My Wish For You

Winter break!!!!!

After a long quarter and a case of pneumonia, Bea came home for winter break, taking the train up from Stanford with her BFFs, Ben and Michael.

And my son Eli flew into Sea-Tac after ten months in Argentina!

Such great kids!  And it’s wonderful when your best friends just ‘click’ with each other.

They filled our home with music…

…and were prone to spontaneous bursts of dancing…

…and juggling.

And they cooked too!

Not for nothing are they known in certain parts of California as ‘The ‘Stache Squad.’  All for one, and one for all!

 

A game of Risk becomes a costume affair.

 

Bea and Eli shared their hometown, and took in a bit of culture while here.

Proof that the sun sometimes shines in Seattle!

Gifts were exchanged, most of them homemade.

Eli’s gift was to write an original murder mystery for the whole gang.  He put his storytelling experience to good use.

It was, of course, a costume affair…

…set in Russia in 1860.

It seemed to capture the social turmoil of the times.

We were sad to have to send Ben home in time for Christmas.

But it felt like we had already had Christmas, and the icing on the cake was a day of snow, a rare treat, a white Christmas.

The only thing missing was Ben.  So the kids made…


…a SnowBen!

Of course, juggling ensued.

And huggling.

And snow angels!

And it wouldn’t be a proper snow day without hot chocolate.

Another bunch of friends and family have arrived, and it’s hard to believe we have yet another Christmas to celebrate.  It makes me realize that holidays have less to do with the dates on the calendar than the light we create in our hearts and homes and between each other.

My dear friends and family and blogging buddies from all over the world, after health and happiness, my wish for you is this:

May you never be too old for dinosaur pancakes.

…or dress-up…

I wish you a Merry Christmas, a happy Solstice, Kwanza, and New Year.  And whatever the New Year brings, may you always have, no matter what the calendar says, or however large or small, an occasion to celebrate and  a shoulder to lean on.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Winter.

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Still

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.  And so do we.  It was over a hundred degrees, and the sun blazed down from a cloudless sky.   The plaza was nearly deserted as we approached Batalha Monastery, and I was wilting.  Still, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we couldn’t miss it.

Batalha Monastery, the ‘Monastery of Battle’, was begun by King Joao I to commemorate his victory of the Portuguese over the Castilians in the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

I was glad I came.

In the cloisters, time stands still.  The view hadn’t changed in six centuries.

Inside the church the stained glass softened the harsh sunlight.

A dramatic tomb for King Joao and Queen Phillipa of Lancaster depicted the royal couple with joined hands, symbolizing the alliance between Portugal and England.  Surrounding bays contained the tombs of their four younger sons.  I’d already seen so many tombs that week, and couldn’t muster the energy to snap a shot, although I was moved to photograph the stillness of the Royal Cloister.

I found the symmetry soothing.

And then I stepped into The Unfinished Chapel, where rests the tomb of their eldest son, King Duarte and his wife, Leonor of Aragon. Their final resting place was less monumental, and still uncompleted, without even a roof.  Their chapel too was designed to house the tombs of their descendants, but that hadn’t happened either.  Duarte and Leonor were its sole occupants.

Duarte’s story was also less remarkable than his dad’s.  His reign was short, troubled, and plagued by poor choices.  He preferred writing to war, and was likely better at it.  He began The Art of Riding on Every Saddle“…in accordance with the saying that writing books is an endless task, which I do for my own relaxation and entertainment…I am going to write…with the objective of improving the riding skills of those who decide to read my writings in good will…”

That book, like his chapel, was also unfinished.  Duarte died young, swept away by the plague, leaving his wife to mourn.  From that day on, she signed her name “the sad queen.”  She lived only a few more years, her short regency also plagued with conflict.  Sadly, she died in exile.  But she rests beside her husband.

Their tomb, their accomplishments, and their lives might have been less glorious than those of their victorious parents.  But their unfinished tomb is open to the sun and the breeze, the infinite sky.  The sad queen and her husband, in gentle and loving repose, seem less a statement of diplomatic alliance than a forever snapshot of a loving couple, still tenderly holding hands after all these years.

I think I’d rather be remembered for my pen than my sword, and would rather be successful in love than in war, or even in my writing.

Still, plague notwithstanding, I’m going to finish my damn book.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Stillness.

Grand is in the Details

This magnificent mountain in the Peruvian Andes is Huanya Picchu.

 To me it looks like a great green ghost, its strong stone arms wrapped protectively around the ancient Incan city of  Machu Picchu .

Machu Picchu, meaning “Ancient Mountain,” was built in the 15th century, at the peak of Incan culture.  One of the greatest artistic, architectural, and land use achievements of the world, it was chosen as a World Heritage Site in 1983.

No one can say for certain, as the Incas had no written language, but it is thought to have been a royal estate, perhaps a summer retreat, or maybe a religious center.

It was so remote that the Spanish conquerors never found it, but it was by no means isolated.

It was connected to the vast Incan Empire by a royal highway called The Inca Trail, linking Machu Picchu to 25, 000 miles of roadway, the Incan version of the Internet.  Special runners called “Chasquis” traveled as far as 240K in a day to keep the king connected, or to deliver delicacies to his dinner table.  Runners could rest at stations along the way, or relay messages by tag-team.

Much of The Inca Trail survives to this day. This section leads to the Sun Gate. 

Another steep trail leading in the other direction hugged the cliffside.  This Incan drawbridge made it impossible for outsiders to invade the city…

…unless you count tourists.

The grand view was worth the walk.

Machu Picchu is surrounded on the other three sides by steep cliffs and a raging river, making it practically impregnable.

Magnificent.  Dramatic.  Ingenious. Grand.

Machu Picchu’s grandeur can be found in the details. Like the integration of natural elements into its design, shaping the city to fit into its surroundings.  Terraces not only took on the curve of the mountain, but prevented landslides and provided a hanging garden for growing crops.

Its location was a matter of sacred geography.  It was situated among mountains with religious significance to the Incas…

…and is perfectly aligned for key astronomical events.

This instrument cut into the bedrock was used for astronomical observations.

The Incans worshipped the mountains as gods, and this was reflected in their building.

Everywhere we turned, we saw natural features incorporated into the design.

Architecture mirrored nature’s design.

Walls were built around huge boulders, which remained cradled in the earth where they had slept since the mountains were born.

This did not prevent Incan engineers from using natural features to provide creature comforts, such as running water.

 

On our second visit, the clouds lifted.  We arrived in time to see the morning sun turn gray stones gold.


We tried to imagine what it might have been like to have lived there half a millennium ago…

The dry stone walls were constructed without mortar, with some stones fitted so tight a blade of grass couldn’t squeeze between them.  Even so, the ancients must’ve worked hard to keep the jungle at bay…

 …just as they do today.  There were redshirts perched on ladders, whose full time job was to keep the weeds from taking over.  

The backstairs whispered ancient secrets, but we couldn’t quite make them out.

We could only wonder at the world around us.

The flora…


And fauna.

Each one…

…a tiny miracle.

Great civilizations come and go….

…and life goes on.

As hard as we try to unlock them…

…Machu Picchu’s walls hold onto their secrets.

In the grand scheme of things, what does it matter if we don’t know all the answers?

It is a privilege to be there…

…following in the footsteps….

…of the ancient ones.

All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Cities.
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand

While we are on the subject of GRAND, I’d like to introduce you to a not-so-ancient wonder of the world.  My cousin Haskell is a little like Forest Gump, in that, after serving in World War II, followed by a lifetime of service in the Merchant Marines, I’m not kidding–he has been there and done that, and can tell you all about it in grand style.  Except for one thing.  Somehow, through all his amazing adventures, he never got around to learning to play the autoharp.  Until last June.

I love you, Haskell, and I’m so lucky to have you in my family!   Here’s to Rum and Coke, and jamming next year in Seattle, and feeling better soon!

Sky King

Last summer I traveled to the Amazon with my family.

It was one of the most remote places I’ve been to.

We visited the tiny village of El Chino…

…and did some jungle trekking.  The canopy is thick, blocking out the sky.

  But the waterways open swaths through the jungle, and are perfect for skywatching.

Sometimes a tree will break free from the jungle shadows to find its place under the sun.  You can almost hear this little tree whisper, “I WIN!”

Amazon skies can go from this…

…to this,  in minutes.

We were up by starlight to go fishing one morning, and caught this sunrise on the Tahuayo River.

The clouds are stunning, and ever changing.

But this was the most amazing cloud formation I saw over the Amazon jungle.  Look closely, and tell me it doesn’t look like….

…wait for it.

…wait for it.

…wait for it.

 …wait for it.

Thank you.  Thank you very much!

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Sky.

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The Flight of the Sparrow

Last summer I saw a baby Stellar Jay perched on my arbor, resting after trying out its wings. I looked away for an instant; when I looked back, it was gone.

It reminded me of something The Venerable Bede once said.  Bede was an Anglo-Saxon monk born in 672A.D.

In  The Ecclesiastical History of the English People he compares a person’s life to the flight of a sparrow.  Imagine sitting in a mead-hall at supper by the light of a blazing fire, while outside a winter storm rages.

A sparrow flies in one door of the hall, into the light, then darts out out another door, back into the cold dark night.  “So our lives appear for a short space,” said Bede, “but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant.”

People have many different thoughts, feelings, beliefs and explanations as to what or if anything comes before…

…or after the sparrow’s flight.

Sooner or later each of us will fly out into the night.

That seems to be the only thing everyone can agree upon.

I don’t need to know all the answers before I fly back out.

I am right here, right now, basking in the warm and beautiful light of life.

Whatever happens outside the mead-hall won’t change the way I live my life here and now.

I have work I am passionate about…

..family I love and good friends to play with.

I care about issues in the wider world…

…and in my own little sphere.

I hope I can make some small difference…as a writer, a storyteller, a parent, a friend…

…and to leave even just a little nightlight shining…

…when my flight is done. nullAll words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more images of The One Word Photo Challenge:Storm.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo challenge: Let There Be Light.

Click here for more interpretations of Nancy Merrill’s Photo a Week Challenge: Flight