The Mistery of Life

One of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever visited is Switzerland, and not just because of the high altitude.

How can someplace be so wild and rugged…

…and yet so tidy and tame and settled?

You can take an escalator to the top of the mountain…

…and just when you think you’re alone in the most remote place in the world…

…you stumble upon a chalet where you can buy a cup of Ovaltine.

Or you hear cowbells and realize you are not alone after all.

When you’re looking straight up at the sky, where no mountain ought to be–surprise!–you realize it’s just playing peek-a-boo from behind the clouds.

We went for a hike, but the landscape seemed so domestic that we felt we should really call it  a stroll.

We stopped to make a friend or two along the way.

And belted out the words to The Sound of Music because…why not?

Unlike the deliberate and well-defined cable car ride up to our little village, there was no clear threshold, no magic doorway from domestic to wild.  The landscape changed so gradually we hardly noticed.

No cowbells here.

And then a shroud of mist descended so swiftly.

The path was obscured and maps were useless.

We couldn’t see the landmarks described in the guidebook.

It would soon be dark.  We had no choice but to put one foot ahead of the other…

…keep walking…

…accept the mystery and try to enjoy the adventure…

…And trust that sooner or later we would get where we were going.

That’s life.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck.

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

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

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!

Flight Patterns

Flying to and from Detroit last week, as we crossed over the Cascades on our way east, I looked down and could have sworn I saw the earth’s ribcage, like that of a hungry beast after a long hard winter.

When we flew over farmlands, how could I not think of a tidy patchwork quilt?


Until we came to what looked like a giant game of Tiddly Winks.

I wondered why this river flows the way it does, taking the straight and narrow path…

…while this one flows across the same flat landscape, and goes every which way.  If I were a river, this is probably what I would look like.

Even so, I can’t help but see patterns in the chaos.  I liked the way these clouds lined themselves up, almost like checkers on a checker board.

I don’t want to get all Rorschach on you, but who doesn’t think this looks like a pair of shoes a giant lady kicked off to go running barefoot in a wheat field?  Mmmm.  In fact, maybe she was the one who left behind the giant Tiddly Winks.

Oh, I see what happened now.  A giant snake came slithering across these hills and frightened her away.  Okay, okay, so the snake’s head looks a bit like a dog’s, but it’s got a long skinny tongue and a rattle at the end.

When it comes to me and flight patterns, there are some things of which you can be certain.  I am never bored, I prefer peanuts over pretzels, the window seat over the aisle, and am always ready to fly off into a sunset.

All words and images c2013 NaomiBaltuck

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