#lessstuffmorehumanity

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Gus is an almost 12-yr old German Shorthaired Pointer, who teaches me something every day (for the long version, read this ). This week, he’s been spreading holiday cheer by just being his doofy Gus self: hauling around sticks bigger than his head, stalking squirrels and cosying up to me on the dark chilly nights here in New England.

G-dog is oblivious to the Paris attacks, downed planes, level-4 terror threats, rampant domestic terrorism and the ugly xenophobia that is percolating and bubbling close to the surface here in the US. He’s blind to the infectious “want” that pervades at this time of year and is overjoyed equally at the prospect of an extra dog treat, a long walk in the woods or a giant smelly pile of something rancid (to roll or not to roll, that is the question).

While I’ve always been wary of the thing-filled culture that has evolved, each year I find myself more and more polarized and foreign-feeling here, on my own turf, in my own skin. There is that “I just got the greatest deal on the planet” endorphin rush that puts one in the buying (erm, holiday…) spirit. And there is that “I just made my friend some homemade herbal tea and sent it via airmail” feeling that warms much deeper and lasts longer than a quick chemical high. Each year, I gravitate more towards the things and actions that make people feel good vs. the stuff that fills an immediate want. Sometimes I’m paralysed by the options available.

It’s an anxious time, a somewhat precarious time and a wholly uneasy world to live in… and, bonus: we’re heading into what’s supposed to be a happy, carefree, joy- and wonder-filled season. I, for one, would like to hide under the bed until the dust settles. But that’s just me.

I can’t confess to a completely purchase-free season, however I make these assertions and pledge a new hashtag #lessstuffmorehumanity

  • New traditions make indelible memories; a pile of “wants” are quickly forgotten
  • Some of the best gifts are smiles, songs and handwritten notes (even better are ones hand-delivered)
  • Take photographs, create memories, leave pieces of your heart, make friends…
  • Share meals and stories with those around you
  • Find similarities in others instead of differences
  • Do what you can, from your heart, and it will be more meaningful than a giant thing which will take months to pay off
  • Even the most meager gift has intrinsically more value when it is accompanied by the story of its origin
  • Indulge in experiences, skimp on excess, hatch new plans

As I just texted a friend, “I’m trying to start a revolution, want to help?”

#lessstuffmorehumanity

Oh, and happy holidays.

We’re all immigrants here

This is the passenger list of a boat that sailed from Antwerp in December of 1921.

On it were my great-grandmother (my father’s father’s mother), my grandfather and two other great-uncles I never met. From what I’ve been able to gather, Tillie (my great-grandmother) crossed the ocean with the three boys, and apparently followed my great-grandfather here after he was settled (he arrived around 1914). They were Russian and spoke Yiddish. My father’s maternal side of the family came from Palestine, presumably on similar ships, around 1912.

I am a 2nd generation American, granddaughter of immigrants (who were also likely refugees of both a World War and a Revolution), though I can’t pretend to know their stories. They lived in Brooklyn and built decent lives for their families. They came to this country for the opportunities it offered, for the freedom and security it promised and for a way of life they were not able to achieve in their native lands.

This is the story of how our nation was built: ship by ship; immigrants and refugees bringing their stories, skills and entrepreneurial spirits to this “land of the free.”

While the attacks in Paris made me angry and sick and scared – to me, it was an attack on the western freedoms we take for granted, I’m more disheartened by the way my homeland is responding to a larger crisis. While I don’t think we can accommodate every refugee, and I do think we need to weed out the *known* bad guys, the fact that we’re turning our backs and slamming doors on humans facing the same (or likely worse) conditions that our not-so-distant ancestors did is really truly sad.

I was young when she died, but I remember my great-grandmother Tillie. And it was decades later that I found out how she got to this country. I think about that now, the sacrifices and the challenges my ancestors faced in trying to find a better life, in order to give me a privileged and comfortable one. And I think about the even worse sacrifices the current-day refugees and (im)migrants are making…as I wonder how these politicians can look themselves in the mirror each morning when they realise they are metaphorically turning their backs on the great-grandmother Tillies of their own.

We’re all immigrants here, regardless that we came from Europe or Asia or Africa… Maybe we should embrace that and start to act like better humans now.

Hiking and Peeping New Hampshire

I’ve spent the last week as tourist in New England. As the carpet of nearing-peak fall colour unfurls in the White Mountains’ valleys, this week I relinquish thoughts that one must go far and wide to properly travel. It’s like touristing in my backyard: open-eyed, wondrous and ready for whatever nature (and New Hampshire) has in store…

Fall cooperates fully, with seasonably-warm days and threats of hurricane and cool, wet weather all but an afterthought. Nature’s annual fireworks show begins in earnest on the drive along New Hampshire’s scenic Kancamagus Highway, as we stop intermittently (as one does) for photo opps with nature.

My friend has arrived from Europe to tick off an item on his bucket list: fall hiking on the Appalachian Trail. First stop, the Twinway Trail via the Zealand Trail and the AMC’s Zealand Falls hutViews from the lookout over Whitewall Brook towards Whitewall Mountain are nothing short of show-stopping (Mt. Washington making a cameo appearance in the far background, over my shoulder…actually I don’t think it even snuck into this picture), and we realise this is just the hors d’oeuvres for our big hike tomorrow: the Franconia Ridge. Looking out over these purple (green, red and orange) mountain majesties, it’s no wonder my hiking partner keeps breaking into assorted patriotic tunes as background music to the rhythmic sound of boots on rock (and f-bombs exclaiming the occasional mis-step). The only irony is that he hails from some distance across the pond.

Franconia Ridge: I’ve done this hike before, but not in something on the order of 15 years. It’s a rocky, bouldery, scraggly above treeline hike that’s accessed by the sweet-sounding Falling Waters Trail. I say sweet because for all its scenic splendor, the trail traverses active waterfalls and ascends a steep and treacherous boulder-laden trail that teases you at every corner (“we’re almost at treeline…really…just 1km to go…hehehe”). So just when your quads are screaming, “uncle” and you’ve gotten one foot stuck beneath the other in a bit of rock (and just by telling said hiking partner, will never live that admission down) there’s just a little bit more to climb.

    

The above-treeline views are more the reward than are the (now-squashed) sandwiches we’ve packed for lunch. But our revelry is short-lived because the fog rolls in and its little cat feet kick our butts into gear to move along the trail, bagging Little Haystack (4760ft), Mt. Lincoln (5089ft) and Mt. Lafayette (5260ft) in the process. There’s something deeply satisfying about both checking 4000-footers off a “did that” list and feeling that you did that with your own steam. Yay, us!

   

As if the descent might be easier than the ascent… We descend with the hope that the wisps of cloud and fog don’t follow us back into the trees and morph into forest trolls. Quads steeled for the endeavour, we march onward, downward and into the forest via the AMC Greenleaf Hut and the Greenleaf Trail. It’s all downhill from here, though this particular downhill section also includes its gauntlet of slick granite and really gnarly boulderized and rooty outcroppings. Proceeding with caution and a smattering of hummed ballads (and Queen songs), we land back at the car feeling that way you do when you’ve used the human machine as intended.

Our third day of hiking was the much more relaxing, yet only slightly less bouldery, Arethusa Falls trail to Frankenstein Cliff. As if the highest/biggest/best views thing could be outdone with each subsequent day, it delivered as promised: tallest waterfall in New Hampshire, jaw-dropping views from the cliff and an opportunity to walk along the tallest railway trestle in NH. By suggestion, I’m bringing back the term “neat-o!”

     

Leaf-peeping in New England is somewhat a sport, with prognosticators forecasting the best weeks to catch peak foliage months in advance. Reality dictates that you get what you get, though we’re more than giddy to have caught New Hampshire on a good week, the right side of peak.

Another thing you don’t much do when you’re home: hire a guide. So in the tourist spirit, we hired a climbing instructor for the day from IME (best climbing store in the region), and set off to scale some rock and help me surmount a dread-fear of multi-pitch climbs.

And so, looking from the top of the first climb, seeing Mt. Washington and the butt-crack of Huntington Ravine, I felt small but strong; held firmly by my faithful belayer and the trusty ropes and harness. The 2nd pitch was not nearly as daunting as expected (though the bruises on my legs from gripping razor-sharp rock may tell a different tale), and from something on the order of 100 feet from where my feet left the ground, the views and the feeling of being simultaneously surrounded by and part of nature were something there are not words in the English language to describe.

  

While my version of travelling has little to do with seeing crowded attractions or doing the mainstream, we surely partook in our share of cider donuts (a seasonal New England delicacy), wandered in and out of gift shops and even contemplated taking the Cog Railway up Mt. Washington before nixing that idea in favor of a day of climbing across the way. Another hike to add to the next NH Adventure itinerary, I reckon…

The ride home had us detour through Ogunquit, ME for lobsters at Barnacle Billy’s (because you have to!) and some outlet shopping in Kittery to dodge the inevitable raindrops. A good time was had by all as they say… And so the week ends with a local afternoon of people-watching in Salem as the witch-crazy flock here from all ends of the earth for their annual pilgrimage.

Next adventure will hopefully take me out of New England, but as adventures in one’s backyard – and adventures in general – go, it was pretty great.

On World Photography Day

I’m an amateur and today is World Photography Day.

I inherited my love of photography from my father. Hours spent in the basement darkroom taught me patience, persistence, practice (in not necessarily that order) and the wonder that comes from seeing an image emerge from its liquid bath. I try to take a picture or two (or sixteen) every day. It’s like a snapshot in time, capturing my moods, my perspective and a connection with the natural world; the world around me. It’s amazing to observe the ocean or the woods, my dog, or even interesting geometry in the things we walk past every day…even the same vantage point provides a new perspective each time you visit.

It’s a reminder that we live in an evolving, moving and living-breathing space.

Pictures capture the wry smiles and the veiled tears; the summer growth spurts, the holiday silliness and our “I can finally do this” moments. I love how ubiquitous images are today – there is truth to the saying, “a picture tells a thousand words.”

While we live in a world where we hang our shameless selves out there, biggifying and aggrandizing our humble existences, I think photography – with the shutter’s click – reminds us that we are individual historians, capturing and curating our life’s work for posterity. It reminds us to slow down, to pay attention to details and to sometimes put the camera down to just listen.

Today, I captured nature’s symmetry and a woman in a hat. Yesterday, it was ships in the harbour and a giant hibiscus. Photography enables us to be travellers in our own daily routines, and observers that discern amazing tidbits from the daily ritual.

  

   

Bonus: dragonflies…

Cynicism on the 4th of July

This is a departure from International travel musings… but since it’s 4th of July – Independence Day in the US – and a gloomy, muggy one at that, I was thinking about what this day means to me. I’m conflicted.

I’ve stayed in the US my entire life. I’ve lived in the Northeast, but travelled through much of this country… the deserts and mountains, scrub prairie and wine country; national parks and those “only in America” bizarro attractions like the Corn Palace and Wall Drug, South of the Border and giant roadside animal statues… (though somehow I’ve missed the Pacific Northwest) (an aside: read my thoughts on “where we stay“)

I am a citizen of a country founded by immigrants, whose “personality” has evolved to something like arrogance towards (and foisted upon) the rest of the world. Of that I’m a little embarrassed. Though I am grateful to live in a place where, on any given day, I can walk freely down the street dressed for the weather. I live in a land where I have the opportunity to learn. The permission to drive. The freedom to practice yoga, connect with friends on Facebook and vote (!), without interference from my government. I have clean water, plentiful food, access to hospitals (despite the drama around our healthcare system) and a safe place to sleep at night. These are all things of first-world privilege.

But what if it weren’t “one nation under god”? What if it were one nation, under an amazing, awe-inspiring, interconnected and interdependent universe… would that enable people to see things around us (and interact with others) in a different light? Would it curtail domestic terrorism? Would haters still hate?

Humans invented this concept of god thousands of years ago to make some semblance of the universal goings-on around them. They foraged, feuded and, likely, fornicated their way to modern civilisation. Multiple nations, under an all-encompassing universe.

Fast-forward two or five thousand years, and we’ve divided, conquered and multiplied… We ventured east, north, south and eventually discovered the west. So here we are, living now in one nation, under a domineering right-wing Christian political influence, fairly divisible (depending, potentially, on who’s getting paid to speak loudest), with some semblance of liberty (unless you tread too far to the right or left) and a birthright expectation of justice for all.

Happy 4th of July from a semi-cynical, grateful (but not necessarily always proud to be) American.