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Entries about gardens

So Long, Adile. Hello, Los Pinos!

WWOOFING in El Bolson, The Best Hostel In The World, and Life On The Farm

Many moons ago, I was thinking about what I would like to do in Argentina. Not only did I want to see the sights, but I wanted to make my trip more meaningful than sticking to the tourist trail. My first idea, was to take Spanish lessons somewhere in the country. My second, was to try WOOFING, also known as, working on a farm. I joined WOOFING Argentina (www.wwoofargentina.com). I searched through dozens of farms, and created a short list of those farms that appealed to me. My deciding factors consisted of location, type of farming, length of stay, and language. Then I narrowed the short list down to two farms. I wrote them a query letter, and one farm invited me to help them.

The farm I chose is located just inside Chubut province, about four kilometers south of El Bolson. Bolson is a small bohemian farming city situated in a lush green valley between two ranges of mountains. I heard good things about Bolson during my travels. I arrived five days before I joined the farm to explore the valley.

The Best Hostel in the World

La Casona de Odile is the best hostel in South America, if not the world. There are many reasons for this, but my favorite reasons are its location and the sense of community among its visitors and staff.
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The hostel is located five kilometers north of Bolson on a beautiful piece of property the owners have cultivated into a wonderful park. It is a peaceful place.

The park reeked of Zen. The moments flowed past like the trout in the stream that meanders through the garden.
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1. I sat next to the pond and watched tiny droplets of water plop into the surface of the pond.
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2. I slipped through the plants to find diamond droplets of water on the green plants after a rainsquall.
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3. The sun came out and I hunkered in the shade of the brightly lit plant so I could see the veins and cells of plant. It looked like I was looking at the earth from space, but it was only a plant from inches away. Nature has a way of repeating patterns though out its realm.

When I arrived at Odile, I set about unpacking, getting clean, then making dinner. There was a group of eight people laughing, and cooking dinner together in the spacious kitchen. At first, I thought they were all traveling together by the way they interacted. I later learned that all of them were traveling alone, and had met here at Odile. After I had finished my dinner, they invited me to join their group and try the fondue that they were enjoying. The conversation bloomed, and it wasn’t long before I was firmly entrenched within the group.
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We spent five days exploring the valley, laughing, playing cards, slack-lining, cooking, and eating. Food brings people together, and we spent a lot of time together- eating and drinking.
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This is why hostels are great places to stay. It’s a funny thing about hostel traveling. Good people come and go, and with each new person who arrives, the group dynamic changes. It gets a new flavor. It’s great. But at the same time, it’s hard to say goodbye. I hate saying good-bye.

Gone, but not forgotten:
M and Robbie (Ushuaia), Ben, Stephanie, Camille (Chalten), Phillip (Chalten and Calafate).
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Not quite gone, and never forgotten:
Tharien, Sabrina, Shane, Jelena, Sarah, Cristian, the Staff at Odile (Bolson).

So Long, Odile. Hello, Los Pinos
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When I stepped out of the cab, my host greeted me with a warm two-minute barrage of Spanish. My deer in the headlights look must have been awesome. I had just imbedded myself into an Argentine farm run by a family who spoke no English. Ha! Take that, Thom!

I met my workmates, Cristian (from Chile), and Virginie (from France). Cristian quickly became my savior, as he can speak some English. He took me on a tour of the farm, and showed me the basic operation. Let me tell you, this is one beautiful farm.

The name of the farm is Granja Los Pinos. The farm is productive. It is growing raspberries, potatoes, black currants, walnuts, cherries, apples, flowers, and a vegetable garden. There are three dogs, lots of cats (only one of them is a cool cat), sheep, chickens, and several flocks of loud birds. It is located on the foothills of Cerro Piltriquitron, and has a lovely view of the mountains and surrounding valley.

I’ve been on the farm for four days now, and so far, it is as good as I hoped it would be. On weekdays, I work for six hours a day. The morning runs from 9:30 in the morning to 12:30 pm. We’ll take a three-hour break, cooking a large family style meal that we eat together. The conversation flows fast. I sit quietly trying to understand the scope of the conversation. I understand about every seventh word, but I’m hoping to narrow that down to every fourth word by the end of my tenure here. Then we’ll spend the afternoon working from 3 pm to 6 pm.

The work is easy, and we take a very relaxed pace.

The Morality of Nut Cracking
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It has rained every day since I have arrived in Bolson. When it rains, it is our job to crack open dried walnuts and sort the nuts into two piles- good nuts and bad nuts. At first, nut cracking is straightforward. One person cracks the nuts, the other two people sort them. After a couple hundred nuts, I started thinking about the philosophy of nut cracking.

Cristian told me that, “After you crack 10,000 nuts, you will gain enlightenment.“ I told him that, “If you live in the moment, you only have to crack one nut.”

On the third day of nut cracking, the morality of what we were doing entered the conversation. Cristian asked me, “I want to know what this nut did to be bad.” I didn’t have an answer.

After awhile, I realized that we were deciding the fate of these nuts. If they are good nuts, humans eat them. If they are bad nuts, the chickens will eat them. The humans will eat the chickens. I suppose something could eat the human before those poor walnuts return to the earth.
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Who are we to decide if it’s a good nut or a bad one? Am I going nuts?

A Language All His Own

The most difficult part has been overcoming the language barrier. It hasn’t been a problem with the work, Roly will take us to where he wants things done, and tell Cristian what to do. I can tell what he wants done just by the tools we have and the short demonstration we are given. No problem. But, I feel like I’m missing out on getting to know my wonderful hosts. They are warm, engaging, and fun. However, I still don’t know what they are saying.

At lunch one day, Analia asked me, “Who is Odile?” I told her a rambling rendition of taking a bus from Calafate to Rio Gallegos before riding all night to Bolson where I found the Casana de Odile. Her daughter asked the question again in English. To which, I realized my mistake. I’m not trying to be an idiot, it comes naturally.

The other day after my friends and I had eaten, I eloquently asked, “How much cheese, please?” My friends and I were almost on the floor laughing about that one.

Cristian asked me, “What do you call a small ship?”
“A boat.” I replied.
“No, no, no, a small ship. What do you call it?” He said. I offered other words that mean the same thing.
He then rephrased his question, “What kind of ship would you put on a fire, the osada?”
That’s when I realized he was asking about sheep. Argentine’s use the young sheep for their barbeque dinners, and he was asking if we do the same. We both laughed, and I explained the difference between ship and sheep. For fun, I added chip and cheap to the conversation too.

The good news is that I am improving. Cristian has been giving me Spanish lessons throughout the day, and we will talk about it over tea when the day is done. I have a long way to go, but I’m on the right path. Immersing oneself into the Spanish language is not easy.

On Cold Showers and Leisure Time
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On the first day, I took out my slack-line and set it up between two trees. I showed Cristian the basic steps, and he was soon walking the line. Yet another fish hooked. I think Gibbon Slack-lines should pay me a commission for the number of people I have gotten addicted to this sport.
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There is also a great ping-pong table in the workshop. Cristian and I have been playing each other in the evenings. Last Friday night we played ping-pong, drank matte, and listened to Argentine radio for hours. I like Friday nights up on the farm.
On my first night, I went into our small rustic bathroom and turned on the taps to run the shower. The water that came out was only slightly warmer than a glacier waterfall. I figured I had turned the wrong one on. I turned that one off, and twisted the other knob and waited. The water temperature didn’t change. I really wanted a shower. I exhaled, and started working my body under the freezing water. It was a fast shower, but I felt better.

Afterward, I asked Cristian if we have hot water in our cabin. “Ahh. We could, all you have to do is ask for it. I like cold showers; It’s good for the body, no? Everyday it feels colder.”
I laughed, and then I halfway bought into it. I reasoned that there are people in the world that have never had hot water in their lives. Why should I? This would be part of my challenge- cold showers for 3 weeks.

Two days later, I asked to have the hot water turned on.

Farm Photos.
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I will leave you this week of some of my first photos of the farm. Happy holidays from South America!
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Posted by Rhombus 10:13 Archived in Argentina Tagged gardens flowers hostels friends photography farming bolson wwoofing slacklining Comments (0)

The Gardens of Seattle

Appreciating the Growing Season of Seattle

semi-overcast 75 °F

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A walk through the suburban streets of Seattle during summer is a stroll through an ever-changing garden. This Saturday past, my good friend Amelia and I went for a walk to collect a cup from a coffee house in Freemont. As we walked, I couldn’t help but notice the growing vibrancy of the city. Most of the homes had a small garden plot, running the length of their front lot between their front porch and sidewalk. The gardens would often butt up against their neighbors, to the effect of a summer garden an entire block long. The plants varied from bushes and shrubs to flowers and herbs. The tang in the air was of sweet fragrant flowers, musty earth tones and rotting vegetation. The world had the smell of a greenhouse, without the house.
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It was a special morning. As we walked, our eternal friendship grew deeper through a long exchange of conversation. Amelia did most of the talking. I did most of the listening. She shared her life experiences of the last few weeks as she faced the fire (literally) by taking on a third job as a short order cook. It is these moments we all face in life: beginning something new, struggling with the challenge, learning, and making progress. The struggle is what will make you, or break you. My friend is not broken.

For my part, I listened. It’s a simple thing, but not everyone has the ability. I offered what little insight I could provide. She already knows where she stands, but sometimes a friend’s appraisal helps settle the mind.
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My visit to Seattle was brief. I spent my limited time in pursuit of fantastic food, bookstores, bonfires on the beach, and quality time with friends. It’s kind of funny. I feel like I see the best of Seattle on each visit. The weather is always great. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the rain the city is known for. For me, Seattle will forever be a city of sunshine, flowers, and the freshness of life.
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I left Seattle on Saturday afternoon. I had a unique view out of my window, as my plane taxied down the runway. I kept thinking of the improbability of those giant planes behind us ever taking off. Soon the engines wound up, and I was rocketing down the runway. I grinned. Flying is fun, especially when you get into the moment. The nose rose, and we entered the sky. I continued to watch out my window as the city expanded and grew smaller at the same time. We entered a cloud and I lost sight of Seattle. It wasn’t long before we popped out of that cloud into the wild blue yonder of the upper atmosphere. And there was Mt. Rainier. The giant stone Buddha sat in a sunny bath of white foamy clouds. I felt very fortunate to be in that moment. It was a very happy scene, and one I won’t soon forget.

Posted by Rhombus 11:17 Archived in USA Tagged gardens parks flowers friends sunsets seattle philosophy Comments (0)

Sleep Deprived In Portland

On Sleep Deprivation, The Chinese Gardens, Powell's City of Books, Old Town Pizza, and Moments in Portland

It’s October 23rd, 2011, and I have been awake for 23 hours straight. The fun began seven hours ago when I helped dock the ship to the floating dock down in River Front Place near downtown Portland. After docking, I realized I technically was off duty, but I stayed on, as there was luggage to move from the ship to the dock. The easiest way is to hand it down from the upper deck to the main deck through a gate. This involves many spinal compressions, as travellers are apt to bring their antique typewriters and cast iron stoves on cruises; I don’t know why. I was the catcher, as I have some height to me, and am all right with hard work.

My good deed has cost me 10 minutes of my time. I feel good however, as the process went much more smoothly than without me. Luggage sucks when you are a guy down.

I went to my room, decided on a shower, refreshed with eucalyptus. Koala bears know what is good.

I leave the boat heading to the nearby coffee shop for some Stumptown, perhaps one of the world’s great coffees, and a cinnamon roll. I have a weakness for cinnamon rolls. I monkey around on the internet, posting a blog, making some inane commentary about my day on facebook, pull ahead of my brother in a game of scrabble, and snap my computer closed. The lighting is getting good.
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I amble back to the ship. I grab my camera, tripod, and offload my computer. I call my brother and I’m gone. I find a park bench lit up in perfect lighting. I have to photograph this light, as it is perfect. Not only that, but I’ve been waiting to compose this bench all season. I settle in, take my self-portrait, and enjoy the scene. It smells faintly of pee from the bums that sleep here at night, but the lighting remains beautiful. I call my brother back and the conversation resumes. It’s a good one. I haven’t talked to my brother in quite some time, and it is good to catch up, to philosophize, to laugh aloud, to reconnect, to be brothers.

I pick up and walk. I head towards Chinatown. I remember something about gardens, and I would like to see them. I’m wandering. Runners run. Biker’s bike. Good looking people look good. Frumpy looking people eye me frumpily. Nobody says, “Hello, may your day go well for you.” No matter, I’m lost in the conversation.

I find the gardens with little trouble. Pretty much the first place I looked. Damn, I’m good. At this point, I have been up for 18 and a half hours and feeling good. My phone battery is dying, and I’m dying, and I want to see the gardens before I die. So I say farewell to my brother who is drinking wine in a soft rain by a slightly silted river in central Minnesota.
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I enter the gardens, pay my fee, and say thank you to the garden hosts. The hosts are garden loving people and they remind me of plants by their quietness and composure. I let my senses take over. The gardens are wonderful. They offer a concoction that is irresistible to my senses. It smells fresh. Fragrant plants are important to a good Chinese garden. It is beautifully simplistic in some areas, strikingly complicated in others. The Chinese are into harmony, the yin to the yang, the tall to the short, the wet to the dry, the dark to the light. Every space has balance and beauty in nature. I’m smitten. I get it. My mind thinks. “I wish the surrounding city was silent. I wish the imposing neighborhood buildings weren’t so tall. I wish I were hanging out in classical Chinese gardens in midmorning without a care in the world. “HA! I am exactly where I want to be, and I’m happy.
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The koi fish are rascals, beautiful as dragons, swimming in erratic designs through the pond. The are intriguing, colorful, and hard to photograph. I follow them across the pond attempting to catch them off guard, but it’s impossible. I leave them be.
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The garden is wonderful. The pamphlet tells me this is the best example of classical Chinese gardens outside of China. I take out my camera and search the chambers closer than I could with my eye. I was looking and freezing the Zen moments that poured out of every chamber of this garden, and I was satisfied. I love taking photos, but I’ll not dissect that subject today. I walked through the garden twice, meandering a path in one direction and backtracking the same path in reverse. I pause to sit beneath a quiet tree in the Hall of Scholars.
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I decided to go and buy Frank Herbert’s "Dune" from Powell’s. It is a pleasant walk along streets I haven’t visited before. I cross through the park and take more photos of the elephant. When thinking of perfect conditions, I was hoping for rain. These elephants would look quite good in a gloom with nobody about, but alas, not today. I walk west along Burnside, pass the auto mart, and ignore the noisy traffic. There it is, Powell’s City off Books. I think I hear a chorus of angels singing.

On my entrance, I realize there is a handicapped person in a wheel chair with their family in tow behind me. I hold the door for them. Then I hold it for three more people leaving. They say, “Thank you,” I say, “You’re welcome.” A warm feeling buzzes around us.

I walk into the tall shelves of books. I know where I’m going. At least I think I do until I realize I’m in the wrong section. I ask a redundant man pecking at a keyboard which way to science fiction. “Gold Room, on the right.” “Thank you, sir.“ I’m on my way.

Frank Herbert is huge. He has written arguably the best science fiction series in history, and I want to read it. I want to restart with "Dune," and continue. My personal favorite science fiction series is "The Worthing Saga" by Orson Scott Card. I’m keenly interested in "Dune" for some reason. I like Science Fiction but only read it a couple of times a year. I find a copy for six bucks and move on, remembering the name of one more author I like Greg Garrett. He’s only written two books it turns out, and I had already read both of them. Ah well. I leave Powell’s purchasing only one book. It is possible.

Back to the park, to the north end, where the bums lie on benches, the ground, in the shade, and amble by working on their troubles. At this point, I have been up for 21 hours, and I’m looking forward to my pizza date with my fellow deckhands. I have some time to kill before one however, and sit down to read my new book. It goes well, but I’m nagged by the feeling of very deep tiredness, hunger, and the thought that they aren’t going to arrive at the restaurant until 2 pm. I want to be in bed by 3 pm… Not good.

I decide to go to get my pizza. I have to. I’m weary and losing my focus. I wander down Davis St. to Old Town Pizza, and enter. The place is terrific. It’s dark, hardly lit at all except by natural lighting from the front window. It smells good. A bar to my right made of good dark wood and high mirrors. Straight ahead, a politely smiling miss waits to hear my decisions. Looking at the menu, I decide on the following: Classic crust, pepperoni, bell peppers, and roasted garlic. I love roasted garlic. To me this is heaven and soon to be in my possession. I get a glass of wine at the bar and take a seat at an old wrought iron table with wood top. I love the lighting. This building is haunted, so they say, and I can believe it. This is an old building in Old Town, and it feels right for a ghost.
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It also feels right for a pizza, and it wasn’t long before it arrives. I called my friends, told them my plans, and they won’t make it in time. Ah well, I’ve dated myself before, and happily dig into my carbohydrates. It’s a damn good pizza. I eat half. I’m stuffed. I’m happy. I ask for a box. I get one. In the process of putting my leftovers in the box, I spill the last swallow of wine on my jeans. I catch the glass, somehow, and look at my jeans. It appears I wet my pants, and I now smell like wine. I laugh. This is funny. I dab at it with a napkin, cut my losses and exit.

I decide I may as well stagger back to ship and ask bums for pennies. Why not? It’s not too hard to act the part. I forget it when I near my first bum. I’m tired as hell, full, and happy.

I notice the small moments of life along the way home.

A haggard woman steps out of the public ladies room singing a happy song. A man makes out with his woman along the rail where not too long ago, I did the same thing.

A smile begins to form at the corners of my mouth. A smirk. I’m thinking of my wine stained pee pants, and the moments of my day. It’s been a good one, and I feel my face light up into a grin. I chuckle aloud to no one and everyone. Thom knows how to walk through Portland.

Geese give me the stink eye as I walk past the large flock eating grass. I hear the chomping of the blades and think of the shortening of the grass. I see many panhandlers and street people plying their trade. A man will sing you a ditty on his banjo on any subject you offer him. A talented young man plays the violin quite well. He’s not gifted, but he is good, and I toss him a buck. What do I need it for? I move on, swaying down the sidewalk. An odd-looking man in a black leather jacket talks quietly with his friend. I get the feeling he’s shy. He doesn’t strike me as a leather jacket type of guy. I think to myself that everyone has a self-image. Everyone wants to look like there own self-image of themselves. They know how they want the world to perceive them. This is too deep for me. I’ve been up for 22 and a half hours and homing in on the ship. I’m close to my bed.

When I arrive it is 2 pm, and I have been up for 23 hours. I’m completely inspired to write this, and sleep will have to wait. I stand next to my bunk in my underwear and begin typing. I don’t usually write standing up in my underwear, but I’m ok with it. The words come fast, and my typing accurate. I know I have to write this while I’m in this mood, so tired, yet so perfectly poignant in my thinking about my day. I remember everything. I want to get this all down before I forget. At this point, I’m getting tunnel vision. Must keep typing. I feel the ghost of Kerouac pacing behind me whispering, “Yes, Yes, YES! Dig IT! GO, MAN GO!” I think I’m there. In eight minutes, I’ll have been up for 24 hours straight. I’m satisfied. I take another shower. I think to myself. I soap. I rinse. I can call it a day, a very satisfying full day.

I’ve been up for 24 hours and seven minutes, and I’ve turned out the light.

Posted by Rhombus 15:39 Archived in USA Tagged gardens parks flowers photography pizza portland Comments (3)

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