25 oct 09 czech the times

Twelve years ago today we were decompressing from a 5 week trip to Eastern Europe and a 5 hour trip across Denver in a snowstorm from the airport to our house. We've been thinking about that trip since dinner last night. Some coincidence, or possibly subconscious thinking, had us making borscht from local root vegetables for dinner and renting a Czech film, Up and Down, for the evening's entertainment.

We have fond memories of that fall trip ... European castles and palaces around the Czech republic, visiting the birth place of pilsner, fall colors on the Danube bend in Hungary, small wineries in hillsides where it cost more to use the public bathroom than to buy a glass of wine, the open-air market in Vienna. We had wanted to visit the Czech Republic and Hungary before they became too-Westernized and as expensive as the rest of Europe.

Last night's movie was a reminder, however, that as tourists we let ourselves be distracted by the architecture and scenery and overlooked the poverty and social problems that these countries faced then and still face. The movie, while entertaining, is a commentary on the struggle of Czechs to accept immigrants and on the black market that runs on either exploiting the immigrants or importing them illegally. The gypsies, or more appropriately, Romanies, have wandered this part of the world for centuries seeking a home and acceptance. That was clear when we arrived, especially at the large train and bus stations. Romanie women and children approached tourists with open hands.

While some Czechs have never accepted the Romanies, they are now confronted with people fleeing Asia and Africa in search of employment and a better life. The resulting changes in neighborhood character and a continuing struggle by some to recover from the economic effects of communism cause some of the movie characters to blame the immigrants for all past, current, and future downfalls of Czech society. At the beginning of the movie, it seems clear who is the bigot and who is 'nobly helping' the refugees. Events show, however, that prejudice is lurking just beneath the surface for all. All, that is, except the person who left the Czech republic for sunnier shores.

I thought the message that getting away is the only way to escape the bigotry was a little harsh toward the Czech people. The country to which that character emigrated has its own prejudices against the dark-skinned people who were there first. If we all have to flee to someplace without prejudice to change ourselves, where will we go? I do agree that sometimes travel gives someone a different perspective that you can't get by staying home. But if we can't change ourselves in our homeland, we'll all be wandering lost and disaffected like the Romanies.

fall 09 highlight #3 evening bikes & walks

When I was attempting to bike to work four days in a row two weeks ago, I was saving a treat for myself on the fourth evening. That was going to be the evening that I rode leisurely home, on my mountain bike, stringing together all the creek-side bike paths and park trails that I could. Because I only got through three days of bike commuting, my last ride was a dark trip with a laptop on my back.

The great park ride came on the Monday evening the next week. The light was golden, the trees were golden, I felt golden. I pedaled the same old lovely Chester Creek trail, the leaves blanketing the gray strip of pavement. At the end of that trail, I crossed on the pedestrian bridge over Northern Lights, went around Goose Lake, over to APU and then the Native hospital, and across Tudor on that pedestrian bridge. I continued past the Trail Closed signs on the re-routed Campbell Creek greenbelt trail to reach the Old Rondy trail into Far North Bicentennial Park (FNBP) and the Campbell Tract. Soon I left construction and traffic noise behind.

This evening all I carried was bear spray in the bottle cage and water, a snack bar, and my 35 mm camera in my pack. I didn't pull out the camera until I hit Old Rondy because I knew I would stop often once I started clicking. And I did. At the first creek bridge, I photographed trees, the creek, geese flying overhead, and leaves on the ground. Every time I came to a spot that the sun hit, I had to stop to capture the golds. Old Rondy to Salmon Run, to Viewpoint, up to Service High, then the multi-use trail paralleling Abbott Road and finally, to my neighborhood. With stops for photos, the entire trip home was almost two hours, twice the normal commute time.

A few evenings later I took Bhikkhu back to FNBP for a walk in the evening light. We walked a few of my favorite little singletracks that cut across the main trails. My destination was the highest hill on the lit loops, but a mama moose with two calves were already enjoying that view. We managed to find several other places where the evening light made the fall foliage glow. Dusk sent us back to the car with the hope that we'd have a few more evenings of light.

fall 09 highlight #2 moored at thumb cove

September was our first month with a sailboat. Labor Day weekend was warm and sunny, perfect for swabbing decks, rigging sails, and getting to know the boat. We even sailed a little in Resurrection Bay that first weekend.

The weekend after Labor Day, however, was the first taste of why we bought the boat. Harbor life has its conveniences and entertainments, but cruising from bay to bay is what we want to do. That weekend, we got to one bay for one night.

The weather was typical Alaska coastal fall - rainy and cool. At night it was pitch black. When we rowed to shore to walk Bhikkhu around 10:00 pm, we wouldn't have been able to see the boat if we hadn't left a light on in the cabin (the anchor light wasn't working). In the morning we woke to a thick fog and heavy rain. Not ideal conditions but we didn't care. We were moored in Thumb Cove in our very own sailboat.

we all sleep well on the sailboat

fall 09 highlight #1 eklutna

Despite the fall seeming long and seamlessly transitioning from a beautiful summer, I've hardly felt like I had the time to process my photos of it or write about it. So now as the rains wash the last bits of color from the trees, I will attempt to record my personal highlights from a golden September.

In the top three was the Divas 3rd annual weekend at the Serenity Falls cabin beyond the east end of Eklutna Lake. The weather was just as beautiful as last year, only warmer and with less termination dust on the mountains. We also filled the cabin both nights with Divas, which doubled the turnout from past years. Like last year, we hired the concessionaire to take firewood, wine, water, and other heavy consumables out for us the day before. That left us with our personal clothes and overnight gear, group kitchen ware, and most of the food that we would eat.

The fun was being together -- shimmying across log bridges, playing rousing games of Yachtzee and combat-style Sporks, enjoying good food cooked on a woodstove, trying to finish off 4 5-liter boxes of wine, relaxing in the sun by a pond, pedaling under the golden fall leaves and bright blue sky. We were blessed.

more photos from the weekend are on my photo page: