Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

TOMBS, TEMPLES, GROTTOS & PAGODAS…

December 27, 2018

For the next two whirlwind days we hit as many historical sites as our energy—and the cold—allowed.

We were eager to visit the famous burial mounds of Gyeongju and explore the extensive tomb complex that included the Royal Tomb of King Naemul, the 17th ruler of the Silla Kingdom, from 356-402, and King Michu (262-284), the first king of the Kim clan and the 13th king in the Silla period. There is fabulous jewelry in the Cheonmachong Tomb, including a spectacular gold crown. The grounds were lovely as were the small ponds that graced the them.

Click on photo to see slide show.

Many of the national treasures we visited were built during the reign of Silla Queen Seondeok, 632-647 AD. Next on our excursion through the bitter wintry weather was the Gyeongju National Museum. On our long walk there we passed the Cheomseongdae Observatory.

The Gyeongju National Museum is a marvel! There are three main buildings, each one with its own character. It would be impossible to show you all the photos I took of statues and artifacts, but here are a few to whet your appetite.

Pagodas, often found in famous grottoes like the Seokguram Grotto, fascinated me. Among several I saw was the stunning Dabotap Pagoda, which stood in a vast courtyard of the museum.

The Dabotap Pagoda

Click on photo to see slide show.

Doing all this we really worked up an appetite! Gyeongju has many intriguing restaurants with, for us, unusual forms of service. One of our favorites was a type of buffet where you could pick anything and cook it yourself. However, there was a rule that if you took the food and didn’t eat it there would be a charge.

I finally found what I thought was going to be ice cream, only to discover that it was snow with two scoops of green tea ice cream, a little chocolate sauce dribbled on it, and a couple of chunks of chocolate at the bottom. Cary and Shawo loved it, but it tasted to me like a chunk of new-fallen snow! You can see that Cary and Shawo made quick work of it.

The last meal of our stay was at an Italian-Korean restaurant where we delighted in a veggie meal of arugula and mushroom salad, a cheese and cashew pizza, and another pizza, this time with more arugula. We were so hungry for veggies after our meat-filled cuisine.

Our days were filled with discussions about international politics, social structure, and the Korean society as Shawo was experiencing it. I hesitate to make generalizations after such a short time, but here are some observations, nonetheless.

Of course, the Korean family is front and center of a rather structured social system. There are what we call lots of “shoulds” and “oughts” in the society. Expectations are high and pressure on the children to succeed and make the family proud is also very high. It all sounds oppressive to me. So much has to do with status. In fact, many families will fund their children after college until they get the “right” job with the right amount of prestige and income.

As I mentioned, previously, the extent to which the younger women pay attention to their appearance and fashion is quite evident. They use many whitening products for their skin and their make-up is exquisite. It’s almost as if they are walking manikins. It must take hours of preparation each day! I was also told that plastic surgery is prevalent throughout the country.

Observing all this, I realized what a happy go-lucky life I had had growing up, although, like so many people, the pressure we put on ourselves can be just as bad as that forced on us from without. So in the long run, it’s best not to judge.

In the evenings after dinner, we enjoyed wandering through the brightly-lit streets before going to our comfy room with the warm floors. How we savored these last two nights in this interesting country!

A SOJOURN TO DONGGUK UNIVERSITY FOLLOWED BY SHAWO’S DELICIOUS TIBETAN MOMOS!

December 26, 2018

We headed for Dongguk University, through beautiful parks and burial mounds, and a bustling Christmas Market. And, of course, we had to grab at least one cappuccino for the road! The sun was shining, but I still thought I would freeze. I bet we clocked six miles for the day.

Click on photo to start slideshow.

The university was as impressive as it was extensive. It was rather quiet with all students and professors gone for the winter holiday. Dongguk University was founded in 1906 by Buddhist leaders based on the idea of saving the country through education. The Gyeongju campus was established in 1978 with the “purpose of creating a strong national culture through combining the spiritual with the scientific, cultivating people who are leading Korea unification, supporting the community, and bolstering academic development.” Each year there is a competitive process to select a Tibetan student to be awarded a full scholarship to study at Dongguk. How wonderful that Shawo received the scholarship and has had a chance to learn, grow, and develop in ways not possible at an Indian university.

You’ll note that there is a design garden in front of one of the buildings with what might look to a Westerner likes a swastika. Actually, this is an Aryan symbol, which I first saw in northern India—an ancient religious icon—a sign of peace and divinity, eternity and spirituality. It is geometrical, and when it was preempted by the Nazis as their symbol of world domination, it was written backwards.

That evening was really special for us. Shawo picked up a myriad of ingredients and took us to his apartment for the treat of the week…homemade momos! This is a specialty of Tibet, which has gained popularity in all of Asia. To us they are dumplings.

The evening was spent in lively conversation as Shawo expertly fashioned the small treats, after which he made our favorite veggie noodle soup, thenthuk (pronounced ten-tuk). What was so much fun for all of us was Shawo’s eagerness to learn American slang and all kinds of colorful colloquialisms that you’d never learn in an English class. He made a long list in his notebook and seemed positively gleeful at each new expression. And what was so great was that he used them readily. My language is rather colorful, and Cary admonished me that teaching Shawo “cold as a witches tit” might not be socially acceptable. “Crazy as a loon” was another favorite.

After Shawo’s delicious dinner we grabbed one of those fancy cabs and went through the brightly-lit streets to our guesthouse. As a point of interest I feel compelled to mention that the traffic lights in South Korea are the longest lights on the face of the earth. I surely thought I’d fall asleep before we made it through the fifth one. It was worse than waiting for Verizon to go through the prompts and connect me to an actual human being. This trip has convinced me that I need to work on my patience!

I’M KEEPING HUMMINGBIRDS ALIVE IN THE SNOW!


A little shout of glee from this North Easterner who has missed old man winter for five years. I don’t know whether it’s climate change or the desire to get in step with the crazy weather visiting the Midwest this month, but for the past week Langley has been all but paralyzed by several snowstorms in a row. And it’s still coming down! Schools had two full snow days and two half days last week, and even our trusty movie theater closed its doors.

Like many of my friends, my neighbor was tired of Whidbey’s cold, wet winters and took a few days in Hawaii to recover. Good timing! In her absence I have been putting out her hummingbird feeders during the day and bringing them in at night so the sugar water doesn’t freeze. Can you believe that the hummingbirds are here in this snow? Check out the video that I took of my new little friend.

I am carried back to my childhood in Syracuse, New York, where walking to school on the high drifts that lined the roads went on for weeks. And I loved it! Since snowplows do not abound in our community, I enjoyed the same feeling as I shuffled through six to eight inches of the fluffy stuff with nary a car nor person in sight. And guess what? It looks as if this coming week will be the same.

My dear friend, Anne Ferry-Brennan, and her friend take a daily swim in Puget Sound. Nothing can deter them!

Here are a few more shots of what I call our winter wonderland. Click on photos to enlarge.

My friend Heidi’s home at the Maxwelton Creek Cohousing- can you believe she was born in Switzerland?

 

SOUTH KOREA…WHAT A WONDERFUL WAY TO END A TRIP!

Just for fun I’m starting at the end of our five-week journey to Nepal and Korea in November and December. The luxury of South Korea provided a perfect transition from our more rugged stay in Nepal and the reality of a cold, rain-soaked welcome on Whidbey Island.

We left Kathmandu on Christmas Eve and arrived in Seoul-Incheon airport at 2:30 AM Christmas morning (5:30 AM Korean time). There was Shawo waiting for us. We have known him since he first came across the border from Tibet to India as a teenager, and became a student at the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) School in Suja. In 2015, Shawo graduated top of the class, a huge accomplishment. He is now in his third year at Dongguk University in Gyeongju, South Korea, on a full scholarship. He is majoring in Global Economics and Korean Literature. Even more impressive, in one year of intensive study he learned Korean well enough to take university level courses!

Together we navigated the pristine modern airport, making our way through a labyrinth of escalators and subways before reaching the bullet train that would take us to Gyeongju.

Our eyes were popping as we entered this First World country and sped on the bullet train for two hours through scenic lands dotted with modern cities surrounded by mountains and farmlands. After arriving at the Singyeongju train station we grabbed a taxi – a fancy Korean sedan.

The driver, an elegant older man, put our address into his GPS, and with no bargaining—our well-honed habit in Nepal—we cruised through clean, paved streets to our guest house. Upon arrival, we nodded farewell to the driver, being told by Shawo that tipping was NOT DONE. For the next four days we discovered that these brand new cabs were easily located on every street and taken with no fuss or aggravation.

Hurray! Heat in our room…and under the floor! A hot shower, bright lights, automatic electric door locks, modern sink and toilet. We had died and gone to heaven! The entrance and hallways were plain cement, but the room made up for it. It’s amazing how comforts that we take for granted are such fun when you’ve been without them for a month. There was a large kitchen near the downstairs entrance, where each person made his or her own breakfast, something I had never seen in my travels. It was a jolly affair with everyone seated at long tables. A variety of food, coffee, stove tops, and sinks were readily available.

One discovery we made when climbing the stairs rather than taking the elevator. There was no fourth floor. It was like the thirteenth floor in many U. S. hotels. It was thought to be unlucky. But we WERE on the fourth floor, even though it was called the fifth. Go figure….

The weather was bitter cold, so we curtailed our walking for the day and grabbed a quick afternoon meal at an excellent Japanese Restaurant. We were slated for a Christmas celebration in the evening at a traditional Korean restaurant, generously hosted by one of Shawo’s friends, Professor Hye Soon Kim, Chair of the Department of Early Childhood Education at Dongguk University. She was a gracious woman and genuinely delighted to welcome Shawo’s friends from the West. Three Tibetan students and one Mongolian student completed the party. Tenzin, getting her Ph,D in Business, celebrated her 29th birthday with a cake and the usual Happy Birthday song. This was the second time I had heard it on our trip. Once on the trek in Nepal and, again, in Korea. I love the way every country sings the same lyrics rather than a translation. What a universal song that is! In her thank you remarks, Tenzin paid Cary a much-deserved and eloquent tribute for her work with TCV students and her support of the program over the years.

Professor Kim, our hostess, is on the far left. Tenzin, whose birthday it was, is third from left.

The meal was typically Korean with a plethora of small dishes coming thick and fast. There are no courses. As I’ve written earlier, eating is almost a spiritual experience for many people in Korea. Soup, unlike in many other cultures, is part of the main course rather than at the beginning or end of the meal. I wish I had felt comfortable enough to take pictures of the spread (we were sitting on pads at a low, rectangular table) and the charming women who served us, dressed in what looked to me like Puritan attire from 1620 Plymouth, MA. Except the bonnets and skirts, which were of a red motif, not black and white. But this was a time to experience, not record. Luckily one of the servers took our photo! A beautiful setting and lively conversation.

For the next three days we took in the sights and sounds of the bustling city and the historic temples and burial mounds. We started at the bank, where we given a ticket and sat on leather sofas waiting our turn, after which we roamed up and down the streets, popping into quaint stationery stores and others that seemed like miniature art galleries. It seemed to me that every establishment had a special artistic quality. Even the coffee shops were designed with a theme, like a swanky cafe or a living room with easy chairs. There seemed to be no rush. Elegance and tranquility was the order of the day.

Gyeongju is a World Heritage Site famous for the tombs of the rulers of the Silla era. These enormous burial mounds can be seen throughout the city, as well as visited. The amazing intricate jewelry and artifacts are part of the proud historical heritage of South Korea. One of the most interesting sights during our walk around town was the massive bronze Silla bell, called the Bell of King Seongdeok, the largest extant bell in South Korea. It was cast in 771 A.D.

Now it’s off to Shawo’s college, as we continue to explore sunny, frosty South Korea.

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM KHOPRA RIDGE!

Cary and I, halfway through our 10-day trek in the Himalayas, standing at 12,000 ft with Dhaulagiri in the background, the 7th highest mountain in the world. We were too tired to climb it that day, Ha Ha!

After our month in Nepal, we leave on Christmas Eve for South Korea, and a visit with our friend of 10 years, Shawo Choeten, at his university in Gyeongju on the east coast.

Stay tuned for more details about our journey.

Best wishes for a terrific 2019 for all of us!

COMING HOME TO KATHMANDU….

What a marvelous journey to Kathmandu this year! Cary and I are singing the praises of Korean Air, having traveled the ten plus hours to Seoul on two ample coach seats with extra space. Because of a long layover, we were comped an overnight at the Grand Hyatt in Incheon (5 stars!), complete with sumptuous dinner and breakfast buffets, before continuing our flight to Kathmandu.

The Shechen Guest House in Boudhanath greeted us like family and we settled in for a week of kora around the stupa, shopping in our favorite shops, visiting old friends, and enjoying new acquaintances who flow through the gardens and restaurant from a plethora of countries.

The Boudha Stupa never fails to thrill, especially at night with a full moon, and the lights shimmering on the prayer flags.

Navigating the narrow alleys with motorcycles speeding by in all directions is no worse than other years, but takes getting used to each visit. One new experience for Cary and me, however, was the three cows coming our way on the sidewalk. Just as they were approaching, oops! one was a bull that decided to mount one of the cows, resulting in her suddenly running toward us at a great speed. Luckily no vehicles were on the road when we jumped into it, just in time to avoid the stampede. I’ll save sharing about other mishaps for a more detailed post when I return!

We spent a lovely day with Jwalant Guring of Crystal Mountain Treks, who has planned many of our recent adventures. It also gave us a chance to visit his parents in their newly built home, and Cary a chance to talk gardening with his mother, Anita. The next Friday we attended a lecture given by his sister, Jenny Gurung, with whom we had circumambulated Mt. Kailash in Tibet in 2004, going to the top of Drolma La (18,000 ft.). Jenny, who works for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), spoke about “Reviving Cultural Links across the Mt. Kailash Sacred Region.” It was great to see her again and hear about the important work she is doing.

Here we also meet people who are giving their time unselfishly as volunteers, a welcome antidote to the negativity we are bombarded with these days. For example, we met a firefighter from Denver, CO, who is making his third trip to Sermathang to help rebuild a school after the earthquake. We visited Sermathang in 2015 and saw the devastation first hand. The non-profit he volunteers for is Team Rubicon, an organization that works with veterans and disaster relief.

One of my favorite visits of the past week was with B. P. Shrestha in Dhulikhel, an hour east of Kathmandu. I first met BP in 1987 when he ran a small guest house in the old city center. Since then he has been mayor, and initiated tremendous growth and change, including the addition of a regional hospital, university, and water treatment plant, all of which have greatly helped the health and prosperity of the community. BP also built a beautiful hotel with a view of the mountains, The Himalayan Horizon, where we stayed overnight. His grandson, Chhitiz, was a wonderful host, and it was great to all spend time together, as well as see some of BP’s new projects.

I will spare you photos of the unbelievable traffic, which I have written about ad nauseum before. It is amazing to me, as an impatient American, to see how calm and philosophical the Nepalese people are in traffic jams. There is no shouting, no gesturing, no honking. Just quiet acceptance of the situation, and waiting patiently for their time to move forward.

I can’t resist one photo of the power and telephone wires that line the road. How they figure out which wire goes where, I don’t know! One big improvement is that there is no longer “load-shedding”, the rationing of the hours of power each day. Kathmandu now has electricity 24/7, and there are also a lot of solar panels for power and hot water. Plus the wifi is terrific at the guest house and little cafes, making previously difficult endeavors, like this blog post, much easier.

Two days ago, as we were returning from the stupa, a young man followed us into a store where we were buying incense, and said “Cary, Meg!” Cary exclaimed, “Tenzin!” How marvelous to reconnect with this young man, whom we had met years ago when he was a student at the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) school is Suja, India, and had been sponsored by Adam Bixler, my youngest grandson. We had lunch at his mother’s small Tibetan restaurant… delicious momos. We look forward to returning after our trek for her thukpa.

Buddhi, our guide, came by this morning, full of his usual enthusiasm and buoyancy. We head out early in the morning for Pokhara and our trek in the Annapurna region.

Stay tuned!

 

GUESS WHAT? IT’S BACK TO NEPAL WE GO!

I’m sure this comes as no surprise that Cary and I are resuming our yearly sojourn to Nepal, adding a week in South Korea at the end of December. There we will visit Shawo, a Tibetan student we first met ten years ago at the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) school in Suja, India, and have been in touch with ever since. He is studying at Dongguk University in Gyeongju, and has planned an exciting few days to acquaint us with this country, its culture, and terrain.

Our time in Nepal is more unstructured than usual, by choice. We may visit Lumbini, where the Buddha was born, and we certainly will visit Dhulikhel and our old friend, B.P. Shresta. We have a ten-day trek in the Annapurna region, but it will be much shorter than the full circuit I took in 1999 when I met my friend, Jon Pollack. We decided not to go the usual route by Poon Hill, but head over the Khopra Ridge. Our guide tells us that it’s not so crowded and more laid back. We’ll fly to Pokhara, drive to Kimche and hike to Ghandruk. From there we go by way of Isharu, Bayeli, and Christibung up to the ridge. I have a new Sony camera, so I expect to dazzle you with my creations. That is, once I learn how to use it! Cameras are better and better these days, as well as more and more complicated. But I’m told it’s good for the brain, so I soldier on!

As we reach the end of the growing season and wrap up the farm activities until early spring, I’d like to share with you the end of the year festivities at the fabulous school farm that Cary started here on the island. For me the ending is always a bit poignant, since I will have to forego fresh produce for these upcoming winter months. But, selfishness aside, the season went out with a bang—the school Harvest Feast. Friends and family enjoyed a sumptuous repast of kale salad, mashed potatoes, carrot sticks, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, all made by the students from veggies grown at the farm. You can read the school farm blog HERE, with new end-of-the-year and Harvest Feast posts coming soon.

And now it’s off to Asia, wishing you a wonderful holiday season and glorious New Year.

MY FINAL HOURS….

I stood up from my desk and, suddenly, the room started to rotate. I made my way into the living room, bouncing unceremoniously against the walls, clutching furniture along the way, and collapsing, heavily, into my reclining chair. For half-an-hour I prayed to the gods that be to clear my mind. I promised to stay off my computer and eschew any electronic devices in the future. I forgave all those who had transgressed against me during my lifetime, and asked, only, that my precious travel journals be spared the recycling bin. Then I called my daughter.

“Cary, I feel very, very strange. I think you’d better come down.” I tried not to slur my words.

Cary arrived. “What have you eaten today? How much water have you had?“

“Not much. A friend came over and he shared a mo mo and half a mango.”

“That’s not enough. Here is some water. Did your friend feed you something else?”

“No.”

“What have I told you about eating? You’re obviously hypoglycemic.” She started searching in the refrigerator for high calorie foods. Out came orange juice, figs, bread, chili….

I stood up to protest, whereupon my legs and entire body started to tingle and shake. I looked out the window. “OMIGOD, the mountains are all golden and shimmery. When I close my eyes the images turn purple. It’s lovely….Oh, dear, I feel sick to my stomach.”

Cary took out the frying pan. “You need to eat. You have all the symptoms of someone whose blood sugar is low.” She had been hovering over her iPhone, searching for relevant medical information.

So I ate and things got worse. “I’m so tired. I think I’m dying. I’m having a stroke, just like my father. The world comes and goes. You either like it or you don’t like it. I feel so unattached. It’s lovely and it isn’t lovely. Am I making sense? I think dying is very relaxing.” I was slurring my words and I felt extremely stupid, which made me start to laugh and move my arms as if I were trying to swim to the other side, wherever the other side was.

“Mom, why don’t we lie down together and rest?”

“No, no. If I lie down I’ll die. I know it.”

Cary called a friend who is a doctor, and she said to call 911. Then she asked me to write my name. I couldn’t get to the end of it before I slumped into my daughter’s arms and could no longer speak.

911 asked, “Is she breathing?” “Yes, she’s breathing.”

This is it, I thought. I knew I was dying, and I felt so young, so not ready….

The next thing I remember is my doctor, bless her, standing over me and asking me questions. I think I was laughing at my silly answers, and begging her not to think I was crazy. Then came what seemed like ten young men hovering over me asking me more questions as if I were in kindergarten. “Don’t talk to me like that,” I remember saying. My blood pressure was 70 over 40, causing alarm. I didn’t care about anything or anyone. I just wanted to pee, but didn’t want the whole army to come into the bathroom with me. I was totally humiliated and felt like a non-person. How much worse can it get than that?

I couldn’t open my eyes, but remember being bumped down the stairs, hoisted onto a stretcher, and moved into a waiting ambulance. More wires and tubes than I thought existed were plugged into me and wrapped around my arms and legs and under my breasts. EKG, IV, all to make sure I’d make it to the hospital.

Blood work, another EKG and one CAT scan later a catheter (that’s the worst!) provided a urine sample, which answered the question hovering over me. How could I be so loopy and incoherent, when nothing seemed to be wrong?

At 11 pm, the attending physician strode in, slightly stern. “All your tests are good, and your urine is clear, but….


Mrs. Peterson, tell me about your marijuana usage.”

“I hate the stuff. I lose my memory, I get horny, I never touch it.”

Cary looks at him, mouth agape. He continued, “Your urine tests positive for marijuana.”

I was gobsmacked.

Cary now turns and looks at me and, suddenly, the light goes on. Oh, dear, now I’m in trouble. This afternoon, after my friend left, I was so hungry that I started rummaging in the freezer, hoping to find something to assuage my hunger. I came upon a slice of what I remembered as hazelnut bread, given to me by my neighbor a couple of years ago, when I was suffering from jet lag and couldn’t sleep.

“Try this, Meg…but only a tiny bit at a time. It’s an edible. That is, cannabis baked in my fabulous hazelnut bread.”

“I won’t take it. I had a terrible experience with three small cupcakes fifteen years ago.”

“Take it. You never know. But be sure to label it M for medical.”

He was so generous, I thought, and maybe one of my friends might need it some day. So I put it in the freezer, forgetting to label it.

So, if any of you, my dear readers, wish to experience the prelude to death, which I do NOT recommend, I have a friend who can help you. But please take just one tiny piece. Don’t be like me…a starving fool who ate the whole thing!

They discharged me from the hospital with a diagnosis of marijuana intoxication, and the nurse dutifully read me the handout on substance abuse and where to get help. I begged them to add “accidental” to the diagnosis. Behind the professionalism, their eyes sparkled and I do feel they believed me and were all delighted at a good outcome and a good story. Oldest yet to succumb to edibles!

I share this story with you, not because I’m proud of my ill-advised behavior or because most people have found it rather hilarious (so much for sympathetic friends), but because now that marijuana has been legalized in so many states, we all need to be aware of the ease with which anyone can overdose on edibles. You usually don’t have any effects for at least an hour, and I have had friends who, because they felt nothing at first, ate more and more, and had very disturbing experiences. It is no laughing matter. We need to be fully aware of the impact of this substance on us, individually. Can you imagine what could have happened had I been behind the wheel of a car when “my trip” kicked in, rather than bouncing from wall to wall in my living room?

So these weren’t to be my final hours after all. Dramatic they were, to be sure, but also rather freeing, once the fear had gone and acceptance replaced it. And the lesson learned is still, two weeks later, lingering in my body and my mind, having had a profound impact on my rather frantic OCD ADHD life. I’ve had many moments of soul-searching, something that usually follows such a crisis. And when I lighten up a bit I am reminded of that wonderful Sondheim ballad from Follies, sung so poignantly by Elaine Stritch, I’m Still Here. Yeah, and very glad to be!

A FAMILY SUMMER

Family can mean so many things and be expressed in so many ways. Happiness, struggle, warmth, disagreement, and unconditional love. It can be long lost friends who brave the ferry lines at Mukilteo to pay a visit and share the joys of a jaunt up Ebey’s Landing.  It can be relatives—aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, you name it—who touch base at the cottage or on a woodland hike to remind me that we are still family. And then there is the ever-changing and growing Whidbey Island family that moves throughout the myriad summer festivities and barbecues with the promise not to lose touch when the rain and cold of winter arrive. And this year I found a new family at our Island Shakespeare Festival, feeding my love of language and theater. I feasted on Twelfth Night, Sense and Sensibility, and Othello, over and over, again, starting in the warmth and late sun of June and ending in the chilly nights of September. These accomplished young actors became my family, and helped fill the void that has persisted since I left New York City. And is there anything better than open-air theater?

Twelfth Night cast members after the closing show of the Island Shakespeare Festival season

And then there was that one last look at beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee before the summer ended.

You knew I couldn’t resist mentioning my yearly sojourn to New Hampshire, even though I have inundated you over the years with my reminiscences of time at the family summer cottage. (See my blog post THIS OLD COTTAGE.)  This year I enjoyed the best weather of my lifetime—temperate, sunny, clear—with only one rainy day, which didn’t spoil swimming, but added a touch of mystery to an overcast lake.

You can imagine how special this was for a Northwest transplant who spent weeks this summer dealing with a blanket of smoke blowing in from the Canadian fires up north, the direct result of global warming. Some days it looked to me like Delhi or Beijing, and four weeks ago I drove my daughter, Martha, to Vancouver, B.C., because there were no planes, large or small, flying out of Seattle. Not even a small seaplane. She had arrived from Denver early in the morning and had twenty students waiting for her at a destination that looked almost impossible to reach. It was strange to speed north through forests of fir, which stretched high into the gray sky like misplaced ghosts. Fortunately, however, Martha caught a small plane flying to Campbell River, and connected with a water taxi to Cortes Island, where she taught a course, Move Without Pain, at the Hollyhock Lifetime Learning Center.

I think the best description of what is happening here on the entire West Coast appeared in an article written by my niece-in-law, Jessica Plumb of Port Townsend, for the Seattle Times.

Meanwhile, back in New Hampshire: My two youngest sons, Robert and Tom, joined me during my two weeks. But before Robert arrived, Tom and I spent a pleasant afternoon at the historic Castle in the Clouds, a 16-room mountaintop estate in Moultonborough, NH, overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee and the Ossippee Mountains. We walked through its woodland paths and enjoyed the falls, in an area very reminiscent of The Flume.

(Click on photo to start slide show)

Naturally, no summer is complete without at least one strenuous hike. This summer it was Moat Mountain in Conway. I had no climbing shoes or poles, but I survived. Good practice for the upcoming trip to Nepal this November!

When Rob arrived, he and Tom decided to break all records in a killer climb up Boott Spur trail on Mt. Washington in the White Mountains. I found this clip on YouTube that gives you some idea of the trail. When Rob was taking shots of the summit with his iPhone, it was blown out of his hand by a fierce wind! Fortunately he had used his new Sony a6000 for the photos of their climb.

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The day was long, but they arrived back at the cottage in time to grab a few artsy photos around the cottage and some stunning shots of the sunset. Rob is quite a photographic artist!

Ready for a swim

My photography tends to be more muted, but I love these shots of the sun going down behind Rattlesnake Island, taken before Rob arrived.

At the end of our stay, we were treated to a short visit from my niece, Rebecca Magill, her husband, Paul Benzaquin, and their daughter, Amaya, They had just returned from one month in Ethiopia and treated us to a slide show of their work and travels in the country of Amaya’s birth.

On the way home, I left my sons at the Manchester airport and headed for Peterborough to visit my older sister, Anne Magill, and her husband, Frank.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t visit my younger sister, Cary Santoro, in Harrison, NY. Will save that for my next visit East.

Then it was on to West Hartford, CT, to visit Judy Wyman-Kelly, a longtime honorary member of the Peterson family, her husband, John Kelly, and daughters Leah and Sarah. She had generously lent me a car for two weeks, and now gave me a great send-off from Bradley Field, the airport where I started my first overseas travel, leaving on a World War II DC-3 propeller plane for a 22-hour journey to Paris by way of Gander, Newfoundland…in 1949. Can you believe how long it took? I was part of a student group with the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee), heading for three countries to help in rebuilding war-town Europe.

This is the second year that I haven’t hiked and camped in the Northwest with Jon Pollack. His death ended our nineteen-year exploration of the Olympics and the Cascades and has robbed me of one of my most treasured and simpatico companions. His buoyant spirit, humor, and love of nature filled my summers with delight, and it will take me a long time to recapture, if ever, the joy of exploration into the wild that I enjoyed with Jon.

I spent a lot of time roaming the beaches on Whidbey Island this summer, and especially enjoyed low tide on the Langley waterfront, when I can walk all the way to the marina.

The tide came in and it was dusk.

And then came the sunset over Puget Sound.

The following day I visited friends living high on the bluff off Sills Rd., and got another view of the Sound at sunset.

And so, until next year, I say goodbye to summer and welcome the autumn, with its own special beauty.

90…IT’S NOT ALL THAT BAD!

By popular request, for those of you who missed my gala party or might be freaked out to find that I’m still navigating this world at such an advanced age, I have been persuaded to share some of my thoughts on reaching ninety and becoming the prehistoric valentine in my neighborhood.

On paper it sucks. In reality nothing’s changed, except the constant chatter from friends and family, who cannot just introduce me as Meg Peterson, Cary’s mother, but have to add my age for effect. They love the oh’s and ah’s and “I hope I’m like you at that age. You are my role model” responses. I have threatened to wear a placard on my back with huge letters declaring, “YES, I AM 90!” to save the need for such an announcement.

And I can’t resist noting that the pat answer to every complaint, whether a mosquito bite or the forgetting of a name is, “You ARE older, you know.” “Yes, I KNOW, and so what? There ain’t nothin’ I can do about it…so please don’t keep reminding me!”

In all fairness, most of us have been guilty of such admonitions, including me, who, when in my fifties, used to be amazed at how agile my 70-year-old friends were. So my chickens are now coming home to roost. Lesson learned. I’m just grateful for my friends and my good health, and that’s the end of it.

If you’ve ever lived in the Northwest you know that the next three months are very, very special. All year, as we watch the rain and the fog, and try to find something good to say about it…romantic, mysterious, poetic…we wait, and we wait, and we wait. As a newcomer to the area I do more waiting than most, who are acclimated, and really do find rain romantic. Ah, but our waiting is finally rewarded with the most glorious temperate, sunny burst of heaven, combined with cool breezes over Puget Sound. Even a few setbacks at the beginning of June, which is humorously referred to as Junuary, cannot dampen spirits. Bliss has arrived, and the hiking, boating, climbing, biking, swimming, music-making, and street-dancing begin. Glutted with overflowing largesse, Islanders come out of their caves and into their gardens and all that waiting was worth it!

But I digress….

June 2-3 was a busy weekend. For most Whidbeyites it was the real beginning of summer. Even so, with many folks heading off-island, over one hundred friends, relatives, and well-wishers, including fifteen from the Midwest and East Coast, came to celebrate my birthday with music, dancing, gourmet food, and the zip line, until late into the night.

Pictures will speak better than I. Over 1,000 were given to me after the party, so you can imagine how difficult this has been for someone who is known to have trouble making choices. A good practice, however, as I joyfully, resignedly, and gratefully step into my tenth decade.

Many thanks go to Lee Compton, Tim Clark, and Jenny Vitello, my roving photographers.

(Click on any photo to start slide show)

Added to the festivities was live music by the inimitable Chris Harshman, Troy Chapman, and company, with solos from Nancy Nolan, David Edwards, and a birthday poem from Judith Adams that brought down the house.

The potluck, with the theme of sampling food from around the world, was superb. The cake, made by Erinn Cameron-Edwards and her daughters, was over the top! Husband David Edwards did a yeoman’s job of carving, down to the last crumb.

One of the highlights was the spontaneous singing of Happy Birthday. It started out as a simple acapella rendition, and after the first singing, several strong voices, like David Edwards, began, again, and branched into amazing three-part harmony that blew me away. I will never forget it!

How blessed I am to have such a group of upbeat friends!

(Click on any photo to start slide show)

Many thanks go to Lee Compton, Tim Clark, and Jenny Vitello, my roving photographers.

Just before dusk children and adults had a ball on the zipline. Check out these intrepid souls.

Pure delight

With night coming on it was time for a bonfire. The perfect way to end a perfect day.

The bonfire burned out that night, but, 90 or not, the fire still burns brightly in me!

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