Imagine being 13 — and wanting to do something that only men have ever done.
Imagine having to climb a terrifyingly steep cliff to capture an eaglet from its nest.
Imagine living in a landscape of such beauty it defies description.
A new documentary, The Eagle Huntress, must be one of the most beautiful films you’ll ever see, filmed in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia and focused on Aisholpan, a young girl — who daubs her nails with purple polish, who lugs cans of fresh milk from her family’s cows, who lives five nights a week in a dormitory at her school.
Her grandfather and father have long been champion golden eagle-hunters, a sport that requires each hunter to find, capture and train a young eagle to hunt on command. An annual competition, complete with scorecards and stopwatch-wielding judges, determines who gets bragging rights as the best. The event draws men of all ages, and she is the only female.
Imagine the pressure!
Aisholpan is a joy to watch, everything you’d expect of a 13-year-old — and much more. She’s calm, determined, easy-going and brave.
No Ipads or cellphones for her; technology for these ger-dwelling nomads consists of a transistor radio and a portable solar panel.
Her quest to find, train and work with her eagle makes a terrific story, and an unlikely but likeable young heroine, with many obstacles along the way. While the film’s main focus is on the annual competition, it also shows her and her father trudging for miles in bitter cold and through snow so deep their rugged horses struggle to move, determined to have her eagle hunt, capture and kill a fox.
The cinematography is astounding, using everything from a GoPro to drones.
I’ve been wanting to visit Mongolia for years, ever since I did some film research on it. Now I’m even more curious.
Sometimes, as a journalist, I get to write a story I know is going to help a lot of people.
This is one.
I discovered the story when I recently read a friend’s status update on Facebook; their beloved terrier had almost died of heatstroke. Not, as everyone knows now, locked inside a car.
Out walking, or hiking, or running.
The world is hotter than ever; temperatures today in California are up to 105 Fahrenheit.
And our dogs want to keep us happy — they won’t stop running, even panting so hard they might burst — until they’re in very rough condition. By then it can be too late, and they’re already in organ failure, sometimes soon to die.
Dogs are dying of heatstroke. The symptoms are easy to miss.
While no statistics are available on the number of dogs that are injured or die from heatstroke, vets agree that paying careful attention to your dog’s behavior while exercising with them outdoors, especially in high heat and humidity, is essential.
Unlike humans, who sweat and cool down as the sweat evaporates, dogs shed excessive body heat primarily through their mouths.
“The main way that dogs lose heat is through evaporation through their tongues and their respiratory tract,” said Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic and a professor of veterinary medicine at Tufts University. “If it’s hot and humid outside, that really limits the dog’s ability to lose heat by its primary mechanism. Then if you add running in the heat and humidity on top of that, between the temperature gradient, humidity and the heat they’re generating as they run, they end up having more heat inside than they can lose.”
As a dog’s body temperature rises to dangerous levels, though, the signs can be easy to miss, he warned. Its temperature can “suddenly take off,” rising rapidly to 105, at which point multiple organs are rapidly failing.
Jose and I don’t have a dog at the moment, but if and when we do, we’ll be much wiser about worrisome signs of heatstroke.
I assume many of you have already seen this amazing video of a seal climbing onto a surfboard in England?
If not, spare 2:04 minutes of your life for a lovely, charming reminder of something we often forget — we’re just another species.
I’m writing this on our top-floor balcony, listening to the wind in the trees and the buzzing of passing bumblebees. Birds twitter. One recent evening, at 2:40 a.m. we bolted awake to the howling of a pack of coyotes.
But we live 25 miles north of New York City, able to see the city’s skyscrapers from our street, not some Montana ranch!
Our planters are bursting with flowers and our woods are filled with deer, raccoon, squirrels, chipmunks.
I fear for our planet when so many children and teens are suffering from nature deficit disorder, because you can’t fight for legislation and other protective behaviors if “nature” remains something you’ve only seen or heard mediated through a glass screen.
You have to feel it, taste it, touch it, know it. We all need intimate, consistent, ongoing connections to the natural world, not just simulacra or a packaged bit of it in plastic at the grocery store.
I’m grateful for having spent my childhood and teen summers in the wild of northern Ontario at summer camp and on multi-day canoe trips. I love a loon call, the peel of a birch tree, the striations of granite.
We are still, as homo sapiens, only one of millions of other species in our world, some furry, some feathered, some scaled, some noisy and some mostly (to our ears anyway) silent.
A few years ago, a red-tailed hawk landed on our 6th floor balcony railing, which is only 12 feet wide. He stared at me silently, and I felt like prey. Having written about raptors, I know they can see for many miles. I wondered what he saw when he gazed into my eyes.
We don’t have any pets, so any encounter with a (non-threatening!) animal or bird is a real joy for me — especially horses and dogs; I’m the person who always stops to say hello and pat other people’s dogs (with permission.)
My young friend Molly recently fell off an elephant into the Mekong River.
I don’t envy the fall, or her ruined camera and lens, but elephants are my favorite animals of all. I rode on one myself in Thailand, sitting on his neck, and dreamed of a second career as a mahout.
The first thing I did upon my return from a working week in Nicaragua — the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti?
I took a long, deep, hot bath. In our time there, we only encountered heated water once, in the Best Western Hotel in Managua.
It was the first of multiple culture shocks…
The morning after my return to suburban New York, I got into our 12-year-old Subaru and drove; I hadn’t driven once, as we had drivers there, or took taxis in Managua.
The road at home was smooth and paved. I had never thought to question, or appreciate, that.
Our old car started smoothly. That, too. Here’s a push, in 98 degree noon-time heat:
I drove quickly and easily to my destination, with no bumps or potholes to dodge.
Here, I travel by foot, public transit or car. The bus ride from Bilwi — a 90-minute flight by Cessna — takes 24 hours.
Here’s the dugout canoe in which we crossed the river to watch Linda work her fields.
Here, I walked into a white tiled bathroom, with metal stall walls; this is the toilet at Linda’s home in the countryside.
Normal work for me, and many of you, means sitting at a desk, indoors. Here’s our photographer Rodrigo Cruz working in the Wawa River:
I got into the elevator at my destination this week to ride up five floors — I hadn’t used an escalator or elevator in a week; most Bilwi buildings were made of wood, and two storeys high at most.
The streets here in New York have no animals on them, unless they’re road kill; on our final morning in Bilwi, a brown horse ambled past our hotel, riderless, unaccompanied. At Linda’s house in the countryside, we were always surrounded by them: a gobbling turkey, a contented, muddy pig, a flock of cheeping chicks, the Brahmin cow who wandered over to the well at sunset and kept me company while I bathed — and many piles of fresh dung!
We saw very thin dogs everywhere, but only two cats. Life without the companionship of animals feels lonely!
Buildings and houses here in New York are black or white or gray or brown, a sea of blandness. The houses we saw, everywhere, in Bilwi and the countryside of RAAN were painted in glorious colors: turquoise, emerald green, fuchsia, brilliant yellow, often using wood cut into patterns or laid on the diagonal for visual interest on a verandah. Beauty relies on imagination, some tools and a can of paint.
Instead of breakfast alone at my dining table, we ate together from containers on our laps. Here’s a typical lunch:
Here are Joshua, WaterAid’s country director, Jennifer Barbour and Alanna on Linda’s porch; she has a separate building next to her sleeping quarters for the kitchen.
Here’s Linda’s (typical) stove/oven:
Because it is still winter here in New York, the landscape is dull — still brown and sterile. The morning we left Bilwi, the town on the Atlantic coast we stayed in, brilliant red hibiscus glowed in the morning sun, as did wide, green palm fronds and lilac bougainvillea. Pale yellow butterflies flitted past us.
The tropical rain forest glows green with towering banana and coconut palms and curved, feathery bamboo. It felt like walking into a painting by Henri Rousseau.
On our final night in Bilwi, the team went out to a disco, where men and women — 80 percent of whom live with no running water in their homes — arrived in stilettos and make-up and sequined tank tops. As we stood on the sidewalk afterward, a young man, clearly high and ill, drooled and begged and dropped to the pavement to caress Joshua’s shoes. The national police, rifles slung over their shoulders, cruised past us in a black pick-up truck.
My breakfast blueberrries in New York came from (!) Chile. One afternoon our rural RAAN hosts chopped open some coconuts from their tree with a machete — fresh juice and meat!
Our view here is of other buildings and the Hudson River. Here’s the view from Linda’s home.
We ate lunch in Managua in an upscale cafe, its prices marked in U.S. dollars, ordering food common in the U.S. — panini and cappuccinos. After a steady diet of Nicaraguan food: rice, beans, plantains, fish, a bit of meat — no green vegetables and very little fruit — it was disorienting. There was a case filled with cupcakes and cheesecake and cookies; no restaurant we had been to, in a poor town, had ever offered dessert or sweets on the menu. I’d never considered fruit, vegetables or sweetened foods a luxury or oddity. They are, for many people.
At home I work alone, all day every day. Here are Dixie, our translator (in the hammock) and Laxi, WaterAid’s community liaison, on Linda’s porch in the village we visited. Working with a dedicated and easy-going team is a blessing.
As we canoed the Wawa River in a dugout, we sat on seats freshly-hacked from a piece of bamboo by Ailita’s machete. How refreshing to watch her casually, quickly — and generously! — make it herself. That sort of self-sufficiency is something so many of us now lack.
Every day, The New York Times — even as it runs front-page stories about poverty or income equality — runs ads from luxury purveyors like Chanel ($1,500 shoes) or Tiffany or Seaman Schepps, an old-money jeweler; recently offering a gold bracelet at $18,750.
That’s eighteen years’ of an average Nicaraguan’s annual income.
On day two of our vacation, we decided to visit the final day of the Picton County Fair, in Prince Edward County, about two hours east of Toronto.
It was one of those perfect fall afternoons — hot sunshine with a cool breeze.
— a lawnmower race (Jason plowed into a hay bale)
— a collection of antique tractors, including one from 1926 and this one from 1953
— the entries in the flower and food competitions
— some fantastic quilts, embroidery, crochet and hooked rugs
— a huge red $175,000 tractor
— a very stubborn goat who, when it was time to parade around the ring for the 4H contest, dug in his hooves, bleated and simply refused to budge
— some gorgeous vintage automobiles, including this one
Watching the four young girls posing with their goats was fascinating, as they moved, kneeling in the sawdust, from one side of their animal to the other, rearranged their goat’s legs for the best pose, and awaited the judge’s decision.
It takes a lot of poise and training to wrangle a small stubborn beast, and I admired their dedication. In New York, the girls would have been the ones preening and posing, nervously subject to dismissal.
Here, instead, they were in charge.
And we really liked the judge’s decision to hoist the stubborn one and move him into the ring to get on with it, already. He could have left its owner crying at the entrance, but he didn’t.
I loved seeing all the skills people here are proud of, whether growing a 74 pound pumpkin or hooking a rug…I couldn’t do any of them!
It’s humbling to be reminded how little city-folk generally know about how to care for animals or vegetables or fruit or how to create lovely things for your home. Instead, we buy stuff from enormous corporations, most of it made by low-wage labor in some distant Asian sweatshop.
The inn we chose is simply amazing, a square white building built in 1838 and moved to its current location a few years ago in numbered pieces, then re-constructed by a local historian.
A pair of Toronto lawyers have poured Godknowshowmuchmoney into renovating it, to perfection. It’s a little austere, but serene, all in calm, neutral colors: rust, cream, olive, black.
It has only four guest rooms, but we were the only people here for all three nights.
So we had this exquisite place all to ourselves: wide plank floors, some original glass in the windows casting bubbled and swirling shadows, a formal oil portrait in the hallway. I love looking out at the trees through ancient glass, wondering what others were thinking when they did so a century and a half ago.
The only sound we can hear is wind rustling the crisping leaves, blown from Lake Ontario across the street.
The front door handle is small, round, brass — even opening the door transports you to a different time and way of moving through space.
I imagine being a woman of the period, alighting from our carriage, and sweeping in with a wide, bustled skirt to a home with no electricity, wi-fi or telephone.
And the stars here are glorious, the Milky Way blessedly once more visible.
It was the end of the day, time to go for my walk along our town’s reservoir.
It’s a walk I’ve made dozens of times, in every season, for many years, along an asphalt path shaded by towering trees, the reservoir on one side, filled with ducks and swans and turtles. People come there to fish, or sit, or jog.
Cyclists whiz past.
But for…a trick of the light.
If you’re in the right place at just the right moment, and you’re paying attention — not yammering on your cellphone or texting or racing past — you’ll see stuff.
A deer. A small black turtle. Some ripe raspberries.
And there, shimmering in the early evening sunshine, was a huge spiderweb, as big — I measured — as the entire size of my hand, from base of my palm to the end of my middle finger, seven inches.
It was spectacular!
It was attached, with multiple strands, to the thick bark of a tree, as if, like some bivouacking mountain-climber, s/he’d decided to latch on and dangle. There were multiple attachment points, and then the web itself, with so many concentric circles I couldn’t count them all — 20?
In the center sat a very small brown spider, (probably exhausted!), perhaps half the size of my smallest fingernail. Even better, there were about five other, smaller webs nearby, sort of a spider condominium, each with its own spider. (Relatives? Tenants? Guests?)
I stood there for a few minutes, awestruck by the skill, artistry and the spontaneous beauty it brought to the end of my day.
What on earth could I possibly make of such delicate strength?
I’ve spent much of my adult life striving, mostly professionally, often socially. I left my native Canada, and a thriving career and dear friends, to follow a man I married, (who walked out after two years of marriage). I’ve survived three recessions since 1989 and four orthopedic surgeries since 2000.
Would I ever have a calmer, steadier life?
Recently, I’ve felt…happy.
Dare I even write those words? I feel like I’m tempting fate.
But things have been lovely of late.
I know one reason — the endless crisis/problem-solving/emotional dramas/fear and pain of the past few years are gone. My left hip, which caused me 2.5 years of 24/7 pain, was replaced 18 months ago. My mother, whose crises seemed endless, is now in a nursing home. Work, finally, seems to be much more solid than the terrifying, scraping pennies-from-the-sofa-cushions dips of 2008-9.
Here are some of the things that make me happy:
— Our town’s reservoir, whose landmarks are a cormorant who stands very still and spreads his wings in the sunshine, white swans, duck bums in the air, Queen Ann’s lace and orange lilies by the roadside. Best of all — turtles! There are about a dozen of them, all black and round, who line up along some rubber tubing at the water’s edge.
— The flowers on our balcony, orange and purple and white and yellow, adding beauty to every day.
— My husband’s kisses.
— My dance classes, jazz and modern. It’s such a delicious relief to leave words and speech behind, to sway and bend and spin and twist with others. To stretch, still touching my palms flat to the floor. I love using a corporeal vocabulary I’ve known for decades: chassees, plies, tendues, battements, ronds de jambes.
— A surprise check at the exact moment I need it.
— An unexpected assignment, two of which showed up this week.
— A full refund, many years later, for a spendy skirt I bought at Nordstrom.
— The pool at our apartment building. On these 95+ degree days, it is such a blessing to plunge in and cool off.
— Freshly-baked banana bread, hot from the oven, that I made.
— A full pot of tea, poured from a white china teapot.
— A big bunch of white flowers.
— Fresh corn.
— Our new tent, which I can put up, alone, within minutes.
— Outdoors antiques fairs and flea markets, where I always find something fantastic — an Edwardian necklace, a Moroccan lantern or some vintage crochet edging.
Mother of pearl, metal, glass beads and ebony, $55. Score!
— Throwing a party. Tomorrow we’re having about two dozen friends over to celebrate Malled’s publication in China.
— Making new friends.
— Discovering the most unlikely connections with a new friend, like the woman my age with whom I went for lunch to talk about work. She had been a professional ballerina, and danced in productions with Nureyev. I had performed at Lincoln Center in Sleeping Beauty with him in the lead. The odds?!
— An hour+ long phone chat with a friend who’s known me for decades.
— Helping younger journalists who ask me for advice.
— Having our suburban NY street thick with bushes full of ripe raspberries.
The Grand Canyon is 277 river miles long, a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. It was declared a national park in 1919 — and today receives five million visitors a year. You can visit the South Rim, (the most popular), which is dotted with hotels and two campgrounds, restaurants and shops, or the North Rim, which is 1,000 feet higher — and therefore even cooler. Altitude is about 7,000 feet, which can leave you breathless from even simple activities.
At the bottom lies the Colorado River, along which veteran boatmen take brave souls.
Many visitors, though, never venture below the rim, preferring only to snap a few photos or walk around the rim, which is easily done through a system of free buses allowing you to walk as little, or as much, as you like.
In 1994, I hiked down Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point — stupidly, doing the last, unshaded section, alone at noon — by then 100+ degrees. It was the first time I truly understood hyperthermia, how the body literally cooks. In desperation, I began pouring my bottles of water over my head. I sat in the creek at Indian Garden for 30 minutes, soaking my clothes completely and trying to cool my core temperature.
Then I looked up at the rim and thought, “Not possible.” Eight hours later, I emerged, the straps of my backpack crusted white with the dried salt of my sweat. I would urge every visitor to hike into the Canyon, intelligently. Nothing compares to the experience of being inside it, not just looking at it from a safe, noisy, crowded distance.
Note: all images here are mine, and copyright!
If you are afraid of heights, don’t stand close to the rim! The edges are rocky, slippery and unprotected. People have fallen to their deaths.
The canyon is the result of billions of years of erosion, with multiple layers of rock. The white layer is Kaibab limestone.
This is Bright Angel Trail, on a nice, flat bit! It is the most-used trail and is also used by people riding on mules, so look out for fresh dung! Hikers must step aside when they meet a mule and give them right of way. I shot this image late afternoon, in late May, so there is some shade. Hiking in direct sun, and 100-degree temperatures — the temperature rises as you descend into the canyon — is doubly tiring. Drink a lot of water!
I didn’t take as many photos as I thought, but Jose and I like this one the best of all. Several challenges make photographing the Canyon difficult — there is often dust; the scale is enormous; it’s hard to pick a spot that includes some sense of scale (which is why I framed this with weathered, gnarled branches.) The small silvery curve on the left-hand side is the Colorado River, far below.
This sunset image was taken from Hopi Point, one of the overlooks on the South Rim. It is one of the two most popular spots for people to congregate, and the views are excellent. But too many people are rude, noisy and distracting — if you really want to savor a sunset in solitude and silence, do not pick that spot! The sun sets around 7:30 (late May) and rises by 5:00 a.m.
One of the most amazing and lovely aspects of the Canyon is the terrific abundance of wildlife. This shot was taken with a small Canon G7, not a telephoto lens — i.e. I was barely a few feet away from this squirrel. But — very serious warning! — the single most common injury here is squirrel attacks. If you are bitten, you will need five injections from the lovely folks staffing the GC Clinic: plague, tetanus, rabies and two others. Do not feed the damn squirrels!
The youngest (!) part of the Canyon is 270 million years old. There are many free guided walks/talks — I saw this fossil, and many more, thanks to a Fossil Walk given by a ranger. The hour-long tour was fantastic and made us really appreciate how ancient this place really is….that we are walking across a former sea bed and the remains of shells, coral and other creatures.
This exquisite wildflower is Munro’s globemallow, which blossoms May through August. One of the many pleasures of hiking the Canyon is discovering the delicacy and variety of the plants and flowers clinging to the dusty, rocky earth, from tiny brilliant flowers like this one to thorny cactus to juniper and pine trees.