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When Mountains Crumble


In early August, while I was in central Sierra Leone spending time with our project teams there, a continuous heavy rainfall led to a series of landslips & mudslides on a few faces of a mountain just above downtown Freetown, the capital, which is on the central west coast of the nation. This massive displacement of earth then added a huge surge to already flooding streams and destroyed homes, communities and families downstream to the coast. I’ve been slow and reluctant to post these photos, because there was such media coverage, and I don’t want to pile on or seem ghoulish. Since I’ve spent the past four months watching the impact of a major natural disaster in my immediate home area, I feel doubly sensitive to this. But at the same I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the impacts and effects of such events in a wealthy and well-resourced place, like the US — versus the impact of such natural disasters in countries which struggle with basics even in best times. I also wonder when our global community of humanity will establish more sustainable and fair global economies – too many countries I’ve worked in recently will be extra-heavily hit as global warming raises sea levels further — island nations which may vanish entirely due to blind over-consumption in the richest nations like…well, like mine.

What Freetown had to deal with was far worse than what we’ve had to deal with here – much more loss of life, and the destruction was so fast and complete in the affected areas. And of course California (let alone the US) has a lot of resources and expertise to rely back on. Sierra Leone (population less than 1/3 of California and economy even smaller by proportion) has had to deal with more than its fair share of hard luck in recent years. I found that folks responded strongly yet again, and did what they could. I was glad to be there and able to help provide some immediate support, even though most of our work is with maternal-child health in areas other than Freetown. I won’t say more – there was plenty of public coverage at the time; this is my own salute to the folks I worked with and this warm country that has had to deal with so much in recent decades.


Marred, Scarred & Marvelous Mountains of Sonoma County

Singing the mountains and valleys, trees and rocks, grass and flowers and even the loud wild turkeys that surround me in my adopted home here in the North Bay. As most readers and friends know, this adopted home town of Santa Rosa, where I’ve hung my hat any available moment between assignments or family-and-work trips elsewhere since 2014, was caught up in a devastating fire which then became a complex of several enormous fires in October of last year. As noted in a few previous posts, I’m trying to watch the process of decay and new growth which nature is pushing forward as the rainy season has rolled from November through now February here. We’re still far too short on rainfall for the rainy season, and must hope for many more inches in coming months if we’re to avoid further devastating fires and water restrictions later on. But for the moment, the grass has greened the hills and gentle steady rains have revived many plants whether burned, dormant, or both. Burned patches scar many of our mountains as seen from a distance, while burned trees and rocks remind us on walks and bike rides that we’re fortunate the fires ended when they did. I’ll soon be off to a new assignment, in a portion of Africa which rarely makes the global headlines, and where the opportunity and luxury of taking photos will rarely apply. So to remind myself of the beauty for which I’m so grateful every time I come home…I’m popping a whole ton of photos (yes, I know, way too many) up on here. Further down you’ll see galleries with tree-and-rock level detail of charred tree trunks still standing and bravely putting out new leaves and shoots; you’ll also see three months’ worth of photos of my fire-scarred rock in its gully and be able to compare the process of regrowth. It’s rather like watching the scar from my own small surgical procedure last December: each month, that scar seems to recede. Mine is only a small scar, unlike many of our mountainsides whose scars still astonish with their size and brownness, even in this relatively green time of the year. Enjoy the photos – click on individual pictures in each gallery and you might see why I included it once it’s a bit larger. (For example, a tree scarred at the bottom but still alive higher up.) Here’s to a year of healing wounds and finding new growth, for me and everyone reading this :-).

 

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Rainbows & Red-Dirt Roads in Tonkolili

This post I’m sharing more photos from my seven or eight weeks back in Sierra Leone, July-September last year. These were all taken around my birthday, on a lovely trip to work with our project teams in Tonkolili district – green forested hills, red-dirt roads to small villages, lots of outreach to make sure folks got the care they needed and knew where and when and why to go for care. It was the first birthday in a few years I’ve been in small villages on health outreach, since I usually time vacations and a break from responsibility for my actual birthday — but what a great way to spend it, shaking hands with community members, seeing the rainbow from the very last photo in this post and the social weaver birds in their tree (just below, with some close-ups in the gallery below that), and reconnecting with small-town life in new places. 


Views From The Hills (of Massachusetts)

One of my oldest friends lives near Boston, and occasionally during extended breaks between my assignments, I manage to visit him & family, and explore Massachusetts for a bit. On our last visit, we sought songbirds on an exploration of the historic and quite lovely Mt Auburn cemetery in Cambridge, and did a lovely hike on a semi-rainy day at Wachusett Mtn State Reservation, toward the middle of the Bay State. It was early summer then, and so very green. I often wish I had more literal time and mental space to explore the corners of this country a bit more – and New England is a region I rather wish I could visit a bit more often…though, truth to tell, not in the winter!


Friendly Fabulous Freetown

 

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Linger on the photos just above this text, long enough to see all six of my favorite photos taken in & around Freetown, during the eight weeks or so I spent in Sierra Leone between July & September of last year. I’d gone for a short assignment to cover for a friend who took an extended vacation. While there, I ended up working a bit more intensely than expected since my Sierra Leonean friends, colleagues, hosts and interlocutors all found themselves having to deal with yet another unforeseen crisis when massive rains led to flooding and landslides right in the hills above Freetown. That sad reality, yet another time this nation has had to demonstrate its resilience, is documented on many a news site from August and September. I’ll likely post a few personal photos from some of those affected areas in coming weeks – but in honor and thanks to the warm and hard-working colleagues and friends I’ve worked with on my now two short assignments in Sierra Leone, I want to begin simply by showing again some of the beauty I enjoyed when I went for walks or drives, evenings or weekends. It’s such an honor and a gift to broaden my horizons and experience humanity in such variety and richness as I do through this work. The silly complaints of the privileged, spoiled and unappreciative individuals in places like my home country then come into a more meaningful and constructive focus for me. There really are times when I wonder what the end-game for all these greedy, destructive capitalist captains of industry is… Peace and health, friends.

 


Hope & Slow Regrowth

Look closely at this post’s first photo, and you will notice drier, browner patches in the mountains on the far side of the valley. Those are from the Tubbs fire, which in early October burned such a path of destruction in and around Santa Rosa. When that fire struck I was on the east coast visiting my mother, who’s had some health issues of her own. In early December, I got out to Anadel again with a good MSF friend & colleague (see photo below). She had recommended that I pick a specific view or area to photograph as I get out and about in Santa Rosa and watch the process of regrowth. (Anadel is the state park affected by the Nunns fire, which was separated at one point from the Tubbs Fire only by the valley you see in that first photo.)

I’ve followed her advice – did so, in fact, the morning we took this photo. Further down you’ll see a gallery of square photos, three in a row. You’ll notice a rock there with a clear burn mark across the moss: I plan to photograph this rock any time I’m up there in the coming year or so. As with these two, I’ll title the photos with dates, so I and any interested readers can watch the process of regrowth. It seems nature is faster at rebuilding — it seems to happen…well, naturally there. The many destroyed homes I bicycle past when going about my appointed rounds seem to still be under review by claims adjusters, and a friend who lost his home tells me there are various safety requirements to be met prior to fully launching a rebuild. (In particular around possible toxics from burnt homes in the soil, I think?) Still, though, I figure we’re likely to see a significant building boom by the middle of the new year.

The BBC tells me that Prince Harry (he of UK fame) recently did a radio show where he spoke with (among others) President Barack Obama, truly a class act whom I and millions of Americans miss greatly. Harry asked about finding hope when times are tough. I’ve found myself talking about the same topic a lot with friends at home — friends whose homes burned, friends who had to evacuate. All of them friends who, like me, find the dishonest bully currently in the white house quite distressing and depressing. I take comfort in signs of growth and connection where I can. I choose to believe that there is at least as much generosity and kindness in this country and this world, as there is sadness and loss. May 2018 prove me right for us all on this blue ball spinning through space :-).


Art in Nature (Storm King 2)

Sculpture in nature, plus the Moodna Viaduct (just below) which isn’t in the park but on a lovely winding route we took home, much to my smartphone’s map’s discontent. This is the second set of photos from our completely lovely day in Storm King two months ago – the first set was published here: https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2017/12/13/art-family-in-nature-storm-king-1/, and you can find many other entries from Storm King in past years. It and the Hudson Valley’s many other art centers are well worth a visit. 🙂



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Art & Family in Nature (Storm King 1)

Ok,so since I’m on a roll I’m putting up the first photos from a completely **glorious** day at my own personal very-favorite day-trip location near NYC: Storm King Art Center, which I certainly remember visiting in the early 80’s if not before. As you’ll see here, and in upcoming posts, we had simply the most perfect possible weather, and Mom mustered the energy to hold up more than her half of the sky, even as she juggled a few health challenges of her own. If you’ve not been to Storm King, do go. And support your own local gardens & arts places :-). Peace, out.

 

 


Art in Nature (Sonoma County)

Do I need to spell it out? Or are the photos, all taken in the past two weeks, enough? More soon, I promise (almost). Hugs & happy holidays!


Vulnerable, and Grateful

 

Last Friday I stepped out my door, lurched down the stairs in my building, and went for a walk. Within the first 100 steps, I experienced new and strange emotional reactions to something so terribly simple as going for a walk down my block. I feared I’d fall, I feared a kid on a skateboard would bump into me or someone might beat me up, I feared a bicyclist might hit me or a dog might leap up and put its paws on my stomach. So many fears for one small person taking a simple walk down the block!

As I walked, I grew more familiar with my new limitations, aches and pains. I also slowly felt my envelope of of pain-free and reduced-fear activity expand ever so slightly. In the end, I walked more than a mile into downtown Santa Rosa and bought myself a ticket to the matinee of the new Blade Runner. (It’s very contemplative; so relieved in this ADHD-age someone is still doing slow & contemplative on the big screen.) And I probably grew a bit as a human through this process.

Both above and below, you see how fast the fire moved: notice the fence post burned at the bottom but not at the top.

 

Seven days ago I had hernia-repair surgery. The walk, two days later, was the first time I’d been out and about on my own with my newly-sore, cut-open and compromised abdomen. Every movement I made (or tried to make) reminded me why we call this our ‘core’ – my abdomen came into play when I tried to blow my nose or sneeze; when I tried to walk faster to catch a traffic light so as to cross an intersection; any time I tried to roll over in bed or sit up or go to the toilet. It was a newly-humbling experience, to feel so very vulnerable. I’ve spent something like 1/5 of my life in places with poorer resources and support for the vulnerable and weak than right here, yet it’s here that I experienced one of my most jarring moments of fear and vulnerability.

A good reminder to take nothing for granted. This, for me, calls forth a response of gratitude & appreciation for all that I do have. Especially since I know my friends, colleagues & interlocutors in other settings don’t have many of these blessings and advantages. At the start of November, I spent a week being tour guide with the Forced From Home exhibit, in which I and other staff who’ve worked in field positions with MSF guide small groups around several stations depicting the realities of having to flee one’s home, and what one might encounter along the way. Before we opened, most of us tour guides seemed to agree that what we most hoped our groups would take away from the exhibit was an abiding sense of appreciation of what we do have. (Shout out to all the clinical colleagues who take care of me & keep me safe during my most vulnerable moments in the field, btw…)

(If curious, check out this article with a quote or two from me:

http://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Immersive-exhibition-on-the-plight-of-refugees-12327880.php

– I’ll have some more photos up from Oakland me doing the tour thing, at some point in coming weeks/months…)

That week guiding tour groups through the exhibit in Oakland was especially poignant for me, because my home city of Santa Rosa is still in the long and painful process of recovery from the wild fires. Like me, several local friends have commented that we are reluctant to drive (in my case, bike) around the most-affected zone – or take photos there. It feels almost voyeuristic, and possibly disrespectful of direct human pain and loss resident in those areas. My surgeon’s office is in one of the large buildings that survived the first, most destructive fires. A week before the operation, I biked the eight miles from home up to his office for my pre-op consultation. This post is mostly full of photos I took that day – along Redwood Highway north of downtown Santa Rosa. The burn-related photos were taken on November 14, five weeks after the first fires struck. At one main intersection (the photo just above), the buildings at three corners were destroyed while a gas station at the northwest corner stood, as did the construction site immediately west of it. This was all visible from the waiting room in my surgeon’s office. And I saw an unusual number of people who, like me, were standing to look out the windows from this higher vantage point, scanning the hills and taking stock.

The fires, like my surgery, remind me of my own vulnerability and human frailty. They also remind me of my many blessings, friends, gifts and joys. One of my best friends dropped me off & picked me up after surgery – he and his extended family also hosted me the following day for Thanksgiving surrounded by three generations of kids, parents & grandparents.  (The photo just below is of a woozy-looking me with Howard, at my apartment after he brought me home.) My mother is recovering wonderfully well (knock wood) from her own, far more serious surgery. And I have fundamentally safe streets with sidewalks down which I can stroll, appreciating fall foliage and now all the displays of Christmas decorations going up, as I steadily rebuild my body’s strength and capacity in preparation for what I firmly expect will be an enjoyable end of year holiday season with friends and family. My Unitarian-Universalist congregation has focused on faith, this month: in what do we place our faith. I choose to have faith that the sun will continue to rise, that seeds will continue to sprout, and that it is always good to be kind and generous to those around us. Even if this makes me wildly crazy in the eyes of the pessimists among us, I find it simply so very much more enjoyable to be kind than not. I hope you’ll join me 😊. Peace.

Above, me on that vulnerable first walk after surgery and some of the red fall foliage that I’m so over-the-top in love with; below, Cardinal Newman HS athletic fields with a burned hillside behind. Below that, two photos from the Ft Ross area which I just happened to have on hand from a trip with another visiting friend a week or two earlier. For those who don’t know: Ft Ross is a totally cool state historic park documenting the southernmost imperial Russian presence on the west coast of North America; including this rebuilt Russian Orthodox church. SO cool.