Posted on July 27, 2015
Sri Lanka. No doubt a beautiful country. The lowlands are surrounded by the blue waters of the Indian Ocean rhythmically rolling onto white sandy beaches of the island.
The central highlands, a jungle of green where a cool temperate climate offers a perfect environment for Sri Lanka’s billion-dollar-a-year tea industry. Lush tea plantations scattered throughout the picturesque scenery.
Nestled within the highlands is the city of Nuwara Eliya, one of the premium tea growing areas of the world. High above the clamor of the lowlands, the verdant landscape feels as if time has stood still.
In many ways it has, as for centuries the tea plantations have counted on the quiet exploitation of the Tamil minority group, members of the lowest caste system in Sri Lanka, to pick tea leaves. Isolated in the remote mountainous areas of Sri Lanka, it is the Tamil women who make up the work force that keep this industry flowing.
The life of a tea picker is hard, long days combined with squalor living conditions make it clear why Tamil Indian laborers were imported into the country so long ago to fill such jobs. Jobs locals refused to take.
Upon a wall of a dilapidated shack in a plantation housing project, eight simple words summarizes generations of thought for tea pickers here in Nuwara Eliya: “Life is a pain…endure is the answer.”
A place with little hope, yet the little hope of today is more than they imagined a decade ago.
She looks down at her calloused hands. Her day picking tea leaves having just ended, she winces at the pain as she lifts her bag of leaves and gives them to the field manager.
Ahead is a hard hour hike home over the hill where she will busy herself with chores, fetch water, cook dinner for her family and then spend what little time remains with her reason for living: her beautiful baby daughter.
Tears well up in her eyes as she honestly wonders if this is as good as it gets.
Every day is the same bad dream, the same hell. Day in. Day out. She wakes up prior to dawn and sets out to the tea fields, plucking tea until dusk and then takes the long hike home. Praying for no harassment, praying for a peaceful night. She understands this is the fate of a Tamil woman on a tea plantation: a woman with little power, a woman with little control of her life.
Sadness hits when she realizes if her young daughter is lucky enough, she may have at best a similar fate. “If she is lucky…” Quickly she erases any such negative thought from her mind.
As a member of the Tamil minority group working in a male dominated culture, there simply are few options available for her, her daughter or their future.
This thought breaks her heart.
She looks out her doorway at a group of Save the Children workers and dreams the impossible dream for her daughter.
Could the promise of a safe environment for children; a school for her daughter to attend and learn the wonders of the world become a reality?
She allows herself to smile inwardly at such hope, but understands Sri Lanka and the history and culture of her people all to well to put such faith into the future.
Standing in the doorway, she ponders the stories and rumors of Save the Children, the hope this organization has brought to neighboring tea plantations. It is a glint of a possibility, the chance of future happiness for her daughter.
She steps closer to listen to the voices of the workers as supplies are dropped off, and before she is noticed she quickly slips back into her tiny shack.
As she begins to prepare dinner she senses a tingling of awareness, the freedom the human soul needs to dream and pursue experiences.
Tonight she is happy. She reflects back on the stories of suffering and repression told by her grandmother and mother, as well as the horrible experiences she’s had herself, but instead of defeat she sees hope. The hope the vicious cycle of oppression will end.
Generations upon generation of young women are born into servitude in the tea industry, forever working the tea fields of Sri Lankan tea plantations.
The high country of Nuwara Eliya, far removed from the large cities and their economic successes, has remained stuck in the dark ages. Business corruption and ancient ideas thousands of years old keep the Tamil people of this area stuck in purgatory.
The Tamils give their life and blood to the tea industry, making up 2% of the country’s GDP, a commitment spanning centuries. It is a hard life, and while the industry is trying to find a way to give back, there are conflicts of interest.
Business is business, and tea plantation owners are currently undergoing a deteriorating market for Ceylon Tea. In addition to the fear of further decreases in sales and higher costs of providing benefits to the field workers, plantation owners are also terrified of losing a cheap workforce by allowing freedoms and opportunities to the Tamil women and children.
Save the Children as well as other relief organizations have been working to break this relentless and cruel cycle robbing the potential of these children. It is difficult to not shudder while looking into their eyes understanding the future ~ their fate determined at birth.
Change is not easy, especially given the tension between gender and class struggle seeped in cultural beliefs spanning millenniums. The Tamil women and children face daily battles in this quagmire of repression.
A Sri Lankan worker at Save the Children discussed the value the organization brings to the people of Nuwara Eliya, mentioning a quote from Swami Vivekananda, “Dare to be free, dare to go as far as your thought leads, and dare to carry that out in your life.”
This piece of Hindu philosophy, an important part of their culture, rings hollow to them. It is difficult for them to grasp the idea of freedom not to mention the courage to act on such thoughts.
The people of Sri Lanka are the ones stepping up to make a difference. Sri Lankans with the wisdom to understand the value women and children have to their country and their efforts within the Save the Children system brings real change via the following programs:
- Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD)
- Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
Such programs provide the base to empower the women of Nuwara Eliya and of Sri Lanka. When hope is instilled in a group, confidence soon follows giving strength to tackle issues. Real change begins to take place.
The Tea Association of Sri Lanka is working with Save the Children on an updated branding model for Fair Trade Tea, a platform of reform for all large tea estates to provide specific and permanent benefits for women and children within their plantation.
In the past, salaries of women from the tea estates were transferred directly to the “man of the house” with the result of wages often wasted on alcohol or gambling.
No longer is this the case. Women now receive salaries directly so the money can be used to buy food and necessary items for childcare. This is empowerment. Step-by-step, change is happening. The dreams of children are beginning to form.
She again stands in the doorway, this time watching her grown daughter go off to work. Her daughter, as with past generations of her family continues the tradition of working on the tea estates…but here is a twist to the tale. Instead of picking leaves in a field far away, she is wearing a white blouse and has entered a nurse-in-training program at the local clinic.
Her daughter looks back and gives a quick smile before disappearing into the plantation’s maternity clinic.
Her eyes well up with tears once again as they had every evening in the past when she worked in the fields. This time, however, the tears of sadness are absent instead flowing down her cheeks are tears of pure happiness…
Save the Children and other aid groups such as World Vision are working in Sri Lanka to break the cycle of repression. To provide hope for children and their mothers, an opportunity to achieve what once was unimaginable: an education and a dream of advancement.
If you are interested in learning more about Save the Children please click on a site listed below:
Posted on June 30, 2015
Walt Disney once said, “Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination.”
No truer words spoken. A perfect state-of-mind to enter life: full of curiosity and void of bias or preconceived notions of race, politics and status. Ahead, only the beauty of life waiting to be discovered.
Then the battle begins. The real world slowly creeps in and starts to chip away at the power of our imagination. Seeds of the uninspired are planted. Warped prejudices and materialistic thought take root, separating the mind from the simple beauty of life.
For some, this pure “original mind of imagination” is lost and in its place grows a closed stagnate mind, angry and frustrated with life. Therein lies the danger of getting older.
Conversely, there is not a better recipe for success of a child than building dreams, as inspiration and imagination keeps the mind evolving.
Last month I had a birthday, a day to celebrate my parents. They still inspire and not a day goes by where some lesson or dream created as a kid is re-visited, another reminder as to how lucky I am.
A day to celebrate their commitment in creating a world where imagination never disappears into despair, even in times of frustration or sadness. There is no specific moment where the lessons they taught crystalized, instead a lifetime full of memories and experiences.
The above photo is one of my favorites. It reminds me of family and the importance of keeping a positive and open mind, no matter what the circumstances.
The photo was taken when I was 10 years old in the Wallowa Mountains on vacation. Often, our vacations would include a little chaos whether something broke, someone got lost or something forgotten (I was pretty good at such things). There would be a sigh from my parents followed by a little laughter, and then they would make-do.
On this trip we took pack-horses up into the Eagle Cap Wilderness for a week of camping, and the normal fine summer weather of Eastern Oregon turned on us.
Steady rain the first night set the stage when at two a.m. a scream from my sister woke us all as water poured into our kid’s tent. Mom and Dad stepped out into the rain, saw the problem, and motioned us to pour into their tent where we slept for the remainder of the week.
The weather that night was just a precursor for the rain and chills that swamped us during the week.
Three days into the trip, US Forest Service rangers stopped by expecting to rescue us, instead my parents rescued them with hot coffee and a fire under our makeshift shelter. A shelter I still refer to as the best living room we’ve ever had.
My parents had a knack for creating something beautiful when the situation called for the opposite. We still talk about that cold and rainy week spent in the Wallowa Mountains, and unanimously consider it to be one of the greatest vacations we’ve ever had.
Mom and Dad, in the words of my 1980’s self, you both rock.
While it is a part of life to deal with bleak and sad moments, I know I can count on a seed of possibility to bloom in my mind when such times arrive. You’ve taught me difficult times often hold the rare opportunity to find and create something great.
As Walt Disney stated, every child is blessed with a vivid imagination but Disney also added that life can often zap such a gift before it can truly blossom.
The sadness and senseless violence we hear about in our daily news is derived from the fear of the unknown, the result of closed and unimaginative minds.
Fortunately, amid all the negativity we see around the world, it pales in comparison to the greatness and creativity of its children.
It is in the eyes of my nieces and nephews, the eyes of the children of my friends around the world; great minds full of dreams with ideas ready to lead.
I give thanks to my Mom and Dad who fed my imagination, and along with family and friends who helped strengthen it over time.
The emotion and meaning behind the words I’ve written here hold something no language can describe. Instead, look into the eyes of all those you’ve touched and you will understand what I mean.
Happy Birthday Mom and Dad to the lives you have created.
Posted on April 26, 2015
Stepping out onto the verandah, a strong feeling of déjà vu sweeps over me. I breathe in the early morning air of the sleepy fishing village of Tai O, the sound of the water inviting me out to explore.
The purity of silence only a pre-dawn sky can provide, accompanies me as I walk down a path toward the shore of the South China Sea.
A restless purr of a yellow cat holding sentry duty catches my attention, she gives me a quick look-over before closing her eyes and nodding approval to pass.
Clearing the path, I continue down along the shore of the Tai O Heritage Hotel.
Sleep last night was worthless. The building kept whispering stories and secrets to me from a century long ago. Words with a personal ring, the whispers of long-lost friends.
My mind races at the possibilities, whether I am a dreamer caught up in a turn-of-the-century drama, or whether the history of this place holds a reality I am now just becoming aware.
Standing on the shore, I expected to see a fleet of Chinese junks flying the flag of a renegade pirate; a flag supposedly designed by myself. To my relief the shore is empty and I chuckle at the thought of what I would have done if it wasn’t.
My dreams of the night, vivid creations of the rich history of this place.
Crouching down, I pick up a stone and toss it out into the water as I hear a faint foghorn of a ship out on the horizon. I have finally made it to one of the oldest and most secluded areas of Hong Kong.
When I first arrived in Hong Kong almost two decades ago I had targeted this fishing village to be one of my first adventures, but time and life got in the way.
She is an old fishing village, one that has definitely seen better days. Today Tai O is more of a hangout for older people in their 70s, desperately holding onto the good life of saltwater and the sea.
Younger souls fresh in their 20s and 30s are also around, looking lost amid a modern world that has little room for the craftsmanship of fishermen.
Above me is the old police station, an outpost of the Hong Kong and British maritime police, where officers actively protected these shores from centuries of pirates and smuggling.
Stories that fueled the dreams from last night, still reverberating in my mind as I begin walking down the road ~ returning to a place I have long forgotten.
Less than twelve hours ago, Tai O was just a figment of my imagination, a chaotic myth of the old days of Hong Kong. I now find myself walking effortlessly under an early morning sky as if I were born on these streets.
I walk with purpose, with an understanding of what I am looking for even though my mind is filled with confusion.
The memories are fresh. The old stilt houses, the planks leading from one neighbor to another and the wild activity that made up a day.
Blurred images of friends laughing and enjoying the serene atmosphere of the night, forgetting the dangers that filled our hearts every evening as we’d head out to sea for work.
Work. Not quite the type of work that would make most families proud, but work nonetheless.
The police station in Tai O is no longer here, having shut down over fifteen years ago, but the building still stands just as it did when built by the British in 1902. Now a beautiful building, fitted out by the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation to become the Tai O Heritage Hotel.
I smile at the thought that at least I have a more comfortable bed than those who spent a night in the holding cell a century ago.
The building was home to one of the territories first colonial police stations guarding the western border between Hong Kong and China, and holding pieces of history that are now all but forgotten.
Reflecting back on the dream that woke me during the night, I wonder if it is a reminder of the role I filled as a noble Hong Kong policeman serving this village more than a century ago?
The answer to this question is obvious to me, as the sense of nostalgia tells me this definitely was not the case. I was living a darker, very different life.
I realized this the minute I arrived at the hotel. The electricity I felt as my fingers brushed over the nine bullet holes embedded into the security shutters on the main floor of the hotel, telling me this was not just a chance meeting in Tai O.
I admire the historians and renovators who kept the original shutters, damaged and scarred but holding a place in time at the police station. Trapping the memories of those days gone by.
Years earlier, there was another piece of violence all but forgotten. A firefight on these shores more than one hundred years ago. Faded shots and screams still echoing in the air. The ghosts, waiting for my return, now stand alongside me as I walk these streets. The voices of my dreams earlier tonight are with me once again.
I weave through the different paths, looking around aimlessly for something I once called home. Familiarity is all around me, but I am very out-of-place.
There is an urge for me to call out names and shout good morning in a strange Chinese dialect I have never heard before, much less spoken.
- The water.
- The houses.
- The sea.
The strong smell of shrimp paste, dried fish and scallops fill the air and tell me a story I cannot quite remember.
I am trapped in a time and place, where there isn’t a clear definition between good and bad. Where answering the question of how to make a living was never considered. Just one path, one fate.
A life, where evolution of the soul and mind did not come easy, if at all, unlike the freedoms I have today.
Caught up in the spirit of adventure on the South China Sea; a pirate’s life. A fantasy of many young kids growing up in those days. Romanticizing life in way only a child can, inevitably to be disappointed in its reality.
Decisions made from necessity, poorly thought out and running with a band of marauders between Tai O and Mainland China, a life of survival with no way out.
The excitement of the chase, the beauty of the culture and memories of her many smiles, all combine to justify the clash between lifestyle and philosophy. The stories and secrets whisper to me yet again.
Words that did not make much sense back then, even less so now.
The ending of this dream is not a surprising one. Over a century ago on these very shores, violence ended my story. The image strong in my mind. Of myself, a dying man.
My final thoughts questioning if somewhere, somehow in another time or place I could have travelled down another road.
History is this great mirror able to show us a different time, different place and different potential in us all as we find our way in life.
I see a faint image of a wife and child standing alone. A twinge of sorrow fills my heart, my eyes moving to a basket of dried shrimp she’s holding, igniting another memory from so long ago. Their whispers silently fading away as they bid me adieu.
We are all more alike than we could ever understand. Rich or poor, young or old, the vast differences we see on the surface means nothing.
Build a life worth living, so when the inevitable day of death arrives, we know our life was one fully lived ~ a life worth dying for.
Posted on March 31, 2015
From the moment I awake, I lie silently and listen to the calling of the universe to determine the type of day ahead, because every day has its own personality. Some mornings are overwhelming, blasting with the sound of horns and a declaration of chaos. A day that can zap the life out of the soul, and the only bright spot is thinking of the good tomorrow may bring. Other mornings, the universe whispers and the day arrives quiet and serene. I am able to spend the day deep in thought, piecing together ideas and by night my life resembles some type of order. Then there are mornings like today, when the universe offers a connection that seems very personal. A feeling of confidence floating between secrets and knowledge: an invitation for adventure and a day to push the envelope. I roll out of bed as the sun breaks, brew a fresh pot of coffee and wander down to the water. Breathing in the morning air and looking up at the mountains, it is impossible not to wonder about Ellinor. There is nowhere else in the world my troubles melt away than here on Hood Canal and the Skokomish wilderness. It is here my consciousness pervades a deeper level of reality, a connectedness to nature. Many people have such a place ~ a place of solitude that brings out an instinctive feeling of inspiration. Perhaps it is love. A need for a deep association with the world etched into who we are as individuals. I cannot help but smile as I think back to a quote “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” – Carl Sagan (Cosmos) My smile turns into laughter, as Sagan’s words reaffirm the relationship I have with Ellinor. She belongs to me as I belong to her. At the quantum level we are one. Nature holds something true and intrinsic within our souls; a beauty that burns deep within our cells. Writers and poets have long written sonnets about their affairs with nature, and recently leading physicists have joined in with new theories and experiments to show we have relationships far beyond what our minds can fathom. At the quantum level we are made up of subatomic particles, and what a story these particles have to tell. Physicists are uncovering the magic of these subatomic particles and their incredible gift: their connectedness and ability to communicate with other particles instantaneously and over unimaginable distances (spanning our universe). This phenomenon, called quantum entanglement, is not new – but recent experiments and theories have cracked open this door even wider, which is as exciting as it is mysterious. Quantum entanglement quite possibly wraps all of us together where everything in the universe is connected to everything else. Scientists contemplating a spiritual side of nature, and theorists spinning their minds trying to comprehend what this all could mean.
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” ― Carl Sagan
For me, I imagine within my heart is an electron connected to every Roosevelt Elk walking through the wilderness, every salmon swimming in the Skokomish River and every foothold leading up to the summit of Mt. Ellinor. So on this beautiful day, how can I possibly be thinking of quantum entanglement, especially while standing here on the shores of Hood Canal looking at Ellinor only thirty-miles away? I am here because I believe Ellinor has reached out to me to visit her once again. Once a year, I take a pilgrimage to her peaks to rejuvenate my soul and recharge my spirit. It sets my mind right; the rush of the climb, the beauty along every step is the easy answer why. I am aware of the Unrequited Love of Ellinor, which makes my return perhaps even more special. No expectations, no great planning, just a great hike that in the end leaves me speechless. I’ve been hiking Ellinor as far back as I can remember, summiting her and exploring the peaks of her neighbors. Each time, on my descent I felt both spiritually complete and physically spent. I must admit that even prior to my hike today the jealousy of never seeing a mountain goat, somewhat common around this part of the Skokomish wilderness, flickers in me every now and then, but my faith holds true. Ellinor will grant me this moment when the time is right. Standing here, three days into the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Goat, I have the idea that Ellinor has brought me to her to make this year special. The weather is perfect. The summit is easily accessible this early in the year due to light winter snowfall, and I am ready to strengthen my relationship with her and all that is around me. Waking this morning to Ellinor’s subsonic whispers of the day’s possibilities was perfect. I drink the last of my coffee and walk along the waters of Hood Canal, content in the solace she has offered. Being out in nature makes it easier for me to imagine we are all just bags of stardust, particles billions of years old cognizant of everything in the universe. The idea of these particles able to communicate over billions of miles instantaneously, though, is tough to grasp but fun to dream about.
- Does a form of consciousness exist at the quantum level?
- Does intuition receive information via quantum entanglement?
- Do the strange results in quantum physics in regards to observation link us to Eastern philosophy and deeper levels of consciousness and illusion?
Looking up, I see a familiar set of eyes for the first time. These incredible mountain goats seem surprised to have me hanging around the summit, but they share Ellinor with me. Feeling a rush of adrenaline amid the setting sun, I ponder at what the universe and Ellinor is teaching me. I suppose it is just the simple thought to enjoy life and keep listening to nature. Hear the words of the universe and begin to think of “we” instead of “I”. Everything is “we”. We are interconnected in a way that is obvious, made up of the same material: stardust. The difficulty of this connectedness lies in the depths of the links and attachments we have to the universe and to each other. It is a bit overwhelming. Jumping around the boulders, following these impressive mountain goats I am thrilled this day has finally come. A day I expected, and perhaps that is why it is here. Why I am here. The majestic confidence these goats have, somehow clinging onto the face of a cliff with their hooves when all looks lost is impressive. I feel a bit foolish thinking that finding these mountain goats on today’s climb within the first week of the Year of the Goat has some significance, but then who is to say it doesn’t. The universe works in mysterious ways, and as with the secrets of Ellinor, the secrets of quantum physics are many as well. It is exciting to hear of physicists discussing the results of the same particle, appearing in different places at the same time and opening the possibilities of the manipulation of space-time. The mysteries of quantum entanglement, these connections possibly holding information we can only dream to uncover. The déjà vu we feel, possibly a flash of past experience or emotion from the subatomic level. Perhaps most important to me as I put on my headlamp, pack up my gear and prepare to descend the mountain, is the idea that we never truly die. Pieces of me will carry over. The connectedness throughout the universe gives me confidence, and perhaps some state of consciousness imbedded in my subatomic particles will keep my spirit alive.
“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.” ― Carl Sagan
Consciousness, I imagine, is a vital part of the universe. Perhaps not in the way we understand human consciousness today, but in a different form. I suppose when my time comes, I will find out. The world of physics is a world of magic with so much to learn. Accompanying physics is the magic of philosophy. One of the tenets of both Buddhist and Hindu philosophy is the idea that everything is energy, dancing in form ~ a dance with the continuous weaving of the form and the formless. Such a poetic description can double as a definition of quantum entanglement as well. A description physicists today are telling us very well may be reality. Until then, it is good to be with Ellinor. It is good to accept that we may all be a part of a scary-large family. Work hard, play hard and be good. And listen to what the universe has to say.
“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell
Posted on February 27, 2015
A small sparrow was weaving her way down along the tree line, darting in-and-out of its branches before quickly changing directions and taking a steep dive over the riverside grasses. With a slight shift of her body she then swiftly rose again, up over the treetops.
The morning air lifting her higher and holding that crispness of winter that she found so refreshing. It was the same bite of cold that sent all her friends south, leaving her alone.
She chirped happily remembering how her loneliness was quickly replaced by the call of adventure. To explore the winter world and its forbidden culture.
The beginning of this quest happened during her migration south, when she became enchanted with the most graceful and serene bird she had ever seen, the red-crowned crane.
The mythical status of the crane was well-known in her world, a symbol of longevity and peace: the prince of all feathered creatures. Until now, their secret world was impenetrable, for as a lowly sparrow such a life was impossible to imagine…until fate intervened.
As was often the case, she was again late and had to wake up early, prior to daybreak, and fly to catch up with her host of sparrows heading south.
She darted around the landscape but could not avoid the feeling her life was about to change. She rounded a bend within eyeshot of her host when she became drawn to the frostbitten dew below; glittering as dawn’s rays were captured in frozen prisms along the river.
She saw this as an invitation of adventure; the chance to create a new path and without hesitation she slightly arched her left wing and veered from her patterned route and soared into a new world.
“They thought that it would be a disgrace to go forth as a group. Each entered the forest at a point that he himself had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no path. If there is a path it is someone else’s path and you are not on the adventure.” – Joseph Campbell
Amid the fog, an impressive red-crowned crane was enjoying his quiet morning. The frost and fog along with the thin shield of ice along the riverbank had made fishing for his breakfast much easier, so after eating his fill he had time to appreciate his surroundings.
He had wandered far from his friends, uncommon for red-crowned cranes of his stature but he did not care. His mind drifted off to a very strange sight, a simple sparrow balanced on a low-laying branch mesmerized by the frozen dew crystals dancing with the morning sun.
While normally a common sight in autumn, he knew a single sparrow perched along the side of the river in the dead of winter was a very, very rare thing.
With a grace he had only recently acquired with age, he danced along the water as if he was the Gene Kelly of the avian world, and called out to the sparrow, “Why, little sparrow, are you resting here along the riverbank as winter takes over the land?”
“You should be well on your way south, along with your friends…”
The sparrow looked up and smiled, “I was, but then I saw this river and the beauty of winter so alive this morning that I thought I would stop and join you.” She opened her throat as to sing a song, but an unexpected shiver interrupted this plan.
The crane looked at the determined sparrow, and said “when I saw you careening through the trees, along the grasses and then skimming over the river, you added rare elegance on a cold winter day…”
The sparrow tweeted happily and briefly the crane thought if birds could blush, this sparrow would look more like the fabled red robin, aglow in feigned embarrassment.
The crane looked into the proud eyes of the sparrow and saw the strength he long admired: a species of bird famous for the fact they would rather starve themselves to death than be bred in captivity.
The sparrow started singing, and the crane could not hide his admiration for the great spirit of this little bird.
As she took off for another quick flight, the red-crowned crane thought about her feathers. Like all sparrows, her feathers were simple and unadorned and fall flat in comparison to other birds, especially the red-crowned crane. Guiltily, he caught himself looking at his reflection in the river.
Humility, such an honest and great trait to have he thought to himself.
As the sparrow alighted on the crane’s back, the crane turned and shook his head slowly and added, “this winter weather has turned for the worse today and seeing as you are only in a light coat of feathers this is not a good thing…”
The sparrow, looked up and was a bit shocked at the increasing chill even with the sun coming up, and merely nodded and fluttered her wings.
A seed of despair entered her mind as she thought about her decision to break from her host, but it was quickly erased with the possibility of the day.
“What you say is true” shivered the sparrow, “I do not fully understand why I did not migrate, yet it does not matter as that moment has passed. Rather, it is our talk and experiencing this winter-wonderland I aspire to…” and quickly she took off in flight to warm herself before resting onto the crane once again.
“My days are filled with song, flight and freedom which makes every day an adventure.” The sparrow chirped and sang proudly, “and while true we are rather insignificant in the avian world, we are rewarded with a richness of life most can only dream.”
The crane smiled at this energy and sang too, although knowing his voice was no match for that of a sparrow.
A sharp chilling wind whistled down the river, and the two birds looked at each other. “What I will do this winter is what I always do. I will share with you my song, my spirit and make do with what life brings my way…” the sparrow gracefully stated.
The red-crowned crane whooped and pranced around, and for a moment the sparrow felt humiliated, scolding herself for even considering why such a regal bird would create even a little time for her.
She took a deep breath and set off into the cold wind to find whatever destiny lay ahead when the crane began to speak.
“To spend such time with a living creature such as yourself, someone with strength, vitality and perseverance seldom found in this world would be an honor for both myself and my friends.” mused the crane.
And as he spoke those words, he struck a pose as if he was courting the queen herself!
The sparrow laughed, and sang a song sweeter than any crane had heard before. In return, the crane broke out into a little jig, not caring how ridiculous he looked. This caused the sparrow to sing even more beautifully.
“There may be mythical stories about us as we keep to ourselves and our population is few compared to sparrows…” the crane spoke breathlessly, “but in the end we are all brothers and sisters.”
The song of the sparrow took on a different tone, and the melody changed as the beak of the sparrow started to chatter a bit more as the icy northern wind swooped in.
The crane laughed, not an unkind laugh, but an admirable one at the courage and spirit of this little sparrow. In front of her stood a brutal day of winter, a day that would certainly lead to her demise, yet she was still full of hope. Inspiring.
The little sparrow flitted around the crane and swept its right wing just over the water causing a ripple…before returning, shivering to his shoulder again; hope and honesty in her eyes.
“Little sparrow, come with me back to my home and you can bathe in our hot springs and dine on our fine grasses…”
Seeing a small sign of relief on her face, the crane added, “your song is angelic, enough to turn any bone-chilling winter into a warm cup of tea…and may I ask in return you teach us your songs of life so we may dance and sing ourselves throughout this winter and learn more of your wonderful world.”
Such words were music to the sparrow’s ears as the cold was quickly making both flight and song difficult. She smiled and tucked herself next to the crane and together they parted~ to make it through the cold of the winter and into the glow of spring.
*** This story was partially inspired by an old Burl Ives children’s song The Robin my twin sister Kim and I used to listen to over and over again when we were young (and for my Mom’s patience for letting us do so). Also it reflects the debate in China of choosing a national bird, with both the sparrow and red-crowned crane being the top choices.
Posted on January 31, 2015
As with the morning sun, slowly I rise out of bed and slip on a new day without a sound.
The scents of algae, spices and humidity rise above the fading dreams of last night and I savor the moment. Looking out at the pre-dawn sky I prepare my coffee, anxious for the day to begin.
Wandering down a path, I climb into a thin, carved out teak boat and push-off from the dock. The silence of the morning respected by all. The soft whisper of the breeze is music as I work my way over to the west side of the lake, and under the morning light the fishermen come to life.
Rare are the mornings when it seems as if I’ve stepped back in time, so when such moments arrive I relish the feeling.
To be a part of a culture, even if only for a short moment along the periphery, I drink in the lore of the ancient art of fishing here in Myanmar.
Gone is the clamor of modern society, replaced with the soft millennial sounds of water lapping against the hull and the rhythmic stroke of oars. Breathing in the morning air, my lungs fill with the earthy aromas floating around the life of a fisherman.
Mesmerized by the beauty and rhythm fishermen around the globe seem to share, thoughts drift to my home town and the benefit of growing up in a rural area with the abundance of nature.
Mountain lakes, streams and rivers feed the imagination at all times, none perhaps more potent as when having a line cast into the magical world below the surface of the water.
Mysterious forces lay beneath the water capturing the imagination, matched by the tranquil calmness above.
Dipping a hand in the water as the teak boat glides into the morning fog, my mind wavers between questions of the depths of oceans and the cosmos, to the more enrapturing thought of her smile and what possible future could be in store for us.
There is something about being on the water. Trying to understand the aquatic world beneath while untangling the knots of life above.
The great leviathan lurking beneath, the one we chase every time we go out on the water. Does it even exist?
Perhaps it is a kindred spirit, there to help and straighten out the kinks in our lives so as to set our minds at ease as we enjoy and celebrate this thing called life.
The Fishermen’s Lore ~ there are many sayings and stories, most involve the idea of chasing one’s own “white whale” to the dismay of others. The unique decision to pursue, when hope is lost and those around shake their head perplexed as the angler once again heads off to be on the water.
The lore of the fishermen, off to chase the elusive is a common thread we all share in the everyday pursuit of our own unique dreams.
In a place such as Inle Lake, located in the Shan State of Myanmar, it is easy to connect with the philosophies of the east and their own interpretation of what lies beneath?
How the ancient sages used the art of angling to explain the art of life: “fishing without catching any fish” is how one should live. Learn, contemplate and develop patience.
Immediately this has me thinking of Santiago, the protagonist in Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, who went months without a catch until the day he met his leviathan: the marlin he battles, respects and in the end calls a brother.
The fishermen’s life can be a salty, tough and a poor existence…but still a life I cannot help but romanticize.
The life of fishermen is anything but simple; wishes for a greater life for their children along with the increased burden society places on their craft can make for difficult days.
Yet the artistic solitude of the craft must be admired, especially for those who fish in an “effortless way” reflecting a life we all chase. An artist always alert, thus able to refine their art of angling: through practice, contemplation and patience.
A recipe to perfect any craft and pursue any dream.
As the morning passes, I see hardness in the work but a companionship as well. It is the echo of words from ancient sages who discuss the purity of understanding both yourself and what you do. A mix of understanding, when combined makes a life complete.
The beauty of such philosophy is to become a master of yourself and thus your craft.
When the art is slowly mastered, hope evolves into confidence and creativity ~ allowing the mind to flow.
Modern philosophers and educators believe the same; sprouting the idea that 10,000 hours of practice is necessary for anyone to become a master in one’s craft. An idea worth building a life around.
The late afternoon sun burns away many of the hopes and dreams of catching the elusive white whale we were chasing today, but all is not wasted.
We find enough to make the day a success and while there is no other choice for these fishermen but to head out tomorrow, there is another night to dream and to imagine what may become.
To fishermen around the world, who live according to their own code and accept the cycle of life: to struggle, to endure and then redeem their existence through the art of angling.
Watching them mine the value out of life, passing their knowledge from a lifetime of work. The angler is the everyman, the archetypal representation of who we are and who we wish to be.
Taking the narrow, rickety plank leading back to my room, I drag my gear and listen to the crackling call of the eastern great egret echoing through the trees and over the water. This small room sitting on stilts over the lake; another place of solitude allowing me to wash away a bit of the day ~ just enough to welcome in the evening.
Looking into a cracked mirror, exhausted I turn on the tap and splash cold water over my head and breathe a sigh of relief as dinner and a cold beer lie ahead. Hearing the laughter from the dining hall, I let out a small chuckle as well, I am at peace.
I smile knowing that soon a perfect shade of darkness will engulf the lake, ensuring that the night once again will loosen more knots as I drift off to dream.
Posted on December 20, 2014
Violent winds swirl the dark, ominous thunderclouds overhead. The pounding waves crash onto the rocky shore and the roar of the Pacific Ocean makes its intention clear: thrash anything in its path.
With electricity in the air, I am oblivious to everything except the power coming my way as rain beats against my face, sucking me into the depths of the storm.
Ever since I was young, the powerful forces of storms, especially on the Oregon Coast, have held a rare type of electricity for me. Electricity that excites my soul and eliminates any trace of fear I may have.
Chasing the idea of becoming one with the storm. Not just to see the power unravel in front of me, but to physically feel this rare electricity.
The past three days I’ve experienced a different type of feeling.
Walking along the Tacloban city coastline watching the sunrise, I am beginning to understand the other side of this “rare electricity” I feel when Mother Nature unleashes her fury ~ the distress and chaos she creates.
Understanding why hearts quicken to a point of exhaustion when thunder clasps and wind and rain fill the sky.
Understanding why there is no glint of excitement in the eyes as a storm brews, instead only an endless sadness: a mix of memories and dread.
The eyes of the children of Tacloban carry terrifying memories and fear from last year; introduced to them on November 8, 2013.
This was the day when super-typhoon Yolanda unleashed her fury on the quiet city of Tacloban in the Philippines. On that dark day, more than 6,000 people died. 11 million lives were directly affected, 5.9 million of those children.
As I stand here this morning on a beach outside the city, surrounded by a special kind of darkness found only within the hour of dawn, my mind drifts back to that day one year ago.
Thoughts drift to a stunned family, who sat in their makeshift home as the seawater entered and refused to retreat.
My mind trying to imagine the panic in the eyes of every family member, as the power of the current made the threat of the rising sea even more terrifying.
And as the hours passed, the surge of water would rise to over six feet, easily destroying homes and buildings… and well before then, the family would have been swept away by the sea.
These are the eyes that are now teaching me. Allowing me to see a side of nature that can bring the strongest spirit down to its knees.
These eyes also inspire. Having seen what the people of Tacloban have done over the past year brings to life the words of William Barclay:
“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing,
but to turn it into glory”
The people here have endured…
On this December morning, I find myself in Tacloban with Save the Children on one of those rare, magical experiences that life offers.
The visit has shown the devastation typhoon Yolanda brought upon this area and the great effort that Save the Children has made in rebuilding lives.
Trying to wrap my mind around what has happened here is almost futile, but I am learning.
The goal of this trip was to witness not just the rebuilding of structures, but also understand the post-recovery training programs. Programs to ensure lifelong change for the children, their families and communities.
- Training teachers and leaders of communities
- Supporting access to quality child care and development
And most important: teaching skills that can turn the hopes and dreams of children into reality.
The genuine smiles have tugged at the heartstrings throughout the past three days and seeing the recovery program has been brilliant. There is something special here, apart from the shared tragedy there is a kindred spirit that mirrors the beauty of the land ~ the people here are creating a paradise.
What has been done is incredible and with continued support it will become a miracle. I walk away from Tacloban inspired. The memory of sitting down and talking to these beautiful, young minds full of dreams is unforgettable.
This beautiful city along with Save the Children has made me believe there are such things as guardian angels.
Looking out toward the sea, I feel a touch of sadness as the sun rises on my last day in Tacloban. Turning and walking along the shore, I watch a man sitting in the bow of his boat working on a repair.
He gives me a nod along with a faint smile as I bring my camera up for a shot. He pauses, looks out into the distance and his lighthearted expression seems to take on a sense of melancholy.
I’ve learned that along this small section of the coast, everyone lost someone in the typhoon last year. Hunkering down in flimsy shelters with the belief that the waters that gave life would never be cruel enough to turn on them; to reach out and take life as it did.
Walking through town, there are heart-wrenching and strong memories everywhere.
Throughout Tacloban are gutted buildings, piles of rubble and stark reminders for all to see.
What is most painful and can seize the heart, are the small things that at first seem insignificant ~ until its significance hits. Another reminder of the lives lost during that dark day.
I try not to let my imagination and emotions get the best of me, but fail. I’ve read accounts of the struggles of the Tacloban community; families with wounds that will never be fully healed. Local photographer Orlando Uy captures many emotions of his city in his photo-blog “A Walk With My Camera”.
These memories are everywhere: pain multiplied by thousands, as loved ones were swept away. My admiration and respect goes out to the people here who live with these daily reminders.
The trauma and helplessness created by Yolanda now takes a back seat to the rebuilding of communities. The creation of a future for themselves and for their children.
It is stirring to see the locals understand the opportunity they have. To embrace organizations like Save the Children, helping lay the framework for a lifelong investment into their future.
The future of Tacloban is similar to the future of cities scattered all over the globe: it lies with the children.
During my stay, I learned the motto of Save the Children in times of emergency: “children can’t wait” as children are the one part of the population that are most vulnerable in times of turmoil.
Seeing the ability of both the people of Tacloban and the workers at Save the Children, there is no doubt that this area will quickly bloom with laughter and happiness.
Witnessing the effective use of donations, my faith in human compassion and spirit has grown even further. I’ve long believed that the greatest gift an adult can give a child is happiness.
In return, the greatest gift a child can give us all is a smile.
A special thanks to Save the Children ~ Hong Kong:
- Debe Cheung
- Queenie Mak
And Save the Children of the Eastern Leyte office in the Philippines:
- Joanna Watson
- Heidi Anicete
- Cielito Barceló
And to all the volunteers and field staff that took the time to accompany and review all of the work done in the Tacloban area over the past year.
If you are interested in learning more about Save the Children please click on one of the three sites listen below: