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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

The Art of Work

Imagine a world without art and artists.

They help us see the world through different eyes.

And artisans infuse our everyday lives with beauty.

 

Works of art come in many disciplines.

 

And on many scales…

 …some more grand than others.

 

My artist sister Constance’s painting, “The Poet”, celebrates the literary art of poetry through her visual art.

But I have great appreciation for people who would never consider themselves artists, and yet they make an art of work.

Some apply exceptional creativity to their work, like this fellow who rigged a bicycle to power a sugar cane juicer, to crank out a little work of art one cup at a time.

Some turn an ordinary business into something with a very personal touch.

 

In Ireland,  I was moved by the gravestone of a man lovingly remembered for his gift of turning his work into an art.

Be it traditional…

 

…entrepreneurial…

…fleeting…

…or a treasured heirloom…

 

…art is all around us, and everyone is an artist in his or her own way, whether practicing with a paintbrush, chisel, camera, wooden spoon, plow, or scissors.

Art is in the eye of the beholder.

Also on the tongue…

…in the ear…

…the nose…

…the heart…

and the mind.

Whatever you do, wherever you go, party arty!

All images and words c2014Naomi Baltuck.

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

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

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!

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

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

Click here for more interpretation of Sunday Stills: Air.

The Flight of the Sparrow

Last summer I saw a baby Stellar Jay perched on my arbor, resting after trying out its wings. I looked away for an instant; when I looked back, it was gone.

It reminded me of something The Venerable Bede once said.  Bede was an Anglo-Saxon monk born in 672A.D.

In  The Ecclesiastical History of the English People he compares a person’s life to the flight of a sparrow.  Imagine sitting in a mead-hall at supper by the light of a blazing fire, while outside a winter storm rages.

A sparrow flies in one door of the hall, into the light, then darts out out another door, back into the cold dark night.  “So our lives appear for a short space,” said Bede, “but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant.”

People have many different thoughts, feelings, beliefs and explanations as to what or if anything comes before…

…or after the sparrow’s flight.

Sooner or later each of us will fly out into the night.

That seems to be the only thing everyone can agree upon.

I don’t need to know all the answers before I fly back out.

I am right here, right now, basking in the warm and beautiful light of life.

Whatever happens outside the mead-hall won’t change the way I live my life here and now.

I have work I am passionate about…

..family I love and good friends to play with.

I care about issues in the wider world…

…and in my own little sphere.

I hope I can make some small difference…as a writer, a storyteller, a parent, a friend…

…and to leave even just a little nightlight shining…

…when my flight is done. nullAll words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more images of The One Word Photo Challenge:Storm.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo challenge: Let There Be Light.

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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.

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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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