Zulu Warrior Memorial at Isadahlwana

Along with amazing wild animals and beautiful terrain, South Africa has a long and complicated history. Before we left on our trip in March, I read A Short History of South Africa as I wanted to know more about the history of the country. I remember bits and pieces of Apartied, the terrible policies of segregation, that crippled the lives of millions of people. But I also wanted to learn about the settling of the land by the Dutch during the early circumnavigations of the globe. Hamilton has read extensively about the military history of South Africa and wanted to see some of the famous battlefields north of Durban and experience first-hand these historic places.  Battlefields are not necessarily my interest, but I was happy just to see the land and I’m always content with beautiful scenery.

We spent the first night in South Africa near the Johannesburg airport so we could catch a morning flight to Durban.  We hired a private guide, Don Botterill, to take us around the battlefields in the KwaZulu-Natal province. Don picked us up at the King Shaka Airport and took us to a charming guest house by the Indian ocean.  We wished we had more time to enjoy the property but we did get our feet wet in the ocean and walk on the beach.  That evening we met with a business acquaintance of Hamilton’s and his wonderful family for cocktails and dinner. I love making new friends and hearing about life in South Africa. We did get to experience the infamous rolling blackouts that plague life in South Africa.  Around twice a day the electricity is cut off for a couple of hours. The big businesses and hotels have generators but homes and small business have to deal with this big inconvenience every day.

Indian Ocean, Durban South Africa

Don picked us up early to start the drive deep into Zululand north of Durban. I was interested to see so many people walking along the highways on their way to work. Most of the people living in the countryside don’t have cars and depend on walking or microbus taxis for transportation. Don began telling us the history of the area and about King Shaka who turned the Zulu’s into fierce warriors in the early 1800’s. We stopped briefly by his simple grave on the way deeper into the lush countryside.  The late summer rains made the land very green and rolling valleys gave way to rocky hills and outcroppings.  We soon were on narrow roads winding through the countryside and the occasional village with traditional Zulu round houses.  The places of worship were stone painted white formed into circles.  On Sundays the people will dress in their best clothes and gather at these stone circles under the great cathedral of blue sky.  We stopped to get gas and some local snacks for our picnic lunch under a tree.

The first battlefield on our tour was Isadahlwana (1879) where 4000 Zulus decimated a British regiment of 1500 soldiers. I must admit I didn’t listen to the details but couldn’t help but be moved by the piles of white rocks covering the graves of the soldiers still on the battlefield for almost 150 years. We then moved to Rorke’s Drift, a British encampment and hospital where a small number of British soldiers were able to hold off the Zulu warriors the day after the terrible loss at Isadahlwana.   The movie Zulu (1964) staring a young Michael Caine is a fairly accurate account of the battle. Once again, I didn’t listen very closely to the story but instead enjoyed the bird calls, gentle breeze and songs of nearby school children—much more my interest.

That night we stayed in a wonderful guest house overlooking a valley.  We were in the middle of nowhere but in the past, there was an active German community that build an impressive sandstone church and now is part of a youth retreat center. After a lovely lasagna dinner, we headed to bed and enjoyed the exotic night sounds of Africa, the distinctive song of the firey-necked nighjtar, the African cousin of our beloved whip-poor-wills. We woke to a beautiful sunrise and soon a hot cup of coffee. I wandered the grounds and for the first time had coffee with vervet monkeys—very curious little guys with black faces. The early European settlers of South Africa were Dutch and Germans and their decedents became the Boers, now called Afrikaans and the Afrikaans language, spoken by several million South Africans, is a form of Dutch.

The next battlefield we visited was Spion Kop.  We drove to the top of a hill with an amazing 360 view of the plains below with a wide river and dam.   On this fateful hill in 1899 the British army engaged the Boer army in an early battle of the Boer Wars that last to about 1903.  The British were terribly mismanaged by the general and it was a massacre. Once again there were mass graves and monuments to the soldiers who died in battle. This time the stories did capture my attention because the aftermath of this battle was witness by two of the most pivotal men in the 20th century.    Winston Church was a young reporter and saw the terrible scene and sent reports back to England.   Mahatma Gandhi was a stretcher bearer removing the wounded from the field down the hill to the hospital.   Both were deeply affected by the horror of this massacre and the suffering and death. This battle informed the direction of the lives and then the history of the world in the decades that followed. The Boer Wars were the end of England’s empire building era. 

War Memorials, Spion Kop. Gandhi’s name is 6th on the list of stretcher bearers.

After a brief visit to a museum in Ladysmith and a lunch at a local coffee shop, we headed back to Durban on the highway. After two days of bumpy unpaved roads, it was a bit of a shock to see traffic and the modern world. I really loved being off the beaten path and immersed in history and the landscape not usually visited by American tourists. But never fear, more off-road adventures were coming! 

The next day we said goodbye to Don and flew to Cape Town and then had a transfer to the beautiful town of Stellenbosch, in the heart of South African wine country. We spent the night at a charming hotel tucked amongst lush gardens and vineyards. That night we met up with Sarel and Johan and their wives, our hosts for the next few days.  Hamilton has been corresponding with Sarel and Johan for many years about business matters and have become email friends. They were kind enough to become our guides for an adventure deep in Tankwa-Karoo, a thinly-populated high desert north of Cape Town.


We packed smaller duffle bags and left our suitcases in Stellenbosch and packed Sarel’s 4WD truck and headed for the mountains and through a 4 km tunnel. There were signs to beware of baboons and fortunately we saw a couple of baboon families including babies on their mother’s backs. Once through the mountains the landscape became more desolate. We had a final fuel stop in a small town, Ceres, then the pavement ended. The next town Calvinia was over 200 km away with just a dirt road between them. It is the longest dirt road between towns in South Africa. We drove for around 2 hours briefly stopping at an outpost that reminded me of something you might see in a Mad Max movie. There was a little store with the strangest mix of merchandise; yoga mats, incense, candy and toys—all covered in a fine layer of dust. We finally turned off the “main road” heading toward our rental cottage. We saw some flocks of ostrich crossing the road. They are the perfect bird watching for those of us with poor eyesight. And I must say they look ridiculous as they run–fluffy feathers like tutus just bouncing around over their spindly legs.

We finally arrived at our off-grid cottage and unloaded the suitcases and food. It is a beautiful setting overlooking a reservoir. The landscape is almost lunar –nothing but rocks. But the thatched cottage has two bedrooms, a sleeping loft, bathroom and nice kitchen. There are solar panels for electricity, propane for hot water and kitchen appliances. It is a wonderful retreat for a few days. I was not surprised that there is no internet and quite ready for media free retreat to finish some reading and relax in this windswept world.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset then full moon with Venus rising on the horizon. Later I saw the Southern Cross for the first time and Orion high above –but here in the southern hemisphere he is upside down with his sword pointing up. Sarel made a fire from old grapevine roots and cooked beef sausages over the coals. We ate them in buns with cooked onions in tomato sauce and canned guava and custard for dessert. 

Over the next couple of days, we explored more of the territory, visited a raisin farm and the local school. I spent long hours reading and napping. The guys talked endlessly about guy stuff but every evening we would gather round the fire and grill something for dinner and enjoying the stars and moon rising over the high desert.

A few days later it was time to leave our desert oasis and travel the rough but scenic road back to Cape Town. It was even harder to say goodbye to Johan and Sarel, now dear friends who live on the other side of a very big ocean. I would be very sad never to see them again—so maybe South Africa will call us back again.  I hope so.

Over the next few days, we enjoyed more of the region; Babylonstoren and Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, several wineries, the Cape of Good Hope, a penguin colony in Simonstown, a Saturday market and Dutch church in Franschhoek.  There is so much to see and do in South Africa that I was glad to have almost three weeks to explore and most of all wonderful new friends to enjoy it with. 



Last June I asked Hamilton where in the world he wanted to go first now that most pandemic restrictions have been lifted. Over the years we talked about some dream destination based on difficulty and intensity of travel and we came up with a short list of places to see while we were fit and able. He decided that South Africa was the top of the list so I happily went to the planning phase. I looked at tours and Hamilton had some “must see” places and we also knew some people in South Africa we wanted to visit. I was happy to do everything but the top of my list was seeing exotic animals in the wild. I tried not to be specific about which ones, I know better than to have expectations when traveling. As a certified crazy cat lady, I had to suppress any idea that I would get to see lions. I even wrote about my white lion obsession a few years ago. Well, I honestly wouldn’t let myself get my hopes up. I really want my experiences to be serendipitous, the unexpected and magical.

A part of our trip to South Africa was a traditional tour which included going to a game ranch to see animals. Early in the morning we flew from Cape Town where the tour started to Johannesburg for the 3 hour bus ride out to the Limpopo Province and the town of Bela Bela. This area and on east to Kruger National Park hundreds of miles away is the open land for African game. We arrived at Mabula Lodge in time for a lovely buffet lunch and then checked into our beautiful room at the edge of the compound.  The buildings were thatched with nice porches for relaxing and we weren’t there long when a handsome Eland came by to greet us.  Over the course of our two-night stay we were also visited by an impala, stripped mongoose, and a snake!  After a bit of a rest, it was time for our first game drive. The drives are late afternoon and early morning when the animals are most active. We were assigned a driver, Franc, for all our drives. Hamilton and I loaded up in the far back seat in the Toyota Land Cruiser that had been modified for game watching.  First thing Franc said was “we are going to go to look for lions”. I dare not hope too much.  First, we saw a female cheetah lounging in the grass, I only got glimpses of her face through the binoculars but I was very happy.  Along the way we saw zebra and warthogs and lots more impala.  We found a young jackal chasing a little yellow butterfly. He ran round and round the truck, not realizing he had such an adoring audience for his antics. Finally, he caught the butterfly and trotted on his merry way and we drove on very pleased with the show.

We left one fenced area and entered another fenced portion of the reserve where the lion pride is kept safe from poachers and from endangering human guests. Now these fenced areas are many, many square miles. The animals are managed but they are wild and living in their natural habitat. The game guides/drivers are in constant contact as they search for animals around the preserve, and we soon got notice of a male lion in the vicinity. A few minutes later there he was! A gorgeous tawny male just casually hanging out under a tree less than 30 feet from our vehicle. I couldn’t believe I was getting to see a lion. I got tears in my eyes being so close to this King of Beasts. We hung out with him for the longest time. Then we let another group have a turn and then we caught back up with him laying in the road with the sun setting behind him. My heart skipped many beats as I just tried to absorb the moment, taking just enough pictures to remember, but letting the feelings and the experience become part of my being.  As we drove back to the lodge, the sun was setting over the African plain. The land was vivid with color: miles of grassland were burnished gold, the storm clouds dark and dramatic, the final rays of the sun a deep pink. That evening I felt shaky and emotional; I was in Africa and I saw a lion.

The next morning Hamilton and I took a hot air balloon ride over the plain. I wanted to see the land from the air, floating just above the trees.  We could see the herds of animals, the sun coming over the mountains and the shadow of the balloon silently crossing the trees.  After a very gentle landing and the traditional champagne toast we headed to breakfast and then our next lion encounter. Many years ago, I read The Mystery of the White Lion by Linda Tucker and became obsessed with these lions from the region of Timbavarti in South Africa that have a rare genetic mutation that makes their fur white.  Linda also discovered a link between these lions and the lion culture and worship in Egypt and the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet. I remember looking at a map of Africa and thinking there was no way I would ever see those beautiful white lions in their land.  Well, I’m here to tell you that my dream of white lions came true! Through many intense synchronicities (meaningful coincidences) our lodge was just up the road from a predator preserve that had white lions and I had the personal contact information of the young game keeper, Aliscia. We were able to find a driver and met with Aliscia late that morning.  She took us deep into the Mabaligwe Game Preserve to the Boschpoort Predator Park, a sanctuary for lions, tigers, cheetahs and other predators that have been rescued from people who had no business having wild animals.  The male and female white lions had been terribly abused but are now living their best life protected and loved. Rocky, the male, was laying by the fence, I’m sure just waiting for me!  I spent a long time talking with them. It was just me and those magnificent lions- -white lions–in Africa!  We continued round the park to see tigers, white tigers, a tawny lion pride, hyenas and wild dogs.  They all had sad stories with happy endings.  If you have a calling to help care for these animals, please contribute to this important work —Aliscia is young and dedicated to these animals the perfect person to fight for the health and safety of wild animals in Africa.

That evening we saw lots of rhinos, zebras and impala as well as a small herd of female Cape buffalo but we were really searching for elephants. And soon we saw elephants or more accurately we heard the elephants crashing through the bush heading toward the dirt road. Elephants are not subtle creatures and we were soon delighted to see extensive dust bathing on the road in front of us and then they were off again crashing through the trees to their next destination.   I loved hearing the elephants before I could even see them. 

The following morning, we had our final game drive at Mabula Lodge and saw the elusive giraffe I had been wanting to see. We bid a fond farewell to our guide and the beautiful lodge. It was a short stay but oh so memorable.  We drove to Johannesburg to catch a flight to our next destination, Zimbabwe, for mighty Victoria Falls, the grand finale of our tour. We landed at Victoria Falls airport—the airport was literally in the middle of nowhere, totally surrounded by bush. But I could see the mist of the falls rising above the bush out the airplane window.  During our stay in Zimbabwe, we took a sunset river cruise on the Zambezi River for more elephant and hippo watching and then took a daytrip to nearby Chobe National Park in Botswana to see more elephants, giraffes and baboons.  Botswana has tens of thousands of elephants and we got to spend a good part of the morning enjoying the antics of two elephant families down by the Chobe River.  I delighted in the babies playing in the water, nursing from their mothers and the adolescents taking mud baths. They were so close to our vehicle we could almost touch them.

Our final morning in Africa was a sunrise visit to Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall at 1 mile (yes, mile) wide and 355 feet tall.  The resent heavy rains made the falls so intensely full that much was obscured by the mist coming from the rushing water. But we didn’t miss the power of the falls, or the mist that was like torrential rain, or the multiple rainbows.  Hamilton’s parents had wanted to visit Victoria Falls in the 1960’s but it was politically too dangerous, so he was please to fulfill that family dream.  On the way out he was able to procure several trillion Zimbabwe dollar notes and I bought a few souvenirs so we went home rich in memories and “dollars”.  We left the hotel that morning sorry to leave Africa but full of memories and amazing experiences.  I set my timer as we left the lodge for I wanted to see how long it would take us to get home.  34.5 hours later we drove in the driveway of our beloved farmhouse. What an epic journey.


Even though I had not consciously planned my trip to Arizona to be about my dear mentors and teachers, it quickly became clear that my time in Arizona was a pilgrimage not only to beautiful sacred places but to the memories of my dear friends. The day we were traveling from Canyon de Chelly to Sedona, October 4, was my dear spiritual mother Rachael Salley’s 80th birthday. Rachael loved her birthday. Rachael has been gone over two years now and I miss her every day. I was so glad Val and I were together to celebrate. Rachael always said we were her cosmic daughters and spiritual sisters. That night, we had supper on the restaurant patio, in beautiful Sedona, under the crescent moon shining just over the red rocks as we celebrated Racheal’s memory and legacy. We had a special dessert as Rachael had a real sweet-tooth and never missed a good dessert.

I’ve been to Sedona, Arizona, twice before but it had been over ten years and I felt really called to visit again.  I also wanted to visit Sedona again in the memory of my dear friend Page Bryant. I knew Page over 20 years and spent many happy hours in her home. Page was a very wise woman and fortunately left that wisdom for all of us in 14 books. She was very connected to land and sacred sites and the powerful earth energy at those sites. In the early 1980’s Page was the first to identify the energy spots in Sedona that are now the famed energy vortexes that draw so many people to that land. (Starquest Sedona, by Page Bryant) When she moved to North Carolina in the 1990’s, she connected to the same earth energy and wrote her most popular book, The Spiritual Reawakening of the Smoky Mountains.  Page taught me about sacred land and the honoring of holy places; her work weaves through all my writing.

So, with great devotion to Page, Rachael and Peter Calhoun, I was grateful to be back on that holy ground again. It really didn’t matter what I did in Sedona, just being surrounded by the beautiful red rocks and deep green forest was why I came back to visit. But you know me, I have to get out and be a part of the that places as much as I could  We started our visit at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a beautiful chapel jutting out of the rock with uninterrupted views of the dramatic landscape. It was a perfect place to meditate and remember Rachael on her birthday. I lit a candle for her, Page and Peter.   

The first full day, we hired a wonderful young guide to take us to some lesser-known places. Fortunately it was not a jeep tour as we had enough of four-wheeling in the Canyon de Chelly.  Instead, we stopped by Airport Mesa to look at the beautiful view. Conner, our guide, talked about the geological and spiritual history of Sedona. Then we went to the Peace Park where two Buddhist Stupas were nestled close to the forest and towering red rocks. It is a place for meditation and prayer and I felt the great peace of those millions of prayers flowing from the prayer wheels.  The third spot was Rachel’s Knoll, named for the woman who had preserved the view for visitors far into the future. I just sat on a rock and breathed the warm western air, so content to take in all of the energy of the land.  After a pizza lunch, Val and I visited some crystal shops and bought some rocks and some incense.

Val and I were staying in the Amara hotel which happened to have a great pool with an even greater view. Since I am a pool person, I spent the afternoons soaking up the October sunshine, reading and swimming—my favorite things. Every evening, Val had made dinner reservations at some nice restaurants and we enjoyed eating and drinking, talking and remembering all of our wonderful trips we’ve taken together. 

Our last day in Sedona, we were invited to visit an internet acquaintance of Val’s, Rhianne (www.rhiannenewahnd.com) a long-time resident of Sedona.  Although we had never met before, it was like we were long lost friends. First, we had a tour of her beautiful garden and then settled in for a long chat. Rhianne has hosted women’s groups for many years and I was very interested in how she formed and ran the groups.  She also has developed a wonderful system for spiritual guidance by tapping into the different feminine archetypes that we all hold in our hearts and minds and was kind enough to allow Val and I a chance to experience one of our own archetypes.  Three hours past as if there was no time.  It was hard to leave our new friend but it was getting late and we were very hungry.  That afternoon I spent down by the river, relaxing and reading and enjoying some quiet reflection until the bugs started after my ankles.  Another beautiful dinner and a visit to some art galleries made for a perfect last evening.

It was time to head back to Val’s home in Santa Fe and we felt we did what we needed and wanted to do in Sedona. I enjoyed the people we met, the beautiful scenery, delicious food, and sacred land.  I felt Page, Rachael and Peter’s kindness and wisdom with me. I loved honoring the land and the dear souls who influenced my life. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Canyon de Chelly

Many years ago, I was fortunate to study with a former Episcopal priest come shaman, Peter Calhoun, author of Soul on Fire. He and his wife Astrid took people on vision quests in the Southwest, especially Utah and Arizona.  Although I never did a vision quest, Peter talked about Canyon de Chelly on Navajo land in northeast Arizona.  Peter found the canyon to be sacred and his comment has been in my memory for almost two decades waiting for the right time for me to visit this sacred site.

Last year, my dear friend Val and I started planning another girls’ trip in the southwest where she now lives. I mentioned I really wanted to see Canyon de Chelly (pronounced deshay). Since we have visited Chaco Canyon twice and loved the experience, I knew that Canyon de Chelly would be the perfect place to explore next. On the land of the Navajo nation, the canyon is sacred to the native people who live there. We started planning our trip which was not as straight-forward as visiting most national monuments.  Covid has hit the Navajo hard and the canyon was closed for 2 ½ years. They also protect access to the canyon as their spiritual land.  There are roads to look down into the canyon that anyone can drive but to get down into the canyon proper requires a Navajo guide and a four-wheel drive vehicle. 

Val picked me up at the Albuquerque airport, and after a quick lunch we headed northwest to the far corner of Arizona, not far from the famed Four Corners region. I always enjoy seeing the big sky, barren land and deep colors of New Mexico and Arizona. It is so foreign, beautifully desolate and grand compared to my lush, green Tennessee.  I find the change refreshing as we watched the storms in the distance—you can actually see the rain falling from the clouds in the distance while still remaining in the sunshine. Just under four hours later, we arrived at the little town of Chinle, Arizona, checked into the Holiday Inn and had Navajo tacos in the adjacent restaurant.  I love fry bread and it was the perfect start for our adventure. 

The next morning, we were met with an unusually rainy and chilly day for our tour. But the rain didn’t last long and we were able to take off layers of clothes as the day went on.  There are half day and whole day tours of the canyon and of course I wanted as much time as possible. We were the only two people taking the all day (6 hr) tour and our driver David quickly got us on the road. Now in the canyon, ‘road’ is a relative word, and because of the recent rains, the first part of the road was actually a river that we forded back and forth several times.  But soon we were at the first pictographs in the canyon: horses, hands, Kokopelli (the flute-playing trickster god), lines representing water and other figures covered the sandstone walls. We also stopped by ancient Anasazi ruins tucked into the cliffs. When they were occupied a thousand years ago, the bottom of the canyon was 30 or more feet higher. But it is a testament to the builders that the mud bricks still remain and we can still wonder at their ancient civilization. Today, there are a few older Navajo that still live in the canyon during the summer.

Every thirty minutes or so David would stop our vehicle and come alongside the back and tell us more stories and point out more wonderful things in his Navajo-accented English. David has taken visitors into the canyon for over twenty years, and on that day, I was very grateful for his detailed knowledge but, more importantly, his expert driving.  The tours out of Thunderbird Lodge are in open Swiss Army vehicles that seat around ten on two bench seats. These heavy-duty six-wheel drive trucks were essential for the deeper parts of the canyon. Every once in awhile, David would get stuck, have to back up and engage more wheel power. Several times, Val and I just closed our eyes and counted on David’s expertise to get us over a very rough patch without rolling down the gully. We would later refer to the day as the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” tour. It was all an adventure and I love a good adventure. Our final destination was worth all the jostling and white-knuckle gripping, for the Cave of the Mummies is otherworldly and like walking in a dream. High in the cliffs were large Anasazi ruins, extensive and well preserved. We ate our lunch on a picnic table and reveled in the quiet wildness deep in that long canyon. David would give a shout and the echo would extend deep into the cliffs. We headed back to the canyon entrance and I enjoyed each new view of the 1000 foot rock walls in the changing light.  Every moment was beautiful, new and ancient at the same time.  

Cave of the Mummies

By the time we got back to the entrance we were both pretty tired from the long day of four-wheeling—make that six-wheeling. After quick supper of another delicious Navajo taco and a nice hot bath we were ready to lay down and just be still. But the memory of that beautiful land will linger and remain a highlight of my year. Peter Calhoun was so right, Canyon de Chelly is a very sacred place.

Olympic National Park

Olympic Mountains, Washington

Last year Hamilton and I went hiking in Yosemite and loved it so much that we wanted to explore another national park on foot. We also wanted to stay in the US to let some of the pandemic travel hassles ease a bit more. Both of us have traveled extensively in the US. I have been in all 50 states—most of them more than once.  Hamilton has been to every state except Oregon but neither of us had been to Olympic National Park in Washington State.  It was an easy choice as we have some delightful second cousins just outside of Seattle. Family and nature are the perfect combination for our travels.

We happily left a heatwave in Tennessee for the much cooler Pacific Northwest. The last bits of cool, cloudy weather were receding and the first days of bright blue summer sky were on the horizon.  Our flights through Houston went well and we quickly got a rental car and headed south in a slight drizzle.  We were met by our dear cousin LaVona and her perfectly tidy house and garden.  She had done a lot of cooking for our stay and we were made to feel so welcome and loved.  Hamilton and LaVona’s grandmothers were sisters from a lively group of 8 siblings all with “L” names.  We had great times remembering Lizzie, Leona, Lula, Lillie and Laura, the five sisters who were all raised in south Mississippi at the turn of the last century. 

The first full day in Washington we visited Mount Rainier National Park, just an hour away. It was overcast and the enormous mountain was invisible behind dense clouds. I wasn’t convinced there really was a mountain (elev. 14,411 ft)  but the surrounding land was picture perfect as we drove through dense evergreen forests, past gorgeous waterfalls, over glacier-made valleys and finally to the main visitor center which still had a 10 foot snowpack.  We watched a short movie about the mountain, so large that the circumnavigating trail is 93 miles.  We had a picnic in the light drizzle and were entertained by the Gray Jays who show no fear when food is around.  Don’t tell the rangers but I fed one of them grapes out of my hand; his little feet were so soft and gentle on my finger.  The Stellar Jays kept their distance but are they ever a beautiful blue.  The rest of the weekend we visited with more cousins and Hamilton and I had our first attempt at Pickleball. I can see why it is so popular.

Mt Rainier National Park

Monday morning, we headed toward Olympic National Park, my third national park in five days—I just finish climbing Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountain the week before. Cousins LaVona, Keren and Kate joined us for our week’s adventure as they had never been to Olympic either.  On our way to our Airbnb in Forks, WA, we stopped by our first rainforest path and rocky beach, both so beautiful that we were glad to have three more days on the western side of the park.  The Airbnb was clean but otherwise basic with a strange Hogwarts theme. Hamilton and I had the Slytherin room. Forks, Washington, is the setting for the Twilight books and movies because it is the cloudiest/rainiest town in American—prefect for vampires.  I watched my first-ever Twilight movie so that I could get in the spirit of the town. Magic, Vampires and a local Sasquatch legend—something for everyone.

Rialto Beach

The next three days we spent time on the magnificent rocky beaches. Rialto beach was just a half hour away and had beautiful rock islands close to the shore. We walked about 1.5 miles to a big arch in the rocky coast and explored the tidepools filled with anemones and starfish. On the forest edge of the beach were whole spruce-tree driftwood that were like giant whalebones, gleaming white and smooth, perfect for sitting and just staring at the surf on the rocks. Or stacking the surf-smoothed stones. Or breathing the cleansing salt air. It was an overcast day so the whole world was a gray-scale wonder: green-black trees, deep-gray stone, light-gray water and sky, white caped waves and bone-white driftwood trees. Another day we walked the .8 mile path through the forest to Second Beach where we had a whole mile of sand and surf in front of us without another soul in sight, my kind of beach.

Second Beach
giant driftwood on First Beach

One of the crown jewels of Olympic is the Hoh Rainforest.  We set out early to beat the crowds in the parking lot and were rewarded with a perfectly cloudless morning and a visit with one of the resident Roosevelt elk enjoying her breakfast of weeds in the stream.  The sun shone through the tendrils of moss hanging from every tree. There were patches of sun highlighting the ferns on the forest floor. It was so hard to know where to look next, so we slowly wandered around the trails, taking pictures that will never come close to showing the beauty of this full sensory place.  The sacredness of the forest was palpable, and we kept our voices to a whisper in reverence for this holy ground.  It was so primordial that a T Rex or Brachiosaurs could come wandering by at any moment or a fairy could be flying around, flitting between trees and ferns.  We stopped by the Hoh river for our picnic lunch on one of the rocky bars in the middle of the river.  It was hard to leave the forest but the crowds were growing and we wanted more beach time.

Roosevelt Elk
Hoh Rainforest in the sunshine

Our evenings in Forks were so pleasant.  LaVona had made several delicious casseroles, one for each evening. A salad and cake made each meal a feast. Then we would settle in for some binge watching.  Hamilton and cousin Keren watched all of ‘1883’ and I watched/slept through a couple of the Twilight movies. The five of us were happy and compatible, everyone looking out for the other’s needs and wishes.

Our final day together we headed east to Hurricane Ridge visitors center to get a full view of the Olympic range.  At 5000 feet, there was still big patches of snow and we definitely needed our warm jackets. We climbed the steep short path that gave a 360 degree view with the snowcapped Olympic mountains on one side and the Puget Sound on the other.  It was a clear, bright day and we could see Vancouver Island, Canada, and Mount Baker in the distance.  After lunch we said our goodbyes to our dear relatives as they needed to head home.  I had booked our last night at Crescent Lake where we enjoyed a picnic supper in our room with the view of the sapphire lake for entertainment.  The next morning, we took a short walk to Marymere Falls and then a hike on Spruce Railroad Trail, a former railroad bed complete with tunnels.  The bike/hiking trail meandered along the lake’s edge and we enjoyed the changing views of the mountains. We hiked to the end and back for a total of 8 miles.  It was the perfect ending to our time in Olympic and we couldn’t have been happier with our six days in this wondrous park.

Crescent Lake

On our way back to the Seattle airport we finally saw the elusive Mount Rainier and it is massive.  It made for a fitting farewell for our delightful time on the Olympic peninsula.  Olympic has rainforest, mountains, lakes, beaches, waterfalls. The only thing it lacked was a desert to be about every type of climate. We were blessed with great weather, good company and our amazing sacred earth.

Mt Rainier on the drive back to Seattle

The Hermitage

The Hermitage, Nashville, Tennessee

In between two longer trips in June, I had two mini-trips in my home state of Tennessee. I once again climbed Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and stayed in the off-grid lodge at the top with my Wednesday hiking group.  Last year was a very cold hike with beautiful hoar frost on the trees and this year was a very warm hike with the rhododendron and mountain laurel in bloom. I always enjoy a hiking challenge and this year I was rewarded with probably my all-time favorite mountain moment—sunrise over the gorgeous layers of mountains.  It was worth the journey to see the sunrise in one direction and the beautiful moon, Venus and Jupiter on the opposite side of the sky.  Fifteen minutes after sunrise, the fog rolled in and my view was instantly white but the moment of sunrise is with me forever.

Earlier in the month, I went west to my hometown of Nashville to see my dear friend Melynie who was finally able to get back to the US from her home in Taiwan. It had been several years since I was last in Nashville and I have some favorite places I always want to visit.  Top of my list is the beautiful Athena in the Parthenon in Centennial Park and then the gorgeous Bi-Centennial Park just a couple of miles away.  Both hold such a special place in my heart and no trip to Nashville is complete without a visit.  We finished off the afternoon with a long trip to the used bookstore as we are both voracious readers and then a delicious dinner at Adele’s.

Athena, Centennial Park
Bi-Centenniel Park, Nashville

There was one place in Nashville I particularly wanted to revisit, The Hermitage, the home of the 7th US president, Andrew Jackson, and the third most visited presidential home in the United States. The Hermitage holds a special place in my memory and heart.  I visited it often as a child for we only lived about 20 minutes away. I have very vivid memories of the grand Greek Revival façade and the beautiful rooms with antique wallpaper.  The beds seemed so small but with elaborate curtains flowing from the canopies. The mansion was never sold outside the family, so it still has all the original furnishings and is well preserved.  I loved wandering the gardens and seeing the carriage house with the old carriage and artifacts from so long ago.  It certainly made an impression on me as a young girl.

It was a beautiful June morning and the breeze was gentle—perfect for my return after more than 20 years.  Now there is a big new visitor center/museum a ways from the old home and we spent some time learning about Andrew Jackson while we waited for our entry time into the mansion. Andrew Jackson, the president on the $20 bill, has become a more controversial figure in the last few decades as history is revisited but the museum focuses on his illustrious war career and the power he had as president.  I’m sure this was all important, but I was only interested in one thing, the house.  I wanted to see that beautiful home again.

With much anticipation I walked down the path to the front of the home. It was almost as I remember with the tall Corinthian columns and beautiful old brick.  It was no longer bright white but a soft beige which apparently was the original color.  We wandered the mature English style garden but mostly I was happy to sit and look at the beautiful front porch and stately columns.  It was finally our turn to go into the entrance hall—I love that entrance hall with spectacular hand painted scenic wallpaper of the Odyssey, a Greek myth, perfect for a Greek Revival home.  The tour guide gave many details in a very sing-song style and then we wandered down the hall to hear more stories and see the main bedrooms.  The tour continued upstairs and then down.  Each room was just as I remembered.  

Looking back on my fascination with The Hermitage, I can see my early love of homes and architecture. That beautiful old mansion was the beginning of my deep love of historic homes and places.  For me, houses are people too and I love to feel their presence and sense the essence of their long lives. There is a soul to a well-loved old home that I really connect to and cherish.  I have had several more special meetings with great houses and feel they have much to say.  What I didn’t know then was I would eventually move to an old Greek Revival home and build a special relationship with my own bit of history. 

What from your past turned out to be more influential than you realized?  Have you ever had the chance to visit that person or place again?   I found my morning with The Hermitage to be so sweet and joyful.  I was meeting a beautiful old mentor again, and that home’s influence started me down a wonderful path.


Gemini constellation stars furnished by NASA

Gemini is many things.  First it is a constellation in the northern celestial hemisphere and one of original constellations described by Ptolemy in the 2nd century. The word Gemini means twins in Latin and is associated with the Greek mythological twins Castor and Pollux.  Secondly, Gemini is the astrological sign of late spring from May 21-June 20, just before the summer solstice.  I have many wonderful friends and relatives born under the sign of Gemini and they are fun, joyful and the life of the party.  They bring so much life to my more staid Taurus personality. Gemini was also a NASA mission from 1964-1966 that explored the ability of humans to handle spacecraft that laid the groundwork for the first moon landing in 1969. Now there is one more personal meaning of Gemini and that is where I will begin my story.

Alexandra was in Houston at NASA filming an upcoming documentary about astronauts.  She is the producer and has all the intense responsibilities that come with that job.  One evening the crew was having dinner at an outdoor patio when a little black kitten jumped in her lap and spent the entire dinner snuggled up to her. Young and underfed, this kitten was a little lost stray with an amazing personality.  Alexandra is a cat person like her mother and sister. Cats are essential to our daily happiness and equilibrium and she was desperately missing her own kitty. She took mercy on this little one and took it to an emergency vet to be checked out—she could not bear that it wasn’t eating and so underweight. 

Well…things didn’t go well at the emergency vet and Alexandra felt this precious one’s life was on the line and it was her fault and so she did what all mama’s girls do —-called her mommy sobbing.  My baby had all the responsibility she could take and needed her mama to take a burden from her overburdened life.  I knew she needed me right then, so I did something I have NEVER done in my life.  I booked a plane ticket to Houston, packed a change of clothes and boarded the flight less than two hours later.  Fortunately, Houston is one of the few direct flights from my airport, so I was there quickly and picked up a rental car and was with her just a few short hours after her call.  Thank goodness for smart phone and airplanes—I will never take them for granted.

She came to the car with the precious 5 month old kitten who just happily curled up in my lap as I started to call veterinarians to get a health certificate to fly her home with me the next day.  It was Sunday and I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task.  But after several tries, I found Urban Animal Veterinary Hospital who could fit me in and issue a certificate and give a rabies shot so I could take the kitten on the plane the next day.  The staff was so kind to me and quickly got me on my way to Petco to pick up an under-seat carrier for the plane and supplies to get us through the night.  I then headed south to the NASA area to a pet friendly hotel where Alexandra joined me for the night. I couldn’t believe what a day it had been.  One minute I was quietly drinking my coffee and reading.  The next minute I was on a mission to rescue my daughter and this very special kitten.

The entire afternoon my girls and I had a texting chain to name our newest family member.  I knew it needed to be something celestial. So after several different suggestions we decided on Gemini because of its multiple meanings and I liked the nickname Gemmi.  And she is a gem.

The next morning, I put little Gemini in the new carrier and heading north to the far side of Houston to the airport. It’s a long way up the side of this enormous city.  I passed the oil refineries with the steam making billowing columns against the pink morning sunrise.  I could see downtown in the distance as I made my way up and around the toll road. It all seemed surreal as I thought back on the events of the last 24 hours.  All went smoothly in the airport and Gemmi easily handled security and except for a few meows was perfectly content to be heading to her new forever home.  Flying with a rescue kitten defiantly gave me full lifetime membership in the Crazy Cat Lady Society and now I have the baggage tag to prove it.  

Caroline picked me up at the airport and Gemmi had a heroine’s welcome with a fancy ride in friend Anthony’s Tesla.  We got her set up in the guest room until we could make sure she was disease and parasite free before we introduced her to my unsuspecting elderly cats Persy and Tim.  Gemmi continues to be a spunky but very snuggly kitten. She has no fear but is happiest curled up in my arms while I read or watch TV. She is a cat lover’s dream kitten.  I haven’t had a kitten in 12 years and I feel like a little girl again with my new kitten to carry around and play with. 

Well, that was an adventure for the record books.  Never in my life have I done anything like that.  But you know it was fun, a big adventure and I never doubted that I needed to go.  The Call came and I knew what I was to do. I got to find out if I was up for the mission.  My daughter had the comfort of knowing her mother was there for her no matter how old she is.  And little Gemmi is now a precious member of the family with a big story.

Sandhill Cranes

Photo by D. Cone

I’ve always loved birds. I love everything about them. I like all sizes of birds — the tiny hummingbirds at the red feeder and feisty little chickadees flitting around.  I love the cardinal couple that is almost too big for the feeder.  I have a special place in my heart for the mourning doves that patiently wait for the chickadees and nuthatches to throw seeds out of the feeder so they have a bit to eat and then make squeaking noises when they fly. I love the Canadian geese in September when they fly in formation honking guidance to each other in the fog.  There are now Osprey and Bald Eagles in my neighborhood, and they are always breath-takingly majestic.  And the wild turkeys and the clever crows in the yard—I could go on and on.  Last but not least, are my precious pet peacocks that give a special rhythm to my day as I feed them morning and evening.  I just wish they would let me cuddle them; I’m sure they would love it.

In January, my Wednesday hiking group was working on a list of hiking adventures we could take when one of my friends suggested going to see the Sandhill cranes. Wait, what? How have I miss the Sandhill cranes? A 90-minute drive from my home is the one of the largest wintering grounds for the Sandhill cranes in the eastern US.  The Hiawassee Wildlife Refuge hosts around 14,000 wintering Sandhill cranes as well as Bald Eagles, Whooping Cranes and who ever happens to be flying south and needing a rest.  This adventure went to the top of the list as January is peak wintering season and they start migrating after that.

On a very cold but bright blue day my friends and I migrated south to the refuge. We easily found the viewing platform down a short gravel road.  It only took a few seconds to find the cranes—there are thousands of them everywhere: in the fields, by the water, in the air.  Sandhill cranes are around 4 feet tall and have a wingspan of 6 ft.  They are a magnificent sight with their long legs and necks, ruffly gray feathers tinged with gold and bright red faces. But what I love most is their beautiful voices, honking and trilling as they fly.  Every few minutes, a small grouping would fly across the cloudless winter sky, calling and soaring. Then a wildlife management truck drove by them and a mass of cranes took flight, filling the air with wings and song.

Photo by D. Cone

I could have stayed all day just enjoying this remarkable experience, but it was bitter cold and we all needed to warm up. We got some great pictures and videos to remember the morning. I know I will be back—it was just too much fun. Mother Nature in all her feathered glory and I can’t get enough of it.

The happy hiking group then migrated to the little town of Dayton, Tennessee, and visited the famed courthouse and toured the museum and courtroom where the Scopes Monkey Trial became the first “media circus” trial.  (Here’s a link to a previous blog post about Dayton and the trial).  Then on to a delicious lunch in a historic former boarding school. We never did hike that day but enjoyed being on an adventure. The drive home went quickly as we all chattered happily about future hiking plans. We are looking forward to the spring when we start hiking again in the Great Smoky Mountains. But in the meantime, we are happy with shorter hikes and lunches out close to home, enjoying the beauty of our own delightful part of the planet.

Rhea Co. Courthouse, Scopes Monkey Trail Courtroom

Gifts for the Journey

As we enter the season of giving, I want to share with you some of the gifts to take with you through the darkest time of the year and on into the growing light of next year.  These are the gifts for the pilgrimage, out in the world or at home.  These are intangible gifts that don’t come wrapped neatly in a bow but gifts that grow the heart and remind us of our essential nature.

Ceremony:    This is the conscious interaction of giving and receiving.   When you are at a sacred site you honor the spirit and energy of the place with a ceremony.   The ceremony is totally of you, in the way you choose.   I prefer to do a ceremony that doesn’t draw attention to myself or the act.  This is a very personal moment and can be shared with others or just for your personal connection and thanksgiving.    The elements are a prayer or words of connection and thanks, a desire to receive the gifts and energy of the site and a gift back to the site.   These gifts can be a prayer, song, holy water, traditional offering of tobacco or sage, flowers or anointing oils.   The gifts should be appropriate to the site and not interfere with the energy or physical space of the site.  

Prayer:   Formal, informal, walking or just breathing, pilgrimages are a living prayer.   These are the words that form the devotion and connection to the Divine.   All religions have prayers, and the repeating of those prayers bring power to the space and comfort to the pilgrim.   I went to the cathedral in Santiago early in the morning and sat in a small chapel with a few pilgrims that were saying the Rosary.   That beautiful prayer of longing that has been repeated billions of times was perfect for the time and place that morning.   Choose a prayer that you are comfortable with and that is appropriate for the place or find the spontaneous prayer that comes from your heart.    Thank-you is prayer enough.

Maps:  For millennia, map makers have been trying to make sense of our world by making symbols on a piece of paper.   The coastlines, forest, mountains, deserts and rivers become accessible in our minds with maps.   Without a map, we don’t have directions to find our goal.   The modern GPS may give us the next turn but there is nothing like a large paper map to see our world.   A pilgrimage needs a map to see the overall experience, to learn the terrain, see the obstacles, find the right road or path.   Our heart also has a map and as you step out into the world the map of your heart is drawing new territory.   You have the abundant rivers of the good times, the forest of the unknown, the cities of community, the oceans of knowledge, deserts of sorrow and mountains of attainment.   On a pilgrimage you will remember your personal map of your past and make new routes for your future.  

More gifts:

Joy, Silence, Music

Books, Fire, People



The first time I visited Yosemite it was like walking in a dream. I couldn’t seem to wake myself and hold onto the immense, overwhelming reality of nature.  I could see the granite walls of El Capitan and Half Dome, I could hear the waterfalls and watch the mist fall to the rocks below. But somehow it was just too much for me to process in a short visit and I knew I wanted to go back someday to really experience this mighty land. Yosemite was at the top of my travel wish list.

Then, the perfect opportunity appeared. I had airline vouchers left from a canceled trip and had plans to visit friends in central California—Yosemite seemed the perfect socially distanced vacation.  I was able to book early enough to get a hotel in the park, allowing us a coveted entry permit.  This time, I wanted to experience Yosemite the way I love to see the world, on foot, following my heart deep into the beauty of nature.

The first day we stopped at a grocery store to pick up breakfast and lunch supplies and then drove the rest of the morning, arriving at the park entrance at lunch time.  It isn’t easy to get to Yosemite. There are long curving roads with few guardrails to protect from the precipitous drops as we climbed higher into the great Sierra Nevada mountains. We spent the afternoon enjoying the famous and spectacular Yosemite Valley.  High granite walls make a narrow valley floor with large ponderosa pines and a gentle, meandering river.  We stopped and put our feet in the river, smelled the warm pines, said hello to a deer who was complete unimpressed with our presence.  I love the dry warm air with a gentle breeze and the amazing smell and feel of the vast western United States, so different from the humid south. By late summer, the waterfalls that make the valley impossibly beautiful have dried up but we were able to walk the short path to lower Yosemite Falls which still had a bit of water.   Hamilton spent time rock climbing in the valley in his 20’s and enjoyed reliving the memory of his adventurous youth.  

That first evening we drove about thirty miles down to our hotel at the far southern end of this park which is about the size of Rhode Island. I booked us into the newly renovated Victorian hotel, The Wawona, built around 1903.  It is charming with claw-footed tubs and wide porches; but, alas no air conditioning so we made do on the hot summer nights with a fan.  The dinning room offers three buffet meals a day and I was happy with the quick and easy dinner and then back to our room to read ourselves to sleep—no tv or internet but some cell service.

We had the next three days to hike so I strategically chose trails to give us the best experience of the park. I knew our hiking limit was around 8 miles a day at 7000 feet altitude and I don’t really love trails that are extremely steep. With the help of a good guide book, I chose our first trail close to our hotel—the trail to the Giant Sequoias. The largest trees on earth, they only grow in a small area of the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas. They grow up to 300 feet tall, 29 feet in diameter and live to 3000 years.  Because of pandemic restrictions and a storm that badly damaged the trees near the parking lot, the only way to reach the Sequoias is a two mile walk to the beginning of the trail and then another mile to Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree.  Further up the trail, we met Cothespin Tree and The Faithful Couple—two trees growing together.  Ultimately, we made it to the Mariposa Grove of about 80 Giant Sequoias, all identified but not named.  Our final destination was to a summit overlooking a green valley and a fire watch station for the surrounding area.  We had lunch of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, cheese, apples, cashews and chocolate.  The trip back down gave us another perspective of these amazing beings, sentient and strong, wise and resilient.  We hiked nearly 10 miles and were ready for a cold drink and a hot shower.  Hiking brings the most delicious exhaustion with brilliant memories of beauty and a satisfaction of a trail well walked.

For our second hike, we chose to drive to Glacier Point, an overlook of the Yosemite Valley and a closer view of the iconic Half Dome. We arrived early so we could miss the crowds and see the valley in the morning light, tinged with a bit of smoky haze from the wildfires farther north.  We parked at the McGurk Meadow trailhead that went to the Dewey Point trail.  The first half of the trail was through a boggy meadow.  I didn’t expect to see such beautiful wildflowers that time of year, but the purple and yellow flowers were busy with golden butterflies and fat yellow bumblebees.  Farther down the trail we climbed higher through large groves of pines, weaving through the freshly cut stumps of downed trees recently cleared by the park service.  After a final steep hill, we came to a magnificent overlook directly across from El Capitan and looking down the valley to Half Dome.  Yet another perfect luncheon spot with the same menu as the day before—peanut butter is always delicious after a four-mile climb.  I was delighted to see the flower meadows again on the way back to the trail head and happily climbed into the air conditioned car after 8 miles of hiking.  We stopped again at the market near the hotel and got gas and cold drinks. The only beer available just happened to be Hamilton’s favorite oatmeal stout.  We flopped onto the porch chairs and pulled off our boots and enjoyed our drinks with some snacks before a bath and an early dinner.  The evening was warm and the room was hot so we mostly fell asleep early and enjoyed the extra rest.

On the third day, we debated how far we would be able to hike but as we drove along and had some coffee, we made our next plan for the Tuolumne Meadows area north of the valley and in the more alpine country of the John Muir Trail.  The Elizabeth Lake trail seemed to be the right length and incline for our sore legs and time constraints, and it turned out to be perfect.  The first part of the trail was fairly steep and, at 8000 feet, I had to stop often and catch my breath and drink some water but eventually the trail leveled off and I found myself in “Alpine Hobbitland” all presided over by Unicorn Peak (10,823 ft). I’m sure if I looked closely there were fairies and water sprites–it was that picture-perfect.  We chose a log by the shining Elizabeth Lake and had the same hikers’ lunch that always seems to satisfy. Around the edge of the lake were a few other hikers with fishing poles and families enjoying the clear, cold water.  This trail was only five miles but the incline and the altitude were plenty for the third and final hike of our Yosemite adventure. 

That afternoon we drove back to Sacramento to an airport hotel for our flight the next morning. We were so hungry and dirty, the best we could find was a dinner of In and Out burgers and fries and a shared chocolate shake to end the long but glorious trip.  I enjoyed the air-conditioned room and made sure I was good and cold all night long.  The flights back were slightly delayed but otherwise uneventful and we got home safe and sound. Caroline did a great job taking care of the farm while we were away. 

I was so happy to have such a complete experience of Yosemite and feel like I really got a long and deep encounter of this iconic land. By walking into the land, I saw, smelled, felt and heard the world around me and was able to absorb nature deep into my bones. To a certain extent, Yosemite will always be a dream but now it is a dream I can hold on to and re-experience anytime my mind wants to wander down a deep forest trail or overlook a granite valley.  Dream and memory are now woven tightly together. 

Hamilton and I enjoyed our adventure so much that we are now planning to visit other parks for some extended day hikes and adventures—I’m looking at you, Olympic and Glacier.  Thank goodness the Great Smoky Mountains are in my back yard to keep me happily hiking through out the year.