Friday, September 29, 2017


I am enjoying the experience of being here in Tanzania, and to a far greater extent learning a lot.  It is impossible to understand the privilege to which we are accustomed until we live and work with people who have almost nothing.  I am, for example, aware of the great privilege of having an indoor kitchen at the house where I am staying, complete with the luxury of a single propane ring on a spindly shipping crate - I don't have to cook on a wood fire on the ground outside as most do.
Today's project is adding LED illumination to the single classroom at our school.  The one window admits some light, but not enough for my old eyes to discern colour properly as we are learning names of colours in English.  36 watts, $25, and a bit of engineering later, the transformation is striking!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


In the daily frenetic pace of North American life, my writing here has been set aside for five years.  Perhaps that is part of the motivation for my current endeavour: I am living and volunteering in Maji ya Chai (River of Tea), Arusha region, Tanzania for several weeks.
I am here to teach and to help with development of a free primary school for children who would otherwise have no access to education.  But I am here to learn as well; as with most things in life what one gives one receives back amplified and enhanced.  In a few short days here, I have been welcomed and embraced by a nation of warm, generous, patient, and enduring people.  I will struggle to find words to capture this interaction - it is far removed from the insular and self-absorbed world with which I am familiar.
Peace and serenity,

Thursday, December 27, 2012


"The true purpose of education is to teach a man to carry himself triumphant to the sunset." - Liberty Hyde Bailey

As I return from my twelve day voyage of exploration, I have begun to understand what many voyagers have said before me.  Travel is indeed an opportunity to explore new places and meet new people, but it is even more an opportunity for inner exploration and growth.
The sunset metaphore is appropriate, I think.  The return home is indeed a sunset, an ending to a chapter.  There is time now for rest and reflection, and as with every sunset the promise of a bright sunrise and the dawn of a new day.


"Journey with me to the serenity of leaving to our children a planet in equilibrium." - Paul Tongass

Manuel Antonio park is a nugget of Pacific coastal paradise, wisely protected from hotel developers by and for the Costa Rican people. Its sandy beaches and warm surf attract masses of sun-thirsty tourists. Hidden behind this "attraction" is the real attraction, many kilometers of little-explored, narrow, muddy trails.
It was on one of these trails that I was given the gift of serenity. Abandoning the glazed masses in their blind march to the beach, I climbed for a kilometer along a clear, gurgling stream. At a clearing in the dense forest, I stopped to enjoy for a moment the dappled sunlight. The moment became ten minutes, then an hour, then more as I simply sat motionless and watched the life of the forest around me.
Tiny iridescent flies fanned their wings on the leaves. Lizards curiously scurried between my feet and up nearby twigs, craning their necks curiously to have a look at me. As I watched a butterfly flit between the flowers, a beautiful brassy-gold hummingbird buzzed past my ear to drink nectar from a crimson chalice an arm's length away. Somewhere nearby, a troupe of monkeys crashed noisily through the canopy. As I looked up toward them, I noticed as if for the first time the rainbow palate of birds sitting in the trees all around me.
I thought for a moment of the eco-tourists below me on the trail, who had hired human guides to lead them down the busy trail and peer through telescopes at tiny specks hiding in the canopy, and was grateful for the privilege of having Gaia as my guide and teacher in serenity.
Perhaps this clearing and forest collects well the lessons I have learned here: the gift of appreciation of nature, of joy in being connected, of peace and patience and serenity. May these lessons be with me always.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


"They said there'll be snow at Christmas. They said there'll be peace on Earth. Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell, the Christmas you get you deserve."
- Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

In this week leading up to Christmas, I have reflected upon this most peculiar holiday. Automated emails frantically implore me to buy now, while there is still time to ship for Christmas.
Here the frenetic, nightmarish rush does not exist. In La Fortuna there is a parade, with xylophone and drum marching bands playing mixed medleys of popular, Christmas, and Hanukkah music. Small towns and small boys feature fireworks displays commensurate to their stature. A few lights, smiles, and general bonhomie mark this relaxed, peaceful day and its lead up.
I had wondered how I would withstand rejection this year of the commercial heaven-and-hell metaphor, "Miracle on 34th St," and Scrooge. Questioning commercial Christmas seemed almost more blasphemous than questioning religious Christmas. And yet, far from feeling guilty, I spent the Christmas holiday relaxed and in communication with the beauty and peace of nature.
For, after all, this holiday - through whatever religious or secular lens it is viewed - is really about the return of light and reversal of darkness. It is not something to be confined to a day or corrupted by corporate interest. The solstice is a return of physical light, and as well a metaphor for the return of inner light and peace, balance and harmony, in our relationship with ourself, our friends and family, and our fellow travelers both human and non aboard this beautiful tilted blue gem.


"All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it." - Samuel Johnson

With the arrogant confidence of the naive, I planned a bicycle journey through Costa Rica. As with so many other things, in this pursuit Costa Rica gently and patiently educated me. Following the advice of my hosts, I rode the bus first to La Fortuna, then on to Monteverde. When the time came for the trip to Quepos, I briefly reconsidered inter-city biking, but seeing the roads I am now happy that I have once again chosen the bus ($8 for the 400 km trip.)
I am accustomed to cruising over smooth, wide roads with good shoulders on my touring bike. Costa Rica's roads are mountainous, narrow, and rough, giving up each hard-won kilometer grudgingly. I quickly learned that inter-city cycling would consume all of my time with travel, leaving little time for exploration.  Furthermore, safety on foggy switchback roads traversed by trucks and buses is a concern. Costa Ricans travel on the extensive bus system; this is now my inter-city travel choice. Bus fare between cities is consistently between $5 and $10, and the buses are clean, efficient, and punctual. Bicycle travel is unusual, though, and frequently requires creativity on the part of both the driver and me to accommodate the bike. With this new arrangement transportation here has become a symbiosis of bus and bike travel; the two complement each other very well. I now have the time to explore each area I visit at leisure. The bus augments my ability to experience nature and communities from the saddle of my bicycle, and provides for me an opportunity to interact with my gracious Costa Rican hosts.
This idea of commonplace bus transportation, local and intercity, has a lot of appeal. With high patronage, fares are low - encouraging even more ridership. Private companies compete for routes, maintaining those low prices and encouraging good service. Buses are convenient enough that it is not necessary to rely upon an expensive, environmentally destructive automobile. As with their conservation initiatives, Costa Rica's public transportation initiatives are a model from which other nations would do well to learn.

Gift from the Children

"A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children." - John James Audubon

Hiking the Bosque Eterno de los Ninos (Children's Eternal Rain Forest) in Monte Verde, I understood just how our children value this fragile biosphere we hold in trust for them. The Forest, comprised of multiple parcels in the mountains surrounding the Monte Verde and Santa Elena national park reserves, is a huge tract of land preserved by the donations of children around the world to save the rain forest. It is a gift back from the children of the world, and demonstrates their commitment to a sustainable world.
Before hiking the preserve, I sat mesmerized at the Monte Verde hummingbird garden, enchanted by more than a dozen species of hummingbirds flashing iridescent purple,mgreen, red, and gold in the morning sun and misty rain. The Garden is sponsored by a collective of local coffee farmers, whose mission is to teach about sustainable, living wage direct trade coffee production. ("Fair trade", it turns out, is in reality simply a price floor "insurance" program intended to prevent farmers' price for coffee from falling too low.)
In contrast to the park preserves, Bosque Eterno de los Ninos is a private, primitive, not promoted, and hence lightly visited preserve. The trails cover a wide spread of elevations and hence a variety of ecosystems, and provide a wonderful venue for seeing birds and animals which shy away from the much more heavily visited park trails.
Children of the world, thank you!