We are in the season some call Lent, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting”. As a child, I gave up chocolate as a way to pretend I was being pentinent (which wasn’t very difficult since chocolate wasn’t a staple around the house). I hadn’t a clue what pentinent meant, or what Lent was supposed to represent; I just knew that the weeks before Easter were dreary, and the Easter Bunny would soon bring relief.
So how and when did a rabbit become a symbol of Easter, carrying a basket of eggs, when a rabbit doesn’t even lay eggs? According to German Lutheran tradition from the 1600s, the Easter hare was a kind of Santa Claus who dispensed eggs to children who had been good. Rabbits were certainly active in the spring and their talents did not go unnoticed among signs of seasonal awakening. Wikipedia also explains that Orthodox churches had a custom of abstaining from eating eggs during Lent, boiling them to preserve for the end of the fast. Perhaps this is the source of their appearance in Easter baskets, but it still requires a lot of imagination to connect eggs to a hare. We adopted these symbols after Europeans left their homelands in the 1800s, bringing their traditions to America with them.
Enjoying the arrival of spring is a universal pleasure, and there’s nothing wrong with a good story to support festivities. My preference, however, is for the much older story that celebrates renewed life following a period of darkness and distance, after a Lent observed as a remembrance of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. I hope that story of rebirth and resurrection is still being shared with children, and isn’t entirely lost in commercialism and chocolate and cuteness. It has a great deal more staying power, and its source continues to send endless means through which to see the world with refreshed vision. I found renewal at the Arboretum this week, where the message was loud and clear. Hope Springs Eternal. And it is stunningly beautiful.
At least once, do these things: Wake for sunrise. Walk on the beach. Wonder at the moon. Watch the sunset. Visit with family and friends. Repeat as often as possible. We’re off to an exceptional start.
We saw a great deal in two weeks, but I’m certain there’s much more to see. We stayed in lovely modern hotels and ate fabulous food in touted restaurants, but the countryside offers historic sites and traditional culture that’s extremely appealing as well. There are many more ruins than Machu Picchu to see, salt flats, shamans, hat makers, textile weavers, llama reserves, wonderful cathedrals, lakes, the dramatic Andes, and tiny towns lost in time. It was our first foray into South America, but I hope not our last.
Lake Titicaca’s name amused me in grade school, but I had no idea where it was located. Now I know it shares borders with Peru and Bolivia, is said to be the highest navigable lake in the world at elevation of 12,500 feet, and requires an effort to see. It is the largest lake in South America, and not an easy place to live when high winds, cool temperatures and intense sun work on its surface. But the Uros people have chosen it as their home for centuries.
An hour-long boat ride from the Peruvian town of Puno will lead to a cluster of Uros’ floating island homes, made of cut buoyant reeds which grow in shallow portions of the lake. The islands can be anchored or moved as necessary, and are augmented or replaced regularly. Walking on them is like walking on a water-bed the size of a football field. A typical island belongs to an extended family, and may include reed boats, watch towers, and other reed creatures to help differentiate and identify them.
The Uros can get needed supplies from Puno, and they have a few solar panels on the islands to generate a little power, but for the most part the islanders make a living showing their homes, reed boats and crafts to tourists. Their population is dwindling, and in another generation may be gone altogether. As challenging as their circumstances may be, we were glad to see them working hard to keep their unique traditions alive.
If you like sophisticated malls full of the latest fashions, gadgets and a vibrant night life, or prefer country markets with handmade goods and foods, Peru can satisfying your cravings. Lima offers dramatic coastal views and lovely historic squares along with your Starbucks latte and Patagonia sporting goods, while further down the street and up in the mountains it’s all about textiles, textures, fresh-baked pastries and organic vegetables. Your will be treated to a visual feast wherever you go.
We chose Peru for our pre-Christmas adventure this year, and it didn’t disappoint. One travels to that lovely country for many good reasons, but Machu Picchu has to be at the top of the attractions list, so I’ll begin there.
We did our best to prepare for the elevation and expected climbs, and ended our visit feeling a sense of accomplishment (while admitting we should have done it at least 10 years earlier.) The details of Machu Picchu’s history, its centuries in hiding, its re-discovery and astonishing architectural and astrological achievements are too much to recount here. Suffice it to say, no matter the photos you’ve already seen, it still offers surprises in person. Sometimes it’s hard to even process what you’re seeing!
I wasn’t prepared for how extensive the site is, nor how tall and broad the ruins themselves are. One can meander among them for hours. Weather can change by the minute, and alter the mood on the mountain as it does. There are steps rather than stairs; few railings, high rises, narrow footholds, jarring drops, climbs requiring rest along the way. There are few guard rails; one can walk to edges and peer over in astonishment. Llamas graze on the terraces. Was it a “spiritual” experience for me to be there as I’d heard from others? No, but it was a wonder.
Visitors are limited by time and number these days, and it’s a good thing. We were there at the beginning of the rainy season, which can mean mud slides or clouds which can limit views. As you can see, we were fortunate, except when we learned on departure that a bus strike had begun since we entered the site, and shuttle busses were no longer running to return us to town at the base of the mountain. Yes, we walked down. No, I don’t want to do that again.
We were seeking fall color when driving into Missouri last weekend, a little early in the season perhaps, but we had booked a hotel with a restrictive cancellation policy which deterred second thoughts. Big Cedar Lodge is a well advertised “resort” destination, not our usual choice, but the appealing brochure photos set my expectations. I can’t say I was disappointed exactly, because it has much to recommend it, but the weather on our primary day there was miserable, keeping us room bound and cranky. Late in the afternoon, we decided to undergo the drive and shuttle bus effort necessary to reach the resort’s “Top of the Rock” restaurant, to call quits to the weekend with food and beverage at the bar.
Though still wet and chilly, the sky had begun to clear, and the location is quite spectacular. There has been no expense spared in the structures or the artwork that adorns the site, or the 9-hole golf course they overlook. There is even a chapel used for destination weddings and events, built on a lake overlook. It’s pretty. We ordered drinks.
Then others began stirring from their seats, and commenting on the rainbow. The glass walls of the bar were pushed open, and we all moved to the outside terrace to gawk at the beauty. And then the bagpiper appeared walking up the hill from the golf course. What? A sunset ceremony? “Amazing Grace” and “America” piped as the sun appears and disappears into the most gorgeous sky imaginable? Did the unexpected far exceed expectations? Yes indeed! Even the bar food and entertainment during dinner was a delight. It turned out to be a very memorable evening, and reminded me to cultivate patience through times of temporary disappointment.