Living Out Your Appointed Time

“To live till you die
is to live long enough.”
— Ursula Le Guin, Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

Watercolor painting of desiccated hydrangea

Returning to the Root
from  — Ursula Le Guin, Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

Be completely empty.
Be perfectly serene.
The ten thousand things arise together;
in their arising is their return.
Now they flower,
and flowering
sink homeward,
returning to the root.

The return to the root
is peace.
Peace: to accept what must be,
to know what endures.
In that knowledge is wisdom.
Without it, ruin, disorder.

To know what endures
is to be openhearted,
following the Tao,
the way that endures forever.
The body comes to its ending,
but there is nothing to fear.

Making Spirits Bright

Merry and bright! Macy’s Star and Christmas tree in downtown Seattle

Today is the Winter Solstice.  In Seattle, we have 8 hours and 25 minutes of daylight on this shortest day of the year, fully 7 hours and 34 minutes fewer than our longest day in June.  And although I always look forward to the holiday lights that brighten this dark season, I do find some respite and renewal in the gifts of darkness and hibernation — slowing down, resting, and even hibernating.  Everything has its season.

Near Pioneer Square, Seattle
Pioneer Square
Westlake Mall, Seattle
Seattle Skyline from Gasworks Park, evening across Lake Union

“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark.  Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”
— Wendell Berry, “To Know the Dark”

“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”
— Theodore Roethke

Handmade Christmas card



The “Nimble Frolic” of Terns

Common terns, Johanna Beach, Australia

by Mary Oliver, from Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

Don’t think just now of the trudging forward of thought,
but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.

It’s summer, you never saw such a blue sky,
and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,

sweeping over the waves,
chattering and plunging,

their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes
happy as little nails.

The years to come — this is a promise —
will grant you ample time

to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deepest affinity between your eyes and the world.

The flock thickens
over the roiling, salt brightness.  Listen,

maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer,

but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,

but of pure submission.  Tell me, what else
could beauty be for?  And now the tide

is at its very crown,
the white birds sprinkle down,

gathering up the loose silver, rising
as if weightless.  It isn’t instruction, or a parable.

It isn’t for any vanity or ambition
except for the one allowed, to stay alive.

It’s only a nimble frolic
over the waves.  And you find, for hours,

you cannot even remember the questions
that weigh so in your mind.

Tern in the sky over Johanna Beach
In flight, the terns bring to mind an Escher painting
Terns and shadows

Watercolor painting of tern

I really cannot recommend highly enough the new book, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver.  Over and over, she writes so lyrically about recalling oneself to an attitude of attention to everything. Oliver says, “I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t admire” (from “Hum”).

Like Rilke, she finds profound truths in nature’s offerings:

“If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”
— Mary Oliver, from “It Was Early”




Australia Trip Notes from the Great Ocean Walk

Me at the start of the Great Ocean Walk; Shelly Beach on the Southern Ocean
Map showing Great Ocean Walk from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles (near Princetown)

The highlight of my trip to Australia was a seven-day hiking experience along the Great Ocean Trail in Great Otway National Park.  This is a 104-kilometer (65-mile) trail from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles on the rugged Southern Ocean coast.  I had arranged a self-guided hike through Walk 91 — they took care of all meals, lodging, and daily transport to and from the trailheads.

Originally I had intended a thru-hike over all 104 kilometers.  But my hiking partner was dealing with a respiratory infection, so my experience ended up being more of a sampling of shorter hikes all along the trail.  Walk 91 staff accommodated our changes to the initial itinerary so that we could be outdoors hiking for several  hours every day, but not do the longer full-day walks.  This ended up being just perfect for me.  And I didn’t feel short-changed in experiencing the scenic wonders of this part of Australia.

If I were ever to return to the Great Ocean Road, I would allow an extra day or two in Apollo Bay.  I saw from the bus windows that it would be possible to walk for miles and miles along the shores and beaches of this large bay.  You could easily do this from your hotel.

Parts of the Great Ocean Walk trail took us across lovely sandy beaches.

The first day’s hike on the Walk 91 itinerary was a short 5-mile hike from Shelly Beach back to our hotel in Apollo Bay.  The trail passed along sandy beaches, pastures and farmland, bluffs, a caravan park, suburbs, and the Great Ocean Road (highway).

While the Great Ocean Walk does follow the rugged coastline of the Southern Ocean, long stretches of the walk are too far inland to afford views of the water.  We hiked through coastal forests  of gum trees and eucalyptus, and along bluffs of coastal scrub bushes that were too high to see over.  The occasional breaks in the foliage gave out on amazing ocean vistas.  And all of the trail’s beach stretches were our favorite parts of the Great Ocean Walk.  And where we took the most photographs!

Trail from Blanket Bay to the Cape Otway Lighthouse through coastal forest
Parker Inlet

Great Ocean Walk; many of the beaches had rocky shelves like these

We stopped for a scone with Devonshire cream at the cafe opposite the Cape Otway Lighthouse.  You couldn’t beat the setting for this afternoon break.

Peek-a-boo view of the wild Southern Ocean coast from the trail between the Aire River and Castle Cove
Sunset at Castle Cove
Grass tree and shadow on the Great Ocean Walk trail from Castle Cove to Johanna Beach
Coastal forest with grass trees in the underbrush

Great Ocean Walk from Castle Cove to Johanna Beach
Stretch of the trail along Johanna Beach
Pitted rocks at Johanna Beach
Hiking shadow, Great Ocean Walk
Sunset with eucalyptus trees

Half-buried anchor of the Marie Gabrielle at Wreck Beach

The Twelve Apostles, the endpoint of the Great Ocean Walk





Australia Trip Notes: Koalas and Kangaroos and More

Kangaroo crossing sign

I knew I was in Australia when I saw koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and echidna in the wild — animals I had previously seen only in zoos or television documentaries.

These wildlife viewing opportunities came on a seven-day Great Ocean Walking tour that I had arranged through Walk 91.  From Melbourne, we took a one-hour train ride to Geelong, and there we transferred to a bus for a 2-1/2 hour ride to Apollo Bay.  Most of the bus ride followed the coast of the Southern Ocean — a very scenic and wild coast.  For seven days, we hiked portions of the coast trail, the Great Ocean Walk, which is in the Great Otway National Park.  And we stayed in several different accommodations along the way.  Most of our Australian animal sightings were in the evenings or mornings by our accommodations.

Koala at Bimbi Park

We saw koalas in the trees near the Cape Otway Lighthouse area.  Most often, the koalas were lethargic, sleeping or dozing on tree limbs.  But in Bimbi Park, near our lodging, we saw a couple of more active koalas.  We watched one climb down a tree, jump to another one, fall down, and then run to another tree, which it climbed to safety.  So I got some good, up-close photos.

Koalas are marsupials, mammals that carry their developing young in pouches.  Kangaroos and wallabies are also marsupials.  We saw both.  The wallabies looked like kangaroos to us, but they were darker and heftier.

Wallaby alongside the road near Castle Cove
Wallaby with joey seen from the deck of our accommodation near Milanesia Gate

The wallabies seemed curious, and stood and stared at us for a while.  The kangaroos we saw, however, seemed much more wary.  We saw them only from a distance as they grazed in a meadow at sunrise near the place we were staying.  They took off as soon as they spotted us.  I was surprised at how high they could jump!

Another of Australia’s unusual animals is the echidna.  It is sometimes called a spiny anteater.  It is just one of two egg-laying mammals (the other is the platypus).  I saw one along the hiking trail between Station Beach and the Cape Otway Lighthouse.



Australia Trip Notes: First Impressions, Melbourne

View of Melbourne from the 23rd floor balcony of our Airbnb apartment
Melbourne at night
Australia, the land “down under”

I recently returned from Australia — my first time ever on this continent.  My posts over the next few days will recount my impressions of this land, or at least the relatively small piece I visited.  I flew into Melbourne and traveled only in the state of Victoria.

During my first few days in Australia, I felt oddly comfortable.  After journeying 7,920 air miles from Los Angeles, crossing the international date line, and setting foot in the Southern hemisphere where it was no longer winter, but spring, I had expected to feel more displaced — like I was in a foreign country.  And yet everything was feeling almost too familiar.  I didn’t even experience jet lag.

Part of the easy transition was due, I suspect, to our common English language.  Signs and conversations were in my own language.   There was none of the disorientation that comes from making your way without the solid foundation of listening and reading for understanding.

Melbourne is at about the same latitude in the Southern hemisphere as San Francisco is in the North.  So the weather was also similar to the Pacific Northwest — gray skies, rain showers, and temperatures moderated by nearness to a large body of water.  Melbourne is situated on a large bay off the Southern Ocean; my city of Seattle is on the Puget Sound off the Pacific Ocean.

I was struck by how the terrain around Melbourne was so very flat.  Seattle is hilly and surrounded by mountains.  Both cities have a youthful, urban vibe.  Melbourne did not seem as diverse as Seattle.  I saw few blacks, although Asians and Indians were represented in the crowds.  The place felt “white” to me.

Melbourne commuters heading to work in the city
Asian district off Bourke Street in Melbourne (Seattle also has an International District)

And, I suppose, I immediately felt comfortable in a city where a coffee culture thrives!  Melbourne has as many, or more, small coffee shops as Seattle.  People here seem to take the time to sit down and enjoy their coffee break on the premises.  I did see some people with take-away cups, but far more were experiencing their caffeine, not on the run, but with relaxed enjoyment.  I noticed that the typical coffee drink was a modest 8-ounce cup, not the oversized grande and vente sizes we are accustomed to in the States.  And the coffee was always exquisitely prepared and very good.

My usual coffee drink in America is an Americano, but in Australia I always ordered a “flat white” coffee
The lids on the take-away coffees had little raised lips, like sippy cups that babies use.

Melbourne has several large Farmers’ Markets, which are actually bigger than Seattle’s Pike Place Market.  The one closest to our apartment was the Queen Victoria Market.  It was a vibrant, colorful place.

Queen Victoria Market
Impromptu dance, Queen Victoria Market

And like any well-loved city, Melbourne has lovely parks and green spaces.  In general, I was not expecting Australia to be so green.

King’s Domain Park, which I walked through on my way to the Royal Botanic Gardens

“All cities are one city.  What is interesting to find, in this continuity of cities, the less obvious differences in texture: the signs, the markings, the assemblages, the things hiding in plain site in each cityscape or landscape: the way streetlights and traffic signs vary, the most common fonts, the slight variations in building codes, the fleeting ads, the way walls are painted, the noticeable shifts in the range of hues the people wear, the color of human absence, the balance of industrial product versus what has been made by hand, greater or lesser degrees of finish, the visual melody of infrastructure as it interacts with terrain: wall, roof, plant, wire, gutter: what is everywhere but is everywhere slightly different.”
— Teju Cole, Blind Spot

And yet.

There were “little” things that delighted me with their difference from my normal life in Seattle.  Enough so that, yes, I knew I was in a foreign country after all.

It was always disorienting to see vehicles traveling on the “wrong” side of the road.  I never got used to this.  I made sure to check three and four times before stepping off any curb to cross the street.  The bus and tram stops were always on the side of the street I would not have chosen intuitively.  On crowded sidewalks with people moving in both directions, you moved to the left instead of the right.  I basically had to repeatedly tell myself to just do the opposite of what my body wanted to do.  I would have been a peril behind the wheel of a car (I didn’t even attempt to rent a car and drive).

Interesting pedestrian crossing sign

I loved seeing young students in school uniforms, which felt like a carryover from past times.  (In Seattle, most schools have moved away from requiring uniforms.)  These students appeared to be in middle school, and the uniforms definitely made visible how they seemed to travel in packs in the city.

School boys at Melbourne Central Shopping Centre
School girls seen from a tram window

Melbourne’s many small, individually owned restaurants and coffee shops felt very European to me.  I love the diversity of choices and ambience that these small storefronts offer.  We stumbled across one small restaurant, Issus, in an alley-like street off Flinders Street, and we liked it so much that we ate there three times!  The food was delicious.  And while prices seemed a tad high, we did not pay sales tax or tip, so there were no hidden costs.

Issus Restaurant in a little laneway off Flinders St
One breakfast/brekky at Issus: poached eggs with bacon, ham, smashed avocado, hollandaise sauce over good bread
Another breakfast/brekky at Issus: Mediterranean meatballs with poached eggs and toast

There was one thing on my “to-Do” list for Australia, and that was to taste vegemite.  Now this was one food disappointment for me.  It must be an acquired taste.  I’d heard that vegemite was as ubiquitous in Australia as peanut butter is in the United States.   Perhaps if you grow up eating vegemite as a kid, you could get used to it.  It’s taste is hard to describe — yeasty, perhaps?

Another thing I noticed in Australia is the ever-present electric tea pot for heating water for tea or coffee.  It brings water to a boil extremely quickly.  In fact, I liked these electric pots so much I decided that when I returned home, I would buy one for myself.  (Right now I use a conventional tea pot on the stovetop to heat water for my coffee.)  The electric sockets in Australia all have a turn off-on switch for each outlet.  I’m not sure if this saves electricity, or if it is a safety measure?  Another one of those little differences that Teju Cole talks about in the quote above.

Notice the on-off switches on the electric outlet panel.

Melbourne has a wonderful transportation infrastructure with trains, trams, and buses.  I wish more cities in the United States did public transportation as well. In Melbourne, all trams are free in the Central business district.  They also have a free Circle Tram, the No. 35, whose audio narrative points out historical and tourist sights in the city.  What a convenient way to move about the city.

The Circle trams used vintage carriages
One of Melbourne’s trams

The city of Melbourne also offers free wifi in the city center.  I appreciated that, too!  When traveling, I am always on the lookout for reliable wifi.  I noticed that the State Library of Victoria, which also offers free wifi, was packed with patrons using their laptops.

Latrobe reading room, State Library of Victoria

I found the people of Melbourne to be friendly and helpful.   I looked like a tourist with my camera slung around my neck, so at street corners or on trams, people would occasionally strike up a conversation.  The invariably asked, “Are you Canadian or American?”   I was impressed with their sensitivity to their Canadian cousins, who might be offended (especially in today’s political climate) by the assumption that every English-speaking person from the Northern hemisphere is from the United States.

All in all,  my first impressions of Melbourne and Australia were very favorable.  I’m glad I had the  opportunity to travel there, at least this once in my life.







Happy Thanksgiving 2017

Low light at sunset
Hills, trees, and light

I Have Just Said
by Mary Oliver, from Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

I have just said
ridiculous to you
and in response,

your glorious laughter.
These are the days
the sun
is swimming back

to the east
and the light on the water
as never, it seems, before.

I can’t remember
every spring,
I can’t remember
everything —

so many years!
Are the morning kisses
the sweetest
or the evenings

or the inbetweens?
All I know
is that “thank you” should appear

So, just in case
I can’t find
the perfect place —
“Thank you, thank you.”