Tuesday, December 16

Christmas Spirit and Justice for All March

Today I'm off to the Kennedy for a candle-light concert.  It's gotten colder about 35 F.  Decorations are up and it’s feeling like Christmas time.

But yesterday, I put on my marching shoes.  I joined several thousands walking from the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. 
I’m part of the Justice for All March and Rally protesting the killing of black sons and the impunity of police.  
This kind of marched is being echoed in cities across the country.  I think it’s the civil rights issue of the new millennium.   If you ask me, it's long overdue.  

We walk together chanting: 

"Hands up.  Don't Shoot"                "We can’t breathe” 

     “Stop the Killing.”   “No Peace without Justice.”   

Signs amplify the anguish and a hope for a better future.    Many announce “Black Lives Matter.” A mother tells her fear, “Don’t shoot…my son has a future.”  I think, how sad that in 2014 we still need to say such things. 
But then again, after weeks of protest, the killings have barely penetrated American consciousness.  Several signs are telling,  “White Silence = Equals White Consent.” 

I’m struck by a young boy’s hand-made sign saying simply – “Am I next?” 

As I try to absorb the experience, it feels unlike other marches.  Missing is a chaotic carnival feel that's been prevalent in other marches I've attended.  And there's no hint of violence. 
Instead families are serious, intent. They stand stoically almost prayerfully.  In fact, when an invocation is offered, silence spreads across the crowd.  Heads are bowed and strangers hold hands - one with another. 

 "Hear us, O Lord."
It seems to me that this atmosphere is under girded by hope that life can be better.  Of course it's mixed with fears and anguish that have lasted too long.  "O God, how long."

A radio commentary gives context.  Lethal violence has been the American experience used against black people during slavery and ever since the Reconstruction Era - Especially against black men who were often lynched with the help or at least the complacency of law enforcement.   

A speaker at the rally polls the crowd , “Raise your hand if you’re a black man who has felt fearful when pulled over by the police.”  Nearly ever hand goes up for as far as I can see.  Then he asks the same of white men and hardly a hand is raised.   I’m not surprised and isn't that the real pity. 

On the platform, the families of those unarmed black men killed by police are introduced.  They form a “wall of shame” and surprisingly to me are many more than I thought.  Naming 76 men and women unarmed, but killed by police, the NAACP chronicles these lost lives.   Read about them and click here.  

I walk around taking a few pictures.  I get to talking with a father with his young toddler.  I tell him about my grandson.  Our kids are two months apart.  He beams about his son.  We take a selfie. 
As we depart I say, “thanks for being here.”  And he says, No, no , thank you for being here.”  I guess his emphasis is because of my whiteness which is not as well represented as you might wish.

Though for me, it's a privilege to be here.  I say to him, “it’s a little thing considering….I just wanted to use my feet to help a little.”

As the Rally winds down, I sit on a bench and watch families pass by.  Some of us exchange smiles.  It feels good to be among people who want to make this world a better place for all.

Strangely, I get to thinking, “it’s feeling a lot like Christmas.”  

Because after you scrape away the seasonal glitter and the abundance under the tree, what remains?   

Slowly, a smile tweaks across my face.  It’s gotta be the practice of loving one another and walking for justice in this world.  

I think to myself, "God help us.  And of course, God is...."

Tuesday, September 23

Life Changes

Of course, we all know how life can change suddenly, but we don’t think about it much.  It hangs underneath daily consciousness until something happens and we become hyper-aware.   

A tall step ladder stands by the wall where I had left it a few days ago.  I was in the midst of trimming bushes on the edges of my patio garden.  Daylight ran out and I pledged to finish before the weekend was over. 
It’s Monday noon and the step ladder still beckons me to finish the job.  

Carefully, I place the ladder next to the bush which is more like a small tree.  Actually it’s about 10 feet tall.  I climb the ladder and hack away at the limbs. 

All is going well and a lot quicker than I thought.  Assessing my work, I move the ladder a few feet and hop back on.  Almost done, I reach for the final two branches in the back.

Then like a slow motion movie, the ladder shifts.  My mind races ahead.  “Jud, watch out. “  One of the legs of the ladder begins to sink into the moist soil.  I feel myself going and going and then gone.  The ladder falls one way and I’m flung the other with a terrible thud. 

“I’m in trouble,” I say to myself.  The white heat flashes from my extremities in an explosion of pain.  Hugging the earth, I look at my left arm.  It’s twisted at a 90 degree angle, just like an upside down L.

“Oh, this is not good,” I repeat to myself and attempt to pull the arm into a straighter line.  No bones seem to be protruding.  This is good.  I can move my neck and legs. That’s really good.  I’m feeling grateful. 

Up on a balcony a neighbor says that she’ll call 911.  Time passes as I practice slow steady breathing.  Now I know why I went to a Yoga class a few weeks ago.  Preparation. 

My mind races in hundreds of directions.  I think of all the what-ifs and should-haves and could-haves.  I image family and friends and feel their presence.  I tell myself it will be all right, but it hurts so bad.  What’s taking so long?

Too much time has passed.  No one has come.  I can’t hold it in any longer.  I yell out – “Help me.  Help me.  Help me!”  Up and down my apartment stack I hear balcony doors opening.  “Where are you?”  I yell back and more promises are made to get help. 

Time passes and for me now, time is pain. It’s so much more intense.  The arm has swollen like a long sausage balloon.  I want it to go away.  Then the neighbor above says she hears a siren.  I listen and yes it’s coming closer. 

The EMT crew arrives and takes charge.  Checking vital signs and keeping me informed of everything is so reassuring.  Soon I’m on a gurney and on my way to the awaiting ambulance.

I think to myself, “It’ll be okay.” 

It’s now a week later. All went well except I had to change hospitals.  My healthcare provider doesn’t have a contract with the hospital where I was first taken.  I think it’s yet another reason for single payer universal health care. 
My operation went well.  They realigned my bones (both were broken) and screwed in titanium plates to keep everything in place.  I’m definitely equipped for excitement at the airport security gates.

At home, I’m learning one-handed life.  Simple tasks like putting on socks or changing a pillow case become mini-challenges. 

It takes me back to Ukrkaine and my Peace Corps service.  Ordinary chores had to be relearned the Ukrainian way - like swooshing laundry in the bath tub instead of popping it into a machine or taking a hot bath only after three pots of water have been boiled on the stove. I can see now that living day-to-day will be many new projects.

Of course, the benefit is more mindfulness.  I’m forced to slow down and notice.  I’m less on automatic pilot and more into making plans with what I have.  I’m thinking that in our modern technological life cluttered with more multi-tasking data, finding moments to be mindful is a very good thing. 

I remember how people appear when needed the most.  A lady on a balcony calls for help.  Others stop what they are doing to answer my screams of distress.  Friends call with support and well wishes.  Small acts of kindness give me a deep feeling of gratefulness.  I’m connected to a wonderful human family.  There’s such abundance when loving one another is practiced. 

No doubt, my healing will be a long slog. I wish I had a magic wand that could make it all better.  But I don’t. 

What I do have is the chance to take these experiences and re-weave them into my life-story.  I’ll learn more about living and giving in the moment.  I’ll cherish friendships more and make new ones.  Acts of kindness are not going to be taken for granted or quickly forgotten.  I have a chance to practice gratefulness and imagine new ways to pass it on.  As they say, “pay it forward!”

Sure, my arm is broken.  But I’m thinking. “maybe it’s not going to be so bad.”

Thursday, March 13

Crimean Tatars - Lest We Forget

I admit it.  Before going to Ukraine, I had no real knowledge of the Crimean Tatar people. 

Then my good friend Barb was placed in Crimea to work at the Crimean Tatar Library.  She lived with a Tatar family and ended up serving for nearly 4 years. 

Barbara has many deep and lasting friendships.  Since the Russian invasion, she has been on the phone daily, sometime for hours, trying to listen, console, and reassure them that they are not forgotten.

I think, if truth be told, they are mostly invisible.  Their stories get scant coverage in the West although a few articles are beginning to come through about the terror being reigned down upon these people.   

Thugs roam the cities and villages.  They mark doors with racial slurs identifying Tatar homes like the Soviets did 60 years ago in the forced deportation.  They intimidate families by demanding passports.  They talk about "killing those people."  

The dark-side of the pro Russia rallies we see on TV is this violence that is brewing against Tatars.  They are a vulnerable 13% of the population.  

The nightly news - even PBS - simplifies and fails to give us texture and complexity of what is going on.  I hope this will change.  

Recently, Barb was interviewed by WBEZ Radio in Chicago. She was able to give historical context and present examples of the situation.  

Click here  and scroll down to the podcast "Tatars in Crimea."  

I'm indebted to Barb for educating me.  In turn, I share what I have learned so that you might come to know the warm and generous people who are Crimean Tatars. 

Maybe someone with more social media savvy than I will post and help educate others too.     

Adapted from Presentation of Barbara Wieser

The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic Muslim people who have inhabited the Crimean peninsula for over seven centuries. They are a mixture of the descendants of the Golden Horde (the western part of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan) and the many ethnic groups of Crimea.

They are considered the indigenous people of Crimea.

From 1441 and for 300 years, the Crimean Tatars ruled the peninsula.  Then in 1783 Crimea was annexed by Russia even though these indigenous people comprised 98% of the population.

Over the next century, Russian oppression grew.  In waves of emigration the Tatar population decreased.  Some fled to the Balkans and Turkey while others were deported to Siberia by the tsarists deliberate policy of annihilating the Crimean Tatar existence.    

After the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin, there was an intensification of repressive policies and terror that further devastated the Crimean Tatar people and culture. 

These practices culminated on May 18, 1944.  The Soviets carried out a plan to forcefully removed Tatars in a mass over-night deportation.  They were carted into box cars and taken to  Uzbekistan and other distant Soviet Republics.  Many ended up in Gulags with as many as 46% dying along the way.  It's been called the Crimean Tatar Holocaust.  

Through all this suffering, the people kept alive the dream of returning to their homeland.  They formed a national movement and for fifty years of nonviolent struggle in the Soviet system, they kept this hope alive.  

In 1985 as the Soviet system started to collapse, the Crimean Tatars saw a chance to realize their dreams.  As more and more restrictions were lifted, their movement gained momentum. They could return to Crimea.  

In a 4-year period from 1989 to 1993, over 200,000 Crimean Tatars came back to Crimea.  Today, an estimated 350,000 Crimean Tatars live in Crimea, constituting 13% of the population.

When the Crimean Tatars began to return to their homeland, their requests for land on which to build their homes to replace the land and homes taken from them in the Deportation were denied. Seeing no other option, they squatted on vacant land and built homes without permits.  This, sometimes, lead to personal violence against them and destruction of their property.

Eventually land was allocated to the Crimean Tatars in “compact settlements” in Simferopol and other cities and in remote locations across the peninsula. Today the land reparations question still remains largely unsolved.

The Crimean Tatars are a cultured people.  They have established a vibrant society. They have an active political organization--the Mejlis, representatives in the Crimea and Ukraine Rada, 15 national schools that teach all subjects in Crimean Tatar, a university that educates Crimean Tatar language teachers, art and history museums, theater, library, radio and TV stations.

A link for more information on  The Deportation and Fate of the Crimean Tatars

I can’t help but think of that phrase – “Lest we forget…”   

Maybe in the reading of this blog in some small way, we'll know and remember.   

They say that when something goes viral on the Internet millions of people make an individual decision to pass it on.  Isn't it important that more people begin to know about the Crimea Tatars and the terror they are facing?  

The current crisis is more than Geo-political posturing, more than invasion and western response.  It's about a people with a history and a present danger who just want to live their lives and care for their families.  Lest we forget...

Thursday, March 6

Ukraine in Crisis

Here in America we get a matter-of-fact feel for crisis events.  From far away, some development flashes across the media. 

PBS News Hour silently shows photos of  soldiers killed in Afghanistan.   Regrets are felt for another drone that misfires on innocent life.  Demonstrations flare in Bangkok, Venezuela, Cairo, Myanmar.  Name the continent and something seems to be happening there.  So many many events…oh well.

Inspired by my Peace Corps service in Ukraine
And then there’s Ukraine.  Suddenly, the blurs of world events become personal.  I know Ukraine – its history, places and most importantly its people.  They are part of me and I believe that I’m a small part of them.    

A Skype call with a friend in Kiev starts with the telling of a murder.  “My colleague was killed by one of Yanukovych’s snipers.  He leaves a wife and a small child.  Only 32 years,” he tells me.  We stare at each other for a long time – separated, yet electronically close.  I’m so sad.  He looks tired or maybe worn out from the horror of it all. 

I ask him if people were targeted by the snipers up on the roofs.   “No,” he continues, “my colleague wasn’t even on the front lines of the demonstration.  He had no battle gear, no helmet, nothing.  He was killed taking a few medical supplies to help others.”

My friend tells me about joining a million on the Maidon (Independence Square) and being hit by a rubber bullet.  “Damn, it hurts real bad.” 
Scaring on the Maidan, Kiev's central square, displayed in a spliced photo

I remember the numerous times we made pizza and drank piva.  I think about how grateful I am that it was not a sniper bullet and then remember a 100 who weren’t as fortunate.  

I ask about Konotop.  “How is it going for people there?”  He tells me that the huge statue a Lenin is gone – pulled down.  “You mean the huge one that looked out upon the Square? “ I ask incredulously. 
Lenin tumbles in front of Konotop's Mayor's Office
I wonder if any of my friends were involved and what about the civic leaders who were part of my Leadership English classes.   Obviously they allowed this action to happen.  So many people were there.

Konotop is not alone.  I understand that the Lenin is disappearing from town squares across Ukraine.  In some places, the statue is severed at the chest and the face is taken away.  In its place a bust of Ukrainian poet and hero, Shevchenko, is cemented into place.  It’s a powerful patriotic statement. 

We end our chat hoping for the best, yet aware that the situation is so volatile.  

A few hours later I get word that Peace Corps is evacuating Ukraine - 240 volunteers back in America.  I make plans to welcome my friend, Barb who’s been serving for nearly 4 years.  We’ll hang out for a few days and try to make sense of what’s happening and worry about the people we love.  

Saturday, October 26

Are You The Artist?

I notice a couple looking at my art. The woman picks up a piece and shows it to her husband. I'm across the room so I'm curious, but I can't over-hear their conversation. Not that I needed to because within moments, they move towards me with a painting in hand.

“Are you Jud Dolphin...the artist,” they ask?

I'm at an art exhibit featuring 15 artists from my apartment building. We've transformed the lobby into a weekend show of creativity. Everyone is impressed by the quality of the art. I'm making new friendships and feel like I'm part of an artist community. It's great.

The prospect of the Art Show spurred me into painting more. I worked hard on a landscape entitled Winter Geese at Dawn. It was a real challenge. I never painted animals before and here, there were birds with feathers...yikes! It took me four attempts before I had what I was looking for.

Winter Geese at Dawn
Talking with other artists, I hear that it's not unusual to have a lot of paintings thrown into the scrap bin. “Do the work,” they say “and don't worry about the quality. It will come along.” Sometimes I wonder, but my mantra has become – Give it a try!

Some years ago, I came across a book entitled The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. It's a self-help guide for realizing more creativity. It's helped to open a lot of possibilities for me. In part, the Artist Way prepared the way for joining the Peace Corps and now for being more involved with art and teaching.

Cameron's approach is to follow a discipline of writing “morning pages”. They're three hand-written pages of whatever is top-of-the mind each morning. Although I often miss a day or two, the writing fosters awareness and helps to identify blocks that hamper creativity or just getting on with life. Often I'll imagine something on my “morning pages” and find a new opportunity for it later in the week.

Here's a link for some more information's_Way

I've reached for the Artist Way whenever I've felt stuck. Recently, a friend was telling me how she was feeling stuck. I mentioned the Artist Way, she bought the book and now we both are working through it – a chapter at a time. One of the side benefits is the chance we have to check-in with one another several times a month.

Both of us agree that we have become more mindful and have been amazed by coincidences and new possibilities popping up where none existed before. Ms Cameron calls it synchronicity.

So here I am at the opening reception for the Art Show. A lot of people have turned out. A cadre of my friends have come to lend support. The room is buzzing with activity. Besides the Winter Geese painting, I have two others on display.

Beach Dunes was created after a visit to my brother's home in Florida. I was impressed by the dunes that lined the beach. Realizing that they are alive with grasses blowing in the wind lent interest. And hearing how dunes actually move over time added some mystery. I hope I captured some of it.

Beach Dunes

Rock Creek Autumn was inspired by my bicycle rides along Rock Creek.  Rock Creek is a park that winds through the city of Washington, DC.  Not far from my home, there's a water falls that was part of an old grain mill.  I framed the falls and water alive with autumn color.

Rock Creek Autumn

More of my paintings are unframed in bins that line the far wall. A young woman tells me about a friend who has been having hard times. I think it's interesting how a creative atmosphere can sometimes open deeper exchanges among people. Synchronicity?

She looks at a small painting and says, “I want to get this for her.” I tell her about my visit to the Cherry Blossom Festival and how it inspired the watercolor. I hope it will cheer her friend. It's my first sale and an answer to my “morning pages.”

Cherry Blossoms 

Another sale follows. Also from the bin, it features a cluster of birch trees. It's inspired by the birch forests that are so much a part of Ukraine. After the sale, another person says, “I was thinking of that one too.” Maybe, I'll paint more birch trees!

Ukraine Birch

And then there's the couple who asked if I was the artist. They tell me about a parent who recently died after a long life. They're clearing his home near the ocean of personal momentous and preparing to make it a rental. “We think this painting will be perfect on the wall.”

The Wave

Later my son, Matthew, emails me asking how the Art Show went. I call back and tell him about the excitement of selling paintings. Two small ones and one large. He congratulates me and says with a chuckle, “I guess you're a professional now.” 

Wow, I have come a long way. And now I wonder....

Tuesday, August 27

March on Washington - 50th Anniversary

What a wonderful spirit filled experience. Instead of trekking to a far-a-way retreat or cloistering in a quiet pool of meditation, I plunged into a wave of humanity.

It started a couple of weeks ago with a call from my friend, Joe, at the Lafayette Urban Ministry (LUM). He wanted to bring a group of teens from low-income families to the 50th Anniversary commemorating the March on Washington – the one where Martin Luther King voiced his “I have a Dream” speech into history. The group from Lafayette needed a place to stay.

Immediately, I thought of 15th Street Presbyterian Church. This historical congregation involved in civil rights, would be a natural. Another friend , Bob, is the minister there and after a few calls, he made arrangements. The kids from Lum's Achieve program would be able to come to Washington. And I, who probably would have skipped the event, would accompany them.

Here we go. We catch the Metro towards the National Mall. Already, a few groups in matching tee shirts cluster along the station platform. I see logos for UAW, SEIU, and other labor groups. The Urban League and NAACP are well represented too. Others in family groups remember Trayvon Martin with his hoodie image shining life-like across chests - both young and old. I think to myself, “Lest we forget” and to be honest, I mostly had.

Racial profiling and Trayvon's image 

We exit and walk towards the White House. The teens are struck by how small it looks. When juxtaposed with the immense power of the US government, the White House does look out of place. Maybe, we should build a bigger one.

Achieve students from Lafayette, Indiana

I catch an older man wearing a different kind of tee shirt. No logos. It has a message with a lot to read:
One voice can change a room.
And if a voice can change a room, it can change a city.
And if it can change a city, it can change a state.
And if it can change a state, it can change a nation.
And if it can change a nation, it can change the world.

Your voice can change the world.

The tee shirt doesn't attribute the author, but I discover that it's from the 2008 Campaign of Barack Obama – the man who now occupies that small looking White House.

Ironic and yet hopeful, I think. A man who possesses immense power can be used to remind us about the human spirit where even one voice can make a difference. I smile to myself, “Keep the White House small.”

We make the turn onto 17th Street past the old Executive Building and move towards the Washington Monument. One teen asks , “What happened? I thought it was suppose to be white.” I explain the veil of gray scaffolding has been erected for workers to repair damage from the 2011 earthquake that shook the Capital and cracked the upper levels of the Monument.

She nods and scurries to catch up with the others. For a moment, I imagine a monument that is neither white or gray but shines with a spectrum of color just like the Lafayette group who's now merging into a larger and larger stream of diverse Americans.

Messages on placards echo those of 50 years ago. Unite for Justice. Realize the Dream. Protect Voting Rights. Jobs not War. And a new one DC Statehood. Those of us who live in the Nation's Capital still do not have representatives in the Congress. Taxation without representation. We fought a revolutionary war over this.

About ¾ of mile away. We get a glimpse of the Lincoln memorial. It's solid people except for the reflecting pool which has been fences off. There will be no dipping of tired feet in cool waters today. We decide to peel off and make our way to the Martin Luther King Memorial.

We walk through the “Mountain of Despair” and see before us a “Stone of Hope” into which King's image has been carved. On a low wall surrounding the Monument are 14 inscribed quotes. I think how relevant they still are. While reminding us of the controversies we lived through, they point to the conflicts still among us. Sure we Americans have made progress, but there's more to the dream of peace and justice.

Two quotes grab my attention:

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.

It's 1:30 pm. I walk back up 17th Street. I'm tired and hungry. I stop at a sandwich shop and take a window seat. Humanity is still flooding towards the National Mall. There are organized groups of adults, but I'm struck by the number of families with children. I wonder, how much are they absorbing?

For sure, poverty and racism are insidious. Who among these children will pick up the baton and become a drum major for justice? Who will make a career of helping humanity? Who will never forget the Trayvon Martin's of this world?

When I reconnect with the Lafayette teens, I make a point asking each of them about their future plans. I'm struck by how engaging they are. One wants to be a dentist, a couple like the idea of being a vet and several want to get to college. 

Obviously they have absorbed lots and been energized by the day. I have a real positive feeling about this Achieve group. I make it a point of saying to each how I think they'll do good in school this year. "I have that feeling, I say. They beam with confidence.  I then think to myself, “Maybe, they'll find a way to make the world a better place.”

Already expressing leadership, students give interviews to TV 18 Lafayette, Indiana

The March on Washington is over, but my spirit is filled and my awareness has soared.  I'm thinking we can make this world a better place.  

Tuesday, June 4

Alaska's Inside Passage

It looks like any other airport. “Maybe this one is a little smaller,” I think. I pass out of Security and make my way towards baggage claim. Slowly the escalator descends. Foot by foot, a floor to ceiling wall of windows is revealed.
Snow capped mountains - Juneau, Alaska
Wow! Before me is a grand vista of majestic snow capped mountains. It's like a Cinerama. I'm living large. I'm in Juneau, Alaska.
Often cloudy mist hugs the valleys
Weather changes throughout the day.
Here the sky dazzles with a mix of bright blue and clouds.
I think it begs to be painted.
For the next 10 days, I'll board a ship touring the Southwest corner of Alaska's Inland Passage. Our ship is a small one – about 126 feet.  She can hold 30 passengers, but I'll have just 18 cohorts plus crew on this trip.
Kayaking back to the Island Spirit
 They like to call it an un–cruise like a B&B on water. We'll be able to slip into coves where larger cruise ships holding 2000+ cannot imagine going. I'm psyched for the adventure.

An on-board naturalist promises sightings of eagles, whales, porpoise and maybe even a few bears. Captain Jeff tells us that we're on our way to Ford's Terror.
Looking towards Ford's Terror
It's an exceptionally narrow passage. An early explorer got trapped in churning water when the tide turned and rushed out. His name was Ford and consequently the name – Ford's Terror. 

Take a video tour here

We'll ride in on a high tide and hopefully out on the same.

Right now, we're traveling up a fjord called Endicott Arm. The small ship goes slow as we dodge chunks of ice – small icebergs actually. Excitement on the deck grows as we take pictures. One passenger jokes about lifeboats and the Titanic. “Where are the violin players?” I'm glad we had a safety briefing.
Stunningly beautiful flows of ice
Off in the distance is the massive ice wall of Dawes Glacier. Strangely it's colored in shades of aqua and blue. I've never seen anything like that color in nature before.

Distant Dawes Glacier is still moving mountains
  The captain tells us that he will inch forward to within a quarter mile, but dares not go further. He's not so concerned about ice falling or calving, as they say, but being struck by a shooter coming up from below.

Takea look here  Believe me ¼ mile is close enough...simply breath taking.

That night we make the tide into Ford's Terror and drop anchor for the night. The ship is equipped with massive batteries which have been storing energy all day and now the engines are silenced. What remains is Alaskan wilderness just like native people heard – Wind and a near-by waterfalls cascading from cliffs above. I crack my window to let the sounds and cool air flow in. I'm in the wilderness.

Days are filled with kayaking. I paddle to the foot of a waterfalls and get to withing 10 feet of it's splashing descent. The mist sweeps across my face and I spot a small rainbow. My spirit grins.

Alaska is a magical place.  With so much plastic, concretre and asphalt in modern life, being here realigns the senses.  Peer into the water and it's crystal clear.  Smell the air and there's no hint of diesel fumes.  Listen to the breeze sweep across mountains.  Feel the sun peek from behind a puffy cloud and warm your face.  Alaska is massive as well as nuanced with so many experiences.  I'm beginning to realize that I'm only skimming the surface.

But oh my, how I'm enjoying this adventure.

Overhead I see eagles soaring. One lands on a tree and I decide to paddle closer. The eagle tolerates my approach as I marvel at the bird's grandeur.

Our naturalist tells us that eagles are at the top of their food chain. Since the banning of DDT, they have re-established themselves. What an eagle wants, an eagle gets.  I decide to paddle on.

On another day, I'm paddling around an island when I hear a whooshing sound. Humpback whales are surfacing in the distance.  The sound I hear are their blow holes.  Suddenly, I hear and see a humpback surface about 300 feet from the bow of my kayak.  Talk about being up close and personal.  I decide to keep my distance as best I can and watch him gently surface and feed on herring. It's a remarkable sight.

Afterward I just drift along listening to the world around me. It's a cacophony of bird sounds puntuated by a distant whoosh.  Delicate and beautiful. I'm feeling one with nature now.

Each day I paint a watercolor in my journal. I discovered last year when I went to the Pine Ridge and the Lakota Tribe that it's a good way to soak in experiences. It's my way of feeding the spirit. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are a few of the sketches that I produced.

It's a clear day and distant mountains gleam with snow

Sea Lions fill the rock island.  Each bull has a harem of 15-20.
They are very possessive as we learn when we get too close. 
A small one gravel street village with a year-round population of 35.
No cars.  Bikes rule except for the fire truck.  
Twilight fills the sky, land and water with color

Even with pictures in watercolors, my Alaskan adventure cannot be easily shared. It's more than mountains and wilderness, more than ice and waterfalls, more than mammals below or birds above.

I think Alaska gives a glimpse into mystery beyond words and images. It shows me nature's power to both create and destroy.  It transports me into the magnificent cycle of life and death and re-creation or might we say resurrection.

For millennium, glaciers have either moved forward taking giant boulders along for the ride or retreated calving icebergs into the watery seas. Now many are rapidly receding hundreds of feet each year. Creation and destruction are battling within the blue ice.

Humpback whales cooperate with one another. They leave solitary feeding to create a circle of bubbles deep under the water. This bubble ring corrals herring into large clumps so that they can be more easily eaten. I witness the frenzy of life and death swimming in the water.

Moored in remote coves, I see jagged snow capped mountains reflected in pristine waters. Waterfalls cascade across their face cutting grooves and eventually deep fjords into the granite. I think that even these mighty mountains will one day be made low. Nothing in nature and life remains the same.
With Mendenhall Glacier receding more than a football field each year,
Nugget Falls now gushes down the mountain. 

As I soak in the environment around me, a grand metaphor comes to mind.  Being in Alaska is like brushing up against the mysteries of eternity. When that happens, I think we are never quite the same.