Alive in the Moment

It was only last summer, but it seems a lifetime ago that we visited Iceland…

 

…a country very different from ours, but one of stark beauty.

IMG_5404

 

A land of fire…

(Photo from Eldheimer Museum, Westman Islands.)

 

…and ice.

 

History…

IMG_4475 3

 

Culture…

 

…and wit.

My mom used to say, “You can find something in common with everyone you meet, even if it’s only that your feet hurt.”  A global pandemic should qualify.

At the Adalstraeti Museum, we saw old photographs of the inhabitants of Reykjavik.

An interpretive sign read, “Women in traditional costumes, boys from the Reykjavik Football Club…a professor in a coat with an opulent fur collar, several generations of a family, parents with their firstborn, Little Miss Reykjavik, a girl with a lamb, a boy in a sailor suit. It’s tempting to speculate on where they might have gone after the photographs were taken. Home to Lindargarta, or for a coffee at Hotel Island? Down to the shore to watch the lumpfish catch being landed? Or back to work after returning borrowed clothes?

All the portraits in this exhibition were taken in the first nine months of 1918…Some of the people we see in these pictures may well have perished in the epidemic: all will have lost friends or relatives. The only thing we can know for sure about these past inhabitants of Reykjavik is that in the instant the shutter opened, they were there—facing the camera—alive in the moment.”

On October 19, 1918, the Spanish flu hit Iceland like a tsunami when three infected ships made port in Reykjavik.  The first death followed twelve days later.  Ten thousand people, two thirds of Iceland’s capital city, fell ill.  The hospitals were overwhelmed.  A field hospital was set up to accommodate the overflow, and a center was created to care for children orphaned by the pandemic.  Shops closed, newspapers went dark, and when telephone operators took ill, Iceland lost contact with the outside world.

While the West and South of Iceland suffered, guards were posted to prevent travel from infected areas. They contained the spread, sparing the North and the East of the island. After a month, the infection peaked, and the dead were buried in mass graves.

The exhibit commemorated the centennial of the 1918 pandemic and celebrated the Icelanders’ laudable response. Many donated funds to feed the sick. Others brought meals to friends and strangers.  Everyone in Reykjavik was assigned an official to check on them and procure help, if needed.

We were there in the summer of 2019, never suspecting that the exhibit foreshadowed the novel coronavirus that would strike the following winter, and rapidly intensify into a global pandemic. We still languish in the first wave of CoVid-19, recalling with apprehension that the Spanish flu came in four waves, infected 500 million people, and left 50 million dead.

An older story harkens back to The Black Death, that raged across Asia and Europe in the 14th century, spread by sailors and rats along trade routes.  Within five years, it too had killed 50 million people.

(public domain)

At that time, an Icelandic merchant ship was preparing to sail homeward from Bergen, Norway, hoping to outrun the plague.  But before they could weigh anchor, several crew members developed symptoms.  All their instincts must have cried out for home…

 

…but the crew elected to remain in Bergen, knowing they would never see their home or loved ones again.

 

Thanks to their sacrifice in 1347, Iceland was spared the ravages of that deadly plague.

 

As the Adalstraeti Museum stated, the only thing we can know for certain about these people from the past is that they were there, alive in the moment. But it’s tempting to speculate.  Had you been on that ship, with buboes swelling in your groin, would you have resigned yourself to death in a foreign land to spare your countrymen a similar fate?  What if you were one of the crew with, as yet, no symptoms?  Would you still remain in Norway, surrendering any slim hope of survival, in order to contain the infection for the greater good?

(public domain)

I met my sister’s friend Rachel, a retired nurse, and her husband while visiting in Alaska. I was surprised last spring, when she left Juneau to fly to New York, which was suffering 600 deaths daily, as hospitals were slammed by CoVid-19 patients.  Rachel joined thousands of healthcare volunteers working 12 and 16 hour shifts, collapsing into bed each night, and waking to start all over again.

A friend of mine volunteers at a shelter for homeless youth. Why risk it? I speculate that in each youth she sees a person plagued by fears and sorrows, yet clinging to hopes and dreams.  Like the girl with the lamb, these kids are alive in the moment, but their world was rife with hardship, danger, and isolation even before the pandemic struck. A pandemic shines a harsh light on society’s economic and racial disparities, and those kids are a tiny fraction of the people who’ve slipped through holes in our social safety net.

We don’t know what the next five years, or even five months will bring, but it will get worse before it gets better. Like the people of Reykjavik, we must care for each other. Some people are in no position to donate funds or volunteer outside of their place of shelter. But almost everyone can wash their hands and wear a mask when going out, if not to protect themselves, then to protect the vulnerable among us. Like those who were here–facing the camera–very much alive in the moment…

 

Everyone is someone’s child, parent, sibling or grandparent.

 

 Many have underlying conditions or circumstances you know nothing about.

 

Wearing a mask is inconvenient, but well worth it, if it can save even one life.

If you can’t do this one small thing for friends, family, neighbors, and community, it’s tempting to speculate…what kind of person are you?

Except where noted, ©2020 Naomi Baltuck

 

 

Out in the World

 We went to Sighosora, Romania…

…and stayed in the Old Town.

In the passage to the courtyard we found a nest, with two baby birds huddled nearby.

There had been a fierce windstorm the previous night that must have blown the nest from its nook in the wall, our Romanian host told us when delivering the key to our flat.  My husband Thom replaced the nest, but when he tried to return the birds to the nest….

…he discovered two of their legs were tightly bound together by a long blond hair–nesting material gone terribly wrong.

We had a knife, our tiny blunt-nosed travel scissors, and a larger pair of scissors scrounged from the kitchen.  Thom and our son Eli hoped to separate the birds with a quick snip.  But the hair had been there for a long time, the legs were swollen around it, and every effort set the birds fluttering in a panic, which we feared would cause further damage.  Our host wished us good luck, and left for work.

We felt helpless.  We were there for only one night.  To whom could we hand off these birds? We could return them to the nest and let nature take its course–a slow and painful death by starvation and infection.  Or should we put them out of their misery?  The only other possible solution was harsh.  If we did nothing, both birds would surely die.  By amputating one leg, one bird would likely die, but the other might have a fighting chance.  One delicate leg was unresponsive to the touch, probably already broken.  Eli braced himself and severed the mangled leg, cutting through the hair.  Immediately both birds were free and fluttered off.

The one-legged bird landed on the ground nearby.

The stronger one fluttered all the way to the far side of the courtyard.

We heard a cackling overhead.  Even without the family resemblance, we recognized an anxious mother, calling to her babies from the rooftop.  We felt a glimmer of hope–their mother might yet take them back under her wing!

But our presence made her nervous, so we watched from inside, then left to explore the area.

By suppertime, the stronger bird had flown up to a perch in the courtyard…

…high enough to be safe from hungry cats.

The other remained quietly earthbound.  We wondered what the morning would bring.

The next day, the stronger of the two was gone, as was its mother.  The injured bird remained, probably abandoned as a lost cause by its family.  We checked back only moments later to discover the one-legged bird was now gone without a trace.  In a laundry room off the courtyard were two domestic workers.  Could they have removed the bird like a piece of litter?  Or perhaps a crow had carried it off to feed to its babies.

Out in the world, we often catch glimpses of a story, or a life.  Sometimes they are as sweet as a single drop of honey.

Others are stories of sorrow and want.

Too many will be lived out in the shadows in quiet desperation.

As with the baby birds, sometimes we are helpless to help, sometimes we can offer only a bandaid, and most times we will never know how the story ends.

What makes the difference between a happy ending and a tragedy?  Survival of the fittest?  An accident of birth?  An ill wind, perhaps.  But sometimes it falls into our power to make a difference.  When that happens, even for one tiny being, it can make all the difference in the world.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck.

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

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

Islands Out of Time

We set out by boat from Puno, Peru.  Our destination, the Floating Islands called the Uros.

The islands are man-made, found on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, at 12, 507 feet, and 109 miles long.

There are over 40 small islands floating in the lake, each constructed of layer upon layer of totora reeds growing in the shallows.

The Uros were pushed back into the lake when the Incas conquered the region.  They were so poor the Incas found them hardly worth taxing, but some were taken as slaves.  After the fall of the Incan Empire, the Uros traded and intermarried with the Aymara on the mainland, eventually losing their Uru language for that of the Aymara.

We were given a warm welcome by the women of the island…

…who sang us ashore.

Each island supports up to 10 families, depending upon its size.  The islands are anchored with ropes tied to stakes driven into the lake bottom.  When attacked, the Uros cut the the ropes to escape into deeper water.  When cohabitants fought, as a last resort they cut their island in half, to live separately.

Totora reeds rot quickly. New layers must constantly be added. Even so, an island lasts only about thirty years.

When we stepped onto the island, our feet sank several inches into the top layers of reeds.

Marcos, a leader on his island, explained through a translator that the white part of totora is eaten for food, and its flowers provide tea. The same reeds used to build the island are also used to build houses and boats for fishing, hunting, and trading with mainlanders.

A model of the island community shows each component, with its real life counterpart.

Canoes.

Cooking pits.

Houses and watchtowers.

And the people.

The Uros fish, and keep pigs on floating islands nearby.

They domesticated Ibis for meat…

…and eggs.

Marcos welcomed us into his home.

Living in close quarters keeps it warmer at night.  During the rainy season they sometimes use plastic tarps to keep dry.

The islands’ population dropped from 2,000 in 1997 to about 400.  The draw of city comforts is strong, especially for the younger generation. The modern world encroaches.  Solar panels provide music and television to make them more content with island life.

Tourism now provides income to purchase products available only on the mainland.

The Uros sell handicrafts made from reeds…

 

…or from materials bought on the Mainland.

It’s a delicate balance maintaining their traditional culture and making a living,

…between supporting their way of life…

…and keeping the children happy at home.

Flashy non-traditional water taxis, the Uru version of a gondola, transport tourists from island to island for a fee.

We caught a ride with Marcos.

He operates his taxi, sells his family’s handicrafts, and fishes to eke out a living for four generations of family.

A French Canadian I spoke to expressed extreme disappointment in the experience.  She found it too commercial, and felt the Uros had sold out their culture to make a buck.  But I don’t see their world or mine in such black and white terms.

Like her ancestors, that woman lives in Quebec, speaks French, and eats baguettes.  But she also eats sushi, drives a car, and works for a tech company to pay her electric bill.

Such a fine line between preserving cultural traditions while adapting to the changing world around us.  Since the beginning of time, most living things have both adapted and made the choices that put food into the mouths of their young.

The Uros are a unique and hardworking people living in a harsh climate under difficult conditions.   Doing no harm to others or the world around them…

…they have done an amazing job keeping alive a way of life that began centuries ago.

All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

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

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

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.

 Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Theme: Focus.

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

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

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

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

The Farmer’s Daughter!

An old story begins when a poor farmer’s mare gives birth in the village marketplace… 

The frightened newborn took shelter under a rich man’s wagon, and the rich man claimed the foal as his own.   The young burgermeister was inexperienced, and did not want to displease the rich man.  To settle the dispute, he told the two men to return the next day with answers to three riddles; the one with the best answers would be awarded the foal.  Surely the rich man could outfox an old peasant, and the matter would be done.

“What is the richest thing in the world?” asked the burgermeister.  “What is the swiftest thing in the world?  And what is the sweetest thing in the world?”

The farmer was distressed.  He didn’t know the answers, and he couldn’t afford to lose the foal.  But his daughter was very clever.

“Don’t worry, Papa.  Here’s what you must say…”

The next day, the rich man puffed out his chest and said, “The swiftest thing in the world is my coach and pair, for no other horse or wagon ever passes me on the road.”

The richest thing is the gold in my treasure chest, for am I not the richest man in the village?  And the sweetest thing is cakes made with honey from my own hives.”

“Mmm,” said the burgermeister, turning to the farmer.  “And have you answers to my riddles, old man?”

“Yes,” said the farmer.  “The richest thing in the world is the earth, for do not all riches come from the earth?”

 

“The swiftest thing in the world is thought.

For a thought can travel to the ends of the earth and back again…


…in the blink of an eye.”

 

“And the sweetest thing in the world is sleep.  For when one is sad or tired, what can be sweeter?”

The mayor had no choice but to award the foal to the farmer.  “But you didn’t think of those answers yourself.  Tell me who helped you.”

The farmer confessed that his daughter had solved the riddles for him.  The burgermeister was impressed and intrigued.  He asked to meet the farmer’s daughter.

 But that is a story for another day…

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

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

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.