Friday, December 30, 2011

Bells Ring! Are You Listenin'?

Alps.  Villages.  Cows.  Churches.  Bells.  Ski lifts.  Switzerland!

I love the sound of bells--from the least to the greatest.  On a trip to Switzerland, I the "bell experience" of a lifetime. 

The preferred mode of transportation on this particular trip to Switzerland was by train.  High speed trains zipped us through the Alps (literally) from Italy;  took us around lakes;  to the modern cities;  through picturesque countryside;  and eventually to the end of the train line in the high mountain village of Engleberg.  
Alighting from the gentle old train that had crawled its way up the slopes to Engleberg, we were greeted by a tranquil mountain village complete with steep cobblestone streets, a village market, the Abbey church, and most incredibly the cacophony of bells.                                                  

It was nearing the noon hour and the grand bells of the Abbey Church were calling the monks to noon prayer.  These great bells were only the accompaniment to a continuous overlay of the sound of various other bells--those that tinkled, those that clonked, those that chimed, and those that thwacked.  These were the bells hung around the necks of the local livestock from frisky goats to brown-eyed Swiss cows.  What a
glorious cacophony! 

Coming from Portland, Oregon we had specifically chosen to visit the village of Engleberg because of its relation to a small Oregon village called Mt. Angel.  You see, a hundred years earlier, a group of monks from the Engleberg Abbey had left their Swiss mountain retreat to found a new Abbey in the United States.  The monks chose the picturesque Willamette Valley for their new home.  On the highest spot they could find in this valley, they built their abbey.  Mt. Angel in St. Benedict, Oregon doesn't reside in the mountains --although majestic Mt. Hood can be seen from "the hill" as the abbey's home is called--but is among majestic Douglas fir stands.  Panoramic of the Mt Angel Abbey Chappel. Mt Angel Oregon

Possibly these trees reminded those first monks of their Swiss home.  Anyway, we decided to visit the home of the founders of Mt. Angel--the Abbey of Engleberg (in English Mt. Angel).
On our second day in this idyllic setting, it was decided that a trip up the slopes of the local Mt. Titlis via a ski lift was in order.  Being summer, the alpine wildflowers were in full bloom and the views of the village from above were said to be breathtaking.

Patiently waiting my turn to grab a seat on the lift as the chairs rounded the lift pick-up area, I noticed that things were getting hazy.  By the time, I was safely seated on the lift, a cloud had surrounded the lift hut.  As the chair swung out over the lip of the hut, suddenly everything was obscured by the cloud.  No other chairs on the lift could be seen in front or behind.  The lift hut was gone.  The chalets has disappeared.  The cows and goats were no longer there.  And amazingly the majestic steeple and bell tower of the Abbey Church was obscured.

Suddenly it was also nearly shockingly quiet!  With feet dangling over an abyss only imagined, and everything in sight a dull gray, I became aware of the sense of sound.  And what a glory it was.

Bells, bells, and more bells!  First a melodious tinkle--a goat in a pasture below?  A deep clonk--a brown Swiss cow wandering about in the fog?  A gentle chime--was that a wind chime on a chalet?  A thudding thwack--another brown-eyed long-lashed cow?   and then the insistent pealing of a low booming bell--calling the monks to Vespers?  A more awesome cacophony I have never heard since!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Breakfast with the Whales

This morning my husband I were treated to bright blue sky, dark blue ocean, and the sun glinting off the stark white surf!  All this magnificence on the Oregon Coast in late December!  This is an is courtesy of unexpected and glorious Christmas gift for all of us beach dwellers.

As we sat enjoying our breakfast while relishing the clear blue sky and the ocean views, we were treated to yet another unexpected and happen-chance sight:  the spouts of whales just off shore!  There must have been a pod of whales enjoying their breakfast at the same time as we were enjoying ours.  Needless to say, we lingered over our eggs and toast just a bit longer than usual.  The whales, judging by the movement of the spouts, seemed to linger over their breakfast a bit too, before moving onto the work of their day.

So the whales (probably gray whales) are making their annual migration from the cold Alaskan waters to the warm waters of Baja just in time for "Whale Watch Week" along the Oregon Coast.  Isn't it great that they timed everything so perfectly.

Gray Whale
Welcome tourists to the Oregon Coast.  Enjoy "our" whales. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Orcas! Starboard!

Was it a pod, a pair, or only one?  All I know is that when the captain of the ferry boat I was taking between Seattle and Bremerton, said over the loudspeaker, “Orcas starboard”, I thought the ferry was going to roll onto its side.  

Whale watching in the Puget Sound, and all along the Washington and Oregon coasts for that matter, is a common activity.  Whales, usually gray whales, travel the Pacific Coast in their bi-annual migrations between Baja and Alaska providing tourists and locals alike the opportunity to “see a whale”, the largest mammal on the planet. 

Gray Whale
As a Oregon coast local, I know that actually “seeing” a whale is pretty rare even though there are numerous “Whale Watching Stations” and “Whale Watching Week Activities” (December 26-31, 2011 is the next one) throughout the year designed to give the tourist (and local whale watching guides) the thrill of “finding Waldo” in the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean.  Usually the very fortunate whale watcher is lucky to see a whale spout—a plume of air rising from the surf.   

Intrepid whale watch guides in those dedicated whale watching centers dutifully and faithfully “count” the whales on a daily basis.  These people are sometimes more fortunate than the tourist in “seeing” a whale.  They may actually see the hump as the whale surfaces briefly to breathe, or once in a very great while, they may see the tail or wonder of wonders, they may have the thrill of seeing a whale breach.   Of course these are the sightings one might expect from the safe reaches of the shoreline.
Breaching whale!  Amazing!

There are opportunities to get closer to these giants, though.  Many companies offer whale watching cruises and tours in boats large and small.  Tours that take you where the whales might be on a given day for that up-close and personal encounter.

Or, there are always the ferries playing their way back and forth across Puget Sound.  Maybe that is really the best way not to just “see the whales”, but see the resident Orca whales of that part of the world.  An amazing sight whether you are a local or a tourist from afar!  “Orcas starboard!”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Horses--Here, There, and Where?

New York City
 I have had the opportunity to visit some big cities around the world, but to date, my favorite among large cities, has to be New York City.  Maybe it is because I have traveled to that city more often than other big cities and I am somewhat familiar with the lay of the city and the subway system.  Or maybe it is because I have been there often enough to have favorite restaurants, museums, and churches.  Or maybe it is because I have friends there I like to meet for lunch in downtown Manhattan. 

Or could it be because of the horses?  Horses in one of the larger metropolitan centers of the world?  Yes, there are horses in New York City.  Two types of horses: there are the fearless and gentle but determined looking horses carrying the no-nonsense police officers; and then there are the stoic and plodding horses decked out in their jangling harnesses.

Walk toward Central Park and one encounters this second group of horses.  Lining the perimeter of the park are dozens of horses harnessed to carriages of varying shapes and sizes.  Their top-hatted drivers offer their wares—a romantic carriage ride through Central Park in varying lengths of time—twenty minutes, thirty, sixty minutes or even a full two-hour ride are offered.  What will it be?  They ask passers-by. 
New York City Carriage Rides

The horses stand patiently eating an apple from time to time or a sack of feed waiting their turn to share the beauty and serenity of the oasis that is Central Park with: a couple wrapped in a warm lap robe for a crisp evening’s moonlight ride through the park;  a family taking in the Boat Pond and the many Frisbee dogs from the slow-moving daytime carriage ride;  the gaggle of women sharing the wonder of being first-time tourists in this amazing city;  the couple adding a final special touch to an evening that started with the opera at Lincoln Center. 

Do those horses know just how much joy, wonder, and beauty they bring to those who climb aboard their carriages?  Do those horses and their drivers see Central Park with new eyes every time they make the twenty minute or two-hour tour?
I hope so!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Monkey Faces Here There and Everywhere

The Portuguese pavement wave pattern at Copacabana beach
On a gorgeous day just after Ash Wednesday, the streets of Rio de Janeiro were rather quiet.  The frenetic activity of Carnival and the samba contests was over.  The city and the beaches of Copacabana had returned to some sort of normalcy.  The height of the tourist season was over as the seriousness of Lent replaced the frivolity of Carnival.

This is the Rio I experienced--a quieter, more laid back visit to Copacabana where local families and tourists mingled along the long paths following the curves and sweep of the ocean beaches; where, with the bulk of tourists gone, those of us remaining, had the pleasure of visiting the city's famous landmarks and fabulous seafood restaurants less impeded.

Statue of Christ the Redeemer
It is on one of these explorations of the city of Rio that I realized there were little furry faces peering out from palm fronds and the jungle vegetation everywhere.  Riding the slow cog railway up Corcovado Mountain through the Tijuca Rain Forest to eventually arrive at the statue of Christ the Redeemer afforded many close-up encounters with these lithe, curious, quick little creatures:  the capuchin monkeys. 

Capuchin Monkey
What was most amazing about that experience?  The awesome size and presence of the Christ statue?  The incredible views from the top of Corcovado Mountain of Copacabana Beach and the Sambadome?  or those dozens and dozens of curious monkey little faces looking at all the equally curious tourists?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dreams of Slithering Things

A visit to Sri Lanka would not be complete without experiencing a cobra and python show, or so I was told.  I, for one, am not in the least fond of or enamored with reptiles of any kind, but snakes are lowest on my list.  I grew up in Western Kansas where the threat of rattlesnakes was real and a healthy fear for slithering creatures was imprinted on my mind.

Cobra Charmer
So when the host for my visit to Sri Lanka took us to the central province deep into the jungle area to visit Sigiriya and the Lion Fortress, and I learned that a reptile "show" was part of the entertainment at the posh hotel where we stayed, well, I was more than ready to forfeit the "show" for sipping a chai while lounging about at the pool.  However, that was not to be. The Cobra and Python Show was too important an event to be missed and I was soon presented with a front row chair for the "show".

Several baskets of varying sizes were set on the floor about six feet from my chair.  Near one of them was an interesting double reed flute-like instrument.  The rest of the "stage" was bare.  Instinctively, knowing the baskets probably contained snakes, since this was the Cobra and Python Show, I curled my feet and skirts up on the chair making sure nothing was touching the floor.  And, what a smart move that was!

Soon the snake charmer entered the room, picked up the instrument (which I soon learned is called a pungi), and began to play.  The sound is at once wailing, piercing, and crying but obviously is one cobras respond to.  Why? Who knows how that fact was discovered, but thankfully the charmer did know the fact that cobras will "dance" to this sound and can be somewhat "controlled" by it.  Thus, the ability to show deadly cobras to the seriously concerned tourists with feet gathered onto their chairs. 

The turbaned snake charmer kicked the lid of first one basket allowing a slithering creature to emerge, then a second and eventually a third.  Each cobra responded differently to the sound of the pungi:  one standing straight up in its basket and puffing out its neck; a second slithering FAR too close to the legs of MY chair before being "halted" by the charmer; and the third lazily emerging somewhat from the basket and weaving in a trance-like dance.  Mesmerizing to be sure!  Danger lurked too close for my comfort.

But wait, just when the last cobra was finally back in its basket and the final simple straw basket lid was replaced (with no hasps or latches I noted) to cover the cobras once again, a second snake charmer arrived wrapped, and I mean wrapped from shoulder to foot, with the largest pythons I have ever seen.  (Not that I have closely looked at phythons in the past.  Those are the exhibits I quickly pass at the zoos I visit!) But, this slithering creature was HUGE.  It could have eaten a pig before in preparation for the show it was so large.  This creature was then allowed to entwine itself around not only its keeper, but several willing tourists as well.

I however, was still perched on my chair with skirts wrapped around my legs with absolutely nothing touching the floor.  My eyes were still glued to those baskets containing the deadly cobras!  Just why did those snakes stay inside those whimpy little baskets?

Sleep that night?  Impossible!  Dreams of slithering things slid through my head!

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Feed the Birds" not "Tuppence a Bag"--but Lira a Bag

Piazza San Marco in 1906
The 1906 edition of Baedeker's Italy: Handbook for Travellers informed readers: "A large flock of pigeons enlivens the Piazza. In accordance with an old custom pigeons were sent out from the vestibule of San Marco on Palm Sunday, and these nested in the nooks and crannies of the surrounding buildings. . . . Towards evening they perch in great numbers under the arches of Saint Mark's. Grain and peas may be bought for the pigeons from various loungers in the Piazza."

On my visit to Venice, Italy in the 1980's, feeding the pigeons in the Piazza San Marco was a major tourist attraction, just as it must have been nearly 100 years earlier.  Vendors sold all sorts packets of seeds and corn for the birds.  A few hundred (or maybe it was a few thousand) lira would buy just what a pigeon wanted and needed for its daily sustenance.  There were literally hundreds of thousands of pigeons in this one very busy very beautiful square. (Today, I understand feeding the birds has been outlawed by the city government, however, many YouTube videos exist of tourists recently feeding the birds.) 

St. Mark's Basilica
Ah yes, did I say I was at the Piazza San Marco, one of the most stunning places in the world and one of the most photographed.  St Mark’s Square is also known as “the drawing room of the world” and is considered as on of the best city squares of the world.   St Mark’s Basilica forms one boundary of the square.  Unbelievable architecture, and magnificent mosaics in stunning gold, afford the cathedral its nickname, the Chiesa d'Oro or Church of Gold.
Chiesa d'Oro

Would Mary Poppins have stopped long enough to see the Chiesa d'Oro or would she and her cohorts have spent a lira or two to "feed the birds"?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dory? Is That You?

A Blue Tang
Snorkeling!  Now there's a sport I can get into.  You see, as a musician and an organist specifically, I have never been and never will be athletic.  I know it and everyone who knows me knows it.  But, once in awhile, I pretend I am athletic and try a "sporting activity".

I've always loved to swim--in a pool that is.  I am one who needs to mentally "know" where the bottom is.  Even if I can't physically reach it, I am comfortable swimming if I know the depth will never be over ten feet.  I have, however, always been intrigued with the ocean and love walking ocean beaches, but swimming in the ocean?  Well, that's another thing altogether. 

However, on my first trip to Hawaii, I decided to do just that!  Swim in the ocean--sort of.  Not knowing how deep the ocean was at any given moment, my "swimming" consisted of lying on a boogie board and paddling away with feet and hands feeling secure and confident in my ocean "swimming" abilities.

This style of "swimming" however, did allow me to experience the creatures of the ocean through a snorkel mask.  Lying on my boogie board with mask securely clamped to my face, flippers on my feet and hands free to maneuver the board I was ready to experience the "depths" of Hanauma Bay. 

Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii
What an amazing world opened before my eyes!  Fish of all colors, shapes and sizes; coral and anemones galore;  jellyfish and urchins; a whole marine world!  Paddling along secure on my board, face in the water, breathing through my snorkel tube, life was bliss!

Suddenly, gasping for air, choking on water and flailing about I became just another white-bodied tourist among the literally hundreds in Hanauma Bay!  What caused this major disturbance in the force?

Ah, a sea turtle!  A sea turtle making its slow and deliberate way across the reaches of the Bay.  A sea turtle was just what I had hoped to see, but instead of enjoying its graceful beauty I had been so discombobulated by its sudden appearance that all I could do was choke and sputter and hope for another sea turtle sighting, which of course, on that first snorkel outing never did happen.

Dory sent word around to her sea buddies--avoid the woman lying on the boogie board pretending to know what she's doing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Did I See a Lion in That Cattle Truck?

I grew up in Western Kansas, where, according the state song, "the deer and the antelope play".  However, I can't remember having ever seen the deer or the antelope at play or anywhere for that matter around Garden City, Kansas.  Those are not the animals I remember from my childhood!  What I remember, though, are the polar bears, the elephants, the anteater, and of course, the lions!  Wait!  In the far southwest corner of Kansas?

A "Kansas" lion
Yes, the town of Garden City had within its borders an amazing zoo and my family often took long Sunday afternoon drives through this oasis on the plains.  I think I knew more about elephants, polar bears, anteaters and lions then I did about the native Kansas deer, prairie dogs and feared rattlesnakes.  The Lee Richardson Zoo provided all of us with a window to the world and I loved it!

Lee Richardson Zoo in Garden City, Kansas

The Zoo was, however, along the banks of the Arkansas River and one summer after days of rain in the Rocky Mountains not too far to the West, that slow-moving nearly dry river became a mad rushing torrent of water!  The Zoo and all its animals was directly in the path of the flood threatening the city.  As sandbags were being piled along the banks to save the town, intrepid folk determined to save the animals.

Cattle truck
Owners of cattle trucks were pressed into service.  Their cattle trucks, plentiful in Garden City due to the feed lots and packing plants in the vicinity, became the new home to all sorts of wild animals.  Photos in the Garden City newspaper ran of a lion roaring its displeasure at its temporary home.  To me, that photo depicted the depth and anguish caused not only for the wild and exotic animals of the Lee Richardson Zoo but for the inhabitants of one western Kansas town due to the Arkansas River flood of 1965!

Friday, December 16, 2011

How Many Elephants?

Yes, it is time to return to elephants.  This time, let's go to Zimbabwe, specifically to the Hwange National Park and let's go on safari.  Just the word, "safari" conjures up pictures in my mind of Victorian Englishmen sitting in their canvas tents being served tea while around the encampment the wildlife of Africa roam unafraid and unabated.
A pan in Hwange National Park

Ah, but my safari took place in the late 1990's aboard a jeep with three other musicians and our intrepid English host hoping to show us "his Africa".  And show us he did.  Jeffrey headed out from the opulent Hwange Safari Lodge with three wide-eyed musicians and their cameras stuffed into the back of an open jeep.  The wildlife was abundant from an enormously tall gangly giraffe with long-lashed eyes checking out those who photographed her every move to hippos rumbling like runaway tanks down a dusty road.

The Big Guys!
But where were the elephants on this safari drive?  We had seen several of these majestic animals from our hotel bathing in a pan or water hole a short distance from the deck where we enjoyed tea that morning, but I had hoped for a closer elephant encounter.  As with many things in Zimbabwe, one more turn and all Africa opened before us.

Elephants at Hwange National Park
Following a dusty path around a grove of acacia trees where giraffe lazily feasted and there we were nearly in the middle of a huge herd.  Hundreds of elephant!  Elephants of all sizes, some old, some young and yes, babies too!  Elephants everywhere trumpeting and restless with the intrusion of our little jeep loaded with four individuals who had never seen such a sight and one man, our driver Jeffry, who never tired of such an awesome sight.  Amazing! and forever seared into my memory!  In Africa in the midst of elephants!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

We Call Them "The Boys"!

After traveling to various exotic places around the world, it is always good to come home for awhile to take in the uniqueness and experience again the sights and sounds of home.  One of those sights and sounds indigenous to the Oregon coast is afforded to us from time to time by the California sea lions.

California Sea Lions
These huge mammals glide through the waters of Yaquina Bay in Newport, Oregon, where they make their home between mating seasons in Baja Califnornia,  searching for those unwary salmon on which they love to dine.  Once satiated, the "boys" as we like to call them, head for a favorite rock outcropping or a dock in the bay where they can loll about and sun themselves.  The sunning, however, takes second place to the featured activity--establishing and maintaining hard-fought territory on those rocks and docks.

Gaining a foot--or flipper hold--on a dock or rock is perilous business if you are a junior sea lion.  The large "boys" easily establish themselves in prime locations and take up as much room as their 800 pound bulk will permit.  The juniors are then faced with gruff and LOUD attacks by the established dock/rock sitters as they try to pull themselves up and into a position to rest and relax a bit.

Or are the junior "boys"  just annoying the senior "boys"?  Whatever the reason, the ruckus is loud, boisterous, and unrelenting.  Gawking tourists and locals alike are treated to an unforgettable display of macho-ism.  Their antics can provide hours of fascinating diversion.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Kanga and a Roo too?

Since this blog title also includes the word, "kangaroo", I guess it is time I added a "moment that made me smile" that involved that interesting creature.  Since I grew up with a stuffed animal kangaroo and her joey, that we named Kanga and Roo, I have always been fascinated with this animal and had hoped one day to see a mother with her joey in "real life" shall we say.

Yes, I was in Australia when I had my "kangaroo encounter".  The kangaroo that added to my "smile list" was observed in a wildlife park in Sydney.  She was an average-sized docile looking creature in the midst of dozens of other fellow kangaroos hopping about a large grassy enclosure.  What caught my attention, though, was her pouch.

Kangaroo with her joey
Something in it was moving!  Ah yes, she had a joey with her.  As I stood there fascinated by the movements of her pouch--like a watching a punching bag being punched from the inside out--suddenly not the head appeared of this tiny kangaroo but its two back legs!

Blissfully unaware of the stir she and her joey had created for the onlookers-- with the tiny legs of her joey sticking straight up like forks out of her pouch--Kanga, with Roo happily ensconsed in its warm and cozy home, bounded off in picturesque springs.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Bottle for a Baby Elephant

I had the great privilege of performing as part of a cultural exchange program in the exotic country Sri Lanka several years ago, and while I was there my hosts were determined that I see their country and the places that brought joy to them.  We that in mind, one of the many places we visited was the Pinawela Elephant Orphanage.  And what an experience that was!

This elephant orphanage, one of the first in the world, was started to save the many baby elephants orphaned due to poaching in the jungles of Sri Lanka.  It is also a rehabilitation center for older elephants injured by hunters and left to die.  The orphanage at that time, consisted of a few rude buildings to give shelter to the elephants and their keepers, a covered area where we tourists could feed the babies, and acres and acres of land and crossed through by a river where the elephants could safely live.

Baby elephants at Pinawela Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka
Shortly after our arrival, a boisterous group of baby elephants came thundering up the hill from the river to the shelter looking for their bottles.  A more incredible sight of boundless uninhibited joy cannot be described.  These babies were free!  They were not behind bars and glass and more bars and moats and walls in a zoo.  These babies were not standing alone in horror as their mother died in the jungle.  These babies were happy, protected, and loved.  These babies had been saved and were being nutured in a loving caring place each with its own keeper who provided for their wants and needs.

And, I, with the help of a keeper, was able to provide for one moment in one day of one baby elephant's life--its breakfast.  A large baby bottle filled to the rim with nutritious milk.  As that baby elephant's trunk twisted around my bare leg and I petted its wiry haired back we were both transported!  For me, the smiles have never stopped when I think of that moment.  For that baby, I hope he is now safely returned to his jungle home--a free and fully grown elephant.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Is It About A Baby Elephant That Makes Us Smile?

Baby elephants at Elephant Orphanage
What is it about a video of two baby elephants playing in an inflatable swimming pool that made me want to start this blog?  First, it gives me a chance to put into writing some of those moments in my life that have made me smile and that I do not want to forget;  and, second, I hope my anecdotes/musings encourage you to interact with my blog and share the moments in your life that were ones of wonder and joy in your life.

Last week a friend forwarded to me a video of two baby elephants playing in an inflatable swimming pool while being sprayed with water by their zookeeper.  There was no way I could watch that without laughing out loud and enjoying every minute of video over and over again.  Those two little elephants were having the time of their lives.  They were playing with abandon, freedom, and pure joy.  That precious video brought back one of my favorite memories--my encounter with baby elephants and their keepers in an elephant orphanage outside the city of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

So, read on.  In the next post I am going to start this blog with the recounting of that elephant encounter and see where this leads.  To more elephant encounters or shall we look for kangaroos next?  Let's start this journey and find out.

Like I said before, feel free to join in and share your "it made me smile" moments!  Maybe you too have visited the Pinawela Elephant Orphange.