Meg Noble Peterson

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

MY FINAL HOURS….

I stood up from my desk and, suddenly, the room started to rotate. I made my way into the living room, bouncing unceremoniously against the walls, clutching furniture along the way, and collapsing, heavily, into my reclining chair. For half-an-hour I prayed to the gods that be to clear my mind. I promised to stay off my computer and eschew any electronic devices in the future. I forgave all those who had transgressed against me during my lifetime, and asked, only, that my precious travel journals be spared the recycling bin. Then I called my daughter.

“Cary, I feel very, very strange. I think you’d better come down.” I tried not to slur my words.

Cary arrived. “What have you eaten today? How much water have you had?“

“Not much. A friend came over and he shared a mo mo and half a mango.”

“That’s not enough. Here is some water. Did your friend feed you something else?”

“No.”

“What have I told you about eating? You’re obviously hypoglycemic.” She started searching in the refrigerator for high calorie foods. Out came orange juice, figs, bread, chili….

I stood up to protest, whereupon my legs and entire body started to tingle and shake. I looked out the window. “OMIGOD, the mountains are all golden and shimmery. When I close my eyes the images turn purple. It’s lovely….Oh, dear, I feel sick to my stomach.”

Cary took out the frying pan. “You need to eat. You have all the symptoms of someone whose blood sugar is low.” She had been hovering over her iPhone, searching for relevant medical information.

So I ate and things got worse. “I’m so tired. I think I’m dying. I’m having a stroke, just like my father. The world comes and goes. You either like it or you don’t like it. I feel so unattached. It’s lovely and it isn’t lovely. Am I making sense? I think dying is very relaxing.” I was slurring my words and I felt extremely stupid, which made me start to laugh and move my arms as if I were trying to swim to the other side, wherever the other side was.

“Mom, why don’t we lie down together and rest?”

“No, no. If I lie down I’ll die. I know it.”

Cary called a friend who is a doctor, and she said to call 911. Then she asked me to write my name. I couldn’t get to the end of it before I slumped into my daughter’s arms and could no longer speak.

911 asked, “Is she breathing?” “Yes, she’s breathing.”

This is it, I thought. I knew I was dying, and I felt so young, so not ready….

The next thing I remember is my doctor, bless her, standing over me and asking me questions. I think I was laughing at my silly answers, and begging her not to think I was crazy. Then came what seemed like ten young men hovering over me asking me more questions as if I were in kindergarten. “Don’t talk to me like that,” I remember saying. My blood pressure was 70 over 40, causing alarm. I didn’t care about anything or anyone. I just wanted to pee, but didn’t want the whole army to come into the bathroom with me. I was totally humiliated and felt like a non-person. How much worse can it get than that?

I couldn’t open my eyes, but remember being bumped down the stairs, hoisted onto a stretcher, and moved into a waiting ambulance. More wires and tubes than I thought existed were plugged into me and wrapped around my arms and legs and under my breasts. EKG, IV, all to make sure I’d make it to the hospital.

Blood work, another EKG and one CAT scan later a catheter (that’s the worst!) provided a urine sample, which answered the question hovering over me. How could I be so loopy and incoherent, when nothing seemed to be wrong?

At 11 pm, the attending physician strode in, slightly stern. “All your tests are good, and your urine is clear, but….


Mrs. Peterson, tell me about your marijuana usage.”

“I hate the stuff. I lose my memory, I get horny, I never touch it.”

Cary looks at him, mouth agape. He continued, “Your urine tests positive for marijuana.”

I was gobsmacked.

Cary now turns and looks at me and, suddenly, the light goes on. Oh, dear, now I’m in trouble. This afternoon, after my friend left, I was so hungry that I started rummaging in the freezer, hoping to find something to assuage my hunger. I came upon a slice of what I remembered as hazelnut bread, given to me by my neighbor a couple of years ago, when I was suffering from jet lag and couldn’t sleep.

“Try this, Meg…but only a tiny bit at a time. It’s an edible. That is, cannabis baked in my fabulous hazelnut bread.”

“I won’t take it. I had a terrible experience with three small cupcakes fifteen years ago.”

“Take it. You never know. But be sure to label it M for medical.”

He was so generous, I thought, and maybe one of my friends might need it some day. So I put it in the freezer, forgetting to label it.

So, if any of you, my dear readers, wish to experience the prelude to death, which I do NOT recommend, I have a friend who can help you. But please take just one tiny piece. Don’t be like me…a starving fool who ate the whole thing!

They discharged me from the hospital with a diagnosis of marijuana intoxication, and the nurse dutifully read me the handout on substance abuse and where to get help. I begged them to add “accidental” to the diagnosis. Behind the professionalism, their eyes sparkled and I do feel they believed me and were all delighted at a good outcome and a good story. Oldest yet to succumb to edibles!

I share this story with you, not because I’m proud of my ill-advised behavior or because most people have found it rather hilarious (so much for sympathetic friends), but because now that marijuana has been legalized in so many states, we all need to be aware of the ease with which anyone can overdose on edibles. You usually don’t have any effects for at least an hour, and I have had friends who, because they felt nothing at first, ate more and more, and had very disturbing experiences. It is no laughing matter. We need to be fully aware of the impact of this substance on us, individually. Can you imagine what could have happened had I been behind the wheel of a car when “my trip” kicked in, rather than bouncing from wall to wall in my living room?

So these weren’t to be my final hours after all. Dramatic they were, to be sure, but also rather freeing, once the fear had gone and acceptance replaced it. And the lesson learned is still, two weeks later, lingering in my body and my mind, having had a profound impact on my rather frantic OCD ADHD life. I’ve had many moments of soul-searching, something that usually follows such a crisis. And when I lighten up a bit I am reminded of that wonderful Sondheim ballad from Follies, sung so poignantly by Elaine Stritch, I’m Still Here. Yeah, and very glad to be!

A FAMILY SUMMER

Family can mean so many things and be expressed in so many ways. Happiness, struggle, warmth, disagreement, and unconditional love. It can be long lost friends who brave the ferry lines at Mukilteo to pay a visit and share the joys of a jaunt up Ebey’s Landing.  It can be relatives—aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, you name it—who touch base at the cottage or on a woodland hike to remind me that we are still family. And then there is the ever-changing and growing Whidbey Island family that moves throughout the myriad summer festivities and barbecues with the promise not to lose touch when the rain and cold of winter arrive. And this year I found a new family at our Island Shakespeare Festival, feeding my love of language and theater. I feasted on Twelfth Night, Sense and Sensibility, and Othello, over and over, again, starting in the warmth and late sun of June and ending in the chilly nights of September. These accomplished young actors became my family, and helped fill the void that has persisted since I left New York City. And is there anything better than open-air theater?

Twelfth Night cast members after the closing show of the Island Shakespeare Festival season

And then there was that one last look at beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee before the summer ended.

You knew I couldn’t resist mentioning my yearly sojourn to New Hampshire, even though I have inundated you over the years with my reminiscences of time at the family summer cottage. (See my blog post THIS OLD COTTAGE.)  This year I enjoyed the best weather of my lifetime—temperate, sunny, clear—with only one rainy day, which didn’t spoil swimming, but added a touch of mystery to an overcast lake.

You can imagine how special this was for a Northwest transplant who spent weeks this summer dealing with a blanket of smoke blowing in from the Canadian fires up north, the direct result of global warming. Some days it looked to me like Delhi or Beijing, and four weeks ago I drove my daughter, Martha, to Vancouver, B.C., because there were no planes, large or small, flying out of Seattle. Not even a small seaplane. She had arrived from Denver early in the morning and had twenty students waiting for her at a destination that looked almost impossible to reach. It was strange to speed north through forests of fir, which stretched high into the gray sky like misplaced ghosts. Fortunately, however, Martha caught a small plane flying to Campbell River, and connected with a water taxi to Cortes Island, where she taught a course, Move Without Pain, at the Hollyhock Lifetime Learning Center.

I think the best description of what is happening here on the entire West Coast appeared in an article written by my niece-in-law, Jessica Plumb of Port Townsend, for the Seattle Times.

Meanwhile, back in New Hampshire: My two youngest sons, Robert and Tom, joined me during my two weeks. But before Robert arrived, Tom and I spent a pleasant afternoon at the historic Castle in the Clouds, a 16-room mountaintop estate in Moultonborough, NH, overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee and the Ossippee Mountains. We walked through its woodland paths and enjoyed the falls, in an area very reminiscent of The Flume.

(Click on photo to start slide show)

Naturally, no summer is complete without at least one strenuous hike. This summer it was Moat Mountain in Conway. I had no climbing shoes or poles, but I survived. Good practice for the upcoming trip to Nepal this November!

When Rob arrived, he and Tom decided to break all records in a killer climb up Boott Spur trail on Mt. Washington in the White Mountains. I found this clip on YouTube that gives you some idea of the trail. When Rob was taking shots of the summit with his iPhone, it was blown out of his hand by a fierce wind! Fortunately he had used his new Sony a6000 for the photos of their climb.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The day was long, but they arrived back at the cottage in time to grab a few artsy photos around the cottage and some stunning shots of the sunset. Rob is quite a photographic artist!

Ready for a swim

My photography tends to be more muted, but I love these shots of the sun going down behind Rattlesnake Island, taken before Rob arrived.

At the end of our stay, we were treated to a short visit from my niece, Rebecca Magill, her husband, Paul Benzaquin, and their daughter, Amaya, They had just returned from one month in Ethiopia and treated us to a slide show of their work and travels in the country of Amaya’s birth.

On the way home, I left my sons at the Manchester airport and headed for Peterborough to visit my older sister, Anne Magill, and her husband, Frank.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t visit my younger sister, Cary Santoro, in Harrison, NY. Will save that for my next visit East.

Then it was on to West Hartford, CT, to visit Judy Wyman-Kelly, a longtime honorary member of the Peterson family, her husband, John Kelly, and daughters Leah and Sarah. She had generously lent me a car for two weeks, and now gave me a great send-off from Bradley Field, the airport where I started my first overseas travel, leaving on a World War II DC-3 propeller plane for a 22-hour journey to Paris by way of Gander, Newfoundland…in 1949. Can you believe how long it took? I was part of a student group with the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee), heading for three countries to help in rebuilding war-town Europe.

This is the second year that I haven’t hiked and camped in the Northwest with Jon Pollack. His death ended our nineteen-year exploration of the Olympics and the Cascades and has robbed me of one of my most treasured and simpatico companions. His buoyant spirit, humor, and love of nature filled my summers with delight, and it will take me a long time to recapture, if ever, the joy of exploration into the wild that I enjoyed with Jon.

I spent a lot of time roaming the beaches on Whidbey Island this summer, and especially enjoyed low tide on the Langley waterfront, when I can walk all the way to the marina.

The tide came in and it was dusk.

And then came the sunset over Puget Sound.

The following day I visited friends living high on the bluff off Sills Rd., and got another view of the Sound at sunset.

And so, until next year, I say goodbye to summer and welcome the autumn, with its own special beauty.

90…IT’S NOT ALL THAT BAD!

By popular request, for those of you who missed my gala party or might be freaked out to find that I’m still navigating this world at such an advanced age, I have been persuaded to share some of my thoughts on reaching ninety and becoming the prehistoric valentine in my neighborhood.

On paper it sucks. In reality nothing’s changed, except the constant chatter from friends and family, who cannot just introduce me as Meg Peterson, Cary’s mother, but have to add my age for effect. They love the oh’s and ah’s and “I hope I’m like you at that age. You are my role model” responses. I have threatened to wear a placard on my back with huge letters declaring, “YES, I AM 90!” to save the need for such an announcement.

And I can’t resist noting that the pat answer to every complaint, whether a mosquito bite or the forgetting of a name is, “You ARE older, you know.” “Yes, I KNOW, and so what? There ain’t nothin’ I can do about it…so please don’t keep reminding me!”

In all fairness, most of us have been guilty of such admonitions, including me, who, when in my fifties, used to be amazed at how agile my 70-year-old friends were. So my chickens are now coming home to roost. Lesson learned. I’m just grateful for my friends and my good health, and that’s the end of it.

If you’ve ever lived in the Northwest you know that the next three months are very, very special. All year, as we watch the rain and the fog, and try to find something good to say about it…romantic, mysterious, poetic…we wait, and we wait, and we wait. As a newcomer to the area I do more waiting than most, who are acclimated, and really do find rain romantic. Ah, but our waiting is finally rewarded with the most glorious temperate, sunny burst of heaven, combined with cool breezes over Puget Sound. Even a few setbacks at the beginning of June, which is humorously referred to as Junuary, cannot dampen spirits. Bliss has arrived, and the hiking, boating, climbing, biking, swimming, music-making, and street-dancing begin. Glutted with overflowing largesse, Islanders come out of their caves and into their gardens and all that waiting was worth it!

But I digress….

June 2-3 was a busy weekend. For most Whidbeyites it was the real beginning of summer. Even so, with many folks heading off-island, over one hundred friends, relatives, and well-wishers, including fifteen from the Midwest and East Coast, came to celebrate my birthday with music, dancing, gourmet food, and the zip line, until late into the night.

Pictures will speak better than I. Over 1,000 were given to me after the party, so you can imagine how difficult this has been for someone who is known to have trouble making choices. A good practice, however, as I joyfully, resignedly, and gratefully step into my tenth decade.

Many thanks go to Lee Compton, Tim Clark, and Jenny Vitello, my roving photographers.

(Click on any photo to start slide show)

Added to the festivities was live music by the inimitable Chris Harshman, Troy Chapman, and company, with solos from Nancy Nolan, David Edwards, and a birthday poem from Judith Adams that brought down the house.

The potluck, with the theme of sampling food from around the world, was superb. The cake, made by Erinn Cameron-Edwards and her daughters, was over the top! Husband David Edwards did a yeoman’s job of carving, down to the last crumb.

One of the highlights was the spontaneous singing of Happy Birthday. It started out as a simple acapella rendition, and after the first singing, several strong voices, like David Edwards, began, again, and branched into amazing three-part harmony that blew me away. I will never forget it!

How blessed I am to have such a group of upbeat friends!

(Click on any photo to start slide show)

Many thanks go to Lee Compton, Tim Clark, and Jenny Vitello, my roving photographers.

Just before dusk children and adults had a ball on the zipline. Check out these intrepid souls.

Pure delight

With night coming on it was time for a bonfire. The perfect way to end a perfect day.

The bonfire burned out that night, but, 90 or not, the fire still burns brightly in me!

LAST DAYS IN MONGOLIA

July 27-28, 2017

The sun and the animals greeted us early in the morning on the last full day of our road trip. Not far from the lush permafrost was semi-barren land, once again, and tranquil streams in which the sand-colored mountains were reflected.

Click on photos to start slideshow.

Last call for pancakes, slathered in honey! And strong coffee to help us survive another day of going off-road in search of a short-cut. The scenery was especially splendid, as if to say goodbye in a way that would remain indelibly imprinted on our hearts and minds. Huge granite peaks hopscotched with small piles of lighter rocks that seemed spaced like a temple complex.

Mongolia is being impacted by climate change, which is causing desertification of pasture areas as shown in the following video. You can also read more about it in a recent article in the Washington Post HERE.

More ancient burial grounds rimmed swaths of pasture where hundreds of sheep and goats still grazed. And, nearby, a group of enormous yaks flourished.

I had forgotten how big these animals are! To be on the safe side, we chose a lunch spot a safe distance away. After lunch we saw one very young yak, possibly a newborn, wandering around. His mother seemed to have abandoned him. Fortunately, we passed two herders on horses as we drove away. When we told them of the little fellow, they signaled their thanks and took off to check the animal. Let’s hope they found the mother.

Later on we were treated to numerous groups of horses, much to Tamara’s delight.

Then came the camels. Again, I marveled at these creatures, which were so strangely put together, with their haughty expression and imperious manner.

It wasn’t long before we entered a real desert with windswept dunes and heavy sand, piled like snowbanks, the result of the driest year in a long time. Thus began another discussion about global warming and its deleterious effect on Mongolia. According to Algaa, he had been in this area two months previously and said that there had been pastureland at that time. It had been the worst drought he had ever seen. It didn’t seem possible that so much sand could have accumulated since spring.

By mid-afternoon whatever road tracks had existed were gone, and we were all alone in the vast desert. The drifts were gorgeous to behold, but caused even the van to get stuck.

Again, we all piled out, and twice Algaa had to resort to digging. We walked along, feeling helpless, while Bogie pushed the van. At one point we reached a high ridge and Algaa masterfully maneuvered the van over the edge and down the steep slope. It looked as if it was skiing on its tires. Oh, how I wished my video camera worked, but the battery was dead. It was actually a lot of fun, however, to slip and slide in the sand all the way to the bottom…with utter abandon.

It wasn’t until after six that we got out of the desert and onto the sparsely-grassed steppe. A few gers appeared and the mountains seemed closer. We breathed a sigh of relief and started looking for a stream so we could camp. I ached all over because of the bumping, but a night’s sleep under a starry sky was the perfect antidote.

Our last morning started early as we drove out of the desert and headed for the airport. We were treated to more of the craggy, solitary scenery we had seen the day before, only this was grander and more rugged.

The Uliasti airport is a neat little place. And we enjoyed our wait, mixing with people from various countries. There were several Peace Corps volunteers and teachers, all with an appreciation for the unique gifts one gets from tasting the bounty of another country, thus enlarging their own world. These were interesting, adventurous people, who weren’t afraid to try something new and immerse themselves in a culture totally foreign to theirs. That’s what I love about travel!

This was our farewell to Algaa, and it was difficult. We knew we would see Bogie when he returned to Ulaanbaatar with our heavy items that couldn’t go on the small plane, but we would not see Algaa, again. And he had been a delightful, cheerful, and strong companion throughout our bumpy journey. Bless you, Algaa!

I love little planes. They go close to the ground and you always know the engine is running, for it’s practically in your lap. And you can also see some marvelous scenery…those isolated hills that not even Algaa’s van could penetrate.

Our last two days in Ulaanbaatar were an adventure in itself. Just getting from the airport to our apartment was a new experience neither of us wishes to repeat! We had to locate the owner’s brother to let us in, but we also had no real idea of our address, except that it was in a certain section of the city. And it was getting dark. And, of course, we didn’t know the language. Oh, Bogie, how we miss you! But, then, isn’t it challenges that make life interesting?

When we got settled, our first thought was to try to explore some of the places in this big, complex city that we had missed at the beginning, but it quickly turned into a frantic last minute shopping spree to buy unusual and exquisite handwork for friends and relatives. All of this we did while suffering from extreme heat after coming from the higher elevations. And nothing was air-conditioned! Well, I thought, consoling myself, it’s better for the environment.

We soon realized that the highlight of our journey through Mongolia was not the city and its restaurants and shops and temples. It was the expansive, wild nature of the land; the wide-open plains with their gers and welcoming nomads; the steppe; the mysterious desert; and the mountains.

Nobody could have asked for a more generous, thoughtful guide than Bolormunkh Erdenekhuu, our Bogie, a man who loves his country and knows it in the minutest detail. But his knowledge is not limited to his particular corner of the universe. He can converse about world issues and human relations, and revels in solving present and future problems. He is a real joy to know. And during our month together, he went out of his way to anticipate our needs and be flexible in his plans. In the final hours, Bogie drove me to the airport and stayed with me until my plane left for Seattle at 5 A.M. This man typifies the sort of hospitality and generosity we experienced in Mongolia and will always remember. I look forward to the time I can host him on Whidbey Island and introduce him to the wonders of the Northwest.

~~~~~

Final travel note:

I keep hearing people complain about dreary, cramped, seven-hour plane rides on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, where the only thing you dream about is how soon you’ll be able to get off the thing! Well, after making numerous 20 and 24-hour journeys, this falls on deaf ears, and I feel obliged to give a few tips to the traveler who is contemplating a trip to Asia. Mind you, all the grief is worth it to me, but you might like to have a few details so you won’t complain about simple trips to Europe…even from Seattle.

I think I described a rather pleasant layover I had some years ago at the two Tokyo airports. They were well-organized and had cubicles where, for a few dollars, you could take a shower or catch up on your sleep in a clean bed. Of course, the challenge was to find such services in the enormous terminal, but that just added to the adventure. After spending all your money you could then recline on long comfortable couches in quiet lounges, disturbed only by the snoring of fellow passengers as tired as you were. And if you were lucky you had enough change left to buy a simple sushi after your nap.

Beijing airport is another matter entirely! Sleepless, I arrived at 8 A.M., and endured eight hours of going from one terminal by bus and train to another. Believe me, I was happy to get on the Dreamliner and collapse. It was as strenuous as any Himalayan trek, ‘though it lasted only one day.

After six hours I had been told where to find clean water (Don’t drink it, unless you’re on a desert island and the alternative is death. I did, and had some nasty repercussions), immigration, and how to transfer from terminal three to terminal two. While riding on the train and bus that brought us to the main terminal, I had seen a town totally enveloped in a fog of pollution, There were some lovely gardens and parks, but everyone was wearing a surgical mask. And many of the workers at the airport did the same.

One bright spot was the blessed carts for luggage, which are free everywhere but in the United States. Nobody could negotiate the endless red tape of this airport without them, where one line ends and morphs into another. After about a mile of walking in circles, you come upon the immigration/passport control line. Then you double back once more and wait in the “transfer” line. More stamps. More questions. More small slips of paper to be filled out. Soon you find yourself in the center of the vast terminal looking for the “down” escalator to take you to the bus, which takes you to terminal two. Oh, no, I forgot the previous step, which was to crowd into a train, which went to C-1 from where you could get the transfer bus. Are you confused?

At this point I was nodding off while sitting up, and my neck pain was reminiscent of how I felt on one of Algaa’s road escapades. But I was meeting a lot of interesting, albeit disgruntled fellow-travelers, which lightened my mood considerably. Once I arrived in terminal two I had to wait an hour until the Hainan Airline desks were open. It was packed, but I must have looked half-dead, for a nice lady sent me to the business class line (with a wink), and I was checked in and given a boarding pass immediately. This time I was careful not to lose my baggage tags that checked me through to Seattle. But you don’t have time for that story! Be thankful for small blessings.

I had thrown away the tofu saved from last night’s dinner, since it tasted like cardboard, but food was the last thing I wanted. I couldn’t wait to board the plane and sit back and maybe even crack a New Yorker. I’ve never had a layover where I didn’t even have time to read! Forewarned is forearmed….

A LAKE, A MOUNTAIN, AND ENDLESS SAND….

July 26, 2017

This was a day to remember! It started with an influx of goats into “our” lake, joining us in our morning dip.

And what a satisfying dip that was for me. I floated way out over a rocky bed beneath crystalline water, let my hair float free, and welcomed the heat of the sun. The cows and sheep arrived later, during breakfast. Afterwards, Bogie and I went for a hike, wading to the other side of the lake before heading up a steep incline of black shale and scree.

He ran. I inched my way up the deceptively steep slope, slipping precariously and wishing I had brought my poles. Exposure is something I do NOT like, and I have many horror stories to prove it. Give me trees or big rocks on at least one side and I can climb anything! Put me out in the open with nothing but eternity down below, and I freak. By sheer willpower I reached the top, turned around, sat down, and inched my way toward the bottom. Halfway down I stood up, determined to make my way back, not looking down, but straight across. After all, I had my reputation to uphold, as if Bogie cared. As is the problem with all these hills, they have no trails. I don’t do well on piles of slippery stones.

Bogie traversed the ridge to take pictures, and returned to find me cooling my sore feet in the water, and keeping company with a gorgeous dragonfly. I dared him to swim back to camp and he did, after unloading his gear on me. I must have been a funny sight dragging along, carrying Bogie’s camera, binoculars, clothes, and pack, and wearing his jaunty hat. Our late arrival necessitated a rush to pack up camp and be on our way by mid-afternoon.

Click on photos for slideshow.

Just before we left, one of the nomads approached me with the offer of a long horse ride. I told him it was a camel ride, or nothing! He had been staring at me for some time. I think it was the wild hair that intrigued him. Shortly after leaving, we sped by a beautiful lake. In it shown a perfect reflection of the Tsetsen-Uul mountains. Oops, too fast for a photo. Another scene to put in my memory bank.

We were still in Zavkhan Province and approaching the small town of Santa Margate. Masses of birds—sand martins—were burrowed into the riverbank.The whole colony would congregate in the village on the electric wires in the parking lot of a housing complex, which was surrounded by wooden fences. The houses were close together, each with a different colored roof.

There was a park nearby with statues, one of a camel…which looked like the closest I’d come to riding one on this trip. Evidently, because of the dry weather, the camels are loose on the prairie, or desert, and only the few who are trained for tourists are for riding. I should have taken advantage of the one that came around on our first day of camping! If only I had known.

Now began another cross-country sojourn over the desert, bumping all the way. I learned a very helpful phrase: amaa tat, meaning shut up. Sounds pretty benign, doesn’t it? Algaa taught it to me and said he would use it if I didn’t quit complaining about his driving! I didn’t….Repetitio est mater studiorum.

After stopping for yogurt and milk at a ger, and managing to spill most of it, we loaded up on lamb bones, which everyone ate, but me. Sheep and large cows grazed a few feet from where we rested. While the buying was going on I grooved on the munching sound of the animals eating. They sure keep the grass low! I also noticed how cruel most of the Mongolians were to their animals, especially dogs. They throw rocks and stones at them, behavior similar to that of the Indians and Nepali.

At last our search ended and we arrived at a lush permafrost pasture near a winding stream and jagged mountains. There was a sweet odor permeating the air. Bogie said it was the plant, artemesia, related to sagebrush. Dinner was perfect: homemade noodles and lamb stew, Mongolian-style. Just as we finished, a crescent moon appeared overhead. It was, indeed, a heavenly campsite!

“SEARCHING FOR A ROAD, STILL SEARCHING FOR A ROAD”—DESTINATION: BAYAN LAKE

July 25, 2017

Vanity has definitely gone out the window on this trip! I looked at myself in the early morning. My hair was like a straw bush hanging in my face, my chin and neck were covered with bites, and my legs and ankles were itchy and flaky. This trip was certainly exhilarating, but not good for the ego.

The day was warm and sunny and we all felt better after a leisurely breakfast. I lazed around, listened to Mongolian rap, which I liked a lot, and, despite being chided constantly, continued to sterilize my water with my steri-pen. Bogie went out of his way to prove to me that the water from the stream was safe. I would have none of it. I’d had one bout of giardia. That was enough for one lifetime!

Soon we headed for Zavkhan Province, passing the dam and reservoir where we had tented previously. On the way we visited another ger family, this time from the Dorvod ethnic group. Bogie had gotten hot milk from them in the morning, but, unfortunately, they had no yogurt. In fact, not even the stores had it. They told Bogie that they had come from the southern part of the lake, but were disappointed to find bad grazing…more evidence that global warming has had a disastrous impact on this part of Mongolia.

I can’t believe how excited I was when we reached a very smooth highway, flat land with mountains in the distance, no animals, and very little ground cover. It was nice and peaceful until Algaa decided to go off-road through the bumpy desert. This took us close to a beautiful lake until he suddenly veered left and headed over the open field. What was he doing?

This almost intolerably bumpy road lasted for an hour, until I thought my neck would splinter. By 2:30 we were begging for a water break and a bite to eat. We were also pretty upset with Algaa, who just seemed to be searching for some phantom road in the middle of nowhere. He was totally unperturbed and we couldn’t stay mad for long. Soon our discomfort turned to laughter as we started a contest to come up with the best title for our Mongolian trip and its search for the hidden highways and byways. Bogie spent a lot of time reassuring us that “We are almost there.“ It was as if he were placating his impatient children. I decided to time him. Tuul convulsed with laughter when I announced that Bogie’s “almost there” was forty-five minutes!

We soon came to a real desert, like the Sahara. But, of course, it was another part of the Gobi. All sand and stunning black outcroppings with sand trailing down their sides. I had moved to the backseat, so got no photos…only memories.

Around 5:30 pm we reached a section where huge convoluted rocks rose out of the sand. Algaa stopped and Tamara and I explored closely, walking over the ground stubble and sand until we reached what looked like temples…all made by nature. There were caves we didn’t explore, but found crystals at the entrance and were sure it held stalagmites and all manner of cool formations. It had an Egyptian feel to it. All Bogie could tell us was that it was part of the Margaz Mountains.

Click on photos for slideshow.

A road, at last!! But it was all sand and rather dubious. A mile farther down, stuck in the sand, were some Englishmen in a Prius. Can you believe? They were chagrin and asked for help. Ever-ready, Algaa towed them out of the sand and waved at a young boy way ahead on the road, who had been sent for help. God knows when help could have been found. I wonder where the poor devils are now. I took no photos. They were embarrassed enough.

By 7:30 we had gotten to gorgeous Bayan Lake, a fresh body of water surrounded by sand dunes. It was a bit mushy where we camped, but sandy farther on—the best beach so far. There was a compound of horses and a car with several nomads, nestled high on an adjoining hill.

Thus began an evening of socializing with men of varying ages. They really were a handsome group, including a young boy, who loved the ball and bat that Tamara gave him.

Tamara, Bogie, and I were elected to get dinner and give Tuul a night off. Bogie decided on a rice, potato, and veggie soup, and boy, did we cut and chop! It was massive. We used up all our left-over green veggies, and added turnips, squash, garlic, onions, carrots, and ginger. Really, really good! Naturally, the whole nomad “neighborhood” was invited and sat around on the beach enjoying Mongolian hospitality.

As the sun was setting, the young boy who had received Tamara’s ball and bat continued to pop flies to whomever would pay attention. He was dogged in his persistence and continued long after sunset.

Bogie was in his element…always up for a challenge. Such energy! He and a really large, long-tunic’d nomad decided to wrestle. I thought they’d kill each other, but Tuul just watched and chuckled as they threw each other on the ground, repeatedly, and got up, laughing. There were three matches and I took videos. Here is one. It’s quite dark, but it’s fun to listen to the men talking to each other.

At 11:30, as I finished the dishes and left the party, the stars were starting to pop out. It had been a lovely evening, ending with two sips of vodka and a hug from Algaa. It can’t get much better than that!

CANYONS, LAKES, CAMELS, AND MYSTICAL ROCK FORMATIONS

July 23-24, 2017

We took off early in the morning, returning to Olgii by the same canyon-like gorge, with mountains unfolding upon each other, complemented by dramatic, undulating hills of colored rock and serpentine roads. Click on the photos to start slideshow.

After arriving back in Olgii we had to visit the local market. Naturally. Bogie was a riot! He kept warning me about the danger of pick-pockets and tried to shoo me back into the van. But I stood my ground and survived. I wanted to take in all the local color I could find.

The afternoon ride was gorgeous! We drove through the great lakes depression, passing Khur-us and Hyargas Lakes, as well as navigating more deep gorges before reaching desert-like plains. There were very few animals, and the colors of the rocks on various mountains and outcroppings made the vistas look like oil paintings.

Around 5 pm, Bogie had us stop at Achit Lake for a swim. Another disaster for me! He dived in and I sank down into marsh water, pursued by an army of angry mosquitos and “no-see-ums (that’s New Englandese for tiny black insects you can’t see, but who bite ferociously).

Bogie seemed impervious to the insects, but the pain caught up with him later and he welcomed my benadryl.

After miles of off-road searching we came to a deserted government complex (the district center of Khovd county). There is a meeting here twice a year, but the windows are broken and it looks in total disrepair. The grounds are surrounded by a rickety picket fence and the mountains guard us from a distance. We pitched our tents on a sandy area.

How different the complex looked in the morning! Actually, quite beautiful. We still had no idea what was being stored in the abandoned buildings or where people could hold meetings in such dilapidated structures.

The territory was extremely varied all day, from a few patches of lush pasture to a Gobi desert -type landscape. The large tufted plants are caragana, of which there are fifteen species in Mongolia. All over the bushes we saw what looked like cotton. Not so. It was camel hair. We also went through a few small towns and, of course, stopped for supplies in the local grocery store.

Camels at last…and in abundance! I think they’re so funny looking with their necks making a large dip, coming to an end where two floppy humps begin. And what a face! Haughty, amused, bewildered. Put together by a celestial committee, I’d say.

Now came some amazing gorges and an extensive area that had an undulating clay-like landscape with no vegetation.

We stopped at a huge beach, but it was too windy, so we moved on past several more ger camps until we came upon a deserted beach with tufted grass. A lovely lake stretched beyond a rocky hummock. Camp at last. Too bad there was no sand. And in the desert no less! I attempted to do some washing, but the undertow and rocks were too much for me. Kept me from lingering for sure!

A perfect campsite, a peaceful night, a brilliant sunset.

FROM PRISTINE LAKES TO THE ANCIENT STONE FIGURES AND BURIAL MOUNDS OF THE ALTAI TAVAN BOGD NATIONAL PARK

July 21-22, 2017

Our days were filled with hiking and birding, as well as more practical activities like washing clothes and cooking.

(Click on photo to start slide show)

Bogie and Tuul took off on a birding expedition, so I decided to do my own exploring in the afternoon, climbing a steep hill behind the campsite. It was exciting to be in Kazakh territory! From the ridge I could take in a vast panorama, and watch groups of animals wander by me, while I absorbed the stillness.

When Bogie returned, we started on the evening meal, knowing there would be many visitors from the nearby gers eager for tea, food, and company. I especially enjoyed the complicated making of dumplings, which looked to me like the Tibetan mo-mos I had eaten on previous trips to Dharamsala.

We interacted with some of the same people as the previous evening and, of course, Bogie had to submit to a wrestling rematch with one of the nomads! The man had been sitting around with Algaa much of the afternoon, waiting for Bogie’s return. He lost the contest, again, but, as usual, it was very friendly, reminding me of the enthusiasm with which my young sons used to challenge each other to displays of manly strength over the years. There seems to be a competition in the male that doesn’t quit at any age, and there’s no stopping him. Here is one of the many videos I took over the next few days.

While waiting for dinner I enjoyed listening to Bogie’s recordings of quartets by the Mongolian composers, Jantsan Norov, and Byambasuren Sharav. Lively, plaintive, and, at times, sad. I was also introduced to the music of the pop singer, Javhlan. What an amazing range! Check him out on YouTube. He is now a member of parliament and fighting for Mongolian mining rights, which are being usurped by several western countries. At the airport, when I arrived in Mongolia, I met several Canadian men whose companies were extracting these precious metals. This is an ongoing controversy.

That evening a patrol car came by, driven by a border guard. He was clearly upset that we had stayed an extra day. It only took a few dumplings and some heavy schmoozing on Bogie’s part to ameliorate the situation, but it spoiled our evening plans. By 10:30 I retired, although it was still light.

In the morning I was awakened by a loud mooing. I was sure it was a cow wanting to be milked, but, instead, it was a huge bull. I peered from my tent, not wanting to get in his way as he thundered and roared around the campsite, finally departing for more fertile grounds!

As we were taking down the tents, Algaa threw a few morsels of meat to the birds…possibly vultures. They were huge and black. I can never remember which of the big birds is which! Here is my attempt to take a video of them circling.

Today we headed back in the direction of Olgii. As I’ve mentioned before, the Tavan Bogd region is the western-most part of Mongolia and straddles the border between Mongolia, Russia, and China.

In late morning, not far from another lake, we suddenly came upon a very barren stretch of land in which were worn statues and sharp black perpendicular rocks in rows, near large piles of stone. They were Turkic and Tuvan stone men and stone burial mounds, solitary standing stones, and Kazakh cemeteries. Probably commemorating high officials. These relics range in size from two to six feet in height and can weigh several hundred pounds. But we only saw small mounds and stone images. Faces, hands, tools, and other features are carved into the rock. The stones, and other blank monoliths, are usually a part of massive stone complexes that serve as either burial sites or shamanistic temples. In fact, in 2006 at one burial mound in Bayan-Olgii, the complete mummified remains of a Scythian warrior and horse in full battle armor was escavated.

The statistics vary widely as to the number of such sites in Mongolia. Some say there are as many as 400 and they date back to the Stone Age, and others give 700 AD as their origin. It was fascinating to walk among these isolated artifacts of a bygone era.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We decided to have lunch near a rough-hewn bridge over the Kovd Gol River. It was also near a checkpoint where we stopped to show our passports, since we were very close to the Russian border. It was just a formality, because there were almost no cars and few people touring in the area.

A very pleasant father with his children, about to head over the bridge.

The landscape for the rest of the afternoon was varied and unusual. One time we were going between massive hills that gave me the feeling of pyramids. The rows of grass and rocks looked almost like steps encircling the great structure and often there would be rocks, like cairns, piled on the top. Other mountain ranges reminded me of a row of one-humped camels, black and foreboding, as nighttime approached.

We camped way off road in a charming spot next to one of the small streams leading into a lake. It wasn’t far from the village of Sagsai, where we had met the eagle hunter.

AN EAGLE HUNTER AT LAST!

July 19-20, 2017

I couldn’t believe that we actually visited an eagle hunter and his family! Tamara and I had given up hope, since this was not eagle hunting season. We were aware of this before coming to Mongolia, but were heading into the Kazakh region and Bogie was determined to find a hunter somewhere near Olgii.

We left our ger family early to get a head start. They had been discussing their next move 2,000 feet down the steppe, on August 10th, just before the weather starts to get cold. They wouldn’t be able to return to their summer pastures until the cold wind and snow had abated. Can you imagine packing up your entire home twice a year to accommodate the weather? What energetic, resilient people!

The morning was spent barreling over dirt roads until lunchtime, when we stopped at beautiful Lake Tolbo (means stain) for a quick swim. Well, Bogie did. I’m not big on rocky beaches, so I just enjoyed the waves and the view. We were still in Bayan-Olgii province.

Click on the photos to enlarge and start slideshow.

What a marvelous expansion of sky and earth all the way to the town of Olgii. There was no way I could get the feel of the spaciousness of Mongolia in a photo, so I just sat back and surveyed the rocky cliffs, valleys, streams, grazing animals (not too many because of the sparse, dry pasture lands), and multi-colored, interwoven ups and downs of the landscape.

We rolled into Olgii mid-afternoon and enjoyed our only museum of the trip. It was full of kazakh art, fabrics, sculptures, and myriad cultural treasures. I recognized the town—sprawling, wide streets, low buildings, and little traffic—from the movie, The Eagle Huntress.

By the time we’d finished shopping, it was too late to check at the border patrol, something we had to do before leaving town, so we stopped at a small enclave of gers (the Mongolian equivalent of a motel, one of several in the town), supervised by a gracious young woman, Khuan, who spoke three languages…rather necessary if you live at such a crossroads. Olgii is situated near borders with the Xinjiang province of China and the Altai province of Russia. It is fascinating to read the history of this area over the past hundred years and its relation to Kazakhstan, Russia, and China. Olgii has been a predominately Kazakh settlement since before the creation of an independent Mongolia in 1911.

The next day we headed for Altai-Bogd National Park, and the town of Sagsai, where, unbeknownst to us, Bogie had contacted a well-known eagle hunter, whose father had been one of the most famous hunters in the area. He picked up a fellow in town, who said he could take us to him. What a great surprise! This is not eagle hunting season, so we had despaired of such a meeting. They were so eager to please us that they took off the intricately-woven dust ruffle (fringe) decorating the old man’s bed and gave it to us. I tried to stop them, but to no avail. What a jolly time it was!

We spent an hour with the family and ended up buying some of the hangings that the women were weaving and sewing while we were there.

Leaving with much of this young lady’s embroidery

After socializing, we all went outside to see the birds and a demonstration of the eagle hunter’s expertise. He is the son of the old hunter and has quite a reputation, himself.

Check out this video. It will give you a idea of the surroundings and the various birds.

After leaving our new friends, we drove overland, enjoying striking scenery…mountains of black rock, small lakes and streams, herds of animals, and a plethora of camels.

In this video you can hear how windy it is on the broad steppe.

Approaching the campsite

We reached a more wooded region not far from two lakes, and camped for a couple of days. The whole area is called the Khoton-Khurgan for the lakes.The large lake is Khar Lake. Directly below our site was a peaceful stream. The ambiance was that of a pristine paradise.

As soon as we started to set up camp, members of the two gers close by started coming over, bringing small gifts. It was obvious that they were curious about us. Evidently that Mongolian hospitality was the same in Kazakh areas. The two languages are different, however, so we used smiles and gestures as we served tea (after someone handed us a container of hot milk). We also gave hard-wrapped candy to the children. This was not my doing. It was Tuul’s. We all enjoyed the sociability. Tamara grooved on showing the women photos of her recent trip to southern India (on her computer) and the colorfully-dressed ladies. They developed quite a jolly camaraderie.

Finally, a friend of one of the Kazakh men arrived on horseback and acted as an interpreter. He knew both Kazakh and Mongolian. Bless him!

After dinner, Bogie and Tuul went to visit a family, and we settled in to watch the sunset. It had been a long and varied day. But satisfying. I was surprised when Algaa said, “The roads were very bad today.” No kidding! I didn’t see how either he or Bogie could find their way anywhere. It just seemed to me to be a spiderweb of dirt roads leading over streams and through valleys and mountains. Algaa would take off over a hard, sparsely vegetated meadow and find another road and then another and another…I told him his brain was a combination of GPS and compass.

 

We sat, three friends at the close of the day, wrapped in silence. My heart was full of gratitude as I searched the sky, infinite and all-encompassing. Everywhere I looked, limitless space. I seldom experience this feeling of utter solitude, yet one with the universe. I had never felt so serene, so at peace, so untroubled.

THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE! TWO WEEKS IN THE BIG APPLE….

Yes, it’s true. Every year I go back for more, and I am never disappointed. This year I journeyed back to New Jersey and New York from March 6-20. In keeping with the theme of this website, I realize that to many people a sojourn to the East Coast is, indeed, travel—strange, exotic, and unpredictable. Heaven knows that this trip was all three, with predictions of fierce storms in New York City and the Eastern seaboard. Fortunately, the first one never materialized or disappeared, magically, in one night, leaving the snow piled high in northern New Jersey, but New York City dry as a bone. The second, however, arrived the day after I returned to Whidbey Island. Pretty good planning, eh?

For those of you who love to see snowflakes falling, here’s a progression of the storm through the day.

 

The next two weeks were a mad scramble, visiting old friends and feeding my theater addiction. The time was short in New Jersey and because of the heavy snow I missed several get-togethers, but did attend an excellent concert of the Plainfield Symphony, where I had played in the violin section for fifty-four years. Best Shostakovich ever! And after that, I danced until midnight to the rock band of Steve Gorelnick, the fiance of Cheryl Galante, where I stayed in NJ. Bless you, Cheryl and Steve!

For ten days I roamed the streets of Manhattan, learned more than I could absorb from B & H Camera, and ferreted out tickets (one of my favorite pastimes) for such plays as: The Play That Goes Wrong, an hilarious farce, Farinelli and the King, starring the inimitable Mark Rylance, Three Tall Women, the superb revival of Edward Albee’s play, starring Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf, and Alison Pill, and Harry Clarke, with Billy Crudup, another of my favorite actors.

While I was enjoying NYC, I stayed in the village apartment of my old friend, James Wilson. You may remember him from the trips I took to Ladakh in 2008 and Myanmar in 2007.

We went to two superb musicals; The Band’s Visit, and Come From Away. James lives in the heart of Greenwich Village and what more beautiful spot to be as spring is unfolding and the sun is shining. These words come from an envious Whidbey Islander.

There is something very special to me about walking out of the theater in the late evening on a clear night, enjoying the fresh air and lights, and strolling along the avenue, having just experienced an uplifting production. It’s the “All’s right with the world” feeling that we often don’t allow ourselves.

Several other friends, who shared musicals and plays with me, were Barry Hamilton and his wife, Ruth Klukoff, Phyllis Bitow, Terri Pedone, Paul Sharar, and grandson, Adam Bixler, and girlfriend, Allie Francis. I finally got to see Beautiful, The Carole King musical, and an excellent revival of Hello, Dolly! with Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber. Wow! What incredible dancing!


Ruth and Barry in the Village.

One day I wandered around Washington Square Park near NYU (Actually, I got lost and ended up there, but what’s new? Pretty soon I’ll be outfitted with a dog collar and chip), and tried, unsuccessfully, to video swarms of pigeons flying away. It made me think of the birds at the Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal.

 

 

Midweek, I spent a special afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Grace Polk, a travel writer, tour leader, and devotee of the Arts, and the daughter of my longtime friend and dance therapist, the late Lisa Polk. This gave me a chance to walk from west to east through Central Park from the Museum of Natural History to the Met, and enjoy a new exhibition of parks and gardens, which included exquisite paintings of flowers from old masters and artists who had perfected the art of flower reproduction. Click on the photos to see them larger.

As you know, I can never get enough of Lincoln Center, and on my last night in New York, Phyllis, Terri, and I went to see Semiramide. The evening was pristine clear with lights reflecting off the fountains. And those chandeliers! They always mesmerize me as they do their slow rise to the ceiling just before curtain time.

After the opera, Phyllis drove me back to snowy New Jersey as she had so many times over the past ten years. How great to have a friend who enjoys driving in the City and is not daunted by highways and bright lights. As a percussionist, she drives a large SUV, so we always had a coterie of enthusiasts taking advantage of her generosity.

Postscript: I feel myself very fortunate to be a part of a community here in Langley that also produces some amazing theater, art, and music. Upon my return from The Big Apple I was greatly impressed by a new production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie put on by WICA, the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. In fact, I liked the production and staging better than the one I saw in NYC a year ago.

Page 1 of 26

© 2018 Meg Noble Peterson & Site by Matt McDowell