Friday, August 6, 2010


The house in my heart has porches. My Dad loved porches. Observe. Sit. Be. Dabble in your comforts with a privacy that says 'this is my house', knowing you can always step inside even with the excuse 'I'll be just a minute, getting coffee' and return at your own given speed. Or not.

On the porch the wild and the tamed play with boundaries. Gently. The potted flowers. The swatted flies. The ferile cat tempted to a store-caught meal. A head rub. Triage space - does this wound require some attention? Something more than sitting on the porch and being cared about will heal? Then come inside my friend and be warm. There are a lot of other creatures here in this house, some gentle, some fearsome, some goofy and lovable. But all will call you family. Find your corner and rest my love. You are safe here.

Fair warning, it takes a very brave soul to venture down the basement stairs. The furnace burns and clangs down there. Often we find its easier and just more efficient to keep the house comfortable with the pellet stove up here where we can all see it. Keep it going. Poke the furnace in the wrong spot and she could blow the whole damn thing up.

There are sunny window nooks here, filled with jungles of plants, tendrils and spikes. Mysterious pots of dormant life waiting to try at living out loud above the dark blanket it rests in. Lots of chairs to try - move around or stake your claim. And there are always always the porches. The back where friends come to rebuild the world as you know it, recalling this and that. Inviting you to share in something new. Words at the gate. A paper you don't take shows up on a chair. The wave as the mailman walks by on his way to the front porch, where the world is more easily let in. A dish of this, a vial of that comes to the door. Creek, clang, "hallooooo?" Cats of all colors, except black and white, slip in and out.

When life gets hard the front porch bustles. The house a vast territory keeping most at bay from the porch in the back where the rhythms and breath and peacefulness of those who have come to call this house home sit and watch and think and be safe.

Dear Judy, you saved my Dad's life when you coaxed him out of the wild and onto your front porch. You invited him to stay if he would. To love and be loved - welcome to bring his bags and find a place to settle in. He had a lot of wounds to heal, and an insatiable drive to ride around and make some noise and partake of the pleasures and thrills to be had on this earth. And you were wildly beautiful and an explorer with a fiery heart and an intoxicating, soothing hearth. Share my house, share my heart you said. And for many years he did so - spending many hours on the front porch. And something slowly, suddenly both - shifted. He joined you to restore the house - to something you envisioned and needed together. And his heart found its center with you. And he moved to the back porch.

Daddy. Thank you for giving me the wildness in you, that so needs a center. And for this lesson you taught me, not by telling but by living it - about the importance of porches.

James T. Hannan born Feb. 10, 1942, left us to fish the big waters Aug. 4, 2010.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Faces of Africa

Sitting outside enjoying the cool evening air at a restaurant in South Africa, Terry warned me that it would be nearly impossible to share my experience with anyone. "They mean well, and are interested, but their attention span will be about ten minutes and you will be frustrated at your own inability to capture your experience with words and even photographs" is the gist of his wisdom.

The stories I have. Entertaining, insightful, pithy - well under ten minutes. The photographs prepared - set to music even. The sincere and loving openings from friends and family to share - all there. I am profoundly living in the 'own inability' part. Jet lag long gone, I am wandering around in caverns of exhaustion just underground. Poking my head up, squinting at the shards of light to make conversation, dinner, piles of clean laundry, then sinking - relieved - back into the cool dark. In between, or perhaps lurking in yet deeper caves, is grief I think. And a choice.

We hang on so tight don't we? To the part of our experience that we just call memories for short. That damned time-space continuum thing that makes us perceive the past as gone. The unsettling knowledge of just how untrustworthy the conscious memory banks are, forever losing our most precious deposits.

I can't really tell you how it was for me. Sit here totally humbled by my lack of words for how it is for me now. But I am grateful that you were willing to sit and listen. Because I am now clear on this much at least. I can choose to float in the sweet quiet of the middling caves, or I can truly face the ferocious depths of dark and loss and warm myself in the light of living and trust that it will be alright.

This is five minutes of what I miss...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Thin Lines

Do places that enclose wild animals in the name of education, service, research and conservation - such as wildlife rehabilitation centers and zoos, who also generate funds by charging people to view the animals in 'marketable ways' help or harm wildlife?

Is the water infused with the bark of a Baobab tree to make 'skinny' babies grow and thrive when bathed and fed with it Shangani myth and legend, or powerful medicine?

Is the Spider Hunting Wasp who captures its prey, paralyzes it with its sting, lays its eggs on the still live body so that its newborn babies will have fresh meat to eat upon arriving in this world a vicious killer or a good provider for its family?

Is a man who tracks and shoots animals to be able to feed his family a hunter, or a poacher?

Is being absolutely sure of your beliefs about your god(ess)(es) the bedrock of a good and satisfying life or damnation embodied as the suredness of others is denied?

It depends, one might say. It is so clearly this or that, says another.

Its both - all of these things, says another.

Intent? Perception? Harm done? To whom? In it's nature? The way of nature? The way of the world? Is the world not all natural? It's shades of gray, says another. Is what man makes from the resources around him less natural than the cunning construct of twigs and grass the caterpillar carries on his back to shield him from predators? A cheetah in a zoo who no longer has to hunt for her food less of a cheetah? A man who no longer has to farm for his food, less of a man? Thin lines. Gray lines. Hard lines. Blurred lines. I've always preferred circles myself.

In South Africa there have been these conversations and more. The time, space and companionship to dance with these notions, and fall in love with the mess and the beauty of not being sure of any of it again and again.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Siyafunda Sunrise

5:45am. Sunrise. Outside my room at Siyafunda the sky is growing lighter and I step outside in time to watch the sun come up, backlighting the tree branch sculptures. When I turn around there are four giraffe munching their breakfast in the next door field. Gorgeous. Surprising, and not. Most people at camp have been here at least a week and giraffe and zebra, kudu and impala are common sightings for them so soon. I'm still jumping out of my seat with a huge grin on my face pointing - there! There!

Of course everyone was excited when we encountered the Rhino 'family' of four on the road yesterday. The baby was 'whining' at it's momma in this high pitched voice...whhhhnnnn wwwhhhhnnn. Pay attention to me. Let me suckle. I want ice cream. Oh, that last was a remnant of my own memories! There is nothing like the time and distance difference in the African bush to both want to make you stay forever, and at exactly the same time, give anything to hear your child at home ask you if they can have some ice cream. Of course, honey. Moose Tracks or Mint Chocolate Chip? Chocolate on that?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Room in Africa

This is my room in Africa. Inside it feels much like a lovely guest room in the home of a friend with really nice taste, and who has the kind of organization and sensibility to provide visitors with a selection of pillows, a cozy down comforter and the kind of sheets that are worn to just soft ripeness but perfectly clean without being all bleachy. Whistling Trees lodge has been my home in Africa, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

SAFE is the word you hear most here in South Africa, as in 'be safe', 'travel safe', 'are you safe'? Safety it seems has become a new thing to yearn for - the next nirvana after the fall of apartheid. John, our trusty gentle and funny grandfather of six who drives us everywhere tells of how things were so much safer during the apartheid years. No violence in schools. No killings on the streets. Why I asked? Having immersed myself in books and videos before traveling I thought on this I was clear. That apartheid was the time of violence and killings. John tells me that with separation of the people came a sort of safety within the areas that were for your people. That teachers could discipline in schools. That now he doesn't care to venture out to the beloved soccer games of this country because there is fighting in the game, and out.

I don't say these things to have you avoid South Africa. Exactly the opposite. It is a place now of great opening. Of turmoil awaiting a new form of what is possible when people demand equality where so much history has denied it. Where such diverse people are piled atop one another so closely around the cities that you bump up against difference each minute. And it is wonderful and alive. And in my room in Africa, and exploring South Africa, with the friendship and care of Daniel and his staff I am also SAFE.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

In My Country

I awoke this morning in my country. I have been awakening for some little time now. And for the last week or more it has been with the story of South Africa in my mind and the rhythm of Maggie Soboil pouring the prose of "Cry, the Beloved Country" into my heart. Another Meg, the most traveled of my family and dear friends to offer me tips and advice, simply said get to know something of the country and the people you will visit. The most traveled indeed. Yes. I will get to know something of these people dear Meg. I will get to know something of their country.

Do you think you know the story of their country? Something of her people? I did. As it turns out I knew nothing. As it will turn out, even after reading so many books and watching so many movies and following impassioned cyber-debates between her countrymen - posts as fresh as today, I will still know nothing of their country. Nothing of her people.

And I will go there and hope to then know something. For on this trip I will try so very hard to be wide awake.

I was not yet born when my European ancestors 'discovered' my country in their name and that of their god and,
I was not yet born when exploration and progress of white men tangled up with tribal tradition in my country and,
I was not yet born when the natives were corralled into reservations so meagerly parsed in my country and,
I was not yet born when the natives of Africa were captured and enslaved in my country and,
I was not yet born when they were on paper set free in my country and,
I was not yet born when the rising up of those who were not truly set free won their legal rights in my country.

I was born when the reality of legal rights together with what lies in the hearts of some and not in others is messy and painful.
But I was not awake.

I was born when the natives were rising up from legal and systematic de-humanizing in their country. But I was not awake.
I was born when the rights of all citizens were won and declared equal on paper in their country. But I was not awake.
I was born when new leaders set about to help all men women and children tell the truth and reconcile in their country. But I was not awake.

I was born when the reality of legal rights together with what lies in the hearts of some and not in others is messy and painful.
Don't go back to sleep.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mystery Solved

We have been having a lot of fun speculating about elephant contraception. If you are ready to have the mystery solved and see some amazing footage of the project I will be volunteering my time with in South Africa next month - hit the play button. It's about 2 minutes - plus a wee bit of patience for buffering.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Tree of Life

Where in the world would a skinny white girl growing up in a tiny farm town in the 70s American midwest get the idea that Africa is the one place she loved and had to see? I think the trees told me. Seeped it under my skin where I scraped and shimmied up against theirs to get as high as sense would let me. Held me in their web of tangled roots and canopies stretching round the earth while I spent whole afternoons at their feet making little villages from the parts of themselves they shed.

In Africa is where it all begins. The tree of life. The birthplace of human. Later I discovered scientists hypothesize about it, archeologists dig up evidence and African folklore tell its tales. I just knew because of the trees. Is it a coincidence that the first time I saw a photograph of a baobab tree I was shocked at its beauty, struck me as profoundly perfect, mesmerized me. Or was it calling me home in the secret language spoken amongst trees?

Monday, March 15, 2010

However Do I Find the Time?

For the use of those who may find this someday as they prepare for their first trip on a volunteer project to Africa, and for those who find entertainment in those strange components that make me, me... the answer to the question "However Do I Find the Time..." to figure out this trip AND bring home bacon AND fry it up in the pan is Project Management geekitude of course.

A bow down to Jim and Martha who have taught me well. You can see my 'network and time plan' here. I will be sharing this example with my new batch of Time & Project Management guinea pigs - I mean students Wednesday and Thursday - so you see I took advantage of the SYNERGY! For those playing 'workplace bingo' I believe you get double points for that one. If you don't have workplace bingo and you REALLY WANT IT - I got mine at Borders in clearance calendar form for only $1. Yes that's right One Dollar. (Quick, how many rand is that?)

In my efforts to provide useful information - although I may be the last to discover this - if you go to Google and just type in for instance 'dollars to rands' or 'ounces to kilos' the conversion just pops up! Will wonders never cease I ask you!

If you are now dying to be as Project Management geeky as me, following is the recipe for your very own network and time plan for your big project - going to Africa, or even bigger cleaning out the basement.
1) Brainstorm ALL of the 'deliverables' you need that together get you the end - 'clean basement' such as Waste Disposal Plan and Tasty Snacks & Beverages.
2) Write each one on a sticky note and estimate how many minutes/hours each will take to complete
3) Kind of organize all the sticky notes into categories that lead up to the 'big' chunks
4) Missing anything? Go ahead and add sticky notes.
5) Draw on a big piece of paper or your basement wall a calendar with columns for weeks
6) Layout the sticky notes in the order that makes sense to you across the weeks from your target COMPLETE date backwards - being realistic about the amount of TIME you have each week to spend


Now just get 'er done. Got 10 minutes - grab one of your 10 minute sticky notes and DO IT!!!!!

7) Invite us all to your cool clean basement party! I'll bring the bingo game.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Something Old Something New...

Something borrowed... I mentioned in my last post my burgeoning packing list. When Claire faces a math problem that she hasn't encountered before I tell her "do what you know". Africa? No clue. Making lists - that I know how to do. In fact I am entertaining myself with an app I downloaded that lets you make packing lists! I have a big basket going of the things I am gathering. Take a close look, there will be a quiz later.

In my 'favorite new' category so far is an item not pictured here. An olive drab super heavy-duty canvas duffle from the Army Surplus store on Woodward. I'll admit I was a little frightened at the 'vibe' in this place less than a mile from my house. (And next door to a shooting range, I might add). But within 20 minutes I was seriously eyeballing those curvy knives they use to skin stuff! Recovering rationality I decided to leave any stabbing or skinning that might occur to the professionals.

In my 'favorite borrowed' category so far there is a tie between my Mother's 'tilly' hat - the cream-brimmed beauty at center of the basket, and the little plastic compass on a red string from my stepdad Dave. The hat has been to South Africa so I figure it will know the way, and the compass will lead me home.

So here comes the quiz part. After perusing the contents of my basket (click on the picture to view it big - then hit your browser's back arrow to return), what ONE thing would you suggest I add. And ahhh, can I borrow it?

TROUBLE posting a comment? Sometimes you have to hit post through a couple of error messages and perhaps type in some words to make sure you are a nice person.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Elephant Contraceptives, Oh My!

Lions too, I hope. This will be the first of the "I'm off to South Africa" entries. Yay! And ummm, no the title of this post is not referring to an item on my burgeoning packing list, rather the focus of the volunteer project I have signed on for. WHAT? If you are like every single person I have mentioned this to, you are now imagining the various ways in which one might, to put it delicately, intervene in the natural goings on of the reproductive activities of a VERY LARGE mammal. I'll give you a moment...

All interesting thoughts (feel free to post your guesses to the comments for our entertainment) but no, I have NO idea. I'll let you know when I return on April 24th, or can get to an internet cafe in the Limpopo region of the South African bush. In the meantime, my new travel advice internet buddy Jim the Shoemaker suggested I write about what it is like to be a first time 'voluntour'. Okay, so the idea is that instead of being driven around a big national wildlife safari park and take pictures of 'The Big 5' between drinks and your spa appointment like NORMAL people possessing large doses of sanity do, I am instead volunteering to spend my vacation time working on a research project on a private game reserve. I've heard it described as going on safari with a clipboard and homework. Take a peek at the place I'll be if you have a second, the Siyafunda Conservancy research and bush camps.

So I'd love nothing more than to have you follow along for the ride and of course offering all of that advice and witty commentary I know you have in you. I figure the more people I have following this blog the better negotiating position my 'abduction consultants' will be in when a band of elephants hears what we're up to and take matters into their own hands - or um trunks.

Want to join the web warriors and try your hand at following your favorite blogs via the mysterious RSS? I posted a 'what the... and how to" here.