adventure, nature, travel

Memories of Scotland

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Do you see the little white farm-house sitting on top of the cliff? I used to live there back in the 80s. The US NAVY had erected a communication station about seven miles outside of Thurso on the cliff’s edge of the North Sea. When I arrived in February, it was dark, and ropes tied to base buildings allowed me to cross the compound without blowing away. The slapping of the waves upon the ancient rocks and the roar of the wind made it impossible for anyone to talk outdoors. The wind was a constant companion. At its best, it was breezy. At its worst, the rage of the wind would nudge and scoot my mini across the road. I gave up trying to comb my hair. The four-year, wet assault on my ear drums damaged my hearing. I was nineteen and naïve and excited to be stationed in the UK. For the first three years, I was a petty officer (E4), sending and receiving messages to and from subtenders. The last year, I was a “dependent wife”. I gave birth to my first son there.

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Scottish Sheep

To get to the farm-house, you had to open and shut the fence gates. The sheep would surround your car and wander up to the front door. Sometimes the big male would charge at you. On a clear day I went for a hike, and I explored out past the barn to have a look at the Orkney Islands and lighthouse. I stumbled upon a lamb which had died and cried; I have no idea why. Whenever I watch the film Silence of the Lambs, I see my silenced lamb as if it were yesterday. Corny, but true. Don’t ask me what I had for breakfast or remember the date of your birthday, but remember my time in Scotland? Clearly, with all my senses.

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One of the interesting aspects about Thurso is that it’s the happening place if you like to surf. The water is freezing, and I think they are mad, but every year tourists ferry across from Sweden or the Netherlands, bringing their bicycles and tents and boards to surf.

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We used to barter with the locals. We could get them tax-free liquor in exchange for North Sea salmon. After a mid-watch, we’d catch a taxi and head over to the Pentland Hotel, The Upper Deck, or The Central to have toasties with tomato and pints of lager for breakfast. Yum.  Scotland is where I learned how to shoot darts.

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The best time to be in Thurso is in the summer when the bag-pipers parade down main street and festivals of music and Highland Games are aplenty.

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It took me about six months to understand what on earth they were saying. The locals had a fun time teasing the Yanks by speaking their Gaelic. You knew they liked you when they finally spoke English. But even when they enunciated, it took time to understand their brogue. Drams and pints helped.

Above the highlands, the lonely beauty of the northern coast crept into my heart and settled. My Navy peers complained that the sun rarely came out, but I kept pinching myself to see if I were dreaming.  When the sun shone, we flocked to the roofs and exposed our white-white skin. If you want the fizz of palm trees and lights and discos and urban variety, you would not like Thurso. But, if you appreciate ancient history, authentic people, the fizz comes from the wind and waves of the coast line. Just remember to bring your wellies and brollies. I loved my time there.

adventure, Arizona, Five Shots of..., hiking, nature, photography, travel

High Country Hike

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Yesterday, Jim and I hiked at the Aspen grove at the base of the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, AZ. The wild flowers, Aspens, ferns, and cool temperatures made for a nourishing hike because an hour south, it’s too hot and dry for our liking, but up at 7,000 ft., it threatened to rain on us all morning and we were thrilled.  Here are five + six shots of our hike. Come join us.

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Let it rain!  Which shot do you like best?

adventure, culture, history, travel

Why Germany needed to win the World Cup

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Twelve us returned from a grand adventure to Munich and Berlin. It’s expected of one to hit the touristy stuff like gaping up at the Rathaus-Glockenspiel (giant chiming clock) in Marienplatz, Munich at five p.m. while drinking a fresh liter of Hefeweizen bier or admiring the Bavarian Alps especially at Neuschwanstein castle.

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While the architecture was stunning, the highlight of the trip was watching Germany play against Argentina in the World Cup. From the hotel window, as the full moon rose above an expectant populace, hundreds of thousands of Deutschlanders took to the streets to watch TVs project the game in alleys and squares or they reserved their seats in their favorite pub. We were privy to a country wide-awake and thrilled to take part in a national event equal to ten American Superbowls or New Year’s Eve in 1999 or what I imagine folks felt on V-E Day.

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The game ended around midnight in Munich and cars and people clogged the streets with a rupture of cheers, chants, and fireworks that lasted until three a.m. That was our last night in Munich and the group boarded the ICE train next day and headed north to experience Berlin.

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Did you know that Berlin has more canals than Venice and is built on swamp land? During World War II over 370 bombings dropped by the Allies destroyed almost all the city. If you know anything about WWII, you know it was a civilian war where all sides destroyed the moral heart of their enemies–the inhabitants.  Matthias was a unique guide who grew up for the first 27 years of his life in East Berlin. He showed us the sights and explained what it felt like to be German. As he showed us the Berlin Wall, a stretch standing about a city block on the East side of the city, it was a popular stop for the tourist because this section hosted artists from around the world to paint a panel.

If you visit Berlin, you will see the snake of cobble stones trace the removed wall embedded in the city streets. Straddling what was once East and West Berlin, marveling at the Surrealist work of Salvador Dali, passing by Checkpoint Charlie, visiting Nefertiti in the Neus Museum, gawking at the gorillas in Berlin Zoo, or walking the lush lawn of Teufel Park, it was a special time. Matthias would be the first to point out that the city’s architecture is ugly compared to Paris or London or Rome, but there is beauty to experience and his passion and pride for his city was infectious.

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When the heroes returned from Argentina, 500,000 Berliners celebrated their victory in front of Brandenburg Gate. We watched at a Bier garden and listened to Matthias explain how this wasn’t just a sporting event. For the first time in seventy years, Germans were proud to hang out their national flag. Inheriting the legacy of Nazism and the Holocaust hasn’t been easy. For the first time, Deutschlanders set aside the shame and regret of their past and rejoiced as a country.

Is it possible to remember, “lest we forget”, but move on, too? I sure don’t have the answer, but I will assert the World Cup win was a refreshing tonic.