July 24, 2016


Maybe we should blame it on the full moon.

The phone call came late last Wednesday – the decision had been made to transfer Dagmar to hospice.  The decision itself wasn’t a surprise – she’d been failing for some time, and she had made the decision herself that she wanted no more treatment.  That said, timing is always a shock.

I was engaged to speak to the Kittery clubs Thursday night, and Frank had planned to come with me, so afterward we stayed over, and instead of returning home on Friday we continued south to Amherst.  We arrived at the hospice around 10:00 Friday morning — Lars, Chris and long-time friend Cindy were already there, and Mark came in a few hours later. At first Dagmar was non-responsive — mostly curled in the bed, breathing heavily.  But Cathy got her attention, and when she realized that the entire family was around her, she woke up, smiled, spoke a few words, and was clearly very happy.

The was very communicative for about 90 minutes, but then the pain took over; morphine was reapplied, and she went to sleep.  The afternoon was mostly one of hand-holding, and at about 7:30 p.m. we were thinking about calling it a day when suddenly we heard a fire alarm in the far distance.

Now, I should add that Friday was an extremely hot day — temps in the ’90s — and when we had taken a break for dinner the restaurant had (briefly) lost power/air conditioning.  The idea of a power shortage wasn’t surprising, but none of us were thinking about a fire. However, the alarm was followed by a fireman who suddenly burst into Dagmar’s room and said that he didn’t want to alarm us, but that there was a fire in the kitchen (on the other wing of the hospice) and that the entire building would have to be evacuated.

He took one end of Dagmar’s bed; I took the other, and we rolled her out into the parking lot.  I found a lawn chair and sat down next to her, speaking to her, while he went back for two more patients.  By this time more firemen had arrived.  From the parking lot I could see what hadn’t been apparent from inside the building — billowing smoke from the kitchen, the strong smell of burning; clearly this fire was the real thing.

By the time we had the three beds in the parking lot, the sergeant came over and ordered all three to be moved further from the building, and then further still.  Lars and I pitched in — it helped that this was a hospice, and none of the ladies were attached to the multiplicity of tubes typical of a hospital.  It also helped that it was late in the day; if the sun had been burning down as it had been a few hours earlier it would have been quite a different story.  From our new vantage point we could see other patients — those in wheelchairs rather than beds — safe in a screened-in gazebo on the front lawn.

At this point the ambulances started to arrive.  The idea was to get each of the bedridden ladies into  an ambulance where they would be air conditioned and where they could be kept safe until a decision was made as to where to transport them.  A bus had also pulled up for the slightly more mobile patients plus family members.  Someone unloaded casefuls of water, and the firemen and families all started hydrating.

Of course, this plan required more ambulances than Amherst had on hand, and so we were waiting for other equipment to arrive from nearby towns. By the time they did arrive, the lawn was teaming with firemen, policemen, family members and staff.  Someone had gone back into the building to retrieve patient records.  Cindy had a copy of Dagmar’s DNR order in her purse and wasn’t about to let it go.

Transferring Dagmar to the ambulance took all of us working in concert with the firemen, because every touch, every movement was painful to her.  But in the event, she slept through it all.

By this time the heat-lightening had started, and the sky was punctuated with explosion after explosion of light. And there was a big full moon – someone said the biggest moon of the year was Thursday and Friday night.

We had thought that Dagmar would be transferred back to the hospital, but the decision was made to transfer all the patients together to another care facility.  We eventually got the word, but we couldn’t follow the ambulance immediately – our car was behind all the emergency equipment in the parking lot.  But eventually the driveway was clear, we got to the new facility, got Dagmar bedded down for the night, and left, exhausted, for our motel.

The phone call came early the next morning – Dagmar had died.  Which means her last waking memories were the joy of her family surrounding her Friday morning.  And which means that as the sky was exploding with heat lightening around her; as the first responders were dealing with the very real concern of an electrical fire in the kitchen, as the full moon was marking the passage of the planets, she was entering the next phase of her existence.

May it be so.


New Brunswick

July 18, 2016

IMG_0175We left PEI via the Confederation Bridge – not as traditional as the ferry, but a lot easier to time — and were soon in New Brunswick.  Our destination:  Hopewell Rocks, where the Bay of Fundy meets the Chocolate River and the tidal reach is as much as 50 feet.

Why does the Bay of Fundy have the highest tides on the globe?  The basic reason is the amount of water involved — the Bay is very wide/deep at the south end and all that water has to funnel somewhere.  How much water are we talking about?  Once one gets into the billions its all a bit befuddling but we have heard that the amount of water that goes over Niagara Falls every year equals one tide … that’s a lot of water.

IMG_0207I’m not sure what I expected at Hopewell Rocks, but it turned out to be so much more.  We got there about a half-hour after high tide, and stayed until about two hours before low tide to walk on the ocean floor.  That involves walking down 101 steps and, well, walking.  The “flower pots” (they were so named by Ripley of Believe it or Not fame” look like they are about to tip over, and occasionally they do – one formation was lost this past winter.  But no one seems to worry much, and we followed the ranger of one-half mile or so and across about five beaches.

Then to Moncton and our motel.  I don’t know why we are so tired – apparently walking on the ocean floor is tiring — but there it is.  And so to bed.

Prince Edward Island

July 17, 2016

IMG_0111Another ferry brought us to PEI — 90 or so  minutes behind schedule.  Dave says that’s why they built the bridge — but the ferry is so much more romantic.  Once arrived, we drove across the island through potato fields and seashore vistas.  Dave and Linda live in the house that Linda’s grandfather built, and except for indoor plumbing, the only things they have added are a screened in porch and a new foundation.  Otherwise, they have left it just the way it was — which is marvelous.

We were late, but mussels don’t take long to steam, and these were delicious. Then we returned the shells to the sea for the seagulls to pick on, and our reward was a great sunset.  Then home and to bed.

IMG_0107Yesterday Dave and Linda played tour guides.  Our first stop was Naufrage, the fishing village that Linda’s grandfather fished out of.  I was surprised by several things – how protected the harbors are, that lobster fishermen still use wooden traps (something that was quickly disappearing from Maine 25 years ago) and that each fisherman had a storage unit right on the beach – a place to store his stuff all winter and a place for him to sleep during the season when traveling home was too difficult to do.

Then on to the little town of St. Peters, with a fabulous church, canola fields in bloom, and mussels farming in the river. We’ve seen canola/rapeseed growing in northern Germany and it’s awesomely pretty.

Our goal was Tides, an upscale crafts emporium with a terrific lunch place attached, and I was able to turn my attention to local clams.  They on toward the middle of the island, past all the Cavendish Anne of Green Gables touristy stuff, to another sort of attraction:  Cows is the best ice cream in the Maritimes and in terms of marketing, a clear and unabashed takeoff on Ben and Jerry’s, with even more cow-paraphernalia and silly ice cream names.  Yum.

We drove back through Charlottetown, just long enough to get a flavor for the old Victorian city, and then said goodbye to all that and returned to the quiet of the east end of the island. After a nap and salmon on the grill, we ventured out to join the neighbors at the Eastern Kings Recreation Center, a very nice community center where a weekly game of trivia was on the calendar.  Our team of about 10 players somehow won the evening — which suggests something both about our luck and the level of the competition. It helped that there were both Americans and Canadians on our team – somethings that were trivia to Canadians were basic American culture to us, including “who is the wizards of Menlo Park?” and “what year was MLK assassinated?”  Other items of interest left us entirely flat-footed, but in the “beer round,” both Frank and Dave got questions right, which left our team well lubricated.

IMG_0145And so to bed.  This morning we accompanied Lois, one of the neighbors with whom we shared our few minutes of fame, as she went on her twice-weekly rounds to watch/protect a nest of piping plovers.  They are tiny sandpiper-type birds, and wow! Do they ever run fast and are therefore hard to capture in print, although Dave and I both did our best.  They are endangered, mostly because humans have taken over their beaches, so Lois is one of a string of volunteers who go out and, once the nest is roped off, make sure that no one goes near. She counts and observes the birds, replaces the rope if a high tide or otherwise brings it down, and makes sure that there are no footprints inside the rope line.  She explained that one of the pair is always sitting on the nest, and that she doesn’t want to stay too long because the one off the nest has work to do and then return for a sitting spell; that our intrusion can only be complicating to the birds.  So we watched, enjoyed their plovers’ world for a few minutes, and then left them to the peace of the beach.









Nova Scotia

July 15, 2016

Frank and I took the “cat”; an ocean-going catamaran ferry, from Portland to Yarmouth, NS, on Wednesday afternoon.  It was a six (or so) hour crossing, relieved by comfortable seating and a very flat sea.  The weird thing — you can’t make this stuff up — the movie that was shown was “In the Heart of the Sea,” the story of the whaling ship Essex that was the true-life event that led Melville to write “Moby Dick.”  Watching a movie about a ship disaster — even a 19th century ship disaster — was odd enough; an hour or so after the movie ended the captain slowed the ship measurably and then announced a pod of whales  cavorting around us.  Quite an experience!

IMG_0074We reached Yarmouth late — but not too late to enjoy a beer and a plate of fried clams prior to bed.  We slept late Thursday, then headed east along the coast road to see what we could see.  Clammers at work, a lighthouse, lots of homes for sale, huge churches and beautiful scenery, until we reached Digby, which claims to be the scallop capital of the world.  That required lunch overlooking the harbor and the fleet, and from there we hurried on to Grand Pre, and Evangeline country.  I’m guessing that Evangeline is the only literary figure in the world to create two different tourist sites, since she is just as big in Cajun country, Louisiana.

This morning we were up early — frankly too early, but tides don’t wait for cronvenience.  Our destination was Maitland, to white-water raft the “bore,” where the incoming tide meets the outgoing.  We were the only passengers in the Zodiac, which I guess meant that with less weight in the boat, the highs were higher and the lows were lower.  We were wearing foul weather gear and had been warned that we would get completely soaked, but it didn’t turn out to be all that bad.  Whether that was because our guide, Angus, took pity on us or whether it was because I was expecting a thorough drenching, I honestly cannot say.

Anyway, we rafted a total of about eight kilometers up the river that is essentially the end of the Bay of Fundy, and the tidal rise was about 25 feet today.  Because of the phase of the moon we had about the smallest tide possible. Shucks.

I didn’t bring my camera because of aforementioned concerns about dunking and overboards, but honestly, as fun as it was, it’s not the kind of thing that can be captured by a camera.  It looked all the world like white water – the thing is that the white water is constantly moving, based on the tide.  Probably the only white-water rafting expedition in the world in which the white water comes to the people, not vice-versa.

We showered, changed, hot chocolated, and returned to the motel to check out.  Then north-east on the Trans Canada Highway to Pictou, which claims to be the homebase of Scots in Nova Scotia. There’s a replica of the ship that brought the first 200 or so settlers here, and it’s evocative for what must have been the closeness of the quarters.  We enjoyed lunch — again, the economy of Pictou clearly needs the boost — and then drove to the dock to join the queue headed for Prince Edward Island.

More adventure awaits!



Adventure on a Mountain in Maine

July 4, 2016

IMG_0022.jpgKatahdin is not for the faint-of-heart.  And it was almost too much for me.

Let me explain.  One doesn’t just decide to summit Katahdin; it takes plenty of preparation.  I’ve been wanting to climb Katahdin since Frank and I were up at Baxter State Park last summer, and at some point we developed a Plan.
The plan was for Frank’s son Lars to come for the holiday weekend. We would spend the night at Big Moose Lodge, then we would head out for the trailhead at Roaring Brook Campground.  Frank would kiss us goodbye, wish us luck on this crazy adventure, and wait in the parking lot to bring us home afterward. Actually, it was a good plan.

Katahdin is deceptive.  It’s less than a six mile hike (each way) to the summit, but those six miles include 3000 vertical feet. The “easiest” trail is Saddle. It has “only” 3 tenths of a mile of straight-up rock-climbing; the more “challenging” trails have more straight-up involved.  We did Saddle. (Not easy.  Easiest.)

I had figured it would take us 10 hours of hiking.  We started at 7:00 a.m. and had summited and were on our way back down by 2:30.  So far, so good.  But above the tree line, Katahdin is nothing but rough loose rock, and my knees were giving out. By the time we got to the 3/tenths mile straight-down rock climbing, they had given out and I started making stupid decisions.  I mean, my legs were making stupid decisions, and my knees weren’t cooperating. It got to the point that I had to keep my knees straight or I would collapse – and of course one can’t go down without bending one’s knees.

I fell and hit my head – hard.  From then on, Lars was helping me down the slope.  It was slow going  — I was thinking about each step.  At some point it became apparent (to me) that we were going to run out of sunlight before we ran out of mountain.  Then I really whacked my knee. That’s when Lars went on down to get the ranger.

Ranger Jennifer was awesome. She applied first aid, and asked about my vital signs (!) She helped us back to Chimney Pond, step by step, and Chimney Pond is still 3.3 miles from the trailhead. She made the (obvious by that time) assessment that we weren’t going any further than night, and radioed back to Roaring Brook to ask the ranger to let Frank know.  Which he did.  She opened up her supply of freeze-dried food and we cobbled together supper, than she lent us sleeping bags set aside for just such an emergency and put us up for the night in a lean-to.

IMG_0034.jpgAll that was Friday.  On Saturday Jennifer took my vital signs again (!) , made sure we breakfasted, filled our water bottles, and sent us on our way.  I was still moving slowly (still am, for that matter) and Lars helped me with every step.  We got back to Roaring Brook at 1:30 or so.  Frank was waiting at the trailhead, and we got a sandwich, and a shower, and to bed.

The hiking part was okay.  It was the rock climbing that did me in. Still, I summited! They can’t take that away from me.  Meanwhile, the lesson is:  If ever I read the words, “walking sticks recommended” I will take a pass. I’m bruised, but not broken. And I’ve got a great story. So it’s all good.

On Our Way Home

June 4, 2016


Yesterday I learned that we were both born in a year of the Snake – I asked if that was good news or bad news for our marriage, and got an equivocation, which I think translates that it is bad news for our marriage.  In other words, if one of us is obstinate, the other one will be as well.  Of course, if one of us is forgiving, the other will be as well, so maybe it works both ways.

Today we are sitting in the United lounge at Narita, waiting for the second leg of our journey home.  It’s been a whirlwind trip, with really only three days in Japan, then the convention, then two days of sightseeing in Seoul.  But we can only do what we can do, and I’m tremendously grateful to have been able to see Hiroshima and visit the Rotary Peace Center in Tokyo and to catch a glimpse of Korea.

And tomorrow, we’ll retrieve the cat and sleep in our own bed!

Chosun Dynasty

June 3, 2016


Travel really is broadening.

Our knowledge of Korea is shaped by the war, and the country’s recent emergence into the 10th largest economy.  I had to travel half-way around the world to learn the rest of the story.

Korea was always a tiny nation tucked between China and Japan, with China apparently as a more benevolent neighbor over the past 1000 years or so, and Japan more frequently the aggressor.  During that period the Chosun dynasty brought stability to Korea.  One standout is King Sejung, who ruled in the 14th century.  He was the third son, and never should have gained the throne at all, but his two older brothers stepped aside because they realized he was a genius.  The eldest brother pretended madness in order to get himself declared unfit to rule, and the second brother became a monk, and that left Sejung to take the throne.

Anyway, Sejung’s greatest achievement was creation of the Korean alphabet.  Up to that time Korea had used the Chinese  pictographs, but the requirement to learn thousands of characters basically meant that literacy was only for the leisure class.  Sejung — by himself and in secret — created a half-dozen vowels and a dozen or so consonants and invented simple brush strokes for them.  The result was a language that could be learned by anyone with a brush and paper — or a stick and sand.

Sejung also invented a rain gauge and some other scientific devices. And all this in the 14th century, and on his own.

In the late 19th century the Japanese cast their eyes on the kingdom.  They murdered the queen, caused the king to abdicate in favor of his son, who ruled as a puppet.  Then in 1910, even that ended, and Korea became part of the Japanese empire until 1945.  Japan destroyed as many Korean heritage sites as they could, and did their best to stamp out Korean culture.  All this puts the current controversy about apologizing for Korean “comfort women” in greater perspective, doesn’t it?

When the American occupation force moved out in the late 1940s, the Communists moved into the vacuum, and we all know the rest of the story.

Still, it’s not often one visits a country that had been ruled for 900 years by one family  Korea has reason to take pride in both its past and its present.


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