The Art of Travel

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

I just got back from a day and a half vacation in beautiful San Francisco and it was so diversified and lively that it felt like many more days than it was.  Here are some suggestions for making all your travel dreams become a reality. 

 

1. Be realistic

2. Budget

3. Stay focused

 

Being realistic sometimes bites.  But it goes a long way in the art of travel.  It’s about understanding who you are and what makes you happy.  You may, for example, one time have dreamed about going to The Galapagos Islands.  But if you prefer big, bustling cities and can’t handle getting seasick, then in doing your research you will find that The Galapagos may be an old or misplaced dream that probably won’t be very fun for you.  Let go of that dream and figure out what currently suits you. 

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

 

Budgeting is the key to travel; and it’s not just about money, it’s about time too.  With all the lovely places there are to visit, it is not easy to choose.  And inevitably as you visit more sights, the list of new places just keeps expanding.  We all have limitations in life, figure yours out and work within them.  Planning, research and talking to others about their travel experiences all help.  I’ve eliminated whole countries by asking pointed questions of fellow travelers who have visited places on my list.  And of course there are so many books, magazines, websites and blogs to consult. 

 

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, closing doors is also very helpful.  I once thought, for example, that there were many places in Alaska that I wanted to visit.  We planned the first trip there with the understanding we would go back another time and see other parts.  It’s a huge state.  We thoroughly enjoyed Denali, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.  But once we were there, we saw the wildlife wasn’t quite as abundant as we liked (so much frigidity), and realized tropical venues are more our style.  A future trip to Alaska is now lower on the list.  It was a beautiful trip, lots of fun, and an awesome state, but there are other places we want to visit more. 

Here’s a real eye-opening way to prioritize.  Spoiler alert:  it’s painful.  Count how many years are left in your life until travel will become physically impossible.  Then multiply it by the number of times in a year you can realistically take a trip.  That’s how many big trips you have left if you’re lucky.  ouch.  sorry.  If you’re middle aged and realistic, it doesn’t amount to many trips.  But as harsh as this is, it does give you insight.  It forces you to focus. 

 

Focusing on where you most want to go in the world is not as easy as it sounds.  Make a list of your top choices and allow for frequent re-prioritization.  Some folks prefer not to make a plan, want the spirit of the moment to move them.  But besides the time restriction of a finite life, there are over seven billion people on this planet.  Reservations, permits, and planning are necessary in most popular visitor destinations. 

 

Lastly, go to places with your companion that you both enjoy.  If you prefer to travel alone, this isn’t a problem.  But I can’t emphasize enough that compromise on a vacation is not usually fun for anyone.  I was once on an African safari with a family who obviously forced their teenage daughter to join them.  She spent the whole trip with ear buds and a frown, and wow, they threw away so many thousands of dollars.  The spirit of travel sometimes requires a person to be temporarily inconvenienced or uncomfortable.  If a person is where they want to be, these brief moments are easily overlooked…but forget it if they never wanted to be here in the first place.  yikes. 

 

SF Ferry Building

SF Ferry Building

Our trip to San Francisco had limitations, as every trip does.  We had only two days for this trip.  We planned accordingly and had so much fun!  (For tips on planning a bigger trip, like a safari, see my post Let’s Go on an African Safari.)  We wanted it to be carefree, easy, summer fun…and it was.  We took a ferry across the Bay and left the car behind, enjoyed the markets and gourmet shops, ventured along the waterfront, found the America’s Cup Village where the fastest yachts in the world will compete next month.  There were booths of crafts and art, local soccer teams playing, street artisans playing music, roller skating, and performing, boats of every size and color.  This two day trip transported us out of the so-much-to-do homeowner mode and into a vibrant, colorful summer world.   

SF Farmer's Market

SF Farmer’s Market

 

Earth is a big place.  But once you manage a few basics about what would be fun for you, you can focus on just where you want to spend your precious time, money, and energy, and then have a blast.  Bon voyage!

San Francisco California

San Francisco California

The Horicon Marsh Lives On

Common Muskrat

Common Muskrat

I had the fortune of spending the past few days all around the Horicon Marsh, a vast wetland in southeastern Wisconsin.  Right now they are just beginning their summer and it’s an ongoing jubilee of outdoor joys after a frozen, frigid winter.  I like the Horicon Marsh for three reasons. 

 

1.  I’m a birder, and this 32,000 acre wetland boasts 300 species of birds.  Joining this muskrat (a “muskie”) and Canada Geese pictured here are raptors, cranes, owls, songbirds, waterfowl, reptiles and other mammals. Every May they have a bird festival hosting hundreds of birders for the spring migration of numerous species. 

 

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

2.  I like this marsh for its history.  There were mistakes made along the way, but the land and its people have co-evolved to create this successful ecosystem.  You can walk along the paths as terns silently fly overhead and red-winged blackbirds deliver their melodic liquid burbling, hidden rails squawk in the cattails while chiggers quietly munch on your ankles. 

 

The area is the result of glacial formation during the last Ice Age many, many years ago.  There were nomadic hunters, prehistoric Indian cultures, then Native American tribes, then white settlers.  Closer to our time, in the mid-1800s a dam was built, flooding the marsh, creating a large man-made lake.  A few decades later, controversy ensued and the dam was destroyed.  When the dam was torn down the marsh habitat was restored, with that came an influx of ducks and geese. 

 

So the ducks and geese began congregating again in the Horicon Marsh, much to the delight of the local residents.  It was the late 1800s and early 1900s and the wildlife had returned to what was feared to be destined as a wasteland.  The wildlife came back and began once again to multiply, the people were elated.  What happened next?  Hunting was unregulated and hunters wiped out all the ducks and geese! 

 

Back to a wasteland.  Around 1910 they dredged the marsh since there was no life left, prepared it for agriculture.  But farming failed.  Next the land turned into peat moss and it caught fire and burned and burned until there was nothing left again.  Another period of being a wasteland, until 1921 when conservationists pushed through some laws and regulations. 

 

Today it is the opposite of a wasteland; it is a wetland managed both as a national refuge and a state refuge.  The largest cattail marsh in the United States, it is home to abundant wildlife and appreciative humans.  There are duck hunters here, and much of the marsh is funded by them, but there is also regulation and conservation.  Hunters, wildlife conservationists, Packer fans and dairy farmers…we all learned how to get along together.  This marsh turned into a success story. 

 

3.  I like the Horicon Marsh because I was born here.  I have memories of my father and his kin and friends hunting ducks, duck for dinner, decoys in the garage.  The summers were thick with mosquitoes and one of our childhood thrills was running after the “spray trucks” that blew giant plumes of insecticide in our faces. (imagine!)  There was an annual festival every summer called “Marsh Days.”  The parade had dozens and dozens of contingents, many of the floats decorated with cattails and duck decoys.  We always knew that summer was coming to an end when the honking chorus of geese began, the sky was filled with v-shaped lines of geese beginning their migration.

 HoriconMarshSign

Marsh habitat all over this country has declined, but I have witnessed the Horicon Marsh as a thriving place of wonderment for a half century.  It’s not to say there aren’t current problems, because with more people come more problems; but this marsh, this beautiful brackish expanse of water and weeds, is not going away. 

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

Flycatcher Lessons

Pacific-slope flycatcher eggs

Pacific-slope flycatcher eggs

Here in northern California right now many birds are being born.  Thinking back on all the years I have watched more and more baby birds coming into this world, I realized I have learned some important life lessons from them.  Take this pacific-slope flycatcher.  For 8 years in a row the female has built her mossy nest on our front door beam.  Almost every year chicks have hatched and fledged; but it’s different every year, and some years are harder than others (Life Lesson #1). 

Here’s what else I’ve learned: 

Pacific-slope flycatcher mother

Pacific-slope flycatcher mother

 

#2.  Home is where the heart is.  This little bird is only about 5 inches long but she manages to fly 1,900 miles from Mexico to our front porch year after year.  I’m sure this couple is just as happy when they reach our porch beam, as we are, the human couple, when we hear that first seet of the spring.  But then one day in late summer they will be gone, off to their winter home.

#3.  We get by with a little help from our friends.  In 2005 the nest was an absolute mess, it was too small for the brood and poorly constructed.  When temperatures hit one hundred one day, while we were at work a chick either fell or got pushed out of the nest.  When I came home I found a drooping, half-dead, panting chick on the door step.  I brought the chick a bottle cap of water.

#4.  Diet is everything.  I watched that little guy revive from a few sips of water and was so encouraged that I decided to find him some food.  Hmmm, I thought, a flycatcher must eat flies.  Armed with a flyswatter, I found a big fly, swatted it dead, and hand delivered it to the panting chick.  Don’t you know, within an hour the fly was consumed, and the flycatcher’s little head had lifted.  We slipped him back into the nest and life was restored.

Pacific-slope flycatcher nestlings

Pacific-slope flycatcher nestlings

#5.  Tenacity is critical.  One year I heard a thump outside the front door and found the nest on the deck, four little chicks were frantically scattering.  They looked like those wind-up chicks in novelty stores at Easter time.  It would have been comical if there weren’t four lives at stake.  One chick dropped between the deck slats, fell down below where snakes reside.  With a long arm, quick action and the concerted effort of my partner and me, we managed to gather the chicks.  But with the drop, the nest had become bottomless.  Fortunately, the year before we had installed a bird platform beside the beam, so we returned this rumpled mass to the platform.  All the birds survived.

All of us living, breathing beings keep going.  Another lesson:  life goes on.  What have you learned from the creatures around you?

Pacific-slope flycatcher adult singing of life

Pacific-slope flycatcher adult singing of life

People Watching in Africa

Victoria Falls women

Women at Victoria Falls

I am researching East African ethnic groups for my next novel, Sinister SafariEthnic groups were once called tribes. It’s a complicated task because people are complicated. 

In Tanzania alone there are more than 120 different ethnic groups and, as happens with development and globalization, the cultures continue to evolve.  There still exist today many groups who have predestined marriages, village elders, medicine men, circumcised women, and education for boys only.  But simultaneously there are also Maasai warriors who are saving rather than slaughtering lions, college-educated young adults of both genders, and Africans teaching Africans about AIDS.

 

Regardless of where in the world one travels, there are always people to watch.  As it goes in most places in the world, the cities in Africa are more populated and have pockets of modernism.  Then the more you travel away from the cities,  the less modernized conditions can be.  As one who revels in open space and chasing wildlife, I tend to find myself in some of the most remote places in the world.  Africa has many remote places that are still habitable and pleasant, which is why it remains one of my favorite places on earth.  I thought you would enjoy viewing a few people photos from our travels in Africa. 

Child_Zambia

Child in Zambian Village

ShoppingCentre

Village Shopping Centre

Zambezi River Ferry Crossing

Zambezi River Ferry Crossing