Author Archives: Michelle

Last Night, Night Before

Last Night, Night Before

Michelle J. Pearcy

 

Last night, night before

24 robbers at my door,

I got up and let them in and hit’em in the head with a rolling pin.

Ready?

Ready or not, here I come.

You’re ‘it’. You have your eyes covered, face pressed against a tree. You’re the seeker, the person waiting for others to hide in the youthful game of Hide and Seek.  So you recite this ditty aloud. They scramble to hide. As night fell, especially in summers, you were never fully able to roam the place you called home – Detroit. That luxury was denied of many of the Motor City’s denizens, not just children. You lived with the constant possibility of meeting the (mis)judgement of law enforcement. Not in the courtroom, but in the streets:  judge and jury. Right there in the streets, sometimes as close as the alley or corner of the street on which you resided.  Somehow despite being raised in strict emotional confines delineated by fear, it was a memorable youth. Children in your neighborhood adjusted and made play in spite of fear of missiles, brute force law enforcement, and depopulated neighborhoods. You made the most of what you had to work with.  But, a deeper meaning of the ditty would penetrate your dream world and become a recurring existential drama that replayed over and over with the same nightmarish proposition: 24 robbers at my door.

A strong, faceless authoritarian force that methodically moved from house to house extracting children from their beds, leaving their parents impotent to intervene.  It was a nightmare that had very little variation: a rumbling of the earth beneath your bed, an urgent boisterous rapping on the door, and the sound of rushing feet in cadence approaching your bedroom. The very fact that no one on a sweaty horse interrupted this sweaty, bleary dreamspace meant, after a few very upsetting awakenings that no one would save the children. The recurring dream did not arise from an overactive childhood imagination.  It did not come out of nowhere. Some things can last forever, like trauma. The contents of an upturned hourglass are obedient to gravity, but a few things that simply defy time: hurt and love. They’re defiant and dismissive. The sense of loss of comfort, of safety that arose from thinking that even parents could not protect you remained with you all the remaining time you spent on the street where you were born: Taft Street, Detroit, Four, Michigan.

It was summer. You remember the smell of moist soil, of flowering trees and shrubs and the comfort of a carpet of thick blades of grass that engulfed you when you fell to the ground. You’d been circling and charging the hanging sheets on the clothesline hoping to dislodge a wooden clothes pin from the laundry line without being discovered. Clothespins doubled as all sorts of creative playthings:  slingshots and finger pinchers and wrestlers, especially when two pins were entwined and bound by rubber bands and then let loose. The chaos of the bands untwisting mocked two wrestlers tumbling on the mat and as you would later compare, the old neighborhood entwined with the new.

It was at a time when a lot of change was taking place on Taft Street and in the world. It was at a time when zip codes didn’t matter much; it was when one number sufficed for postal delivery. It was a time when having a party line was no cause for celebration; it was when one phone line TYLER87105 was shared by two households. It was at a time when fish was sold from a truck, when a man yelling “FRESH FISH” from the top of his gills didn’t disturb the peace. It was at a  time when milk and fruit juice with perfectly crimped tops made of paper were delivered in bottles and deposited magically in the milk chute, a place that doubled as a ready way into the house in the event you lock yourself out. It was at a time when garbage trucks picked up all sorts of discards, none of which were people.

It was a time when the only thing recycled was the washing machine’s roller ringer thingy when it failed to squeeze all the water from the wet towels and the cycle had to be repeated. It was at a time when coal was delivered by truck and the imperfect black gold was pushed in carts across perfectly laid planks on the grassy carpet of your backyard. The sound that coal made as it rolled down the chute into the bin in your basement made boisterous summer storm’s thunder claps sound like purring kittens.

Callin’ out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat?
Summer’s here and the time is right…

It was summer 1964 and Martha & The Vandellas’, one of Motown’s all-female groups invited Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore and DC, and, Don’t Forget the Motor City to dance in the streets. Across the nation, friction caused by teetering economies, Jim Crow mentality that was steadily migrating north from America’s south,  mass exodus and divestment from city centers, growing entanglement in Vietnam, and intense brushes between law enforcement and black communities left many cities out of breath. It would be an exhaustion felt by Detroiters for an entire decade between the time The Vandellas’ dance call and some relief from the brutal way Detroiters were treated by Detroit police units.  You were a child, but knew from adults’ conversations that The Vandellas’ call to dance was much more than asking people to do the ‘in’ dances like The Mashed Potato, The Monkey, and The Hitchhike. It was a call to action to challenge unfair treatment of those who lived in Don’t Forget the Motor City and all the other cities blistered by racial friction.

And, because there was so much going on in your own streets, you did not know that at the same time cities were being called to dance, 50,000 new soldiers and paramilitaries were marching into South Vietnam, all needing to be fed, clothed, paid, and armored. You also did not know that they landed in a land that most could not conjure in their bleariest dreams. You also did not know that their absence would leave your own streets so short of manpower and so robbed of spirit that if they returned from the war they would face so many new challenges. Despite the impact ratcheting up of military spending and outlays from the mid-60s until 1970 had on the economy, Detroit’s music industry remained healthy. While a war was being fought on the other side of the world and NASA was launching men out of the world, Motown kept so many communities grounded and rooted and as history would tell, became a renowned incubator of creativity that left a lasting mark on music, choreography, performance artistry, and style, worldwide.

And there you were, laying face up in the grassy carpet in your backyard just down ‘the Boulevard’ a few miles from Hitsville USA, the place where Berry Gordy and William “Smokey” Robinson and others at Motown Records were writing, practicing, teaching, and changing the world. Circling and charging hanging sheets on the clothesline was simple but dizzying fun. You fell to the lawn and looked into the summer sky and suddenly felt a rumbling beneath you. And, in that instant your place in the world changed. In the alley the kids scrambled and were running and jumping fences into neighboring backyards. The dance on Taft Street in Don’t Forget the Motor City usually took place in the alley. Really, your memory of the dance was that it was a chase more than a dance. It was a slow and deliberate chase. The uniformed grownup Hide and Seek seekers intended for their unmarked black sedans to be spotted before they slowly and intimidatingly marauded and cruised the alleys of your west side neighborhood.  The officers were all or mostly white and did not live in Detroit, Four, Michigan. You could safely guess that they lived in the fringe neighborhoods of the City in insulated enclaves populated by their white brethren in blue. By the time nearly 500,000 people had migrated from the south to Detroit in the 1940s the demographics of Detroit had changed drastically and many white southerners seeking better paying jobs in the industrial North added to the resentment against a wide pool of black factory workers already in place since the Second World War. By the 1950s and after Detroit’s bloody race riots in 1943, may white southerners were recruited to the police force.

BIG FOUR!!! The clarion would call and all would scatter.

The Big Four’s sole purpose seemed to be to disperse the nucleus of the neighborhood. The unit practiced a broken policy of broken window policing even before the broken thing earned a name and became a thing.  They were a special detail of the Detroit Police Department. Three plain clothed officers and one uniformed officer, the driver, in one unmarked black sedan.

The alley behind Taft Street, Detroit, Four, Michigan was a gathering place until plans for the interstate disconnected one community to keep another connected.  Why wouldn’t planners and politicians graft a new artery for the new wave of ex-Detroiters to carry themselves back to the heart of Detroit’s downtown? The rumble of those plans were felt in your backyard and your alley long before the first cubic yard of concrete was ever laid on the new six lane highway. First things first: shut the alleys.  

Alleys may have been publicly owned easements but were also the most intimate arteries of Detroit’s neighborhoods. Alleys were extensions of backyards and platforms for community conversation. Alleys hosted talk about plans to dislocate you from the campus on Grand River that contained three schools: an elementary, a junior high, and high school. Planners intended K through 12 education in one place. Instead, you were banished to an old building erected in 1899 until a new school was ready to occupy. “Old” and “new” were used to make distinctions in alley conversations. And, by the time you reached New McGraw School you were such a displaced second grader that neither the age nor the fate of any schoolhouse mattered.  By the time you learned your way to the correct door to the second grade classroom and the correct hallway to the second grade classroom your school had been changed.  Who can justify causing as much uprooting of small children as this? When New McGraw opened it was at the time when the U.S. lost the race for the first man in space to Russia. The new school’s aerial view oddly resembled a UFO.

Alleys were places where services were delivered and where communities recovered from disasters. They were wide enough for Detroit DPW and Detroit Edison repair trucks to skillfully squeeze by each other after a summer storm to collect downed limbs and power lines without taking out your cyclone fence. Alleys hosted rumors that the Sound of Liverpool and the famed five brothers of the Motown Sound would be doing something in the second floor space above the bowling alley on Grand River Avenue. The alley where you played was a connector to great fame and sheltered awe-struck children who patiently waited for hours based on a rumor that they may catch a glimpse of entertainers piling out of their own black, unmarked sedans before a concert at Olympia Stadium. Alleys were places were children could be children riding bicycles picking up impromptu games of softball or football. Alleys were places where teens practiced being grown. Where boys with processed hair kept in place with do-rags rolled dice against garage walls betting coins, trying miserably to mimic grown men. Alleys were places where a stray cat could wander into your backyard and your heart and become your first pet. They were places where the sound of your mama calling you home seemed to be perfectly dubbed over tracks of music wafting from the front room window of your Aunt Connie’s upstairs flat. Families lived together in houses with two doors in Detroit, Four, Michigan.

Come on and
Show me the way
To get to Soulville, baby
Show me the way to go home.

Soulville. As Detroiters left in droves in waves and settled in predictable concentric circles outside the city, Detroit- churched, Aretha Franklin who would later earn the royal moniker, Queen of Soul, sought the familiar. Although Soulville may only be a lyrical place to many, like Detroit, it  was a place where music and food and love could be counted on. Ms. Franklin’s soulful cover of the song had been interpreted differently by Dinah Washington. Soulville was one of many Ms. Franklin recorded in a tribute album released the year after Dinah Washington’s death. Washington was much loved by Franklin and Detroit for her unique sound; so many were saddened by her too early departure at the age of 39. And now you think of it, you recall peering out of the window of your parents’ station wagon at vehicle after vehicle in queue along Dexter Avenue. It was a line of gawkers hoping to catch a glimpse of fame among the spectacle of friends and family mourning Ms. Washington at the funeral home. Dexter Avenue was he same street where Ms. Franklin’s father, Reverend CL Franklin, a civil rights activist had his church. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, led by Rev. Franklin earned respect in 1963 when he led a freedom march in Detroit that some called a prototype for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historical March on Washington for Workers later that year. Reverend Franklin’s effort brought out over 125,000 people to Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

When things were most uncertain in Detroit, a taste or touch or sound of Soul was always waiting to be experienced. For years, radio personalities like Wade “Butterball Jr.” Briggs used the airways as connectors of their own. Briggs was a 19-year old prodigy at Detroit’s first black-owned radio company, Bell Broadcasting. Drs. Wendell Cox and Dr. Haley Bell founded stations WCHB and WJLB in Detroit under the Bell corporate banner. WCHB’s memorable call was “1440 WCHB, Soul Radio.”  Their aim was to create a full-service radio outlet for the black community; they were on target and enjoyed many successful years. One of the things that would stick in your mind was Bell’s radio personalities had a role in the live Motown performances at Detroit’s beautiful Fox Theater.

If you were lucky, you were able to join the single lane of humans that had forgotten they had toes in a cold queue that wrapped around two city blocks for the MotorTown Revue or Motown Talent Show. There was something completely just about first-come, first-served and year after year, you made sure you arrived earlier and earlier to join the queue for the best seats. The season around Thanksgiving was perfectly suited for the MotorTown Revue. The program was a feast of music and choreography and style from the sequined fitted dresses worn by favorites like The Supremes to perfection in fit of tuxedoes worn by The Temptations.  Once inside the opulent Fox Theater your soles and your soul were warmed and you felt like someone special even if you were only one person among over 5,000 seated fans.  When the spotlight struck the first sequin on a form-fitting dress, your sense of feeling returned in a rush of excitement. It was hard to stay seated being in the same room with most of your music idols.

There was always a message in the music that traveled the airways. By the mid-60’s the sound from the community male-look-at-me-now songs like Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, but in time resonated with drumbeat to Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud). There was no question that James Brown’s studio work turned anthem of self-love was a huge esteem boost for African American people and a legacy for his children and grandchildren. Along the same vein, Marvin Gaye’s songs of  intimacy turned into to cries for understanding of what was going on in the streets of America and in Southeast Asia.  Nina Simone sang Revolution I and Revolution II because she could see the things to come and knew too well the daily struggle as a black woman just to stay alive.

But, as hard as the black artists and radio stations strived to keep up hope and the community connected, the decision to block Detroit’s alleys marked the beginning of development of the new six-lane artery. It ushered in a new time that unraveled the west side neighborhood’s ties. Your family practitioner, Dr. Leland, would no longer walk around the corner to make house calls. Your family dentist, Dr. Saginaw, who shared the lavender-colored building with Dr. Leland, would be across town, and no longer a short half-block walk to dental care. Your local grocery store, John’s Grocery, would be the only building remaining on Taft Street after all the real estate had been taken for the interstate. Without the residents of Taft Street bringing their wagons full of pop bottles for deposit returns and buying new groceries and paying their tabs that John had deferred until his neighbors were able to make ends meet, meant he would no longer be able to make his own ends meet. Churches, libraries, schools and all sorts of social infrastructure would be disconnected by the coming connector.

Years later, after the new artery was grafted to connect the new suburbanite to her heart, downtown, Detroit awakened to a gray sky and felt different. For the first time it was difficult for her to see past the gray; it was as though the sun was no longer waiting to break through. She had not anticipated the impact of some of the decisions hosted inside the walls of Two Woodward Avenue, inside her City Hall. And between the lines of every motion that passed that closed her most intimate arteries, she began to feel as though something else was contained between the lines of each legal document.

Between the lines, from cover to cover

are anagrams of hurt and shame.

Of growing old in a world that hasn’t learned yet.

So long as my brother is not safe with

food on his plate,

a roof for his head

and soothing salve for his hands,

I am neither.

Detroit was nearly inconsolable because some decisions that had been made in her midst were already having repercussions. Neighborhoods were hurriedly being dispersed and the human glue was disappearing. Though decisions had been made that determined the extent of the new road, something else inside her borders was widening the chasm. Detroit’s police department was moving further from its citizens. DPD had been known as innovators as early as the turn of the 20th century. They hired their first black police officer, L.T. Toliver and shortly after, their first female officer, Mary Owen. Detroit had bragging rights for being the first city to use automobiles to patrol, a natural since the heartbeat of the automotive industry in America was right within her borders. Many of Detroit’s automobiles went from raw resources to assembled vehicles, including tires at Ford Motor Company’s Rouge Plant, whose population of workers easily dwarfed the size of some cities. At most points in the Rouge Plant’s history the number of workers exceeded 10,000 with nearly as many suppliers; one manufacturer had an entire economy. That was multiplied three times in the Motor City; General Motors and Chrysler Corporation.

1967. But along the way, the fleet-issued sedans made by Detroiters struck fear in the streets. The department’s history went from making arrests of incorrigible drunks and corralling animals to 1967 when scores of revelers in an unlicensed after-hour club where guests were celebrating two GIs that had returned home from Vietnam were rounded up, sparking a fiery resistance that resulted in marshal law, state National Guard and Federal troops, the loss of 43 lives, thousands of arrests, millions in property loss, and an even wider chasm between black and white,  and Detroit and her suburbs. After the rebellion, S.T.R.E.S.S. (Stop The Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets), another Detroit special law enforcement team, used decoys that pretended to be drunks to draw out potential robbers. The failed unit with the failed acronym was not the city’s only epic failed law enforcement tactic, the decade older Big Four was an even bigger failure.  By the mid-1970s it was evident that the designers of such failed policing knew the exactly the stress exacted on the community. Police killings of residents were not uncommon and in 1974, Coleman A. Young, Jr. who was largely elected on a promise to end police brutality disbanded the stress(ful) unit as one of his first major initiatives.

One could only speak for the neighborhood one knew best, but it sure seemed some colonies of Detroit were being busted up to implement the ‘connector.’ In the time between the forced move from Taft Street and being settled your new neighborhood, you would go from being a cautious second grader to politically aware fifth grader.  As a second grader, you survived the fallout of fear from the Cuban Missile Crisis, which routinely sent small school children to fallout shelters. These safe places were usually in the boiler rooms of schoolhouses where you practiced placing your head between your legs in case of a missile strike. Children relegated to the bowels of the schoolhouse to prepare for something that would never happen were never prepared for the apparent danger in the streets.

At a time when Detroit was challenged on so many fronts, the memory of her proud history began to dwindle, and Detroit awakened from her own existential dreams, over and over.  One bleary-eyed morning, there was a stir beneath her, a rumbling. A voice resounded within:

Go there. Go to Second Baptist Church. 441 Monroe Street, Detroit, Twenty-Six, Michigan. You know where it is and when you get there, sit in a pew. Run your finger along the bottom of your dress. Sewn into the hem of your skirt are onyx treasures that you have somehow forgotten. Remember, you were the place where kidnapped and enslaved Africans decided to courage the journey. Every bit of spirit and courage of freedom from slavery you sheltered as a terminal in the Underground Railroad and every train or Greyhound bus ride from the cotton-picking South during Jim Crow with hopes of a good Detroit factory job still runs through your arteries. You have long stood for promise and hope from suffocation. You gave birth to more than the automobile industry and music. You helped bring hope to so many and labored so long and hard for them every day for a long time.  Catch your breath, a new day will emerge.

A sweet jewel onyx

I am

Of hope,

Of love eternal.

The rhythm

Of our hearts is one

I am

They.

 

Copyright (c) 2016

Michelle Joy Pearcy

Aint’ That A Trip? ……when a nature trail reveals acts of kindness are not always random

On the road, I travel inside.

There I build trust of the unseen, the unanswered.

To a magnificent scale.

I go. I come. Both full and empty. My suitcase brims with love stories sought and love stories found.

I keep my canteen empty, dry and drawn tight. To make room.

To be filled. Then, to be struck like the taut strings of a lute.

Seeking the sound. 

~ Michelle Pearcy

 

 

Pine Shrub Forest at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The tree to the right center hosts a huge osprey nest. A watchful parent bird stood on guard as we made our way along the trail.

Pine Shrub Forest at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The tree to the right of the center hosts a huge osprey nest. A watchful parent bird stood on guard as we made our way along the trail.

It’s really easy to not see the forest for the trees. It is also really easy to only see the beauty, a veil that masks the complex system that supports life in the forest and leaves unanswered questions.

One of the sights I’ve set for this year and beyond is to not only journey far from where I live, but to also journey up close and personal, in my backyard. I am intent on discovering many of the not so hidden treasures, the beautiful resources right at my fingertips. 

Teamed up with a scientist, a traveler with a passion for teaching the whys of the natural world and the joys of exploring nature close to home, this journey would fill a few days to the brim. We discovered a lovely botanical garden, a state park, and wetland preserve.

Common Corkscrew Pine

Common Corkscrew Pine

 

 If I could fly, I would still gaze at the sky… because it’s the sun that makes the flowers dance.   

Mounts Botanical Garden is a treasure right within the city limits of West Palm Beach. Thing is, the garden is located right in a landing approach for the Palm Beach International Airport. When you begin your exploration of the beautifully designed and maintained garden, the first time a big bird, a commercial airliner buzzes overhead, it is distracting. It seems to defeat the ideal of peace you expect from a beautiful garden. But shortly after the first steps on the trail, what goes on overhead becomes less distracting.

Sometimes…

 

The milky white flower of the Candle Tree grows right out of the trunk.

The milky white flower of the Candle Tree grows right out of the trunk.

  

The Candle Tree's edible, medicinal fruit are shaped like taper candles.

The Candle Tree’s edible, medicinal fruit are shaped like taper candles.

After exploring half the garden, we stopped and spread our lunch out on the lawn near the water’s edge. Just as we were finishing, I looked high above our heads and there was a sight to behold.

Another big bird buzzing overhead…

This osprey had snagged this fish from the water, flew to this tree limb, and was waiting for the fish to expire. My guess is he waits the fish out and then finds a safe place to go to consume his catch. This is no small bird and this is no small fish. All the while the osprey was flying to the tree the fish was fighting for his life.

 

Osprey and its catch.

Osprey and its catch.

 The bird’s plan was foiled when it was spooked by some visitors on the path below. So the bird took off with the fish in his grips! He was not going to risk losing his catch.

This bird overhead was a welcome distraction!

After I oohed and aahed over the spectacle, I reflected on the power of instincts and the wisdom of not worrying over some of the simpler things in life – the small stuff. Also, that we are so much more than even the basics like food and clothing and shelter. Recently, I read that abundance is more a state of being – that ‘doing’ somehow contradicts true abundance.

 

A rainbow of colors and basket of aromas await Mounts visitors.

A rainbow of colors and basket of aromas await Mounts visitors.

It seems no matter how many times I’ve been out on a limb or ledge, the edge that gives me a few more inches of foothold is remembering there is something divine about life. That  life’s challenges, opportunities, trials, and blessings are somehow evidence of a plan. 

Some things you just have to see for yourself. 

 

Getting a closer look at what the naked eye is unable to see.

Getting a closer look at what the naked eye is unable to see.

This mellow mushroom fixed itself on this tiny branch from a nearby tree in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. There is an exquisite world both visible and invisible in the park. The park is a wondrous treasure. It is a recreational destination for kayakers, hikers, runners, cyclists, campers and adventurers. It is a feast for those interested in the diversity of species and has one of the region’s precious resources – the nationally designated Wild and Scenic Loxahatchee River. The Loxahatchee and neighboring creeks host wisely protected and enviable mangrove forests.

 

The park hosts a pretty amazing ecosystem. Palms and pines are neighbors to cypresses, mangroves and oaks. And that's just trees...

The park hosts a pretty amazing ecosystem. Palms and pines are neighbors to cypresses, mangroves and oaks. And that’s just trees…

 

The forest has a community of its own – the newly transformed, the newborn, immature, and aged. A typical cypress tree like the one shown below takes nearly a century to mature and can live as long as 1,000 years. What I love about these trees is that in spite of their size, they do a pretty good job of standing firm on shaky soil. Their root system is perfectly suited for wet, marshy waters. The knees that protrude all around the trees act like anchors; they also act like snorkel devices which grab oxygen from the surface and feed it to the underground root system of the tree. 

Imagine having good knees at 1,000 years old.

After seeing the beauty of a bald cypress forest, and the amazing change in plant culture from a sandy coastal ridge to a marshy, swampy creek’s edge, it was hardly room to process more awe. 

 

This cypress matures at about age 100 and can live to about 1,000 years old. The protrusions in front of the tree are called 'knees.'

This cypress matures at about age 100 and can live to about 1,000 years old. The protrusions in front of the tree are called ‘knees.’

After a feast of visual images, it was time to find a place to quietly reflect. What we found at Lookout 13 on Kitching Creek was perfection. 

 

Lookout 13 overlooks Kitching Creek.

Lookout 13 overlooks Kitching Creek.

 

Almost perfect reflections of a clear blue sky and trees. From Lookout 13

Almost perfect reflections of a clear blue sky and trees. From Lookout 13

 

The tannin-stained water in Kitching Creek provides a beautiful canvas for a reflection of the sky and trees.

The tannin-stained water in Kitching Creek provides a beautiful canvas for a reflection of the sky and trees.

The water, which is stained dark brown from the tannins of neighboring mangroves provided a perfect backdrop, a mirror to the perfect sapphire blue sky and cotton candy clouds. It was magic. No matter how hard I tried to capture a beautiful bird in one of these shots, my eye and the camera did not seem to cooperate.

 

This parent osprey oversees its nest with a watchful eye.

This parent osprey oversees its nest with a watchful eye.

 Walking the last stretch of the trail at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, a man with a dog excitedly approached us. He was so eager to point out the massive nest this watchful osprey parent was overseeing. Once we passed the nest, I stopped in my tracks and breathed in the silence. It was pure gold.

Another look at the osprey.

Another look at the osprey.

 

Acts of Kindness

All the while I was receiving the scientific hows and whys that explain certain phenomena in nature, I was sending those data through my intuitive filter.

On our way back to the trailhead, we discovered this ‘gall.’ Gall, I thought to myself. That has something to do with someone having the nerve to do something that is less than acceptable, right? Or that small word that goes before bladder as in gall bladder.

I had never heard of a gall being an ‘abnormal’ growth on a plant that results from the plant reacting to presence of a parasite or foreign substance. A plant can react to a ‘foreign’ substance, including an egg undergoing rapid cell division, by encapsulating the foreign body which forms a protective covering over it.

Scientists are not sure exactly why because the ‘host’ plant gains nothing from the relationship, nor does the presence of the gall degrade the plant. But there is so much more to it…

 

This gall is considered an abnormal growth on a host plant.

This gall is considered an abnormal growth on a host plant.

The gall in the photo above was on a tiny branch; it was exactly like the one my companion opened with a knife and revealed something amazing:

A brand new bee!

This tiny creature was waiting for his life outside his ‘abnormal growth’ to begin. We witnessed a birth.

This new bee was formed inside the gall, a protective covering created when the plant sensed a 'foreign' substance on its surface.

This new bee was formed inside the gall, a protective covering created when the plant sensed a ‘foreign’ substance on its surface.

To say I was amazed is an understatement. When I got over the oohs and aahs, it appeared to me that there is something divine about diversity. That nature’s willingness to tolerate, protect, and nurture diversity can be found in places one would never expect.

Talk about lessons on the birds and the bees!

My entire life, I thought bees were only born in hives. The tree responded to something different in its environment by providing a covering for the very thing that was different. It was just what the foreign object needed to avoid being consumed by predators and a place to transform into life.

What a random act of kindness! How much like nature can we afford to become?

“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”

~ Albert Einstein

What you see is not all of what you get is a good way to describe Grassy Waters Preserve. It is a wonderful wetland area, a natural preserve that is an important resource for the City of West Palm Beach.  What you see is a well-kept nature preserve with a lovely boardwalk for an up close look at the wetland, what you don’t see is the value of the wetland: it moderates climate by trapping extreme heat in the area, it stores carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, it provides habitat for wildlife, improves water quality through plant filtration, recharges the groundwater, and provides flood protection by storing water.

And, it’s a wonderful educational outlet!

 

Nature and photography classes are offered at the preserve.

Nature, art and photography classes are offered at the preserve.

Grassy Waters is a short 10 minute drive away from where I live. I’ve visited the preserve for meetings; they have a generous and inviting conference area, but never took the time to explore the grassy wetlands. What a treat!

 

Grassy Waters Preserve is a beautiful site that hosts many species.

Grassy Waters Preserve is a beautiful site that hosts many species.

 

 

Sawgrass marsh just before sunset.

Sawgrass marsh just before sunset.

 

These grassy waters help trap carbon, clean and filter water, provide flood control, filter water, and host a community of wildlife.

These grassy waters help trap carbon, clean and filter water, provide flood control, recharge groundwater sources, and host a community of wildlife.

 

At first glance Grassy Waters Preserve looks like a wetland with mostly trees and sawgrass. Up close, there is a wonderful variety of species.

At first glance Grassy Waters Preserve looks like a wetland with mostly trees and sawgrass. Up close, there is a wonderful variety of species. This is St. John’s Wort.

  

This pretty purple flower adds just the right splash of color to the cypress strand.

This pretty purple flower adds just the right splash of color.

A beautiful flower stands out and stands on its own in the wetland.

A beautiful flower stands out and stands on its own in the wetland.

 After three days filled with learning and exploring and adventuring, I left room for curiosity. Room to question. Room to make inferences, to stretch science and reason to blend with intuition, faith, and knowing. 

It was an act of kindness to my spirit to spend this time with nature.  

Ain’t That A Trip?…when a nature trail reveals acts of kindness are not always random

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a climb to a retreat advances through a dreamscape of rocks and fallen fruit.

Birdsong

The sweetness of a perched bird’s song is a clever mask for the beautiful design in its folded wings. All things about a bird were designed for flight. I closed both my eyes, and opened another. There I saw a bird. Like any ordinary bird. As I crept closer, he rustled daring me to come nearer.  After our meeting, what I know is the song is small in comparison to the beauty of his unveiled wings. Unveiled. Once he takes flight from the safety of the tree’s arm. Sing a sweet song this morning and flap your wings.

~Michelle J. Pearcy

When I arrived at the beautiful Irish Town resort in the St. Catherine parish of Jamaica, the first thing I was thankful for was my driver’s uncanny sense of knowing what was around the next corner. From the view of a backseat driver, passing vehicles no matter the size seemed ominous on the fallen-mango and limestone-littered road. The serpentine road stretched and wound and curved and constricted up 3,100 feet above Kingston. The best way I knew to deal with the thrill of seeing over the road’s edge into the gully was to gently close my eyes and recite the Three R’s:

Relax. Relate. Release.

Besides, I was on my way to a beautiful retreat and what a folly it would have been to arrive in a bundle of nerves and tensed up muscles. And to be honest, some of my life’s journeys have been on roads less traveled, with far less visibility, and deeper potholes! The Three R’s offered relief, yet the lesson of this trip would be to grant myself permission to let go of repetitive thoughts, patterns and behaviors – the kind of meditations that can keep one frozen and in a mold like an ice cube. 

From My Veranda:  High Above Kingston 

In the short climb to Strawberry Hill Hotel & Spa, a beautiful Blue Mountain oasis, I gained the tremendous wisdom of neither looking too far ahead in the road or over my shoulder on the steep climb behind me. Instead…

Focusing on living IN the moment

 

After living the majority of its life as a nymph, once the dragonfly is able to fly it spends most of its time flying.

 Along the path, I have discovered the genius in focusing on living IN the moment, the present. One afternoon, during my stay at the resort, I discovered this dragonfly.  The simple creature had already lived out its life. I was totally intrigued by the fragile lace-like design of its wings and the strong breastplate-like shape of its body. What a contrast! The dragonfly lives most of its brief life in an immature state as a nymph. With most of its life in a state of being that is not-ready-for-prime-time, is there any wonder what it will do once it is able to fly? The dragonfly literally leaves nothing to be desired by living his life to its fullest. Once it’ s able to fly, that’s what it spends most of its time doing. 

I ask myself how different should my life be from that of a simple creature?  

Strawberry Hill Hotel & Spa is a Blue Mountain oasis.

 What is it like to live and work in Dreamland,? I asked.
“Like heaven,” she replied.
Then she said her family asks why she left their home for 
Irish Town.
“For peace, for healing”

I suppose that makes her something of a dragonfly.

Fly.

I was unable to gain the fullness of her heartfelt answer until after the sun set on my first evening in the oasis. A mist comes over the entire mountain that seems to erase the day, blanket the evening and lay foundation for the new day. Once I experienced that, there was no question. 

 

Lush Life: Sunset Over Irish Town, Jamaica

 One of the things I long for most when I have been away from Jamaica for an extended time is nighttime sounds. It is a veritable symphony of crickets, tree frogs, and yes, the occasional irritating sound of an irritable dog’s bark.

In the decades that I have traveled ‘back to Jamaica,’ I had never recorded those spirit-soothing sounds except in my memory. Each morning, the symphony that lulled me off to sleep gave way to a symphony of crisp, chirping birds, clanging castanet sounds of june-flies, and an occasional rooster’s call.  Like a symphony orchestra sequestered in the pit, it is not always easy to see or fully appreciate the tiny musicians. 

 

One of the fine musicians of the daytime symphony.

 At first, I did not appreciate the blessing Theresa, Steven, and Little Sophie, the family that stayed in the room above me had become. Their European body clocks were set to a different rhythm than mine and their very early stirrings were just what I needed to be gently awakened in time to sit with the daily sunrises. 

Sometimes the smallest musicians make the sweetest sounds.

The mist obeys the morning’s command to rise and shine. The lush landscape is left looking like a sleeping green giant. 

Some journeys are serious, some fun, and others of discovery. This was a discovery mission.  

Dave greeted each person we met with the word ‘Bless’.

 

I took a two-and-a-half-hour walk with walking tour guide Dave down the mountain to a place called Gardentown. It was scenic, peaceful and serene. All along the way, he showed me the indigenous fruits and vegetables, and along the way shared some of his herbal roots knowledge.

Coveted Blue Mountain Coffee In Its Nymph Stage

Of course, the conversation shifted to the power of love. One love. In Dave’s view, all that life amounts to. My view too.

House Resting on Stilts. The route to Gardentown.

As I was being led through narrow paths on completely unfamiliar terrain, often paces behind Dave, I imagined that my inside voice is still the best choice for a guide. That still voice best is best suited to correct my path, setting me back on course. It’s a forgiving voice that has never given up on my lack of direction and recalculates better than the best-rated GPS gadget! 

Once  the sun made it over the mountain and beamed on Red Light, the small town opposite the oasis 3,100 feet high above Kingston, the town with no traffic lights of any color, it became blistering hot. I gave in, relented and retreated to the infinity pool. 

Infinity is without limits, right?   

Limitless

When I left Dreamland, the place that took traveling a road littered with rocks and fallen fruit to arrive to, I awakened. Then I recalled that there are no obstacles that cannot be overcome, no barriers that can stand in my way – that  today is the greatest day of my life!

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a climb to a retreat advances through a dreamscape of rocks and fallen fruit. 

Mention of Strawberry Hill Hotel & Spa in this post should not be construed as a review. Their website is located at: http://www.islandoutpost.com/strawberry_hill/

Ain’t That A Trip? …when the camera lens introduces you to a new home sweet home

Knowing that we sleep under the same sky has narrowed the miles and miles distance between my family and myself. Somehow, ‘home is where the heart is’ just doesn’t compare.

There is a true art to living and loving the longing. 

 

Visiting Detroit. My home. The Motor City. Home of Motown. “Big Cat” sport teams: Tigers and Lions. The Comeback Kids: American automakers. Detroit is no ordinary place. Nor would this visit ‘home’  be ordinary. It’s been over 11 years and I still refer to Detroit as ‘home.’ There’s a worldwide Detroit diaspora; if you travel and meet someone from anyplace in southeast Michigan, they’re likely to tell you they are from Detroit.

It’s one thing to live optimistically, inspiring yourself along the way. It’s something else to see strong, positive affirmations in big, bold letters.

Opportunity Made In Detroit. 

 

 

I had purposely traveled to Detroit to attend a storytelling event hosted by The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers.Their mission is to connect humanity, create community and provide an uplifting, thought-provoking, soul-cleansing entertainment experience that is unique through the art and craft of storytelling. This event’s theme was “Thankful.”

And thankful I was.

I absolutely believe in the healing power of words. Stories are made up of words, yet they are so much more – they connect our very beings. Words can galvanize communities or become shields that deflect change, invite fear, or cast us into the hinterlands separated from each other. 

My trip home would be check-up of sorts. I would open my heart and say “aaaaaah.” My first visit home as a travel blogger. The weekend would be fast, full of family, old and new friends, good cheer and an extreme opportunity to experience home through the lens of my camera.   

This “Zamboni” ice rink maintenance machine tending to the rink in Campus Martius Park is one more reminder: Opportunity Made in Detroit

So, on the first full day of my visit, between family commitments, a meetup with a nephew for some cheer at Flood’s, Detroit’s place “where everybody knows your name,” and the storytelling event, it would be me and my camera. Solo.   

But before I would start my exploration, I would go to Flo Boutique in the West Willis Village, near Wayne State University to buy a coveted Detroit Snob embroidered t-shirt. The store’s team made the atmosphere like being at home with family. After making my purchase perched on a seat, I asked if I could  ‘just be,’ to just hang out for a while and enjoy the camaraderie. “Of course!” was Sheila and Felicia’s response. As well as meeting a number of women, I learned a lot about the growing attractions and community between  Midtown and Downtown Detroit. When I wore out my welcome, off I went. My first stop was Great Lakes Cafe, a coffee-centric shop on Woodward & Alexandrine Avenue for a yummy sandwich.

Flo Boutique – Detroit is a lifestyle boutique for men and women. It is in the heart of West Willis Village, the hub of the Wayne State University, Cultural Center area.

After having some eats, I would be on my way to the riverfront. Once I got east of the landmark General Motors World Headquarters, I inched my way down the street that runs parallel to the river – Woodbridge. Milliken Park. New. The Dequindre Cut. New.

The Dequindre Cut is a non-motorized recreational greenway spanning over a mile from busy Gratiot Avenue to the riverfront. I was impressed by reuse of this abandoned railroad corridor. 

The Dequindre Cut is a greenway that hosts non-motorized recreational activities. I know if I lived nearby, it would be in my walking plans.

While some take abandoned resources and recover their value, others show respect for the unpolished edges of the urban landscape by using them as backdrops for beauty and culture. 

A group of young Detroit models pose in the shadow of the GM headquarters in a field near a warehouse. True grit is what it takes to forge a way into urban arts and culture. Kudos!

This warehouse doesn’t stand alone. It’s supporting cast is a blind of beautiful trees and the handiwork of graffiti artists.

I love calling the U.S. automotive industry “The Comeback Kids”!

 As I inched eastward, the hands of time were inching along with me – backward. Belle Isle Park was definitely one of my favorite places to visit as a child. When ‘the isle’ was the destination for our Sunday riding, life was good. We learned softball, cricket, and when we needed to stretch our legs, we would pile out of the car and race to the Scott fountain. 

I used to imagine the Scott Memorial Fountain to be a wedding cake. Its alternating colored-lights gave it an awe-inspiring appearance at night. Beautiful public art!

In all the years I visited Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, I never noticed the first road, the perimeter road of the island is called Sunset Strip. A well-deserved name!

A Dramatic Change: Sunset Behind Detroit and Windsor Skylines

 

In the winter, we ice skated on this pond until our toes felt like they would fall off and then we’d go inside the pavilion and have hot chocolate and Cheeze-It crackers for a snack.

There’s something about showing up to make the full impression of your life something worthy of reflecting on later. Just as the sun will not half rise or set, life’s reflection should be nothing less than that of your full self. This is the place that brought so much joy to my young life.

Something mystical happened as the sun began to set on my memories of home. The sky changed colors like the most elegant fashion model sashaying down the runway and with each change reappearing with something far more exquisite than the last change. 

It was an eerie conspiracy: the sky and the water in the ponds and the river were completely still on the surface. The Detroit River is a shipping channel with grown-up currents. I don’t know the phenomenon, but the landscape morphed into a wondrous canvas where the beauty of life was cast. 

When I stepped out of my car and walked maybe 20 feet to the pond’s bank, the smell of hops from the Windsor brewery infused the air. My heart rang out when the bell tower struck half past the hour.

Along with the reflection of the past, what I saw was the beauty and perfection of the heart: it is a storehouse of joy! What, for ages has been revealed as something that cannot be seen nor known by reasoning, poet, teacher and artist of words, Rumi captured it best.

“The lips, the water of life, the one whose thirst has been quenched are one.”

I wonder if she knows she’s filling his storehouse with joyful memories.

Detroit-Windsor Ambassador Bridge at Sunset

This was the most giving sunset I have ever experienced in Detroit. After beholding a portfolio of beauty, it was time to make my way back downtown to meet up with my nephew. Earlier as I traveled from Midtown to the Riverfront, I noticed Campus Martius was alive and teeming with activity. It is a magnet. The shops, the ice skating rink, the hand-warming bonfire are all people-pleasing attractions. I found a convenient parking space, went to a wine bar, perched with a nice glass of red, and watched the activity of the ice rink like it was a big screen television.On As I approached Woodward, I noticed that I became the subject of the curiosity of a man, moving along the street that would end on Woodward. He walked in a challenged way.  As I stood at the focal point of the attraction taking photos, he finally caught up to me. He stepped right in front of my camera. “Would you like for me to photograph you?” When I asked Richard if I could take his picture, he agreed with no hesitation.

Richard.

This was the first shot. “Why are you not smiling?” He was concerned about missing teeth and smiling. When I assured him that a smile is not defined by teeth and comes from inside out, this was the sweet photograph he gifted me with.

A smile can change an entire landscape.

Of course I wanted to know his story. He moved to Detroit to be close to his daughter and there had been some bad blood and they had been sorely out of contact – for a long time.

Forgive

It just slipped from my mouth and into the cool November air. At that instant, all stopped moving around me and this man who walked with a limp, carrying a cane and vet status. He shared his story and we talked. And talked. What I know is words absolutely have healing power. And, the storehouse of the heart is big enough to hold, preserve and share joy whenever needed.  

After I left Campus Martius soul-cleansed, I was still early for the meetup with my nephew. So I drove along Lafayette Boulevard to take a quick look at the primary school my daughter attended while we lived in the Eastern Market. When I made a u-turn in front of Chrysler Elementary School, I caught a flash of blue.

“Capital A. U-G-I-E”

That’s how he spelled his name when I asked him if he consented to let me take his photograph. He did not hesitate. When I asked where he was headed, I knew his answer: “Downtown.”

Augie on his way Downtown.

The brim of Augie’s hat is lined with blinking lights: a great safety device in the dark. 

My brief and enjoyable cheer with my nephew and one of his former colleagues was just what I needed  after a long afternoon of reminiscing, making new friends, and exploring ‘home’ through another lens. Then it was on to a remarkable storytelling event.

Aint’ That A Trip? …when the camera lens introduces you to a new home sweet home 

 

Ain’t That A Trip? …when enough is enough

“When I stopped contending against the divinity in my life, I began to feel the slightest stir of wind upon my cheek and a bird’s simple tweet became a symphony in my heart. How could I not be thankful?”

~ Dave, Passenger 6C

I try to never pass up an opportunity to connect with others – it’s like plugging into humanity. I do it on purpose, especially when I travel. In my book, seat assignments on flights are never a coincidence. Dave’s decision to sleep-in and take a later flight assigned him the seat right next to me. It begins with a simple, ‘hello.’

My travel companions, the Blackberry, the iPad, the National Geographic, the Scientific American – none of these gadgets, devices or media will ever replace the full-filling art of conversation. I’m always on the lookout for pearls in oysters.

Enough is enough.

When I try to recall, Assisi wasn’t on a premeditated bucket list, but attending a writer’s workshop was. Compared to so many folks’ bucket lists, mine does not hold water – it’s half empty. I try to live without too many grandiose plans but on purpose enough to be flexible and pointed in a direction. I absolutely cannot remember what drove me to the Poets & Writers website, but something did. As I looked around for writing workshops, maybe someplace in the northeast U.S., like Vermont, a beautiful photograph of Assisi, Italy popped right out at me.    

There! That’s where I’m going.

Sunset Over Assisi. From my room, Hotel Giotto Assisi.

My discovery occurred sometime in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas – by spring, the ink was dried on the deal. In August, I would be off to Assisi, Italy to take part in a 14-day writing workshop on personal essays and memoirs. The workshop would be set center stage with a backdrop in one of Europe’s most beautiful and culturally relevant sites. Assisi is the place where battle weary Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone was born, left for the world, returned and later became known as San Francesco or St. Francis of Assisi.    

Francesco’s Return to Assisi.

San Francesco. An Instrument of Peace. Assisi, Italy

I could feel an adventure in my bones.

Traveling through my itinerary would be a piece of cake – from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta from Atlanta to Rome, and a pickup at the airport by a driver who would shuttle me and a few other workshop participants arriving the same day directly to our hotel. Pampered. So, I decided to leave my pocket-size Lonely Planet Italian phrasebook on the shelf where it had collected dust for four years since my last trip to Milan, Italy and Catania, Sicily.

After it all sunk in, I would be writing personal essays – memoirs. For years and years, I had been keeping journals – some travel, all personal – some dicey, others spicy. Just before Assisi, I began the seemingly endless process of bringing those experiences from handmade eco-friendly paper to the hard, cold world of computing.

Self-Portrait.
The workshop would shift me outside my frame, creating a new self-portrait. I would become a writer.

I didn’t have a body of work per se, but knew I could have my work critiqued several times during the 14-day period through daily writing exercises. As the date neared, I became more and more excited.

Enough is enough.

Basilica Francesco.

I arrived to the Fort Lauderdale airport early; there would be a close connection in Atlanta, but not too close to be overly concerned. Besides, it was August – no snow delays – no storms on the horizon.  I was carrying one roller bag and my backpack and checked in one medium-sized bag. I did pack one medium-sized bag with the cumbersome, space-mongering, heavy items like shoes. Did I say shoes? And, maybe more shoes. Really, the contents were simply clothing and a steamer.

Once the gate agent nervously and ineptly boarded a rambunctious crowd of passengers hell-bent on not following her instructions, it was 20 minutes later than the scheduled departure. That’s when the tailspin began. The funny and ironic thing about time is it can both grow and contract at the same time. As the delay grew, the connection shrunk.

Once the plane was completely boarded, we sat for another 15 minutes before someone came on the public address system:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re so sorry for the delay, but we have a light on our board that there was a problem with the right engine. We’re not sure if we have the part – a tile – that needs replacing. Once we have it, we’ll glue it on with a super adhesive, let it dry and away we’ll go. Right now it looks like we’ll be delayed for 45 minutes.”

Superglue? Of course when someone says the engine is having mechanical issues, the first priority is to fix it or ditch it. Somehow the concern about making a connection lost its place on the priority list.   Once we arrived in ATL, I tried to break a sprinting record (my own) but did not come close! I missed my connection.

The next flight from Atlanta to Rome would be 5 hours later with an extra connection: Paris. Now, with an extra flight, my concern shifted from the scrapped itinerary to whether or not the pimento-red medium-sized bag would be on the carousel at baggage claim once I arrived in Europe. In her best and authoritative voice, the gate agent assured me that when I arrived, my bag would be there waiting. 

Stained Glass. Perugia, Umbria, Italy

Enough is enough.

I sent messages ahead to the transportation contact and the workshop organizer that I missed my connection, would not make the ground transportation hook-up and would be ‘winging it’ once I arrived in Rome.

 I admit, in the midst of any journey that turned into a ‘trip’ there has always been some consolation. The biggest upside of sitting in the Atlanta airport for an extra 5 hours was the extreme honor to meet a man who has inspired so many: Mr. Tony Dungy, former National Football League athlete and head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What an amazingly still and peaceful spirit! He is not at all shiny and lacquered like so many over-celebrated celebs.

The flight from Atlanta to Paris was uneventful and the connection to Rome from Paris was comfortable enough to have a bite in the restaurant for dinner. When I arrived at Rome at 5:00 p.m. instead of the 11:30 a.m. I was counting on, I went to claim my luggage. Before I realized, I was the last person standing at the carousel – alone. It felt like walking along a desert road after your car runs out of gas, hoping against all hope, that the Last Chance Texaco is just over the heat-buckled asphalt road. There was no Texaco. There was no man with a star. And, most of all, no bag. 

It was official, my checked luggage did not arrive.

I filed a claim, claimed my complimentary consolation prize, a complimentary blue shaving bag with a complimentary shaver, a complimentary bar of soap, a complimentary toothbrush, and a complimentary men’s white t-shirt. I wondered whether those in charge of the consolation prizes thought women do not lose their bags and maybe a nice brush and comb and deodorant would be included in the complimentary goody bag.

Enough is enough.

So, from Rome’s Fuimicino airport, I took a train to Stazione Termini – or Rome’s central station. A grand city in itself, all abuzz with conversation, and people, and construction and changed shedules. The train to Assisi  scheduled for two-and-a-half hours later would go directly from Rome to Assisi. No stops.

Leaded Glass, Ironworks, Reflections and Me

After having a nice dinner in one of the restaurants, I made my way back to the area with the big board bearing the bad news: “Assisi” had gone poof. It had disappeared from the board. In my patchwork Italian, I asked an information agent what in the world happened to my Assisi train. It was canceled, and I would have to take a train to Foligno, transfer to a motor coach that would drive me to the Assisi train station, and there I could get a car.  

So, it was critical decision time. I had traveled since around 1:00 p.m. the day before and by the time I was somewhere between Rome and Foligno, nighttime would descend. By the time I would make it to Assisi, it would be around midnight (that sounds like a movie title). Would I be able to navigate the transfer? Should I scrap the mission and just get a room in Rome for the evening and start fresh in the morning?  

“Adventures don’t begin until you get into the forest. That first step is an act of faith.”

Mickey Hart, Grateful Dead Drummer

Bascilica Francesco At Night. Assisi, Italy

Once in the forest, it takes seeing clearly and believing strongly to lessen the chances of being swiped by the thorny, low-hanging tree branches of exhaustion, of discouragement, and tripping over exposed roots of frustration. So, at the designated time I stepped up to the train platform.    

Enough is enough.

Taking the step onto the train was no easy feat – nor are the steps at all apologetic for not being barrier-free. Hoisting the bag, strapped with a backpack was more than enough. I cannot imagine how I would have been able to muscle a medium-size bag, a roller bag, a backpack, and of course, myself on that train.

Then a coach.

Then a taxi.

Planes. Trains. Buses. And Automobiles. That sounds like a movie title too!

Enough is enough.

Well enough is enough when you recharge your phone along the way, but when airport and train station outlets are not electrified, a battery has to do what a battery has to do: drain.  

During one of our routine after-dinner walks, we discovered this unusual display of art. The light changed from blue to red to yellow. We named it “Psychedelic Shack.”

Left standing at the closed, deserted Assisi train station didn’t feel at all like Mickey Hart’s encouragement to step into the forest. It felt more like a first step onto the set of one of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episodes. It was later than twilight – nearly midnight. Thankfully, two young campers from the Netherlands were there with me; they had a cellphone and needed a ride to their campground located outside Assisi. When I called my hotel to ask them to send a taxi to the station, they also sent another for the campers. There’s something common to humanity that surmounts most barriers – and that is helping one another.  

Two minutes and two hugs later, I was on my way to my hotel and they were on their way to their tent. It was half past midnight when I arrived at Hotel Giotto. The lights were left on for me.   

Via Fontabella. Assisi, Italy

 

Assisi Sunset

Griffin Karaoke: Fun Iron Works. Assisi, Italy

The next day, after warm greetings from an eclectic group of artists – writers, poets, photographers, playwrights, professors, and a chef – I earned the infamy of the writer whose bag was lost, but seemed to have an endless choice of daily ensembles to wear. 

“Did your bag get here yet?”

“No it did not”
“Did you buy what you’re wearing here?” 

“No I did not”
“The bag I carried on is full of magic – like Mary Poppins’ Magic Satchel.”

When the pimento red, medium-sized bag that had never left Atlanta arrived 5 days later, I was tempted to not open it at all. Surely, I would have made-do without it. 

There’s something profound about enough. Where there’s life, there’s hope. That’s enough.  

Enough is enough.

The workshop was life-changing. I officially became a writer.

Ain’t That A Trip? …when enough is enough

 

Ain’t That A Trip? …when stars in the black onyx sky are trumped by the city lights

Good Luck

O, once in each man’s life, at least,
Good Luck knocks at his door;
And wit to seize the flitting guest
Need never hunger more.
But while the loitering idler waits
Good Luck beside his fire,
The bold heart storms at fortune’s gates,
And conquers its desire.

Lewis J. Bates (1859-1946)

 

 

Bates left a great reminder. My response to the sound of opportunity knocking at my door is to fling the door open and hug opportunity like a long-lost friend, then treat it like welcomed company, inviting it to over stay my hospitality.  

Odds are, if given a chance to share good laughs in good company in a good place, I’m there! 

So, off to Las Vegas I journeyed for a weekend of fun. And laughs. And instant classics.

I am a helpless skygazer. As soon as I settled into the hotel and walked to “The Strip” on Las Vegas Boulevard, I craned my neck up to survey the blanket I would be operating under. What is the blanket, you may ask? The sky, of course! 

The black onyx sky over Las Vegas Boulevard.

I could not see a single star.

All of the stars were down on the ground. On The Strip. The sky had been trumped by the city lights. Outshone. But, definitely not left naked and ashamed. The nighttime sky was beautiful, like smooth black onyx. Like a precious stone, the sky was dotted by a lovely milky white moon. 

 

The Landscape – A Place to Look Up To In Las Vegas

Another Good Reason to Look Up in Las Vegas – Art Glass Inset in Bellagio Hotel Lobby Ceiling

This was my third visit to “Sin City.” I am simply amazed how ingenuous development of the complex entertainment destination Las Vegas has become – a place smack dab in the middle of the Nevada desert. There is live music, comedy, theatrics, all sorts of attractions, acrobatics, adult entertainment – a panoply of reasons to stay active and all abuzz.

Tao Bistro & Club’s interior – as impeccable as the culinary offerings.

Stone tubs filled with rose petals and candles line the entryway into the Tao Bistro and Club. Inside the Venetian facility.

Guests of the Venetian enjoy gondola rides in a backdrop reminiscent of the beautiful city of Venice, Italy.

“Spiderman” takes a break from his post on the Strip.

Gladiators chat until the next picture-seeking visitor comes along.

Another thing that was clear more this visit than ever before was the sense of possibility. It felt palpable – like a heartbeat.  I’m talking about the feeling that comes from pursuit of chance, of luck, of fame, of fortune, of hopes, of dreams. 

The Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino was live on Saturday night.

Because it was the weekend before Halloween, being in Las Vegas was particularly entertaining. It was challenging to distinguish the costumed for parties from those ‘working’ The Strip for photos with visitors and tips. As I passed those dressed in costumes I presumed were working, I thought:

Feed your dreams. They help keep your footing on a solid path forward. Dream big. In high-definition. Anything less than big dreams ought to be left to luck. Odds are, dreams will take you outside of what appears to be to what could be.

That was really advice to myself… then I reminded myself that the journey to the place with the beautiful, smooth black onyx sky was for good laughs and good company and not too much thought-provoking thinking.

Ain’t That A Trip? …when stars in the black onyx sky are trumped by the city lights

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a walk around old town Girona lands you in Mexico

I love avocados. I love Mexican cuisine. What a delight to find extraordinary Mexican cuisine in Old Town Girona, Spain.

Inside looking out. Maguey: Cuina Mexicana

MAGUEY: Cuina Mexicana
One of the owners, Arturo was born in Mexico, moved to France for stint in the finance industry, followed his heart to Spain, and landed in Girona.  

When you walk in the restaurant, you immediately know your needs come first to the attentive staff. Arturo or “Arthur with an o” as he introduced himself was kind and engaging. He genuinely seemed interested in what had brought me to Girona. When I asked how a Mexican-born, journalist ended up in Catalonia, he was open and friendly, sharing his story.

 A few nights before I visited the restaurant for the first time, I watched his partner from a distance. It was just before the dinner rush – she was setting up overflow seating outside the restaurant. Her boundless energy made an impression on me – she was wrestling tables and umbrellas along  the sidewalk. What’s remarkable is the over-capacity seating was one storefront away and around the corner!  

Inside Maguey: Cuina Mexicana

Their food was great, especially the guacamole; it had chunks of the sweet, buttery fruit balanced with those spectacular tomatoes, onions, and just the right spike of citrus flavor. The heavenly guacamole was just the perfect starter to excite my palate but not fill me up.

Did I say I was looking for the best margarita I ever had when I first realized Maguey offered Mexican cuisine? Well, I was not, but it was truly a happy discovery.

Their hand-mixed classic margarita was excellent – so how would the specialty margarita featuring guava fruit rate better than excellent? 

über-excellent

Don’t take my word for it. I rank my people-experience right up there with the food, so maybe I’m not a good reviewer. Go see for yourself – be prepared for good food, great atmosphere, and a welcoming, sweet staff. 

Since travelers and diners seek different experiences, this is not intended to be a review of the restaurant, Maguey. Their website is www.maguey.es

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a walk around old town Girona lands you in Mexico.

Ain’t That A Trip? …when a promise kept makes the days count – nights too.

 

Girona At Sunset (Photo credit: Evarist March, 2012)

Every day is a chance to re-create. Joy. It’s embedded in my memory. Of the sky that changes her pink crinoline into navy blue trousers. Of the little voices that greet me mornings. Of the joyful symphony of trumpets and ram’s horns that jar me awake. Of love. Of comfort. Of good will.  ~Michelle Pearcy

As I walked the streets of enchanted Girona, Spain memories of the days of planning  family vacations flooded in. Pure excitement grew as the date of the departure drew near. Instead of the classic, “are we there yet?” the question that ignited our tinderbox of enthusiasm was “how many more days?”

Sometimes I think anticipation lingered longer than the enjoyment found in each day of the holiday. Time seemed to whizz by. Then another countdown began: the days left in the trip before returning home.   

What a way to regard time!

Recently, I’ve been on some pretty amazing fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventures mostly because of missed flight connections. So, after a hiccup-free journey from Miami to Atlanta to Barcelona, I knew I was on my way to a memorable journey. What a welcome relief! The flight was on time, the train from the airport to Barcelona Sants on time, the connection to Girona from ‘Barna Sant’ on time, and an effortless taxi ride to the front door of my Hotel Ciutat de Girona.  

In return for this amazing travel grace, a promise was kept: To not count the days, but make the days count – the nights too!    

Girona By Night

It’s easy to focus your energy and your eyes on getting from one place to another when you’re in an unfamiliar setting. It’s also easy to miss the absolute beauty along the way.

Can’t life be a lot like this? 

So, during the train ride to Girona from Barcelona, I watched scene after scene of a familiar, yet unfamiliar landscape approach, momentarily be framed, and pass from the glass in my window seat. It was a moving exhibition – art in motion.    

Girona! Costa Brava!

What better place for a conference of travel bloggers? The sponsors, Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona and Expedia, made preparations for their guests and executed those plans tastefully. Over 350 attended the TBEX Europe meetup. The travel bloggers’ introduction to the region’s people, traditions, cultural artifacts, land and seascapes, food, and drink was nothing less than amazing!

The strongest impression I had about Girona happened the moment I stepped on the cobblestone paved street outside my hotel. I was in the hunt for lunch after checking in. Girona felt familiar, yet provocatively new. Girona was begging to be explored.  

Opening Night At 24 Festival de Cinema de Girona. Inaugural Gala for the Girona Film Festival in Placa de la Independencia

That newness was alluring. It was like being seated in a darkened room with the door to the room slowly creaking open allowing silvery light to stream in. By the afternoon of the first day of the conference, I was consumed by wanderlust and was lured right out of the Auditori – Palau de Congressos Girona and onto Girona’s streets.  

My curiosity wasn’t the only thing satisfied, intown Girona granted me peace and tranquility when I sorely needed respite from scheduled activities and the din of the crowd.  I found a perfect place along the riverbed, spread my sweater on the grass, and watched ducks effortlessly float on the river. There was no need to schmooze with them. By the second day, I was browsing and bartering with Saturday morning vendors along the river in the outdoor market in Parc de la Devesa.

Opening Night Party: TBEX Europe 2012 at Castell de la Sant Gregori

As I walked onto the main patio of Castell de Sant Gregoiri, the location of the Opening Night Party,  I noticed a conspiracy unfolding. The sky was in collusion with the beautifully lit 12th century castle and the castle was artfully juxtaposed with the waxing crescent moon. The moon was quarter past full and it looked like a quarter coin being placed into the slot of a vending machine.

The scene was like something from an indie film – an independent production. To the sky, it mattered little what was going on the ground. The moon and the stars were projected on a vast Mediterranean silver screen – the navy blue sky. The sky, a self-made ingénue made an awesome costume change from her silken rose-colored skirt into navy blue trousers.   

A Castell at the Opening Night Party Awes Guests (Girona, Spain 2012)

That night  I learned the Catalonian tradition of building human castles or  castells  (Catalan pronunciation: [kəsˈteʎ]) was not just a cultural tradition. I saw the castells as a metaphor for the elements a strong community needs to survive: raise its young to the top; stand on each others’ shoulders so others may rise up; and the community as a whole stand together as a base that supports the tower, keeping it safe and strong, and becoming a safety net if someone topples.

That may be a stretch of my imagination, but one thing for sure, castells are towers of strength. 

Sunset Over The Pyrenees – Vista from Montjuic

  As I walked Girona’s streets, I listened for the familiar – the soft songs of birds, the joyous call of children, and the quick paced steps of those moving toward their daily duties. One morning, walking to the conference center, I met a group of infantrymen dressed in period uniforms from the early-1800’s.  As they waited opposite the street for the pedestrian light, I was fast on the draw – with my camera. Not only did I get a nice photo, their smiles warmed my heart.  Unbeknownst to me, we would ‘meet up’ later that evening. TBEX participants were shuttled high atop Montjuic with its breathtaking vistas, where the sun was setting over the Pyrenees Mountains. We observed a re-enactment of Napoleon Bonaparte’s siege on the city and the peninsula. The actors I greeted on the street had starring roles in the re-enactment.    

There seems to be a reverence for the past, yet the presence of spontaneity strongly points toward the future. The streets are alive at night in Girona and so are the days.

I will definitely plan to return to Girona – it’s a place that writers and poets and artists would naturally be attracted to. I was touched by my visit.

Dance Like No One’s Watching. Girona, Spain 2012

 

 “There are roads out of the secret places within us along which we all must move as we go to touch others.”

~ Romare Bearden

 

 

 Ain’t That A Trip? …when a promise kept makes every day count – nights too.

Ain’t That A Trip? …when some things have to be entered into head-first

 

Somethings Have To Be Entered Into Head First. Negril, Jamaica

 “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” ~William Shakespeare

 Growing up, I was not allowed to use training wheels to learn to ride a bicycle. Neither did my first pair of ice skates have double blades. No half-stepping. If you’re going to ride, ride. If you’re going to glide, glide. The message was clear: a half-step should only be the interval between notes on a keyboard. But, there are some things I can honestly say I have extreme respect for – one of them being heights.  

As I stood on the cliffs opposite this child of about 10 years, I rehearsed the meaning of the caption of this photo:

 Some things have to be entered into head-first.

One of the biggest challenges with shooting this picture was ‘when’ to shoot versus ‘if’ he would jump.  I knew enough about physics and trajectories to know I would have to train my camera ahead of his launch to get the best shot. Besides, “if” he would jump was not the question and his hesitation probably had very little to do with fear or lack of courage – it was more likely to do with him calculating when he could command the most attention.

These rocky cliffs are his playground – or at least during this strategic time of the day. The cliffs are next to Jamaica’s famed Rick’s Cafe, where tourists flock in a daily pilgrimage to experience the coveted Negril sunset. That evening, several party boats including the notorious catamaran, Wild Thing, had eclipsed in or nearby the small bay. Rick’s sits about 50 feet above the lovely Caribbean Sea. 

I was standing on a curved patio outside my resort, Catcha Falling Star, a sweet little Negril resort where the staff makes you feel just like family. And like a close family, keeps a good eye on your comings and goings which really makes you feel safe and cared for. Catcha is a neighbor of Rick’s and just close enough to draw energy from the festive partyboaters, revel in the cheers and whistles of their patrons that egg-on the divers, and perfectly poised to be inspired by it all.  

While most of Rick’s visitors who step up to the challenge of diving usually go in feet first, the local divers mostly opt to go into the sea head-first.  

Some of life’s challenges can only be entered into going head first. Going in feet first leaves too much temptation to change course. The playground I played on as a child had rocks of its own – small, gravelly rocks. And, if you changed course abruptly, a misstep could land you with a number of painful little reminders lodged underneath the skin on your knees.

Some things in life are uncertain, but not good cause to remain ashore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I become more familiar with digital photography, I am learning that sometimes the only game plan is to be contented and resigned to allow the subject to grant you the image it would have you have.

Can’t life be a little like that too?

Hummingbird: Fast. Fleeting. Like life.

Like this hummingbird, life is fast and fleeting. Though I hoped to capture the bright turquoise and rust plumage of my finely feathered friend, something more splendid was to be found in the shadows. On a perfectly sunny day, the lighting gave a hint of black and white.    

I did catch a star on this journey: Catcha’ Falling Star, a small seaside resort that I will visit again and again, as much for the warm feeling of being welcome as its location, location, location. What I also caught was the lesson that sometimes it’s not what we expect that brings the most joy.

 

Ain’t That a Trip? …when some things have to be entered into head-first.

We all seek different experiences in our travels; mention of the resort should not be construed as a review. Catcha Falling Star’s website is http://www.catchajamaica.com/

Ain’t That A Trip?…when an urban nature walk lands you in a bat cave

 

Inside the Bat Cave, Barcelona, Spain

 Destination has become something more than the name of a place on my itinerary. It is a  frontier waiting to be adventured. Along the way, I am discovering that the trip is to today and a passion is developing: wanderlust for a place where a new nation can be built from within.   

Recently, after a daylong themed tour, “Cava, Coves and Gardens” in the beautiful Costa Brava region of Spain, I thirsted for more. Not the bubbly part of the theme, but the beauty that can hardly be captured in a digital frame.  The gardens. The plant life.

After the impressive tour of the modest and native Mediterranean botanical garden, Marimutra, I arranged to discover the untamed, uncultivated species that grow right in the backlot of the hilly cultural hub of beautiful Barcelona.

The next morning at first light, I watered the horses, tamped down the canvas, and hitched to the wagontrain to the new territory. Well, not really a wagontrain, but a train – the regional train from Girona to Barcelona – a 1.5 hour trip. I boarded the train not pretending to know where I was on the trail, but knowing my path was being directed and a righteous way being made, knowing that any sagebrush in the path would be cleared, and knowing the fog of doubt would be lifted. I was a hopeful pioneer in search of an instant classic.

When we met up with NaturalWalks of Barcelona, we would take an urban walking tour up steep hills, onto precipices, peering onto the site of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the awe-striking Barcelona seaport, the sapphire Mediterranean sea, and the vast landscape views of metropolitan Barcelona. 

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As an avid walker, I have come to appreciate the beauty of the ordinary. By the end of the tour, what I knew was confirmed: the beauty and rich cultural heritage of the place I admired didn’t just lie just in the architecture and art and history. There was profound beauty and purpose in the modest and surefooted plant life that survived for generations. This secret life that graciously gave hints about how the land was used. 

We discovered uncultivated fennel, garlic, sage, lavender, carob, mint, and a plethora of herbs and aromatics; it was like a moveable aromatheraphy session. When introduced to a new specimen,  I would ceremoniously close my eyes, take in a deep breath, get a huge waft of aroma and exhale with a soulful, ‘aaahhh.’  

Along the way around the mount, we noticed portions of the large rock wall which had been used for Olympic rockclimbing was cordoned off. There were safety concerns due to falling material. Then the amusing appeared: a tunnel. La Fuixarda. An outdoor tunnel that was being used as an urban climbing experience.

The “Bat Cave” is adorned with protrusions of all whimsical shapes, painted murals on the ceiling of the tunnel, and varying degrees of climbing difficulty. It was truly like walking into a colony of bats – friendly bats that were about the business of learning to hang upside down on the ceiling of a cave.

Ain’t That A Trip?…when an urban nature walk lands you in a bat cave.

Thank you Evarist March, owner of NaturalWalks for the memorable experience. Their website is http://naturalwalks.com/