Celebrations!

This June I turned 70. It was a momentous turning of the calendar for me and I approached it with a lot of intentionality.

First, I took some solo time in nature to get clear.My longtime friend and co-guide Anne Stine and I attended the Wilderness Guides Council gathering on Salt Spring Island, BC in May. Anne and I stayed afterwards for our own solo time. In my solo time I followed the traditional model of our wilderness quest work: 3 days and nights of solo camping and fasting. Anne welcomed me back with food and story witnessing. My first day of solo was about gratitude, my second day focused on deep internal work, and my final day focused on purpose.

Ann’s solo quest camp

 

The solo time provided a clarifying “house cleaning” for me. I made commitments to: step forth with gratitude and joy; to keep tracking those sneaky shadow pieces; to stay on the trail of loving the earth and focusing on youth and environmentalism.

Next part of my month-long celebration was the privilege of co-guiding our annual Cascadia Quest in eastern Washington. Questers came from Australia, Canada, Germany and the U.S. The age range was 26-75. Each individual’s journey was unique, courageous, and inspirational. Personally, it was an affirmation of the earlier “purpose” day on my own solo time. For most of my adult life I have been a wilderness guide leading adults and youth into nature. Health willing, I hope to continue it for years to come.

Wind flags in the valley of our quest. photo by Holger Scholz

Ann and Christina with longtime friend and quester, Galen Treuer. Photo by Deborah Greene-Jacobi

 

 In January I had sent out an invitation to friends and family to join us for 2 nights and 3 days of camping at a state park on Whidbey Island in mid-June. When the final sorting of schedules and priorities happened there were 11 hearty campers and another half dozen local friends alternating in and out each day. It was my idea of a perfect celebration—living outdoors, good friends, great food (potluck style), hiking, campfire, singing, and storytelling. The flow of days was easy, the weather mostly sunny and not too cold, and the stories fun and poignant. I asked for presence, not presents, and I believe we all walked away uplifted.

Earth flag signaling our campsite at the state park.

Breakfast at the birthday campout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warming up for the evening campfire singing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The finale of my birthday month was the arrival of my three sisters from North Carolina, Minnesota, and Arizona. Their schedules didn’t coordinate with the birthday campout so they created their own celebration. We four had never gathered without spouses (Christina was made an honorary sister) or children or parents before. And we had a marvelous time—lots of laughter, good food, hiking, and some deep diving conversations around the ongoing care of our dear mother and our commitment to one another. 

Ann and her sisters. left to right, Kathy, Susie, Ann and Margaret. Photo by Christina Baldwin

One evening we hurried to the beach to capture this site. Photo by Margaret Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marionberry pie, our grandmother’s teacups, handmade Slovenian lace from friends Marjeta and Natalija. Photo by Christina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I feel fully seventy now. Grateful beyond words for health, love, and purpose. Profound gratitude to each person near and far whose words or presence helped propel me into the next decade. The common threads of each of my “celebrations” are the companionship of community, the inspiration of nature, and the willingness to have honest conversations. These are the threads (see William Stafford’s poem below) that have guided my entire life and will stead me well in the years of service ahead.

Ann and Gracie amidst blooming Linnea flowers. Photo by Susie Lynch

 The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

By William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

 

 

No Child Left Inside

It may be the era of cellphones, video games, and indoor activities, but youth have always thrived being outdoors actively engaged with one another in exploring nature and making up nature-based games of daring and imagination. This year, I am devoting a lot of my time, energy, and passion to supporting that truth.

At a most personal, joyful level we just finished a week of Granny Nature Camp with our two dear Los Angeles grandchildren. And at a larger community level I am one of the adult volunteers in our local middle school program, which received a No Child Left Inside grant from the Washington State Parks and Recreation department for the 2018-2019 school year.

Our grandchildren

What do we do in our Granny Nature Camp? Education. Fun. Adventure. Storytelling. Listening. Our first project this year was having our 8 and 14-year-old grandchildren plant pea, kale, and spinach seeds in the garden. Young people need to understand where their food comes from. The miracle of spring is that they put those seeds in the ground when they arrived and were able to see them coming up before they headed back home.

Ann, Sasha, and Jaden planting the garden, photo by Christina Baldwin

Sasha’s emerging peas after 8 days

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eight-year-old Sasha learned how to ride a bike during her visit with us last summer (when she was 7). She doesn’t get much of a chance to practice riding where she lives, so we rented bikes and watched her natural athletic abilities take over. Both kids love our little dog who, of course, needs walking outside every day.

Sally, Sasha, Ann, and Jaden at Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island, photo by Christina Baldwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have some spectacular scenery where we live—cliffs, mountains, the sea. My experience is that kids are not overly impressed with scenery, but they do love immersion in that scenery. Our kids are physical in their appreciation: the challenge of climbing on rocks, throwing rocks, watching animals, and learning about some of the plants their grannies know.

Jaden watching seals on an offshore rock

 

Sasha the rock climber

Sasha and Jaden, the rock sitters

Sasha selling skipping rocks for a hug

Our morning animal card drawing

We began each day by drawing animal cards and talking about our plans for the day. Talking and listening are important skills our dear grandchildren have. I will always treasure those spontaneous conversations that spring forth by being in the stimulation of a green growing world with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local Middle School grant

March 16thour Middle School hosted the “We the Ecosystem—Creating Community” workshop. Seattle’s Young Women Empowered (Y-WE) Nature Connections Program came to join us for a day of immersion in nature and community. The Y-WE program serves diverse young women aged 13-24.

Since we were gathering so close to the spring equinox, March 21, I designed some outdoor games to celebrate and honor the changing of seasons. In the northern hemisphere the spring equinox marks a point where night and day again come into balance—each 12 hours long. The switch from winter to spring, erratic as it often is, is a time worthy of huge celebration.

First the beautiful, multi-colored parachute and the earth ball called us into team work. After working together to flip the earth ball, we sat down on the parachute and used the earth ball as a talking piece. “What signs of spring do you see around you?” At first, not everyone had an observation, but the second time around everyone had a comment—ranging from our Whidbey Island 4Hers whose baby chicks have just hatched to one of the young city girls who noticed that warmer weather “encourages my people to go out on the porch and talk.”

 

Working with the parachute and earth ball as a celebration of the Spring Equinox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In pausing to notice the signs of spring around us we created a little ceremony—a deliberate noticing, an awakening, something to align our energies with the season. Since several of the girls had spoken about chicken or duck eggs hatching, we transitioned to the next spring celebration: an egg toss. Big learning—eggs are remarkably resilient when they bounce on soft grass and it is not such a good idea to catch an egg in close to your body. Laughter and fun aligned our energies with the rising energies of the soil beneath our feet.

Teams working to safely toss raw eggs as part of a spring celebration

 Another team worked to transform an ignored garden bed behind the school. Overgrown with grasses and weeds, the twenty-foot long bed appeared an impossible task for a short activity period. Dozens of girls with shovels and good instruction went to work. An hour later the bed was ready for the next shift of girls to plant cold weather seeds like radish, spinach and peas. Spring in the northern hemisphere signals the beginning of our “agricultural year”. It important for all of us to understand and appreciate where our food comes from and how it grows.

 

Under the direction of the schools gardening director, Cary Peterson, girls tackle the difficult task of turning over an overgrown garden bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One hour later and the 20-foot garden bed was ready to plant peas and radishes.

For me the most basic fact of planetary survival is to raise young people who love, care for, and understand the earth they live on. They don’t have to go on exotic trips or live in what might be defined as a beautiful natural place. They simply need help going outside and learning about the part of the planet right under their feet. No Child Left Inside is a tall order, but it is something we who have our own child-in-nature memories can make happen with grandchildren, school children and neighborhood children.

Sunset over Fisherman’s Bay on Lopez Island

 

The Courage of our Elders

In six weeks, my mother moved three times, received physical therapy four times/day, and returned to using a walker just two weeks after fracturing her pelvis. This is heroic stuff for anyone. Mom is 92 years old.

It is heroic because in your tenth decade, it is not just one thing not working like you expect. There is arthritis, misbehaving bowels, wavering balance, misfiring memory or mental synapses, and a general slowness to movement, to name a few. When a “new” event, often a fall, triggers a “big” malady, the accumulated stress on the body is often completely overwhelming and debilitating.

Mom was overwhelmed and discouraged after her fall, but her usual kind nature drew health care workers to her. Her resolve to do her best during rigorous physical therapy sessions surprised everyone. Mom has not been an exerciser, but she wanted to get back on her walker. She did occasionally joke about hiding from her young, eager, skilled physical therapists. But they always found her!

Mom working with a physical therapist at Christmas

She still needs a watchful eye when walking or self-transferring, so she has been placed in a new section of her health care facility. And once again she is working to make friends, to participate in activities, and to be kind to her healthcare workers.

As a life-long piano player, she has brought new life into the wing of her facility. She wheels her wheelchair over to her piano in the family gathering area, carefully gets up on the piano bench and begins playing dozens of songs she has committed to memory. People begin wheeling themselves out of their rooms to hear her play.

Mom playing her piano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am incredibly proud of my mother and I realize her story is being played out every single day in homes and facilities around the world. Who do you know that is determinedly putting one foot in front of the other— overcoming sometimes great physical, emotional, and financial odds. A neighbor? A relative? A friend of a relative?

Find a way to spend time with them. Their time is not long on this earth. Their conversation might be slow, but their ability to get us to slow down and really listen is a gift. Their insights can be fresh and thought provoking if we let them.

When Christina’s mother was in her mid-90s, she often recited this poem:

“You see me dreaming alone in my chair,

You think that I’m ‘here’ but I’m really out ‘there.’

I’m talking with angels and I’ll join them soon,

Just after I learn how to fly over the moon.”

Mom and I talk about the veil between the worlds, about God’s plan for her, about conversing with Dad who passed away 5 years ago. I am not afraid of these conversations and listen carefully for openings that might encourage her to articulate some of her current inner journey. But I certainly notice how much happier she is now in her new setting thinking about playing the piano or participating in the next activity for residents. It clearly is a lot more fun to be engaged “here” and I am happy she still has that life force.

Mom visiting with her hometown pastor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Really, you think I am courageous?” she asked when I wondered if she would be OK with me writing a blog about her.

“Without a doubt, Mom! May you cherish the time you have left on this earth and may you continue to be of fine service to the people around you.”

I am lucky. Mom can still converse, play the piano, read books, write in her journal and play cards. I intend to see her as often as possible in whatever months or years she has left.

Ann and her mother, photo by Ann’s sister Kathy Harrington

Winter Storm in the Forest

When big storms blow in off the Pacific Ocean and hit our island sitting at the inland mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, huge damage can occur.

 

Storm debris was literally blown out of Puget Sound, onto some roads, and had to be plowed to be cleared.

Two grand firs were blown over and through the roof of this local, iconic structure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently we had a storm with over 60 mph winds that left many parts of the island without power for up to 5 days. Thousands of islanders were discovering how essential electricity is to comfort, and how prepared or unprepared their household was to live without it. We were able to keep the house warm with our wood stove and live by candle light with our carefully saved containers of clean water. (See Christina’s blog: Lights out.) When electricity returned, I was eager to see what had happened at my favorite local forest.

None of the towering old growth Douglas fir or cedar trees were down. They were deep in the forest surrounded by their younger offspring and their roots “held” on to each other. They were lucky, but many trees were not.

A tree was literally sheered off, making visceral the power of the wind.

 

A tree snapped off right at trails edge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New openings now exist in places that previously were heavily shaded. This will bring light to the forest floor and unleash a whole new growth spurt of young trees reaching towards the light. This is the natural order of things in a forest. Nothing is static. Everything is constantly changing.

In the midst of my awe at the power of wind on these standing giants, I wondered how many birds were killed by falling trees and branches. Where did the deer and coyotes and squirrels hide to avoid certain death? I could find no evidence to help me answer those questions. It was just very obvious that walking in a forest in the wind is a seriously bad idea.

Forest trail barely visible amidst the downed debris.

In some places our little dog had a much easier time finding her way on the trail than I did! I could barely roll under this tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing I did find that amazed me was the telltale sign of a tree getting ready to “let go”. In the quiet of the forest a week after the storm I found a line of disturbed soil about two feet from the base of a sixty-foot western hemlock. As the tree top was whipping around in the wind, the root ball supporting it was also beginning to move—a very bad sign for the tree’s longevity. It made it through this storm, but what about the next high wind?

 

The disturbed soil line of the moving rootball is just at the edge of the vegetation.

Closeup of the disturbed soil line. If you see this near a tree by your house, have it removed immediately!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is what an overturned rootball looks like.

In the quiet aftermath, this walk brings forth a message I am listening to as the year turns:  Be a part of a community. You have someone to hang onto, someone to share resources, someone to register when you are in trouble. This is true whether you are a tree, a bird, a forest mammal or a wandering, wondering human.

 

Celebrating the Seasons

Fall with its cooler temperatures and spectacular leaf colors has arrived in the northern hemisphere. Spring with sprouting plants and warming temperatures has arrived in the southern hemisphere.

Noticing these changes and taking the time to celebrate them is as natural to human rhythms as the various daily rituals we each have for rising with the light or retiring with the darkness.

Why not celebrate the change of seasons? At our home we mark seasonal changes with a bonfire, drumming, and using our garden lavender as prayer sticks.

Ann harvesting lavender for seasonal celebrations  Photo by Sarah MacDougall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not a complex celebration—something we design spontaneously that various neighbors have joined us for over the years.

Ann and Sarah drumming at opening of Fall Equinox celebration, photo by Christina Baldwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The point is noticing the seasonal change and marking it by stopping to be outdoors in some self-designed ceremony. We are lucky enough to have a fire pit in our yard, but a person might just as easily walk to a city park collect a few colored leaves and take them home and arrange them on the dining room table.

Notice. Pause. Appreciate. Share your appreciation with a celebration of your own design.  You and the natural world come more closely into alignment. It is a form of activism.

Placing dried lavender sticks into the fire with each prayer, photo by Ann Linnea

 

 

 

 

In Search of Bioluminescence

In early August our dear grandchildren came to camp with us on the shore of Puget Sound. We had a wonderful time hiking, kayaking, and exploring. One of the magical things we experienced was bioluminescence.

puerto-rico-bioluminescent-bay from bvipropertyyacht.com

By definition, bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. Some folks get to see fireflies in the summer.  Those of us around marine environments have to look in the water for our “fireflies”.

 

 

 

“Look, the stars have fallen into the sea,” said Christina as all four of us swished our long marshmallow sticks through the water at the edge of the dock.

Ever the literalist, seven-year-old Sasha looked overhead and said, “But the stars are still in the sky!”

Sasha balancing on a log in the same bay where we all discovered bioluminescence

 

“Right, some of them are up above and some of them are down below,” responded Christina.

 

 

 

 

 

“Wow, even in total darkness you can see a rock drop way down into the water!” exclaimed 13-year-old Jaden. “What actually makes the light?”

Jaden being his reflective self

“It is caused by energy released from a chemical reaction inside tiny organisms,” I explained. “When we stir up the water, they get activated.” While I am talking, everyone is busy swishing sticks through the water like magic wands.

Why do they do this?” asked Jaden.

“Lots of creatures have the ability to produce light—fireflies, jellyfish, even some sharks. These tiny creatures here are called dinoflagellates, a kind of marine plankton. We think they light up to confuse their predators. Other creatures exhibit bioluminescence to attract mates or to attract prey or to aid in hunting.”

We all returned to the beach, turned our headlamps back on, and filled our pockets with rocks. Though it was getting late, our exuberance did not wane for over an hour. Nearing 11:00 p.m., when we were finally satiated with swirling lights in the dark waters, we made the 10-minute walk back to our tent. I complimented Jaden on his persistence.

Jaden our 13-year-old night owl

“It took us three nights to figure out how to find the bioluminescence,” I said. “You were determined and kept me coming back each night. The first night all four of us tried to find it at the end of the dock but it was too choppy and didn’t feel safe to be close to the water. The second night you and I didn’t know to bring sticks. The final night we got everything right. Good job following through!”

 On the way back to the tent we paused to lie on the group site picnic tables with our headlamps off so we could see the Milky Way overhead. An infinity of stars, endless possibilities for life beyond what we know, complete silence and darkness.

“I miss Gracie,” said Sasha.

Sasha and Gracie together

 

“She is sleeping in her little kennel,” said Christina. “Let’s go back and check on her.”

Soon we are all asleep in the big Grandma tent, a satisfying end to our first camping trip with Sasha, and dreams that sparkled in the night.

 

 

Oddballs

No, this is not a derogatory term. It is actually a scientific category in Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon. And last week while hiking in a local forest a particular species of oddball was popping up everywhere.

Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora, popping up in a northwest woods. Photo by Ann Linnea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Oddballs” according to this popular botanical guide are plants that cannot turn sunshine into food. They are not green and contain no chlorophyll. Instead of being capable of photosynthesis, they get their nutrition in a variety of ways—by being insect eating, or saprophytic (living on dead and decaying vegetation), or parasitic (getting nutrition from a living plant/tree).

These Indian Pipes or Ghost Plants are parasitic and do not make their own food. Photo by Ann Linnea

Indian Pipe or ghost plant is parasitic. It obtains its nutrition indirectly from the roots of Douglas fir, western hemlock, and other conifers. Indirectly? Yes, these little ghost plants connect to conifers via microscopic pipes formed by a combination of fungal filaments and plant roots. These microscopic pipes are called mycorrhiza (meaning fungus-root).

Oh the mysteries of what lies beneath our feet in the forest! The remarkable neural network of the forest is just beginning to be understood by scientists. The work of Dr. Suzanne Simard, University of British Colombia, on communication and nutrient exchange between trees and other plants in the forest will be the subject of  another blog.

Ann and her dog, Gracie, walking in the forest with the ghost plants. Photo by Christina Baldwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last month my blog was about walking through the forest at the moment that my namesake flower, Linnea borealis, was blooming everywhere. This month it was my great good luck to be walking during the time of the bloom of the ghost plants.  A walk in nature is an open door to wonder and mystery always waiting for us to walk through.

 

My Namesake

This week on a summer solstice, forest walk in our local state park I was greeted with an enormous surprise. The flower I was named after was in bloom everywhere—from small patches to entire ridges.

Linnea borealis, the twin flower

A “field” of thousands of twin flowers in bloom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never in 40 years of living in its range have I timed a walk to be in the woods at the peak moment of bloom for Linnaea borealis (the twinflower). I have seen one or two or a small colony of the tiny flowers blooming at one time, but nothing of this magnitude! I carefully sat down at the edge of one of these blooming fields and became completely still.

South Whidbey State Park on summer solstice

No human sound penetrated the forest’s deep silence on this cool summer day. I inhaled slowly. There is reputed to be an elegant fragrance that comes from these fairy flowers. I had never been able to perceive it, but here were thousands of flowers in one place. Slowly, steadily I found myself engulfed in a very slight citrus smell.

The ecstasy I felt must be akin to someone coming from a planet with no flowers landing in the northern hemisphere in June. I both wanted to shout out loud in amazement AND be silent in the temple of beauty.

This tiny woodland flower was my grandmother’s favorite in her Swedish homeland. She gave her fourth child, my mother, the middle name of Linnea. My mother passed that same middle name onto me. After kayaking around Lake Superior in the summer of 1992, I felt so profoundly changed that I needed an outward claiming of my inward change. So, I legally changed my name to Ann Linnea.

At this moment in the woods, I felt enormous connection to my mother, my grandmother, and my Swedish heritage. Since my mother is still alive, I eagerly called her when I returned from my walk. She has always lived a bit south of where this tiny plant grows. She knows what it looks like, but cannot ever remember smelling a Linnea flower. I sure hope my sweet, quiet grandmother had a moment like mine in the forest of her homeland when she was a child.

My grandmother’s favorite wildflower in Sweden. She immigrated here as a teenager.

Nature holds the thread of wonder if we look carefully. It is a powerful antidote for us humans—it has always been so.

 

 

 

The Trail Steward

The Trail Steward

Sitting on a bench in my beloved South Whidbey State Park, I was happy to be hiking again. Just 3 weeks after a partial knee replacement I was not moving fast, but I was relishing the return to my weekly medicine walks. Several old growth red cedar trees towered above me. Fern and salal plants were shoulder height and dense. The sanctuary of the forest surrounded me.

Ann at South Whidbey State Park’s old growth cedar

Within minutes of sitting there, a young family came by to admire the old cedar tree in front of me. The family paused to greet me and then the eight-year-old boy asked his father if he could go crawl into the hollowed out core of the ancient cedar tree.

The tree opening that the young boy wanted to explore

“Just a minute,” said the father. “We need to read the sign posted on the fence that protects this tree.”

The father read the sign to his son, wife, and newborn.

Please stand back. This tree needs protection. This ancient western red cedar is over 500 years old. During the 1970s under the organization ‘Save the Trees’ Harry and Meryl Wilbert and other dedicated citizens of South Whidbey, literally wrapped themselves around this and other old growth trees along this trail to save them from logging. Their efforts succeeded in annexing 255 acres of forest to South Whidbey State Park.

The old cedar now calls us back to the spirit of protection: this time people need to stop playing on or in the hollow of its trunk. Unless we all admire this ancient giant from a distance, the tree will die long before its time.”

 

Sign with the story of the old cedar tree

 I could see that the young boy was fidgety with the long reading. “But can I go and climb in the tree, Dad? I’ll be really careful.”

“No, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said the father. “The sign was put here to help us understand why no one should climb in and around the tree.”

I could not resist saying something. “Well done, Dad.”

The mom, who was standing close to me with her swaddled newborn, asked, “Are you a volunteer in the park?”

“Yes, I live nearby and visit often. You might call me a trail steward. Nineteen years ago I helped place that sign there because so many people were crawling in and out of the tree with little thought for what was happening to the tree itself.””

“Well, it’s really good to meet you. We’re from Seattle and have never been here before. We’re learning a lot.”

We all bid one another goodbye. After they left, I kept sitting a while longer. Nineteen years ago I was sitting in the same spot watching two young boys from the campground crawl in and out of the tree hitting the opening with sticks to make it larger. I, of course, asked them to stop. “Please don’t hurt that tree,” I had said. After they scurried away, it occurred to me that they didn’t know any better and that an educational sign might prevent further damage.

Trails and forests everywhere need stewards, and those of us who are frequent visitors can help educate newcomers in nature. A conversation here, a small action there—the natural world needs all of our attentiveness.

Ann and her constant trail companion, Gracie the corgi

 

 

A Tribute to My Daughter

I have just returned from a 10-day family trip to South Korea. Seven of us, age seven to 71, made the pilgrimage back to the land of our daughter and son’s birth. Everything about the trip was extraordinary, beginning with Sally’s invitation to have us join her.

Sally left South Korea in 1984 at age 17-months to begin her life in the United States as our adoptive daughter. Her return 34 years later with her entire extended U.S. family: two children Jaden (13) and Sasha (7); her partner, Joe; her father, Dave; my partner, Christina; and me was a pilgrimage of immense proportion. It will take us a long time to fully understand the impact of that trip on each of us. I begin my integration here with some photos and narrative and a bow of respect to a beautiful country with a long, complex and proud history.

Korean travelers: Joe (Sally’s partner), Dave grandfather, Jaden (Sally’s son), Sally, Sasha (Sally’s daughter), Christina grandmother, Ann grandmother photo by Joe Villarreal

On one level the trip is a story of spring time superlatives: gorgeous light pink cherry blossoms, multi-colored traditional hanbok costumes, fragrant food carts, and open-air market stalls of many, many items made in Korea.

Sasha at the cherry blossom festival

Traditional hanbok dresses

 

 

Joe and Sasha buying some street food

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carefully advertised pride in local products

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On another level it is a story of an American family discovering its roots. I knew very little about Korea when we adopted Sally and Brian. I am only slightly more educated now, but feel a new alignment and kinship with the country and its kind, thoughtful people. Despite the fact that we collectively only knew one word in Korean, gamsa-hamnida(thank you), we managed to figure out subway and bus routes, restaurant menus, and taxi directions using rudimentary communication and gesturing because people were so kind to us. In one case, a young man even came out of his shop to hail two taxi cabs to a nearby park whose name we pointed to on our map.

We spent several days in Seoul, which was still gleaming in all its post Olympic beauty. The mix of old and new and the sheer density of everything was immediately striking: spectacular skyscrapers next to the traditional south wall of the city; alleyways containing many, many small restaurants and shops.

Sasha and the guard at the traditional South Wall of the city—note skyscrapers extending beyond

 

Our family in a traditional Hanok village found a surprise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The corgi dog we spotted in an alley way.

 

 

 

Sasha,Sally, and Jaden heading off to explore the first morning in Seoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The longest stop and heart of our trip was Busan, beautiful port city and birth-home to our son and daughter. Sally said, “Somehow I imagined coming from a small fishing village.”  With 3.5 million people, Busan is the country’s second largest city and the 9thlargest port in the world.

Busan, the bustling world class port

Busy night scene in Busan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The city with cherry blossoms all over its hillsides

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent our first day enjoying a hike at Igidae Park which gave us expansive views of the skyline and the Gwangan Bridge. The walk itself took about two hours along a forested path just above the seashore. Though there were numerous Koreans out enjoying this coastal walk, our group of seven found a rocky seaside nook to share some stories about Brian’s life and then each of the seven of us took some time alone to scatter his ashes on the seashore of his birth city.

Looking at Busan from Igidae coastal park where we scattered some of Brian’s ashes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the spirit of honoring rituals, we journeyed the next day to the community of Jinhae where the annual Korean Cherry Blossom festival is held for 10 days. It is estimated that nearly 2 million people attend the 10-day festival. I would definitely believe there were 200,000 people there on our visiting day! Crowded, yes. Respectful, definitely. Beautiful, for sure.

Joe and Sally at the cherry blossom festival

 

Traditional male dancers at the Jinhae cherry blossom festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandmothers dressed up for Easter and the cherry blossom festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding back to Busan on our tour bus, we were amazed at the number of high-rise apartment buildings alongside the roadway. Two-thirds of South Korea consists of mountains and hills. Only 22% of the land is arable. Every inch is needed to grow food for its 51.25 million people.

Our final full day in Busan took us to the Jagalchi Fish Market where we marveled at row after row of fish, eel, octopus, clams, sea squirts, and seaweed. Our granddaughter, Sasha, became intrigued with one stall where dozens of live octopus kept trying to escape from a crowded plastic tub. She and Christina wrote and illustrated a book titled, “The Girl who Saved the Octopus.”

Jagalchi Fish market stalls

A fresh basket of mussels, clams, shrimp, and octopus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woman vendor selling octopus at fish market

Sasha and Christina writing their book, “The Girl Who Was An Octopus Saver”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That final night we took a harbor cruise to see Sally’s city from the water. Busan is lit up like a world-class city—office buildings, bridges, etc. I said to Sally, “Wow, you really come from some where beautiful!” It was an emotional evening for all of us.

Cruise ship at night in Busan

 

 

Our cruise ship going under the Gwangan Bridge in Busan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to Seoul for several of days of integration, we found comfort in our new familiarity with outdoor markets, local food, and subways.

Sally’s father and Christina eating at a Korean barbecue in Seoul which furnishes gloves to keep your hands clean

 

Lantern lights for the celebration of Buddha’s birthday in Jogyesa Temple, Seoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jaden, Sally, Christina, and Sasha at Seoul’s Namdaemum Market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home now, I offer a deep bow of respect to the incredible adjustment my daughter has made these many decades to creating a beautiful life in the U.S. And a bow of gratitude that we were able to bring some of Brian’s ashes to the shore where he was born.

Now we walk with curiosity into the meaning-making story this trip will have in the generations of our family.