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.

Opening Doors

This month is the 10th anniversary for my blog. And in this season of gratitude, I am forever grateful that I took the leap ten years ago and started writing. Actually, it probably wasn’t a leap—more like a push.  I needed an online presence to be interviewed about my travels in Egypt and at the time I didn’t even have Facebook and had barely enough computer skills to even start a blog.  I took the dare/challenge and never looked back and never missed a month posting.

Writing was incredibly hard for me and at the time the only thing I wrote were shopping lists and thank-you notes. Not exactly good qualifications for starting a blog. But somehow, I knew that I needed to overcome my deep reluctance, find my voice that had been stifled for so long and just start writing. It is my good fortune to have married an English major, so Hamilton would edit my blogs and I learned better writing mechanics. Reading helped my understand style and grow my own style.  Learning to write on a computer was a big help since I’m a poor speller, an inaccurate typist and find handwriting exhausting. All this to say—I had a lot to overcome. But like a good Taurus, I just plodded along and posted every month and it definitely got easier. As I would take my daily walk, blog posts would magically write in my head. But the next steps in my journey I didn’t plan for or could even anticipate. For this little blog, this new skill, opened doors that I hadn’t imagined. 

I should have known that the name of the blog would necessitate that I go on the best known of Christian pilgrimages—The Camino—in Spain.  Well, after five weeks of walking and 500 miles, I became a perpetual pilgrim. That pilgrimage led to the second door opening– writing a book. I always felt I had a book or two to write but the Camino set that into motion. Now writing books and blogging are really two different things and I had to push through another round of resistance and find new ways to write. I went on a retreat to write. I had to go to coffee shops to write. Finally, I finished my book and eventually saw it on the shelf of the local Barnes and Nobles. 

My blog and book writing led to a third door opening and in 2017 and once again I pushed past a lot of resistance and started graduate school. I had absolutely no interest in going back to school and really did not want to write academic papers—yet another totally different writing skill.  But I felt called and opened that door and some how made it though 16 long research papers and everyday I’m grateful that I persevered and answered that call.

Writing might not be easy for me but I know it has been a powerful way to move my life forward and find my voice in the world.   Now I’ve opened yet another door and have started a second blog, The Timeless Tarot.  In the past, I wrote many posts about the Tarot and one about Lemniscates remains my most popular post. Now I want to write more about my 25 years of experience with the Tarot, this beautiful “tool for transformation”. There are many mysteries and misconceptions around the Tarot and I hope you can look past your resistance or maybe find your curiosity about the cards. I write about the 78 cards as a practical, soul-filled way to discover the psychological lessons and everyday challenges of life here on Earth.  This unbound book of wisdom has much to say and lessons to teach.  www.thetimelesstarot.com

Like any birthday or anniversary that ends in a 0, there is much reflecting on the past and in turn envisioning the future.  I’m so grateful that I persevered despite my struggles. I will say that it has gotten easier and definitely more rewarding. I’ve let my passion for sacred travel, home and Tarot move me through my reluctance to write. Where can a passion help you move past inertia? I will keep writing and see what new and unexpected opportunities and challenges are ahead for the next 10 years.  Thank you for reading. I hope I have inspired you to find the sacred places in your world and life.

****Books by Pat Schneider that have really helped with the psychology of writing: 

How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice

Writing Alone and with Others

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.

The Forest

Here on the farm, September is still hot and very dry.  The only hint of fall are Dogwood and Tulip Poplar leaves turning yellow and red. This is a transitional month that won’t totally let go of summer but a bit of a taste of autumn. But, the last few years we have been using the dry early fall to get some work done in the forest.

My father-in-law was obsessed with trees and bought acreage many decades ago so that he could have his own forest and farmland.  Now that we live on the old farm, we are also obsessed with trees and forest. Our mile-and-a -half trail through the woods and along the meadow gets used multiple times a day. Caroline never misses a day in the woods—rain or shine, heat or cold. She considers her daily walk to be essential as food and oxygen. Hamilton usually walks before lunch and lets me know that he is off to the “enchanted forest”. I use my time on the trail as meditation, usually with some sort of soundtrack to accompany the whispering trees.

Caroline at her desk

Not long after Caroline moved to the farm in 2016, she started to roam further into the forest and found all the wonderful patches of wildflowers, mushrooms and lichen. As she combed every inch of the land, she also found cave entrances and oak and cedar trees grown together as well as the unique winter phenomena, frost flowers.  At the beginning of the 2020, we built a footbridge across the fair-weather creek so we could get to the trout lilies and phlox that bloom in March, the most magical time in the forest. But all the seasons provide their own unique beauty and difficulty.  Spring brings beautiful wildflowers but also ticks.  Summer has the lush green trees but a trail full of spiderwebs to negotiate.  Fall has the beautiful golden leaves but is very dry and the creek disappears. Winter is enchanting with an occasional crystalline snow, but the trail can be very muddy.  Our forest is beautiful but there are also problems with invasive species plants that make the forest floor too crowded with non-native plants.

This time of year, the creek and the trail are very dry and we can get vehicles deep into the forest. So for the past few weekends, Hamilton, Caroline and I have gone armed to wage war on the invading plants and big snags blocking the flow of the creek. Hamilton loads the chainsaw, two different types of weed-eaters, lawn mower and chains in the bucket of the tractor, I drive the farm pick-up, and Caroline wanders over after her morning coffee.  With all the proper tools we set to work on the invasive privet and downed trees.  Hamilton mans the heavy equipment and Caroline and I wrangle the offensive brush into an enormous pile.  We had two particularly challenging areas over the creek where trees had fallen, backed up the stream and were causing erosion. The tractor and the Bobcat made quick work of the snags and the creek will be able to stay in its banks this spring.  More snags need removing in the future but this will be a big improvement for this season.

Very quickly we have cleared big areas of the creek side and our forest is shaping up to be a delightful open space, still with plenty of trees but now room to wander around and admire the flowers.  This summer we added a picnic table near the footbridge and it has become our favorite place to sit and listen to the creek, read a book or chat with friends. The forest is our beautiful outdoor home, and of course I like to make it tidy and inviting. We take pride in maintaining our land and love sharing it with our deer and turkey families. I also like knowing the I can get in and do some hard work and drive the big truck off road. Maybe next year I will learn to drive the tractor. The forest needs me, and I in turn need the forest.

As I was sorting through the last remaining books from my parents, I came across a real gem, The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd Olson (1899-1982), a Swedish-American nature writer. His beautiful writing is a gentle exploration of nature and our amazing wilderness.  “These are days of quietly falling needles when after each breath of wind the air is smoky with their drift.” If you love nature writing like I do, Sigurd’s writing is perfection.  A final quote that really reflects my love of forest and land: “Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”


In July, I made the long pilgrimage to my ancestral home here in the United States, the beautiful state of Minnesota where my mother’s family has resided for 140 years.  We went to be family and celebrate all the things of life: birth, marriage and death.  All these events came together in one weekend that called the family together. 

My mother passed away in November after a long decline. She was 87 and had lived a wonderful and full life. I’d been taking care of her for the last 6 years and her care had taken a toll on me the last couple of years.  Since 2009 I’d been taking care of both Hamilton’s and my parents, a job I was very willing to take on but was a constant responsibility and a lot of sadness.  My mother was the final parent in my care.  Now it was time to lay her to rest next to my father in the family cemetery on a beautiful hill in northern Minnesota.  A long and arduous era of my life was closing and this was my final duty.

My great-great grandparents immigrated from Sweden in the 1880 and found a new home in Minnesota, a land so like their homeland.  My great-grandparents met in the little local church and married and soon had a large family on the homestead by the lake.  There the generations would gather throughout the decades, carrying on a bond that was formed by the land.  Their beautiful Swedish/American farm nurtured the family-we always felt called to come home in the summers to be together, swim in the lake, eat delicious meals and most of all breath the fresh air of the land.  It was the love of family that held us together but the land provided that essential container for our love.

My Swedish Ancestors

The morning of my mother’s 88th birthday we gathered once more on the land where my great-grandparents met and married.  The church is gone but the graves of the parishioners still remain.  Over 25 of my ancestors are buried there—four generations of Olsons and Lindblads. Four generations gathered to remember their lives and place my mother’s ashes next to my father and amongst her beloved Swedish family. That morning, seven generation were together on that hillside, including cousins who still live in Sweden.  I placed vases with flowers on all their graves, remembering them individually, remembering the others that are buried around the country.  We remembered my mother and her love of beauty.  We were so happy to have her back in her homeland.  Two days later I gathered all the vases and laid the flowers on my mother headstone. It felt like a welcome from her beloved family into their arms.  It was a fitting closure to her life. And it was closure to my long journey helping beloved parents to their final resting place.  

The next day my cousins Abby and Fred were commemorating their second anniversary with a long-awaited family celebration.  They have recently purchased beautiful lake property and were gathering the family to enjoy another Minnesota summer.  The land was different but yet the same. The property was once again a beautiful container for our love and family.  The evening ended with a fire in one of my cousin Charlies’ magnificent burning sculptures.  We sat around the sparking, roaring fire– capturing the imagination and lighting something deep in our ancestral bones. 

Over the weekend we had the best news of all, a new baby in the family.  Cousins Erich and Amanda have a new baby girl—Aletha Jane.  We were so happy for her safe arrival and beautiful newborn pictures.  But we were also thrilled with her name.  She is the 7th member of the family to have the name Aletha—a very special name for all of us.  It is mine and Caroline’s middle name as well as my grandmother, aunt, cousin, and niece.  The family continues to hold the love of family through our name. 

Americans are so interested in their ancestral heritage. Ancestry is part of what defines us and gives roots to our lives. My mother was very proud of her Swedish ancestry, and we carry on some of the traditions in a very Americanized way. It was the land that held those memories together for so many generations.  I still hold those generations in my heart but now I like to think of those as a deeper part of me but I have become less tied to that heritage and feel that fading to the background.  My family has been in America for generations now and has loosened the ties to other homelands.  We are Americans now, a heritage that has built its own traditions. So I enjoy the moments of looking back and honoring the ancestors, but now my life is free to look forward to a time without caregiving. A time to lean even more fully into my life and my voice. Yes, the echoes of the ancestors, the family will always be there, but the future has arrived and I want to enjoy the unfolding.  

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.


The last trip I took in 2019, just before the beginning of the pandemic, was an arts weekend with Alexandra in New York City.  It was a quick trip into the city but we had a big agenda.  The Metropolitan Opera was performing one of our favorite operas, Akhnaten by Phillip Glass.  Words fail me;  it is so amazing. I always love being in that iconic opera house with the best musicians in the world, from around the world.  Fast forward to 2022, The Met Opera was performing Akhnaten again and you know since we are now officially groupies (very enthusiastic followers) that we had to repeat our trip of 2019 except for a longer visit and with warmer weather.

This was our third arts trip to NYC. Alexandra dearly loves the Big Apple and during college spent a semester and a summer interning and learning her way around.  I’ve had just a few short visits, but with Alexandra’s city smarts and a free place to stay (thanks to my sister), we’ve decided to have an annual arts trip.  There are plenty of fun and interesting things to do in NYC and something for everyone. But we have a particular interest in opera, ballet and art museums so we concentrate on those things. Plus some food/restaurants not available in my small town—real French croissants–yum.

We wanted to make up for the couple of years without live performances, so we made an ambitious itinerary to fit in everything we wanted to do.  I went up early with a friend and saw Akhnaten on Wednesday and several museums.  Alexandra joined me Thursday and we went to the New York City Ballet’s production of Midsummer’s Night Dream.  I got very close seats and we enjoyed the nuances of each dance.  The production was pure fantasy, the costumes were extravagant and sparkly and the new principal dancers were polished and gifted. We wished we had tickets to see it again just to delight in the beauty.

Temple of Dendur The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 15BCE Aswan, Egypt

But Saturday afternoon was the main event, Akhnaten.  So why am I so obsessed with this opera?  Well, first I just love Phillip Glass’s music: minimal, repetitive and hypnotic.  It puts me in a decidedly altered state, a reverie that calms my soul and opens my heart. Second, you know how I’m obsessed with ancient Egypt and this reimagine of a Pharaoh who first changed the world from polytheism to monotheism—we are still living in his influence today.  Needless to say, he was not popular with those who wanted power and was wiped from the record books after his death. I encourage you to read about this remarkable Pharaoh. Akhnaten believed there was only one god, The Sun, Aten.  My favorite part of the opera is The Hymn to the Aten, words written by Akhnatan, 3500 years ago. Always sung in the language where the opera is performed, the words are of love and dedication to the Divine.  “You are in my heart, There is no other who knows you, Only your son, Whom you have taught your ways and your might.”  As the hymn of praise finishes, Akhnaten slowly turns and becomes one with The Sun hanging low over the stage. It is one of my favorite moments in all of opera.   The staging, singing, story and music all culminates in a grand spectacle, and I just love it.  It will be several years before I have the opportunity to see it live again but the recorded version is on the Met Opera on Demand and I highly recommend taking the time to enter this remarkable portal into another time/space of ancient Egypt.

Cleopatra’s Needle–Central Park- 1500BCE Heliopolis, Egypt

Alexandra and I wanted more, so we purchased cheap seats in the 4th balcony for the evening performance of Rigoletto by Verdi, a much more traditional opera but equally delightful in classic opera style.  The cheap seats kept us from seeing the singers’ faces and costumes but the sound was crystal clear and beautiful. This was our second time to do two operas in one day and we would do it again.  With a nice dinner in-between, it just seems like a perfect day to us.


4th Balcony at the Met Opera—A long way from the stage but excellent sound.

We finished our time in NYC with more of The Metropolitan Museum, concentrating on the European paintings and some time on the lawn in Central Park soaking in the perfect late spring weather. I was a bit worried that I had scheduled a bit too much time in the big city for this country girl but in fact I enjoyed every minute of my visit dedicated to the arts in so many forms. 

This was my personal way to spend time with what inspires my soul and fills my heart.  Now I hope to encourage you to take time and do what inspires your joy and restores your heart. The world seems extra full of bad news and problems right now on top of two years of pandemic.  We all seem to have our faith in humanity shaken to the core.  But now more than ever, we need to find and do what restores our hope and fills us with the best of what humans can do as a reprieve from some of the worst actions. When I go to opera and ballet, I’m reminded of the amazing gifts that we have to produce what is good, noble and beautiful.  When I go to an art museum, I’m reminded of the thousands of years of genius that shines through the hardship of life on this planet. 

Star of India, world’s largest blue star sapphire-American Museum of Natural History
Original Audubon watercolor–New York Historical Society

“Friends” Apartment Building–Greenwich Village


There was a time in my teens and 20’s when I was very lonely and days seemed to stretch forever.  I always had my precious cat Charlotte and a shelf of favorite books to keep me company but, otherwise, I was often isolated.  Something in me was determined never to feel this way again and I set out to find friends and community. In those pre-internet days, friendships were a bit harder to come by.  I was a young mother in search of community and I found it in the local Episcopal church and a play group.  I am still close to those friends I made all those years ago.  As I was thinking of my life now and what I wanted to say in this month’s blog, friendship and my many dear friends came to mind. It is spring and as my world turns green, I plant the flowers and trees I want to grown in my garden. I’ve also planted a living garden of friends in my life.  Shall we have a stroll around the beautiful colors and variety that grow in my friendship garden.

The most long-lasting variety of friends are also family.  Husband, daughters, sister, aunts and cousins are the biggest blessing in my life right now.  I love to nurture these ties that bind us through generations and DNA. Time together is the best and family reunions big and small are highlights of the year, I also love those little sibling/cousin/aunt text chains that link me quickly and easily to my family.  There will be multiple dings on my phone as stories, pictures, hearts and emoji’s come through in a flurry of activity.   There will be silence again and then a few weeks later the fun and connections will begin again.  This summer my family is gathering in northern Minnesota to bury my mother’s ashes, celebrate my cousin’s marriage, see our Swedish cousins and play with the newest member, two-year-old Nora.  Those friendships are bound by heritage but nurtured over the decades in a place that holds the echoes of our ancestors.

Childhood friends remember you as you were before—when I had glasses and braces and ugly 1970’s clothes.  Childhood friends remember your family and school and all the formative events of life.  I still have a childhood friend I keep in touch with regularly.  Mel and I met in 4th grade and have been BFF’s ever since.  Sometimes we would go long periods of time without seeing each other but when we get together it is like no time has passed and we are girls again.  We tell the old stories and play our favorite piano duet that is so deep in our memories that we will never forget it.  Our lives and interests may be different now but our past carries us forward together into the future in a special sisterhood.  A few years ago, I went to visit Mel in Taiwan where she teaches English and works on her PhD in communications.  I couldn’t be prouder of her adventurous life.

My motherhood friends and I are entwined with the lives of our children. Playgroups and school groups brought us together through circumstance and shared place and time.  We share the joys and frustrations of our growing children and the happy events along the way which for me were music and dance recitals, beach trips and play dates.  I still have one very close friend from that era, Judy.  We have so many more things in common which has bonded our friendship past the child rearing days. Now we talk about our grown children and her grandchildren with the easy of a long history already lived together.

Hamilton and I are both introverts and making friends outside of the family doesn’t come naturally but fortunately we have some wonderful community friends that get us out and around town.  Over the years we have grown a special group of friends that, like us, doesn’t have many local relatives or extended family.  These precious friends have become chosen family for birthdays and holidays.  I can count on them to bring something delicious to a potluck meal and be ready for a party of any kind.  We sit around the campfire by the river in the summer, have lavish Thanksgiving feasts, trade gifts and cards for birthdays and Christmas and are there when life passages with elderly parents gets overwhelming.  I adore my chosen community family.

It is never too late to make friends.  As you grow older, it can be harder to make friends as so many people are already busy with established relationships and family.  But I have been fortunate to make a new group of friends in my small town.  Proximity to friends makes life easier and since I live out in the country having friends close by has been such a gift.  My walks in a nearby neighborhood grew into meeting people who have just moved to the area and are open to making friends.  So, thankfully, I was invited to a local book club and a hiking group formed and now I have friends that are as thrilled with books, birds and flowers as I am and are willing to hike up a mountain every Wednesday.  We are already planning more adventures further afield.  I also know that I can call on them anytime and someone is close by to lend a hand.

My final category of friends is my spiritual soul mates.  These are the dear friends I share my deepest heart with. We speak a special language developed through books and experiences. I miss my dear spiritual mentors Page and Rachael; no one can ever replace them.  But now I have my graduate-school classmates who speak my deepest inner language and my friend Val who loves a good spiritual pilgrimage/adventure to parts unknown.

There are also the people that I do business with that have become friends, acquaintances, friends in the local church and people come into my life for a time and a specific reason.  All of them are a blessing to my little corner of the world and I hope in turn I am a blessing to them.  Friends are a richness to life that smooths the hard edges and brings comfort and joy to each day.  I’m so glad that I have been able to cultivate so many friendships over the years and leave that loneliness behind.