Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Author: Meg Noble Peterson (Page 1 of 23)

THE CENTRAL ASIAN STEPPE IN ALL ITS GLORY

July 14, 2017

Unlike the previous two nights, last night turned freezing, making me glad for my down vest and superb sleeping bag. But by 10 AM, when breakfast was over (Tamara cooked her special pancakes!), it was warm and sunny once again.

Tamara Blesh on the way to making pancakes

We spent the morning in Zavkhan province, which is named after the Zavkhan River. Its headwaters originate in the southern foothills of the Khangai mountains and flow through the Great Lich Mongol Sand, finally entering Airag and Khyargas Lake in the Great Lakes Depression. This depression is the home of several large, saline lakes, which have no outlet.

Scenes along the way…click on the photos to start a slideshow…

In the afternoon we visited Otgontenger National Park, where the highest peak of the Khangai mountains is located. This snowcapped summit is called Otgontenger and is a holy mountain worshipped by the entire nation.

From there we drove down along the Bayant River, one of the tributaries of the Zavkhan River. We stopped by Otgon Soum to stock up on fuel and groceries, and enjoy, once more, those yummy ice cream bars.

Can you find the sheep in this picture?

Soon after, we entered the steppe zone from the mountain steppe. Bogie pointed out many indicators of this new area: the lynx, (shiluustei), Mongolian lark (Melanowrypha Mongolia), and Krylow’s grass (Stipa Krilowi). Wherever you find these species you are in the Central Asian steppe grassland. As we approached the river valley, we started seeing the plants that grow in the Gobi, such as Caragana bushes, Allium onions (Allium pollyrhizum) and many more. Be patient with my spelling. It’s a bit too technical for me, especially in Mongolian!

After a lot of off-road searching, we stopped at the shore of a rippling lake that reminded me of Puget Sound in Langley, with its long strip of rocky land on the opposite side facing the beach. We had time for a swim before we finally camped at Tayshir dam reservoir.

Of the ten dams in Mongolia, this is the biggest. Bogie told us a great deal about the lake-type ecosystem in this semidesert zone of western Mongolia. Here is a link to a scientific journal article about it. Some of you biologists will find it fascinating.

At the close of the day, we set up camp

and enjoyed another spectacular sunset.

NEW YEAR’S GREETINGS

I hope you are all taking some time to groove on the holidays, enjoy your family, and make plans for what I hope is a healthier, more thoughtful, compassionate, and peaceful year ahead.

I seldom put personal information or political opinions in my blog, but I’ve received so many wonderful year end reports from friends, who press me for basic information, that I’m sending them and you the sketchiest of news. This is a first for me. I’m not known for brevity.

My youngest son, Robert, is off to Shenzhen, China, on business, leaving his wife, Gwen, in Orlando, Florida, to hold down the fort for their golf entertainment enterprise, Glowgear. My daughter, Martha, has returned to her home in Denver, Colorado, after three months of teaching Essential Somatics in the U. K., Ireland, and Australia, to be on hand when her daughter, Cally, gives birth to a second son in January (what does that make me…a great grandmother, again? Can’t be!). I shall be joining the Denver wing of the family for Christmas while Cary and Tom are staying in Langley, with the school farm program and Tom’s house building at the Upper Langley affordable cohousing community going swimmingly. Grandson Adam and his girlfriend, Allie, are in New Jersey tearing up cyber space with various innovations. Grandson Thomas, a prolific writer of fantasy fiction, will greet me in Denver before he makes his way to Portland, Oregon, to embrace a new job and that soothing winter rain. Cary and I miss going to Nepal, but the holiday season brings a lot of wonderful connections with stateside family, friends, concerts and theater that we don’t find trekking in the Himalayas.

And to all of you…a wonderful Christmas and jolly holidays. And try not to behave yourselves….

(Stay tuned for more reports of my trip to Mongolia last summer!)

View of Puget Sound from Cascade Avenue in Langley, WA on a sunny December day.

LAKES, RIVERS, AND MOUNTAIN PASSES

July 12-13, 2017

We stayed another day by White Lake, which was relaxing, while giving us time to do some laundry and have another bracing swim. It was warm and sunny, but windy beyond belief. I looked like Donald Trump in a windstorm, and finally gave up trying to look glamorous…or even presentable. It wasn’t to be!

The water was lovely, but I got a little tangled up in the weeds at the shoreline, something that always grosses me out. I can’t help wondering what little critters might be waiting to take a nip out of a toe or two.

The food was very good, and Tuul’s cooking superb. Tamara and I tried to help and at least do some of the chopping, but the “kitchen” was a complicated set up and one that Tuul could navigate much better than either of us. She finally let us help with washing dishes, but it was strange getting used to washing in cold water and rinsing in hot. When in Rome….

We had salads and fresh veggies for many days until we ran out of the supplies we had stocked up on in Ulaanbaatar. And, of course, there were omelets, pasta, rice, and a variety of soups loaded with lamb. I was amazed at how long the meat could keep without refrigeration, but I had no ill effects.

Breakfast was always a surprise. Varied and jovial.  I wish I could understand the jokes!

After breakfast Bogie and Algaa hightailed it to the nearby ger of some friends to watch the national wrestling finals on TV.

Tamara spent the time reading; the children found plenty to do; and one was camera-shy.

I scouted the nearby hills for some exquisite views of the lakes and nearby terrain.
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When I returned, the men were still glued to the TV, so I helped myself to the best yoghurt of my life, and lay down to take a nap on one of the beds lining the ger. Immediately, Bogie reminded me never to point my feet toward people or inside areas. In this case they must be pointed south, toward the door. Feet are considered symbolically unclean and should not be pointed toward a person or a special place like an altar, and the soles of the feet should not be exposed, directly, to another person when sitting down on the floor. This was not new to me. Years ago I was made aware of this custom while meditating in a temple in Bangkok, Thailand.

I was awakened by shouts of ‘Bravo’ from Bogie. The winner of the tournament had been announced and was Sodnomdorj from Khuvsgul province in northern Mongolia. For those of you keeping track of my journey, know that many places have several spellings, depending on the local dialect.

I find it difficult to describe the next few days as we went overland through streams and up hills that I never imagined a vehicle could navigate. It was like being on a roller coaster and never knowing what would appear around the next hill. I finally had to stop sitting in the front, for it was too scary going up inclines that tilted the van at what looked to me like a 45-degree angle. Then we’d go close to a cliff and head over and down into deep ruts or a series of boulders, and tilt the other way. Algaa didn’t even try to avoid them. He just rode over them. He used two extra gears, which were situated to the right of the main gearshift, with breathtaking skill and calm aplomb. Tackling the width and breadth of this vast country by vehicle is not for the faint of heart. But you sure do have an intimate connection with the land! I only wish that I could have done the trip by horseback. That would be the ultimate dream trip.

We drove westward along the Khoid Kerk River. This river flows into White Lake and is the main source of its water. On the way we passed through Tsakher Soum, which is similar to our county, and the smallest administrative unit in Mongolia. Farther upstream, we reached the Nukhen Davaa mountain pass.

Since we left the monastery in Kharkhorin, we had been traveling in the Khangai mountain range. It is one of four main mountain massifs, the others being Altai, Sayan, and Khentii. We crossed the highest ridge of the Kangai mountains into Zavkhan province. It’s one of five western provinces.

After lunch we stopped at a mini-mart in a town that looked like the wild frontier, fences and all. Once again we splurged on the best ice cream I’ve had in ages…chocolate covered bars. I had finally gotten over my reticence about eating such dairy products in Asia.

Looking for streams and fresh water and a camping spot became our late afternoon activity. We’d see a place and head off-road to explore the territory. We seldom met anybody, except for an occasional Prius stuck in sand or mud (they cost about $4,000 here…worth moving to Mongolia, eh?), driven by a young man thirsting for adventure. That has to be the only reason anyone would chance driving a small car on this turf. Needless to say, Algaa was a willing helper, and he pulled several out of the sand and mire and sent them on their way.

During our search we stopped at a high spot to stretch our legs.

We bumped into some Mongolians with whom we shared picture-taking. It was great to run around the hills. We felt like kids enjoying a family outing. The sun had abated and the air was fresh and cool.

That evening we camped at the foothills of Nukhen Davaa, an area that is dominated by an Alpine meadow ecosystem. There we walked through tall grass that waved in the wind and had shimmering white tops in the setting sun.

 

IT’S OFF TO THE NAADAM FESTIVAL AND THE KHORGO VOLCANO!

July 10-11, 2017

I never tire of the morning view from my tent. And I’m never sure whether I’ll be greeted by a horse, a sheep, a sunrise, a panorama of looming mountains, or all of the above. But I do know one thing…it will be peaceful.

On our way to the first stop of the day, a family ger, we passed the winter camp I had seen the day before on my hike, and enjoyed interacting with a local herder.

This prompted a long discussion about the history of wild horses (the most famous one, the Przewalski, is being re-introduced into Mongolia) and the present-day practice of capturing a horse, breaking him, and sending him into a “pack.” The pack will decide its territory, but it has to be within the area allotted to that particular herder and his family. This system of organization is not strictly legal, but has been decided upon over the years by the various families. Packs of horses have one stallion and 20-30 mares. There are also some geldings, mostly ones that the herders or racers ride. You geld a horse when it reaches horse puberty…age four. We were to see many such packs, several of them standing with their heads together, reminding me of a football team in a huddle.

 

Just over the hill we spotted a group of gers. What a delight it was to be ushered into the large round room and treated to milk tea, pressed yogurt, various kinds of goodies made from yogurt, real yogurt, and, sometimes, popcorn.

A typical ger is covered with two layers of canvas with an insulation layer of felt. It can be taken apart in less than an hour and moved to a different location…south in the winter and north in the warmer months. It is supported by a collapsible wooden frame and ropes made from horsehair and cinched around the perimeter to hold it together. The use of gers is still very much a tradition in central Mongolia. You can see why. They are useful and incredibly versatile.

We moved to the ger next door and were shown where vodka was made from yak yogurt. Drying curd hung from the ceiling  A motorcycle was parked outside. Some herders use them instead of horses. Notice the sheep’s head on the back, probably for dinner.

We had already been introduced to Mongolian hospitality and kindness, so it was not a surprise when Algaa slowed down and stopped by the side of the road to help another motorist in trouble. This happened twice in the next two days and both times he knew the driver…one a relative and another his best friend. Small world. Each time he assisted them it gave us a chance to chat with the clients and swap stories from such places as Germany, California, France, and Holland. These exchanges are one of the reasons I so enjoy travel in faraway places.

Algaa was a character, indeed! He usually dressed in pants and an undershirt, or on the hot days, no shirt at all. He was a phenomenal driver and could talk on his cell phone while negotiating the most arduous “roads.” His van was his baby and he cared for it each day, washed it in the streams, and kept the inside spotless. He even slept in it. And his sense of humor was one of his most endearing qualities.

The annual Naadam Festival across the vast grasslands of Mongolia is held in every village and city on the 11th and 12th of July, coinciding with Independence Day. It’s a colorful spectacle when competitors show off their skills in wrestling, archery, and horse racing.

Cheer up Bogie! Here are a few old-fashioned folks!

Everyone in town dons the finest apparel (del, meaning traditional cloak) and congregates out of town. Bogie was lamenting the fact that it used to be so much better when everyone came by horseback, but now shiny new cars are crowded everywhere and spoil the atmosphere. (Cars are much cheaper in Mongolia than the west due to the economy.) At 29 he’s already sounding like us old folks!

It was lunchtime when we arrived outside a small town near the Tarjat River, and a race was just finishing up. Horses came pounding up a wide grassy “highway,” their riders urging them ever faster by rhythmically using a gentle switch, first on their hind quarters, then on their necks. What excitement! Four-year-old horses racing over ten miles to the finish line. They kept coming even after the winners were declared and the celebration had begun. I missed out on most of the photos for lack of time, so I just enjoyed the drama and hoped I’d be present for the next finish. There’s plenty of colorful coverage on the internet.

After the race, we wandered throughout the hot and dusty fairgrounds, past merchants and individual displays of wares, and numerous tailgate parties, until we found the wrestling. Most everyone in Mongolia loves wrestling. It seems to me like the national sport….a bit like our football. During our trip nomads would join us for food or fellowship in the evenings and, inevitably, a wrestle would take place. Bogie was especially adept at this, and I have some neat videos of the men grunting and groaning and throwing each other around with great alacrity.

Here at the festival anyone from the audience who has the temerity can challenge the big guys (and they are big).

Notice the spindly little fellow in the video holding his own with an expert. You can only lose if your elbow touches the ground. It doesn’t matter how many times you get thrown or stumble. I could not believe what the human body endured that day! And don’t you love the way the winner preens and trots around the ring holding up his arms and doing a little dance? I didn’t take a video of the beginning, but it was like a choreographed circle dance with all the wrestlers waving their arms and moving their hips and bodies to the music. And they looked as if they were having a real blast.

Our time at the wrestling match was cut short by the advent of rain, so we rushed to get the tale end of another horse race. Obviously, there was no picture taking this time, because of the downpour. Drat! It was funny, however, to watch three horses neck in neck as they reached the finish line. And the winner had evidently lost his rider along the way, poor fellow. But he won, nevertheless.

We left the festival, reluctantly, and drove down a peaceful highway with rolling hills, rows of electric poles and several small villages.  They were typical of others we had seen: brightly colored houses clustered or built on a hillside in tiered fashion. I found the arrangement rather touching…some in semi-circles and some lining the highway. And many with high wooden fences. The roofs were also bright colored and the design simple, rectangular, and usually one-storied. I saw no fancy or extensive landscaping. Of course, there were no villages or towns when traveling off road. Just small groups of gers.

In the late afternoon we passed a deep canyon rimmed with pine trees, through which the Chestnut River flowed. We were now in the Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park.

That night we camped on the shore of Targat, the wild river. I took a hike on one of the hills overlooking our site.

The next morning we stopped at a super market to buy supplies, as we did, periodically. Take your pick of languages!

Then it was on to Tariat soum, a district of Arkhangai Province. You could see the volcanic debris on the hills en route the famous Khorgo volcano.

The volcano was quite a tourist attraction loaded with Mongolian families clambering up to the rim to get a look at the lake way down at the bottom of the crater.

As the afternoon wore on we went through another resort on the northern shore of Terkhiin Tsagaan, the White Lake. Rental gers nestled along the shoreline and tourist vans dotted the landscape. Groups of people hiked on the rocky hills.

We rode around the lake until we reached its northern shore. The terrain was rocky with small lumps called permafrost. The lumps were rocks covered with lush green grass.  You had to really watch your step as you walked.

There’s nothing like a swim before dinner as the sun makes its way behind the distant hills.

ONWARD THROUGH THE ROLLING STEPPE OF CENTRAL MONGOLIA

July 8 – 9, 2017

For the next week we traveled to higher altitudes and began to see yaks and rock-covered mountains with patches of poplar and larch trees. As we made our way to Tserleg, the provincial capital of Archangai province, where Bogie’s mother lives, we went through Kharkorin, the center of Ovorkhangai Province at the lower end of the Orkhon River. This is at the easternmost foothills of the Khangai Mountains, where they meet the rolling steppe of central Mongolia. The most famous landmark near the ruins of the ancient town of Kharakorin is Erdene Zuu monastery, the Temple of the Fifth Dalai Lama, and its famous phallic rock.

The history of this oldest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia dates back at least to 1585 and some say to the 8th century. It has survived centuries of invasion, political shifts, religious purges, and outright murder. The outer wall contains one hundred and eight white stupas, which managed to survive all the purges. The number 108 is very significant to Buddhists. For more information about this beleaguered monastery, now an historical museum, click HERE.

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Near the temple compound, there was a tourist area and everyone wanted to be The Eagle Huntress (see the movie if you haven’t already.)

We stayed for one night at the home of Bogie’s mother. It was here that we were treated to our first traditional lamb barbecue, a very elaborate feast served with a variety of salads, vegetables, and sweets. It was also our first real taste of Mongolia’s legendary hospitality. I’ve never seen anything like it, but was to enjoy the same warm and welcoming atmosphere throughout my journey. As we left we could see Ankush and his cousins enthusiastically playing with the plastic bat and ball that Tamara so thoughtfully carried as gifts for our host families.

Bogie with his wife and family

The day was glorious, with views of mountains, meadows, and animals.

In the late afternoon we set up camp near a clump of woods shielding a pristine, meandering stream. Well, not so pristine. Bogie was furious when he spied debris, especially plastic wrap in the water. He wasted no time cleaning things up and sharing his strong opinions about pollution.

The evening was peaceful…hiking in the mountains, exploring a nomad winter camp, and watching horses as they passed by.

The quiet of dusk. 

 

 

HAIL TO THE SPRINGTIME WITH FLOWERS AND BIRTHDAYS

It’s a given that being a Gemini is a heavy cross to bear, but when the number hits eighty-nine you start to take stock big time. You receive a plethora of funny cards warning that “the warranty on your life has expired,” or “don’t worry, it’s only a number” or, “hell, you could be ninety, so stop complaining and consider the alternative.” At least by this time I am completely honest…I don’t subtract a year and I certainly don’t add one. It is what it is! And, believe me, I count my blessings, which are many.

We had a magnificent cake from CJ&Y Decadent Desserts, the women who bought JW Desserts. But Mr JW Desserts himself–John Auburn (now of Whidbey Island Bagel Factory fame)–came and gave me a birthday present of a ride on his motorcycle!

Time for a new lifestyle!

It was fun to be joined at the head table by such friends as Irene Christofferson (96!) and Loretta Wilson (a mere 86), along with little ones coming up on six-years-old. So enjoyed the evening with friends at Talking Circle and the hilarious birthday limericks. I couldn’t resist another ride on the zipline! You should try it some day….

Fun on the zipline!

I can’t get enough of all the flowering plants, trees and rhodies that bloom around the time of my birthday.

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Look at the beauty of Whidbey in June as seen from Meerkerk Gardens.

SCROLL BACK TO LAST DECEMBER AS WE MAKE OUR WAY THROUGH DELHI TO KATHMANDU….WE’LL GET THERE YET!

On December 5th we headed for the small airport in Kangra, two hours from Suja, where we boarded a plane instead of taking our usual long taxi ride back to Delhi. I have to admit that it was a lot more comfortable and afforded us quality time to chat with a new-found friend, an anthropologist and her extended family, as we waited four hours for the plane to arrive. Patience is a virtue I am finding indispensable when traveling in Asia. “On time” is not finite. It can mean most anything!

I never tire of the classy new Delhi airport and its elephants who greet us:

Our adventure in Delhi with a prepay taxi driver from the airport was classic. Not only did he not know the destination—a very popular hotel close by—but he refused our meager tip, throwing a fit when we wouldn’t reward him half of the entire fare. We should pay for his mistakes? To our surprise he followed us into the hotel lobby, where nobody had any small change due to the monetary crisis. Even fellow Indians seemed appalled by his aggressive behavior. Fortunately, Cary unearthed a fifty rupee note and thrust it into his outstretched palm. With an ‘haruumph’ he stomped away.

At dinner we met a charming gentleman living with his wife in Shanghai. Their plan is to adopt Chinese children and move to Australia. He then told us about the more than fourteen million “ghost children” living in China…second or third children, mostly girls, who were born after the one-child policy was instituted in 1980. These children are not recognized by the government, have no official identity, cannot get an education, cannot legally marry, and cannot get medical services. They live outside the institutions of a regulated society. It is an horrendous problem known to very few people outside the country, but there is extensive information about it on the internet. Yet, until government policy changes, these children will continue to live in the shadows.

The next day we flew out of Delhi, and it turned out to be a sad one for voters, especially women, in the southernmost state of Tamil Nader, whose capital is Chennai. The much-beloved chief minister, Jayalalithaa, died, triggering mass grief and leaving a political power vacuum in southern India. As I’ve written before, there is much interest in politics and political personalities in India. It’s a young democracy full of problems, but it citizens are intensely vocal and active!

Before boarding Jet Airways for Kathmandu, we met the head steward and one of the stewardesses, both from Sikkim, and started chatting. They showed a great deal of interest in the post-earthquake situation in Nepal and our desire to make a contribution, however small. In a gesture of compassion they gave money for one of the schools in Solukhumbu and asked Cary to light butter lamps at the Boudhanath stupa for those who were still suffering. It’s gratifying to see such generosity from total strangers. These new friends also arranged for us to sit on the side of the plane with the best view of the Himalayan range. Is it any wonder that Jet Airways is our favorite airline?

Here are a few shots of the vast display of natural wonder we observed from 30,000 ft.

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How great it was to get back to Kathmandu and be met by Buddhi, our guide, and Ram Hari, both from Crystal Mountain treks. The director, Jwalant, had returned to  the mountains to help deliver supplies for his ongoing school rebuilding projects. The Kathmandu Valley as we evidenced on our drive to Boudha, was in a constant state of repair, from road widening and resurfacing, to shoring up a crumbling infrastructure, to house building. And traffic had resumed its chaotic spider web after the gas shortage of last year had subsided.

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The Shechen Guest House staff greeted us with open arms and we spent the rest of the day and the next checking out the continued construction around the temple, the refurbished stupa, and our favorite shopkeepers. The stupa had just been consecrated after a year and a half of restoration, and it was magnificent.

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At dusk we walked kora and delighted in the variety of faces and native dress of the people walking alongside us, fingering their malas and murmering their chants. Cary lit butter lamps for the Jet Airways flight attendents, and for many friends who requested prayers from the Boudha stupa.

As we left, the colored lights, strung all around the stupa, had come on and a half-moon hung in the night sky.

I’m glad to relate that, finally, I’m getting used to the roaring motorcycles outside the stupa grounds. I just keep walking slowly and let them dodge me. I’ve been lucky so far! It’s hard, at time, to keep your cool, but easier than trying to second-guess the drivers.

Early the next morning, December 8th, we headed for Phaplu, a ten-hour jeep ride over roads ranging from marvelous (built by the Japanese, and similar to the fly-overs outside Delhi, built by the Chinese)…

…to horrendous (result of monsoons, landslides, and the 2015 earthquake), with a superb driver who seemed clairvoyant as he wound around the narrow mountain roads, unable to see who was coming, but squeaking by buses and maneuvering sans guardrails to keep us from diving over a cliff. I tend to be dramatic, but so would you…had you been sitting in the front seat!

There were times when the road was washed out and we simply went through streams onto higher ground. There were also those drivers not so skilled, who found themselves stuck in the river. Here are some photos of our journey as it unfolded.

 

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As we made our way into the hills we beheld a panorama of the world’s most famous Himalayan peaks. This is the first time since my Everest Base Camp trek in 1987 that I saw Everest, Lhotse, and the Nuptse Ridge all lined up. It was thrilling! White, crisp, clear with piercing blue skies.

Nearing our destination, we were treated to another array of stunning mountains, Numbur Mt. being the most outstanding. It seemed to follow us for the next few days.

At 6 PM we arrived in Phaplu in the Solukhumbu region, and stayed at The Everest Hotel.

Our traveling companion was a young woman, Passang, who had come to fill out the necessary documents for a student visa to study in the U.S. She was hoping to receive a scholarship to Knox college in Illinois. Passang spoke excellent English and had a knowledge of government and history not unlike so many other young people we’d met in Nepal and India. She also knew a lot about our election and was concerned about our new president and his impact on the world stage. She wondered, also, how she would be accepted in the United States, as a foreigner.

Tomorrow our trek would begin. But tonight it’s a hearty meal and a very comfortable bed!

THE UPSIDE OF TRAVEL

Complaints! Complaints! Complaints! That’s all we seem to hear about travel these days. No longer the rush of excitement as the plane revs up before lifting off and heading for 30,000 feet, or the cloud banks stretching below like cotton batting blanketing the earth, or the deserted mountain ranges that conjure up the beginning of time.

It’s just constant bellyaching  about long security lines, too many people, invasive searches, and delayed flights. And I was right there with everyone else in the Seattle airport in a line that seemed to stretch all the way to Tacoma, when I began to notice little acts of love and kindness that are also a part of the mix…

A grandfather calling his little grandson over for a final hug (“Aren’t  they wonderful?” he said as he saw me smiling. “Oh, yes they are!”), a security person who apologized after the third pat down (could my body lotion have set off an alarm?) and a waitress in a bar, where I had asked for water because I couldn’t find a fountain. She directed me to a fountain but it was too far, and my plane was boarding. As I stood in line, she rushed over with a giant cup of water and a straw and said, “M’am, you forgot your water.” “You are an angel,” I said. She had been concerned and chased me down. How sweet was that!

During the flight I was sitting next to two loquacious ladies who were unaware that I had gotten up at 3:30 AM to make my airport shuttle and desperately needed my sleep. An hour into the flight they were still talking. Sleep was impossible. I made my way to the steward’s station and explained my predicament, asking if any single seat was available. Eureka! An aisle seat was found next to two sleeping passengers. The remainder of the trip was spent in heavenly silence.

One last gesture of kindness came my way as I was trudging between gates in Philadelphia, hurrying to make a close connection. A gentleman in a motorized cart stopped and offered me a ride, taking me what seemed like 2 miles to my gate, and waving any gratuity. Just being kind. It seemed to please him and it sure pleased me!

This is what I took away from my cross country flight from Seattle to Manchester, New Hampshire. And now, as I sit on the dock looking out at the islands and enjoying the serenity of Lake Winnipesaukee, I temper my upset at the turmoil and incivility rampant in my country, and think of those little kindnesses that jumped out at me when I least expected them. And I am filled with appreciation and hope.

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MT. BAKER, THE DEFINING JEWEL OF THE CASCADES

P1100548No matter how many times I return to this majestic peak, I find subtle nuances I had overlooked before. Walking around our campsites, deep in the woods, I found hidden trails, shady alcoves blanketed in pine needles, varied ground cover, and ferns—some delicate, some enormous, each with its individual, intricate pattern. At night I would sit on the outskirts and watch the waning sun cast its brilliance through the branches, covering everything in a mystical glow. No photo can possibly substitute for nature’s real colors, but I tried.

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The North Cascades are a wilderness defined by giant fir trees and native woody cousins whose lateral branches slope downwards, pulled by masses of bright green moss. Sometimes the burden is round, sometimes tubular, but always magical to me as I wander through the untouched forest. To be sure, some of the larger blow-downs are sliced in half by volunteer repair groups to let the hikers by, but most of the woods are left in a natural state.

My camp partner as usual was Jon Pollack, whom I met trekking on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal in 1999. Our usual campsite in the Cascades over the years has been Silver Fir, which we visited in 2015 and 2013, but this year we chose one about 30 minutes off the beaten track deep in the wilderness, not far from Cascade Pass—Mineral Creek Campground—recommended by Steve Austin, the most charming, helpful camp host we’ve encountered. The fact that I offered my kingdom for a campsite might have helped. He was curious as to what my kingdom might comprise!

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Near the campsite was a roaring river, one of several we would encounter over the next ten days.

P1100377And hovering above us was the ever-present Mt. Shuksun.  Here it is as seen from the south side.

Bears are a big topic in the Cascades. Here I am conversing with one at the North Cascades Visitors Center on our way to Washington Pass.

And, of course, we were surrounded by views on every side. Too bad I don’t know how to upload the video I took of the entire panorama. Still cameras just can’t do the job, although I tried!

The next ten days were filled with hikes, swimming in Baker Lake, and relaxing at our new campsite, Panorama Point. We were incredibly lucky to find the last unreserved site and, we think, the largest and the most beautiful. From now on we’re going to reserve a long way ahead of time! Fishing was a big sport at the lake, but it did nothing to disturb the peaceful area surrounding our favorite swimming hole.

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Here are a few slide shows of our hikes. Pictures tell the story far better than my attempts to describe the Northwest wilderness—from old growth to temperate rain forest—mountain ridges too numerous to name, and the ever-present mountain streams and waterfalls, forded by bridges of varying quality.

Through Washington Pass to Diablo Lake trailhead, down to Ross Dam and Ross Lake.

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Our campsite was on the unpaved road not far from Cascade Pass, which we had climbed a few years ago. This time we only went to the pass after getting a late start. It wasn’t difficult for me to forego going up and over Sahale Arm.

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Our most strenuous hike was to Park Butte, reached by driving nine miles over an unpaved road. The trail was varied—winding switchbacks with lumber-reinforced banks (a bit too much exposure for me), trenches of white rocks that looked like abandoned river beds, steep rocky sections reminiscent of the White Mountains, and stretches of scree, making downhills slippery and challenging. And who could forget the variety of rustic bridges along the way? We reached a fire tower with panoramic views, but getting there really freaked me out, since we had to scale sheer rock to reach the steps. I think I’ve had it with fire towers!

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One final hurrah was the Anderson Butte trail.

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A farewell gift from the master fire builder….P1100695

 

THOSE LAZY-HAZY-CRAZY DAYS OF SUMMER….

Oh, yes, Nat King Cole, there was a time when that song warmed and thrilled me. That is, until I realized that living on Whidbey Island in the summer is anything but lazy or hazy. Crazy is the only thing that fits! Shakespeare in repertory graces our open-air theater, the wind blows over Puget Sound, and I don my polar fleece watching the sun set from my deck. And there is enough music and dancing to wear out the most avid teenager on any night of the week.  Given our demographic, however, you can be sure that a lot of healthy adults are also gracing the streets, halls, and fields where the revelry takes place. Choose your poison: bluegrass, country, folk, jazz, classical, Baroque. And before the evening begins, wander through endless art exhibits from Greenbank to Langley. There’s no time to be lazy!

I do bless this weather when I hear from friends in St. Louis, Florida, or Texas, who are sweltering, while we look up at a blue sky with whipped cream clouds, and enjoy cool breezes that make us forget the dark, damp days of January and February.

orchids mom june 2016I arrived home from my three-week sojourn on the East Coast to find my orchids waiting to embrace me and the gardens in peak production, giving me the fresh produce I had so missed while away. And I looked forward to the frequent strolls I take along the shore at dusk. langley sea view june2016

maxwelton fourth july 2016 Tom_7566maxwelton fourth july 2016 Cary_7549

The very next day was the annual Maxwelton 4th of July parade with outrageous costumes and themes ranging from children riding red, white and blue decorated tricycles to politicians campaigning to local non-profits promoting their cause and locals just promoting a cause… my daughter Cary was distributing snap peas on behalf of the School Farm and Garden Program, and son Tom was part of a group bringing awareness to climate change, with humor.

New construction is going on all around Langley, and the utility company is having a ball in front of my apartment, where a small lake has been growing for two weeks, the result of a major glitch in the stormwater system.  I told the engineers that I wouldn’t swim in it until they removed the mosquitoes. (Actually, I have yet to see one out here, but something is germinating!). If I were six year old, I’d really love to watch dozens of burly men digging up the street and painting patterns on the pavement where an underground labyrinth waits to be discovered, thus reducing my lake to a mere duck pond. Yes, there’s activity everywhere!

Upper Langley, the new affordable housing community started by daughter, Cary, and three like-minded friends, is now in full swing, with builders digging foundations and homes arising right in front of our eyes. There’s excitement and anticipation in the air—an understatement to be sure.

My trip to the East Coast was divided into the New Jersey/New York City experience, the Pennsylvania rustic Mt. Laurel Autoharp Gathering (MLAG), and a visit to family, ending at our summer cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee near Wolfeboro, NH. Driving a rental car for seven hours, two days in a row, flanked by trucks going 70 mph or more, is quite a change from my quiet island. Even Seattle traffic takes a back seat to the highways of New York and Pennsylvania and New England. But I lived to tell the tale. It’s one of those “adventures” I don’t care to repeat anytime soon.

I was able to overlap, briefly, with daughter Martha, in Maplewood, NJ, at the home of a dear friend, Cheryl Galante, the world’s most hospitable human being. Martha sold her home a year ago and is now relocating in Denver, CO. She started her cross-country drive the next day, and shortly after arriving in Denver, headed for Australia and a full teaching schedule (website: www.essentialsomatics.com).  But not, I hasten to add, before visiting her grandson and MY great grandson.

This trip, rich in the rekindling of old friendships, started with a visit to my grandson, Adam Bixler, who lives in a charming community in the East Village. The rest of the week I stayed in the West Village apartment of James Wilson, with whom I had traveled to Myanmar and Ladakh, and, happily, I did not swelter as I had last year. Wonder of wonders! The weather was marvelous. I got lucky before the “heat dome” moved in! And just picture me walking down the quaint streets past small historic houses and courtyards with Barry Hamilton, an actor and theater director, and his wife, Ruth Klukoff, a violin teacher in New York and Connecticut, to be treated to fabulous Middle Eastern cuisine and an afternoon by the Hudson looking across the water at the old Lackawanna terminal. Yes, New York has its pastoral settings, its park benches, and its flowering trees, and we enjoyed them all. I will not enumerate all the friends I enjoyed, nor the great restaurants I experienced, but I will grace you with a list of the superb plays and musicals I attended. Give the addict her due!

I took the family to An American in Paris. It was a repeat, since I had been wowed by it last year. Next came a special evening with Phyllis Bitow and Terri Pedone at the Tony Award musical Fun Home, and a reunion with Paul Sharar at The Father, to be mesmerized by the Tony Award winning performance of Frank Langella. James and I indulged in Something Rotten and the superb revival of She Loves Me, and Phyllis returned for the ABT production of Prokoviev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet at Lincoln Center.

It was a heady visit and the next week at MLAG just kept the ball rolling with more superb musicianship, concerts, and visits with old friends, masters of the autoharp. The days were packed with workshops and performances by small group ensembles and headliners such as the laid back Tom Chapin, who brings an audience together in the spirit of Pete Seeger. Thanks so much to the new director, Gregg Averett, and the program directors, Neal and Coleen Walters. And thanks to George Orthey for the use of his lovely home away from home!

On my last week in the East, the three Noble sisters, of whom I am the middle, met in Peterborough, NH, and traveled on to our cottage, where nothing, except actual icebergs, keeps me from the water. Within a week I had defrosted and felt like a million dollars. I just can’t get enough of the spectacular sunsets over Lake Winnipesaukee.cottage sunset 2016b cottage sunset 2016a

mt washington 2016aAnd I never miss the opportunity to return to Wolfeboro and enjoy watching the “Old Mount” pull up to the dock as I indulge in a double dip ice cream from Bailey’s Bubble.

It was with lots of great feelings that I returned to Whidbey Island, to then head off to another cold lake at the base of Mt. Baker, as Jon Pollack and I start our annual ten-day hiking trip into the Cascades.

This will be a total escape from the craziness, which is not just summer, but which has spread throughout this nation for almost two years during the most unusual, deeply disturbing presidential campaign of my long life. Gird your loins, folks.

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