Travel

Adventure Travel

Last month I spent two delightful weeks in New Zealand. One of things I discovered is that tourism there is designed for the adventurous. You’re invited to roar along rivers in jet boats, bicycle up and down mountains, climb mountains, leap off of mountaintops with a parachute, bungee jump, ice-climb on glaciers, and hike on trails where signs warn you that rocks might fall down upon you at any moment.

I’d like to tell you more about one of those adrenaline-boosting choices. Join me in your imagination, and let me take you on an adventure.

First picture a deep, narrow gorge with a cold, fast-moving river at the bottom. Scared to death, you’re standing at one end of a bridge that spans this gorge. You take a deep breath and start walking onto the bridge. You glance down at the water—a big mistake, because you can see just how far down it is. You could change your mind and go back, but your friends are cheering you on and you don’t want them to think you’re a chicken.

At the middle of the bridge you are met by an athletic guy who, in an annoyingly cheerful and encouraging manner, fastens a harness around your ankles. You just hope all the cords and fasteners are as secure as he reassures you they are. You do your best to listen carefully to his instructions, but you’re so nervous you can hardly comprehend them.

Finally, when he seems to think you’re ready and you can’t think of any reason you aren’t, he opens a gate. You step out onto a platform at the edge of the bridge. You gulp. You gasp in one last deep breath and squeeze your eyes shut. Just before the annoying guy has to push you off, you jump.

You plunge headfirst toward the water. You’re falling so fast you can’t breathe, and at the same time everything is in slow motion so it feels as if you fall, and fall, and fall for a long, long time.

At last you hit the end of the bungee cord. It isn’t the whiplash jerk you were expecting, but your head feels thumped, and your stomach tries to push itself into your throat, and there’s an endless spine-stretching moment when the rope starts pulling you up while gravity is still pulling you down.

You bounce back up, then down again, then back up and down, at the same time swinging forward and backward like a human pendulum. You open your eyes, then quickly shut them again because the upside-down view of the world makes you dizzy. Your heart is pounding so hard you can feel it in your ears. Your upended lungs feel so squashed that you can’t get enough air.

What seems like hours later, the swinging slows and stops, leaving you dangling at the end of the line with your arms hanging. The blood rushing toward your head makes your brain feel too big for your skull.

Then something grabs one of your limp arms. The pickup team in their little inflatable boat has reached you. They haul you in and undo your harness. You collapse in the bottom of the boat, shaking all over. You feel a strong urge to curl up into a ball and burst into tears.

From what sounds like a long ways away, you can hear your friends cheering. You’ve done a bungee jump, and you might even live to tell the tale.

That’s our adventure. It’s finished; please take a deep breath. We’re all okay, except that I need to explain something.

I have no idea if this description is accurate, because I made it up. I didn’t—wouldn’t—couldn’t—ever jump off of that bridge. Just watching other people bungee jump was more than enough adrenaline rush for me. I don’t have the kind of physical daring for stuff like that. Or the disregard for my well-being. In fact, I secretly suspect that bungee jumping was invented by a cabal of chiropractors and massage therapists as a way to increase their clientele.

I didn’t try parasailing, either. Mountain climbing? Forget it. Glacier climbing? Not a chance. Jet boats? No, thanks. Though I did hike a couple of trails where signs warned me that rocks might fall down upon me at any moment.

I also stood with one foot on each side of a spot that is adventurous in a way that thrilled the geologists in our group: the Alpine Fault. The Pacific and Australian tectonic plates meet and slide past each other at this fault, which extends through much of New Zealand and where earthquakes can and do happen regularly. None did while we were on the spot. I was grateful.

Otherwise, our group explored spectacular landscapes: Sharp-edged young mountains carved by glaciers. Dry rocky hills pockmarked with old gold mines. Thriving farmlands fenced with trees sharply trimmed into tall hedges. Rain forests so green and lush that it felt as if lingering over a picnic would put you at risk of being covered with moss like everything else in sight.

We also learned a bit about the history and culture of this fascinating land, from the Maori who arrived first to the various Europeans who came later. We discovered why flightless birds probably evolved that way (predators in the sky but not on the ground) and that several of them, including the country’s iconic kiwi, had to be brought back from near extinction after predators like the stoat were introduced. I learned that the New Zealand accent is much easier to appreciate than to imitate.

Along the way, I was reminded that for me, the adventure of travel isn’t a physical one. I don’t need the adrenaline rush of stepping out of my physical comfort zone. It’s more interesting—and quite exciting enough, thank you—to venture out of my emotional comfort zone.

That kind of adventure travel involves having the conversations that help me learn a little bit about other places, other cultures, and other people. It requires me to be both a curious and a courteous visitor. And perhaps most important, it means keeping one thing in mind: I’m among people whose landscapes seem exotic and whose pronunciation seems strange to me. At the same time, they might be seeing me as someone who comes from an odd place and talks funny.

Categories: Living Consciously, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Time to Put the Top Down

It’s a damp, chilly day here in the Black Hills, a gentle reminder that, even though tomorrow is supposed to be in the 80s, fall will be here any minute now. Time to hurry up and finish those summer projects like staining the deck and spraying the thistles. Time to consider closing the windows, and think about putting another blanket on the bed, and wonder if it’s too early to stash your sandals in the back of the closet.

Time, if you happen to own one, to put the top up on your convertible.

Of course, if I ever owned a convertible, I would leave the top up all the time. I’ve never seen the advantages of driving down the highway with the sun blazing down on the top of your head (which is bare because the wind blew your fashionable sun hat away several miles back), and the wind tangling your hair into snarls and whipping tears out of your eyes, not to mention the occasional contact lens.

However, since I try to be a nonjudgmental and open-minded person, at least when people are watching, I thought it only fair to focus on some of the advantages of driving a convertible. Such as:

Convertible owners contribute more to the local economy. Oh, not just through the money spent directly on the car, but in collateral ways. Like replacing contact lenses more frequently than drivers of conventional cars. Seeing the dermatologist more often. Buying more moisturizer, sunscreen, and eye makeup. Replacing hats and scarves regularly. More frequent visits to the hair salon. Even if you decide the best solution to the problem of “convertible hair” is to keep it short—say, about one inch long all over—you’re going to need a trim every couple of weeks.

If convertible owners lock their keys inside the car, they can just climb over the door.

Convertible owners don’t need protein supplements, thanks to all those bugs they inadvertently swallow.

A convertible is a mobile karaoke station. Want to share your musical talent with the world? No problem. If you’re singing along to the radio as you drive, everyone else at the stop signs will hear you loud and clear.

If you take a convertible through the self-serve car wash, and it’s a beautiful day, and you just happen to be thinking of more important things than remembering to put the top up—you can wash the inside of the car, your hair, your new leather sandals, the important papers in the glove compartment, and your emergency stash of chocolate all at the same time.

Of course, all these advantages pale beside the most important reason for wanting a convertible: the coolness factor. When you’re in a car that cool, people notice. Plus driving a convertible is great fun, or at least so I am told. Especially on those perfect days when the weather is just right for driving with the top down—not too cold, too hot, too wet, or too windy.

Here in western South Dakota, times like that occur from 5:00 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. on summer mornings from about June 31 through mid-September. Not only will driving a convertible at that hour be a lovely experience, but the two dog walkers, five serious joggers, and three sleepy newspaper carriers who are out on the streets are sure to be impressed.

Categories: Odds and Ends, Travel | Leave a comment

Billboards I Would Rather Never See

“I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all.”
Ogden Nash

While I agree with my favorite poet on the relative esthetic merits of billboards and trees, I must point out that Mr. Nash never drove across western South Dakota on I-90. You do see many more billboards than trees there, not because the former are so plentiful but because the latter are so scarce. As a result, anyone making this drive regularly—even someone who appreciates the sweeping beauty of the prairies as much as I do—can’t help but develop a certain appreciation for billboards. By now I’m practically an expert on the finer points of billboard advertising. Such as:

For heaven’s sake, use a readable font in colors that contrast with the background.

Those signs printed on fabric-like vinyl and attached to a frame (technically, I suppose, they aren’t “billboards”) are probably much cheaper and easier to create than old-fashioned painted signs on boards. But western South Dakota may not be the ideal environment for them. Your brilliant advertising message is hard to read when it’s streaming in wind-shredded tatters from the bottom of the sign.

Entertaining humor is a great marketing tool. Just ask the people at Reptile Gardens and Wall Drug.

Tacky humor, however, is just, well, tacky. Two cases in point:

A relatively new restaurant in Rapid City has several new signs. As a frequent traveler, I appreciate the variation in the scenery, especially since the “Q” in the restaurant’s name is handy for the alphabet game. But I wince every time I pass their sign that announces, “We’re like a cult with better Kool-Aid.”

Really? Never mind the minor detail of whether the nice people from Kraft Foods are okay with the use of their trademarked brand name on someone else’s billboard. I realize that, since the 1978 Jonestown tragedy, “drinking the Kool-Aid” has become a particularly tasteless way to describe someone’s blind adherence to an idea. But I wonder whether the marketing person who came up with the line for this billboard really knew where it came from. “Hey, let’s link our restaurant to a deranged cult leader named Jim Jones who led a murder-suicide of over 900 of his followers. What a great way to inspire people to come in for a pleasant meal!”

Then there’s the brewery/restaurant whose marketing people, apparently inspired by the old Burma Shave signs from the 1930’s and 40’s, have put up billboards with line-by-line limericks. However, I’m not sure the modern ones quite compare with the classics. Here’s one of the originals:

“If harmony
is what
you crave,
then get
a tuba
Burma Shave.”

Now here is the brewery’s attempt:

“There once was a farmer named Leer
Who owned a cow who gave beer.
Reds, stouts and others
Poured out of her udders . . .”

And the last line’s too tacky to quote here.

I’ll just say that it involves potty humor of a type to make five-year-olds giggle and adults with any taste at all cringe. And as if tacky and tasteless aren’t enough, the last word of the fourth line (I so wish I were making this up, but I’m not) is spelled “utters.”

Next time I drive across I-90, I really need to take along a good audio book and keep my eyes on the road.

Categories: Odds and Ends, Travel, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

A Car By Any Other Name

My car—the first vehicle I ever bought brand-new—turned one year old this month. Even though I’ve put 19,000 miles on it, tolerated toddler spills and cracker crumbs in the back seat, used it to haul furniture, and driven it in mud, I still think of it as my “new car.”

So I don’t understand why Honda keeps sending me emails about their latest models. Excuse me, marketing department? That thing in my garage is not a pair of jeans or a jar of face cream. I haven’t worn it out or used it up yet. I don’t need to buy a new car this year. In case you hadn’t noticed, I did that last year. At least give me time to figure out how to operate the hands-free phone calling and get comfortable with the backup camera.

But Honda’s latest email did catch my attention. Apparently the newest redesigned version of the Accord features an “aggressive new exterior.” Excuse me, marketing department? Did you not notice the name of this car? It’s the Accord. That means “agreement” or “harmony,” as in “peace accord.” This is the vehicle some people call the “Jesus car” because of the Bible verse where Jesus and the disciples “went with one accord.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help wondering why a car named after peace and agreement needs an “aggressive” exterior. What’s next? The brand-new Oxymoron?

My own Honda is a CR-V. I presume CR-V stands for something; I have no idea what. Maybe if I actually read the owner’s manual I might find out. As far as I’m concerned it’s a Commonsense Reliable Vehicle, which certainly works for me.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe the people who market cars and I just don’t think along the same lines. Oh, I could easily come up with names for new car models. I’m just not sure the industry would welcome many of my bright ideas. Like these:

The Mammoth Jack pickup. Dependable, smart, and sturdy; it may not be stylish but will get you where you need to go and haul anything you need to take along. Features built-in social networking; you’ll get to know all your friends and neighbors better every time you help them move.

The Roller Skate sports car. It features miniscule cargo space, enough power to guarantee you that second look from the highway patrol, less legroom than airplane economy class, and a sightline level with other vehicles’ hubcaps. Warranty valid for driving on sunny days, May-Oct only. But all the neighbors watching you polish it in your driveway every week will know exactly how you got through your midlife crisis.

The Bike Helmet micro-mini car. Slightly more cargo capacity than a bicycle; not safe to drive on freeways in winds over 10 mph. But you’ll only need to fill the gas tank every other month, and you can practice three-point turnarounds inside your garage.

The St. Bernard SUV. Your best friend for winter driving; pushes through blizzards and deep snow drifts. Comes in all colors except white; the most popular is Warm Brandy.

The Nanny mini-van. Includes all basic safety features like child-proof door locks and window controls, plus starter system with built-in seatbelt-fastening verification. Backseat upholstery is stain-resistant and sound-suppressing. To insure conflict-free road trips, offers headphones with programmable age-appropriate storytelling, individual environmental controls, snack coolers and spill-wiping arms at each back seat, computerized tracking of who last got to sit by the window, automated GPS “how much farther?” answering feature, and optional but recommended anti-“he’s touching me!” barriers.

The White Elephant pseudo-military vehicle. This bulky, macho super-SUV can’t be easily parked in a conventional space (unless you have no scruples about squashing smaller cars), may not fit in your garage, and offers worse fuel economy than an RV. But everyone will certainly notice that you have it. And because it’s so expensive to buy and maintain, it’s the perfect way to impress the neighbors with your financial ineptitude.

Maybe there’s a reason why I don’t have a career in automotive marketing.

Still, I can think of one vehicle that almost everyone would want: The Transporter. Never mind what it looks like; it gets you there in an instant.

Categories: Just For Fun, Travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

What Kind of Woman Do They Think I Am?

The nice young man really didn’t mean to insult me. All I did was mention that I regularly go to a meeting on Saturday mornings. All he did was ask, “Is that your motorcycle club?”

It was obvious from his tone and his grin that he meant no offense whatsoever. He was clearly teasing, with no sarcasm intended or barbs attached. It was equally obvious that he couldn’t in his wildest dreams imagine me as an adventurous motorcycle mama.

He had no idea that his innocent words were such a blow to my self-esteem. I had not been so inadvertently insulted since the time years ago when a middle-aged man, trying to explain why some people drool over Corvettes in spite of the fact that they have no room to haul recycling or groceries, said, “You just don’t understand, Kathleen—a car like that is a chick magnet.”

What kind of person do these guys think I am?

I’m afraid they must see me as somebody who:

• Wouldn’t even think of going hiking without a water bottle, sunscreen, bug spray, and a broad-brimmed hat.
• Would much rather read about intrepid explorers than follow in their footsteps.
• Shudders at the very idea of ever getting even a teeny-tiny tattoo.
• Went on a roller coaster once in her life and still hasn’t recovered from the experience.
• Thinks bungee jumping is probably injurious to the brain cells, except that the brain cells of anyone crazy enough to try it are obviously damaged anyway.

Sigh. Well, yeah, I guess I have to admit it. I am that kind of person. Mostly.

But wait—there’s more. I’m also the kind of person who has a motorcycle endorsement on her driver’s license. Really.

Back in the early 1990’s I was persuaded by my husband to take a motorcycle safety class. He had the idea that we could putter around the back roads of the Black Hills on his two decidedly non-Harley motorcycles. I made it through the class, too. Here are the main things I learned:

• If you slow down too much going into a sedate little turn in the safety of a level parking lot, you’ll probably tip your motorcycle over.
• If you do tip your motorcycle over, and you’re a slender woman of slightly less than average height, you may not be strong enough to pick it back up.
• Acing the written test about motorcycle safety and operation doesn’t mean you’re qualified to actually drive one.

Thanks to taking that class, I was licensed by the state of South Dakota to drive a motorcycle. Thanks to everything I learned in that class, I have never ventured to drive any kind of a motorcycle on any public road. Both the state of South Dakota and I are better off because of this, even though only one of us is aware of the fact.

I never have bothered to remove the motorcycle endorsement from my license, though. You may suppose that’s because I still harbor fantasies that I might someday use it.

Nope. Never have; never will. Deep down inside, I never think of myself as the type of person who might put on something outrageous in black leather and fringe, hop on a Harley, and roar off into the sunset in search of raucous adventure.

But once in a while, it would be nice to think that other people might possibly think I could be.

Categories: Just For Fun, Odds and Ends, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

The Green Grass of Home

“Green,” “lush,” and “western South Dakota prairies” are not words you’ll often find in the same sentence, unless there’s a “not” in there somewhere. This year is an exception.

We’ve had thunderstorm after thunderstorm this spring and early summer. Every little stock dam is full to the brim, every little creek and gully has flowing water, and the pastures are thick with rich green grass that ripples temptingly in the wind. It’s enough to make even someone who works at a desk and hasn’t been on a horse in decades indulge in brief wistful thoughts about going into the cow business.

Driving west a few days ago, with the long shadows of early evening showing the prairie at its loveliest, I was simultaneously enjoying the beauty of the present and indulging in thoughts about the past. My nostalgic mood came from the family reunion I had just attended, and it was further fueled by the “classic country” oldies radio station I was listening to.

Somewhere between Kadoka and Wall, a familiar song with an especially apt title came on: “Green, Green Grass of Home.”

The song is a tearjerker that starts with a man going back to his old home to see his parents and his sweetheart Mary, with her “hair of gold and lips like cherries.” Then he wakes up, in his cell on death row, and we realize the only time he’ll “touch the green, green grass of home” is when he’s buried under it. It’s the kind of song you are irresistibly drawn to sing along to, even while you hope no one catches you doing it.

Written by Claude “Curly” Putman, Jr., the song was recorded in the 1960’s by performers as diverse as Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Joan Baez. Tom Jones’s version became an international hit.

Hearing it this week, I was instantly transported in both time and place. It sent me to 1972 and a location far removed from both green grass and anything that meant home to me: an underground railway car in London.

My then-husband and I were part of a trip to Great Britain organized by the English and drama departments at our small college. The idea was to allow students to experience the culture of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Oscar Wilde, and Sir Laurence Olivier.

Late one night, heading home from an evening at the theatre, our group got onto the tube (the subway to us) and found ourselves in a car crowded with fans heading home from a football match (a soccer game to us).

These fans were a group of Welsh guys whose team had won. They had obviously been celebrating earlier with alcohol, and now they were celebrating with song: “Green, Green Grass of Home.” Just the rousing ditty anyone would choose for an occasion that called for jollity and rejoicing.

One of the singers, spotting me standing with the rest of our group in the crowded car, staggered to his feet. He waved me to his seat with an expansive gesture that almost sent him sprawling.

It was the first time a gentleman had ever made a point of giving me his seat. So I sat. It seemed only polite, even though it felt awkward to take a seat in the middle of someone else’s drunken party. I was much too uncomfortable to join in the singing, even though I did know all the words.

After a few minutes, my husband, who had somewhat more experience with drunken young men than I did, suggested quietly but with a certain urgency that I get up. I stood, with relief, and we sidled a few feet away through the crowd.

Just in time, too. The gallant who had so graciously given up his seat threw up right in front of it. Fortunately, on his own shoes and those of his friends instead of on mine.

To this day, it only takes a few bars of “Green, Green Grass of Home” to take me right back to that London tube car. I realize the melodic voices of drunken football fans and the aroma of regurgitated ale may not be exactly the atmosphere that Curley Putman intended to evoke when he wrote the song. But I can’t help myself. Sometimes you just have to take your nostalgia where you find it.

Categories: Remembering When, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Over-driving Over I-90

Signs that you’ve made a lot of trips across western South Dakota on Interstate 90 in the past few months:

1. You notice when Reptile Gardens updates one of its billboards or Cosmos puts up a new one, and you consider either one an addition to the scenery.

2. You always use your “own” habitual bathroom stall when you stop at a rest area.

3. You have the preset buttons on your car radio set to three different South Dakota public radio stations and know exactly where one will fade out and you need to switch to another. You also schedule your travel time around your preferred programming.

4. You recognize individual horses in pastures along I-90, and you’re starting to imagine you can recognize individual cows.

5. You’ve considered getting preferred customer cards for the truck stops at Murdo and Vivian.

6. If you play the billboard alphabet game, you know exactly where to start it in order to take advantage of the J’s and Q’s on certain specific signs.

7. You remember when that deer carcass near Belvidere, now a bit of dried skin over a few bones, was fresh road kill.

8. You don’t bother to bring an audio book to listen to while you drive, because you don’t consider 275 miles a long trip.

9. You can estimate your gas mileage quite accurately based on the direction and velocity of the wind, including an automatic adjustment for driving east (downhill) versus west (uphill). You’ve learned to assume that the wind will blow from the southeast when you’re driving east and from the northwest when you’re driving west. If the wind isn’t blowing at all, you consider it an unexpected gift. If you happen to get a tailwind, you consider it a minor miracle.

10. Despite all the tricks and gimmicks to make the miles go faster, you still don’t take the view for granted. You notice and appreciate, not just the glorious splendor of sunsets that spread across half the sky, but also the subtle beauty of light and shadow across low hills. For someone who grew up there, a trip across the prairie and a chance to see miles of it reaching to the far horizon isn’t a long and boring drive. It’s refreshment for the soul.

Categories: Living Consciously, Travel | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Time Travel With a Beat

Bopping back and forth with the preset buttons on my car radio the other day, I switched from classical music on NPR to classic country music on an oldies station just in time to catch a song that transported me back in time.

The song was “Bop,” performed by Dan Seals, written by Paul Davis and Jennifer Kimball. (Here’s a video if you want to hear it. Warning: put your dancing shoes on first.)

This is the song I learned to jitterbug to. Just a few notes of it take me right back to dance classes, circa 1985. Seals and his baby bopped all night long, over and over, while earnest couples practiced on a well-used hardwood floor. First the basic step (one-and, two-and, back-step) and then the spins and twirls and moves—some of which, my late husband and I discovered, are a challenge when one partner is a foot taller than the other.

Music is one of the most powerful evokers of memory that we have. I don’t know enough about the brain to know why this is so, but I know from my own experience how well it works. A song pops up randomly on the radio or TV (or even, with unsettling frequency in recent years, in an elevator), and the memories associated with it promptly unroll with full color and vivid emotion. It happens often, with a great many songs, but here are just a few examples:

“Pomp and Circumstance.” I’m sure I can’t be the only one who responds to its first stately notes with an impulse to stand up straight, make sure our mortarboards are level, and process slowly toward the stage with that step-pause, step-pause gait peculiar to graduates and bridesmaids.

When the long-time band director at my kids’ high school retired, I was disappointed that his final concert didn’t include “Hot Cross Buns.” The simple little tune would have taken every student in the band and every parent in the audience back to those first days of clarinet or flute or oboe lessons. We’d have been hearing it in our minds as it sounded then, played with the hesitant, excruciating exactness of beginners just trying to figure out their instruments. Maybe the band director didn’t want to bring back that much emotion. Or maybe, after 40-some years, he simply couldn’t stand to hear it one more time.

And when I hear “The Marines’ Hymn,” it doesn’t evoke mental images of marching soldiers. Instead, it takes me back to a handful of kids in a one-room country school house, singing with gusto while one of them (me) plunks out the melody on an old upright piano. Most of us had only the vaguest idea where the “shores of Tripoli” were and probably couldn’t have told you whether Montezuma was a person or a place, but the song was in our battered old songbooks and we liked the tune.

Outside of science fiction, no one has been able yet to build a time-travel machine. At least so we think. We don’t realize that most of us already have time machines right in our own homes. They might be mp3 players, sophisticated audio systems, simple CD players, or even outdated tape players. Whatever technology they use, they all have amazing, almost magical power. With them, we can time-travel whenever we want to. All it takes is music.

Categories: Remembering When, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Being Pleased By Small Things

“Little things please small minds.” That line, spoken in the weary tone of someone forced to deal with annoying and inferior beings, was one of the ways my high school algebra teacher reacted to adolescent acting-up. Since this man soon left teaching in favor of selling insurance, maybe he eventually figured out that sneering at “small minds” wasn’t an effective disciplinary tool.

Besides, he was wrong. As someone who is often pleased by small things, I prefer to see this quality as a sign of a large mind—the mind of someone who is present in the moment, noticing and appreciating the details that can sprinkle enjoyment across an ordinary day. Or maybe it’s just a sign of a quirky mind. That works, too.

At any rate, here are a few of the small things that have pleased me lately:

1. Folding down the back seats in my new Honda CR-V for the first time. The process is such a little piece of tidy engineering. One pull on a strap pops the seat cushion up against the back of the front seat. One pull on another strap simultaneously tips the headrest forward and releases the seat back, and when this is pushed flat the headrest tucks itself neatly into a space just its size against the seat cushion. Quick and easy, and Bob’s your uncle.

2. Spending several—well, maybe a few more than several—enjoyable minutes browsing the Internet trying to find the origins of the phrase “Bob’s your uncle.” It’s British, but no one seems to know where it came from or what it means. Those of you who also wonder about things like this can check out a couple of the possibilities here.

3. Being careful, as usual, not to make eye contact with one of our resident cottontails when I passed it in the front yard on my way out to get the newspaper. They seem to think they are invisible if we don’t look directly at them, so out of courtesy we try not to disillusion them.

4. Watching my just-turning-two granddaughter discover that the front wheels on a push bike were too wide to fit between the coffee table and the couch, and then watching her get it into the space anyway—by turning it around and backing in with the aplomb of an experienced trucker parking at a truck stop.

5. Being amused by an eccentric carrot from the farmers market, which was short and fat at the top, narrowed into a pencil-sized curl for a couple of inches where it must have grown around an obstacle, and then expanded again at the tip. It resembled an acrobat in a very tight corset.

6. Over breakfast at a restaurant in western British Columbia, browsing through a brochure about the mining communities at Crowsnest Pass and realizing that “Colliery Tipple” would be a wonderful name for a very dark ale. (A tipple, by the way, as I learned from my geologist companion, is a structure at a mine where the extracted ore is loaded to be hauled away.)

7. Noticing a beautiful iridescent beetle, gleaming in the sun like a purple opal no bigger than my little fingernail, while we were out walking one morning.

8. And finally, I was especially pleased by one last small thing. While we were squatting in the middle of the street appreciating the beetle, the pickup that came past slowed way down and went around us instead of squashing us like, well, a bug.

Categories: Living Consciously, Odds and Ends, Travel, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Romancing the Stone

It’s a beautiful piece of sculpture: two figures, slightly larger than life-sized. A lovely young woman, kneeling as if to pick up the jar she has apparently just dropped, gazes up over her shoulder at a man standing beside her.

He is a step away from the woman, gazing back at her with his hand extended, perhaps beckoning or reassuring. He doesn’t appear to be doing anything practical like giving her a hand up or offering to help pick up the jar. It looks more like he’s encouraging her to look at him.

True, he’s well worth looking at. His thick, curly hair is a bit much, but he’s handsome, with an interesting face and the kind of toned, muscular body that comes from regular visits to the gym. This is obvious to the most casual observer, because the only thing he’s wearing is a strategically-placed piece of drapery.

The electricity between them fairly crackles. The piece is like the cover of a romance novel captured in stone.

Jesus-MaryM-Statue-crop

Of course, maybe romance, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. The kind of love the artist intended to portray is open to question. Because this sculpture, by Bruce Wolfe, (there’s a better picture here) is in the mission church in Santa Barbara, California, and represents Jesus and Mary Magdalene. It depicts the moment he speaks to her, after she has come to his tomb and found it empty.

Maybe the intensity between the man and woman is religious. But my guess is that any fan of The Da Vinci Code who believes Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married would find supporting evidence in this beautiful artwork. Or maybe Mr. Wolfe was just following a venerable tradition, going at least as far back as the Renaissance, of using religious themes as a vehicle for portraying the human body with a minimum of covering. Just think of Michelangelo’s “David,” or all those images of Adam and Eve with and without their fig leaves.

On a side note, the first time I saw actual fig leaves on a tree in Turkey, I was surprised. They’re large, all right, but their shape doesn’t lend itself well to modest covering. They look almost like hands with the fingers spread apart. fig leafThere’s a lot of open space in a fig leaf. It would take several of them, layered carefully, just to create a fig-leaf Speedo.

But fig leaves and draperies aside (don’t we wish), I saw this sculpture recently in the company of another woman who, like me, is respectable and responsible and old enough to know how to behave in public. And we came close to getting the giggles like a couple of 13-year-old girls at a Mr. Universe contest. We had to move on to another section of the church before we embarrassed ourselves with our whispered but decidedly non-religious comments.

But not before she summed up our reaction. “Wow. That’s a hunky Jesus. I’d follow him.”

Hmmm. As a strategy for religious conversion, that just might have its merits.

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