Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Friend's poem helps release winter

Bleeding heart blooms in our yard in April and is just starting to emerge. Patience, patience. 

This is the second time I've "published" this poem by my dear friend, Michele Templer. The first time was when I was a reporter for the local newspaper (Grants Pass Daily Courier in Oregon), and wrote a weekly column called Second Thoughts. It was 1984. 

For 12 years I worked primarily from my home office, using an early modem to send my work into the paper.
  Here's what it looked like, but my phone was black and squat, not trying to be modern like the one pictured.  It was cumbersome and slow. Its dial-up connection was sketchy. 

Working at home was nice, but it didn't prevent deadline angst. On the day that Michele's poem arrived—she either delivered it in person or mailed it, because it was handwritten on a half sheet of textured duff-colored paper—I was having a horrible very bad day, as we used to say. 

It was late February, and early spring had revealed itself in little sprouts of green here and there, but the skies were still bruised, rain still fell, and cold soaked through the walls. 

I was writing about a dysfunctional city council meeting, and worrying, at the same time, about our first-born son, Quinn, whose public school education I was monitoring. Why do kids have to be labeled so young? He didn't make the "bluebirds" or whatever the best first-grade reading group was named. (He turned out fine and is now Quinn Korbulic, PhD.) I worried about "kid" stuff a lot when I was trying to write.

The house needed cleaning. Laundry needed doing. Dinner needed planning and cooking.  I had a deadline, and was awaiting a phone call from a disgruntled incoherent person whose quote I needed to complete my article.

Then I'd have to wait for the dial-up modem to work to get the stupid article in that day's paper. And I'd run out of coffee. Grrr.

I took a moment to read Michele's poem.


My shoulders relaxed. I sighed and sank into my chair. Then I smiled in agreement with a truth she realized. Somehow, no matter what, we make it through the days, the months, the years, the seasons.

Spring will soon emerge. And it will be all better.

A little sun, longer days, warmth, and we can  bloom in unlikely places.
I've revisited Michele's poem dozens of times though the years when I forget that life is too short to get caught up in BS, and that spring, no matter how elusive, will eventually flow into the hills and valleys with warmth,color, fragrance and hope.

I'm thinking of friends and relatives in northern climates who are discouraged that winter still clings to the forests, the hills, the roads, the car windows, the driveways, the sidewalks, the heating bills, the livestock in fields, the dogs  in yards, the kids in soccer and softball practices.

Winter also grips their moods and their sometimes fragile states of mental health.

I don't know where you live, but the Southern Oregon forecast calls for chilly rain and, by this Friday, snow at lower elevations. What?!

All this cold and wet despite that today is the spring solstice. It really is.

As Michele wrote:
Yellow crocuses bloom
Outside the door.
The sullen grey sky
Hangs heavily, neither hot nor cold;
Trees bud on branches bare.
Winter would hold us,
if we’d stay,
in chilled stasis.
Spring beckons, often too softly
to be heard.
Transitions are hazardous
Still, stumbling, we somehow emerge.
                                 ~ Michele Templer 

A super bloom on Upper Table Rock, Rogue Valley, Oregon, April 2017.  Coming soon!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Ferdinand Magellan was a mean SOB

Punta Arenas, Chile is the taking-off point for the Strait of Magellan's #1 attraction—the great noisy nature show staring Magellanic penguins and gulls on Magdalena Island. A lot of stuff in this part of the world is named after Magellan.
We spent most of a day on the island, but the Nao Victoria Museum, a privately owned surprise off the beaten tourist trail, is #4 out of 88 on TripAdvisor's Things-To-Do-in- Punta Arenas, and demanded to be seen. Star of the show is a replica of Magellan's ship.

Replica of Ferdinand Magellan's ship, one of five under his command, that set out from Spain in 1519 to discover a western sea route to the Spice Islands. The voyage, which lasted three years, began with around 240 men. Only 18 completed the journey. Magellan was not among them. 

Like almost any other person in my generation, I'd slogged through the lifeless textbook world history account of Magellan's explorations in10th grade. I never thought about him again until I saw that we'd be smack dab in the middle of his expedition route during our recent cruise around Cape Horn on the tip of South America. Surprising myself, I thirsted after exploration history. Gimme Magellan!
The back of Magellan's ship shows how small it is, and, compared with modern ships, how insignificant the keel. It also shows the messy industrial area surrounding the private museum, which is in a hard-to-find location. No matter. 

Conveniently, PK had purchased (and shared with me) via Kindle, a book called Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe, by Laurence Bergreen. Highly recommended.

Over the Edge is an engrossing historical tale that I read with ever-increasing fascination, but also gut churning and jaw clenching as we moved in real time through territory Magellan explored.

People in the 1500s were stuck on the flat-earth theory, and his crew feared they would drop off the edge of the earth if they ventured into previously unexplored waters. Maybe a giant waterfall into space? It was a real fear. But Magellan was determined and bold enough to test it.

But crew members had more to fear: starvation, hypothermia, scurvy, and the captain himself.

This is scurvy. It also causes skin problems, fatigue
and can be fatal. Several crew members died of it. It
wasn't until the 1800s that Vitamin C deficiency was 
identified as the cause.

Why don't I like Magellan?

When he got wind of a mutiny brewing, he made examples of the ringleaders by having them drawn and quartered, a particularly grisly operation. Then body parts were preserved and displayed on the ships for months. Of course, he was a product of the Inquisitions that were prevalent in Medieval Europe, where ingenious and terrible torture devices and methods were created.

I understand his need to stop mutinies, but couldn't he have just thrown them overboard? That's a bad enough way to die.

When his crew encountered "giant" people who they reported to be twice as tall as regular people, and also friendly, generous and naked, Magellan captured one and locked him into stocks.

Just go right ahead and steal a person from the only place he's ever known, Ferdinand.

The Patagonian was among the few who survived the return voyage to Spain, and was eventually returned to his people. No thanks to Magellan.

Incidentally, the discovery of "giant people" also led to the region being named Patagonia.
Antonio Pigafetta, who sailed with Magellan in the 1520s, had written of an encounter with a race of South American giants. According to Pigafetta, Magellan referred to these giants as 'Patagons' because of their big feet, and so the southern tip of South America came to be known as Patagonia. Hoaxes.org 
Hoaxes.org disputes the size of the giant people, but not that their footprints led to the area being named Patagonia.
Antonio Pigafetta, by the way, was an Italian scholar and Magellan's assistant, who took copious notes about the expedition and is the primary source for Over the Edge. It was Pigafetta, who recorded without judgment, what he saw and heard.

When Magellan approached populated islands, he'd often fire off the big guns and make a lot of noise, scaring the hell out of the indigenous people while establishing his dominance.

This behavior eventually backfired as he made enemies with people who outsmarted and killed him, even as he was dressed in full armor. They hacked him to pieces in shallow water, at first being able to access only exposed flesh.

Because of this book, Magellan is pressed into my brain as a singular bully and brute. True, he was a fearless explorer, a sailor and navigator with an unstoppable drive for sniffing out the elusive passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, which bears his name..... the Strait of Magellan.

He was disciplined and single-minded. But he was also vicious, cruel, and sanctimonious. He did it all for God, gold, and personal glory.

Being on the Strait of Magellan was fascinating and fun. Also cold and windy, hence the puffed up look as we wore all our winter clothes at once. 

A full-scale replica of the James Caird, a small boat used by polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his men in a serious pinch, is also at this museum. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, is a nonfiction must-read for fans of survival epics starring men of extraordinary character prevailing against impossible odds. The yellow flowers are typical lupines from this area. They're wild flowers that come in multiple colors and are shoulder high.

Darwin was in his twenties, a young geologist and naturalist when he traveled on the HMS Beagle, a circumnavigation of the world that took five years to complete. The ship also went to the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin's discoveries helped to solidify his theory of evolution. 

Chelsea Behymer explores the HMS Beagle's innards.
The Strait of Magellan wasn't easy to find, as you can see. Especially the way to the Pacific with all the alternate twists and turns. 

Next Up - We leave the cruise ship early and begin a road trip in Chile, the Boomers and the Millennials making their way in Patagonia.

Earlier posts about our South American travels

Penguin drama - #1 attraction near Punta Arenas, Chile

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Remembering Patagonian penguins - an antidote to relentless bad news

Soon after we returned from a December-January trip to Chile and Argentina, I determined to write one blog post a week until I ran out of material. I managed three posts before I ran out of computer. My 2012 MacBook Pro was choking and gasping, taking forever to do anything. The spinning ball of death, black screens, refusal to sync with its Apple friends. Bad computer! I finally took it in for a checkup. It was in the shop for several days undergoing various murky but productive procedures. It's back! I'm saved from having to replace it for awhile. Now let's see how I do with one post a week. Thanks for reading! 

Love birds. Penguins mate for life.

I was chopping peppers and onions, listening to All Things Considered on NPR. It was dinnertime, just one day after the Florida high school  massacre, which was top news along with the DACA deportation threat. 

Kids shot dead. Kids raised in the USA facing deportation. It made me sad, angry, dyspeptic. I needed an antidote, something pure and pleasant to think about. 

A Magellanic penguin party on the path to a beach near Puerto Madryn, Argentina.
Penguins came to mind. And seagulls. Penguins and gulls on an island in the Strait of Magellan in Chile. Yes. The same Strait of Magellan that we learned about in elementary school when we were forced to memorize names of early explorers. Who cared? Not me. But now I do. It's the penguin effect.

On Chile's Isla Magdalena, thousands of penguins tended burrows and chicks on a windswept hillside with an ocean view. Penguins and their predators — seagulls, skua, petrals, and, in the sea not far away, hungry sea lions and maybe Orcas and leopard seals, waiting for a penguin snack. 

         About 100,000 penguins occupy the island during breeding time, a space 
they share uneasily with thousands of breeding seagulls.
Over the onions, I remembered that crisp morning in Patagonia, how we'd reluctantly agreed to a two-hour ferry ride to Isla Magdalena (and two hours back) to see penguins. Ho hum. (We'd visited another less dramatic but still engaging colony out of Puerto Madryn, Argentina a few days earlier.)

Then how within a few minutes of stepping off the boat, we were open-mouthed, wide-eyed witnesses to raw nature. Wild screeching and flapping, frenzied feeding, squabbles and fights to the death, tender parental care, necessary but cruel parental choices. Beautiful and 

A skua looks for unguarded chicks and/or eggs amongst the gulls. They eat primarily fish or krill, but are opportunistic in chick-rearing areas. 

It wasn't just thousands of penguins, but thousands of seagulls. Yes, those boring birds we see everywhere when we're not far from a large body of water.  They're so common and predictable, always snatching scraps and marauding around docks where fish are cleaned or loaded. But this was different. 

The penguins were raising young, but so were the gulls. The two species share space but  are not cooperative. The gulls are always grousing one another, and some hang out by penguin burrows hoping to snag spills when a parent comes to regurgitate food for chicks. Earlier, when the penguin chicks are smaller, the gulls eat them, if they can.

This solo mama accompanies her vulnerable chick. A skua might have it's eye on it. Or even another gull. Some gulls in the breeding season live almost entirely on the eggs and young of their own species, usually males with no young of their own. (Source: Birdforum) Egads! No wonder they fight.

These gulls are aggressive and loud. They're fighting. I'm guessing all males. Although there could be a female protecting her chick in this pile. We saw adult gull carcasses here and there, but we couldn't stick around long enough to see the results of this brawl. I wish I had the soundtrack. Ear piercing.

It may look as if this gull is landing in -  or leaving - a peaceful gathering, but the next minute the situation devolved into a fight. See previous photo.

The whole fam-damnly. Father guarding against gulls and anything else that may invade space around the burrow. The chicks look old enough to fend for themselves, but without waterproof insulating adult plumage, they'd die of hypothermia if they entered the sea to forage. Father is making a might noise. 

These well-fed healthy chicks apparently have two active parents. It looks like dad is in the nest while mom is taking her turn foraging in the ocean. 
In contrast, at least one of the parents of these chicks has come to a bad end, and they may be awaiting food that will never come. The chick on the right is on its last legs for sure, and the other, although twice as large, looks stressed. It was hard to see. Sometimes when one parent dies, the remaining parent chooses to feed only the stronger chick. If both parents perish, the chicks starve to death.

A Magellan goose, AKA upland goose, tries to hide her chick from an overwhelming,
in my opinion, number of predators. All those gulls!

This guy waddled right up to me, then I was chastened by a ranger for
 being too close. Getting to the beach was a mile-long hike on a wide
trail through a brushy area thick with penguin burrows under bushes. This

was in Argentina during our first penguin colony visit.

An adult penguin contemplates its cloaca, an all-purpose orifice
that handles urination, defecation, breeding, and birth. 

A penguin parent apparently reacting to heat. It was a sunny shirtsleeve day at the Argentinian penguin reserve. Several birds seemed affected by it. 

Earlier posts about our South American travels

Around Cape Horn - Happy 2018!
Ushuaia, Patagonian peat moss, and a polar plunge
Patagonian Paradox - the more you see, the more you want

Monday, February 5, 2018

Patagonia paradox - the more you see, the more you want

If you go to Patagonia's southern tip, hold onto your jaw as it is likely to drop.

A swath of color briefly illuminated the Beagle Channel, which was stunning even when shrouded with clouds and rain threatening. The channel is three miles wide at its narrowest point and 150 miles of awesome length. 
Much of this wildly beautiful and harsh territory is best seen by boat. Or maybe only by boat. That's how we experienced Cape Horn, the Beagle Channel, the Strait of Magellan and the Chilean fjords. If ever there was a reason to book a cruise to Patagonia, this is it.

Our two-week cruise on the Celebrity Infinity had the over-the-top amenities that make cruising popular—major eats, entertainment, swimming and soaking pools, a casino etc. etc. etc. But without the trip highlights, which, for us revolved around wild Patagonia, it would have just been two weeks on a floating buffet.

Our 10 days in Chile after the cruise were spent on a loosely planned but wonderfully executed off-the-cuff road trip in Patagonia, which suited us better. (More later, of course)

But I am grateful to have seen this historically fascinating and visually dazzling collection of fjords, mountains, glaciers and waterfalls at the very tip of South America's Tierra del Fuego Archipelago.
A series of glaciers in the Beagle Channel originate from the still-vast Darwin Icefield on the channel's north side. We were thrilled that our balcony room was starboard, and we spent hours and hours shivering as we drank in the passing scenery, (along with some wine). The landscape became more surreal with every passing moment. 
Glacial ice appears to be blue. It really isn't, but our eyes see it as such because ice absorbs all colors of the visible spectrum except for blue. Then again, if we see blue, isn't it true?  Whatever. The brilliant color makes the scene even more other worldly

Another glacier on its way to the tidewater. Currently only one glacier in Glacier Alley  actually reaches the channel.
This one doesn't quite make it.

We saw all of the above and more the same day that we hiked to Laguna Esmeralda! Even though the ship didn't leave Ushuaia until around 4:30 p.m., it was still light enough to see the sights in the Beagle Channel until around 11 p.m. We're talking  17-18 hours of light. Is there such a thing as too much natural light? I don't think so.

This is about it for vegetation in the channel and the fjords. However, indigenous people once lived here, and some early explorers escaped scurvy by foraging. In one account, a young Charles Darwin on the HMS Beagle, described seeing a naked woman suckling an infant. Sleet was melting on the woman's body and also the infant's. He was horrified. The region's weather is typically harsh. Other accounts report that the indigenous people coated their naked bodies with seal oil as protection from the elements. Others  report that seal skins were used as protection. In any case, it was an existence difficult to fathom. 
This photo was taken near where when the ship took a sharp north turn toward Punta Arenas, which is located on the Strait of Magellan. We enjoyed similar scenery for several days back-to-back. It got so that I felt guilty if I wasn't tethered every moment to our balcony, or at least a north-facing window. Or on Deck 4, where nature lovers without balconies congregated wrapped in parkas and wool scarves. 

Is there such a thing as too much natural splendor?

No. But there IS such a thing as not enough time.

Get it while you can!

Parting Shot

Earlier posts about our South American travels

Around Cape Horn - Happy 2018!
Ushuaia, Patagonian peat moss, and a polar plunge

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Ushuaia, Patagonian peat moss, and a polar plunge

PK and I traveled through Chile and Argentina from December 18, 2017 to January 18, 2018,  first on a ship and then a road trip. Most of the time we were with our son, Chris and his partner, Chelsea. This is the second in a series of posts about sharing adventures with smart, intrepid, super-fit millennials on a mission to show us a great time. This post is about New Years day, when the assignment was hiking to a mountain lake via peat bogs and beaver dams. Polar plunge, optional.
PK and me at Laguna Esmeralda in the southern Andes Mountains near Ushuaia, Argentina, on the Tierra de Fuego Archipelago in Patagonia, which encompasses the southern reaches of Chile and Argentina. We never dreamed we'd be here. Remembering this, and other stellar days, is like a dream. Sure makes ordinary life, well, ordinary. 
Photo credit, Chris Korbulic  

This is how Ushuaia looked on New Years morning as we awoke on the cruise ship. We got an early start on our hike because the ship was scheduled to leave early - 3:30 p.m. so as to have daylight to navigate Glacier Alley through the Beagle Channel. 
The 6.2 mile RT trail to the lake began as a flat stroll with an occasional hop over tree roots. This forest persisted as a thick grove for awhile, but we saw many more of this beech-like tree called Lenga, in different sizes and conditions along the trail. We hired a taxi both ways as the trailhead was 20 kilometers, about 12.5 miles, from Ushuaia. The driver also arranged to pick us up. Cost? $100. Nobody said traveling in Chile/Argentina is cheap. On the other hand, guided tours were being offered for this hike at $140 a person. Guess we did OK.

This hike was not a shore excursion arranged via the cruise ship, but one Chelsea knew about due to her status as the ship's naturalist. It was just the four of us, although we saw other small groups along the way. The trail wasn't too steep. It did, however, require balancing on shifting footing, jumping over obstacles, and getting your feet wet and/or muddy. 
After climbing a short heart-pumping slope we ended up in a peat bog! The earth's surface, a quick Google search reveals, is covered 3 percent with peat. The southern hemisphere's bogs, mostly in Patagonia, represent only 1 percent of the total. Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation, and a peat ecosystem is the most effective carbon sink on the planet. For hikers, though, the peat is a pain. Think mud.
Makeshift (and shifting) bridges carried us over some of the
mud holes. But many sections were without a clear trail.
Hiking poles recommended! I managed to find a serviceable stick

in the woods. And left it, a stick in the mud. 

Another group heads over to take a look at a significant beaver dam that blocked a creek to form a pond. Beavers are not native, and their work is considered destructive.
Chelsea and Chris at Laguna Esmeralda, which is fed by glacial melt. A few minutes after this photo was taken, they did something that was common throughout our month together. Whenever cold, clear water was near, and they could get to it without serious injury, they went for a dip. I couldn't believe it either. 
Chris leaping rock-to-rock over the river flowing from the lake, chasing Chelsea as she charges over hill and dale for a private polar dip. I read later that we could have taken a path to the right and circled the small lake, even climbed to the glacier that feeds it. 

We were surrounded by mountains. Every turn brought another ahhhhhh vista.

This grey fox appeared on the return trip not far off the trail. It seemed amenable to being photographed as we were not the first to click cameras around it. Earlier, we saw an Andean Condor. Quite a thrill! However, it was too distant and active for a photo.
  The fox hurried downhill, perhaps tired of attention.
 It was fun to see that its tail was as long as its body

 and twice as bushy.
Chelsea, her hair still damp from her polar plunge,
couldn't contain her enthusiasm as we made
our way back to the trailhead. 
 Agreed. It was a fine day!
We were back in Ushuaia in time for lunch, and were
jazzed about sampling the King Crab for which the area is known.
Alas, the cruise ship had spilled so many people into the town that
finding four seats in a seafood restaurant at 2 p.m. was as unlikely as
having clean boots after navigating a peat bog.
Our last look at beautiful Ushuaia as we sailed away on this unforgettable New Years Day. I feel bad about not having had time to see the nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park or any of the SEVEN museums in a town of around 60,000 (as of the 2010 census.) 

(The negatives about cruising, which I plan to explore in a later post, include port visits that can only touch the surface.)

Ushuaia has a surprising electronics industry in addition to tourism and a naval presence. However, its major claim to fame, emblazoned on many a T shirt and hat, is that it is located at The End of the Worldthe southern most city in South America.   


Rounding Cape Horn - a New Year's Eve to remember