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Nature

Nature

Kilifi in Words


[“Kilifi in Pictures” coming soon!]

I have been in Kilifi, Kenya now for over 3 weeks. I think some (word) snapshots are overdue…

Kilifi lies 3.6 degrees south of the equator on the north coast of Kenya. Despite what the U.S. and other governments would have you think, most of the coast here is very safe and very calm—even though it is majority Muslim (Sarcasm. Please catch the sarcasm.)—statistically much safer than Nairobi.

Sunrise and sunset both occur sometime around seven o’clock. I only seem to hear the call to prayer at four in the afternoon, though I know it happens five times a day. Most mornings at seven an outraged cacophony of clucking erupts from one of the bird pens; the dogs, too, rise to a frenzy at the taunting of crows.

The roots of mangroves along Kilifi Creek are as so many riddles, twisted mysteries temporarily revealed at low tide. The crabs seem at home there in their world of slick sideways and salt-cured dark.

The water is brine-y and calm. Everything about Kilifi, in fact, seems quieter than Diani. The dogs more mellow; the beach less windy; the locals who spend time there less aggressive. The Distant Relatives Ecolodge is a lush experiment in permaculture and sustainability. Sawdust composting toilets and resident chickens immediately show that this is not your typical backpackers.

The fingers of my right hand sport small gashes from my daily work on a recycled glass mosaic on the outdoor pizza oven. Tired of smashing glass and working with cement, I will switch to painting an indoor mural tomorrow.

Pineapple juice drips down my arms as I lounge on Musafir’s (a traditional Arabic/Swahili ship) unfinished deck. A volunteer sings in Italian as he empties buckets of water overboard—a twice-weekly task, as cotton fills the gaps between boards. We are far enough from shore that no flies would dream of making the journey out. The tide rises, approaching the roots of the first mangrove trees on shore.

I come to the beach often to write, resting in the welcoming arms of one of the trees. Kilifi inspires peace and creativity, movement and poetry… that, I believe, is plenty.

***
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Waiting For The Invisible, Part III

I think I could write about autumn forever. Something about this turning of the season insists on words. I would like to complete the series I began at the start of the summer, ‘Waiting for the Invisible’ (though who knows, there may be more to come), on the process of planting and growing and mostly waiting…

The invisible has made itself known in a brilliant display of flowering trees, fruit-bearing plants, and a startling array of greens. Now, so soon, it begins again to slip beneath the Earth’s surface. Exuberant vines shrink and fade to brown; trees begin to shake themselves free of their leaves, laying a blanket down upon their roots; and the flowers drop their petals and turn inward, arming themselves against the coming cold.
Though we still have hot, Indian Summer days like today, which bewilder us with the promise of a winter-less year, the brisk nights and turning leaves belie the charade. Autumn lurks in the corners, and at her heels, Winter.
As the summer picked up, gardening mostly lost out to other, more insistent commitments in my week. The weeding got away from me, until I could no longer where the paths had once lain. My cucumbers foundered in poor soil, and the squash—I forgot to check the squash, so I don’t know…
You could say I forgot to wait for the invisible to fully unveil, and like an unwatched pot, summer came to a boil while my back was turned, my attention elsewhere.
Soon, a crackling carpet of brown will cover the evidence. The lively communities that kept me company these past months will settle once more to a nearly inaudible hum underground. The creature who rummages each night in the compost pile will go into hibernation (or maybe not… I can’t be sure since I don’t know what he is, or if his kind hibernates!).
The invisible, irrepressible clamor of life and green and growth will have come and gone, and I don’t know that I will be any the wiser for the waiting.

But I will remember its exuberance. I will know, next time, that whether I wait and watch or not, heeded or not, the invisible will wake and unfurl and rise again.
~
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I Went on a Vision Quest and All I Brought Back Was…

At exactly 3:00pm today, I passed the “Town of Middlebury” sign on Route 7.
I’m back.
Though it will be days, weeks, or perhaps months before I begin to understand the last ten days, I wanted to share with you my first impressions. A selection (hodge podge) of thoughts and verses from my journal. Some spiritual, but more not.
I will be recording more organized second, third and fourth impressions in the coming weeks, but I think this might actually provide a more visceral glimpse of my experience.
I could sum it up by saying nothing happened. Or everything happened. Reality is probably somewhere in between. But I would rather share the journey…
On Wednesday, September 17, the night before my departure, it takes me hours to fall asleep. Hours upon hours upon hours.
Thursday, September 18
I am searching for the cause of my searching.
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt made guest appearances in my dream. Really?
Friday, September 19
It is becoming clear that I brought far too many books to fill very little down time. (I packed a stack of ten…)
Saturday, September 20
I have decided to leave behind my camera (Sorry, that does mean no pictures), and my yoga mat. I have a feeling I won’t need them…
I am leaving behind the known. Soon I will begin (or continue!) to walk my path into being. Yes!
Sunday, September 21
Today, I found my place of power (location for my solo time: 4 days and 4 nights). I hope. It is a solid 45 minutes, maybe more, from base camp… a little bit apprehensive about the walk out after four days of fasting. Close to the shore (Lake Sommerset, Southern VT), but back into the woods a little ways, and in a lovely circle of young trees that sing back to the wind.
[Frog is making me laugh, trying to be so stealthy as he walks past my sleeping bag.]
Today is Monday, September 22
How many kinds of blue have passed before my eyes today, rippling across the lake? Could I name them all? Aquamarine. Periwinkle. Turquoise. Navy. Sky reflected in lake blue. Blue within and upon blue. What do we call that? Sky blue. Royal blue. Midnight blue. Blue that flutters in the wind. Blue that reaches beneath the surface. Blue that reflects a sudden bit of sunlight and sparkles. Do we have names for so many kinds of blue?
Broken trees and branches are guiding me through the woods today.
Sometime this afternoon it hit me: Shit, days are really long.
Today is Tuesday, September 23
I just spent the entire morning doing absolutely nothing. I’ve been lying on the rocks trying to take in as much sun as possible. The sun is hot, but the air is cold—I’ve had to keep rotating to keep warm. I feel no desire to do any ritual right now, no restlessness… I could do with a slightly more comfortable “do nothing” spot, though.
No matter what, I’m telling myself, I will come out of this stronger, and knowing myself better—for that alone it will be worthwhile.
[I’m hungry at this moment.]
The sun may not have set yet, but I am ready for bed, and to move on to the next day. I let my stomach know that we still had 2.5 more days until food—best not to dwell on it.
Waiting for Dusk
As the water turns from shimmering teal to gray,
And the last drops of sunlight fade from sight,
I am here, waiting for dusk.
She gathers herself—slowly, slowly—
One wispy purple shroud at a time,
Like the longest dimmer in the world, lowered without haste.
And still I am here, waiting for dusk.
The wind never tires, but my body asks for rest;
The birds chatter on, and the flies collect around my tarp—
The sky holds on stubbornly to blue,
As I rest here, waiting for dusk.
[Definitely still hungry. Dreaming about breakfast Saturday morning!]
Today is Wednesday, September 24
When I finally rise, the sun is already high in the sky, and the last wisps of fog glide silently across the water until they vanish. Soon, they will be only a ghostly memory. Now, the lake is a perfect mirror with foggy edges, and the grass along the shore sparkles with dew, iridescent.
I have never felt so much doubt. I don’t feel any different; still have no idea why I’m here, what I’m trying to find. My mind holds on stubbornly, along with my stomach, to normalcy.
My journey thus far, from Mother Earth’s perspective (abridged)
I saw here wandering through my forest, so lost.
I heard her cry out for guidance, but she will find her way.
I listened as she lamented her doubt, her lost-ness to Tree, to Rock and to Lake.
The brown leaves on which she sat carried them to me.
I heard, but I did not answer…
Maybe I will appear to her in spectacular fashion. Maybe not.
This journey she finds herself on—the truth and vision and clarity she seeks—
Well, it is all within her, and I can only play a supporting role.
When she learns this, she will be ready to meet me.
For then, it will no longer matter.
Today is Thursday, September 25 (Last day of solo time)
I want a fucking steak.
(On the last night of a quest, many people choose to stay up from sundown to sunrise in something called a purpose circle. Inadvertently marooned on my chosen spot, far from my sleeping bag and other gear, I managed to stay up all night. Not because I wanted to in the end, but because I couldn’t make it back in the dark, and because I would have turned into a popsicle if I didn’t keep moving!)
On the night of Friday, September 26, back in my tent and with food in my belly, I wrote this about the experience:
The Darkest Night
Strange calls rise up across the water, break this eternal quiet.
A faint light hums at the horizon, taunting me with the thought of dawn, but that is far away still.
There is no moon, this night.
There is no rest, this night. No respite in sight.
Icy dew falls heavy upon the earth, chills me to the bone.
Geese honk through the sky, in a hurry to get where they’re going.
I, too, am desperate to return.
I, too, have called, unanswered, too long. Slowly my voice fades from song.
I know there will be no more fire, this night.
Any warmth must be my own.
This is the darkest night, and nothing will break it but dawn.
But I don’t see that Light has been there all along,
Because it was right before my own eyes.

 I don’t know exactly what I learned or what I am bringing back from my time away, but I intend to find out.
~
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Nature

Animals Who Think They Are People

I can’t believe I never got around to posting these. I spent a good chunk of my 2012-2013 travels photographing animals who seemed to really believe they were people. One part photos of animals standing on things in entertaining ways; one part dogs being dogs, goats being goats, etc; these photos never fail to make me chuckle.

Something about this rooster standing on a motorcycle is so delightful. These roosters really want to go for a joy ride, but they can’t find their keys!

“I could have sworn I tucked them in here somewhere.” “Dammit Bob, it’s always something with you!”

Dogs are notorious for thinking they are people.

“Who? Me? I’m not a dog. Nope, no dogs here.”

This dog really wants to go to school, but they won’t let him in.

And this dog is still waiting for his meal to be served.
“Um, excuse me? I think you forgot something.”

This monkey may or may not think he is a person, but he knows he is pulling one over on that silly lion.

“I sit on your head, lion!”
And last but not least, my favorite travel photo, which I have definitely posted before, deserves to join this list: a goat riding a cow.
I hope you enjoy these moments of classic animal behavior as much as I do!
~
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Waiting for the Invisible, Part II

(I promised lots of pictures this time…)

Watermelon flower. I think I am a little bit in love with these plants.

It’s official, there is nothing invisible about my garden now. Two strapping zucchini vines are nearly two feet tall, competing with the flowers I didn’t know were already planted there. Tomatoes have turned from green to orange. Red is just around the corner. The turnips that I don’t want to eat and will probably give away are pushing round white haunches out of the earth. Even the watermelon vine (Yes, watermelon in Vermont!) displays one tiny fruit the size of my pinky nail, and several flowers. The haricots vert, too, are in bloom, with the scrawny beginnings of green beans dangling beneath.

Teeny tiny baby watermelon!

Soon we will be enjoying fiori di zuccha (zucchini flowers), stuffed with cheese and fried, fresh tomatoes and basil warm from the sun, and… something with turnips. (Maybe I will grow to love turnips.) Here they are, round two of garden photographs:

Purple basil flowers. I hear you are supposed to clip them, but they’re too beautiful!

Oh turnips, what will I do with you?

Tomato before.
Tomato now.
Zucchini before.
Zucchini now.
The haricots vert survived the rabbits, hedgehogs and foxes!

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do! Check back for Part III.
~
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Waiting for the Invisible

I expect this garden will teach me many things this summer. Though garden is perhaps too tame a word to describe it– too civilized. No tidy rows or neat squares here. On all sides of my house the land extends outward and upward in near vertical lines, and the eye loses track of the boundaries between the cultivated and the wild. Pockets of arable soil dot the landscape, reclaimed from the hill by sheer determination. Vines tangle with maples and violets fraternize with garlic chives and clover. Beans that were planted in one patch willfully assert themselves in the neighboring one– “volunteers,” as my friend Rae calls them.

Nine days now have passed since I planted what remained of these plots. (The owner had already planted beans and peas, chives and thyme some weeks prior.) I contributed squash and zucchini, cucumbers and collard greens, turnips, parsley and arugula. Nine days later and I begin to lose patience. Where are they?

The herbs and tomatoes I bought as starters stand strong in their pots by the driveway. Turnip shoots emerge from the earth in droves; the zucchini begin to display a few shy leaves; and the rest… the rest remain hidden, continuing along a mysterious, underground journey that I can only guess at. Well, thanks to high school Biology I can do more than guess, but even so, where are all the rest? I ask, exasperated. I don’t even like turnips!

Calm down, I remind myself. Breath. In and out. These are seeds, not magic beans, and they don’t in fact grow overnight. When I ‘woofed’ (worked on an organic farm) in Sicily, I arrived in June, at the start of a lengthy harvest season. Zucchini already a foot long and figs falling off the trees. There was no waiting; I enjoyed an instant gratification of food production matched only by… supermarkets. And fairy tales.

But in the real world of dirt and seeds and seasons and cycles, there is a germination period: 4-12 days for cucumbers, 7-14 for squash. That’s a lot of days. Nine days in, and I have to remind myself to have patience; to quiet the pessimistic, doubtful voice in my head whispering, they’re never coming.

Where are those darn plants? They’re coming. Are we there yet? No, but we’re on our way.

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Asia, Nature

One, Two, Tsum*!


How about an update on my seventeen-day trekking adventure in fast-forward journal mode? Let’s go!
Day 1 (September 26): Kathmandu (elevation 1400 meters) to Arughat (elevation 600 meters). Ten hours by bus, pointy seats, enough said.

Day 2 (September 27): Arughat to Lapu Besi (884m). Approximately four hours walking.
Jesus Travels (our bus, so named for the words painted on its front) takes us from Arughat to Arkhet Bazaar, the starting point of our trek.
I am content. Sore knee, smushed toe, sore thumb, but wholly content.  Rivers and jagged green valleys—my element.  No thoughts today.  First night of camping, last real shower of the excursion.
Day 3 (September 28): Lapu Besi to Korlabesi (970m). Three and a half hours, Sherpa flat.
 A waterfall (bpap chu, Tib.) around every corner.  Trail is ‘Sherpa flat,’ meaning little net gain in elevation, but almost constant up and down. Lungi time (bathing wrapped in cotton fabric to preserve modesty) at the river.
Day 4 (September 29): Korlabesi to Jagat (1340m). About five and a half hours.
Sitting on the ‘front porch’ of my tent, looking out at the sparsely green cliffs that drop into the icy Buddhi Gandaki river below, the taste of Hannah’s sawdust-flavored oat squares in my mouth, I am taking a break from thinking beyond “how beautiful.”  My thoughts today? “When’s dinner?” Should I put on sunblock? Nah.” “Chill out and enjoy the breaks, Toby; they’re good for you.”  It’s good to be moving, waking up to these mountains (and a donkey outside my tent); it is enough for the moment.
Day 5 (September 30): Jagat to Lokpa (2040m).  About six hours.
Walking donkey pace the last two hours—getting stuck behind our donkey train an unfortunate development in the day.  We find out that stealthy leeches abound at this campsite, but I manage to escape leech-free.
Day 6 (October 1): Lokpa to Chumling (2363m). About three hours, all uphill.
Happy October. Woke up to rain throughout the night; all gear soaking wet.  Happy October—orange leaves on the ground today!  The most awkward bucket bath of my life, trying to rinse my hair under the waist-high spigot.  One mitten down, one to go.

Day 7 (October 2): Chumling to Chhekam (3010m).  About three hours, very steep uphill.

It’s cold here! Trying to finish crocheting mitten number two before my fingers fall off.  The winter hat and down jacket have made it out of my backpack.  Landscape shifted to pine forests today.  Rock cairns emerging from the mist along the trail.  Real cowbell music, accompanied by the very talkative wearers.  A horse and rider trot smartly across an iron suspension bridge: hello, Tsum.
Day 8 (October 3): Chhekam to Ngakhu (~3100m). Less than an hour.
The present has become very much a mystery, as well as a gift.  Popo-lak(grandfather, Tib. The lak, pronounced ‘la,’ is honorific) Dawa Doje and Amma-lak (mother, Tib. Used indiscriminately to address village women) Pasang Dolma wander in and out of the kitchen while Traci and I wonder what exactly to do in our new homestay.
Day 8-11 (October 3-6): Homestay at Ngakhu.
Grain threshing, snot-nosed children spinning, bag carrying and other fun and games (and work) at the field behind our house.  The women here are beautiful and ageless; twenty or fifty, they look older than their years and do the same back-breaking work together.  A day long trail ride through the surrounding area in the most uncomfortable saddle I have ever experienced. Still, I can’t think of a better way to see Tsum than cantering along a narrow alley between stone walls, slouched back slightly the way they ride here.  Pancakes for breakfast: inji (foreigner) food, I suspect.  The rhythmic clicking of amma-lak’sloom fills the sun-lightened air for a few minutes one morning.  Strips of blue green turquoise, red pink burgundy, thread onto the empty page and the music fills with pattern.  Little brother Samden sings Justin Bieber’s “Baby” to baby shimi (cat, Tib.): the silliest thing ever.  Pasang Dolma drags a bull three times her size by his nose ring.  She ties the legs of the female tso(yak-cow hybrids) together and the lilt of her humming draws milk into the wood pail between her knees.  Her head scarf tied neatly, mountains framing the picture—no photos of this moment; memories will last longer.  A sick and sleepless night slows me down, and I spend some time recuperating from a sinus infection/cold.
Day 11 (October 6): Move to campsite at Lar (3245m). Colder and windier.

Day 12 (October 7): Camping in Lar.

Hot sun, cold wind, wide expanse of bleached, smooth stones hiding trickling tributaries to the icy blue river beyond.
Day 13 (October 8): Lar to Chumling. A few hours downhill.
Hannah and I do a bit of stretching on the second story of the building by our campsite.  Apparently the most interesting to happen to our riveted audience in weeks.
Day 14 (October 9): Chumling to Jagat.  About ten hours, including a long lunch break.
5:00 am wake-up. 3:45, really, thanks to the porters’ usual habit of regular pot banging as they make breakfast.  Snickers bar turned white and crumbly from two weeks of rough travel. Still tasty.  I have had more candy bars in the last month than in my entire life prior.
Day 15 (October 10): Jagat to Kani Besi (~720m) Ten hours, lunch break included.
Many more trekkers heading up as we hike out.  Glad to miss the crowds.
Day 16 (October 11): Kani Besi to Arughat.  Many hours.
Happy birthday to me! Hot walk in the sun and a long wait for trusty Jesus Travels to deliver us from Arkhet Bazaar.  A rum and coke to celebrate twenty-one years of life, a lovely birthday cake, and a night sleeping under the stars make up for it.
Day 17 (October 12): Arughat to Kathmandu. Ten-ish hours.
Wake-up at some horrible pre-five o’clock hour. Much more comfortable bus. Cappuccino and a slice of chocolate musse cake at Flavors Cafe to celebrate my return to Bodha.

Lest you think classes were absent from this trip, most mornings featured Tibetan language class, and many afternoons we heard lectures from our traveling entourage of teachers and scholars. Unfortunately, these happenings failed to make the final cut for this post.

*Tsum is the name of the valley where we trekked. Sum means three in Tibetan. Chik, Nyi, Sum translates as One, Two, Three!
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