Life Lessons from 2016

This additional End Of Year post highlights simple lessons learned during past months.

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Life is too short for nonsense.

  • If hard, dedicated, focused and intelligent work is unappreciated, or if supervisors try to undermine rather than support success – consider moving on. I did. Wonderful choice. Life is brief. New avenues appear when you are ready.
  • Spend time with those who appreciate and support you.
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Mes amis

  • As explained in the book The Black Swan, unusual events are not as infrequent as we might expect in life. Brexit? Trump’s election? Perhaps surprising, but actually not so unusual.
  • Home cooked food truly is better. Switch off the TV. Get dicing, slicing and buy a few liters of olive oil.
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Home cooked and ready to be devoured

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Beauty beneath corks

  • Lessons learned from history are constantly applicable. Castles had walls and countries established borders for solid reasons.
  • However, were walls built to keep others out or to keep people in? ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…’ wrote Robert Frost in his poem ‘Mending Wall.’ The dismantled Berlin wall is a physical manifestation – a potent reminder – of how insecure brutish characters tried – vainly, and ultimately in vain – to control not only the natural ebb and flow of neighbors, but their power to live freely.
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Thinking of invading? Think again.

  • Respect your local cobbler and other artisans. The culture of disposability does not yet prevail.
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Massive greenhouses heated by geothermal power boost the economy of Iceland – Very forward thinking people.

  • Establishing sensible laws takes courage in the face of massive, uneducated, emotional resistance. Each year about a thousand people are murdered in Pakistan in ‘honor killings.’ Fathers and brothers murder daughters who may have publicly displayed amorous eyes for another young man. That crime has gone unpunished, until a new law was passed this year. Bye Bye, Middle Age barbarity. Well done, Pakistan.
  • Less can be more. No lawn means – no need to mow the lawn.
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Mont Saint-Michel. No lawns here.

  • Consider quality in life.
  • The less you have, the less you have to take care of.
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Plenty of  lights to turn on and off every evening.

  • Enjoy nature. Frequently.
  • When in doubt, explore. Unwind. Tap into greater universal wisdom. And when the road bends in unknown ways, consider this a magnificent opportunity.
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Another glorious bend in the road.

Prepare for a powerful 2017…!

 

[Writing and photographs copyright Tom Mullen, 2016]

How A Dubai Poolside Afternoon Led to Living in France (Also – Advice from Authors)

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Chicago Beach, Dubai

Almost 20 years ago I sat on the side of a swimming pool in an apartment complex where I lived in Dubai. I worked for a large American engineering corporation based in Pasadena, California, and had been saddled with a sweet assignment in the Emirates, back when Dubai was small enough that you routinely recognized friends at Thatcher’s pub or the Irish Village. We worked 6 day weeks, so the abbreviated weekend was to be cherished. I would drive over to Jumeira for a croissant and coffee breakfast, then amble through Magrudy’s Book Store before returning to the apartment to lounge poolside, and maybe chat with a group of young English women also living there.

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Dubai 1997

On this particular sunny day – with a blue sky above – I flipped through a Time or Newsweek magazine (when these included news instead of celebrity gossip), and read an article about how author Peter Mayle’s book – A Year In Provence – had taken off. The story was so intriguing that I tore it out of the magazine and kept it.

Imagine. Living in the French countryside and writing. 

Decades passed. And, well, here I am. Lacking royalty checks and a renowned book publisher as yet, but content to be enjoying comte cheese, chocolatine croissants with almonds (flaky edible pleasure) and bottles of Fronsac and Blaye wine. The post office, bank, barber, market, two parks and several restaurants are all within a five minute walk of the front door.

Sometimes it takes decades for desires to be realized. So – patience.

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Cap-Ferret, Bordeaux

Mayle wrote about long French lunches. With wine. Sometimes glasses; often bottles. I gave that up during past months after it increased body weight and the need to nap. Well, almost gave it up. But now when there is an occasional long lunch with wine and friends, it’s better appreciated as sacred.

Mayle once wrote an article for a magazine defending the existence of ‘airport literature,’ saying that sales of books with low literary merit gave publishers the funds they needed to take risks on new authors. He also defended the airport genre by saying that all reading is beneficial. Truth is, today you can routinely find airport books that are cracking good reads – well thought out, carefully constructed, and with respect for the use of language.

Though I can’t find that Mayle article writtten over a decade ago, here is one that includes advice about writing – from writers (including Mayle). And here is another list of author quotes regarding the process of writing.

If that advice is no use, perhaps you should put the pen down (or put the laptop away), stand and reach for a corkscrew, bottle, and slab of cheese. If you can find someplace with sunshine…even better.

Enjoy.

Powerful Lessons From Mr. Twain and Mr. Wouk

Here are a few quick stories about connections with writers, and lessons learned.

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My great-grandmother Patty traveled with Mark Twain to the Caribbean, as well—apparently—to a few other locales. She was his ‘traveling companion’—though the depth of that relationship remains unknown. Perhaps as a form of thanks, Twain gave her a large black and white photograph of himself—white haired and stately. He signed it: “Be good Patty, and you will be lonely.” My parents bequeathed this framed, signed image to me when they passed away. It’s in good custody at the moment. Sometimes I have to remember Twain’s advice.

I was born in the Virgin Islands on the island of Saint Thomas. A neighbor of ours was the author Herman Wouk (“The Winds of War,” “The Caine Mutiny”). I am told a cameo figure of a Chicago businessman (which my father was) is portrayed in Wouk’s subsequent book set in the Caribbean—’Don’t Stop the Carnival.’ I have to read this book to learn more.

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When I subsequently spent years growing up in Ireland as a boy, our neighbor was an 80+ year old Australian chap who golfed with my father. He had flown a canvas sopwith camel biplane during World War One, landed in a Belgian field where he found his hand spun propellor would not spin again. He ditched the plane by setting it alight, then spent the next 10 weeks escaping detection from German occupiers before crossing the border—illegally at night. During this episode he faced a pistol/bayonet confrontation (which he won). When he returned to England as a hero, King George held a private audience with him to learn the details. Fifteen years later he wrote a bestselling book about the experience. It’s a riveting read. I recently hired lawyers in London to track down the surviving relatives (which they did—to Asia and Latin America) so that I could buy the copyright and re-publish the work. They agreed. (Next step: to source crowdfunding to move this endeavor forward.)

I never met Mark Twain, of course, or Herman Wouk. I only learned later that our neighbor in Ireland had been a best selling author.

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Recently I considered all three characters, their writings, and their effects on changing the world.

Why?

Mark Twain (which is a nautical term which he adopted as a pseudonym; his real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens) wrote about his time as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River. Learning to pilot the river—navigating eddies, turns and shallows—was a challenge that kept his mind energized, hungry, focused. Yet after he learned to navigate those challenges with ease—he wrote about how the river no longer interested him.

This is a lesson of value: once we master tasks we set ourselves at, we will be ready to move on. Why is this important? Because we should consider not only upcoming challenges, but what comes after they are achieved.

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Wouk’s lesson was more subtle. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi years ago I read and enjoyed a few of his books (which my parents had mailed to me): The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance. One evening while I visited the capital city of Lilongwe, the Peace Corps nurse invited a few of us to her house in the evening to watch a mini-series adaptation of The Winds of War. I went with my fellow volunteer, a Californian named Sam Abbey, and watched a few episodes. The book came alive on screen, and suddenly I heard the rather posh voice of a young British woman named Pamela Tudsbury—a huge character in the book. Yet associated with Pamela and a story of romance, there was a plot twist that was unexpected and refreshing.

So, too, with life: sometimes it will blow us away by twisting unexpectedly. The lesson? Set a course, but be prepared to change when forces of nature require adaptation.

From our World War One aviator pilot friend, I was reminded how strangely serendipity can plop into life. Twice during his escape he fortuitously met characters who helped hide and protect him—both times at the very moment when he was on the verge of being captured, or running out of food and shelter. The lesson? Keep an open mind and a positive attitude, and the very fabric of reality may bend to assist you in ways unforseen.

Thanks for tuning in.

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My latest Forbes posts are here. They include pieces about a jazz musician in Dubai, the difference between Pinot and Pineau, and the reason Loire Valley wines may well become the rage.

(The first photograph above was taken at a sailing club in Cartagena, Colombia, several years ago. The 2nd and 4th were taken during these past months here in France. The third was taken in Belgium last year—and shows the ground over which our pilot friend had to move in winter—in a horse and buggy, or by foot.)

 

 

 

 

 

Originality, Power Morning Minutes, Fresh Bread, and Words from Gurus

First – all Roundwood Press books have been reduced to $2.99 apiece (at most) for the finale to summertime.

Second – am now reading Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant (2016, Penguin Random House, New York). It’s a good read, and recommended. The gist is that many individuals whose actions changed the world were normal people who held onto their day jobs even when they plunged into a business venture, uncertain of whether their notion would work or not.

Third – also recommended – a quick video where Oprah speaks to Anthony Robbins, and he gives a hint about a ten minute ritual each morning that can change your life.

Fourth – here are sage words about food, life, and respect for locality – from a powerful Scandinavian character I may soon have the fortune to meet (yes, will keep you informed):

 

Fifth – Here are some quotes  about life, and living, from some ‘success gurus.’

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The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Lifeby Deepak Chopra M.D.

“If it weren’t for the enormous effort we put into denial, repression, and doubt, each life would be a constant revelation.”

“Ever since you and I were born, we’ve had a constant stream of clues hinting at another world inside ourselves.”

“Clinging to old behavior is not an option.”

“Thus we arrive at the second spiritual secret: You are not in the world; the world is in you.”

“Violence is built into the opposition of us versus them. “They” never go away and “they” never give up. They will always fight to protect their stake in the world. As long as you and I have a separate stake in the world, the cycle of violence will remain permanent.”

“Now step into your social world. When you are with your family or friends, listen with your inner ear to what is going on. Ask yourself: Do I hear happiness? Does being with these people make me feel alive, alert? Is there an undertone of fatigue? Is this just a familiar routine, or are these people really responding to each other?”

“Just by paying attention and having a desire, you flip on the switch of creation.”

“Instead of seeking outside yourself, go to the source and realize who you are.”

“So you have to give up on the idea that you must go from A to B.”

“Everyone knows how to choose; few know how to let go. But it’s only by letting go of each experience that you make room for the next. The skill of letting go can be learned; once learned, you will enjoy living much more spontaneously.”

“The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision.”

“For most people, the strongest externals come down to what other people think because fitting in is the path of least resistance. But fitting in is like embracing inertia.”

“Now let’s reframe the situation in terms of the operating system programmed from wholeness, or one reality. You come to work to find that the company is downsizing, and the following implications begin to come into play: My deeper self created this situation. Whatever happens, there is a reason. I am surprised, but this change doesn’t affect who I am. My life is unfolding according to what is best and most evolutionary for me. I can’t lose what’s real. The externals will fall into place as they need to. Whatever happens, I can’t be hurt.”

“Nothing is random—my life is full of signs and symbols: I will look for patterns in my life. These patterns could be anywhere: in what others say to me, the way they treat me, the way I react to situations. I am weaving the tapestry of my world every day, and I need to know what design I am making.”

“Today is for long-term thinking about myself. What is my vision of life? How does that vision apply to me? I want my vision to unfold without struggle. Is that happening? If not, where am I putting up resistance? I will look at the beliefs that seem to hold me back the most. Am I depending on others instead of being responsible for my own evolution?”

“…a musician coming out of the Juilliard School of Music hears every note on the radio through a different nervous system from someone who has just graduated from M.I.T. as an electrical engineer.”

“The absolute break between life and death is an illusion.”

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Wishes Fulfilled: Mastering the Art of Manifesting by Wayne W. Dyer

“If you would like to become a person who has the capacity to have all of your wishes fulfilled, it will be necessary for you to move to that higher plane of existence where you are a co-creator of your life.”

“You must begin by replacing your old set of truths with a belief in the existence of a higher self within you.”

“Your concept of yourself that includes any limitations can be revised by you, and only by you.”

“You simply no longer choose to form your identity on the basis of what you’ve been taught.”

“The greatest gift you were ever given was the gift of your imagination. Within your magical inner realm is the capacity to have all of your wishes fulfilled. Here in your imagination lies the greatest power you will ever know.”

“In order for something to get into this world where things exist and are proved, as Blake says, they must first be placed firmly into your imagination.”

“Be willing to dream, and imagine yourself becoming all that you wish to be.”

“Highly functioning self-actualized people simply never imagine what it is that they don’t wish to have as their reality.”

“Do not let your imagination be restricted to the current conditions of your life…”

“In your imagination, you can replace the thought of I will one day be in a better place, with I am already in my mind where I intend to be.”

“Remind yourself that your imagination is yours to use as you decide, and that everything you wish to manifest into your physical world must first be placed firmly in your imagination in order to grow.”

“Let go of all doubt, forget about the when.”

“It is absolutely imperative to learn how to assume, in your imagination, the feeling of already having and being what you desire.”

“You want to decide to live from the end you’re wishing for—not toward an end that others have decided for you.”

“As William Shakespeare put it, “Our doubts are traitors.” Anyone or anything trying to diminish your inner feelings with doubt is a traitor to be banished.”

“I always loved the words of Michelangelo regarding this subject: “The greater danger is not that our hopes are too high and we fail to reach them, it’s that they are too low, and we do.” ”

“My story concerning the manifestation of abundance throughout my life is never allowing anyone, no matter how persuasive, to infiltrate my imagination, which feels prosperous and able to attract unlimited abundance.”

“State your intention to live a happy, contented life…”

 

Pictures From Europe – 85 Years Ago

On Sunday after eating seafood for lunch I passed a store selling second hand knick-knacks, as well as a box of old French textbooks. I bought one titled Géographie de L’Europe – published in 1931 in Saint-Germain, Paris, by Libraire Hachette. This was between the world wars. The book describes an era within the span of one lifetime. My, much has changed.

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The book begins by explaining why Europe is in a “Privileged Position” and is civilized “par excellence” because the temperate latitude “favors human progress,” and because “in the southern hemisphere humans live far apart from each other – a bad condition for intellectual and social development.”

Since then isolated geographies have been linked by jet aircraft, container ships, tourism, and the internet.

The book includes some mesmerizing photos which I’m sharing (yes it’s okay by copyright law). Judging from these photographs, the Italians were high styling, whereas the Irish were miserable, the English medieval, the Hungarians innovative (is he wearing a jacket made of straw?), and the Russians rather stylish in a rural horsemanship sort of way.

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Hungarian Plain

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Russian Steppes

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Amalfi Coast of Italy

 

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Rural Ireland

 (The caption basically says – “Mud walls, narrow openings, thatched roofs, the Irish farm has a miserable appearance.”)

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The Downs of England (“Les Downs”)

How things have changed in less than the span of one lifetime. Europeans can now buy clothing – rather than make it from straw bales, can drive tractors powered by engines rather than cattle, can live in heated homes with plumbing and electricity, can cruise across even the Russian outback with better protection than in a semi-covered wagon. And that Italian style? Still rather svelte and attractive.

Sure, Europe. You’re having troubles. But put it in context. Sometimes we have to appreciate what we have, and how our overall situations have improved in the past decades.

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 Below are my ForbesLife posts to date – published within the past two weeks if you care to check any out.

  1. Wining And Dining Within Bordeaux’s City Of Wine
  2. Drink Like A Local In Bordeaux City
  3. Bordeaux Winemaker Artist Teams With Prince Of Monaco To Save Wildlife
  4. How To Visit A Wine Bar In Saint Émilion
  5. Bordeaux Wine Festival Launches Soon

Time to Read, and Writing for Forbes

With the exception of checking online newspapers, I’ve been woefully delinquent when it comes to reading lately. My ‘Wish List’ on Amazon soars in number, and yet I’m either writing, cooking, checking out some Netflix or Amazon Prime series, or enjoying a bottle of that sinfully good Château Cantinot or one of its well-priced vinuous relatives.

Here is a picture of Provence. Why? Because summer is skipping southwest France this year. Rain, wind, cold. It’s bizarre. Provence should be sunny.

Although now that I’ve included that photo I see it’s also raining in Provence this week. Aha, so the Gateway to the Riviera is not always sun dappled?

And those two ladies on the photo? I met and spent time with them five years ago exploring that lovely part of the world. They convinced me to join them for a minibus tour. I thought – No Way! But it turned out to be splendid and they were wonderful traveling companions. And they showed up during the final days of my month long trip away from work in Pakistan, JUST as I was thinking the insane thought – perhaps I should cut vacation short and go back to work early. 

Wow. Glad they showed up. Angels.

And Provence overall? Slightly crowded, a bit hot, but nice enough to visit and spend time.

IMG_0885If the usually gorgeous Bordeaux weather were not schizophrenically cloudy and spitting rain, the local winemakers would likely be tan by now. Instead they’re wearing raincoats and wool hats and shouting “putain!” as they wade through mud.

Still, no complaints. Life goes on and we have this wonderful Earth as Home.

I’ve been somewhat productive of late, having written my first piece for Forbes today. I hope you’ll check it out and maybe even post a comment. It’s an online magazine, so publication does not guarantee readership. It’s not about derivatives or finance or economic theories that beguile even economists. It’s about the city down the road. And I’ll be writing several more soon.

Okay. That’s all for this week. Yes, it’s a scant post. But I shall keep you posted.

It’s time to go for a walk, then find a decent book to tuck into. Any recommendations?

Best for now – .

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Dying to Travel – A Memorial Momento

There are reasons we choose where we live. Perhaps proximity to work, family, or historical roots.

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Yet our genetic memory knows the truth that we evolved as nomads, craving motion. Our migrating psyches aligned with taciturn and cyclical moods and whims of this planet; like rivers, scudding clouds, or streams of migrating wildebeest, we crave, yearn, and are predisposed to movement.

We fornicate, pray, and test ourselves on psychedelic drugs as a means of seeking higher planes – pleasure, aspiration to revelation from gods, or moving our minds away from what is routine and known to search for greater personal power.

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Another way of doing this is to travel. This can be like a drug taken to shift thought patterns. Like the short-term version of moving to a new location far away.

It is what we do. We cannot stop.

As South African author Laurens Van der Post wrote:

“The spirit of man is nomad, his blood bedouin, and love is the aboriginal tracker on the faded desert spoor of his lost self; and so I came to live my life not by conscious plan or prearranged design but as someone following the flight of a bird.”

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I filled storage areas with junk soon forgotten about, then threw it all away. Life is transient. So are possessions and tools. In college I moved into a darling Colorado home with a woman who owned ample, ornate furniture, and an arboretum of plants. I soon learned that the more we have, the more we must take care of.

Which detracts from time to explore and ramble. As Bilbo Baggins and his comrades learned from their unearthly whirlpool of forays – traipsing, paddling, battling dark and ancient magic – after being uprooted and exposed to the pregnant beauty of Earth, and this hectic adventure called Life, we can’t return to the Shire.

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Before buying that flat screen, or S class Benz, consider exploring volcanoes in Iceland, checking out a fishing community in New England, or joining some funky-ass Zen meditation project deep in the Mojave desert.

Because eventually, you will die. That’s for certain. The remnants of your psyche may then travel to luminous reaches far beyond the corner store. Before then, perhaps you’ll want to practice breaking habits by embracing new environments during this life, so that when you plunge into the next plane of ethereal abstraction, you might maintain residual memory – not of stuffy religious texts – but of embracing fiery, frenetic, changes, and having at least an occasional wild disregard for rules. You might even learn to embrace faith that all will work out, perhaps even magnificently.

As young wizard Harry Potter once said, “To the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

(Not that I plan on taking that trip for quite some time, mind you.)

Many have already taken that trip. For some, we have Memorial Day. We remember sacrifices they made to ensure a better world – for all of us.

 

The Controlled Trickle that Saves Lives

Fifteen years ago I greeted spring by driving a mini camper through Heartland USA – Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska – and onto South and North Dakota, researching my book Rivers of Change.

Despite the occasional emotional criticism aimed at the US Army Corps of Engineers for having damned and channeled the Missouri River, I met and talked with bright, dedicated individuals – working for the Corps and for the US Fish and Wildlife Service – eager and determined to enforce the Endangered Species Act. And sometimes in magnificent ways.

Below is the chapter.

Chapter 22

FLOODGATES, TERNS AND PLOVERS

Before leaving the Lower Missouri River, I wanted a final briefing on the acrobatic duo so many riverside dwellers spoke about—the piping plover and least tern birds.

In a Corps of Engineer office adjacent to Gavins Point Dam in Nebraska, biologist Greg Pavelka sat before a spacious computer monitor. An adjacent Nature Conservancy calendar blasted an image of velvety wetlands.

Greg sat facing generous windows on the east wall. A set of binoculars mounted on a windowsill tripod aimed toward whirlpools near the base of the slate gray dam. Though a biologist, Greg’s reserved demeanor reminded me of an engineer from the Corps. His brown hair was clipped above ears. He hushed a light cough in his fist as though it might introduce an element of the unknown into our conversation. He was eager to talk about the endangered birds he helped protect.

The bird subspecies known as the interior least tern flocks to wilder segments of the Missouri River still lined with sandbars. During their journey, explorers Lewis and Clark categorized this bird as ‘frequently observed.’ In the nineteenth century the bird’s number diminished when its feathers and skin started adorning hats. In 1918, the Migratory Bird Act clamped down on this trade in avian plumage. But this protection did not last. After the Missouri River was confined to one channel the birds’ sandbar habitat was virtually eliminated. By the 1970s the population of terns dropped to twenty percent of its numbers during World War II.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 6.35.47 pmPiping plovers flutter north to the Great Plains in late April, a month before terns glide in from the tropics. Males the color of sand stake out territory along naked sandbars that form lookouts against predators. From there they surge into rituals of courtship, displaying graceful and intricate overflights. After mating, birds stay united to defend their young. If a predator looms near their eggs, the orange-legged male will lurch onto the sand in a ruse, dragging one wing while moaning to distract the intruder. Biologists like Greg hope to prevent either plovers or terns from going extinct. If these birds are to survive in the long haul they need homesteads — sandbars. To grant them this, Reservoir Control engineers need to be able to create this habitat by letting more water spill downriver from Gavins Point dam; they need to allow at least one sizable pulse of water to roar through the river’s course every few years. Unfortunately, the very floods that create and maintain sandbars are those that the Corps is supposed to eliminate.

The result is that the river’s flow, regulated by upstream dams, only surges when some of that control is lost. Floods not only create sandbars; they clean them. Although the high water of 1997 cleaned vegetation off sandbars between Gavins Point and Ponca, weeds blossomed and covered these again. This created a problem.

“The birds like a little vegetation so chicks can hide,” Greg said. “But if there’s too much vegetation, they desert the area.”

Another high water pulse was needed to shave these sandbars clean again. But how to do this without waiting for a flood?

“Generally the river’s flood pulse has been eliminated,” Greg said. “That’s part of the reason the birds are endangered. They’re adapted to a system that changes, but now the system is more or less constant.”

The unchanneled section of the lower river that Dave and I canoed remains sprinkled with the sandy habitat these birds love. To protect terns and plovers there, they need to be monitored to ensure their eggs don’t vanish. Staff from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Corps have developed a plan to accomplish this. During months when these birds visit the river, teams of biologists traipse along sandbars to record the location of each nest.

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They then pass this reconnaissance intelligence onto Greg who pastes a summary of this data (including exact GPS coordinates) onto the Corps’ internal website. Greg pushed his coffee mug aside with the back of his hand. He rotated his computer monitor my way.

The sheet read: Threatened and Endangered Species Data Management System. He scanned the data.

“We’ve had a total of 112 piping plover nests so far this year: ninety-four hatched, fifteen destroyed, three —fate unknown,” Greg said.

“The crew surveyed from river mile 785 to 805 yesterday,” he added. “They’d observed twenty-three chicks. More than a hundred have fledged the river from near here.”

Even a small rise in the river level can wash onto a sandbar, flushing eggs downriver. Heedful of this danger, field teams note which nests sit within eighteen inches of shore. Greg then ‘red flags’ these waterside nests on his spreadsheet.

He tapped his highlighter against the monitor. The screen identified four nests perched along this foot and a half wide danger corridor at River Mile 839.5. Once Greg entered this data onto a spreadsheet, Bob from Reservoir Control inspected the figures, phoned Greg to get an estimate for when the last chicks would fledge, then fine tuned water releases from dams to protect each precarious nest.

This truth was refreshing and amazing. The distribution of millions of kilowatts of energy and the flow of over twenty cubic miles of impounded water depends, at times, on whether a single tern weighing less than a demitasse of espresso has flapped its wings and flown south in the direction of Guatemala. Until this final chick makes its departure, the interaction between dam flows, nest data, field teams and power output remains as coordinated as a four-chambered heart.

The day before, Reservoir Control wanted to increase water releases from South Dakota’s Fort Randall Dam. They phoned Greg to find out the status of all nearby birds. Greg retrieved fresh data from field teams on five nests near Niobrara bridge, then phoned Bob to discuss water levels.

“I told them if Lewis and Clark Lake stays at 1206 feet above sea level, it shouldn’t effect nests. It was at 1205.8 yesterday, so they’ll be watching their gauges.”

Based on Greg’s data, Reservoir Control then unshackled identical quantities of water from both Fort Randall and Gavins Point dams to maintain a steady level along Lewis and Clark Lake.

Within days, when the last birds fledged and headed south, Greg would let the engineers at Reservoir Control know.

“We’ll tell them the reach is clear—that they can change flows to their heart’s content.”

“Are there other threats to birds beside flow?” I asked Greg.

“Big things are weather and predators,” he explained. “Hailstorms, heavy rains. If a mink gets onto a sandbar, it could wipe out an entire colony. You also have avian predators—hawks, owls, gulls, crows. And there’s the possibility of human disturbance. These birds nest on sandbars. People with dogs can destroy nests without knowing it.”

“Their adaptation is camouflage,” Greg explained. “If disturbed, they freeze in place and try to blend in with the surrounding area. The idea is if you can’t see me, you can’t eat me.”

Greg turned a group of photographs over on his desk. White pebbles around the perimeter of one nest looked like rock salt on the rim of a daiquiri glass. Camouflaged eggs lay circled inside this ring.

“Nests are just depressions in sand,” he said. “Eggs are colored to blend in. In the old days a flood coming down the Missouri could wipe out a colony. The birds would then renest again because they’re adapted to a constantly changing system.”

When fall weather blows in, plovers flap as far away as Laguna Madre and the Caribbean isles while terns hightail it to the sunny Baja peninsula, Central America, and Venezuela.

Perhaps, Greg added.

Biologists were unsure exactly where birds went when they migrated. Such uncertainty is critical. “There’s a big emphasis on birds up here on the breeding grounds,” Greg said. “But one thing kind of overlooked is that they spend the majority of their lives, from nine to ten months, down in wintering grounds.”

In other words, the Endangered Species Act helps protect these visitors for the quarter of their lives they spend raising families on temperate U.S. terrain. Meanwhile in other countries smoking chain saws may be garroting their tropical rainforest homesteads. If the birds are to survive, other nations will have to recognize the need to protect them.

Lost in Canyonlands

A brother recently wrote. He asked what books were most influential in life.

I admitted that Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire was one.

He asked why.

Because it was the first time that writing actually gave a taste of the wilds, the feel of the wilds, the impact and emotions of being in the desert – or being in raw wilderness.

Decades ago, after reading that book, I visited Canyonlands with my brother’s wife’s younger sister (got that?). What happened next was, well, memorable. More than fifteen years ago or more, based on recollections, I wrote about the event. This is a brief story about where pride knocks against wild lands.

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Canyonlands 

“Let’s stay here,” said Robyn. She dropped her backpack into the shade of a rock overhang. “There’s plenty of shade.”

“Umm,” I mumbled. “What about water?”

“We’ve got water,” she said and pulled a plastic half-gallon bottle from her backpack. She twisted the mouth open and slugged back two cheekfulls.

“Not enough,” I said.

“ ‘S enough. We don’t have any more. We’ll stay here in the shade until it cools down this afternoon. Then we can hike back to the car.”

At 10:35 am, it was 92 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Need more water,” I said.

Robyn shook her head, bewildered.

“From where?”

“Down there. The Colorado river.”

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‘Down there’ was a several hundred foot vertical drop to the Confluence, the nexus where the Colorado and Green rivers join, splitting Utah’s Canyonlands National Park into three distinct wedges: Needles, Island in the Sky, and The Maze. This was true desert, loved and lambasted by author Edward Abbey in his books The Monkey Wrench Gang and Desert Solitaire – a collection of reflections on an arid land. Canyonlands provides a full yet somehow transparent vista that is checkered with orange buttes and white spires, slickrock, grabens, cryptobiotic crusts and Utah Juniper trees. The Needles stand like a phalanx of sentinels poised to menace the timid. This is a place of “ten thousand strangely carved forms” and “mountains blending into clouds” marveled at by John Wesley Powell, explorer of the west and one-armed Civil War veteran. In 1869 Powell and his men passed the confluence in four boats during their boat trip – the first ever – through the Grand Canyon.

A point hundreds of meters away stood overlooking the confluence: a Y junction of steep canyon walls that was lined with trees in its crotch. Earlier we had stood there and peered down to see a brisk green flow slam into a muddy brown current, like a jet of cooking oil poured in a pot of beef stew. Fractal patterns chewed at the midstream, the literal confluence of two rivers.

“I’m going,” I said.

“Think about it,” said Robyn.

“I have. Stay here.”

“Me? Where else would I go?”

“I’ll come back.”

The last comment stunned her. There was a chance I would not return?

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Off I began, bold and light-footed: a desert action-man scouting for water to aid his young blonde compatriot huddled under thin shade. Clutching a thick plastic bag I aimed alone down a steep scree slope, an arid-land Prometheus out to snatch water instead of fire. I had to go. Primal instinct: man forages for sustenance while woman tends shaded cave.

I checked the map to find a chasm where I could descend past tamarisk and sage toward foaming, distant waters. I sweated hard and breathed deep and stomped over orange rocks, then halted in the shade of a massive boulder. Dehydration was nigh. Walloped by the searing, puckering thermal intensity, I decided to wait in the shade until the temperature dimmed.

On a map I inspected the Needles region and fingered the names of locations: Devils Pocket, Devils Lane, Devils Kitchen Junction, – was this some hint about temperature?

img005 (1)Four hours passed and I started onward again, further from Robyn and sanctuary and fully committed to this folly of seeking water in a desert. Three lenticular clouds sat far and high above. I pulled the plastic bag out of my pocket and stared at it. It would hold one quart. Maybe a quart and a half. What about the return trip? After scooping up river water I had to scale this same desert gully. For that uphill haul I needed at least a quart to slake thirst. What about microbes in the river water: giardia lamblia protozoans ready to infest my gut and plague future weeks with sulfur burps and explosive diarrhea? Maybe I should have thought about this. Perhaps Robyn was right.

What was I doing?

Crumbled rocks slipped underfoot. A lizard darted from the shade and the gully turned ratty. I looked down toward the distant river.

Decision time.

It was time to return to the overhanging boulder and to Robyn and to the security of what was known, time to move away from macho heroics.

I turned and started back.

The desert turned moody. When the light shifted, the land changed texture and left me lost. Uphill, I knew. I scrambled as though drugged up an inclined ramp. The temperature fell and dusk churned out crimson. A single star gawked through a purple sky. Once back on flat earth I plodded past boulders and arid rubble, disoriented. Darkness blew in. I moved forward, trying to intersect a footpath. Was I doomed to wander for days before withering like a desiccated prune?

I found the path and whooped in triumph. Salvation! I crawled under a bush, opened my backpack, shoved both my legs and waist inside and snoozed beneath a sky pregnant with starlight.

I woke early the next morning, hiked miles to the ranger station, filled my stomach and plastic bag with water and returned to the Confluence to seek out Robyn, ready to deliver solace that – never fear – her misguided troubadour was alive and healthy.

There was no sign of Robyn. I started back along the trail. A jeep chugged forward in four wheel drive and crunched to a stop. Two men and a woman clutched sweating beers inside. The driver invited me in.

“Found your friend,” he said.

Robyn sat inside with her arms folded. She did not smile.

“Funny thing,” he continued. “Yesterday afternoon we decided to drive down here to watch the sunset. Fortunately we met your friend. She was worried and hungry so we told her to come and camp with us for the night.”

The driver described how he and the woman next to him were divorced. She had married his best friend – now seated next to me and smiling below a skinny mustache.

“Hell! We’re all buddies now,” he said.

Swept up by their optimism, I smiled at Robyn. “Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” she replied. Her voice was flat. “We have to talk,” she added.

Later, we talked. I couldn’t understand her big concern. I made a quick dash down a canyon to grab a little water and got lost and delayed. We were both safe, right? Was that a problem?

Huge.

After the trip ended Robyn and I parted in a Denver suburb. It’s not true that we never spoke again; we just didn’t talk for seven years.

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The desert refuses to dilute the truth. It gives no fake appointments to hide behind, no imaginary flat tires to blame for delays, no office duties to yield as a shield. The desert distills life down to its basic elements: personality, time, character. Truth blazes under a dry sun and we take on, like chameleons, the most salient trait of the desert: transparency. At that juncture in life – that personal confluence – I was still a boy who wanted to hunt for water rather than to risk intimacy; foraging alone for an inanimate goal provided fewer unknowns than sharing time with someone new. With a map in my hand I plunged deep into a hot canyon of self-interest. When the desert sensed vanity it scoffed and spat me out and told me to grow up.

Robyn still shakes her head when we talk about the trip. But a decade later we get along fabulously.

The desert may be frugal, but she’s also wise.

 

Leaving France

I’m leaving France.

For now. I’ll be back in a few months.

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Here are things I’ve learned:

1. There should always be time for lunch. A relatively long lunch. Sometimes with wine. Usually with conversation.

2. Beauty is in details. Often details thoughtfully provided by others. Details mass media rarely exposes you to.

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3. It’s okay to stay up late and drink coffee with friends if they call you and want to visit. I mean, it’s really okay.

4. Fresh oysters and wine at 11 am on a Sunday morning? Not a problem.

5. Nude bathing is (apparently) good for community spirit.

6. Drama, in small and energetic doses, can be invigorating. Argument at the cafe? Altercation in the local square? Police raid in the neighboring town? As long as no violence is involved, this can be fun, and will provoke endless dinner conversation.

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7. Stores are not always open. Period. Do something else.

8. Without bonjour and au revoir, forget about getting to know the locals.

9. Winemakers wake at 8.30 am. Sometimes 9.00 am. And you thought they were always up with the dawn? Forget it.

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10. Watching women adroitly, elegantly, ride their bicycles through the busy traffic of Bordeaux city while they wear short skirts and haut couture apparel is a sight at least as amazing as seeing the Eiffel Tower. Seriously.

11. The Latin American ideal of  being ‘fashionably late’ to dinner or a party by two to three hours does not cut it here in France. Fifteen minutes is okay. Thirty max.

12. If you get invited to a dinner at someone’s house, it will likely last until 1.30 am. Pace yourself. Bring a bottle (but don’t expect ever to see it again).

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13. Don’t worry too much about your visa stamp. Immigration officers apparently don’t. (But I never said that, and – yes – I have a visa.)

14. Horse races are rigged. Everyone knows it, though few bother figuring out how it works.

15. There’s always time to greet friends.

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How does this relate to publishing?

I recently wrote this article for International Living Magazine about living in offbeat, rural Bordeaux. This is just added information.

 

 

 

 

Drone Footage

Okay – recently my sister blog  –VinoExpresssions – has been seeing all the action. So let me clue you into a few of the latest drone footages and blogs associated with Roundwood Press:

Drone Citadelle – Blaye

Drone Bourg, Bordeaux

Drone Chateau Mercier

New Wine Scoring System – Blaye 

New Wine Scoring System – Bourg

Life Scoring

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There can be beauty in adjusting our focus in life

Today is the second anniversary of the online version of Roundwood Press. Thanks for your readership, and your business. Truly. The most popular title remains Water and Witchcraft, though The Deep Sand of Damaraland and Synchronicity as Signpost follow closely behind.

Putting this online publishing company together has been fun, though much work remains. I still work my ‘day job’ as a contracted consulting manager and engineer for infrastructure projects located throughout the world. Balancing writing, consulting, and moving to a new home (Bordeaux, France) has been a mind spinning experience.

And…when the mind spins because of change, we need to remember our overall priorities to move in the direction of our dreams. Sometimes it helps to have a tool, a method, or a reminder of how to keep ‘on track.’ Fortunately, I recently discovered one that is simple, but powerful.

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Thoughts are like sheep – sometimes they wander, sometimes you herd them in one direction

During a recent drive across huge, open spaces between the cities of Las Vegas and Albuquerque in the USA, I had hours of free time to think.

This occurred during a major transition time in my life – including deciding on ‘the next phase.’  These free hours on the road provided time to mentally ‘clear the clouds.’

But how? Multiple aspects of life swirled through my thoughts like clouds shifting in cross winds.

During those hours, I invented a potent method for clarifying thoughts and identifying priorities.

I’ll share this because it rapidly put me on a clearer path regarding where to focus in life, and what to prioritize.

First, I decided to identify all ‘loose ends’ and ‘major items’ in life that appeared important to address. Identifying these was like herding sheep into a corral. Once they were distinctly in one place, I could better organize them.

I soon identified 13 aspects of life that needed to be looked at. These included what to do with a chunk of property I own, how to assess current finances, why certain relationships were working or not working or bothersome, and what next steps to take after I moved to a new country.

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Open space – beautiful for clearing thoughts

[Without a tape recorder and not being able to write while driving, I remembered these 13 concerns by creating mental images, then assembling these into a larger, memorable, scenario. This ‘mnemonic’ or mental trick for remembering lists, is simple and powerful. To learn more, I suggest reading Moonwalking with Einstein to learn the techniques, as well as to learn about the intriguing world of competitive memory championships].

Completing this first step was huge. While cruising at 85 miles per hour through raw, desert beauty, I was mentally able to quickly identify which items in life needed to be considered, addressed, and perhaps resolved.

It was now time for step two. Perhaps it’s because I recently developed a method for scoring wine values that I decided to somehow ‘score’ which of these 13 items were most important to deal with.

To come up with a balanced solution, and to keep both halves of the brain happy, I assigned a priority score for each item – the corralled sheep – in two ways. Here’s what to do. Based on analytical thinking (cold, emotionless, focused intelligent brain power), assign a value score (from, say, 1 to 10) to prioritize which items are most important to deal with. Second, based on emotions, what score would you give each item based on how strongly it impacts your feelings? For example, from an analytical point of view (and a need to pay bills) reviewing personal finances naturally scored high. Yet it also scored reasonably high from an emotional point of view because I’ve learned that decent finances provide potential freedom to increase travel time and writing time, and because I also remembered certain strong emotions (ones I wanted to avoid) attached to past times when income was tight.

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Priorities may include making time for your friends

That was easy. There would be two scores. I’d simply take the average of the two.

I then decided to do more. For BOTH the analytical and emotional scores – I would give scores for three different time periods: the coming month, the coming year, and the coming five years.

It was time to pull over to eat lunch. I brought a laptop computer inside a highway restaurant and entered scores in a spreadsheet.

This simple scoring process will likely bring you key realizations:

1. Prioritizing for a month or a year can be straightforward. But for five years? Some items will either get a very high score, or a very low score – depending on whether you are going to dedicate yourself to them for the next five years. So many of the five year scores have two numbers. For example, let’s say one item of concern is building a new website. Will you really put in the constant effort to maintain that website for five years? If the answer is a definite YES, it may score 9.5 for priority. But if you’re unsure and may not dedicate effort for more than a year, then the long term – five year – priority value may fall to 2 out of 10.

You suddenly realize you have decisions to make. What will your highest priorities be for the next five years?

2. This process can also help you realize your values. For me, the aspects of continually learning, of meditating/visualizing on a routine basis, and of maintaining sound relationships with friends and co-workers all scored highly – analytically and emotionally – for all time periods.

3. This process can also dramatically reduce uncertainties in your life.

I began with a list of 13 uncertainties – major aspects of life which I was unsure of how to prioritize to address. By the end of this process I realized only four were immediately critical. These four could be bunched into two groups of two. There were now only two major uncertainties regarding life priorities. Because these two groups were similar – from a professional standpoint – I merged them together to become one larger item.  Those four items were really part of one concern – about dedicating myself to a professional avenue.

By the time I was driving on the highway again, less than forty minutes had passed since this I began this identification and ‘scoring’ process. Already the nebulous cloud of uncertainties in life – the field of wandering sheep – had been reduced in size from 13 to one.

Wow.

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Priorities may include being grateful for what you have

4. The process may make you realize certain priorities you never even knew existed.

For example, one item to address was whether I should keep a certain piece of property or not. From an analytical point of view, this seems to be a good investment because it requires  little money to maintain. From an emotional point of view, I love visiting this location, even if only for a few days a year. Considering both analytical and emotional priority ‘scores,’ it made sense to hold onto this property for the next year. But for five years? The decision of whether or not to sell the property would depend on whether I needed to gain money to buy a house.

A house? Wow. I had not even considered that before.

In other words, this scoring exercise was not only useful, but illuminating. My final decision was to keep the property for at least a year, but be flexible in the long term regarding selling it. That was it. There was no further need to consider that aspect of life for now.

Below is a table based on what I used. I’ve included some representative examples of ‘loose ends.’ Everyone will have different items they need to consider and prioritize. The entire process takes less than an hour – but is powerful.

Item Intellectual/Analytical Scoring Emotional Scoring
1 month 1 year 5 years –a 5 years – b 1 month 1 year 5 years – a 5 years – b
Sell owned property? 7 7 7 2 9 8.5 7.5 5
Take additional courses 9.3 9.3 9.3 9.5 9.8 9.8
Visualize/meditate regularly 10 10 10 10 10 10
Whether to purchase additional property 8.5 7.5 6 8.5 7 9.5
Take a workshop in Europe 8 7.5 9.5 2 8.5 8.5 9 2
Arrange visit with friends 9.5 9.5 9.5 5 9.9 9 9.5 2
Create a new publishing imprint? 8.8 8.8 9.5 7.5 9 9 9
Move to new location? 8.5 8 8.5 5 9.8 9.6 9.4 4
Begin research on new book? 8.7 8.7 9.5 5 9.95 9.95 9 5
Assess financial situation 8 8.8 9.9 9 9.9 9.9
Interactions with friends/co-workers 8.7 9.4 9.8 9.9 9.75 9.9
Seek new contract work 9.5 9.7 8.7 9.4 9.7 8.5
Start a new consulting company 9 8.5 9.5 3 9.9 9.7 9.8 2

Once you have identified priorities, remember that you can ‘begin at the end’ to resolve them. I’ve written about the process in my short book titled Visual Magic.

Je Suis, Charlie

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When a team of terrorists sprayed bullets through the publication offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris – murdering wantonly, I was studying French in the southern town of Villefranche-sur-Mer, close to the city of Nice along the Riviera. During lunch our instructors led us in standing together for a silent minute to pay tribute to the slain journalists. Within days an inspired singer/songwriter fellow student, Crystal Stafford, composed a spellbinding guitar song related to the event – with English and French lyrics (thanks for the fine video footage and editing, Jacob Beullens).

Meanwhile, we waited for over a week before the new issue of Charlie was available to purchase. The print run – normally 30,000 – suddenly exceeded three million copies in the aftermath of the onslaught.

In the local Villefranche bar – Chez Betty – locals sat glued before the television watching news about the hunt for the assassins. I noticed that below the television hung a photograph of New York’s twin towers. The image was weathered and had obviously been there for years – evidence of solidarity from our French allies concerning the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil in 2001.

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Suddenly, teams of soldiers clutching automatic rifles began patrolling through French cities in teams of three, while police turned more vigilant and attentive and spent more time speaking with residents they knew (and didn’t know) in the towns and cities where they operated.

At first I wondered who Charlie Hebdo was – perhaps he had been killed? We learned from our language instructors that a daily newspaper is referred to as un quotidien, a monthly magazine is referred to as un mensuel, and a periodical published weekly or each two weeks – is un hebdomadaire. Hence – Hebdo. The name of this bi-weekly satirical publication is, simply, Charlie.

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The fact that after the attack the periodical printed the cover image they did – a bearded man saying tout est pardonné (all is forgiven) – revealed how firmly ingrained the truth is that France is an unwavering guardian of freedom of speech. Having just returned from four years living in Asia, I still receive security alerts via email. These informed me that rallies against the new post-attack Hebdo publication with this image on the cover were expected, and that ‘violence may occur…militant attacks possible, and violent unrest is possible….protesters may block roads and vandalize surrounding businesses and vehicles…bomb threats and…security scares…may target diplomatic facilities.’ In one Asian city the brothers who committed the murders were instantly considered by many to be martyrs, and dozens participated in a memorial service for them.

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IMG_1310Is religion not supposed to be an organized means of assisting individuals find peace and inner contentment through spiritual guidance? Forgive my being mystified as to how attacks, bomb threats, vandalism, security scares, and organized raids featuring bloody assassinations fit into any paradigm of religion ostensibly associated with peace.

I salute Publishers Weekly  Magazine for their special issue titled Je Suis Charlie (including a section titled Nous Sommes Tous Charlie (We are all Charlie) and their call for donations to assist organizations supporting freedom of expression.

I just spent years living in a country plagued by the Taliban. I’ll not make any high level geopolitical statements or draw any universal wisdom from this event in France.  The truth is, it’s difficult to be tolerant of fools who try to wield religion – any religion – as a lame excuse to carry out self-centered acts of hate and violence.  And the hard-won, rare, beautiful right we cherish as freedom of speech? In the wake of this Paris slaughter, many, many more people – especially youth – now truly (perhaps for the first time ever) appreciate its value. It would have been best had the attack never occurred. But it has. And for that global nudge in awareness, that unexpected shift of paradigm for many toward freedom of speech – Merci, Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessington Book Store – Thriving in a Digital World

Janet Hawkins spent over a decade living and working in Amsterdam as a chartered accountant. She then returned to her Irish home in the town of Blessington, County Wicklow, to open a book store on the main street.

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Blessington Reservoir

In 2009 Janet realized that selling books alone would not keep her business afloat. She then moved to a bigger space across the street and reopened her bookstore to include a cafe. The result? Her book store thrives, and the cafe has doubled business income. The bakery produces homemade goods, while staff choose coffee for quality.

“The cafe is an independent stream of income,” Janet explained. “A little old lady once told me she wouldn’t buy my books because she can get them free from the library. While telling me this, she sat eating a scone and drinking tea in my cafe.”

Soon after moving to the new store location, Janet hired a contractor to punch a hole in the back wall – expanding the building size to include a children’s book section. This increased the overall interior store volume by a third.

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The Blessington Book Store – which has adapted to thrive in the current economy

I wondered how the recent boom in e-books had impacted her store sales.

“Kindle and Amazon mostly impacted fiction,” said Janet. But fiction accounts for only 600 of her titles – a quarter of book sales.

Janet explained her appreciation for books.

“The author of The Master told how people need a three-legged stool for balance – including physical, spiritual, and imaginative aspects,” Janet told me while sharing coffee and fresh scones at a store table She explained how books help provide this balanced stool for many readers. She also told how – in ‘old’ Ireland’ – people wandered into neighbors’ homes and launched into telling stories to solidify friendships.

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Blessington evening in December

Janet told of how two contemporary problems impact publishing: inadequate editing, and popular books written by mediocre writers (often because their plots or themes correspond to current trends).

Janet will not try to impact these problem’s outcomes. Today, she explained – book sellers have to perform multiple tasks – from “putting on a frock and attending literary awards ceremonies, to washing cafe dishes that same day.”

Janet’s energetic and optimistic management of the Blessington Book Store reflects how book sellers are adapting to changing market conditions in a world prolific with e-books. Her cafe also reflects the truth that above all, reading is a leisure activity.

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Whatever Happened to Warren Weinstein?

In October, 2010, I moved to Pakistan to live and work. A few weeks later, my supervisor and I drove to the house of another American working for JE Austin. We sat in his garden around a barbecue pit, chatting with about four other guests who had arrived. The gathering was small, intimate. One American man was quiet and soft spoken and wore the traditional Shawar Kameez dress. He had lived and worked in Pakistan for years, and was an associate of our friend.

His name was Warren Weinstein.

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In 2011, Warren was kidnapped from his home in Lahore. Details emerged that during the traditional post-sundown Iftar dinner during the month of daylight fasting known as Ramazan, some men approached the guards at Warren’s house and offered food – a traditional Iftar act. The guards opened the door, and were rapidly overtaken by these intruders who masqueraded as hospitable visitors. Warren was at the time locked in his upstairs room, and the stairwell itself was locked. Someone managed to make it upstairs, then convinced him to open the door – although the details are sketchy whether ‘inside’ involvement occurred.

Warren was kidnapped and taken away.

That was almost three years ago. He is still a captive.

Warren is in his seventies. He has said during video broadcasts that he feels abandoned. So – where is Warren Weinstein? Why are there no updates about this man? No news. No efforts to provide clarity regarding ongoing communication with his captors.

Somewhere, likely in the hills of Waziristan, our acquaintance Warren is being held captive. No news from the Pakistan Government. No news from the US Government. Nothing.

He deserves more.

 

 

Tribute to an Irish Artist

Years ago when I needed a logo designed for Roundwood Press, I contacted Helen O’Brien in Ireland – a close friend since we were fourteen years old. Helen produced splendid celtic design artwork for years, and spent time working in California as an animator for Hanna-Barbera.

1. RP Logo

Unfortunately, Helen was too busy to work on a design. She wrote:

“Here all is well.. school, activity runs,  spending time with family, a little bit of teaching work, bit of golf!, bit of tennis, seeing friends and lots of running round the hills still to clear the mind. That’s what occupies me in general, plus looking after our guest – 15 year old Galician student who is doing a transition year in Pres Bray school. It all distracts me from my domestic goddess duties which I’m quite incapable of!

“Anyway I wish I was capable of rustling up a logo for you, but in reality I can hardly get around to answering mail – though if intentions count you have received hundreds! I could put you in touch with my brother-in-law who might be able help you out.”

I soon contacted Helen’s sister Denise, who lives in Spain, and her husband Carlos designed the Roundwood Press logo. The fact that the logo was designed by a relative of Helen’s, who has visited Ireland and the Wicklow Hills, I considered important for this website.

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Helen (left) with mutual friend Fiona Donnelly before Sugarloaf Peak in Ireland’s Wicklow Hills

 

Unfortunately, I received news last week that my dear friend Helen passed away – another casualty of the ravage of cancer. After the service, Denise wrote to inform me:

“Helen didn’t tell many people she was ill. A lot of people were stunned on hearing the news…I had come home and spent all August with her. She had been 2 years fighting cancer. I read a eulogy and the church was packed to capacity. Much love and we know you loved Helen as we all did…”

Helen was a bright spark. She was not only an artist, but in her teens was a national tennis player for Ireland. She was an exploratory soul, and once visited me briefly in Colorado while traveling back after months spent living in Chile – inspiring me to visit that same country decades later. Another time we wandered around Covent Garden in London, where she laughed at how the bustle of the market mesmerized me (I had just returned from years living in rural Malawi).

When I last saw Helen a few years ago for a brief lunch in Ireland, she decided to walk across a mile of fields separating her home from the pub where we met in the village of Delgany, because she always considered walking healthier than driving. On another occasion I visited Greystones in Ireland about a decade ago and met Helen walking up Trafalgar Street pushing a baby-stroller. She told me her son’s name was Lorcan. Because I was doing research for a book about Ireland at the time, I told Helen that Lorcan was the name of the great chieftain Brian Boru’s father – and that her son would no doubt grow up to bring pride to Ireland. Helen simply laughed with joy – as she always did.

The photo above was taken during a hike we took on Djouce Mountain in County Wicklow – part of the Roundwood country she helped me to love and appreciate. She is survived by her husband (and a former classmate and friend of mine) Criostóir McLaughlin, and their son Lorcan, as well as her mother Nuala and siblings Denise and Cormac.

We shall miss you Helen.

 

 

 

Censorship in China

Evan Osnos recently wrote an article for the New York Times titled China’s Censored World.

His article relates to his recently written book, titled Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.

After reading the piece, I found Evan’s email and wrote to say that reading his article made my day. Truly.

He promptly replied, thanking me for the note.

How much of your news is censored?

 

Why is his piece important?

For Evan’s United States published book also to be published in China, editors for the Chinese publishing company required him to modify the text. He would have to remove the statement that China ‘is the only country in the world with a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in prison.’ He would also have to reduce the quantity of his addressing the contribution of the peers of Den Xiaoping to the economic success of China (apparently such praise would dilute what the editors thought Deng should wholly receive). He would also have to make several other minor, though significant, changes.

Evan’s article then elaborates on China’s history of censorship, and the current national and governmental mindset toward censorship. By the end of the article he reveals that he decided not to have his title published in China. He wrote:  “To produce a “special version” that plays down dissent, trims the Great Leap Forward, and recites the official history of Bo Xilai’s corruption would not help Chinese readers. On the contrary, it would endorse a false image of the past and present. As a writer, my side of the bargain is to give the truest story I can.”

Imagine a government that decides what you are allowed to read

 

Rather than justify or rationalize a decision to publish in China in order to reap more potential profits, Evan chose a path of greater integrity – to stick with the truth.

In my email to Evan I wrote:

Congratulations on your bravery and your conveying the truth – in print – that you do not believe it right to alter or distort reality in order to pander to a potentially greater source of financial profit. We live in an age when it often appears convenient for businesses to look aside, close one eye, or simply ignore the truth that although China verges on a superpower in financial (and potentially soon enough, military) terms, their roguish attitude toward repression of freedoms is diametrically opposed to the founding principles of what made the United States a great power.

You did not make excuses, you spoke the truth: their censorship practices are a hindrance, not a propellant, toward any national growth that will maintain and convey a sense of dignity for the Chinese population.

Well done. Your article made my day. Thanks.

I notice what appears to be a ‘halo effect’ regarding the rise of China’s power in the world. Because they verge on becoming an economic (and in the not too distant future, perhaps a military) superpower, I constantly hear broadcasters speak with almost untarnished praise and awe toward China – despite the fact that censorship is rampant, stealing trademarked and protected military and industrial secrets from foreign governments is a state sponsored activity, and activists such as the Dalai Lama are excoriated by the Chinese government simply for speaking the truth about atrocities the Chinese perpetrate in Tibet.

Decades ago I lived in Malawi in Africa, where I traveled throughout the country for work (described in my book Water and Witchcraft – Three Years in Malawi). There I discovered the Economist Magazine, and was surprised that it was more about world news than economics, and respected the clarity of the writing. I bought a copy at the news agent whenever possible (and when my meager volunteer salary would allow). Any time that an article was critical of Malawi, the deft and scissored hands of some state employed censors snipped out the piece, or the entire page, from each issue sold in the country. I now live in an Asian nation, where we can watch major network news on television – BBC, Sky, CNN, Fox. Whenever a station is overtly critical of this nation’s policies or governance, the channel suddenly becomes unavailable for weeks or months – replaced with a notice informing viewers (as I saw recently for the Fox News channel): This Channel is Unavailable.

Ultimately, censorship, like racism, is boring. It leads (or tries to lead) people toward predictability, inclusion within prescribed limits, control, and constraint. It is based on the assumption that a few people grasping hold of power know what is best for the majority. It is the belief that the earth is Flat, resources are limited, and that the world of today should remain the same tomorrow. Years ago I visited Cuba and realized that Fidel Castro wanted, ultimately, to freeze time. He wanted a country locked in the 1950s, with the same cars, the same pathetic struggling economic model, and keeping him – the same long-winded leader – at its helm. Censorship was rampant. Why? Because of fear. Fear that knowledge and enlightenment and progress and critical thinking and analysis might topple some of the wrongly placed powerful from their ill-gained positions.

Congratulations to Evan, for realizing the importance of a principle we regard essential to civilized living: freedom of speech and press.

Want to know more about writers exiled because of their opinions and word? Check out PEN International.

 

New Format to Roundwood Press Web Log Coming Soon…

The new format of this web log (published every two weeks) will always include at least one of the following sections:

The Circular View – Video

Worn Sandals, Leather Notebook – Travel, Writing

Invisible Authors – Banned Books, Exiled Writers, Censored Words

The Siege Tower – Controversial Viewpoints

Contours and Chronometers – Geography and History

Illuminating Manuscripts – Book Reviews

The Satchel Peg – Bookstores

Currents of Thought – Quotes from Roundwood Press

Thanks for staying tuned in!

Vine Videos – and Books

A recent article told of multiple college professors complaining that many students now lack the concentration to read books considered ‘classics.’

Is that surprising? So many distractions and communications and forms of entertainment bombard our lives daily that finding time for reveling in a book for hours at a time can be a challenge. Taking hours or days to enjoy a single book becomes a luxury, as well as an exercise in patience, when attention spans have been accordioned via programs and apps that favor brevity – including Twitter (only 140 characters allowed per Tweet – that’s characters, not words).

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Medieval architects knew their stuff – this site would impress anyone in fewer than six seconds

 

My friends, the Hongolas in Ventura, informed me that Twitter now hosts Vine Videos. Each video can be six seconds long.

Six seconds.

I’d like to criticize this communication/entertainment/art form, but after watching a few, I find some impressive. Yet I doubt many books or articles will be compressed into video vines.

Here are a few vines related to books, reading and marketing:

Aloha, Maui

Cool ways libraries can use Vine

Vine Best Practices for Journalists

7 Ways to Promote Your Book with Vine

Like it or not, vines are spreading. Are they here to stay? It’s too early to say. Don’t be surprised if you’re soon ambushed by book marketing vines.

Vines can grab our attention....but so can a decent vista

Nature also knows how to grab our attention in less than six seconds

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bubbles, Bocce Ball, and Book Launch

This Roundwood Press website launched earlier this month. Considering this took place in south Asia in a relatively restrictive environment regarding alcohol – celebrations were low key. Still – champagne and beer flowed, and dinner included homeade dishes made by several people. This food related to geography included in books sold by Roundwood Press.

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This included Irish soda bread, Tuscan tortellini (challenging – considering the Chinese pasta maker handle cranks backward), Panamanian marinated and barbecued snapper with lime and chile, Middle Eastern tabouli, banoffy pie concocted out of a recipe from Malawi, and American brownies.  Guests included folks from France, Norway, Colombia, Pakistan, Australia and the US. We even linked in a friend from Karachi via Video Skype.

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IMG_9044 - aBetween glasses of Carlsberg and Domaine de La Janasse Côtes du Rhône red wine, we played games of rootop bocce ball – or boules.

Thanks to those of you who could not attend – but followed us online. And thanks for showing interest in the books!

I hope you’re interested in follow ups, and suggest you sign on for updates to this web log on the Home page.

Contributing Artists for Roundwood Press

This Roundwood Press website is the collaborative output from a colorful lot of talented artists.

Logo –  

IMG_3194 - bTo design a logo relating to Ireland, the Wicklow Hills, and the town of Roundwood – artist Helen O’Brien (we grew up in Ireland together) referred her sister’s Spanish husband Carlos. He had free reign as long as the logo included woods and some concept of ’roundness.’  His first design turned out to be splendid.

Website Design

brad-fitzgerald-new-photo2After scouring dozens of author websites I contacted Brad – because his designs are clean and tight, and he is easy to work with. Brad has a degree in graphic design. He is also a father and an ultra-marathon runner. Brad listened to the website concept and worked accordingly. From inspecting his initial concept drafts, it was clear that selecting Brad was the right move. Check out: Apt Design

Maps – 

Map Design from Slovenia

Maps included in the African Raindrop and Vagabond series were custom designed by Kreso Krestes from Slovenia.  I searched for a map maker in Slovenia after visiting the country and finding the people industrious, decent, and down to earth.  Kreso’s work is technically professional and visually compelling.

Book Cover Designs –

Eight book covers include my photographs – some taken decades ago in Switzerland and New Zealand.  Two other covers were custom prepared by the following artists.

Picture ChanaChana Hauben prepared the book cover for Rivers of Change – Trailing the Waterways of Lewis and Clark.  We studied art history in Europe as teenagers, and she went on to become a member of the board of directors for the Getty Museum in Malibu by the time she was thirty. Chana prepared two full size oil paintings – for both front and back book covers – which were drum scanned and transformed to electronic images. She lives with her two beautiful children in Orange County, California.

IMG_3322aTrish Mullen Rempen prepared the cover for River of Dreams.  Trish is my sister and owns her own rug design, import and distribution business based in New Mexico (Foreign Accents). She is also a pilot, speaks several languages fluently, and has traveled via elephant and canoe to corners of the world I’ve never heard of.  Her cover drawing is based on a vista of the thousand year old Durham cathedral in northeast England, which is a key setting for scenes from the book.

Editing – 

IMG_0475cBarbara Kral-Hasty Carr edited two books – Wine and Work, and River of Dreams. We studied in Durham in the UK (and took plenty of trips together), where Barbara’s editing skills shone.  Barbara also suggested direction for the books, and reviewed and offered input to improve the layout and content of this website. She works as a marketing guru for Hallmark in Kansas City, and is an avid rower, reader, and cook.

Book Formatters –

Guido Henkel took on the challenging task of formatting three books with hundreds of color photographs in the African Raindrop series. Guido spent thirty years designing video games, then turned his explanatory ‘how to’ blog series about writing books (he is the author of the Jason Dark book series) into a side career of formatting books. He has formatted hundreds of books, including New York Times listed bestsellers.  Check out Guido Henkel

Book Cover Layout –

Tracy Yates - Book Cover Wizard

Tracy Yates prepared the textual layout of covers, and ensured thematic unity for four of the book series. She also formatted books in the Curving Trail series. Tracy has been working with ebooks and graphic designs for almost a decade, and manages her business ProEbookFormatting as well as her growing family. Pro Book Formatting

Photographer –

Karin P. in Colorado

Karin Prescott took the wesbite photograph of me. Karin’s photography experience includes traveling to Gabon on assignment with National Geographic and taking all photos for the book Peak One – about a mountain near Dillon, Colorado. An avid skier and mountain biker, she lives in a mountain cabin at over 11,000 feet elevation in Colorado.

Roundwood Press is Live!

Welcome to Roundwood Press.  Millennia of battles, raids, subjugation and victory forged the character of Irish people, while years of writing shaped these books.  I hope you find a topic you enjoy.

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These books were written over a span of decades. Whether you like fiction or non-fiction, or history, adventure, romance, philosophy or self-help – something here should suit your tastes. Some reads are quick and easy, while others are longer and more intricate.

Click on the Home tab – there are a dozen books available.  Here are suggestions about what to choose from any series:

IMG_8808Water and Wine Series –

Wine and Work – is an easy read that includes words, stories, and insights told by more than 50 people from around the world.

 

Chitipa easterAfrican Raindrop Series – 

The Deep Sand of Damaraland – is a simple read about quirky people working in a stunning land.

 

DSC_6756Curving Trail Series – 

Synchronicity as Signpost – is a fast, easy read that may open your mind to fresh possibilities.

 

DSC_6536Rivers of Time Series 

River of Tuscany – includes tales of battle, genius, and even cookery based on real events.

 

LivingstoniaVagabond Series –

Trailing Tara – skips around the world with unusual surprises, determined characters, and a hunt that can change the course of civilization.

Thanks for visiting Roundwood Press.