Category: Nature

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.

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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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CultureNatureVisual Arts

Ancient Venus Figures–Origins and Significance

Venus Figures are small bone, ceramic or stone carvings which exhibit exaggerated female breasts and hips. The term ‘Venus figure’ is strictly used as a metaphor for the female form. These carvings predate the mythological Venus – the Roman goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility – by thousands of years.

Venus figures are unique and hold artistic and cultural significance simply by being the earliest representations of humans in sculptural form. They also mark humanity’s earliest use of ceramic materials.

Venus Figures have been found all across Europe. Map Credit: Natural History Museum of Vienna.

The majority of these mysterious figurines date from the Upper Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) period between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago. This period contains the first archaeological evidence of small-scale human settlements along with more complex social organization. Numerous cave paintings, petroglyphs and carvings and engravings on bone and ivory indicate a blossoming of the arts during this period.

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NatureTravel

Communing With Pandas in Chengdu, China

I’ll admit it. I’ve always had a thing for bears. These furry – and seemingly cuddly – creatures have held a special fascination for me since I was a child. I remember my excitement the first time I laid eyes on an American black bear mother and her cub resting beside the main highway that traverses the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While it’s sad to realize now that the mother bear, with cub in tow, was lured there in search of human food from the tourists gawking from the safety of their cars, at that moment it was pure magic.

Over the years, I became more accustomed to seeing bears on hikes and backpacking trips while living in the US Pacific Northwest. My time spent in wilderness areas gave me a healthy respect for the keen sense of smell and great power of these creatures, and I was always lucky enough to leisurely view individuals from a comfortable distance. This included watching a large and beautiful honey-brown specimen for over an hour while it foraged for berries on a mountainside slope in Washington State’s North Cascades National Park.

Let’s Go See The Pandas!

More than a decade later while traveling in China, I had the good fortune of visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in the country’s south central Sichuan Province. The research center has been ground zero in the fight to save this unique member of the bear family (Ursidae) from extinction.

Is there any human alive today whose heart doesn’t melt at the site of these adorable creatures? Photo: Henry Lewis

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NatureTravel

Peru’s Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.  UNESCO designation 1983

Machu Picchu’s stunning setting has contributed to making it South America’s most iconic and visited archaeological site. In this view, the pyramid-shaped Huayna Picchu (on the right) can be seen towering above the site.

As is often said about journeying to a new destination, getting there is half the fun. This is definitely the case when it comes to traveling to Peru’s UNESCO crown jewel of Machu Picchu (sometimes spelled Machupicchu).

The citadel sits high on an awe-inspiring mountain at 7,972 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level and is surrounded by cliffs on three sides that plunge thousands of feet down to the Urubamba River which twists and turns below. These natural barriers made the city easier to protect during the 100 years or so it was inhabited by the Inca and also helped spare it from destruction by the invading Spanish armies in the mid-1500s.

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Nature

Nature’s Embrace

Nature is never ending

The comfort I feel surrounding me

Being connected to the whole universe

Takes me away from worries in life.

Joy of heading into the mountains solo

Knowing I might never return

Immersion in the moment

Melts away the ravages of civilization.

It’s more than just

The air we breathe

Water that hydrates

Food that nourishes.

It’s the excesses

The vibrant colors

Delicacy of a flower petal

Dew catching the morning light

Trees reaching for the sky.

Insects, birds, animals

Wind, rain, warm sun

The sounds, the smells, the silence

It soothes my soul

Like nothing else can.

All photos by Henry Lewis and shot in the cloud forest on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.

peace~henry

CultureNature

Cultural Views on Snakes

It’s late spring/early summer in the Northern Hemisphere which means snakes and other reptiles are once again active. This past week, I had multiple encounters with beautiful snakes in my sister’s yard here in North Carolina where I’m visiting. Of course, I do realize not everyone shares my love of nature, nor my fascination with snakes. Some of you are surely cringing right now at the mere thought of being greeted by a snake outside your door, especially a surprise visit because you had forgotten to be aware of them.

My sisters and I agree (as snake experts recommend) with letting the harmless snakes, such as the Black Racer, have free reign outside because they control rodent populations and actually keep poisonous snakes away from the house. I have some friends who say the only good snake is a dead snake. However, I think those feelings are a result of not fully understanding how snakes fit into the ecosystem.

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Nature

Nature’s Healing Power

Try as I might to limit my exposure to too much negativity, on most days I’m a dedicated news junkie. However, sometimes all the buzz and spin become so overwhelming that I have to unplug for a few days. Such was the situation this past week.

I’ve been visiting long-time friends in Seattle for the past two weeks and I managed to escape the city for some much needed serenity in the Pacific Northwest’s great outdoors.

I had two experiences that I’m featuring here in video format. In the first, I was lectured by a Douglas Squirrel as he peered down at me from above. In the other, I was transported to a serene world where the only sound was rushing water tumbling over smooth rocks created millions of years ago.

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Nature

Spring’s Ode to Van Gogh

Experiencing spring in one of the world’s temperate zones for the first time in 14 years excites my senses in similar fashion to the way artist Vincent Van Gogh must have felt upon moving from Paris to the colorful countryside of Arles in southern France in 1888. Van Gogh had found Paris to be dull and gray just as Brussels had been, and he longed to be in a place that was warm and colorful.

Colour expresses something in itself. One can’t do without it; one must make use of it. What looks beautiful, really beautiful — is also right.

Vincent to his brother Theo, c. 28 October 1885

Field with Irises.sm

Field with Irises near Arles 1888. Courtesy Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

While I’ve had the good fortune to live in a variety of the world’s tropical regions that would have surely delighted Van Gogh’s senses, I’d forgotten how spectacularly beautiful temperate landscapes can be as they emerge from a long, cold winter’s sleep. The myriad shades of green and red budding deciduous trees, along with furiously blooming everything, make me feel like a child seeing the natural world for the first time.

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Nature

Trump vs Clouds

Ahhh, nature! It’s the elixir that’s required to soothe my tattered soul after dealing with the daily worries of this chaotic and distracting world we humans have created. And clouds; what about clouds?
I’ve always loved clouds. They’re one of the most transient visual features of our natural world, as they constantly change and re-form depending on the whims of the winds aloft. For me, clouds are a constant reminder of the impermanence of all things.
Being reminded of this fact somehow makes my problems seem totally insignificant in the bigger scheme of the universe. Personal ego is no match for the wonder and limitless perspective I have while gazing at the sky!

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