The Boy From Po Toi

Echoes of a ghost?  Of the future?  Of the past?

There is a feeling of perplexity.  I’m no longer standing in the conference room on the top floor of a skyscraper.  There are no floor-to-ceiling windows with Hong Kong harbor far below.  And my Armani suit?  Transformed into what appears to be rags.     

There is panic, but also familiarity.  I look down at my hands holding huge buckets of supplies, filled to the brim; shocked to learn I can hold so much.  My first instinct is to drop the buckets, must be too heavy but the weight is electric. My arms and shoulders are full of life.

I let out a lighthearted sigh. I’m not sure what I am doing but it feels right.

Beside me, the sea glimmers with life while the sun prepares for another colorful dive to end the day. I’d like nothing better than to sit peacefully and watch her.  How is it I am here?

I recognize this world.  This body.  My blood, powered by a slow heartbeat flowing briskly with purpose.  I lift a bucket up towards my face without effort, ignoring the pungent fish odor.  The power of my arms makes me smile.  Damn, I feel good.   Am I dreaming?

The smell of the sea vanishes, replaced by the scent of the exotic. My heart races.  Ms. Laura walks my way, pausing as she looks at my hands ~ ha, perhaps it’s my powerful arms?  She blushes, smiles, and quickly looks away.

Her dress, beautiful and modest, does not belong here. We are a fishing village; well-worn clothes are all we own.  It finally dawns on me.  This is no dream.  I am a man of the sea, she is not.  I speak the Hakka dialect, a little Cantonese, and zero English.

“Did you enjoy class today?”  Ms. Laura asks very slowly, enunciating every syllable, her British accent snaps me to attention.

My mind spins with answers.  I understand her English words but my voice cannot be found. With a red face, I spew out a reply in my unintelligible Hakka dialect.

She laughs. “You need to study harder, or could it be you need a different teacher?!?”  I look at her in fear, a little slow getting her joke before she reassures me and puts her hand on my shoulder, resting it longer than one would consider normal.  I relax. Her touch transports me to another world.

A world where we are together, she’s my wife in total happiness. Quickly the dream fades with the chuckle from my fishing partner, Xiao Gao.  He grabs a bucket and loads it onto our skiff and without skipping a beat says, in a rough Hakka tone, “Rui-de, you’ve attended her class all year, yet you cannot speak one word of English,”  his infectious laughter inspires others to join in.

“She is so perfect…” my face still burning, I let my words trail.

Sometimes I’d like to just fly away, I think to myself. Escape into my dreams and chase the world. But then all I have to do is look around.  Everything I want is here.

My mind begins doing battle with my memory.  Somewhere, I know her.  I’ve talked with her.  I’ve been with her.  But I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection on the water and I laugh a bit at the thought.

Me.  A simple Po Toi Island boy.

The blast of the horn signals the departure of the Po Toi ferry back to Hong Kong Island and the wealthy Stanley village. We are cut off again from the outside world until its return.

Three times a week this picturesque lady arrives in Po Toi to teach English to our dwindling population. Most of my friends have already left to seek a better life.  For me, though, Po Toi is my home.

Well, the sea is my home, Po Toi the place where I have the greatest access.

Another great ending to the day.  Ms. Laura takes her position alone at the stern of the ferry and our eyes lock, my favorite part of her visits.

With the sun gently reflecting off her golden hair, framing the picture of perfection, she looks over her shoulder to see if anyone is watching and then turns back and brings her fingers to her lips and waves me goodbye.

It is a goodbye with hope.  Recognition of yuan-fen (缘分).  The moment in time where our destinies align and we become what we are meant to be.

The changing reality of what “can be” sends my heart pounding to the beat of the surf.  The world once again has meaning.  I step onto the skiff and head out to the deeper waters to chase my living.  Chase my dream.

The sea knows my soul. The sea is my soul. Nevertheless, it is possible there is something else out there for me as well. My mind and memory once again run wild to find her, to find our future.

The Ukrainian Muse and the Paradox of Life

Alone I walk.  The bite of the winter chill does not let up, colors of the world fade into different shades of bleakness.  The ache for youth pulsates strong although I’m acutely aware each passing second takes me further away from this dream.

A nondescript voice echoes in my head, “the closer to death you are, the closer to life you become…”

My turned-up collar does little to stifle the cold wind caressing my neck, motivation for the continued search of a spark to ignite another year of passion.

The winter’s silence is broken by a warm whisper, “so you’ve finally come to see me again…” I look to find a smile I’ve grown accustomed to when in a philosophical mood.  She’s always walking beside me, but it’s been too long since I last heard her voice.

“This morning, I noticed you were preoccupied with a quote at the coffee shop.  What did it say?” She asks.

“Is not wisdom found among the aged?   Does not long life bring understanding?” – Job 12:12

Reading this quote during breakfast was the trigger for my current philosophical fog.

“Experience and wisdom have shifted my life more than I could’ve imagined. Hard to believe life becomes richer as we grow older – the electricity of my 20’s pales in comparison to the beautiful aches of aging,” I pause to rub the crick in my neck. “Never gave it much thought until this morning.”

I open the door to a small roadside café ~ lured by the aroma of exotic foods.

I look around the café, the serene setting and lack of urgency capture the bliss of the moment.

A newly found paradox within my mind, within my life.

In my 20’s every day had an unlimited future.  Every corner had something new to offer. The more active I was, the greater I felt. My goal was to secure enough adrenaline for the day and bold ideas for tomorrow.

A concept of my youth I held fast. A concept time erodes as years drift past.

“When we were young, life was a series of wild rapids, ridden without fear. We were unstoppable.” I pause to look at the roast duck in front of me and quickly finish my thought. “Then at some point, we began to have doubt in our invulnerability and our lives changed forever.”

“This gauze of doubt you have mentioned before, correct?” her laughter holds a touch of self-deprecation as she pours us a shot of the local spirit.

“Feeling untouchable, the definitions of youth and immortality are interchangeable.”  She grabs a duck leg and continues, “then fear creeps in.  The gauze of doubt begins to blur vision and time becomes finite. The recognition of death.”

“Ah yes, I think I’ve bored you with this before.” I smile and she points to a speck of spinach on my front tooth, I clean and go on. “We take risks when we’re young, devour the late hours of the night and soak up the knowledge around – ahead an unlimited amount of time.” I pause to think of the happiness I had growing up. Thanks I owe my parents and friends I could never begin to repay, knowing they would say the same in return.

“Then came the bittersweet moment in life, confronted by mortality I began to appreciate time.  I evolved.” I lift my glass, our eyes lock and we chase our words.

“With age comes experience. With experience comes wisdom. A young mind is too busy absorbing life to contemplate deep meaning. The growth of wisdom is a gift, a gradual gift.”  The stillness becomes magnified.

Which of us said those words? I am not sure, but their truth allows me to exhale and reflect.  On the surface, responsibilities with my career and life seem to have increased, but my relaxed attitude is a sign of wisdom with the recognition being in the now holding undeniable freedom and a purer happiness.

This small town nestled in the northeastern part of Ukraine huddled against the cold shoulder of Russia is where today exists. Questions drift around and I enjoy the chase to find the answers.

There is a certain confidence in the freedom to pursue. Pursue happiness. Pursue dreams. Pursue wisdom and relish in age.

“The older I get, the freer I become. Accepting mortality sets me free.” Again, our eyes lock and we knock back another shot. She refills the glasses, gazes around the room without worry.

“It is called the Paradox of Life.” she smiles, looking younger than ever. “As people age, the body loses the vitality of youth but the mind…” her eyes light up as she moves forward as if to whisper the greatest secret of life, “the mind revels in emotions, in the happiness of the moment.  People with wisdom forget the worries of tomorrow and focus on the positive pieces of reality in front of them.  Studies show we find our greatest happiness as we grow older, thus the paradox.” 

The walk back to the hotel is refreshing. The evening has faded into the night and while still below zero, the conversation warms the winter breeze.

“There’s a certain poignancy to life I never realized.” I look around at the scene deciding I could definitely be happy here. I look at her reflection in the snow and moonlight.

She pauses as we reach the intersection, shifts her weight and expands on my thought. “The world is dynamic, multidimensional, and there is always happiness to be found.  It’s the gift of wisdom, the gift of youth.” 

“Savor and appreciate the emotions of life.” She looks down the street at my hotel.

“When people believe time is unlimited, the focus is on knowledge, on possibilities, on the future.  A perfect time for daydreamers.”  She grabs my hand, putting emphasis on her words, “when you understand time is limited, the focus needs to be re-directed to the present…where serendipity happens.”

She looks at me inquisitively. “Not quite sure what this means for a daydreamer like yourself…” her flurry of words float in the air between us, separating me from her smile.  I watch it all drift away with the gentle breeze, and before I can answer she is gone.

Featured Photographer: Randall Collis

One of my favorite photographers, Indah Susanti, interviewed me earlier this month and her talent with a camera is matched by her talent as an interviewer. Her questions required me to think about both my history of photography and why I write. Very much enjoyed myself, and wish to thank Indah for the opportunity to learn a bit more about each other. The full interview can be found on her site “INDAHS: Dive, Travel & Photography”

indahs: dive, travel & photography

Featured PhotographerWelcome to the 12th edition of the Featured Photographer monthly post. Please meet Randall Collis, also known with artist name as Dalo Collis. I have been following his blog for years and admiring his photography and writing. I am sure some of readers have been familiar with Randall’s photography at Global Sojurn Photography. But, do you know what has inspired his works? Let’s find out through my interview with him on the following post.

Returning from a morning shoot of the sunrise in Myanmar, a found this peaceful and quiet scene. ~ Randall Collis

If there were one thing you would want the readers to know about you, what would it be?

The one thing would be the best advice I could ever give in addition to working hard: contemplate everything around you and dream.

I daydream all the time, not random daydreams, but dreams with a purpose.  About…

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Absinthe ~ Sojourn with the Green Goddess

My glass of absinthe arrives accompanied by an Oscar Wilde quote: “A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?”

The hues reflecting into the window, while a sunrise instead of a sunset, agree with this claim: beauty, wrapped within inspiration. I make a silent toast and close my eyes.  Exhaustion slowly working its way through my body.

The fog of last night makes it difficult to remember how we met, but from the first touch, the first sip, I saw the world through a different lens. Light became particles dancing in front of me ~ waves of color never seen before, flowing and carrying me to my next destination.

I snap my eyes open part in fear of becoming sucked back into the night and disappointed to find she has not returned to sweep me away.  La fée verte.

Yesterday, late afternoon, I felt as if I was in the late 19th century, at the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans watching the world zoom past.  Picking out colors from the blur.

A beautiful blend of cultures, each offering a gift of inspiration and ingenuity to make this New World a better place.  Within a life full of pressure, the peaceful dance between us all relaxes me and I’m without a care.

It is here she reveals herself to me, a penetrating gaze.  Eyes with a story to tell, I look away.

She haunts me all day, her aura evolving with my mood: a day full of dreary work highlighted by a blinding beacon of light.  The sultry air accentuating her smile before slowly dissipating.

She, unknown, has taken a hold of me.

The falling rain mirrors both the loneliness and need for a new reality. I look down at my glass, artistically placed. The enlightenment begins, for to reach the glass I inevitability must brush ever so lightly against her.  Electricity.

A single drop of her potion, is it truth I seek?

Each sip, the world takes on a different meaning.  Her eyes reflect the cloud of green in my glass, twisting around me with a promise, “an experience, forever remembered…”  And she pours herself into my mouth and soul.

Absinthe.  This psychedelic myth, a catalyst for adventures from which many never return, and I suppose, never regret.

Rubbing my eyes, I am tired but in no way sleepy, and begin to play with excuses for my faulty memory and actions of last night.

“A curious soul has no choice but to wander this path…while a courageous soul owns this path.”  This is the rationale I replay continuously in my head. Experiences I’ve long desired, making the question of any regret irrelevant.

Inhale. Exhale.

Her eyes are the invitation. Her warm breath is the distant echo of summer and with a slight tilt of her shoulder, the light dress of summer falls to the floor.

A crisp chill of an autumn breeze hypnotizes me.  A season of change sweeps in and the Green Goddess begins the introduction into my soul; a quick read while hers, conversely, descends back millennia.  Impossible to comprehend.

I have no control and enjoy this feeling of helplessness. Hand in mine she leads me to new places, to realities never imagined and in doing so removes decades of stress from my psyche.

The golden hour of sunset has long since given way into the depths of the blue hour, slowly taking on a yellowish hue as the wicked green hour swallows me whole.

Her invitation had long ago been accepted.

Absinthe, on the rocks with a 3:1 water ratio and a mind open to change and acceptance.  My adventure begins around my third glass… along with another Oscar Wilde quote:

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were.  After the second, you see things as they are not.  Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

“Seeing things as they really are…” Politics of fear shuts borders while diversity fuels bold ideas.  Cowards hoard power while the courageous share.  And evil only exists as a contrast to good.

“Why are there such extremes not only around the globe,” I ask, “but within myself as well?”

The Green Goddess watches as I try to make sense of the world, letting her poison soothe me before adding, “there are people with so much, yet they are completely miserable. And there are people with so little, yet they are incredibly happy.”

Why?

Lightly she pushes me down on the sofa, beads of rain glistening off her skin. “It’s because those in power fear change.  Fear to lose their power to those who dream.  Who fantasize.  Who achieve.  Frozen in the past, unchallenged, they create a barren reality where escape is impossible.”

There’s an empty sadness in her voice.  “Be part of the answer.”  She rises and before walking away, leaves a quote hanging in the air. “In the words of John Milton from Paradise Lost,” she exhales, tears running down her cheeks, “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Disappearing from the doorway, I hear her faint response blend with the slamming of the door, “Choose heaven…”

Yes.   Life is what we make of it.

Experience it.  Let go of fear.  Embrace differences.  Pursue.  And understand a little absinthe can go a long way…

“… artistic discovery is a never-ending journey where we see both the best and worst of ourselves.”  For appreciation of an artist, a recent post by the Holistic Wayfarer,  Writing: A Hermit’s Journey

A Lifetime in Eight Seconds

Breathe.  

Pray.

Please let me make it through these next eight seconds.  

…just one more time.  

0.0″

Pure silence, then the vacuum of space explodes.

The rustic crack of the gate breathes fire into the beast below.

Stillness in the air is replaced by a typhoon.

With a jolt, my life begins again.

1.0″

Taunt but forgiving, I lay back as my world rockets forward and just as quick plunges off a cliff.

Amped up, fear begins its transition into a rush of adrenalin.

I revel in the high… “do not lose focus” I repeat to myself.

 

This trickling wave of confidence brings panic as well, “f  o  c  u  s”

2.0″

The whiplash spin shoots me to the left before I get blindsided by a gyration to the right.

Contradictory twists: the head floats one way, the hips another…

My spine begins to cry, impossibly trying to center itself.  Trying to center life.

Within this chaos, I feel at home.

3.0″ 

I rise, and for a moment I feel like a little kid being tossed in the air by my parents…

A smile breaks on my face ~ although buoyancy with a bull is never a good thing.

A coppery, metallic taste fills my head as I wonder, “am I flying, or am I dreaming?”

4.0″

The growing expanse of space between the bull and I no longer matters.

Even apart, I feel connected.

We share the fear and anger; our will to survive.

 

My hand and arm is a coil of steel, pulsating life throughout my body.  I will not give in nor will he.

All of time melds into the present. “I have no past, I have no future.” I love this beast I am riding; our moment to define freedom and strength, while bound by our fate.

5.0″

“F o c u s ” ~ My mind cuts back to previous failures, too many to count ~ matched by my broken bones.

Each failure preparing me for the next ride…each ride more expensive than the last.

Life is a game of inches, of missed opportunities, but this time I shall not lose…

6.0″

In a split second, my mind shifts to the crowd and just as quickly my point of balance ceases to exists.

 

Forces pull at me from every direction.  Gravity becomes a myth.

 

Chaos erupts and my mind chases to catch the moment.  My grip tightens further ~ a negligible pop in my wrist brings a searing pain and snaps my attention.

 

All falls quiet.  I listen…

7.0″

“…the sound of the wind, this violent wind is sweetened by the distant roar of a crowd.”

My arm is on fire, holding onto a knot of fury ~ hand clenched with a vow never to surrender.

“We are still one my friend, I’m not going anywhere…”  My heart explodes as I dance along the razor’s edge of survival.

8.0″ 

The howl of my voice matches the cadence of my heart.

My grip unravels.  I slide back and meet a timely swing of the bull’s hip, escorting me free into the air.

 

Embraced by the sweet calm of the night, dust fills my lungs as I hit and roll off to the side.  Hand cramping, wrist afire, I scan the crowd with hungry eyes of hope.

 

To see her smile, her eyes, her accepting me as the cowboy I am, but there is no one. Emptiness.

There are no words to match this pain.

~ DQ ~

She too becomes a myth.  This dream of a perfect ride.

Breathe.  

Pray.

Please let me make it through to the next rodeo.

…just one more time.  

Time is Fleeting, Never Stop

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Unfamiliar territory, the uncertainty paralyzes. A surge of panic fills my head and heart, only to be soothed by the perfect amber of a freshly poured Czech beer.

“Here I go again…”

Lost.

Around me is a language I do not understand. Spreadsheets in front of me I cannot comprehend. A feeling of being exactly where I should be. I relax, surprised by the comfort of the chaos.

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The color refreshes a memory when I was lost in the more familiar surroundings of the Skokomish Wilderness.

The sky still black, I anticipate the amber sunrise when we summit…rather if we summit, as of right now, I have no idea where we are.

“Shit…” I mutter to myself, louder than I had wanted, waiting only seconds before the echo returns with her reply. “Oh my God, I can’t believe it. You are lost again aren’t you?”

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I ignore the question, wishing it away, but the echo continues, “Why did I agree to go on this climb?” She lets out an exasperated sigh, hidden within, a tint of laughter.

Unpredictability in life is the one thing I’ve found to be a constant.

A sharp blow of her hiking pole on my butt is her protest to my stifled laughter, “It’s not funny…” she declares and we continue up the mountain.

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“Why is it so difficult to stay on the path laid out in front of me?” I wonder and reach for my beer. Standing in the middle of uncertainty, again where every step I take leads me away from where I expect to be.

Would I want it any other way? Perhaps on some days…

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Uncertainty has become a friend of mine. Things change around me quickly and if I do not flow and evolve along with it, I’ll suffocate. Be miserable.

It is cliché, but there is truth in Maya Angelou’s quote, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Without change, we rob ourselves of beauty. We rot.

“Remaining at status quo stagnates the soul,” I think to myself, and kicking back with my beer I wonder if that’s such a bad thing?

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Yes, change can suck.

Albert Einstein once said, “Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.”

Ah yes, is there anything more destructive than unfulfilled expectations? I suppose this is the catalyst for change, to get lost in the world and explore ~ anything to avoid the poison of expectations.

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The chaos of setting out on a new path, getting lost, is part of the process. From the moment we are born, adventure turns fear into wisdom, sparking curiosity to discover.

I think back to standing on the precipice between mountain and sky… the abyss speaking to me, and I glance towards my beer, her amber words ringing clear as I empty my mug, “balance, my friend…there’s a time for adventure and a time to reflect on adventure.” I nod to the waitress for another.

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The echo breaks the stillness of the dark while my headlamp scans the trees and boulders ahead.

“Why, again, are we doing this?”

The only words I can think of are 时间不多,从不停 ~ Time is fleeting, never stop.”

Eight characters a friend of mine, Eric Moen, shared with me last year. Words to provide added incentive to spark change when comfort begins to lead to stagnation.

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Those eight characters take me back when I stood along Hood Canal admiring a pre-dawn sky, sparking a childhood dream to climb Mt. Ellinor and watch this land come alive with the sunrise. Yet, in all these years never taking the time to do so. Why?

“Why?” I add to my reply back to the echo, “To see magic. This is why we are here.”

“And… just exactly where is here?!?”

I begin to answer and then begin to question why I invited her. “A very good question…” and continue ahead to what I hope will become an opening.  

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There is nothing quite like the childlike curiosity we hold inside. The anxiety of pushing forward with new ideas, until that moment arrives ~ our heart rate slows and we unearth something new, something enchanting.

“I’m beginning to understand you never have a plan do you?” another question rings back my way.

Shuffling of hooves on the rocks above remind us we are not alone.

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“Not real sure any plan worked out the way I had imagined, so why bother…” is my quick reply, seconds ahead of another sting of a hiking pole on my backside.

I scramble up and around a set of boulders and come face to face with a familiar friend.

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Nature never ceases in its pursuit of change; never fears a new challenge change may bring. The sky and the sunshine call out to us all, “You are not alone, the universe is with you the whole way.”

A breathless gasp comes from behind, and her arm wraps around me along with a whisper “this place is so beautiful…”

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Take away expectations, lose the fear of change and get lost in the world. There is no greater truth: time is fleeting, never stop.

“Be the change.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

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Musings of my Quantum World

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The verdict: a decision to affect and disrupt a life. My choice to veer off the comfortable path, abandon the current state of happiness and venture into the unknown.

Why? To chase down a mysterious, obscure sensation I cannot explain.

Inhale. Exhale. Breathe in the fresh air flowing off Hood Canal and let the peacefulness of the surroundings make the decision for me.

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The Olympic Mountain range is wrapped around by the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound. Nestled in-between, a small cabin on the water rests within the gaze of Mt. Ellinor.

I’ve come to her to help reach this verdict.

Asia or Central Europe? Retreat to the familiarity bred from a commitment to Asia spanning decades or leap into the chaos of the unknown and invent a new life in Bohemia?

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The creation of two different lives, a divergence of my universe the moment the decision is made.

In one universe, I sleep for a few more hours and then rise, make a pot of coffee and with mug in hand, walk down to the shore of Hood Canal and watch the sunrise.

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In another universe, I look at the clock barely able to focus on the time of ‪2:30am and roll out of bed.  Throw on some clothes; grab a mug of yesterday’s coffee, pick up my camera gear and head out to trek up to the top of Mt. Ellinor.

A trek in the dark to meet the rising sun. To meet a new tomorrow.  

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My brain whispers “sleep.” My heart screams “get out of bed.”

Quietly I lie, listening to the blood course through my veins. I feel myself fading toward the sound of laughter and I fall deep, searching for its origin. Thoughts and visions vivid enough to swallow me whole as I happily drift off to dream.

The silence pulses throughout my body; my senses heightened and a restless surge of energy melds my dream into reality. It pushes me out of bed, I go searching for its origin: I must see what lies out there…

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A feeling of a divergence begins to form, and I open my eyes to the cold, quiet darkness around me. She whispers to me, her words soft, “Come join me in nirvana…” her sweet fragrance caressing me, and I close my eyes.

The cold, quiet darkness is calling out.  An inviting whisper, “Join the beauty of my dreams, the silence of reaching the summit as the morning sun breaks.”  My heart begins to beat rapidly, ahead lies a trek up the steep slopes.

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Years ago, contemplating my future, I was asked a simple question, “When in Asia do I miss the USA?” My answer was quick, “Yes.” It was then followed by another question, “When I am in the USA, do I miss Asia?” and again I quickly answered, “Yes.”

Then came the advice I’ve followed ever since: “When the answer to either one of these questions change, you know what you should do…create something new.”

Inhale. Exhale.
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The beauty of silence.

The smell of fresh coffee soothes, and I look out at the changing sky.  The glow of the morning sun breaks through enough to highlight an image of a fishing boat heading out to explore.

There is peace listening to the water, the sounds drifting away as I wake from my dream, enjoying the start of another day.

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The beauty of silence.

Low-lying clouds shimmer around Mt. Rainier off in the distance. The morning sun breaks over the horizon and the electricity of possibilities fill the air.  A brand new day arrives and a brave new world awaits.  

How does one describe the fragrance of a sunrise?

With the verdict rendered, an old friend shows up.  A welcome interruption to the sanctity of the morning, and she glances towards me as if to bid me farewell.  

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