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"
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"
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"
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"
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"
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"
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"
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
Continue reading "Nantahala Gorge: land of the noonday sun"
A first memory: we're leaving the big city under a heat warning and three-digit, mid-summer temperatures. We cross into North Carolina just as a thunderstorm sweeps down across the forests and drenches everything in relief. The forests: they're everywhere, green and dark and lovely, thick with shadows and a thousand shades of green, rich with the smell of summer rain.
A second memory: it's our first week, the boxes are still heaped in corners; we are finding our bearings. In the early morning sun, an enormous buck dozes quietly at the forest edge behind our house. He's magnificent, stately, majestic, and offers some sort of welcome to this new, sylvan lifestyle. The White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus.
Continue reading "Building Forests"
My ignorance unfurled before me like a sail.
Recently arrived in North Carolina, I bought a topographic map of the state and let my eyes explore. My gaze went naturally westward into the crinkled, mountain ridges of the higher elevations, picking out interesting places to explore. The name "Cherokee" leapt out at me. “Huh,” I thought to myself, “Cool name, like the old Native American tribe. Wonder if they're related?”
Of course they're related.
Continue reading "Oconaluftee and the Trail of Tears"
Circumstances not of my own making brought me from one spectacular, mountainous state to another. Settling into North Carolina's Piedmont, the maps pointed me westward to the Appalachians, unique on Earth. Nowhere have I seen it better described than here, by Sheila Turnage1.
How did the Appalachians come to be here? The Cherokee, who have lived here for thousands of years, say that one day long ago, the Great Buzzard swooped low over the new earth. His wings brushed the impressionable earth, creating the mountain ranges that rise and fall, and then fade into sky. Geologists envision a wilder scenario.
Continue reading "Tanawha"
In my 49 years on earth, I've learned only one thing with total certainty: it's that any bad day can be cured by a drive into wild spaces in a classic Jeep. This fact has accompanied me through life. Pretty sure my dad taught it to me. If so, he was right.
This is the story of my Jeep. Not any Jeep, mind you: it joined the family before I did. I laugh when I see ads for "vintage" Jeep Wranglers that date back to the early 2000s. Mine was a 1968, older than me. Before the Wrangler was the AMC and before that was the Kaiser, only one short generation removed from the old Willys that had served hard time in World War II. And it was still largely unchanged in design. The Kaiser was still so simple you could airdrop it to troops in a palletized container and have them assemble it in the field. In the winter you froze, in the summer you cooked. If it rained, you stood a decent chance of getting wet. But it was a Jeep: worth it!
Continue reading "The '68 Jeep"
Back when North Carolina was called the Rip Van Winkle state, asleep while
industry raged on all sides, local industrialists shared a vision of prosperity
that only rail builders could usher in. It was the late 1800s, just four
decades after the cease of Civil War hostilities, and North Carolina was
suffering. But before the century would end, a network of steel rail would connect
North Carolina's textile mills and tobacco farms to the markets of Virginia
and harbors on the Atlantic. And there they would stay for about a century
before consolidation, truck traffic, and changing interstate markets would
make some of them superfluous.
Rail lines are tough to make disappear, though. So if you know where to
look, you can still find their bones slumbering under forests. And Lord
they are beautiful.
Continue reading "Slumbering Giants: the End of Rail"
Nothing gets the pulse racing like escaping from the world we're living in
now, and discovering the worlds that lived before us: it's a reminder that
nothing lasts forever, not even this.
North Carolina's Haw and New Hope River valleys were formerly
prone to horrific flooding. The hurricane of 1945 was one of just
many hurricanes that laid siege to what was already a poor valley,
putting it under water. The US Army Corps of Engineers came up with a
plan to flood it permanently, offering a mechanism of flood control
and providing hydropower for electrification of the region. When it
was done, Lake B Everett Jordan had become a permanent fixture on the
Continue reading "The End of the Road"