Flowers and Fires

Finally it is spring again.  Last year we were ordered to stay close to home and parks were closed because of Covid, so I missed out on all my California wildflower outings.  I’m making up for it this year!

First hike: on the King Mountain trail just north of San Francisco April 1. All of the photos show indigenous species.

The views were nice too. Below is the northern part of San Francisco Bay.  In the distance is Mt. Diablo – a landmark for miles around. 

Below the bird, the peninsula jutting out next to the bridge is San Quentin Prison; at least they have fresh air and the sound of the birds – a few miles away is the prison of Birdman of Alcatraz fame.

Collinisia heterophylla, Chinese Houses – the petals ring the stem in bands evenly spaced around the stem, forming a “pagoda” – hence the common name.
Chinese Houses en masse at another nearby location.

A week later we drove north to Lake Berryessa where one of the huge fires burned last year. A silver lining can be seen in the hills and meadows: wildflowers and other natives can really make a come-back when European weeds are killed off and they don’t have to compete for sun, water and food. Fires also helps eradicate plant diseases and possibly serious insect infestations.


Golden poppies, Eschscholzia californica, taking over a burnt hill. This is not an uncommon sight.They provide vegetative cover that helps to reduce erosion on steep slopes after the protective plant cover has been burned off.  

  

Another survivor. How did this species survive a mega fire? These large Gopher Snakes (this one was almost 5-ft. long) mimic rattlesnakes, but are not poisonous.

Clematis ligusticifolia virgin bower. This is the native clematis vine.

Welcome sweet springtime – clad in Mother Nature’s jewelry!

A Memoir of Life in the US Foreign Service : Expat File #23

My guest today is Judith Crockett Faerron who was born and raised in Latin America. She and her sister honored their father recently by editing and publishing his memoir, which I can highly recommend.  I met the family when I lived in Costa Rica, but reading the book gave me a fascinating insight into their lives and allowed me to reminisce about my own diplomat father and our lives in an overlapping time period.

The children of US expats, my siblings and I grew up primarily in Mexico and Central America.

Cayuco ride to Barra Ahumado, Guatemala 1958

Foreign Service officers are typically transferred every two to four years. Our parents—Mary and Kennedy Crockett—always presented the prospect of moving on as an exciting adventure, and for the most part we bought into that notion. In retrospect, their itinerant lifestyle interfered with our education, shattered friendships, and deprived us of relationships with grandparents and extended family.

The Crockett family station wagon and luggage trailer on a railroad flatcar in Mexico, bound for a new assignment in Guatemala,1958.

And yet, we wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world.            

The benefits were immense. We grew up bilingual and bicultural. Because our parents were avid outdoors-people, we got to explore and enjoy a beautiful part of the world while it was still pristine. As my dad’s career advanced from shipping clerk to US ambassador, we got to meet and interact with people from all walks of life—humble country folk to powerful heads of state. And each of us was imbued with a passion for travel, adventure and Latin American culture.

Favorite camping spot on Playa Pochomil, Nicaragua

I ended up living in Costa Rica for 17 years, where I married, raised two kids, and worked for an English-language newspaper. My brother lived and worked in Central America for many years. Two of my sisters stayed on in Nicaragua after our dad retired and became a cattle rancher near the southern border—until the Sandinista revolution forced them all to flee the country.

Our dad realized early in his career that he wanted to write about the experiences he was determined to have living abroad as a US diplomat. He kept detailed journals, copies of letters, official reports, and hundreds of photos. Wading through it all after his retirement, he produced a 170,000-word manuscript that I eventually edited into a 327-page book—The Diplomat: A Memoir of Life in the US Foreign Service (1943-1970).

The new US ambassador presents credentials to Nicaraguan president, Anastasio Somoza, 1967.

As often as possible, Dad liked to keep his stories short and amusing—often self-deprecating. He wrote about the business end of a foreign service officer’s duties—from interviewing a wide range of visa applicants and assisting US expats in trouble, to identifying an interim leader for a Caribbean nation in crisis and brokering an informal peace agreement between a Central American dictator and his political nemesis. He also wrote about his personal interests: camping, hunting, fishing, exploring jungles and beaches, and fitting in as many adventures as he possibly could.

Dad ended his narrative with his retirement at age 50, but when I finally tackled the manuscript 30 years later, I couldn’t resist adding an afterword about his subsequent ranching venture and final years back in the USA. My sister, Terry Esquivel, wrapped it up with an epilogue about her 2002 trip to revisit Nicaragua and the various places the family called home.

Dad takes a break with Pancho the parrot. Nicaragua 1969

While our goal was to honor dad’s wish to publish his memoir, it’s rewarding to hear from readers who have enjoyed his story and to know his legacy will endure.  Judith Crockett Faerron

Judith would be glad to read your comments and to answer any questions you may have.





Here’s to 2021

Sometimes a year has been so disastrous and bad that January 1 inevitably means entering a Wonderful New Year! I don’t usually stay up until midnight to see the New Year in, but I may stay up to make sure the old year leaves!

By Greg Evans

………..

I hope you had a quiet holiday and helped stop the viral spread… so we can celebrate the new without fear or dread.


………..

Here’s a toast to the future and to my friends, far and near.

Cheers to new beginnings! The USA not only welcomes a New Year, but a fresh start and hope for a better future domestically and globally.

For last year’s words belong to last year…..And next year’s words await another voice.” —T.S. Eliot

”Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.-Oprah Winfrey

Here’s to a bright New Year. 2021… the world welcomes you.

A Tale of Two Turkeys

The first time I saw a turkey in our neighborhood was over 10 years ago – on Thanksgiving day! I thought maybe he had escaped the ax. Since then turkeys have expanded and taken up residence. We often have wild turkeys on the slope in front of our house – more over the years. Once we had a whole flock sitting on the porch when we woke up in the morning, peering in the window to see what we were up to.

PEEPING TOMS

The other day we went outside and there were eight or ten of them pecking at the slope. Usually they just slowly wander off when they see us, but one of them was closer and she panicked. I heard a bang and knew she had flown into the pergola.  The poor thing was flopping on the porch with one wing out and couldn’t seem to stand so that she was scrabbling her way off the two porch steps with her claws. Almost immediately a huge turkey flew so close over our heads we ducked. Turkeys don’t fly when they can walk, so this was unusual, but this one was on his way to protect his mate.

A Handsome Tom

The other turkeys had mostly disappeared, but a few were peeking out behind bushes at the top of the slope. Soon all of them were craning their necks to watch their friend below walk-drag herself across the bricks while her companion stood guard next to her. His tail feathers were on display, perhaps to make himself look larger to predators, as she made her way to the relative safety of a shrub by the fence. There they rested, but we didn’t have much hope for her and thought we would have to call animal control to come put her away… or pick up a dead bird.

None of the pictures are from this drama, as the turkeys were stressed enough without us.  (Most of the photos above are from previous shots of their visits in the last year or two.) We were inside where we could watch from the window without alarming them. Amazingly the pair made it up to the road over the next 15 min. where they were well hidden in some bushes. When I walked up the drive to get the mail a couple of hours later they were gone. I took this to be good news – that they may have made it “home.” We wish them well!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!

Notes: Wild turkeys are not native to California: they were introduced in second half of the last century as a hunting bird.  People have mixed feelings about them as they migrate into residential areas – they are attractive and amusing, but leave their droppings on patios, decks and cars and can damage gardens. Turkeys change the color of the skin on their heads from red to blue to white, depending on whether they are calm or excited. During the breeding season, turkeys can become aggressive occasionally even charging people, but mostly they “attack” the tires of cars going down the hills of this semi- rural area. Everyone seems to slow down for them and I’ve never seen a dead one on the road despite their foolish bravado.

A Hidden Immigrant – Expat file #22

 

This post is from a fellow EXPAT who blogs under the handle: “fine roadkillspatula.wordpress.com” 😉

I learned an insightful new term the other day on a site that focuses on life overseas. The author refers to a “hidden immigrant” as “One who speaks the language – looks the part – but is missing social cues and cultural meanings.”

When I started college in 1977, I had lived a total of 3 years of my life in the US. The other 15 years had been spent in several parts of Colombia.

In Colombia I was clearly an outsider. I spoke fluent Spanish, but I was a foot taller than most people and had blond hair and blue eyes. Little kids used to run after me shouting, “¡Gringo! ¡Gurbai! ¡Guachirnei! ¡Sábana biche!”* I had very good Colombian friends but was usually on the edge of what was happening socially. (Introversion is not a desirable trait in Latin America.) My closest friends were other missionary kids from the US and Canada.

So when I got to college, I looked like one more gringo in a university full of gringos, speaking good English, knowing the basics of survival. But there was a lot I didn’t know, and plenty that I learned but didn’t care for. 

I coped by finding niches: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (I could relate to evangelicals, especially intellectual ones); majors in Latin American Studies and Spanish (familiar language and material, people interested in Latin America); international student friends (people from home or places like it). I also traveled home as often as I could, and to Dallas where many of my high school classmates settled. I wrote letters constantly to friends and family.

In relating to Americans, though, it felt like I was setting aside 15 years of my life and operating on a couple of years of out-of-date experience. As the years went by, I got better and better at it, and felt more comfortable. By the time I reached grad school, I felt like an 8-cylinder engine hitting on six, comfortable and competent but not fully confident.

I noticed that my mind made a big switch when I traveled to and from Colombia. When I flew into Medellín, everything looked crowded and small and messy. By the time we drove across the city and started up the mountain to our house, my perspective was restored and everything looked just right. When I flew back into the Miami airport, everything was huge and clean and people were big and fat. It usually took a couple of days for it to quit being strange. One time I was clear back in Lawrence, KS, and had to run an errand downtown. I saw someone across the street and wondered, “Who’s that gringo?

This mental switch fascinated me. I chose to study intercultural communication for my Master’s, thinking I could work with people who planned to go overseas and prepare them for cultural adaptation. 

Once my classes were done, I spent a year in Honduras working with refugees. It was a wonderful environment; the agency had recruited missionary kids from Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, fresh out of college, because we knew Spanish and were comfortable living in primitive circumstances. It felt great to get back to Latin America and make use of those years that had been set aside.

Since then, nearly all my jobs have been multicultural and multilingual (I’ve deleted a few that weren’t relevant):

Refugee logistics worker (Mocoron, Honduras) – 1984-1985.
Purchasing agent (self-employed, Miami; clients agencies in Latin America) – 1985-1986.
Administrative assistant (charitable agency in Miami serving the Hispanic community) – 1985-1987.
Community researcher (mission agency in Miami) – 1985-1987.
Admissions clerk (missionary linguistics school, Dallas) – 1988.
Training/teaching assistant (missionary linguistics school, Dallas) – 1988-1990
Adjunct professor of linguistics (missionary linguistics school and University of Texas at Arlington) – 1990-1991.
Linguistics professor (several Bible schools and missionary training centers, Costa Rica) – 1991-1995.
Teaching assistant, linguistics (missionary linguistics school, Dallas) – 1996-1997.
Professor of English as a Second Language (two language schools, a community college) – 1997-1998.
Translator (two agencies in Dallas) – 1998-2000.
High school Spanish teacher (Mansfield, TX) – 1999-2000.
Translator (another agency in Dallas and now Tampa) – 2000-present.

At this stage of my life, I’m a voluntary outsider to American culture. Alicia and I talk Spanish to each other. We eat a Colombian diet and hang out with Alicia’s sister and brother-in-law and sing Spanish songs. We travel to Colombia every six months. I like living in the US, but am grateful for the multicultural nature of my employment and my marriage and for the Latin grocery store nearby. I feel more fully integrated as a person than at any time in my past. 

*Three of those four expressions are attempts at English. If you read them phonetically you can figure them out.

 

 

Enter Imogen (Scene One) .. from One Third Culture Kid

My name is Imogen Lee, and I can recite all of Macbeth by heart. See, this is because my grandmother, who raised me, is always saying bits of it, and when I got old enough to read she made me read the whole thing and then we performed it together, just the two of us. It is just the two of us. After I get home from school Grandma and I are together. She doesn’t work, But don’t worry: my dad let us plenty of money when he died. I was four. Mom died when I was zero, I suppose. It was when she was having me.

Oh, but I have to tell you my story! It all started a month ago when my teacher made a special announcement.

“Class before you go, I have a special announcement. Burgundy Elementary is going to be holding a Talent Chow! In honor of our student Beth, who won ‘America’s Got Talent’ last year, we will hold our show in the same way. Four judges. One winner.

“Anyone who wishes to compete should submit their name to me by the end of the week.”

Well, nobody could talk about anything else after that announcement. We were all so excited. We were all sure we were going to win………… to be continued  Enter Imogen (Scene One)

Patriotism and Democracy

July 4th is Independence Day for the USA. Patriotism isn’t just waving the flag, it is about supporting democracy. It may not be a perfect system, but it is the best foundation we have for peace, harmonious societies, and stable markets.

Illustration by Christoph Niemann; Animation by Olivia Blanc

In this time of hyper-partisanship, this is a nonpartisan call for a concerted effort to invest in all of the institutions of a transparent democratic society:

  1. Recognition of the worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Faith in majority rule and
  3. Minority rights (equal rights and opportunities)
  4. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press
  5. Respect for the balance of powers – executive, judicial and legislative.

It seems that last one: respect for a balance of powers – executive, judicial and legislative – holds up all the rest of them. When one branch seizes power from the rest, it threatens all of our rights and freedoms.

 

from: International Idea

 This is not just an American institution; activists and leaders around the world are fighting for basic freedoms every day.  If the standard falls we must rally to pick it up. As the U.S. flag waves this week, I leave you with the words of Walt Whitman expressing the ideals on which democracy is built.

Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name? I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruit in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between people, and their beliefs – in religion, literature, colleges and schools- democracy in all public and private life.

Walt Whitman

Rating the Risk for Activities

The San Francisco Chronicle (6/13/2020)  asked infectious disease experts to rate the risk of some popular activities as we begin to get back out into the world. Here they are on a scale of 1 (lowest risk) to 5 (highest risk). I think it is worth sharing.

1. Staying home!


2. Swimming in a Public Pool – low, but more risk comes when you’re out of the water: are you using a crowded locker room? Are people congregating on the stairs and hall?


2. Running, Hiking or Cycling – low risk when you’re outdoors with more space between people. Give them a wide berth and carry a mask to put on as soon as you’re within 30 (!) feet of another person, on a narrow trail.


3. Picnicking with Friends – a moderate risk. You’re outdoors, but if eating, you won’t have your masks on. The risk goes up in crowded city parks. Avoid sharing food, utensils etc.


3. Staying in a Hotel – moderate risk. Wipe frequently used surfaces. The experts advise against travel as you will come into contact with more people, putting yourself and others at risk. They worry that travelers will transmit the infection to lower risk communities.


3/4. Attending a Zumba Class – high risk if exercising indoors – should be avoided. If outdoors, the risk is lowered, but physical exercise can induce heavy breathing which increases respiratory droplets as well as inhalation. Most people do not wear masks during cardio exercising so you need to double the recommended 6 foot radius.


4. Getting a haircuthigh risk but varies depending on how many people in the room, how large is the space and how long will you be there? There’s no way to have safe distancing while cutting someone’s hair. To minimize risk, avoid conversation wear a mask(!) over your nose and mouth and sanitize your hands.


5. Going out for Dinner -they rate this as the highest risk. People won’t be wearing a mask while eating and you may be sitting there for a while. Experts advise you keep your mask on while talking/listening, time your meal to avoid the crowd and sit outside!


5. Attending Large Events – another activity rated in the highest risk category, especially if indoors, talking to others or unable to maintain social distancing. Avoid.

I’m sick of staying home too but, hey I’m just the messenger.  What do you think?

THE WISHFUL, WISTFUL TRAVELERS (cont.)

Continuing our journey down the Rhine. For those of you who joined us late, Patricia and I missed this river cruise, but I’m pretending we are traveling along instead of sheltering-in-place. Join us on our armchair travels!

Day 5— Speyer, Germany
This morning we disembarked to visit the historic town of Speyer. The City’s six towers dominate the skyline and the Altpörtel, or Old Gate, is what remains of the town’s old walls.

Old Gate, Speyer


We would have loved to go to Heidelberg, but the all day tour (no doubt spending a good deal of time on a crowded bus) put us off. We’ve been traveling and sight-seeing nonstop for the six days since we left our homes. Patricia and I agree to relax on deck, sip Moselle wine and read in the lounge chairs on this beautiful day. Besides they are taking us to dinner onshore tonight.

Day 6— Strasbourg Highlights
“Another Gothic cathedral,?” I sigh….but this is one of Europe’s finest. We admire the lovely rosette window, beautiful red sandstone portal and remarkable astronomical clock.  Construction started in the 12th century and wasn’t completed until 1439.  Amazing how one generation after another took on the work of their fathers, even knowing their life work would not be finished during their time on earth.

A view of the cathedral from a tributary of the Rhine River.

The picturesque Petite France area is crisscrossed by canals and covered bridges with their defensive towers.  We stroll past quaint, half-timbered buildings that make me think more of German than French architecture–call it Alsatian.  This may be my favorite place – what about you Patricia?  I love this City steeped in both French and German culture.

Old houses on a canal

I have a story about this area – perhaps some of you read it before. Years ago, I stumbled upon a long trough and embankment that ran into the trees, not far to the east.  I realized I was standing next to an eroded trench where young men had fought and died in WWI. That discovery still gives me a chill to think of what played out there – over a century ago now.

Day 7 Black Forest
We disembark early to drive through the dense, lofty fir and pine forests of Germany’s Schwarzwald, a land of cuckoo clocks and fairy tales but also vineyards cradled in the undulating hills.  I’m not big on bus trips but the scenery is enchanting. We stop at a hotel and I choose to walk through the forest while Patricia debates whether to explore the cuckoo clocks or the glassblower. 

Hofgut Sternen Hotel, keeps Black Forest traditions  ( photo by DrubbaGmbH)

Our last stop is the town of Freiburg where I have a long lost friend who was a university professor, but Ulrich has retired and I am unable to find him. At any rate, they didn’t even give us enough time to sit with a coffee and a slice of Black Forest cake. Maybe I’m just sad that this is our last day… but that night at dinner they serve Black Forest cake or  Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte.  This chocolate layer cake with cherries in the middle and whipped cream on top is delectable! A fine way to end our day.

Black Forest cake

Patricia and I are both history buffs so this is the perfect cruise for us. (Here’s hoping we can reschedule it for real next year.)