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Some of my most memorable trips have been to places I’d never intended to go. Calabar, in eastern Nigeria, was one of them.

For all practical purposes, to the outside world, Nigeria equals the chaotic megacity of Lagos and Lagos is Nigeria. Peer a little closer of course and there’s a lifetime more to discover. Serendipity brought me first to Nigeria (Lagos, of course), and then farther afield until the little aircraft I was in was taxiing into Calabar, 400 miles east of Lagos and not far from the Cameroonian border. Continue reading "Calabar"

White-Hair Point

White-hair Point, at least, that’s what the signs all said. I can only assume the eastern terminus of the Dominican Republic used to be Punta Caña (Sugar Cane Point), since there are lots of similarly-named places across Latin America, and the Ñ was dropped to fare better in English-language databases and profiles. If so, it’s an apt metaphor for the place itself, which is only marginally a part of the Dominican Republic and instead caters to a foreign clientele unwilling to figure out how to say a word with an Ñ in it. Continue reading "White-Hair Point"

The Haw

I'm goin' down to the river bank this morning. Way before the family is awake. Gonna lay me down at the foot of the waters. And spill out all my troubles for everyone's sake. -- Ari Hest, “The Weight”

Of all the places in North Carolina I'll think back on fondly some day, the Haw River is probably the one I'll miss the most.
Continue reading "The Haw"

The Dogs of Delhi

dogs of Delhi

I'd just barely exited the airport and was headed to the parking area for my ride when I saw what looked like a dead dog in the street. A terrible start to my visit to India.

Nope, not dead. Sleeping, in fact, and sleeping quite soundly with his head inclined on the warm, asphalt speed bump. In fact, he was wearing a little vest or a sweater of some sort. Hmm, clearly I had some things to learn about India. Continue reading "The Dogs of Delhi"

The Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Serendipity brought me to India, filled me with delicious foods, then sent me home with a woolen Nehru vest and a lifetime of memories. In between, I visited the Taj Mahal.

I struggle with the famous landmarks, the UNESCO Heritage sites, the places on earth that receive – as does the Taj – six million visitors per year (that's over 16k per day including the day I was there). The world is full of authorities greater than I on subjects like the architecture of Mughal India, the rise of Islamic powers from the Fergana Valley, and the endless struggle between Islam and Hindu nationalism that persists to this day. So, just a few thoughts: Continue reading "The Taj Mahal"

A Quiver of Fountain Pens (Reviews)

quiver full of pens

Happiness is a good pen, smooth paper, the right ink, and time to write.

In 1989 I began writing regularly in a journal. That same year, it occurred to me that the experience would be even nicer if I were to use a fountain pen. I think it's kind of like saying, "hey you know, I should try crack cocaine." First I had one pen, then I had two, then I had many. Some people collect watches, some people collect fancy cars. My collection suits my personality and is conducive to frequent relocation to exotic locales around the globe. Here are some reflections on the many, lovely writing instruments that have brought me pleasure over the years. Continue reading "A Quiver of Fountain Pens (Reviews)"

Whisper in the Pines

loblolly forest

I first discovered that lovely little patch of loblollies only a month or two after arrival. Growing at a forgotten intersection between two busy roads, it was a dense, green wall seen at high speed between other destinations.

I first walked it one cloudy afternoon in early winter, footsteps silent on the dense, matted needles. I returned several times, and found it different each time. But last January was the most memorable: the morning after a decent snowfall, the forest was another world, white and green overhead, the morning sun bright against a cerulean sky. But not silent: the strong winds were moving the treetops and the forest was a tapestry of whispers. Continue reading "Whisper in the Pines"

On the Heels of Magellan in Umatac Bay

Fact: In March, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer sailing for Spain, landed three ships off the coast of Guam. An Italian nobleman also present on the voyage, Antonio de Pigafetta, noted that Magellan called the Marianas the Islands of Lateen Sails, then renamed them the Islands of Thieves after Chamorus in swift proas sailed out to meet the European vessels and helped themselves to some of what they found on board. Not to be outdone by a bunch of glad handlers, Magellan seized the entire island chain in the name of the Spanish crown. Take that, canoe boys.

Also fact: In November, 2022, a gringo explorer from Long Island also traveled to Guam. He crossed the island's southern flank, arriving by air conditioned taxi to Umatac Bay, where he met a couple of sleepy island mutts and took a selfie in front of the bay. He stole nothing, seized no land in the name of some distant government, and eventually went home. Instead of circumnavigating the southern oceans in a state of near starvation, he flew coach class on United Airlines and enjoyed a nice chicken salad, suffering nothing worse than some severe jetlag upon arrival. Continue reading "On the Heels of Magellan in Umatac Bay"

Morning in the Marianas

The Philippine Sea is a golden mirror, but clouds are already starting to billow, like sails along the horizon.

A Brown Tree Snake lassos his way back down a tree trunk after having spent the night munching on birds’ eggs.

A young Korean bride withdraws a flowing, yellow sundress from her suitcase. A local Korean-speaking tour guide has promised her some Instagram-worthy photos from the island’s most breathtaking viewpoints.

A young Chamorro with a backpack blower spreads dry the shiny lenses of rainwater that last night’s showers pooled on the hotel’s breakfast patio. Continue reading "Morning in the Marianas"

From Stanley to Salmon

Idaho, October 2022: a land whose beauty and intrigue swelled as I ventured north. I remember back to my disappointment in the summer of 1998, when my Greyhound bus crossed both Montana and Idaho at night, leaving me in western Washington state at dawn. Those were the two places I was most excited to see.

And now I'm in Stanley, a mountain outpost 6253' above sealevel, nestled at the foot of the fierce-looking Sawtooths. To get here I've topped the ridge at Mount Galena (now riven in streaks of burnt trees and charcoal). The road is easy and driveable, but the snow-stakes that mark the edge are a towering 8' high, a silent reminder this is the land of winter. I drive under a grey band of strata clouds that forces the morning light in at angles, like a cat under the duvet. The mountains glow with morning and are extinguished as I move northward. This valley is glacial for sure, plunked at the bottom of the rounded bathtub basin drained by the Salmon River. Continue reading "From Stanley to Salmon"

Late Fall, Prairie Creek

Winter tiptoes silently on icy, sharpclawed toes

through the steep-walled mountain valley, over peaks now rimmed with snow

On the forest floor of Prairie Creek as afternoon withdraws

I wait, the gathering of shadows pouring night across my paws

Cathedral pines of Ponderosa, whispering of Firs, and the

clattering of streams whose mountain waters chill the Earth

Gone the chatter of the Magpies, gone the golden autumn glow,

just the silhouettes of Sawtooths and of antelope below

As the starlight thickens on the paths where elk have crossed,

in the shadows pools the silence, while the branches catch the frost

The northern forest bristles in these long, October nights

to hear the clicking nails of winter scratching daybreak into ice

What Color is a Mountain Stream?

Gawping, my words run
jubilant, downstream, a ribbon of
gunmetal insistent, persevering,
turquoise over a jumble of rounded
chattering, a clink of
magnesium, under clouds glowering
emerald flash, suddenly, the
sun - gone again, a pool of
navy, over slithering sandbeds, whisper of
trout, here before you, rainbow,
from the
shadows, twisting in a
silence the stars also speak round
midnight, into the soft ears of
black bears padding down to drink among
ferns, laced with morning dew,
ivory mist rising in tendrils of hissing morning
light cerulean in cold air.
Still, I'm speechless, my
tea cooling as I wonder what
color is a


Over thirty years ago, a woman I loved informed me I was crazy, because while I was sitting on one of the best beaches in the world, all I could think of was traveling as far away as possible, and trying to send myself to North Guam (it sounded far away, she said, and she loved the sound of the word). Needless to say, when I stepped off the airplane at Hagatna Airport on that far-flung island, my thoughts turned just momentarily back to her as I beamed proudly.

But Guam was a mystery to me then, and it remains a mystery to me today. I don't think I've ever been to a place I struggled as much to get a feel for. To wit: Continue reading "Guam"

Nantahala Gorge: land of the noonday sun

This is the money shot, the one they sell you afterwards for $20. It's full of excitement and energy and features what looks like me, crying like a baby (the water was cold!). But it fails to capture all the things I will remember most about this excursion.

The setting is the Nantahala River Gorge; the trip is courtesy of the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), who runs guided rafting trips down the river all summer. I'd wanted to do this since I first saw it last summer. Our guide was a gentleman named Malcolm, who at 60 years old was in the kind of physical shape you can only maintain if you have a job like guiding rafts, and he was knowledgable and had a respectful, loving connection to the natural world I appreciated. All the rest of this trip's magic goes unrecorded: Continue reading "Nantahala Gorge: land of the noonday sun"