Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Living Abroad and Values to Live By

Along the Rio Piracicaba
My husband, Jeff and I arrived in Brazil on March 2. We are here for two months while Jeff, who is a part time visiting professor at the University of São Paulo, works with Brazilian colleagues to complete a five-year research project measuring carbon flux in the lower Amazon River.

Rapids on the RIo Piracicaba
Living abroad is different than traveling as a tourist. Its benefits are subtler but no less rewarding. Although I’ve traveled to Brazil many times, the distance between our hometown of Seattle and the town we are living in never gets shorter. Piracicaba is a former colonial town of about 400,000 people built on the banks of the Piracicaba River. It is in upstate São Paulo and about a 2-hour drive from the giant metropolis of the city of São Paulo. Surrounded by rich sugar cane fields, it is a world apart. Its prosperity is based on the region’s agriculture but the town is also home to a university and several manufacturing plants.

During the years of living here, we’ve usually rented an apartment near the university but this year we rented a small house on the eastern edge of town. The house is one of about 20 homes in a gated development – the tidy homes run along a single, dead end street. The community consists mostly of young families. On weekends, children are everywhere, biking on the street, playing kickball in the grassy open areas, swinging on the swings in the community playground and generally goofing around with each other. When Jeff and I returned from a friend’s house late Saturday night, a group of parents were sitting at plastic picnic tables at the street end while their kids played in the dark. The scene reminded me of my childhood in the 1950’s, when us kids played late into summer evenings while our parents sat outside, eating, drinking and talking together. It is a pleasure to observe a similar scene in 2018. Such informal street games are uncommon in contemporary urban United States – unusual in my neighborhood in Seattle – although Halloween night is an exception. I love seeing kids running free, playing outside in the open air. In our increasingly structured society, I rarely see kids just running or biking along neighborhood streets. Too often, the freedom I experienced growing up in a small Canadian town doesn’t exist for kids growing up today. For my part, that is too bad. It may be far fetched, but I believe that being part of an open and inclusive community and engaging in physical activity are factors that can help children develop positive life values and a habit of life long exercise.

A few weeks before our trip, my brother closed and distributed to us (we are a close knit sibling group of six adults) the remaining funds in a final bank account that had belonged to our parents both of whom died quite a few years ago. He wrote to us that he was grateful to our parents not just for the money, but for the British World War II era values they taught us. Our parents were English and we had immigrated to Canada in 1955, then to the United States nine years later. In response, my older sister specified what she believes those values to be. In no particular order, here is her list.
  • ·      Honesty
  • ·      The importance of hard work
  • ·      Respect for other people
  • ·      Charity
  • ·      Modesty
  • ·      Gratitude
  • ·      Maintaining one's health
  • ·      The importance of a good education
  • ·      Self-respect
  • ·      The Golden Rule (treat other people as you would like them to treat you)

Her list struck me as accurate, and worthy of living by regardless of where and at what time in history you live. I agree with my sister. These are the values our parents taught us and that my siblings and I have tried to live by. As good fortune and good sense would have it, all six of us married men and women who share these values. All of us have tried to bring up our children to share these values as well. It’s a good list for sure, as relevant in Brazil as in the United States, Great Britain (where this sister lives) and perhaps globally. Curiously, living according to such values seems less common today in our wild and unpredictable world.

My Writing Station
One of the things I enjoy, as a retired woman living abroad, is the simplicity of my life. The sheer freedom inherent in living in a house that has only one or two objects is lovely. I’m enjoying an almost empty space at my writing station – a single orchid and an M. C. Escher print are my companions.

I enjoy having more free time. I love my endless activities in my stateside life – especially taking care of my grandson – that is my favorite pastime since becoming a grandmother nine months ago. I miss this activity terribly in Brazil. However my days in Seattle are full of many things: writing groups and writing classes; volunteer work; gardening; walking, biking and exercising at my YMCA; cultural events and myriad social interactions with my large extended family and wide circle of friends. Here, in Brazil apart from the daily routines of cooking, cleaning, laundry and exercising at a local gym, my days are largely unstructured. With greater free time I am able to live a more contemplative life – more time to think, write, read and take long walks – I am always trying to achieve my FitBit goal of 10,000 steps/day. 

Neon Tetras at the Aquarium by the river
On Sunday my husband and I walked around the riverfront trail – a 5-mile stint and good for more than 12,000 steps. During our walk we visited a small local aquarium and saw tiny neon tetras that reminded me of the home aquarium my son had as a child.  Yesterday, I had time to finish a wonderful book. Rather than waiting until the evening, I read the book’s last pages while drinking my morning coffee in the small, enclosed garden behind our rented house. It felt like a luxury to read a book in the morning – and much more rewarding than reading the online news or checking my email.

Beyond my garden wall

In my opinion, the book in question is one of the great novels of the 20th century. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez is a story of love and old age. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it – especially if you are over 50. Márquez is worth reading. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature and was a prolific and skilled writer. I am humbled by his skills. Although perhaps audacious to presume to write a poem after reading such a brilliant author, I wrote in gratitude to a great man. Enjoy and don’t forget to take a walk today – that is part of maintaining one’s health and self-respect.

Love in the Time of Cholera,
Dois Córregos, Piracicaba, Brazil

Early morning.
The dove calls from afar.
Her mournful cry
Fills the morning air.
The sun warms my skin.
Bougainvillea creeps over the wall.
Its fuchsia blossoms
Drift in the soft breeze.
Three Papagayos squawk,
Stark silhouettes
Against the bright blue sky.
I sit, drinking my coffee,
At a small plastic table,
And burrow down deep,
Lost in the pages
Of the book I love.

We leave for Rio on Saturday for the last month of our sojourn in Brazil. I look forward to continuing my contemplative freedom in that marvelous city.
Found along the banks of the river

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Peruvian Adventure 2. Amazon Jungle and Tambopata River

Red and Green Macaws 
After leaving the Inca Trail, the next stop on our Peruvian Adventure was the Amazon jungle. Six intrepid travelers, including my husband Jeff, flew east from Cusco’s highlands to the small town of Puerto Maldonado. Puerto Maldonado is a jungle town located in southeastern Peru. It is the gateway to the Tambopata National Reserve, a primary rainforest of enormous biodiversity. Courtesy of G Adventures (, our destination was the Pata Ecolodge on the Tambopata River. After meeting our guide Elvis, we boarded a small bus. The ride from town to the river was eye opening. 

Painted Pumas in Puerto Maldonado 
The town oozed energy and purpose. We drove past crowds of people and busy storefronts, well kept two- and three-story apartment buildings and streams of motorbikes. On the outskirts of town the scene change radically – we passed rough, clear-cut fields filled with ramshackle, tarp-covered shelters – sadly reminiscent of the homeless encampments on the freeway shoulders around my hometown of Seattle.

Condors of the Amazon and their fellow vultures
After the settlements, we passed by productive papaya plantations. Papaya is the only commercial crop exported from the region. In about 30 minutes, we arrived at the banks of the muddy Tambopata River. Like the main stem of the Amazon River, the smaller tributaries that rise in the Andes carry a heavy silt load that makes the water the color of café au lait. Elvis said we’d be eating lunch on the boat since the trip to the Ecolodge would be two to three hours. We purchased cold beer from a riverside kiosk, walked down steep wooden stairs to the dock, donned our life jackets and embarked on our river adventure. Elvis handed out individual lunch boxes – delightfully packed in insulated cloth bags. Inside we found individual canteens stuffed full of hot fried chicken, manioc (or yucca as it is called in Peru) fries, a nice selection of vegetables and a couple of small sweet bananas. That’s what I call a box lunch.
Capybaras in their native habitat

The flat-bottomed, canopied boat was the perfect site from which to observe the river and the birds and animals on shore. Elvis told us to get our cameras and binoculars ready in case we encountered any wildlife. Within a few moments, the boat driver stopped near the shore. We had the pleasure of watching two huge vultures the so-called “Condors of the Amazon” finish off a dead capybara while a flock of smaller black vultures pecked at the edges. Capybaras are the world’s largest rodent, a round brown-furred animal that lives along the shores of tropical rivers. Capybaras are herbaceous and can consume up to 50 kilos of grass a day.

After watching the vultures, aptly named “garbage men of the jungle” clean up the carcass, we continued upstream. The banks of the river were broad, muddy berms that stepped up to the edge of the forest. Here and there, exposed clay cliffs rose more than twenty feet above the water. Suddenly Elvis started jumping up and down. The driver swung our boat towards the shore. In front of us, perched in twos and threes on the mud cliff, was an extraordinary sight. More than 50 green and red macaws hung on the exposed cliff, feeding on the clay lick, ingesting essential minerals. The sight of these largest of all macaws congregated together on the cliff is something I will never forget. We sat quietly, in awe, using our binoculars and cameras to record the majestic birds. Macaws are rarely seen in such abundance. Sightings of the density we experienced are a matter of chance. My husband, who is a tropical river scientist and has worked in the Amazon jungle for more than 40 years, was as stunned as the rest of us. All at once, in response to an unheard signal, the macaws rose in pairs from the clay lick and, flapping their wings, flew into the air, across the river and out of sight. What a beginning to our jungle adventure.

Entralled by the jungle
Thus began our immersion in the primary rainforest of the Tambopata ecosystem. Pata Ecolodge is a settlement of small thatched roofed cottages and a larger building that houses a bar, complete with games and books, and a dining room. Electricity is solar powered. Trails to a small stream and through the dense jungle crisscross the site. On our first night Elvis took us for a walk in the dark on one of the trails– his chief intent was to introduce us to the sounds of the night jungle. Elvis told us to turn off our headlamps and follow him in silence and darkness so that we could experience the velvet night more completely. At first I was nervous but soon the wonderful sounds – frogs, cicadas, jungle rats and bats – filled my senses and I forgot to be scared.

The next day reminded me of summer camp – there were so many activities I didn’t have time to worry about mosquitoes! We met for breakfast at 6:30 am and walked down to our boat before 7:15. We headed upriver to a jungle trail that led us to Lago Condenado - literally the condemned lake. It is a former oxbow that is now filling in with sediment and vegetation and likely to disappear over time. The lake is home to an endangered species of giant river otters and many other animals and birds. 

A black caiman skulking in the shallows
As we arrived at the trailhead, Elvis spotted a juvenile black caiman lurking in the shallow water. After watching the wary creature for a few minutes, we started out on our hike. Every few minutes, Elvis, who we discovered was remarkably skilled at spotting hidden creatures, would stop. He’d flash his green laser beam and show us a monkey, a bird, an unusual insect or plant that, without his keen eyes, I never would have seen. Perhaps a favorite siting was a capuchin monkey who sat high in a fruit tree, lording it over every other monkey around while he feasted on bright red fruit. He jumped from branch to branch chattering and tossing seeds down into the leaves below. Capuchin monkeys are very smart – they are the monkeys you might remember from old movies, the monkey dressed in a smart little jacket and cap jumping around its organ grinder owner with a tin cup collecting coins. Watching our wild capuchin I was sure he would have been a most successful organ grinder monkey.

A sampling of the farm's produce
Later that day, after lunch and a dip in a small stream close to the main lodge, we crossed the Tambopata by boat to visit the plantation of a local farmer. Our host farmer practices mixed crop agriculture – the planting of multiple crops together in clearings rather than the more traditional contemporary practice of planting endless fields with a single crop. On the farm we saw multiple fruit and vegetable crops interspersed in fields and orchards. 
Young Star Fruit
Papaya, cacao, lemons, oranges, corn, manioc, bananas, star fruit and plantains grew in a bright green jumble. Pigs ate the plant waste and chickens ran around squawking and pecking. The farm was largely a self-sustaining system with cover crops providing nitrogen and animal and plant wastes providing vital compost. The farm gave our host a good living through the sale of fresh food to our lodge and in markets in nearby Puerto Maldonado.Later that night, before dinner but happily after cocktail hour, we returned to our trusty boat and explored the downstream riverbanks. In the pitch black darkness Elvis promised us the opportunity to see white caimans. First he showed us an interesting video about the challenges of protecting the river from gold mining and the life cycle of the caimans. Next we were cruising on the river in warm darkness. The green laser shone and there in front of us were miniature white caimans standing still on the mud bank. Further down the river we found larger caimans with beautiful black and white markings. The caimans are solitary creatures. They live alone, abandoned by their mothers at a few months of age. Only the strongest survive the six or seven years needed to reach sexual maturity. These primitive creatures look like something that should have lived several millions years ago. It was a privilege to see them at home.

My husband and a giant Kapok tree
When we decided to go to Peru together to hike the Inca Trail, we opted to visit the Tambopata River, a tributary to the Amazon. Despite many visits to the lower Amazon and the Brazilian rainforest, we wanted to explore a headwater system. Sometimes a place that we think we know surprises us with new sights and sounds. Our visit to the Tambopata was filled with such experiences. From the sustainable jungle farm to the giant kapok and strangler fig trees to the macaws, the caimans and all the extraordinary creatures in between, we had the privilege of experiencing the rich diversity of the Peruvian rainforest.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Peruvian Adventure 1. Inca Trail, Inca Warrior

Imagine you are perched on a granite stone, high in the Andes looking down through primary cloud forests into a river valley that slices through almost vertical mountains. All around you, glacier-topped peaks soar more than 15,000 feet into the heavens. A rainbow emerges from the mist and lights the sky with its spectrum of colors. Above and below you, stone-edged agricultural terraces mark the archeological site, Phuyupatamarca, a town named “cloud-level” in Quechua, the Inca language which is still spoken in the Peruvian highlands today. Phuyupatamarca is a sacred place – a place of beauty where you and, centuries before you, the Inca kings rested just a few kilometers from the more famous citadel of Machu Picchu.

After trekking almost 25 miles, up and down steep stone staircases and across several mountain passes 12,000 feet in elevation, I sat quietly at Phuyupatamarca with my trekking family, breathing in the moist air and experiencing the mysterious power of this civilization. The Incas left us their rich culture, their temples and monuments, their agronomic practices, their carefully engineered highways and villages, their water and drainage systems that still function 600 years after they were built.

A grandmother preparing the soil for spring planting
The Incas believed in hard work, honesty and cooperation. They believed in community and in the power of Pachamama – literally mother earth, the spirit that gives us life and loves us unconditionally. They developed a sophisticated mathematical system, told time by sundials and navigated by the stars. At the height of their power in the 16th century, their empire stretched across western South America from modern day Ecuador south to Chile and encompassed coastal plain, tropical jungle, high mountain and desert environments.

An Inca Warrior overlooking Cusco
My husband Jeff and I visited Peru to trek the Inca Trail, to experience the mystery of Machu Picchu, to visit the cities of Cusco and Lima and to explore the Tambopata headwaters of the Amazon River near Puerto Maldonado. One of my brothers, his wife and two close friends from Florida joined us on the adventure. After arriving in Lima, we met the other members of our expedition and flew to the former capital of the Inca Empire, the city of Cusco. Cusco is located more than 10,000 feet above sea level on the eastern slope of the Andean mountains. The city is an interesting blend of Incan and Spanish architecture, history and culture. It is the jumping off spot for Andean expeditions, treks, historical tours, river adventures, and spiritual journeys. Its high elevation and the availability of modern medical and mountaineering resources make it the perfect place to acclimatize to the high elevations. The company who arranged our trip, G adventures, ( from Toronto, Canada knows how to do it right!

Upon arrival in Cusco, we toured the city and met our wonderful guide Rumi. Rumi is a Peruvian whose heritage, like many people in the Cusco region, includes both Inca and Spanish blood. His knowledge of Inca history and culture was impressive. Rumi also had an extraordinary ability to connect with each of the members of our group on an individual level. Three members of our group took the train to Machu Picchu – an option for folks who do not have the physical abilities required on the Inca Trail. Our trekking group of twelve was diverse – we ranged in age from 26 to 71 and hailed from five countries – the USA, Canada, Australia, Scotland and South Africa. Along with Alex, Rumi’s competent assistant and 21 brilliant porters, Rumi was our Inca warrior as we bonded together on the rocky paths of the Inca Trail.

Our first day was a delightful sample for what was to come – we drove by bus to a Women’s Weaving Co-op near the town of Ollantaytambo. Here we met Peruvian women who raised alpacas, dyed the wool with plant materials and wove brightly colored fabric to make traditional Andean clothing, sweaters, shawls, hats, scarves, tablecloths and purses. They shared coca, chamomile and anise tea with us and demonstrated how they used the same wooden looms to weave as were used by their ancestors 500 years before. The Co-op women were strong and industrious, often carrying a young child in a colorful “back-sling” while doing their work. Some women took care of the animals, some did the weaving, some made the garments and others sold the finished products. The collaborative nature of the settlement helped us understand how fundamental reciprocity and giving back to your community are to the Inca culture. This supportive society is in contrast to the aggressive, often militaristic dominance that many other cultures, including some western and eastern European and Asian societies embrace. Perhaps modern day leaders could learn from the Incas.

Causa - the Delicious Yellow Potato Appetizer
We ate lunch at a nearby cooperative restaurant, toured the ruins of Pisac – a former Inca citadel famous for its agricultural terraces and its tombs where mummified bodies of royalty and important Inca artifacts were found. In addition to being master stonemasons, architects and engineers, the Incas were skilled agronomists – building perfectly drained agricultural terraces and hybridizing multiple species of potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables. Culinary expertise goes back centuries in Peru – there is a reason that the Incas were successful in inhospitable environments. They learned how to grow food by taking advantage of microclimates and how to preserve food through dehydration long before NASA figured out how to dehydrate food for the astronauts! The current trend of eating local and organic has been practiced for centuries in the Peruvian Andes.

In the Meditation Room
We checked into the Hotel Inka Paradise in Ollantaytambo town and toured the Inca ruins in the small town. There we climbed steep stone steps, and gathered strength for the coming trek from the meditation room and the red granite temples. The next day we left at 7 am and drove to the beginning of the Inca Trail – 82 km away. We met our powerful porters, a group of 21 men ranging in age from 21 to 62. These men carried our food, gear, tents, propane tanks and other equipment on their backs in enormous packs that often weighed close to 60 pounds (~25 kilos).  After passing through the first checkpoint – the Peruvian government controls access to the Trail and Machu Picchu – we wished our porters safe travel, donned our packs and started up the trail in single file.

Glaciers in the Andes
For the next three days we climbed up and down increasingly difficult terrain, ascending and descending endless flights of ancient stone steps cut into the steep mountainsides. On Day 2 we crossed Warmiwañusca or Dead Woman’s Pass that at 13,769 feet (4,198 m) is the highest point on the trail. Often the stone path ran along the edge of vertical drop-offs that fell precipitously to deep valleys hidden in mist. On the third day we walked through a cloud forest where bromeliads and orchids clung to the sweating trees and flowers filled the air with soft colors. All along, Rumi and Alex cheered us on, encouraging us to focus on the slippery downhill steps and stopping to let us catch our breath when the air became so thin we gasped for oxygen. We chewed coca leaves, drank coca tea and high fived the porters when we reached our camping site at the end of each day.

Jeff and Katy with some of our incredible porters
Most remarkable, our porters covered the trails in less time than we could, despite carrying four times as much weight – and had our tents, the kitchen and dining tents all set up by the time we arrived each afternoon…and then, they all cheered and clapped us into camp as we entered. Our cook, Emerson was a five-star chef from Lima who decided to change his life and cook on the trail. His culinary skills were extraordinary – every meal was delectable and presented beautifully, from the origami-folded bird napkins to the individual plating of each meal. 

Chocolate Cake Inka Trail style!
Fresh sauces, homemade salsa, tasty soups and delicious vegetables and fruit accompanied each meal – and by the way we ate in a dining tent sitting on stools and enjoying the brightly colored table cloth. As a highlight, Emerson baked a chocolate cake and frosted it with jelly and icing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of two of our team. How do you do that at 11,000 ft after three days on the trail? Brilliant.

Our second campsite at Pacaymayo
Every morning the porters woke us at 5:30 am, greeting us with hot cups of coca tea and bowls of aqua caliente (hot water) so that we could wash in the comfort of our tents. These are luxuries you don’t get at home and here we were on one of the highest trails in the world – several days hike from “civilization”. All along the trail, Rumi was our Inca warrior, supporting each of us, explaining the meaning and purpose of different archeological sites and cultural habits, naming the flowers and the birds. He taught us the fundamentals of the Inca’s logarithmic-based mathematical system; he helped us to focus on the difficult passages; and, along with Alex, shared with us the sheer joy of being in the moment.

Orchids along the trail
One of my favorite memories happened one afternoon when the mists swirled around four of us as we carefully traversed a section of trail set on a steep narrow ridge. The stone cobbles were soaking wet and slippery. The ridge fell straight down 11,000 feet into a hidden valley. We walked carefully, using our trekking poles to stabilize our steps through rocky caves and past exotic bushes filled with spring flowers, sharing the mystical feeling of being in our own private world. I felt a peace that comes when you accomplish something physically demanding and experience the natural world in an undisturbed state, just as the Inca warriors experienced it more than 500 years ago. Trekking the Inca Trail is epic – an experience that fills your soul, your mind and your body. 

Jeff and I rest at a waystation on the Inca Trail
On our fourth morning, we woke at 3:30 am, ate a quick breakfast, broke camp and walked in the dark by headlamp to the checkpoint that leads into Machu Picchu. I will leave that experience for my next blog – suffice it to say that while Machu Picchu is extraordinary and one of the world’s wonders, it is the experience of our magical journey along the Inca Trail that I will remember forever.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Summer Snippets ‘17

Las Etnias I
It is the middle of August and, in the words of my sister-in-law, it’s an epic summer complete with a solar eclipse. It is hot and sunny. Dry and delightful. Relaxed and contented. My feelings of happiness stem from the fact that, among other things, I became a grandma in early June. My summer started in Brazil in March and is continuing unabated five months later. I floated the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I’ve been eating blueberries out of my garden for almost 2 months. All of these things contribute but there is more. Despite the chaos and madness affecting much of our government and our nation and the world, my personal life is peaceful. My large extended family is thriving and, in my late sixties, I am fit and healthy.

Museu da Amanhâ, Rio de Janeiro
Going back in time to the beginning of my “long” summer, on our last Sunday in Rio, we took the Metro to the Museu da Amanhã [Museum of Tomorrow]. It is a an impressive building set at a dizzying angle – an Avant Garde projectile made of hard, white geometric lace. A Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava – a man who is described as one who sees what doesn’t yet exist – designed the museum. Inside are displays, pictures, videos and explanations of all the changes we, the people of the world, have made to our global home… reducing the coral reefs, the ice caps, the forests; mining the earth’s minerals and fossil fuels and taking its water without regard for the future; creating towns and garbage dumps (sometimes landfills) and highways that grow and grow and grow; writing poems and compelling stories; painting marvelous paintings and building fantastic buildings; making sculptures and movies so beautiful they take our breath away. The museum is an open classroom that invites us in and asks us what we want. Can we choose our future, not out of ignorance but with full knowledge? Who knows the answer to this intriguing question?

Las Etnias II
After pondering what we’d seen and feeling sobered by the changes humans have wrought on the planet, we left the museum. We wandered down a nearby promenade that abuts the museum along the water of Guanabara Bay.  The area is home to multiple old warehouses. It was cleaned up and renovated to welcome folks who attended the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Now it is a public space replete with food trucks and shaded picnic tables. We were hungry. It was past lunchtime. In short order we were eating delicious linguisa and ice-cold beer. Afterwards, we walked further down the promenade to see Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra’s gigantic murals, Las Etnias or The Ethnicities. The murals are huge, about 50 feet high and depict five faces from five different continents. I am a fan of street art (not graffiti) and these paintings are extraordinary. They show us some of the multiple races and types of people that enrich our world – a legacy that many of us celebrate and embrace. The murals are well worth a visit if you are in Rio.

About six weeks after returning home to the United States, my husband and I had the privilege of visiting a unique, largely undisturbed ecosystem that, through the efforts of the U.S. Park Service is protected. Through what some folks would have you believe is a bad thing, i.e., government regulation, this place, the Grand Canyon is as spectacular today as it has been for millennia. Its undisturbed beauty is in stark contrast to the destruction of other natural phenomena, such as the Great Barrier Reef that the exhibits at Museu da Amanhã described. 

Paris in Vegas
To get to the Grand Canyon, we flew to the live-wire city of Las Vegas, joining a group of family and friends in the middle of June. The next day, our group left Las Vegas at 5 am to spend eight days floating down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. After driving for about 3 hours through a desert landscape, we reached the Colorado River. There we boarded a 15-person pontoon boat owned and operated skillfully by the Grand Canyon Expeditions Company out of Kanab, Utah. I recommend this excellent company.

Leaving Lee's Ferry on the Colorado
We disembarked at Lee’s Ferry, immediately below the Glen Canyon Dam. Our guide, Art, was a man of many talents – a superb boatman; a geologist; an anthropologist; a chef; and an all-round delightful person. He guided our boat through world-class rapids. He read us Edward Abbey poetry. He prepared yummy gourmet meals three times a day working on camp stoves pitched on sand bars. He told us stories about the Native Americans who have lived in the Canyon for thousands of years and stories about the billion years of rock formations that are missing from the Canyon walls. He
led us up seemingly impassible slot canyons and showed us how to slide on our butts down calcium carbonate filled sky blue rapids. He showed us pictographs and wild flowers that only opened at night, majestic big horn sheep and magnificent Condors floating high above us in the brilliant azure sky. Every night we slept beside the river. We watched the mile-high canyon walls turn into a vivid light show as the setting sun transformed multi-hued layers of rock into deep shades of umber, orange and gold. Together we bonded and experienced one of the world’s most amazing ecosystems. They call the Grand Canyon grand for a reason – its glory is in its sheer size; its beauty; its ancient history; its rainbow of colors, diversity of flora and fauna and its stunning rock formations. Put a visit to the Grand Canyon on your bucket list – and don’t just go to the rim. If you possibly can, make arrangements to float down the river. It is the best way to experience the depth and richness of the Canyon.

Climbing into a slot canyon

The trip was extra special for us as it followed closely on the wondrous birth of our first grandchild. Although my husband and I are the lucky parents of two grown children, the birth of our grandson seemed like a miracle. The coincidence of his birth and the sheer magnificence of the natural world that the Grand Canyon revealed made me feel deeply grateful to be alive.

Now, in August, we are back in Seattle and spending time babysitting the little boy – experiencing his first smiles and his loving energy. Our garden is growing crazy – full of flowers, apples, blueberries, greens, peppers and tomatoes galore. As I’ve said before, I’m not a natural born gardener, but the habit is growing on me now that I have more time in retirement. The benefits of growing food are obvious. In the evening we harvest a multitude of different types of greens and mix them together for an evening salad. Because we have so many blueberries this year, we’ve invented a new salad. We call it the blue and blue: mixed garden greens; blue cheese (Point Reyes Blue is a favorite); freshly picked blueberries and light balsamic vinaigrette. Try it. Simple and delicious.
Flowers in my garden

Jeff and I are continuing circuit training at our local Y – often hitting the gym at 7 am. I never imagined when I retired that I would look forward to getting up at 6 am to work out. Interestingly, our class is populated mostly by other folks in their sixties and seventies who, like us, value regular intense workouts. Workouts that include intense aerobic activity, weight training and stretching are very important as you get older since, without targeted effort, you lose strength and flexibility as you age. That loss has negative impacts on the quality of your life. I don’t believe I could have participated in the Grand Canyon hikes and rock scrambles if I had not developed the physical skills I have at the Y.  I’ve been pleased to find that when Jeff and I go out to catch crabs, I can easily lift a large bucket full of salt water into the boat. Last year I had to limit the amount of water in the bucket since its weight was beyond my capacity. Now, after a year of consistent training, I am stronger!  There is every reason to stay in shape as you age – how else would you get enough water for the crabs to cook in? I’m looking forward to being able to carry my grandson when he gets bigger without hurting my back. Take some time to exercise and enjoy the rest of your summer.
Canyon Art coutesy of Jeff Richey