2016 Visual Meditations with New Weekly Images

I have added  portfolios at  AWEgallery.com called weekly 2.  In this blog I offer you two/three new images each week with a little commentary from my soul and techniques used to create them. I consider my images  “visual meditations” teasing out the essence of nature/things/people.  ENJOY/share – and blessings for your journey.  SCROLL DOWN for older posts (including 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015).

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Thanksgiving 2016 – adding orange and black to the trees.

nov-4-tbay-crircle-webThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in 2007: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global sea level.”  As I wander along our central California coast I wonder and worry about the future of the flora and fauna that so enthralls me personally and photographically.

What will become of the harbor seals, marshlands, pelicans and butterflies – just to mention a few of the splendid sights captured by my camera lens this past week?

nov-4-harbor-seal-webOn a typical day, pacific harbor seals spend about half their time on the sand and half in the water. They tend to forage at night, and play and sleep during the day – as on the spit at the mouth of the Russian River. With the changing of the ocean temperatures, the food sources for these adorable creatures may quickly disappear, and, with the food sources, the seals themselves.

Autumn in Santa Cruz means pumpkins, great waves for surfing and spiced lattés. But the fall tradition that tops them all is the one that goes back well before the advent of sweet flavored drinks: It’s the return of the monarch butterflies from their summer home in the Rocky Mountains. The monarchs’ 1,500-mile journey ends at the West Coast, and Santa Cruz is lucky to have a comfy grove of eucalyptus and cypress trees at Natural Bridges State Beach and another near the lighthouse, both perfect roosts for the monarchs.  It is amazing how each new generation is able to make a leg of the migratory route never having lived at the beginning or end of the journey!

nov-4-monarchs-webDuring Thanksgiving Week the monarch butterflies in the Santa Cruz area are counted.  The population of monarchs overwintering in Santa Cruz was estimated at 120,000 in 1997 and has been declining steadily, bottoming out in the dismal 2012 season with only 500-2000 butterflies. Thankfully, there is hope for some recovery this year.  For me, as for many others, it is a euphoric experience to watch them fluttering among the eucalyptus and cypress trees, adding orange and black color to the tree canopies.

When naming my reasons for being thankful this season, I am beginning with the harbor seals, the marshlands, the pelicans, the butterflies, and you, my readers/friends.

nov-4-tbay-creek-web

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Nov. week 1 – precious and endangered natural resources.

Given the presidential election results I am feeling disappointed, baffled, frustrated and angry. How about you?  I realize that, in the long run, holding onto these feelings by ourselves or for very long will not serve the goals we so earnestly pray for:  shared hopefulness, inclusion, empowerment for women, the dismantling of racism, and the creation of just, diverse and peaceful communities throughout our country.

nov-1-reflect-tbBut sometimes we need time to mourn the setbacks in our journey toward our goals and not too quickly dismiss our pain.  I know for myself, that, having mourned, I eventually enter a stronger and healthier resolve to take stock of my core values and lead a life that reflects them.

nov-1-jumping-waterEach of you may have different ways of mourning and regenerative healing.  I am offering you a few images for meditative reflection.  I created these images this past week while thinking about water, one of our most precious and endangered natural resources.  May these photos reflect the graciousness of the divine feminine for your journey this week.

The remainder of the words in this post is from Hilary Clinton’s concession speech:

“This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for, and I’m sorry we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country.

I know how disappointed you feel, because I feel it too. And so do tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort. This is painful, and it will be for a long time. But I want you to remember this: Our campaign was never about one person or even one election. It was about the country we love — and about building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive, and big-hearted.

nov-1-grapesWe’ve spent a year and a half bringing together millions of people from every corner of our country to say with one voice that we believe that the American Dream is big enough for everyone — for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people, and people with disabilities.

Our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek. And I know you will.”

+++++++++++++++++++++

Let us harvest hopefulness watered by our resolve to move forward and rise anew!  Blessings.

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Oct week 4 – That bird brought joy back into my life!

Himba girl sings with joy!

Namibian Himba girl sings with joy!

In September a CBS news story reported that, regardless of how they will vote, most women are glad a woman is a major party nominee for president.   The same poll showed that 80 percent of Democratic women and 58 percent of Independent women felt this way. On the other hand, most Republican women, 54 percent, do not share this sentiment. In case you are wondering, most men voters are also glad a woman is a major party presidential nominee.

I am saddened and frustrated by these statistics.  I would love it if 100% of the women and almost that many men were celebrating and planning to vote for all the women candidates, from school boards to the presidency!

oct-4-stow-copy

When first lady Michelle Obama spoke at a Clinton rally in New Hampshire on Thursday, October 13,  she implored voters repulsed by the coarseness of the presidential campaign to consider the impact a Trump presidency would have on young girls and boys – and the message it would send to the world.  “If you vote for someone other than Hillary, or you don’t vote, you are helping to elect her opponent,” she said. “Imagine how that will feel.”

With these words swirling in my head and heart these past weeks I have been finding it difficult to experience joy for more than a few moments at a time. Then, all of a sudden, a hummingbird dive-bombed right in front of me on my morning walk.  That bird brought joy back into my life!

oct-4-humming-bird-01-copyThe hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world, known for its beautiful plumage.  This bird has a high heart rate and wing flap rate and is the only bird that can fly backwards.  Amazing!  But then I thought,  “Moving backwards is the last thing we want for the rights of women!”  Realizing my emotions had gone into reverse, I reminded myself that the hummingbird symbolizes joy, playfulness, and adaptability.

oct-4-humming-bird-02-copyThe call of the hummingbird totem will guide us to embrace love and lightness in our emotional life and encourage us to open up our hearts and expose ourselves more fully to joy and friendly affection.  Affinity with the hummingbird motivates us to develop our adaptability and resiliency. If the hummingbird shows up in your life as your spirit guide, it may remind you to enjoy life’s simple pleasures and take time to enjoy yourself. The hummingbird’s wisdom carries an invitation to take part in and draw to yourself life’s sweetness.

Common Mimetes - a swirl of joy!

Common Mimetes – a swirl of JOY!

Jamie Sams in her book “Medicine Cards” says “If Hummingbird has flown into your cards (or path), get ready to laugh musically and enjoy Creator’s many gifts. Drop your judgmental attitude and relax. Hummingbird will no doubt give you a flash of the spirit, darting here, there, and everywhere. Get ready for a strange new burst of energy which may send your senses reeling.”

We need to move on from our shock, depression, frustration and fear at the negativity toward women that is being expressed in this election, and do what women have always done in this country. We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.  Claim affinity with the hummingbird and joyfully live with strength, positive hope and resiliency.

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Oct. week 3 – Seasonal change revives a treasured memory.

oct-3-donner-pass-copySometimes it just takes a little seasonal change to revive a treasured memory from the past. That happened for me this week as I was driving interstate 80 on my way to a Lutheran pastors’  conference at Squaw Valley’s Olympic Village.  I remembered how, as a child in New York State, I eagerly awaited the first snow on the fall foliage, and here it was, unfolding before me, as I approached Donner Pass. It was only noon, but the temperature had dropped from the 65° of San Francisco to below freezing.

oct-3-moonpines-copyThe Donner Party, sometimes called the Donner-Reed Party, was a group of American pioneers who, in May, 1846, set out in a wagon train from Springfield, Illinois, for the 2,500 mile journey to California. The journey west usually took between four and six months, but the group was slowed by following a new, untested route.

Squaw Valley - Olympic Village

Squaw Valley Ski Area – Olympic Village

After six tumultuous months the pioneers had reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains where they became trapped by an early, heavy snowfall near what is now the town of Truckee and the lake that became called Donner Lake. The rugged terrain and difficulties they had encountered on the journey resulted in the loss of many cattle and wagons, and even split the group.  In mid-December, with their oxen and cattle gone and their food supplies running low, some of the group set out on foot to obtain help. At the same time, rescuers from California were trying to reach the settlers, but, sadly, the first relief party did not arrive until the middle of February, 1847, almost four months after the wagon train had become trapped. Of the 87 members of the party, 48 survived to reach Sutter’s Fort (now Sacramento), many of them having eaten their dead companions for survival. The dreams these folks had of building a new empire ended up as one of the great tragedies in the history of westward migration.

Black Cotton Reflect Yellow in Truckee River

Cottonwood Trees Reflect Yellow in Truckee River

With the Donner party in mind, I approached the summit named after them.  Despite having remembered their tragic story, I was hoping, like in my childhood, for a dusting of snow on the trees while the fall foliage was still in full and blazing color.  And indeed it happened – the pines were majestically dressed in white evening gowns as in lace made of snowflakes.

Every once in a while, even an ocean lover like myself needs to go to the mountains. John Muir once said, “When you go to the mountains, it is like going home.”  And so it was.  When I pulled into the rest stop at Donner summit, opened the car door and allowed the white flakes to blow against my skin with their cold refreshment, I began to sing my prayer to the Mountain Mother:

Mountain Mother, in the winds you are calling
as you decorate the blue-vaulted heavens
with moon and sun and stars
and dress the trees that stretch limbs in praise
with snowflake linens of mystery,
as you fill the land with beauty and peace.
Breathe your vitality into our journeys
and every day activities that we may
find in our contemplation your luminous love.
Together with the cosmos we sing
the joy of your ever-creative powers.
Mountain Mother, Nurturer,
and the One Who Brings Us Home,
we rest and rise in your wholeness.

My parents taught me down-hill skiing when I was three years old. I loved those times on the “mountains” in upstate New York and Vermont, but it wasn’t until years later, when I arrived on the West Coast to finish seminary, that I realized what a real mountain looked like. Certainly the Adirondacks were tall and grand, but they weren’t like the Sierras whose summits touch the edge of the heavens.

oct-3-aspen-reflected-copyTravel is much easier these days.  We jump in a car or on an airplane, but the ancient call remains the same:  Come to the mountains and dance and play and be refreshed by the great mother of us all.  At times there are still travel challenges, but blessings also abound in the journey.

Images and prayer ©Stacy Boorn

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Rivets, Rust and Rope: Remembering Our Rosies

oct-1-revits-webI ran my hand over the rusting rivets as a ritual of remembrance and reverence for the women, the “Rosies,”  that changed the course of history in the Kaiser shipyards of Richmond and San Francisco as well as in many munitions factories throughout the country.  One of the last remaining Victory Ships, the Red Oak, is docked at Richmond’s port #3 while it is slowly and lovingly being restored by volunteers, some of whom had actually served years ago as crew on the Red Oak or one of the other wartime ships.  They remember vividly how, after the ships’ “champagne baptism,” they headed out to Europe or the South Pacific.

oct-1-rust-2-webThe Red Oak, like other remaining relics from that era, is now dressed in rust, fraying rope, and rivets decorated with multiple layers of pealing paint.  As the very informative visitor center  reminds us, every rusting hinge and aging anchor testifies to the fact that more than six million female workers helped to build the ships, planes, bombs, tanks and other weapons that would eventually win World War II.

These women stepped up to the plate without wavering and gave up their home lives to accomplish the jobs previously identified as “men’s work.”  Every day during the war, women, both young and old, black and white, would punch into work at the shipyards, factories and munitions plants, breaking gender and racial barriers and increasing the workforce by 50 percent. An entirely new image of women in American society was created, setting the stage for upcoming generations.

Rosie the Riveter’s first mention was in a song written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb in 1942. The lyrics were being sung throughout the country and told the true story: “That little frail girl can do more than a man can do.” Yes, some were actually better at certain tasks, although women war-workers were paid only 60 percent of male wages.  The PR front for the government propaganda machine “Rosie the Riveter” was modeled after a real person.  Her name was Rosie Will Monroe who helped build B24 bombers.

oct-1-rope-detail-webI met my first group of Rosie the Riveters in 1989 when I moved to Richmond, California, to be the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church. These women came alone or with families from Minnesota, South Dakota and Arkansas, and I wish now that I had recorded their stories.

By the time I talked with Matilda she wasn’t quite sure what she had for lunch the day before, but she recalled the minute details of a particular day in February, 1943 — the smells, the sounds of the swelling sea, and the cool fingers of the fog as it rolled in at 4:59 PM.. She was welding high up on a liberty ship, and the end-of-the-shift whistle blew as it always did, a few seconds early “so we could put away our tools, gather up our lunch boxes and head for the bus stop to return to downtown Richmond to make dinner for our children.”

oct-1-rust-1-webMatilda’s women workmates, for safety’s sake, had tied her in place in the late afternoon for the last welding job high above the ship’s master quarters. But when that whistle blew they forgot to retrieve her. Matilda watched them as they walked out of the shipyard gate. From her perch she shouted, “Hey, get me down from here.” But there she stayed until one of her friends, already on the homeward bound bus, missed her and asked her companions, “Is Matilda still tied into the welding hold?”  Even though it would cost them extra bus money, a couple of them returned to rescue her.  Matilda told me that she loved her job – despite the occasional mishaps, sexual harassment and the very hard work.  She welded together some 20 different liberty ships, boasting that she and the girls “won the war and changed the world.”

The rust and the ropes and the rivets are witnesses to Matilda’s efforts and the efforts of millions of women who endured a misogynistic work culture, racial abuse and inequities to pave the way toward a new appreciation of American women.  There was growing hope among the 18 million women or more who entered the overall work force during the war that, when the war was over, life and society would never be the same again.

oct-1-propel-webOne day, they believed, women would be treated with respect, valued for their skilled work, and know the dignity that belongs to every human being.  In fact, Matilda confessed to me that she once prayed the war would not end so she could march off to work each morning and return with her head held high and a paycheck in her purse.  During those days she dreamed that eventually a woman would become president.  Her “we can do it” generation ended up being the “we have done it” icons of hope.

oct-1-rosieThe “Rosies” never faltered. They had changed the industry and left permanent effects.  By “permanent effects,” I don’t mean the rust, fraying ropes and discolored rivets of the Red Oak and similar ships.  We who follow in their steps and are alive today are part of the permanent effects as we step up to the plate knowing what we must do to honor and realize Matilda’s dream and the aspirations of our world-changing “Rosie Foremothers!”

All above images are details on the Red Oak Victory Ship.  The Rosie to the right is by Norman Rockwell for the May, 1943 Saturday Evening Post.

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flamingos teach us the art of cooperation and coexistence

Flamingos march in Walvis Bay, Namibia

Flamingos march in salt water lagoon near Walvis Bay, Namibia

I’d like to confess to a bit of wickedness I pulled off as a 10 year old.  On a balmy summer day in upstate New York I noticed that our neighbors were away on vacation.  I sauntered onto their front lawn, checked the street for potential witnesses and then did the deed:  I rearranged their tacky yard ornaments.  Those 7 plastic pink flamingos, which they considered precious art objects, had enjoyed a prominent place in their flower beds far too long.  At my command they lined up like lady soldiers at the end of their driveway.

flamingo-feeding-cTruth be told, I really admired those particular polyethylene flamingos even though they were readily available at the local five and dime.  For a buck you could come home with a piece of flaming pink tropical elegance that would transform your otherwise humdrum house.  Obviously, these were still the pre-Woodstock days before the twenty-somethings began to appreciate and romanticize nature and scorn all things plastics and mass-produced.

These fake birds are natives, not of Florida, but of Leominster, Massachusetts, which bills itself as the Plastics Capital of the World. Sculptor Don Featherstone was hired in 1957 by the Union Products plastics company, where his second assignment was to sculpt a pink flamingo. Since no live models were available, he copied a National Geographic photo.

flam-baths-copyThese famous pink birds, the live ones, can be found in warm, watery regions on many continents. They favor environments like estuaries and saline or alkaline lakes. Considering their appearance, flamingos are surprisingly apt swimmers, but their main habitat is on the mud flats where they breed and feed.

Much to my delight, I saw a colony of some thousand-plus flamingos while traveling in Namibia, at Walvis Bay.   Because we had a tight schedule, we could only take a few minutes to photograph the flamingos from the roadside.  Perhaps remembering my childhood, I wanted to run among them and regroup them into new patterns, or at least steal a brief eye-to-eye encounter.

10 day old chick, San Francisco Zoo

10 day old chick, San Francisco Zoo

I love the flamingos’ long, lean, curved necks and black-tipped bills with their distinctive downward bend.  These bills allow them to feed on small organisms—plankton, tiny fish, fly larvae, and the like in mud flats or shallow water.  They use their long legs and webbed feet to stir up the bottom, exposing their prey.

Often the flamingos bury their bills, or even their entire heads, and suck up both mud and water to access the tasty morsels within. A flamingo’s beak has a filter-like structure to remove food from the water before the liquid is expelled. Since shrimp-like crustaceans are responsible for the flamingos’ pink color, the birds grow pale in captivity unless their diet is supplemented.

This week I visited the San Francisco Zoo to see “our” nesting flamingos. A mated pair will bear only one chalky white egg each year, so I was fortunate to count five eggs and two chicks. American flamingos are monogamous birds and communal nesters, and it is not uncommon to have nests from different pairs only a few feet apart. The male and female take turns incubating the nest for 28-32 days.  The parents keep the chick under them and feed it there for 3-12 days until it joins a group of other recently hatched chicks for communal care.

Each time I see these beautiful birds, I can’t help but ask the question, Will we human beings ever learn from the flamingos the art of cooperation and coexistence?

Lagoon slat waters among dunes in Walvis Bay, Namibia

14 Lesser Flamingos among 14,000 in lagoons at Sandwich Harbor south of Walvis Bay, Namibia

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Namibia #5 – its vastness leaves you feeling alone…

dunes-edge-001-copyThe Desert, for me, is a vast, barren land where the extremes of nature are found.  As the wind blows, one can quickly be lost in wilderness wanderings, hopefully to emerge with new insights and dreams.

One of the largest Namibian dune areas is called Sossusvlei. It is characterized by enormous sand dunes of vivid pink-to-orange color, an indication of a high concentration of oxidized iron in the sand.  The oldest dunes are more intensely reddish and are among the highest in the world, most above 200 meters.  The tallest, about 380 meters high, is nicknamed Big Daddy.  Although the dune area is a major tourist attraction, its vastness leaves you feeling alone in a formidable land – that is, until you reach “Big Daddy” and “Great Mama” with their  international hordes of youth and hikers making their way up the steep sand mountains.

dunes-dunes-2-copySossusvlei is actually a salt and clay pan surrounded by hundreds of connected sand dunes in the southern part of the Namib Desert. “Vlei” is the Afrikaans word for “marsh”, while “sossus” is Nama for “no return” or “dead end”.  This area was once a drainage basin for the Tsauchab River.

Notice helicopter in center at top edge!

Notice helicopter in center at top edge!

When we helicoptered over this wilderness, the notion of being lost and wandering in the desert for 40 years became plausible.  Drop me down there and I would, shy of divine intervention, never find my way out!

The highest and more stable dunes are partially covered with vegetation, watered not only by underground rivers that occasionally flood the pans, but also by the daily morning fog that enters the desert from the Atlantic Ocean. When dry, these pans with their high concentration of salt look almost white in color.  The dunes, however, when bathed in the golden light at the edges of day and night, turn bright orange with the shadowed side turning nearly jet black.

Oryx last for weeks without water.

Oryx last for weeks without water.

Animal and insect life in the Sossusvlei area is relatively abundant. It is mostly comprised of small creatures that can survive with little water, including a number of arthropods, small reptiles and petite mammals such as rodents or jackals; bigger animals include oryxes, springboks and ostriches. Strangely, “fog beetles” have developed a technique for collecting water from early morning fogs through the bumps in their back.

At the base of “Big Daddy” and “Great Mama” one finds Deadvlei, a white clay pan that used to be an oasis hosting several varieties of acacia trees. Centuries ago, when the climate changed and drought hit the area, sand dunes encroached on the pan, blocking the river that watered the oasis.  The trees died, leaving the white salty floor of the pan punctuated by the blackened, dead acacia trees.

dunes-deadvlei-copyThe remaining skeletons of the trees, which are believed to have died between 1340- 1430 CE, are now black because the intense light and heat of the sun has scorched them.  Strangely enough, these blackened trees are not petrified, for the wood is so dry it does not decompose. The white pan, the blackened trees, and the intense orange of the surrounding dunes create a particularly fascinating and surrealistic landscape that appears in innumerable pictures and has been used as a setting for films and videos.

Eager to add these recognizable shots to our stock portfolios, we hiked in before sunrise to see the first light illuminate the dunes, but the whole area was socked in with heavy fog.  We had no idea that there were even sand dunes surrounding the eerie waterless lake.  The mist was mystical, but eventually it gave way to the sun that was by then already fairly high in the sky.  Not only were there huge dunes surrounding us, but dozens of people hiking on their berms!

White Lady Spider lives under the sand

White Lady Spider lives under the sand

I saw no burning bush but still felt the presence of the Divine One, whispering with the blowing red sands, “I shall be who I shall be.”  The Namib Desert has been dancing for over 43 million years, and, although we didn’t do our desert wandering for 40 years or even 40 days, my 40 hours in that environment was still, for me, a vision-filled healing quest from which I emerged into a “promised land.”  Don’t skip over your desert journeys, they eventually bring great blessings!

Deadvlei after the fog lifted.

Deadvlei after the fog lifted.

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Namibia #4 – drinking from the waterholes of life!

namib-a-giraffe-copyIt’s almost miraculous that so many African animals manage to eke out an existence in the arid, desert-like environment of Namibia — elephants, lions, cheetah, rhinos, oryx and wild horses to name a few. We can be sincerely thankful that Namibia’s progressive, community-based approach to conservation protects so much wildlife by providing hundreds of square miles of sanctuary and poaching-free zones.

In the vast flagship of the Namibian park system, Etosha National Park, you will find an out-and-out profusion of wildlife around the numerous waterholes. Here the magic happens, whether it’s a herd of elephants filling their trunks with water, a rhino reflected in the water by the light of a full moon, or a giraffe reaching down for a drink with its legs splayed like a circus performer.

namib-a-elephants-copyEtosha National Park is one of the world’s premier wildlife reserves.  The size of Switzerland, Etosha is a semi-arid savannah, with grassland and thorn scrub surrounding a flat saline desert pan, a calcium-rich, impermeable earthen crust.  The name Etosha is variously translated ‘Place of Mirages’, ‘Land of Dry Water’ or ‘Great White Place’.

namib-a-zebra-water-copyAlthough dry and dusty, Etosha Park is a haven for 114 kinds of mammals and 340 bird species. Some of the stars of Etosha are its endemic black-faced impala and elephants. These elephants are huge, the tallest in Africa, measuring up to 14 feet at the shoulder; they are awe-inspiring to see even though mineral deficiencies and their habit of digging for water result in short tusks. The resident giraffe belong to a subspecies found only in the park and in north-western Namibia.

To give a sense of just how easy it to escape from “the world” in Namibia, compare it with Germany, its former colonial ruler. Namibia is twice the size of Germany, but, while Germany has a total population in excess of 80 million, Namibia’s human population is just a tad over two million.

namib-a-rhino-night-copyOkaukuejo, the first tourist camp inside Etosha Park, was built beside a well-established waterhole, now the main feature of the camp.  All day and into the flood-lit early hours of the night, an orderly parade of animals come to the waterhole. Visitors can sit in comfort inside the camp with only a low wall between them and herds of elephants, rhinos and even a pride or two of  lions gulping the thirst-slaking liquid.

Shortly after dusk on our first evening we witnessed 10 elephants slowly marching toward the waterhole.  In the distance, other animals stood still and watched the elephants slurp and splash in the pool’s water for about 10 minutes before they finally sauntered off in the opposite direction.  Then, group by group, the other animals would take their turn, drinking only after spying out the horizon to check for possible danger.  It was like a slow-motion video – the zebras went to the water’s edge, then the giraffes followed by the rhinos.  Awesome!

namib-a-cheetah-and-cub-copyIt was as if I were standing some 50 feet away from a menagerie-carousel come alive, each row of animals slowly sliding off the revolving floor and finding its way to this pool of water, so unique and precious in the otherwise dry and rocky terrain.  No calliope was playing; there was only the sound of swooping birds, a few jackal grunts and the scuffling of soft-padded feet, but it was more magical and lovely than any orchestra could play, music of the night.

namib-a-lion-copyThe large mammals in Etosha National Park include lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, giraffe, wildebeest, cheetah, hyena, mountain and plains zebra, springbok, impala, kudu, oryx and eland. Among the smaller species one can find the dik-dik, black-back jackal, bat-eared fox, warthog, honey badger and ground squirrel.  Except for the leopard, hyena and honey badger, we saw all these and, of course, dozens of different birds.

If one needs concrete proof that human beings are not the center of the universe, a few days in Etosha will put things in perspective.  We need to learn from our fellow-inhabitants on this planet.  The straight and twisted antlers of the many “antelopes,” for instance, reach sun-ward and point our gaze in new directions!  The animals at the edge of the “Great White Place” grace us with a greater attitude of reverence and appreciation for all creatures large and small. (Image: Oryx calf tries out new legs)

namib-a-b-zebra-heads-copyWhat a life-enhancing delight it was to ride the carousel of creation in Namibia!

 

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Namibia #3 – Finding other kinds of memory gems!

A biting wind greeted us on our arrival at Kolmanskop.  No more than 45 degrees outside, the swirling fog couldn’t temper the chill even as the barely visible shape of the sun began brightening the gray morning sky. You would think I was describing a typical summer day in San Francisco, but no, this was late July, a winter morning in southeast Namibia.

Kolmans 5 copyThe weather’s initial cool, dark welcome added to the sense of abandonment and eeriness that seemed to be wandering like a ghost through the collapsing buildings of this once-luxurious town. The sands of immense dunes now make their way through the open doors and broken windows, recapturing their original footholds and burying the evidence of the short-lived glory days.

Kolmans 9 copyKolmanskop was built when diamonds were discovered there in 1908. It became home to hundreds of German miners desperately seeking their fortune in the Namibian desert. The shells of the once-active town businesses, hospital, school, gymnasium, and theater, as well as huge individual houses for engineers, doctors, and architects have all fallen silent. The family flats, each room painted a different pastel color with decorative borders, are now swathed in sand.

By the 1950s the diamond mine began to show signs that the gems hidden in its soil had all been removed, and the town’s people departed, leaving their stories and even many of their possessions behind.

Kolmans 6 copyToward the end of the 20th century some buildings such as the casino, skittle alley and retail shop were restored.  One can only enter the town with a permit — our permit was good from sunrise to sunset and, except for a few small groups in the morning, this ghost town was all ours.

You might think a full day among abandoned buildings would be over-kill.  But, with the changing of light from overcast to sun to fog again, there were many creative possibilities.  I even had time to take a series of self-portraits in an old bath tub – fully clothed, of course.  Once there was money in the pockets of everyone in Kolmanskop and laughter on each stairway; now, desolate and forlorn, only the footprints of beetles and a few humans provide pathways to buildings stripped of their grandeur.

Kolmans 2 copy“Surrender to the desert” is the chant of the winds and the echo of the drifting sands.  I wonder if this will be the same song in 20 years at Oranjemund, the still-active diamond mine located in the southern part of the country near the South African border.  Namdeb Diamond Corporation operates the huge alluvial workings; it is so successful, it has made Namibia the world’s fifth-largest diamond supplier.

Much to my dismay, I did not find a single diamond in the desert; in fact, people are not permitted in the areas where a diamond or two might be found, areas called the “forbidden lands.”  So I think I will remain satisfied with these images and the other kinds of memory gems which, for me, far outshine the diamonds.

Kolmans 3 copy2My next blog will include some of my favorite Namibian treasures: photos of the wild animals. Oryx, Springbok, Giraffe and others will probably make the lineup.

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Namibia – entering a Himba village – I am a better person!

2 Woman WEBI could not live like the Himba people.  Their small, clan-based villages dot the harsh and barren lands of north western Namibia. For thousands of years they have been carrying on the same routine. In the morning the cows are milked, and then the men, goats and cattle go off to find grazing lands. Nomadic people, they sometimes occupy 10 different village sites in one year. As harsh as their lifestyle is and as unaffected by modern ideologies, they seem to be extremely peaceful and happy.

Taz, our expert on all things Namibian and the driver of our touring van, was able to navigate our 18 foot aging safari vehicle off-road, through dusty, rocky no-pathed lands to a Himba village. (In fact, the majority of roads we traveled in Namibia would be considered by most of us to be off-road – dirt, at least when dry, wash-boardy, sometimes very curvy with drop-off edges and at other times miles and miles of desert flat-lands interrupted by swift moving dust devils.)

2 Hair Detail WEBMost Himba villages are small and made up of extended family units. When visiting such a village one must ask permission from the chief, but our afternoon visit found no chief on site so his three wives welcomed us.

This was a real pleasure. We conversed through an interpreter we brought from the local town. The three women sat on the ground adorned in beautiful jewelry they had made.  Their hair was in traditional format: covered with red dirt mixed with animal fats. This is the same mixture they use to bathe since the majority of time they have no access to water.

2 Elder Womah WEBThe Himba women were very concerned for us because we were mostly a party of women without spouses or children. They wondered how we could possibly survive without these helpers to take care of the daily tasks.  After additional conversation they seemed more pleased than perplexed with our life choices.

The day for women begins when they cover themselves with a mixture of red rock called ochre and butterfat from the animals. This makes their skin a deep red color. They put the same mixture on their hair, clothes and jewelry. The women are very proud of their traditional dress. It can take five or six hours to get the mud and adornments on their heads just right, so they sleep with their heads on a neck rest to make sure that all the work that they have done to beautify themselves does not get disheveled while sleeping.

2 Perfuminmg WEBIn one large round hut we witnessed how the women perfume themselves with bellowing incense. They explained who lives in the hut and how the family units worked. At age of three the children leave the parent’s hut to live with all the village children where they grow up playing and caring for one another. The children are raised by everyone in the village. Their hairstyles give away whether the child is a boy or girl – two braids down the front of the face indicate a girl.

Himba villages are hubs of socialization since they love to talk and laugh. The women work together, but the pace of life is slow and easy, giving everyone time for conversation with one another and the occasional visitors. Before sundown the last of the chores is completed, the wood is collected for the fire.

2 Himba Baby WEBThe head of the village is the oldest male member of the family groups. He is responsible for the religious organization of the village, the sacred acts, solving problems, overseeing life and the dispensing of justice.

Because of their geographic isolation they have been unhindered by the influences of other civilizations.  Though their traditions are under scrutiny and they feel the pressure of modernizing ideas and practices, they continue to live their nomadic existence, moving with their goats and cattle to places where they can find water and adequate grazing.

One wonders what will become of Himba ways with climate changes and the influence of travelers and developers. Ancient traditional earth-based medicines have kept them healthy for centuries but now they are being impacted by diseases (i.e. AIDS) that were never part of their history, requiring different kinds of medications. One hopes that it is the Himba themselves who will be able to choose how their culture goes forward, what can be the same or what they desire to change.

2 Himba Child G WEBI don’t usually photograph people, but I love to take people-shots when I’m traveling, especially in places where I cannot speak the native language.  My camera becomes a vehicle of communication.  Photographing others is almost like a dance that we enter into – smiling and looking at one another and making gestures. With the group of Himba children I realized that not all hand signals are interpreted in the same way. I was trying to get them to look in a certain direction. I put my hand above my head hoping their eyes would go there, but instead they kept waving back at me.

When permission is granted, and if it is done with respect and reverence, image-making is a way of honoring the other. I believe the world can be a better place when we learn to honor one another whether through the camera or in conversation. In so doing I know I am a better person.

2 Women Walkin WEB

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