Monday, May 9, 2011

21 Days at the Top of the World: Day 1 - And Away We Go

(Photo 1: moi, Cathy, Steve, Christina, Rosemary & Nancy) Arriving at SFO at 10:00pm, Hassan and I find Cathy (our fearless leader & organizer) and her husband Stan already checked for our 1:30 AM flight on Cathay Pacific. Within a few minutes, the whole gang is there, minus James, who's already been in Beijing for a week, seeing a girl he's been chatting up on the Internet for the past 6 months (more on that later).

This is a big trip for us. We haven’t been gone this long together since our honeymoon in Bali 14 years ago where we spent a month. When Cathy first sent the proposed itinerary – 21days in China (Tibet), Nepal & India (Sikkim & West Bengal) – I thought the chances were slim given my art festival commitments. However, in reading the details, we concluded that what better way to see a part of the world we hadn’t been to than with a group of people who have been there before -- and we'll work around the show commitments.

(Photo 2: Rosemary, Cathy & Stan)

I'm a bit nervous - I've never traveled with a group before - especially a group of relative strangers - and Hassan hasn't traveled with a group in 20 years. (So can we play well with others? We're used to having a reservation for our first night somewhere, then winging the rest...) I only know Cathy slightly, from her fabulous but now defunct store, Inner Journey - a victim of the recession -- where she carried pieces from my Ancient Splendor Collection. But from the beginning of our acquaintance there has been a connection between her and I and we’ve talked of the possibility of this trip often. Hassan has only met her briefly a couple of times.

Together, we had both just met the rest of the group at Cathy and Stan's house for a couple of hours the last Saturday in January 2011 where we also met Dorje and Usha who own Third Eye Travel and one of their employees, Arun. And now here we are together again, going into the second week in April 2001.

In addition, I'm apprehensive that Hassan and I have packed too much stuff as Cathy had emphasized "pack light" more than once. We're new to the group and certainly don't want to be showing up with “too much stuff,” especially as we’re traveling to Third World countries where conditions for carting stuff around can be rough. (I can’t help but remember a trip with a friend a couple of years ago where we took the Eurostar from London to Paris with 2 big suitcases that felt like they were packed with rocks and we had to somehow hoist them over our heads for train storage. Lucky we didn’t get hernias.) But, as the gang sees our bags they all exclaim, "that's it!!?? Turns out we probably have less than half of what everyone else has (not including what they're bringing for the nuns). Although we don't know this yet, our light bags will serve us well in the near future.

(Photo 2: a still from the movie "Himalaya") I'm as prepared as possible multiple-media wise: my iPad will serve as a repository of the hundreds of photos and videos we'll take. On it, I’ve also got Michael Palin's PBS documentary series Himalaya (which includes "Annapurna to Everest" and "The Roof of the World") as well as the 2007 award winning movie Himalaya (a Nepali movie nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the 72nd Academy Awards).

On my iPod Nano, I’ve got an audio book I’ve been dying to read (pun intended) Murder in the High Himalaya: Loyalty, Tragedy, and Escape from Tibet, as well as a slew of trip-focused music such as Tibet – Cry of the Snow Lion, Tibetan Meditation Music, The Lama’s Chants: Songs of Awakening, Journey to Nepal, Journey to Nepal (iTunes only) – and, for good measure, a bit of Sainkyo Namtchylak including “Time Out - Seven Songs for Tuva” (iTunes only).

I’ve also spent extensive time on the Web, researching all our destinations. I am multi-dimensionally prepared…or so I think.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Miracle Year: Copacetic

(To the left: a blurry me, Sandy & her half-sister Jeanie) My cousin Jeanie (one of my Aunt Rhoda’s 5 daughters) and her husband Kim live in a bucolic suburb of Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park. Jeanie had graciously invited us to stay with her and her husband when we came to the reunion; she said she had plenty of room…and, well, we needed a place to stay and she was family.

A week or so after I first talked with Sandy, Jeanie and I had spoken for at a couple of hours. But for the most part, we were strangers. More so than she had thought when she called…

It was in the mid 80’s that I found out the aunt of whom I had no memories lived 15 miles from me. I saw her several times but the visits weren’t successful. I was too immature, I was looking for a mom – and my aunt was looking for, what, I don’t know. Something I didn’t have or couldn’t give.

(To the right: Buster, Riff Raff & Bodhi at Jeanie's front door) So when Jeanie said she had met me at her mom’s once in San Jose when she was visiting, I said, “Really? Wow! How could I not have any memory of that? Are you sure?”

Jeanie countered with, “Do you have black hair?” I said, “No, not ever. Blonde, now turning….”

She said, “Have you ever lived in Iceland?” Now, that one threw me. I’ve dreamt of being in Reykjav√≠k; I’ve got a burning desire to go to Iceland – maybe some Norse past life – but I haven’t made it yet.

And so now, Jeanie doesn’t have any idea who it was she met at her mom’s and who she’s been thinking was me all these years. And may never know… Uff da!

(To the left: Kim, Jeanie's husband) It came as a wonderful surprise to find out how well we all got along. Think about it: three total strangers -- with 3 dogs, no less -- move into your house for three days (and they also have a dog, Riely). But, her husband, Kim a laid-back California guy (and a dead ringer for Chevy Chase), is a talented guitar player (oops! think Pink brother tells me “Smoke on the Water” is an insult...), as are my husband and my brother; they’ve all worked construction, they're all GUYS. Jeanie and I are totally in sync when it comes to lifestyle, politics, interests, the way in which we see the world. We’re even both vegetarians. And we all love the tropics.

So the next installment of this story is sharing house in Belize or maybe the Bay of Islands in Honduras, somewhere with warm water and cold Margaritas. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Miracle Year: Sonja Holy Eagle

(To the left: Sonja Holy Eagle and examples of her work) Leaving Sioux Falls after staying at cousin Sandy’s one last night (after having supper with Melba in Worthington, MN) kind of marked the end of the reunion – but not the end of the trip. Steve, I, and the dogs still had another 1,500 miles to go.

Our next stop (besides doggie breaks) was Rapid City, SD, a 340-mile drive, straight east. I especially wanted to check out Prairie’s Edge -- a showcase for Lakota/Oglala Sioux art -- as well as to speak with Sonja Holy Eagle at the Dakota Drum Co. about painting my drum.

Several years before I'd had the privilege of meeting another remarkable woman, Yolanda Martinez, a striking mixed-blood Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache with some Mexican thrown in. Among Yolanda’s many roles (one of which is singing -- she is a 2004 NAMMY winner for Best Female Artist), is teaching drum making for use in healing ceremonies, meditation, prayer, dancing and singing. Taking one of her classes, I created an 18-in. elk-hide Apache-style drum -- and made a dear friend in the process.

(To the right: Yolanda Martinez leading a drumming session) Since its creation, I’d wanted to have my drum painted. The advertisement I’d seen in a South Dakota art magazine featuring Sonja Holy Eagle made me think she was the one to do it.

I walked into Dakota Drum and introduced myself. Explaining how I came to have my drum, I mentioned Yolanda’s name. Sonja’s eyes lit up. She said, “Oh, Yolanda! I haven’t seen her in a long time! We used to meet at pow wows all the time. Is she still in Las Cruces [NM]?” The answer being "yes," I caught her up on as much as I knew of Yolanda’s recent history.

Later that night, I emailed Yolanda. “Sonja Holy Eagle sends her greetings.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Miracle Year: The Biggest Rush

(To the right: part of a herd of buffalo in Custer State Park, wading through a "picnic area, day use only" spot) Although our ‘mission’ on the trip was the reunion, we also enjoyed being tourists. I’ve already mentioned visiting Ft. Bridger, Ft. Laramie and several ‘Oregon Trail’ sites.

But our favorite spots all turned out to be in South Dakota – the Black Hills (including Custer State Park), surrealistic Mount Rushmore, lively Deadwood and the [truly bad] Badlands. But among these spots, ‘best in show’ was Rushmore, a visual phenomenon that must be seen in person to really be appreciated.

(To the left: the Badlands under an ominous South Dakota sky) As we approached the Black Hills and the hill town of Custer – gateway to Rushmore -- the summer skies looked ominous. A fierce wind howled through the main street of Custer as we looked for a place to stay for the evening, the temperature in the low 50’s -- a situation very unusual, we learned, for South Dakota in August when it’s normally about 90 with humidity in the same range.

(Above: Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt & Lincoln) Since it was only around 4pm, we decided there was plenty of light left for us to make the trek to Rushmore. On the 16-mile trip, a black sky loosed torrents of rain and wind gusts rocked our white Ford Explorer (known affectionately as ‘Whitey Ford’); we nearly turned around.

Then suddenly we were among the blessed. As we turned into the parking lot, the sky cleared to reveal a brilliant sun, the wind died and we had the awesome experience of being among those from all over the US and, indeed, the world, who make the pilgrimage to worship at what is both a shrine to democracy and a unparalleled work of art.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Miracle Year: Eastenders

(To the left: Uncle Ted, me, Grandpa Husom, Steve & my Eastender Gran) All my life I've identified with “the princess and the pea” -- I have a very low pain threshold, and darn it, I do feel the pea. And, many friends have teased me about having been a Queen in a previous life.

So I find it pretty funny that my Grandma Husom, Doris Grace Butler Husom, born in England, was an Eastender. Her birth certificate says, born in “the District of West Ham, in the Sub-District of South East Ham,” 1904. About this area, Wikipedia says,

“...Eastender territory extended further east due to the 'diaspora' of East Enders who moved to West Ham about 1886 and East Ham about 1894 to service the new docks and industries established there.”

That means I’m a peasant. Or at least ¼ peasant. And I have strong suspicions that many other parts of me may be peasant also. Certainly the Norwegian part. Probably even most of the German part (my Dad’s side) -- but more on that another time.

Anyway, back to Eastenders -- which also refers to a British TV show that ranks as one of the most watched in the United Kingdom. An Anglophile, I’ve always gravitated to the monarchy/upper class, Bronte/Austen type shows on PBS and BBC; I thought Eastenders was a bit vulgar and common.

However, Wikipedia says about the East End matriarchs, central to the programme:

“[They are] strong, brassy, long-suffering women who exhibit diva-like behavior and stoically battle through an array of tragedy and misfortune…. These characters are seen as being loud and interfering but most importantly, responsible for the well-being of the family and usually stressing the importance of family, reflecting on the past.”

So, I guess I’m proud to be part Eastender. And if I could speak for my girl cousins, they probably would be too.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Miracle Year: The Farm

(To the left: me & Shirley, my mother's namesake) There are many cousins I would like to spend more time getting to know; one of them is Shirley, named after my mother. A strong self-reliant survivor, she’s another one who lost a parent way too soon.

Shirley’s Dad, Dean, was the third oldest child after my mother (the oldest) and her sister Rhoda. A career Army man, he died of pneumonia when he was only 39 years old; Shirley was 15, a terrible time, I think, for a teenager to lose a parent. (I know because my own stepchildren lost their mother when they were 14 and 16.)

Divorcing her husband when she found out what he was abusing a child, Shirley bought a small Minnesota farm near Long Prairie and Swanville and raised her three children there, mostly on her own.

(To the right: Shirley, her husband Ken & several of her 11 grand kids) One day in the late 80’s, she saw a car with Washington plates come up her driveway. An older white-haired man get out of the car and begin looking around. the yard. Curious and a bit apprehensive, Shirley went out to confront him. When he saw her, he asked if he could look around the place as it was the farm he had been raised on. “The rock I played on is still there in the yard,” he said pointing.

Shirley introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Shirley Husom.” The visitor turned deathly pale and she quickly sat him down. Suddenly she said, “ I know who you are, you're Arnold Harnack. I’m Shirley, Dean’s daughter.” Hearing someone introduce themselves by the name of his long-dead wife was quite the shock for him.

Because it turns out that the farm Shirley had purchased was the same farm on which my father had been raised. Uff da!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Miracle Year: Bearhead Cemetary

(To the left: my much loved brother Steve) Bearhead Cemetery is in a small plot of pine trees, surrounded by rich dairy land, between the farm towns of Long Prairie and Swanville, MN.

From the first time that my brother and I talked about going back to Minnesota, a mental picture of visiting our mother’s grave played in my head. I’d been there before butSteve never. I envisioned us alone, sobbing out the years of loss together.

In reality, it was something else altogether, more about us paying our respects and honoring her memory.

(To the right: Sierra, Sandy, Jeanie, Olivia & Vicki) I’m thankful that Jeanie (a daughter from my Aunt Rhoda’s second marriage and a ‘new’ cousin) and her husband Kim, with whom we were staying near Minneapolis, decided to come with us to the cemetery – a half hour away -- after the reunion had concluded. With them came Jeanie’s daughter Vicki and granddaughters Sierra and Olivia.

Even though the graveyard is small, it took a while for us to find the Husom plots. Not only is my mother buried there, but my brother Arthur, my Grandma (Doris) and Grandpa (Clarence) Husom, Uncle Harlan (whose obit helped me find my family) and many others including great grandparents and great great grandparents. There are even relatives on my dad’s side buried on another side of the cemetary, my Aunt Violet (his sister) and her husband Tommy; their old farm was only a half mile away.

(Below: my mother's headstone, Shirley Elizabeth Harnack) The graves hadn’t been tended to in some time so Steve and my husband cleaned away the overgrown grass and weeds as best they could. In the end there were no tears, just acknowledgement. And maybe, just maybe, some amount of closure.