Magnum Opus

To me, there nothing so sacred an office as parenthood.

But with every superpower, comes the great weight of responsibility.

Helping someone get from here…

…to here.

It’s the most daunting…

…most joyful…

..most challenging position I’ve ever held.

The job description is clear.  When they are tiny, love them.

Nurture them.

Love them some more.

We have a few short years to raise and guide them, and allow them to find their own way to shine.

To help them acquire the skills they need to paddle their own canoe.

To allow them to test their wings.

To give them every opportunity to make decisions and exercise their own power.

Even so, one of the greatest challenges we have as parents is to let them grow up.

A few years ago, with the kids’ encouragement, we stepped out of our comfort zone into the Amazon jungle.

To ride a zip-line over the jungle canopy we had to reach a platform 125 feet above the jungle floor.  Instead of letting our guide use pulleys and ropes to haul them up, they insisted on pulling themselves up, step by step.

As they dangled from a single rope a hundred feet up, I thought of the book Charlotte’s Web.  Charlotte considered her egg sac, from which her babies hatched, her ‘magnum opus.’  One by one, the baby spiders spun a fine web into a tiny balloon and rode the breeze, floating off into the world to land somewhere and build a web of its own.

I couldn’t have been prouder–or more relieved–when they climbed to the top under their own power.

We have all traveled well together…

but children must be free to choose their own direction, just as we did when we were young.

I quell my panic when one of my chicks…

..leaves the safety of the home harbor.

I trust them to stay calm, exercise good judgement, weather the storms…

…and any other unforeseen dangers.

We cut them loose from the mother ship, then hope and pray they find a soft landing place…

…and a bright future.

And that, every now and then, they remember to phone home.

 

All words and images ©2015NaomiBaltuck

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Turning Night Into Day

There was once a wise old rabbi who asked his students, “How can you know the exact moment when night ends and day begins?”

“I think I know,” said one of his pupils.  “Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a dog from a sheep?”

“No,” said the rabbi.

“I know,” said another.  “It must be when, from a distance, you can tell a date palm from a fig tree.”

“No,” said the rabbi.

His students looked at each other and then at the rabbi.  “We don’t know,” they said.  “Please tell us.”

And the rabbi replied, “It is when you look into the face of any person from any nation…

…man…

…or woman…

…Jew or gentile…

…and see your brother…

…or your sister.”

”And that is the blessed moment,” said the rabbi,  “when the dawn is come.”

c2014NaomiBaltuck

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Testing One’s Mettle

“What are you afraid of?” author Bob Mayer asked at a writing conference, “because that’s what’s holding you back as writers.”

At the time, it was social media–mastering new technology, committing to cranking out a weekly post. But I started a blog, and am glad I did.  Since my first blogpost I’ve made new friends, discovered photographic storytelling, which I love, and crossed a whopper off this writer’s to-do list.

Marriage was another commitment that terrified me, but I faced that fear too.

It took seven years before Thom and I felt brave enough to assume the awesome responsibility of parenthood.  It’s the most joyful, most difficult, most rewarding, and most important undertaking we’d ever signed on for, or ever will.

Whether we choose them ourselves or take what fate throws our way, the most daunting experiences are often the most edifying.

The most challenging ones tend to be the most rewarding.

With the toughest climbs come the best views.

After the kids were old enough to change their own diapers, we thought could rest on our laurels, but there was an unexpected twist to the parent/child relationship.

We raised kids who challenge themselves.  Bea watched her big brother do his math homework, and designed her own “Really Hard Math Problem.”

As they tested their own mettle, and created their own challenges…

…we were forced out of our comfort zones just to keep up.

Thom and I would never have chosen to go to the Amazon jungle if the kids hadn’t been keen to go.

It was hard to watch my kids twist and turn like little spiders on a web as they climbed 200 feet up into the canopy to zipline.  And for the first (and probably last) time in my life, I went ziplining too.  You never know when someone might need a bandaid or some bug repellant.

Only for my kid would I board a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, another thing I swore I’d never do. But it’s good to feel a fire in your belly and rise above your fears.

We are not extreme travelers.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: most of the adventures I have are in my own mind.  But for the sake of my kids, I’ve put on my big girl panties and donned a hard hat once or twice.

Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind.

 I appreciate people who can lure me out of my comfort zone.

Sometimes it’s good to commit to a path with unexpected twists and bends.

I’m sure I’m a better person for it. And if nothing else, Life Outside The Comfort Zone provides great material for a writer.

All images and words copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck.

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Birds of a Feather

Birds of Peru—so many species, so many eco systems.  This little tyke was swimming with its mom on Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake.

The Uros people construct and live on Floating Islands of the lake, and might’ve taken their cue from the birds.

The Uros domesticated the Ibis for its eggs–they live side by side.

In the Amazon jungle, villagers living along tributaries of the Amazon River raise chickens for eggs and meat.

Other birds, like Manolo the Mealy Parrot, are kept for pets….

…and watchbirds. (Don’t even think of touching his bread.)

They wander in and out of the houses like family.

We also saw a huge variety of birds living wild in the jungle, such as the Tiger Heron.

I believe this is a Social Flycatcher.  Maybe it just eats flies at parties?

Some birds I caught only a glimpse of on the fly.

Others looked familiar, like this Pygmy Owl.

Or this Kingfisher.  The Kingfishers fly so fast I could only get an image at night, when it was roosting.

Or this White-winged Swallow, which was different but similar to our swallows.

Most of the birds’ names I never knew or have forgotten, but they were fascinating.

This one looked like a lone hunter…

…while the vultures tended to hang in a crowd.

If we have birds in the U.S. that come out at night and sit on the beach looking like, well, a beach, I haven’t heard of them.

A Black-fronted Nunbird?  The coloring is right, but the beak is smaller and it’s so fluffy.  Maybe a chick?  Oh, well, a bird by any name would sing as sweet.

The birds in the Peruvian Andes were different than the ones we saw in the Amazon.

I saw this feathered friend at Machu Picchu.

This one too.  It’s not so different from the hummingbirds that sip nectar from the hanging baskets on my deck.  

But some are very different from the birds we have at home–like the Toucan who was natural history before I could get to my camera, or the Night Heron whose portrait came out fuzzy.  Most unique was the Huatzin, a pheasant-sized bird resembling something out of  prehistoric times.  Its face is blue and unfeathered, its crest large and spiky.  It makes its home in the swamps and marshy lakes in the jungle.

A crop is an enlarged pouch of the esophagus, where food is stored before it is digested.  Some birds have them, and some dinosaurs did too.  But the Huaztin’s crop is so large it makes flying difficult.  It uses its crop to digest food using bacterial fermentation, which makes them smell very bad.  The Amazon people call them ‘Stinkbirds’ and won’t eat them.   They croak, hiss, groan, and grunt.  Huatzin young have claws on their wings.  When pursued by hawks or arboreal predators, they drop from their nest into the water and claw their way back up the tree when it is safe.  Strange and fascinating!

I don’t see anything common about a bird, even the ones found in my own backyard.  Descended from dinosaurs, these feathered creatures are miraculous to me–so varied, so delicate, so powerful, most possessed of the gift of song and the superpower of flight.  All I need is a pair of binoculars and a camera, and I am off on a flight of fancy.


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

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

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Jungle Born

Our Amazon guide Orlando grew up in the little village of El Chino, on the banks of the Tahuayo river, a tributary of the Amazon.  He had to move to Iquitos to attend high school, and there he decided to learn English and study building.

He was one of the builders of the Tahuayo Lodge.

He built the chairs we sat on during dinner.  But his leadership skills were recognized, and he became a guide for Amazonia Expeditions.

Jungle born, Orlando is compact, all muscle, and as comfortable in his element as a fish in water, or a bird in the treetops.   He has a bright smile, and not just because of his two gold teeth.

He says he is at home in the jungle as we are in our city.  “I am never lost.”

Orlando was the grandson of a shaman who lived to be 103 years old.  His grandfather always said his death would come when he decided it was time to die.  When Orlando’s father died, his grandfather decided he’d lived long enough.   Although in good health, with no sign of illness, he lay down to sleep that night and never woke up.

One morning we got into our boat to explore the river.  “Look, angel fish!”  They were just like those we used to keep in our aquarium.

“Catch one, ” said Orlando.  The kids laughed, thinking he was joking, but his hand shot into the water.  When he opened it up, there was an angel fish.   He gave us a close look and set it free.  We already were beginning to suspect he was a jungle superman.

One night we took the boat to search for caiman, the South American crocodile.  We were covered from head to toe with protective clothing and mosquito repellent.

Orlando never gave it a second thought.   Like Superman, he was invulnerable.

  In the beam of light from Orlando’s headlight, we saw the red glow of a caiman’s eye and followed it to the shallows. Orlando had a stick with a wire loop to capture the caiman for a closer look.  When he tried, with a loud splash the startled caiman plunged into water.

“Escapa?” asked Mario.  “Escapa,” said Orlando, shrugging.  “He is from the water and I am from the ground.”

The next caiman was six feet long.  It lunged past us with a loud splash.  I was leaning over, trying to catch a glimpse.  When it dove past our low-riding boat with a noisy splash, I screamed and jumped.  Orlando was still chuckling the next day as we hiked in the jungle.  Jewel-bright Morpho butterflies fluttered by like a fugitive piece of sky.  Others gathered on the riverbank, ingesting soil for the minerals.

Where we saw only treetops, Orlando saw tamarinds or red titi monkeys.  He would whistle or blow onto the back of his hand, and the monkeys would answer back.  Once he pulled the boat over to the riverbank and began to make monkey chatter.  Within minutes, climbing out of the trees and into our boat came two Woolly Monkeys.  Amazonia had rescued Lorita and Chepa from the black market, and had recently reintroduced them to the jungle.

It was a highpoint.

His machete was an extension of his arm.  Sometimes Orlando had to chop his way through the jungle, just like in the movies.

But he also used the machete to paddle the boat, open a can of pineapple, and carve a blowgun out of balsa wood.

When our canoe paddles went missing, he cut paddles from tree branches with his machete.  When our boat sprang a leak, he used his machete to carve a wooden plug to fix a leak in the boat, and pound it into place.  Once we saw a fly land on his back.  As naturally as a cow flicks an insect with its tail, in one quick motion Orlando swung his machete over his shoulder to swat the fly with the flat of the blade.

One morning Orlando set aside his machete for his knife.  “Jungle surgery,” he explained.  A year before Mario accidentally set off a trap, and was badly injured.  Most of the fifty or so pellets shot into his foot were removed at the hospital in Iquitos.  Whenever another pellet surfaces, Orlando cuts it out from Mario’s foot.  I brought antibiotic ointment, a supply of waterproof bandaids and, oh, yes, cough drops, because Mario had a cold.  They laughed and called me “Mama.”  I  shouldn’t have worried–even after jungle surgery, Mario played soccer in the mud that evening, wearing only flip flops.

When Orlando returned us to Iquitos, he showed us some sights, including this plaque, declaring the Amazon one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

We did see some amazing natural wonders in the Amazon.

But if you ask me, Orlando would qualify as the Eighth New Wonder of Nature.


c2013 Naomi Baltuck
Thanks to my daughter Bea, a natural storyteller who kept a journal, and helped me recall the details.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare.

Jungle Law

Thank goodness for window screens!  But as demonstrated in my last post on the Amazon, screens don’t always keep the wildlife out.

For instance, we shared The Hammock Room at the Research Center with this tarantula.  He wasn’t as interested in us as we were in him.

We named him Tomacito, or “Little Tommy.”  Tomacito served as a reminder to shake out our shoes each morning before getting dressed. Insects and critters found their way into our little sanctuary, but it was the ones I couldn’t see that bugged me.

That first morning we ventured into the jungle with Orlando, our amazing guide.  In spite of the heat and 90+ percent humidity, we covered as much skin as possible with clothing, and sprayed whatever we couldn’t cover with repellant.  Nighttime mosquitoes carry malaria, daytime ones dengue fever, and I can’t remember which carry yellow fever, but I didn’t want to be breakfast for any of them.

Below are a few of my own unofficial rules of the jungle for the timid traveler.

Rule of the Jungle #1– bring mosquito repellent!

Fallen trees and leaves, mud, and overnight storms in the tropical rainforest made hiking challenging.

We wore rubber boots to keep our feet dry.  Bea stepped in a puddle deeper than anticipated, and water poured into her boot.

Rule of the Jungle # 2–Watch your step!

Orlando uprooted several small trees, and cut the trunks off with his machete to make tea from the bark to relieve his mother’s arthritis.  He replanted the roots in the fertile soil, so the tree would survive.  Maybe the tea really was for his mom, but I believe it was also his tactful way of providing the Gringos with walking sticks to help balance on slippery walkways.

Rule of the Jungle #3–Take the hand extended to you, and be grateful for kindness in any form or guise.

So many trees and leaves were poisonous, covered with harmful insects, or had razor-sharp edges.  Another guest at the Research Center slipped and braced herself on a porcupine tree.  It left dozens of venomous barbs in in her hand, which swelled up painfully.  There was no doctor, but her guide Fernando cut the barbs out of her hand with pins and a knife, and she took a course of anti-biotics.

Rule of the Jungle #4–Don’t touch ANYTHING!

Rule of the Jungle # 5–There are exceptions to any rule.

Orlando saw an Olive Whip Snake, and quickly caught it with his bare hands.

He showed both kids how to handle a snake without getting bitten…

Orlando’s grandfather was a shaman.  He said, “My grandfather said if you can get a snake to wrap around you, it will become gentle and give you its energy.”  As soon as it wrapped around him, the snake calmed down, and then Orlando released it into a tree.

Rule of the Jungle #6–Be as open to new experiences as you can without endangering yourself or others.

Rule of the Jungle #7–Bring your camera!!

We caught many tantalizing glimpses of wildlife, but they were often quicker than I was  when it came to focusing the camera.

However, some critters obligingly held still for me.

 

Occasionally I would be rewarded with a shot like this.

Or this….

Or this…

 

Or this…

 Or this…

Rule of the Jungle #8–Only you can know what it requires for you to glean the most meaning and satisfaction out of your jungle experience or your life.  Do no harm, but make up your own damn rules, and break them whenever necessary.

All images and words copyright 2013 NaomiBaltuck

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

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It’s a Jungle Out There!

Forgive me, Blogger, it has been three weeks since my last post.   I’ve been wandering in the wilderness, sans laptop, with nary a scrap of wifi to leave a trail behind.  Let me tell you how it was.

Beyond the frozen Andes…

https://i0.wp.com/i1176.photobucket.com/albums/x334/nbaltuck/Amazon%20jungle/a6074a84-c875-414a-8745-e835cff0fe3b_zpsc66f4997.jpg

..a thick cloud cover gradually dissipated to reveal…

…mile upon mile of endless jungle.  

No roads.  Only the mighty Amazon River and its tributaries winding their way through the hot steamy rainforest like great brown snakes.

We landed in Iquitos, a jungle city accessible only by air or water.  Three-wheeled motocarros, motorized rickshaws, were the popular mode of conveyance.  Families of five squeezed onto motorbikes to go about their business.

We chose Amazonia Expeditions for its environmental work, and its support of the little villages along the Tahuayo River.  Our guide was Orlando.  He is the Eighth Natural Wonder of the World, and I will tell you more about that later.


Mario, Orlando’s sidekick, spoke no English, but always knew when an extra hand was needed, or how to make us laugh.

We traveled in this blue motorboat four and a half hours upriver on the Amazon and then the Tahuayo.

At Tahuayo Lodge we switched to a small motorboat…

….picked up supplies…


…and set out for the research center, another two hours away. The jungle was huge, the river was endless.  No breadcrumb trail to follow back to civilization; we just went deeper and deeper into the wilderness.

Travel on the Tahuayo River was a more quiet and intimate experience.

Wildlife was easier to view.

We stopped to watch Squirrel Monkeys playing in the trees.  Or maybe they stopped to watch us.

Here and there along the riverbank were villages consisting of about a dozen houses built around a village green.

 

For the Riberenos, the river people, the river was not only their only highway.  It was their laundry room…

Their bathhouse…

Their pantry and their lifeline.

At last we arrived at the research center.

My grown kids were in their element, as excited and carefree as I have ever seen them.  If you have followed my blog, you already know I am a confessed Travel Weenie.   But I am vulnerable to peer pressure (my children, actually), and I try to stretch myself out of my comfort zone.   Which is how I ended up in the Amazon Jungle.  Frankly, I wilt in the heat, and the thought of spending a week sweating and swatting mosquitoes carrying dengue fever, malaria, and yellow fever,  never mind typhus, was daunting.   I’m reminded of a Big Bang Theory episode in which Leonard reports on Sheldon’s condition: “He’s paranoid, and he’s established a nest.”

Well, here is my little nest.

And here is a little story–more like show and tell–that I will leave you with until next time.  There was a public shower and restroom that we accessed by walking down a long thatch-roofed walkway.


In the bathroom on our first morning at the station, Bea said, “Don’t touch that post, Mom.” “Why not?”I asked.   It was backlit, but even looking up close, I saw nothing alarming.

She said, “Take a flash photo.”  I ALWAYS have my camera with me, and so I took the shot, and looked at the viewer.  This is what I saw.  That post was four inches wide, so you can imagine how big that arachnid wallflower was.

Just thinking about this is making me sweat, so I’ll sign off now.  Next time, we’ll venture beyond the restroom, and into the jungle to see some of the wildlife–and further challenges–we encountered on our Amazon jungle hikes.

Thanks for stopping by.  It feels great to be back!

All words and images c2013NaomiBaltuck

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