliness.
Our last lowland stop, before disappearing into the REAL jungle, was the town of Sierpe. Son One booked us a kayak tour down the Sierpe River.
Since rivers aren’t necessarily his thing (yet), Son One booked us a guide, Henry, who also happened to be a member of the Boruca People, indigenous Costa Ricans especially famous for their mask-making and weaving. From Henry, we learned subtle differences in the habits of herons, and Boruca legends.
By the time we returned to Sierpe, I was thrilled with all the wildlife, but ready to get out of the sun.
After a cool drink, it was time to condense our stuff into smaller bags. Leave the iPad in the rental car; no wifi where we were heading. But maybe…just maybe…one of these guys?
Tune in next time for Parte Cuatro, o, el fín emocionante.
This was actually my third time in Costa Rica. The Mate and I visited Son One when he was first working there six years ago. Then there was the time my zoologist dad took me deep into the jungle for an Organization of Tropical States conference when I was sixteen (I was too scared of the rainforest to walk alone–correctly, as it turned out, because the assembled biologists later discovered an extremely venomous fer-de-lance viper on the trail).
But it’s still a shock to realize how DIFFERENT Nature is there. Oh, it looks inviting as all get-out, from above.
But get in close, and it’s red in tooth and claw–even the plants. Like this ficus, or Strangler Fig, enthusiastically murdering its host tree.
In the jungle, it’s everyone for itself. Even a lowly fencepost becomes a host.
And don’t even get me started on the army ants. (Not pictured: army ants. You’re welcome.)
Because Son One is a classic naturalist, which is to say nuts about dangerous critters, he was REALLY hoping for a sighting of either a puma or a fer-de-lance–preferably both. We struck out on both, this trip, although we did score some stunningly large paw prints, and this official Pile o’ Puma Poop on the trail:
Son One did manage to find one fer-de-lance (terciopelo, in Spanish, which means velvet–has anyone actually stroked that snake??), but he hasn’t sent me the photo yet, so here’s one from our last visit:
But of course, of COURSE, Costa Rica is way more than things that want to kill you. It’s also a splendid riot of sound and scent and color. Like this motmot which welcomed us on our first afternoon:
And of course, of COURSE…monkeys. Since Son One’s specialty is taking people far from the madding crowd, we had an entire troupe of Capuchins to ourselves. (Here’s where I decided I need to invest in a zoom lens for my phone, but you get the idea.)
This thrilling wildlife encounter was somewhat undermined when we stopped for coffee at a place which puts out fruit for the birds…which the monkeys, of course, gorge on.
As we headed back down toward the lowlands on a road whose steepness I couldn’t possibly capture with my phone, this tree caught me eye. The locals call it “Gringo Tree” because it looks like a white person with bad sunburn. But this particular one looked like E.T.
I‘m not saying North American Nature doesn’t have weird stuff. Just not THIS weird. Or wonderful. See you in the lowlands for Part 3!
If these images gross you out, you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the kind of Costa Rica tour The Mate and I just went on, led by Son One, as a beta-test of his budding ecotour company, Liana Travels. Some of what we did required…let’s just say…trust. But in every way, our trust was repaid. Like putting that weird glop in my mouth, which just happens to be passionfruit, and just happens to taste…
Tangy, sweet, magical–ok, still a weird mix of gloppy and crunchy, but that flavor! Later, when we saw passionflower vines in bloom, I fell even more in love.
So I decided that passionfruit was a pretty good metaphor for Liana Travels. Go ahead, take a bite. First comes the surprise, then the reward.
Some of those surprises, I have to admit, were NOT pleasant, but those had to do with travel during COVID, not with Son One’s planning. Example #1: Upon arrival at San Jose airport, we stood in the Immigration line for 2 and a quarter HOURS, because there were only four clerks processing many airplanes’ worth of travelers. (I was certain we were catching COVID every moment we stood there. We didn’t.) Example #2: While waiting for our required test results to exit the country, our flight was cancelled. But the stress of those surprises was made up for by watching Son One’s calm, competent responses.
In upcoming posts, I’ll give a more conventional travelogue. But as an intro, here are two more surprises. #1, have you heard of the famous invasive Cane Toads of Australia? Turns out they were imported from Central America! I hadn’t known that, and found the information as fascinating as the huge toads are ugly.
And #2, how about this flower? Here it is closed up:
And here it is open. I asked Son One its name. His answer: “They call it Butthole Flower.”
Watch this space for more on our off-the-beaten-path Costa Rican adventures. ¡Puravida!
Except for a handful of exotics here and there, we’re about out of fall color here in Washington State.
Great. Just in time for all that extra darkness.
Many folks I know are working hard to adjust their habits or their personal environments, trying to stay one step ahead of seasonal gloom. And even though I’m a very un-SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) person, I find myself doing my own version of this on my walks, snapping photos of whatever brightness I can find during a sunbreak in an otherwise dingy forest.
But what about when there is no sun? We have a LOT of those days here in the Pacific North-wet.
Ugh, why even bother to go out? Just plug in the Christmas lights.
I won’t dignify that question with a response, except to say this: today, on one of the greyest, most monochromatic days of the year, I made a startling discovery about light. Shining light. Turns out, our most emblematic native tree, the madrona, practically glows on days like these.
Now, this particular tree (on my neighbors’ property) is one I’ve loved for two decades; I even adopted its crazy loopy branches as my emblem when I became an author. (That’s another story.)
But my POINT is, despite a close relationship with this tree, I had never really thought about how its bark gleams when wet.
And not just “my” tree–any madrona! Red or green, there’s just something about their surface, more skin than bark, that turns to spotlit satin in the rain.
After rhapsodizing for a while over what’s been under my nose for years upon rainy years, I headed home…and stopped dead at a patch of salal. Guess what?
So. Moral of the story: in this greyest of seasons in this greyest of regions, there’s plenty of light out there. All we have to do is accept the gift of gleam where we find it.
Anyone else have their own version of “the gleam”–maybe in a region much different from mine? Please share a description!
As March draws to a close, this will be my last Road Trip Retro post for now–and hopefully, ever! This is the time of year when, in “normal” years, we’d have just gotten settled back into the home routine: me working at the bakery, The Mate clearing fallen branches around the property and getting the lawn mower in shape.
It’s not a “normal” year. But things are turning that way, even though I’ll never think of “normal” again. (The other day I went into a friend’s house for the first time in 14 months and felt like crying with joy.)
So let’s finish up with Road Trip VIII, shall we? That year, three years ago, I became aware that we had fallen into a pattern with our first couple of road weeks. So I determined to NOTICE stuff that I might have bypassed before. Starting with this amazing “We Can Do It!”” cloud in Tacoma.
Passing out of Oregon into California on Rt. 199 (a fave), I captured this sign which we’ve always enjoyed:
Visiting our favorite Prairie Creek redwoods, I decided to highlight the less obvious parts of the forest.
Visiting our wee cuzzies in Oakland, I tried to capture the sense of their neighborhood…
…and just up the road in Berkeley, this wonderful memorial to the Free Speech movement:
Next up, SoCal. With our sons long graduated from college and my grandmother long since passed away, we visited a more obscure bit of coast, just the two of us…
…before heading into LA for the usual family & friends visits. Then, the Big Left Turn, and off into Arizona, where, for once, we rented a cabin near our favorite park-nobody-seems-to-have-heard-of, the Chiricahua National Monument.
In Albuquerque, I captured a piece of a “ho-hum hike” at the base of the Sandia range, right there in town…
…and finally remembered to give their spectacular cuisine its photographic due:
Speaking of noticing: we also finally decided to let Oklahoma show us its best stuff. Frequently terrible weather (blizzards, tornadoes) keeps us from crossing OK, but in 2018 we stayed in TWO different state park cabins, at either end of the state.
Nothing breathtaking, but very pleasant (too cold for us to camp). And I got to see this porcupine asleep high in a cottonwood!
The eastern park, Lake o’ the Cherokees, featured 1930s-era cabins made by the WPA.
Passing through Missouri (another rarity on our eastbound journeys), we stopped to recreate in some federal scenic river land. The name escapes me–but this beaver didn’t!
Cutting down through Tennessee, we treated ourselves to a date in Nashville.
With our friends in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, I tried to focus more on the background of the place–its rhododendron thickets…
…though who can resist a mountain sunrise?
At the apex of our journey–my home stompin’ grounds of Durham and Chapel Hill, NC–I focused my camera on some of my personal NC icons:
…and, of course, the culmination of every annual NC pilgrimage, the ACC Men’s Basketball feast:
Heading north this time, we made a straight shot to our other cousins, in southern Vermont, where all the little things I might have noticed were immediately blanketed by snow.
Heading home through Kentucky: isn’t this the best bike path bridge ever?
Stopping for a bike ride in Topeka, KS, we pretty much stumbled onto this historic site: the school where Brown v. Board of Education began.
Heading for the Rockies, we took advantage of some friends’ spending a sabbatical in Colorado Springs.
A hike at Mesa Verde, where we had the trail to ourselves…
Our annual get-together with Adventure Buddies (you know ’em well by now) Tom & Kate was near Page, AZ. Just noticing this piece of the map (so near to the Grand Canyon) was new to us.
One thing we did that I’m not real proud of: took a boat tour on Lake Powell to see Glen Canyon, or what’s left of it. What I mostly noticed? My conflicted feelings.
Finally back in Washington, going for a walk as we waited in the ferry line, I kept the theme going, capturing the beauty of our Salish Sea environment…
…every tiny bit of it.
Thanks for riding with me through most of the past ten years! Tune in next time for something a little more current, ok? And be well.
Full disclosure: this post has nothing pithy nor deep to add to your thoughts today. This is full-on escape. I was able to take last Sunday with my overworked Ironwoman Goddaughter to drive, then hike up to nearly 7,000 feet on the Cascades’ Pacific Crest Trail to breathe some clear air and see some fall color.
May you all be well and find some inspirational beauty where you can. Till next time…
First of all, my northwestern friends–yes, I KNOW “seastars are not fish.” But most folks know that sweet story of the guy saving stranded seastars by tossing them back into the ocean, and in that story they’re “starfish.”
That story’s moral: in the face of huge, inexorable challeng, making tiny, individual change is still worthwhile.
I THINK this is that kind of story. Although for a while there, it felt more like the penultimate chapter of Catch-22. (Spoiler alert: if you’re intending to read Catch-22 and just haven’t gotten around to it yet, you should stop reading my blog right now.)
The whole thing started a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed a large mass of debris floating near the rocky edges of Iceberg Point, part of the San Juan National Monument which I’m grateful to call my big backyard. I contacted our wonderful Monument and BLM people and hoped for the best.
Days passed, and still the debris floated. But you could see it was degrading into bits.
After a week, the large chunks disappeared. “Oh well,” I thought, “they’re someone else’s problem now. But somebody oughta get that small stuff.” Then…”Hey! Great excuse for a paddle excursion!”
I had it all planned: net, garbage bags, wetsuit, gloves, tide chart. Then the smoke from the west coast wildfires sent our air quality numbers up near 200 and our ocean under a thick blanket of scary-looking, cold smog. (Think “The Nothing” from Neverending Story.)
By the time the skies and my calendar cleared, another week had passed. But finally, FINALLY, I was on my way. Oh, that felt good.
Here I come to save the day!
Up close, I found that the barbage gyre was–of course–styrofoam, and most of it had–of course–already crumbled into those tiny, hellish bits. Actually, MOST of it was probably already in the bellies of marine life testing the flavor of those white things. That thought spurred me through the messy task of circling and scooping the gyre.
After about 25 minutes, I had all I could gather (not to mention fit into the trash bag stuffed between my knees). MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Then I looked toward the shore.
Here’s where Catch-22 came in. See, through 30 chapters, we have Yossarian wrestling with flashbacks, hinting at the scene behind his PTSD. Not till the second-to-last chapter do we see the scene in full: Yossarian in mid-flight, trying to save the life of his bombardier Snowden, binding Snowden’s leg wound and comforting him as he whimpers. Only when Yossarian’s first-aid task is complete does he discover…he’s treating the wrong wound. The real injury, the one that’s killing Snowden, is deep, internal, and entirely beyond Yossarian’s ability to cure.
Those big chunks of marine garbage? They weren’t gone. They were just lodged in a cove, slowly breaking into more and more horrible bits for idiots like me to scoop.
There was nothing I could do in my weenie little boat. To salvage some sense of accomplishment, I balanced one floating chunk on my prow and paddled home, deflated.
You’re not the boss of me, garbage.
But! Let’s get back to the starfishy side of things, shall we? I happen to live on an island whose unofficial motto is, “Come For the Scenery, Stay For the Community.” (OK, that’s my PERSONAL motto; I don’t think anyone else says that. But they could.)
I got back on the email. Two days later, I and my BLM friend had organized a small crew to go after that cove-garbage from the land. Our most intrepid member, Mike, donned a drysuit and went after the junk from the water.
Waiting for Mike to get his drysuit on, and feeling grateful not to be Mike.
Most chunks had to be hauled with ropes. I got the smaller bits, like this sail.
I can’t even tell you how satisfying that work was. Well–maybe I just did.
Hey, anyone missing a large sailboat?
Next day, true autumn weather moved in and the sea turned nasty (but beautiful–like a Nasty Woman). We knew we’d acted just in time to prevent the total disintegration of that garbage pile.
We also knew, in the grand scheme of our poor ocean, what a minescule gesture our work had been. You don’t need me to tell you that either. The wound is deep, internal, and possibly even beyond our ability to cure.
But, like the rescued seastar–our work made a difference to that place. And to us. Nothing like a tiny dose of action, in the face of global pandemic and potlitical instability, to make you breathe a little deeper.
Now I’ve just returned home from a ceremony honoring those signs and moving them to their next home, as they were not constructed to withstand fall and winter weather. And I’m finally feeling moved to write again…about the limbo I’ve been in.
Limbo. Two definitions come to mind,* neither of them Biblical:
1) “an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition”
2) “a West Indian dance in which the dancer bends backward to pass under a horizontal bar that is progressively lowered to a position just above the ground”
(*both definitions from Google)
Things that seem stuck in limbo:
–since the COVID shutdown, millions of people’s education, jobs, projects, plans–hell, our lives.
–the forward movement toward racial justice that many of us deeply want to believe in , as the forces against change gather for counter-attack, and as weariness or fear threaten to overwhelm action.
–somewhere in all of that–me. And, very possibly, you.
I don’t want to go into the details of my own personal limbo, which has to do with my two creative passions, writing and music. I want to write about avoiding the “how low can you go?” part of limbo.
Here’s what I am doing to “stay high” in this uncertain period: