Health and Well-beingNature

I Want To Be A Mountain Goat

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”
― John Muir

After more than two months of quarantine – under very strict rules – in my small apartment in Rionegro, Colombia, I long to go for a rugged hike in the mountains or a walk along a sandy beach while listening to the soothing sound of breaking waves. Unfortunately, all non-essential travel is still banned in the region, with checkpoints set up to prevent unnecessary contact between people from different towns. With the healthcare disaster taking place in neighboring Brazil very much on people’s minds, the government of Colombia is taking the transmission of Covid-19 very seriously.

But, hey, I’m not complaining. Compared to the millions around the world who are currently suffering serious illness or feverishly searching for their next meal, I know I’m very lucky. And, while I’m grateful to be in a country where the government is placing the health of citizens first, my spirit needs to fly free for a while.

Despite feeling alone, distracted and at times disoriented, I’ve been finding a degree of solace in the 25,000+ photos on my hard drive which allow me to relive memorable past adventures. Even though I’m not a prolific selfie taker, I must admit that seeing photos of myself surrounded by magical landscapes makes it easier for me to visualize an escape from the reality of the moment.

Snowshoeing on the southern slope of Mount St. Helens, Washington, in America’s mystical Pacific Northwest. Photo: Dave Jones.

Discovering the Pacific Northwest

In 1988, I moved to Seattle, a tolerant, diverse city with thriving art and music scenes. While I immediately felt as if I’d found my home, it was what lay just beyond the urban area that fully ticked all the boxes on my best places to live list. Gazing in any direction from one of the city’s seven hills, there were splendid views of snow-capped mountains and glistening water – a true wilderness lovers paradise.

The mineral-tinted waters of Ross Lake with Ruby Peak in the background in North Cascades National Park. There are three national parks within a 2-hour drive of the Seattle metropolitan area. Photo: Henry Lewis.

As I always do when arriving in a new place, I read voraciously to learn about the area’s history, particularly stories of the region’s early explorers – miners, mountain climbers and unconventional dreamers. My fifteen years in the region were filled with weekend and holiday hikes and backpacking trips straight out of the many guidebooks published by local hiking experts Bob and Ira Spring, Louise B. Marshall and the Seattle Mountaineers. These local authors were supplemented by the writings of naturalist John Muir and the photos of Ansel Adams, both pioneers in wilderness preservation.

On the summit of Gobbler’s Knob with the west flank of 14,411 foot Mt. Rainier (Tahoma to the Native Americans) in the background. Photo: Random Hiker.

Ice Caves above Paradise on Mt. Rainier. Sadly, this interesting feature has disappeared due to glacial recession over the past 20 years. Photo: Henry Lewis.

While I’ve traveled far and wide on six continents and lived in half a dozen countries on four of those, it’s difficult to think of a better place to be on a sunny August day than enjoying the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

One of my favorite hikes was to Ingalls Lake which lies at the foot of Mt. Stuart on the eastern slopes of the central Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Photo: Henry Lewis.

The surreal landscapes of the high elevation Upper Enchantments in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area just outside Leavenworth, Washington are a sight to behold. In this photo taken in the fall, the needles of the Larch trees have turned a brilliant shade of gold, adding to the impression that this is an oil painting and not a photograph. Photo: Henry Lewis.

Feeling Whole in Nature

Grueling summit hikes in the Cascade Mountains – thundering with the sounds of the range’s innumerable waterfalls – were both physically conditioning and a self-esteem booster. The physical and mental challenges of the Cascade volcano climbs I undertook with experienced local friends – who’d spent years honing their mountaineering skills – were particularly beneficial in building what folks from previous generations would call ‘character.’ Being roped together with other members of a climbing party while traversing steep icy glaciers certainly highlights the importance of mutual human trust and interdependence.

High base camp on Mt. Baker in Washington’s North Cascades. Flat sites for pitching a tent were non-existent. Photo: Henry Lewis.

Our climbing party on the large snow dome that serves as the summit of Mt. Baker. I’m on the right. Photo: Henry Lewis via tripod.

Most of all, the time I spent exploring the majestic flower-covered mountain meadows and the equally rugged and magical Pacific coastline of the Olympic National Park were the times when I felt whole. Backpacking solo to the summit of an isolated peak and imagining that I was the only person on a mountain gave me a sense of peace and oneness with nature that I relished.

The building lava dome as seen from the summit of Mt. St. Helens, Washington. This Cascade Mountains stratovolcano erupted violently in 1980 devastating the northern flanks of the mountain and miles beyond as seen in the background. Once pristine Spirit Lake can be seen on the right side. Photo: Henry Lewis.

Added bonuses on many backpacking trips were eating wild blueberries growing along the trail or waking up to find a family of mountain goats grazing beside my tent. Away from the distractions of civilization, life slows to the rhythm of one’s breath and the sound of the wind blowing through the tall fir trees.

The rocky coast of Washington’s Olympic National Park holds mystical beauty and is a great place for hiking. Here, the temperate rain forest meets the rugged edge of the Pacific. Photo: Henry Lewis.

The setting sun casts a warm glow over one of the many forested sea stacks off the coast of Cape Alava, part of Washington State’s Olympic National Park. Photo: Henry Lewis.

So, off I go on another imagined adventure as I try to forget that I’m sitting on a wooden stool at my kitchen counter trying to make the best of life under government quarantine.

Sometimes, one just has to throw caution to the wind and jump in order to find a moment of freedom. Photo: Skydive Kapowsin, Washington.

peace~henry

 

 

 

FilmHopePerforming Arts

My Friend, Killer Bob

While the 1930s to 1950s were the heyday of movie stars being randomly ‘discovered’ at places such as Schwab’s Pharmacy on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, such serendipitous circumstances have continued to occur in the wacky world of Hollywood entertainment. One lucky recipient of almost instant fame was my friend Frank Silva.

Frank came from a theatrical background and had once longed – like so many other Hollywood hopefuls – to be a working film and TV actor. The stereotype of an actor sitting by the phone waiting for their agent to call is the reality faced by most individuals seeking a ‘break’ in the business. And, as is true of the vast majority of such hopefuls who find hunger and near-homelessness less than desirable, Frank eventually settled for a more reliable role as part of a film crew working behind the camera.

From the moment I met Frank in his home base of Los Angeles in 1988 on the set of the film Tap, it was clear that his larger-than-life personality and passion for living dramatically set him apart from most other crew members. Indeed, while Frank was kind and generous in most situations, he could be a force of nature when things didn’t go his way. It was impossible to be in a group without Frank quickly becoming the center of attention. Such was the exuberance of his demeanor.

In addition to his strong personality, Frank’s appearance was striking with his prominent facial features and thick shoulder length hair, tinted lightly with natural streaks of gray. Add his deep resonant voice to the mix and Frank surely possessed the qualities required to be a professional actor. Frank was proud of the Portuguese heritage and genes passed on from his parents and often talked about his formative years growing up in California’s Central Valley.

Frank Silva 1992

David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”

By late 1989, Frank and I – along with several other close Seattle friends – were once again working together, this time on David Lynch’s 2-hour TV pilot Twin Peaks. On a work-related shopping trip to Vancouver, BC during the show’s pre-production period, Frank’s free-spirited nature was on full display.

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Health and Well-beingPolitics

Being Humbled By The Universe

As a child, I remember laying in my grandparents yard on delightfully dark nights while gazing at the clearly visible glow of our galaxy – the Milky Way – and the sparkle of uncountable twinkling stars. Star-gazing gave me a sense of wholeness and complete peace and calm, as any earthly problems I had lost their significance when compared to the vastness and timelessness of space itself.

Unfortunately, suburban sprawl and accompanying light pollution have enveloped the area where I grew up, making it impossible to view the contours of our galaxy without the aid of a telescope. Still, that feeling of personal insignificance in the larger scheme of the universe has stayed with me throughout my life.

After seeing images of a distant Earth taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 as it headed for the outer limits of our solar system, American astronomer and well-known science educator Carl Sagan eloquently summed up my feelings.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
-Carl Sagan

Sagan’s words seem particularly notable during our current time of crisis as governments and citizens bicker over the perceived best way forward when faced with the difficult choice between saving human lives or protecting livelihoods. While individuals and organizations in many regions of the world are coming together to support those in need, there are some who are using the current situation to further their own narrow political agenda with little regard for the rights of others or the greater good.

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CultureTravel

The Camel Beauty Pageant

As the Monty Python crew used to say, “And now for something completely different!”

Let’s escape to the deserts of southern Oman to participate in one of the locals’ favorite events – a camel beauty contest. Mind you, these descendants of Bedouin tribes take camel raising very seriously as the princely sums paid for a prime specimen indicate. Contestants – lovely one-humped dromedary camels with long double sets of eyelashes – are judged on the fullness of their chests and downward curve of their lower lips, among other distinctive qualities.

As you’ll see in the following video, the owners and other audience members create a party atmosphere, filled with dancing and lots of cheering for their favorite contestant.

Be sure to crank up the volume!

peace~henry

Covid-19Health and Well-beingPolitics

Covid-19: The Next Phase

While some areas of Europe and the USA are beginning to see a flattening of the Covid-19 transmission curve and subsequent death rates, much of the rest of the world is still in the early stages of the pandemic’s first wave. Business lock-downs and population quarantines have become the widely accepted means of reducing the spread of infections across the globe. Governments — in countries both rich and poor — are now grappling with how to restart sagging economies without risking an overwhelmed healthcare sector.

Meanwhile, millions of workers in the informal economies of the developing world — who scrape together what they and their families need to survive on a daily basis — are becoming increasingly restless as insufficient government efforts fail to supply food to the neediest across the globe. Many governments in Latin America are facing the threat of medical worker strikes unless they can provide the personal protective equipment (PPE) desperately needed by staff.

As rich and poor countries compete for the same limited international supplies of PPE as well as ventilators for the most severely ill patients, a pattern is beginning to form. The developing world is being priced out of the very supplies necessary to fight the pandemic.

As infections and deaths continue to increase in the poorest regions of the world, indications are that social unrest will grow as well. This is especially true in countries such as Chile and Ecuador that saw weeks of protests, rioting and looting during last fall’s uprising against corrupt, institutionalized systems that have always favored the wealthy, leading to some of the world’s most dramatic economic inequality. Such raw feelings will be easily reawakened by the ongoing ravages of hunger, illness and death associated with Covid-19.

Here are some of the stories I followed for readers this week across Latin America and beyond.

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ArchitectureTravel

Towers, Turrets and Spires: Postcards from Prague

Start Here >>> Relax with a bit of Miles Davis as you browse……..

Emerging from my hotel on a cold January morning, I braced myself against the breeze as I closed my jacket and adjusted the wool scarf wrapped tightly around my neck. I certainly wasn’t going to allow winter’s chill to slow my pace of exploration. After all, I felt it was far better to brave the elements of a Czech winter than face the tourist hoards that predictably descended in summer on Prague, the much-hyped former capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia and home to a golden string of Holy Roman Emperors.

Old Town Square is the heart of Prague’s UNESCO-listed historic area. Photo: Henry Lewis

The twin towers of the imposing Church of Our Lady Before Tyn dominate this view of Old Town Square. Photo: Henry Lewis

The Prague astronomical clock, located in Old Town Square, is a visitor favorite. It was first installed in 1410 and is the world’s oldest working astronomical clock. Photo: Henry Lewis

The Gothic tower of Old Town City Hall in Old Town Square. Photo: Henry Lewis

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NatureTravel

Escape to Krakow Botanical Gardens!

I don’t know about you, but I need a nature break!

-Henry…wacky humanoid with a bad case of cabin fever

Yes, I’m afraid I’ve resorted to finger puppetry due to being quarantined alone for too long. Photo: Henry Lewis

Being alone and under quarantine in a small apartment for an indefinite period of time is beginning to take its toll on my mental health. The chain-smoking downstairs neighbor who’s using his confinement time to build furniture (think lots of electric saw noise) and the weight lifters who set up their own gym just outside my balcony, complete with blasting sound system playing Colombian reggaetón music, are just two of the distractions that have been making the hair on my back stand on end.

A neighbor working out just in front of my balcony. The music system stays on low volume these days after a polite request. If you coat your words with sugar, you’re more likely to get what you want. Photo: Henry Lewis

The most important thing to remember at a time like this is to do our utmost to be kind to others. Besides worrying about the possibility of loved ones getting sick, millions of people have also found themselves suddenly unemployed and are wondering how they’re going to pay for rent, food and the other basic necessities to survive.

Trying to be empathetic and put ourselves in our neighbor’s shoes will go a long way toward soothing the frustrations of being cooped-up inside. A little empathy along with FREQUENT MENTAL ESCAPES will be necessary for maintaining a positive perspective over the next few months.

So, let’s give our minds a break from all the current uncertainties for just a few minutes, breathe deeply (then exhale) and take an easy trip to one of my favorite botanical gardens – the Botanic Garden of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland.

Looking across the Botanic Garden of the Jagiellonian University to the university buildings and towers of Kraków’s Old Town beyond. Photo: Henry Lewis

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Health and Well-being

Covid-19 Transmission Advice

No, I’m not working for the New York Times (don’t I wish!), but I just read a credible, practical and useful article in NYT written by two geneticists that explain coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission in easily understood layman’s terms. Speaking for myself, I’m totally open to useful advice these days!

…and follow the link below ⇓

⇓⇓ peace~henry

                      ⇓⇓⇓

 

Health and Well-beingPolitics

What Happened America?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the USA’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, made the following statement about the new coronavirus in an article published in the New York Times on February 2, 2020.

It’s very, very transmissible, and it almost certainly is going to be a pandemic.

-Dr. Anthony Fauci

As of March 28, 2020, the USA leads the world in the number of confirmed cases with more than 124,000 and over 2,000 deaths.

Infectious disease specialists working with the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) predict the number of new COVID-19 infections in the USA may not peak for three to six weeks.

How high will the number of confirmed cases and deaths have climbed by then?

What will America’s healthcare systems look like at that point?

How did we get here?

1. Absence of leadership at the highest levels of the US Government
2. Leaders who dismiss scientific evidence at every turn
3. Ignorance of the threats of COVID-19
4. Lost opportunity to blunt the spread of the virus

Americans must depend on those who
are risking their own lives at the moment
on the front lines of the battle
at times without proper
protective equipment
our brave and dedicated

MEDICAL WORKERS ♥♥♥

Medical personnel transferring a COVID-19 patient at a hospital in Rome, Italy. Photo Credit: Gemelli Policlinico via Reuters

  • Remember that the lives of medical workers may depend on the decisions you make each day.
  • Do whatever you can to avoid being infected and becoming a burden on already stressed hospitals and clinics.
  • Only trust the preventive measures listed on the websites of the CDC and WHO.

As a close friend living under a mandatory quarantine in Italy advised me this week, “Stay home.”

peace and good health~henry

Health and Well-being

Attitude Adjustments and Other Lessons From Mandatory Isolation

Time and reflection change the sight little by little ’till we come to understand.
-Paul Cezanne

My phone notifies me that I have another whatsapp message. I hesitate, wondering if it’s news from an old friend abroad or from my local contact who’s keeping me updated on steps the Colombian government is taking to fight the rapid spread of the new coronavirus here in my adopted country of Colombia.

Over the past two months, many of us have had the good fortune of watching from a safe distance as lives were turned upside down in other parts of the world. That’s no longer the case, as COVID-19 has continued to spread rapidly, with confirmed cases now being reported in 185 countries, areas or territories according to the WHO.

The initial incompetent reactions – or lack of action – from top leaders in the USA, the UK and here in Colombia have caused conflicts and chaos which in turn have slowed any positive steps toward controlling the outbreak before it began spreading from person to person within local communities. Despite earlier warnings from both the military, intelligence community and international medical professionals, many national governments have shown themselves to be unprepared and unwilling to listen to voices of reason coming from regional and local officials aware of the real-time changes taking place on the ground.

In my local region of Antioquia, last night marked our first mandatory 3-day lock-down, a test to identify the service gaps prior to a longer period of quarantine. After taking action on their own, local and regional leaders are now finding Colombia’s national government more conducive to cooperating with local authorities. Although the confirmed case numbers here remain much lower than in the USA or Western Europe, medical experts are demanding action – now.

Fearing that even a mild epidemic could cause the country’s underfunded healthcare system to collapse, the national government has finally heeded the call of health experts and local leaders, calling for a nation-wide lock-down from March 25 to April 12. Colombia’s borders are now closed and all international flights into and out of the country will cease operations on March 25.

Unfortunately, these actions have come too late as infections are no longer limited to international travelers and have begun to spread within communities. The situation on the ground seems to be changing at lightening speed and we can no longer fool ourselves with the belief that the wolf will remain on someone else’s doorstep.

Colombia’s second largest city, Medellín, has some of South America’s best hospitals. Still, the government fears the country’s healthcare system could collapse under the stress of even a mild COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Henry Lewis

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