Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Silverswords and Moonlight

January 23, 2019

I’ve been back from Maui for almost two weeks now.  My last blog post had a slideshow that didn’t post properly in everyone’s inbox.  Some got it, some didn’t!  The mysterious glitch produced an advertisement for skin tags!  What a disaster!  I will try to include the slideshow again at the end of this blog post. If instead of tropical paradise, you see an advertisement for skin tags, moles, warts, or men’s underwear, simply ignore.

One of the aspects I love about writing is that blogging and/or writing is a learning experience for me.  When I see unusual flora, for example, I can do a little research and share what I learn with you, my readers!  Below are four learning encounters I experienced in Maui.

SILVERSWORD

Haleakala Silversword (or ‘ahinahina as is their Hawaiian name) is an endemic plant.  It is found nowhere else in the world other than on the slopes of Haleakala on Maui.  It grows on volcanic soil and puts out a strong taproot so it can withstand high winds. The panel at the Halekala National Park had this to say about it:

Despite harsh conditions, ‘ahinahina can live up to fifty years. It flowers only once in a lifetime, then dies.  Its seeds, as many as 50,000 in a single flower stalk, dry out and are dispersed by the wind.

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The Haleakala Silversword relies on the native yellow-faced bee for cross pollination.  Alien yellow jackets and Argentine ants are preying on the pollinators, threatening the long-term survival of the ‘ahinahina.

The information panel at the park listed the exotic and gorgeous silversword as an “endangered” plant, but on line I read that the plant is “vulnerable”.  There is a world of difference between “endangered” and “vulnerable” when referring to the continuing existence of a plant or animal species. I hope what I read on line is true and that the information panel at Haleakala Crater is in need of being updated! Either way, there is a risk of losing this plant forever. If protected, I hope this plant can make a strong comeback and survive!

Apparently, once upon a time, Haleakala’s volcanic mountain sides were covered in silverswords.  A long ago traveler to the Haleakala Crater, Isabella Bird, wrote the following stunning-but-simple description of what she saw in 1890:

We came upon thousands of silverswords, their cold, frosted silver gleam making the hillside look like winter or moonlight.

This is from an information panel from Haleakala National Park:

‘Ahinahina is believed to have evolved from a California tarweed that arrived here (Maui) millions of years ago, perhaps hitchhiking on a bird.

When I think back on my experience of Haleakala, I still see the glimmer of the silverswords, its succulent spikes shining like pieces of aluminum foil reflecting sunlight.

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PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVERS

BIRDS!!  With the Hawaiian Islands being the most isolated land in the world, the closest neighboring land mass being 2467 miles away in California, it is astonishing to think that Pacific Golden Plovers fly past California, all the way to Alaska. In fact, Pacific Golden Plovers make an annual migration back and forth from Hawaii to Alaska.  That is a nonstop bird flight of 2,982.5 miles one way! I am clueless as to how the Pacific Golden Plover can make such a migration without stopping to rest, eat, or drink.  I kept thinking about them while on the flight back to Seattle.

Plovers are ideal subjects for this kind of research because they return to the same wintering territories every year, so scientists know exactly where to go to find a particular individual. “They’re so strongly site-faithful that we can predict where they will be with almost 100 per cent accuracy,” explains Johnson. “If they’re alive, it’s almost certain they will come back to the same place.”

On their spring flight northwards, the birds averaged 63 kilometers per hour and covered around 4800 kilometers in about three days. They made the return trip in around four days.

Plovers are well-known as fast flyers, and in this study some birds reached incredible speeds, presumably with the wind behind them – for example, the ground speeds of three individuals ranged from 167 to an exceptional 185 kilometers per hour.

A few facts about these Super-Birds:
  • The Pacific Golden Plover eats molluscs, insects, worms, crustaceans, lizards and is known to eat birds‘ eggs and small fish.
  • Breeding: The Pacific Golden Plover breeds in Alaska in June and July. The breeding habitat of Pacific golden plover is the Arctic tundra from northernmost Asia into western Alaska.
  • It nests on the ground in a dry open area.
  • A beautiful shorebird, the Pacific Golden-Plover breeds in western Alaska and Siberia and winters on islands across the Pacific Ocean, through southeast Asia, to northeastern Africa. It is uncommon in North America and is found breeding in Alaska and migrating/wintering in small numbers along the Pacific Coast.

EDDIE PU

Next I have the story of a native Hawaiian from Maui called Eddie Pu.  He was a legend on Maui and he often said of himself,  “I’m just a simple Hawaiian.”  This made me think of the Dalai Lama, who says in a similar fashion, “I am just a simple monk.”  Simple, but extraordinary!

“I wake each morning before sunrise and meditate to thank the land, to thank my ancestors for what they have given us.” -Eddie Pu

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(above: Jack on the Eddie Pu Trail)

I first learned who Eddie Pu was as we walked along a portion of the Eddie Pu Trail.  He was a park ranger, lifeguard for over twenty years, a man who meditated every morning and connected to the land and to his ancestors. It is said that when he was young, he had a dream in which his ancestors came to him and asked him to walk the ancient sacred trail that circumnavigates the island of Maui.  This trail is 211 miles long. It is the original shoreline trail used by the ancient people of Maui. It is overgrown and winds around the coast and is also known as the King’s Trail or the King’s Highway.  I was very impressed to hear that Kelley met him once and her parents knew him.  Eddie Pu passed away or, more aptly put, returned to his ancestors in 2012.

Eddie Pu was a legend, and earned the nickname, The Walking Man of Maui.

He was hired in 1972 as one of the first park rangers at ‘Ohe‘o Gulch, a series of pools and falls now part of Haleakala National Park. Over the years, he saved many lives, including those of the Saudi ambassador and his wife and son, who were swept out to sea. Pu dove into the waves and rescued them one by one, though he ended up in the hospital for several days. Later, the “simple Hawaiian” was flown to Washington to be thanked in person by President Ford. In the decades Pu stood guard at ‘Ohe‘o Gulch, where flash floods in the mountains catch seaside bathers unawares, no one drowned. Since he retired, seven people have died.

Imagine Eddie Pu walking on the strenuous trails in the hot sun, passing coves, black beaches, and sharp lava formations on his solo annual pilgrimage. I imagine him communing with the off-shore humpback whales and sea turtles from the trail.  I wonder what kind of shoes he wore?  And how did he survive the 211 mile solo annual spiritual trek with just a bag of dried fruit?  Where did he sleep? I wonder if locals took him in for the night? What an honor it would be to open up one’s home to this living link of the ancient Hawaiian culture.

Pu always walks the nearly 200 miles alone. “A spiritual walk to heal my soul,” he explains, and his secret route changes from year to year.

I really like the following camera story:

Pu has come across sacred ruins and even human remains. “I bring no camera, draw no map—these things must be left there and not disturbed,” he says. He tells a story about how on his first two trips, all the film he shot came out black. After the second trip, he dreamed he must go to the island of Moloka‘i. A young girl met him at the airport and said, “You follow me. My great-grandmother is waiting for you.” They came to a home where an old woman sat on a porch chair, rocking and laughing.

“Eddie Pu, you should throw away your camera,” the old woman said, still roaring in mirth. “Your film will never come out. Your mind, that is where you must store pictures, so our ancestors will not be disturbed.”

The following was written about Eddie Pu in 2005, when he was still alive. I was not surprised when I found out that Mr. Pu and I share the same birthday:

It is hard to guess Eddie Pu’s age. His long gray hair is pulled neatly back and kept in place by a ti-leaf headband to ward off headaches. In a few weeks, he tells me, he would set off with a towel, a walking stick, and a bag of dried fruit to do what he has done nearly every birthday for more than 25 years: Walk around Maui. On November 25, he turned 75.

SEA BURIAL

After a long walk one morning, we saw two long traditional Hawaiian canoes out at sea, moving quickly in tandem towards the beach. The canoes were decorated with large green leaves.  The rowers, both men and women, wore traditional sarongs and had wreaths wrapped around their heads. As they made their way from the sea towards the sandy beach, a large group of locals had gathered to welcome the rowers.

When we arrived at the site where they had pulled ashore, I introduced myself to one of the rowers and asked him as politely as I could about the ceremony taking place.  He was so kind.  He shook my hand and explained that a dear friend had “gone back to her ancestors” and that this was a traditional Hawaiian sea burial.  My guess would be that the deceased was a Harley rider because most people gathered on the beach wore their Harley leathers and chaps.  There were children standing near their parents and people were holding hands and hugging, comforting one another.  I fear that Stacey, for that was the name of the deceased woman, was most likely a young or middle aged woman who lost her life in a motorcycle accident.

Then the chanting started.  The leader would say a stanza of prayer in Hawaiian, ending the prayer stanza with Hui Hou Stacey.  When he said Hui Hou Stacey, the group of grievers would say it aloud in unison with the prayer leader.  It was so beautiful.  And like magic, calling out Hui Hou Stacey seemed to calm the masses.  I later learned that A Hui Hou means “Until We Meet Again”.

Until we meet again, Stacey.

I refused to take photos.  All the tourists on the beach gathered around the grievers and were clicking away.  I am sure it would have been fine to take a photo or two, but I was so moved by the ceremony and I just wanted to pray for this unknown Hawaiian woman whose community of loved ones had so deeply moved my heart.

After the prayers, all the grievers and the traditionally clad rowers carried the two large sea-going canoes out to sea.  I couldn’t believe I was an accidental participant in this sea burial.  I watched transfixed as the Hawaiian pallbearers carried the two canoes out to sea, canoes carrying the ashes of their loved one.  Then the grievers stood in the sea, as the waves lapped up around their legs, they silently watched the canoes swiftly row out to the sea.  Once far from shore, the rowing stopped. The canoes rocked in stillness.  People from ashore solemnly witnessed Stacey’s ashes returning to the sea.  The rower I spoke to at the start of the ceremony had told me, “She loved the sea and she will return to the sea today”.

Read more about Hawaiian sea burials.

VIDEO (3 minutes long)

Below is my three minute video from Maui.  The video is set to a song called Kolonahe, meaning From the Gentle Wind, by the artists Ku’i Lei Awapuhi  (vocals) and  Keola Beamer.  Thanks to Kelley for introducing me to this song! The song carries the rhythm of the island. It’s very soothing. Turn up your speakers!  If all else fails: click here to see the video

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From the Gentle Wind

January 21, 2019

Hopefully the slideshow will come through the second time around?? -fg

I’ve been back from Maui for just over a week now, but I still think about the sound of the waves, the feel of warm sunshine on my skin, the palms swaying, and the freedom I felt while on vacation there.

Two more blogs about Maui coming your way soon, I hope!

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I put together the following Slideshow Video with my photos from Maui. It is only three minutes long.  The video is set to a song called Kolonahe, meaning From the Gentle Wind, by the artists Ku’i Lei Awapuhi (vocals) and Keola Beamer. Thanks to Kelley for introducing me to this song! The song carries the rhythm of the island and goes well with the photos. It’s very soothing. Turn up your speakers!

‘Twas Twain’s Maui

January 12, 2019

I’m back from Maui and my heart is happy to have traveled there. It was relaxing to bask in the sunshine, enjoy the warmth of the island, and marvel at the lava-red sunsets. I still have a few Maui blog posts to write and will write them and line them up for the next couple of days so you can travel vicariously with me! img_7310‘Twas Mark Twain whose heart was captured by the great beauty of Maui way back in 1866. Mark Twain was Missouri’s famed son. He was a quick-witted American writer, journalist, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, lecturer, silver miner, world traveler, popular public speaker, and keen observer of life.  One of the most influential American writers, he painted word-portraits of the world he lived in.  He was only 30 years old when he traveled to Maui, Oahu, and Hawai’i Island.  Clearly, he had a great time:

Twain hiked through Hawaii’s beauteous jungle. He surfed naked on a wooden surfboard. He rode horseback across the plains.

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When Twain visited Maui, the Hawaiian Islands were a full 93 years away from American statehood.  Hawai’i wasn’t even a US territory when Twain traveled there. It became US territory in 1898 and became the fiftieth state in 1959.  Back in 1866, the islands were known as the “Sandwich Islands”, so named in 1778 by Captain Cook after the man who sponsored Cook’s voyage, the Earl of Sandwich.

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Twain spent five weeks in Maui during an overall four-month visit on the Hawaiian Islands and for the rest of his life, he longed to return.   I had prepared the following excerpts before traveling to Maui, hoping to share them with my fellow traveling friends on the day we went to Haleakala Crater and National Park.  I thought the following Twain quotes would be inspirational because Twain climbed the same crater we were at and described it as the “sublimest spectacle” he had ever seen.  However, sharing what I had prepared was not to be while in Maui, so I am now sharing my selected excerpts from Mark Twain below, along with some of my photos.

On the trail: Haleakala Crater

Haleakala National Park: above the clouds at 10,023 ft (3055 m) above sea level.

“I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five. I never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any place goodbye so regretfully. I have not once thought of business, or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness, and the memory of it will remain with me always.”

“The native language is soft and liquid and flexible and in every way efficient and satisfactory–till you get mad; then there you are; there isn’t anything in it to swear with,” he wrote.

No alien land in all the world has any deep, strong charm for me but that one; no other land could so longingly and beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same. For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surf-beat in my ear; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore; its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud rack; I can feel the spirit of its wooded solitudes; I can hear the splash of its brooks; in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.
– Samuel M. Clemens (Mark Twain), Paradise of the Pacific, April 1910

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This is the most magnificent, balmy atmosphere in the world–ought to take dead men out of grave. -quoted in Mark Twain in Hawaii

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Poet, Botanist, Birders, Librarians, and Educators

January 5, 2019

Poet, botanist, birders, librarians, and educators….Yes, that’s quite a line-up of front stage performers and they happen to be the company I am keeping in Maui!

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There are six of us exploring this green oasis of an island together. It’s an exciting group to be with. Everyone has his or her area of expertise and so our island time is also a great opportunity to learn from one another.

Randall is a botanist. From him, I am learning so much about trees and the lush flora around me. Sounds odd, but I had never heard the term “tree scar” until I heard it from him. Now the expression seems to be a common description, a part of being in the tree world. Below you have a great example of a tree scar I observed at Ahihi Bay. The lowermost fronds of this tree eventually die and new fronds grow above it. The dead fronds drop off and leave a scar in the tree. Tree scars create patterns and can be very beautiful like the cordate scar below. The tree was covered with this heart-shaped pattern.

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We went to the historic town of Lahaina yesterday. We took two cars and it was decided that when we arrived in Lahaina, we’d simply all meet at the Banyan Tree. I was secretly wondering how we would find the specific banyan tree rendez-vous. Really, I need not have been at all concerned about finding it. The banyan tree, our meeting point in Lahaina, is the largest banyan tree in the United States. This Banyan Tree was planted in 1873 and now covers an entire acre! It’s super hard to miss! And it is quite impressive.

The banyan tree spreads by way of aerial roots! The aerial roots grow thick and then eventually reach the ground. The original massive trunk is in the middle of the park and there are a total of 16 major trunks all belonging to the parent banyan tree. Below you can see a detail of the famed Banyan Tree.

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While roaming around Lahaina, the old whaling village which hit the height of its whaling boom in the mid 1800s, Rick and I went to the Plantation Museum. We also found a great bookstore and, thanks to Kelley and Jack, we discovered a beautiful art studio featuring the art of Vladimir Kush

Kush, a surrealist painter, sculptor, and jewelry maker, creates a metaphorical and mythical world filled with dragonflies, butterflies, ladders, water, trees, and human figures. His work seduces you to enter a creative, delightful, sometimes disturbing, always wondrous world of clouds, animals, eggs, embryonic forms, butterfly windmills, and banana hammocks.

While ambling about, Rick and I also found the historic Pioneer Hotel, now a Best Western. It’s been around since 1900 and overlooks Lahaina harbor and the Pacific Ocean. We sat in the quiet inner courtyard, enjoying the breezy shade and marveling at an antique seafaring canoe. Below is a detail from the carved masthead of the Hawaiian outrigger canoe displayed in the Pioneer Hotel courtyard. The photo captures one eye of a don’t-mess-with-me creature fearlessly facing the sea and leading the way.

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Below: a statue in front of the Pioneer Hotel. This fellow demonstrates how your ears and nose keep growing as you age.

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Our birder Kelley helped us identify birds at the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge.  Kealia is the year-round home for two of Hawaii’s native and endangered waterbirds: the Hawaiian coot with its gorgeous white forehead and the Hawaiian stilt. We were fortunate to see both.

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The boardwalk was lined with great explanatory panels. This panel has a painting of a Hawaiian coot in the foreground.

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Beach alongside the Wildlife Refuge:

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After the wildlife refuge, we went to Iao Needle. There are no trails leading to the Iao Needle.  The photo was below was taken from an observatory deck.  The hike we went on led us along a river with boulders and swimming holes, rushing rapids, and lush vegetation. Below is from the information panels:

The traditional name for this 2,250 foot high peak is Kuka’emoku. The peak is known as the phallic stone of Kanaloa, Hawaiian god of the ocean.

During periods of warfare, the peak was used as a lookout by warriors. It was here that some of the Maui warriors retreated from the forces of Kamehameha I during the Battle of Kepaniwai.

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Maui Magic

January 5, 2019

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On our first full day here, we went snorkeling at Maluaka. It had been years since I last snorkeled. And that was back in Thailand.  So, when I entered the warm waters of Maluaka on Wednesday here on Maui, it took me a little while to get used to having a mask on and breathing into the little snorkel tube that juts up above the water.  Kelley led the way to the coral reefs.  Rick took off in a completely different direction.  Jack, thankfully, stayed close by me, until he was certain I felt comfortable using my snorkel equipment.  I’d say it took me about ten minutes to feel like the sea was my home and that the tube wasn’t going to fill up with water and cut off my oxygen supply.  Once I was confident, I entered a sea world where flying and swimming merge, where schools of colorful fish swim by, and where enormous sea turtles swim gracefully.

My buddy and protector of the day, Jack McHenry. Jack is also one of my dedicated blog readers. Mahalo, Jack!

The water here is calm and clear, making it easy to observe marine life.  How I wished I had an underwater camera.  But I don’t, so my memory will have to hold the vivid colors of the tropical fish and my words will have to suffice to share what I saw during the hour and a half snorkel experience.

I saw Angelfish, butterfly fish, trumpet fish, yellow tang, sea urchins, wrasse, and reef triggerfish in these coral gardens.  The most exciting for me was to see the giant sea turtles swimming by or to see them burrowing or hovering on the sea floor. I also saw and learned the Hawaiian name for the Rectangular Triggerfish, which is Hawaii’s State fish:  humuhumukunukunuapua’a!

Humuhumunukunukuapua’a: Hawaii’s state fish

And a sad word on the coral reefs at Maluaka: they didn’t look good.  I look back on my Thai experience of snorkeling along the coral reefs there and clearly remember that the coral was vibrant and very healthy.  That was a long time ago. Perhaps it has changed there, too?  The coral reefs I saw on Wednesday in the protected marine area were clearly dying.  Much of the coral dying has to do with climate change as well as human use of chemical sunscreens.  People going into the water are encouraged to wear water-shirts or zinc or titanium sunblocks instead of chemical sunscreens. Even in small amounts, chemical sunscreens are highly toxic to coral and fish. How I wish there could be a world wide ban on chemical sunscreens!

And so you don’t leave my blog in a complete state of coral-despair, the next day, Thursday (yesterday), we went to Ahihi Nature Preserve for more snorkeling. This time I chose not to snorkel and instead did a solo walk on a lava trail so that I could focus on taking some photos with my Leica. Meanwhile, the others in my group went snorkeling and reported that the coral at Ahihi Nature Preserve looks much healthier than what I saw in Maluaka the previous day.

And here are a few photos from my lava trail solo time.

I have to include a foot-foto. Perhaps this type of photo proves I really walked this beach of black lava stones.  And you can be sure that I took my shoe off just for the photo and put it back on before walking on this rougher-than-pumice stone lava beach.

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Lava and Coral Collage with Shell Fossil in Lava Stone:

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Black lava in the foreground:img_7044

How in the heck did a caper plant and flower (photographed below) make it to Maui all the way from the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria?l1410143

Here in Maui, I see tropical plants, in their natural environment, growing to be at least ten times larger than when grown as indoor houseplants back home.

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Interesting how this photo of my lava cairn looks like a black and white photo when it is not.

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I will never understand why people feel the urge to carve their names into trees.  Aina, don’t you see?  You’ll be the death of this tree?

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Sunglasses, Sunhat, Frangipani (or Plumeria as it is called here in Hawaii):

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A Glimpse of Icelandic Art

November 9, 2018

While in Reykjavik, my group and I stayed at the Hotel Holt.  I am attracted to this hotel for many reasons, such as its location which is right in the heart of the city. The hotel is within walking distance to the city’s main sites, museums, cathedral, coffee shops, pubs, restaurants, and main shopping street.  And the staff is extremely helpful, kind, and welcoming. However, the main reason I love this boutique family-run hotel is because of its art collection!

Hotel Holt houses Iceland’s largest private collection of art.  There is a collection of 1,560 works of art, though you will see “only” 460 works of art on display.  We were given a private art tour,  led by the very knowledgeable Hotel Holt office manager, Marissa Sigrún..  What I will attempt to do here is to include some of the photos I took of the artwork and give my impressions of them.

My apologies for not having written down and not knowing the artists’ names.  And my apologies for not capturing the paintings in their entirety. Some of these works are quite large and so, in some cases, I focused only on a portion of the art work.  Also, I want to say that the paintings were illuminated by lights that sometimes cast a shadow, so the photos are not perfect representations of the artwork.  Lastly, I’m not an art historian and, in fact, I hesitated to post this blog, but I so want to share these beautiful works of art with you and share the feelings invoked within me as I look at them.  I hope the artwork below will speak volumes to you, too!

The texture of the paint in the painting below is so incredible!  The texture lends itself to the landscape and the action within the landscape! You can almost see the waves moving, the boats rocking, and the man’s working movements. The paint texture gives a sense of perspective to the mountains. Mountains beyond mountains grace the background.  And the colors are reflective of the color palette we see everywhere in nature in Iceland.

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Humble work, hard work, necessary work, the work of a farmer, the sacredness of planting and harvesting. I believe here, the farmers are harvesting. And this work of art gets me thinking about how difficult it must have been for the Icelanders to gather enough food to suffice for the winter months back in the day when there were no geothermal powered greenhouses and easy year-round shipments of fruit from warmer sunnier climates. I love the standing farmer’s hands and his face, so serene and, yet, filled with concentration.

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Below is a portion of a larger piece of artwork.  The whole work shows a family, including the father. The family is enjoying a picnic on a fine Icelandic summer day.  This is perhaps a very romantic notion of a picnic in Iceland.  The mother, traditionally clad and probably a very hard working robust woman, looks so relaxed and her baby is adorable, fast asleep on mamma’s shoulder, perhaps grown drowsy from the summer sun warming his/her face.

The light in Iceland is very special.  As I’ve said before, you can’t go to Iceland and take a bad photograph.  The sun’s rays hit differently. They come in a different angle. Colors appear vibrantly pure and so you really do see these shades of purple and light blue as captured in the painting below.

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The painting below is of a mountain and moss. In the past, I went to Iceland during the last two weeks of September when the moss is at its best in terms of color and when the lichen and the field flowers come alive with color.  I think this artist captures the landscape colors beautifully!

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Below is one of my photos from a few years ago in Iceland.  You can see what I mean about color.  These are the colors that are so vivid and present in the Icelandic works of art:

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In a land where landscape is so inspirational, it is not surprising to see these breathtaking landscapes created on canvas. How is it possible that this landscape also carries emotion?:

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I felt that this photo I took in Iceland a few years ago is another example of how the colors found naturally in the landscape also found their way onto the canvas. The photo below and the painting above match in color:

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Beautiful pastoral scene. A hard life within a harsh landscape that also offers up so much beauty and strong community.  Here, the women are at rest, alongside the resting cow:

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I love this one.  Hunger being satisfied by a bowl of hot soup, a soup so hot that this man has to perhaps blow on his spoonful to cool it a bit.  I imagine the hot bowl or small tureen warming his hands and his legs.  I imagine the kind of hunger he feels, the kind of hunger that comes after a day of hard work.  I imagine how the soup will warm his chest and his belly. This painting reminds me of the various kinds of soup I have had in Iceland: delicious tomato soup, lobster bisque, lentil soup, leek soup, pumpkin soup, potato soup, vegetable soup, and asparagus soup…and it makes me want to make a pot of soup right now!

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This painting was perhaps one of my favorites! It is enormous and sits in the lobby.  Please imagine this canvas stretching boldly across a wall in a hotel lobby. I see fire and ice!  I see lava flowing, glaciers, geysers, hot springs, black lava beaches, waterfalls, fissures in the earth, movement, hidden people, Kali energy, destruction and birth, Thors’ hammer Mjölnir held high as a symbol of power, geothermal energy, and new land forming.  The feeling is pure chaos and yet the chaos is contained. I see a merging landscape captured by form and color.  The entire canvas is shaped like the island of Iceland and gives me a feeling of mystery and adventure.  For me, it’s a wild and crazy, scary and tempting piece of artwork! I could look at it for hours:

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And next, after getting off that wild carousel ride above, we enter another world, that of three women gathered and processing fish.  Beautiful colors, gorgeous and strong women, lively and serene colors, communal work, workers who work in harmony and live in harmony with the land, life-giving fish, tradition, hope necessary to get through the dark winter months that are certain to come again:

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We saw many works by Kjarval, Iceland’s most beloved painter:

Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972) was one of Iceland’s most accomplished painters. Kjarval drew and painted from an early age and studied art in Iceland to the extent it was available. He was 25 years old when he went to Copenhagen to study with the aid of his beneficiaries. Kjarval never shied away from experimenting creatively. Icelandic nature was an inspiration to him and within it he created a mystical world of hidden people. Icelanders adored Kjarval and this complex artist’s body of work is interwoven with the Icelandic national spirit.

I am pretty sure the painting below is by Kjarval.  The concept of hidden people is mysterious and, whether or not you believe in their existence as Kjarval did and as do many Icelanders today, the very idea of hidden people brings us into a mystical and invisible world.  The artist Kjarval recounted how at times, when he was out in nature with easel and paints on hand, he was unable to paint because the hidden people would thwart his efforts. They would throw pebbles or rocks at him until finally he’d have to pack up his easel, paint, and brushes and leave the scene.

Below you can see what I think of as hidden people. This painting is vast in scope and has so much mystery in it. It also has a sense of wind or a storm brewing, if only for a brief moment, with the promise of a rainbow at the end of a spate of rain and gusts of wind. Fire, ice, clouds, hidden people, waterfalls, lava brewing and flowing, a cold landscape with elements of heat.

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The last landscape below looks like a lunar landscape.

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The painting below is one of the few works of art in the Hotel Holt’s Icelandic art collection that is done by a foreign artist.  The artist is Danish:

The lobby and lounge of Hotel Holt has seascape works from Icelandic shores by Danish painters Carl Locher and Vilhelm Arnesen who accompanied Frederick VIII, king of Denmark, on his visit to Iceland in September 1907. You’ll also find two seascapes by Frants Landt from his journey to Iceland in 1936 as well as the painting Færeyskur sjómaður / Faroese Sailor (1963) by Faroese painter S.J. Mikines. 

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Dear readers, I’d love to read about your insights, and your impressions on the artwork you see here.  Please comment below. -fran

Slideshow from the Land of Fire and Ice

October 23, 2018

The following slideshow is of our recent yoga retreat in Iceland. It is a trip I hope to offer again and again.  The slideshow is set to the music of the Icelandic group Low Roar and the song playing is called Breathe In.  The words go well with the experience of being in the Land of Fire and Ice.  The melody seems to carry the mystery and stark beauty of the landscape.  Most of the photos in the slideshow are mine, but a few come from some of the other photographers in our group.  I believe all the photos capture the light that is unique to Iceland!  Being so far north, the sun’s rays hit at an angle, which, when captured by camera, makes every person holding a camera appear to be an extraordinary photographer.

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We did yoga every morning and every evening, though you will not find a single picture of our yoga sessions.  We immersed ourselves in our practice.  In our yoga sessions, we became warriors, molten lava, geothermal energy, and pure rays of northern light.

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It was a pleasure to see friendships deepen and new friendships forged.  As the week progressed, everyone in our group appeared to become more luminous. Was it the relaxing and cleansing aspect of the yoga practice?  Or was it the hot springs?  Or perhaps it was the hiking?  Could have been the pure spring-fed water we drank directly from the tap? It was probably a combination of all of these ideas and more.  All I know for sure is that the retreat was a great experience, one that I will never forget.

Turn up your speakers for this 6 minute slideshow of our retreat in Iceland:

Iceland: Yoga in the Land of Fire and Ice 2018 from Fran Gallo on Vimeo.

http://www.frangallo.com

 

Laugarvatn Hot Springs

October 17, 2018

Today was one of those perfect days which I think I’ll replay in my mind again and again. The day started at 6am when my alarm went off.  I made coffee, read the news online, checked email. Then, I went off to teach yoga.  This morning’s yoga was focused on the chakras.  Chakra Yoga was followed by breakfast.

At 10am, we left our cabins for Laugarvatn.  There we hiked a hillside in a wooded area. Along the trail, there were panels with depictions and Icelandic instructions for various stretches recommended while hiking.  After the hike (and the stretches), Einar drove us to the hot springs of Laugarvatn on the Golden Circle.  We first enjoyed lunch, a beautiful spread of delicious fresh vegetables and fish.  Some people in my group enjoyed bread which was baked using geothermal steam.  I have tasted it in the past and it is delicious.  After eating, we enjoyed the hot springs of Laugarvatn.

The hot springs are located in a lakefront spa, featuring natural steam baths, outdoor mineral pools and a sauna. There are various temperatures, one being especially hot. Soaking in geothermal springs is very healthy.  At Laugarvatn, we soaked in a natural pool lined with rocks. While inside the steam rooms (both wet and dry sauna rooms), we listened to the sound of the bubbling hot springs coming from deep within the earth

Every so often, when the heat became too intense, we bravely walked over to Laugarvatn Lake, which is right next to the springs, and took a very fast dip in the 40 degree Fahrenheit water! Every bracing dip came with a yip and a few loud shouts.

The day ended with a second yoga session (a focus on postures to strengthen bones) followed by another delicious dinner (three bean salad for the vegetarians and lamb for the others).

I am including some of the benefits of soaking in geothermal healing waters:

Anti-Ageing Properties  Hot springs are also recognised for their anti-ageing properties. Bathing in a hot spring increases the production of collagen and tightens the elastin within the second layer of the skin.

This leaves your skin looking both firm and youthful.

Other minerals such as calcium, lithium, magnesium and even radium also help improve your skin.

As geothermal water cools, it saturates and then forms into a white mud. This form is completely hypoallergenic and has anti-ageing properties that can firm the skin, reduce pores and revitalise appearances. It is also effective against rashes, sores and skin problems such as dermatitis and psoriasis.

Respiratory Problems  As well as improving your skin, taking a dip in a geothermal spring offers many additional benefits to your overall health. As mentioned above, sulphur is a common mineral found in hot springs.

Sulphur can help treat respiratory problems such as asthma, and it can help clear excess mucus from your lungs.

Pain Relief  Moreover, the heat and buoyancy of a hot spring is very therapeutic for your body. The buoyancy helps to reduce the body’s work load.

As the body is focused on the sudden heat, the nervous system’s sensitivity lowers and the heat becomes a form of therapy for sufferers of muscle pains and arthritis.

Soothe sore muscles and chilly limbs.

Better Blood Circulation Bathing in hot springs helps to boost blood circulation. As the skin soaks in minerals such as calcium and sodium, hydrostatic pressure increases.

This increases the flow of oxygen to our bodies and boosts blood circulation, keeping your body fit and strong.

Increases Endorphins Our bodies absorb minerals in the water which stimulate the immune system and strengthen it. These minerals enhance the production of endorphins within the body and this interacts with receptors in the brain.

Think of it as a “happy chemical”, endorphins release a positive feeling and relieve the body and mind of stress whilst alleviating tension in tired muscles.

Overall, regular geothermal bathing can help normalize your body’s functions and nervous system whilst drastically improving your skin’s condition.

My lovely cabin mates Keira and Colleen.

There’s a whole lot of magic going on here in Iceland!

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High on Montana

May 31, 2018

Our yoga retreat at Walking Lightly Ranch in Whitefish, Montana was better than I could have ever imagined. The weather was excellent, the ranch and accommodations beautiful, the vast property exquisite, the guided hikes almost perfect (perfect except for the damned surge of voracious mosquitoes on the first day because it had rained the night before our first hike), the optional on-site massages with Michelle Richards therapeutic and deeply relaxing, the yoga studio spacious, fully equipped, and pristine.

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The guided hikes fell into two groups. The group who chose to do the easier and shorter hike was led by Amanda.  I was not in this group, but had a twinge of regret when I heard that Amanda knows her wildflowers and was able to identify the array of flowers popping up here and there, dotting the landscape.  The second group chose to go on the more challenging hikes, the first hike being a climb to the ridge on the property where the views were breathtaking. My group was led by James on both days. Though he does not do plant identification, he was knowledgeable in other areas: landscape and geology, plus we learned so much about his interesting life. There were only four of us led by James on the first day hike and two of us on the second day.  On the second day’s hike, Zimmie and I selfishly felt it was a treat to have James all to ourselves on the hike!

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Our happy group participants came from Seattle, Vashon, Eugene (OR), Whitefish, and from the District of Columbia environs. We enjoyed nutritious, abundant, delicious vegetarian meals made by our on site chef, Michelle Berry.  One evening after dinner, Michelle, a very talented and knowledgeable nutritionist, plant-based chef, and beautiful mother of three came and sat with us, answering our questions about plant-based nutrition.  We learned so much from her as you will see below.

How much water should we drink per day?

Take your weight, divide it by two and that is the number of ounces you should drink in water per day.  Drinking green drinks or herbal teas do not count as your recommended water intake.  These are seen as medicinal (good), but do not replace your water needs.

Sole Water Link 

Please refer to the link above to read about sole water!  I am going to try it. It is a great way to make sure you are getting essential minerals into your diet.  It helps prevent muscle cramping. All you need is Himalayan Salt and Water to make the mixture.

Name some Protein Rich Plant-Based Foods (this list is not complete):

  • Bee Pollen with Almond Butter
  • Spirolina (add to your smoothie)
  • Sprouts
  • Hemp Seeds

Strategies to Detox/Cleanse:

  • oil pulling using coconut oil (how to and benefits) LINK
  • Body Brushing on skin that is not wet and later oil your skin before your shower  (See technique and how it is done)
  • Michelle mentioned that there are many kinds of detox.  Detox can include “emotional” detox as well as “screen” detox. Screen detox means moving away from your phone or your computer for a few hours or for a whole day at a time.
  • Colonics

Diet for people undergoing chemotherapy (these detox strategies can be used by anyone, even when not undergoing chemo):

  • Include chlorella in your diet (probably in a smoothie)
  • Eats lots of cilantro (sorry to those of you who do not like cilantro)
  • Better yet, if you do the following, it is one of the best ways to support and cleanse your body when undergoing chemo:  Eat Chlorella.  Wait one hour.  After one hour, eat Cilantro.  Do not eat the two together.  Do not change the order.  Wait one hour before eating the cilantro.
  • Eat a super low carb diet and a high vegetable fat diet (ketogenic diet).
  • Follow the detox ideas above.

What are some Calcium Rich Plant-Based Foods (this list is not complete):

  • Figs
  • Tahini
  • Broccoli
  • Garbanzo Beans
  • Green Leafy Vegetables (includes Kale)
  • Almonds

What are some Protein Rich Plant-Based Foods (list is not complete):

  • Edamame (soy beans)
  • Spirulina
  • Peanut Butter and other nut butters
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Spinach
  • Chia Seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chick peas
  • Kidney Beans
  • Black beans
  • Broccoli

Below: one of Michelle’s breakfast skillet dishes:

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Everyone we met on the ranch had a very gentle spirit and I am left to believe that those who are lucky enough to live in such a pure peaceful environment, take on a very grounded, peaceful, gentle, and content demeanor.

One evening before dinner, the manager of Walking Lightly Ranch, Dave, played music for us with his friend Lee. Dave plays guitar and Lee plays cello.  Put the two together and add vocals, lyrics from renown folk singers or lyrics written by Dave or Lee, and you have a delightful impromptu evening of pure joy!  The next day, Lee came to the yoga studio and played cello for one of our yoga sessions.  Wow!!

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We also had an inspirational Shared Reading one evening after dinner. Some of what was shared follows:

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Rumi

 

Mary Oliver
In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

 

The Yoga Exercise by Floyd Skloot

Within a rushing stream of morning light

she stands still as a heron with one soul

held flush against the other inner thigh

and her long arms like bony wings folded

back so that when the motion of a breeze

passes through her body there is a deep

repose at its root and in an eye’s blink

she has become this gently swaying tree

stirring the wind of its breath while linked to ground by the slow flow of energy

that brings her limbs together now in prayer

and blessing for the peace she is finding there.

I already look forward to going back to Walking Lightly Ranch for another long weekend retreat. Not too early to sign up for February 2019.  Just let me know of your interest by commenting below and I’ll be in touch with you.

Feb 15-18, 2019 (3 nights) Yoga + Snow Shoeing (two guides: one for an easier shorter trail and another for more challenging longer trails offered on both days).

and further down the line…

May 22-25, 2020 (3 nights) Yoga + Hiking (just like this past one)

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I came back from Sicily and hit the ground running with teaching my weekly classes, leading the Vashon Yoga Retreat (a blog post yet to come!) and leading the Montana Yoga Retreat, doing workouts geared to get me in shape for a 5k Run for the Ovarian Cancer Fundraiser I am doing for my friend Lynn Fallows and for a duathlon I am doing with my nephew Chuck in Chicago in August (am I insane…a duathlon in August in Chicago??).  AND Jury Duty, on top of it all, these past two days.  I really wanted to be on the case as it appeared to be very interesting, but just got dismissed today.  A much needed quiet restful weekend at Ocean Shores awaits me this coming weekend.

OM SHANTI

Yoga and Hiking in Sicily

May 24, 2018

I will let the slideshow of the Yoga and Hiking in Sicily say it all!  The slideshow is set to the music of Carmen Consoli called Madre Terra, Mother Earth.  Carmen Consoli is from Catania, Sicily and has a soulful voice that is as rich as the Sicilian soil.  Turn up the volume!

I do want to mention that most everywhere we went has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The retreat was a complete success and, though I have been back only 10 days, I miss Sicily terribly.  I miss my group, the caretakers and cooks at the villa, and all the wonderful people I have met via my Sicily journeys.

Not too early to sign up for next year’s yoga retreats in Sicily. Contact me for more information:

Week I September 7-14, 2019 (Yoga + Cultural Outings, includes a visit to a ricotta farm, a day at a cooking school, two fabulous winery visits)

Week II  September 14-21, 2019 (Yoga + Hiking, includes one cooking course and a visit to a winery)


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