DEEP TRAVEL: I gather that intuition has become the key to your kingdom. Tell us why intuition is so important to you.
Sherri Harvey came into sharp focus for me last summer when she won the big photography award at the Travel Writers & Photographers conference at the Book Passage bookstore in the Bay Area. Her winning photos of cruise ship scenes were a great combination of color, composition, and a little wink of humor. I later was lucky to spend a few days with her at my home in southern Oregon where she generously snapped a few photos of my property and moments with my dog. What I noticed is that she stayed completely present while always having her camera on hand should a magic moment arise. Cameras can be disruptive and take people out of the moment, but Sherri wields hers like a natural extension of her arm.
She is a teacher at San Jose University, has written books, and published many articles and photos. Her passion for animals shines in her work (and made her completely empathic with my obsession with my poodle, Guapo!). I love how she combines her passions–animals, writing, photography and teaching– into a life path.
She will be heading to Borneo on assignment in February, but before she does, we get to hang out with her in Yelapa, Mexico for Tim Cahill’s upcoming workshop. I took some time to interview her about how she created a life of travel, writing, and photography. She also spoke a bit about structuring her book, Drink the Moon–“a raw, punchy mother-daughter love story that explores the grey area between social drinking and alcoholism.”
DEEP TRAVEL: Tell me about why you chose to headline your website with the Mary Oliver quote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I love this quote! I wonder how you found your answer to this question. How much of your path was planned?
SHERRI: How mapped out is any life, really? And even when we have a plan, do we always stick to it? I have always been a teacher and a lover of words, and those two things have lined my path. I am not really a very linear thinker. The chaos and noise in my mind is wonderfully cacophonous and discordant, and I am happy with that. I thrive on chaos and random chance, and I welcome all the pandemonium.
DEEP TRAVEL: What are your influences?
SHERRI: Reading, travel, gratitude and my mom. From early childhood, I have always loved reading because stories have granted me access to so many different viewpoints, snapshots, perspectives on life. Additionally, I have always been a traveler. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of extra money, but we had the gift of free airfare. My mother worked as a ticket agent for Delta Airlines in Indianapolis. Before Uber and AirBnB, moneyless travelers would often end up stranded at the airport, and my mother would bring them home with her for the night and then take them back to the airport with her the next day to catch their flight. We met so many people this way, and we would often end up visiting them, perhaps in another part of the country or another part of the world. By sixteen, I had been all over the US and to several places in Europe.
Additionally, at sixteen, my best friend was murdered and that experience made me realize how valuable and precious each and every day is. To this day, I live with the fact that there are no guarantees that we will even wake up tomorrow. All we have is RIGHT NOW. In honor of my friend, I vowed to make the most of every moment, every opportunity, every day because my friend did not get to. So I ask my students, my friends, and now you:
What will you do with your ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS life? Each of us has a responsibility to be true to ourselves, and it’s our responsibility to figure out what that means.
DEEP TRAVEL: You have written a memoir called Drink the Moon and are now working on another book. Although I’ve written many articles and essays, I struggle to write a book length manuscript. Can you describe what your writing habits are like? How do you sustain a narrative over many chapters?
SHERRI: So Drink the Moon is a kaleidoscopic approach to looking back at my own life and trying to figure out who I am in response to the people and the things that shaped my childhood. It’s a raw, punchy mother-daughter love story that explores the grey area between social drinking and alcoholism. It weaves together some of my major influences of growing up.
The idea of “narrative arc” is such a funny thing to think about because our lives don’t really follow that neat little pattern. Think about it: does a human life really have a single narrative arc? A “ narrative arc” is a contrived thing used to commercialize and sell books. It makes the reader want to keep reading to find the answer. But really, each day has so many highs and lows, moments of failure and success, happiness and sadness–set only to the rhythm of the sun rising and setting. By looking back on where we have been and reflecting on where we are going do, we start to “make meaning.” Through the process of looking for an agent for my memoir, one of the pieces of feedback I have received is that it needs a more definitive “narrative arc.” Probably, if it’s a memoir, it does. But is it a memoir with a through-line or is it more of a short story collection? I’m still asking myself that. Maybe it would be more marketable with that shape, but it keeps wanting to bounce back to a collection, so I may not be the best person to ask about that.
As for writing habits, I don’t really think that I’m a very methodical person, but most days, I write early in the morning. And, really, I write often, and fast and am grateful for GoogleDocs on my phone, for talk-to-text options, for my laptop because I take many notes on things that I want to write about. I’ve been spending a lot of time sending out queries for the stuff that I’ve written. I think when you, Christina, have all the pieces–you know, articles and essays and poems and stories–and even photographs–you might be able to look back and think about the ideas of constructing a cohesive story with a beginning, middle, and end. The thing is, the act of writing is also such a personal thing. And I think oftentimes, people’s writing habits reflect their personality.
DEEP TRAVEL: Tim Cahill will be proud of your note-taking habits! He sees it as an art unto itself and essential to good writing. About your photography: I love photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson’s idea of the “decisive moment”–that instant where the photographer and scene merge and in a “click” a story is captured. Can you sum up your approach?
SHERRI: The definition of a great photograph has a lot to do with personal style and personal interests. I am quirky: I like quirk. Annie Leibovitz’ portraits have quirk. They highlight idiosyncrasies. I like that. I’m so lucky that I’ve gotten to work with Catherine Karnow, Andrea Johnson, and Bob Holmes because they’ve had such an influence on how I make a picture. But for my work, I love action. Even as a writer, I love being “in scene.” I like photographs that capture a moment with lots of detail and movement because that’s how my brain works. Always moving. On the go. I spend a lot of time outdoors and my daily routine includes a lot of motion–and a lot of animals. So a lot of my photographs have animals in them because those animals are a part of me, of my consciousness.
Animals have always been a staple in my stability. They are my best teachers. I like taking photographs of them. I like telling a story that way. I like making someone laugh of just allowing someone to pause for a moment and take a little break out of their daily lives to be still and to imagine what was happening when that photograph was taken.
I think photography and writing are both examples of the notion that art is created out of the need to bear witness. When we take a picture or tell a story, we are saying “I was there. I saw that.” And I think all of us could take a little bit of time to reflect on what touches us or moves us and try to figure out why. The world is better for sharing that. We all owe it to ourselves to be present and aware of the events happening in the NOW right around us.
DEEP TRAVEL: I’m a huge lover of animals and have done some advocacy for them through my writing and through fundraising. I once donated money to the animal vet in Yelapa, (Mexico where we will be going together this January!). Someone critiqued me for not donating that money to the medical clinic that serves the villagers. Have you ever encountered criticisms like this? How do you respond?
SHERRI: When I told my mother that I was going to Borneo to photograph and write about orangutans, she was less than thrilled. First, she asked me why I couldn’t just go visit “monkeys” in the zoo, and then she asked if this was a dangerous trip (but she always asks me this because I have a tendency to court danger.) Then when I asked her to donate money to orangutans, she told me that she has so many people in her daily life that need help before the “monkeys” do. I get it. Humans all have different interests and passions. Each of us gets to choose what we’re passionate about. Each of us gets to make a choice about how we make a difference in the world but we have an obligation to try–that’s what humanity is all about.
Animal Advocacy found me. Animals have had such a huge impact on so many facets of my own life. I have three rescue horses, and keeping them keeps me moving forward and active. I have a rescue dog from Taiwan–but in reality–they have all rescued me. When another living being depends on you for food and exercise, you have to get out of the house, you have to move your body. You can’t just hole up on the couch for days on end and wallow in self-pity or depression. Animals take me out of myself. All my life, animals have taught me to be present. When you’re riding a horse, you can’t afford to spend time worrying about bills or laundry. They also have taught me to be aware of the thoughts that I am putting out into the world. For example, something as simple as my breathing becomes a conscious effort when I’m around my horses. Being still. Listening to them. Bearing witness. And horses have this weird gift of absorbing energy. Dogs do, too. And the animals have made me super conscious of what type of energy I put out into the world.
DEEP TRAVEL: Your next book is relevant to this connection between animals and humans.
SHERRI: My next book, Accidental Advocates, focuses on the symbiosis between animals and humans. Since Animal Advocacy has just sort of crept up on me, looking back on my life, I can understand the important relationship between animals and humans and between animals and the environment. For example, did you know that we have lost over 40% of our mammal population in the past twenty years? And did you know that elephants have a carbon storage value that helps with climate change? They have the power to increase carbon storage by changing the forest structure. There is no doubt that we all need each other for the long-term health of our planet.
In fact, animals hold the key to the survival of the planet. In a time of increasing divisiveness, separation, and polarization, advocacy of any sort, but especially animal advocacy, can help highlight the issues of conflict in order to serve the bigger picture needed to begin addressing climate change, habitat loss, and deforestation, not only to save animals but to save humans. To save nature. To save our world. Realizing the symbiotic relationship between humans, animals, and our environment is an essential step forward for the health of the world. Accidental Advocates shares stories about travel and animals that highlight our need for each other
For me, animals have allowed me to me sob into their fur, carried me for miles, walked beside me as I have run away from the burdens of daily human misunderstanding. They have made me realize the symbiosis of the entire natural world. They have been my teachers, my omens, my insight into my own self-understanding, and have shown me that I am an Accidental Advocate.
DEEP TRAVEL: You mention that your life adventure “all started in a high school journalism class.” A lot of kids dream of doing what you are doing. As a teacher, what do you tell them to help them make this dream a reality?
SHERRI: I’d like to go back to that Mary Oliver quote “What do you plan to do with your wild and precious life?” It’s so important to encourage my students to find their own voice to advocate for themselves in order to create a life of meaning that’s important to them. I hate the thought of anyone having a job that they feel obligated to have or living a life that they feel obligated to live. That thought just saddens me. In my own life, I have spent a lifetime working to understand the things that I need to do in order to be productive, in order to be present, in order to find a balance in my life. We owe it to ourselves to live a life we love. To thine own self be true said Shakespeare. Live a life that you want to live. When you put your head down on your pillow at night, and you think back on your day, were you kind to others? Were you excited and grateful and appreciative to be alive? Because in the end, that’s really all that matters. Each of us has an opportunity to live our best wild and precious life. Are you living yours?
DEEP TRAVEL: You are heading to Borneo soon to do some advocacy photography about orangutans. How can we follow your work on this trip?
by Christina Ammon
We must risk delight. –Jack Gilbert
A couple of years ago, I trekked for the first time in the lower Manaslu in the Gorkha region with my friend Prem Kunwar, a twinkly-eyed language teacher from Pokhara. I’d been visiting Nepal for 20 years and was long familiar with the famous treks—Annapurna, Everest and Langtang. Still, the evening before our departure, Prem thought to prepare me. “This will be a different sort of trek,” he warned, tracing his finger around the map of the seldom-visited villages on our route. “There will not be hot showers or Snickers bars.”
I’ll admit an indulgent streak, but am also realistic. The previous year, an earthquake leveled the region. Entire villages slid off of hillsides. It would be absurd to expect the bakeries and coffee shops that lavish the more established trekking routes. Besides our aim was distribute warm clothes and scholarships to the survivors, not to sit around eating cinnamon rolls.
“I’m honored to be included,” I assured Prem. After many years visiting Nepal as a paraglider pilot and a tourist, this felt like a chance to encounter the country in a new way. I also felt lucky for the company of a local friend who was imbued with a sense of purpose larger than recreation.
“See you in the morning didi.” He crinkled his nose and handing me a packing list.
Prem spirited off toward his “Cosmic Brontosaurus” language school. It was there, at that brightly painted hub on the Lakeside’s main drag that I’d first met him, learned few Nepalese phrases and felt a sense of family in the meals that his wife Ashpara shared in the evenings.
The language school also doubles as a booking agency where tourists can book tandem paragliding flights. Some of the agency’s profits go to benefit the local schools. “KarmaFlights” had accomplished much for the surrounding district, but when the 2015 earthquake struck, the organization’s mission enlarged. Under Prem’s guidance, the paragliding guides directed their energy toward recovery efforts in the Gorkha region. In fact, our trek would serve as a “test run” for Prem’s long-range idea to bring travel groups into the region as a source of more sustaining help. He would call this new venture “KarmaTreks”.
Despite his around-the-clock mission to help, Prem was powered by a feeling that his effort was never enough. “It’s like a cumin seed in the mouth of an elephant,” he’d say.
The next morning Prem idled the truck up to my hotel room in the early dark. I grabbed my pack and slid into the front seat. We bounced out of Lakeside’s backpacker ghetto, past the breakfast cafes and Phô shops, the wood-fired pizza joints and German bakeries. We picked up other team members: a solar technician, a chatty computer tech, Matt Cone the co-founder of KarmaFlights, and a couple of other pilots eager to visit the region. As we drove from town, Machapuchare glowed like a strawberry soft-serve ice cream cone.
After an hour, we pulled off the highway at Himalayan Coffee Beanz. While my coffee addiction had been well serviced by the dozens of espresso shops in Lakeside, this latte would be my last indulgence before we headed out into the hills. My anxiety about this felt ridiculous given the scope of the mission we were on. How can I worry about my morning coffee on the way to help people who’ve lost everything? Back at home we called these sorts of problems “champagne problems”, but this show of self-awareness suddenly felt false. I had never known a touch of hunger or true scarcity. Was it even possible for me to truly understand a situation where life is stripped down to even less than the essentials?
At that moment, the road turned to potholes, and I suddenly had latte problems. White foam splashed on my shirt as while Prem recalled the earthquake—the day on April 25th when he ran outside his school to see dark dust plumes rising in the sky. “It felt like the world was ending,” he said. A group of pilots gathered to hatch a plan at Isabella Messenger’s headquarters, another co-founder of Karma Flights. All were eager to drop their fly-eat-sleep routines and re-route their skills and equipment toward the cause. That next morning, they gathered their radios, GPS, and First Aid kits and, instead of loading their Jeeps with paragliding wings as they usually did, they stacked the Jeeps with rice and tarps and dug their way through landslides to get to the region. Overnight, they had transformed from recreationalists to first responders.
I thought of how elated the villagers must have felt when they saw Prem and the pilots arrive with supplies. “You must be famous for the people in this region,” I said.
“No. They are famous to me,” Prem said, crinkling his nose in his admirable humility.
Six hours later we bounced into a riverside encampment at Dhoreni. This collection of huts on a sandbar had served as basecamp for the pilots in the weeks after the earthquake. A nearby large hydroelectric plant enabled them to charge their two-way radios and GPSs. By the time the first United Nations convoys arrived, the pilots were already well established and even began coordinating the agency’s efforts.
A woman served us warm soup, and Prem recalled the conditions they endured while helping. “We chewed on dried noodle packets” Prem said. After eating, I wandered to the Daraundi river hoping to wash off some of the road dust. I pulled my socks off, and eased my feet into the cool water. Then I heard Prem.
“Time to go didi!”
Our group set off across a suspension bridge and slogged two-hours uphill to Saurpani, the hardest hit village in the region. After the quake, virtually no houses were left. Twelve schools, two health posts and a police station were ruined. 44 people were killed and hundreds were wounded. Still, on arrival we into the schoolyard of Himalayan Secondary, we encountered great cheer. They had worried that after the initial surge of support, they would be forgotten about. “I promised I would never leave them,” said Prem, as we ducked our necks to receive dozens of bright marigold garlands. “They are my family now.”
With 600 students, Himalayan Secondary was the largest in the region. Prem and his team, determined to rebuild it, had already established a small library, a computer lab and temporary learning shelters. The next phase of the effort was to build more classrooms. The Gurkha Welfare Scheme and other NGOs have taken over to build two building with 31 classrooms here.
That evening we stayed at the school principal’s house with his wife, nieces and elderly parents. We ate a dinner of dal bhat and when it was time to sleep, the principal ushered the six of us into a single room—with only four beds. I balked. With five other people shifting and snoring next to me, I’d never sleep. I grabbed a wide bench on the porch and established a cocoon of privacy with my sleeping bag. Then–in case the earthquake had seemed an abstraction to me—a 2 a.m. jolt sent us all out into the front yard gazing up at the cold stars with astonished terror.
The next day we set off to Siddartha Secondary School to visit a solar computer lab set up by KarmaFlights in partnership of other organizations like Orphans to Ambassadors and Microsoft Innovation Center. After a buoyant greeting by over 400 teachers and students, we toured the collection of glittery panels on a sunny terrace. Then we wandered the lab of 20 computers.
I gazed out the lab window at the rice terraces. Why do they need computers for way up here? Prem explained: unless someone brought technology up to the villages, the young people would continue leaving for the city to seek education. In fact, this diaspora of young people was one of the biggest problems the region faced after the earthquake. With all the village’s strongest members in cities or even abroad, the elderly and children were challenged to plow the fields, much less rebuild whole villages.
The young people in the city soon discovered that urban life had its own set of problems. In their search for amenities, they often become disillusioned by the high cost of living, the pollution, over-crowding, unemployment and lack of family support.
“They go to the city for the momos,” Prem explained “but often drown in the soup.”
The next few days were a blur of marigold garlands, speeches, singing, and we did our best to keep pace with Prem as he zipped around. My champagne problems followed me. One rainy afternoon under a tarp, I wrested for some personal space amid my teammates’ elbows and knees. I tried to breathe through my misery as water pooled in the plastic overhead. Prem put things in perspective: “After the earthquake, there were often ten families living under one tarp for the first few weeks.”
Later, at Ulajung Basic School in Swara, we upended a pile of donated clothing and watched the teachers and parents distributed them carefully. A little girl pranced in slightly too-tight sandals, a grandmother glowed in a baggy purple sweater, and a young boy punched the air with absolute glee in a pair of over-sized white gloves. Again, perspective: Back at home, I sometimes stood in front of my overstuffed closet and complained about nothing to wear.
One night, at our chilly encampment on the Niyauli Kharka pass, three girls flip- flopped past in the freezing darkness on their way to deliver potato seeds to a nearby village called Gumda. There would be no cozy home waiting for them on the other end, no warm bathtub. Still, I could hear them all giggling all the way down the trail.
Prem was pleased at the optimism. “The last time you could see the devastation on their faces. This is their recovery. They have forgotten about the earthquake. They had a look of fear before.”
We walked one day along the fault line along the Dharche Pass—the exact epicenter of the earthquake. I placed a foot on each side of the rift, marveling at how the earth can split open like this. The divide felt like a symbol of my split consciousness. I was getting nimble at living in dual realities—leaping between my petty concerns and cravings on one hand and the very real life threatening concerns of the people around. Between handing out scholarships and warm clothes, I snatched my privacy and cups of Nescafe where I could.
But there was one chasm I struggled to cross: the lack of sleep. With no formal guesthouses in the region, we often bedded down in storage sheds stocked with dried foods. At night, full sized rats pillaged bags of chips, rice sacks and noodles near my head, or scurried over rafters, squeaked and squabbled under the beds. While my trekking companions seemed to drift into deep snoring sleeps without trouble, I would be alone in the dark seized with absolute terror.
After one sleepless night, I wandered out into a school soccer field to watch the sunrise. The Himalayas were beautiful in the morning light, but it didn’t help my delirium. Prem caught me in tears.
“I can’t take this anymore!” I cried out.
“Don’t worry” Prem consoled me a cup of thermos coffee that felt like a lifeline. He invoked Hindu pantheon with its 33,000,000 deities. There seemed to be a god for every ailment. “Rats are the vehicle of lord Ganesh and Ganesh is the remover of obstacles. This is a good sign!”
I sipped my coffee and contemplated my obstacles which right then, seemed both ridiculous and numerous.
On our last day we crossed a mile-long landslide. While Prem took interviews about his projects on his cell phone, I ambled alone and away from the group. I looked at the fallen trees and unearthed rocks, the scraped landscape and a line of a Jack Gilbert poem sang through my mind. “Pleasure we can do without,” the poem sings, “but not delight.” This distinction between pleasure and delight, which had always felt like the poem’s central riddle, felt suddenly clear. Pleasure was coffee, wine, fluffy beds and lots of personal space. Delight was love, connection, and friendship. One we ought to be able to live without; the other indispensible. I had a sudden insight: securing my pleasures was getting in the way of my delight—or as Prem put it, in pursuit of momos, I was drowning in the soup.
We returned back to Lakeside, stopping again at Himalayan Beanz for lattes. Our group scattered on arrival with Prem rushing off to plan his next mission. Turned loose now amid the Lakeside restaurants, I had available again every pleasure: wood-fired pizza, French cheese, or Indian curry. I’d like to say I bypassed them all for a simple meal of dal bhat, but instead settled in at a streetside café and ordered a glass of wine, assuming my place again among the other rootless travelers. I was the same pleasure addicted American who set off to Gorka a week ago.
But while my habits may have stayed the same, my perspective had changed tectonically. I looked out at Lakesides bustling streets–the shops full of trinkets and souvenirs, and travelers searching for their next fix. I thought of the little boy in Swara punching the air with his new white gloves, the grandmother glowing in the simple cast-off sweater and of a little girl I met named Supita who, despite losing both parents in the earthquake, smiled into the future.
It’s tempting here to reiterate the same old insight that so many other privileged travelers after returning home from traveling to places like this: They were poor, but so much happier. In truth, I do not know if the people in the Gorka region are happier, and it’s not my place to say. What I do know is that I set off on my trek confused about the difference between pleasure and joy and ended the trek with more clarity. In understanding that difference, I’d gained something invaluable.
KarmaTreks is the most worthy cause I know! To donate, go here: https://www.karmaflights.org/donate
Stay tuned for a possible Deep Travel Nepal trip in Fall of 2020. For now, Deep Travel has two workshops on the calendar for 2020: Yelapa, Mexico and Paris, France! Join us! http://www.deeptravelworkshops.com
As Deep Travel compiles an anthology of writings by our wonderful workshop alumni, we have enjoyed sharing some of their work here on our blog. This time, we have a beautiful vignette by Michelle Zeidman, who joined us on a workshop in Morocco. You’ll be able to find this and work by over 40 contributors in the finished anthology in August. Join us at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA for the book launch on August 7 at 7 pm.
I glide in my long skirt down a dark, tight alley. I pass a lilac-colored playground with painted tires and a blue slide. I arrive at an ancient door with a heavy brass ring. I clank the knocker three times, and my call is returned by a tumble of footsteps falling down a worn cobblestone path.
Inside: beige, water-stained walls. Underfoot: green and white tiles in a herringbone pattern. I smell mold and damp and centuries of prayer. In a dark alcove, I see a plush, red velvet Torah cover embroidered with musty gold thread and Hebrew characters I cannot read. I feel sad and wobbly in this place. I wish my grandfather where here to guide me through the history. Instead, it’s a Moroccan man in a heavy wool coat who opens the door, motions me around the vacant synagogue, and leaves me to absorb the past.
Jews have long left Fez’s mellah—its historic Jewish quarter. It’s now inhabited by Muslims whose homes overlook the Jewish cemetery and abut this old synagogue. In Fez, like so many other places, Jews have been persecuted. It’s in our blood to be driven out of our homes, made to be “other,” and unwelcome in places that were once ours.
Still, I feel well received here in Morocco, and every Salaam is returned: by the man on the train who pauses from watching me paint to silently observe the call to prayer, by the new friend who dresses me in her finest takchita, and by the fat lady in dirty undies who scrubs me raw with mud in the public hammam—or bathhouse.
Morocco wraps me in its nest of twisty alleyways and orange trees. It beckons me with its carefully laid zellij tiles and countless feral cats. It calls me home to a land I’m not from, to an abandoned synagogue with signs I cannot understand, to a locale apart from time, to a place my grandpa’s spirit lurks. I am once again connected to my roots.
MICHELLE ZEIDMAN is an artist, writer, and avid traveler. Her adventures have taken her to 26 countries and counting. Michelle has snorkeled with humpback whales, flown her paraglider in the Himalayas, studied tropical ecology in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, and hiked hundreds of miles of trails across six continents. She has Masters degrees in Urban Planning (MUP) and Public Administration (MPA), and a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies. Her art and jewelry can be viewed at ModernNatureArt.com.
As Deep Travel compiles an anthology of writings by our wonderful workshop alumni, we are excited to share some of their work here on our blog. This time, we have an entertaining essay by Brenda Wilson who joined a workshop in Mexico. You’ll be able to read this and work by over 40 contributors in the finished anthology in August. (Release date: August 7, 7 pm at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA) Meanwhile, enjoy….
The Lords of Dog Town
If you have not loved an animal, a part of your soul remains asleep.
—Proverb found on a signpost in Yelapa, Mexico
In the heart of the jungle and along the seashore, on the Bay of Banderas, the dogs of Yelapa tell a different story than your average, mangy, starving Mexican dog.
A few years ago, author Michael Pollan theorized in his book, The Botany of Desire, that seemingly-unconscious plants enlist heart the and minds of humans to further their own agenda to thrive and multiply. Pollan cites examples of tulips that seduce us with their beauty, apples that endear us with their sweetness, and marijuana that intoxicates us with its heady compounds. I was reminded of this theory as I witnessed a similar, suspicious scenario playing out on la playa de Yelapa between the enormous stray dog population, the locals, and the affection-starved tourists.
I picked up the scent when I noticed that all the typical arch-enemies of dogs were vanquished and abolished. In Yelapa, there are no cars, no cats, no squirrels, no kennels, no leashes, or collars. There are no masters, no silly names, no license tags, no territories, no aggression, no dog catchers, no starvation, no diseases, no fences, no doghouses, no tethers. There are no problemas!
As I became aware of this canine cosa nostra phenomenon hidden in plain sight, I marveled at the stellar health of the Canidae. All the woofs were well-fed with shiny coats, white teeth, and bright eyes—suggesting that they get plenty of guacamole, fresh fish, and pie! There is even a town vet who offers free services to the strays: deworming and neutering them twice a month. Wait, that is more healthcare than Americans receive!
The locals rise in the early mornings to wash the sidewalks clean of all the doggy and donkey debris that accumulated the day before. The dog-spotting touristas y locales provide hand-fed sustenance, while the pups crouch and pray to the local patron saint: Our Lady of Doggy Bags.
These Good Boys share a variety of duties around the tiny Mexican hamlet. After an initiation and a vow of silence, they are assigned a beat. They became the greeters, grounds-keepers, escorts, guides, clean-up crew, beach companions, fish dogs, cantina entertainment, plate patrol, port authorities, and bar bouncers. Some are even guides!
Case in point: I once got turned around in one of the Yelapa byways, trying to find the Yacht club. A sleek German Shepard mix was napping on dried palm leaves at her post at the intersection where I stood perplexed. She opened one eye, rose from her nap, and began walking down the path. I followed and was then guided to the Yacht Club by the shepherdess. I am still unsure how she knew where I needed to go or how I found the trust to follow her. But the fact is, I was lost and she led me all the way to the hostess station. Perhaps most tourists get lost and she was merely performing a habitual task of guidance and kindness. Nonetheless, I gave my guide some pats of gratitude, and she smiled, wagged, and returned to her post in the crossway.
Since the dogs do not have official homes, they snuggle up under the cerveza tables on the sandy beach, or on the knoll to bask in the warm sunlight. The look in their eyes in the dawn light says: would love to cuddle with you!
On my last night, I dined at the BBQ joint where the dogs were working the scene, methodically sitting under every table to collect scraps and pats. This was a preferred eatery, and there were plenty of doggy bags on hustle. It was obvious that the dogs working joint preferred to skip the doggy bag routine altogether and go straight for the hand-feed under the table. Mi amor, Tim, and I made friends with the silky, buff, male terrier with a blonde mustache and underbite sitting under our table. The Wiley Woof was suave and even perhaps psychic. Noticing his polite and attentive demeanor, Tim joked “at least he is not begging.” On cue, El Suave sat on his hound hind, paws up, begging, and posing for a picture with a deadpan stare. Cheeky.
Later, at the nearby bar, I noticed a small black fluffle-weiner with a tough attitude and a golden snaggle-tooth. He was The Heavy, packin’ heat, running at a fast clip to nip the heels of an unruly patron. He escorted the wiseguy to the door. The success of the bounce sent El Doggo into a happy tailspin as he rejoined the fiesta in full wag. He accepted many a belly rub on the dance floor before dashing away to the kitchen and out of sight. I believe him to be perhaps Don Yelapa, the Hefe, or El Capo.
There is a rumor that even “kept” pooches elect to stray and go on the lam. Because what dog doesn’t like to roam and comb the beaches and cantinas in search of friends and Scooby-snacks? The Yelaperrosseem elevated in status—perhaps even part-human and probably part-angel. They are self-possessed, un-mastered, and self-mastered. By all appearances, they have achieved enlightenment and doggie-nirvana. They roam free without tether or strangle. They do not bark, snarl, growl, or struggle. They are fed and pet by many hands. These Doggy Boys have remastered the “man’s best friend” idea and flipped it to make their bones. Akin to Pollan’s musings about the wiley-ways of our botanical friends, the Canidae have become road-kings instead of road-kill. Indeed, in Yelapa, the old saying holds true: All Dogs go to Heaven.
BRENDA WILSON presents us with a fun fusion of eclectic gifts from distant corners of the galaxy. She is a creative writer, by way of being a naturalist, herbalist, botanist, anatomist, astrologist, and massage therapist. She is a servant and observant of the wild creatures. She has worked with wild birds, wild plants, wild gardens, and wild humans of the best kind. She found herself whisked away to Yelapa, Mexico, by some of her favorite wild humans to serve and to write. She produced this story of beasts (during a wolf moon, in the year of the Dog) while doing massage service for the group of highly skilled travel writers. Brenda is honored to be included among the creative talent presented in this anthology. Her educational background includes an associates degree in English and Creative Writing, with a six-month, in-depth study in Cambridge, England into Shakespearean literature.
As Deep Travel continues to build an anthology of work by our wonderful workshop alumni, we are excited to share some of the work here on our blog. This time, we have four haiku by Chant Thomas, who joined a workshop in Morocco. You’ll be able to read this and work by over 40 contributors in the finished anthology in August. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, enjoy….
Traveling Haiku on the Road in Morocco
by Chant Thomas
Doors open. Doors close,
sometimes with hand on the knob.
Open book. Turn the page.
On the road again.
Push the boundaries beyond.
Depart, then arrive.
Settle into a new place.
Start again. Repeat.
Clouds obscure the view.
Watch for what transpires behind
that which appears. Look!
CHANT THOMAS: Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Chant Thomas has spent most of his life choosing adventure, homesteading in a wilderness canyon in the Siskiyou Mountains, working for conservation of wildlands, forests, mountains, and rivers. His writing ranges from scientific papers, conservation advocacy and short stories, to poetry and travel. Chant earned an M.S. in Environmental Education from the Biology Department of Southern Oregon University. He founded Dakubetede Environmental Education Programs, a university-accredited curriculum training Earth Activists, Earth Scientists and Earth Stewards. For twenty years, he operated Siskiyou Llama Expeditions, conducting recreational and educational wilderness treks in the State of Jefferson. Chant, with his wife Susanna, hosted an Orion SocietyForgotten Language on their wilderness ranch in 1998. Currently writing his first book, Chant and Susanna divide their time between the wilds of Oregon, New Mexico and the Pacific coast of southern Baja, living simply, immersed in Nature.
Deep Travel is busy assembling an anthology of work by our wonderful workshop alumni. We are excited to share some of the work here on our blog, starting with this beautiful vignette by Libby Chaney, who joined us on our trip to Morocco last month. You’ll be able to read this and work by over 40 contributors in the finished anthology in August. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, enjoy….
Morocco, Home, and Heaven
Chickens caught in a small wooden cage, climbing over each other, flapping, squawking. They are screaming, really. As the butcher watches us walk by, he’s blithely pulling the guts from a carcass. He’s easily within earshot of the chickens in the cage.
I love chicken tagine with lemon and olives. I cannot hear the chicken scream.
I don’t feel the hands of the chicken gutter on my guts.
I hear two men arguing in Arabic, their language like a shaking bag of rocks. And then a laugh and slaps on the sleeves of wool. And they walk in opposite directions, still laughing.
I smell peas cooking on a tiny clay chimney in a tin pie tin. Three men sit down around the little red fire for the little green peas, smiling, smiling, smiling.
The seller selling honey cookies relaxes in his stall with the bees. Bees are doing research on the cookies. We all know full well why.
I like preserved lemons: the color, the taste of sunlight—bitter, soft and soaked with juice and olives with their oil.
I like to brush my teeth without wondering if the water’s safe. When that faucet’s water’s in my mouth alone, like a river I am swimming in, I wonder if I’ll die from it, or just get a little sick, or if my minty toothpaste is discouragement enough for germs.
I slowly put one old foot over one damaged knee, going up, already worried about coming down. Blue and white tile patterns on the stairs—a distraction from my grief.
Back home on a sunny deck in Cleveland now, the air would be too cold to enjoy the wind. I could tell myself to stay in Fez, except for the bulbs pushing up by my door.
Afternoon walking in the medina from light into darkness and back again. The walls are sometimes blue, then pink along the way, but from above they look like sand.
Our dog Raisa would love the call to worship. Five times a day she would sing along, reminding us to contact our creator.
I love the slightly open door, and I am not afraid to look inside, like the sight of lace inside a woman’s blouse.
“I want to taste your money” the seller murmurs—he is so romantic!
“What’s your best price?” another demands, blocking our exit from his shop.
You get lots of knots in burl wood; it grows under earth above the roots, below the stem
You can choose loblolly pine or the lemon, too, for different reasons. All good.
Farmers arrange piles of carrots next to herbs in our farmers’ markets, like here in the souk. We eat the same food, preparing differently.
And we have doors and windows, but none like these. Not in Home Depot, anyway.
These doors let you know you’re entering something other than a place and show you what shape you are. I think they point toward heaven.
I see some people with tragic feet wearing plastic slippers on the street. One ankle turned like a burl. One foot turned toward the sky, but walking.
Three little boys. It’s late at night, sitting on a doorstep in the market, laughing, laughing, laughing.
Donkeys loaded with our heavy bags of pleasant clothes and toothbrushes, choose their way up the stairs.
Back home, Donna’s disease had come with a visa for either heaven or for hell. She visited hell for a while at the doctors. When her children came, she took the first flight out. Through a window in a gown, I think. She sent me a message in my dream, in the midst of my own, much smaller adventure in Fez. “Arrived safely!” she said.
LIBBY CHANEY is an artist. She was born, raised and educated in Ohio. In the 1960s, when she was in her twenties, she wandered off to California, where she inadvertently lived for 47 years. She taught there, traveled a bit, married and had two children. After her son suddenly died, she was drawn back to her Ohio at Lake Erie. She now lives in a sunlit studio, able to work as an artist every single day with her third and final husband, Paul Waszink, and a cat named Charles. LibbyChaney.com
There is something about a mid-morning writing session on the beach with surf as your soundtrack and Tim Cahill as your guide. As we like to say, the Deep Travel Mexico writing retreat is like summer camp for writers—but in January! Lisa Boice has been coming since our first trip. We are happy to feature a vignette she wrote for one of Tim’s assignments, which was to write about something that creates emotion. Lisa went with humor, and we’re smiling at the results! Buen provecho!
By Lisa Boice
Something assaulted my avocado.
There were no scraps left behind. The only evidence of the intruder was a crater 2 1/2 inches in diameter, shaped like a whimsical flower with scallops. A clue, I thought. The sunken crater showed long gashes—teeth marks—in its yellow-green flesh, as if leaving a hundred tick marks for me to count. The dark brown pit was visible, so whoever it was must have stopped there.
The bumpy tar-like peel should have been a barrier—a security. But in an open-air casa there’s an open invitation to everything.
Still, intruder—whoever you are—it was my breakfast you ate.
(In case you’re wondering, the mystery was solved: The intruder was a Yellow-winged Cacique. One of the many birds found in this part of Mexico.)
We end our “From the Cave” series with a beautiful piece by Deep Travel alumna, Stacy Boyington. Stacy joined us on our adventure to Andalusia, where we went in search of duende. During one of the workshop sessions, she remembered the words of a friend back home….
TAZA AZUL (BLUE MUG)
By Stacy Boyington
I am too tired to rush anything or to go anywhere on this grey, damp morning. Not even to la cueva de Paco, located just behind and up the path from my own cave dwelling. At Paco’s, fresh juice lovingly squeezed from Granada oranges, hot black tea in an adorned silver pot, toast with butter, and sweet cake made by the invisible hands of Paco’s sister await my arrival for breakfast. The round table in the dimly lit room where we dine and clumsily attempt to communicate between Spanish and English, is draped with a floor-length cloth, concealing an electric heater to warm our legs. This is one of many thoughtful gestures our morning host bestows upon us during these bone-chilling, rainy days of spring.
Though I slept as if in a coma, I wake in the windowless dark to fuzzy thoughts. Was it the Rioja, the late-night, meat-laden meal, the ten miles of walking up and down and up the hills again through-dissected cobblestone calles? Or is it a fatigue I carry with me across the oceans?
Emerging from my whitewashed gypsy cave, I scan the valley and I am astounded yet again by the magnificent umber palace which lies before me across the river. The Alhambra! This destination has called to me, tugged at my longing for a decade. Standing before its Moorish grandeur, I quietly acknowledge my providential presence. I deeply breathe in the chilled air, blessing the day ahead and all the mystery it holds.
Turning away from the iron-gated entrance to my cave and the incessant crowing from the arrogant rooster perched upon it like a masthead on a ship, my blistered feet propel me down a single-file, earthen path. Thick blooms of spring mustard engulf me until I pass the neighborhood’s once communal stone oven, and I reach the carmens of the Albaycin nestled below. I no longer need to think my way to Plaza Larga. My body holds the directional memory. The Albaycin wakes slowly. My gait matches its tempo.
Approaching the Plaza, I stop to buy miniature Spanish palmieres from the tiny panaderia and bright tangerines from the mercado across the street. These are the offerings I bring to share with “the real writers,” the published masters who write novels, books of truth, articles for magazines, enchanted poems, online tales, and stories to entice travelers. They attend the workshop convening in the apartment above the inlaid pomegranate square, where I join them for our morning session. I write for no one.
Before settling in my chosen chair, I find the electric kettle in the kitchen and pour myself a cup of steaming water. I wrap my trembling hands around the heated mug to warm and calm my spinning thoughts.
On this morning, our facilitator, Erin, begins our workshop by asking us to close our eyes. She guides us to feel our hearts, to feel the duende which we have come in search of from far and wide. She persuades us to imagine our tender hearts immersed in warm water, then in water which reaches the boiling point, until all the water evaporates and we feel our hearts left in a scalding pan, scorched by flames. Horrified, I watch my heart turn from soft pink to rubber grey, to charred black. Yet, under the veil of char, a ventricle of crimson remains.
I want to stop! I want to rescue my seared, still-glowing heart before it is too late!
I open my eyes, relieved to return to the present where hope still exists. My gaze settles on the warm cup I grasp, and I realize it is in fact a blue mug.
Prior to my departure from the San Francisco Bay, my treasured Oregonian friend, sensing my trepidation to actually participate in the writing during my upcoming adventures, said to me, “if all you write is ‘blue mug,’ it is enough. This is your journey. Find your way. You are enough.”
Granada is forever my Blue Mug.
I live afloat in Sausalito. A California native, I’m drawn to the water and to the mountains, hence, life on a bay and a 10-year enchantment, playing and working in the Rockies. I’m most content spending time in nature, though I love a good city day filled with food, art, and sidewalk cafe people watching. My work life has been primarily in creative realms. Currently, I work for a perfume company. I walk, a lot. I walk for exercise, discovery, and meditation. Swimming became an important part of my life three years ago for healing and freedom. I believe there are no accidents in life. Curiosity runs in my veins. There are always at least three books by my bedside, along with multiple issues of Vanity Fair. The most precious part of my life is my family. My adult offspring and their families are my constant inspiration and my deepest love.
Our “From the Cave” series continues with an imaginative piece by Ann Dufaux, who takes us centuries back into Spanish history. In a gitano cave in the hills above Granada, Ann read this part of a longer work to an enthralled audience. Prepare to enter the duende….
DUENDE IN THE HEART OF SPAIN
By Ann Dufaux
Three men in black hooded gowns, faces hidden in shadow, surround you as you rise from your bench, at the end of midday mass. They say: “Follow us.” You can hardly refuse their whispered order. Bearing heavy wooden crosses, they are either monks or priests.
After months walking uphill and down vale towards Compostela, you have finally arrived and are sitting with thousands of pilgrims who—like you—have made it all the way from their distant hometowns and villages. Incense clouds the air as the one-hundred-pound censer swings in the transept, rising to the rafters. An angelic voice resonates with an Ave Maria. Mass ends, and all attending cross themselves. You tremble. Turning to embrace the people around you: first left, then right, then back and front. You notice a tear here, a smile there. Most faces are familiar. You have met many along the way.
That is when it happens. Surrounded by three stern churchmen, you walk down the aisle as ordered, exiting the main door. You leave the cathedral, when a storm breaks: a flash, a rumble. You are witness to the biggest downpour ever. Gargoyles spew raging rivers from the church towers. Rain sweeps the plaza. As you walk out you are drenched in no time. Even your bones feel wet. You move along as directed toward the narrowest, darkest street.
The tallest of the three men stops, turns and throws a hood over your head. The others clench your elbows, dragging you along as you stumble and slide over wet cobblestones. You walk blindfolded for half an hour at least. Why is this happening? Where are you headed?
Finally, the men lead you up three steps and stop. A bell rings. You wait. A bolt slides. A heavy door swings open on creaking hinges, and you are taken down, down, down slippery stairs. Your hood is removed. It is so dark. One of the men takes out a big key, opens a barred door, and you are shoved into a cell. A tiny oil lamp flickers on a corner ledge, providing the only source of light in the gloom. You collapse on a pile of hay, crying out toward the priests: “Porqué?” The tallest replies: “We shall come and fetch you and question you in due time.”
Are you to be interrogated by an Inquisition tribunal? You peer towards the flickering light and below it notice the word AYUDA, scratched in bold letters on the dark stone wall. Was it left by some prisoner? When did that happen, and what became of him? You shudder in your dripping outfit. Seeking warmth, you delve deep into the bale of hay. Just then a warm furry creature wriggles up your back and scuttles away. The smell of mold pervades the atmosphere. You open the little pouch on your bosom, holding precious medicinal plants, and begin chewing on the bitter bark that you know prevents fever.
I lived most of my life in France, but spent my youth in New York City and Upstate New York. Jacques and I, the parents of four, spent two years in the States in the 80’s, and we still have many friends and relatives there. My first profession was as a RN. I later trained as an English teacher and developed courses for pros (pilots, MDs, engineers) for over 30 years. I’m presently making the most of my retirement: hiking, traveling when possible, making new friends, learning foreign cuisine, practicing Tai Chi, singing, reading (in English and French) and writing short stories.