Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nashville Tennessean

Harding first graders make prayer flags for Mount Everest base camp

Student's grandmother hangs flags that spread messages of love, peace, kindness

Seven-year-old Megan Murphy described her creation quite simply.

"Well, it had a giraffe and an ocean and some grass. It was pretty. It was a blue flag. It had some peace signs and hearts," she said. "And that's about it."

But the flag she designed and made in her first-grade Harding Academy class last spring must be pretty special, as it, along with her classmates' creations, is hanging at 17,040 feet in a base camp of Mount Everest.

Megan's grandmother, Audrey Gonzalez, hung the international prayer flags during her two-month pilgrimage to Nepal and Tibet. Gonzalez was 68 years old and had just undergone a breast cancer operation at the time.


And don't miss the photo slide show...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wyoming Memories

In Jackson Hole, this early July, the hills are alive with the silence of snow. Wild flowers, goats beards and foxtail weeds rage in a rant across the sage-choked plains and the moose and elk are scarce, having suffered from too deep snow for too long a time. Winter is just creeping away. Sleeping Indian still has specks of white on the nose. And yet, some adventuresome folk with a climbing foot are head for the top of still icy Grand Teton with cleats on their souls. (Not me.)
At my friend Louise’s home in a rich green valley where geese and elk pass through to loll in the meadows tall with grass and the pond’s filled with algae, ducks and geese, pink reigns: rich smelling pink lilac dripping from shrubs, pink petunias overflowing from giant ceramic pots, shocking pink peonies opening under homemade birdhouses; pink quilts and pillows on company beds, and pink and green sofas inviting a guest to stretch out on the porch and watch the sun paint the sky over Glory mountain. At nigh the elk squeal like babies and wolves howl followed by a bark. But as yet, this trip, I have not seen a wild beast!
It seems each year, Jackson knits a new sweater - now the political issue is about building two or three story buildings around the town square (where famous arches of stacked elk horns are beginning to wilt and need repair) to make room for more condos and apartments, particularly for town workers who cannot afford the multi-million dollars estates that Jackson thrives on. (Workers must pass over a treacherous pass to Idaho to find reasonable rentals.) Sadly, construction is moving in - although there is a building moratorium - animals are moving out - there’s no place to lay their head and motor machines turn them into road-kill. Here is one area in the USA which has not hit foreclosure crisis ( nor has the Vail and Aspen and KeyStone areas of Colorado). Prices are so high they burn the eye because they seem ridiculous to pay that much for a large log cabin with view to spend a couple months a year inhabiting. But it’s fact. And the town wants more accessibility on its two main drags crammed with cars and trucks passing through at a snail’s pace.

I lived here two years - found a sliver of my soul, but not enough to nourish it for life. There were no poor people,(only a few homeless cowboys on motorcycles); the Indian reservations which I had hoped might be a valuable ministry zone were too far for a single woman to commute to in winter, and the state prisons were even further away, although there were two programs that I would have cheered to be able to work in - one had prisoners weaving belts out of horse hair, and the other was pairing the most violent criminals with the wildest range horses - each to tame the other. (There are less residents in this entire state than there are in Shelby County, but probably more horses and cows). Sadly, the local clergy didn’t "trust" deacons, demanded I start from scratch, ignoring I had spent ten years of tough ministry in Uruguay, and were not actually involved with the Indians and prisoners. I was insulted, I admit, and backed off from involving with that kind of mind set.
After much agony - and having tackled the Grand and some neighboring mountains with Jim (my Everest guide) and receiving a D minus at climbing school five years ago (although I was growing addicted to rock climbing gyms) I, dragging my tail, returned to Memphis four years ago to see if I could survive where my roots dug deep. It was a devastating time for me. Jackson had not been a reenforcing place to live alone all year around. I did write a novel (or complete it) here, learned about E-Bay, realized that snow on the deck was yellow for a reason, and experimented with New Age territories I didn’t need to include in my soul - although walking through them I picked up pointers on how to have a surer faith. For a moment, I stepped shoulder deep into world astrology through a fascinating Yoga teacher who had me standing on my head (wow! - I didn’t even do that as a child); learned about past lives - I was a Venetian Renaissance artist’s muse and later a rebellious slave saving others on the underground escape route, -questioned if colored stones on my chakra spots really could heal my tears (so I collected rocks, and washed them when the moon was full to keep them vibrant); found the most extraordinary Thai masseuse I’ve ever been twisted and stretched by in my life; trudged through six feet of snow for a Native American Indian "sweat" - where hot stones fired to red hot were placed in a tent - wearing a bathing suit you sit cross legged (ouch) on the ground in a circle - to make you sweat out all your pain and sorrows - while praying to the Great Creator for better times and healing for yourself and others; and I tested every kind of healing touch, hovering hands for energy production, rolfing dig and oil infusion offered in this valley, including frequent Tarot card readings because I was intrigued by the artwork.

Best was getting fit: working out almost every day in a gym with personal trainers, who proverbially pushed me up boulders and paths toward the Grand Teton peak, (Augie and Gary), and I was photographed as an example of aged grit training in a gym for the weekly paper encouraging folks to get fit for summer. I had an encounter at the top of Glory mountain with an eagle; ran off a mountain side to catch the wind and soar like an eagle paragliding; sifted up a few thousand feet in a colorful hot air balloon right in front of the Grand, got drenched by the cold sprays of Snake River rapids taking my grandson on a white water rafting excursion; froze in a sunny ten-below zero day as my family visiting for the holidays tried dog sledding that led us to a hot springs pool. No I did not learn to ski. I tried cross-country but my feet went numb and I hated that. I became a regular at Pearl Street Bagels (their Wild Tribe shake is addictive), at Nikai sushi restaurant, at Amagani’s spa (seaweed scrub in a steam I recommend), and my home was featured in two fancy Western magazines. I loved having wooden decks I could exit to from every room in the house and Sunday biscuits in teepees at Dornans down in Moose (yes, that’s the town’s name.)at the beginnings of the Teton National Park. When snow covered the Direct TV dish on my deck rail, I sloshed out on the deck with my broom and brushed it off to regenerate reception. It was also in lonely Jackson that I found my guard dog Brandy - a giant size mixed yellow lab and Husky - rescuing him from the local pound.( Pounds of dog from the pound.) He never budged when the earthquakes passed through making my log house shiver like a breath too deep nor had a barking fit when we encountered moose on our morning hike, which I did in crampons when there was snow and ice and felt accomplished.
Yes, 2004 was a wretched time for me as I pulled away from twenty years of happiness and success in Uruguay and tried to return to this country and pick up a feisty, relevant ministry and family relations, which I have done mas o menos in Memphis, but still I’m not where I need to be. I’ve made many mistakes. Jackson was a transition point, I guess, and so I can come back and salute it now and then for opening up thought pores and hidden spiritual strength. At least in my small garden on Bar X Road, I was able to grow delphiniums in every shade from pale blue to dark purple as well as lupines (those wonderful mountain flowers) the colors of raspberry and blueberry sherbet. With June arrived shoulders of daffodils to greet me each morning with joyful faces. Yes, the moose dropped in now and then for a chew on my willow trees, elk crossed the short fence in the night leaving footprints to wonder by, coyotes sang me to sleep when stars and the moon were as bright as day, and once a wild cat humped up in a golden "n" when I made the daily trek up the butte behind my house to build leg muscles and to salute the Grand Teton resting across the way on the multi- million dollar side of the valley.
Photos: The Grand Tetons; Cowboy Bar, motorcycles, elk horn arches; Lilac shrubs in the valley; pink peony in Louise's garden; Cowboy boots hang with toes up; goat's beard among the fox tail weeds; colorful lupines.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Colorado High

I’d do it again, zip-lining. It seems to be the newest craze. Take a long steel line, secure it between two points high over a canyon through which rapids rage. Hook up a connector on the wire and attach one human in harness and helmet securely to it. Then let her rip and gravity takes you for a ride. We did it six times, six levels of fear, south of Vail at Four Eagles Ranch. The first one, more a trainer, took my breath away as I tried to get the hang of controlling whether I go backwards or frontwards legs kicking the air. Sometimes the start meant running down hill, your toes hardly touching the ground, very similar to when I paraglided, and other times it was a jump off a wooden platform. The final run was 1000 meters not across a canyon but down it at breakneck speed, a rock in hand to try to hit a rusty barrel 30 feet below as I passed over, missed, and coming in with a stop chord to slow me down. Did I see the mule deer or the wrecked van? No. But I must say it was a blast, safe, and now I’m ready to seek out more. I’m told South America has the longest one.
We spent Fourth of July in Keystone, Col. watching Serena, Venus, Nadal, Federer on television, riding ski lifts up 11600 feet (and hiking up more height) and trying to deal with altitude adaptation; riding dude horses up a trail, and most excitingly, a white water raft trip down Clear Creek, which was a rough tumble through incessant waves, over rocks, and in a questionable yellow raft built for six. Wearing wet suits and wet shoes, we secured ourselves by sliding one foot in a covered slot and the other under the roll seat in front. For the six mile ride there was hardly a lull in "thrill" and paddling became the way Kelly, our sailor, kept us occupied, "two front," "one front," "now back" so that we would turn the raft wherever it needed to go to get over obstacles. We frequently had to duck under giant freeway overpasses built low and taking the mystery out of the scenery. But I could do this all day. The water was 45 degrees but a refreshing stomp when getting out of the yellow dinghy at the end.
At the huge tourist complex on Keystone ranch, which goes for miles and miles, loaded with condos and rooms filled in winter and spring with skiers since ski-lifts abound practically from room doors, blocks of lodges have names like River Run, Argentina, Arapahoe, Hidden River and they stretch out for miles along a feisty river called the Snake, although it’s no kin to Jackson Hole’s Snake River. I guess every mountain state has a snake to pour off melting snow. On the Fourth, decorations in red white and blue were given out to little children who had bicycles and plastic vehicles of various kiddie types, and then there was a parade. Wear your red star sunglasses, please, and the American flag wrist bands. We also went to the Activity Center and played putt-putt golf, kid’s bungie jumping, paddle boats, kayaks and stopped by the Colorado Chocolate Factory where a single dip of ice cream in a cup was just about four dollars. Daily I took Pilates classes and worked out on a Gyrotonic machine which rocked my muscles.
My family loved it here. I kept getting flashbacks visions of Annapurna and Everest, which are hard to forget. Next I’m off to Jackson Hole to renew my spirit, since there is where the mountain bug got into me, and to see old friends who helped me stay in shape mentally and physically when I lived there two years (2002-04) within view of the Grand Tetons and their side-kicks like Old Glory, my first major climb. I will also reunite with Jim and Sue who kept me kicking through the East Asia trip, which still swirls in my mind as I try to figure out what it meant to my soul. As in all travel, there is so much I’d like to replay.
Photos: Hanging on the Vail Zipline; going western; we are high; snow in shorts before the 10 peaks.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

And The Beat Goes On. . .

The hardest part about breaking the travel routine is returning to a city in such a tragic swamp it cannot lift its mudboots out of the slop. I hate to admit I live in a town of political virus and corruption, where each day someone is shot or wiped out by gang affiliates and each day the "city fathers" broadcast their salvation ideas in the media (God told me to.....), but shirk their responsibilities and collect their pay checks, evermore increasing.
Not only has the city government decided to slice in half the funds for city schools - which the state of Tennessee leaped upon and said, if you do that, then we won’t send the millions of dollars we fund for the city’s public schools either. But above that the Department of Children’s Service has cut all funding for the two prisons for juvenile delinquents that were filled to the brim in Memphis. Both were successful and useful enterprises. Thus now serious delinquents have to go to violent 201 Poplar, the disgraced city jail with a juvenile tank, or to Nashville’s state prisons for imprisonment, separating these children completely from their families. I found out the state girl’s prison offers only 34 beds - we had 24 occupied beds at our Memphis facility where I volunteered - remember the girls who made Christian prayer flags which I hung in the base camp zone of Mt. Everest? That’s them. Plus DCS is rapidly returning foster kids to trepedous situations by removing them from their foster homes (where they pay foster parents a monthly sum per kid) and tossing them back to incompetent or problem parents, which is why they were removed in the first place. As if that was not enough, our city mayor claims he is the victim and although he had promised to resign in July, assured us he could be reelected for a sixth term if it was on his mind to do so.
And the kids? Does anyone care about the kids? If things keep moving like this, teens won’t have a place to go to school nor a discipline facility when they break the law. Parents might even have to take responsibility for their children and help with their homework.
Maybe I should return to a simpler life where God surrounds you with hope and goodness and people care about and serve each other without labels or threats of racist mind-sets. I’m spoiled by the cultures I learned to respect in my foreign treks.
Meanwhile, I’ve taken a blog breather. I must shake off my political anger. My country is a mess. Gas is outrageous, tempers are high, everything is falling into an abyss that experts can no longer predict and the box is being tied shut with thick rope.
So cowardly as I must seem, although I had returned to a hefty exercise routine and volunteering at juvenile court, and had embraced my dearest friends, I flew away from the sweltering Memphis heat to mountainous Colorado with part of my family. We are hiking through sage and wildflowers - blue lupines, wild pink roses, wild columbines - a swell as sad pine forests deadened by an invasive beetle (they had this problem in Bhutan as well) and deep breathing cool cleaner air - although I must admit the mountains of Colorado have been scarred by construction, condos, and high living. The Snake River rushes in a hurry over our feet, and tourist crowd the streets of Brekenridge and I’m sure other hip towns like Aspen and Vail, to unload their hard earn vacation money in funky coffee shops, expensive restaurant (plan to pay one hundred dollars for four as a minimum for a sit down meal) and on lodgepole carved bears with smiles on their faces for you to put in front of your door. Real bears come down from the still present snow to raid garbage dumps, but it’s only hearsay. I haven’t seen one.
We are planning a horse trail ride (for which I have to buy a cowboy hat - again), a zip line ride, and a white water rafting ride interspersed with an occasional hike (alas, I forgot my poles.) and Pilates class. Oh, and one meal at The Dam Brewery in Dillon. (With a name like that, even when you don’t drink beer, it has drawing power. Breweries are major in these parts.) Snow plowed scenes are pretty, alright, but I have been to The Mountaintop (or close to it) and have the Himalayas and the Tetons in my soul. Everything else seems midget.
Just to note, there will be more blogs to come with overall re-thinking the incredible journeys I took between the end of May 07 and the first of June 08. Did I learn from these diverse adventures more about my soul, my struggles, and my fate? Does anyone care? Happy Independence Day.
Photos: The web woven gets tighter; a lot of praying going on; ooh mask found in a restroom in Colorado.