The Soloist in Sukhothai

Another set of sterling observations from my daughter’s travels …



What is life without someone to share its experience with? Two adolescents cuddled together on a motorbike, out for lunch and a shared cigarette. Two lovers taking pictures at the wats – cheek to cheek- revelling in their luck to be here in Thailand with one another. A gaggle of 20-something girls, high on wearing baggy elephant print pants, in awe of a reality outside their dorms rooms and boyfriends left behind. An elderly couple meandering on cruiser bicycles, steeped in childhood memories, in ruins. The troupe of tourists led by a head with a microphone, cameras clinking on the rails of the mobile corral that sputters under their weight.

There’s a figure in the shady blanket of a stout banyan tree. Sipping the scene in. Are they lonely, tortured by the absence of their clan? Longing for the shared experience, reminiscing of days spent in the arms of a…

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Guest in Your House

Pondering my daughter’s latest post about her service in Nepal as an acupuncture physician, I am suddenly struck by our shared proclivity to leave comfort of the familiar and strike out, only to become a guest in someone else’s home, community, country. A young woman at thirty, there is a world to explore and she is discovering her place in service to it.

My own reflections at sixty-one reveal that life has been a constellation of significant choices: that of casting myself as far across the country as possible at eighteen in order to live in what felt as foreign a place as I could imagine. Moving from a city in Southern California to the woods and waters of Maine, I spent thirty-two years growing into myself while raising two daughters. Somewhere in the midst of it, we broke camp and set out for a tiny Hawaiian island, spending a couple of years there before relocating to the high desert of New Mexico. Returning again to Maine a year later for the duration of my girls’ education, I then embarked on another adventure, this time to the Big Island of Hawaii. In between there was traveling; snapshots of other places, other times.

I’d be lying if I said there was any grand plan. There wasn’t.

This young traveling progeny and I share a love of freedom of what is wild, of fresh air and clean waters; we are people who love to cook wholesome food grown as close to the ground as possible. Appreciating the richness of cultures beyond our own, we are keenly interested in what is important to others; what lies beyond the brush of a passing shoulder, what concerns another holds in their fathomless eyes.

There is something profoundly symbolic about choosing to live beyond one’s comfort zone, a sharpening of the senses in experiencing what is outside one’s own language, routine and story. To go where nobody knows my past and where the future is uncertain makes the metaphor clear: we are but guests here on Mother Earth. As a guest, I remember my manners and help where I can with a humble and grateful heart. Like any courteous guest, I never take my position in the household for granted. I help prepare; clean up after myself.

In the way of all guests, I have come to respect the small and large miracles revealed to my unsuspecting delight. An open heart invites upswells of love and appreciation. Like plumbing any good well, supplies of kindness and understanding quite easily reveal themselves in limitless abundance. There is, and forever will be plenty to share.



The glass is full, half-empty now,
you know we all complain
I copped a bye and grabbed the ring,
to sum up this refrain.

Or so I thought; came back with tears,
of deepest gratitude;
just down the road I sought relief
in midst of plenitude.

Will longing end, the journey cease?
With utter certainty;
the mind turns on and flips and spins
shades of insanity.

To find within what lies afield
has been the human quest;
while hearth and home, familiar bed,
is where I take my rest.

Curtain Call

Jewel tourmaline colors refract upon the sea,

contrasting charcoal-black lava rock;

daylight sinking into oceanic horizons,

melting liquid tangerine.


Scattered clouds overhead bending

into prismatic curves, layer upon thin layer

as if, like celestial bodies in the heavens,

they didn’t exist at all,

save what immediately attends the eye.


Persimmon shifts and parts into brilliant nuanced

peach and pink, salmon and saffron;

indigo and aquamarine aura glowing fringes,

as night begins to descend upon the land.


Few stars are visible, yet sunset keeps cranking

as long as there is light;

streaks of gray pastel mixed with faded primrose

alongside distant shades of rose petal pink,

fragile as life.




Whitecapped waters toss barges about

in the dark of the Alenuihaha

as if they are toys.

Listing on massive sides,

chained to tugs; no intrinsic

momentum of their own.


Each night I watch as they roll –

dumb weighted things

pitching along to another destination.

Scarred containers stacked perilously,

one atop the other; strange multilayered

wedding cakes on water.


This is how it is,

here on Hawaii Island; all these islands.

Quietly we garden, grow our food,

live our lives.

Still, we shop in stores – searching

for bargains essential to shelter, mobility,



What would happen, then, if just

one receptacle, replete with precious cargo,

skidded free; bobbed clumsily before sinking

deep into the drink?

(I’m sure it’s happened before.)


Mainlanders don’t know, they on their

bigger island do not consider.

And why would they?

Lost to the world outside their door,

not hugging the sea.

As are we.


~ bj



Observations On the Train – Part One

Swaying with the rhythm of the rails, today’s trains glide rather than clack along the tracks. In 1925, Southern Pacific was contracted to build a railroad spanning from Roseville, California to Springfield Junction, Oregon near the town of Eugene. This feat of engineering surpasses the imagination: men with picks and hammers, the ringing of iron, and the leaching of sweat and blood from their pores. Memory frames such as these are rarely conjured by most passengers. Instead they stagger from car to car on unsteady sea legs to feast on provender or panorama, occasionally guzzling far too much booze. One woman in particular on this train has become loud and inebriated. Attired from head to toe in white, her small frame weighed down by too much gold jewelry, she brags about her PhD in English Literature. In slurred parlance unusual for the decorum of the average elderly university professor, I silently question the veracity of her assertion. Others gaze at the magnificent scenery, while passing under tunnel after cool tunnel, carved through mountain upon mountain. Old telegraph wires bisect the beauty of vast lakes and rivers pooled at the foot of the Cascades. Apparently the cost of taking them down trumps any improvement in the majesty of the view.

The Conductor strikes up a conversation with a few of us in the Parlour Car. His retirement is imminent, and he is anxious to get into his wood shop and create things of beauty doubtlessly inspired by twenty years on this particular run. Pointing out grazing grounds for deer and elk, he pauses to indicate a hillside that collapsed onto the train a year ago, taking out tall fir and pines along with their giant root systems. Tumbling downhill onto the moving train, miraculously no one was hurt. They had to detach some cars and move the debris, then move the cars again. In an offhand manner, he pulls out his wallet and shows me a black and white photograph of his Los Angeles policeman father, killed in the line of duty when his boy was seven years old. Buddies of his dad on the force stepped in to replace the irreplaceable, and he recalls with fondness: I lost a dad, but gained over a hundred of them.



Pigs in Paradise

Strange ritual, this gorging on holidays. Course after course – for we have paid dearly for them – slides down the hatch in habitual response to colors, textures, tastes. The floor is flagstone; the chairs in this grand old hotel are plastic, of all things; service is efficiently and politely provided by those I’m sure would rather be home celebrating with loved ones.

I’m a victim of my own awareness. These feasts always leave me uneasy and confused about motives and directions. While I am grateful for good companionship and superb views, I cannot will blinders. This is not a routine I was born to in this life, nor is it one I necessarily embrace. Classes, divisions, exclusions. Employees who are not allowed to pack unserved leftovers home to their families. People paid to smile and offer mandated authenticity, though I couldn’t blame the bulk of them for resenting what they, themselves may never experience, save vicariously.

Brunch ends at 2:30 sharp. Having spent years in the restaurant business, I note nuances in exchanged looks between the help; urgency in dark eyes. Carts are wheeled high with equipment designed to please finicky guests; plates are stacked and filed; food is discretely portaged away to be dispensed of in whatever manner the establishment sees fit. An elder friend among us relates that it is donated as pig slop, but I wonder about guilt, selective hearing and the wasteful truth.

We live amidst bounty juxtaposed against the backdrop of phenomenal waste; mountains of refuse alongside pristine beaches and bikini-clad tourists intent upon iPhones, flocking not to the spectacular vistas of rainbows and whales breaching in the background, but to the warmth of sun and impeccable service.