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

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