Back Down to Earth

There is freedom in cutting loose one’s bonds to float high above the rest of the world.

To be quiet, and alone in one’s thoughts.

It is a space and place that I do sometimes share.

Just when I find myself adjusting to the elevation…

…and the solitude…

Just when I start feeling too comfortable, too removed…

…I feel a tug on the heartstrings that brings me back down to earth.

Sometimes it’s as simple as discovering on my front walk a baby bird that needs to be returned to its nest.

More often it is my own baby birds, coming home to roost.

Even just for a little while.

All words and images c2014 Naomi Baltuck.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Special Delivery

Yesterday a package arrived from Australia.  My sister was moving and there was no place in her new home for our mother’s silver tea set–the one Mom kept on her buffet in her little house in Detroit.  My sister could’ve easily packed it off to a thrift store or sold it at a garage sale. Instead she kindly chose to pay postage to send it all the way to America to reunite the silver service with mom’s old buffet, which now lives in the dining room of my home in Seattle.

Three days ago I put my son on a plane to Turkey, where he will teach English for the next three years.  I can fret, or be proud of him for having the courage to make such a momentous move.

His sister Bea was scheduled to come home from her program in Lithuania two days after Eli’s departure. Unfortunately they would miss each other, but Eli turned it into an opportunity.  In the wee hours of the night before he left, we hauled a little surprise for Bea up from the basement.  Eli hoped she’d like it even better than the last surprise he left her.

It was the perfect way to present Bea with motion-activated cooing tribble slippers she hadn’t even known she needed.

Still, it lacked a certain ‘Je ne sais crois.’

Actually, Eli knew exactly what it needed.

…And then he added the finishing touch.

Packing done, boarding pass printed, and still enough time to play one last game of Pandemic and save the world before our trip to the airport!

On the way we brainstormed how and when to visit, just as I used to do with my mom before each parting. And nowadays we can even Skype in the meantime.

My mom taught her kids to look for the bright spots. She could find ’em where you wouldn’t have thought there was one.

After Mom’s first chemo session, my sister Constance and I suggested going home to rest. Mom said, “The doctor says it won’t hit me until tonight. We’re going to Sanders Ice Cream Parlor. If I have to get sick, I’m going to throw up ice cream.”

 

Bea arrived two days after Eli left.  His parting gift was appreciated (up to a point). Now it resides in his room, scaring the heck out of me and making me laugh every time I go in there to open the blinds.

Bea, unpacking the heirloom tea set, said, “We’re going to have a MONSTER Tea Party!” There was another unexpected gift from Auntie Down Under–an uber-protective full-body swimsuit. Bea ran to try it on. Like Clark Kent bursting from a phone booth in Superman duds, out of Bea’s room flew Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl.

Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl (aka The UV Protector) threw Fashion Sense to the wind, and bravely faced the sun and its evil rays–in public.

All our lives we’ve heard,”You gotta break an egg if you want an omelet.” We jump willingly into the fray, enduring, for instance, the red eye flight for the trip to Europe.

My mom used to say, “When you’re holding your baby in your arms, you forget the pain.” Then Mom’s sister lost her baby. So what if there’s no baby to hold? My Aunt Loena would say you have to find others to hold and love, which she did. But some challenges you cannot go around, hire out, or wiggle free from.  It’s the stuff no one else can do for you, even if they wanted to.  It’s the bend in the river of life where there is no turning back and no standing still. Moving forward is all you can do, and your only choice is about how you do that, whether you are five years old or ninety-five, whether it’s getting a tetanus shot or chemotherapy, whether you are saying goodbye for now or forever.

I know and love–and I’m sure you do too–some very dear people who are facing some of life’s most daunting challenges and have been taxed in ways most people can only imagine.  Yet they are getting up and going to work each day and taking their kids to school and playing Werewolves with them at the end of the day with stents in their chest.  Or telling stories to bring joy to their audiences while undergoing months of chemo, and celebrating the last treatment by traveling the great cities Europe.  Or writing Haiku with one hand while learning how to walk again after a stroke. Or surviving cancer to reinvent themselves, leaving a bad marriage and developing a highly successful career as an artist. Or after a hip replacement, beating the odds from sheer determination to progress from wheelchair to walker to cane to standing on their own two feet while receiving radiation for a spot on the lung.

Who ARE these people? They are not the Supermen and Wonder Women of the world; they are the Clark Kents and Diana Princes, who through sheer strength of will and spirit quietly forge on through fire and ice. They are the real superheroes, delivering the right stuff. Their legacies are not the silver tea sets, but the stories they give us to hold in our hearts.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Mischievious

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

Rather Than Curse the Darkness, Light a Tiki Torch!

We love to share the occasional Murder Mystery, D&D adventure, or Sci-fi party with friends, not to mention New Year’s Eve, Christmas Eve, Hanukkah and Lincoln’s Birthday.  But it was our first Valentine’s Day without the kids to help plan the party, and share in the fun.

Bea was away at school.

…Eli was visiting her in California…

 …and poor Thom was too sick to venture out of the bedroom.

Romance was out of the question, but that has never been the focus of our Valentine’s Day.  Thom and I find many days and ways to express our romantic feelings for each other.  Valentine’s Day has been a day to share with our wider circle of loved ones, and especially our kids.

I worried that instead of this

…the party would look like this.

Rather than curse the darkness, I lit a tiki torch…

…and celebrated Valentine’s Day with an Aloha Party!

 Aloha is difficult to define.  Literally it means ‘divine breath.’  But it can be used as a greeting, a salutation, a farewell.  It is also used  to express ‘love,’ ‘sympathy,’ ‘compassion.’  It’s as versatile as ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,’ but I like it so much more.

So I tossed the invitations up into the air, lit the tiki torches, set up a goody table, and here’s who the trade winds blew in.

Jim and Aarene came bearing papaya, pineapple, and delicious homemade plum wine.  They are horse lovers, storytellers, and co-hosts of Global Griot, a storytelling program on 90.7 FM KSER.  Aarene is the author of two very well received books, Endurance 101 and Sex in the Library.  Jim served in the navy as a submariner before becoming a professional Santa.  (Which explains the chapeau, and perhaps also why he’s drinking a Bosun’s Mate.)

The party was in full swing when Rick and Sue arrived with a huge Pineapple Upside Down Cake!  I was filling orders for drinks and couldn’t get to my camera, but here they are in their Hawaiian plumage at our 1950s New Year’s Eve party.  They are some of the most creative people I know.  Rick is the art director for WildTangent Studios, and an amazing artist/cartoonist (I own a copy of his book!).  Sue is a prizewinning baker and my exercise buddy, which is only fair, since I have to work off the wonderful treats she brings.  For our sci-fi party, it was an ice creamy concoction they called Ketrecel White, which was tasty but potent!   I can’t believe my good fortune in having so many friends who are unabashed geeks.

See that beautiful cake, just left of the pineapple?  It was delicious!

The best parties start in the kitchen.

Seattle storyteller Norm Brecke and Portland storyteller Anne Rutherford caught us up on their news.  Norm spent the week performing “The Lighter Side of Lincoln,” while Anne had just finished a run of a show called “Scenes From the Future” at The Fertile Ground Festival of New Works in Portland.

What a lovely mix of family, old friends, and new friends too.  My cousins Nancy and Ian…

…brought a carload of people, including my brother Lew…

…and their neighbors, Joanne and Ian, who I met while walking around Green Lake with Nancy and Sue each week.  Joanne seemed always to be walking around the lake one way, and we were always walking around the other way; somehow it seemed natural to just start walking in the same direction.  Joanne is an artist, a quilter, a jewelry maker; every time we talk I find another shared interest.  Her husband Ian has been everywhere, and I particularly loved hearing about his travels in The Galapagos.  It was their first visit to our home, but I hope it will not be the last.

Jim and Megan are storytellers too.  They arrived with their daughter Tara, who I was very pleased to meet (she loves games and is quick to catch on!).

Many of the stories Jim Douma tells are the ones he sings.  He is a folk musician and played for years with the Celtic band, Clay Pipes.  He gave me a copy of his new CD, Flying Blindwhich he made with the help of my friend Rob Moitoza, who also produced and engineered my CDs.

Jim wrote the music and words to this splendid heartwarming collection. His daughters Tara and Meredith sang with him, and Meredith designed this striking and beautiful CD jacket.  Jim and Megan have clearly nurtured and passed on their creativity to the next generation of their family!

I was glad to welcome Gene Gousie and Kathy McMullen.  I did my very first professional storytelling with Gene Gousie thirty years ago!  He came to our wedding with his baby daughter Brie in a snuggly and I swear, he hasn’t changed a bit since then!

The party spilled into the living and dining rooms.  People visited, played games, and once again our home was filled with music and singing.

I was painfully shy as a kid.  I always had a special friend or two, and my sister is and has always been my best friend.  But it has taken me years–decades–to build such a lovely circle of exceptionally kind, funny, creative, and pleasantly quirky friends.  What I love best about a circle is that there is always room for one more.  It gives me such satisfaction when two of my friends who don’t know each other ‘click’ and thus the circle grows.

On Valentine’s Night, the wind was blowing and the air was crisp, but the aloha spirit was alive and well, and kept the darkness at bay.

null

‘Kākou’ is the word that represents the Hawaiian value of inclusiveness.  ‘Aloha kākou’ means ‘May there be love and kindness between us all.’

Aloha kākou, dear friends!  

All images and words copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

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

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

Flying South

It was our last day before our daughter Bea returned to Stanford, so we let her decide how to spend it.  Hiking was her first choice.   In Washington one must often decide—mountains or ocean?

But the trail at Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island gave us a little of both, plus some Washington State history.

The trail takes you past the historic house of Jacob and Sarah Ebey, built in the early 1850s, and the blockhouse built for protection from Native American uprisings.  (You can’t blame the indigenous people–they were there first.)

Isaac Ebey found his paradise on Whidbey.  The government was granting 640 acres to each homesteader.   Isaac convinced not only his parents, Jacob and Sarah Ebey, to come homestead on Whidbey Island, but several siblings and cousins as well.

From Jacob and Sarah’s house,  you can see Isaac Ebey’s homestead, pictured below.  He was one of the first white settlers on Whidbey Island, was the island’s prosecuting attorney, a representative of the Oregon State Legislature when Washington was still part of Oregon Territory, and he helped persuade the legislature to separate Washington from Oregon Territory.  Ebey was also a tax collector, a customs agent, and captain of the local volunteer militia.

But there was trouble in paradise.  In 1857 Native Americans–probably Haida–came to avenge the death of their chief at the hands of white men in Port Gamble.  The man they meant to kill wasn’t home, but they knew Ebey was an important man, and they knew where he lived.  They knocked on his door; when he opened it, they killed and beheaded him, taking his head as a trophy.

As we walked past Isaac’s house, I thought of his parents, wife, and children, left to grieve in paradise.

The view was heavenly.  From the bluff, we looked west to the Olympic Peninsula and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to the south was Mt. Rainier, and the Cascade Mountains were visible to the east.

We took in the smell of salt, the sparkle of sunlight on the water, the feel of the earth beneath our boots.

The trail took us to the water, and then along some of Washington’s highest coastal bluffs.

Below was the beach…

…and Peregos Lake, formed by a narrow spit covered with giant weathered drift logs.

Via switchbacks we descended the steep golden hillside to the beach….

…where we found all kinds of treasures…

…including several dead Lion’s Mane jellyfish, which we examined in detail.

Each moment has become a precious memory which I will bring out and savor as needed, like a box of fine chocolates.

Looping back toward the trailhead…

…I thought about our little chick.

Soon she would be navigating a different coastline.

For her I wished for calm waters…

…and guiding light.

I had to remind myself how lucky we are.   When the pioneers struck out on their own and bid their parents farewell, it was almost always forever.

But for every bird flying south there will be another trip north.  And for every plane flying out of Seattle, there’s another one coming home.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck.

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

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Travel Theme: Sea.

You Can’t Change That

Like a brilliant sunset, it’s here and then gone.

As fleet as a bird on the wing…

Passing as unnoticed as the morning dew…

…even as it goes speeding down the track of no return.

From here.

To here.

Like a river, it flows, with its twists and turns, its highs and lows.

But mostly highs.

But it’s just as they say.

 Time…

…and tides wait for no one.

Childhood, theirs–not ours–slips away like water through our fingers.

 

Or a kite caught up in a strong wind.

As warm and wonderful as a hug, but just as fleeting.

Suddenly they’re all grown up; intelligent, creative, compassionate human beings, ready to make their contributions to the world.  Which is the whole point, isn’t it?

Their childhood is a gift…

…we gave to each other.

It has its season, and then it’s gone…

Off they go to seek their fortunes.

Dang!  And just when they learned how to cook!

But here’s something they won’t know until they have children of their own.  Long after our kids are parents, long after they’ve gone gray, long after they are elderly orphans…they will still be our babies.

 photo e44fa7f6-b8ce-4182-b007-8bfc3bce5a47_zpsee121352.jpg
Neither time nor tides can ever change that.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

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

Prepare to Be Boarded

Recently my daughter Bea declared her major at Stanford: Privateering.


Her friends Ben and Michael signed on as awkward incompetent first mate and shoulder parrot.  So my sister Constance and I decided to try our luck as chief cook and bottle washer, and cabin boy.

Bea was flying home for spring break. We went to meet her at Sea-Tac airport.  We picked up a cart, to carry our booty.

Not only did Bea immediately don the captain’s hat and coat we brought along, just in case Cap’n Bea was traveling incognito….

 

…but from out of her pack she pulled out her very cool pirate goggles to top off the outfit.

 

The next best thing to a contract signed in blood, we press-ganged an innocent bystander to photo-document the deal.

 

I have proven once again that it is impossible to embarrass Beatrice.


But we can just keep trying.

Unless otherwise stated, all images and words cNaomi Baltuck.

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

Click here for more interpretations of Cee’s Odd Ball Challenge: Week 9!

Flying High

Last week my son Eli and I got into the car and drove down to Sea-Tac airport.

It was a beautiful day.  We saw honest-to-goodness sunshine for the first time in a long time.  I was glad I remembered to bring my camera.  Turning onto Main Street, we saw the Olympics in all their glory.

Eli and I have a very simple system for sharing the camera. If I’m driving, it’s “Eli, quick, take a picture of that.  Without the power lines, if you can!”  Sometimes he gets excited, and says, “Ooh, Mom, can I have the camera?”   South of downtown Seattle, we rounded a bend, and gasped at the magnificence of Mt. Rainier, looming over the city like a great white ghost.  “Quick, Eli, take a picture!”

He got a good one.  Only this time, I asked him to take another, with the carpool sign in it.  At the time I wasn’t sure why, but I realize now it’s because I wanted to remember being together in our little family carpool, sharing that moment in our beautiful home town.
https://i0.wp.com/i1176.photobucket.com/albums/x334/nbaltuck/General%20Album%20Two/b7439e0f-7ca8-4a6e-8f3b-c6be85dc9797_zpsba380e0a.jpg
Everything seemed so natural, and ordinary. Except this time, we parked at the airport, checked his bag, and grabbed a cuppa joe and a goodbye kiss, before he boarded an airplane to Argentina as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant.

While inching his way through the maze toward the security gate, we waved and smiled at each other each time he passed by.  He reminded me of a kid waiting in line to go on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland.  Only this was the real thing.  My son put on his shoes, grabbed his backpack and ukelele, and gave me one final salute before hurrying off to his gate. Then I went to the parking garage, got into my car, and blubbered.

I’m so proud of my son.  He’s courageous and adventurous.  He’s doing what all our baby birdies are supposed to do.  We hatch them, and nurture them….

They test their wings…

 

…and then they fly.  That’s their job.

My  job is to miss them, and worry, and love them wherever they are, and to get on with my life.  I had shows to rehearse for, a manuscript to finish, out-of-town company coming to visit.

It seemed impossible that I should be arriving back home while Eli’s plane still sat on the tarmac waiting for take-off.  I swung by the water, and saw that the sun was still shining.  Cars and people were still coming and going.

Ferry boats too.

On the way up the hill to our house I passed another familiar sight.  I’d always appreciated the simple beauty of this little wooden structure, vaguely wondering who had built it on such thickly forested unoccupied land–and why.  That day I perceived it as a work of art, an invitation, a gateway to adventure, to the unknown, to the future.  And  I stopped to take a picture for Eli.

Click here to read Elaiya Blogea, Elijah’s very funny, very interesting blog about a year in Salta.

All images and words c2013 Naomi Baltuck.

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

Stories Written in Stone

No, friends, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth.  I was dropping off my daughter Bea, not quite at the ends of the earth, but at Stanford University, 858 miles from home. We left early, so Eli could check out the graduate program at the International Institute in Monterey.  We decided to make a proper road trip out of it.  Thom couldn’t get away, so Bea, Eli, and I kissed him goodbye, and hit the road.

Our first stop was Portland, where we dined with Cousin Bryan, talented photographer, and Friend Barb.

Then we parked on the lawn of Chapman School amidst a happily buzzing crowd.  We were waiting for sunset, to witness a miracle of nature.

Every September, on their fall migration to Central America, as many as 35,000 Vaux’s Swifts stop to roost in the school’s industrial-sized chimney.  It was breathtaking to watch them gather, swooping and dipping in graceful swirling patterns of feather, muscle, and tiny bird bone.

As the sun set, the first little swift disappeared into the chimney, followed by thousands of its traveling companions.  Portland was a rest area for them, as it was for us, on one heck of a road trip.  I had road signs to follow, but had to wonder how the swifts managed to find their way back again and again to the exact same roost.

Bryan suggested another stop–for dessert at funky Rimsky-Korsakoffee House.  Raspberry Fool, pumpkin sundae, frozen lemon mousse came and went, while we enjoyed live classical piano music.  Our table top rotated so slowly we didn’t even realize it until we found ourselves dipping our spoons into our neighbor’s dessert.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but if you find yourself at Rimsky-KorsaKoffee House, be sure to visit the restroom.

The next day we burned rubber–450 miles worth–heading south on I-5 through Oregon, marvelous Oregon!

Where else could you pull up to a gas station, and not only have your tank filled , but get this kind of service?

Not to mention the natural wonders….

We passed through O’Brien, Oregon….

…navigating rush hour traffic without too much difficulty.

It was a long day, but it flew by–not just because we had Good ‘n’ Plenties in the car, but because Bea read aloud to us–first Rex Benedict’s YA Western, Good Luck Arizona Man, and then Last Stand at Goodbye Gulch.  Bea brought the quirky characters to life with her many voices.

We also sang along with the Kingston Trio, Michael Martin Murphy‘s cowboys songs, and Paul Clayton’s Whaling Songs of the 19th Century.   Our favorites are the stories set to music.  Like John Denver’s On the Road, or Liam Clancy’s The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

We cut over to the coast from Grant’s Pass, and found ourselves in California.

We marveled at the giant redwoods…

…and golden hills.

We braked frequently for wildlife…

…and, yes, for ice cold Diet Coke.

Like the Vaux’s Swifts, we found a very nice place to roost that night.  Ferndale is a Victorian village, with over a hundred Victorian buildings still in use.  We splurged and stayed at The Victorian Inn, which is old enough to have suffered damage during the 1906 earthquake.

We missed the sunset in Ferndale, but went for a night walk on the deserted streets.


Not even a restaurant was open, so we had a picnic up in our room…

…solved all the world’s problems over a hot cup of tea in the Victorian’s cozy guest lounge…

…and went to sleep in beautiful brass beds.

The next day, we took a walk to see the town by daylight.

https://i0.wp.com/i1176.photobucket.com/albums/x334/nbaltuck/IMG_3703-1.jpg

So many beautiful old houses!

Then we discovered Ferndale’s terraced cemetery.  I urged the kids to keep time in mind, as we still had 400 miles to drive that day.

We found so many stories there, some shared with the world, others buried so deep we could only wonder at them.

We almost missed the little marker on a weathered  tombstone identifying its occupant as one of the handcart pioneers, who had spent months walking 1300 miles across the Great Plains on foot, dragging no more than 17 pounds of personal possessions, food staples, and a few tools.

The trip of a lifetime.

Some people showed a sense of humor about a very serious subject, or at least their survivors did.

I don’t believe this was irreverence; rather a private joke shared from one world to the next.  There was also a well-worn bench for them to spend time together.  So far away, and yet still so close.

Most were simple heartfelt expressions that summed up a life in a few words.

Sometimes all it took was one word.

While reading stories of flesh and blood written in stone, I came upon a headstone belonging to a young man, who died in 1880 at the age of 23.  His bones are dust by now, as are those of the parents who grieved for him, but their words still ring true.

“A light is from our household gone, a voice we loved is still.  A place is vacant at our hearth, which never can be filled.”

I’m glad the kids were off exploring and the cemetery was deserted, because I started to bawl.  My heart must’ve been feeling what my mind kept trying to forget–that my baby bird was flying from the nest, and nothing would ever be the same.  It only took a tissue and a minute or two to pull myself together.  Truly, I couldn’t have been in a better place for putting this matter into perspective.

We raise our children to be strong and independent.  We do whatever we can to help our little birds learn to fly.  When they do, we rejoice.  It means we’ve done our job, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.  It was a moment that put my whole life into perspective.  Instead of fretting about getting to Monterey before dark, we walked downtown to a lovely shop in search of…

…PLUMAGE.


On life’s journey, I will be a handcart pioneer.  I choose to bring sunshine and laughter and song with me–as much as I can carry, and then some for sharing.  Along the way I will partake of pumpkin sundaes, good company, and live music.  I will fill my heart with stories that make me strong, make me wise, make me laugh.  I will savor the Good ‘n’Plenties of Life.  In every footstep of my journey, I will have faith in the power of love.  And I will always remember that tiny miracle of nature, the Vaux’s Swift, who on its own life journey, always manages to find its way home, even for a little while.

All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Stone.

Where Are We? Where’s Walter? And Where is That Fleeting Moment?

My daughter Bea’s spring break didn’t coincide with her Dad’s, so we took our first overseas trip together, just the two of us.

She was a sophomore in high school, but I knew she  would be college bound before I could blink twice, and her spring breaks and summers would likely be spent on internships, summer jobs, or traveling with friends.  Each moment felt precious and fleeting, except perhaps our first night in England, when my darling girl got very sick.  There was nothing fleeting about that night–it lasted an eternity!  But Bea rallied, and we made the most of every moment.

Each day I studied the map and planned our route, which ‘A’ road led to which ‘B’ road which led to tiny country lanes with no names.

“Why bother, Mom?  We always get lost anyway,” said Bea.

Good point.   If we asked a local for directions, the answer went something like this: “Right! Take the left fork, then the second right, go past three fields and take a left where the old oak used to be…”  Once I even had to knock on a stranger’s door to beg directions.

But a dandelion is only a weed if you don’t want it, and getting lost was an interesting diversion, so long as we were in no hurry, and we never were.  Our oft-repeated motto was, “We always get where we’re going…………………………………………….eventually!

I wanted to share some of my favorite places with Bea and do a bit of research for a historical novel, but mostly I hoped to discover exciting places new to us both.  On previous trips, I’d never made it to Canterbury, though the town had played an important role throughout English history.   So we moseyed to Canterbury, and stayed at Blackfriars, an inn that was once a 13th century friary.

At Canterbury Cathedral we had our tour guide all to ourselves.  I’d have sworn he’d stepped right out of a BBC special, with his gray hair, proper English accent, and Mr. Rogers sweater and tie.  He also carried a cane, and I suspect that he’d suffered a mild stroke.  Yet here he was, kindly sharing his expertise and his precious time with us.  We asked questions about the cathedral and even ventured into politics, current events, and other matters I’d always wondered about, such as, “What do contemporary English people think about Henry VIII?”  When our tour ran over–too many questions–our guide called the front desk for permission to spend another hour with us.  We felt so honored and grateful.  After saying goodbye to him, we went to the gift shop for our pilgrim badges.

We heard great stories from John the Boatman on the canal tour in Canterbury.  When we came to a particularly low bridge, he  warned us to duck.  As we passed under, he pointed out the groove worn into the center stone by the heads of boatmen not quite fleet enough, at least when it came to ducking.  How many times, I wondered, would you have to smack the back of your head before you caught on?  And how many boatmen had it taken over the centuries to wear a grove in the stone?

Some of our discoveries were due to fools’ luck.  On an evening stroll we stumbled upon this little coffee shop where in 1620, according to its proprietors, America began.  (It was the place where the Mayflower was hired to carry pilgrims to America. Using that logic, the soda fountain where Mr. Disney popped the question to the future Mrs. Disney is the place where Disneyland began.)  Nevertheless we took a photo for future reference, since we have a personal history and interest in the Mayflower.

We visited castles, museums and took high tea, but a trip to the grocery store was as much fun as Disneyland.


We love to try new things, especially when the second ingredient listed is sugar.

…and I think there should be a monument erected in honor of Mr. Kipling, for his contribution to the world–Mr. Kipling’s Exceedingly Good Cherry Bakewell Tarts.

But Bea and I don’t need a tourist attraction to amuse ourselves–we talk history, life, story and more story.  Wherever we go, Bea and I  inevitably produce an outline for a novel based on this era or that event, and England was a fertile and storied land long before we arrived.   We took turns brainstorming and talking each other through rough spots in our writing projects.  I’d just finished a draft of a women’s contemporary, Real Troopers.  One of my characters is Walter Clark, a retired F.B.I. agent, poet, and amateur astronomist.  He is older, with white hair, a good looking sixty-something.  But was he too good to be true?  Could someone like Walter exist in real life?  Bea and I invented a game, ‘Where’s Walter?’  On country lanes and city streets, we kept a discreet eye peeled for him.

“How about him, Mom?” asked Bea, casually nodding her head in the direction of a man walking toward us in the crowd.

“Too young,” I said.

“How about him?” asked Bea.

“Too old,” I said.  “Oooh, don’t look, Bea!  Turn slowly and check out that gent by the phone booth.  Could that be Walter?”

Bea pretended to stretch, discreetly twisting her head for a look, then gave her report.  “Walter would never have frown lines.”

She was right, of course.  We left Canterbury and The Walter That Wasn’t to depart for our next destination.  Not knowing if I’d have another chance, I had splurged for a night in a very spiffy 15th century B&B, The Olde Moat House, in Ivy Church.  There was a tiny hamlet with only a church and a pub, where two men were having a pint at an outside table.  We were coming from a different direction than we’d planned, but figured we would find our way there…………………………………….eventually.   After a mile or so, we realized we’d overshot the town and turned back.  As we passed the pub for the second time, one of the men jumped up and flagged us down.   I stopped and rolled down the window,  and he said, pointing,“The Olde Moat House.  It’s in that direction.  Look for a gate with two white posts.”

 “How did you know?” I asked.

“A mother and a daughter.” (He did NOT say “looking confused,” but he didn’t need to.)

For one night, Bea was a princess.


The next day we had tea at The Mermaid Inn in Rye.

The inn was there at the time of the Conquest.  It was so old they had to remodel in anticipation of a visit by the first Queen Elizabeth.

Our bartender was Paddy Mortimer, whose ancestor had come over with William the Conqueror.  (We forgave him.)  When he heard Bea had been ill, he mixed her the special orange juice concoction his mum always made him when he was sick, and served it to her on the house.  He had us wait five minutes for his shift to end, so he could escort us to our car park.  Thank you, Paddy, dear lad.

True ghost stories from Dover Castle must wait, as will the story of our visit to Battle Abbey, where we walked the battlefield on which the last Anglo-Saxon king, Harold Godwinson, was defeated by William the Bastard, thereafter known as William the Conqueror.

I also wanted to take Bea to Battle, because it is the starting point of my historical novel, The Keeper of the Crystal Spring, which I co-authored with my sister Deborah.  It was a really special moment to share with my daughter.

So we had our eating moments,

and our bleating moments…
null

…and even our cheating moments.

That happened on the Underground.  We were returning from London to our  hotel when I saw him.  Among the bustling crowd on the subway I saw Walter!  “Look, Bea,” I whispered.  “It’s him!”  Bea confirmed.  Yes!  We had a positive identification, but we needed documentation.  I whipped out my camera and said, “Smile!”  Bea did, and I shot right past her head to snap a creeper photo of Walter, concrete proof that he did, indeed, exist!  But the shot was out of focus, soI tried again…

By that time I was laughing so loud that I embarrassed Bea, and drew unwanted attention.   Thank goodness, the train stopped, and we all went our separate ways.  But now I know, somewhere in the streets of London, Walter exists!

I will tell you one more story, about the 650 year old Clergy House in Alfriston.

In the 1880s it was in a state of decay, and church authorities wanted to tear it down.  Living there was a ninety year old woman who had been renting the house from the church for many years.  She cried and begged them not to destroy her home and put her out onto the streets.  They took pity, and granted her permission to live out the rest of her life in the old clergy house, and then they would raze it.  She surprised them all by living another three years, just long enough for the right folks to found The National Trust.  They got organized just in time to purchase The Clergy House, raise the funds to restore it, and maintain it as a priceless national treasure, the very first property of many such historic treasures acquired by The National Trust.  When we toured the house, there was a smooth-edged little hole in the lintel over the front door, worn into the wood by six centuries of coming and going of the furry little bats living among the rafters.  Who would have thought such fleeting appearances by such tiny creatures would make such a lasting mark?

Fleeting moments occur, and often reoccur.  I think of the Canterbury boatmen who wore down a stone bridge with the backs of their heads.  But then there are the bats who have done much the same thing at The Clergy House, only they created a pathway to home, a far worthier pursuit than banging your head against a wall.  I’m more like a bat than a boatman.  Every expression of love, every shared smile, every conversation we have is a precious fleeting moment in time.  Just like it did for the bats, that moment builds upon itself, and the effect is cumulative.   I think of the empty nest I will be living in next year, but I will try not to feel too sad.  Bea and I have shared a lifetime of fleeting precious moments that have worn a pathway from heart to heart, and that will never go away.

Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

Two Subjects

You might look at this photograph and think, “Yes, two subjects, the darkened foreground and the colorful Argentine background.” Or perhaps you might decide that the two subjects are actually the two hikers.  I look at this photograph and see all that, and more.

In this one picture, I see many shared adventures, but also the life journey we have made as a family.  I see my husband and my daughter standing on a verge, both soon to be subject to great life changes.  His little chick is flying off into the bright colorful world stretched out before her. He is waiting for the lady with the camera to catch up, and together we will fly home, but not to our empty nest.  We also have wings with which to fly, and that wide world is also ours to explore in a new way, through new eyes.

People perceive every snapshot through their own eyes.  One single image can hold numerous meanings to the same person.  So many stories, based on the viewer’s experience, past and present, and loaded with hopes, wishes, and dreams for the future.  Some of these visions occupy the forefront of our consciousness, others live quietly in the back of our minds.

There are always only two subjects that matter when we look at a picture–the eye and the beholder.