One cannot circumnavigate the world without sailing to dangerous places. One of those places was Sri Lanka in 2007.  We hadn’t planned to stop at this island nation, southeast of India; we’d flown there a few years before and had taken the country tour then. Our planned circumnavigation route would have taken us across the Indian Ocean from Thailand to the Maldives. But the weather gods were not cooperating. The three of us on Pacific Bliss—my husband Gunter, our crew, Chris, and I—had endured a miserable crossing of the Bay of Bengal, six days of one rainstorm after another. We welcomed any refuge from lumpy seas, even though we knew that Sri Lanka was at war with the Tamil Tigers in the north of this island shaped like a tear-drop.

While underway, I had a pleasant SSB radio conversation with a commercial ship captain with a clipped British-Indian accent:

“Where are you from?”

“America. California.”

“Oh, such a nice place. I’m Sri Lankan. My name is Colombo. Welcome to my country.”

“Thank you. I look forward to being there.”

“Are you coming to Galle?”

“Yes.”

“It is very safe there. But do not be afraid of the depth charges they set off at night. It is to ward off the Tamil Tigers. Tamil divers could swim into the harbor to plant a bomb onto one of our navy ships. The charges will sound like a bomb, and you will feel it with your little ship.”

“Thank you for letting me know”

“It is safe to travel in my country. You must go to Kandy, in the highlands, and to Colombo. Not to the north-northeast though. That is where the fighting is going on.” 

What a pleasant exchange that was!

The following is an excerpt from my book, The Long Way Back:


An Unplanned Stop in Sri Lanka
06º 01’N, 80º13’E
Galle, Sri Lanka
February 9, 2007

Despite the miseries that we’ve endured this past week, part of the joy of traveling is encountering the unexpected…Serendipity brought us to Sri Lanka. And I’m fascinated that the country’s original name was Serendip, an Arab traders’ word applied to the land long before the Portuguese came on the scene. It reflected the lucky circumstance of their discovery and contact. Today, in its native Sinhala tongue, Sri Lanka means Land of the Blessed. For us, being here is indeed blessed and serendipitous.

Günter and I intend to understand its people and culture better—and, yes, even its continuing civil war. This war caused us to strike Sri Lanka from our original circumnavigation plan. Now, though, we cannot avoid its ongoing cruelty. We arrive at dawn’s light, crossing the shipping channels at 90 degrees and deviating course twice to sail behind giant freighters.

“You never want to cross in front of a freighter,” Günter tells Chris, “because it can take one of those monsters up to four miles to stop.”

As instructed via VHF, we prepare the ship for anchoring outside the harbor. It doesn’t take long to see the guns. We’ve never experienced an entrance like this! Two small runabouts, with mounted machine guns, race toward our boat while men wave and point to where they want us to drop the hook. Next, we spot a huge navy vessel—tons of sleek steel glinting in the morning sun—coming around the breakwater. Three Immigration Officers from the navy vessel board Pacific Bliss, while the two speedboats keep circling us. 

The officers conduct a thorough inspection of Pacific Bliss and give us forms to fill out.  These are immigration forms, and each asks the same questions over and over. The process lasts half an hour. Then, after stamping the paperwork, one officer asks for “smokes.” Wisely, we had purchased a few cartons just for this purpose. Chris distributes a pack to each officer.

We’ll have a two-hour wait before being shown inside the harbor, but we don’t mind; we’re happy to have our first onboard breakfast in a week in calm water. After breakfast, via VHF, we hire a local agent, G.A.C. Shipping, to handle the rest of the voluminous paperwork that will allow Pacific Bliss to berth here. 

Later, a navy officer boards our ship to direct Günter to a berth inside the harbor. As we enter, we note that it’s entirely roped off, except for one small lane for fishing boats and yachts. The officer presents us with three choices: to tie up to a black buoy in the center, where we’d have to use our dinghy to get to shore; to Med-moor to a floating dock, consisting of wobbly plastic sections with no handholds; or to raft to one of the monohulls along the sea wall. We choose the third option and raft to a small monohull flying an Italian flag. Now we can walk across the monohull and from there, onto dry land.

“Well, we’re finally safe,” Günter declares with a sigh. “But we’re not going to do any serious touring until we graduate to a berth directly on the sea wall. Tomorrow, we’ll just walk around Galle and mingle with the locals.”

That first night, cradled by Pacific Bliss and swaying with the current, I fall asleep feeling like we are still at sea. KA-BOOM! I jerk awake. I hear and feel the thunderous boom right through the water and the hull. Oh my God! What have we gotten ourselves into?

Günter pulls me over to him and hugs me tight. “It’s the depth charges, remember? They told us this would happen.”

Talk about encountering the unexpected!

“It feels like we’re in a war zone!” 

“We are. It’s the price we pay for taking refuge from the storm.” 

***

Touring Sri Lanka. After exploring Galle our first day ashore, we were invited to our shipping agent’s home for dinner. Later we hired a car and driver and took a South Coast tour, including a one-day safari. Then we drove to Kandy and rode a train through the highlands. A few days later, we explored Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) a pilgrimage site. Chris rose at daylight to climb the peak; I went there later and made it halfway before turning back.

A fisherman in southwestern Sri Lanka
A fisherman in southwestern Sri Lanka Photo credit: The Long Way Back, page 227
Sri Lanka Waterfalls
Our crew, Chris, at one of the many waterfalls in Sri Lanka’s interior Photo credit: The Long Way Back, page 228
Elephant near Kandy, Sri Lanka
An elephant bathing near Kandy, Sri Lanka comes right up to us on shore! Photo credit: The Long Way Back, page 231

After a week, we three were well-rested, invigorated, and ready to leave Sri Lanka. Chris provided a creative surprise: he brought local monks over to bless our catamaran! They tied a string around the entire perimeter, came on board, and gave their blessing to everything inside, including us! Now we could safely leave this magical land of Serendip.

Monks
Monks bless Pacific Bliss before we sail off to the Maldives Photo credit: The Long Way Back, page 229

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

Last night was a turning point for the seasons here in Northwestern Wisconsin. We went to bed in the summer. We awoke in autumn.

Yesterday, a summer wind from the south blew strong, rustling leaves and causing whitecaps on White Ash Lake. At bedtime, I thought I heard rain. I stepped out onto the patio. In the darkness, wind brushing against branches sounded like rain, but the patio was dry underneath my bare feet. By 3 a.m. though, wind blew through my open bedroom window, followed by streaks of lightning and claps of thunder. In that moment, summer passed into autumn. 

Coral Bells in Autumn.
Coral Bells in Autumn.

The morning dawned cool and fresh. The gardens looked bedraggled and drowned, but I knew they would recover. Our wind-chime lay shattered on the porch steps. The plastic watering cans were beaten up, but they’re easy to replace. The top-heavy canna lily suffered the worst: left lying, root-bound among pottery shards. I ambled around Northern Bliss, picking up a dead oak branch here and there, marveling at the sudden change. How had autumn crept up so fast? Then I realized that the subtle signs had been there all along: hostas and lilies yellowing, hydrangeas turning burgundy red, trees changing half-green and half-red, grasses swept red and gold  by cooler breezes. Black-eyed Susans and lavender asters fill the roadsides ditches now.

Gunter and I purchased the properties that became Northern Bliss ten years ago this fall and since then, we’ve been “snowbirds,” flying back to San Diego at the first sign of frost. But this year will be different: Gunter is scheduled for a complete knee replacement this week, and he intends to do his physical therapy here. Equipment is being delivered almost every day: stand-up chair, walker, raised toilet seat, special shower seat, recumbent exercise bike—all intended for his recovery. We’ll most likely return after Thanksgiving—our first at Northern Bliss.

Although I don’t look forward to the first frost, or the second, or the final “killing frost,” I do relish the thought of pumpkins on the doorsteps and mums on the patio. My basement storage shelves contain décor for spring, summer and winter; I have no section for autumn. Yay! That means it’s time to shop. Recently I purchased a pair of pilgrim statues for the fireplace mantle. Rest assured, there will be more to come!

Trees change from green to gold
Trees change from green to gold.

This year, instead of packing up to leave,  I’ll be celebrating the change of seasons—all the while trusting God to keep Gunter safe while the surgeon changes out his knee. We can all look at fall, with its colorful, dancing leaves, as a second spring. The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let useless things go.

May you enjoy the changes in your view and in your life, wherever you live. Bring it on!

Read more blogs about Northern Bliss:

Returning to Northern Bliss: 50 Shades of Green

A Winter-Wonderland Holiday in Northwest Wisconsin

The Miracle of Autumn

Tornado! Disaster at Northern Bliss

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


I have wild and nursery-grown Joe Pye Weed blooming in the naturalized section of Northern Bliss gardens this month. Despite the recent drought in the Midwest, these plants are taller than ever. The only differences between the wild Joe Pye—which has grown in the same spot for years—is that the nursery variety has a more intense color that doesn’t fade as fast.

Joe Pye weed
One stem of Joe Pye Weed at Northern Bliss Gardens.

Joe Pye weeds (Eupatorium) are native essentials for any pollinator garden. These plants are attractive because of their hardiness as well as their popularity with butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. There are several species; all have tall leafy stems with flat or rounded heads of small-but-bountiful, showy flowers. Because they can rise to 6-8 feet tall, I keep them confined to our lot border near the Rain Garden, and also behind a couple of tall boulders. Joe Pye is a tough perennial that loves moist conditions but can withstand high summer temperatures. The flowers bloom bright purple-pink in August when most perennials are fading.

Nursery-grown Joe Pye weed
Nursery-grown Joe Pye Weed (eupatorium purpureum).
Wild Joe Pye as backdrop to black-eyed susan
Wild Joe Pye forms a backdrop to Black-eyed Susan, Swamp Milkweed, and Cardinal Flower.

 

What’s in a name? When my friends and family tour Northern Bliss Gardens, they ask,” Why is this called Joe Pye? Who was he?” The story begins with an Eastern Algonquian Indian medicine man named Zhopai and is set in the area around Stockbridge, New York (east of Syracuse). His name was anglicized to Joe Pye. When a typhoid epidemic struck the area, Joe successfully treated Indians using two plants of the genus Eupatorium, “Joe Pye” and Boneset. Legend has it that a white man from a neighboring town had befriended the local Indians while repairing their plows and harnesses. He begged their medicine man, Zhopai, to cure his two young sons who were dying of the fever. “You can see that I’m an older man, I probably will have no more children,” he said. “Save their lives and I will give you everything I have—including my farm.” Because the white man had done a lot for his people in the past, Joe turned down the offer but agreed to help the man’s sons. He treated them with Boneset and “Joe Pye.” Miraculously, they lived!

Later, the Stockbridge Indians were forcibly removed to Wisconsin to make more room for European settlers. They were taken to Wisconsin in the dead of winter and deposited on land belonging to the Menominee people, who pitied them and even gave them part of their land. This band is still in Wisconsin, where it is called the Stockbridge Munsee.

Zhopai stayed behind with whites in New York State, but as his family left, he gave each of his grandchildren a bag filled with Joe Pye seeds. “Scatter them on your journey, whenever you pass a wet or swampy area,” he said. “When I’m well enough to follow you, I will know you passed this way.” The old man never made the trip; however, Joe Pye Weed, his legacy, is indeed scattered all the way from the eastern U.S. to Wisconsin. Source: Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask, by Mary Siisip Geniusz.

A second legend: Another version of the Joe Pye legend was told to me by a nursery worker: In this story, the medicine man, Zhopai, used a brew made from this plant to cure the blacksmith’s two sons of typhoid. Because of this, the father’s lifelong dream was to spread Joe Pye from east to west. His sons heeded the call, “Go west, young man!” and prepared to take off to settle the new land. Their father was too ill and old to make the trip, but asked his two sons to spread the seeds along ponds and marshes as far west as they could go. They stopped in Wisconsin, and that’s why Joe Pye Weed is sold as a “native wildflower” here.

The facts as we know them: My curiosity drove me to dig deep into research, where I unearthed archives of The Great Lakes Botanist, Vol 56. The year Joe Pye Weed entered the English language was 1818, according to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. It gives the origin of the name as “unknown.”  Popular literature on native plants associate Zhopai with the colonial days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, specifically to English settlers from 1628-1691. Some records attribute spectacular success to Zhopai’s treatment of typhus using the plants that now bear his name, even to the extent of the saving an entire colony of early settlers. Other stories (with no sources cited) portray Zhopai as a traveling salesman with a horse and wagon! Another claimed that he traveled around the Northeast peddling medicines around the time of the American Revolution. Some insisted that he came from the Carolinas. As recently as 2011, Joe was considered to be a Caucasian “snake-oil salesman.” There are also discrepancies about whether Zhopai used the leaves and stems of the plants or the roots. 

Legendary expansion, as it is called, is a phenomenon quite familiar to folklorists and historians. The Botanist found no evidence to support the statements that Zhopai was Caucasian or that he was a peddler or showman of any kind. I prefer to believe the first legend and that’s the one I plan to tell. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the exuberance of Joe Pye Weed blowing in the wind at Northern Bliss.

Rain Garden backed by Joe Pye Weed
Rain Garden backed by Joe Pye Weed.

Other stories about Northern Bliss:

How to Drain a Wet Lot https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/how-to-drain-a-wet-lot/

I Never Promised You a Rain Garden https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/i-never-promised-you-a-rain-garden/

Returning to Northern Bliss: Fifty Shades of Green https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/returning-to-northern-bliss-fifty-shades-of-green/

A Winter-Wonderland Holiday in Northwest Wisconsin https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2021/02/14/a-winter-wonderland-holiday-in-northwest-wisconsin/

Wise Old Oak https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/11/13/wise-old-oak/

The Miracle of Autumn https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/10/25/the-miracle-of-autumn/

April is the Cruelest Month https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/april-is-the-cruelest-month/

Tornado: Disaster at Northern Bliss https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/08/16/tornado-disaster-at-northern-bliss/

Recovery from Natural Disasters https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/09/28/recovery-from-natural-disasters/

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


Icelanders are at odds with each other, and they are split 50/50. This battle has nothing to do with politics; it has everything to do with aesthetics, conservation, and the color purple.

Lois with lupines
Lois with lupines

The Alaskan lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis) is under attack. Warriors head for their battlefield in Eastern Iceland, armed with long knives and weed whackers. Their enemy? Purple lupines, stretching high into the mountains above—alien invaders that carpet gorges, sprawl over lava fields and climb the very mountains trekkers used to climb—without pushing through meter-high plants. These Icelandic warriors found that if they slash lupines during their peak blooming season in June, when all their effort goes into the blooms, they have a better chance at killing the enemy. Under the cover of twilight, Lupine Defenders, their pockets full of lupine seeds, visit the scene of devastation to spread them among the fallen, hoping they will rise again. 

Iceland botanicals

Defenders have a point. Tourists and half of Icelanders think the lupine fields are breathtakingly gorgeous. Plus, Lupine Defenders say lupine beauty goes well beyond skin deep. They point to conditions before lupines were introduced by the Icelandic Forest Service. Up to 40% of Iceland was covered by forest before the settlers arrived. Today, there are very few trees, and those that remain are small and twisted. A common joke among Icelanders goes like this: “What do you do if you’re lost in an Icelandic forest? Stand up.”

After 1,100 years of settlement, much of the island was ecologically exhausted from overgrazing and slash-and-burn agriculture. Less than 25% of the island’s green cover remained and strong winds were blowing the remaining soil into the sea. In 1945, Hakon Bjarnson was sent to Alaska by the Forest Service to find plants suitable to revegetate his country. He returned with Alaskan lupine in his luggage, along with a clever plan. Besides reducing erosion, lupines would improve the soil at almost no cost. That’s because—as part of the pea family—they are “nitrogen-fixers.” The plants host bacteria that gather nitrogen from the air, transferring the gas to its root nodules and providing nourishments for other plants. 

Those plants grew quietly around Reykjavik for 31 years until 1976 when an initiative was made to spread the seeds throughout the country. The objective: to improve the soil so trees could grow. When tall, their shade would dominate the three-foot lupines. 

Iceland
Field of lupines Iceland
Field of lupines near Reykjavik.

The plan worked well—too well, detractors say. Scoops of lupine seeds to spread were made available at gas stations! Lupines are tall and dense, so they can starve small plants and moss of crucial sunlight. When I visited Iceland with my granddaughter in late July, 2018, we missed most of the early summer lupine season. When we drove the Ring Road, Route 1, we saw lupines growing alongside a stream, in a few fields, and at the botanical garden in Borganes (Skallagrimsgardur).  Along the way, we talked to many friendly locals and the divisive subject of lupines never came up. We were amazed, however, at the 600-plus species of moss! These lichens draw their nutrients from the environment and are easily contaminated. They grow slowly—about one centimeter in length each year. I’d hate to see any precious moss fields overtaken! 

There are over 600 species of moss in Iceland.
There are over 600 species of moss in Iceland.

Lupine Creep. “Exponential growth is the nature of an invasive species,” says Pawel Wasowicz, a botanist and lupine expert at the Institute of Natural History. The growth curve, he estimates, will peak in the next two decades. Eastern Icelanders have experienced lupine creep in real time. Over the past 17 years, the plant has spread up to 35-fold in areas of East Iceland. 

“We are at the point of no return,” says Arni Bragason, director of Soil Conservation Service of Iceland. “The best thing we can do is reach a consensus about where the plant should be. That has been hard too.”  In the spring of 2018, his agency, the one that introduced lupine decades ago, called for its eradication. After 42 years of providing seeds to the entire country, the agency terminated its lupine project. Grabbing a free scoop of seeds at gas stations is no more! Most of the culling of plants, however, is carried out by volunteers. Cities and towns have been hesitant to allocate money, given the controversy that would entail.

Meanwhile lupine slaughtering parties, followed by determined lupine seeders, continue to roam the landscape.

Lupines along stream Iceland
A stand of lupine alongside a stream.

Do lupines destroy the view? The question is also a point of friction among Icelanders. Old-timers don’t care all that much about revegetation and reforestation. They care about image—and memories. They show visitors an iconic picture of Neil Armstrong salmon fishing in Iceland in 1967, two years before he made history with one small step on the moon. They’re proud to tell you that nine of the twelve astronauts who walked on the moon came to Iceland first. “They were there because in the middle of Iceland’s highlands, NASA had found a landscape that paralleled the lunar: no vegetation, no life, no colors, no landmarks. The entire area was essentially a natural gravel field,” wrote Egill Bjarnason, in his recently-published book, “How Iceland Changed the World.”  

“The term ‘lunar landscape’ is a phrase often used to describe the boundless Icelandic deserts shaped by volcanic eruptions and covered in different shades of lava…their very barrenness is an asset,” Egill continues. 

Magnificent Desolation is the phrase Buzz Aldrin once used to describe the moon. Some Iceland homeowners love that view and regret that their magnificent desolation has been replaced by the color purple. Farmers, on the other hand, appreciate the lupine cover. They recall roads blocked by sandstorms many times every year. 

Magnificent Desolation in Iceland
Magnificent Desolation.

And so the debate continues. If you were an Icelander, which side would you take?

Stories about Iceland: 

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


Pain in Paradise. The first half of June has passed in a whirlwind of activity. Due to a drought enveloping Wisconsin and Minnesota this spring, the unexpected happened: I had to water—not only the new plantings, but everything—trees, bushes, perennials, annuals, and yes, even parts of the lawn! As I trudged around our entire one-acre property called Northern Bliss, dragging a hose during sweltering, record-setting 90-plus-degree heat, I wondered “Where is the bliss?” Other summers, I’ve divided my time between gardening in the morning pursuing creative projects during the hotter afternoon. This June, I’ve spent the mornings watering and the afternoons recovering. For two weeks, muscles aching, I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. 

The local evening news was filled with stories of the unusual Upper Midwestern drought. After the first nine days of temperatures over 90, the talking heads exclaimed: “Our record in here for all summer is 13 days over 90! So far, we’ve had nine days and counting.”

 

Gunter and I chuckled at first. It never rains in Southern California, where we spend our winters. And here, the locals complain of the heat when the temps climb over 80! After 5 more days, we quit laughing. The temperature kept breaking records, the nearby St. Croix River descended to record lows, and even the Great Mississippi shrank under the bridges crossing from Wisconsin to Minnesota. Here at White Ash Lake, one could walk on the shore alongside the riprap that prevents dashing waves from destroying shoreline. 

The local electric company chose the middle of a drought to rake and sow grass to repair the parts of the lawn damaged by burying electric cables last October. We appreciate the good job they did, but their timing was way off. “Just make sure to water those two sections and you’ll be fine,” a worker told me as he climbed into their truck and it rumbled off.  Those sections are at the far corners of the property. Reluctantly, I joined hose lengths together to reach them. More watering! I ordered more sprinklers from Amazon (the local Menards—similar to Lowes or Home Depot—was 100% sold out). With sprinklers spread like octopus legs from the house and cabin, the two well pumps ran all day. The next morning, still in my PJs, I moved and reset them before the sun rose high.  But after 30 minutes, the 1946-era cabin pump had enough. It blew its fuse. 

“Better call Mike,” we said simultaneously.  (He’s our son-in-law and “fixer.”) He found that the pump had burned out—probably because the sand point well was depleted due to receding groundwater. 

“Better call a well driller,” Mike said. Well drillers here are busy, as are plumbers, builders, electricians, and handymen in this part of rural Wisconsin. They are “backed up” until late fall or early spring. Fortunately, we have no visitors booked for the cabin this summer and we do have water in our main house, so we’re okay. Besides, drilling a new well at the cabin would mess up my perennial garden. As for the grass, watering was no longer an option. We would just have to wait for the elusive rain.

Day Tripping. “Let’s blow this pop stand,” I said last Saturday morning. “The forecast is for rain on Sunday—Father’s Day. God knows the farmers need rain more than any other gift they could receive. I think it will happen.” We threw a bag with snacks and water bottles into our Equinox and we were off to Crex Meadows, a wildlife area north of Grantsburg, less than 40 miles away

Crex Meadows is known known as a staging area for Sandhill cranes, but they would have already migrated; however, there’s always something to see. The Meadows encompass 30,000 acres, with wetlands, brush prairies, and forests scattered across a gently rolling landscape. It’s part of the Northwest Wisconsin Pine Barrens. These “Barrens” extend from northern Polk County (where we live) to southern Bayfield County (where we visited last fall); it covers 1500 square miles. This huge, sandy plain was left when a glacier retreated about 13,000 years ago.  The southern part of the Barrens where Crex is located contains huge marshes, part of ancient Glacial Lake.  

The 30,000 acres of Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area is managed by the Wisconsin DNR, Bureau of Wildlife Management. This habitat is now home to over 280 bird species, 720 plant species, 96 butterfly species, and a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Amazingly, every species of mammal found in Wisconsin has been on the Crex property at some point; even moose and mountain lions wander through occasionally.  You can download a map here. 

The Visitor Center wasn’t open when we drove through, but we picked up a map and bird checklist outside in a box to the right of the entry door. In addition to a number of small birds, we saw hundreds of trumpeter swans. Even though we have a resident pair on White Ash Lake, seeing flocks of them was exhilarating! Some swans were close to the overlooks and dike roads, so hiking wasn’t necessary to take these photos:

The Burnett Dairy Cooperative. This co-op has piqued my curiosity ever since I read an article in the local press about how they helped the farming community. It was the last week in March, 2020. Covid-19 had shut the country down.  Within a few weeks of the U.S. lockdown, Gunter and I escaped San Diego to wait it out in the country. With Wisconsin schools shut down, farmers here had lost a valuable distribution outlet. Milk and cheese were a vital part of state school nutrition programs. Restaurants also closed, causing the cheese market to dry up. And shifting butter production from tiny packets for restaurants to large blocks for grocery stores couldn’t happen overnight.

With distribution channels decimated, local farmers were forced to dump most of their milk. “Milk is being disposed of because of a massive and sudden loss of markets — more than half the nation’s restaurants are closed, sales of cheese are down 70 percent and some 44 percent of the nation’s cheese is sold through food service channels,” Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin announced.  Burnett Dairy, a vertically integrated cooperative, came to the rescue: “The Burnett Dairy Cooperative and our member farmers recognized an opportunity to make a difference during an extremely challenging time for our country and the dairy industry,” said Dan Dowling, CEO and president. “Farmers have always been the backbone of the national food supply, so we felt a responsibility to marshal our resources — and a little ingenuity — to fight hunger in our communities….” Cooperating farmers donated milk, Burnett Dairy made it into cheese, and Chell Trucking of Siren, Wisconsin donated refrigerated trucks to distribute cheese to food pantries and other nonprofit  organizations supplying free meals—including the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.

Dumping milk

Burnett Dairy was on our way back to Northern Bliss—that is, if we took the Hwy 70 route from Grantsburg. From the highway, we couldn’t miss the humongous dairy with its sign supporting Wisconsin farmers. As we entered the retail section, we couldn’t believe our eyes! The store is designed with an array of tempting eye-candy islands. It has separate sections for cheese, deli meats, souvenirs, and snacks. In one corner, customers were lined up for scoops of every flavor of ice cream imaginable. Grouped around the perimeter were coolers full of milk, cream, cheese, sausage and pizzas topped with mozzarella, Gouda or cheddar gruyere. The store was packed with families—a destination in its own right. The goodies are also available online. Go to the SHOP NOW section on their website to have cheeses, snacks, puddings and gifts delivered right to your doorstep. We tried the potato pork sausage: excellent!

Support Wisconsin Dairy Farmers sign
Burnett Dairy Coop
Burnett Dairy Cheese Board

Upon returning home, I had the urge to water, but I refused to give in. It WILL rain, I told myself. Sunday, I woke to the sound of a light, gentle rain—perfect for settling all that dry dirt. And later, the rain came down in torrents—a real soaker. Yay! A multitude of prayers were answered. The cold front brought a windy Monday but as I write this, the weather is perfect. The drought isn’t over, but this is a great first step!

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


In the United States, a big vaccine-fueled domestic travel surge is already underway. This summer season will be crowded, and ticket prices are already closing in on the expensive summer of 2019. Internationally, though, the recovery hasn’t taken off yet.

U.S. Travel—Planes. Airport screenings are up 715% from the first half of 2020, which isn’t surprising, due to Covid-19. But they are only 35% down from the 2019 rate. Traffic is rapidly recovering, especially to destinations in the South, the Rocky Mountain States, and Hawaii. One year ago, 56% of the planes at the four largest carriers—American, United, Delta and Southwest—were in storage. As of mid-May, only 21% of those planes were in storage. Some areas are already increasing airline seats: Key West, Florida will have a 141% increase above 2019 levels in June, Sarasota, Florida will be up 136%, Bozeman, Montana, 78%, and Fort Meyers, Florida, up 62%. The Salt Lake City and Orlando hubs are scheduling more seats. Guess which U.S. city will have the biggest loss in seats in June: down 51%? San Francisco. Apparently, this city is no longer a popular tourist destination!

Photo Credit: Bibhash Banerjee from Pexels

U.S. Travel—Hotels. Occupancy rates remain below 2020 levels and way below 2019. During the week of May 2-8, only 56.7% of rooms were occupied. More hotels are reopening anyway; for example, 284,000 additional rooms were available in the first week of May.

International Travel: The European Union took a big step to reopen their borders for fully- vaccinated travelers on May 19. Ambassadors from the 27 EU members agreed to these conditions: Final shots must be taken two weeks before travel from providers approved by WHO or the EU’s medicines regulator. Vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J are all allowed. (The U.S., they say, will soon be added to the “safe” list.) The U.K. standards are different: it has the world divided into red, amber, and green countries. The U.S. is on the amber list: Visitors must test negatively for Covid-19 no more than 72 hours before departing and twice, on the second and eight days after arrival to the U.K.  A ten-day quarantine is still required, though after five days you can take an additional Covid test to get out early.

It’s complicated. European countries not part of the EU─such as Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein─are all expected to follow the EU commission’s recommendations. Iceland already opened to vaccinated tourists in March. If you’re interested in going there this summer, refer to my blogs about my visit there in 2018: Iceland, a Country Rich in Culture and Legend, Iceland’s Ring Road, and Discovering Iceland’s Southeast Coast.

Sculpture in morning light at Borgarnes, Iceland.
Sculpture in morning light at Borgarnes, Iceland.

Some countries may still be under curfew. Italy, for example, recently reduced a longstanding nationwide curfew to begin at 11p.m. instead of an hour earlier. By June 7, that curfew will be extended until midnight and then erased entirely by June 21. France has a nationwide curfew that begins at 9 p.m. Some areas of Germany, Spain, and Greece still have curfews as of this date. Shops, museums, and restaurants in most countries are open, but some restrictions still apply.  For European travelers coming to the U.S., it’s also complicated. In mid-June, my sister-in-law is flying to MPS from Munich, Germany via Iceland Air. She’s fully vaccinated, but will need a Covid-19 test 3 days before leaving. The U.S. required a letter from Gunter, her brother, explaining why she needed to come, as well as a copy of his passport!

Family Reunions. The overwhelming cause of travel booked so far this summer is for family visits or reunions. These represent 32% of group travel plans. Weddings represented another 15%. Some top group vacation destinations are seeing a doubling of reservations for June, July and August compared to 2019. If families had been seeing each other every other month, as in other years, their trip wouldn’t be considered a “reunion.” Now, families are making up for lost time.

Cruises. Cruise enthusiasts have endured a year of suspended cruises in North America and much of the world.  Since the “no sail” order was lifted, cruise lines are following the CDC guidelines for conditional sailing and implementing the changes required. Cruise lines have been releasing their new itineraries. There are strong bookings for Alaska and Europe, in addition to Caribbean cruises, which are always popular. You may want to book now for the next year or two—especially if you have a future cruise credit. Balcony cabins are more popular than ever. Note that cruise fares can usually be adjusted right up until the final payment date and cruise lines are offering flexible cancellation policies.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Traveling with Disabilities. Whether you have a temporary disability, such as recovering from a recent surgery, or a permanent disability, there are travel options for you. Wheel the World has more than 40 travel destinations and tour packages in North America, Mexico, Central and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Travegali.com is an online platform that specializes in accessible tourism. See The Travel Channel for tips for traveling with disabilities. 

My husband and I attended my brother’s 70th Birthday Event at Lake Conroe, TX while he was recovering from knee surgery. I was also using a cane because of a femur fracture that was still healing. We planned on using the courtesy carts to manage the long distances to the gate. But “due to Covid” the volunteer services were no longer active. The airport offered wheelchair service instead. We also used complimentary wheelchair services on our return trip and again, during our trip to our summer home in Wisconsin, where we are now. Don’t let disabilities get you down!

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


Taking photos of people while traveling is not as difficult as you might think. If just the thought of walking up to strangers and taking their pictures causes you to break out into a cold sweat, this blog is for you. I encourage you to focus on the reward. How better to demonstrate to friends and family the charm of far-flung places than to show them the faces of the people who live there? Too many scenics without the faces of people (and animals) will bore your audience after a while.

Which of these photos below will leave a lasting impression of Yemen?

Row of Tower Houses in Sana'a, Yemen
Row of Tower Houses in Sana’a, Yemen
Sana'a vendor chewing qat in market
Sana’a vendor chewing qat, yes it IS spelled with a Q and no U.
Sana'a resident in traditional dress, page 278, The Long Way Back
Sana’a resident in full traditional dress, page 278 The Long Way Back.

Which of these photos of Indonesia will intrigue the viewer the most?

Rinca Island, Indonesia
Rinca Island, Indonesia
Indonesian sailboat
Two-masted Indonesian sailboats called pinisi. page 90 The Long Way Back.
Petal girl, Riung, Indonesia
“Petal Girl,” Riung, Indonesia, page 98 The Long Way Back.

Here’s how to find interesting faces and characters. To convey a sense of place, you want to give the vicarious experience of being there. Now that you’ve moved from scenics to people, how do you achieve that? First, you need to go where locals congregate, such as the market, a dance or theater performance, or any park or museum that’s open to the public.

Chinese exercise in a Beijing Park.
Chinese exercise in a Beijing Park.
Performers on Yangtze River Cruise, China
Performers on Yangtze River Cruise, China
Dancer who preformed at the dedication of a new school in Tonga, page 136, Sailing the South Pacific
Tongan dancer who preformed at the dedication of a new school in Tonga, page 136, Sailing the South Pacific.

Next, you need to break the People Barrier.To get over your fear and that of your subject, adopt a positive, cheery attitude. Relax! Approach your subject with a smile and make him or her comfortable with small talk before you ask permission to take a photo.  Set the scene by taking photos of your subject in the wider setting to convey a sense of place. Then when your ready for the close-ups you want, either come in close or use a telephoto lens. I shot the photos below at a 100mm telephoto range with a Canon EOS digital camera. Some iPhones have an excellent Portrait setting, but that requires you to come in close. Eventually, you’ll develop a sixth sense about how much Up Close and Personal a subject can tolerate.

Stilt Fisherman, Sri Lanka, page 227 The Long Way Back
Stilt Fisherman, Sri Lanka, page 227 The Long Way Back.
Guide in her '80s, Adams Peak, Sri Lanka, page 249, The Long Way Back
Guide in her ’80s, Adams Peak, Sri Lanka, page 249, The Long Way Back.
Mohammed, our go-to man in Eritrea, page 292, The Long Way Back
Mohammed, our go-to man in Eritrea, page 292, The Long Way Back

Keep your eyes wide open to find opportunities. While taking a river walk in a Chinese village, I stumbled upon a father taking birthday photos of his daughter. I stood my distance and photographed him taking the photos. Since I didn’t speak Mandarin, I signaled that I wanted to come closer by waving, smiling, and motioning with my camera. He smiled and waved me in—apparently flattered that I wanted to take a photo of his pretty daughter!

Birthday Girl poses for me
Birthday Girl poses for me.
Another pose by the Chinese girl.
Another pose by the Chinese girl.

Avoid “wooden” group portraits. Antonio,an entrepreneurial fisherman, sold us fish for lunch while our yacht Pacific Bliss was anchored near the island of Mamitupu, San Blas Islands. Later, he came back to display the molas his wife had made, and we purchased a few. He then invited us to a Coming of Age Ceremony for his niece. When he saw me taking photos of the event, he asked whether I would take a photo of his family. “Of course,” I agreed, and added, “I’ll print them overnight and give you a set.” After the Ceremony he led me to his hut. The family posed, serious and still as statues. But they loosened up when I joked around with them. Eventually, I obtained one of my best portraits ever—of his daughter, granddaughter, and puppy:

Fisherman Antonio's Family
Fisherman Antonio’s Family
Mother, child and puppy, Mamitupu, San Blas
Mother, child and puppy, Mamitupu, San Blas.
“Wooden” family portrait vs. proud mother with baby and puppy. Maiden Voyage, pages 126 and 130.

If you’re photographing a group of children, don’t line them up in rows.  Just let them enjoy themselves; keep snapping while they do their thing. If props are nearby, like a picnic table or grassy knoll, group them around, some sitting and others standing. 

Boys, San Blas Archipelago
Boys, San Blas Archipelago.
Marquesan Cutie, Tahuata, page 41, Sailing the South Pacific
Marquesan Cutie, Tahuata, page 41, Sailing the South Pacific.
Palmerston Boys
Palmerston Boys.

Animals have faces too. When taking animal photos, do include the human element whenever you can.During an elephant show in Phuket, Thailand, my sister Loretta bravely volunteered to be “tickled” by an elephant. That became one of her favorite vacation photos. During a trip sponsored by Peregrine Adventures, I visited an animal orphanage in the interior of Thailand run by monks. They rescued baby tigers whose mothers had been killed. I asked our guide to allow me to have my photo taken with one of them. Often, such shows will allow tourists to take photos that include the trainers. That adds interest.

Tickled by an elephant
Tickled by an elephant, page 204, The Long Way Back.
Posing with a tiger
Posing with a tiger, page 438, The Long Way Back

Independent Travel and Walking a Village are the best ways to obtain photographs of locals. It was easy to take photos of locals during our sailing circumnavigation because Gunter and I could easily mix with the locals. That’s more difficult when you’re traveling with a group, and nearly impossible when traveling via cruise ship. We chose the independent travel option for many of our trips. You can customize your trip by looking at the agency’s standard itinerary, then skip some destinations and stay an extra day at others. That allows you time to assimilate to the culture of each stop, go off on your own on the “free days,” and write or type up your notes before moving on. Independent travel agencies usually offer a car-with-driver or a car-driver-guide combination. Often, when approaching a small village, we ask the driver to stop and let us off so that we can walk the village on our own, then join the car at the other end. I’ve written about this approach in my photo blogs: Walking a Village…Uzbekistan, Walking a Village in Myanmar and Walking a Village in India

How to make your own FACES slide show. When you’re traveling, you’ll find yourself gravitating toward landscapes and close-ups. Go ahead, but don’t forget to take photos of people for an additional sense of place. When you’re home and you’ve downloaded your photos, select the ones with people and decide which ones can be assembled into a slide show. When entering each new country during our circumnavigation, Gunter and I went to music stores to find CDs—preferably by local artists—to use as a soundtrack for our slide shows.

Here’s a link to a slide show I named FACES OF CHINA. It’s more than a selection of portraits. I’ve alternated close-ups and posed group photos with action and movement to (hopefully) keep the viewer interested. I’ve also interposed a few sculptures, and even pandas, ending with portraits of Chairman Mao at Heavenly Palace in Beijing. 

I wish you the best of luck, taking your own photos from around the world. Feel free to ask me any questions. I’d love to help you if I can!

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


“Kindness is the mark we leave on the world.”

Do memories of a place you’ve visited come back to you with a yearning, an ache, that pulls you back? You just may decide you’d love to re-visit that location that tugged at your heartstrings.

Why? At first, landscapes come to mind. You have visions of sweeping vistas, gurgling brooks, snow-capped peaks. But then your mind focuses in and you realize that it is the friendliness of the locals that make you want to return.

During our world circumnavigation, Gunter and I came across powerful places and friendly people who pulled us in and caused us to fall in love.

Local Women of Waterfall Bay

Two local women walk along the shores of Waterfall Bay collecting shellfish. Sailing the South Pacific, page 254.

The Propeller Thank You Party in Vanuatu. One place that stole our hearts was Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides), an archipelago of 80 Melanesian islands. Gunter and I had recently attended week-long festivities honoring the installation of a new chief at Waterfall Bay, in Vanua Lava, one of the Northern Banks islands. We left fond memories those villagers behind and anchored in Vureas Bay on our way back to Luganville. As soon as we were settled, rowers came to welcome us. We recognized the men from the festival and remembered that they had to leave early because of a faulty prop. Gunter had looked at it there and tried to fix it, as had other cruisers.

     “How is the prop?” Gunter asked.

     “Still broken. We cannot trust it to go out to fish,” our friend Graham replied.

     We’re concerned. A setback like this could be disastrous for the village.

     Gunter offered them our dinghy’s spare prop. The villagers were surprised to see that it was shiny, black, and brand new.

     “Such a good prop, just for us?”

     “We will not need it. Soon we will leave from Luganville, sail past New Caledonia and on to Australia. We will leave our yacht there during the cyclone season,” Gunter explained.

     Grateful for the prop, the locals invited us to a thank you party.

From Sailing the South Pacific:
When we arrive, we’re amazed at the setting. A fish line has been strung between two lines and a post. Draped over that line is an abundance of tropical flowers and long plant leaves. Inside this boundary lies a western-style, rooster-print tablecloth covered with many mats and containers, all bursting with food: manioc with nuts, yam laplap-and-coconut, baked papaya, chicken with vegetable greens, and prawns.

“Sit,” an auntie commands us. She is a large, plump woman, wearing a flowered muumuu housedress. We settle onto the grass. About a dozen villagers gather around, but they all remain standing. I motion for them to sit on the grass, too. They shake their heads no.None of the locals—including the children—will take their own food until we begin to eat.

I say grace and then they pass the food to Gunter and me. We receive glass dishes and spoons. “Sorry, we don’t have forks,” our host apologizes. The village nurse, another guest, is offered food next, followed by a couple of men. Our host and hostess and the ladies who prepared the food all stand to the side, smiling. They say they will eat later. After we’ve eaten, the men tell us how much they appreciate the new prop. The nurse makes a speech telling us how much she and the village appreciated the bag of prescription glasses and sunglasses we had given them during the festival.Then she hands us a huge hand-woven basket filled with six eggs, one coconut, two pumpkins, and a huge green cabbage. “For your return voyage. Thank you from all of us.”

I’ll never forget this precious moment!

Tomorrow we’ll face the elements and whatever else is in store for us. But tonight, I glow in the happiness and joy that flows from this wonderful group of islanders.

We talk with them about our goal of sailing around the world. Graham asks, “Why would you want to do this?”

“To see how different people live around the world. And to experience happy moments like this one you are giving to us today.” Gunter says.

They smile and nod in understanding.

I may never return to the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu. These islands are accessible only by boat. But the locals we met there will always hold a special place in my heart.

Vanuatu hut

Gunter enters a hut in Vanuatu.

Welcome Week in Bundaberg, Australia. Another one of these powerful places was Bundaberg, a small town on Australia’s northeast coast. We had entered the Port2Port Rally from Vanuatu to Australia. Greg and Pat Whitbourne, Aussies we had met in Vanuatu, shepherded us into their country.

From Sailing the South Pacific:
The next day, when I come on watch at 0300, I can see the lights of Bundaberg glimmering on the horizon, as if the town is expecting us.

Australia, the long-awaited Land of Oz!

I make a pot of coffee. Then I sit at the helm taking it all in. A shooting star streaks across the sky. Surprisingly, a white tern appears from nowhere; it circles the bows and then lands on the pulpit seat for the ride on in. I view both events as a sign of good luck. Ahead—to our starboard—the running lights of Rascal Too bounce through the waves. Our new Aussie friends, Greg and Pat, are magnanimously leading us into their country.

Never before have I felt such a sense of elation and destiny upon arriving at a foreign port!

Lois and Pat wearing their hats for the contest

Lois and Pat wearing their hats for the contest.

Pacific Bliss won the Best Dressed Yacht contest.

Pacific Bliss won the Best Dressed Yacht contest.

Lois on board Pacific Bliss.

Lois on board Pacific Bliss.

That elation continued as the town put on a Welcome Week celebration for the arriving cruisers.

Pat and I entered the Melbourne Cup Hat Day contest, scrounging for items from our respective yachts. The four of us entered the Brain Strain, Passage Story, and lethal Bundy Rum Drink contests. Finally, Gunter and I entered our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, into the Best Dressed Yacht competition, with the theme: We Love You, Aussies! We won.

Why wouldn’t we want to revisit such a friendly town?

La Dolce Vita at Vibo Marina, Italy. Our sojourn in Italy did not get off to a good start. While approaching the Strait of Messina, Pacific Bliss was caught up in drift nets, due to illegal bluefin tuna fishing—a modern-day La Mattanza.  Reggio Calabria, a port of entry, was jammed, with no room for yachts-in-transit. We were relegated to a commercial quay to wait while authorities took their time checking us in. Meanwhile, we found that all nearby Italian marinas were fully booked in July, disregarding the 10% international rule for yachts-in-transit. We felt like the Flying Dutchman, destined to travel the seas forever! Finally, we finagled a berth at Tropea for “one night only.” From there, we hired a taxi to drive us down the coast to search for marinas. The Stella Del Sud Marina, owned by an Italian-Canadian couple, was our best bet. The next afternoon, we arrived amid flashes of lightning and cracks of thunder. We approached the breakwater as two men in a dinghy motored toward us. We knew where we’d be berthed so Gunter inched forward. One of the men yelled, “Stop!  We didn’t expect a catamaran. You’re too big!”

I visualized the Flying Dutchman scenario again. We’d be sailing another 40 miles to the next harbor in a thunderstorm. And who knows what we’d find there?

Gunter stands behind Angela and her husband, owners of the Stella del Sud Marina. The Long Way Back, page 410.

Gunter stands behind Angela and her husband, owners of the Stella del Sud Marina. The Long Way Back, page 410.

Angela, the Canadian, came to our rescue. Soon her husband was standing at the end of the dock, gesturing and directing three dock boys, who pushed and pulled on a mess of mooring lines. Eventually, Pacific Bliss was cleverly tied to the end of the pontoon dock with two mooring lines holding the bow in place and two crisscrossed to hold our stern still.  There she stayed, straddling the end of the dock. The passerelle was set up for us to exit from the starboard swim steps. We never saw anything like that, but it worked! We had settled into a sleepy, laid-back Calabrian town. What a relief!

In my third book, The Long Way Back, I wrote about how we fell in love with this place and its people:
We are settling into the sweet life, la dolce vita, in Italy. This little town is growing on us. Vibo Marina is somewhat of a utilitarian place: the buildings aren’t grand—they’re simply old. The streets aren’t paved with ancient cobblestones—they’re simply narrow. The town is stuck in time, situated between two touristy locations: Tropea to the south and Pizzo to the north. And it’s just what we need!

After a week here, we know where to find the best gelaterias (on the beach front road), the best supermarket (Sisas, under the overpass—they even deliver), take-out pizza (a few blocks inland) and high-grade engine oil in four-liter jugs. We’re gaining some familiarity with Italian customs and the language—because we both speak some Spanish, and Italian is similar. But it’s the people who make life here a delight. Angela is becoming a valued friend; her family is gracious and helpful. And the rest of the marina staff treats us wonderfully.

I hope you’ve fallen in love with some special places as well. I’d love to see your comments.

You may also enjoy: Breaking Bread with the Locals

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award-winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Charles W. Eliot

Read Books

We need the therapeutic benefits of reading now more than ever. Books expand our world while calming our brains. They provide an escape even as they bring novelty, excitement, and surprise. They soothe our souls. Yet many readers and writers tell me that they’ve had trouble “getting into” a good book this year.

It’s impossible to focus on a book when your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats. I understand. That’s what has happened to most of us since last March. Our flight-or-fight response has been activated and it’s difficult to turn it off. And that flood of stress hormones makes it harder to concentrate.

We need that distraction that books bring us! Books broaden our perspective and allow us to emphasize with others. We know that when we get with the flow of reading and become fully immersed, we will feel better.

Here’s what you can do to get into that flow:

Meditate. Meditation helps to clear your mind. If your mind won’t stop wandering, you can download short meditations on your cellphone such as:

Odd Bodies Shaky Characters

Begin with short stories. Not ready for a full-length book? Start small. I download stories to my Kindle or iPad so I can read while waiting in the doctor’s or dentist’s office. If you want to tickle your funny bone, I recommend Shaky Characters and  Odd Bodies by Suad Campbell. After you read short stories for a while, you’ll be in the mood to tackle that book you’ve always wanted to read.

Re-read a classic or something familiar. What were your favorites over the years? If you’ve given those books away, no worries. Just download them again or order them to be delivered direct to your home.

Read whatever gives you peace or piques your interest. Decide on a genre: history, biography, poetry, nonfiction, memoir, or fiction. Then search your area of interest on the website of your favorite on-line bookstore. And, by all means, set aside that book you’re not getting into. Pick another one. You’ll know when you’re in the flow!

Read about a sense of place. Because I’m a travel writer, I prefer a book with a sense of place. If you’re getting antsy to travel and can’t wait for it to resume, reading about different places helps to scratch that itch. My bookshelves are full of travelogues and guidebooks that allow me to travel without moving my feet. Recently though, I’ve selected novels that allow me to burrow into places I could never go:

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Remember, books can be your therapy during stressful times. “Books and stories are medicine, plaster casts for broken lives and hearts, slings for weakened spirits.”Anne Lamott

My series, In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss, provides settings for the 62 ports we visited during our circumnavigation. In addition to stories about what happened at each place, Did You Know sidebars provide information about each country. I’d love to take you around the world and show you—through hundreds of full-color photos and maps—where we traveled, what we saw, and hopefully bring you some book therapy as well.

In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss


Winter? Bah Humbug!

That’s what I used to think when I was living and working in the Midwest. Then, winter meant donning layers upon layers of outer clothing, shoveling snow, starting and warming a cold car, and driving to work in heavy traffic, fearing for my life on icy roads—all work and no play. Even after Gunter and I retired and purchased Northern Bliss, our lake home in Wisconsin, I never dreamed of going there in the winters. It was our daughter-in-law Sabine who missed Christmas snow and suggested that we spend every other Christmas there. We consented because family trumps frigid weather. 

Frosted Evergreen

Wisconsin farmhouse

Holidays in the Snow

This past holiday season was our third, and best, Holidays-in-the-Snow event. Three of our four children and their families attended. We planned to spend as much time as possible outdoors. 

Amazingly, the weather cooperated. It was just cold enough to snow, but warm enough for winter fun, such as sliding, making snowmen, ice fishing, taking walks on the lake, and photographing the geese and trumpeter swans swimming on the open waters of the Apple River. 

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Winter fun in Northwest Wisconsin.

Mike, our son-in-law, brought corn to lure deer from the nearby woods over to our yard. At first, they were shy, but as we spread the corn closer to our home, they followed, and by the end of our three-week stay, came right up to our patio where we could watch through the sliding glass door!  

Deer

Feeding Deer

Feeding Deer

Deer outside window

One deer peers through the window of our house.

For Christmas, I presented Gunter with an edible birdhouse. We placed it on the birdbath near a pine tree. Eventually, winter birds found it and began to eat its sunflower roof and birdseed walls. Our pair of pileated woodpeckers appreciated the suet we hung at the feeder on the lake bank. They weren’t as skittish as they had been last summer.

Deer by edible birdhouse

Curious deer at edible birdhouse.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker at lake feeder.

With plenty of helping hands, even work was enjoyable. The men shoveled snow and kept the outdoor furnace stoked. Inside, the women baked cinnamon rolls and candy-cane coffee cakes and prepared scrumptious, steaming-hot meals.

Shoveling snow

Grandson Brett shovels the driveway.

Outdoor furnace

My son Jeff loads wood into the outdoor furnace that will heat the entire two-story home.

Rime Ice and Hoarfrost.

As if to refute my derogatory comments about past winters, nature put on a spectacular show that frosted our holiday cake! It’s not that often that this happens—fog and snow and hoarfrost all at once. During this special season, however, we were blessed with many days of this winter miracle.

Hoary is an Old-English word that means “getting on in age.” But hoarfrost brought out the poet in me. One day, I awakened to a calm, cold morning and looked out to see the entire world draped with lacy, feathery crystals that glinted in the low morning sun. A magical fairyland! I knew that this ephemeral, enchanting world would disappear as the sun rose high, so I jumped into my SORELs, threw on my Lands’ End parka, and grabbed my iPhone. Outside, hoarfrost trimmed the porch rails in dainty bridal lace. Woolen gowns clothed frozen flower heads, left in place for “winter interest.” Gleaming ice crystals snuggled barren tree branches. As I walked down the snowy driveway, I met a wonderland of pure white, a pearly blanket spread across the landscape. The earth exhaled and hoarfrost crystals formed on her breath. Dancing and sparkling, hoarfrost grabbed the sunlight and threw it about like a thousand diamonds. Hoarfrost turned our tall spruce, heavy with flocking, into delightful Christmas trees with delicate, blinking ornaments. A low fog, softer than breath, had turned our icy footbridge into an enticing path I dared not enter. Out there. Alone with Jack Frost.

Snow covered woods with sun

I returned to an animated household fueled by caffeine and full of laughter. A few of us crammed into vehicles to see more of this day that Jack Frost had built. We drove past idyllic scenes of farms covered in quilts of down, with only their red barns and pastel houses coming up for air. We passed an old, converted church hiding behind a massive snow-laden evergreen. And we stopped repeatedly to photograph each new scene—many of them monochromatic—in black and white and shades of gray.

Farm in snow

 

Converted church

Forest Road with hoarfrost

Later, my curiosity got the better of me. I heard a TV weatherman use the terms rime ice and hoarfrost and interchangeably, so I wanted to understand both terms. Here’s what I learned: Both produce exquisite ice deposits, but they form in different ways. Rime ice needs super-cold water vapor and wind. Liquid water in the air freezes into crystals on the windward sides of surfaces, such as trees and structures, building up and up in spongy, porous layers. Dramatic ice sculptures are formed from fog banks about 3000-7000-foot elevations under high winds. 

Rime ice can be dangerous. Ships can be disabled by freezing ocean spray. Planes flying at hundreds of miles per hour into a super-cooled, moisture-laden cloud can pick up ice that affects their lift. 

Hoarfrost is a direct deposition of atmospheric moisture in the form of ice crystals on objects like tree branches, plant stems, wires, and poles without the moisture ever passing through the liquid phase. It typically forms on calm, clear nights and gives objects their fairyland appearance, especially when illuminated by low-angle sunlight. “Hoar” is the frosty coating. Calm air conditions allow the complex, lacy layers to form. Hoarfrost requires a supersaturated column of cold air extending well above the surface of the ground. Moisture in the air condenses around nuclei, e.g., particles of dust. Once that starts, the moisture goes from a gas to a solid with ice crystals building up on everything. 

Lois and Fiona

Lois hangs out with Sabine’s dog, Fiona.

Family is everything. That’s our primary reason for our holidays-in-the snow event. This was the year, however, that I finally learned to love winter. Is it “the most wonderful time of the year” as the holiday tune claims? I wouldn’t go that far!  In a few months, I’ll be pining for spring and soothing that urge to dig in the dirt by planting my garden. 

Read more about Northern Bliss in Lois’s past blogs:

Tornado Disaster at Northern Bliss

Recovery from Natural Disasters

Returning to Northern Bliss: Fifty Shades of Green

Fiddlehead Ferns Unfurling: My spring garden explodes in 50 shades of green.

Wise Old Oak

The Miracle of Autumn

Wander Birds: Migrating North

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased from PIP Productions on Amazon.


FESTPAC, the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture, was first on my Bucket List.

This week’s Sunday paper tells me that there’s a boom in people planning, but not making, travel arrangements. Until Covid clears, people just want to put some joy back into their lives. I’d don’t blame them. As an adventurer with wanderlust in my blood, dreaming of traveling again is like giving a drink of water to a parched soul. So, Gunter and I spent part of the day making out a new bucket list.

Back in 2004, during our world circumnavigation, we attended the Festival of Pacific Arts, the world’s largest celebration of indigenous Pacific Islanders. This festival is hosted every four years by a different Pacific Island nation. At that time, we’d vowed to attend another one when the country and timing suited us. This could be the year! The 2020 festival was cancelled due to Covid and rescheduled for June 18-27, 2021 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The last such event, held in Guam in 2016, drew 90,000 visitors. This year’s festival will be made up of 28 nations, 3,000 delegates and could attract 100,000 visitors. I turned to Günter: “Because we have no schedule for this year, this fits perfectly. Shall we plan but not book?”

That turned out to be the applicable question. The very next day, Günter went back to the website to check on hotel reservations. The 2021 festival is now cancelled! The next one will be in 2024. FESTPAC will remain on my Bucket List but will no longer be Number One.

Fest Pac Logo

The following story about our experiences during 2004 FESTPAC is excerpted from The Long Way Back, the third book in my sailing/adventure trilogy:

A Taste of the Pacific Arts
Palau Marina Hotel, Koror, Palau
August 1, 2004

Even though Pacific Bliss is now berthed in Australia, I’m not quite ready to put the South Pacific islands behind me. I’d love to be able to sample even more of the culture of these islands before we sail on to Indonesia and ports beyond. So, I talk Günter into treating me to the Festival for my birthday. The Festival occurs every four years and changes venues, like the Olympics, but that’s where the resemblance ends. First, it’s a celebration, not a competition. And second, the way it’s organized is island-style: It flows freely from one event to the other; schedules are treated as guidelines. Attending the Festival will be a grand finale to our South Pacific adventures and provide a taste of those islands we haven’t visited.

We arrive at the Palau Marina Hotel after a day’s layover in Guam following a flight from Cairns, Australia. In the lobby—decorated with bamboo furniture and giant shells—our taxi driver introduces us to the Japanese man who owns the hotel. We bow and talk with him while our driver translates. Smiling Filipina waitresses lead us to our table where we enjoy an arrival dinner of sushi and Asahi (Japanese beer). On leaden legs we climb the steps to our third-floor room and crash. We will have two days to rest up before the action-packed Festival begins.

The next day, we order the “morning set” for breakfast: a semi-American breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs and toast, grilled sausages cut at a slant, and finely shredded coleslaw with dressing. For lunch, we order a bento; yakitori for me and squid for Günter. The side dishes here differ from our old standbys at Ichiban’s in Pacific Beach, San Diego: fish balls, poi-like sticky balls, spinach, seaweed, and other odd delicacies. Emily—one of the trio of Filipinas who works here—fans away flies as we dine on the veranda facing the peaceful harbor ringed by the tantalizing Rock Islands. Our view is a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns, the sea’s sun-sparkles giving way to darkening wavelets as the wind freshens. A warm, tropical shower gently drifts past the veranda toward a perfectly domed, mushroom-shaped island, then encloses a backdrop of rounded hills in an ethereal mist reminiscent of Japanese paintings.

I turn to Günter. “Even if this is the rainy season here, I won’t mind.”

Mind? I will soon take back those words as I become intimate with the July-August weather slightly north of the equator!

As we leave the veranda for a sightseeing walk, a second shower appears. This time it’s the real thing. A million sharp-nosed bullets dive into the sea until it’s a mass of perforations, like a high-tech sound studio. We decide to retreat to our room to take our pensioners’ nap, a habit perfected in Australia.

Later, we don rain jackets and slog along the pitted dead-end street to the Palau Aquarium. Outdoor pools hold sharks, a hawksbill turtle, and a variety of large game fish. The magnificent interior contains the best live displays of marine life along a coral wall that I’ve ever seen.

Afterwards, we walk to nearby Fish & Fins to introduce ourselves. This premier dive-and-tour operation is run by an energetic Israeli couple who sailed their sailing vessel Ocean Hunter to Palau eight years ago, fell in love with the fabulous marine life here, and—like many cruisers we’ve met during our voyages—decided to stay in the place that captured their hearts. They charter out their sailboat for overnight excursions to the Rock Islands, along with Ocean Hunter II, a motor dive boat. We check on snorkeling tours for later in the week.

Remarkably, the Opening Ceremony on July 22 begins without the omnipresent rain. “Alii!” begins Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. “Our home is your home; our food is your food; our island is your island; everything that we have, we want to share with you…except our spouses.” I chuckle. “The Pacific Way” has evolved! In a ceremony that reminds me of the Olympics, the delegates of 24 of the 27 participating nations march or dance across the PCC Track and Field, each to their own country’s traditional music. Each delegation presents gifts to the dignitaries of Palau according to the custom of these islands, stakes a box-art gift into the soil, and then performs in front of the grandstand. And what a show it is—absolutely awesome! For cruisers, I’d recommend the Festival over the Olympics anytime.

Günter and I privately declare the delegates from Papua New Guinea Best Dressed, not that they wore a lot of clothes! They sported flamboyant headdresses topping their fierce, tattooed faces with grass skirts and bare chests. (We had the good luck to talk to a few of these delegates briefly before the festivities began and noted their friendly dispositions. Later, Günter observed two of these warrior-dancers holding hands, as is their custom, as they ambled past the craft stalls.)

Lois and Gunter with Papua New Guinea Dancers

The Maoris of New Zealand draw gasps from attendees who have never witnessed their indigenous greeting: the warriors march forward—eyes bulging, tongues protruding, and spears thrust—while their women yell threats and twirl balls on the end of bungee-like cords.

The speeches, performances, and gift giving seem to go on forever as Günter and I shift our weight this way and that on the hard stadium seating. Then volunteers hand out box dinners of rice and fish (symbolizing a feast) to all. Yes—one box to every one of the participants: the media, the organizers, the dignitaries, and the attendees in the grandstand—all 8000 of us! Why? Because that is The Pacific Way. Altogether, the opening ceremony lasts five hours—despite a downpour during the last two—and closes with incredible fireworks, courtesy of Taiwan.

The Festival incorporates multiple simultaneous venues and activities—from symposia, movies, and plays to crafts, culinary arts, and natural history tours—forcing us to make difficult choices. We decide to make dancing our priority. Each of the 27 participating islands has entered a dance group into the competition. Taiwan, Japan, and Indonesia, as sponsors, have sent performers as well. The dancing program continues day and night at the ball field, the stadium—and when raining—the gymnasium.

After attending dance venues for days, we narrow our favorites down to half a dozen:

1. Papua New Guinea: for their flamboyant style while displaying fierce demeanors and fabulous headdresses.

2. Solomon Islands: for dancing to the most primitive rhythms while hunched over huge homemade bamboo flutes.

3. The Cook Islands: for the toughest workout: Male dancers sensuously knee-slap to a fast, pulsating drum beat, then twirl their women in perfect sync.

4. Rapa Nui (Easter Island): for the best choreographed routine—sophisticated, yet vigorous—muscled bodies moving to a hot beat.

5. Yap (one of the Federated States of Micronesia): for an astounding Las Vegas style, all-male chorus routine—ending with pelvic thrusts bouncing critically placed feathers.

6. Torres Strait, Australia: to Aborigines for enacting realistic stories from their lives; in one dance simulation of fishing, the performer falls to the floor, catches the bait with his teeth, and follows a fishing line in, writhing all the way across the stage. That performance raises the roof!

The routines of the Hawaiian and French Polynesian dancers, though the choreography was polished, lacked the drama of indigenous dancing.

Festival Ceremony and Dancing

From pages 28-29, The Long Way Back.

As the festivities continue, we note that music of the Polynesians, Melanesians, and Micronesians reflects a common, linked heritage while Asian Special Performances are clearly different. The songs of the Taiwanese highland tribes, for example, are sophisticated operatic arias with the typical dissonant chords of Asian music. They are 1000 years old!

This ten-day extravaganza has to be the ultimate Pacific tourist opportunity! Imagine mingling with locals from 31 islands while you’re shopping in the stalls, having lunch in Koror, or walking through the college campus to attend a symposium. We get to know and love these islanders as never before. We talk with and photograph dancers before and after their stage performances. Often dancers are having their own photos taken with performers from other troupes; we join right in. By the end of the Festival, I realize that the participants themselves are beginning to “mix it up.”

But it’s not only the participants who are learning from each other. About 7000 people attend the Festival events here each day, including about 3000-4000 Palauans. One local says to me, “This is a tremendous once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am proud to be a Palauan; I have seen my Pacific brothers and sisters, and now I know that there is no shame in being an islander.” (In Pidgin, this enlightened view is called Blong One Talk.)

An integral part of each year’s Festival is the Traditional Navigation and Canoeing Program. At sunrise on opening day, news helicopters hover above as smoke rises from a fire, triton-shell trumpets blare, and war and sailing canoes pass below Palau’s KB Bridge. Represented are war canoes from eight Palauan states and sailing canoes from Palau, Guam, and the Marshall Islands. Missing sailing canoes from Yap and Saipan, still underway, put a damper on opening festivities. They would show up days later. The monsoon season in Palau is not an optimal time of year for promoting the canoe program!

A few days after the official opening ceremonies, the “scheduled” races are held, although not one is even close to the time on the printed schedule. Günter and I take a taxi to the Friendship Bridge near the stated finish line for the kabekl (war canoe) race. We stand on the concrete jetty, cameras in hand, on increasingly wobbly knees. Then we spread our rain jackets on the concrete. And we sit. And sit. After about two hours, an announcer explains the rules for the two heats to be held by the canoes, to be followed by the play-off. Then we sit and wait again. About a half hour later, the announcer states that, due to the delay, there will be no final race. They will hold only the 1000-meter and a 500-meter. We wait even longer.

Nearby, a few ladies dressed in red and white—with towels over their heads to protect them from the sun—are cheering for the local Ngiwal State of Palau. I decide to follow their example. I stand and cheer, then sit and wait…and wait. Another half hour creeps by and finally the race begins. Everyone stands to cheer—this time for real. The ladies frantically wave their towels like flags. The red team wins. In the 500-meter, Koror wins.

All this waiting gives me the opportunity to talk with islanders. One stocky man in a red T-shirt that must be XXL explains how the Festival has spurred the sport of canoeing. “We’ve had races here before, but with motorboats,” he says. “Our boys didn’t know how to race canoes. You should have seen them only a few months ago. They couldn’t even paddle!”

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any sailboats in the harbors except those used for excursions. “Don’t they sail either?” I ask.

“No, ancient Palauans navigated by the stars and all,” he says, “but then they didn’t need to sail to other islands anymore. We have everything we need here. And sadly, the tradition was not handed down.”

Carrying on the island traditions and culture is exactly what the Festival aims to do. Hoping to learn how to navigate by the stars, we attend the Traditional Navigation symposium the next morning. Unfortunately, much of the discussion centers on intellectual property issues—how to prevent the usurping of traditional skills and knowledge by the West—as if we need those skills with the advent of GPS! Then the discussion turns toward how to get funding for the very program that some of the participants don’t want to share. The locals seem oblivious to the contradiction.

The Sailing Canoe Raceis scheduled for 1:00. This time, we take a taxi to where the canoes actually are, thinking that we will cleverly position ourselves at the start rather than at the finish line. By then, we have begun to understand “island time.” So, Günter keeps our cab while I venture toward the group by the canoes, potential racers who are preparing to barbeque their lunch.

“When do you expect the race to begin?”

“At one o’clock,” one of the racers responds.

“But it’s one-thirty now.” I point to my watch.

“I think the race is actually at four o’clock,” another canoeist volunteers.

“No, the program says that is the time for awarding of the prizes. Do you have a program?”

“No.”

“Hold the cab! We’re leaving!” I call to Günter.

Later, we hear that the races did occur that day—at 4:30 p.m. By then, two teams had decided not to race. Guam, Yap, and Palau—although mismatched—managed to paddle to the finish line against the wind and current under the bridge.

Booths and exhibits at the Festival

From pages 26-27 of The Long Way Back.

Festival activities keep us busy for the next few days. We enjoy hanging around Festival Village where we purchase souvenirs from various countries’ booths and sample their native food. We walk through the thatched-roof Pavilion to view tattooists, carvers, and weavers at work. One project, called MAT, calls for each participant country to weave a 2×2-foot square that will eventually be combined into one majestic Quilt of the Islands, to be displayed at the Palau National Museum. This Museum will also display a carved log with each country’s section, and one large storyboard representative of all carvers’ combined efforts. We view architectural displays and attend poetry readings, instrumentals, and plays. In a clever New Zealand stage play, two actresses recount the history of the Maoris from the first sighting of the white man.

During the final days of the Festival, the rains arrive to stay. A typhoon is moving toward Japan; all of Micronesia is drenched in the resulting weather system. The closing ceremony is moved to the college gymnasium. To make space, the country delegations sit on the wooden floor in the center. Even so, the grandstands are overloaded. Many Palauans are left standing outside holding umbrellas. I sympathize with this tiny country of 20,000 that has valiantly tried its best to be the perfect hosts to 4,000 visitors. But I’m proud of them as well. I’m touched by the warmth of the speeches and by the sincere effort to again feed the crowd in keeping with The Pacific Way.

“In today’s strife-torn world,” concludes Festival Host President Remengesau, “it is uplifting that so many of us have come together to celebrate the value and beauty of our heritage.”

May these Festivals continue to uplift, to teach, to inspire, and to celebrate the heritage of the islands. Attending the 9th Festival of the Pacific Arts was a birthday gift that I will cherish forever.

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Other SailorsTales blogs about the South Pacific are:

Breaking Bread with the Locals

The Pacific Puddle Jump 10-Year Reunion

Cruiser Camaraderie: Revisiting our World Circumnavigation

Reconnecting with Crew

Pacific Bliss Goes Snorkeling

The Largest Clams in the World

Visiting Levuka, Fiji’s Ancient Capital, during our World Circumnavigation

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased on Amazon.

 


During our world circumnavigation, Gunter and I loved Australia and the Aussies so much that we decided to spend another year in The Land Down Under. We stored our catamaran Pacific Bliss on the hard in Mackay, Queensland and took the tilt train south to Sydney. From there, we rented a drive-yourself caravan (camper) to tour inland through the Blue Mountains, Cowra, Canberra, and back to Sydney via the sea route. Although fall was turning to winter throughout the Northern Hemisphere, in Australia we were enjoying the spring-to-summer transition. My favorite holiday flowers for arranging are the red tropicals: ginger, anthurium, and proteas. Imagine my delight seeing fields of such flowers on display at nature preserves!

Field of proteas

Field of Proteas

Following are excerpts from my journal:  

Touring Australia’s Blue Mountains
September, 2004

Katuomba Falls Caravan Park.  Blackheath Caravan Park. Destinations roll off our tongues as the landscape passes by. We experience two days of dreary skies and depressing, intermittent rain, which makes our road trip anti-climactic after the sunny skies and excitement of Sydney. But on the third day, the weather clears and an ethereal, winter-pale sun peeks over the evergreened landscape before it descends below the foothills and treetops. It leaves a soft brush of amber on the clouds. It’s amazing how the van seems cozier, less claustrophobic, when there’s a hint of sun.  

Gorgeous, white parrot-like birds with yellow crests flit from tree to tree as we enjoy our sundowners. Ducks waddle toward the van while we throw out tidbits. I take a twilight walk up a hillside and stumble upon one lone rhododendron bush; the rest will bloom next month.  November 1 is the beginning of the Rhododendron Festival here in Blackheath. 

Called “Australia’s most accessible wilderness,” the heralded Blue Mountains looked like a collection of Sydney suburbs on a ridge of a cut-out valley—eroded highlands with valleys below. “These are certainly not mountains like our western Rockies,” Gunter grumbled.  But as we drove further, he changed his tune. Narrow river gorges wound through the lower mountains. As we rose in elevation, vistas opened to yawning canyons. Mountain streams tumbled over escarpments, falling to thick, tangled vegetation.

Eucalyptus against limestone

Eucalyptus against limestone

Blue Mountains Overlook

Blue Mountains Overlook

Sydneysiders are fortunate to have such a national treasure within a few hours’ drive. A brochure we’d picked up in Sydney stated: “What a better way to uplift the soul than a weekend of World Heritage Wilderness!” This heritage area, made up of eight nature reserves, was established in 2000. It contains 400 animal species, more than one-third of Australia’s bird species, 1,300 plant species, and 4,000 species of moths and butterflies.

For the first twenty-five years of European occupation, the Blue Mountains defied settlers’ quest to expand west of Sydney. Expeditions were turned back by impenetrable undergrowth, wandering gorges, and steep canyon walls. Finally in 1813, three men, Gregory Blaxland, William Wentworth, and William Lawson, broke through after eighteen miserable days.  They were rewarded with a view from the top of Mount York never seen by Europeans. Grassy plains stretched as far as their eyes could see—plains, they believed, that could support a continent of millions.  During the next two years, the Great Western Highway was cut through these mountains and western migration began.  

Morning brings a bright sun and clear blue skies. We are eager to begin the trip to the top of the pass. From Blackheath, we’ll backtrack to Medlow Bath, then double back and proceed on to Bell, drive along the north canyon rim to Mount Tomah, then double back again to Lithgow, finally proceeding on to our reserved cabin near Lake Lyell.  It is a fine, crisp day for touring but the drive is long and tortuous. The two-lane route—the same one followed by those early explorers—is narrow with tight turns and sheer drops. In most places, the ridge is too narrow for turnouts, look-outs, and rest stops. 

Gunter is an experienced mountain driver; even so, this route requires intense focus. 

At Medlow Bath, we stop to see the Grand Hotel, a famous meeting place for world dignitaries. Melba, a famous Australian opera star, sung here. Other celebrities have taken advantage of the hotel’s hydra baths for more than a century. While we stroll through the old hotel, we note that the place still has a regal flair: a smart-suited and suitably aloof male receptionist hands us a typed information sheet about the hotel. We enjoy a cappuccino on the deck with a wonderful mountain view and then we’re off to the next stop: Govett’s Leap.

We joke about the sign saying 15-Minute Walk to Bridal Falls.  “It doesn’t say how long the return is!” I warn. “But let’s go anyway. We need a little pensioner’s walk.”  

We’re back at the parking area in one and quarter hours. We did take our time, though, past the stepping blocks over the river to the other side. The morning sun brightened the deep, verdant valley. The river was wonderful, cascading over rocks banked with yellow blooming acacia, rust-colored banksias (bottlebrush), and delicate yellow, white, and blue mountain flowers. Bridal Veil Falls, a tantalizing stream of water and fine mist overhanging a rock garden of moss and ferns, was well worth it. By the time we returned, huffing and puffing up all those steps, lazy sheep-clouds had drifted in. They stayed with us for the remainder of the day, providing cooling interludes.

Gunter on the path to Bridal Falls

Gunter on the path to Bridal Falls

Bottle Brush Plant

Bottle Brush Plant

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Our next stop is Evans Point. We amble over to a must-see lookout over pulpit rock. Afterwards, Gunter re-parks the van so the view from the rear window has the valley view. This is when driving a campervan pays off! We enjoy our smoko of chicken breast, dressing, and whole wheat bread.      

Our next stop is Mount Victoria. Gunter buys a few used paperbacks from a quaint, old shop attached to a house that has been in the owner’s family since the early 1900s.  Across the street stands the historic Victoria and Albert Guesthouse and Restaurant, where dining on the wooden, green-railed veranda has been a tradition for over 100 years. The street is lined with blooming pink and white ornamental and fruit trees. What a wonderful time of year to tour the Blue Mountains! 

From the GWH (Great Western Highway) the Darling Causeway links Mount Victoria to Bells Road, which takes us toward Mount Tomah. We continue on to the Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens (called Australia’s Coolest Botanic Gardens) developed by Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden. Here, at 1000 meters above sea level, many plants not suited to Sydney’s climate can be grown successfully. 

I’ve fallen in love with these gardens—and especially with the collection of the largest proteas I’ve ever seen. Their wide-open pink blooms remind me of sunflowers backlit against a glowing sunset. The pond’s rock garden, with shimmering lime-colored reeds complementing its gray rocks, is the perfect setting for contemplation and meditation. The blue haze from the mountains turns this place into a heavenly delight.

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Other SailorsTales blogs about Australia are: 

Climbing the Coat Hanger

The Challenge of Writing about Australia

Pavlova from Heaven? No, Australia

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased for the holidays on Amazon.


Thanksgiving in 2020. This year, our uniquely American Thanksgiving will be like none other. No one will be sorry to bid 2020 farewell, with its devastating wildfires, hurricanes, floods, global pandemic, and turbulent presidential election. Travel plans have been abandoned; communal gatherings with friends and family cancelled; and we mourn those who are no longer with us. 

Gratitude. Yet we must continue to be grateful for what we do have because being thankful is a state of mind more nourishing than any feast. Gratitude soothes our souls. Little did I know in March of 2019 what would lie ahead. This is what I wrote then: “I’m also grateful for the opportunity to travel by land and sea. I would not trade our eight years spent circumnavigating the world for any object money can buy. Travel has taught me to invest in money, not stuff. It has taught me to collect memories, and to press them—like flowers between pages of a book—within the folds of my heart. I’ve taken thousands of pictures, and when I look at them, I realize that I’ve collected the sights, sounds and smells of nature—and the laughter, joy, and sorrow of people around the world.” During this pandemic, collecting memories have become even more important.

Twice during our world circumnavigation, we celebrated Thanksgiving abroad. The first time was at sea during our Maiden Voyage. We had experienced heavy seas during our Gibraltar-to-Canaries passage, and I used our pressure cooker to make a meal from a frozen chicken and what was left of our tired vegetables. I wrote a blog about that experience called Thanksgiving Then and Now. During the sixth of our eight years onboard our catamaran, Pacific Bliss was berthed at Yacht Haven Marina in Thailand where we prepared to cross the Indian Ocean. I yearned for a traditional American Thanksgiving. We finally found one at the Phuket Marriott Hotel. Here’s an excerpt from The Long Way Back:

An American Thanksgiving in Phuket
November 24, 2006

     “Pacific Bliss is a vessel of splendor and tranquility…with a beautiful navigator steering us to exotic ports,” Günter says poetically, pecking my cheek. “I like it here.” 

     I love it when he says such things, but I have cabin fever. I’ve been supervising the teak varnishing and oiling project for a week now, never even leaving the marina, and I’m dying to get off this boat. Besides—it’s Thanksgiving! We don’t know if Phuket restaurants offer a celebratory Thanksgiving dinner, but Günter thinks the Marriott, an American-owned hotel chain, is our best chance for getting one. So, towards evening, I change into a special sundress, and I even curl and spray my hair. But as we walk down the long “A” Dock to our rental car, it begins to rain. And by the time we’re a few miles away from the marina, trying to find the Marriott Hotel, the storm hits with a fury—thunder, lightning and a driving, sideways deluge.

     “I can’t see a thing through the windshield. I’d rather be back on the boat,” Günter complains. 

     I’m so disappointed I could cry. “Let’s just pull over and wait it out,” I plead.

     “Could take an hour,” Günter grumbles, but he complies. 

     Fortunately, before long, the rain eases. Then we drive through pooling waters on a long, narrow, unlit road that skirts the airport. A sign reads: “Temporarily No Access,” but we slosh through anyway. When we finally exit, we discover we’ve gone in a circle, and we’re back near the entrance to Yacht Haven!

     “Let’s try this direction,” Günter says, turning onto the main road and heading back toward the marina. Then, a mere seven minutes after passing the marina, we come to the Marriott Hotel, and the rain stops magically, as quickly as it had begun. I can’t believe it. There it is before me—Civilization! A wide, imposing entrance beckons, with valet parking, an infinity pool that stretches all the way to the Andaman Sea, intricate wood statues and carvings, and rich, Thai décor. I can’t wait to get inside and, once there, we stroll past bubbling fountains with overlays of gold and into one of the hotel’s three restaurants. 

Tropical grounds at Marriott on Andaman Sea

The gorgeous tropical grounds at Marriott on Andaman Sea.

     Günter spots a “Thanksgiving Buffet” sign. He’s drawn by an enticing aroma wafting from a huge wok where a slim Thai woman sautés a scintillating, butter-and-cinnamon mixture.

     “I’m suddenly very hungry,” Günter says.

     “Me, too.” 

      “Do you have reservations?” asks a beautifully gowned Thai hostess with a concerned smile.

     “No,” I answer, with a concerned frown.

     “We are all booked, but I will try to find you something.” 

     My heart sinks. 

     She hands us over to a waitress with shoulder-length ebony hair, who flashes a huge Thai smile and leads us directly to a poolside table for two, which overlooks those fabulous fountains of gold. The table has a RESERVED sign with the name of the guests neatly printed in black. “These people didn’t come,” she explains, whisking away the folded cardboard. 

Fountains at Phuket Marriott Nai Yang Beach

Gold fountains grace the Hotel Marriott.

     A bus boy promptly places a crisp, white napkin on my lap. “Would you like the wine buffet, or should I send over the wine steward?” he asks in perfect English.

     “Send the steward.” This service is more like it. We have arrived!

     The buffet is exotic: a mix of American, International and Eastern dishes; twenty different salads; a fresh oyster bar; mussels, clams, and sushi; butternut squash soup made with maple syrup; corn bread; twice-baked potatoes; au gratin potatoes; beans with almonds; okra with tomatoes—and two, huge, carved turkeys. As for the desserts—well, they’re to die for: pecan pie; sweet potato pie; “American” apple pie; mousse; hot brownies with fudge sauce; and an ice cream bar where one can order a real banana split and pass out from pleasure! After eating my fill, I settle for one scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of two small wedges of apple and sweet potato pie and, somehow, manage to find a place for them in my distended stomach.

Seafood plate at the buffet

The Thanksgiving buffet includes a fresh seafood bar.

     We sit at that intimate table for two hours and then return blissfully full to Pacific Bliss. Tomorrow, we’ll fast!  We’ll live off our memories of a unique and extremely satisfying Thanksgiving and add this to our ever-growing treasury of sailing experiences in foreign lands.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page. Lois’s books can be purchased for the holidays on Amazon.


Windblown trees

Wind blown trees near the California coast.

“Everything you see has its roots in the unseen world. The forces change, yet the essence remains the same.”  —Rumi

We all recognize the survival instinct in the animal kingdom. This year, I discovered that the will to live is just as strong in trees. On July 19th 2019, Northern Bliss, our lake home in Wisconsin, was struck by an F2 tornado. We lost 21 trees on our acre of land and hired a tree service to clean up the mess.

One of the most painful moments during the week that followed the tornadoes of 2019 was making the decision to cut down our wise old oak. She stood beside our sidewalk, proud and tall, flanked by two other oaks. Her limbs held multiple feeders: a corn cob holder for squirrels, a small feeder for chickadees and goldfinch, and another for hummingbirds. The tree service was nearing the end of cutting down a dozen or so storm-damaged trees. One worker pointed to the wise old oak. “No, not that one too!” I cried. From my vantage point on the sidewalk, she appeared to be okay, but on the other side, her trunk had twisted so much that one could see right through. “Another storm—less powerful than a tornado—could take ‘er down. He pointed again: “She’d fall against your roof there.” My heart sank; objections would be futile.  “How far down?” the worker asked, chainsaw in hand. “We could cut ‘er right below the twist.”  

I consented. The canopy on that tree was so high that it took a crane to bring workers to the top. It was so wide that they were forced to chop it down branch by branch so that it would not disturb the surrounding buildings and gardens.

Chainsaws buzzed across White Ash Lake for the remainder of that Wisconsin summer and on into fall. No one talked further about the fate of Wise Old Oak—a dying stump three feet in diameter and thrice my height. During the spring of 2020, the tree service returned with their cranes to yank out the remaining root balls along the lakeshore.  After shoring up the bank, I focused on planting a row of young river birch there. 

It took most of the summer to get Northern Bliss back in shape, but during the dog days of August, Gunter and I finally got around to aesthetics: what should we mount on top of that massive stump? A life-size eagle would be too puny. Any mammal would have to be huge enough to honor Wise Old Oak. An animal native to Wisconsin? Aha! How about a carving of White Ash Bear, the one who frequents feeders and garbage cans all along White Ash Lane? 

Wise Old Oak must have welcomed all the attention because guess what? She decided to grow! She wasn’t dead after all.

Tree stump

The oak stump decides to grow.

How can a stump live? I went inside to search for our copy of tree-whisperer Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. I re-read the sections that might apply to Wise Old Oak. His book convinced me that trees are social, sophisticated, and even intelligent. They cooperate with each other and maintain relationships by sending out chemical, hormonal, and electrical signals. They communicate underground but also send phenomes and other scent signals through the air. 

But Wise Old Oak was now a stump. She could not communicate through the air anymore because she had no branches or leaves. I guessed that she could communicate like most trees do: through networks of symbiotic fungi—a wood wide web—to share nutrients, carbon and other information. But doesn’t a tree need leaves to sustain itself? Wise Old Oak had no leaves for almost a year. 

During photosynthesis, the experts say, plants open pores on their leaves to allow carbon dioxide to enter. Open pores also allow water the plant has not used to be released into the atmosphere. This process, called transpiration, draws water up from the roots so the plant doesn’t wilt. But a leafless stump needs another way to circulate water. During a study conducted in New Zealand, researchers reported that kauri stumps lived by sharing water with neighboring trees. They were connected through an underground plumbing system formed when their roots naturally fused, or grafted, together. 

Wise Old Oak had a neighboring oak on either side. But why would a tree support a stump that can’t reproduce or make its own food? Did she knock on the doors of the trees next door and say: “Hey, Oakey, I’m dying. Can I get a little of your carbon?” Not likely. She probably had that underground connection before she became a stump. 

It turns out that natural root grafts have been reported in some 150 tree species. Exactly how those roots fuse are buried mysteries. One tree communication expert from Tennessee thinks that trees support stumps to maintain symbiotic relationships with helpful fungi. That makes sense, because I recently read that the coveted king bolete mushroom of Russia (known as Porcini by the Italians) grow in complex symbiotic relationships with the surrounding forest trees. But I’m way off track here—back to the bear.

Mounting the Bear.  Wise Old Oak grew a branch straight out of her bark near the top, complete with tiny oak leaves.  At first, she looked weird with that small, single branch. But as it grew, the branch turned upward toward the sun and spread wide so that it resembled the back of a chair. We had been imagining a standing bear but decided that the legs of the statue might not be strong enough to hold its weight. Now we envisioned the bear sitting on that stump, embraced by that branch, her feet pointing toward the lake. During a trip to Cornucopia on Lake Superior, we stopped to chat with an expert woodcarver in Shell Lake.  He set us straight. “A life-size bear made of wood would be too heavy, quite expensive, and would rot anyway within a few years. You should be able to find one made of resin with a hollow center.” After a few hours of internet searches and calls to customer services, I found what I was looking for: a sitting big black bear.

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When that bear statue arrived this fall, we were flummoxed. We had to open the box by cutting it around the bear, leaving it in place. Even at 60 pounds, it would be difficult to put atop that high stump. Our son-in-law Mike came to the rescue. First, he took Big Bear home to his workshop to build a wooden platform attached to his rump. Second, he added hinges to attach it to the stump. Third, he stood on the roof of his ATV to align with the stump so he could slide the bear onto his new home. This is one bear that won’t be hibernating this winter! 

What will happen this spring? Will the branch continue to grow? This one thing I know. Wise Old Oak will find a way to live—somehow. 

Wisconsin

The Oak Tree

A mighty wind blew night and day
It stole the oak tree’s leaves away
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark
Until the oak was tired and stark

But still the oak tree held its ground
While other trees fell all around
The weary wind gave up and spoke.
How can you still be standing Oak?

The oak tree said, I know that you
Can break each branch of mine in two
Carry every leaf away
Shake my limbs, and make me sway

But I have roots stretched in the earth
Growing stronger since my birth
You’ll never touch them, for you see
They are the deepest part of me

Until today, I wasn’t sure
Of just how much I could endure
But now I’ve found, with thanks to you
I’m stronger than I ever knew

–Johnny Ray Ryder Jr.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein

Seasonal change. Growing up on a Wisconsin farm, I failed to appreciate the fall season because that meant winter would follow—and I disliked cold weather. My father grumbled about how frigid weather made his arthritis act up: “As soon as I retire, I’m moving south.” His attitude must have rubbed off on me because I decided to do him one better: I would move to gentler climes before I retired!

Here in San Diego, the changing of the seasons is subtle. During October, the summer heat finally subsides; the deciduous trees droop their crinkled leaves onto parched ground; and all of nature sighs and waits for restorative winter rains. The first years after Gunter and I acquired Northern Bliss, our lake home in northern Wisconsin, we treated it as a summer place. We opened it up prior to Memorial Day and closed it after Labor Day.

That was a mistake.

This year, because of Covid, we left San Diego in March when authorities closed the beaches, bays and boardwalks. We returned in late October, just days before the first snow fell on White Ash Lake. There, we experienced all the seasons: the fickleness of April—with tulips bursting forth one day and snow flurries the next—the blush of spring in May, the flowery fullness of June and July, the dog days of August, the transitional month of September, and the magical leaf-peeping month of October.

What Einstein said is true: Everything is a miracle. But spring has been graced with poetry and prose, glorified with the promise of new beginnings. Autumn? Not so much.

Preparation. I had not realized how much nature prepares for fall. Growing up on a farm, I knew all about “harvest time.” My father and my grand-father built wagons and fixed up a rig for silo-filling, and then pulled their “train” to neighboring farms to cut and store their corn silage. My mother and grandmother were busy canning garden produce and storing root crops in the earth cellar. Consumed with our struggle for survival, we did not have time to enjoy nature back then. Nature just was.

This fall, I had the luxury of time to focus on all of nature’s activity on our one acre of land and 200 hundred feet of lakeshore. From the middle of placid White Ash Lake, a pair of loons cried during September nights. One called “Where are you?” The mate wailed, “I’m here.” The call of the loon is an evocative sound you will never forget.

Every day, bald eagles screeched overhead, dominating the scene. Sometimes they spotted a fish and swooped down to the lake’s surface while every other bird scattered. The pair will stay the winter; they need to fatten up. Our resident hummingbirds flew south, so we washed and stored their feeders. Goldfinches followed. Flocks of red-winged blackbirds disappeared from our platform feeder. Only our pair of blue jays, along with ladder-back and pileated woodpeckers, remained at the suet feeder. Below, robins pecked at the ground. Black-hatted and bibbed chickadees continued to flit through treetops searching for insects while calling chick-a-dee-dee- dee. They visited their own “private” feeder often—after the goldfinches disappeared. Undaunted, with their winning personalities, they sat in a pine tree watching me plant bulbs. After Jack Frost paid us a visit, it was time to pull up the annuals and prepare for spring. This year, I added a dash of cayenne pepper to each bulb to foil the squirrels who dug up my bulbs last spring. As I dug and planted, those squirrels dashed about in a frenzy underneath our remaining oaks, burying acorns like prized treasures. Living among nature is never boring; there is always something to observe.

Jack Frost Collage

Our favorite experience this autumn was watching the pair of trumpeter swans teaching their three cygnets how to fly. The swans usually hang out in the marsh at the north end of the lake, where their little ones were born. Females typically lay 4-6 eggs and keep them warm for 32-37 days until the eggs hatch, while the cob helps defend the nest from predators and intruders. Unlike most birds, female swans do not sit on their eggs; instead, they use their feet to keep the eggs warm. Their young are born precocial, with downy feathers and eyes almost open. They are ready to swim from their nest within a few days of hatching but remain close to their parents for the first year. When we crept by on our pontoon, we marveled at how fast the three cygnets had grown since spring: fully feathered and one-half the adult size in less than 10 weeks. The swans still had some pale brown feathers. Apparently, they do not develop white plumage until their second winter.

Swans about to fly

Five swans getting ready to fly.

Trumpeter Swans are the kings of waterfowl. They are North America’s largest and heaviest native waterfowl, stretching to 6 feet and weighing more than 25 pounds—almost twice as large as Tundra Swan. Their first attempt at flying occurs at 90-119 days. Getting airborne requires a lumbering takeoff along a 100-yard runway. One fine September day, Gunter and I heard a commotion on the lake and rushed to see what was happening. The parents were teaching their three children to fly! Quite a racket accompanied the flying lessons. During courtship, trumpeter swans spread their wings, bob, and trumpet together. These flying lessons, however, reminded me of a shouting match! During takeoff, the swans slapped their wings and feet against the surface of the lake. Finally, the family of five took to the air, mother in front, children in the middle, and father bringing up the rear—just like they swim across the lake. We cheered them on, clapping until they were out of sight!

The name for trumpeter swans, cygnus buccinator, comes from the Latin cygnus (swan) and buccinare (to trumpet). (We humans have buccinator muscle in our cheeks; we use it to blow out candles and to blow into trumpets.) These swans produce a variety of sounds, but they are known for their low bugle call. In addition to that call, they use head bobbing to warn the flock of impending danger or in preparation for flight. Listen to the sounds they make here. Both sexes make a flat-toned, single-syllable “hoo” call to locate each other. Younger swans make a more high-pitched sound. But when they want to keep the family together, defend territories, or sound an alarm, the make the characteristic deep trumpeting “oh, OH” call.

A few days before leaving Northern Bliss in mid-October, the trumpeter swan family—all dressed with black bills, feet, and legs—paid us a visit. They arrived in the morning and hung around during the day, heads underwater and tails bobbing in the air, foraging for underwater weeds. At night they left, presumably for their nesting grounds. But each day they returned. We liked to think they were saying goodbye. What a treat! We hope this pair survives the winter. They are truly soulmates, the symbol of true love. Did you know that if one partner dies, the other could die of a broken heart?

Nature’s Miracle: A Sense of Time

I learned so much more about trees after replanting 20 of them after the 2019 tornado.
After one of the young maples dropped its rust-red leaves this fall, I examined a stem to see what was left behind and was I surprised! Little buds were already in place, just waiting for the right time to open. How do they know when to bud? Can trees tell time?

Shedding leaves and growing news ones depends not only on the temperature but how long the days are. The folded leaves, resting peacefully in the buds, are covered with brown scales to prevent them from drying out. When those leaves start to grow in the spring, you can hold them up to the light and see that they are transparent. It probably takes only the tiniest bit of light for the buds to register day length. Tree trunks can register light as well because most species have tiny dormant buds within their bark. Amazing!

Leaf-peeping in Wisconsin.

In-between “closing-the-cabin chores,” Gunter and I took day trips throughout Northwest Wisconsin, on leaf-peep expeditions. Wisconsin back roads are wonderfully maintained; during the summer, most of them gained another coat of smooth blacktop, making autumn road trips a pleasure. I hope you enjoy my photos below:

Fall decorated mantle

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Other blogs in the Northern Bliss and Wisconsin series are:
Wander Birds: Migrating North https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/06/22/wander-birds- migrating-north/
April is the Cruelest Month https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/april-is-the-cruelest- month/

Road Trippin’ Across Northern Wisconsin https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/09/15/road- trippin-across-northern-wisconsin/
Recovery from Natural Disasters https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/09/28/recovery-from- natural-disasters/

Tornado! Disaster at Northern Bliss https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/08/16/tornado- disaster-at-northern-bliss/
Memories of Wisconsin Tornadoes https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/07/20/memories-of- wisconsin-tornadoes/

I Never Promised You a Rain Garden https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/i-never- promised-you-a-rain-garden/
How to Drain a Wet Lot https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/how-to-drain-a-wet-lot/

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


This the last in the series about sailing Fiji with a new crew, Lydia and Helmut. The stories in the series are excerpted from Sailing the South Pacific, Chapter 10.

Pacific Bliss docks in Levuka, Fiji

Pacific Bliss docks in Levuka, Fiji

Levuka—Fiji’s Ancient Capital
June 13, 2003
When I record the passage from Leleuvia in the logbook, I realize what day it is: Friday the thirteenth. No wonder it was one wild ride! Thankfully, the passage was short and we’re here, although Levuka is on a lee shore, the windward side of the island.

This morning at 1100, the sun appeared just in time to make the passage. It continued to shine while we navigated the Moturiki Channel, then disappeared for good as we sailed up the east coast of Ovalau to Levuka. We experienced 20-knot winds all the way, with occasional gusts to 25. The waves were 3 meters high. One of the huge waves splashed into the cockpit, drenching Helmut.

Lydia did not have a good passage. She spent it lying on her stomach on the cockpit bench, queasy and frightened. These were the highest waves she had experienced because, until now, we had been protected by Fiji’s reefs.

After a well-deserved siesta, the four of us dinghy to the wharf. We walk the length of the town until dusk. We pass by groups of women and children in flowery frocks chatting underneath shade trees lining the seaside promenade. From the sidewalk, we can see Pacific Bliss bobbing in the background. It dawns on us that anyone on Main Street can see her. They all know who we are. Tourists are rare in Levuka.

Pacific Bliss, the only boat at the dock

Pacific Bliss, the only boat at the dock

Main-Street,-Levuka,-Fiji

Main Street, Levuka, Fiji

We pass three lively pool halls—that’s where the men and boys hang out. We amble into the expansive lobby and past the charming curved bar of The Royal Hotel, the oldest continuously run hotel in the South Pacific. No one knows when it was built, but records show that this historic building has existed at least since the early 1860s. Reportedly, ship’s masters, plantation owners, and even the notorious blackbirder, Bully Hayes, frequented this hotel.

A plaque provides the history: In the 1830s, Levuka had been a small whaling and beachcomber settlement. It was virtually lawless; ships followed a trail of empty gin bottles through the passage into port, and the town was a haven for escaped convicts, ship jumpers, debtors, and other ne’er-do- wells. The Royal was the finest place in town and the place to stay. The front rooms faced the sea, so that the captains could keep an eye on their anchored vessels, just as we look out at ours now. A crow’s nest still stands atop the hotel’s top floor.

The next day, after a night as bumpy as if we’d been on a miserable passage, we venture to Ovalau Holiday Resort, a 3-kilometer taxi ride over rutty blacktop roads. We skirt around potholes and gulleys washed out by last night’s high tide at full moon. In many areas, the high seas had taken sections of the road out to sea and left debris behind.

This is the same full moon and strong surf that battered Pacific Bliss. No wonder I couldn’t sleep! God has, yet again, sent His guardian angel to watch over us.

The casual resort contains about a half-dozen bures. We have chicken curry with rotis, pepper steak with rice; and a family-size coleslaw salad. The food is wonderful—especially because we don’t have to cook on board with the rain pelting the cabin roof. We talk about what we’ve seen in Levuka so far.

“It’s the land time forgot,” says Günter.

“It’s a wild west tumbleweed town transposed to the Pacific,” says Lydia.

“Don’t forget the fish factory,” adds Helmut. “PATCO employs 1000 of the 1800 people who live here.”

We call for a taxi back. The rain continues into the night.

The new day begins with more rain. We’ve signed up for Epi’s Lovoni Highlands Tour. We decide to take it despite the rain. Back on Main Street, we pile into the canvas-covered back of a truck, and off we go, bumping and slip-sliding along the muddy roads to the village of Lovoni, built on the crater of the extinct volcano at the island’s center. At the outskirts of the village, we pick up a well-known tour guide, Epi Bole.

Lovoni Village, built on the crater of an extinct volcano

Lovoni Village, built on the crater of an extinct volcano

Epi leads us past tiny homes made of western-style weatherboard. At the community hut, he tells stories of his ancestors who first settled this land. The villagers of Lovoni, he tells us, are a proud people. They are descendants of the strongest tribe in Fiji, the Cakobau, who were never defeated. In fact, they showed their displeasure with the European settlement of Levuka by burning it down three times. Men from Lovoni demonstrate their superiority by wearing hats in other villages, including in the chiefly village of Ba.

From what Epi tells us, the political climate in Fiji is depressing, and the future of the sugar industry does not look good. Epi has the typical Fijian opinions on land ownership (it should all belong to the Fijians; he is pleased that even the former Crown land is being returned) and on Indians (the Queen should have taken them all back when Fiji became independent).

“Don’t the Fijians need the Indians?” Günter ventures. “We see them working the land owned by the Fijians…we see them running the stores, and even most of the tourist operations. Seems like a symbiotic relationship to me.”

Epi nods slowly. “That’s true,” he admits. “Lots of Indians left Fiji during the 2000 coup—mostly the professionals—doctors, lawyers, businessmen.”

How can they reconcile the two positions? They want the Indians gone, yet they like them to do all the work they don’t want to do. They’re not realists, they’re dreamers. Too much kava in the blood?

“Do the people here want large families?” Lydia asks.

“Yes, they want as many children as possible,” Epi replies.

I know that the Indians, when asked, will respond similarly. Both ethnic groups want to increase their own numbers—this without regard for the quality of their children’s lives, the cost of their education, or the hazards of pregnancy.

We watch a relative of Epi making our lunch on a one-burner hotplate in the corner. Two little boys, two and four, hang on her sulu. Another child is clearly on the way. “Where will she deliver?” Lydia asks.

Epi explains, “She will deliver in Suva. The Levuka hospital lost five babies in last month. No ultrasound here. No Cesarean either.”

I imagine life in Lovoni Village. A one-room, weatherboard house. Hotplate in the corner. Washing dishes outside from water out of a bare pipe. Two beds at the edges of the mat-covered room, one for the children, the other for the parents.

No wonder the educated young people go to Auckland to find work and dream of going to America.

Back in Levuka, I ask to be let out of the truck at the ATM on Main Street. After I nonchalantly insert my credit card and pull out a pile of Fijian $20 bills, I turn to see a group of Fijian teenagers close behind me. Curious, they want to see how this new money dispenser works. Later, I would read the headline in this morning’s paper: “Westpac launches Ovalau’s first ATM.” The article explains how this is “launching the old capital into the electronic banking age.” Obviously, this ATM has quickly become the pride of the town!

On Tuesday the port captain is finally on duty after his Monday holiday. We check in and check out on the same day. We’re ready. It has been a very long weekend under mostly rainy skies. We all walk into town with our bags to provision. Then next morning, we turn Pacific Bliss around in the small wharf, and we’re on our way. We look back to see the entire island of Ovalau shrouded in gloomy, low-lying clouds. We can’t even make out the highlands in the center. No wonder they changed Fiji’s capital!

Helmut, Lydia and Gunter at Levuka, Fiji Ports Authority

Helmut, Lydia and Gunter at Levuka, Fiji–Ports Authority

Savusavu, Fiji. The sailing was great during our sail to Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island. Sleepy Savusavu, located on the peninsula that divides Savusavu Bay from the Koro Sea, is Vanua Levu’s second largest town. Because the town is a Port of Entry and a natural cyclone hole, it is a popular gathering spot for cruisers, and we met many of them. It was an ideal place for Helmut and Lydia to end their sail with us.

After docking, the couple packed while Gunter and I found our way to the Planter’s Club. In operation for 46 years, the Planter’s Club was a revelation of how colonial life in Fiji must have been. We entered a compound with a massive, colonial-style building in the back, surrounded by a white porch and picket fence. To the right, we saw a small shed with a sign, “No alcohol allowed.” I wonder whether that is still the case today. Through the open door we could see men drinking kava. To the left, we saw two lawn bowling fields, side by side. Customers with cocktails line the porch, loudly cheering on the teams.

We went inside the building and ordered rums and cokes. Everyone was friendly. All the “planters” we met were Fijian—the best-dressed and most cosmopolitan Fijians we had ever seen! No fraying 1950s-style muumuu dresses for these women: I noticed that one wore a black silk top with black-and-white vertically striped pantaloons. Her hair was straight, cropped short, and swept behind the ears. Smart! Günter couldn’t help but notice how a full-length sarong wrapped another lady’s curvaceous figure! She wore a modern stretch lace top cropped at the waist. The men wore long pants or pressed jeans and bula shirts with short sleeves. There were no T-shirts in sight except among the few white yachties who were there, like us, to observe.

Planters Club, Savusavu, Fiji

Planters Club, Savusavu, Fiji

We were happy to see such apparently well-to-do Fijians and wanted to learn more about the different world of Savusavu. But we needed to go back to Pacific Bliss to spend our last night with our crew.

Saturday went by in a flash with usual frenzy of final packing and goodbyes. Helmut and Lydia continued their own adventure in Australia before returning home to Germany. As we always do, Günter and I had mixed feelings about crew leaving. “On one hand,” I wrote in my journal, “the enthusiasm, optimism, and energy of youth has left Pacific Bliss. We feel sort of blah and alone now. On the other hand, we enjoy our solitude. Schedule becomes less important, as does wearing clothes on board! And now we will have the opportunity to explore this island and others at our leisure. We will cook only when we’re hungry—much easier on our waistlines.”

Churchgoers line up at the storefront on Main Street. Their church, The Lighthouse, is on the second floor.

Churchgoers line up at the storefront on Main Street. Their church, The Lighthouse, is on the second floor.Weighing options and making decisions. Gunter and I spent a week in Savusavu, weighing options. Advice from cruisers did not impart confidence: “This is a rather tricky triangle,” one cruiser warned. “The seas are angry there…and the wind is often gusty and unpredictable.” Clearly, we were afflicted with the local disease, Polynesian Paralysis. We prayed about whether or not to sail to Fiji’s remote Lau Group. We prayed with Darren, the minister of the Lighthouse Church. “Do you know going west is scriptural?” Darren asked. “The Tabernacle always faced east to west. First the entry, the sacrifice, the washing area, then the holy of holies. Also, all major revivals have proceeded east to west.” Perhaps that says something about God’s will for our voyage, I thought. We decided to leave it all in God’s hands.

From then on, events seemed to take over. Instead of attempting to circumnavigate the island of Viti Levu, Fiji, we decided to take the northern route back. We would reverse-navigate through those northern reefs, proceed to Lautoka, make repairs in Denarau, rest in Musket Cove until we had a weather window, then take off with the trades, going westward with the wind toward Vanuatu. But first, we would leave our yacht safely in Savusavu and travel to other destinations in Fiji. We would take a ferry to Taveuni, Fiji’s Garden Island. And then we would to fly to Suva, Fiji’s modern capital, and eastward to the Lau Group.

Those continuing adventures are recounted in the rest of Chapter 10 of Sailing the South Pacific.

In case you’ve missed them, other blogs in this Fiji Adventures series are: Reconnecting with Crew, Reef Encounters of the Worst Kind: Attempting to Circumnavigate Fiji, Part II, Pacific Bliss Goes Snorkeling, and The Largest Clams in the World.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.

 


“I take to the open road. Healthy, free, the world before me.” Walt Whitman

Let’s go. The northwestern Wisconsin summer had succumbed to the dog days of August. Flowers continued to bloom at our happy place, Northern Bliss, but the lakeshore was beginning to look a little drab. Water lilies faded. Ferns and hostas curled and turned brown at the edges, recoiling from the heat. I felt that I might shrivel too if I hung around much longer.

I turned to Gunter, my soulmate, travel companion, and best friend. (He also happens to be my husband.) “The gardening’s all caught up—finally. The housework—well it’ll still be here. It’s not going anyplace. So let’s just take off and go.”

“Where?” Gunter asked, raising one eyebrow to show he was really listening.

“Cornucopia.”

“And what is that? Sounds like something you’d use as a Thanksgiving centerpiece.”

“It’s a town. On Lake Superior. My gardener told me about it.”

“Have you been there before?”

“No. That’s why I want to go. Adventure is out there. The freedom of the open road and all that.”

Gunter leaned forward in his recliner. That was a good sign. I pressed my advantage.

“It’s close to Bayfield, and I have been there. That town is the launching point for the Apostle Islands, where I learned to sail.

“A piece of your history I don’t know about. Hmm. Could be interesting.”

“We could take a car ferry to the largest of the Apostles, called Madeline Island,” I proposed. “I haven’t done that, because our Sailing Club rented boats and departed right from the Bayfield marina.”

Gunter warmed up to the idea, so we blocked three days off our calendar—Monday-Wednesday, August 10-12—for which we had no commitments. Basically, we would need to book a safe place to stay for two nights. Other than that, we’d play it by ear, keeping to the back roads of rural Wisconsin as much as we could, stopping at small towns along the way. Gunter and I embrace the concept of slow travel; we like to make memories instead of rushing to destinations. That way, we can expect the unexpected.

We’d be traveling across Northern Wisconsin from west to east, through counties in which COVID-19 fatalities were in the range of 0-10. (Our county, Polk, has only two fatalities since March so we’ve become accustomed to low numbers; here we have a .005% chance of dying from this disease. We didn’t want to increase our risk. My task was finding a hotel or B&B that had safe procedures in place. Through my internet search, I came across Timber Baron Inn, a secluded forest get-away that serves up to eight guests. Breakfasts would be delivered to the rooms and they maintain strict cleaning policies. Bingo!

Timber Baron Inn photo Timber Baron inn, back view.

We set out to drive the rolling hills and lush green valleys of Wisconsin under a cobalt blue sky and puffy white clouds—a perfect morning with temps in the low seventies. Our SUV was stocked with a well-balanced diet of caffeine, salt, and sugar. We would stop along the way for “real food.”

Spooner. Our first stop was the town of Spooner in Washburn County. At the River Street Family Restaurant we enjoyed a late breakfast of bacon, eggs, and homemade potato fries. There was not a mask in sight! Spooner, with a population of 2700, calls itself the Crossroads of the North, because Hwy 53 and Hwy 63 meet there. But in the past, it was a busy railroad hub. The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad still operates a historic train line centered in Trego on 26 miles of track, between Spooner and Springbrook. The Railroad Memories Museum, unfortunately, was closed due to COVID. We stopped at a wood-carving museum instead where we garnered advice about putting a bear statue atop our high oak tree stump.

Hayward. From there, we followed the Namekagon River, part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, to Hayward, Wisconsin, 2300 population. The county seat of Sawyer County, Hayward is best known for its chain of fishing lakes. It is home to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. That facility contains a 143-foot (44 m) musky, the world’s largest fiberglass structure. It is also known for the Lumberjack World Championships, an event I attended one summer with Gunter and his sister Helga.

Ashland. Our next stop was Ashland, Wisconsin, 50 miles away on the shores of Lake Superior. This port city of 8200 is known as the Historic Mural Capital of Wisconsin, where the ghosts of the past appear in living color. Strolling through Ashland’s lively business district was a treat: I loved walking past all the old brick and brownstone buildings—still open for business. Along the way, we stopped to view more than a dozen murals depicting the city’s history.

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Ashland has been a working trade town, ever since French fur traders Radisson and Chouart landed on its shores in 1659 and built a shack that became the first European dwelling in Wisconsin. Two hundred years later, Chequamegon Bay was filled with rafts of cut timber and boats ferrying locally quarried brownstone to the cities in the east. Later, when the Upper Peninsula’s Gogebic Range began producing iron ore, freighters carried it out of Ashland’s docks. Now, none of those docks remain.

Before leaving town, we filled up at a rare gas station—with a beach. Lake Superior stretched out in front of us, for as far as the eye could see. This magnificent lake is the largest of the Great Lakes of North America, the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area (31,700 square miles), and the third largest by volume. There, we sauntered along the Lake Superior shoreline, stopping occasionally to photograph sun-struck, red-iron boulders and wave-weathered driftwood. Afterward, we sat there for a while, thinking about that busy port of long ago. I turned toward Gunter. “This lake looks calm right now. But did you know that she’s dangerous? She caused about 350 shipwrecks and she’s known for keeping her dead in the deep? I had his attention. “Yes, over 10,000 lives have been lost in these waters.”

Lakeshore Superior

Lakeshore, Superior.

Lake Superior boulder

Lake Superior boulder.

During a road trip in America, one must down at least one big burger. We fulfilled that goal on the way from Ashland to Bayfield. I picked up my burger so Gunter could take the photo. I tried to take a bite, but it wouldn’t fit into my mouth!

Big Burger

Big Burger.

We drove through the town of Washburn and followed the GPS where it said to turn, three miles south of Bayfield to Ski Hill. I could understand how this road got its name! We drove up and up and up, to the foot of Mt. Ashwabay, and took a left onto a long dirt driveway. There it was—The Timber Baron Inn, our secluded forest getaway. Through the trees, one could see the waves of Lake Superior dancing under the sun.

Ski Hill

Ski Hill.

Sunrise view

Sunrise view through our window.

Tuesday morning, we could have slept in. We knew that the first departure of the Madeline Island Ferry was not until 9:30 a.m. But at 6:30, a gorgeous sunrise beamed through our sheer curtains, daring us to join the day. Gunter went for coffee in the lobby and by 7:30, our breakfast tray arrived filled with goodies: scrambled eggs, sausage, blueberry scone, and yogurt-with-granola. That could fuel us for the entire day!

Breakfast

Our breakfast platter.

Bayfield and Madeline Island. The town of Bayfield—with a population of 500 and many times that during tourist season—is a popular resort, yachting, and vacation destination. It is also known as a lumber and commercial fishing town. But to me, this town has always been the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, the group of islands where I learned to sail. These islands are a national treasure, with lighthouses, sea caves, and some of the best kayaking in the world. The year 2020 marks fifty years as an official National Lakeshore. You can take a virtual tour here that includes a hike around Stockton’s Julian Bay and Raspberry Lighthouse, one of nine lighthouses within this national park.

Gunter at the wheel on the car ferry to Madeline Island.

Gunter at the wheel while on the car ferry.

View of Bayfield Old Mansions from ferry.

View of Bayfield Old Mansions from ferry.

Bayfield Yacht Club

Bayfield Yacht Club as seen from ferry.

The process of taking the car ferry on the 3-mile trip from Bayfield to Madeline Island, the largest of these islands, went like clockwork and soon we were driving through the quaint town of La Pointe. Unfortunately, the museum was closed but as we drove, we came upon a garden store with gnomes and fairy garden figures. These would be our souvenirs of the island. After that stop, it was time to find some nature. The island is home to Big Bay State Park and Town Park. Since we would only be there for the day, we chose the Town Park rather than buying a sticker. We were not disappointed! A conifer-lined walking path took us down over a bridge to an islet with a wonderful sandy beach and fantastic views. We sat on a log and took off our shoes. I dipped in a toe, then my entire foot, and then walked in up to the hem of my shorts. Brrr! It was then I realized that only children were in the water. The parents—those wimps—sat watching them from their portable chaise-lounges on the sandy beach! It was then that I remembered another statistic: The average temperature of Lake Superior is 36ºF, 2ºC.

Madeline Island Road Sign

Madeline Island road sign.

Lois

Testing the water.

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Back in Bayfield, we enjoyed smoked lake-trout salad for a late lunch and purchased more smoked lake fish to take home.

Smoked Lake Trout Salad

Smoked Lake Trout Salad.

“This was nice, but I look forward to Cornucopia,” Gunter said as we left Bayfield.

Washburn. We returned to The Timber Baron for a rest and then drove further south to the town of Washburn (population 2200) for dinner. We stopped for made-to-order pizzas at Dalou’s Bistro & Wood Fired Pizza Oven. Mine was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had! We preferred the laid-back, hometown feel of Washburn to tourist-filled Bayfield. After our dinner, we discovered a local city park where we watched the sun set over Lake Superior—just the two of us—along with a group of friendly seagulls.

Dalou's Bistro

Dalou’s Bistro.

Cornucopia. “I want to finally see Cornucopia!” Gunter said during our second home-cooked breakfast at The Timber Baron. He was practically jumping up and down.

I laughed. “Today’s the day.”

We plugged our destination into the GPS. It was not a straight route. We didn’t mind the scenery, even though the track took us inland from Lake Superior most of the time. But when we hit detours and then a miles-long stretch of road construction, we both grew impatient. A supposedly-27 minute drive stretched to two hours. Finally, the official green sign came into view. “Cornucopia!” we shouted in unison. A mile later, we spied another sign. This one contained a drawing of huge cornucopia right in the center—just like the Thanksgiving centerpiece Gunter had envisioned.

Cornucopia sign

Welcome to Cornucopia sign.

On our way into town, we spied at a rest stop—if you could call it that—with one picnic table under a colorful wooden pergola. We pulled off the road into a sandy parking area large enough for about five cars. We followed a nature path to a deserted sandy beach, complete with two worn Adirondack chairs. We walked the narrow beach for a while, stepping over more weathered logs and gray driftwood. As we returned to our SUV, another vehicle pulled in. A family of five poured out, each carrying his or her own container, promptly pumping the handle an artesian well. “Oh, that’s what this stop is for,” Gunter muttered. “Wish we had a container.”

We drove toward a small marina, with working fishing boats, surrounded by a few cute tourist shops. “Stop!” I demanded. “This must be where the Siskowit River meets Lake Superior. “They’re bound to have some shops there.” The harbor was quaint and picturesque, old fishing boats and quaint shops reflected in clear water. But I was disappointed to see that they were all closed with “Due to COVID” signs. We never met a soul.

Further on, we saw a commercial fish factory. That was open! We purchased smoked whitefish, all cut up and deboned for a salad, and loaded up on ice for our cooler. It felt wonderful, just to talk with someone! Outside, we found unlocked, public restrooms. Hooray!

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Expect the Unexpected. Surmising that was the town, we were more than a little disappointed. But as we drove on, we noted that the business district was off the main drag. There was more! There we found “Wisconsin’s Northern Most Post Office,” Ehlers General Store, a large brick building that could be the town hall, one café, and a few businesses fronting two sides of a wide, paved street.

Little Nikki's Restaurant

Little Nikki’s Restaurant.

Ehlers Store

Ehlers Store.

Siskowit Farmhouse

Siskowit Farmhouse.

Beyond that, the road led to the Siskowit River waterfalls my gardener had raved about. We ventured down a path to the lower falls, but it was dark, with fleeting river views between the foliage, and full of mosquitoes. The best photo op was from the gravel road that crossed the wooden bridge. There the upper falls dropped energetically from a ledge in the stream to a twelve-foot-wide sparkling pool of foam. We sat there for a while and ate one of our salty snacks.

“So this is Cornucopia.” I said. “A population of only 100 souls.”

“Pretty in its own way,” Gunter volunteered.

“Yes, it is. Just not what I expected.”

River walk alongside waterfall

River walk alongside falls.

Siskowit Falls, Cornucopia

Siskowit Falls, Cornucopia.

Road trips are the equivalent of human wings. Ask me to go on one. Anywhere. We’ll stop in every small town and learn the history and stories, feel the ground, and capture the spirit. Then we’ll turn it into our own story that will live inside our story to carry with us, always. Because stories are more important than things.

–Victoria Erickson

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Giant Clam

Giant Clam.

Expect the Unexpected

Often when traveling—whether on sea or land—I’ve grown accustomed to taking the road less traveled and coming across unexpected delights. During our Fiji adventures with Lydia and Helmut as crew, we took a sailing detour to visit a little-known research station located on a small Fijian island. We heard about these magnificent clams from another cruiser and decided to check it out for ourselves. We were not disappointed! Here’s an excerpt from pages 230-231 of Sailing the South Pacific:

Makogai Island, Fiji
June 20,2003

0630: Roosters crowing. Birds gossiping. Fish splashing. What an idyllic morning! As I sit in the cockpit, the only sound of civilization is the generator from the research station located farther into the bay. We will visit that facility today. The coffee pot whistles. As I turn to the galley, I notice fountains of cumulus clouds at each of the bay’s entrances. Palms fringe the mountain tops, rimming the dawn. It is the type of morning I love.

Makogai is one of these rare jewels that few know about. It’s not listed in the Lonely Planet. The only way to get here is to sail as we did or hitch a passage on boats visiting the government aqua-culture operation and sheep station. This island, transferred over to
Suva in 1979, has a history as a leper colony. Now it’s a spawning area for an exotic species of giant clams called Tridacna gigas.

Our snorkel over the reefs is perfect. The spawning beds are specially marked. The giant clams bred here are the largest I have ever seen—humongous mollusks with lips of cobalt blue, emerald green, and mottled brown. They are set in corals covering every color of the spectrum. Fan coral in shades of amber and taupe wave at me while iridescent reef fish dart in and out of the coral. A huge sea slug that looks like a fat crooked finger lazily makes its way over the sandy sea floor. What a wonderful day! We enjoy a glorious sunset, sipping cold white wine in the cockpit while we admire the western sky at the opening to Dalice Bay. I feast my eyes while Lydia excitedly snaps one photo after another.

The next morning, we snorkel through the two reef gardens again before heading for the fishery. We learn that the fishery plants hundreds of baby clams along the reefs throughout Fiji and exports some to Tonga and the Solomons.

A supervisor there gives us a tour of the giant clam incubation tanks. He tells us that this species are the largest of the bivalve mollusks. In ten years they can be measured end to end with outstretched arms. They have a 100-year lifespan and can weigh up to 500 pounds. With their shells wide open, they bask in sunlight so the symbiotic algae living with them can produce their food. Interestingly, hundreds of tiny eyes dot their skin, allowing them to sense sudden changes in their environment. The shells then close defensively. The man says that the adult clams here are incapable of slamming their shells completely shut because of their massive bulk. Still, no one volunteers to put that to a test with an arm or foot!

In case you’ve missed them, other blogs in this Fiji Adventures series are: Reconnecting with Crew, Reef Encounters of the Worst Kind: Attempting to Circumnavigate Fiji, Part II and Pacific Bliss Goes Snorkeling.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Pacific Bliss sails to the next island in Fiji

Pacific Bliss sails to the next island.

Sunset over reefs of Leleuvia

The sun sets over the reefs of Leleuvia where Pacific Bliss went snorkeling.

Continuing our adventures in Fiji with Lydia and Helmut as crew, my husband Günter and I sailed our 43-foot ocean-going catamaran Pacific Bliss, to the backpacker’s paradise of Leleuvia. This far into our world circumnavigation, we have learned to treat Pacific Bliss as a person. In this story, she shows human emotions, such as jealousy. The following section has been excerpted from pages 226-227 of Sailing the South Pacific.

Leleuvia, Fiji
17° 48.5 S, 178°43 E
June 11, 2003

Yesterday, the four of us snorkeled through colorful coral in crystal clear waters dappled with the refracted light of a beaming sun. We swam from our anchored dinghy, Petit Bliss, to the palm-covered islet of Leleuvia in a sea of teal glass. We ambled around the islet, digging our toes into the sunbaked sand. Every so often, one of us stooped to examine a shell, a piece of driftwood, or one of the delicate pink-and-white magnolia blossoms that had wafted onto the shore.

Perhaps Pacific Bliss had become jealous. After all, we left her anchored in the bay while we went off in our dinghy, Petit Bliss, to explore. Or perhaps Pacific Bliss was determined to go snorkeling as well. Why else would she allow herself to be pulled into a current and blown onto a coral bed?

Today, before 0500 and still pitch dark, I am rudely awakened to a thumping sound. I head topsides to check it out. It has just begun to rain so the sky remains ink-black. I take the torch (flashlight) and check the anchor chain. It is pulling tightly; the wind has returned. I check the stern. Petit Bliss is bobbing furiously, pulling on the painter and occasionally hitting the swim ladder. Much ado about nothing.

So Petit Bliss is the one making all the noise! No worries.

Then I notice the pale teal color of the water highlighted in the torch’s beam. My pulse quickens. Something is not right. Pale means shallow. I rush back into the salon to turn on the instruments. Yes, the depth meter shows only 3.8 feet! I check the wind direction. South. It was from the northeast when we anchored here. Then the weather turned calm for one glorious day of sea and sand.

Gunter comes up from the starboard hull, and I fill him in. “We have over 90 feet of chain out, but the wind has shifted almost 180 degrees, pushing us toward the reefs.”

“We’ll have to take in some more,” he says.

We pull in about 8 feet of chain by hand. Besides the chain stripper being broken, our up/down windlass only functions intermittently.

During breakfast, we discuss re-anchoring with our crew. We are not comfortable in this small anchorage with reefs on three sides.

The seas are benign and the wind calm as we head for another anchoring location that allows us more swing room. We proceed to a familiar, sandy area that is farther out to sea from our snorkeling area of yesterday. A South African Cat, Sea Rose, had anchored there before they left. It must be safe. Before we can drop the hook, a wind comes up.

“Now we have wind and it begins to piss,” Gunter complains as he grabs his rain gear. “We should have done this before when it was calm.”

Men! Monday-morning quarterbacking.

He motors and stops at our selected spot. “Drop anchor,” he commands.

The crew complies as the wind pushes Pacific Bliss toward the reefs. Then we all realize that by the time the anchor hits bottom, we will be in too close to these new reefs to allow for swing room if the wind changes direction again.

“Pull anchor,” the Captain Gunter commands. This time, the windlass control doesn’t work at all. Helmut has to pull the anchor with all that chain hand-over-hand. Both engines are in neutral.

Then things happen at warp speed—too quickly for us to analyze. A fierce gust of wind appears out of nowhere. And we think we hit the dangerous area of strong current that the Fijians on shore have warned us about. Pacific Bliss is pushed out of control; we haven’t cleated off the anchor line; and the line begins to pay out. Helmut had not cleated it off. Now he cleats it, but we can’t pull it in. It is probably caught on the bottom—and not where we want it.

“Go forward, Gunter,” I yell, but the wind swallows my words. Gunter comes up to the bow to evaluate the situation, with the engines still in neutral. “No. Take the boat forward so that we can pull the anchor loose!” Gunter rushes back to the stern, but it is too late.

Pacific Bliss, stubborn as she can be sometimes, has stopped right in the spot where we had gone snorkeling the day before! What audacity! What obstinacy! Her bottom is sucked into coral and she is not budging!

Helmut and Lydia jump into the water with their snorkeling gear. They find no damage anywhere—so far. But the bottom tip of the starboard dagger board has snagged a coral head. Gunter helps me winch Pacific Bliss forward since the anchor is still out and holding. No luck. Helmut is still in the water, trying to push Pacific Bliss off the coral head from the starboard hull. That doesn’t work either.

Then we get lucky, very lucky.

A dive boat is returning to the islet because of the inclement weather. I wave frantically. The passengers all wave back, nice and friendly.

“Come here! Pull us!” I yell from our bow. Immediately—no questions asked—the Fijian boat roars closer. The driver throws me a long towline, which I tie to the bow cleat. The boat pulls, Helmut pushes, and Pacific Bliss is coerced into deeper water while we all pull in that chain. Her snorkeling escapade is cut short.

They say that there is always a first time for everything. This is the first time during our circumnavigation, though, that Pacific Bliss has gone snorkeling. In over 17,000 miles of sailing, half-way around the world, she had never kissed a coral head. Until now.

And if I have my way, she will never kiss one again!

Later, we sit around the salon table sipping hot chocolate and munching cookies, attempting to nourish our shaken souls. Captain Gunter has finished beating himself up. Now he sits there, glum and dejected. “I don’t need this,” he says. “Lois, what do you think we would be doing if we were back in San Diego right now?”

“Thinking about snorkeling in teal, crystal-clear waters near a sandy palm-covered island somewhere in the South Seas?”

Swimming in Fiji

Gunter swimming alongside the boat.

In the next installment of this series, we explore Levuka, Fiji’s ancient capital. I had researched the town’s past: In the 1830s, Levuka had been a small whaling and beachcomber settlement. It was virtually lawless; ships followed a trail of empty gin bottles into port, and the town was a haven for escaped convicts, ship jumpers, debtors, and other ne’er-do-wells. What will it be like now?

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Lydia and Helmut
Lydia and Helmut on Pacific Bliss, Fiji, 2003

The adventure continues. In the last blog, we left the four of us—Lydia, Helmut, Gunter and me—setting anchor alarms while we tried to sleep. Strong winds were battering our catamaran Pacific Bliss in the Tomba Naloma anchorage in Viti Levu, Fiji. This next section, excerpted from pages 224-226 of Sailing the South Pacific, continues our effort to navigate the reef-strewn northern side of Fiji’s largest island. Our goal: to sail to Fiji’s ancient capital, Levuka.

     “One wouldn’t know by the peacefulness of this morning that this is the bay that I had grown to hate only yesterday. From the cockpit, I watch seabirds soar over still waters; they fly by me in pairs. Golden light breaks through low lying clouds hugging the bay. Hills hug us on three sides, purple-gray, silent, protecting. Yes, yesterday I wanted out of here, never to return.

How quickly and easily the sea changes its face! One minute brooding, the next minute inviting. One minute savage and threatening, the next, calm and pristine. Like she is right now.

Will this be yet another cruising day that points out our vulnerability out here, how simple mistakes can lead to dramatic and immediate consequences?

This morning, Pacific Bliss faces west, pushed by a gentle SSW Force 2, 7-knot breeze. The hills brighten as the sea wrinkles.

How long before the high trade winds roar in from the southeast again, turning the sea into a monster?”

It didn’t take long for us to run into problems again. We turned Pacific Bliss to follow the path on the electronic chart, just as we had the day before. But we were in for a surprise. There was no path between the reef and the marker! From that point on, we knew that we could no longer rely on the reefs being marked. All alone out there on the Northern Passage, we couldn’t afford to take chances, so we crept along until dusk.

     “With a 20-knot wind, we’re afraid of dragging anchor. We head for a big bay instead and set the anchor with 140 feet of chain, in 41 feet at low tide. It’s deeper than we’d like and not very sheltered, but at least we won’t swing into anything.

     Lydia and I fire up the breadmaker to bake wheat berry bread while Helmut continues to fish. Toward dusk, he hauls in a trevella. We gorge on warm bread while the fish marinates, then fry potatoes and plantains. The high wind gusts cool the salon, so we sip on hot Good Earth tea spiked with rum.

     Life isn’t so bad after all!

     As we let down our guard and begin a leisurely dinner in the salon, the day falls apart. It begins slowly— this falling apart—as one event careens into the next.

     First, Günter notices that the anchor alarm shows that the boat has moved 500 feet. “Can’t be!” His face pales. “Must be a mistake—it didn’t go off. Helmut, let’s check our calculations.”

     The computer shows that we have drifted halfway into the bay! We quickly clear our half-eaten dinner. I tell everyone to shut the hatches, in case we end up on a reef today, after all. Then Günter calls us all into the cockpit for instructions.

     The night is pitch black.
     “Lois, go to the nav station. Follow our MaxSea track back to our original anchoring location. I’ll just motor slowly. Helmut and Lydia, after we pull anchor, you’ll use the flashlight and spotlight to warn us when we’re near shore.”

     Pulling anchor is difficult now with the stripper broken, but our new crew makes fast work of it. Günter inches toward shore while I direct our autopilot carefully, using plus or minus one degree, until we are a few boat lengths from our original anchoring spot. Fortunately the wind has died, and the anchor sets easily.

     I never want to see this Nananu–I–Cake Anchorage again. Our crew wanted a learning experience; well, they’re certainly getting it.”

June 4:
     “…As the day drones on, the strong wind returns. It whistles through the rigging, swinging our little home around as she pulls tight on her two anchor chains. We all know that it’s a given that we stay here until the weather cooperates.

     While the men focus on boat maintenance, Lydia and I bake up a storm, creatively using ingredients we have on board. We realize that we will need to provision soon. But how?

     We jump into the bay to cool off after cooking. The current races so fast between the hulls that I dare not let go of the swim ladder. The dinghy goes wild, bouncing on the waves.

     The wind blows so hard that we have our sundowners inside. Lydia compares her expectations with how she feels about sailing now. “I thought we’d be sitting outside, in a calm anchorage, sipping piña coladas in the sunset,” she says, discouraged.

     “Did you expect to have wind for sailing?” I ask.
     “Of course. I dreamt about sails billowing in the wind, pulling us along.”
     “But then when you wanted to sip those piña coladas, the wind would suddenly disappear?”
     “I didn’t think of that…in fact, now I wonder whether I should buy into Helmut’s dream of sailing around the world.”

     The next day, the bay is still too rough to deploy Petit Bliss, so we order a pick-up from Safari Lodge nearby. Günter opts to stay with the boat.

     The three of us take off in the skiff. It turns toward Ellington Wharf, where we receive the brunt of the east wind racing through the channel. The spray comes over the high sides of the launch. Helmut’s T-shirt is sopping, but he laughs.

     “It’s good I brought a spare,” he shouts over the shrieking wind.

     When the launch stops at Ellington Wharf, I’m amazed. I cannot imagine Pacific Bliss—or any large boat for that matter—pulling up to this dilapidated structure. We disembark. On the wharf, angry brown froth smashes against the jetty. Palms bend over in pain.

     Wind-dried and salty, we hike toward the bus stop. After a mile or so, an Indian cane farmer with thick black hair and dusty clothes offers us a lift. We pass field after field of sugar cane.

     He drops us off at the farmer’s market. What a scene! Colorful blankets cover the grass. Fijian mothers hold the babies and toddlers, while older children play games together in the shade trees across from the market. Under the shade of a banyan tree, men drink kava and gossip. The produce is laid out in mounds. A mound of limes: $1 Fijian. A mound of oranges: $1. A bunch of bok choy: $1. One green papaya: $1. Soon our canvas shopping bags are full, with a $1 bunch of bananas topping it off.

     “Bula!” Women wearing colorful muumuus greet us with wide smiles. They even smile when we don’t buy from them. They do not cajole, like Indian vendors.

     We find three grocery stores containing everything else we need, including a Fiji Times and lots of chocolate to placate Günter. After catching a taxi back to the wharf, it’s another wet ride back to Pacific Bliss, where the high winds have continued unabated.

     Finally the next day the sun shines, and the wind decreases enough that we dare to leave the bay. We navigate the reefs past Ellington Wharf and through the narrow Navelau passage to Viti Levu Bay. The process is horrendously slow. Our disturbingly inaccurate electronic chart shows us going over land in many places. We are thankful to have sharp lookouts on board. By the time we anchor twice in the bay, we are all tense and tired.

     The following day, we motor for five hours and are forced to pull in at 1315. The skies turn dark and foreboding; ominous clouds line the entire horizon. Navigating through the reefs had been tricky with full sun; no way do we want to take this route under an overcast sky. We anchor in a muddy area south of the Natori Ferry Terminal. Then we set a second anchor as well. Appropriately, Günter plays Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, one of his favorites.

     We come topsides in the morning, overjoyed to see a flotilla of 12 sailboats passing by the bay’s outer limits. This makes navigation easier; we’ll be following them. Even so, navigation is extremely tricky. By the time we anchor again, I collapse into my berth while Günter takes Lydia and Helmut to a nearby reef to fish and snorkel. I’ll have my chance to snorkel in Leleuvia, a small sandy island that is touted as a backpackers’ paradise.”

Helmut snorkeling

Little did I know then that Pacific Bliss would decide to go snorkeling herself! That story is coming up next. And in the event you didn’t read Part 1 of this Fiji series, you can access that link here.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Reef Encounters of the Worst Kind: Attempting to Circumnavigate Fiji

This past weekend brought a pleasant surprise: Gunter and I reconnected with a crew we’d had on board our catamaran Pacific Bliss when sailing in the Fiji Islands during the spring of 2003, seventeen years ago. Here’s how I described this couple in my book, Sailing the South Pacific:

Denarau Marina, Viti Levu, Fiji, May 30

Lydia and Helmut Dueck are an adventurous German couple who decided to backpack around the world before they marry and have children. We first met them through our website. Helmut’s dream has always been to sail the world when he retires. He is a sailor, but Lydia, his fiancé, has never been on a sailboat. Crewing is an opportunity to find out whether his dream will work for them. Only in their twenties, they are wisely thinking ahead!

…Lydia is a pert, fun-loving blonde. Helmut is dark-haired and serious, yet I suspect that he can be fun, too.

We had arranged for a taxi to meet the couple at the Nadi airport and to take them directly to Pacific Bliss. They appear to be relieved to see a berth freshly made up for them and towels and washcloths in their own port head. Frugal backpackers, they find Pacific Bliss luxurious. We find them to be a refreshing, happy couple and look forward to spending time with them.

Lydia and Helmut Pacific Bliss

Lydia and Helmut on Pacific Bliss, Fiji

 

Sunset Denarau, Fiji

Sunset in Denarau, Fiji

Since that introduction to the cruising life, Lydia and Helmut married and succeeded in their professions, Lydia as a midwife and Helmut as a businessman and entrepreneur. They raised four children, lived in various countries—including Germany and China—all the while holding onto their dream of sailing around the world. They never forgot their adventures sailing Pacific Bliss in Fiji, where they experienced the highs and lows of the cruising life.

Here’s a taste of what they experienced:

We arrive in Vitago Bay and anchor easily with our new crew working in unison…After a delicious dinner, we all go into the cockpit to watch the stars light the sky with no city lights to interfere. Helmut and Lydia are in their element. They are truly amazed by it all…

Following that high, we’re rounding the northwest point of Viti Levu during our attempt to circumnavigate that island. This is what happens next:

We are all on lookout now as we navigate through the reefs…To make the turns, I take the nav station inside, Gunter takes the helm, Lydia takes the pulpit seat using our powerful binoculars, and Helmut takes the other pulpit seat…Strong gusts hit as we slowly approach Tomba Naloma, our anchorage. We know that this bay is full of reefs close to shore, but because it’s not low tide, we can’t see them. We motor in slowly. I take up my position at the bow, with the anchor windlass control.

“Don’t worry,” Gunter says. “I’ll bring you right to the anchor symbol we put on MaxSea. 30 feet, 28 feet, 26 feet…we should be there in five minutes.”

We creep cautiously. The wave heights gradually decrease but the wind keeps blowing.

“24 feet. Drop anchor,” Gunter commands.

I drop but the wind blows us backward rapidly. The windlass won’t release the anchor chain as fast as the wind is pushing us back. Then all of a sudden, the anchor catches and jerks the boat.

“Let out more chain,” Gunter shouts from the helm. “I’m letting it out as fast as I can,” I shout from bow back into the wind. “I’ve got 120 feet out and she’s still pulling.” Gunter comes forward. “Let’s deploy the bridle with a short leash this time. Let out some more.”

He sets the bridle, but now the entire chain has payed out. At the anchor locker, I can see the rope, all the way to the bitter end. I try to bring some back by reversing the windlass control. The rope binds and bends the chain stripper (the device that pulls the chain from the wheel and lets it fall, pulled by its own weight, into the chain locker.) Helmut helps me straighten out the mess.

Now we have a “broken boat” again. Until it’s fixed, we’ll have to haul anchor hand over hand, which is not only physically strenuous but can also be dangerous when timing is critical. We brainstorm the next port where it can be fixed—Tonga?

We could have scrapped this daring venture and headed back to Denarau but to our crew’s credit, they agreed to continue on with our plans. We set anchor alarms that night and took turns standing watch as 25-30 knot winds howled through the rigging.

Trevella

Helmut catches a huge Trevella along the coast of Viti Levu, Fiji

This was only the beginning of this couple’s adventures on Pacific Bliss. We took a launch from Ellington’s Wharf and hitchhiked to a colorful village market to provision; we snorkeled in Leleuvia while our yacht decided to pull anchor and go snorkeling the reefs herself; we visited Levuka, Fiji’s amazing ancient capital; we viewed the largest clams in the world at Makogai Island; and we sailed on to Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island, where the couple departed to continue their backpacking trip. I’ll share more of those stories in future blogs.

Here is the letter Lydia sent to me last week for inclusion in this blog:

After sailing with Lois and Gunter in 2003, my husband Helmut couldn’t stop thinking of doing this one day in the future. We never stopped traveling but cruising on a yacht seemed very unrealistic to us. Living in China for five years and in Mexico for two, our feeling got stronger that if there’s anything we’d like to do in our lives it’ll be sailing!

Here we are—17 years and four children later, we will start our own journey on a Lagoon 45 Catamaran from Croatia. Not sure where the wind will carry us but for sure we will go back to Fiji where it all began.

Feel warmly hugged,

Lydia

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I strongly urge you, my readers, despite all the obstacles that may be in your paths, do not give up on your own dreams. Continue to pursue your passions, and those dreams will come to pass!

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.

 

 


It’s been a year since the tornadoes touched down on July 19, 2019. I still shiver when I think of that day when everything changed at Northern Bliss. From that day until October 15th, when we left our lake home for the winter, I heard the grating buzz of chainsaws from sun-up until sundown. See my blogs about that terrible tornado and recovery efforts at https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/08/16/tornado-disaster-at-northern-bliss/ and https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/09/28/recovery-from-natural-disasters/.

One year later, a pontoon ride around White Ash Lake shows that residents have done an awesome job of clean-up but still more work remains. So many have planted new trees that will never reach maturity during their lifetimes. Indeed, “to plant a tree is to believe in tomorrow.”

Tornado

Last night, the National Weather Service issued warning for many counties in Wisconsin, including Polk. “This time, we will be spared,” I muttered, “for the simple reason that one should not have to endure a tornado for the third time.” I remembered the tornado of 1955, all of us on our knees praying in the kitchen of our farm home in Eureka township. (The house didn’t have a basement to run to for shelter.) I’d never written a story about that experience, but my brother Dave did. Here is his story:

From the Memoirs of Dave Glassel:

The Polk County Wisconsin Tornadoes of 1953

I was watching the weather channel the other morning and it brought to mind the tornadoes of 1953 in the St. Croix Falls, Polk County, Wisconsin area. I was about eight years old and it was my job to go get the cows at milking time. My sister Lois, three years older than I, used to go get them, but as she grew older, that became my chore. She was relegated to house chores by then.

Our small dairy farm was at its best in 1953. Dad was milking about 18 cows and we were filling about 5 or 6 milk cans per milking. The milk house was quite a way from the barn and Dad built a two-wheel cart that would hold 2 cans. It had big wheels he’d taken off an old horse-driven hay rake. I would help Mom push on the cart uphill on the last leg of the journey to the pump house where we put the cans into the stock tank to cool the milk. We had two tanks. Mom and I were able to lift the cans into the low tank. It was not easy because when the can went into the water it settled to the bottom slowly because of the buoyancy, subsequently one needed to keep it upright all the way to the bottom. I guess that is why my knees and back are bad. Too many hay bales and milk cans wrestled with in my youth!

We had a hired man in those days. His name was Larry. He was from McKinley and from a family Dad had known for years. He was a genuine slacker and Dad never could get him to do any work to speak of. He was always out behind the horse barn smoking cigarettes and that made Dad furious. When it came time for milking he was never around. He and his friend Wayne would be off riding Wayne’s Indian Motorcycle instead. Dad despised Wayne as well. He finally told Larry’s Dad to come get him. It was the same day of the Big Storm. No one came and he finally hitch- hiked his way back to McKinley.

I went to get the cows about 6 p.m. They were way back in the southeast corner of the 80 acres on the border of the Rock Creek Farm and the Old Rehbien Farm. Dad had made a pasture on the back of the big hill that always washed out when he planted corn there. The grass was green and lush and had lots of cow pies to step in.

I am suggesting it was probably in June when the tornadoes were spawned. I had gone to get the cows and bring them home for milking. I always carried my walking stick that Grandpa Glassel had made for me. I also had the Lassie, the cow dog, with me. I don’t know which Lassie as we had numerous Collies, all by that name. The cows were all bunched up in the far corner of the pasture. Lassie barked at them and tried to get them to get into the cow path and head for the barn. The cows always walked single file and had a deep rut cut in the ground. But this was a new pasture and the cow path was not well-defined. I thought that was the reason they wouldn’t start going to the barn. Between Lassie and me, we finally got them heading north to the barn.

Then, without any warning the cows all started to walk really fast. Then they began to run! I was scared because when they ran, they would let down and all of the milk would start coming out of their udders. Dad used to scold Lois and me for letting the Collie dogs make them run by biting at their heels. But soon, I couldn’t keep up with the cows.

Meanwhile, Dad saw the cows rush toward the barnyard. They ran frantically through the gate and into the barn—all into the wrong stanchions. “That had never happened before,” Dad told me later.

He figured out something was wrong and when he didn’t see me, he climbed the hill to go looking for me. By then I had just reached the top of the hill.

Dad later told me that he heard about the tornadoes on WCCO radio in the barn and then saw the tornadoes on the horizon over the St. Croix River, heading in our direction. I was scared and was running as fast as I could go but I kept tripping. I calmed down a bit when I saw Dad coming for me. He grabbed my hand and pulled me down in a gully. The storm blew over as fast as it came. In a matter of seconds, its fury had passed us by. It skipped over our farm but we watched in awe as the huge barn at the Rehbien farm flew into the air and landed in a million pieces.

The next day Mom and Dad loaded us all up in the rusted, green 46 Ford and we went for a ride to view the devastation. There were 18 tornadoes spawned by the storm stretching from the Glassel farm to Grantsburg and East as far as Clam Falls. The majority of the damage was done west of Eureka and north of Cushing. We drove past areas where as many as six barns and a few houses were totally demolished. Dead cattle were strewn everywhere. Unfortunately, most all of the milk cows were in the barn for milking at that time of the day and the barns collapsed on them. We stopped to visit Donald Christensen, Leroy Christensen’s Dad and Mom. Their barn was blown down and there were dead Holsteins everywhere. Some were still alive but immobile. They didn’t shoot them because they wanted to keep them alive until they could be butchered. The slaughter houses in Luck and Milltown were all backed up, however, and unable to take more cattle. Mom cried like a baby for hours for all those poor, injured cows. She loved animals!

But she loved her babies more. After the storm I remember Mom hugging me and thanking Dad. Her nine children were all saved.

The next Sunday, we went with Aunt Gertie and Grandma and Grandpa Glassel to Clam Falls. The old Glassel house where Dad and his brothers and sisters grew up was leveled to the ground. The farm had been vacant for several years. I went back to find the place years later but there was nothing there. Nature had taken over.

I often think about that storm. At the last class reunion, I talked to Judy Jensen, a historical writer for Polk County who worked for the Polk County Museum in Balsam Lake. She told me that they had numerous photos of the devastation from those 18 tornadoes in ‘55. It was the most devastating storm to ever hit Wisconsin and has since been recorded in the records as such.

I don’t know if I can actually say I was “in” the tornado or not. I just remember being really scared and Dad being on top of me. There was an unbelievable wind and then a flood of rain. I remember seeing Dads lips moving but couldn’t hear anything because of the overwhelming noise. Perhaps he was praying. Dad claimed that what saved our farm was the fact that it was built in the ravine sheltered with hills on all sides. During later years, he recalled that he saw the funnel going overhead and it looked like as if it went right over the barn and house. We never even lost as much as a tree limb!

As for the cows, later I came to understand that their erratic behavior was related directly to their sensing the oncoming storm. That is why they were all grouped in the corner of the pasture. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the animals can’t detect weather and storms. Dad used to say to Mom, I know it’s going to rain. I can hear Landahl’s horses whinnying. He was right every time.

I’ve forgotten many things about my St. Croix Falls childhood days. But there are many stories that I do remember—especially those events that took place on that 80-acre Dairy Farm during the fifties.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Welcome to Jackson Hole

Welcome to Jackson Hole

 

“The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and…in Wildness is the preservation of the world.”                                                                       —Henry David Thoreau

My last blog stated that Jackson Hole is open to visitors this summer, even though the coronavirus is still lurking. That’s true, but visitors are now required to wear masks in public places. Even so, it’s convenient to use Jackson Hole as a base for touring the Tetons and enjoying the valley. You may want to consider the following attractions:

Grand Tetons. During our trip to Montana and Wyoming in September of 2019, the four of us (my sister Ret, brother-in-law John, Gunter and I) stayed at Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone and then drove to Colter Bay Village in the Tetons. We had planned to stay in basic cabins there for four nights; however, a cold front hit us the first night with rain turning to sleet. We checked out after breakfast and decided to drive on to Jackson Hole to “hole up” while the storm passed. It was a wise decision because the sleet turned to snow by the time we arrived at our two-bedroom condo at Jackson Hole Lodge, in the heart of town. We stocked up on food and hunkered down until the weather cleared. Keep in mind that Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons—separated by 31 miles via the John D. Rockefeller Parkway—encompass nearly 4,000 square miles. That’s a lot to tackle in one trip, so a few days rest was welcome.

Colter Bay

Ret, John, Lois and Gunter on a cold morning in Colter Bay. We planned on taking a boat ride; that was not to be.

Colter Bay

Colter Bay in September with snow on the way.

Well-rested, we took a day trip back to Colter Bay and the surrounding area. After stopping at Jackson Lake beneath towering Mount Moran, we continued our scenic drive through the park. We enjoyed expansive views of snow-capped peaks as we headed back to Jackson following Hwy 26, 81, and 191 along the Snake River, stopping at overlooks whenever we could.

Kayakers on Snake River

Kayakers navigating Snake River.

Vista of Snake River Valley

Vistas near the Snake River Valley

Raptor handler

We stopped for a raptor show along the way.

One option—for those of you who can—is taking a high-elevation morning hike. Drive to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to hop on the aerial tram for a 4,000-foot vertical ride to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, peaking at 10,450 feet. Here, you can access an extensive network of trails that link to Grand Teton National Park. The 4.2-mile Rock Springs and Cody Bowl Loop trail is easily accessible from the tram and offers spectacular alpine scenery and sweeping panoramic views of distant peaks.

Moose and Elk. One day we drove along the Moose-Wilson Road, named for the associated towns but known for moose sightings. We didn’t see one, but we certainly put some bumpy miles on our rented SUV! On another day we drove north of Jackson to visit the National Elk Refuge, known for the thousands of elk that winter here. The area is also home to 47 different mammals and 175 species of birds. We were one of the few visitors to the Miller homestead that day, so we had plenty of time to converse with the caretakers who live there part-time. We learned that this 25,000-acre elk refuge was established in 1912 as a sanctuary for one of the largest elk herds on the earth. Home to an average of 7,500 elk each winter, the refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Elk migrate from as far away as southern Yellowstone Park but like to winter on the sheltered grassy plains. During the spring, the herd follows the retreating snows to growing grasses of Yellowstone. The Boy Scouts of America have been collecting the thousands of elk antlers shed each year to sell them at auction. The arrangement requires them to return 75% of the proceeds to the refuge. About 10,000 pounds of antlers are auctioned each year! Some of them are purchased by the city to replenish the four elk antler arches at Jackson Square.

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Mormon Row Historic District. We continued driving until we found the historic homestead complexes along the Jackson-Moran Road in the valley near the southeast corner of Grand Teton National Park. Six building clusters illustrate Mormon settlement in the area from 1908-to the 1950s with features such as drainage systems, corrals, barns, and fields. The site is a bonanza for photographers, framed with the majestic Teton Range rising in the background. I could have spent half a day there, but we were hungry so we headed for the small towns of Moose and Kelly searching for food. The restaurant choices were limited; we settled on a burgers-and-barbeque place.

Morman Barn

Mormon Barn

Mormon Historic District

Mormon Historic District

Museums. The National Museum of Wildlife Art looks like a fortress nestled into the hillside, but inside you’ll find 14 separate galleries showcasing an extensive permanent collection as w ell as touring exhibits. The museum reopened on June 2nd with a retrospective of the work of Tucker Smith, featuring more than 75 original oil paintings. The exhibition, Celebration of Nature, presents the breadth of his subject matter from western wildlife to camp and cowboy scenes to intriguing landscapes. You can download the museum app to your iPhone, iPad or web device.

Smith-The-Refuge

The Refuge by Tucker Smith, 1994.
Oil on canvas 36×120 inches. ©1994 courtesy of The Greenwich Workshop.

We visited the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming on the way from Red Lodge, Montana to Yellowstone Park. Although quite commercialized, the man, the legend, and the legacy of Buffalo Bill do come together in a remarkable testament to the Wild West lifestyle. The first cowboy hero in show business and popular fiction, Buffalo Bill Cody was also a daring entrepreneur. He invested in hotels, an Arizona mine, stock breeding, ranching, coal and oil development, film making, town building, tourism, and publishing. In fact, he had his own newspaper, the Cody Enterprise, which still provides news to the town of Cody. He was an early advocate of women’s suffrage and the fair treatment of American Indians. An interesting book on this is William F. Cody’s Wyoming Empire: The Buffalo Bill Nobody Knows, by Robert Bonner. If you go, note that an exhibit honoring women who shaped the west is on display there until August 2, 2020.

Music. Each summer, Jackson Hole hosts the Grand Teton Music Festival. This year, it will not be able to proceed as planned; however; the program Music from the Mountains will be streamed online on August 21, 22, and 23 and will appear on TV in the fall. Watch for it. “Backstage” passes are available for watching the filming of the festival on ZOOM.

Shopping at Jackson Hole

Shopping is a favorite tourist activity in Jackson Hole. You’ll find all kinds of wild art!

Art. Jackson Hole is home to over two dozen galleries in town, but that’s not all. Art is displayed in restaurants and businesses all over town. Ret and I enjoyed walking through home and furniture stores with local art displayed in every setting. In between sightseeing, we walked to galleries from our condo. Gunter and I purchased a large framed photo of the Tetons in the spring with purple and white lupines fronting a deep blue mountain lake. This photo now hangs in the formal entrance to our home, providing cherished memories of the Grand Tetons and the wonderful times we had there.

 

 

 

 

 

Note that this blog is a sequel to my previous blog about the Fall Arts Festival in Jackson Hole at https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2020/06/20/the-fall-arts-festival-at-jackson-hole-wyoming-is-on/

Other blogs in this series are:

https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/11/13/yellowstone-favorites-fountain-paint-pots/

https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/10/14/destination-red-lodge/

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.

 


During 2020, with so many events and festivals cancelled, I’m encouraged to see that most of places we visited during last fall’s trip to Montana and Wyoming are now open for tourists. Yellowstone Park is open with few restrictions. You can access events here. The Grand Tetons are open as well. And the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce has announced that the 36th Annual Arts Festival will be held from Wednesday, September 9th to Sunday, September 20th.

During our 2019 road trip, after touring Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, we spent a week in Jackson Hole. Along with my sister Ret and brother-in-law John, Gunter and I had rented a two-bedroom condo there to enjoy some R&R before driving back to Billings and flying home. But Jackson Hole turned out to more than we expected: a happening destination in and of itself.

This city of 10,450 calls itself the “Heart of the American West.” Fur trappers and frontiersmen called it “Jackson’s Hole” when they traversed the steep pass in the early 1800s and came upon the majestic beauty of the valley. Since that time, this valley has drawn cowboys, dude-ranchers, mountaineers, skiers, and even John D. Rockefeller, whose large swaths of ranchland later became Grand Teton National Park. Jackson Hole is flanked by the Teton and Gros Ventre mountain ranges offering powdery skiing in the winter and splendid hiking in the summer. The Snake River, with its headwaters in nearby Yellowstone Park, meanders through fields of grazing buffalo and elk. Luxury ski resorts have brought glamour to this wild western town, but Jackson Hole is still a hometown kind of place where you can wear your cowboy boots to the most upscale restaurant.

Buffalo grazing in Yellowstone Park

A lone buffalo grazing at Yellowstone Park.

Lois at Snake River

Lois at Snake River

We four were fortunate to be in Jackson Hole during the final days of the 35th Annual Fall Arts Festival. What a fun event! My sister Ret and I left our husbands—still in their PJs—behind at the condo and rushed off to the 9 a.m. Quick Draw Arts Sale and Auction at the Jackson Town Square. In a unique alfresco setting, national, regional, and local artists demonstrate their skills while spectators watch.

Each has an outdoor “booth” in the Square to set up their “studio” with sculpting or painting tools. They are allowed to have a photo or sketch of art they’ve done before, but each artist begins with a blank canvas. At the end of ninety minutes, the artist must be finished and ready to frame or otherwise display his or her work.

Ret and I strolled through the tree-lined park, watching artists work feverishly to see their works come to life in canvas or clay. The skill required was amazing! Bystanders would ask questions and artists would answer and even tell stories while continuing their work. We stopped to watch for a while when we encountered an especially engaging bear, elk, or mountain scene. In the middle of the square, volunteers from the Chamber handled bidding registration. We were curious about how these pieces would be auctioned off, so occasionally we watched from the sidelines. Then we would take another walk around to see how the artworks we liked had progressed.

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The ninety minutes went by in a flash. And when the QuickDraw concluded, the big sales tent on Delaney Street filled up quickly. At first, we took two of the empty seats, but then we noticed that each of the empty seats held a bid card. We realized that we would be forced to stand or sit around the edges of the tent or group outside the entries and exits. But my sister and I don’t give up easily! Inside, near the edge of the tent, we found a small, flat-topped tree stump, a perfect place for people-watching. We would take turns sitting. What an intriguing cross-section of humanity! We saw anxious artists and their supportive families, local ranchers and businesspeople, well-dressed and wealthy art patrons from all over the world, and on-lookers like us. The noise level increased as excitement built and the tent filled. We watched bidders take reserved seats on the main floor—some wearing cowboy hats and boots, others casual-elegant, and a few dressed to kill—while latecomers crowded around the entrances. The buzz reached a crescendo until the host representing the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce sprinted on stage to introduce key celebrities in the art world. Then he called the auctioneer to the stage amid cheers and waving of hats. It was time to begin. A hush swept over the crowd.

Quick Draw Auction

The Quick Draw Auction held in the big tent.

The live auction was a fun and spirited affair. Art enthusiasts bid for their favorite pieces while the auctioneers urged other participants to bid up the price. Ret and I could imagine the stress the artists felt as they waited for their own work to be displayed on the stage! Afterwards, a festive air enveloped the entire town. Shops and restaurants opened their doors while art galleries held wine-and-cheese receptions. Streets were packed but everyone was friendly and having a wonderful time.

Gunter and John joined us for an early dinner across from the Town Square at Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, Wyoming’s landmark watering hole. During the ensuing days, we explored the area, using Jackson Hole as our base. That story is coming up next.

Lois and Gunter

Lois and Gunter

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Those with wanderlust in our bones are dreaming of traveling again. When I provide recommendations for international travel, I always include Uzbekistan in my short list. (See my February blog: International Destinations: Where to Travel in 2020.) Here are some other links to my blogs about Uzbekistan:

Oh, to go back to that pre-COVID era of innocence!

But If and When You Go:

Contact Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours, Office: 888-745-7670, Cell: 908-347-4280. Her company manages independent and luxury travel tours throughout the Silk Road Countries of Central Asia, as well as to Mongolia and Georgia.

Below is Zulya’s latest blog, which she has graciously consented to share with us here:

The Ceremony of Uzbekistan Sallabandon
Ceremony-of-Uzbekistan-Sallabandon2

The traditions and customs of the Uzbek people have been shaped by their unique position at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road. The treasures that flowed were not only the ones that can be held in one’s hand, but also those that touch the heart and soul. Art, philosophy, science, and religious ideals were exchanged, enriching the cultures of both the travelers and their hosts.

Uzbek culture reflects a beautiful synthesis of these influences, while maintaining its own unique traditions. From the harmony of its architecture to the masterful detail of its applied arts, from the busy, noisy bazaars to the peaceful, laid-back chaikhana, a journey through Uzbekistan is unique and unforgettable.

It will be helpful for travelers to be aware of some of the conventions of Uzbek society. Let’s share with you our Sallabandon celebration.

Ritual and tradition connect us all. The people of Bukhara, an ancient oasis city in south-western Uzbekistan, celebrate Sallabandon – literally “tying the turban”. This particular ceremony marks the transition of a woman to motherhood.

The regions of Central Asia have a history almost 3,000 years old and the ceremony of Sallabandon has roots in pre-Islamic Sogdian culture. Sogdiana was an empire of city-states in prominence from the 6th to the 11th centuries throughout what is now Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, in the heart of the Silk Road. Archaeologists at Sogdian sites have found terracotta figurines of a female fertility deity holding a pomegranate and a baby in her hands. Interestingly, they feature a turban-like headdress in the form of a tied scarf.

Ceremony of Uzbekistan SallabandonSallabandon often takes place with other celebrations. It may, for example, occur together with gavorabandon – the occasion of putting a newborn into a cradle for the first time. Russian and European travelers to Bukhara in the early 20th century described the beauty of the local dress and the richness of the jewelry. Women’s clothing in Central Asia retains its traditional sophistication and aesthetic appeal.

On the day of Sallabandon, the young mother wears a splendid kuylak, the traditional tunic-style dress, its front decorated with peshkurta, a gold and silk embroidered band. She uses a kultapushak or gold embroidered headdress with a hair cover, a peshonaband (forehead cover), a large white shawl and a lachak; a white veil. The dressing takes place in the presence of relatives and invited guests. This ritual is performed by a respected senior female family member with many children and grandchildren, usually the grandmother of the young mother. Accompanied by traditional singing, the headdress is placed on the head of the young mother and a length of white fabric is wrapped under her chin and tied on top. The peshonaband is covered by the white shawl symbolizing purity. The young mother then bows to all her guests and relatives and receives their gifts. Her mother and mother in law usually present her with a gold ring, earrings and bracelet, the circle representing the magic of protection from evil. Ceremonial headdresses and costumes are gifts from the mother to her daughter, connecting generations, and bestowing the desire for fertility and protection.

Family values, the importance of children, and the role of mothers as guardians of the house and family, all are brought together in the wonderful Bukharan ritual of sallabandon. We look forward to taking you to our people’s homes to participate in such amazing traditional Uzbek celebrations during your travel in Uzbekistan. You may also enjoy to participatate in the Silk and Spice festivals or Navruz festival.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


How can one tamp down your inner wanderlust while following pandemic stay-at-home orders?
As a travel writer, how can I help you through these trying times?

Appreciate where you’ve been.  Embracing an attitude of gratitude can bring you out of the doldrums. Realize that this is temporary and eventually, you’ll put your tabled travel plans back in motion. During this pause, those of us who are intrepid travelers have a rare chance to think more deeply about what we’ve already experienced. We can look into the rearview mirror, learning—or relearning—what our past travels taught us. Or we can take this time to delve further into the history and culture of places we’ve visited but barely scratched the surface because of time limitations. Be thankful for the gift of time you now have.

Celebrate what you did when you could. Gather together your photos and mementos, and consider making them into a travel book. If you no longer print out photos or do scrapbooking, use one of the online photo book services such as snapfish.com. Technology has made it easier than ever to collect travel memories. I have many digitally-produced travel books that I set out on the coffee table to remind us of the good times. And come to think of it, I never did make that book about last years’ trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Now is the time!

Engage in armchair reminiscence.  Remembering the high points of a trip has distinct advantages. When we recall a memory, we tend to edit out inconvenient details, allowing what’s left to take center stage. When I recalled and blogged about our trip to Uzbekistan two years ago, I fittingly left out the part about the horrific cold I caught there, and the stomach flu that Gunter endured during the long flight home. That part had faded into the background while our experience staying at a yurt camp, where Gunter fell off his camel, became the primary story. In fact, reliving that adventure made having traveled more fun than actual traveling! I tend to travel in search of a story, but the challenge and fun of shaping the narrative comes only in retrospect when I’m safely home.

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Travel virtually. While you’re sitting at home, consider taking in the pleasures of spring without the pollen: online offerings from impressive botanical gardens around the world allow you to take a tour from the comfort of your home. I missed the Cherry Blossom Festival in San Diego this year, but I could take a tour of similar gardens around the world via Google Earth, complete with satellite images soaring to ten different destinations and quotes by local guides. Vancouver’s cherry blossom festival in Queen Elizabeth Park lasts an entire month—as does the National Cherry Blossom festival in Washington, D.C. For a sidewalk view, go to the National Garden and Joenji Temple in Japan.

As an impressionist aficionado, one of my favorites has been Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny. But after sailing the South Pacific for two years, I fell in love with tropical gardens. One magnificent virtual tour is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which sits on 17 acres in Papaikou, HI. Every year, the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx stages a spectacular orchid show. This year, Jeff Leatham, a “floral designer to the stars,” used thousands of orchids to fashion a series of rooms festooned with orchid-laden arches, vines, hanging baskets and columns. Then it closed on March 15, never to reopen again. This 21-minute narrated tour steers viewers through a kaleidoscopic exhibition, stopping to tell stories along the way. I cannot end a virtual tour of gardens without taking you to Holland for a tulip show. “Because you cannot visit Keukenhof right now, we decided to bring Keukenhof to you!” says the park’s managing director.

Now that I’ve turned you onto virtual tours, you may decide to use them to pursue your own passions. Gunter likes to while away the time watching YouTube videos of ships in monster storms. “Why is that calming?” I asked him.

“Because I’m so relieved that we’re not out there.” Then he added, “And I’m so grateful that we survived all those storms during our circumnavigation—especially that scary Force 10!”

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
–T.S. Eliot

April isn’t over yet, but I’ve felt her cruelty for long enough. Spring bliss has yet to arrive at Northern Bliss, our Wisconsin retreat. There were signs of spring that first week after we arrived: stalks of iris and tulips had pushed through the mulch, allium had grown to three inches, and most of the snow had melted. “It just may be an early spring this year,” I crowed.

During that week, Gunter and I saw the lake ice gradually disappear, forming a convenient shelf for the pair of eagles who nest in a tall evergreen on White Ash Lake. I’d watched them fish during the summers, swooping down from the sky. While gardening near the lake bank, I’d watched one of them steal a fish from the beak of a heron. But we’d never been here in April to see eagles fishing from the ledge of the retreating ice. Every day, the ice pack grew smaller until the majestic couple was reduced to two specs at the middle of the lake.

Eagle at White Ash Lake

Eagle nesting at White Ash Lake
Photo credit: Lynn Bystrom

With the lake opening, a pair of trumpeter swans flew across the lake to check it out. The next day, they swam by, making a racket as if they owned the place. An otter swam close to shore. We heard the familiar, plaintive cry of a loon. And then a raft of wood ducks swam around our “natural” area, as if looking for the duck house in which they may have been hatched. I called Mike, my son-in-law, who came over and re-installed the house in the shallow water. As if by unanimous consent, one pair stayed around while the others moved on.  About a week later, Gunter saw the female fly into the house. Her mate hangs around the house faithfully every day now, waiting patiently for those ducklings to hatch and jump from the house.

On shore, red-headed and ladder-back woodpeckers, blue jays, and goldfinch flocked to our red feeder full of sunflower seeds. But we wanted to attract the huge pileated woodpeckers we’d had here every summer. Mike built and installed a T-shaped pole structure with ropes to pull and hoist suet and a platform for the pileateds. One came right away, but since then, nothing. The tree that was their home was downed by the last July’s tornado. Perhaps their new home is not close by—even though I heard their call and the staccato sounds of their drumming from my yard. We did, however, enjoy the birdsongs of redwing blackbirds who perched on the new feeder.

Red wing blackbirds at T feeder

Red wing blackbirds at T feeder

All was well, but I yearned for warmer weather for gardening; every night brought freezing temperatures. “April showers bring May flowers,” I repeated each day. But that was not to be. All that spring passion was just a setup to break my heart. Instead, it snowed…and snowed…and snowed once more. That first snow was beautiful, even though I wondered how those brave flower shoots would survive. Snow drifted down in big chunky flakes, cloaking the gray trees and dull ground with white perfection. “It won’t stay,” the locals told me. “It’s April.” But I recalled their stories about last spring, when April brought 17 inches of snow and it stayed for a while. After a few days, white perfection turned to mushy gray and I was tired of it all. When will we have spring? “It’s coming,” they said. But when the ground was bare, the snow returned and this time, it was not nice or beautiful. It was Easter weekend, and even though we were sheltering in place, we wanted some semblance of normalcy. This was nasty, with hail and ice turning to snow. Even if we could, we wouldn’t have wanted to go out in it. We hunkered down and never ventured outdoors. I spent my time flipping through nursery catalogs and dreaming of glorious flower gardens in bloom. That snow gradually disappeared and then a third snowstorm arrived. I spent that day down in the dumps with S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder). Thank God, this storm fizzled out quickly and my mood improved.

Today, I sense the end of this cruelest of months. And not just because the calendar shows one week until the end of April. I can feel it in the air. This morning there was no frost and the sun is out. The thermometer reads 60 degrees F. Backyard birds are chirping with glee. And the crocuses are blooming—a sure sign that spring is truly on its way.

Update: On April 27th, the young pileated woodpecker appeared at the T-feeder to enjoy the suet. Yay!

Pileated Woodpecker at feeder

Pileated Woodpecker at T feeder.

Pileated Woodpecker close up

Pileated Woodpecker Close-up

 

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Spring is off to a rough start this year. Usually I would write about the thrill of new beginnings in my spring blog and newsletter. But in this year, in the grip of a worldwide pandemic, many of us feel anxiety instead of anticipation, worry instead of wonder. What can we do to put that joy back into our hearts? How can we bring back that sense of renewal?

Joyful and Rewarding Things to Do

Buy Flowers: Where I live, although seniors are advised to stay in our homes, we are allowed out to shop for food and medical supplies. Many grocery and drug stores have baskets of cheerful spring flowers—brilliant tulips, bright yellow daffodils, and pussy willows for a striking contrast. We pick up a bunch or two whenever we can. It’s fun to watch the tulip stems grow wild and unruly as they unfold, while the daffodils bring rays of sunshine as they open.

Daffodils

Call a friend: So what if you can’t meet that special friend for lunch because the restaurants are closed! Just pick up the phone and call him or her.

Volunteer: If you’re healthy and under 60, take advantage of the new trend while it lasts:  volunteer to support the at-risk elderly by asking what they need, shopping for them, and asking what you can do to help.

Start spring cleaning: There’s always spring cleaning! This week, I picked up where last spring’s Kondo spurt fizzled:  I Kondoized my sock and underwear drawers. Ah! What a sense of accomplishment! Then I tackled my writer’s den. Frankly, writing something new (like this letter) is more fun than deciding whether to file or throw something I wrote five years ago. Do I really need to keep those outdated brochures from each of the 62 countries we visited during our circumnavigation?

Read a good book: This is the time to look through those books on your nightstand you’ve been neglecting. Pick up each one, then select the one(s) you want to read first. Which would bring you the most joy? And if you’re looking for way to escape all the COVID-19 talk, consider sailing around the world while in the comfort of your armchair. My book series will take you through adventures and those special and rare moments of bliss.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


     Happiness is not a destination. It is a way of life.
—Lois Joy Hofmann

As a travel writer, I often write about destinations.  Now that we’re amid a worldwide pandemic, most of us are staying put, sheltering in place, or “hunkering down,” as we called it when at anchor on board Pacific Bliss waiting out a storm. As this gale surrounds us with fear and anxiety, it’s important for us to sustain and strengthen our immune systems and mental health by maintaining an interior calm. This too, shall pass.
     All these squalls to which we have been subjected to are signs that the weather will soon      improve and things will go well for us, because it is not possible for the bad and the good to endure forever, and from this it follows that since the bad has lasted so long, the good is close at hand.
                                                                                                     —Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

The Silver Lining. It’s painful to know that many have died and many more will. And it’s fearful to realize that this crisis compels us to confront our own mortality. But the silver lining in all of this is that we can use this time to appreciate what really matters: the preciousness of life, family, friends, living in the moment, and interrupting the rush of time for a while. As we come out of this valley—and we will—let’s hope we learned how to find more compassion, meaning, and happiness in the additional years we’ve been given.

Prayer and Meditation.This solitary time is an opportunity to learn how to pray and meditate. New York Times award-winning author Marie Chapian introduced a new book last December called Quiet Prayer that combines Christian prayer with meditative techniques. That book was invaluable to me while recovering from a recent illness. “The world around us teems with chaos and noise,” she says. “We can change this turmoil by first changing the turmoil within us.”

Quiet Prayer

I passed the time last week immersed in a novel called This Is Happiness. One of the dozens of my favorite quotes by Irish award-winning author Niall Williams is this:
     You live long enough prayers can be answered on a different frequency than
the one you were listening for. We all have to find a story to live by and live inside,
or we couldn’t endure the certainty of suffering.

This is Happiness

The book is a poetic portrait of a fictional Irish community, its idiosyncrasies and traditions, its failures and its triumphs, on the cusp of change as it is wired for electricity. Niall’s writing is so exquisite and expressive I wanted to press the pages to my skin as one would press a flower into a book, to absorb just a smidgen of his way with words!

Moments of Bliss. This book reminded me of what it’s like to live fully, deeply, in the present. It also reminded me of how often Gunter and I—during our world circumnavigation—would stop and say: “This is a moment of bliss.” This passage is the essence of the book:
     But I came to understand him to mean you could stop at, not all, but most of the moments in your life, stop for one heartbeat, and no matter what the state of your head or heart, say “This is happiness,” because of the simple truth that you were alive to say it…I think of that often. We can all pause right here, raise our heads, take a breath and accept that This is happiness…

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Think back for a minute. Was there a miserable place somewhere in the world from which you were desperate to escape?

For Günter and me, during our world circumnavigation, that place was Gove, in Australia’s remote Northern Territory. You’ve probably never heard of this working port on the western shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The nearest town is Nhulumbuy—about ten miles away—which you’ve probably never heard of either! Half the town’s 3,500 inhabitants work for the bauxite mine and alumina factory—the reason for its existence.

Map of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

From Darwin to Cape York showing Gove and the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory, Australia.

Everything we did in Gove was an effort and an adventure. Fueling was next-to-impossible because the fuel dock was designed for massive freighters, not low-freeboard sailboats.

Rain coat

Michele, from SV MiGitana, prepared for the wet dinghy trip to shore.

A 15-20 knot wind in the bay forced us to fashion garbage bags over our foul-weather sailing gear to protect us during the wet and salty dinghy ride to shore. Taxis and/or rental cars were nonexistent. One cruiser managed to borrow a car from a local Aussie, who loaned it to a  cruiser friend, who loaned it to us for a trip into Nhulumbuy to provision, check out the local scene, and visit the Aborigine Arts and Crafts Museum, an additional 15 miles inland. And on top of it all, I almost lost my little finger!

 

 

Here is my story, excerpted from The Long Way Back, page 74:

We Gotta Get Out of this Place.
July 4

“If it’s the last thing we ever do.” I walk around Pacific Bliss singing these lyrics by The Animals. I’m anxious to move on. I never expected to spend a week in Gove; there are far more interesting places I wanted to see, such as Kimberly Gorge and Kakadu out of Darwin. Every day we spend here in Gove is a day we cannot spend there. But there’s nothing we can do. The weather gods are in control. The wind has ranged from 20 knots to gale force every day; this bay is never calm, so there is no opportune weather window. We’ll just have to go for it.

Günter sits across from me at the salon table entering repairs into the maintenance log:

  • Adjusted Spectra watermaker to get close to specs by changing filter and cleaning fore-filter fine mesh.
  • Took out burned shunt on port engine and connected cable directly. It’s only a measuring device; however, one side had melted and opened so no current could flow.
  • Our VHF can no longer transmit, although it can receive. Roman, the skipper of Dragonfly, tried to fix it, but no luck. He loaned us his ham system until we can replace ours in Darwin.
  • Installed Version 10.2 of MaxSea and all the world charts, a two-day process.
  • Adjusted both fridges with “butterfly farts,” small puffs of Freon.
  • Replaced a toilet handle. Retrieved our last spare from the sail locker, then mistakenly dropped it through the sides of the net. Used our last one from a toilet assembly we had stored for just such an emergency.
  • Repaired lazy jack (and bandaged Lois’ crushed little finger).

Of course, there’s a story behind that so-called “crushed finger” on my right hand. Most likely, it was more than crushed—it was broken. It would head a different direction, going its own way, from that day forward:

We’d planned to wait for a calm day to repair that broken lazy jack line—a part of the cordage that helps guide the mainsail onto the boom when it’s lowered—but yesterday, we concluded that calm waters in Gove are as rare as rain in the Sahara. So, despite the wind roiling the bay, Günter strapped me into the bosun’s chair and slowly winched me high alongside the mast, past two crossbars, up to where the line had broken. Despite weaving in the wind, I managed to tie the parts together. Only then did I dare to look down. Going down from a 63-foot carbon fiber mast would be worse than going up!

“Take it slow!” I yelled, but the wind stole my words.

I descended to the second crossbar—much too fast.

“Stop!” I needed to catch my breath.

Instead of stopping, Günter winched faster. Or so it seemed. But I’d already reached out to hold onto the crossbar and couldn’t release my hand fast enough. Ouch! Fortunately, my little finger came along with me, still attached, as I sped down alongside that mast.

The closer we get to departure the scarier the sailors tales become. Our last stop at the Gove Yacht Club is a case in point. I take my job as Navigator seriously, so I set my little blue notebook within easy reach on the bar as we down our beers. The local sailor sitting next to me is more than happy to tell me what to do. With his long, grizzled beard and plaid shirt hanging out of his red-soil-stained jeans, he looks like he’s been trapped in Gove for years.

“My dear Sheila, when you pass Cape Wilberforce, you’ll find the tide floods west. And when you reach the Hole in the Wall, the tide floods east. Got it?

I nod and jot it down.

“After the cape, passage is best during a flood…much more pleasant,” he continues. “Now, write this down.” He points to my notebook. “You want to reach the Hole during the first hour of an ebb tide, so you don’t face a rough entrance. But even so, it’ll suck you in and push you out the other end like a devil’s vortex.”

Sounds like a fun ride. He can’t scare me. I just wanna get out of this place.

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


A few of my friends asked me for recommendations on where to travel this year. Here is my short list:

  • Uzbekistan: If you’d like to go to a place with friendly locals, loads of history, and amazing architecture, by all means, I challenge you to get off the beaten path and travel part of the Old Silk Road to the ancient towns and cities of Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, as well as Nurata, where you can stay in a Yurt like we did:

https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2018/07/10/never-ride-a-camel-uzbekistan-blog-series/
https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2018/07/28/samarkand-crossroads-of-the-silk-road/

  • Iceland: Iceland was far down on my bucket list. But I had promised to take my granddaughter Holly there, and in July of 2018 I made good on that promise. This country far surpassed my expectations. It is indeed “the land of fire and ice.”

https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/01/27/icelands-ring-road-the-snaefellsnes-peninsula/
https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/iceland-a-country-rich-in-culture-and-legend/
https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2019/02/06/discovering-icelands-southeast-coast/

  • Krakow, Poland: We took a three-day excursion to Krakow while visiting Europe in September 2018. I have yet to blog about that, but if you do visit Europe this year, try to fit that in. You won’t regret it!

I close with five international recommendations listed in my blog from 2016 that still apply: Myanmar (Burma); Cartagena, Colombia; Bali, Indonesia; Vietnam; and Savu Savu or the remote Lau Group of Fiji.
https://sailorstales.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/favorite-five-international-destinations-for-landlubbers-in-2016/

Lois Joy Hofmann, Author

Lois updates her journal in Nurata, Uzbekistan.

 

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


From time to time, my blog will include an excerpt from one of my books. This story is an example of Serendipity—one of my favorite words.

Excerpted from The Long Way Back, pages 228-29:

An Unplanned Stop in Sri Lanka

06º01’N, 80º13’E
Galle, Sri Lanka
February 9

Despite the miseries that we’ve endured this past week, part of the joy of traveling is encountering the unexpected. We did not plan to stop at this island nation, southeast of India. Our plan was to sail straight to the Maldives. But after our miserable crossing of the Bay of Bengal, we welcome any refuge from the lumpy seas.

Serendipity brought us to Sri Lanka. And I’m fascinated that the country’s original name was Serendip, an Arab traders’ word applied to the land long before the Portuguese came on the scene. It reflected the lucky circumstance of their discovery and contact. Today, in its native Sinhala tongue, Sri Lanka means Land of the Blessed. For us, being here is indeed blessed and serendipitous.

Günter and I intend to understand its people and culture better—and, yes, even its’ continuing civil war. This war caused us to strike Sri Lanka from our original circumnavigation plan. Now, though, we cannot avoid its ongoing cruelty. We arrive at dawn’s light, crossing the shipping channels at 90 degrees and deviating course twice to sail behind giant freighters.

“You never want to cross in front of a freighter,” Günter tells our crew, Chris, “because it can take one of those monsters up to four miles to stop.”

Maldives flag, Sri Lankan flag

Chris, our crew, with the Maldives flag. Gunter with Sri Lankan flag.

As instructed via VHF, we prepare the ship for anchoring outside the harbor. It doesn’t take long to see the guns. We’ve never experienced an entrance like this! Two small runabouts, with mounted machine guns, race toward our boat while men wave and point to where they want us to drop the hook. Next, we spot a huge navy vessel—tons of sleek steel glinting in the morning sun—coming around the breakwater. Three Immigration Officers from the navy vessel board Pacific Bliss, while the two speedboats keep circling us.

Sri Lanka fisherman near Galle

Stilt Fisherman near Galle, Sri Lanka.

The officers conduct a thorough inspection of Pacific Bliss and give us forms to fill out.  These are immigration forms, and each asks the same questions over and over. The process lasts half an hour. Then, after stamping the paperwork, one officer asks for “smokes.” Wisely, we had purchased a few cartons just for this purpose. Chris distributes a pack to each officer.

We’ll have a two-hour wait before being shown inside the harbor, but we don’t mind; we’re happy to have our first onboard breakfast in a week in calm water. After breakfast, via VHF, we hire a local agent, G.A.C. Shipping, to handle the rest of the voluminous paperwork that will allow Pacific Bliss to berth here.

Later, a navy officer boards our ship to direct Günter to a berth inside the harbor. As we enter, we note that it’s entirely roped off, except for one small lane for fishing boats and yachts. The officer presents us with three choices: to tie up to a black buoy in the center, where we’d have to use our dinghy to get to shore; to Med-moor to a floating dock, consisting of wobbly plastic sections with no handholds; or to raft to one of the monohulls along the sea wall. We choose the third option and raft to a small monohull flying an Italian flag. Now we can walk across the monohull and from there, onto dry land.

“Well, we’re finally safe,” Günter declares with a sigh. “But we’re not going to do any serious touring until we graduate to a berth directly on the sea wall. Tomorrow, we’ll just walk around Galle and mingle with the locals.”

That first night, cradled by Pacific Bliss and swaying with the current, I fall asleep feeling like we are still at sea. KA-BOOM! I jerk awake. I hear and feel the thunderous boom right through the water and the hull. Oh my God! What have we gotten ourselves into?

Günter pulls me over to him and hugs me tight. “It’s the depth charges, remember? They told us this would happen.”

Talk about encountering the unexpected!

“It feels like we’re in a war zone!”

“We are. It’s the price we pay for taking refuge from the storm.”

How has serendipity worked in your life? When you travel, do you make allowances for expecting the unexpected? Please add your own comments.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Sometimes a family heritage search uncovers the most amazing stories!

My cousin, Debbie Miske, has been working on our family history since she retired. She’s recovering long-lost information every week and passing on her findings—an exciting treasure trove of family secrets. Recently, Debbie passed on the genealogical history of my great-aunt Rose—along with a wonderful Christmas story.

Rose KrugerRose Kruger was born in 1894 in Mendota, Dakota County, Minnesota. She passed in 1978. I remember her visits to our Wisconsin farm when I was a child. Although short in stature, she conveyed a powerful presence of authority. I cringed and shrunk behind my mother’s skirts; I kept my mouth shut, fearing I’d blurt out the wrong words. Rose was working in St. Paul by age 19. The story was probably written in that 1909-1912 time period.

This Christmas story was passed on to cousin Debbie along with my aunt Gertrude’s belongings after she passed. It was in booklet form with the painting on the cover and the nicely typed story inside. Debbie thinks the painting was of the original log building housing the St. Johannes Kirch in Eagan, Minnesota.

For writers, especially, it’s always a blessing to discover another storyteller among our ancestors. Has your family unearthed any treasures like this one?

Christmas Memories by Rose Kruger

Original painting by Rose KrugerOur Christmases shone in our drab existence like diamonds set in rusty iron. For days and days the house was in a turmoil of joyous bustle. Mother baked stacks of coffee cake, delicious coffee cake, such as only she could make thickly dotted with raisins, and an abundant coating of cinnamon flavored sugar. Bertha baked crocks of spicy cookies, and the day before Christmas she scrubbed the soft board floor of the kitchen to an unbelievable state of whiteness. Then, too, all the litter of utensils which were used for feeding the stock and which seemed indispensable in the ordinary routine of everyday living were cleared away, giving us room for our tree.

On Christmas Eve there was always a program at church in which we participated. Emma, who was already working in St. Paul, always came home to spend Christmas with us, and usually she came on Christmas Eve, laden with magic gifts and goodies. What wonderful evenings those Christmas Eves were! The very woods and fields seemed hushed in holy contemplation. Upon the white plush lining of the world the winter moonlight tossed a million glittering gems, and from afar we could see the lighted windows of the church, shedding a soft rosy glow upon the pure snow, which seemed a benediction from out of the holiest of holy places.

At church a giant tree, magnificently trimmed, filled up a corner. The children sang the age old carols with joyous abandon. Sometimes I paused to listen to the joy and hope in the other childrens voices. Almost like the heavenly host which sang, “Peace on Earth”, I thought them. Toward the end of the program the candles on the tree were lit, revealing its loops of tinsel and popcorn, its multi colored baubles and blond angels. The sparkle a little dimmed by the many seasons of use, the angels a little frayed by handling in awkward toil worn hands, but more beautiful than any crown jewels. Then bags of cheap candy, nuts an apple an orange were passed among the children. It was somewhat sticky, but our holiday would not have been complete without it.

The program over our father called us to him; not with words but with twinkly eyes and crinkly smile, either to tell us that the Christ Child had visited our home or that Emma was there. But one very blizzardy Christmas Eve it was to tell us, that even though the Christ Child had made his customary call, Emma had not managed to fight through the blizzard. But our joy was multiplied when upon our arrival at home we found that she had come and brought Cousin Louise!

Father and Mother often peered out into the mad swirling white world that Christmas Eve. “Such weather!” they exclaimed. That was the only time in my childhood when they by any word or action betrayed that they were not completely lost with us in the Christmas wonder land, and that the adult world of work and care stood waiting just outside the magic circle of the two glorious days.

Christmas morning we again went to church. It seems to me that Christmas days were always ideal winter days—clear, cold, sparkly. I can still feel the thrill the reading of the gospel gave me. The voice of the minister made music out of the world’s most treasured poem. In particular he read the part about the shepherds thrillingly.

We came home to a Christmas dinner—I have forgotten of what. For the Christmas dinners were not important factors in our lives. The religion which gave color and meaning to our celebration, the love and generosity which bound the family together and the deep feeling of joy, security and peace—those were the things which made my early Christmases memorable.

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Fruit Tart from French Gourmet

Fruit Tart from French Gourmet

You may think you had your fill of pie during the Thanksgiving but wait! Christmas is coming, and New Years awaits. And what would the holidays be without pies on the table?

Many of those pies aren’t pies at all because they only have a crust underneath. Pumpkin pie is really a tart, as is pecan pie and all those scrumptious cream pies. “The pies baked by the English settlers in the 17th century would have been fully encased in a layer of pastry called a coffin, which was often too thick and hard to eat,” writes Bee Wilson in a recent column for the Wall St Journal. “The coffin’s role was simply to protect the ingredients inside as they cooked, like a casserole dish.” She explained that pie wasn’t just a dessert, but a substantial dish filled with dried fruit and lots of seasonings.

The word pie is derived from the Latin word pica, meaning magpie, a bird known for her habit of collecting an assortment of odds and ends in her nest. Not so very different, the thinking goes, from the way medieval cooks assembled ingredients for their pies. Early recipes also call for an astonishing range of anatomical bits and pieces to be minced together with suet, oats and vegetables. The word haggis turns out to be an alternative name for magpie. In fact, haggis, a mixture of sheep innards—heart, liver, and lungs—mixed with oatmeal, fat, and spices and ideally cooked in a sheep’s stomach, in so much a part of Scottish tradition that the poet Robert Burns wrote an Address to a Haggis in 1786.

Haggis

Haggis

Did you know that a haggis is a bird with a strange gait and vestigial wings—like an ostrich—found on the highlands of Scotland?

Haggis, a bird of the Scottish Highlands

Today, a pie isn’t just any dessert. When you bring a pie to a holiday event, it shows you care. The crust is all buttery, flaky goodness and it’s special crimping depicts time, attention, and talent. The ingredients inside are carefully selected and placed into the rolled crust for maximum effect. “Rest for at least an hour,” say the instructions. Does that mean that the cook gets to rest too? You should. You deserve to rest on your laurels!

Happy Holidays to you and yours,

Lois Joy Hofmann

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


One of our favorites when touring Yellowstone last fall was to explore the Fountain Paint Pots located in the Lower Geyser Basin. It’s a nice, easy stroll on a wooden walkway built above the steaming pot floor. You can proceed from one amazing photo op to the next, each a different color, while taking in the backdrop of the scenic Yellowstone mountains. In one compact half-mile boardwalk loop, you can see all four of the hydrothermal features found in the park: mud-pots, geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles. And while none of the geysers there are as famous as Old Faithful, they erupt so frequently that you are guaranteed a great show on your short hike.

Celestine Spring, Yellowstone

Celestine Spring was the first feature we saw after leaving the parking lot; it is a serene, deep aqua-blue and less turbulent than the features to follow.

Next, we passed by a forest of drowned lodgepole pine snags—killed by the chemicals in the surrounding hot springs.

This boardwalk passes by all types of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal formations, so it becomes a lesson in hydrothermal volcanism. A geyser is formed when water collecting below the surface is heated by a magma source. When the water boils, it rises to the surface. If the water has an unobstructed path, it will pool on the surface in the form of a steaming hot springs. If the passage of the water is blocked, the pressure will increase. When the pressure becomes too great, the water converts into to steam. But steam takes up 1,500 times the volume of water. When the pressure intense, the steam and surrounding water droplets shoot out of the ground in a geyser.

fumarole is like a geyser without all the water. Gas and steam escape through vents in the surface and can sounds like roaring bellows. Fumaroles are the driest hydrothermal feature.

Fumaroles

The second driest are the mud-pots, which have less water than hot springs, but more than fumaroles. At Yellowstone, hydrogen sulfide gas emitted from underground sources changes to sulfuric acid and breaks down the surrounding stone into grey clay. The muddy pools bulge and burst in an entertaining display as gas bubbles erupt on the surface. Mud can spit several feet into the air and end up on the boardwalk, although that did not happen while we were there.

Clepysdra Geyser erupts often. Was it my imagination or did it take a break when its neighbors were erupting? Morning Geyser has the opposite personality and erupts rarely. If you are lucky enough to see it in action, expect bursts of up to 200 feet tall and 100 feet wide. And Fountain Geyser is one of Yellowstone’s most impressive geysers when it erupts, with 50-foot bursts that can last half an hour. In contrast, Leather Pool just sits there; however, it did make for a quiet break in the action!

Leather Pool

Finally, as you progress around the walkway toward the northeast corner, you will come upon Red Spouter, which behaves like a fumarole, a hot spring, and a mud-pot throughout the year. It resembles a hot spring in the winter; a muddy reddish pool in the spring; and a steaming fumarole in the drier summer and fall.

Red Spouter

Red Spouter

I leave you with two images showing how steam creates a watercolor effect and a movie of one of the geysers. Do not miss this stop when you visit Yellowstone Park!

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


You might drive right through the town of Red Lodge, Montana on your way to the northern gate of Yellowstone Park. That would be a mistake. Because Red Lodge is more than a mere gateway town: this historic town of  2300 souls is a destination in its own right, one you don’t want to miss if you’re headed out west.

During the first week of September, my husband, sister, and brother-in-law flew into Billings, Montana, rented an SUV, and drove into Red Lodge where we had reservations at the Pollard Hotel for two nights. Friends of ours who live there—even though they travel all over the world—had invited us to visit their charming hometown. We arrived at lunchtime and weren’t due to meet them until that evening. It was a sunny fall day, with rain expected the following day, so we decided to take the acclaimed Beartooth All American Road (Highway 212) to the famous Beartooth Pass. After all, Charles Kuralt from the television show On the Road had called the route “the most beautiful drive in America.” Why not check it out for ourselves? We purchased a Styrofoam cooler and sandwich fixings at a local supermarket and headed out to explore.

Taking the Beartooth Highway.

We’re climbing, and climbing, and climbing…! After stopping at a turnout for a photo-op at 8000’ elevation, we enter a series of switchbacks that take us over 1,500 feet in seven miles. Lush forests and pristine vistas rapidly change to twisted gray trees and alpine tundra. There’s a story behind those massive chain-link fences we’re seeing. In May of 2005, a week before the highway was scheduled to open, nine inches of rain fell in three days, causing a massive mudslide that tore down the canyon, dislodging more than 500,000 cubic tons of rock. The reconstruction effort that summer cost $20 million, the same amount (adjusted for inflation) that was spent to build the road in the 1930s.

About 20 miles into this adventure, we reach Vista Point Rest Area. As we leave the parking lot, we round a series of curves called the “Mae West curves,” after the buxom star of the 1930s. Reportedly, that descriptive sign was taken down because it was too risqué! After rounding those curves, we’re astonished by the expansive vista to our right called the “Hellroaring Plateau.” The road climbing that side of the valley covers the same elevation gain in half the miles, it’s unpaved and rocky, and there are no guardrails. Needless to say, we’re not going there!

After exactly 23.9 miles on Hwy 212, we spot the Welcome to Wyoming sign, reportedly the highest welcome sign in the U.S. This is also the 45th Parallel, meaning we’re now halfway between the North Pole and the equator. At 27 miles, we reach Beartooth Basin. Here you can ski at 10,000 feet during your summer vacation. Just check beartoothbasin.com for conditions. Thanks, but no thanks! Soon after the basin we spot the Gardner Lake pullout. What an incredible view of stunning cobalt-blue lakes set into undulating waves of rock! It’s an ideal setting for selfies, but you could die if you keep stepping back to get that perfect shot. We decide to take pics of our mates instead, yelling “smile but don’t move!”

 

Suddenly we realize that we must head back from here if we are to be back at our hotel in time to check in and enjoy the evening. On the way back, we stop again at the Vista Point rest area to enjoy our lunch.

Beartooth

Wayfinding on the Beartooth.

Historic Red Lodge.

The Pollard Hotel is fascinating. Built in 1893, this was the first brick building in town, cost $20,000 to build and had 35 rooms. A glass case in the sitting room displays and explains its history. Famous guests include William E. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary, and John “Liver-eatin” Johnston. Our friends Don and Rebecca join us for drinks and dinner. We have a marvelous time. Of course, they advise us what to see in their historic town the next day.

We spend the morning walking the town, beginning with the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum. In 1990, this three-story Labor Temple building was gifted to the Historical Society. It had been built in 1909 by the Red Lodge Miners Local No. 1771 and put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The basement level contains an excellent interactive coal and hard rock mine exhibit. Afterward, we take the downtown walking tour, five blocks of Broadway lined with historic brick buildings on both sides: the Carbon County Courthouse, the Blackburn Building, the Red Lodge State Bank, and finally, the Carbon County Bank where Kid Curry and the Sundance Kid were reportedly captured after a foiled bank robbery. Before turning back we stop at a few art galleries and the old railroad terminal.

Broadway main street in Red Lodge

Broadway the main street of Red Lodge.

Driving through the Wilderness: the West Fork of Rock Creek.

We have the afternoon free, so we decide to take a self-guided sightseeing drive until the rain comes. At Gunter’s urging, John turns onto “the road less traveled” past the local Red Lodge ski area, the Girl Scout camp, and up into the wilderness. We have no idea where we are until we see a You Are Here sign. We’re at the West Fork of Rock Creek Trailhead in the million-acre Absoroka-Beartooth National Wilderness—one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states. Yep! Gunter has a reputation for getting us into adventurous “situations.” But we’re here so we may as well…drive onwards. There must be more to see.

We’re all alone back here. We stop, park on the gravel road, and listen to the creek. No-one wants to break the silence, but occasionally we whisper to each other. Please take a minute to see what I saw and hear what I heard:

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Rain clouds are forming and AAA might not want to rescue us here, so we hightail back to Red Lodge. We rest in our hotel while a soft rain drenches this town we have come to love. In the evening, our friends meet us in the hotel’s main dining room where they have made reservations to kick back and experience their favorite local band, The High Country Cowboys. What a way to conclude a memorable stay in this quaint-but-fun mountain town!

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.