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 I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of ourresources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend? ~Robert Redford

Travels With Maggie

It wouldn't be summer without sunflowers. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Summer has finally arrived here at Lake Walcott. Until this week, I think we’ve only had three days where the temperature got up to 90 degrees. This week, however, the mercury made it to 95.

Weather is always an easy conversation icebreaker with the strangers I meet at the park. It’s the one thing everyone living on this planet shares.

“Hot isn’t it,” a camper commented as I passed by during yesterday’s evening walk with Maggie.

“Yes,” I replied. “But I’m not complaining. I’m escaping Texas’ awful heat.”

“You’re right. It’s a perfect day. We’re from Tennessee,” he responded back. Neither one of us needed to say more.

Not only have both states been suffering from 100-degree plus temperatures – over 110 degrees at times in my native Dallas – but the high humidity in both states has upped the heat index even more. Yes, it’s been perfectly wonderful, weather-wise, here in Southern Idaho.

In the spring this tree graced us with fragrant pink blossoms. Now, in the summer, it's gifting us with apples. -- Photo by Pat Bean.

Most of my children and grandchildren live in Texas, and have not only had to endure the long hot summer, but they’ve done so mostly without rain.

“It’s almost as if we wish for a hurricane to give us some relief,” one of them said back in July.

I thought about that statement as I read this morning’s headlines, which are all about Irene. This vast hurricane is moving into eastern coastal states even as I write this blog. Headlines say there is the possibility of it affecting 65 million people if it surges into New York City late tomorrow as expected.

What with the heat, the recent earthquakes, both drought and flooding, and destructive tornadoes, I have to say that Mother Nature is getting her revenge on us for the way we’ve treated her planet. But then perhaps it’s just the planet’s normal cycle of weather tantrums that has nothing to do with its inhabitants.

I hope this planet continues to support beauty, such as the cabbage white butterfly that I couldn't resist photographing. -- Photo by Pat Bean

The answer to this issue is quite a polarized one, with everyone having their own opinions.

I, personally, think it’s a combination of factors, and that we humans certainly have to take responsibility for making things worse. And I think it’s time we started thinking about what each of us can do to treat earth more kindly.

From walking more and driving less to planting trees and not dumping hazardous waste into our waterways, from reducing our personal footprint on the land to conserving water, there are many things we can do.

So let’s start doing them.

OK! End of soap-box oration. I know better than to get started on a subject so dear to my heart. I really wanted this blog to go in the direction of simply expressing thankfulness for my wonderful summer here at Lake Walcott, and to send well wishes to those in the path of Irene.

My computer keyboard, however, had other ideas. I’m sure the writers among my readers understand what I’m saying.

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 “When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” – William Least Heat Moon

African Safari:The Dark Continent Beneath Our Feet

Nairobi skyline at dust. It was all so different, and colorful, and chaotic. I loved it. -- Photo courtesy Wikipedia

A nine-hour, cattle-car flight – well that’s what it feels like if you fly economy – deposited us in Amsterdam, where we caught an eight-hour connecting flight to Nairobi, Kenya. We had left Houston at 3:30 p.m. on August 19, but with the 17 hours of flight time, a short layover and the eight-hour time zone difference, it was late evening on the 20th when our feet first touched Africa.

A Pollman’s Safaris’ driver met us at the airport for the ride to our hotel. He stuffed our luggage and six other passengers into a van that had seen better days. In fact, I don’t recall seeing a single vehicle in Nairobi that didn’t look like it had seen better days.

But the color and intensity of Nairobi at night stirred my blood, as did our driver who would have put a New York taxi driver to shame when it came to dodging oncoming traffic as he zoomed in and out among vehicles that seemed to follow no set rules.

The word Nairobi comes from the Maasai phrase “enkare nyorobi,” which means the place of cool waters. The city, founded in 1899, is better known however as the Green City in the Sun, or the Safari Capital of Africa. It has a population of about 3.5 million and is the fourth largest city in Africa.

The other three pairs of travelers, who had flown in on the same flight as we had, were each staying at different hotels, and they were dropped off first.

The Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, where Robert Redford and Meryl Streep stayed while filming "Out of Africa."

At one of the hotel stops, guards looked under our van with mirrors. At the next stop, the Stanley Hotel, there was no such safety precautions and we could hear partying and music coming from inside. It sounded like a fun hotel.

As we drove through the city, I observed a sign that said 16.7 million Kenyans live in poverty. In contrast we passed huge well-lighted Toyota and Yamaha factories. More interesting, however, was one car driving on a flat as if nothing was wrong.

Like Dorothy, we weren’t in Kansas, or Texas, any more.

It was about 10 p.m. when our driver finally took us past a guarded barrier to let us off at the elegant Norfork Hotel. The precautions emphasized the travel warning to Kenya which Kim and I had chosen to ignore.

The armed guards made the warning seem more real, but any fleeting thoughts of danger quickly faded when we were graciously greeted to the quaint hotel by a doorman in a long green coat and a tall green top hat.

Next Episode: Hemingway Slept Here

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 “I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend? — Robert Redford

Instead of removing a fallen tree trunk still spouting leaves, a path from the campground to the visitor center goes over the obstacle. -- Photo by Pat Bean.

*Travels With Maggie

I remembered a visit to Zion back in the 1980s when our group got highly chastised by a park ranger because we had put our tent in vegetation slightly behind our assigned site. At the time I wondered why he was being so picky.

Today I saw why.

As I looked around the carefully marked-out camping sites, I saw a return of healthy native vegetation that both accommodated the wild nature of the park and provided a bit of privacy from the neighbors in adjacent sites.

While Zion, with over 2 million visitors annually, will never be the wilderness this country needs to protect, its caretakers have done quite well in maintaining Mother Nature’s ambiance for the masses.

Run by propane, this shuttle bus takes visitors sight-seeing up Zion Canyon. -- Photo by Pat Bean

One of its biggest, and most successful efforts, was the creation of the shuttle bus system for the drive up Zion Canyon.

When I first visited the park in the late 1960s, parking in the canyon at trailheads was never a problem. By the 1980s, as interest in our national parks gained in popularity, it was in disaster mode.

The shuttle buses have not only solved the problem of too many vehicles polluting up the canyon and having nowhere to park, they have encouraged the return of wildlife and returned peace to the landscape. Simply from the window of a shuttle bus I’ve seen wild turkeys, deer, porcupines, squirrels and even once a coyote.

People grumbled about losing their freedom to explore the canyon at will when the bus system first began in 2000. But I’ve never heard a complaint from anyone since who availed themselves of the service.

One can get on and off the buses at all the major canyon attractions, and never during peak season daylight hours have to wait more than 10 minutes for another one to pick them up.

Here’s hoping we all find ways to be kinder to this planet we live on. It’s not just that we need something to defend, we need to take care of our home because it’s the only one we have. .

*Day 15 of my journey, May 3, 2011

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