Who is this “Miss Roth?” She is both petite and diminutive in stature – barely more than five feet tall, and somewhat gnarled now, at the age of 93. Her eyes are bright and intelligent, with an underlying glimmer of mirth and goodwill. She speaks with an authority that belies her size, and she’s always ready to talk about the latest book just added to a prodigious reading list (she has concentrated heavily, over the years, on her favorite historical figure: Winston Churchill).
Before our group formally came together in Palau last March, I joined a pre-trip day-long visit to Palau’s southernmost island of Peleliu. My original interest in visiting the tiny Pacific nation was driven in large part by curiosity about my father’s service in WWII. He was a naval aviator in the Pacific theater, flying kingfisher float planes on reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions. Much was written about the war, and in particular Peleliu, in the history books I had been reading to prepare for the trip, but somehow it had escaped me that it was part of Palau. I was excited to see it.
What does it take to sail in a fragile outrigger canoe beyond sight of land in search of what lies over the horizon? Impressive motivation and a hefty dose of “intrepid,” I’d say. The Austronesians who headed east from southeast Asia via Taiwan and, later, the Philippines had to have just that! The first people to find their way to Palau arrived about 4500 years ago. It is just one of many island nations in the western Pacific where people landed and, over time and due to the oceanic isolation, developed distinct cultures.
While in Palau, I added to my lifetime hours of snorkeling by factors of ten. As a novice, I was in that delicious “beginner’s mind” world where everything seemed wondrous. Our guide, Ron Leidich, is a lifelong biologist/naturalist and knows every fish and coral and grass and mammal (yes, we saw one) that we saw under the surface of that azure water. Although I don’t remember most of the names, I do remember his utter enthusiasm about the underwater world of Palau, and his joy in sharing it with us as if for the first time.
Imagine visiting a completely new world, something of which you have zero experience, and add the luxury of being guided by someone who knows it inside and out. Now travel by air about 8,000 miles west and south for about 22+ hours, to a dot on the ocean a few degrees north of the equator: the Republic of Palau! This Pacific archipelago nation of 386 islands is world-famous for its underwater world of marine beauty and diversity. Those in the know will tell you: Palau has some of the best snorkeling on the planet.
Facebook is such an…interesting phenomenon. Many people I know have a real love/hate relationship with it. The best way I’ve seen it described is this: It’s the 21st century equivalent of the local coffee shop. You pop in to find out what’s up, and then go on your way. Indeed. Love it or not, Facebook has wriggled into a place many find compelling. It essentially connects us in an odd, disconnected way. It is the town crier, the front page news (fake and not). It is where old friends reunite, despite great distances of space and time. It’s how like-minded people on the far corners of the planet can move forward together. It’s the coffee klatch, the man-cave of the ethers, the new Ann Landers.
On the Ides of March, 2016, a momentous occasion occurred: I managed to meet an important deadline. I finished writing a book. I sent the final manuscript of A Worthy Expedition: The History of NOLS off through the internet ethers to those waiting to produce it. I think I have failed to mention it here, on my website.
It was an afterthought, really. During the drive to meet friends for The March in Washington D.C., there was extra time to do a little sightseeing. I noticed that Shanksville, PA, was on the way, so I thought I’d stop by to see that once obscure, now (in)famous field.
The memorial I encountered there was nothing less than brilliant.
Punxsutawney Phil has done it again: consigned us, by myth, to another six weeks of winter. Naturally, after more than a month of gloomy days, the sun decided to appear from behind its shroud of clouds this morning. The shadow loomed, the furball ran for his burrow, and that was that. (And then the clouds closed in again, just for the record.)
It was a place that had languished on my “someday” list for decades. I finally got there last April: Yosemite! Home to that very big cliff, El Capitan, that I had stared at in photographs since my teens, and my longtime heart’s desire, the hovering, split mountain known as Half Dome.
Yosemite is so famous, I was afraid I’d be impatient with the way it has to be managed to protect it from the hordes. But my experience was impressive, overall. To be honest, I was happy just to see people getting outdoors and enjoying themselves. How forward-thinking, those early advocates were who pressed to protect this iconic place from development and commercialization. It was 1864 when citizen Galen Clark and Senator John Conness got Congress to pass the “Yosemite Grant” and President Abraham Lincoln to sign it. Then in 1903, conservationist John Muir went camping in Yosemite valley with then-president Teddy Roosevelt, and he was inspired to return the park to federal protection as a harbinger to 1916’s formation of the U.S. national park system.