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.

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

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

The Object of My Affection

It will be thirty-one years next month since Thom and I sent out this wedding invitation.

(designed by my sister Constance, poem by Langdon Smith).

In his wedding vows Thom borrowed this passage from Robert Browning, “Grow old along with me!  The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.”   I thought they were sweet words, but I was slender and pretty, with my whole life ahead of me; I could hardly imagine growing old, let alone growing old in concert.   Now I understand their import, and cannot believe my good fortune in having found such a wise old soul in such a young man.

Thom gave me the world.   With him I made my very first trip overseas, back in 1987.  We spent five weeks exploring Britain and Ireland.

We loved traveling so much we went back to Europe the next year.  That was to be the trip of a lifetime, so we hit all the must-sees:  Rome, Florence, Venice,  Paris, The Swiss Alps, Munich, Vienna, Madrid, Barcelona.

But instead of the trip of a lifetime, it became a way of life.

Travel is still a vital part of our life journey together.  I now see myself as a global citizen.  I wonder at the similarities between cultures, and celebrate the diversity.

We have shared this gift with our children.  We took them back to all the hotspots of Europe.  But the kids were good travelers and, with their encouragement, Thom and I have gotten more adventurous.  We have taken them to the Australian Outback, the Amazon, and Turkey.


I’m not surprised that both kids have grown up to be writers, storytellers, artists, and travelers, who are bilingual and trilingual.

Should I ever question my choice in a mate, I need only look at my children.  Through their eyes I see a better world, and am a deeper participant in life.

Dear Thom…

…You have always been and will always be the object of my deepest affection.

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck.

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

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.

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!