I have only known this land “after the fire.” I never experienced the fear and devastation over the loss of what was once a flourishing forest. Nearly four years have passed since those fires ravaged this area, and while no one resided here permanently at the time, nearly everyone lost whatever structures they had. Only remnants from the oak cabin that once stood on our land, a burned and rusted metal chair and an old terra-cotta pot are all that are left. Charred and blackened trees still dominate the landscape interspersed among the living in a mosaic pattern only fire knows.
The largest of the Ponderosa Pines resides just on the shore of the lake, standing stoically even in death. I am struck by how beautiful this tree is, quite possibly more striking in black with her bare and twisted branches held frozen in time. There will undoubtedly come a time when she can no longer bear the weight of her own crown, and will crack or collapse entirely into the lake. Oh how even the mighty can fall.
Despite all that was lost, signs of recovery are everywhere here. And while I will likely not witness the return to its full glory during my lifetime, I am so grateful for the opportunity to steward this land and watch nature find its way forward. There is joy and wonder to see the pine and larch saplings coming up under the seemingly watchful eyes of their dead sentinel mothers, the spindly young aspen trees cropping up everywhere readying the soil for future generations of larger trees, the deer trails crisscrossing through the fire weed between the lakes, and the osprey screeching high in the hills. The plants and animals have come home and have so much to teach us about hope, resilience, and the healing that comes with time.
Life certainly moves in weird and occasionally wonderful ways. Last year at this time, we were in the initial stages of packing up our home to set off on a world wide “adventure.” Fast forward to today, August 17th, 2018, (which happens to be my late father’s birthday) we are now the proud owners of a 46 acre lake and forest property in what is known as the Lime Belt in Okanogan County. Even I can’t really fathom this shift over such a short period of time. How have we gone from languishing in the dusty haze of Kathmandu to stewarding forest land under the currently smokey summer skies of rural Washington State? How did we get here? Are we crazy? Those are questions that have crossed my mind, many, many times.
I realize that this all sounds a bit drastic, perhaps more so because my blog has suffered considerable neglect over the last several months. I just couldn’t bring myself to write. We stayed far too long in Kathmandu, drowning in family drama, and due to circumstances beyond our control, were unable to continue on to South Africa as we had hoped. Rather defeated, we chose our path home, a good 2 months earlier than we had anticipated. That was hard. It was hard to accept, and even harder to discuss with folks back home. So I did what any good introvert would do, I retreated into myself and in the company of good friends, those that knew our story and understood our hardship. Because I do ascribe to the “everything happens for a reason,” outlook on life, I truly believe we were meant to come home early so we could heal and begin on this next journey.
None of this would have happened if it weren’t for our dear friend Matt, who introduced us to this amazing land, as well as opened his cabin to us repeatedly over the last few months. We are also so grateful to Emily, our agent, who is a rare gem, and one of only a few agents who really knows and loves this area. Her enthusiasm and eagerness to tromp over downed trees and wade through the undergrowth of newly formed animal trails in 90 degree heat is truly remarkable. She even hauled our kids up on the roof of her trusty ’90’s 4Runner (same year as ours) to marvel at a baby fawn hiding in the bushes. I love that!
Over the next few months, we will be working with a professional forester to develop an integrated forest management plan. Since our property was one of the many in the area that was impacted by the devastating 2015 fires, much of the focus will be on forest restoration and regeneration. I know we will learn a huge amount from this process and are looking forward to stewarding this land, not only for our enjoyment but to the future benefit of the forest and wildlife. I have the best intentions to document our experiences and education here, but who knows. In any case, stay tuned.
(Just to clarify, we won’t be relocating here full time, it will be a home away from home).
While we await Kishore’s South Africa visa, we have been biding our time taking walks in and around Kathmandu valley. It is still quite hazy, but it gets us out of the hustle of the city for a time. Please enjoy a few views from this past week.
The Fields outside the village of Khokana, Kathmandu Valley
Farmland outside of Khokana
Workers carrying bamboo poles to construct replica homes for an upcoming film shoot.
Fields outside of Khokana
Woman leading her buffalo through the fields – Khokana
Workers carrying bamboo poles to construct replica homes for an upcoming film shoot.
Views from Chobar and the Aadinath Temple
Mud house in Chobar
One of the many friendly dogs we encountered on the walk up to Aadinath Temple
Walk up to Aadinath Temple in Chobar
Village square outside the Aadinath temple
Helena in front of Hira’s Coffee Shop
Girl at the entry of the temple
One of the women working on reconstruction after the 2015 earthquake
Reconstructing the Aadinath Temple from the base with bricks made in Nepal
I have been sitting on this post for some time. I hate to be negative, but felt this was a story that should be told. It is a bit more wordy that I am accustomed to, so I hope you will bear with me.
As you may or may not have noticed, this blog has suffered a bit of neglect since we left Cambodia. In the time since my last update, we traveled to Laos and then briefly to Vietnam before deciding to pull the plug and head back to Nepal. We have remained in Kathmandu since our rather suspenseful descent into the airport at the end of January. When I set out to document our travels, I promised to “keep it real,” but for several reasons I frankly was not up to the task until now. I’ll do my best to catch up over the last few months.
When we decided to take the leap and travel, I’ll be the first to admit that we had rather romantic notions of how things would be. This was partially fueled by the limited articles we read about other families who had embarked on similar journeys, or were “world schooling” their own children. The families in these posts and articles appeared to be happy and well adjusted to their new lives on the road. And most, if not all, parents claimed that the experience had really strengthened their bonds as a family.
As any parent will tell you, kids are challenging to be around at times. In fact, I recall a few friends marveling at our boldness to take on such an adventure. Now, add in the fact that you are with them 24/7 in constantly changing and unfamiliar environments. What could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot, it so happens. Granted, we made a lot of rookie mistakes along the way, and while I could waste time lamenting this, it is these mistakes that have revealed much about ourselves, our capacity as parents as well as what truly bonds us as a family.
What happened and what we learned
From the beginning of December when we embarked on our tour of India until the end of January, we traveled to 20 different destinations. Twenty different places! Wrap your heads around that. If you calculate it out, we were moving on average every 3 days. Now, if you are single, motivated and in your 20’s, its still a bit much, but manageable. When you are in your 40’s traveling with young children, it is absolute madness. We were all an exhausted mess the majority of the time. Had we really thought this whole thing through, perhaps we would have done things differently. After all, the whole point of this experience, was to spend quality time together as a family and give our children an enriching cultural experience. But to be completely honest, a good portion of the time it had the opposite effect. We were so weary with the constant movement and extensive planning that goes along with it, (accommodations, transportation, sightseeing, etc.) it was nearly impossible to be present for our children. And as for cultural experiences, due to the frequency of our movement, there really wasn’t much opportunity to engage in the communities we visited. We were in essence, just passing through.
Clearly, we did too much with too little advance planning. We didn’t account for the negative impact it would have on our young children by not giving ourselves any downtime to just relax and be together. In retrospect, the kids really could have cared less about the countless temples and museums we visited. Maybe they are too young or perhaps, as some folks have said, they will look back and appreciate the experience when they are older. I can’t say I regret visiting many of these cultural sites, but we should have put more limits or at least given ourselves more time. Thanks in part to our 3-day Angkor Wat extravaganza, both kids seem to have acquired a sort of post traumatic temple fatigue syndrome. Frankly, I’m not sure when they will willingly step foot in one again. Angkor Wat is truly a wonder of the world, but not when you are 6 years old and just want to swim in the hotel pool. ***Note: when traveling with young kids parents should never underestimate the power of a pool!
Thankfully, every perceived negative experience provides an opportunity to learn and grow. Through trial and subsequent error, we rediscovered what connects and grounds us as a family. This one common thread is nature. This should be no surprise to anyone who knows us at all. It is in the quiet open spaces that we find our peace. This is precisely why we spend so much time in the mountains or outdoors on our little island. We all, kids included, struggle with various levels of anxiety. We can only tolerate the over stimulation of large crowds, loud noises and other visual assaults often associated with large cities for so long before we start to crack apart. I am not entirely sure why we didn’t consider this when we started our journey, but it doesn’t really matter. We have come around full circle.
Where do we go from here?
Now that we are back in Nepal, we are taking time to just be with family and reconnect. The children have been enrolled in a local school here in Kathmandu where they have made many friends and lifelong connections to their second home. Our son participated in a Bratamandh ceremony along with his cousin and is learning what it means to be a part of another culture. Our daughter also participated in her own “right of passage” the Ihi ceremony, along with 8 other girls her age, which was truly rewarding. We are incredibly proud of our children’s resilience and eagerness to embrace their culture. So, that is how we got to where we are. To quote Helena, “We already are where we are.” Amen to that.
Footnote to the Future
We have run into several hiccups on our travels as we try and plan the remainder of our trip. Kishore’s Nepali passport has proven a real deterrent to visiting most countries without considerable advance planning, which of course we didn’t even consider. He did mail off his South Africa visa application today (woohoo Andooo and Shaggy!) and hopefully, we will be departing from Kathmandu in less than a month’s time. Cape Town will likely be our final destination before returning home to the states. While we wait for his visa, we plan to get out of the valley and do a few more treks with the kids. To be continued… As always, thanks again for following along!
After the hustle and bustle of India, Cambodia has overall been a welcome change of pace. We started out navigating through the hoards of tourists visiting Angkor Wat, which despite the crowds was absolutely amazing. We opted for the 3 day pass so we could take our time visiting the many temples. Even then we couldn’t possible take it all in. We did get to the main temples, including my favorite Ta Prohm, and discovered that there really is something to the “temple fatigue,” everyone talks about. I’d like to believe the kids appreciated some of the sights, but admittedly, they preferred the pool at our hotel in Siem Reap. What can you do? On the upside they are much more confident in their swimming abilities.
After Siem Reap, we chose to slow it down a bit in the, oh-so-chill seaside town of Kep. More pool time for the kids = more relaxing time for the parents. We missed Kep Beach altogether but did visit the bustling crab market and spent a morning bushwhacking through Kep National Forest with some lovely Aussies we met along the trail. We even stumbled across a wonderful cafe, Kep Coffee, owned by former Seattleites. Neat!
We are currently back in Phnom Pehn enjoying the hospitality and company of Kishore’s cousin and her husband for a few days while we figure out the next chapter of our journey. Before we leave, we will be visiting the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the latter likely without kids.
Below are some images from our time in Cambodia thus far.
-Happy New Year from all of us!
Scenes from Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples
…keeping up with my blog while we were in Nepal. We are into week 3 of our month long tour in India. We have already toured the golden deserts, palace forts and temples of Rajasthan, walked and swam on the beaches of Mararikulum and boated the backwaters of Kerala. We’ve watched traditional Kathakali dance and martial arts performances in Fort Cochi and explored the tea and spice plantations outside of Thekkady. Not to mention, sampling the local delicacies along the way. Whew! Makes me tired just thinking of it all. It has been amazing and exhausting, chaotic and tranquil.
It is Christmas Eve as I write this from our shabby hotel room in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. It is the first day we are without activities and the kids are happily watching a English dubbed Jackie Chan movie, set in all places, India.
I am so overwhelmed with post processing, I’ll just share a smattering of images from our trip so far. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas!
Love from India!
Kerala Kathakali Cultural Center – Fort Cochin
Fisherman at Marari Beach
Sights along the Kerala Backwaters from a houseboat
Our family adopted a tradition from some dear friends a few years back entitled Roses and Thorns. Before tucking in for the night, we all join together to reflect on our favorite and least favorite events from the day. In all the chaos of daily life, it has become an enjoyable respite and a way for us to all connect and reflect as a family. Before we embarked on our big trip, it was also a means to tease out what the kids were up to while at school or other various activities. Now that we are together 24/7, it is a time to check in to see how we are all doing and reminisce about our adventures big or small. I started to log these roses and thorns in a notebook to keep a diary of our trip. Yesterday, was the first time, my daughter really couldn’t think of a thorn. Yes!
We have now been in Nepal for just over a month. Aside from our trek out of the valley, we have stayed entirely in Kathmandu. The hustle and bustle of the city can at times be over stimulating, with the pollution, traffic and constant noise, but I have to admit I love it. I think this is the first time that I have not let the negatives get to me and just embraced it all. We have been going on short excursions to temples, stupas, and walks into the old section of the city. In just a mere 15 minute jaunt across the Basmati foot bridge from my in-law’s house in Chhauni, we can be in Jhhonchen (Old Freak Street), Asan, Durbar Square or New Road. This old section of Kathmandu is so full of life and color and hustle it is a joy to take it all in. Below are a some images from the last few weeks. Thank you for following us on our journey!
Schools out and the local kids enjoy some street side pani puri
All the fish you can find in Asan
Hot roasted peanuts!
You never know when you might stumble upon a wedding procession in the middle of the day.
Wedding procession through Chhauni
He’s got the beat.
Bring it on home!
Young girl at Pashupati
Sadhu at Pashupati
Architecture museum in Patan
Views from old Newar building
Temple sights from Patan
Let there be light
Mother and son making offerings to the deity of the temple, Patan
Lighting the candles at the Bagalamukhi Temple in Patan
How much is that doggie in the doorway?
One of a few screen prints on old buildings in Patan
As we were leaving the Muktinath temple on our way back to the village of Kagbeni, my daughter reached the entrance gate and said, “We already are where we are.” Certainly, she meant that we had returned back to where we started but I was so charmed by this statement. It has become a mantra in a way. Each time we reached a place we had been before, I found myself saying it. We are where we are and we keep coming back. A metaphor of sorts.
As I mentioned in a previous post, my husband and I went on the Annapurna trek exactly 20 years ago. We did it in reverse this time, flying into Jomsom and walking back to Ghasa. It was my goal to make it up to Muktinath since we were unable to reach there the last time due to the all too common traveler’s sickness. It was wonderful to be back here with our children despite some of the challenges with the road. Development in the area has certainly had a negative impact for trekkers, but we were able to find alternative trails that avoided the dusty and often times dangerous road.
Rather than bore you dear readers, with a full trip report, I offer these visuals. I did spend some extra time to caption the images if you are so inclined.
S.T.A.L (short take off and landing) flight from Pokhara to Jomsom
Flying through the mountains you feel as if you could reach out and touch them.
Thumbs up from the pilot is what you want to see
Runway in sight
Starting out from Jomsom
Village of Thini
View from Thini
Shepherd on the Kaligundagi River Basin
On the road to Muktinath
Walking past abandoned barrels of tar used for paving the road.
It doesn’t take long to realize that your kids will be bored wherever you are. Yep, they are officially bored out of their minds. I can’t say I blame them, we have been holed up in this house for a good portion of the week. Kishore and I are feeling a bit restless ourselves. Our few attempts at outings have been lackluster at best and/or hindered by major traffic jams or our daughter’s complaints of stomach pain. I do believe her pain was legitimate, at least initially, but I am coming to realize it is now an attempt to avoid having to go on walks.
While there are a multitude of cultural activities and attractions in Kathmandu, getting to them is definitely a challenge where we are staying. Traffic jams can be mind numbing and walking in the city center (which we did one day) was a bit of a shit show. The kids (and I) were legitimately scared they were going to be hit by a truck or motorcycle. Luckily traffic moves at such a snail’s pace that any accident would likely not be life threatening.
So while we prepare for our trek, we are finding ways to combat the boredom, mostly by eating. On the bright side, the kids are keeping up with their school work, playing with the dogs and recently started making their own music videos. Helena has a bit of an affinity for Taylor Swift (lord help me) and sits in front of the vanity lip-syncing her favorite songs. Its a riot.
Less than a week into our stay in Nepal, we are all working through jet lag and various bodily ailments. Evanan, who has always had a high histamine response, is swollen with infected mosquito bites. Our resident thumb sucker, Helena has mild travelers diarrhea and I still can’t kick my chest congestion that started before we got on the plane and seems to be exacerbated by the poor air quality in Kathmandu. All said, we are laying low at my father-in-law’s place for a few more days.
In our downtime, we are making plans to go on the Jomsom trek in the Annapurna’s next week with our family friends from Seattle. The last time Kishore and I went on this trek was exactly 20 years ago. Regrettably, I became ill during the last few days of the trek and had to take a night donkey (something that can be arranged) to the nearest exit point in Jomsom where we were able to take a flight out the next morning. This time around we’ll be doing the trek in reverse, flying into Jomsom from Pokhara and then trekking back down, at least that is the plan for now. It may be a bit ambitious for the kids but we will take it slow and with all the tea houses along the route we should have options if things go awry. I do hope that a few of us will be able to make it to Muktinath which we missed the last time around.
So much has changed over the last 20 years. There is now a road all the way from Pokhara to Muktinath where there was once only trails. You can book accommodations at various teahouses prior to going on your trek, which is also new to us. There is a mandate that went into effect several years ago that all foreign tourist must have a guide while trekking. I’m not entirely sure how that will all work out, I guess we shall see.
Below are just a few snapshots of our surroundings in Chhauni during this downtime.
I originally started this blog as a platform to highlight my photography. While it will primarily remain a visual blog, I am dedicating the next 9 months to chronicling our family’s travels abroad, our “year off.” The decision to upend our lives came through unequal parts luck, strategy and good timing.
My husband lost his job in back in June, and while shocking at the time, it was ultimately the catalyst that set us in motion. No longer trapped in a unfulfilling 9-5 job and having recently sold our house in Seattle it was our golden ticket to travel.
After receiving the news, we initially considered taking our van on the road across the US. In July, we embarked on a 3 week van trip to Haida Gwaii, BC and then spent the remainder of the summer backpacking through our beautiful home state of Washington. After a taste of this new found freedom, it became increasing clear that we needed to think bigger. With encouragement from friends on a similar journey, we decided to take the plunge. We pulled our kids (age 9 and 6) out of school, packed up our home, found a temporary foster care for our dog, and bought our tickets to Kathmandu. None of this was easy but we were determined to see it through.
We have a skeleton of a travel plan for the next 9 months that will surely evolve over time. Our choice of destinations include places where we have friends and family as well as places we’ve always wanted to see. There will certainly be bumps and scrapes along the way but I’ll do my best to keep it interesting and keep it real. I hope you will follow us and perhaps be inspired to take your own “year off.”
The above images were taken from our first outing to Swayambhu, better known as The Monkey Temple. It is a short walk from my Father-in-law’s house and is always a visual delight of color and life.