A Tourist In My Own Back Yard

This essay also appears in my local weekly newspaper, Lamorinda Weekly.

In the beginning: dark, damp soil. A small, black plastic pot of hope. Nothing seems to be growing but my own impatience.

A few evenings later, the dirt has begun to mound and rise, swelled by a pushing from below. In the morning a white nub has appeared below the broken surface of the soil. By evening the protuberance has thickened, a loop of pale white rope tinged with green. The next morning a head is crowning, something large and thick and green dragged up out of the dirt. By the end of that same day, the head has revealed itself, the stalk straightening and hoisting up the bean from which this miracle was born.

Another day and leaves unfurl like the wings of a newborn butterfly, the bean split into drying halves that hang limp from the stem. A week later and the plant is over six inches tall with broad, heart-shaped leaves, and between them: another nub, green and tender, the beginning of a vine. Once planted in the ground it will reach for its support pole and then, finding it, wrap itself counterclockwise—always counterclockwise—and upward, sprouting leaves and flowers and bean pods and clinging to everything it touches. It will grow over six feet long, topping the pole, still reaching skyward until, finding nothing to hold, it will collapse gently onto its neighbor and they will wrap themselves together in a season-long embrace. In two months, I’ll be picking beans and steaming them for dinner.

Until now, I hadn’t paid close attention to how seeds grow. My life for the last few years has centered on travel and so I usually buy plants, put them in the ground, and set my drip irrigation system. While I’m away somewhere vegetables pop out, ready to pluck and eat on my return.  But like all Californians, I’ve been cloistered at home for months along with my family, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to travel again. I’m longing for the newness of places I’ve never been.

Yet, newness is all around me: the spider skittering across my patio with an enormous egg sac; the constant squawks, growls and honks of the blue herons that nest in a hundred-foot-tall eucalyptus down the street; the heady aroma of compost, fungi and microorganisms in the freshly turned soil of my vegetable beds.

Wild radish, four feet tall, billows with flowers of white, pink, and pale yellow for hundreds of yards along a paved path near my home. I’ve walked that path for over twenty years; how is it that I’d never noticed those prolific blooms until now? I startled a crow on the sidewalk and as it exploded into the air, I thrilled to an unexpected shrok-shrok-shrok from its wings, like a muffled hand saw enthusiastically cutting wood.

Unlike the beans, my basil seedlings are growing very slowly. They took the same time to germinate but have hardly changed in weeks. Are they ill, or are they secretive, preferring for now to let their roots do the growing, out of my view?

I don’t know what the future holds, for them or for me. While I wait, I’m delighting in the present. The laughter of the Amazon driver who said, “You made my week!” simply because I smiled and said good morning; the rush of a crow’s wings; sounds as memorable to me as the haunting call to prayer I once heard sung by a quavering old man in Chefchaouen, Morocco.

When I can travel again, I hope I’ll continue to be enthralled not just by what’s exotic, but also by what’s right in front of me.

All We Have To Do Is Breathe!

Last time, I wrote about our amazing dive trip at Raja Ampat, Indonesia. We had one incident that was pretty frightening at the time, but in the end was a great learning experience. I wrote about it for the British magazine Diver, “Britain’s best-selling diving magazine.” My story appears in their May issue! In the lower right corner of the cover you can see a photo of Yvonne and me.

Return with me now to Raja Ampat for a somewhat different take on what can happen when you’re diving in unfamiliar conditions. Click on the cover image, or right here, to read the story.


Moroccan and a Half

I was thrilled and honored last year when an abridged version of “Moroccan and a Half” was published on Hidden Compass, an online travel magazine. There, I got to share space with some amazing and even famous writers and photographers. This past March 1, I was equally honored when the original unedited version won a Solas Award in the Destination Story category from Travelers Tales. Here is that story.

Moroccan And A Half
To understand a people, you must live among them for 40 days. -Arabic proverb

 The taxi driver glared at me when I demanded that he use le compteur. “What do you think that is?” he snapped in French, pointing at the already-running meter under his dash. Looking both pained and angry, he glanced into the rear-view mirror at another passenger already in the back, then turned again to face me.

Switching to English, I apologized as I got into the front seat of his bright-red petit taxi, explaining that every other driver in Marrakesh had insisted on an inflated, fixed price for tourists like me. “Are you a tourist?” he asked, his voice still raised, chiding me. “Aren’t you living here?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer. Continue reading “Moroccan and a Half”

Moroccan and a Half

I just had an essay published in a beautiful online magazine called Hidden Compass! I’m thrilled to sit in the company of some really great writers. Click on the link below and scroll down to find and read my essay called “Moroccan and a Half” but afterward, read the other pieces too!