Monday, May 30, 2011

Gratitude, Joy

Yesterday we traveled by ferry from the North Island to the South.  The trip took about 3 hours; over the open water we really chugged along, while once we approached the port in the South we slowed appreciably so as to negotiate the narrow, winding channel.
Approaching the hidden channel to the South Island
On the way the perfect meditative music presented itself:  Anand Anugrah and Paul Avgerinos, "Gratitude, Joy" which I had loaded on my iPad.  Thanks, Paul, for this wonderful meditation--it was terrific paired with the ferry cruising at high speed across open water.

I also really enjoyed this song by Leonard Cohen, "Tower of Song".  It's a kind of meditation (with humor) on the close of this life and the next life ahead of us.  Cohen is quite an interesting fellow, one of the earliest folk/rock artists, predating Bob Dylan a little, poet, Montreal Jew and Buddhist monk.  See what you think; the video is from his Live in London concert in 2009:

Have had to wear winter-weight jacket now for last 2 days--last night there was a heavy frost here but the high temps are in the 50's.  Only one bad rain day since coming to NZ and right now the sky is clear blue.  It is interesting to be here on the equivalent of our December 1 . . .  On the way today to Abel Tasman Park in the NW of the South Island.

Blessings to everyone in Redding and Stamford and Pittsburgh and Madison!

Look at This Cat

Posted in coffee shop in Blenheim, NZ, in the Marlborough Wine District:

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Two days ago we began in Rotorua and ended the day in Taupo... en route we were treated to a variety of lovely and incredible living things...
Iceland Poppies, Government Garden in Rotorua

A pukeko bird in Government Gardens, Rotorua
These birds are one of the things you see in a lot of cute tourist art.  This is the pukeko, a bird that came into New Zealand (flew over) from Australia over the last 1000 years.  They are pretty tame around people and nest in farmland and other places.

Redwoods and tree ferns, Rotorua
Barry next to a tree fern--they grow really tall

There is a forest of California Redwoods outside Rotorua, which we visited and hiked through.  Not only the redwoods but also the tree ferns are here--and walking through them is spectacular. The redwoods were planted as part of an early experiment to find the timber that would best serve the timber industry in New Zealand.  They didn't end up choosing to plant millions of redwoods--but instead they did develop this lovely forest tract.

Waimangu Thermal Valley

Next is a view taken in a volcanic valley outside Rotorua, called Waimangu.  This is the world's youngest geothermal site, having been created in a volcanic eruption in 1886.  We walked 4 km down the valley, stopping at various sites along the way.  Barry wrote about this in his latest blog piece and included a pic of Inferno Crater, which was lovely aqua blue from dissolved silica in the heated water, refracting the light and giving this fabulous blue.  It was reminiscent of the color of water that comes out of glacial melting, probably for the same reason--dissolved silicates.

Female wallaby in the Waimangu Valley.  About 3 feet tall.
Finally at the end of the walk we were treated to the site of a real pest here, the wallaby.  Of course we thought it was marvelous to see her, but the locals hate them, due to the fact that they chew up forest and farm vegetation.  They so hate the possums here as well (both wallabies and possums are non-native species) that they make sport of killing them and their fur is woven together with merino wool and silk to make wonderfully thick and warm winter hats, gloves, and scarves.  They call it possum wool.  Apparently there is a cafe somewhere here that specializes in possum pies, putting a little decoration of a possum face on top of the pies.  They say that every tourist should have a possum pie--it will keep their numbers down!  Not sure I will eat any of these ...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


We're "enjoying" a rainy day in Taupo, in the middle of the North Island next to Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand.

The bad weather--the first bad day in the seven so far we've been in NZ--scratched a day trip to the national park to see the snow covered volcanoes up close.   (Hopefully we will see them in the morning from our B&B overlooking the lake before departing toward Napier and Hawke Bay.)   On the other hand, the rainy day gave us the chance to do some errands here in town (including our second laundry run of the trip) and relax here at Rangimarie B&B.   This included a welcome afternoon nap as the rain was falling gently on the roof.

A few reflections on Hawaii and New Zealand since my first post back in Toronto--nothing too profound as you will quickly see:

Hawaiian shave ice, like Hawaii itself, was quite a treat.
--Shave ice is soooo much better than the snow cones we grew up with.
--The Hawaiians we met throughout our visit were remarkably friendly.   This even applies to the TSA employees at the Kona and Honolulu airports we encountered.  (The open-air airport at Kailua-Kona is a refreshing change from the typical and puts you into the right mood upon arrival.)
Not your typical airport departure lounge.  (Kona Airport)

--For years I have been indifferent about visiting Hawaii.   This is no longer the case as I would welcome a return visit sometime.   For us, I think we made the right choice spending most of our time on the Big Island with its lower population density and wide open landscapes.   (The resort zone immediately north of the Kona airport was the only side of the island we did not see.)    The volcanic desert in the south and the rolling hills of range country in the north around Waimea provided stunning vistas.

It's kind of desolate down here--Kilauea Iki crater walk
Looking down to the sea from the Chain of Craters road at Volcano National Park

Beach in Waipio valley on the windward side of the Big Island--we had to hike in and out

New Zealand:
--All the superlatives I've heard about NZ over the years are not hype--they are absolutely on the mark in my opinion.   This place is so easy to travel in and so rewarding every step of the way.
--I'm struck by feeling so at home here, yet so far away from home.

From the Coromandel peninsula east of Auckland

Inferno Crater (actually an underwater geyser) at Waimangu volcanic valley south of Rotorua
Part of every day here--the New Zealand "flat white".   Amen for that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Crosses, Dolphins, and the Missing Day

The flag of New Zealand:  the Union Jack, the Southern Cross,
and the blue of the ocean and the sky.
We've been in New Zealand since May 20.  Curious thing:  we left Hawaii on May 18, around 11 pm.  We had only 3 or so hours of May 19, until we crossed the International Date Line into May 20 ... how strange.  The only time in our lives that a day was only about three hours long.  That was weird and more than a little disorienting.

Auckland skyline, photographed from inside
the ferry terminal (you can see the reflections
from the glass windows).  A spectacular skyline.
Spectacular west window celebrating the Creation
in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Auckland
Our first two days were in Auckland, the largest city in the country (but not its capital).  We did lots of big-city things like riding in buses, exploring on foot, getting a view of the city skyline from a ferry in its harbour, and
attending church at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (the newest cathedral in the Anglican Communion, completed just a few years ago).

Church was lovely, the service out of the New Zealand Prayer Book.  They said the Lord's Prayer earlier in the service than we usually do, and it was said in Maori.  Barry and I listened, as there was no way we could pronounce the words quickly.  We met the assistant priest there, who has been ordained for 18 months; she was quite excited that next year this cathedral will host a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council.  That is surely a feather in their cap.

The other big city thing we did in Auckland was to go to the movies:  we saw the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" and it was a little bit of Americana, a little reminder of home.

Once we left Auckland, though, we traveled to a much more rural place.  We spent two nights on the Coromandel Peninsula, due east of Auckland.  This is an incredibly beautiful place where craggy mountains, rain forests, windy roads, deserted wide beaches, the Milky Way, and pods of dolphins interplay in a wonderful and sometimes unpredictable ways.

A coastline view of the Coromandel Peninsula
For the first time in our lives we saw the Southern Cross, the constellation that corresponds to our "Big Dipper" in circling the Pole.  In this case it's the South Pole, not the North.  The Southern Cross is a "small" constellation but incredibly clear and bright--just lovely.  It sits smack in the middle of the Milky Way.  You can see that New Zealand has chosen to put the Southern Cross on its flag.  Here the night sky is an amazing show of vivid and glittering stars.  The night we first saw the Southern Cross we were also treated to two or three meteors arcing across the sky--it was near the peak of a minor meteor shower in mid to late May.  It was splendid.

It was so amazing to realize that the constellations we see near our horizon--such as Scorpio, the Scorpion--are also visible in New Zealand near their horizon as well.  I was challenged by the fact that the constellations look the same as they do to us in Connecticut.  Shouldn't they be upside down or inside out or something, since we're seeing them from the Southern Hemisphere???  But think of this a while and you realize that these constellations are so far away that no matter where we stand on the Earth we'll see them looking pretty much the same.  That was an interesting thing to ponder.

The people we have met here are uniformly friendly and welcoming.  This morning I had an interesting conversation with our B&B owner in Coromandel who is fluent in Hebrew, both ancient and modern.  We spoke of Hebrew words that are easy to mistake for one another, we deepened our talk by considering mysticism in both Judaism and Christianity, and we ended our conversation by sharing our love for the songs of Leonard Cohen.  Just one of the interesting and warm Kiwis we've met.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

An Aloha Parish

St. Columba's Church in NW Hawai'i
This past Sunday Barry and I found a little mission church near where we were staying on the NW coast of the big island of Hawaii, in an area that used to be populated by workers in the sugar industry (before it closed down there).  We drove past it on Saturday and it looked pretty small and pretty basic.  We went on Sunday to experience worship there, looking forward to the Eucharist.  When we got there at 20 minutes before the hour no one was in the parking lot... uh oh.  But soon enough a few people showed up; I bet there were 15 or 20 people there in this tiny church.  They couldn't find a supply priest for that Sunday and I kept my mouth shut, observing my fast from sacramental duties.  Besides, the senior warden was going to lead morning prayer AND preach, and I wasn't going to diminish that or steal his thunder.

The service was fine and the message good.  But the real Eucharist happened for us afterward.  The people there celebrate together only once a month, when the usual priest makes a circuit and visits their church on the third Sunday.  To extend the celebration they follow worship with a potluck meal.  The folks there were so very hospitable, inviting us warmly to stay for lunch, so we did.  There was a stewed chicken.  There was fried eggplant.  There was a "sushi" made with sticky rice, spam, and wrapped with seaweed and finally individually encased in parchment paper.  There were spring rolls made with banana stuffing instead of the usual sprouts and veggies.  One kind woman led me through the line, explaining what everything was.  Lots of people sat down with us to make sure we were taken care of and comfortable.  Another lovely woman grabbed my plate when I was done to make sure I didn't feel like I had to take it into the kitchen myself.

These folks were so kind and welcoming to strangers (us).  They acted out the true "spirit of Aloha," which I think means a spirit of warmth, welcome, well-wishing, and loving-kindness.  I will treasure our giving thanks together over Spam and seaweed and eggplant.  I will treasure that Eucharist.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Elegant Spirals

We've walked through the rain forest ringing Kilauea several times now and each time we are struck by the elegance of the spiral in nature.  We know that in Connecticut we see ferns pushing through the soil in early spring, their leaves coiled in a tight spiral.  We can even eat the spring "fiddleheads" that are the leaves before they open out.  Sometimes the Stop and Shop has them if we go at just the right time.

Here in the rain forest the spirals continue--and sometimes they are huge.  They belong to what are called "tree ferns," ancient ferns that can grow up to 20 or so feet high.  They predate deciduous trees in the path of evolution, I believe, and date from the Jurassic period (the heyday of the dinosaurs).
Tree fern fronds, a few feet high

And then there were the fronds half unfurled, the spiral still magnificent, a real work of divine art:
Tree fern frond unfurling, about 3 or 4 feet high

But what was most arresting was this set of fronds at the left of this text.  They were arresting because they were 6 or 8 feet high, still tightly curled at their tips.  And I was so struck by how much they resembled bishop's croziers.  The big silver crozier that our diocesan bishop uses at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford is the shape of these fronds.  I have no idea but surely do hope that the Bishop of Hawaii has a crozier modeled on these fern fronds!

Climbing fern fronds
And another type of fern called a climbing fern is also indigenous to these Hawaiian rain forests.  Their fronds look "naked," coming from what appears to be bare ground, and looking strikingly elegant.   The plants are smaller, but the fronds no less spectacular.

OK so here's the takeaway from all these fronds:  now I understand more than ever why a spiral is a symbol of growth--just consider all the potential in there, waiting to mature and unfurl in its proper time.  And that explains why the crozier with spiral top is so appropriate for the office of bishop, chief teacher in the church.  He/She carries the potential for so much growth in so many people.   I guess at various times and with regard to various issues we are each unfurling, too, each at an appropriate rate ... with God's help.

One Off the Bucket List

This week, by the grace of God, we visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the big island.
Looking across rain forest to a wall of frozen lava

(Did you know that FBI stands for "From the Big Island"?)  It was almost 40 years ago that I started to dream about seeing Kilauea firsthand, having been introduced to the incredible resource we have here in the national park through my first geology class at William and Mary.  (Makes me feel ancient... 40 years is a lot of years.)  That was back in the day when the understanding of Plate Tectonics was not that old.  Two days ago we had the most wonderful hike, through a rain forest, across a bit of the caldera (sunken crater of the volcano) of Kilauea,
The caldera floor of Kilauea

up through another bit of rain forest, down across the diameter of Kilauea Iki (Little Kilauea, a side caldera created in the 1970's), and up again through the rain forest.  The caldera is still smoking in some areas where the rain water can get down to the heat of the magma chamber and be turned to steam.

The pathway across Kilauea Iki.  It felt like crossing into Mordor...

Today we returned to the park and walked through a light drizzle to the deposits of sulfur and more steaming terrain near the rim of Kilauea.  We got to go back through the rain forest trail.  It is called Halemaumau, which is pronounced ha LAY ma OO ma OO.  More about the fantastic spiral forms we encountered in the next blog post.

We were able to see a beach made of a large percentage of olivine, which is the first mineral to crystallize out of a magma as it cools.  The beach is green from a distance--looks like a greenish khaki color (hence you see why "olivine" is called "olivine").  The exciting thing about this is that it's apparently one of the very few green beaches in the world; and to get there we took a crazy 4-wheel-drive ride from a local guy making a few bucks with his jeep.  Today we went to a black sand beach.  There the sand is finely eroded particles of lava, not individual black minerals.  This beach was terrific because it is home to some Hawaiian green sea turtles and one big old turtle was up on the beach for a sun.

A few days back we visited a Kona coffee plantation and I've sent some coffee back for coffee hour--it will probably be there for May 22, I'd guess, via the USPS.

The coffee store at Greenwell Farms, the largest grower of Kona coffee.

Work on The Artist's Way continues apace and is most interesting and actually fun.
We hope all is well back in Redding and in every place where someone may be reading this.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Home Away From Home--Guest Contribution from Barry

Periods away from home are often times for trying new things, and so here I am doing my first blog post ever!   Is Facebook or Twitter in my future?    I doubt it.

Toronto and CN Tower, seen from Harbourfront

At Future Bakery, on Bloor West in the Annex

Cherry blossoms draw a Mother's Day crowd in High Park

By first going to Toronto, Marilyn's sabbatical/my leave of absence from work is off to a start akin to eating "comfort food".    Indeed Toronto has become a home away from home that we have visited regularly (2-4 times a year) ever since Emily went to the U of T as a first-year university student in 2001.   (In Canada, one does not go to college as a freshman and live in a dorm; instead one attends university as a first-year student and lives "in residence".)   Many of our recent visits here have been at a leisurely pace, with time spent reading The Globe and Mail instead of the NYT, visiting favorite spots such as Future Bakery or that neat ceramics store on Harbord, and gradually expanding our knowledge of Toronto's many neighborhoods and parks through walks, bike rides, or streetcar journeys.   With one of the most diverse populations of any world city, the food here is not bad either (except for, strangely, pizza).

This visit was particularly well-timed because these six days in May swept in Emily's birthday (May 3), her wedding shower (yesterday),  and Mother's Day today--on a beautiful early spring day here, with the cherry trees in full bloom in High Park drawing big crowds to enjoy the sight.   We also had a little time for a one-night B&B getaway to Prince Edward County one hundred miles east of here on Lake Ontario.

The death of Osama bin Laden this past week has prompted many reflections.   Being in Canada, I would offer that among the ugly legacies of al Qaeda and the trillions spent and many lives lost to combat it is the "hardening" of the US/Canada border, with increased wait times, more questions being asked and passports (or passport cards) now being required to cross it.   With travel between the US and Canada being more difficult,  the two societies, I think, have been drifting apart for the past ten years, which is sort of sad.  Another change is that ten years ago the loonie was 65 cents and now it's over a buck.   As for us, however, we will always keep coming back to Canada.

Church of the Redeemer, midtown Toronto
Our church "home away from home" for most of the past ten years has been Church of the Redeemer at the busy intersection of Bloor and Avenue Road in midtown Toronto near the Royal Ontario Museum and the U of T.  Redeemer Church is a remarkable place that almost closed down twenty or so years ago but has since come back to life ministering to an urban population, many with ties to the university and gay/lesbian communities.   The service there is a little different, with the congregation gathered in concentric circles around the altar during the eucharist.   Its rector (called an "incumbent" here), the Reverend Andrew Asbil, has played a big role in Redeemer's comeback and is one of my favorite preachers.

Christ Church Deer Park, Toronto
Today, however, we attended Christ Church Deer Park near Yonge and St Clair in Emily's neighborhood.   It's the urban church where she and John will be married on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend this year.   We've been there for service several times now and it, too, seems like a lively place. Christ Church Deer Park is well known locally for its biweekly jazz vespers.

In our travels in Canada over the years, the Anglican churches we have attended have not always appeared vibrant, but, happily, these two are.

Tomorrow we will be leaving our home away from home and will hope to feel at home in more distant and unfamiliar places.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Life and Breath

This morning we saw an astonishing art installation at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.  We were touring around the waterfront, viewing artist workshops, watching glass be blown and fabric hangings made.  We found a small gallery and stumbled upon the installation of the work by Max Streicher called "Sextet."  It was made in 1996.  They were 6 huge human figures made of Tyvek.   They were arranged in a circle with an umbilicus of an air hose from each figure connected to a blower.  Periodically the blower would start up and the figures "come to life."  They would dance and struggle to be reborn each time.  Then the blower would stop and they would die again.  Over and over, resuscitation and death.  It was amazing and more than a little creepy.  It looked like something out of the X Files.

"Sextet" by Max Streicher (1996).  Harbourfront Centre.  Image provided by the artist on Google Images.

You hide your face, and they are terrified;
you take away their breath, and they die and return to their dust.

You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;
and so you renew the face of the earth.                 [Psalm 104:30-31]

An astonishing image of renewal and death that I hope not to forget for a while, at least ...

Being Other

Traveling as an American, or as any other person who carries a label for others, it's been interesting to hear people engage us in conversation about the killing of Osama bin Laden.  I must confess a bit of defensiveness:  hey, I'm not the one who pulled the trigger or made the call.  There are shades of gray in everything and especially this event.  But it's interesting to be away from home and encounter the strong, unshaded opinions of others on an event like this. Interesting to take a deep breath and allow people to have the time they need to be critical or supportive.  Interesting to be an American away.

The Hindu Mandir in NW Toronto~ 24,000 carved stones fitted together; finished in 2 years' time.
Yesterday we had another experience that was an experience of being "Other."  Our daughter Emily took us to a Hindu temple complex on the NW side of Toronto, right up against the highway.  This is called the BAPS Swaminarayan Complex.  It consists of 2 large buildings, a short, teak carved all-purpose building where they hold meetings and educational events for men, women, and kids; as well as a breathtaking large temple. This temple was build in just 2 years, and everything was carved by hand in India.  24,000 pieces of carved rock fitted together afterward with no supporting metal in the structure.  We weren't allowed to photograph inside, unfortunately.

The entrance to what we could call the "parish hall"

Upon entering the "parish hall," women go to the left and men to the right.  You put your shoes in a cubby and walk around in socks...

Inside the temple the construction was very reminiscent of a mosque we had visited in Cordoba, Spain.  This mosque had been built in the Middle Ages and then was re-appropriated as a Christian church at a later time.  But the structure and decorations remained very much the same within the mosque.  It was amazing to see how both a Hindu and Muslim place of worship echoed the other's form.  A huge difference between the two was the Hindu use of images for the divine (humans and animals) vs the Muslim proscription of any images (and hence the proliferation of decorative elements such as calligraphy--the elevation of the Word as the beauty of Art).

Inside we were told there was to be silence, as this was a place of meditation.  And there the boundaries and differences dissolved.  Quiet is quiet, stillness is stillness, and the One speaks within it all.  If only we can gather ourselves up to receive.

There is strength in difference, unity in otherness.  It waits for us.  Quietly.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Setting Out

Just setting out on our Professional Development Leave and beginning to develop ... we arrived safe and sound yesterday in Toronto and celebrated Emily's birthday with her and John at an almost-locavore restaurant called Earth.  Barry, the adventurous one, had homemade fettucini with rabbit; I had smoked chicken with Ontario rutabaga puree, onions, and cherries preserved from last year's harvest.  Today we drove over to Prince Edward County, east of Toronto along the shore of Lake Ontario.  It's lovely here and the towns on the lake are small and quaint.

The view across to Lake Ontario from tonight's B and B

We are beginning our routine of study, prayer, sleep, and recreation.  One sentence from near the beginning of The Artist's Way got underlined yesterday:  "As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected."  Gentle but powerful; sounds like Holy Spirit to me.  This morning, sitting in Future Bakery in Toronto, I began the first chapter, "Recovering a Sense of Safety."  It has the reader take a look at the old tapes that play in our heads and tell us we are no good at what we do or who we are... very powerful stuff.  Not too late for anyone to work along with this course.  It might be fun to compare notes in the fall.

One practice we are beginning is reading to each other.  We have a copy of Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and hope to begin it today.  Otherwise I am still reading a history of cancer called The Emperor of All Maladies and Barry is reading what looks to me like an AP History Textbook, called From Dawn to Decadence.  We are enjoying the quiet.