Search Results for 'sense of place'


When we can view a photo and immediately recognize where it was taken, that’s the Power of Place. We know that this place is different from all the other places on this planet. It is uniqueiconic. Examples of such correlations are:

  • Taj Mahal=India
  • Eiffel Tower=France
  • Pyramids=Egypt
  • Parthenon=Greece
  • Golden Gate Bridge=California, USA

Did you notice that all these icons are man-made? “Oh, what a wonderful monument…statue…structure…bridge…memorial,” you say as you snap the obligatory photo to bring home.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India, taken during Lois’s India Tour, 2011 www.LoisJoyHofmann.com

Taj Mahal, Agra, India, taken during Lois’s India Tour, 2011

Author Lois Joy Hofmann at the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Egypt. From The Long Way Back

Author Lois Joy Hofmann at the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Egypt. From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Sense of Place: Sensory Memories of Places Visited

Feeling usually involves connection. You get involved with that place. You bring yourself into the picture. You experience it. And when you bring that photo home and view it again, you’re transported back to that place, that frame of mind, that experience. Did you feel the spray from that waterfall as you stood on that bridge? Did you touch and smell those flowers as they rustled with the wind? Do you hear the chatter of those monkeys before they tried to steal your banana? Do you re-live the fear you felt when you saw that approaching storm?

waterfall in Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

We swam in back of this waterfall in Fatu Hiva, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. From Sailing the South Pacific

Elephant Kandy Sri Lanka

I’ll never forget this elephant in Kandy, Sri Lanka, who came right up to me on shore! From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

We endured 7 days of rain and squalls during our passage from the Similans to Sri Lanka From The Long Way Back.

We endured 7 days of rain and squalls during our passage from the Similans to Sri Lanka From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Bring home the Passion of People instead of the Power of Things

Portraits of people inevitably bring back the connection you felt to that place. As I look through the photos of our eight years circumnavigating the world on a catamaran, and our travels around the world in recent years, it is those photos of people that create the memories all over again. I laugh, I cry, I remember, and sometimes, I even dream of going back to that special place in the world.

Petal Girl. Riung, Malaysia. From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Petal Girl. Riung, Malaysia. From The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann

Mother, baby, and puppy. Mamitupu, San Blas Archipelago, Panama

Mother, baby, and puppy. Mamitupu, San Blas Archipelago, Panama from Maiden Voyage by Lois Joy Hofmann 

Lois and Gunter Hofmann: Still traveling the world, embarking on one adventure after another

Their next adventure, Uzbekistan, touring the Silk Road, is coming up soon. She’ll be writing travelogues about their new adventures. Visit Lois’s author page at Amazon.

Our travel took over a day—from San Francisco, to Istanbul, to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. When we arrived, our guide, Fakhriddin, was waiting at the exit of the airport with a sign. We walked into the cool early morning air to a waiting car and driver and were off to Tashkent Lotte City Palace. We were checked in by 2:45 a.m.

Günter and I were wide awake by 6 a.m. so we had a chat with AT&T in New York about how to switch our phones to Wi-Fi only and avoid international roaming. Then we enjoyed a deluxe east-meets-west breakfast soon after the dining room opened at 7 a.m. Our Day 1 schedule said, “check in and relax” but we were too excited. I’d fueled myself with a cappuccino and we were ready to stretch our legs and see the sights. “Just a short walk around the area,” Gunter said, “to get out the kinks from all that sitting. Then we’ll relax.” Famous last words. After 4.2 miles on our sports bands, we arrived back at the hotel exhausted. But already, we’d seen and learned enough to get a sense of place.

Navoi Theatre

Navoi Theatre. This Soviet-era Opera House, directly across from the Lotte hotel where we stayed, was built by Japanese WWII POWs but with the Uzbek design detail shown here.

Directly across from our hotel stands the huge Navoi Soviet-era opera/ballet theatre built by Japanese POWs using Uzbek architectural techniques. We walked around the huge building trying to get that concept into our jet-lagged heads while Fakhriddin (Fak for short) riddled us with other stories. I liked the one about the 7000 children—most of them Jewish orphans from Europe—that were dumped by the Soviets into the city of Tashkent along with orders to “just take care of them.” Rather than build an orphanage, the Uzbeks took them into their homes; sometimes half a dozen would be taken into one family and brought up along with their own children. That story introduced me to Uzbek culture: one of hospitality in which foreigners are treated as guests of honor. Tashkent has a sizable Jewish and Japanese population to this day.

I was amazed at the mix of nationalities and styles of clothing in Tashkent. Street vendors were dressed in multicolor dresses and scarves and clunky shoes with socks. But at the main thoroughfares, businessmen wore black suits, white shirts and ties with dark, highly polished shoes and women wore long sleeve blouses, blazers, and skirts at knee-length or slightly above—with nylons and heels. It could have been New York!

Tashkent plov and samosasAt one corner, an open-air restaurant was serving plov out of a humongous wok and samosas (meat-filled pastries) from another. “Take a look,” Fak urged. Plov—a conglomeration of rice, vegetables, and bits of meat swimming in lamb fat and oil—is a staple throughout Central Asia, but most closely associated with Uzbekistan. Each province has its own style, which locals proudly proclaim is the best. Rumor has it that drinking the oil at the bottom of the kazan (large cauldron) adds a spark to a man’s libido. “The plov here is the best,” said Fak while directing us to an oil-cloth-covered table. “You have to try some. I’ll make sure the cook selects portions that he’s pushed up along the side of the kazan, so you don’t get the fat.” Soon dishes of plov, samosas, and a heap of naan-type bread covers our little table. And we weren’t even hungry.

We walked off our lunch by walking through the near-by park, art lining the sidewalks. Then we walked a long way to the main post office to select commemorative stamps for a friend. By then, we were ready for a taxi back and a long, well-deserved nap!

Tashkent Barak Khan

If Day 1 was a taste of Tashkent, Day 2 was some serious touring. We walked through Old Town and much of the Khast Imon Square, ending with the Barak Khan Medressa (school) on the west side where we strolled along souvenir shops that formerly housed students. Northwest of the square, we peeked into the mausoleum of Abu Bakr Kaffal Shoshi, a famed Islamic scholar and poet.

We ended our tour at the famed Chorsu Bazaar, one of Tashkent’s 16 open-air farmers’ markets. What an amazing and energizing experience! This slide show depicts a few of our many encounters with locals there:

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A restaurant bordering a park was the perfect place to eat and relax. As we were finishing our lunch, a bridal party asked their photographer to have a picture taken of them with us. Americans! How special! Who knew? This scenario would be repeated throughout Uzbekistan.

We booked our Independent Travel tour to Uzbekistan through Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours. Coincidentally, she was attending a travel conference in San Diego during our first weekend back home! She visited us to debrief and is bringing back my first two books to add to The Long Way Back she already has.

Silk Road Treasure Tours

Lois and Zulya in San Diego

Part I of the “Northern Bliss/Heritage Home” blog series

August 2012, Balsam Lake, Wisconsin

“What will happen to all your beautiful flowers when we leave here in three weeks?” Gunter asks as he watches me just a’diggin’ in the dirt.

I’ve been gardening for over two hours this morning. Enhancing the flower gardens here at our lake home is more than just a chore.  I am returning to my roots. I was born in Polk County, Wisconsin—in Cushing, less than 30 miles from here.

I set my tools down and move my kneeling pad over to the next clump of weeds to be pulled. “Leave? I’m just settling in, marking my territory.”

Digging in the dirt has become a compulsion since we moved many of our belongings from San Diego in mid-July.

“This reminds me of carrying pails and pails of water for my mother’s and grandmother’s gardens,” Gunter answers.  He points to the foxgloves. “The flowers in Bavaria were very similar to these. Only the flowers had different names.”

Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)

Huge hydrangea

Tiger lilies grow well in Wisconsin

I’m not sure how to explain this drive to dig in the dirt, to go back to one’s roots. The compulsion comes from deep within and the process provides deep satisfaction. And when I’m all tired out, my chores completed for the morning, Gunter says I always return with a smile on my face. So it must be good for me.

Even though I’ve been a sailor throughout much of my life, and made my home on the sea for eight years, as a farmer’s daughter, the need to return to the land is a primal instinct. This is not unusual. Captain Cook, who sailed farther than any man had sailed before, retired on a farm in England near where he grew up, that is, until he was called back to sea again for his final voyage.

This land also provides for me a sense of completion. My family lost its dairy farm to foreclosure after the dreaded Bang’s Disease swept through the herd and the milk could not be sold. I was a freshman in college at the time, and I never had an opportunity to say good-bye to that land. It all happened so fast. Perhaps that created a longing in me that I’ve buried as deep as the foxgloves I have planted here.

If so, that longing didn’t surface until I attended my 50th class reunion in St. Croix Falls in September, 2010. I rarely attended reunions, and may not have come to this one had not my granddaughter scheduled her wedding the week prior. During the event, a classmate of mine asked me, “Are you here to look at a summer home?” Her question startled me. “Lake homes here are selling for half of what they were before the 2008 crash.”

That comment set the process in motion.

For the next two days, Gunter and I drove through the countryside admiring the fall foliage.  “I love all the deep blue lakes, the lush rolling hills, and the wonderful colors. It reminds me of my own roots in Bavaria,” Gunter exclaimed.

“That’s probably why so many German immigrants settled in Wisconsin,” I replied.  “They must have thought the same thing.”

“Lots of FOR SALE signs around here,” he noted. “Interested?”

My heart skipped a beat. “Yes! The home should be here in Polk County.”

Now why did I say that? I’ve never even thought of buying a home here. Not sure I want this. Too many memories—not all of them pleasant.

But the die was cast. Actually, the die had been cast two years earlier, when we completed our world circumnavigation. The planned trilogy, “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss,” would cover the eight years of our sailing adventures. But even then, I thought about writing a book about what happened in the years before we left to go sailing.

During presentations promoting the first book in the series, MAIDEN VOYAGE, many readers asked about our lives before sailing. That would make an interesting story: how did a farm girl from Wisconsin who wanted to escape her past and succeed at business and a boy from Munich who loved math and science meet each other—after many wrong turns in life—and become soul mates?

What would I need to do to write such a book?

I would need to pick up the dialect I’d forgotten. I would need to stay where I grew up for a while to re-acquaint myself with the farming culture again, to regain that sense of place.

OK, I can do that!

Beware of setting a goal. It just may have a way of happening before you know it! I had only a goal. I had no strategy in mind, not even a plan. My writing goal, however, seemed to fit with our shared goal of providing ways to keep our families in touch with each other. Since both of our parents died, Gunter and I have taken seriously the responsibilities of being the matriarch and patriarch of our respective families. We sponsor family reunions where all the children, grandchildren and cousins can get together. Could having one central property for those reunions—sort of a Heritage Home—work for us?

The following year, 2011, we organized a family reunion by renting a cabin on the shores of Balsam Lake, the largest lake in Polk County, to market test the idea.

If we build it, will they come?

It worked!  During the main event, a barbeque on the cabin’s big deck, I counted 28 attendees; they were all related. So the search for an appropriate lake home began.

If it all proceeds smoothly, it’s meant to be.

By the time we left the cabin, Gunter and I had made an offer on a home on nearby White Ash Lake.  After returning to San Diego, and negotiating back and forth, we soon found ourselves the proud owners of a family home.

But the task of remodeling it to make room for our four children and their spouses, five grandchildren (two with spouses), and two great grandchildren was just beginning. We would knock out three walls to make a massive Great Room. I planned the kitchen and dining area to seat 17, the patios to seat 16 and all the bedrooms—including a bunk room we would build—to sleep 16, with space for additional air mattresses. Not all would always come at the same time, but there are always a few extras in any gathering! I am the eldest of ten (nine living), visits by siblings needed to considered as well.

As my readers know by now, Gunter and I love to travel! We had already committed to two international trips—to India and South America—when we purchased the home. In between trips, Mike, my son-in-law, and I managed the remodeling (he did most of the work himself). It was an amazing process and a tight schedule, but a mere two hours before the first visitors arrived in July, the carpet had been laid in the bunk room and the bunk beds installed! (For those readers asking why the India and South America travel blogs remain unfinished, this is my excuse. They will be completed sometime this winter!)

When all the hub-bub becomes too much, I retreat to my garden to dig in the dirt. The birds chirp merrily as they perch on their feeders and splash in their birdbath. The breeze whispers through the pines, birch and oak—so different from the palms in Southern California. And across our dead end street near the woods, a doe stands and stares, daring me to chase her from my hostas.

Life is good here.

She dares me to chase her away from my hostas

 

Yellow Goldfinch at the bird feeder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gunter and I embrace the concept of “slow travel.” Our preference for this method of land travel is probably a byproduct of our slow sail around the world (it took us eight years). We like to decide on a destination, dream, research and read about it, plan an itinerary with plenty of spare time built in, and then go. And when we’re there, we like to take our time, surround ourselves with the power of place, understand the culture, and break bread with the locals if we can. Walking a Village is part and parcel of this experience.

On the way to Mt. Popa and Table Mountain in Myanmar (Burma), a popular tourist site southeast of Bagan, our guide parked his car and led us into a small village where we walked among thatched huts, met villagers, and visited a school. We also walked a village outside of Varanasi, India.

During our recent trip to Uzbekistan, we drove off the beaten path into Nurata, located in the foothills of Nuratau Mountains which stretch out hundreds of kilometers from Barren Steppe to Navoi and Kyzylkum Desert. This village is almost 200 kilometers from Samarkand. It was founded as ancient Nur in 327 BC by Alexander the Great, and the remains of his military fortress can be seen on a high hill to the south of town. The fortress was a strategic center for gathering an army before attacking neighboring lands.

Nurata is known for its famous mineral springs.

Nurata is known for its famous mineral springs.

The elaborate water system Alexander had installed is partially used today. But the locals don’t care about which western conquerors were here; instead, they host Eastern visitors who come as Muslim pilgrims to visit the holy places and mosques. A settlement called Nur—at the foot of the mountain—contains the graves of many “who have seen” the Prophet Mohammed. This site was chosen as a settlement for its mineral spring, known as Chasma, which always stays at 19.5°C. According to legend, a fire rock (probably a meteor) fell from the sky and a spring of healing water rose where it hit the ground. Now, thousands of believers—most from neighboring towns—come to visit every year to view the strange radiance that sometimes appears over the spring. The complex contains a Friday mosque, qubba (Arabic for shrine or tomb) and a bathhouse.

A group of tourists in Nurata.

A group of tourists in Nurata.

Far from industrial and tourist centers, this town of 25,000 leads an unhurried, idyllic life. The innocence and genuine hospitality of the residents is a primary reason that pilgrims and tourists like to visit Nurata. While our driver parked the car on the outskirts, our guide Fakhriddin, Gunter and I walked into town.

Eager to witness this hospitality for ourselves, we were not disappointed. We felt as if the town had been swept clean for guests: bushes and flowers had been carefully manicured, there was no trash on or along sidewalks, and smiling faces greeted us everywhere. While Fak tried to explain the inner workings of the unique system of underground pipe channels running from the spring, onlookers kept asking questions about us. We were their newest attraction!

“Why are you here? Where are you from? Do you like Uzbekistan? Why? What do you like best?” Of course, we couldn’t understand a word of Tajik or Russian, so Fak was bombarded with questions. He turned to us, “Are they bothering you?”

“Quite the opposite,” Gunter explained. “We want to talk with them. You can fill us in on the history later.”

“America! California!” a student from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, yelled to his friends. Soon his friends surrounded us and the questioning resumed.

An English teacher from Tashkent visits Nurata.

An English teacher from Tashkent visits Nurata.

A teacher approached to ask Fak whether her International Language university students could come over to interview us. They were taking a cultural field trip. “How fortunate for us to find American English speakers,” she said. “That is unusual; few Europeans come here and almost no Americans.” We sat on a bench while a parade of students passed by. “Only one question each,” she instructed.

As we walk along the town’s main plaza, a withered man approached with a young boy, about 5 or 6 years old. “Photo of my grandson with you?” he asked.

“Okay,” Gunter said. “Come and stand here in front.” The grandfather releases the shy boy’s hand and gently pushes him forward. After he snapped his photo, his gnarled face broke into a wide grin. “My grandson will remember this photo for the rest of his life.”

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The center of attention all afternoon, we continued to walk and talk around the village. Those inquisitive-but-friendly people of Nurata will always hold a special place in my heart.

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 this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

Lois Joy Hofmann updating her travel journal.

Lois Joy Hofmann updating her travel journal.

 

 

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”   __T.S. Eliott

The word “circumnavigator” has many meanings. Wikipedia says, “Circumnavigation is navigation completely around an entire island, continent, or astronomical body (e.g., a planet or moon)…The first known circumnavigation of Earth was the Magellan-Elcano expedition, which sailed from Seville, Spain in 1519 and returned in 1522, after crossing the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.”

Past and Present: World Explorers

 

Magellan Elcano Circumnavigation

Magellan Elcano Circumnavigation

Note that Magellan had to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, the two most dangerous capes in the world, whereas Gunter and I could transit the Panama and Pacific Canals. (See our route below):

Pacific Bliss Circumnavigation map

The Circumnavigation of Globe by Pacific Bliss, 2000-2008. (from The Long Way Back)

The second person to complete a circumnavigation (1577-1580) was Francis Drake, who discovered the Drake Passage. The English circumnavigator sailed westward from England but entered the Pacific via the Strait of Magellan. He was the first captain to lead an expedition throughout the circumnavigation.

The third circumnavigator was Martin Ignacio de Loyola who completed a westward circumnavigation from 1580-84 westward from Spain and then completed another circumnavigation from 1585-1589 eastward from Spain; he was the first to circumnavigate each way and the first to use an overland route during his circumnavigation. With his two trips from Europe to South America, Loyola was probably the most widely traveled man in history up to the 17th century.

Noted First Circumnavigators in History

There were many more firsts to follow:

  • Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri sailed around the world in multiple voyages from 1693-1698 using nothing but public transportation. He inspired Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.
  • William Dampier, an Englishman, was the first to circumnavigate three times (1708-1711).
  • The Dolphin was the first ship to survive two circumnavigations (with Samuel Wallis and Philip Carteret).
  • Jeanne Bare, disguised as a man during the first French circumnavigation, was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.
  • My hero, James Cook, made the first circumnavigation that lost not one man to scurvy. (HMS Resolution; 1772-1775).
  • Sir James Simpson made the first land circumnavigation by crossing Canada and Siberia (1841-1842).
  • The paddle sloop HMS Driver made the first steamship circumnavigation. (1845-1847).
  • Joshua Slocum made the first single-handed circumnavigation (1895-1898). He wrote a sailing memoir, published in 1900, called Sailing Alone Around the World about his single-handed global circumnavigation aboard his sloop, Spray. His successful book inspired decades of voyagers.
  • During Operation Sandblast in 1960, the USS Triton made the first underwater circumnavigation.
  • Yuri Gargarin, Soviet pilot and cosmonaut, circumnavigated the planet in 1961 for 108 minutes.
  • David Scott Cowper made the first circumnavigation by motorboat in 1985.
  • Dodge Morgan was the first American to sail solo around the world, nonstop. (American Promise. 1985-1986)
  • Hank de Velde, in 1997, sailed a catamaran around the world—eastward—in 119 days nonstop. To my knowledge, he is still the only person to perform this feat singlehanded on a catamaran.
  • Ellen MacArthur, to my knowledge, is still the fastest female circumnavigator. She sailed a trimaran B&Q/Castorama around the world in 71 days in 2005.
  • Laura Dekker, 16 in 2012, was the youngest person to complete a circumnavigation.

 

A Sense of Accomplishment

Anyone who completes a circumnavigation can’t help but feel pleased and proud of his or her accomplishment. I describe how we felt in the last chapter of my nautical/adventure coffee table book trilogy, The Long Way Back:

“We’re back where we started,” Gunter says. “It feels strange—like a miracle.”

“I know. We always sailed on…always westward toward the setting sun.”

We’re part of that uncommon and exceptional breed: circumnavigators. That word begins to sink in. What does that mean to us? We’ve fought the sea and won. Yet, in the end, we’ve taken that sea—with all it’s raw power and wisdom—into our souls.

A myriad of emotions assaults Gunter and me—feelings that we sort out and share with each other later. First, we feel the relief that we made it around the world safely. There’s a sense of completion, that we don’t have to push anymore. We’ve closed a momentous chapter in our lives, and we can never return to who we were before. But even though this adventure has ended, we know more adventures and Moments of Bliss lie ahead of us as we travel through life together. Beyond all that, there’s outright elation as well, and we bask in what we’ve accomplished. We set a goal, and we achieved it!

Pacific Bliss Circumnavigation

Lois and Gunter on the deck of Pacific Bliss at the completion of their world circumnavigation

Happy Hanukkah!

The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.

My husband Gunter and I visited Jerusalem twice, once as a side trip during the 1990s as part of a business trip to Ein Gedi and Tel Aviv, and again during our world circumnavigation, when we docked our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, in Ashkelon.  Stories and photos of that second trip are included in my recently published book, The Long Way Back.

My favorite city in Israel—a country not much larger than New Jersey—is Jerusalem, her capital. To me, Jerusalem is the one place in the world where past, present, and future become one. I felt that portentous-yet-exhilarating sense of past and future both times.

These are some of my favorite pictures and places in that grand city:

318a

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre built with the ubiquitous Jerusalem stone

325a

These olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane may have been there in Jesus’s day

327a

The wall at the Temple Mount, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall”

Jerusalem had been called some 70 names: Some of the better-known ones are: Ariel (Lion of God), Kiryah Ne’emanah (Faithful City), Kiryat Hannah David (City where David camped), Betulah (virgin), Gilah (joy), Kir, Moriah, Shalem (peace), Neveh Zedek (righteous dwelling), Ir Ha’Elohim (City of God), Gai Hizayon (Valley of Vision), Oholivah (My tent is in her) and, more recently, International City.

Despite its problems, I know I will always love Jerusalem. And despite the danger, I’d very much like to go back again. Have you been in Jerusalem? Would you go back again? If you have not traveled there, is it on your Bucket List?

“Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” —George Santanaya

Hey! I do believe that the climate is changing all the time, and has for centuries. My parents told me about the pronounced warming trend in the 1930s. And I’m old enough to remember those cold days in the 1970s when the predictions of a new ice age were dire. These were the messages on the magazine covers then:

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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

It’s a good thing I’m not trudging the politically correct campuses of today. I’d probably be marching to a different drummer; I’d be marching on behalf of the 1/3 of the world who still don’t have electricity, or the 783 million people do not have access to clean water, or the 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Think of what that could do for the impoverished! Rich nations of the world: put your money there, where it will make a difference now—not in 2100.

“The world is barely half a degree Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was about 35 years ago.”  Wall St. Journal, Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate, Nov. 27th, 2015.

Earlier this year in Paris, scientists gathered to discuss a phenomenon called the global-warming hiatus. “Between 1998 and 2012 humans pumped unprecedented quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but the average global temperature barely rose. Why?” asks The Economist. Special Report. Climate Change. November 28, 2015. Key points of climate science are settled, but questions and uncertainties remain.

“On a global scale,” the WSJ Guide continues, as scientists keep confirming, there has been no increase in frequency or intensity of storms, floods or droughts, while deaths attributed to such natural disasters have never been fewer, thanks to modern technology and infrastructure…Arctic sea ice has recently melted more in summer than it used to in the 1980s, but Antarctic sea ice has increased, and Antarctica is gaining land-based ice, according to a new study by NASA scientists published in the Journal of Glaciology. Sea level continues its centuries-long slow rise—about a foot a century—with no sign of recent acceleration…”

According to Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, “ The (emissions) cuts on the table  in Paris, then, will leave the global economy, in rough terms, $1 trillion short every year for the rest of the century—and that’s if politicians do everything right. If not, the real cost could double…At best, the emissions cuts pledged in Paris will prevent a total temperature rise by 2100 of only 0.306F…” Gambling the World Economy on Climate, WSJ, November 17, 2015.

Does this make sense? I say, spend the money on the third world now.

Villages built of coral. Traveling around the world by boat, I had the opportunity to mix with islanders where they live. They taught me a lot about how they “use” climate change initiatives to gain funding from the western world. During the U.N. Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009, the Maldives government made an eye-catching plea for climate change action by holding the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting. Although I admire the cleverness of the Maldivians, here’s the real story: these islanders are indeed hurtingnot because of climate change but because of coral mining. Yes, they mined their own fringing coral reefs to use as construction material for cool, gorgeous courtyards and homes! “Our parents did not know that practice would damage the reefs forever,” an Uligan Island schoolteacher explained to me. “They thought the reefs would grow back, like trees.” Now at high tides, the ocean surges over the damaged reefs and fishermen must use expensive diesel to travel to more distant islands to find reef fish.

The formation of a coral atoll. During the 21st Conference on Climate Change happening now, new focus will be on rising seas flooding the Marshall Islands. It appears that the role of reefs in protecting islands and way islands sink during atoll formation is not well understood.

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“This animation from NOAA shows the dynamic process of how a coral atoll forms. Corals (represented in tan and purple) begin to settle and grow around an oceanic island forming a fringing reef… if conditions are favorable, the reef will continue to expand. As the reef expands, the interior island usually begins to subside and the fringing reef turns into a barrier reef. When the island completely subsides beneath the water leaving a ring of growing coral with an open lagoon in its center, it is called an atoll.” NOAA

Fringing reefs that surround an island are sometimes referred to as house reefs. These are the reefs that islanders depend on not only for food, but for protection. They protect coasts from strong currents and waves by slowing down the water before it gets to the shore. They are also called barrier reefs because they provide a barrier between the ocean and the shore. Fares are outlying low reefs that provide a second layer of protection for tropical islands.

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The Carteret Islands

First global warming refugees—or not? The Melanesian Carteret islanders have been touted as the first global warming refugees; they were forced to evacuate the entire island and most of them have been relocated to Papua New Guinea. But what is not reported is the back-story: (1) The Carteret islands consist of a base of coral that sits atop an extinct volcanic mount. In the usual geological course of events first proposed by Charles Darwin, such islands eventually subside due to weathering and erosion, as well as isostatic adjustments of the sea floor. An atoll will gradually sink; the sea doesn’t rise. And if the sea did rise due to global warming, it would have risen evenly throughout the entire Pacific Ocean. The entire Melanesian island chain would be seeing a rise of the same level—measured in millimeters or centimeters. (2) These islanders may not want to go back to Papua New Guinea, but that is where most of them came from. For they have already been refugees once. Political refugees, they escaped Bougainville to avoid the fighting there. (3) Along with their wives and children, the men loaded into their small boats packages of dynamite, to get an early start on their food reserves. As they dynamited their fringing reefs to kill the fish and provide quick meals, the underlying coral crumbled. A fissure was most likely formed in the reef, because eventually the one reef became two. The incoming tidal waves now breach the reefs, gradually eroding the shoreline, swamping the islander’s beloved banana and vegetable gardens. A man-made problem? You bet. But this is one problem not caused by global warming. It sad that islanders who are confronted by a very serious problem appear to have been exploited by the “cause” of global warming.

No easy solutions. I have talked with simple islanders as well as government officials, and I find that no solutions are easy. In the name of environmentalism, it does no good to simply gloss over the day-to-day problems most locals face—just to survive. By all means, help them out. Now. The good news is that concerned people around the world are finding—and acting upon—creative ways of protecting and saving our wonderful world for future generations.

For further information, refer to my series of essays called The Enlightened Enviromentalist at my sailing website.

Should you go to Burma? The answer is a resounding YES! I can still feel the memories of Myanmar coursing through my body and my jet-lagged brain. “This is Burma,” wrote Rudyard Kipling over a century ago. “It is quite unlike any place you know about.” His words are true even today. Everywhere you’ll encounter men wearing skirt-like longyi; children and women with thanakha (traditional make-up) on their cheeks; and grannies smoking cheroots, chewing betel nuts and spitting red juice. There are no Starbucks, McDonalds, or Kentucky Fried Chickens—yet.

The October/early November “shoulder season” is a great time of year to go there. Although it rained during our first two days in Yangon, the wet season is generally over; the countryside is lush and fresh; and the tourist season is just beginning.

I was fortunate to be in Burma during a rare press conference held by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, held a week prior to President Obama’s recent visit. She warned the U.S. not to be “too optimistic,” and that promised reforms have slowed during the past two years. The government’s emphasis, she explained, has been on economic advances rather than human rights.

Suu Kyi opened the press conference in Yangon with Obama last week by addressing reports of tension between the U.S. and those working for democratic reforms in Myanmar: “We may view things differently from time to time but that will in no way affect our relationship,” the Associated Press reported. Burma is clearly counting on the support of the west.

IMAGE: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

IMAGE: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

It’s a heady time for the people of Burma. In 2010, Myanmar held its first free elections in two decades. Even though the country’s progress on the road to democracy is two steps forward and one step back, there’s a cautious optimism in the air. The 2015 elections are coming up next fall. I could sense the spark of hope and excitement. Just maybe they will change the constitution so that “The Lady” can run. And just maybe the generals will delete the clause they added that allows them to have 25% of the parliamentary seats no matter what the vote tally shows. Everyone I queried says they would vote for The Lady. Of course. She has given up her life, her freedom, and her family—all for the people—quite a sacrifice.

Restrictions have definitely relaxed since my last visit to Burma in 2006. During a two-day cruise up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay, I was surprised that the Paukan cruise line could show the film, “The Lady” (see movie trailer) released in 2012. Even so, the film is still not allowed in Burmese theaters.

We had the opportunity to see much of Burma through “independent travel,” which allowed us more free time to digest what we had seen and learned before rushing home or on to another country. Many of the tourists we met were heading from Yangon, the largest city, to Bagan with its 3200 pagodas, and then to Mandalay, the ancient capital of the kings. By expanding the itinerary of a typical trip and seeing only one country, we could take the time to go deeper into the interior. Swaths of the country, off-limits for years, can now be visited. I fell in love with the fertile farms of Shan state, the mountain villages of Pindaya, and the fishing villages of Inle Lake. We saw people getting around in trishaws or horse-and-cart and farming with little or no mechanization.

It wasn’t all easy travel. Beyond Yangon, Burma is still a third-world country. In the interior, I had to let go of internet, phone and e-mail. However, I’m very glad I went there. And I urge you to go as well!

I plan to post stories and photos of the best of Burma in forthcoming blog posts. Here’s a sneak preview:

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We “inherited” a trio of cement garden figurines when we purchased the Wisconsin lake home we call Northern Bliss. Noting their blue-and-white outfits, we assumed them to be of Swedish descent.  We named the couple wired to the wooden bench Ole and Lena.  I proceeded to paint the bench baby blue to match their clothes. We rescued a little boy figurine from the weeds near the lake, placed him on a tree stump, and called him Sven.

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Growing up in Wisconsin, I’d heard plenty of Ole & Lena jokes. My German father Lester liked to use them to tease my Swedish mother Sigrid, so I assumed that they were Swedish put-downs, like the Polish jokes that also circulated in the Midwest.  Last week, soon after repainting that bench and securing the figures, I read a notice in the Amery Free Press about the a play being put on by the Amery Community Theater  called  “Ole & Lena Go to da Lake.”  This would be an excellent opportunity to acquaint Günter, who emigrated from Germany, with my Swedish heritage. Or so I thought.

We went to the play, wonderfully performed by the local theatre group. We thoroughly enjoyed it and laughed at all the Ole and Lena jokes. But I realized then that while Ole and Lena are indeed Scandinavian, they are Norwegians, not Swedes.  And Sven is the Swedish friend of Ole, who is not quite as bright as he is (which is not saying much).  Here’s the description of these characters given in the program:

  • Ole (Jim Thompson): Thick-headed Scandinavian, fond of fishing, campfires, and beer. Loves his wife so much he almost told her once.
  • Lena (Laura Sjogren): Ole’s long-suffering bride. Scandinavian down to her socks, but strangely passionate when it comes to stoic Ole.
  • Sven (Scott Kaml): Odiferous fishing partner and best buddy to Ole. Guileless. Every now and then he stops to think, but forgets to start again.

After we returned, I asked Gunter whether he’d ever heard Ole & Lena jokes in Europe. “No, they only told Polish jokes,” he answered.

So I researched on-line. According to Wikipedia, one would not even find Ole & Lena jokes in Sweden and Norway. That’s because they are an outgrowth of the American immigrant experience. Turning the misunderstandings and mistakes of a learning a new language into jokes enabled Scandinavians to jest about embarrassing incidents.  The primary reason the jokes have endured is that they are quaint and well meaning.  In fact, the core of this folk humor, says Wikipedia, is probably “the strongly egalitarian sense that permeates the cultural code in the Nordic countries.”

Here are a few of the jokes used in the play (paraphrased):

  • Sven goes out one day to use the outhouse, and he finds Ole there. He has his wallet out, and he’s throwing money down into the hole of the outhouse. “Uff da!” Sven says.  “Ole, you’re throwing the ten dollar bill down into the hole of the outhouse! Whatcha doin’ that for?” Ole answers, “Well, when I pulled up my trousers I dropped a nickel down there—and I’m never going to convince Lena to go down into that mess for just a nickel!”
  • Ole and Lena got married. On their honeymoon trip they were nearing Minneapolis when Ole put his hand on Lena’s knee. Giggling, Lena said, “Ole, you can go a little further now if you want to …” So Ole drove to Duluth.
  • Sven and Ole went to the lake, rented a boat and went fishing. They eventually found a great spot and quickly caught their limit. On the way back to the dock Ole said, “That surely was good fishing. How will we ever find that place again?” Sven said, “Don’t worry. While we were there, I put an X on the side of the boat.”  “But that won’t work!” Ole said.  “Why not?”  “How do we know we’ll get the same boat next time?”

New jokes are invented to fit the modern age. Here’s one from the play about using a cell phone:

  • Ole and Lena were so excited to get a new cell phone. Ole was to call when he was on his way home from town. Ole called Lena when he entered the freeway.  “Lena, put supper on, I’m on my way home.”  Lena said, “Be careful! I hear some nut is driving the wrong way on the freeway.”  “It’s worse than that Lena. Where I am, there are a hundred cars going the wrong way!”

And here’s a parody of that infamous 3 a.m. phone call:

  • A Norwegian answers the phone at 3 a.m. Wrong number, so the caller apologizes.  “That’s OK,” says the Norwegian. “I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.”

To read more Ole and Lena jokes, click here.

One of the expressions my mother used to say when something went wrong was Uff da. Commonly used in these jokes, it’s a handy all-purpose expression I’d forgotten. It has many uses, such as:

  • Uff da – replaces Charlie Brown’s “Good Grief.”
  • Uff da – walking to the next room and then wondering what you wanted.
  • Uff da – waking yourself up in church with your own snoring.
  • Uff da – when something doesn’t work out, such as trying to pour two buckets of manure into one bucket.
  • Uff da – (for the guys) when your two “steady” girl friends find out about each other.

After checking into their past, there’s no doubt that Ole and Lena will remain seated on that bench I painted for them, watching over little Sven.  All they will need is a couple of fishing poles. We wanted to create a heritage home, and these figurines, I’ve decided, are an integral part. Now for that German garden gnome…

P1060233 Ole & Lena view the lake and keep and eye on Little Sven

After seeing the Lord of the Forest, an ancient kauri tree, while touring New Zealand, I still could not get those kauri trees out of my mind. So when we saw some furniture made of kauri wood in a museum, I made a wish: Someday, if I would have a lake or mountain home, and if I could somehow manage to purchase and ship some of that kauri wood to the States, I would have a coffee table made of a slice of that marvelous wood. Never mind that this is a protected species, like the ancient California redwoods. I put it “out there” anyway.

We walk through the Waipoua Forest to see the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world's largest living kauri tree (Photo from p. 197 of

We walk through the Waipoua Forest to see the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world’s largest living kauri tree (Photo from p. 197 of “Sailing the South Pacific”)

Years later, part of the money from the sale of Pacific Bliss enabled us to purchase Northern Bliss, our family heritage home on a Wisconsin lake. Amazingly, my wish has come true. During the remodeling process of our lodge-style home, wonderfully completed by my son-in-law, Mike Mowers , I googled kauri wood. I discovered that—lo and behold—there was one distributor of kauri wood in the U.S. and he happened to be in Wisconsin! The company is called Ancientwood Ltd, owned by Bob Teisburg. The kauri he sells is pulled out of New Zealand swamps. It’s taken a year, but I finally have a coffee table and fireplace mantle made of that ancient kauri wood.

Coffee table made of kauri wood from New Zealand

Coffee table made of kauri wood from New Zealand

Here’s an excerpt from Sailing the South Pacific:

The Lord of the Forest

I cannot get those giant kauri trees out of my mind.They say that even the redwoods of Big Sur, California, cannot compete with the kauris’ ancient appearance and aura. I must have another look.

We take the West Coast Road (also called the Kauri Coast Road) south. We follow signs posted for Tani Mahuta Track and the Waipoua Forest. There, we have been assured, we will find Tani Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the world’s largest living kauri tree, guaranteed to take our breath away. This great work of nature was discovered in the 1920s by surveyors who had been contracted to build Highway 12 through the forest. They called it Tani Mahuta after a god in Maori mythology. Tani was the son of Ranginui, the Sky Father and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother.  Being a jealous child, he separated his parents and then, out of love for his mother, created the living forest to clothe her. As a result, even today, all creatures of the forest are considered to be Tani’s children.

Walking the short track that leads through the cooling shade of the forest canopy, I flush with anticipation. Not far into the walk, we sweep around a corner and I stop dead in my tracks. There he is! Suddenly, I’m brought face to face with the Lord of the Forest. I stand perfectly still. I stare. My first glimpse of this magnificent tree takes my breath away! I can sense Tani Mahuta’s ancient presence and animal strength. He dominates the forest. 

Almost 2000 years old, he, too, is almost 16 stories high, but he has a circumference of over 45 feet.  He is the giant of giants!  An enormous growth that dwarfs everything else. 

A wooden fence protects him. A viewing bench surrounds him. I sit in silence. Awed. I wonder at the centuries that have come and gone under the spreading branches of this primeval forest patriarch. Then, I stand and move back…farther…farther…farther.  I must fit this entire majestic being into my camera lens. I must…I must….And, finally, I rejoice…because I have him!