A few of my favorite places

When you journey to a lot of places you generally have a lot of photographs.  So I begin this blog by pulling a few of my favorites from the files to get things going.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have enjoyed taking and sharing them.  Stay tuned for lots of photos and stories as I skip, trip and journey through life.

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Beating the Heat in Provence

Our Bike & Boat: la Provence Magnifique trip provided so many wonderful memories and experiences. We pedaled and palled about by day and shared stories and camaraderie each night.  From the beautiful Camargue region of Southern France, famous for its black bulls, gentle white horses, and salts mined near Aigues Mortes; through vineyards and fields of lavender and sunflowers, and hilltop towns peppered with ancient chateaus and Roman ruins.

In record breaking heat, which topped out over 100F by week’s end, we found ways to beat it. Some took advantage of e-bikes to conserve energy.  We guzzled electrolyte-laced water and used high-tech cooling fabrics for bandanas, head covers, and arm sleeves.  Our tour guide, Antonella, kept us on course and found shade where there should have been none.  On our final day, about half our group threw in the towel and hired a private van to take us to our wine tasting at Chateaunuef-de-pape.

Apres biking, we basked on our air-condition-cooled “floating hotel”, the Dutch barge Caprice: fed well by Chef Sheena; tended by Laura, the boat’s steward; and steered by Peter, its pilot.

Some took advantage of a chance to swim in the gentle but fast moving Rhone River to cool off after a hot ride.  Many enjoyed the local rose wines from the deck, when temperatures dropped at night.  On cooler mornings, we took our coffee there too, dodging sink laundered bike clothes hung on lines from the prior day, left there to dry even amidst the heavy, damp air belched at night by the river.  After-dinner strolls through stone-walled towns, shudders drawn against the heat, gave us a glimpse of small town life that has endured hundreds of years of this heat, embraced by serenity.

We even rescued a tiny, weeks-old kitten.  But that’s another story.

Note:  E-bikes are a game changer!  Though not a replacement for solid biking skills and fitness level, they do help save energy to get you up a steep hill and stretch your day by a few miles. I quickly realized that e-bikes put the “fun” back in biking (suffering is optional!).  I felt like a kid again, and that, at my age, is a good thing!

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Journeys of the Spirit

Not all journeys are physical.

This is not an earth-shattering thought.  And I of course am not the first or only one to make that observation.  But here it is, February.  The sky is gray; and our new snow, the first real snow of this Connecticut winter, is melting in 40 degree temperatures.  There is time to reflect.

We have reached mid-winter.  The daylight hours are noticeably longer.  I am happy for this slow melt of the 8 or so inches of snow we have just received.  I can almost hear the water soaking deep into the ground, hopefully delivering much needed water to the deep roots of our trees.  Occasionally an icicle breaks free from the roofline and tumbles to the porch stones below, shattering itself into little ice shards, and left to melt.

Christians have just entered their Lent season.  I am quite sure that other of the world’s religions have a similar spiritual/ritualistic approach to spring.  Forgive me for not knowing them or stopping to research them.  Looking fundamentally at the period between now and the time when spring will bring its promises to that same doorstep that just broke up an icicle – roughly 40 days, a significant time period in the Bible and I suspect elsewhere – now always seems to me a good time to go inward, while staying attentive to outward.  To dig deeper below the surface of our daily lives.  To postpone spring wet dreams and open our eyes to the wonders of the life cycle.

I have been studying with a small group at my church, the nature of spirituality in a secular world.  Those who know me well know that I have spent a good amount of on and off time over the past years delving inward, exploring my beliefs, seeking ways to find (and spread) peace, forgiveness, love, sacredness.  My nature has always been to explore – whether it is the world around me, both near and far, or the depths of the (my) human soul.

The period between now and “Easter”, known in Christendom as Lent, is a fine time to look more closely to what is not only inside of us, but around us.  To see details and fineries that are obscured by the rich layers of color, smell, and texture of the other three seasons.  It is a wonderful time to explore the underlying structures, laid bare by winter’s cold.

I share with you here, “The Journey To Spring,”* a 40-day reflection on those structures.  I would be delighted to think that many of my jasjourney friends may be going along on this adventure with me!  If you are coming in ‘late’ to the schedule, just tack the early days onto the end – as we here in the Northeast know, spring never arrives on the calendar day, March 20.

*Reprinted from The Touchstones Project, edited by Rev. Nancy Bowen and Rev. Kirk Loadman-Copeland.

Being Mindful at Ivan Wilson Park

Under the guidance of a yoga instructor named Tammy and a couple of DOC* resource guides, a handful of seekers gathered on a perfect summer afternoon to experience mindfulness on a walk through this little jewel on the southern edge of TeAnau in New Zealand’s Southland.  I think we were successful.  Enjoy.

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*Department of Conservation

Cairns and the Elusive Starfish of Monkey Island

“Monkey Island?” WHAT is Monkey Island?!

monkey-islandThere’s a beach way down on the west coast of Southland – almost to the end of the South Island of New Zealand.  Just beyond the southern reach of Fiordland.  And at low tide you can walk out to a little bump, reaching maybe 30 feet above sea level and a bit more than that around.
The island is surrounded by rocks: big rocks, little rocks, medium size rocks, egg shaped rocks, flat rocks, rocks in transition, in shades and textures of green, mustard, brilliant yellow, brown, black and any number of striation patterns (speckled my favorite, and the Tide-pools-monkey-islandgreen ones with a fine yellow line running through) –  tossed by tides and glaciers, forming tide pools teaming with the life of the seashore. The bigger rocks, I guess the ones that don’t move around much,  sport patchy coats of seaweeds, from short soft curly bits to long rubbery strands of wide flat opalescent green.

My young friend, a budding marine biologist readying Starfish-Hunter, Monkey Islandherself for “uni” (kiwi slang for university), walks barefoot and confident through the boulders, nimbly squatting to peer at the lower edges of the largest rocks, the ones still wet, their bases submerged in swirls of sea water that gently wash the area.  She has found any number of starfish on past visits to Monkey Island. But alas, today we come up empty handed, spotting “merely” a small sea cucumber, a few orange anemones, and heeps of snails and hermit crabs.

I am more tentative. Unfamiliar with balancing myself from one rock to the next, with their uneven pitches and the wind blowing mightily, trying to knock me to my tender knees.  The water is cold but not too cold to step into it, ankle deep, to walk on soft sand and smooth rocks to explore the collections of smaller rocks that shine with color when wet but grow dull as they dry. My pockets grow heavy and pull at my pants, threatening to pull them down so that I have to stop and hitch them up every few steps. I know I can’t take all these rocks, especially the larger ones, home in my bags. What to do? Build a few cairns of course!

Here’s a cool blogpost I found about Monkey Island.

Auld Lang Syne

Queenstown-New-ZealandThe time to say good-bye to 2015 is drawing down here in New Zealand.  Summertime.  Queenstown: gave birth to bungi jumping, playground of the Southern Alps.  A perfect day with sunshine, shorts, ice cream, everywhere green save the blue water of Lake Wakatipu and the sky.  Mountain peaks bare of their winter snowcover, deep shadows where glaciers have carved deep gashes over tens of thousands years.

Central-Otago-New-ZealandI began today’s celebration of the passing year lunching with a dear friend at a quaint winery in the Gibbston Valley, in the South Island’s Central Otago region.  We stopped here 12 years ago, on the first day of my first visit to this splendid country, soon after she had moved here to raise her family in the small town of TeAnau.

Waitiri-Creek-WineryWaitiri Creek Winery.  On our first visit it had only just begun to bottle wine from its small vineyards.  They set up a small tasting room and kitchen in an old church building and a few tables in the yard under a huge cottonwood, with a grand view of the valley floor and surrounding hillsides.  Today not much has changed.  Their wines have matured and they remain a small operation with, I suspect, a growing reputation.

waitiri-creek-pinot-grisWe were lucky to grab one a handfull of reservations for lunch, and blessed with a picture perfect day.  We enjoyed a lovely Pinot Gris, perfect with the entres we chose: me a delicately grilled salmon with a beautiful whipped horseradish sauce, and she a melt-in-your-mouth grilled eggplant with a miso whipped butter and crunchy cous cous.  We took our time, enjoying each bite, the laid back atmosphere with wee ones playing on the open lawn, and especially, each other’s company.  Nothing much has changed in that department either.

Later tonight we will join the celebration in town; toast the new year with perhaps some fresh oysters and green lipped mussels.  No doubt topped off with the traditional glass of bubbly and a few fireworks as we look to 2016 and wonder where it will lead us.

Happy New Year my friends! May the coming year be filled with old friends, fine wine, and wondrous adventure.

I invite you to stick around a few moments longer to share some of my favorites from 2015, and check back as I add more in the coming days:

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I Never Get Tired of This Place

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I never get tired of this place. Lived here 20 years and this is my place of solace. In any season. Driving, walking, running (years ago), biking, kayaking, following a trail and climbing narrow stone steps up to the Tod Mansion site, the gardens kept so beautifully by a local club, views across the Sound, the Manhattan skyline, Long Island, mysterious stone walls with little windows cut out of them (a fort?), the birds, the beachgoers, beachcombers, beach bums, strollers, dog walkers (in wintertime), wind surfers, kite surfers, athletes of every type and age, picnickers, bird watchers, people watchers. Even dulled on a foggy quiet day, the autumn colors at Tod’s Point, I never get tired of this place.