I travel to experience difference.

Montana

I travel to experience difference.

I want my heart to pound with exhilaration. To swell and beat against my body. I want to instinctively hold my breath. I want to feel fear.

On the Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana, I held my breath and pushed off the 6,817 ft. summit. My skis foreign under me. It had been years since I had downhill skied. I worked to tilt my skis onto their edge, providing the resistance I needed to slow down. Juan Jose’ and Crystel’s ski lessons from when they were four rose in my memory, “Pizza, Mama. Pizza.” I pizzaed and french fried down the mountain.

My first step off the summit, had the same feeling as jumping off a cliff the height of a 3-story house into Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

Ultra Extreme zip- lining, flying over and through the jungle of Guatemala, jumping out of a plane in Wisconsin, and bungee jumping off the historic suspension bridge in New Zealand, where bungee jumping began are not things I need to do again. Nor is parasailing.

Never say never. I can imagine the kids wanting me to join them and there I’ll go again.

I travel to experience awe. Awe-inspiring landscape, whether it be in Montana, Guatemala, or the ocean is a feeling I want to hold onto forever. I want to breathe in what I’m seeing so deeply that I never lose my sense of wonder. I experience a connection with something greater.

Destin

Hiking along ancient paths in Sedona, the Upper Mayan Trail in Guatemala, and the Badlands provides a profound sense of being with the ancients whether it is the Yavapai of Sedona, the Kachekel Mayans of Guatemala, or the paleo-Indians of the Badlands. I can envision the singular, winding, upwards path of those who came before us, shouldering their belongings, carrying their infants, moving towards shelter.

When I travel, I often learn something new about myself or come to a deeper understanding.

It was in Destin, Florida strolling towards sunrise on the fine soft white sand, that it came to me: I feel most alive walking into the wind. That I create the world I live in. That right now, this moment, came to be because of all the choices that I have made before.

Jody, Cozumel

Family travel, sharing adventures, having others hold their breath in awe and fear are joys. The best thing Jody and I can give our children is the world in their palm and a passion for new experiences. Then, they too, can cultivate new and lasting relationships with the world and those around them.

We are planning a family trip to Japan in 2020. Crystel is organizing our travel plans. She is teaching herself Japanese. Juan Jose’ will also be traveling to Germany with his German class.

Travel is fulfilling. Rejuvenating. A time to take stock. Stretch boundaries. And, if you plan it right, to hold your breath.

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Unknown Adventure

Juan Jose’, Ani, Rosa

“She needs a blood transfusion, and then if possible surgery. The hospital is so busy because of the volcano victims.”

As of June 6, 2018, At least 192 people are missing and 75 are dead as a result of the explosion of the Volcan de Fuego in Guatemala according to the BBC news.

“Her blood levels are very low. She has to be in the hospital. She did not know. It was a surprise.”

Jody, Juan Jose’, Crystel and I are traveling towards the Volcano of Fire. Before our trip is over, we will learn that entire villages on the slopes of Fuego volcano were buried in volcanic ash, mud and rocks. Hundreds of Guatemalans

San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala. photo credit, Juan Jose’

are dead. Some have lost entire families.

Eight years ago, Volcano Pacaya erupted. Juan Jose’ and Crystel were 7. When we

landed in Guatemala on that trip, their first visit to Guatemala, volcanic ash was being shoveled from the airline strip.

Crystel’s words were, “We are in my country now.”

This will be our fifth visit to Guatemala.

Alex Vicente Lopez, Guide Extraordinaire

Before every trip, as I do with all of our vacations, I researched extensively. This year, I had planned a sailing adventure, leaving from Rio Dulce, Guatemala, sailing into Lake Izabal, and then on to the Caribbean after our visit with Rosa, Juan Jose’s birth mom.

All trip planning stopped, and we cancelled the sailing trip when we received a message that Rosa had advanced cancer.

This unpredictable country is Juan Jose’s and Crystel’s birthplace. Devastation, poverty, and constant struggle is a reality in Guatemala. News of volcanic eruptions and the hardships of birth moms who have given their children up in adoption slice Jody and I to the core. We provide what help we can. Our message to Juan Jose’ and Crystel is to be proud of where they come from.

Kayak Guatemala, Los Elementos Our Happy Place

Crystel was born in Amatitlan, in the shadow of Volcano Pacaya. Juan Jose’ is from the mountains of Rabinal. His grandfather and great grandfather died in the Civil War.

Through the help of our village of friends in Guatemala: Lee and Elaine Beal of Los Elementos Adventure Center, Lesly Villatoro, of El Amor De Patricia, and the organization De Familia a Familia, we received assistance for Rosa. Lesly accompanied

Rosa to the doctor. Rosa learned that she didn’t have cancer but a large fibroid that needed to be removed. We would be able to visit with her on our last day in Guatemala with De Familia a Familia providing interpretation services.

As in our four previous trips, we would stay at Los Elementos and have Alex Vicente Lopez as our guide for our 5-day stay at Lake Atitlan. And we’d have many unknown

Crystel in native dress. A gift from Juanita, Alex’s wife.

adventures, because plans can suddenly change.

We would be vacationing in Crystel’s and Juan Jose’s ever-changing birth country – traveling towards 37 volcanoes, 3 of them active, and 1 erupting.

Amongst the poverty, devastation, and volcanoes we would find beauty. Guatemalans are strong, proud, and loving.

Their country beautiful.

 

Comfortable on Any Turf

Lisa

Lisa

More than a dozen years ago, Lisa Taylor Lake founded the writers group that eventually gave rise to WordSisters. Lisa’s original inspiration was that we could provide vital insight and feedback to each other. Over the years, the group grew to be so much more—mentors, cheerleaders, and true wordsisters. In spring 2012, Lisa died of cancer and this March, we are honoring her with two blogs—this one and one in a few weeks. Ellen & Elizabeth

I had belonged to Lisa’s creative nonfiction writers group for years before I learned she also wrote poetry. Inspired by classes she had recently taken, Lisa had created a chapbook of her poems and reserved a cozy room at her church for her first poetry reading.

When she invited our writers group to the reading, she had confessed to nerves, even though she regularly spoke in front of groups for her work in the state health department’s communications office. This was different, she said. This was her poetry. It was personal.

And it was beautiful. As she read, her audience of two dozen listened quietly—until several of us couldn’t suppress an ooh at a particularly lovely line. Silence broken now, as Lisa continued, more of us expressed mmms, oohs, and aahs, and shared appreciative nods and smiles. Our response emboldened Lisa to mention she had planned to end with the poem she had just read, but if we would like, she could read one or two more. When we applauded wildly and said yes, please, more, she stepped back, momentarily overwhelmed, and then she obliged us with pleasure.

Afterward, ever the good hostess, Lisa flitted among us, greeting people, directing us toward refreshments, accepting compliments, her eyes and feet virtually dancing.

Years later, my husband David and I sat at a lacquered pine table in a dark booth while I wondered what I had gotten myself into. An essay of mine had been accepted by a local online literary journal. A local church sponsored the journal and the editors celebrated each issue’s publication with an author reading at the Turf Club bar. Well, not in the bar itself—in the bar’s basement.

Lisa was the first of my friends to arrive, her eyes twinkling as she took in the wood-paneled walls sporting mounted fish and game. She and David ordered beers and discussed the typography of the beer signs and the design of the amateur northwoods landscape paintings that filled gaps among the taxidermy.

As I read, I remember the sensation of all eyes—those of the patrons, the bartender, and the mounted deer—fixed on me as people listened. Afterward, I felt the adrenaline rush of finishing without tripping over words or a microphone cord. Now I understood why Lisa was aflutter after her poetry reading—the lightness of heart that comes from risking and successfully entering new territory.

The last time we heard Lisa read her poetry, she looked artistic and angelic in a full-length turquoise dress that she couldn’t get over buying for herself for the occasion. The skirt flowed around her ankles so that she appeared to float rather than walk. We entered her church again. This time, many more of us filled a larger room that featured a wood-beamed vaulted ceiling and arched stained-glass windows.

Lisa’s writing group, our writing group—Ellen, Elizabeth, Rose, Jill, Brenda, and I—sat together, WordSisters well before Ellen and Elizabeth began this blog. We oohed and aahed over the dress, but moreso over the depth of meaning in her poems and her greater confidence in sharing them with us. We were not the only ones to surreptitiously wipe away tears, and not only as a reaction to her beautiful words.

Lisa could be comfortable in a vaulted spiritual space or in a basement bar decorated with dead animals. Lisa was game. (And as I write that sentence, I can hear her politely questioning whether I’m perhaps overreaching in my attempt at word play.) But she herself wrote in her essay, “Meeting with Royalty” about spending Christmas in England, “I was game for any adventure.”

Lisa took her good manners and tactfulness, her keen observation and sense of story, and her openness to new experiences with her wherever she went. Hiking and writing poetry along her beloved North Shore. Dressed like a tsarina in long underwear, a long wool coat, and a Russian-styled hat to see Britain’s royal family go to church. Tired and angry at a car and a relationship stuck in the mud. Driving with her sister to a family reunion—she wrote that they were “two gals pushing sixty in a rented red convertible that was pushing seventy.”

I hope Lisa pardons my paraphrase of that essay’s opening sentence, but it’s one of my favorite images from her stories: red-headed Lisa holding onto a broad-brimmed hat to protect her fair complexion, ever practical, yet speeding along joyfully with someone she loves, whether she was traveling on well-trod or unfamiliar turf.

What’s In Arkansas?

The Movie Shoot

The Movie Shoot

Thanksgiving dinner, good company, excellent hiking trails, a movie shoot, and 50 degree weather.

The second question to arise in the ten-hour drive from Minneapolis is why is Arkansas pronounced AR-ken-saw?

Our van ride was more docile than the fight in 1881 over the State’s pronunciation.The pronunciation of Arkansas was made official by an act of the state legislature in 1881, after a dispute between two U.S. Senators from Arkansas. One wanted to pronounce the name ar-KAN-zes and the other wanted AR-ken-saw.

Hobbs State Park Conservation Area

Hobbs State Park Conservation Area

I hadn’t done any research on the inlaws or the state of Arkansas prior to visiting. I returned to Minneapolis after our 4-day stay delighted in both. So much so, I thought about moving.

Prior to our visit, I had not given any thought to the geography of the state. I pictured it as a small postage stamp. What I found was surprisingly different.

The state’s geography ranges from mountains to densely forested land to  lowlands along the Mississippi River. Arkansas has 52 state parks.

Hobbs State Park Recreation Area, where we hiked has bluffs, rocky outcrops, limestone bedrock, caves, sink holes, and a fault line. Crystel has lately been in the habit of cartwheeling everywhere she goes and can now say that she has done it on a trail in Arkansas.December 4 2013 196

December 4 2013 186Signage in Arkansas could be an issue. In this picture if you look at the sign it clearly says that the War Eagle Valley Loop is straight ahead. That is actually Little Clifty Creek – the difference being a 9 mile hike instead of the 6 mile hike we envisioned ourselves on. I shouted after the mountain bikers and horse back riders what trail they thought THEY were on. And we weren’t thinking the same.

Orange tree where the oranges look like brains

Orange tree.

One just needs to keep in mind the earlier dispute in 1881. There was obviously confusion there too and they even made it a law to keep it confusing.

Near our home base was a wonderful backyards trail in J.B. Hunt Park. The park covers 105 acres and was a beautiful hour walk that included a path around a  lake, a spring, and orange trees. The oranges looked like brains. December 4 2013 172

The children received their first ‘real’ paycheck in Arkansas. They were paid to be in a movie shoot with What’s Up, Que Pasa.

Ozark Video needed two 11-year old children that knew a bit of Spanish for a quiz show. Fortunately, we were available and Antonio and Crystel had the right December 4 2013 093complexion.  This could be the start of something big.

Arkansas is definitely a place to visit. Don’t skirt around it. Stop, if you are in the area.

No Running Water. No Electricity.

189What to do. What to do. What to do. Fish and swim. Fish and swim. Fish and swim. Geocache. Hike. Have pizza in Grand Marias. Skip stones, bike, play games with cousins, canoe, learn to portage in the Boundary Waters, scare Jack. After making a safety circle use your Scout knife, start fires with or without matches, hunt for shooting stars and satellites in the night sky.

The adventurous group. Lightweights not allowed.

The adventurous group. Lightweights not allowed.

Our family recently went on our most rustic trip ever. To some of you, it will be pansy-like because we didn’t actually hike into the Boundary Waters but stayed outside of it at Crescent Lake Campground. Crescent Lake Campground is a Superior National Campground, 13 miles from Sawbill Canoe Outfitters.

My nephew and niece, Ralph and Tina Walker and her family would call us lightweights. They were surprised that this was our most rustic experience because they have been camping with their children, eight and six years old, since they could fit into a fanny pack.

Nephew Steve giving me fishing advice.

Nephew Steve giving me fishing advice.

We were fortunate to have Ralph with us (or unfortunate) because Jody and I would have chosen a campground with electricity and showers. Ralph is a minimalist guru. All he needs is swim shorts, string and a hook.

It was at the last moment, when he told us, “Oh by the way, there is no electricity and no water.” Immediately, I went into a panic. I had envisioned sitting in our tent trailer, plugged into my computer, safe from the elements (mosquitoes), deeply engrossed in revising my manuscript while others were off exploring.

There would be no plugging in anything. Not the crock pot, not the griddle, not the electric fry pan, and certainly there would be no fresh coffee brewing in the morning.

Andy taking off fish for Crystel and Antonio

Andy taking off fish for Crystel and Antonio

Electrical appliances are how Jody and I roll. Or, how Jody rolls. Because, as I was found out on this trip, Jody does all the cooking. My niece and nephews were a bit incredulous about this. “You let her do everything?” They asked me this as she was serving us the first round of bacon, eggs, pancakes, and coffee (though she doesn’t drink coffee).  I flinched, stumbled around in explanation, finally landing on, “Didn’t I choose well when I married her?”

As custom has it. Fish thrown back get kissed.

As custom has it, fish thrown back get kissed.

The Walkers and di Grazia’s own the tent trailer together. It’s fun when owning joint property with your relatives works out. Prior to leaving for the Boundary Waters, we decided (Beth decided) that it was best that the children, Antonio and Crystel, Jack and Andy, sleep in the tent trailer and the adults in tents. This may seem a bit lopsided. Shouldn’t the kids get the tents and the adults the castle?

Not if one of your children is Antonio. I was most concerned about us surviving him on this trip.

Superior Hiking Trail

Superior Hiking Trail

By the time we left for our no electricity and no running water camping trip, I was resolved to have a good time, regardless. The di Grazia’s would go off into the unknown and be of good cheer. Even Antonio.

My first and best purchase for our trip was fishing poles for Antonio and Crystel and a fishing license for me. I would need the license for taking fish off and putting nightcrawlers on when Andy the six year old wasn’t doing it for his cousins. Andy, as he declared several times, is an expert at fishing. By the end of our five-day trip, Crystel mustered the courage to take 3 small fish off her line. Antonio was content with the six year old doing everything for him.

swimming across the lake
swimming across the lake

Bears were a minor concern. We did all the right things and stored our food before going into our tents at night. Still, I had visions of Smokey crawling into my sleeping bag with me and woke Jody one night to tell her that. Once she was awake and watchful, I could sleep.

It can be a nice or not so nice experience when camping in a remote area with friends or relatives that you don’t spend much time with. I didn’t know Steve’s son Xavier prior to our camping trip. I found the thirteen-year old to be very pleasant.

Antonio and Crystel surviving the roughing it part.

Antonio and Crystel surviving the roughing it part.

Xavier became big brother, guardian, and protector to the 11, 10, 8, and 6 year old. He accompanied them swimming across the lake and when the adults escaped to Sawbill (Jody and I showered there), he stayed back. After swimming he gathered them in the tent trailer for card playing.

560847_10201948707418318_42800681_n[1]Although Ralph had a host of activities for us and planned our days and evenings, our group didn’t always stick together. The Walker’s and the Smith’s went on many more geocaches, hikes, and canoe trips than we did. That worked out. It is important to do what works for you.

On the day of the portage into the Boundary Waters, Antonio decided to stay back (he wouldn’t get out of bed). There

Xavier

Xavier

could have been many reasons for this, one being the last time he was in a canoe with me he didn’t fare well. After portaging, swimming, fishing, picnicking, and canoeing with our group, we split off. Jody and I wanted to return to Antonio and the adventurous group continued on.

Canoeing back to our portage, a moose and her baby were swimming across the lake. We were so close to them that as we sat in our canoe we could hear their breath blowing out their nostrils as they huffed their way across. It was simply amazing. Jody, Crystel, and I stayed still in our canoe until they climbed out of the water and walked into the woods.

Moose_with_baby.sized[1]No electricity, no water. There was so much to do.