Last night I was lying under the an absolutely brilliant night sky contemplating divine beauty. The day had been near perfect: my soul was filled with the laughter of friendship and silly adventures, my stomach full with good food, and my skin sun-kissed from a day outside. And then the day was pushed to perfection when the clouds cleared and the stars emerged in a way only possible where there is no light pollution. The Milky Way was a cloud across the night sky. I could not help but say that this is divine beauty made by a creator in such a way that I, that we, could enjoy it. My dear friend added, “And that we would be made to appreciate beauty.”
Not too many weeks ago, I climbed (hiked) Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK (though lower in elevation than my home in Kigali). Today it has been cold and rainy, which somehow seems an appropriate time to write about the climb. This was a big climb for me – my longest ever. You go from sea level to 4,400 feet and back in about 9.5 miles. For all the other outdoor things I love, you might wonder why this is the longest hike (in terms of elevation change) I have done. I have bad knees, and honestly did not know how they would do, but figured it was worth finding out.
I tried to put everything in my favor including buying walk poles. In America, it seems walking pools are for the old or the trendy. In Scotland, however, they were a normal part of hiking attire and at least one third of the hikers (of all shapes and sizes and ages) had them. Given that Scotland is a land of walking, hiking, and climbing, I decided to learn from their wisdom. I am thankful that I did learn and plan on taking the sideways glances of Americans with a smile on my face every time I use them in the future. They are grand.
Back to the mountain. Actually, first to the glen. Our first day at Fort William, we decided to hike Glen Nevis, the valley below Ben Nevis. I didn’t think about the kilometers to miles conversion much, and we ended up doing a 12 mile walk. I can fairly confidently say that Matt & Lauren (brother & sister-in-law) would have been thrilled to turn back early and cut the walk in half (or less). But, they humored me as I urged them on, and we stopped for many pictures along the way.
The next day was Ben Nevis. We were prepared with food, drinks, all appropriate layers and a compass in case the top became totally clouded in. The nice guy at the shop described it as a “long, hard plod.” But it was already sunny (miracle) and the weather forecast was good (another miracle). And so we began the plod up the mountain. At this point, I was reminded that my legs are used to walking flat ground for miles at end, but going up is not their favorite. Matt, who bikes all the hills of Edinburgh, smiled and urged me on. Ever the brother, he loved the role reversal.
Matt and I did make it to the top where we the clouds again cleared and granted us some amazing views. I need to mention here that Lauren, though not feeling great, made it half way up the mountain. This, from a woman who bought her first pair of hiking shoes less than two years ago. Check out her comments about the mountain here. And that is how I climbed a mountain, saw some grand views, and fell in love with walking poles.
My trip to Scotlan was absolutely wonderful, and now that I am home I do not want to go to bed because tomorrow’s morning alarm will mean it is truly over. One of the many gifts I was given on this trip was to witness the start of spring. Fresh buds, spring flowers, and new leaves are all filled with magic to me – signs of life after a long winter. Although I love my perpetual summer on the equator, I miss the magic of spring and fall, and this was so sweet. This photo was taken on Ben Nevis in the highlands of Scotland.
I took this photo a couple of weeks ago when I was at the Sorwathe Tea Factory for the night. It was absolutely stunning and wonderfully peaceful. Before long, I will share a bit more about the bed & breakfast, the view, and the good work that Sorwathe does. For now, I am sitting in the airport getting ready to head to another country filled with beautiful hills – Scotland – so it shall have to wait. Get ready for pictures of old buildings, good food, and beautiful countryside to be taken with my camera that is waiting there for me. Sigh. Vacation will be wonderful. So thankful my brother and sister-in-law moved to Edinburgh!
For the last week, I was in the Central African Republic where I bounced and slid through an old and grand forest for several days. The trees were magnificent and large, the underbrush thick and impenetrable. It was grand in a way that is only possible in nature that is old, that combines ancient wisdom with new growth. It made me want to sit and stay for a while, to soak in the grandeur and the wisdom, and to learn from the people who have made their homes in the forest, but this was only to be a taste.
Sadly, this taste was not as perfect as it should have been. As we drove out of Bangui, everywhere I looked, there was wood – it had been cut and dried, and was waiting for, or being transported into the city. It was in piles and was being pushed for tens of kilometers by men with carts. More sad than all of that were the semi-trucks that drove by from time to time with truck beds filled with large, dead trees. My jaw dropped in awe when one truck bed was filled with only one tree – and only part of that tree. Not yet cut into planks or broken down, this was a piece of the largest tree I have seen to date. The rumor is that these trees are headed to China, a country hungry to grow and in need of wood, wood beautiful enough to transport across land and sea.
As we drove through the forest, it was dark, cool, and damp. Then we suddenly come across a small clearing where the sun beamed through: it was bright, dry, and hot. And that is how the drive went: dark and cool, then bright and hot, dark and cool, then bright and hot. Every place the large trees were gone stood naked and unprotected from the sun. I stood in awe and cried inside, I stood in awe and I cried inside. I wanted to shout to the truckers that they were destroying virgin forest – some of the last of it left on earth. That there are plants and medicines and insects to be discovered, that mankind is dependent on filtered air, and that people live in those forests. I wanted to shout that when a treasure like this is gone, it can never be rebuilt. And for the family cutting, selling, and pushing wood along the roadside, I wanted to give them an option that did not demand the destruction of their natural resource. It is not a simple story, but its complexity does not make it any less disheartening.
I hope to be back in this forest and others in the next years. I dream of being far enough in that it is all dark, cool, and humid. I want to soak in the grandness and wisdom that fills the place before it is gone forever. Maybe I will be able to hold onto a piece of it, and maybe you can hold onto that piece too.
Last week I was camping on the beach. More to come later, but it was pretty ideal. Here I was starting dinner as waves softly crashed on the beach in front of me and the sun set behind me. Excellent company and cocktails in hand topped it off perfectly. Today, I am sitting at a desk in an air conditioned office hiding from the heat and humidity outside dreaming up future adventures that will look something like this photo.
These flowers just seemed a beautiful photo to start off this week. I grew up around frangipani trees in Fiji where they were used to make wonderfully fragrant leis. In the evening their fragrance is the strongest – inviting you out to enjoy a perfect island sunset. But, since I have not been back to Fiji for more years than I care to mention, this picture was taken at the Tennessee Aquarium in the butterfly exhibit earlier this year. If you live in the area (Chattanooga, TN), you should carve out some time to visit the aquarium – it makes for a wonderful day when the islands are far away.
A few weekends ago I found a treasure while chilling in a bookstore, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Nashville. Ironically, I was in the bookstore with friends precisely because the weather was blustery and we needed to get out of the house so as to not feel like caged animals. I hesitated in buying the book, but my friend wisely asked why I was hesitating (aka: a mental kick). Last weekend was the first use of the book – a beautiful 6 mile hike off of the Natchez Trace. We had the trail to ourselves as we hiked through forest and beside a stream (where we caught a turtle). Then we sat on the top of a hill where we spent hours reading in a hammock. In a day, this book became a favorite. I do not think that there is anything revolutionary in the book, but it takes away the excuse, or makes easy, the quick escape into nature. In the future, I shall hunt for such a book when I move to a new city.
Today was a beautiful day in the field – got to see some places where there will be water projects and places that I have been in the past that now have safe water. At the end of our day, as the rain clouds were threatening serious rain, I was snapping a last few photos before we raced the storm home. Beautiful.
And no, I have not forgotten about my brother’s wedding. It was beautiful and I hope to sort through my photos and put a few up with a few thoughts about the wedding. For now, check out Lar & Cath’s blog (Matt’s bride and her twin sister) asiancajuns.com and the photographer’s blog for a few pictures of the wonderful day. Since I was in the wedding, they probably (slow internet here in Northern Uganda) have much better photo documentation than I will anyway.
My first week here, I had saw a lot of sun and the days were hot. Then the rains came. There has been some sun, but there has been more fog and cloud cover and afternoon rains. This was taken on the porch – the porch rails reflected in the water gathering. With this storm there was some fantastic thunder and lightening too.