Search Results for 'sense of place'



“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.


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.


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.


“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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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


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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


August 22, 2022

Are those steamy, sultry “dog days of summer” for real? Where does the term “dog days” originate? After googling my questions, I found that historically, these days are the period following the heliacal rising of the star system Sirius, which in Hellenistic astrology is connected to heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. This year, the Farmer’s Almanac says that dog days occurred from July 3 through August 11, soon after the summer solstice. No wonder August came heavy this month. It’s all in the stars! 

I languished as I lugged four hoses around our acre of land and repositioned each of them four times. I was tired of watering, tired of deadheading, and tired of wishing for rain. At Northern Bliss, those sudden thunderstorms described by the Greeks arrived with threatening clouds and a fury of wind. But despite all that commotion, they typically dropped a meager centimeter or two of rain and then slinked off, leaving a green smear of algae on our shoreline.  

About mid-August the heaviness lifted. Northern Bliss received about one inch of rain and another inch the following week—not enough to break the drought or green the lawn, but sufficient to give us some relief. The cooler, fresher air lifted my mood, and I became myself again. My energy returned, and I looked forward to receiving visitors. 

This brings me to the big news at Northern Bliss. In this, our tenth summer here, we decided to install an irrigation system using water from the lake. The installation was completed last week—with six watering zones and 43 sprinkler heads. This frees up to three hours per day, which will allow me to pursue my creative projects while sparing my neck and back.

This morning as we sipped our coffee, read the newspaper, and planned our day, Gunter and I realized that our joie de vivre had returned. Consumed by To Do lists, we’d let that precious enjoyment of life slip away. We recounted all the experiences that had brought us joy in the past two weeks and realized that they were the little things. It was the lifting of our spirits that had made the difference.

I’d had a medical procedure performed that required two days of rest afterwards. For the first time all summer, Gunter and I spent hours on the patio reclining in our Zero Gravity chairs, laughing at the antics of the squirrels and chipmunks and listening to birdsongs. Toward the end of that week, my two adult granddaughters came over for a day to work on our custom recipe books. We searched the internet and printed out new recipes, deciding which ones would fit the criteria of “healthy” and “yummy” (not always the same). 

Two young families—each with two girls ages one and three—visited Northern Bliss during the last two weekends. What a delight small children bring to a home! They have a sense of wonder, intensity, spontaneity, and joie de vivre than we tend to lose as we age.During each visit, I taught the oldest girls how to pop a balloon flower. That kept them busy for at least 30 minutes before they wanted to go onto the next new thing. Riding the painted concrete turtle which sits on an old tree stump was another activity they loved. Every time they skipped down the flagstone path to the edge of the gardens, they stopped for a turtle ride. Climbing the boulders near the rain garden provided more excitement. And of course, both families enjoyed the pontoon ride on White Ash Lake.

Designing a fairy garden was their favorite project. They helped me unpack the figures stored in a box in the garage. One by one, we placed houses, stones, roads, animals, and all kinds of fairies into the red wagon and pulled it over to the old, leaking birdbath. Then we added a layer of moss and went to work. It didn’t take long for the girls to catch on. Soon they were rearranging homes and roads and adding blue stones for lakes and ponds.

In Wisconsin the last two weeks of August, followed by September’s Labor Day weekend, herald the end of summer. Lakes take on a greenish hue. Hostas turn brown at the edges and succumb to worms and bugs. Lilies lose their crowns of glory and stand naked and brown as vitality returns to their bulbs. The pastel colors of spring—pale yellows, lavenders, pinks, and whites—had changed into the bright, jewel colors of summer—red, blue, orange, and wine. Now all those splashes of color have begun to fade. My garden looks rather drab.

But wait! Tiger and “ditch” lilies are still hanging in there. Zinnias—outrageously colored in bold patterns of red, and orange and yellow—continue to blaze away. Gold and purple garden mums are blossoming.  Goldenrods, their heads clustered in lacy yellow panicles, line the roadsides. Hydrangeas are coming into their own—showing off varying shades of green, pink, burgundy, and white vanilla. My rain garden is coming alive with black-eyed Susans, deep-red cardinal flowers, wine-red swamp milkweed, and seven-foot tall stands of lavender Joe Pye weed. Bumblebees and monarch butterflies work the garden as if there’s no time to waste.

Next to spring, autumn is my favorite season. So my personal joie de vivre is the anticipation of fall. I realize that the dog days of summer are a necessary transition from tending the earth to harvesting what it has produced. Now, luscious red cherry tomatoes fill bowls on our kitchen counter while green, beefeater tomatoes ripen on the vines. The broccoli plants have produced little balls of green. In the orchard, our apple trees bow with partly-ripened fruit. And in the Veg-Trug, most of the herbs have bolted. Appreciating the cooler nights, I planted a new batch, looking forward to adding them to autumn soups and stews. 

I know in my head that August is the end of the growing season. But my heart wanted to experience that thrill of growing one more time. So after I took one last trip to my favorite nursery to buy the herbs, I searched for some tasseling burgundy grasses. They would look nice in that imitation log planter I didn’t use last spring. I took them home, along with a couple of gold-and-brown “Susans” to plant on either side. Today, while writing this story, I look out the window to view that arrangement sitting on the patio wall. Autumn is coming and it’s okay.

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 and on her website.


Update on Tonga Relief:

Thank you, readers, for your interest in Tonga. International humanitarian aid continues to arrive by air and sea from Australia, China, France, Japan, and New Zealand.

  • Initial Damages Assessment (IDA) data has been completed and being is collected and analyzed by Tonga’s National Emergency Management Office (NEMO).
  • “28,900 people have received water, sanitation and hygiene assistance throughout the country.” (“TONGA: Volcanic Eruption”)
  • “Some 1,000 people (204 households) have received shelter assistance.” (“Tonga: Volcanic Eruption Situation Report No. 3 (As of 3 …”)
  • The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) has supplied about 1.5 tons of maize and a variety of vegetable seeds to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Forests.
  • Donors and international organizations have committed some US$ 27 million in financial assistance plus a considerable amount of in-kind support to the relief effort in Tonga. (“Tonga: Volcanic Eruption Situation Report No. 3 (As of 3 …”)

This Polynesian country of over 170 islands has intrigued me ever since I viewed a TV broadcast of Tongans on the beach greeting the new millennium on January 1, 2000. Their feverish dancing was contagious. Later that year, I was captivated by the news that the 440-pound King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV had gone on a diet-fitness program and lost one hundred pounds! Gunter and I vowed to include this charming island in our circumnavigation plans.

Now, my heart continues to go out to the people of Tonga as I reflect on the few months that Gunter and I spent there during our travels. We sailed our catamaran Pacific Bliss to Tonga from Palmerston Island and arrived at Port of Refuge, Neiafu on August 28, 2002. I wrote this in my journal:

“The Kingdom of Tonga. The name evokes mystery, a sense of the exotic, perhaps because I have never been here before. Or perhaps because it is one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in the world. Tonga has a fierce reputation: It is the only island in the Pacific that was never colonized.”

Friendship, Tongan style. Captain Cook called Tonga the Friendly Islands because the inhabitants welcomed him warmly and graciously provided him with the supplies he needed. We cruisers enjoyed the warmth of the locals as well. One Tongan who became my friend was Lucy, the owner of the Unisex Hair Salon. Her salon was the best because it was the only one in town! A mother of seven, she didn’t sit around—even though she’d had a stroke three years earlier. “Do what you love,” a wise Tongan doctor told her. “You will gradually improve.”

A hairdresser to the Royal Family, Lucy talked about them unceasingly while she did my hair. “We love our princess,” she gushed. “She is a princess of the people. She is beautiful, like Diana.” Lucy continued to let water run through my hair. “And she comes to all our functions. She likes us.” 

I told her that we can’t let the water run that long on our yacht. “We make our water from the sea, so we have to use it sparingly.” 

“You can come here and use my shower any time you want,” she said. That’s the way they are on those islands!

Dedications in Tonga are a big deal. The first one I experienced was shortly after we arrived in Tonga when I attended the dedication of an elementary school. Gunter and I arrived at the stated time, but these events run on island time. And island time means take your time. Being early, we had the privilege of watching the preparations. Teachers decorated the speaker’s podium with Tongan mats, then they fastened them in the back with rolls of duct tape. King Tupou IV was in attendance, but a pole holding up the canopy hid him from view! We changed our seats so we could see him clearly. 

Tonga
The King of Tonga (left) and President of French Polynesia (right) speak at the dedication of a new school in Vavau.

A few weeks later, I attended the dedication of the new Arts and Handicrafts Center. The princess Lucy had praised took her seat on the stage and with a desultory stare, fanned herself during the monotonous dedication speech and long-winded prayer that followed. Halfway through the speeches, an intermission allowed us to walk around the hall and study the handicrafts for sale. The governor and princess dutifully rounded the tables. I watched them walk up to each display and talk with the artist. The ceremony continued. The princess spoke in Tongan and then English. “We have so many guests visiting us in Vavau. Welcome! May you enjoy your stay here.” Her warmth was contagious. I was impressed. After the princess spoke, groups of dancers performed, facing the princess—with their backs to the audience! 

Tongan children dancers
Boys pose after they dance for the Princess.

At the end of the performances, we all rose as the princess and royals stepped down from the dais and walked along the aisles toward the rear of the hall, shaking hands. I was seated on the aisle. The princess reached out and grasped my hand with a firm, confident handshake as she looked me right in the eye. Her smile was genuine, warm, and inviting. I began to understand why the only Polynesian monarchy continues to exist.

These stories, and many more, are told in the second book in my “In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss” trilogy, “Sailing the South Pacific.”

  • Catholic Church, Colonial Style, Neiafu
  • Hut in Vavua, Tonga
  • Whale watching in Tonga.
  • Dance in Tonga
  • Boy dancer, Tonga
  • Cruising yachts

The death of King Tupou IV in 2006. The King died on September 11, 2006. Gunter and I were on a passage from Bali to Singapore and didn’t know about it until we read the Singapore Times at Raffles Marina. We realized that was the first King either of us had met. We were sad but weren’t surprised; he was 88.He had been the King of Tonga since the death of his mother, Queen Sālote Tupou III, in 1965. His son was sworn in immediately as King Tupou V, but the coronation would be held in 2007 after an official six-month mourning period. That made sense to us. What blew our minds were the Tonga Riots of November 2006. By then, we were in Yacht Haven Marina in Phuket, Thailand, pre-occupied with preparing Pacific Bliss for our January Indian Ocean crossing. As we worked, we wondered: Why would the peaceful, law-abiding Tongans storm their capital, Nuku’alofa?

The Tongan Riots. Tongans expected democratic reforms under the new monarch; after all, the government had formed a committee to do so following a 2005 strike by government workers. They demanded that a vote on at least some of these reforms take place before Parliament adjourned for the year. That didn’t happen. So on November 16, 2006, a pro-democracy rally of several thousand marched to parliament in Nuku’alofa. After the peaceful march ended outside parliament, an irate crowd of 2,000-3,000 took to the streets. The rioters spanned all ages, from children to the elderly; however, most were young men. As they rampaged through town, they tipped over cars, attacked government buildings, smashed windows, looted businesses and then set them on fire. For many Tongans, it was like a Christmas give-away bonanza that had come early. By the night’s end, the mob had burnt down a remarkable 80% of the Central Business District of Nuku’alofa. Six people were dead, and damage totaled millions of Pa’anga (the currency of Tonga). 

Building burns in Tonga during 2006 riots
Building burns in Tonga during 2006 riots.

The Tongan government, fearing that it was facing a revolution, quickly requested armed assistance from Australia and New Zealand to quell its unruly subjects. About 150 Australian and New Zealand troops and police officers arrived. After a few weeks, over 570 people were arrested, most of whom were beaten by soldiers and police.

Tonga’s Transition to a Constitutional Democracy. The ceremonial accession of King Tupou V was deferred to 2008 due to his decision to focus on the reconstruction of the damaged capital. 

Two ceremonies marked Tupou’s coronation. The first was a Taumafa Kava(Royal Kava Ring Ceremony). The king sat on a pile of handwoven pandanus mats facing the sea while 200 Tongan nobles and chiefs wearing woven skirts and seashells marched around him. He wore a garland of flowers and the traditional Tongan ta’ovala (woven mat skirt). Hundreds of baskets of food and seventy cooked pigs were presented to the King and his assembly of chiefs and nobles. Later that night, schoolchildren carrying 30,000 torches lit the sky to proclaim the coronation. 

A second, European-style coronation ceremony took place on August 2, 2008 in the Nuku’alofa Centennial Chapel, attended by royalty and nobility from around the world. Archbishop Bryce presented Tongan regalia: the ring, scepter and sword; then he placed the Tongan Crown on the monarch’s head. 

As a Crown Prince, King George had been in favor of a gradual transition to democracy. He said that the Constitution of Tonga protected free speech. After his coronation, he announced that he would relinquish most of his power and follow the recommendations of his Prime Minister, who would manage day-to-day affairs. The King also sold off lucrative business interests and announced parliamentary reform and elections in 2010. The royal palace spokesperson announced, “The Sovereign of the only Polynesian kingdom … is voluntarily surrendering his powers to meet the democratic aspirations of many of his people … [The people] favour a more representative, elected Parliament. The king agrees with them.” 

In July 2010, the government published a new electoral roll and called on Tonga’s 101,900 citizens to add their names to the document so that they could take part in the historic vote on November 25. King George would lose his executive powers, including the ability to appoint the prime minister and ministers, but he would remain head of state. Unfortunately, a year later, Tupou V died from cancer. Friends and political leaders from around the world sent condolences. “He believed that the monarchy was an instrument of change and can be seen as the architect of evolving democracy in Tonga,” said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. “This will be his enduring legacy.”

The politics of Tonga currently takes place within the framework of a constitutional monarchy. The King is the head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The Prime Minister is appointed by the King from among members of Parliament, after having won majority support of its members. Executive power is vested in the Cabinet of Ministers. Legislative power is vested in the King through the Parliament, and judicial power, in the Supreme Court. 

The “Kingdom of Tonga” we experienced during our circumnavigation is no more. Tupou VI, the younger brother of the late King George Tupou, is now the King of Tonga. The current prime minister is Siaosi Sovaleni, elected on December 15, 2021.

King Tupou VI
King Tupou VI

“If a boat ends up on a reef you don’t blame the reef;
you don’t blame the boat;
you don’t blame the wind;
you don’t blame the waves;
you blame the captain.”

— Tongan Saying

(Tongan riots, 2006 – libcom.org)

The Tongan monarchy eventually got it right. The country may have floundered on a reef temporarily, but now it is solidly on course.

In case you missed them, click to read my Tsunami in Tonga Part I and Part II.

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.


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.