Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Panic and exhilaration at full gallop

May 3, 2017

I had been yearning to be back on a horse for years. Memories of my time as a teenager, biking to the new stable where they eventually allowed my friend and me to take out horses on our own, have nudged at my subconscious. Even knowing that I would not be accorded the privilege of riding without a guide, the appeal of being in close contact with these beautiful, temperamental beings held a strong appeal.

The feeling of cantering around an open field back then felt timeless. Our hour and a half evaporated. We knew the woods and fields and could pace our ride to have enough time to enjoy the scenery, away from everyone else.
There were ten of us who signed up for the horseback excursion from our hotel in Patagonia and the estancia (large ranch) was clearly well drilled, sizing helmets and readying horses. Several of our group were first timers, and the bulk of the ride was casual walking through lovely woods on one side of the steppe. It was greener here than the arid stretches surrounding the hotel and the glacial lake it bordered.

At one point, the guide asked me if I would like a little gallop before meeting up with the group again. “Sure!” I responded readily, imagining the easy going rhythm of a canter. He signaled one other person from our group and myself to follow the gaucho off to the left.

Once the others were around the bend, without so much as a howdy do, the gaucho took off like a shot, at a full gallop of 340 miles per hour. I was sliding around in my slippery hiking pants and quick- dry panties literally breathless within seconds! We slowed to a walk around a steep curve where the trees hung low and needed to be held aside and then just as abruptly were off at break neck speed. My horse, who had been antsy from the beginning, insisted on bolting past my fellow group member and I wondered whether he had wings that would unfold or was merely applying the after burners.

The saddle was unlike any I had ever ridden, without the horn of a western style, but more bulky than the traditional English saddle. There was a hump in front that I was relieved one could grab in order to keep a seat on the turbo charged beast who had sensed a return to the barn.

Having managed to remain in the saddle I can say that it was exhilarating. I relayed my panic and glee to my family and my husband was quick to point out that he recalled a certain adventure in Colorado where we had traveled to regroup after my mother in law’s death. With one guide for our group of two dozen, the guide asked whether I would mind being in the lead for a bit while he went back to check on the others.

“Happy to do it!” I assured him. As my husband tells it, within moments I had coaxed us into a gallop (we were trotting) and he was horizontal on his horse, managing to stay on by dint of his thirty year old strength. He feels his terror matched my mild hysteria at zooming warp speed with a horse who did not even speak English.

Fair enough. Justice is served. My karma has been balanced. Perhaps the next time I ride, I can achieve a happy medium of pace: walk, trot, breezy cantering and a dollop of galloping at the end when the horse and I are both ready.

New connection to an old friend

You think you know someone. Forty plus years of being friends, starting in college. Years of jaunts to the ski slopes, museums, countless parks and restaurants and you’re pretty sure you’ve got the goods on your pal. We’ve known each other prior to each of our marriages, have been there for births, deaths, illness, the full gamut of what life offers to friends.

Then one day my pally calls up and puts it out there: “I’ve really wanted to go to Patagonia (news to me) and George is just not interested; he travels so much for work. Do you want to go? I’ve been working with a travel agent to organize it.” (Says the consummate planner).

I feel this kind of trip deserves some serious consideration. We’re talking two full weeks and considerable expense. I’ve never traveled more than a weekend without family so I take a full seventeen seconds before shouting, “OF COURSE I WANT TO GO!” There are a couple of details she runs by me before finalizing the itinerary. All I know is that we will be doing lots of hiking (something we have never done together) while we visit glaciers and the stark Patagonian steppe and mountains.

I’m so in, helpless to resist an opportunity to move my body and immerse myself in the outdoors. We know we will be able to give each other space when necessary. Our biggest concern is that I like to sleep in a cool room (read less than sixty degrees), while Susan is cold once the temperature dips below seventy-five.

I learned that Susan’s determination to have something “just right” means that she will walk beyond her hunger danger zone to find just the right place to eat. I learned that when she says “I’m just going to have my coffee and relax” in the morning that I should open the door and then wait fifteen minutes before joining her.

I have known that despite her diminutive stature (five foot one and a size two or zero) she is wiry and strong, but hiking fourteen miles together without flagging demonstrates it in an altogether more graphic way.

We both expressed some concern about the cruise portion of our trip. A small boat designed to navigate the fiords for three days takes us down “glacier alley” and around Cape Horn. We worried about our ability to remain friendly and civil in close quarters with other people (let alone each other) and an hour and half into the cruise Susan turns to me at dinner and utters, “I don’t think I’ll ever do another cruise again.” We both burst out laughing at the absurdity of this preemptive optimism, and there proves to be sufficient excursions and hikes to crush our claustrophobic tendencies.

I become completely absorbed in the vast steppe of the Patagonian landscape, its openness and predictable sighting of guanaco, rhea (ostrich), the occasional fox or condor and the elusive puma. I could not get enough of the jagged, glacier topped mountains which jut up from almost wherever we walk, ride, or sit. Their enduring presence promotes a deep abiding sense of peace and fullness of spirit.

Although we never talk about it, I realize that this is true for Susan, too. We discuss everything from our children to our own childhoods, but this sense of connection to our planet is an underlying, unspoken, and all encompassing theme. It is the cord that binds us to each other, and to the beauty of our world. It was there all along, but it took us to the southern most point of South America for this to emerge in my consciousness.

One does not stumble upon Patagonia. It takes a determined and committed effort to get there. So, too, does enduring friendship require us to navigate periodic cross currents, sun, and downpours. I am deeply grateful to experience both.

Heaven in Patagonia

After driving for four hours from El Calafate, Argentina through mile after mile of rolling desert, or steppe, our driver pulls into what appears to be a completely arbitrary turn, although I did notice the Tierra spiral trademark on the sign. The landscape had been dotted with the customary guanaco, with occasional cattle and sheep interspersed.

The driveway leading to the hotel is a circuitous three quarters of a mile with ostrich-like rhea grazing and a grey fox circulating nearby. The fox is small and adorable, almost domestic cat size. We pull up to the entrance which is dramatic in its low impact on the environment. It is a low graceful curve in brown wood, set a hundred yards back from Lake Sarmiento with the jagged snow tipped mountains of Torres del Paine framing the entire view beyond.

The simplicity of the exterior emphasizes the beauty in which it is set, and focuses the eye on what lies ahead, just as a frame highlights what is within it; your eye is not drawn to the frame itself. This homage to the land and the deep respect that is conveyed in every aspect of the design sets one immediately at ease as the mountains and shimmering turquoise lake cast their spell on every viewer.

With its low profile, the expanse of the entryway is startling with its twenty foot ceilings and undulating curve of glass that features once again the lake and mountains. The “living room” area, adjacent to the round bar and dining room beyond create one hundred horizontal feet of window in which to drink in the view. It appears to be the only show in town and every one of the forty rooms has its eyes set on that arresting piece of landscape, as do the infinity pool and jacuzzi at the far end of the second floor where one enters.

The light and variated Lenga wood with which the interior of the hotel is composed creates a warmth that is reflected in the way the staff greets the guests. This includes the general manager who leaves a hand written greeting in the rooms as well as providing a personal tour upon arrival.

It is the most luxurious camp one can imagine with a bevy of excursions designed to meet every hiker’s needs, and staff to help guests navigate a program of hikes depending on how much time and energy one has allotted this paradise.

Meals are included, as there are no restaurants within miles of the hotel, and lunches are packed for all day excursions.

It is all about enjoying this bold, commanding and unforgiving landscape while being swaddled, fed and cared for with a smile.

This rare treat feeds the soul while nourishing the body, my favorite combo for being away. I drank my fill of this delicacy, and though we did a number of the possible hikes, I know that they would be completely different on a different day, with less wind, or more, cloudy, or more sunny. There would be different animals, a different feel to the landscape; it would be hard to get enough. The guides live nearby and spend the season here. Though I imagine it could be isolating, for a few months it is hard to imagine anything more compelling. Put it tops of my list of “possible jobs for a future life.” It’s good to dream.

An image of youthful daring nurtured

November 15, 2016

I knew before walking into the gallery that the images greeting me would be spectacular. Even in their mini version online they are captivating: complete, compelling and fulfilling. Rendered large they command the space, emanating a sense of wonder at the beauty that exists on our planet. The lines and color and juxtaposition of hues at once capture a very specific moment in time as well as an eternity, an enduring sense of timelessness. Photographer Seth Resnick talks about his interaction with his subjects both human and not, the exchange of energy that he allows and encourages. This reflects in the mages that emerge. They are rich, full of intention and respect. Paired with glass sculptures by master Peter Bremers, which offer a gorgeous complementary interpretation of similar themes, the exhibit is an extraordinary treat.

I am reminded of a long ago tennis instruction to swing through the ball, not to just meet it. Using the body and a full swing gives the ball much more power and impact. Same with music. Even with an instrument such as piano, where the notes are struck, one can imbue deep meaning by allowing emotion to flow through and convey feeling.

So too, with the click of a shutter a great is transmitted which draws upon selection, pattern, and a sense that is only developed through experience and constant attention.

The added dimension of delight in this exhibit is that I have known Seth since birth. Our mothers were friends who started a preschool when we were three (which we evidently ruled until we left for kindergarten). We spent many contented hours at play and I recall Seth’s passion and zeal for whatever he did. His fascination with rocks was evident as a child and he used the tumbler to polish the stones to a glittering shine. We dragged lawn chairs in front of the house at night to gaze at the sky, and this early devotion to the natural world has clearly carried through to the work he produces today. Seth worked at a pet store as a teenager and created elaborate fish tanks at home, perhaps nurturing his eye for color, form and pattern.

Most fun all is that although we were largely not in the same classes in our enormous high school, we both took photography for the first time as seniors. Our overcrowded school was on split sessions and there were a number of us who enjoyed countless unscheduled hours in the lab perfecting our prints. Who could have known that this nascent time experimenting in photography would be the thread that would power Seth’s career. My own experience in the darkroom was that time became irrelevant, and I would often find that hours elapsed before being willing to stop and take a break.

Seth’s singularity of focus, dedication to his craft, and eagerness to engage with the world have coalesced in the sophisticated artist he is today. His continued fixation with light, texture, shape and openness to understand what he encounters distill the images to exquisite, dramatic moments.

Visiting his exhibit at the Sohn Gallery in Lenox was a deeply satisfying look at a prolific and influential leader in photography today. And for me, it was a reconnection with my childhood pal and seeing how the exuberance of youth, nurtured and developed by family and education can illuminate a path to international expertise. It inspires us to be the best of who we are, open to possibility, embracing opportunity with the confidence that new experience determines who we can be as much as we influence what we find. It doesn’t get any better than that.