Join Me in Paris

Join Me in Paris

Audrey Hepburn Eiffel TowerCome and join me in one of my favorite memories and trips of all time…Paris.  Let us wander the streets together.  The streets walked by millions of lovers, artists and hopeless romantics searching for that elusive idea of “love.”

Walk where the architecture swoons with every curve and where the Seine is graced by slow moving boats.  Stroll where a dress is a masterpiece of art and cuisine melts on the tongue.  Why do visions of Audrey Hepburn standing in front of the Eiffel Tower call forth the ultimate in femininity and class?  Why is Paris “always a good idea” as she once said?

Ah…Paris. The very name sends a little romantic thrill through my heart.  When I was 12 years old, I saw a movie that was based in Paris and ever since then, I’ve been in love with it. After wishing, hoping and dreaming for over 30 years, I finally was able to travel there for a few days.  It was both eye-opening and beautiful.

I remember being warned that it was dirty and not as romantic as many liked to think it was.  Of course I saw the dirt, the graffiti, and yes, even some vermin (both human and animal).  But I also saw everything that people love about the place.  There was a boulangerie with fresh baked croissants and bread.  Friends sitting with their coffee at charming little cafes, locals playing a game of Boules (a game that involves heavy balls), street musicians and entertainers, and beautiful locals passing on their bicycles.  And of course, there was that stunning French flair for fashion that made me a wee bit envious of the beautiful women that passed by.

There were Gothic churches that swept your eye upwards to the sky.

Paris Church

There was opulence in every corner at the Palace of Versaille.  From golden gates to painted masterpieces on the ceilings to the stunning gardens…no detail was left untouched.

Palace of Versailles

But most of all, there was the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel tower at night

To this woman, the Eiffel Tower was the ultimate romantic dream.  It symbolized the idea of love for me.  It was as if simply by being there, that one could find the love one had always hoped for.  Throughout the years, hopeless romantic daydreams were often accompanied by the Eiffel Tower in the background.

The day I finally got to see it, I was completely surprised at my reaction.  I left the subway and walked around the corner and up to the platform above it to get the best view.  When it came into view, I was suddenly overwhelmed by my feelings.  The tears started to flow and I couldn’t keep them back.  It was one of my first long-held dreams that had come true. (Video below of me and my reaction.)

As the character Sabrina in the movie “Sabrina” said, “Only where the light is pink, does the song La Vie en Rose (Life in Rose) make sense.” Why? Because to see Paris is to see life through rose-colored glasses.

And during these days, when the world seems so full of confusion, pain and darkness, rose-colored glasses help me to find the beauty that still exists.

Of Castles, Weddings and Fairies…

Of Castles, Weddings and Fairies…

‘Tis time! ‘Tis time!
They gleefully cried
And the medieval muses 
rushed to my side…

Gather round my friends
and ye shall hear
Of Melissa’s adventures
Both far and near

Of enchanted castles
And storybook tales
of mystical fairies
And love that never fails…

I couldn’t resist the storybook poetic beginning. England just seems to bring it out of me. I think Shakespeare would have been proud, don’t you?  Ha!

I’m finally getting around to writing about some of my other adventures in my brief sojourn to Brockenhurst.  This time we visit a country manor (a castle in my opinion), stumble upon a fairy tale wedding, and I even captured a photo of a fairy!  (It looks like one to me anyway.)

20191108_122236_HDROn a cool, rainy November day, I visited nearby Rhinefield House. Driving up a one lane road, the stunning scenery was lined with ancient oak trees in their prime of autumn colors.  Then the car turned the corner and the castle came into view.  Catching my breath, I just uttered “Wow!” This old castle turned hotel was the epitome of elegance and refinement with years of history around every corner.

Though it was closed when I visited, the Alhambra Room is an artistic masterpiece and the story goes that a woman had it built for her husband as a smoking room.  She wanted him to be able to smoke in luxury.  I think she achieved her aim, don’t you?  (Ah the whims of the wildly wealthy…)RHI-Alhambra

Of course, such a place is a magnet for weddings and there was one in preparation the day I visited.  I peeked in the medieval banquet hall to take a photo and was stunned by the wedding cake in the opposite corner.  No that’s not a fake photo…the cake was about 10 feet tall.  I’m only in the picture so you can judge by my height ( a mere 5’4).  Complete with waterfall, I decided that it must have belonged to a fairytale princess.  It just seemed like it should belong to royalty.  In fact, the whole room seemed to have an enchanted glow about it as I gazed on it from above.  

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From the grand interior, I exited to silently stroll around the considerable and beautiful grounds…fountains, ponds, autumn arbors and open vistas graced every turn.

20191108_122225_HDRFountainsArbor at Rhinefield

Even an old, hidden door beckoned one to secrets that lay beyond…

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But time was waning and the secrets of the old castle would have to wait for another day.  Perhaps someday I will return…only destiny knows, but with so much country left to explore, it will likely be just another memory tucked away into my love affair with England.

And what of fairies?  On a cold, early Sunday morning as I was making my way across the fields towards the train station, I stopped in awe as the sunrise seemed to catch the light of every dewdrop and turned the whole glittering scene into a magical panorama.  I had to take several pictures.

While going back through them, I found something I had not seen when I took the photo.  If you look on the path, you will notice a small blue light.  To me, it looked just like a blue fairy.  Had I just stumbled upon her as she was finishing her morning rounds of painting each blade of grass with dew?  Who knows?  Choose to believe what you will, but while visiting England, magic found me and with it, I found childlike wonder in the every day.

So closes this 2nd chapter of my adventures in Brockenhurst.  Will there be more?  Yes, for the muses tell me there must be.  The magic must be shared… 🙂

The Blue Fairy

 

‘Tis All Hallows Eve!

‘Tis All Hallows Eve!

For my next installment of adventures here in England, I of course had to make it Halloween themed!  With a couple of visits to the nearby old churches and graveyards, I found spooky gravestones and eerie feelings and yes…even a ghost story!

75252917_2620795168040893_3063494593350729728_oThis is the story of two old English churches and their graveyards.  On a quick tour provided by my lovely elfin innkeeper, Sue, I was shown two sites that weren’t normally frequented by visitors.  The first was a church which had been standing since approximately 1200 A.D.

Sue told me how spiritual it was to sit or stand with your back against the 1000 year old Yew tree and survey the area. She said there was some connection to the old Yew tree and the ancient roots (roots…get it? haha!) of the area.

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One of the interesting stories of this graveyard was a group of soldiers from New Zealand who came to this church and to Brockenhurst to recover from their wounds in WWI.  Oddly enough, they all died here…
mysteriously…
OOOOOOO!

 

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Onto the next graveyard…with it’s headstones all laid out nicely in a row.  Sue had told me that there was something about this graveyard that was different.  It had a different… feeling.  As I began to wander, I felt nothing, just the same fascination of history and mystery as before.

73413151_392697861616682_5251473409220542464_n Until I reached here…

Oddly enough, right in this spot, I felt a knot in my stomach.  I couldn’t explain it.  Everywhere else I had felt just fine and all of a sudden…something just not quite right.  Here’s the eerie part: Sue told me that she had brought someone else there to tour the church and graveyard and they had the same feeling in the exact same spot!!  Now that’s CREEPY!!  And here’s the weird thing…those two grave markers you see in the picture?  One of the former Reverends and his wife.  Ummmm…take from that what you will.  Hmmm….

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I close my creepy post with the following two gravestones:  now who would have a skeleton head with a raven on top carved into a gravestone?  (Edgar Allen Poe maybe?) That’s just…weird.  And the other one I thought was beautiful…in a creepy way.  haha!  And so my children…ghost story hour is now closed for another year…

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“In England’s Green and Pleasant Land”

“In England’s Green and Pleasant Land”

Corfe Bridge

“And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.”
~By William Blake~

As most of you know, I have been back and forth to England many times over the past 9 years. People have often asked me what it is I love about the place and why I always wanted to go back.  There are many reasons, but I believe the main one has to do with this beautiful feeling of being “home.”

The Priory

As a child, I grew up in the Spokane, Washington area among rolling green hills, mountains and lakes. I spent many happy memories wandering through farm fields, playing by streams, and going to the park.  I was happiest laying on the grass under green and leafy trees on a warm summer’s day.  The scent of sun-warmed blossoms drifted on the breeze and in my imagination, I adventured through many distant lands.

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When I first stood on a hill overlooking “the green and pleasant” countryside of England, I felt as though I had found those “distant lands” that I once imagined as a child.  My soul felt at home in a way I hadn’t felt for a long time.

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But why?  I had never been here before.  Why would I feel at “home” in a place that I had never lived in?  Over time, I concluded that it was because I must have wandered its lands as a spirit before I was born.  Had I rambled the pastoral hills with my ancestors? Had I lived in those ruins that so spoke to my soul?  Had my spiritual feet traversed the beaches, fields and moors?

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Was that why the flowers in their ethereal blues and sunny yellows were so familiar to me?

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When I stood upon the ruins of a castle wall, is that why I felt as if I had somehow been there before?

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Is that why I felt such passion when I tenderly caressed the ancient stones?

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When I walked along coasts of jagged rocks and watched the ocean crash on the shore below, is that why I felt a longing for something I could not put a name to?

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Was it the mystery of history that spoke to my romantic soul? Was it me or my ancestors that whispered “Welcome home…”

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Though that chapter of my life is now closed, I will continue to carry with me the memories of extraordinary adventures, dreams fulfilled and lifelong friendships made.  I will always treasure my journey in “England’s green and pleasant land…” and maybe one day, I will once again traverse the well-known paths with those who have gone long before.

(All pictures by me in England, Wales and Cornwall 2015, 2018 & 2019.)

The Magic of Aloha – My Hawaii

I have spoken so much of Hawaii over the years, that I felt it was time to dedicate a post to one of my favorite places on earth.

I heard it said once that Hawaii will take your heart and never let it go. Oh, how true that is!  If you can fall in love with a place, then I would have to admit that I fell in love with Hawaii.

Windward side of Oahu
Windward side of Oahu

I was fortunate enough to have lived in this enchanting place for 2 1/2 years. Seldom a day went by that I didn’t pause to appreciate the breath-taking beauty of these islands. As I would drive along the Windward coast, there were moments I just had to stop and take in the awe-inspiring views from the Pali lookout or dip my toes into the warmth of the gentle waters on Kailua Beach.

The Pali Lookout
The Pali Lookout

Almost every time I rounded the bend into Kaneohe, tingles would course through my spine as I looked at the vista of a stunning clear ocean, graceful mountains and glorious sky spread out before me.

Lanikai beach
Lanikai beach

But it is not just the captivating scenery that surrounds you, for there are many beautiful places on this earth. It is the magic of Aloha that envelopes you.  It radiates from the smiles of the Hawaiian people, from the gentle dance of the hula, the power of an ocean wave, the wind washing down the Koolau mountains, a rainbow after a passing rainstorm, a shower of flowers as the breeze shakes the branches of the plumeria tree, and the “mana” of the ancient gods felt in the powerful chants.  It’s almost as if the islands are imbued with a spirit that whispers to you.  Standing on the Pali, Aloha is carried in the very breath of the wind.

Children of Hawaii
Children of Hawaii

But to explain Hawaii in words is useless. It must be felt to be understood.  One must feel the cool ocean breeze on a hot day, smell the sweet scent of the leis, be wrapped in the healing waters of an aqua-colored ocean, and feel the aloha of laughter and beauty. It can be explained in no other way.

Oahu sunrise

I end my post with a video of Hawaii.  It contains my favorite Hawaiian song “These Islands” by Danny Couch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WK11HB445B8

Listening to this song still gives me chills.  There is tenderness, love, and magic in the lyrics and the music.

Sunset on the North Shore
Sunset on the North Shore

And that is the real meaning of the word Aloha…love.  I can think of no better term to describe Hawaii than as being wrapped in the very spirit of love.

Aloha oe my Hawaii and until we meet again…

First Book Published!!! Hope- A Collection of Prose and Poetry

Ok, ladies and gentlemen, here it is…MY FIRST BOOK!! Yes, it’s just a compilation of poetry and essays, but still…feeling proud to hold my first book in my hands. Here is the link to purchase for the U.S.A.

http://www.amazon.com/Hope-Collection-Melissa-E-Coppins/dp/1505272734/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417541740&sr=1-1&keywords=Hope+Melissa+Coppins

 

Here is the link to Amazon UK:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hope-Collection-Melissa-E-Coppins/dp/1505272734/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417710743&sr=8-1&keywords=Hope+Melissa+Coppins

And I was fortunate enough to be interviewed on a radio show about the new book, so if you want to listen, here is the link to that.  My part starts at 39:15.

Best to you all dear friends!

Feeling a bit down? Listen to interview with Mike Alvarez, Rugby expert:http://rugbynation.com/ share his passion & Melissa Coppins, share about her new book, Hope: http://radiorecast.com/…/2014%2012-02%20Interview%20Mike%20… Talk about a perspective changer.

Fireflies and Music

(Pictures are not mine – have given credit where I could find a link.)

Once in a while, life shows us beauty in the most unexpected of places. I’ve had many experiences like this, but one that stands out in my mind is an experience I had while I was living in Cartagena, Colombia.

Cartagena-Colombia
wikipedia.commons.com

Cartagena is found on the northernmost tip of the South American continent. It is both an ancient and modern city, but retains all the luxuries and amenities of any “first world” city. Yet, on the outskirts of Cartagena, there lie several small villages where many homes are no more than shacks and do not have electricity or running water. I had the privilege (and yes, it WAS a privilege) of staying at one of these homes a few years ago when a group of boys from my church went on a campout. It turned out to be one of my most beautiful memories.

4665373-Buses_CartagenaTo get to the village, we rode an old, rickety bus for 2 hours on a very hot, humid day. All the windows were open and the bus bounced along a dirt road, dust blowing through the open windows. The youth were chattering excitedly and I smiled at their enthusiasm. I was still struggling with the heat of the day and so I tried to lean my head back to sleep.

I must have dozed off for a little as finally the bus pulled over and we were at the end of the road. I stepped off the bus into the bright, afternoon sun and gazed at where we stood. The road literally ended right into a muddy swamp!

I wondered how we were going to cross to our campsite when I noticed everyone head down to an old dock. There was a very ancient, rough-hewn canoe pulled up next to it. I stood there, a little dismayed, as I watched the first of our group step into the canoe and begin to be rowed across. There was only one place to sit and that was for the person who navigated the boat. So the other occupants had to stand.

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… wooden canoe with a kayaker in the background, Choco, Colombia more http://www.superstock.com

After a little while, I relaxed as I watched each person cross without incident. The navigator would tease sometimes, but no one fell in. Finally, it was my turn. I was a little terrified at the idea of tipping over the canoe, so I stepped in very carefully and then balanced myself. I cringed at the idea of what swam around in that tropical water and was hoping against hope that I would not fall in.

The navigator was very kind and did not tease me with any sudden motions, but glided smoothly across the water. I grinned at the ridiculousness of the “gringa” trying to stand in a canoe as it crossed a muddy swamp, but I also reveled in the unusual moment. It was with a breath of relief, though, when I made it to the other side of the swamp and stepped off the canoe.  

We walked only a few blocks and then arrived at our “campsite”, which was really just the grounds around a very small home. The caretakers, who were relatives of one of the boys, were gracious and welcomed us warmly. They seldom had visitors in their remote location, let alone an American “gringa” and I was treated with a great deal of respect. They were kind and their children were shy and sweet. I chatted with the family as the others unpacked and began the business of getting set up for our stay.

The home was really nothing more than an aged, cement house with a tin roof. The grounds were mainly just brush and untended fields with the swamp only about 200 meters away.  It was not my normal idea of a campground, but the remote location away from the crowds of humanity was refreshing and peaceful.  Besides, the family was so pleased with our visit that I couldn’t help but be touched by their generosity and kindness.  And on the other side of the island, as I was to discover the following day, was a beautiful beach and more memories to be made.  (But that will be saved for another entry.) 

Later, after dinner and conversation, everyone begin to settle down and find their sleeping places for the night. I sat on the porch of the old home and began to contemplate life as the sun descended. One young man sat next to me and we talked about church, school and his home life. As the colors of the sunset began to fade, I noticed strange little glowing lights pop up over the nearby field. Completely delighted, I realized that the lights were fireflies! I had never seen one before! Fireflies

As the darkness descended, many more lights popped up. I sat in awe at one of nature’s beautiful and elegant displays. A sense of joy filled me as I watched the lights of our newfound friends dip and sway.   It was almost…magical.  

For some reason, the scene filled me with reverence and I wanted to be part of the magic. I began to sing quietly. My young friend joined me and our voices blended becoming the only sounds to fill the night. Laughter faded away, conversations hushed and even the rustlings of the nearby jungle seemed to grow quiet. The notes of our soft song and the dancing lights harmoniously intertwined and the spell seemed to weave its magic through the air.

As the last notes of the song drifted away, the stillness remained. No one wanted to break the silence…nor forget the moment. I took a mental photo and tucked it away amongst my most cherished memories.

Life doesn’t give us many chances to make captivating memories, but upon this occasion, nature and humanity harmonized to create beauty in an unpredictable way. I am so grateful when I get to observe and at times, partake of these inspiring and unexpected moments in life.

 

From Prisons to Palaces

“Adventure” is one of my favorite words.  It is a word so full of possibilities, excitement and the sheer thrill of the unknown right around the corner!  But as you will see in this post, adventure most definitely has it’s ups and downs.

When I was very young, we lived in a small farming community in Washington state.  We rented a home on a farm out in the middle of several wheat fields.  It would seem like an isolated place to live, but I had four older siblings and my imagination to keep me company.  I had a generally happy childhood and was content with my life until one “fateful day”.  I remember being about 5 or 6 years old, standing in the middle of the wheat fields and staring at the hills and mountains that surrounded me. All of a sudden, I had this intense desire and curiosity to see what was beyond those hills and mountains.  And that’s when it began…the desire for adventure.

Since that time as a child, I have been fortunate enough to have experienced many adventures, both good and bad.  Have you ever heard of the phrase “Curiosity kills the cat”?  Well, that would be me.  Like a famous character out of my favorite book, Anne of Green Gables, curiosity regarding this world has thrown me into some pretty unbelievable situations.  This blog has described but a few of them.

Yet, adventure has also allowed me the incredible opportunity of seeing many parts of the world.  I have sweated profusely in the jungles of the tiny island of Palau and frozen in the bitter winds of a Northern England winter. I have reveled in the beauty of an ideal Hawaiian beach and basked in the warm, Autumn twilight on a mountaintop in the Rockies. I have awed at palaces in London and visited dirty, cramped cement rooms in a 3rd world prison.  I have walked on 500-year-old castle walls in Cartagena, Colombia and skimmed across gray waters on a Seattle ferry boat.  From each place I have been, I have taken away many beautiful memories, lessons learned and lifetime friendships.

I know that this sounds exotic and exciting and may even seduce you to leave your current life and travel the world, but the life of an adventurer is not always one to be envied.  One must remember that to be an adventurer, one must give up other things in life.  I have been lonely, poor and sad many times.  At times, I have felt like a will-‘o-the-wisp scattered upon the winds.  I have lacked the security that comes from a home in one place with roots.  I have lived out of a suitcase sometimes and have never owned my own house.  I have seldom ever had more money than what was needed to pay the basics.  I have never held my “dream job” and I have worked more temporary positions and done more boring tasks than I ever want to remember!

Traveling the world and visiting new cultures has been a dream come true and so for me, some of the sacrifices were worth the rewards.  But I am now at an age where my desire for adventure struggles with my desire to become established in one place.  I still yearn to see many places in the world, but my energy wanes and curling up at night with a book and listening to music is often more enticing than crossing distant oceans.

Though I know this world still has eventful experiences in store for me (because as noted above, I seem to have the curious habit of just “falling” into them) I have discovered that the greatest adventure of life is the adventure of love within the walls of your own home with your own family.  And that, my friends, is an adventure I want to experience over and over again. Not all those who wander

Wading Through the Mud

Wallflower Blossoming

While living in Cartagena, Colombia, I taught English at a bilingual school.  This school was located about 10 miles away from the city which was done on purpose as a protection to the students who often came from wealthier parents.  And it was actually very pleasant to get away from the noise of the city and enjoy the farmlands and countryside.

One day, towards the end of the school year, the teachers were finishing grades and correcting tests.  The students were officially off for the year, so some of the workers were not there.  Unfortunately, I (and a few other teachers) had missed the announcement that both the cafeteria and school store would be closed.  Essentially, this meant no lunch. I suppose I could have waited until I arrived home around 4:00 pm to eat, but I was hungry as I’d had very little for breakfast.

So proceeded the adventure…

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Deep Autumn

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There is a time around the middle of November when the natural world seems to fold in quietly upon itself as if to prepare for hibernation.  The glorious, blazing colors of Autumn have begun to fade and the winter snows have not yet covered the ground.  Landscapes of various shades of brown meet our eyes and gray, blanketing clouds cover the skies.   All seems to be preparing for winter’s long rest.

As a child, it was the time of the year I enjoyed the least (except for the Februwearies), but as an adult, it is one of those quiet times I have learned to love.  This is because everywhere I look, nature shows me how to slow down, be still and find peace in my busy, stressful life.

Yes, there are storm-tossed days when the wind tears at your hair and jacket and the cold rains, sometimes mixed with snow, dance on your face.  Leaves “scatter like before the wild hurricane flies” and you will see humanity braving the winds and rains as they rush along the sidewalks or to their cars.

But more often than not, the days are calm with a pale Autumn sunshine and hazy clouds.  Leaves curl up on a tree like a child curled under blankets,  the bright sun gives way sooner to the calming night, even the overflowing streams of spring and summer slow down to a trickle.

Nature seems to call one to reflection, to ponder the year slipping away and what is to come.  In the stillness of an Autumn twilight, if one is very quiet, one can feel that whisper of nature that tells you it’s time to slow down and reflect.

Ssshhhh…can you hear it?

Adventure Around the Corner

Recently, I was fairly frustrated with several things that were going on in my life. I kept wishing I could take a long holiday somewhere on some small tropical island with no one but me, the beach, and a hammock under two palm trees. But, unfortunately, this is not reality for most of us as we must get up every day and attend to the duties of life (not to mention the lack of funds for such a vacation).

So, instead of yearning for something that could not be fulfilled at this time, I had an impromptu holiday just for a couple of hours. On a recent day off, instead of doing the normal errands, I took time off to “run away” so to speak. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I had gas in my car and just an hour down the road were several things I had never seen and places I had never been.  Adventure called…and my spirits rose to meet it.

My first stop was a Krishna temple. I didn’t even know it was there. I had heard my mother mention it once and completely forgot about it until I was driving down the freeway and saw the sign for it. I had planned to go somewhere else, but sometimes spontaneity is the rule of the day. In a matter of 10 minutes, I found myself standing in front of a temple that rose out of the wheat fields.

Who knew that I would find India in the middle of a small town in Utah? I walked around it, taking pictures and appreciating the intricacies of the architecture and marveling at an entirely different culture in my own backyard.

All was quiet as I walked up the steps of the temple. I tread softly not wanting to disturb any one’s sacred ritual or give offense in any manner. I was simply an observer wishing to share for a moment in another culture that took me out of my own life.

As I stood on the balcony of the Krishna temple and looked at a thunderstorm brewing in the distant hills, I could feel my spirits rise and my attitude change. All of a sudden, my mind took a flight of fancy as I imagined mysteries and thrilling adventures waiting just right around the corner.

Eventually, I quietly retreated, marveling at the beauty of another world that was so different from my own, but entirely fascinating.

My next stop was a lavender farm. I had heard about it for more than a year and thought what a beautiful thing it would be to see fields full of lavender. So I took my camera and pulled off the side of the road to catch a few shots.

As I investigated more fully, I was surprised to find acres of colorful gardens and buildings that resembled medieval England. My imagination again soared to a time and people and place that I loved.

As I wandered the grounds, I paused, breathing in the lavender blowing on the breeze and taking in the beauty that surrounded me.  Finally, after meandering through the grounds for almost an hour, I decided it was time to take my leave.

As I did so, I marveled at the fact that in just a matter of about 3 hours, I was able to visit a lavender farm, a bit of Medieval England and a Krishna temple risen directly out of the sands of India.  I felt almost as if I’d had the chance to roam distant lands and yet I was no more than an hour from home.

My pressing problems that had plagued me just hours before were a burden no more and I felt again that refreshing lift that comes when we venture to see things through new eyes. I had sought beauty and adventure in distant lands, but I found it just outside my own backyard.

The Dolphin’s Song

Several years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity of living on a very small tropical island for the space of 6 weeks.  The island was a part of the Islas del Rosario just an hour outside of Cartagena, Colombia.  I was hired as a teacher to a 6 year old boy, Martin, whose parents wanted him to be taught in English.  On this very small island (it was only about a block square), the family had an outdoor aquarium.  They made their living off of tourists who would travel there by boat to see and experience the wonders of the animals living in their very own tropical ocean.  They had everything from turtles to a hammerhead shark (which I made a point of staying away from.)

They also had 7 dolphins and had worked very hard to put together a dolphin show comparative to SeaWorld in California.  Almost every day, Martin and I would take a break when the tourists arrived.  Martin (who in some ways reminded me of a young Tarzan) loved to run amongst the crowds of strangers and I could never get him to sit still when something interesting was happening.  So we would take a thirty minute break and I would eventually end up on the dock watching the dolphin show with all the tourists.  For some reason, I never got tired of watching them leap and swim and interact with the trainers.

I had never thought much about dolphins in my life, but now that I had a daily interaction with them, I was fascinated.  Rosie was, by far, my favorite.  She was a bottle-nosed dolphin with a gentle and fun sense of humor.  She had been with the family for about 10 years.  Often the trainers would let me feed her and they would teach me how to interact with her.  Sometimes I would attempt some of the same tricks that the trainers did.  One of the activities I learned was to lean forward and kiss her nose.  While practicing this one day, she twice came up from the water; I kissed her nose and fed her the fish as a reward.  The third time I leaned in to try it again and she spit water in my face!  She then opened her mouth and started laughing at me.  I laughed back as I wiped away the salt water.

One Sunday night, as the sun was beginning its descent, I was again to be found sitting on the dock with my feet swinging in the water.  It was the quietest day of the week as there were no tourists and the workers often headed to the mainland for the weekend.  I had made a good friend on the island and we sat side by side and talked about life in general.  Rosie swam up underneath us so that our feet were literally petting her soft, smooth, gray skin.  She would circle around over and over again.  It was deeply relaxing and peaceful as time slowed down on this tiny rock in the middle of the ocean.

As the darkness descended, my favorite hymn came to my mind and I began to sing “Abide with me, tis eventide”.  While I sang, I noticed that Rosie stopped, cocked her ear out of the water and listened to me.  She stayed almost motionless until I was finished.  She then turned and began to sing back to me.  My friend and I sat and listened amazed as she sang back to us for a full minute or more.  When she finished, we clapped.  She smiled (yes, dolphins can smile) and swam away, almost as if she were embarrassed.

I wish, to this day, that I could have understood what her song meant.  What did she hear in my song which made her respond?  What was it about the medium of song that allowed animal and human to communicate?  Whatever it was, for a brief time, the beauty of music allowed two different species to speak to one another and to share a friendship that went beyond words.

What NOT to do in Bogota, Colombia

I felt that since my first two entries were so serious, that I should start sharing some of the more humorous experiences of my life.  So I will start with one of my more favorite embarrassing stories of my naiveté and downright stupidity.  Some will not think it humorous, but I laugh about it now.

It was in 2001 and I was flying home from Cartagena, Colombia to Seattle, Washington to visit my family.  At the time, there were no direct flights from Cartagena, so I had to stopover in Bogota.  My plane landed at 11 pm and would not leave until 6 am the next morning.  I had arranged to be picked up by a friend of my brother-in-law who would allow me to sleep at their place and get me back to the airport in the morning.

Unfortunately, the friend didn’t show up.  I should have prepared better for this as things often didn’t turn out like you expected them to in Colombia, but I did not.  So I improvised. I hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take me to an inexpensive hotel.  As we left the airport, the driver began to explain that the hotels were probably closed for the night.  At this point, I had only been in Colombia for about 8 months, my Spanish was only so-so and I had no idea whether the hotels in Bogota stayed open overnight or not.  I thought it strange, but asked him to check anyway.  We drove down some dark streets and he pulled up in front of a building that did not look like a hotel to me, but again, I did not know enough to be certain.  The driver got out, went up to the front door and had a conversation at the door with a man.  The man shook his head negatively and the driver came back to me.  He repeated his statement that the hotel was closed and the others would likely be, as well.

It was well after midnight by this point and I didn’t know what to do.  The driver then offered that I could stay with him at his place.  My first thought was that he was just being nice.  I had often encountered genuinely warm and helpful people during my eight months in Colombia.  He probably had a family and he was offering a couch for me to sleep on.  At first I said no, and we drove around a while longer.  I asked him to just return me to the airport, but he said no, that it was not possible to stay the night there.  Again, I was uninformed and had no idea whether that was true or not.

It was at that point that I finally agreed to his offer as I could not sleep overnight on the streets of Bogota!  It was about 1 am when we finally reached his place.  As I walked in, I realized my mistake immediately.  It was a one-room studio with two bunk beds and no one else in sight!  I almost backed out of the door, but knew I had nowhere else to go.  Staring at the bunk beds, I literally began to think that the streets seemed more comfortable.  But I knew that would be stupid.  With his ok, I dropped my things and crawled into the lower bunk throwing a blanket over me and falling asleep almost immediately.

It was about thirty minutes to an hour later when I was awakened by what felt like a cat on my leg.  It took my half-awake mind a full minute to comprehend that the studio had no cat.  I then realized that the driver had his hand on my leg and was slowly moving it upwards.  I jumped out of that bed faster than I had ever moved in my life!  It was pitch dark and I could see almost nothing.  I panicked and could not think what to do until the thought of the bathroom popped into my mind.  I put out my hands feeling gingerly around me when the driver asked “Where are you going, my love?”  I shortly responded over my shoulder “the bathroom” while I fled.  I locked myself in and paced up and down for about ten to fifteen minutes berating myself for having been so stupid as to get into this situation.  I finally determined if I waited long enough, maybe he would just go to sleep.

About thirty minutes later, I cautiously opened the door a crack and listened intently.  I could hear nothing but steady breathing.  I very slowly and quietly made my way back to the bed and crawled carefully in so as not to awaken him.  He didn’t seem to stir and I laid there awake with fear for at least another hour listening to his steady breathing.  It wasn’t until I was sure that he was really asleep that I drifted off as well.  Fortunately, that is where the adventure mainly ended.  I woke up at 4 am and he took me to the airport without trying anything else.  I paid him for the ride and the “hospitality.”

I learned a very good lesson that day and have never accepted the “hospitality” of any stranger since.  Bogota has many wonderful things to see and experience.  May I offer that sleeping in the rooms of a single taxi driver is not one of them!