Sunday, June 16, 2019

Rainy Day Travel to the Past

This drought-ridden city has finally quenched its thirst. Rain! Beautiful, pitter-pattering rain. My sequoia tree is waving its fluffy branches in contentment. Clouds opened this morning to let the sun shine through onto freshly fallen snow on the cordillera, ringing the city with a gleaming white crown.

Temperatures have dropped. A perfect time for warm sweaters and socks and a good book. I’ve been re-reading “Anne of Green Gables,” recommended by my writing group to help me get a feel for the early 1900s. I have this crazy idea to write an historical novel….
The story hooks me. Who doesn’t want to know what happens to an orphan girl who has been passed from one foster home to another? Having watched the first excellent season of “Anne with an e” on Netlfix, the characters feel very real. I do find the book overly sentimental but it was written for the times. I relate to Anne’s deep love and appreciation for nature. Reading the book now feels like connecting with a simpler more innocent world. Though it might come across as “old-fashioned,” universal topics are woven throughout: men’s and women’s roles in marriage, women’s education, empathy, poetry, inner versus external beauty, the peace to be found in nature.
I probably read the book in the 1950’s so it didn’t feel terribly old-fashioned. In fact, as a young girl, I loved reading books set in the past. Some of the books had been my mother’s books: The Little Coronel Series, The Little Princess, Copperhead, Little Women, The Wizard of Oz.

I bought Spanish versions of “Anne of Green Gables” for my twin granddaughters. They’d seen the Netflix version which I hoped would motivate them to read it. But I wonder if a story set over 100 years ago appeals to adolescent girls now in this swirling world of cell phones, Instagram and social media. They might learn a great deal from Anne’s authenticity and faithfulness to her values. Values that will never grow old.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Our Little Miracle

She’s three weeks old today. The day Mila was born, I looked down at her tiny form swaddled in her mother’s arms and kept telling myself, “Just minutes old. A new life.” I had difficulty wrapping my mind around what seemed to me to be a miracle.
Mila is our fifth grandchild, but the first for our youngest son and his wife. Since she’s American and has no family nearby, we stepped in as substitute support until her parents arrived from New Jersey and have followed her pregnancy with close anticipation. Every night I expected the phone to ring announcing that they were on their way to the hospital, until one night a WhatsApp message arrived: “Contractions more frequent. We’re on our way!”
I remembered baby clothes stored for years in a wooden trunk – sweet, impractical dresses from my babyhood, an ivory, lacy bonnet that had donned my mother’s infant head. I washed and ironed them with care. Now they hang in Mila’s closet. Since they live nearby, I couldn’t keep myself away after her birth and stopped by just to gaze at her every day that first week. I also enjoy watching the wonder of my son and his wife as they get to know this brand new person they brought into the world.
One concern was how their two dogs would react to the baby. It’s been fascinating to watch. Mocha, a gangly, year-old adoptee, seems uninterested, though one day she did lick Mila’s ear. To me an animal’s lick signifies acceptance and caring. Little black Frida, their 3-year-old rescue dog, evolved from curiosity to a fierce protectiveness. She quickly picked up the signs from Mila’s parents that she is a loved new member of the family.
All this joy has a downside which I try not to dwell on. Our son took his time meeting the right woman and starting a family. I said to him, “It’s about time!” He answered, “Forty is the perfect age to be a dad.” But that makes us “old” grandparents. When our older son’s twin granddaughters were born thirteen years ago, I still had the energy and flexibility to “play” with them once they grew into the toddler stage. We’d crawl around our house chasing each other pretending we were wild animals. “I’m a fierce lion,” or “I’m a hungry shark!”
What can Mila and I play in a year or two? I tell myself to focus on today. Enjoy her first smiles, her sweet face as she sleeps, the soft skin of her tiny hands, and the cuddly outfits her mom dresses her with, each day a different one. And notice each little change for Mila changes every day.

Mila and Frida

Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Day

I’m surprised to learn that the very first Earth Day was held in 1970, and gave rise to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Though I was still living in the States at that time, I regret to say that I have no recollection of the event. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, published in 1962 was the beginning of a growing awareness and appreciation for the environment among Americans. In 2020 Earth Day will celebrate its 50th year. Fifty years. So little progress. A U.S. president denies climate change and rolls back environmental protections installed by the previous administration. I despair.
Last night my husband and I watched on Netflix the third chapter of “Our Planet”, a 2019 National Geographic Series narrated by David Attenborough. Each episode features a particular ecosystem. The jungle was the focus of the third chapter. As in the first two episodes, the spectacular, startling photography had us captivated. Yet, Richard Attenborough’s message was extremely disturbing. With statistics (did you know that the world’s population has doubled since man landed on the moon?) and graphic examples he explained how, through human depredation and climate change, we are fast losing and devastating the earth’s natural world.
This week and last, thousands of marchers have congregated in major thoroughfares of London blocking traffic demanding governmental action on climate change. Over a thousand have been arrested. I want to join the London marchers. I’d be willing to face arrest.
Chile will host the COP24 UN conference on climate change in December. The country, proud to have been chosen, is making plans and organizing meetings. This also puts pressure on the government to do more on the local level. Right now, officials are dealing with organizing streets teeming with cars to handle the explosion of bicycles and scooters. My son, working in sustainability management, informed me that Chile is only second behind China in number of electric buses. A glimmer of hope.
Don’t miss “Our Planet” on Netflix. Extremely important. Spread the word!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Calendar Thoughts

I just turned the page on my Molly Hashimoto bird calendar. Goodbye to March and your regal long-billed dowitcher and hello April with your multi-colored cedar waxwing.

Another month, 31 days gone forever. At the end of the year we take stock, but what about at a month’s end? Or a week’s?
I’ll start with the past week, less taxing on my shaky memory. I have my handy paper (non-digital) datebook as my memory-aide. The brightest spark in my week was the launch of my book, “Notes from the Bottom of the World”, for English-speaking family and friends here in Chile. Many commented afterwards how relaxed and natural I appeared. That was probably due to my experience last November in California presenting my book to a variety of audiences. The highlight of the evening was seeing my 14-year-old twin granddaughters in the audience. I hadn’t thought they’d come due to their busy schedules and multiple interests. But their mom made a special trip to pick them up at school and drive them across town in heavy traffic to hear their author-granny. The only downside of the evening was a whopper of a cold that hit me that morning. Perfect timing.

This week I witnessed the arrival of our hummingbirds, another sign of summer’s end. For some reason, they take off to other landscapes for the summer. I prepared the syrup and hung out the feeder which they found immediately.
Speedy Gonzalez, out pet tortoise, was giving signs of wanting to hibernate; eating and wandering less, so I put him in his cardboard box in the shed to sleep through the next 6 months. He inner senses signaled it was time. And he was right. Yesterday, we had our first rain, a wimpy rain, but rain all the same.
 In March we finally had the outside of the house painted (after way too many years) and I love how it looks! Clean, bright, fresh. We had a setback when, Nelson, the painter we hired, quit after a week! He didn’t like that my husband pointed out a couple of things to be corrected. Actually, I think he quit because he realized the job was too difficult for him at his age. In no time, a friend gave me the name of a younger painter, Guillermo, who did a great job and was pleasant besides.
There was dinner with friends visiting from the States; a drive out to the country for lunch at favorite restaurant under its grape arbor with two friends; book club where we discussed Tara Westover’s “Educated.”  Weekly meetings with Santiago Writers. Pilates classes and gym workouts filled my days. During free moments, I sat in our garden to enjoy our mellow fall days and read.
I’m in a Scottish frame of mind. I’m researching my Scottish ancestors and late twentieth century Scotland in preparation for writing a historical novel based on my great-aunt’s unusual life. Reading “A Scot’s Quair” by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and dealing with the dialect has been a thorny challenge but I’ve now got the hang of it. Soon I’ll be speaking like a Scot.

Remembering kindles appreciation. March was a good month.

Now I look forward to what April may bring.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Little Joys

The words spoke to me. While scanning my email Inbox, the title of Maria Popova’s latest “Brainpickings” post caught my eye: “Hermann Hesse on Little Joys, Breaking the Trance of Busyness, and the Most Important Habit for Living with Presence.” I opened the post.
I read that in his 1905 essay “On Little Joys”, Hesse reflects on the busyness, the hurry-hurry and the aggressive haste of modern life. Terms coined over a century ago. I’ve learned the wisdom and truth contained in his words. Perhaps I developed this philosophy for living due to life’s circumstances and to the person I am.
Hesse advised everyday contact with nature. I grew up immersed in the natural world of a small northern California town. Trees occupied the views from every window in my childhood home. Camping vacations amidst redwoods started me on the path to becoming a tree hugger.
There were other signs. Searching for my first apartment, I’d check for the view from the windows. My chosen Berkeley apartment had a distant view of San Francisco Bay. In the slim space between my building and my neighbors’ grew a leafy redwood tree and a small garden tended by a few of the residents. I was forced to move out when the owner decided to demolish our three-story building in order to build a bigger, seven story construction. Last time I went by, the redwood tree was gone.
When I moved to Chile to marry my boyfriend, we settled in the capital, Santiago, now a city of six million inhabitants. I learned to develop personal strategies for noticing little joys in this urban setting.
It is just a matter of noticing.
 As a teacher in a school situated in the foothills of the Andes, in free moments, I’d gaze out the window at the glorious sight and feel nourished and replenished. During lunch hour, I’d walk a few laps around the hillside track and maybe spot a kestrel perched on a post or hear the twitter of quail.
These city streets offer dozens of small joys: flowering jacaranda and ceibo trees, a well-tended garden, a friendly dog, the chatter of playing children.
Now, although retired, I don’t get out of the city as often as I’d like. I miss the freshness of forests and the tang of sea breezes. To counteract this deficiency, each morning I step out into my backyard to inhale the exquisite fresh air still untouched by the scents of human activity. The dew releases a potpourri of fragrances from my redwood tree and the flowering buddleia. Nights I make another mini visit to my backyard to breathe in the nighttime air and gaze at the few stars visible in our city sky. Sky. Sometimes I realize that I haven’t looked at the sky all day.

Jacaranda tree

Hesse advises us to cherish the little joys, inconspicuous and scattered liberally over our daily lives. They are not outstanding, they are not advertised, they cost no money!
            Lessons for living.

Sunday, March 3, 2019


These headlines appeared on the back page of yesterday’s newspaper. They should have appeared in the center of the front page. Think about it. 60%

Image result for beach plastic pollution and birds to starve
I find this news disturbing, frightening and horrifying. I want to shout out to world leaders and especially the Trump Administration: WAKE UP!
Look at Brazil. The government announced plans to exploit a large sector of the Amazonian tropical forest.
We humans, along with insects, fish, birds and animals, make up just 5% of life on this earth. Yet we are destroying the ecosystems and the balance of life upon which we depend.
 It’s easy to feel that our efforts to support the environment are just a grain of sand in the big picture of things. Yet…. maybe if we all:
Support environmental organizations
Write letters to mayors and congress members
Keep a garden
Share plants with others
Write a blog or an article
Share environmental updates on Facebook
If there are enough of them, the grains of sand may add up. I wrote a letter yesterday to the newspaper and to city authorities asking what I can do with the plastic they don’t recycle. Throw it in the garbage so it can find its way to the sea and into a pelican’s stomach?
Enough of my rants. I’m off to find comfort watering my potted plants and observing the bees in the fragrant blooms of my ilán-ilán tree.

Friday, February 8, 2019


How much I’ve forgotten. Now, upon viewing the series “The Viet Nam War”, I realize the importance of remembering the main historical events of my time.
My husband and I sat in perfect silence watching the ten episodes, directed by Ken Burns. What heartbreak observing the graphic footage of soldiers, both American and Vietnamese suffering, killing, dying. The scenes of attacks on villagers were difficult to watch. Equally shocking, were the lies, cover-ups and deceit carried out by the American Administration of the time and the military advisors during those years.
The scenes of massive student protests caused me to wonder what I was doing, where was I during those years. In 1963, Madame Nhu, wife of the South Viet Nam premier and sister-in-law to the President, made a public relations tour in the U.S. One of her stops was the University of California in Berkeley where I was a Political Science student. I sat among the 7000 students in Harmon Gym. I went as an observer, not a supporter. She defended the much-questioned South Vietnamese regime, urging us not to believe the American news media’s treatment of her husband and brother-in-law. The audience received her with a mixture of applause and hisses. Outside hundreds of leftists protested her presence. During her trip, her husband and the country’s president were assassinated
In May 1965 thousands protested against the war for two days on the Berkeley campus. I was serving in the Peace Corps in Colombia at that time and returned to Berkeley in 1966 to work towards a teaching degree. Were there more anti-war protests there? I have no memory of participating in any. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been there. In 1970 I did become involved and handed out leaflets on the streets of Oakland and San Francisco protesting the bombings in Cambodia.

 I wonder how aware I was of what was happening in Viet Nam when I moved to Chile in 1972. In Chile we received scant international news, although now I realize that the official news was not to be trusted.
What upsets me deeply as I follow the unfolding of events on the series is the realization of the total lack of transparency by several U.S. administrations. In those days most Americans trusted what the government told us.
Now, once again, our government is lying to us. How is it possible that we just let it happen? The lies and deceit are more blatant now that in the 60’s and 70’s, yet so many people refuse to see it and cling tenaciously to their trust in the president. Perhaps they fear opening their minds to the truth.
At what point is a person able to stop believing the official story?
Environmental and financial regulations are being rolled back. The President has withdrawn America from peace and climate treaties, ignoring the advice of his own advisors. I feel as if I’m being rolled over by a rumbling tank. I want to PROTEST! I want to join a crowd of hundreds of thousands and shout “NO MORE.”

To my readers: In the past I vowed not to touch politics in my blog, but I can stay silent no longer.