Archive for Travels and Tunes

The barrier islands off the Georgia coast

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One of many very old Live Oaks on St. Simon’s Island

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Spanish Moss festoons nearly every tree on St. Simon’s Island

A recent visit to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia netted me an impromptu suntan. I never realized how intense the sun would be when I hunkered down on a bench to enjoy the sounds of the seabirds and watch the boaters putt-putting past, some of them intent on finding a good fishing spot, others simply enjoying time on the sun-splashed waterway.

The extensive marshes that protect the mainland helped explain why several of the locals claimed that hurricanes rarely did much damage to the nearby homes, as the wind-whipped waves first have to traverse the canals between the islands and then move through those marshes before making true landfall.

Of interest as well were the huge live oaks that I saw. Their branches, though still mostly bare, seemed to spread outward like the prongs of an umbrella over the ground where their roots were located. The Spanish Moss that hung from many of the trees also gave an almost unworldly patina as they swayed in the breezes that always seemed to pick up at dusk.

If you’ve never been to these islands–mostly a haven for wealthy snowbirds and weekend day-trippers–put them on your to-do list. At least in spring. The temps and humidity of summer are likely to be too much for those of us used to a drier, more temperate, climate.

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Why Air Travel Isn’t Fun Anymore

sky_blue_airplaneI recall when getting on a plane was the start of an adventure that began with a minimum of hassles during the boarding process, reasonably comfortable seats, free meals (even if the food wasn’t gourmet) and easily found luggage at the baggage claim areas.

Not anymore.

Take, for example, my most recent series of flights which began innocuously enough. We boarded and I felt myself lucky to find a spot in the overhead compartment for my carry-on luggage. A gentleman behind me graciously offered to help me place it above my head. My window seat felt cramped, but at least I could offset my sense of claustrophobia by staring out the window every few minutes. Unfortunately, the view was of the tarmac, where we sat and sat and sat for too many minutes, which gradually extended to hours. The reason given? A mechanical difficulty that eventually brought the plane back to the terminal, but the captive passengers were not allowed to deplane.
When we finally took off, I was counting the minutes to landing and debating with myself whether I would make it to my next connection.

Turns out I was two minutes late, even after answering the call over the loudspeakers in the large terminal that I was on my way. That way included a dash down one escalator, trooping down two more sets of stairs, a ride on an underground tram, a rush up another escalator and race down the terminal to the gate.

Forty-five minutes later, I had been rebooked on another carrier to another city not on my original itinerary. Three hours later, I boarded again and endured another flight, this time in the middle seat, squashed between a gentleman who had to weigh at least three hundred pounds and a squirming eight-year-old who alternately wailed and pouted that Daddy (behind us in the next row) wouldn’t give her more food.

Arrival for my final flight began badly, when I learned that it had been cancelled, no reason given. When I and another passenger inquired, we were treated as if we didn’t deserve to know. Yet another rebooking then occurred, but only as a standby passenger, said flight not to take off until another three hours had elapsed. Were I not to get on that flight, I would have to stay overnight, for which I would be issued a voucher for a nearby hotel. Although my day had already extended to eighteen hours of flying time, I was refused said voucher until and unless I couldn’t get on that final flight. More waiting time elapsed.

Then began yet another nail-biting wait for the previously-booked passengers to board and a slow calling of the names of the other dozen or so passengers like me, who had been placed in standby status.

Mine was the last name called to board that flight. My seat? Almost at the back of the plane where the pressure changes on take-off and landing was of unpleasant intensity. Arrival at my destination occurred 21 hours after I had arisen to catch the original plane.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, my return flight included another readjustment after I learned that the seat I had originally reserved on plane number two had been eliminated when a smaller jet was substituted for the original one. No advance warning was provided regarding this change. The gate attendant acted as if it really wasn’t my concern that this change had been made. Once again I was moved to the back of the plane. Blessedly, a window seat that enabled me to try to ignore the snoring of a nearby passenger and his head, which pressed uncomfortably against my shoulder after he descended into sleep.

How common does all this occur? I’d love to hear from others who have endured similar nightmarish experiences when simply attempting to fly from point one to points two, three and four.

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Pueblo Petroglyphs

Check out the rabbit

Check out the rabbit

Birds and a Rattler!

Birds and a Rattler!

Although I’ve glimpsed them before, petroglyphs continue to amaze and intrigue. Most are quite old and reflect what was important to the American Indian groups that made them.

While in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I jumped at the opportunity to check out a gathering of petroglyphs surrounded by a modern residential subdivision. Believe it or not, one had only to walk into the protected area (behind people’s backyard fences!) to see them.

Etched onto dark-colored (sometimes black) volcanic boulders that resembled a collection of piles a giant might have created, the etchings stand out against the darkness of the rocks and remain where they were originally drawn, shining in the sun for all to see. It was easy to speculate on the artists who created them and how they must have lived many years ago.

I spotted a figure that had to be a representation of a rabbit, and another rock showing birds and a coiled snake, very likely confirming that rattlers existed there, too, as well as a grouping of people’s faces, perhaps suggesting a gathering to share the bounty of the gardens of the Pueblo peoples who inhabited the area then and now. What I don’t know are which Pueblo members created these etchings on the rocks. Within the boundaries of New Mexico can be found the artifacts of nearly twenty different Pueblo peoples, each with their own language, though their way of life was similar enough to other American Indians that they sometimes met with more well-known tribes (such as the Zuni, Navaho, and Hopi) in large groups.

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Cross-Cultural Mixes

Minnie Mouse socks and jhanjara anklet bracelet

Minnie Mouse socks and jhanjara anklet bracelet

I have always been intrigued by the differences ( as well as the similarities between and across cultures.) For example, in so many cultures, breads are important additions to many meals. How many cultures can you think of that use a flat bread, often in a circular or oval shape?

This past holiday season, I was treated to two more examples of the mixing of cultures via dress. One might even call them icons, inasmuch as the elements served as representatives of different cultures. The picture to the right is one example: a delightful pre-schooler wearing Minnie Mouse socks and Indian anklets with tiny bells (called jhanjara). It was easy to hear her coming as she joyfully tripped from one room to the other, those little bells around her ankles tinkling with each step.
Yet another example was an East Asian woman wearing a beautiful red Salwar Kameez outfit. Because the outside temperature was much colder than she preferred, she had topped her traditional Indian dress with a gorgeous wool Norwegian sweater perfect for protection against the chill!

In considering how poorly the representatives of different nations sometimes communicate with each other, I was struck with how “right” it seems to see the above combinations of different cultural dress. I suspect the attitudes of the wearers also reflects the acceptance and melding of different cultures as well.

Here’s to every individual embracing the wide variety of cultures and their values in our world, irrespective of national boundaries and languages!

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A Find I Never Expected – Bisbee, AZ

One view of the Lavender Open Pit Mine

One view of the Lavender Open Pit Mine

Another view of the Lavender Open Pit Mine

Another view of the Lavender Open Pit Mine

Bisbee, AZ is at a much higher elevation than Phoenix, and located very near the Mexican border. When we arrived, one step outside the car rewarded us with far colder breezes than anticipated. After all, we figured that the farther south we went, the warmer it would be. However, I recall that it was 25 degrees F that day. Thank goodness I had my parka with the fur-lined hood!

We explored the Queen Mine that began mining copper in the 1800s. Inside the mine, the temperature and was an almost-balmy 46 degrees. Although this mine stopped being worked in the mid 1940s, the nearby Lavender open pit mine remained active until the mid 1970s; its depths were spectacular in the bright sun.

I also discovered a terrific vegan restaurant in Bisbee and a store that sells hundreds of different flavors of olive oil, in addition to jars with the label, “Frog Balls.” In actuality, those jars contained delicious pickled brussels sprouts. Yes, I sampled them, and would have taken some jars home had I not been flying.

This little town, previously housing more than 10,000 souls when the mines were working, is much smaller now, and caters primarily to tourists who wander south from the big city, as well as those less inclined to stop in touristy Tombstone with the cowboys who re-enact the “fight at the OK corral.” That violence actually took place in a bar, according to one of the actors we spoke with.

Never been to southern Arizona? Go and explore. There are many things to see there, including the caverns we didn’t get a chance to explore, and the stargazing opportunities at the Kitts Peak Observatory. Those are just two of the places I plan to visit on my next trip to warmer climes—which means planning my visit when the temps are above freezing, preferably in the 70s!

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Arizona Flora

A classic view in Arizona

A classic view in Arizona

A recent trip to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Scottsdale, Arizona, yielded a plethora of unique shapes–in spite of the unseasonably cold weather that had me thankful to have worn a parka.

Ironwood shapes were an added set of sculptures that commemorated the contributions of Phil Hebets who, in 1980, “originated a tree boxing methodology that enabled over one million native plants to be salvaged rather than bulldozed.” One result of his technology is the municipal ordinances in places like Tucson that require that native plants be saved and replanted in developments. Nothing looks more out of place in a desert landscape than a green lawn more appropriately found in northern climes.

Additionally, although not yet the season for them, I found some blossoms that portend how colorful a desert landscape can be in the warmer spring months when butterflies and hummingbirds visit the area.

If you’ve never been to the botanical gardens in Scottsdale, I recommend them. The entire facility (not counting the gift shops) can be found outside. You can walk the trails, even climb a high hill that overlooks the gardens. Although located very near major thoroughfares with whizzing cars, I found myself imagining having been transported far from civilization as I wandered among the saguaros (so tall and stately) and the barrel cacti (resembling plump circles as they squatted on the ground). Even the more recent contributions of Chihuly took on a desert-like persona as they welcome visitors near the entrance.

Welcome to the Desert Botanical Gardens

Welcome to the Desert Botanical Gardens

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Classic barrel cacti

Classic barrel cacti

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Where is Abingdon?

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Across the valley from our rural rehearsal venue

One of my first loves is choral singing. My friends know they’ll find me raising my voice in different venues throughout the year, such as my local church choir, the annual Handel’s Messiah community sing, the Skagit Symphony Orchestra at least once a year, and various cities around the country. Two such special experiences included singing at Carnegie Hall, a truly unexpected opportunity, I never expected. More recently, I’ve discovered  Road Scholar Choral Participation programs that involve singing. (To check them out, go to https://www.roadscholar.org.

This past year was my first attendance in tiny Abingdon, VA, population, approximately 8,200, and home to the wonderful Barter Theatre (www.bartertheatre.com). If you live within range and haven’t enjoyed its offerings, do yourself a favor and take in a show there. You won’t regret it. Do these names—Gregory Peck, Kevin Spacey, Ernest Borgnine, Patricia Neal, Larry Linville—ring a bell? They’ve all played there.  Their pictures are on a wall near the gift shop.

Back to Abingdon. This particular musical experience included learning songs in Spanish, Latin, and Quetzal, as well as English, and included tunes from the sixteenth century as well as more modern pieces, including a special arrangement of “They Dance Alone,” by Sting. The singers, many of whom return year after year, were especially welcoming when I finally wandered in after three flights and a small shuttle ride across the Tennessee-Virginia line.

The director, Andrew Walker, was a fabulous find, knowledgeable, skilled at bringing out our best efforts, and appreciative of even the most off-the-wall comments during rehearsals.  We probably laughed almost as much as we sang. As one who’s always believed that laughter is one of the most healing of medicines, I have to say that my time in Abingdon was a delightful way to improve my mental health.

We sang 5-6 hours/day. Non-singers might think that’s too much, but singers love to sing and our rehearsals did include breaks.

What made Abingdon even more special was the celebration of one couple’s first wedding anniversary. They exchanged wedding vows last year at this same venue with many of the same singers in attendance. I don’t know how many other Road Scholar events have included a wedding, but that this one did speaks to how special this group is for its participants, at least half of whom include new people each year. I count myself among those who have recently discovered this group and who intend to return.

If you’re interested in this and other groups, look us up in the Road Scholar offerings for the month of November. Even if you have to come from more than 2,5000 miles away, as I did, you won’t regret it.

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