Floating the Toccoa River with Celibate Dragonflies


Float is a misnomer, bounce, twist, spin, turn over and paddle would serve better. Paddle would be paramount as scooping water is required to avoid rocks, dead tree skeletons and overhanging trees.

Spinning is my favorite action. Gentle cascades of tumbling water flow around and over rocks twirling the large fat plastic tube I am lounging in to and fro, clockwise and counter clockwise. Leaning back my world swirls. Sky, water, trees, clouds, trees, rocks, banks, blue, white, brown, sky, water, trees, clouds, trees, rocks, and forty shades of green. I am intoxicated.

Eighty-foot pine trees and sixty-foot deciduous trees line the banks with no breaks creating a passage to a primitive alternate reality far from my normal world of computers and comfort. The river is easily a football field wide, the water scattered with rocks. Substantial boulders jutting out like ships prows, middling rocks of every shape sending the water flow in numerous directions and underwater rocks lurk hiding covered with rough moss. Even the flowers are enormous. Giant Sunflower and Joe-Pye stalks reach twelve-feet.

Submerged rocks and cascades between rocks require the “butt maneuver” lest you spend most of the trip pulling yourself and your tube off of rocks. The instructions are easy. One, lean your body back as if struck by rigamortus, thus raising your center of gravity and allowing passage over rocks lucking just below the water. Two, clasp your hands behind your head just above the water. The bonus is that now you not only hear the approaching rapids but also the gurgles and singing of nearby eddies.

Spinning and dragonflies, dragonflies and spinning, what joy. Blue, grey, green and black, but all with iridescent bodies and delicate wings. They dart, hover and land in ways that appear to defy gravity. Stay still and they will land on you, at first motionless then bending their slender bodies in an arch sucking water off your skin.

A mating pair land on my knee attached in a copulating embrace. “Oweee, do that somewhere else,” I cry shaking my leg. The dragonflies provide escort all along the six-mile journey. Then must be very libidinous as conjoined pairs spin past me frequently. I myself prefer celibate dragonflies.

My other companion is twelve-year-old Nikki. Her presence is perfect. Unlike my adult friends she does not want to chat about the economic crisis, irritating husbands or No Child Left Behind. A sweet sheltered child, neither does she converse about boyfriends, or fashion as her contemporaries do. Nikki is fascinated by nature.

We note the plants along the banks as I always do, but Nikki teaches me to examine what is in the water. She notes tiny fish and then discovers river snails by scooping her hands along the rocks. Quickly she has acquired a dozen, then more. Nikki turns the tiny creatures carefully noting the typical shape as she bobs in calmer waters. Before long I am required to troll for snails, a process I am squeamish about. The moss on the rocks is not slimy but rough, much like ocean kelp. In crevices on submerged rocks the snails attach, immovable despite a strong and constant current. After my snail lessons I am less comfortable stepping on rocks despite my swimming shoes.

Two hours into the float I grow cocky, less observant of the river. Suddenly I am submerged gagging for air. I twist upright and instantly scan for the bright pink tube I have been riding, disaster looming if it escapes. Grabbing plastic I sit back on a rock and begin to laugh uncontrollably. It takes minutes for me to stop.

In a small cove along the shore Nikki and I discover a plant grove that looks like water lilies, only with leaves in an upright position. Fat seed pods along the stems add to the water plant appearance. We paddle closer then vow to look up this mystery on the internet.

Our float takes three hours, a good time for low water. Shallowford Bridge comes into sight a signal to pull our tubes ashore. We are both triumphant. Nikki is because she has river snails that her science teacher has only talked about but not seen and myself because at age 65 my float time was an hour shorter than the much younger group before us. Tomorrow my body may ache but I won’t care.


Family Portrait

My resent desire to have a formal family of my family goes back to my childhood in the 1950’s. Trips to the local portrait studio were an accepted ritual at all income levels. There was of course the official wedding photo taken the week before the event. I have lovely wedding portraits of my grandmother, an aunt, and my parents, each a window into the times and people. My Italian immigrant grandma was widowed so her attire was conservative. Still one can look closely and note the fox collar on her suit and beaded purse, signs of coming middle class prosperity. Her daughter Nora’s wedding party’s portrait indicated growing wealth and indulgence of an oldest daughter. Nora’s white lace dress and veil are stunning and she beautiful. The groom stands proudly in his fine, no doubt new, suit. My mother wore a new business suit for her photo session and wedding. It was World War II and Dad had to be back to his base in a week.

Baby photos had specific rules and were taken at regulated intervals. You began at birth, then once a month for six months or more, and finally settling on once a year. Contracts were signed pledging to miss no milestones. For busy stay at home mothers, and in my world they were all stay at home Moms, the photographer would come to your home. In fact he would take a full family grouping if you so desired.

The studio was more exciting to me with the heavy camera, lights on stands and numerous props. Cameras were large and imposing and the demeanor of the photographer serious.

It was with this mindset that I decided I wanted such a formal representation of my husband and I, daughter and her husband, and our son, his wife and three-year-old son. After all, our bedroom hallway was lined with such images documenting the four of us as the children grew and my husband and I aged. It was easy then; large commercial outfits did family photos for church directories and at banks and schools, which is how our framed photographs were created.

In my mind I thought of the wonderful photographs of Gordon Parks, and Addison Scurlock. Ordinary folk made extraordinary by the photographer’s careful posing, use of light and insights into their customers. The results are ageless.

And so I embarked on what I perceived would be a simple project. I was wrong, it is not so easy today. The trend has gone to informality; groups arranged on a sandy beach all wearing matching colors, usually beige, white, and black or the happy family posed in sunshine drenched yards or parks. Part of the reason for this is the cost of setting up a studio; rent, utilities, lighting equipment, backgrounds as well as a collection of props. All you need now for a career in contemporary photography is a camera. Beyond economics, our informal lifestyles and dress match this current genre of photography.

Alas when I began to look for a small local establishment I almost came to believe that traditional portrait studios were extinct. Even widening the search to cities I fared no better. I would locate what I thought was a possibility then view the on line gallery and be disappointed. Don’t even ask me about photos of husbands kissing the bellies of their almost ready to deliver pregnant wife.

Finally I found a studio located in a small town near where our son and his family lived. Southern Exposure Photography sounded old fashioned enough to meet my needs.

Do you know how hard it is to set a date with three very contemporary families involved? Translate contemporary to constantly going from one activity to another. Two appointments were cancelled due to conflicts.

After six-weeks of asking, Does this date work?” only to have late minute issues and cancel the appointment, we all arrived at the studio on a Saturday morning. My rule was sweaters, skirts and heels for the ladies and grey suits for the men. This would be a formal portrait. Besides it was a Christmas gift request and as such I ruled. As we entered the establishment we walked down halls hung past large stunning portraits in heavy frames. Our grandson ran to greet me in dressy pants, vest and mini tie. Perfect!

Even better was the studio. The cameras were on stands with rollers, concealed and visible strobe lights were set to bounce off aluminum umbrellas. Backdrops flowed down like a cascade from medal poles above with other choices behind them. A couch, chairs, even a fake castle for children’s photos stood ready for the choosing.

We began with a grey mottled background and were arranged on and around the leather couch, first together then in smaller units. Next the grandbaby was taken upstairs to a second studio. Here the cascade of fabric was white. Windows allowed natural lighting with a child sized couch next to a windowpane. Numerous poses were taken and fortunately for us he was in a grand mood, laughing and fascinated by the studio’s equipment.

It will be a week before we return and choose photos. Mine will be of all of us, on canvas, in a heavy frame, with a small brass light over it. I have already chosen the place it will hang in the Living Room.

Post Script

The photos were wonderful, the hard part choosing and of course not overspending. April and I agonized over choices for almost an hour. But it was a happy and satisfying hour.


A Midrashim to Uncertainty

Innocent children suffer.

Evil profits from the corporate to the individual level.

Cancer eats at my friends destroying them by inches.

I rail at life’s darker side lacking understanding as to why.

Life has been so since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden.

Humans want certainly, answers, clear explanations.

Jews write Midrashim to square contradictions.

Christians have over the centuries added elaborate stories,

embroidering on the Biblical fabric.

Moslems, Jews, Christians, and others have clear mandates,

viewing the world in black and white.

I bow my head and turn my eyes from evil.

I bow my head and rejoice in the good,

I bow my head and accept my lack of comprehension.

I know not why.

Ambiguity hurts.

Better ambiguity than certainty.

I am not God.


Guadeloupe to Antigua, a Sailing Adventure


Some trips are vacations, this was an adventure.


It turns out the toughest part of my adventure was getting from the airport in Atlanta to my room at a resort in Guadeloupe. First flight- Atlanta to Miami, very large jet, second- Miami to San Juan Puerto Rico, medium jet, third- San Juan to Guadeloupe, barely a jet. At least it was not a prop plane. I did worry when the stewards moved passengers around in order to balance the load. Total time 14 hours.

I arrived in Guadeloupe at 9:50 PM and took a taxi to the resort. This involved barreling down dark streets and highways with no seat belt and Reggae music blaring in French.

Lost in Paradise

Upon arrive at the Creole Beach the clerk, who spoke no English, gave me a map of the property and waved me off indifferently. I was pulling my suitcase and carried a heavy backpack laden with cameras. The resort consists of many separate buildings traversed by a rabbit warren of paths. When I saw the same sign for the fifth time I panicked. After 30-minutes I actually located the room. Relief, then anger, the key was not in the packet! Exhausted I left the suitcase, but not the cameras and headed back following “Reception” signs. Lost again, I began tearing small pieces of paper off a leaflet leaving a trail. Still lost, I circled back on my paper trail.

By now it was midnight and I was worn out. I pleaded with God for help and the word “Shout” came into my head. “But no one understands English,” I shot back. With no other options I shouted over and over, “Someone help me, I’m lost.” Out a nearby room door came the only other Americans, a couple. We recognized each other from the plane. The husband kindly took me back to reception.

A different, kinder clerk was now on duty and he could speak maybe six words of English. He gave me a key, and then went with me to find the room. “I get lost” he explained and we did. Suddenly I saw one of my ripped papers, “Hansel and Gretel, Germany,” I stated. He responded with a French name then used the English word stones. The next morning I found out that if you circle the outside of the complex along the seashore, navigation was easy.

It Gets Better

I slept until 10 AM, then explored the resort. I never saw the American couple again. All those staying and serving spoke only French. Guadeloupe is part of France and actually is a member of the EU, thus it was French and Euros.

Still it was a beautiful family resort (family is good, no topless). The French chatter of parents and children was like a musical accompaniment to my day. Grandfathers and fathers carried toddlers on their shoulders and playfully dunked older ones in the pool. Siblings teasing and parents cajoling their errant children resonate the same in any language. French words swirled around me to my delight.

French only was more problematic in other ways. Folks, you know I have never met a stranger, so it was hard for me with no one to speak to. When I was signing paperwork I wondered if I had sold my only grandson into slavery. Try and sign on using a French keyboard that is configured differently. Breakfast and a formal dinner were buffet, but lunch via a menu. I saw the words beef burger and ordered a very American hamburger and fries. That was cowardly. But the buffet breakfasts and dinner allowed me to pig out on delicacies French food, especially the deserts.

The food, the white sand beach and the turquoise sea did make up for linguistic barriers. No access to conversations encouraged people watching. And the ladies clothes, on my. Gossamer beach jackets in multitudes of colors covered bikinis. At the formal dinner the ladies were stunning and the little girls so sweet.

The taxi I used on my afternoon trip to the capitol had seat belt. Not so scary by day. Port au Pietre, has a kind of third world feel but the gelato was wonderful, and the market colorful. Got back in time for another swim

Time to Sail on the Tenacious

At 7 AM I take a taxi from the resort to my real destination, the Tenacious, a “tall ship” waiting at Port au Prince to take a voyage crew of intrepid sailors to sea. My taxi driver stoped at the edge of an expressway off-ramp and announced, “Got to pee pee.” and got out. I looked ahead, not back where he was. Two unteathered cows grazed next to the taxi so I focused on them. He returned and I said nothing, so did I.

The masts of the Tenacious can be seen from the city’s market as I arrive in Port au Prince, Guadeloupe. Her sails have not been raised yet, but she could pass for a pirate ship. “Sailors” arrive on board and are welcomed by the permanent crew. These licensed sailors will teach us the skills needed for the trip. This is a working voyage. We will raise and lower sail, helm the ship, serve as lookouts on the bridge, record weather, assist the cook, and even swab the deck.

More remarkable is that half of the forty members of the voyage crew are individuals who have a disability ranging from requiring a wheelchair for mobility to vision and hearing limitations. Immediately groups are formed headed by watch leaders and each watch is assigned periods of responsibility. The result is that during the entire voyage the mixed ability crew is actually sailing the ship. Each person with a disability is also assigned an abled “buddy” who can provide assistance, but only when asked.

To facilitate full participation the ship has extensive adaptations that serve the needs of those with specific disabilities. There is a speaking compass and Braille signs for the blind, bright track radar for the partially sighted and alarms that vibrate for the hearing. Four lifts allow those in wheelchairs to navigate the different levels of the ship. Accommodations and heads are fitted for all disabilities.

Part of the orientation session involved learning how to climb the rigging in order to facilitate the raising or lowering of the sails. Able bodied sailors climb independently while those in wheelchairs are pulled aloft to heights unthought-of by those who require chairs. Using a system of ropes and pulleys a row of abled crew members on deck pull up their crew members. Accompanied by a staff members those with less confining disabilities participate in an “assisted climb”.

The crew is multi-national, but, I am the only American. Two retirees from Scotland hail from an island that requires a ferry passage to find. They love seafaring, and despite their age climb the rigging like monkeys. Mary Ann is a homemaker, mother to five boys and three grandsons. She and her husband, also aboard, travel the world from their home in Quebec, Canada. Two permanent crew members are from Ireland, the rest England. Ruth, my watch leader, is a physician in rural England. She has made many voyages and is active in the trust that runs the ship. Ruth proves to be a capable sailor and concerned that we experience every opportunity we want.

We motor out of the harbor into the open sea. Time to raise the sails. “Heave, pull, 26 heave” is the command repeated loudly by those on the pull ropes. “Come up” means drop the ropes immediately while “well shot” is a slower stop. There are new words to learn like Mizzentop (crow’s nest), clew lines, jibs, and forestays. Work gloves were on our list of what to bring, and for good reason. This is one of many times when they are a necessity.

Our course involves sailing in sight of Guadeloupe, encircling her for two days, then a route straight to Antigua. My “buddy” Alison and our watch are assigned helm duty. Steering such a large ship scares me. I remind myself that I helmed her through the QE2 Bridge four yours ago on a voyage in England. Besides, John, the crew member on the bridge, is a patent teacher. Instructions are given by the officer in charge in compass direction points. These are periodically reset.

Alison was so excited she might burst any minute. She confided, “I thought sailing was for the rich. I’ can’t believe I’m here.” I am so glad she is my buddy. Alison helms first and her smile reaches the sails. Our watch leader Ruth has me do the hourly report for the ship’s official log. Measurements vary from barometer and wind speed readings to measurements that require observations, such as wave size based on the Beufort Scale. Each of us helms for about an hour. For the rest of the watch (usually four hours) we sit on each side of the bridge and scan the seas for other vessels and floating debris. My favorite job is making the rounds of the ship to be sure all is well.

Guadeloupe is a volcanic island with massive lush verdant green mountains which are shrouded with clouds that often obscure the top. In the afternoon the sails are taken down. Shortly after we dropped the anchors. There are two wenches that move the anchors, but the process also required some of us to pull on ropes at the bow, and then line them up in tidy formations.

Dinner was served on the deck and after we hung out by the railings observing the sea. Earlier the experienced sailors predicted that it was too early to see whales. Yet off the starboard side two whales spout water into the air as they cavort together. They bid goodbye with a most spectacular and applauded tail flip.

We are just off of Pidgin Island, location of the Jacques Cousteau Marine Park, where Cousteau began his research. The sunset is magnificent (I’d say brilliant, but that is a much overused word on a British ship).

Challenges for All

Before bed Allison and I discussed tomorrow and our fears. Alison will do an assisted climb up to the platform high above the deck and I want to go snorkeling. Allison has weakness in one leg and her arms due to MS. I have little power in my arms and the climb down the hull on a rope ladder requires arm strength. I can picture myself falling like a whale into the zodiac.

The next morning after breakfast plans are laid. “Who’s going snorkeling?” “Me,” I respond timidly. While I collected snorkeling gear, Allison was outfitted with a climbing harness by her instructor. We both waved each other good luck.

I was terrified climbing down the hull, but made it down fine. Once by the island we put on masks and fell into the water. One thing you can not do with a mask is wear glasses, so I left mine behind. As nearsighted as I am, no doubt I missed much. But I did find if I followed the iridescent tropical fish they stayed in my limited view longer. For an hour I swam atop coral reefs with the fish. Striped fish, some with three colors, big and little, cerulean blue, neon green and cadmium yellow. The climb back into the zodiac on a rope ladder was harder than I expected and I required a pull. Ploping in I bent my toe painfully but said nothing. Ruth told me she and another woman also required a pull.

Getting back up the ship was more fearsome than going down as for much of the climb you pull up with your arms. To my complete amazement I did fine. Maybe those three days a week gym workouts for the last year are paying off.

Allison too did well on her climb. Later she, Ruth, and I discussed the fact that everyone on board accepts and meets challenges. The first day Ruth helped raise sail by climbing the foreword Spanker sails. The wind was strong and she got really worried. This willingness to try the difficult makes for a very special crew and voyage.

Another way in which my shipmates are different from many social settings is the lack of concern for status and social position. Those who chose such a cruise care nothing for how they look (go to my facebook page and see a photo of my hedgehog hair). While many asked about family, few queried about occupations. Not once did I hear a conversation in which someone bragged about their career accomplishments or what they owned. This was an egalitarian crew, focused on the voyage and its possibilities. Allison makes the same observation and concludes, “Were all here to muck it up together.” This is typical of all Jubilee Trust voyages.

Back on bard we weighed anchor and pulled up sails, ready to circle the rest of the island. Allison and I were on the bridge again. I helmed first during which an announcement was made, “Everyone meet on deck at 1 PM for Happy Hours.” John, tells me that he and I will continue to helm. He asks me if I mind missing Happy Hour. I respond, “Not at all, I don’t drink.” After a hearty laugh he explains that at sea the term means wash the ship. This includes cleaning toilets, mopping, shinning the wooden and steel railings, and more, so I am happy to steer the ship.

Anchored by late afternoon off a small fishing village we have time to play. The men pull out a grill and do their “man thing” as BBQ chefs at sea. Flowered tropical shirts were worn and the meat is excellent. After another stunning sunset we had an additional treat. The lights of the ship are bright and kept on all night in order to avoid collisions. As a result the area of sea around the ship is illuminated. Flying fish jump out of the waves. Much larger pipe fish chase smaller fish twisting and gliding like snakes.

Rough Day at Sea

One the third and last day we pulled up anchor at 6 AM. The permanent crew wanted to make the 40 kilometer trip to Antigua by noon. Another group will soon arrive for a 9-day voyage and they need their 24-hour break before this group arrives. The Tenacious has very large and strong motors and actually does not require sail. Only a few sails are put up and the motor set to almost full throttle.

This in itself would not be a problem. The movement in a mild sea is stern to bow and bow to stern. Called pitch, this fore and aft rocking is pleasant. Normally the Tenacious heaves upwards, then crashes down into the wave, creating a rhythmic soothing cadence. What has changed is the wind, gusting to 25-30 knots. This results in a roll sideways or yaw.

This new motion makes me nauseated. Added to the yaw, is that it was my turn to assist the cook. I took motion sickness tablets and report to the galley. The kitchen was hot and Cookie suggested I take periodic fresh air breaks. For breakfast I ate only toast.

After breakfast, which is our first inside meal, I went out on deck. Everyone walks like drunken sailors, suddenly lurching like human missiles across the decks. TBy now my stomach had adjusted and the wave of nausea passed. We log a 6 on the Beaufort Scale (12 being a hurricane and 1 calm). Four years ago I sailed the Tenacious in a storm in the English Channel that scored a 9-10. That was much worse. But I’m an experienced sailor now and adjust (note the confidence).

The throttle is pulled back as we near Falmouth Harbour in Antigua. While the harbour in St. Johns can berth three massive cruise boats, only sailing vessels and yachts are allowed in Falmouth Harbour. Caption Barbara climbs atop the bridge and starts barking out orders via a megaphone. Experienced crew members lower the zodiac and speed ahead of us. On deck large orange ball fenders were set in place along the starboard side in preparation for docking.

Falmouth Harbour, Playground for the Rich

At first we sight hundreds of smaller sailboats, most of which are docked or anchored. When we near the Yacht Club, where we will dock, that I was amazed. Enormous sleek sailboats are birthed so tightly and so many, that the mass of tall masts boggles the mind. They were as large as the Tenacious, a few taller. But these were not the traditional four-masted vessels like the Tenacious. They are white fiberglass with gleaming rare wood railings and decking. There is no rigging to be seen. “How do they raise and lower sails?” I asked. “With a button,” Steve responded, “Its all hydraulic.” A few of the men discuss what such a boat costs and the paid crew required to sail them. Adjacent to the sailboats are the yachts, the size of the one Onassis and Jackie Kennedy partied on.

Our last on-deck lunch was taken after we docked. I had booked a room at the adjacent Yacht Club Resort and Allison was traveling to St. Johns. We part, glad for the time we shared. My room was a short walk away. There is a lovely beach a 10-minute walk from my lodgings. Just after I arrived at the beach, other Tenacious crew members turn up. This is the last time I see any of them. While the temperatures have been in the 80s the entire trip, the water is cool. Oh well, I swim in the mountain stream fed Ocoee River and this is warmer than June in the Ocoee.

That evening I dined in an Italian restaurant where the staff only spoke Italian. Oh my goodness, another language barrier. Then there is the money disconnect. I picked up Pounds Sterling and Euros at the airport. Euros worked in Guadeloupe and Pounds on the ship. Since Antigua was a British Colony I assume Pounds will work here to. The porter taking my bag refuses the tip in Pounds asking in Creole for something else, but what? At a convenience store I am given Southern Caribbean bills for change, a currency I had never heard of. They also take Euros and American dollars, but not pounds. Who knew. Later when I exchange my currency in Miami they refuse the Caribbean currency.

After dinner the harbour and marina was illuminated by the many lights on the boats moored with such density. Lacking a tripod I took dozens of photos, leaning on railings, walls and wherever I can. The trip was a photographer’s playground. I was able to make some wonderful shots.

Good Bye

My check out time was noon so I had a morning left. Time enough to check out the market and take one more swim. The ride to the airport takes 45-minutes through rural villages comprised of small homes where the native Antiguans live. The number of churches surprises me. Some appear local, but many represent well known denominations; Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, and a large center run by the Salvation Army. We pass two primary schools where children play outdoors in neat uniforms. Of course the local population is Black. Everywhere I have been all those serving were Black. As I board my plane there is an announcement that the temperature is 82 degrees . It is March and I am no doubt going to miss the warmth very soon. The journey back is two flights and 12-hours. I am not ready to leave, but glad I came, both for the islands and the voyage.


Climbing Mt. Leconte, a Bucket List Check Off



The Trillium trail to the top of Mt. LeConte is 6 1/2 miles long, and gains 3,400 feet in altitude. The difficulty rating is strenuous. LeConte is the third highest mountain in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. LeConte Lodge, atop the mountain, is accessible only by hiking up one of five trails, none of them easy. Weekly supplies are packed up the mountain by Llamas. The spring opening after a winter hiatus is accomplished with a helicopter.

Having talked our 33-year-old son Matt into joining me I at least had company on the journey. At this point I was in denial about the challenges of taking on such a climb at age sixty-seven. This was an experience I had wanted for over four years. I had even tried twice before, but due to the popularity of the location Lodge reservations were so hard to get a lottery was required.

I thought I was prepared for the trek. After all I had been on several hikes of equal length and moderate altitude gain, worked out regularly, and had practiced in my new hiking shoes. What I did not count on is the difference between trails here and mountaineering up LeConte. Trails I had practiced on had few rocks, you just put one foot in front of another. On LeConte the trails are rock and root strewn, requiring concentration on foot placement, and leg ups using muscles I had not used before. The estimated climb time is 5-hours; ours was six and a half.

Poor Matt, walking with me was like having an anchor. The last mile he thought he would have to go to the Lodge and get a cart.

Arriving we were assigned a small bare bones cabin. The Lodge, where meals are served, has no electricity, one uses kerosene lamps. Toilets are luxury outhouses and the “shower” is a bucket of hot water hauled from the dining room. Despite my description it is a fantastic place to stay. Our little cabin was cozy with bunk beds, and heated by propane.

Your reward for the climb is the food. Made from scratch beef stew was served for supper with multiple hardy side dished. And then there was dessert, mmmm. Breakfast included; bacon, eggs, pancakes, grits, gravy, biscuits and more. Normally the view is another reward, but we were in the clouds during our stay.

Going back down was easier, we cut a half-hour off our time. The forest in the top two to three miles gets so much rainfall that fallen trees, rocks, stumps, and entire banks are covered with an amazing array of mosses. You can stick you hand in the mass of moss and not find the rock. To qualify as a rainforest you need 69 inches of rain per year, upper LeConte gets 88. We saw a bear, but it was too far off to be scary.

Back home, the next day, every muscle in my body ached, some I didn’t know I had. While I am glad I went, it is not an expedition I intend to repeat. Thank you Matthew, I really enjoyed your company and conversation.



Hi friends,

I am now back from Africa in case you need to call or see me. Now, to bore you with my travel  journal. This is a short general version of the trip which covered 3 weeks.

  • After a 21 hours in an airplane (2-17-2) plus airports I arrived in Maputo, Mozambique where daughter Rebecca is on a 4-months assignment with the CDC. Preparation included shots for yellow fever, typhoid and more and malaria pills, a little scary (and costs almost $500).


  • Mozambique has dismal poverty (3/4 of the population lives in privation), a corrupt semi-Marxist government, and a few surprises in store for me. While Rebecca worked I went on tours of the city. My guides were Jane, a well connected British resident and a college student, Stelio. Mozambique’s language is Portuguese, which was a problem and I required translation. Besides Stelio is tall with big muscles and a very pleasant and knowledgeable person.
  • For two days I explored the city’s cultural community, which turned out to be quite vibrant, which was amazing given the other issues in this country. I toured the National Museum with its Director, met artists, both traditional and contemporary and toured architecture. The streets and markets were lined with vendors selling junk (carvings, look alike batiks etc.); there is a factory somewhere no doubt in China. But with a guide you discover an energetic contemporary arts community with galleries and museums. I bought some traditional carvings and a heavy ceramic sculpture from a wonderful woman whose studio was at the Natural History Museum. I carried it like a baby in my carry-on luggage through 7 flights and hauled it up in overhead compartments as well as through airports.
  • From Friday to Monday Rebecca, myself and two friends went to Swaziland, a small country next door with the only absolute monarchy in Africa, the highest AIDS rate and the best crafts shopping I have even experienced. There are a number of crafts cooperatives. The quality of the crafts (glass, baskets, hand spun and hand woven, jewelry and much more) are as good as NYC as well as the shop displays. Best of all you know the woman or man who made it got paid fairly and any profits funds well and school projects. Needless to say Rebecca and I filled a large suitcase which I also lugged back to the US.


  • The Reed Dance: During the day we shopped but in the evening attended the two public events for the Reed Dance. I will say that the wikipedia description made me uncomfortable. Basically it says, begun in the 1950s and consisting of 20,000 + virgins dance for a king who sometimes chooses a wife at it (He currently has 14 wives, three of which have cheated on him.). This explanation it turns out is a distortion. He has chosen three wives at the Reed Dance but that is not the intent or history of the event. In fact I later researched the history which goes like this. Photos from 1895 show girls in identical outfits to today. At puberty girls wore a red tassel around their neck indicating leave me alone sexually. At a marriageable age the tassel was removed indicating “I am available for marriage.” Each year all the girls in a village that were eligible did this together but first visited the home of the Queen Mother for a few days. In the 1950s the custom was changed to having all the girls visit the Queen Mother for 7 days at the same time. They camp there and learn how to be a Swazi woman. On the 6th night they cut and carry tall reeds to her home where a fence is built. Then they go to the King’s stadium and dance for him in groups. The last night is a repeat minus the reeds. We attended these two nights. There were Anglos but not many and we were quite welcome. The girls come in dancing and chanting in groups 10 girls wide and it takes 1 ½ hours for them to all come in. Estimated this year 40,000 “Maidens.” Having taught teens for 26 years I loved the girl’s attitude (I am young, beautiful and will live forever) and joy. Swazi’s official language is English which helped when hearing announcements. The King comes in first with Boy Scouts and “warriors” running before him. Both nights were impressive and yes all but a few of the girls were bare breasted.
  • After we left Swaziland there was a democracy demonstration. Fifty were arrested and two foreigners “disappeared.” African contrasts are amazing. Here is a country that is progressing in income and utilizing crafts tourism. At the same time it has an autocratic dictator king and high HIV rates.
  • Upon returning Rebecca went back to work and I toured a slum, Mufalala with Stephan. The plan was the next day I would go to the Iris Arco Orphanage where I would spend several days giving art lessons and delivering two murals on canvas made by the God’s Paintbrush” group at my church. They consisted of a bright underwater scene and two African children snorkeling with the words on Portuguese “God’s Amazing Creatures.” Instead riotous protests broke out and Rebecca and all US employees were officially confined to home. Houses of the rich and foreign in poor countries are fortresses. The place where Rebecca was house sitting was huge with a 12-foot wall topped by electric barbed wire and with heavy grated on all windows and doors as well as “safe rooms” where another iron gate could impede intruders. And there was a guard 24/7 (three shifts.) It all seemed a bit much until the riots. Truly having been to Mufalala I sympathized with the protestors. The government was raising prices on bread, fuel, transport, water and electricity all at once (I told you the government was uncaring and corrupt.) So for two days we stayed in the house when I should have been at the orphanage (there was a huge protest that happened to be at their gate). We baked cookies and listened to DVD movies with the sound of bullets in the distance. In fact 12 died including 2 children in Mufalala. I keep thinking I took a lot of photos of kids there. Did I take those children’s photos?
  • By the third day protests had died down some and the road to the airport was open. But the stay in order continued from the US Embassy. Rebecca would jeopardize her career if she left but I could and we had non refundable reservations. After much crying we decided I should go on alone. The next morning we took a taxi to the airport and I left alone. In Nelspruit I was picked up at the airport and taken to Jatinga Lodge. When I arrived I got a call from Rebecca. One exception to the order was made, international flights. Her boss gave an OK. She arrived at the airport at 10:30 AM and I was waiting with a rental car. The drive to Krugar National Park was only an hour but Rebecca had not driven on the left side before. She was magnificent. Sound like we were out of danger. Not quite. South Africa was experiencing a country-wide strike that included all doctors and nurses. Emergency rooms were manned by the Army. The prospect of am accident or illness was real and scary.
  • At Kruger we parked the car and forgot the strikes. Daily game drives now involve cameras and not guns. And what game, elephants, lions up close as well as rhino, hippos, hyenas, warthogs, giraffes, monkeys, verities of antelopes, and more. Night drives utilized spotlights. After three days we left and by now the strike ended. Yeaaaaa!
  • Two more flights took us to Cape Town, South Africa. South Africa is a developed country with roads as good as the US and sometimes better. The city, where we spent a night, looks like Seattle with the ocean in front and mountains behind.
  • We drove down the Cape of Good Hope to the southern most point in Africa. The road snakes along a mountain range with steep drops to a rocky coast with huge waves crashing, punctuated by quant towns with wide sandy beaches. Think of the coast of Northern California. We saw ostrich, baboons and penguins (Yes, penguins. The Cape of Good Hope is close to Antarctica). The penguins were so cute. On the way out we came past two penguins mating. Being idiot tourists we took pictures. Human nature is weird.
  • Rebecca had won two free nights at a guest house at an embassy party so we headed Eastward down the coast. Hermanies is known as the winter home of Right Whales. The next day we took a whale watching boat out. Two mega bus loads of Italians were also on the boat. When we saw whales shouts of Fantastico! Mama Mia!, and Madonna and Bambino! filled the air. It was such fun we also went on the last ride of the day. This time there were only 9 passengers. Even better we saw a whale breach (lift out of the water) three times, something I never thought I would see.
  • After 16 days in Africa and three countries I was back at the airport dragging two huge carry on bags and getting on a 17-hour flight.

Would I recommend a trip to Africa? Sort of, I am glad I went. There are risks and the shots and flights make it taxing. Africa still is adventure traveling. But then I love an adventure


Mafalala, Maputo, Mozambique Africa

Place of Contrasts,

Place of Hope,

Place of Desperation.
The Colonial Portuguese forbad poor Blacks to have brick houses,

so they built with corrugated zinc, and painted them bright colors.

Some even built brick walls inside, away from sight.


Two ex-presidents grew up here,

there homes preserved,

a famous poet and soccer player also.

The government is working on sanitation in Mufalala,

and has built a market area,

and public toilets.

August 2010, the same government raised prices on fuel and bread,

their troops fired on and killed ten protesters,

two were children in Mufalala.

I toured the area the day before with three fresh faced teens as guides.

As we walked along the winding narrow, dirt alleyways

they were smiling and proud of the slum’s history.

I look at my photos and wonder,

are the two dead children in my depictions,

and where is justice?



Oh My Gosh, I Got Invited to my 50th High School Reunion!

September 2012

It turns out that reunions in our senior years are less competitive and

more focused on shared memories.

My initial reaction to the invitation to the class of 1962’s reunion was shock. “How is this possible? I don’t feel old?” Since the reunion was being organized on facebook, I was able to access photos of a number of my classmates. “Oh my gosh,” I thought, “we really are old.”

High school class reunions are popular subjects for movies that often include hilarious situations, personal disasters, and a murder or two. The decision to attend or not attend one’s reunion can be an emotional one for many alumni. I too was unsure. In high school I was shy and consequently invisible. Since I never ran with the popular crowd, for me the possibility of cliques reforming at reunion events was real. “What the heck,” I decided, “I’ve made a good life for myself,” and filled out the paperwork to attend. Since I live almost a thousand miles away from my hometown, I had been unable to attend any previous reunions. This would be my first high school reunion, a true adventure.

Once I decided to attend I had a few months to prepare. Wanting to look good, I added to my three times a week gym workouts hoping to eliminate arm flab. Six weeks out I cut back on meals and dropped six pounds.

Worse yet was my obsession about what to wear. There was to be a luncheon, picnic, and dinner dance, each requiring a different outfit. After shopping, actually over shopping and getting more than I needed, I asked my husband to take photos of myself in various combinations in order to really see what looked best. He told me I was losing my mind and needed to get a grip.

I considered that he was right until a brave soul posted on facebook an inquiry as to what to wear followed by more posts from equally insecure female classmates. The men quickly decided on dinner jackets and casual shirts, while the women continued to worry. “Good that you ask. I was trying to figure that out,” one classmate commented. “THE big question….at least for the women,” anther joked. After reading a description of a planned outfit, one more remarked, “How can you wear sleeveless anything? I am fat!”

The focus of this reunion was to be high school memories, not career accomplishments as it had been in earlier reunions. A request to write and submit memories was issued. As I put down my favorite recollections of our teen years I was reminded that despite my shyness I enjoyed high school immensely.

One of the pleasant outcomes of a reunion organized on an internet social networking site is the renewing of old friendships prior to the reunion. In a class of 200 students there were teens whose whole high school path never crossed mine. Prior to the actual reunion those who were online began to get caught up and share memories. We discussed who was retired and who was working and why. Funny high school stories were recalled and changes in the world since then noted. Private conversations occurred via e-mail and messaging that led to the discovery of shared interests. I even found three classmates living in the same state as I do less than one hundred miles away.

Their stories were fascinating. Many had stayed in Upstate New York, but others lived in places like Hawaii, Alaska, and Washington D. C. and even retired in Costa Rica. In many cases I had seen family photos posted on their internet albums. I couldn’t wait to reconnect at the reunion. Weeks passed and I was ready to take a flight from Georgia to Upstate New York. Clothes chosen and bags packed, I started on a reunion experience that would be full of surprises.

Driving to the opening picnic I was nervous. I was not alone, as there had been a recent post expressing social anxiety by asking, “Should we greet with a handshake, a hug, or perhaps no contact.” I wasn’t popular in high school. Would I be a social dud? Did I look good, or old, or fat?

At the registration table I was given a t-shirt and memory book. Forget nervous, the t-shirts were hilarious. In the center was our graduation photo with two arrows. The one pointing down was labeled “Then” and the upper arrow “Now.” Quickly I changed from my carefully chosen outfit to the t-shirt I had previously declared that I would not wear because “they make me look fat.” Fun trumped vanity. Heads bobbled down to the photos, then up to the current reality, followed by grins of recognition. Good thing, too, as I could have identified only a few of the seventy-some classmates at the picnic.

The most fun was talking to and getting to know people that I had never spoken to in high school. Wayne explained that during our junior and senior years he went to auto mechanics and left school at noon, consequently he saw few of our class. It was a pleasure to converse with Wayne who has had a successful life since school. Peter and I spoke about what a great city Washington D C is, the place where he and his family live.

The memory book provided more fun reading between events. Not only were the antics of students recalled, but teachers were remembered good and bad. “Miss X had BO.” The recollections even dated back to elementary school.

Perhaps it was because my classmates are now in their mellow senior years or that the organizing committee set the tone of this gathering, but this reunion focus was on shared memories of high school. From stories I have been told by friends, I gather that reunions in ones 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s can become competitions involving educational attainments, careers, homes, and other measures of status. While I did not attend our earlier reunions, I later got a copy of the class listings of career accomplishments. Even as a non-attendee I found myself judging the lives of others. This reunion was different. “I don’t care what anyone did in the last 50 years, I want to remember high school and how crazy we were,” was a sentiment I heard voiced more than once at our 50th. In fact one person posted, “I don’t want to see photos of your grandchildren, bring photos of your travels.”

Saturday night was a dinner dance. There were additional classmates to connect with as some had been unable to attend Friday due to other commitments. Oh, my goodness, did we have a good time. Everyone, spouses and guests included, was pleasant and seemed genuinely interested in seeing each other. Hugs and smiles abounded. The level of excitement in seeing people we knew in our youth, now 50 or more years later, was off the charts.

In addition to the two main events there were others: breakfast, luncheons, tours, golf. A lot was packed into a few days, which seemed to pass in a nano-second! On Sunday five of us proved that you can still handle a canoe in an Adirondack lake at age sixty-plus. This too brought back memories of the summers when as Girl Scouts we embarked on week-long canoe trips by paddle and portage.

Teachers are traditionally invited to class reunions, but after 50 years there are few left. Mr. DiMarco attended the dinner/dance and was great fun. Miss. Leone and Miss. Reinman were in St. Joseph’s Nursing Home in nearby Utica. Friday morning six of our classmates went by to see them and serenaded the whole floor much to the delight of both. Miss. Leone in particular was fragile, unable to get out of bed. I visited her a few days later. She told me that she appreciated the earlier visit and we talked about her teaching our class American History during our junior and senior years. Miss. Leone never married. Instead she taught and took care of her aging parents. In a real way we were her children. A week after the reunion she passed away. Perhaps God was waiting to take her until a few more of her children paid tribute.

Even before we all got home posts began to appear sharing how must pleasure and fun we had experienced. “I felt 18 again….not 67 looking back at 18!” I too found the reunion enjoyable to a degree that surprised me and, like Terry, Judi, Linda and others tried to understand why. What makes a reunion in one’s senior years different?
Linda posed an answer: “Maybe because we all share something from our youth and only those of us that were there can relate to.” We were a unique class, sandwiched in between the status quo classes of the 50s and the rebellious, world changing grads in the mid to late 60s. I have a close friend who is only five years younger, but our high school and college years were light worlds apart. At our reunion you knew that everyone understood the character of the time in which we came of age.
Like many of my classmates I no longer live in Upstate. My friends come from all over the country. They know me of late and sometimes have been my friends for all of my adult life. But we do not share memories that go back to high school and even elementary school. Chuck recalled games of kick the can on Goodell Ave, others talked about Main Street School. Still others remembered the Flag Street Playground and ice rink. Where I live no one remembers these things. It was literally going home and back in time in the best way.
In a hurried life I had all but forgotten about high school. I worked my way through college, then there was a career to build, and in time marriage and children to raise. Between work tasks and children, time passed quickly with no looking back. Now in retirement with children grown, I can reflect on the journey.

Time at the reunion was limited.  Consequently some of us are are sharing our continuing life’s journeys via the internet and facebook. Linda Finch, Judy and I shared Girl Scout memories and Father Tom and I recalled debate team activities. Not only did I reconnect with old friends, but I have gained new friends.  In high school I did not know Linda. Terry was an athlete that I admired, but never spoke to.  I will treasure and nurture new friendships made as a result of the reunion.
We have lived interesting lives, faced challenges, coped, and thrived. I admire Rick Thompson’s love for his adopted state of Alaska and Robert Coleman’s poetry and business in Hawaii. Creativity abounds, for example Ellen’s embroidery business. Terry is a woman of courage. Despite the limitations of living with a lung transplant, she is a cheerleader for our class, pointing out our strengths while making light of her accomplishments. Linda Stevener chose a fascinating and independent life in Costa Rica. Judi’s blog is intriguing especially about her recent trip to Italy. Father Tom’s account of his life is a hoot. Like the rest of us his has not been the straight path we thought we would have in our youth. Instead it has been a rollicking, varied passageway of joy and understanding. Did you know Roger has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro? So our journeys continue, enriched by a gathering of past classmates. Thank you committee. I had a great time.

May we meet in
the center of a laugh

So we can
remember who we truly are
In beloved joy

Just call me a
From “Pearl Drops of Aloha”
JR Coleman, Class of 1962,
Whitesboro Central High School

August 2011


Family Reunions Mountain Style

By Kathy Thompson


Late summer in Appalachia is the time for families to assemble and renew friendships among the descendents of early pioneers. Kinship has always been paramount in the mountains and these annual gatherings cement ancestral bonds down the generations. No matter if you still live in these hills, or like many have moved away seeking work or another future, you are welcome.

Each family’s gathering reflects their values and traditions. Some have formal meetings with minutes, and genealogical talks. Others include preaching, and the singing of old time hymns. My husband’s family is more informal preferring baseball games, horseshoe matches, good food and lots of visiting. But from my experience all include a lavish meal with tables bowed with home cooked dishes. Chicken, ham, pork chops, summer’s bounty of vegetables, casseroles, and Oh My! the pies and cakes.

Locations reflect the trails taken in the early 1800s by those hungry for fertile land and a place of their own. The descendents of Jason and Mary Chastain, who arrived in the 1840s, gather in Dial. The family previously met by the old home place, but with a restoration going on they get together in a pavilion built by a family member for these reunions. Deep in today’s Cohutta Wilderness, the arbors where the Dyer and the Jones clan convene date back to the early 1900s. Designed for preaching and meetings by the family graveyard, these two historic structures reflect life in a distant era.

The Upper Jacks River Reunion meets in a remote holler tucked between towering mountains where at one time there were a dozen homes. When the land was sold in the 1930s to the United States Forest Service for $5.00 an acre, the homes and Mt. Gilead Church and school were torn down. Only a sliver of land was set aside where the families can return. Despite being only a yearly event they have constructed a sturdy pavilion. Place matters even when you have moved away.

Stanley Church of Christ on Aska Road is the location of the Stanley Reunion. No longer used for regular services, the building is opened for the family. “All Day on the Grounds” tables and a wooden arbor provide a place for a group meal.

My husband and I were invited to the annual reunion of the Upper Jack’s River community. The drive takes 45-minutes, half of which is on gravel Forest Service roads. Turning off and onto a road that is more of a path we arrive and squeeze our car into a space next to towering oaks, and poplar trees.

Millsaps, Davenports, Dyers, Crumleys, Pattersons, Sluders and Davenports once lived in this remote spot. Unlike single family reunions, this one commemorates a community of people whose ancestors arrived in the mid 1800s and moved out in the 1930s. With little choice to do otherwise they sold their land to the newly formed United States Forest Service leaving their beloved community behind.

Today adults unload food and chairs from their cars. The pavilion has tables but chairs are required. A few set up a sound system hooked to a generator humming softly at the edge of the forest. The rented port a pot sits discreetly a few paces into the forest.

A gaggle of children drag huge fallen tree limbs as they build a fort under a massive oak tree. They are oblivious to the talk of family ties and history. Like the youngsters who grew up here long ago they play, full of energy with a kind of purpose forgotten by adults.

Once settled in their lawn chairs the grown ups play “Whose your Daddy,” and “Whose your Mommy.” Ties involving marriage are examined. “She was a Davenport but her mother was a Millsaps.” ‘Oh yes, that’s right, another replies.” Those who have passed during the previous year are remembered fondly, there best qualities recalled.

With their short attention spans the children tire of fort building, a task that is scratchy and tiring. The cool water of the nearby stream beckons. Wading knee deep they plunge nets pulling up fat crawdads. Others drag rocks to make a dam deepening the water. A grandmother sent to retrieve them notes, “They do this every year. The winter weather and spring floods levels their dam so they start over every year.” It is time for lunch and by then all the activity has made them hungry, so they go willingly. The kids are wet but no towels appear. Its a warm day and drip dry suffices.

With everyone assembled a blessing is said. Smiles appear on people’s faces as they work their way around food tables, piling their plates almost beyond their capacity.

After the meal and a little time to digest so much food, the singing commences. A pianist on an electric keyboard accompanies Victory’s Song, a duo. The setting is a natural cathedral with God’s beauty all around. The forest surrounds us with a deep blue sky and bright sunlight peaking through. Butterflies with their wild erratic trajectory fly through the grove sometimes barely missing the visitors.

Papa Jack Bryson and his daughter Denise, and son David sing next. All of the tunes being sung have echoed through these mountains for generations. “Amazing Grace,” I’ll Fly Away,” and other hymns rise from this isolated grove. Mt. Gilead Church existed from 1891 to 1936. The music heard here today has not changed from when these hymns were song at Sunday services.

The children would likely want to return to playing but they have been raised in church and know how to behave. In contrast to their earlier busts of energy, they sit attentive to the service. Rev. Delmar Davenport delivers an eloquent sermon alluding to the beauty of this place and evoking God’s continued generosity. The service ends with a heartfelt rendition of “If We Never Meet Again,” sung by everyone.

While the adults are putting up the food, taking down the sound system, and loading the cars the children run back to the creek. More rocks, more crawdads until the adults threaten mayhem if the children do not leave. Grudgingly they put on shoes and trudge out knowing they will rebuild the dam next year.

People hug, a few misty eyed. Promises of returning the next year hang in the air as we get in our car and drive out. Across the mountains families like these gather in a ritual worth repeating. May it always be so.


The Lost Art of Handwritten Letters

Two Long Time Friends Rediscover the Joys of Letter Writing.

As you sort through the mail the letter stands out. The envelope has a nice texture and a pleasing color. The stamp is floral and the address written in a beautiful hand. Turning the letter over you note it is sealed shut with a dusty gold wax and imprinted with a Fleur-de-lis. A wedding invitation no doubt, you think to yourself. Yet when you break the seal and slip the contents out you discover a letter from an old friend. Surprised you sit down in a chair and read through the letter, smiling and perhaps rereading sections.

In an era of e-mails, texting, and cell phones, such an experience is rare, but worth reviving. My adventures in letter writing began with a complaint from my friend Ro. Since high school we have kept up our friendship despite living over seven hundred miles apart. For many years we wrote, but with the advent of e-mail our letters stopped.

“I think I actually used to write more, before computers came on the scene. It is so much easier to write as I am doing now, sitting at a keyboard, watching the words appear on a screen, but I suspect something has been lost.” she lamented. Ro continued, “I have a very few letters from my grandfather who came to the US from Russia as a young man fleeing from a series of riots against Jews. He had only a second grade education so his letters are replete with his wonderful misspellings and unique handwriting – but they are treasures.” I agreed that something had been lost so we vowed to begin writing letters by hand as a supplement to our e-mail messages.

Electronic correspondence has replaced letters to the extent that procuring the necessary supplies was a challenge. Note cards are abundant but sheets of letter sized paper in boxed sets are less available. Often I found that one selection was all that card and book shops offered. If you are lucky there might be a choice of two papers. Not to be discouraged we both scoured shops and soon came up with several pretty papers. Seals and wax can be bought, but you have to look in the wedding section of stores. It may seem like a contradiction but writing supplies can be ordered online.

Choosing a pen was critical. I absolutely ruled out any form of ball point pens as too ordinary. Initially I tried a crow quill dip pen with India Ink. In my mind I pictured myself as Abigail Adams writing to John, or a heroine in a Jane Austin novel. Alas that was not to be, my penmanship was scratchy looking and the sound annoying. Worse yet was the constant threat of a spill resulting in a disaster.

The next day I brought home a dozen pens of all kinds from fine point permanent ink pens to newer styles. After much “research” may I suggest a gel pen? No not one of the shiny, glittery, pre-teen choices, just a blue or black gel pen. Today’s fountain pens are also a good choice. Plastic pop-in ink cartridges have made fountain pens easy to use.

Learning how to properly use sealing wax and a wax stamp was an exercise in hilarity. The first try set off the smoke alarm. You can not believe how much smoke such a small candle-like object can produce. The next try was attempted under the overhead fan above my stove. This time, I failed to notice the position of the design on the wax seal, which was an elegant K for my first name. I was proud that I had created such a nice seal that did not have drips at the edges. Then I discovered that the K was upside down. After breaking the seal, removing the letter and putting it into another envelope, I finally succeeded.

Another problem involved the use of sealing wax for letters after several arrived with broken or damaged seals from postal. One solution is to have the postal worker add twenty cents in stamps and hand stamp the letter. Also softer waxes are less likely to break and practice resulting in thinner seals helps.

Since the initial problems have been worked out, the process of looking for more supplies has become pleasurable. The discovery of a new paper, pretty stamp, just issued by the post office, or a wax seal with a unique design has becomes an occasion for exhilaration. Ro’s high-school-aged daughter has become interested in this new passion, and together they have shopped for stationery as well as ordered wax seals on line.

Finding a relaxing time and place to write is the most pleasurable part of hand writing letters. I prefer late in the evening when the house is quiet, and I am alone, family members having gone to bed. Others might favor early morning while catching glimpses of a sunrise. No matter the time, finding a personal space, quiet, and privacy is important.

My friend Ro describes the process as meditative, “Writing letters, rather carving out the time to do it, is like discovering an oasis. What I am trying to say is that the whole process is bringing me a sense of peace. I am appreciating just being able to spend this time together with you, because that is what it feels like.”

Having written letters for several months I have discovered other benefits. I find it easier to share intimate feelings when handwriting. Perhaps it is the fact that I set aside a quiet time for writing versus my typical rush when writing e-mails on my computer. For whatever reasons my thoughts, even fears, flow as I write.

Additionally, letter writing opens possibilities for creativity. Another friend made origami letters for me to write upon. Recently, I wrote a poem for my friend Ro and included dried spring flowers-which fell onto her lap when she opened the letter.

Letter writing is best enjoyed with an intimate friend. Find someone, perhaps one who lives far from you, and suggest making a writing pact. Yes, Ro and I still send e-mails, mostly about time sensitive or mundane practical issues.

On occasion Ro and I e-mail an alert that a letter has been posted heightening our anticipation. Savoring the letters we receive is also important and a pleasure. When I recognize a letter from Ro I am tempted to rip it open immediately as I would a bill. Instead, I set it aside for an uninterrupted, more contemplative time.

Now that I have acquired a collection of writing supplies, I have assembled a small writing kit housed in a lovely antique looking box. Late at night, after my husband retires, I set up my writing space. And there I share my most intimate thoughts with a friend who has known and understood me most of my life. Our separation seems less so. In another box I keep Ro’s letters tied together with a soft ribbon, available to be reread on occasion.

Victoria Bliss Magazine January 2011