Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Friday, June 23, 2017

Reaching the End of the Earth

Heading for Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope

Until I actually got there, I figured I was traveling to one of the ends of the earth, the promontory that was the southernmost point of Africa. But our guide helpfully destroyed this notion by pointing out that modern cartographers claim the southernmost land on the continent actually lies about 90 miles tot he southeast at Cape Agulas. Nonetheless, the point where the Indian and Atlantic Ocean currents merge fluctuates between that obscure tip and Cape Point, where I happened to be standing at the time. And it's true that when ships approached from the west, it's at Cape Point that they begin traveling east, rather than south.

New Cape Point lighthouse
So, I at least reached the southwestern-most point of Africa where I took the Flying Dutchman Funicular to what's still called the new lighthouse.  The light of the new Cape Point lighthouse, built in 1914, is the most powerful on the South African coast, with a range of 63 miles

There's a sign adjacent to the lighthouse that points out distances for those who haven't yet completed their journeys. I learned that though I stood a distant 11,642 kilometers from Sydney and 6248 from the South Pole, I was only 6,055 kilometers from Rio de Janiero. Those three site are on my to-see list, for certain. To prove my hardiness, though, I walked down the winding path to the bottom.

On the trip out from Cape Town, our bus also stopped at Boulder Rock, where I visited  the marvelous South African penguins. Because oft their bray, they sometimes are called jackass penguins. An endangered species, they are much smaller than the Antarctic Emperor birds you may have seen at a zoo. At full adulthood they range from just under five pounds to nearly eight, while the Emperors can reach nearly 70 pounds.

Love birds at Boulders Beach
The monogamous South African adult pairs return to the same site each year. At Boulders Beach they allow humans to get within a yard or so of them, but we were warned not to try to attract their attention in any way whatsoever. This is their turf, and we're forbidden to toss food at them, call to them, or stick selfie sticks over the stone barriers to try to get their attention. They seemed to be blissfully oblivious of the hundreds of gawkers who were snapping their photos the day I visited. African Penguins swim an average of 4.5 miles per hour but can reach speeds of 15 mph if they feel a need to. They swim by using their feet as rudders and their wings as flippers. They move their feet when swimming at the surface.

Kirstenbosch Gardens

When you only have a couple of hours to visit one of the world's most beautiful botanical gardens, you have to plan your time to fit your interests. I had known of the Mandela statue, and wanted to see that, and also of the temporary exhibit of dinosaurs. I was lucky enough to get to both before I had to head back to the bus. Kirstenbosch Gardens would be worth several days' explorations. 

Nelson Mandela
From the Gardens brochure:
Nelson Mandela. A bust of Nelson Mandela stands beside the pepper-bark tree (Warburgia salutaris) that Nelson Mandela planted on his visit to Kirstenbosch on 21 August 1996. The bust was sculpted by John Francis Gardner and donated to Kirstenbosch by the sculptor in January 2010. It portrays Nelson Mandela during the pivotal years of his presidency and captures his radiance and generosity of spirit the world has grown to love. Mandela's bust and tree can be found just inside the Visitors' Centre entrance to the Garden, at the bottom of the main lawn.

Extinction! Dinosaurs, and Cycads?
An exhibition featuring five life-sized, anatomically correct dinosaurs and a pterosaur, sculptured in tin, in amongst the cycads in the Cycad Amphitheatre. The sculptures are by David Huni. The exhibition draws attention to the fact that many of South Africa’s cycads are on the brink of extinction, and could soon face the same fate as the dinosaurs, but it is a crisis caused not by an asteroid impact but almost entirely by mankind. The aim of the exhibition is to raise awareness about the threats faced by cycads, and to increase public participation and support for cycad conservation and research. The exhibition will run until June 2017.

Table Mountain

No trip to Cape Town would be complete without going to the top of Table Mountain. I went on a hot afternoon, and was grateful for the fans in the cafe above the cable car station and gift shop. While my companion gamboled over boulders to take photographs, I relaxed with a cold iced tea, and looked up from my Kindle now and then to stare at a mural that fascinated me, "The Invention of Walking Feathers." 

The artist, Walter Battiss (6 January 1906 – 20 August 1982), Wikipedia tells me, "was generally considered to be the foremost South African abstract painter and known as the creator of the quirky Fook Island concept." In 1949, he became friendly with Picasso, who encouraged his style. Then in 1972, he visited Seychelles, which inspired his make-believe Fook Island.

Fook Island could be the subject of another whole blog. Check out its fascinating story here: 
A modern natural wonder
Cable car to the top
View of Table Mountain from below

The Invention of Walking Feathers

Monday, June 12, 2017

A Horse of Another Color

The lure...October apples on my fenceline
Last Saturday my boyfriend and I stopped at an intersection not far from his home in Orange, CA,  while a pair of gorgeous blonde palominos crossed the street, on their way to a training paddock. It's rare for me to see such creatures trotting along here. I began to reminisce about the days in Colville WA when I got nearly daily visits from my neighbor's retired racehorse. Usually, I one dog or another accompanied me in my gambol around my pastures. Eventually, though, I took only Tsunami, the female Akita. My neighbor's horse did not like gentle Natty. Here's why, according to my late husband, Ken Wilson.

Horsing Around

When Ken and I first moved into our retirement home not far from the Canadian border, he pointed out that the sprawling building in the back pasture wasn’t really a barn, as I’d referred to it, but a stable. He always admired precision in language, I’d learned.

“Look, it’s mostly open to the air, and it’s got four stalls. We actually could house a few horses. We’ve got plenty of pasture for them to graze on.”

I looked around the fields doubtfully. A western movie fan, Ken knew the breed, gender and name of every one of his film heroes’ horses, but confessed he’d ridden only a few times as a youth. For a man who bragged about rising daily at the break of noon, I doubted he’d be up at dawn tending to large animals. Plus, I knew full well who it was who walked, fed and combed Tsunami, the Akita he’d brought home as a puppy, swearing I’d never have to lift a finger or a pooper scooper.

“Ken, you’re really not much of one for riding,” I finally said.

“Hey, probably more than you,” he said, laughing. “I bet the closest you ever got to a horse was a painted pony on a merry-go-round,”

“Not so,” I cried. That afternoon I dug in my duffel bag of childhood photos. My grandfather had been a blacksmith, shodding plenty of horses when gypsy caravans travelled through southwest Los Angeles in the early ‘40s. I yanked out a couple of old black and white Brownie shots of Grandpa at his anvil, and waved them.

Grandpa Joe, blacksmith

“I don’t see any horses.” Ken smiled a bit condescendingly.

I plowed around a little more. OK, this would do…here I was, draped in a serape and sporting a sombrero, seated side saddle, valiantly struggling not to look terrified.

Ken glanced at the picture and shook his head. “You’re not very observant when it comes to equines. It’s not a horse; it’s a donkey. Are you sure you can tell a whinny from a hee-haw?”

“Well, I was five, and probably didn’t know the difference. But Monte Montana, the trick rider, came once to my elementary school with his pinto, Rex. Monte was decked out in a rhinestone and sequin-studded outfit that made my own majorette uniforms look pale in comparison.”
Monte on Rex

Ken smiled again. “And did you ride Rex?”

“No, but I petted him. I didn’t exactly grow up with spurs that jingle jangled, but once the summer before I started junior high Daddy drove us out to Corriganville and we got to ride. I cantered through the streets of Silvertown and around Robin Hood Lake.” I didn’t add that I could barely walk for the following week from muscle aches and saddle sores.

“Let’s just settle for admiring our neighbors’ horses,” I said, after a brief reflection. “The guy next door has three or four, including a pretty gray mare that keeps coming up to our fence.”

 “Well, you can toss her an apple from time to time. Just don’t let her bite you. I hear those old gray mares ain’t what they used to be.” He tussled my hair. “They can get cranky when they get old, turn into real nightmares!”

“I’ll keep my distance,” I promised.

 Though I never learned her real name, I called what I now thought of as my foster horse, Mary. She’d gallop across the field up to our adjoining fence whenever I took the dog to the back pasture for grooming. This was often, since Tsunami frequently went into seasonal shed mode, especially in this colder climate. I’d toss Mary a carrot and wait until she was busy chewing it before I’d reach across the fence to pat her silky mane.
The Gray

Maybe I don’t have my own horse for a pet, I thought, but what a neat arrangement. I didn’t have to feed her, groom her or exercise her, yet Mary would run to the fence to keep my company and would act happy to see me. Especially now in October when our apple tree branches sagged under the weight of the fruit.

Ken announced an alternative plan for the stable. “With a little chicken wire, I can fence off part of it, so when Tsunami is ready to have puppies, we’ll have a safe place to raise them.”

Those plans soon were dashed when Tsunami tore her anterior cruciate ligaments and needed surgery. Ken decided it might be a congenital weakness, and rather than risk passing any fault to potential pups, he reluctantly had his beautiful tri-color purebred spayed.

After that, he settled into a sedentary routine, which excluded much ambling about the pastures. True to his earlier promise, he rose late in the morning, and whiled away the afternoon watching his beloved westerns. He’d listen patiently as I’d babble about Mary, how tolerant she was of Tsunami’s growls and grumbles, and how her eyes seemed to light up when she saw me coming her way, but never volunteered to join us for our afternoon rendezvous.

“Yep,” he’d say with a chuckle. “You girls make a fine trio, three old dames, set out to pasture.”

I’d just giggle, but it was an image I held dear…an aging lady, her dog and her foster horse.

One afternoon Ken returned from The Flour Mill, a feed store in town, with a wiggling ball of black fur.

“I felt the need of male companionship,” he announced. “This is Natty. You have Tsunami and
Natty, 2011
Mary…I need a buddy, too.”

For several weeks Natty cuddled on Ken’s lap most of the day, and nuzzled Tsunami at night. Soon, though, the pup grew too big and too adventuresome to roam outside by himself to take care of his business. Now he needed to be leashed. Once again, the dog walking fell to me. I noticed, however, that when I’d take him, rather than Tsunami, to the back pasture, Mary behaved differently. She’d edge close to the fence, but as Natty neared, she’d snarl. She acted as if she hated him.

“Something’s wrong with Mary,” I told Ken that evening. “She snorts, rather than knickers when I take Natty out. I don’t think she likes him.”

“I’ll go out there with you tomorrow. We’ll see if it’s Natty, or if it’s men in general that she dislikes.”

On our way to the far pasture together the next afternoon, I pocketed some apples. As we approached the fence, Mary ambled across her field and neighed in a welcoming way. I tossed my apple. She bobbed down to retrieve it. Ken grabbed my empty hand.

“Honey,” he began, squeezing my fingers. “Remember when I said you probably couldn’t tell a whinny from a hee-haw? Didn’t know a burro from a pony?”

“Come on, Ken. I know Mary’s not a donkey. Look how big she is. She’s a horse.”

“Indeed she is, but the old gray mare not only ain’t what she used to be…she never was.”

Mary whinneyed and I tossed her an apple with my free hand.

“When you look at that animal, what do you see?” Ken sounded genuinely curious.

“Big teeth, kind eyes, a nice mane, a fluffy tail.”

“That’s your problem. You don’t look closely enough. It’s a he, baby, not a she. That’s why this animal doesn’t like Natty. He’s jealous.”

I looked dubious. I scanned the underside of the horse quickly, but didn’t notice anything that I’d always referred to as an animal’s dingledangles.

“I don’t see how you can tell.”

The apple tree in blossom
“Believe me, I can. This is a gelding, so it’s not as obvious, but if you lean over and look closely at its undersides, you’ll see it’s not a female.”

I blushed with embarrassment at never having taken the time to check, for simply assuming. Ken had joked before that I couldn’t tell a Mercedes from a Maserati, but I’d always thought I could tell male from female, except, maybe in kittens. Or goldfish.

Ken looked amused. “Johnny Cash sang about a boy named Sue,” he said. “Guess you can call a boy horse Mary.”

“Oh, shut up. Don’t try to make me feel less stupid. I’ll just call him Marv.” At that moment I felt I hadn’t any more sense than God gave little green apples. Let alone any horse sense.

I turned toward the horse and tossed the poor old boy another apple. Poor thing. He deserved a treat, I decided.

After dinner, Ken switched on the TV. “Hey, here’s a show you might want to watch,” he declared.

“What’s it called?”

Grey’s Anatomy. A good one for the girl who didn’t notice the gray’s anatomy.”
P. S. Later, after Ken died, I located a 1917 photo of Grandpa Joe in front of his blacksmith shop...with plenty of horses! Here he is, a hundred years ago.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Buddhists Had a Word for It

The Laughing Buddha
Sometimes I forget to count my blessings. Sometimes I even feel gripped by jealousy or envy. Does that ever happen to you? Here's a story I wrote this morning, reminding myself that every day, at my age, brings something to feel joy about.

Aglow is Me

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.”~Helen Keller

Frank and I serve as one another’s “fail-safes.” Because we’re both octogenarians who live alone, we prize the assurance of knowing we’re still alert and alive at daybreak and bedtime. We take turns calling one another every morning at 7:30 and every night at 10. 

So, though it’s a joy to hear the phone jingle at these anticipated times, when it rang close to midnight, I ran to my computer desk to snatch up the receiver with my right hand, while my left hand flew to cover my suddenly thudding heart.

I blinked rapidly, bad news possibilities crowding my mind. Did he need a ride to the ER? Was there another leaky water pipe? Had something happened to a grandchild?

I’d been on a bad luck streak the past several days. It had started when I’d taken my car in for what I thought would be a minor adjustment to the air conditioner. Instead, I’d learned that the engine needed major repairs. The following day, when I recovered it from the shop, my lunchtime tryst with Frank had been spoiled when I backed into a yellow safety stanchion in the restaurant parking lot, denting the back fender.

Even the check I’d requested from my credit union to cover these unexpected repair bills hadn’t arrived the day I expected it, apparently lost in the mail. I’d even phoned my son, who is on all my financial accounts, and he hadn’t received it either.

I’d forgotten what it felt like to expect good news. Earlier that day I’d closed an email to my best friend with I’d even closed an email to my closest friend with the words “woe is me.” 

 “Sorry to call you so late, sweetheart, but you’d said earlier you were going to be reading for a while.”

“What’s happened?” I asked, raking my fingers through my bangs. I was hoping whatever it was wouldn’t require me to get dressed and drive to his condominium a dozen miles away. Of course, I’d do it, I reminded myself. After all, he’d do it for me.

Before he could respond, I continued. “Are you all right? Do you need to go to the ER?”

“Calm down, honey. It’s wonderful news,” he said.

“It better be at this hour,” I said. “My heart’s pounding. I’d expected the worst.”

“Remember that story you helped me edit? The one about the fire at my synagogue?”

A retired university professor, Frank had published several scholarly articles and even a book. For the past year, though, he’d been working on some personal pieces, and a historical novel.   I’d been helping him adopt a more informal style. He’d worked on a piece about how members of two completely different religious faiths had banded together. I’d helped him shape it and revise it. Finally, we decided it was time to submit it for consideration to an anthology.

“Sure,” I said, remembering how I’d hoped he wouldn’t be too disappointed if his first submission wasn’t accepted. These days there’s enormous competition for publication in anthologies. Even I, who’d had been writing true stories for nearly a decade. hadn’t received many acceptances recently…just another reason I no longer expected happy news.

I waited impatiently for Frank to continue. “Well?” I barked.

“I got an email from the editor that it’s under consideration for publication.”

A tingle started at my toes and worked its way up to my scalp. My cheeks felt flushed, and my fingers trembled as they clutched the phone.

“That’s wonderful news, sweetheart. Wonderful. I can’t believe how happy that makes me feel.”

Frank laughed. “I knew you’d be delighted. I so much appreciate all the suggestions you made. I didn’t check my email today until I got home from a meeting…and even though I knew how late it was, I couldn’t resist phoning.”

“You’ve given me a lovely way to close the day,” I said. “This is my second piece of good news. You remember I told you once that my Grandma Gertie insisted that good things come in three?”

“Why threes? Why good things? After all, it’s three strikes and you’re out.”

I smiled. Frank and I both love research. I’m always consulting the Oxford English Dictionery and he’s constantly checking his Encyclopedia of Judaica. Once when I’d complained that while I knew that “schadenfreude” was the German word for pleasure derived from the misfortune of others, I didn’t know what its antonym was, the opposite that meant taking joy in others’ good fortune. 

Frank had looked it up. “Mudita,” he’d told me. “It’s Sanskrit. It means unselfish joy in the good fortune of others.”

Even though it was the witching hour (and I planned to look up the origin of that phrase the next day), I couldn’t resist explaining how Grandma had arrived at her conclusion. 

“Well, she explained that here on the third planet from the sun, three wise men once traveled to a faraway manger to greet a newborn baby. But a few years ago, I’d looked up ‘third time’s a charm,’ in the Oxford English Dictionery, and it apparently traces back to Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor.” 

I could hear Frank’s grandfather clock begin to toll twelve in the background. I needed to say goodnight. Once we got started on etymology, Frank and I could go on for hours.

“Honey, it’s midnight. Thanks so much for letting me know your good news. I’m all aglow for you.”

“Wait! What are the other two good things that happened to you today?”

“Only two so far. While we’ve been talking, I’ve been checking my email. I have one from my son who says that the credit union sent my check to his address. It’s not lost after all. But I’m certain a third will come along. Maybe I’ll have sweet dreams about you.” 

I crawled back into bed, assured that Frank would be calling me at 7:30 to make certain I was safe. I felt aglow with vicarious joy, thrilled for Frank and his news that his story had a chance at publication and that I’d been able to help him.

Our phone calls to each other automatically counted as two good things that happened every single day, I realized before drifting off to sleep. Then it struck me. That we both were alive and alert, and able to answer our phones, was a third thing right there. Why hadn’t I seen that?

I could hardly wait for our morning call to remind Frank that we opened our days with a fail-safe “mudita.”
Frank editing his novel on the Queen Elizabeth Indian Ocean cruise