Travel Challenge – The Results, Day Seven

You kindly followed me through ten days of travel pictures, guessing where each one might be. I thought I’d put you out of your collective miseries/make you punch the air with a ‘Yes, I was right’ with a follow up.

Day Seven was

Tobago. For several years, we indulged our children in a week in the Caribbean and visited several of the delightful islands: the rather grand Barbados, the nouveau Antigua, the brassy Turks and Caicos, the delightful St Lucia and Tobago, a teenage boy of an island which is often twinned with Trinidad and which we visited (it’s the grown up in that relationship). We always had fun, and I always ended up wondering at my instinctual prejudices that said sitting on a beach or sitting in bathwater warm sea water for a week was a waste of a holiday, while forgetting no holiday spent with the family is wasted. I wrote a poem about my feelings on that Tobagoan beach… it says more about my blinkered mindset that it does about Tobago which was as welcoming as you could want..

Holiday

Cinnamon sand, bathwater warm seas.

A rocky cove, delicately whitewashed with guano.

A chorus of gulls,

Hectoring backbenchers all.

Languid fish

Predator free,

Tarty in their coral finery,

Flit with each wave and shadow.

A threatened afternoon shower,

Lurking out west,

Plays Grandma’s footsteps with us.

Insidious if welcome relief.

Dotted about, dolls house furniture, neatly ambiguous,

Gives form to our sense of free play.

There’s a theme-park perfection

To our brochure born dreams:

Delicate palm thatch sits on wood-effect cast steel struts;

Natural gardens of scarlet and lemon,

Are chemically sprayed in the pre dawn

To remove the sweet sucking locals

And maintain their garage forecourt perfection;

Somnambulant waves crunch constantly

On carefully constructed coralesque outcrops

Of concrete and clay.

Intelligent broadsheet readers,

Risk averse to their last mortgage repayment,

Strip to expose fields of white melanoma seeds,

For proofing in the fiery Caribbean sun.

Out here, once cynical plumbers and sceptical lawyers

Believe in miracle potions,

Sold by plc paid shamen

Sitting in concrete and glass.

They poach happily in the calypso heat

Confident in the protection of their chemist’s latest best

Anti-ultraviolet Kryptonite.

Baste, boil, burn, balm.

The daily mantra.

One day, in a break from the lullabying sun,

These successors to Speke and Burton

Hire a guide to explore this foreign country.

Such exotica, so much novelty, the frisson of new experiences:

The baked breadfruit and goat curry to eat,

Specially prepared by curious locals

(My aunt has a stall in Brixton: you know it?);

The glimpses of a bird life unique to this area

(Though the same species has now taken over our local park)

They explore the coral and come face to face with sharks and conger eels

(Through the medium of the glass-bottomed boat).

They will tell how they steeped themselves in this foreign culture,

Deep enough to fuel several dinner party boasts

And oft-repeated family anecdotes

But it is a mere gossamer’s touch

For they’ve paid for the inoculations

That this resort provides.

Later, the first grizzles

From their sand frosted charges

Keep them from sinking completely into

This closed-eye fiction;

Some deep ingrained part of Arnos Grove

Or Clapham remains alert

Amongst the beach buffet of bloated human roti,

Ready to move at the slightest whinge

With due Hampstead haste

To avert disaster,

Administer chastisement

And return, with reclaimed inertia,

To their sun beds.

Tucked to the side, away from adult sightlines,

Are the adolescent actors.

One side slyly, shyly struts, playground porn movie wannabees;

The other watches with faux indifference hiding lust and acne behind Boots best aviator shades.

Each retains its hard-wired instinct to avoid

The occasional, random tidal surge of parental interest.

A surfeit of Rum cocktails and jetlag

Releases their corralled hormones

From the constraints imposed

By uniforms

And maths

And suffocating supervision,

And give 3D shape

To their flat screen, sweet sticky-sweat dreams.

Onto this fired and febrile world

That creeping afternoon shower,

Delivering large wet dollops of reality,

Can’t come soon enough.

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Travel Challenge – The Results, Day Six

You kindly followed me through ten days of travel pictures, guessing where each one might be. I thought I’d put you out of your collective miseries/make you punch the air with a ‘Yes, I was right’ with a follow up.

Day Six was

The extraordinary Manchu Pichu in Peru.

That takes me back a ways. 1987, to be precise.

This post was from 2017. That long ago?

Hunting The Inca: Part 5

In October 1987, the Textiliste and I holidayed in Peru. It was eye opening, extraordinary and full of the usual daft moments that follow me when I go away. Last time out, here, we were in Cusco, before travelling by train to Manchu Pichu. This time we are at last underway to that extraordinary place that appeared out of nowhere in the early twentieth century. Happily the altitude sickness had mostly gone so I was in pretty good shape to experience whatever this place had to offer.

Because the Inca trail had in part collapsed we caught a train. No one told us anything about it so when the train stopped on its slow ascent and began to reverse we assumed a mechanical problem necessitating a return to Cusco. Disappointment was the overriding emotion, replaced ten minutes later by exhilaration as we stopped again and began to head towards our destination. Another ten minutes and we were reversing, followed by yet another change.

Finally it dawned on us that we had been climbing throughout these manoeuvres. It was a pushmepullyou train; to circumvent the mountain the engineers decided a long slow gradient wouldn’t cut it so we simply zigzagged up to the pass and then gradually descended to our destination. Is that safe? Sensible? Innovative? Who the heck knows? It got us there.

But ‘there’ was a drab little terminus with all the character of a delivery yard at a junk shop. Another disappointment as I had assumed we would see the wondrous place of which we had heard on our way in. Anyway we were pointed up a sloping path and set off, carrying our bag for an overnight stay. We would see it now.

Nope, just a flat two story building and a milling crowd. Oh and the odd ubiquitous llama of course.

We went to bed, hoping for a sunny day and a better view.

The advantage we had, staying overnight was we were the first ones up and at the entrance.

We walked around the side of a mountain and there, nestling down below was the town with the utterly stunning, unfeasibly beautiful and wonderfully eccentric sugar-loaf mountain behind. It is all and more it is cracked up to be.

A guide took us round and explained how life worked, the kitchens and toilets, the sacrificial altar and the defences.

But in some ways the functionality of it all was irrelevant.

It was the imagination of the builders to use this topography to create their home that has stayed in my mind ever since.

Being puppies we climbed the sugar-loaf and between wafts of mist we captured other pictures. The climb was awkward, if I remember. Uneven stones like giant’s stairs meant we sometimes had to pull ourselves up. But we were all exhilarated but the place, its magical qualities.

Later we went for a walk back along the Inca trail, looking for the falls.

But soon we came to a wooden bridge which looked terrifying; nope, we’d go back and just absorb the continuous beauty of the place.

Too soon we headed back to pick up our bags and return to Cusco. One more night and a flight to Lima. From there we had an eccentric day to kill before setting off for the jungle. That’s for next time.

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Travel Challenge – The Results, Day Five

You kindly followed me through ten days of travel pictures, guessing where each one might be. I thought I’d put you out of your collective miseries/make you punch the air with a ‘Yes, I was right’ with a follow up.

Day Five was

Hethersett in Sri Lanka. The Hethersett I know is a small strip of a town that hugs the A47 ring road around Norwich, because it is home to some very dear friends and is next to where my Mother in law lived for about ten years. The Sri Lanka version is a few miles from Kandy, deeply ingrained with its tea plantations. It’s warm, but not too hot; damp, but not so much that it stops the sweat coming out; and very poor. We stayed there in January 2013 as part of a family holiday that began in Colombo and ended in Galle and proved, once again, that the civilisations that built the palaces and reservoirs and discovered the life enhancing properties of silver tipped first pickings were light years ahead of we in the west who were still wondering why we stopped to drink our hot water and milk at four p.m. while dreaming of the invention of the teabag.

I’ve not posted about Sri Lanka before but this post from 2015, when we visited the Outer Hebrides, referenced Sri Lanka in a poem on the universal blind spot that we all have when confronted, on our last day of our holidays, with a gift shop.

The Tourist’s Last Day – The Sounds Of Harris

2015-06-27 16.55.57
The Ultimate Tourist’s Trinket

As we waited for the ferry back across the Sound of Harris, I browsed a gift shop. Would the Hebrides be different from other holiday destinations? The Textiliste had bought yarn. Could I resist the lure of one final memento? Was my choice a subliminal reaction to our upcoming ferry crossing?

In gift shops around the world, the treasures there are legion:

Name tags, mugs, flags unfurled, they all define the region.

Many things you’re sure to find, when tourists begin to roam,

With cash in hand and half a mind, to buy something to take home. 

Like, let’s say, the local booze, which tastes so good, and’s duty-free

It would be churlish to refuse, to take a bottle home, or three.

There will be somewhere, on a rack, in sets of square-shaped plastic

Examples of  local musak, that sun drenched ears believe fantastic.

The Hebrides conforms to type, like France, Sri Lanka everywhere

A smiley face, melodic tripe, that once back home brings on despair.

Hereabouts it’s the bloody pipes, accompanied by a tweed ensemble

Which frankly gives me the gripes, and nothing tuneful it resembles.

It’s not that I bear any grudge to this nation by its songs

But if I’d been a better judge, I’d have bought those tartan thongs.

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Travel Challenge – The Results, Day Four

You kindly followed me through ten days of travel pictures, guessing where each one might be. I thought I’d put you out of your collective miseries/make you punch the air with a ‘Yes, I was right’ with a follow up.

Day Four was

The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen. Most of you got this.

We visited Copenhagen as our first stop on our Northern European Odyssey that avoided plans and covered trains, cars and boats. I revisited that trip last October so I won’t punish you with a reminder, though it’s here if you missed it. It contains a rather neat poem, as a tempter….

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Wishing #writephoto #reprise

I’m taking the opportunity of dipping back into a Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt from 2018, as a continuing thank you to Sue for the stimulus she gave me in my writing and as an example of being careful what you wish for

‘Hello. Lovely evening.’

‘Yes.’

‘Balmy. Given the time of year.’

‘Indeed.’

‘Mind if I…?

‘Sure.’

‘Funny, isn’t it? The sea.’

‘Funny?’

‘You know. How it looks, you know, not like water.’

‘No.’

‘No?’

‘Yes.’

‘Ha! I suppose I should explain.’

‘Ok.’

‘To me it looks like Mercury.’

‘Mercury?’

‘The mineral, not the god.’

‘Thermometers.’

‘That too. It’s so slow. What do you think it looks like?’

‘Cellophane.’

‘Really?’

‘No.’

‘Ha! Joke.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Can I ask a question?’

‘Sure.’

‘You only ever answer with one word.’

‘Yes.’

‘Is there a reason for it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are you going to explain?’

‘No.’

‘Can I guess?’

‘Sure.’

‘New Year’s resolution?’

‘Kinda.’

‘Isn’t that cheating? I mean, ‘kinda’ is really ‘kind of’.’

‘No.’

‘No, it isn’t, or no it’s not cheating.’

‘Either.’

‘Or both.’

‘Perhaps.’

‘So a resolution? What kind? To be, you know, mono-thingy?’

‘Sorry?’

‘You know where you only use one word?’

‘Monosyllabic?’

‘Yes!’

‘No.’

‘No?’’

‘Yes.’

‘We’re back in one of those yes-no loops, aren’t we?’

‘Suppose.’

‘Must be tricky, though, only using one word. I mean, at work say.’

‘Retired.’

‘Or at home.’

‘Single.’

‘Shopping.’

‘Online.’

‘Isn’t that two words.’

‘Polyphonic.’

‘You sure?’

‘No.’

‘What then?’

‘Portmanteau?’

‘I thought that was luggage?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Still, it’s a lovely evening, isn’t it?’

‘Yes.’

‘I’m Chris by the way.’

‘Gustang.’

‘Unusual.’

‘Grandpa’s.’

‘Apostrophe’s ok, are they?’

‘Sure.’

‘And are you here for a reason, Gustang?’

‘Yes.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Waiting.’

‘Waiting? Like, for Godot?’

‘No, waiting until you bugger off so I can watch the sunset in peace. Geez.’

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Travel Challenge – The Results, Day Three

You kindly followed me through ten days of travel pictures, guessing where each one might be. I thought I’d put you out of your collective miseries/make you punch the air with a ‘Yes, I was right’ with a follow up.

Day Three was this

This is in Singapore, part of their botanical gardens and under which you can picnic while enjoying a musical concert. I will admit to a combination of jetlag, balmy weather and susurrations of sounds caused a little shut eye.

I did enjoy it, though.

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A Georgian Trifle And Hope For The Future #curiousarchaeologist

Another rather splendid post from my brother to set our current problems in its historical context.

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Travel Challenge -The Results, Day Two

You kindly followed me through ten days of travel pictures, guessing where each one might be. I thought I’d put you out of your collective miseries/make you punch the air with a ‘Yes, I was right’ with a follow up.

Day 2 was

Dawn over Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. Part of a delightful visit in 2017. But one day, a visit to the history of Cambodia’s ghastly past brought me up short. I’ve set that out below, in case of interest. It’s a longish read, but I hope you think it’s worth it

Posted on Aug 8, 2017

This isn’t a graphic post but the subject matter is terribly difficult so please be advised, it won’t be for everyone. The pictures are from, first S21 the Khmer Rouge’s prison and torture centre based in a high school and, second from the Cheong Ek Genocidal Centre based at one of the Khmer’s ‘Killing Fields’ and mass graves. I deliberately chose soothing views.

You cannot come to Cambodia and not confront its recent history. The depth of its civilisation comes to be seen through the prism of one of the twentieth century’s most egregious conflicts and disgusting social experiments, up there with the genocides of Bosnia and Serbia and Rwanda (if we only dip back into the recent past).

If you lived through the 1960s and 1970s when the news contained regular references to the Vietnam war, you will have heard Phnom Penh mentioned, alongside the Ho Chi Ming Trail. The names Pol Pot, Lon Nol and Prince Sihanouk may also resonate with some.

But if, like me, it was a distant war fought between other nations that may be the extent of it. Perhaps you saw the film the Killing Fields and remember its depiction of horrors in a foreign land? Did it stay long in the mind?

I studied the Vietnam war in history, back in 73 to 75. I learnt of the backdrop of the collapse of European Imperialism   – in this case the French – and the success of the Vietnamese Rebels under Ho Chi Ming in defeating the French and winning independence.

What I never saw, what never held my attention was the multilayered reasons why this event led inexorably to genocide. In much the same way the fall of the Shah of Iran in the 1970s has led inexorably to the rise of Daesh and the current turmoil across the Middle East and terrorists atrocities at home.

In both cases, you start with Russia and America and the Cold War. Alongside the Cold War there were several proxy fights. Fears about on whose side various strategic countries sat has fuelled fights that were otherwise destined to be sad, always unnecessary but contained and short lived – no fun for the peoples involved but not likely to spread far and wide.

Cambodia won its independence in 1953 through diplomacy, though it would be naive to ignore the growing success of the fight its neighbour North Vietnam was having in taking the battle to the hollowed out French forces in the success of those negotiations. Sihanouk, who was King of Cambodia in the late 40s abdicated so he could stand, as Prince Sihanouk, in the 1955 elections which he won.

All seemed set fair for a new chapter.

But across the border trouble was brewing again. America espoused the domino theory of communist spread: if one country falls, then the next is more at risk and so the momentum builds. While this hardly says America had much confidence in its own form of government it was a serious philosophy.

So when North Vietnam went communist, America panicked. It was determined a line had to be drawn and as soon as Ho Chi Ming started pressing to unite the North and the South, it began to stiffen the sinews of South Vietnam, to resist what it perceived as the oppressor, part of a global conspiracy for world domination.

Back then America abhorred the idea of direct involvement. It had suffered in Europe and then Korea. Numerous skirmishes had almost triggered a direct conflict with Russia so a proxy fight, with arms and expertise being supplied was preferable to boots on the ground. It had also taken the moral high ground with the British and French over the Suez Canal in 1956, when they were both more directly involved. Either way their policy failed as history shows only too well. Eventually American troops would have to come in or the fight was lost.

But the conditions for Cambodia’s collapse and Pol Pot’s accession to power were by then well established.  The supply lines used by the North Vietnamese in their fight against the South and the Americans went through Laos and Cambodia – the Ho Chi Ming Trail: goodness how reading that name takes me back to news broadcasts in the 70s sat at home safe in Hampshire – and to stop them the Americans bombed it to hell and beyond. And kept in bombing it. And then some. And local villages, too, in case they gave harbour to the Vietcong. How do you maintain stability in such times? Sihanouk didn’t. He sided with the Vietcong, though with little enthusiasm and America increasingly distrusted him.

When a military coup took place in 1970 America backed the coup not the legitimate government, something they do when their bigger picture is threatened: here communist influence, in Iraq with the toppling of Sadam it was another perceived threat from Al Qaeda.

Sihanouk took refuge in China and, as happens when people are desperate – in his case to get back into power – he aligned himself with the least obvious force, but the one fighting the new Khmer government – the Cambodian communists under Pol Pot – the Khmer Rouge.

While the US forces were in play in the region, it wasn’t likely to succeed but then Nixon and Kissinger decided to get the US Troops home. The Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1974 and America withdrew, including its support for Lon Nol.

By 1975 the Khmer Rouge had entered Phnom Penh to cheering. Peace at last, they thought. Pretty much instantly the residents of all the large cities were rounded up and made to leave. Within days they were ghost towns. An experiment in agrarian communism was underway.

In four years the country was ripped apart. One quarter – I’ll repeat that, 25% – of its population was dead through execution, starvation disease and, in large measure, a loss of hope.

Internationally no one cared. The US, Britain, France and the communist countries recognised Pol Pot as the legitimate leader. They took a seat at the UN while murdering their people.

As genocides go, this was ferocious and efficient. And everyone stood by.

The legacies are dreadful. The current government is a nepotistic disgrace, Cambodia registers somewhere around 150 on the list of the most corrupt governments – the U.K. is at 10. It has a major street children issue in its capital and there is the highly tangible and highly deadly legacy of unexploded ordnance as well as land mines placed by the self same US forces, some by air (how is that possible – we were told it was) and by most by of the various forces involved down the years – the Vietcong, the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian government after military take over and on.

Yet the Beacons of light here are strong. Enter Ali Ra, a boy soldier for the Khmer who laid hundreds of mines before defecting and spending his life to date removing them. Personally he has cleared thousands, often at dreadful risk to himself. He set up a land mine museum  which tells that story and the wider picture of the moves to make such devices illegal, while raising money to fund his support for and education of those injured by these devices. At the end of our tour there were banners with personal stories relating to other genocides around the globe: the Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanada and here in Cambodia. It was easily the moving harrowing of reads that day. One statistic among dozens stood out: over 1 million land mines and UXO remain to be cleared.

Later, we met two survivors of the notorious S21 prison and torture facility in Phnom Penh. Two out of seven in the 4 years over killing. That’s all who survived of the ten of thousands who passed through. Smiley old boys who tell their story because they have to. They like young people; they want for then what they and their families didn’t have.

S21 was a high school adapted for its new purpose  – the school high beam used for exercise before became a gallows and torture facility to string up prisoners. You wonder how these gentlemen cope with what they lived through. What levels of resilience are involved.

We travelled to Cheong Ek, the Genocidal Centre based at one of the Khmer Rouge’s Killing Field that is a memorial to the thousands killed there. It is a peaceful place, full of shading trees, blossom, butterflies, hens and silent people. So silent. Everyone is alone in themselves. Children and teens take their time, they are beyond fidgeting, understanding perhaps this is a special place, through the body language of their carers. It hollows you out, this place, in the functionality of what transpired every night under cover of darkness and loud revolutionary music.

Bullets weren’t used as too expensive so any instrument was pressed into service. Even a stout tree. The Killing Tree. But for the fact every piece of bark has a hair band hanging from it giving it a jolly rainbow appearance it would be unremarkable. Yet it was here that children, small enough to be picked up and swung were killed, brutally often in front of their mother’s before they too were killed. Pol Pot killed families to stop any familial revenge. ‘To kill a tree, first you must dig up the roots’. One of many sick slogans we heard. Truly it beggars belief.

I wandered back to the Stupa monument. It is a simple shrine of classical proportions with Hindu and Buddhist iconography built into the decorations. But then your eyes adjust.

You see the metres high glass sides filled with skulls. When you see them you cannot look away. Hundreds of them, catalogued by age and sex. There are other bones there, clothes too, not that you see them. How can you move beyond those staring, deep sad empty eye sockets, still asking why.

If not now, when? If not me, who?

I admit to a tear. Several.  So many questions but mostly why do we still do this to each other? We need to teach how this terrible event came about, alongside the Hollocaust and the others. It is the creation of the conditions that is so appalling, just as much as the killing itself. Unless our young people can see the path their leaders might be on how can they stop them? It is already too late when the terror has taken hold; frankly most people would find it hard to resist the basic kill or be killed requirement of these regimes, when established.

Do not let governments, in our name, align themselves with killers, for ‘strategic’ reasons. It never leads to good. The reasons are rarely, if ever, sufficiently compelling. We could start with a Saudi ban but there are others too. And stop selling arms, period. Because others do, why should we?

I remain amazed at how Cambodia is dealing with its past. The world should revere the tough determination of this harshly treated yet hardy people to be themselves and achieve reconciliation and acceptance on a personal level despite what every family hereabouts suffered.

It’s sometimes bloody difficult to be an optimist but if there’s a nation of optimists on this planet Cambodia is in the top three. I think at heart I’m one third Cambodian (the rest being one third loon and one third Labrador). It’s all that keeps me plodding on.

Today, no story. Nothing warrants your attention but thinking about how you would have coped before, during and after this. You owe it to yourselves to be grateful it hasn’t happened, if it hasn’t and to ensure you do whatever you need to ensure you and this who represent you do nothing in your name that could lead that way.

Thank you for reading.

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My Year-End Search For Wisdom in Verse…

Today I received notification of a rather splendid review of my recently published book of poetry by Ro Newton who lives ‘down under’. I hope you enjoy her rambles and kind words as I did.

Posted in miscellany, poems, poetry, review | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

2020, One Heck Of A Year #garden #forwardlooking

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.

When the page turned and we headed into 2020 and a new decade, what was I thinking? How mild it was? How much digging I had to do still?

sweet peas? In January?
someone wanted to help…

I might have looked forward to a bit of skiing, but there was a lot to do in the garden, despite the weather

the end of the garden was underwater for a week and the lawns badly inundated but still there was colour

And then March turned a corner. The weather began to be glorious. Really unbelievably delightful…

It felt like the spring would be joyous, if this continued. Even the lawns might improve.

What would April have in store?

There is a price to pay for so much sunshine; we’re not set up for it.

signs of the lawns becoming stressed…
but blue skies and beautiful roses moderate any gloom

So we roll into the summer; the beds I dug out are now full of colour and a sprinkling of rain perks all of us up a little

July and a mini Glast-no-bury took place in the garden..

and the flowers just did their thing

The tiredness, maybe exhaustion, becomes apparent as August leads into September

Yet still we have a lot to be grateful for

Autumn is also a time for those jobs that will pay dividends next year, when we host a wedding….

The weather begins to change, the cold air burns off some of the colour and the clear up leads to some fun times for a happy pyromaniac

And there we are. December. A new shed, a repainted summer house and more flooding….

It’s been a totally unique year, hasn’t it? For reasons none of us who survive will ever forget. But the garden is a great way to stand back for this clusterfuck of a year and think about Siegfried Sassoon’s poem which I started with. ‘Everybody Sang’ was written at the Armistice in 1918 at the end of WW1 and just as the flu pandemic was taking hold. They had been through seven shades of shit and still had more to come but it’s in our nature to sing, to see corners, not as hiders of dangers but as places to turn and see a brighter future.

We will sing; we will be those freed prisoned birds winging wildly again. And the garden will bloom and grow and shrink and on and on.

Hold that thought. It’s what makes us human.

Happy New Year from one man (channeling his inner turkey) and Dog

Posted in gardening, thought, thought piece | Tagged , , , , , | 34 Comments