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Archive for March, 2010

The landscape of Bhutan is beautiful–rugged mountains, green rice paddies, mango and banana groves, rhododendrons, pine forests. There are white orchids and hundreds of bird species. But it was the warm, hospitable people and their customs that thrilled us most. Happiness is a high value here.

Lhaden, girl in Bhutan, Bhutanese schoolgirl Young Lhaden was pleased to have her picture taken and to talk with us. English is the second language of Bhutan and most people, especially children, love to try it out. She told us she is the eldest of seven children and hopes to go to college, and she probably will. It’s free for all children whose grades are good. At a rural school we visited, with gifts of simple books in English, paper and pens, we were rewarded with broad smiles.

When we met the youthful monks at the Punakha Dzong monastery they laughed and posed in their red robes with saffron collars as they stood near red and gold prayer wheels. Shy and polite, they were also playful, pretending to throw one of their brethren over the monastery wall.  This lighthearted attitude is part of Bhutanese Buddhism.  The most popular figure in Bhutan’s history is a 15th century monk, Drukpa Kunley, known as Divine Mad Monk. He was known for his shocking behavior, singing and teaching in non-traditional ways.

Along with icons such as the snow leopard, dragon, tiger, and garuda (a mystical bird), penises are seen everywhere in Bhutan. They’re drawn on buildings and carved in wood, often with a carved sword, which signifies the cutting away of ignorance. Our guide told us that the phallic symbol, called “thunder dorje,” stands for protection of the home, and the many legends around it stem from, who else, Divine Mad Monk. Apparently he used dorji (“thunderbolt” in Bhutanese) to subdue demonesses. Whatever the truth of the unruly behavior of Divine Mad Monk, most men adore hearing they have a thunder dorje, instead of the standard issue.

When we left, enriched by the landscape, stories, and people, Lhaden’s farewell words took on all the meaning of Bhutan: “Madam, wish you happy!”

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Springtime brings carpets of color to Catherine Creek, Washington, in the Columbia River Gorge. Some 200 species of wildflowers bloom on the open slopes above the river; it’s gorgeous, and a great hike. We clamber around there at least once every wildflowers at Catherine Creek, Washington, Columbia River Gorgespring and fall in love with the landscape all over again. The peak flowering time is March through June.

Right now the yellow balsam root is in bloom, along with irises and crazy little shooting stars. For weeks, fields are a palette of shapes and colors, from rich green miner’s lettuce to flamboyant red-orange paintbrush. Blue-eyed grass, desert parsley, camas, glacier lilies, meadows of purple and blue lupine–well, I could go on. As you hike the undulating hills, ever more fabulous views open up, east and west along the Columbia and south toward Mt. Hood and the Cascades. Mt. Hood Oregon, Mt. Hood view from Catherine Creek Washington, views of Oregon from Catherine CreekCatherine Creek is about 60 miles east of Portland. To get there, you follow I-84 to Exit 64 at Hood River, cross the toll bridge to Washington, and turn right on Highway 14. Drive 5.8 miles, turn left on old Highway 8, and in less than 1.5 miles you’re at the parking area. South of the road is a paved trail with descriptive signs. On the north, trails rise through the fields. We walk where the spirit moves, up to oak and fir groves, crossing the creek, checking out an abandoned corral and a high wall of columnar basalt rock. There are ravines, ponds, and a little waterfall. Hiking Catherine Creek trail Washington, Columbia River GorgeI’m ready to go back right now.  Here I am with our friend Peter, happy hikers.

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Susan TroccoloBefore I had the pleasure of travel for fun, I traveled as a road warrior in pantyhose and girl shoes. For one full year, my territory was western Canada. I wasn’t traveling “lighthearted” yet–work is work after all–but I did learn how to pack light enough to toss my bag from the dock onto a commuter sea-plane.  

One of my frequent work destinations was the futuristic, wind-swept city of Calgary, Alberta.  As a small town southern California girl, I never got used to stepping outside the airport to bitter winter winds that made my nose hairs freeze. 

The night that opened my heart to lighthearted travel occurred in icy February. I arrived late in Calgary and checked into one of those homogeneous high-rise hotels for business travelers like me. The only thing on my mind was the swimming pool in the health center on the top floor. But where was the fluffy white hotel robe that is de rigueur? And why the heck didn’t I pack any flip flops along with my bathing suit? I’d packed only a thin cotton robe. 

At ten o’clock, the hotel halls were quiet. I looked right, then left. Nobody. Just the ubiquitous trays of soggy leftover cheeseburgers and fries, tiny salt and pepper shakers, one vase with one limp daisy. 

I pushed the elevator button impatiently; this was going to be a quick dash up 5 floors to the pool and back again.

When the door opened, I gasped. The elevator was filled with men carrying briefcases: eight gentlemen in long white robes, with white turbans and wisps of long wiry hair. They looked at me and I looked down, wiggling one bare toe over the other. 

Then the oldest of the gentlemen spoke in a kind, but weary voice, like a grandfather:     “Come in dear, you will never be safer.”

Susan Troccolo is a writer, gardener, and community volunteer. She travels light and lighthearted whenever she can.

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Tai Chi, Portland Chinese Garden, Chinese New YearSilent and focused, the Tai Chi Sword and Fan performers went through their paces, wooden swords thrusting forward, fans opening and closing with a loud snap. The audience, scattered around a terrace overlooking a small lake, paid rapt attention and applauded mightily.

This was part of the Chinese New Year celebration at the Lan Su Chinese Garden in NW Portland. There were Lion Dances, red paper lanterns, masks, Portland Chinese Gardenmusic and stories, all for the Year of the Tiger. Thousands of visitors came through, and I was one of them, enthralled again by this stunning, authentic, tranquil garden.

Formerly a parking lot, the garden’s square block seems larger when you walk the paths and bridges, past pavilions, shrubs and waterfalls. Portland Chinese Garden, Chinese Garden pavilionIt opened in 2000, based on a garden built in Suzhou, China, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Everything is carefully placed, including 500 tons of Tai Hu rocks. The tall, slender limestone rocks are naturally sculpted with holes, hollows and scallops.Tai Hu rock, Portland Chinese Garden

I sampled a flowery tea in the teahouse but couldn’t stay for the lantern viewing and dragon parade; they were long since sold out. I did win a smile from the rushed waitress at the Golden Horse restaurant a block away, when I wished her “Gong Hoy Fat Choi” — Happy New Year!

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What a great neighborhood. The poetry man sits in his wheelchair at the entrance to the Hillsdale Farmers Market saying, “Like poetry?” to everyone who walks by, and he’ll compose a poem for me on the spot, for a nominal fee. After getting my poem, I join the crowd streaming into the outdoor market, twice a month in winter, every Sunday in summer, and wander.

I’ll taste a juicy strawberry, if they’re in season; fill my brought-from-home bag with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and maybe purple carrots; Cherry Country, chocolate-covered cherries, farmers marketsample chocolate-covered cherries at the Cherry Country booth; tip the musicians.  I have to choose which vinegar to try at Blossom Vinegars: Blueberry Basil? Ginger Pear? They’re all good. Everything is regional and fresh, grown on farms an easy drive away.

As I browse I’ll say hello to friends and neighbors and Oregon black truffles, farmers marketchat about the latest Hillsdale happenings: a concert at Wilson High, a sale at Paloma, what’s new at Food Front. Then I’ll buy a gorgeous bunch of flowers and walk home. Just thinking about it makes me eager for summer, when I can buy ears of sweet corn and gorge on those luscious peaches, the best I’ve ever tasted.

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