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Life Arts

From the end of 2012 looking at 2013

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There was a time, not that long ago, when we were all working, traveling, talking, we laughed, loved, and learned. The world was wide open. Once I stayed with my sister when she lived in Brussels. At breakfast she suggested spending the day in Paris. After breakfast we took the TGV (trains a grande vitesse, very fast trains) to Paris where we spent the day; back just in time for dinner in Brussels. The fastest (230 to 345 miles per hour Wikipedia) and smoothest train I had ever been on because the rails are welded together, no clickety clackety, just one smooth ride too fast to look out a window. Another memory: a non-stop flight from Singapore to London on a seat that actually went almost flat so that we slept through the boring drone of engines. In the 1960s the Kingdom of Tonga had a grass runway where an ancient DC3 landed twice a week from Fiji. Tonga had a law allowing only fourteen Indians (originally from India) to be in Tonga; Fiji's population is half Indian. On my first flight to Tonga an Indian went to Tonga for a week to see family so another Indian had to leave on the return flight. It was also on Tonga that a doctor offered to build me and my family a house on land he owned at the most beautiful beach in the world. Or a boat trip on a 14 foot open Boston Whaler from Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capital, to what they call the middle islands; as I remember six or seven hours on the endless ocean. That low on the water you can see no more than a few miles to a round horizon. It was a calm day. I sat looking back at a ruler-straight wake until the man who manned the rudder/outboard motor turned a few degrees to the right. From there into another utterly straight line to our destination, an atoll no more than 5 feet above sea level. I asked the rudder man how he knew when and how much to change course in the middle of a featureless ocean? He explained as if it were obvious to anyone to see that just there three currents met, the waves churned a little differently, and he had made the trip many times and knew how to aim for a tiny island that stayed for more than an hour under the horizon. To him the ocean was as easy to read as a forest to me when I lived in a redwood forest for a few months. No roads, a few cabins, a few self-built houses, invisible from each other. Sandy ground with almost no green. I soon learned where to turn and turn again to get to the cabin I stayed in, but could not explain to anyone else how to get there. A redwood forest is a magical place, not much grows on the sandy soil. One lives among enormous trunks, the sky unusually high beyond the tops of the trees. Redwoods absorb enough moisture from the mist each morning coming in from the ocean. 

When we lived in Malaysia twice I took what they call "the taxi" between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Picking up and dropping passengers wherever along the way. The road is curly and the taxis, Peugeot or Mercedes, go 60, 70, miles an hour. Somewhere midway is a village where the taxi changes drivers and gets fuel, water, air in the tires if needed. The drivers race one whole day, from the village to Kuala Lumpur to Singapore to the village. Another driver drives the other way around. The most horrible accidents happen to those cars speeding, honking, around corners without sight, but it is ridiculously cheap and faster than the train. Some years after, when we lived in Hawaii, I  left Singapore at 8 AM on a tuesday, and after a long flight arrived in Honolulu at 8 AM of the same tuesday (we crossed the date line). 

And of course there is nothing chronological about this story of random remembrances. 

When we think of the world it is usually as flat, a map, the pages of an atlas. In fact of course the world is a globe. The shortest way from here to Europe is over the North Pole. For instance non-stop from Vancouver, Canada, to Amsterdam, an eight hour flight: a very short night, a gorgeous sunrise, a very short day, arriving late afternoon. It was on such a flight that we flew in and through one of  those mysterious flowing curtains of colored light called Aurora Borealis. The grandest and longest sunrises were leaving Guam at 1 a.m., arriving in Honolulu at 8 a.m. From high up looking down on lakes and rivers  of pink, purple, a flash of white, blood red light shimmering to violet. 

As a young man I sailed among the many islands of Denmark with three Danish young men; I learned sufficient Danish in a week to go shopping for tomatoes when we got to yet another small island. I lived my life on islands, or close to water. Funny that we live ON an island but IN a city. 

A very long time ago, I was a boy allowed to accompany my father going to the opening of a clinic in the mountains of North Sumatra. I remember it as cold and bare, no trees, some barren shrubs. As entertainment the local people presented a "Tibetan" --there was no way to know, he never said a word. After a brief ceremony opening the clinic the eight or nine of us--the local doctor, my father and I and a few others--stood around the Tibetan. Waiting; not a word about what was to happen. Until one and then another saw the Tibetan slowly, almost imperceptibly, rising up in the air. As I remember, at least 20 cm (8 inches) between his feet and the ground. We all put our heads down to look under his feet. Yes, unquestionably there was air between his feet and the ground. On the way back I asked my father how the man did that. He gruffly said something like imagination. "But, you too leaned over and looked under his feet." Impossible, father insisted.

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I learned in a long life full of miracles and surprises that impossible is not possible.

That is also what I see for 2013. Anything and everything is possible. Expect a wild ride in a zig-zag tunnel with a few windows and many unexpected surprises. Nothing impossible. 

 

robert wolff lives on the Big Island, called Hawai'i
his website is wildwolff.com

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Robert Wolff you amaze me with all your travels. I... by Stephen Zimmett on Sunday, Dec 30, 2012 at 4:06:10 PM