Embark on a Hero’s Quest. It’s not Just for the Young.

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.  Follow your bliss, and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.   Joseph Campbell.

A trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition, The Last Knight: The Art, Armor,and Ambition of Maximilian I before it closed, happened to coincide with rereading a couple of inspiring books, The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, and Do the Work, by Steven Pressfield. Together they inspire a call to action: create a new vision of the future, embark on a quest, slay the dragon of resistance to bring it to fruition.

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His horse couldn’t be lacking in sumptuous adornment. A similar Bard (body armor for war horses) was presented by Maximilian I to Henry VIII.

Campbell’s quote could apply to Maximilian I. Although he was the son of a Holy Roman Emperor, he got little kingly guidance at home. He realized his own “unique potentiality for experience” and created a vision of what constituted a great ruler. With little money, land, prestige, or political clout, he forged a new identity with a marriage to Marie of Burgundy, a full-on propaganda campaign, crafted armor befitting the gods, and dazzling jousting tournaments. In today’s lingo, he knew how to create a brand.

His alliances and military strategies earned him the title of one of the most powerful leaders in European history and probably the label “hero.” I imagine him, with the flick of his fingers, casting off the past and then plunging himself headlong into an uncertain future.

According to Campbell, most hero stories are about the young–finding themselves confronting the unknown in a place, a forest perhaps. The hero embarks on this journey and must leave dependency and immaturity behind and then find the passion and courage deep within to overcome many trials.  If she or he is strong enough, the end result and revelations learned along the way will bring the hero to a richer and mature new life, a new consciousness– a mythological death and a rebirth.

But a hero’s quest isn’t just for the young!

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Ceremonial Armor of Charles V, grandson of Maximilian I and future Emperor.  The cost of this armor would be equal to the price of a Manhattan townhouse in today’s market. Original photo

A hero’s journey is exactly what we need in the later stages of our lives. To look inward, To be reborn. To save ourselves.

When we’re older, past childbearing/ child rearing years, or in retirement, we can find ourselves suddenly lost too, wondering what it all means?  Our trials are different– lost youth, declining bodily functions, confronting mortality (technology!)–but no less difficult. Shouldn’t  we to go forth and participate in life with as much courage and vitality as we did when we were young?

I think so. We Boomers are leading the way.

Now that we’re living longer we have another chance to take this adventure. Maybe it’s finally taking a cross-country trip, committing to a healthy life style, writing that book, or starting that business venture. You don’t have to go far or put yourself in much danger. But you do have to get out of your comfort zone.

Getting started and staying the course is the hard part.  In his book Do The Work, Steven Pressfield puts is this way:

On a field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon.  You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.

Resistance will probably be the greatest trial, and some of the “greatest hits” that elicit the dragon of resistance according to Pressfield are any creative art, any course or program designed to overcome a bad habit or addiction, education of any kind, any act that entails commitment of the heart. In essence, “any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower.”

Pressfield says we can use resistance as a compass.

Rule of thumb: “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel towards pursuing it.”

Next to resistance, Pressfield, goes on to say, “…rational thought is the soul’s worst enemy. “Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego.” Rational thought or the ego will find a multitude of reasons why this adventure is a bad idea. It wants to play it safe, quell those fears that arise. What’s the solution?

Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.

Working from the self requires spending some quiet time away from social media, texting, anything that constantly grabs our attention.  Long walks, keeping a journal, enjoying nature, prayer/meditation help to cultivate intuition and shed light on the unconscious. These are simple undertakings, yet they require the most effort. But what a thrill it will be to live a second self– a new version of you.

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Steel Gloves–Gauntlets– of Maximilian I.  These give new meaning to the expression: Throwing down the Gauntlet. Original photo

Joseph Campbell coined the phrase follow your bliss.  He affirmed living life as an adventure.

What each must seek in his life never was on land or sea. It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anyone else.

So, throw down the gauntlet.

And with your higher self, pick it up.

Embrace the challenge.

NYC Artist Poogy (Briggs) Bjerklie, a Hallowell, Maine Native, has a One-Woman Show at the Sears Peyton Gallery, New York, NY.

New York City is still a mecca for artists the world over, and the neighborhood of Chelsea, home to hundreds of galleries, is often hailed as one of the city’s most important and influential art districts.

One of the many exciting things about living here is being exposed to all this stimulating creativity and attending art openings.  What’s even more exciting is when the one-woman show at the Sears Peyton Gallery, in Chelsea, belongs to a childhood friend who grew up in Hallowell, Maine, and graduated from the Maine College of Art.

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Early Morning, oil on panel 20x 20 inches.

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Between the Trees, oil on panel, 27×27 inches.

Along with a festive and colorful crowd, I was able to celebrate, Poogy Bjerklie, The In-Between, her second exhibition with the gallery.  Described as “…landscape paintings, rendered both intimate and anonymous, imagined and reimagined, on dreamy, luscious surfaces,” I would add that her work has an old world, other worldly quality, which draws you in to reflect on happy childhood memories playing outdoors hoping for talking animals and fairy sightings. Her paintings evoke a response.

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Poogy and husband, John opening night..

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An art patron at the opening. Love the coat.

Poogy’s story is interesting.  After graduating from Maine College of Art, where she met her husband, John, she somewhat reluctantly agreed to move to Brooklyn.  Back in the 90’s, they rented a huge apartment that included studio space in what was then an AIR (Artist in Residence) building, which housed about 13 other artists.

At the time, Poogy was creating hand-painted clothing in addition to oil paintings.  It was common back then for landlords to ask tenants to hold open studio weekends to showcase their art. Many artists became suspicious because more and more, landlords saw this as an opportunity for real estate developers to have easy access to view the entire building and then make an offer on the property. This wasn’t the case with her landlord.

Not wanting people traipsing through her space, she reluctantly agreed, and, instead, built a temporary wall about four feet into her studio that prevented the public not only passage into her work area but also her living space. She painted and distressed the wall a rich bronze color that captured the light and beautifully enhanced seven small paintings.

Her display caught the eye of one woman in particular during the event.  After admiring Poogy’s work, she bought one painting and announced, “I’m scheduling a one person show of your work in October.” This patron happened to represent the Phatory, an East Village art gallery, still open today, specializing in contemporary art.

Every painting sold.

The rest is history.

In 2018, The Maine Museum of Art located in Bangor, part of the University of Maine, Orono, selected Poogy to exhibit her work entitled, Poogy Bjerklie, Nowhere in Particular, at one of its five separate exhibition spaces. The Museum had found her through the Sears Peyton Gallery and had been looking at her work over the years. Oddly enough, they didn’t realize at the time she was a Maine native.

Her work was displayed at the museum from January 12–May 5, 2018.  Typically, artists don’t usually sell paintings at museum shows, but as luck, or should I say, talent would have it, Poogy sold four paintings to one collector.

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Distant Mountains, oil on paper mounted on wood 11 1/4 x 11 1/4.

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Proud moment with a dear friend at her solo show.

While New York City (Queens to be exact) continues to be her primary residence, she still owns seasonal lake property in Maine where she draws inspiration from its natural beauty like so many artists before her. In fact most, if not all, her pieces in this current show were done in Maine this summer.

What makes this a particularly significant event for Poogy is that the year 2020 is proving to be an exciting time for women in the arts as museums everywhere are focusing requisitions and programming on long, underappreciated female artists.The Baltimore Museum of Art has even dedicated all its 2020 programs and exhibitions to women. There couldn’t be a better time to be recognized with a solo show.

Her journey from small town Maine to New York City and having gained entree into its high velocity art scene is notable. Surrounded by lush and graceful paintings representing years of hard work and well honed talent was profound. The vitality and enthusiasm in the room opening night was palpable.

It is inspiring to see an artist still opening her heart–still following her bliss.

Why You Should Ride the NYC Subway. In a world of growing divisions, it has taught me, instead, to see our similarities and shared humanity.

I’m not Ubering around here. 

What I am doing is trying to master NYC mass transit. Like Luke Skywalker, introduced to the ways of the Jedi, I’ve got it in my head this self imposed, home schooled education will earn me my way to the title of Resident New Yorker.

Each trip is a revelation about living here… and a revelation about my 66 year-young- self. I’ve been venturing out of my Brooklyn neighborhood to other locations in Manhattan on a regular basis, sometimes during the comfort of daylight other times under the cover of darkness and long shadows late at night (well, 11:00PM is late for me).

Every ride on the subway is akin to finding yourself suddenly cast in some kind of bizarre Best Short Film.

The NYC subway car is a microcosm of the world young and old, rich and poor, fresh and scrubbed, ripe and unwashed, from far and away, born and raised, unpretentious, ultra glamorous, inconspicuous, and ostentatious, blowzy, mangy, kind, and surly.   Thrown together hurly-burly.

Often times, uncomfortably, up close and personal.

On an 8:00AM rush hour car, I find myself crammed like cattle nose to cheek, desperately seeking not only something solid to grip but also a place to rest my eyes. For some insane reason, people do not, “Stand clear of closing doors,” and move to the center of the car where lucky patrons enjoy ample room.  NOooo.  Everyone prefers to keep their back-packs on and inflict pain on each other squeezing in near the exits. And people put up with it! Occasionally the herd isn’t so docile, and an angry bellow, “MOVE!” causes a seismic shift.

It pays to have both a sense of humor and sense of the ridiculous. I choose viewing this situation through a playful lens. It’s fascinating. Each ride unique.

And then it’s not so amusing. Some poor, afflicted creature displaying an I’m-off-my-meds-I’m-high behavior sends a slight ripple of unease through the air. I witness a young guy in army green, ear phones plugged in, pacing back and forth the entire length of the car, weaving around the poles, arms flailing playing air guitar. We ride four stops this way until other passengers board and fill the space.

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There’s often good entertainment while catching a connecting train.

Sometimes you get a double feature. A hopeful singer looking to raise money for recording fees bursts into song with finesse and surprising range. Time stands still, and for a few moments there’s a unified field of good will, dollars collected. Panhandlers of every design, too, share this captive audience. This one, a mountain of a man, bearded with long dark hair, wearing a DIY muumuu from what appears to be a bed sheet. He eventually shuffles along.

But wait….amazingly, chivalry is alive and well. Standing in a crowded train, I feel a slight tug on my coat sleeve. As I look down into the face of an earnest young man, he silently gestures to me to take his seat.  On the one hand, I groan inwardly thinking, do I look that old? But on the other hand, I think, how can I refuse such a courtly gesture? It’s obvious he loves his Momma, and she’d be proud of this outward show of manners.

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The Q train at East 72nd Street, Manhattan. So this is how the other half lives.

These subway, mini-adventures have made me realize that we sacrifice a lot of living today for the comforts of convenience. Our lives have become so busy and outwardly projected, heads down, eyes to phones, that we no longer really see each other and lose those fleeting, often joyous moments of connection with total strangers reminding us that in the end, we’re all just trying to make it through the night.

Of course, at some point, I’ll dial up an Uber.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy commiserating and communing on the subway with my “Human Family.”  Maya Angelou expressed it poignantly in her like-named poem:

I note the obvious difference

between each sort and type,

but we are more alike my friends,

than we are  unalike.

In order to follow your Heart, you have to roll with the punches AND with the bed springs when pursuing a New Adventure.

As we get older, we tend to like coming home and sleeping in the security of our own, comfy cocoons.  I figure in the last five weeks, I’ve had to sleep in ten strange beds, and variations of beds, (alone) in a variety of different places.  No easy feat for a boomer since getting enough shut eye is essential to our well being. And let’s face it. A good night’s sleep is harder to get than… a seat on the G train at rush hour. Like the princess and the pea, I’ve had to stay honest and true to myself by suffering some minor inconveniences like this.

But stepping out of my comfort zone is a constant requirement, and everything is just more strenuous here.  For example, moving into my place took a Herculean effort.  I had to GPS it from Irvington to Brooklyn in gridlock, hope for a place to park without parking restrictions close to my building, and then make eight (I counted) trips that consisted of :  a) unloading an item; b) locking my car; c) carrying heavy item about 200 feet; d) use other set of keys to unlock outside door; e) cart my heavy bag/ plastic tub up two flights of stairs; e) unlock apartment door; f) drop the stuff off; g) lock the door; h) head back down to the car;  i) unlock the car;  j) …w,x,y,z; REPEAT.   Like Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill, I have my Camu moments of thinking this undertaking is absurd, but they evaporate and the excitement returns.

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Heading home from the G train.

Still… unconscious fears lurk below the surface.

During my first week in the apartment, on the night of the full moon, (December 12th at 12:00PM) I had a vivid dream of being pursued by a crazed and unruly rabble, fueled on alcohol, since I had the distinct feeling that all sense of reason was gone.  And what really ratcheted things up was that everyone was naked. It reminded me of a funeral march of Jacques during the French Revolution, in a scene from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities that suddenly turns in to a bloodthirsty, murderous mob.

Chased from one place to another, I was trying to out run them. But I was getting more and more tired, and there were fewer and fewer places to hide.  Although quite terrifying, I managed to out maneuver them each time, and in my gut, I felt I was going to be OK.  But the question remained: How long was I able to keep this up?

In trying to analyze this, I figured it was about raw, animal fear. Was I able to survive in this jungle of a city?  After all, I am kinda high on the food chain as vulnerable, older  prey. Will I be taken down, or can I keep up–out run its perils and survive?  I have to keep my wits about me and stay present.

And yet, it’s all part of the adventure. The good and the bad. Time slows down when you  find yourself in a new environment, and you’re much more present. Meditating helps foster this too.

The young woman I’m subleasing from has left a pretty good library of books.  I’ve just finished Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, which explores the author’s grief following the sudden death of her husband of forty years.  It begins with these lines:

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.

Sobering to read at our age as we tend to bump up against death more and more in the guise of friends and family members dying too soon, and we see, too, our own mortality reflected in death’s face.

And then, interestingly enough, I followed up with The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers.  It’s a wonderful discussion of mythology and what myths can tell us about our own lives. When I came upon this passage, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I had a very visceral response:

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life.  I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking.  I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own inner most being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

Enjoying the first night in my new home, I was sitting quietly waiting for my roommate to come home.  Somewhat intoxicated with a feeling of bliss (and the pungent smell of pot that often wafts through the building) I suddenly heard from somewhere above the vibrato trills of a beautiful soprano voice practicing scales.

WHOA….

I gotta admit. I’m feeling the rapture from time to time.

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Ginger lives happily at Jerannie Deli Grocery on the corner of Clifton Place and Nostrand Ave.

Brooklyn is home to a lot of young, hip Millennials. Would Ageism be a factor in my search for a room to rent? Turned out… it wasn’t.

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Fresh greens for the holidays.

On a recent visit from Irvington to Brooklyn, my brother took my sister aside, and, out of ear shot from me, told her with pity saturating his voice that I wasn’t likely to find a room to rent.  My prospects were probably nil.  Early on I had contacted a high school friend who has been living in Brooklyn since college and told her I was looking for a place.  Her response was something to the effect that people looking for rooms were young people.

I have to admit it did seem daunting.  Brooklyn has gentrified and is gentrifying still, drawing young professionals from Manhattan to its more friendly, quaint neighborhoods.  On numerous times in the past, while out to dinner with my son, I’ve looked around at a sea of Forever 21- fresh faces and wondered if I could blend in without having, what I perceived to be an arrow pointing down at my head reading, “Mom’s in town visiting.”

With some trepidation, I stuck my big toe in to the Roomi app and the Listing Project website, looked around, and then dove in head first and fired off some emails.

Listing Project was recommended to me by a friend’s daughter who lives in Brooklyn.  It’s a no fee, curated (no brokers or third party services) weekly email that caters to artists and other creative (that word again) types searching for everything from studio space to sublets and long term rentals.  The lister posts pictures, price, location, particulars, and info about him or herself.  On average, I found ages to be between 28 and 40.  Oh dear.

Two postings looked promising–the first advertised two professional women in their 30s looking for someone respectful, neat, who wanted a safe haven to come home to.  The other caught my eye–two gay comedians.  Maybe they’d be more forgiving?  My moving in might provide them with some good material for future acts:  The Golden Girl(s) meets Will & Grace?

Zilp zip, nada!

I soldiered on.

No response.

I tried the Roomi app and finally heard from a woman who appeared to be in her 50s.  The location was perfect but upon arriving the building looked like a fire trap.  I followed Maria (names have been changed to protect the innocent) down a very narrow hallway hotter than Hades reeking of cat pee, to a small room still overflowing with the 20- something- tenant’s eerily childish belongings.  Pictures are deceiving. My other roommate would be a young man who just immigrated from South America.  I liked Maria very much.  She had come from Brazil fifteen years ago and was supporting a mother with Alzheimer’s back home. But this is what you get for $1200. a month?!

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I enjoyed meeting Maria, but I couldn’t see myself living here.

I did hear from a woman my age who contacted me about a room, but she mentioned it was way out in City Island and, “You’d never know you were in NYC.”  Isn’t that the whole point?  It was nice to be contacted though.

I persevered, dispelled negative thoughts when they arose, and meditated on exactly what I wanted to manifest.

Next, I heard back from a Listing Project prospect, a psychoanalyst and English Lit professor at CUNY, who was “open to all.”  I had no idea how old the person was or what gender, but on a cold windy evening, I was warmly greeted by a young, good -looking guy in a white button down shirt and khakis–early 30s maybe–originally from Vermont. When I stated that I was surprised he answered my email (I could hear my son scolding me, “Stop saying that!”), Monroe replied, “Why?  I think what you’re doing is cool.”  He told me his mom was relocating to Ireland, and that her fiance was from Camden, Maine. The place wasn’t furnished and he wanted me to split a broker’s fee, so it didn’t work out.  But, WOW, I was encouraged. I recall Sally Field’s Oscar win response, “You like me. You really like me!

Shortly after I heard back from three more young listers who were interested. I met Jen and Jeremy a couple in their 30s who advertised, “We love green spaces, outdoor activities, radical ideas, and non violent communication. Communal living a plus.” O.k.a.y….? Maybe they’re communists?

He actually was a former professional cyclist who now manages a bike shop in Manhattan, and she works in early childhood art education and is studying herbology. Jen’s mom was visiting from Texas when I showed up. Did I detect a smirk? I wondered what she thought of me as a possible roommate.  Again, just the sweetest people, but the place was tiny and living with a couple might be a tad too close.  Besides, the next morning I was meeting a young woman to see what might be the perfect place.

I had arranged to meet Kim at 11:00 at her apartment only two blocks from my son and brother’s place.  Kim is a 32 year- old freelance art director “who likes to illustrate and make puppets on the side” and shares an apartment with only one other roommate and was subleasing her furnished bedroom AND WORKROOM/STUDIO for nine months to attend to a family matter back home in Texas.  We had, what I felt was an instant rapport, the place was perfect and in my price range, utilities included.  Her roommate was also 32, an archivist for a non profit and described as very laid back and considerate.  Since she wasn’t around, we could FaceTime later if I was chosen. Kim was bombarded with emails to see the place, and she would make a decision the next day.  I left a little hopeful...something just felt right. 

On pins and needles the following day, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and texted Kim late in the afternoon.  When she texted back and asked if I minded if some tenants in the building smoked pot (hell no), I knew I had the place!

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My building in Bed Stuy.

And so it goes.

I believe I really did manifest the perfect situation–one roommate and studio space to boot! Unheard of in these parts.

What I find most amazing is how welcoming and open minded these young people are.  This experience reinforces that old thinking based on experiences from the past begets the same old future.  The science of neuroplasticity says that the nervous system has the capacity to create new neural pathways and connections–we can retrain our brains and thinking –to create a vision of the future we want.  Maybe ageism is something we perpetuate?

Recently that same Brooklyn brother took me aside at another gathering and stated that he secretly didn’t think I was going to be able to make the big move. He told me that he was really impressed I had made it happen.

I continue to be blown away.  I am incredibly happy.  What can I manifest next?

Making the Transition from Maine to NYC,the village of Irvington,on the Hudson,offers the best of both worlds with scenic water views, parks, and a short train ride to Grand Central.

With its many amenities and progressive vibe, Irvington, home to legendary Washington Irving, is the kind of friendly place Millennials want to move to after a stint in the City and babies start arriving.  My sister and her family moved to the village center over twenty years ago because of great public schools and an easy commute to Manhattan (36 to 55 minutes) on Metro North Railroad’s Hudson line.  An almost empty-nester, she’s given me a place to stay (I’ve been as helpful as I can possibly be) while looking for a room to rent in Brooklyn.

Irvington has attracted industry big names and celebrities alike. The first African American woman millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker, made her fortune creating a hair straightening formula. Eileen Fisher has her corporate headquarters here, along with a retail shop and second hand outlet. I recently passed Meredith Vieira on a walk in the woods, and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are the newest neighbors.

While Irvington has its mansions and tony neighborhoods, it does offer condominiums, cooperative apartments, rental units, and some affordable housing. Taxes are high, then again, garbage pick up each week is Monday, Thursday, and recycling Wednesday.

I feel like I’ve been on vacation as my days include reading the New York Times each morning starting with the Arts and Business sections, taking long walks on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, walking the dog, Cactus, in the 400-acre Irvington Woods, and enjoying train excursions to Manhattan.  Irvington is a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll 19 miles away.

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Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

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One of my favorite houses on the trail.

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Another view on the Croton Aqueduct trail. I love trees, even more so since reading “The Overstory.”

I  so love the train!  Riding off-peak is $19.50 round trip. In less than an hour, Metro North deposits you in the magical world of Grand Central, and you are swept along with the tides of humanity to all the dizzying din that is NYC. This apt quote by Charles Baudelaire captures it: “What strange phenomena we find in a great city. All we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.” Check out on Instagram, Subway Creatures.

I recently met up with a friend from Maine who was baby sitting her grand child in Manhattan.  When I explained taking the subway and locating her address, she responded, “Wow, I don’t know how to do that.” Another recent field trip was to“The Whitney”, The High Line, and a new Swedish Bakery Fabrique, that boasts the best, ever, cardamon Rolls. I’m getting around.

Best of all, I qualify for senior discount MTA subway and buss fares!  A single ride is $2.75: senior, $1.35;  A 30-day unlimited pass is $127.00 a month:  Senior, $63.50; A 7-day unlimited pass is $33.00: senior, $16.50  Something to be grateful for (I list them daily) in this youth-obsessed culture.

How lucky am I to be living again with one of my siblings at this age!  We’ve been able to support each other during times of big change for us both.  After being the sole occupant of my home for so long, I’m really enjoying sharing my space. I even think I said a few years ago, I’m kinda tired of living alone.

Well, this will sorely be tested as I try to find a room to rent in the city and live again with a roommate, more likely roommates, after 40 years. It would be so easy to just pay rent here with my sister, but I know deep in my heart, I’d disappoint myself.  So… this begs the question:

Can a woman my age find a room to rent in the fresh, young, cutting edge world of Brooklyn?

The answer will surprise you.

I’ve always wanted to live in NYC for a year. With my house rented, again, I’m going on a wing and a prayer (and a home equity line of credit) this time at age 66!

My nine month sojourn traveling solo Down Under almost four years ago did change me.  Although I have enjoyed being home again in Maine for a couple of years, it’s difficult to return home after a long time because I can’t go home and be the person I was.  There’s been a change. Another adventure has been beckoning.  This time to New York City… a place many consider the greatest city in the world!

How this all came about started with an article about the twenty-fifth anniversary of Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way.” Billed as “Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self,” it has sold over four million copies since its publication, and advocates writing free form in longhand three pages each morning, and taking yourself out once a week on an artist date.  Doing the morning pages first thing, allows you to dump any negative monkey mind thinking clogging up your brain and be more open (mindful) to being creative–a buzzword that seems to be every where in today’s market/workplace.

I had completed the eight week course a couple of times in the past, and in February found a box of books, including ‘The Artist’s Way” and a binder of morning pages I’d written before making my solo trip, which wasn’t even on my radar at the time.  I took this as a sign (synchronicity) and wrote the pages again.  My practice also included meditation, and, low and behold, the winds of change swept me up again.  Before I knew what I was doing, I had my house rented…  to the perfect couple (he’s from New Zealand).  Just like before, everything seems to be falling into place.

New York City is a different animal.  A beast of many wiles with an insatiable appetite for culture, fashion, entertainment, celebrity, and fabulous food.  It has to be tamed or its sharp claws will slice into your pockets and leave you destitute.  But it also has an infectious energy that lures you in.  And finding an apartment! My brother jokingly said recently he had to get married to find a place.

That younger brother has been in NYC since the late 80s and was smart to buy a place in Brooklyn in 2001. The house was in a seedy, dangerous neighborhood with burned out buildings around the corner and across the street (and always a place to park).  It is now hip and gentrified (and hard to park) and a great investment.  My son, a Pratt Institute grad, rents from him, but no room in the inn for me. Fortunately, a sister lives a 50- minute- Metro North train ride away in the lovely village of Irvington, on the Hudson. I have a soft place to fall.  And Costco is nearby!

I’m living out of my car again with the basics I think I’ll need.  Renting my home and moving again has been stressful, but I’ve become a minimalist and that has alleviated some of the pain.

I’ve sworn this is the last time I’ll do this.

But then again… Asheville, NC, sounds nice.

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out: Traveling Solo at 63… on a Budget!

Perth, the most isolated city in the world: No longer a well-kept secret.

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Kings Park state war memorial looking out over Matilda Bay, Perth.

I consider myself lucky…again… to have had the experience of visiting one of Australia’s other great cities, for an entire month, and as the guest of a well connected native, my friend and travel mentor, Gayl.  I had planned this to be the final destination of my Australian travels because I knew I could let my guard down and really relax, all the while enjoying 5 star hospitality.

Perth, the most isolated city in the world, is the capital of the Australian state of Western Australia and is the fastest growing capital in the country with a population close to two million.  It also became known as the “City of Light” when city residents lit their house lights and street lights as American astronaut John Glenn passed overhead while orbiting the earth on  Friendship 7 in 1962.  The city repeated the act as Glenn passed overhead in the space shuttle Discovery in 1998.  By all accounts, Perth is a fantastic, sunny place to live, especially for those who love outdoor living.

A center piece of the city is Kings Park and Botanic Gardens, one of the largest inner city parks in the world( 400.6 hectares/989 acres).  It’s a restful place to amble through grassy lawns and cultivated gardens containing a diversity of Western Australia flora or explore untamed bush land.  During the summer months, residents can enjoy outdoor cinema, listen to concerts under the stars, or run with their children in play areas. One thing I immediately noticed about Perth was its good city planning.  Public access to river frontage, beaches, and reserves on beautiful walkways and bike paths are plentiful.

 

I happened to be visiting Perth during the late winter/early spring (late August mid September) and found it quite cold–and that coming from a Northern New England woman!  The fact is a lot of folks don’t heat their homes much since most of the year is quite warm.  Funny how quickly you can become acclimated to warmer temperatures!

Perth has a bustling central business district that includes a 700 million dollar Cathedral Square redevelopment.  At the center is the former state Treasury Building (called by locals “The Treasury”) that now houses numerous high end shops and restaurants and the luxury Como, the Treasury Hotel.  Featured at the Como is a diverse collection of art works including a series of botanical illustrations by well known WA artist Philippa Nikulinsky.  A neighbor of Gayl’s, I was able to meet her and visit her studio.

Fremantle is a neighboring part of Perth’s metropolitan area and a port city known for its maritime history,  Victorian architecture, and Fremantle Prison, which housed  convicts from the 1850s to 1991.  Home to Gayl’s husband Tom growing up, he treated me to a private tour of his favorite hang outs in this trendy, and laid back city.

Ever the consummate host, Gayl kept me busy with a wide array of activities, great books to read, and, especially, interesting people to meet, many living right in her neighborhood, in the suburb of Dalkeith.   Through a friend of hers, I was invited to join a group of women artists who get together each week to paint.  I met yet another  artist and neighbor, Jennifer Hopewell, known for her beautiful landscapes of WA, who was getting her home studio ready for big exhibition in December.

Another neighbor, a vivacious and spry 80 year-0ld Betty, is an expert in Orthomolecular Medicine (nutritional medicine) and gave me a reading of vitamin and mineral deficiencies I had by looking at my face and hands and doing some muscle testing.  Another time Gayl took me to a yoga sound healing class where for almost two hours, the instructor played an assortment of  vibrating instruments like the didgeridoo, while we lay prone or in any comfortable position. I tingled for two days!

A short walk from Gayl’s home is the Chapel at Carmelite Monastery.  The chapel features paintings of the stations of the Cross, done by the well know Australian artist, Wim Boissevain when he was only twenty-two.

Other excursions included a trip to Tom’s farm in Keysbrook, an hour south of Perth.  Tom grows a variety of fruits and vegetables including edible, sweet, lemons called lemonades, which are delicious!

A neighbor of Tom’s near Keysbrook recently completed building a spectacular home high is the hills and celebrated with a Friday night bonfire/ cookout party featuring fabulous views.

I visited with Gayl’s friend Robyn and husband Jon, who over the years, have created a beautiful home and garden oasis.  Robyn has started a second career creating The Short Street Kitchen, which includes her raw food cooking demonstrations, a gourmet lunch, and garden tours, proving it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

My visit to Perth was really a family affair and even Gayl’s mother Mabs got in on the act and took me to a reserve of native flora and introduced me to many of Western Australia’s unique flowers that grow in the wild.

There are many places to eat and enjoy the scenery in Perth, but a favorite is the Odyssea Beach Cafe in City Beach, with its stunning ocean views and modern Australian menu.

But there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal to feed both body and soul, and most nights Gayl put her culinary talents to work with a dinner that rivaled any restaurant in town.

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One of many terrific dinners prepared by Gayl, with Tom, Gayl, Katrina, and Gayl’s mom, Mabs.

How was I ever going to leave all his behind and return to Maine?  This question kept replaying in my mind as the weeks went by and my departure day drew closer.  Of course, I missed family and friends, but returning to my old life is impossible because I am not the same person.  I”m reminded of a quote I heard some where: “Each stage of your life will require a different you.”  I’ve since rented my house for another 10 months.  It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

In the meantime, the Porters had one more treat in store for me before I left, and that was a three day trip to the Margaret River region three hours south of Perth.  Tucked away in Australia’s southwest corner, the area is known for its premium wines (over 120 wineries to explore), food, and surf beaches on the Indian Ocean.

I really don’t want this adventure to end.  Big question:  Does it have to?

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out: Traveling Solo at 63 for Nine Months to New Zealand and Australia…on a Budget!

A True Outback Adventure On One of the Greatest Roads in Australia: The Gibb River Road.

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One of my favorite places on the Gibb River Road, Bell Gorge. What a swimming hole!

Since blowing up my life and walking off into the unknown eight months ago, I can say I have, miraculously, been on a trajectory of synchronicity.

Before leaving for my Auvergne Station adventure, my new Kununurra friend Jude( who also loaned me a car for two months) asked if I wanted to go camping for six days on the Gibb River Road when I returned. Months earlier, I had looked into the possibility of a tour of this region only to find out that the cheapest package was over $2,500.00 and all tours originated in Broome eleven hours away.  I figured you can’t do everything, and then…BOOM! …out of the blue ( “The blue” is a synonym for God, higher power, the Divine etc….) this invitation appeared.

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.We drove from Kununurra to Halls Creek and then picked up the Gibb River Road at Fitzroy Crossing. “Permitted for 4 W’s and AWD’s only.

The Gibb River road was created in 1950 to make way for “road trains” or semi trailers carrying live cattle to abattoirs.  The Gibb is famous for its two lane, corrugated, dirt road that cuts a 440 mile (660km) line across the Kimberley from Derby to Kununurra.

Jude and her husband Ian came to the Kimberley region, specifically, Halls Creek, as young teachers, eventually moving to Kununurra, and settling there. Twenty-six years ago, they made this iconic journey with their young daughter.  This is a woman who knows camping in the wilderness, 4-wheeling over deep, rutted roads, crossing harrowing creeks, and packing a vehicle with such precision it takes your breath away.  Armed with her Toyota Land Cruiser, two spare tires, camping gear, and plenty to eat, we drove three and a half hours our first day to Halls Creek for a visit and then proceeded west another hour to Mary Pool, a beautiful, free campsite for the night.

I’ve never done much camping, but I now consider it one of life’s great pleasures, especially in this remote and wild part of the world.  The Milky way is visible here. The night sky is magic to behold… a super dome of stars that fire to the horizon.

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A view of the night sky and the Milky Way, the Kimberley, Australia. Courtesy of freenaturestock.com.  My iPhone 5 just couldn’t capture it!

The next morning we headed out to Fitzroy Crossing, got on the Gibb River Road, and made our way to Tunnel Creek National Park with its stunning, natural cave, and later continued to Windjana Gorge, the bottom of what was a tropical sea millions of years ago and is now a gorge of black and orange rock.

A walk in this valley is a little Jurassic Park-like.  Plenty of fresh water crocodiles sun themselves by water, and it is hard to resist running your hands over the coiled remains of ancient, fossilized sea creatures etched into the gorge walls.

It was soon time to think about where to camp our second night as we headed to our next destination, Bell Gorge, when Jude pulled out an APT Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge brochure.  APT Luxury Touring and Cruising started back in 1927 in Melbourne, Australia, and is still a family-owned business today.  Their Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge, located on Indigenous-owned land, provides luxury accommodations for their group tours and to people like ourselves traveling in our own car.  We figured we deserved this unique experience with all the comforts including fine dining, and ended up spending TWO nights(my treat). It was Amazing.

Bell Gorge, a short drive from the wilderness lodge, is a major and must-see attraction. After lounging (my favorite thing to do) and a late morning breakfast, we spent the better part of the day hiking, relaxing, and chatting it up with fellow travelers at Bell Gorge. One adventurous soul we met was a seventy-year-young woman touring with a 20- something backpacker group!  The Gibb River Road hosts a myriad of travelers and traveling styles.

After two relaxing days, we were back on the road stopping at Galvan’s Gorge before making our way to the Mt. Barnett Road House and Manning Gorge campground for the night.

This Kimberley region truly is one of the last, real wilderness areas on earth, and part of what makes this trip so special is driving the dusty, red, rutted, two- lane road accessible only to 4WD vehicles. AUSTRALIA, NEVER NEVER PAVE THIS ROAD! 

But I say this after I learned a couple of things from Jude, who traveled a lot with her engineer father.  Faster is not better on these deeply grooved roads. A speed no more than 80km is recommended, and tire pressure should be at about 28-30PSI.  If heading down a steep section of road and the caravan or trailer you’re hauling starts to sway back and forth, you step on the gas, which seems counter intuitive.  You do not hit the brakes.  Jude has come upon, more than once in this part of the world, accident scenes involving flipped caravans and the scattered remains of a retirement dream gone terribly wrong.

Road houses along the way are a place to refuel, fill water containers, buy snacks, and get local news about road and travel conditions.  Since cell phone coverage isn’t available, it it also common to see notices tacked up on the wall, like the one I saw at the Mt. Barnett Road House, from worried family members back home who have not heard from their grey nomad parents for days.  Uttered in any language it’s essential to: Be prepared!

On the fifth day we headed to Home Valley Station for a quick lunch on our loop back to El Questro Wilderness Park to camp for our last night.  The now familiar Cockburn Range loomed again in the distance like some ancient fortress built by the Ancestor Beings of Dreamtime.   It is just one of many vistas in this wildly remote part of the world that leaves an imprint of wonder on all who visit.

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Leaving Home Valley Station and crossing the Pentecost River with the magical Cockburn Range in the distance.

I’d been to the El Questro park on a day trip to Zebedee Springs and El Questro Gorge when I first arrived in Kununurra two months ago, and I was happy to visit a second time and camp.  Since our needs were simple and required no plug-ins for electricity, we set up by a quiet creek under the stars.

The grande finale on the sixth and final day of our trip was a stop at Emma Gorge Resort down the road and part of the El Questro Wilderness Park for a hike to Emma Gorge followed by a relaxing lunch on the verandah at the Emma Gorge restaurant.  How incredibly lucky I am!  Or is it simply luck???

Remarkable opportunities like this just keep popping up all over the place like bright blue forget-me-not wildflowers after a spring rain. Because of my good fortune, I’ve been  making a point each day to note all the things I’m grateful for in my life. It seems when you get on this joy and gratitude frequency, you radiate a positive energy that draws more positive things into your life, which in turn, make this Oh- so- fleeting life more fun.

To quote actor Jamie Foxx: “You better have fun. Because you’re going to be gone in a minute.”

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out! At 63, Traveling Solo for Nine Months in New Zealand and Australia…on a Budget.

Living the Pastoral Life at Auvergne Station, in the Northern Territory !

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The young stockmen/women taking a break for lunch out on the job at Auvergne Station in the Northern Territory. One of my favorite experiences!

The life of a cowboy on a huge ranch has always had a certain romantic appeal.  Broad-brimmed hats, wide open spaces, sunshine, and a dazzling night sky peppered to the horizon with billions of stars are probably just quixotic notions when in reality it’s probably a lot of hard work.  I found out it is a lot of hard, dirty, bloody  work, but it was one of my favorite experiences, and, I maintain,– it is romantic.

My stay in the east Kimberley region stretched into July when my young friend Victoria managed to arrange for me a stay at Auvergne Station in the Northern Territory.  A good friend of hers is one of very few women station managers in the business, and she agreed to room and board in exchange for doing some work.

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A picture of me at the Northern Territory Border on my way to Auvergne Station, an hour and a half east of Kununurra in Western Australia. I’m heading for a week to work and  experience station life.

Pastoral Farming, is a form of agriculture aimed at producing livestock (beef cattle), rather than selling crops. Pastoral farmers are known as pastoralists up in this area.  Stations are huge cattle properties ( thousands, and in some cases, millions of acres ) which are rich in Australian history and have traditionally been the training grounds for many young people trying out a career in agriculture.  It’s a positive situation all the way around since pastoral companies need large numbers of employees with various skill levels.  Many young men and women from all walks of life dreaming of escaping to a life in the bush have gone on to climb the pastoral employment ladder while others have returned to family farms with a much broader experience than they would have otherwise.

Twenty-eight- year-old Emily Andersen, the station manager at Auvergne station, is one such young person who worked her way up the through the ranks and is one of few women, and the only woman manager in the Consolidated Pastoral Company (CPC) which owns and operates 16 cattle stations.  Emily joined CPC in 2008 as a cook, worked her way up through the ranks in four years to head stock woman of Newry Station and was eventually promoted to Station Manager at Argyle Downs. In 2016 she received a further promotion as Station Manager at the larger station, Auvergne. She and husband Henry, a helicopter pilot, live in the manager’s house on the property.

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Station manager at Auvergne Station, Emily Anderson left, and friend Carla.

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Emily’s husband Henry, a helicopter pilot, mustering cattle at the station. This can be a pretty dangerous job. A young pilot lost his life last year after water got in to the gas line causing his chopper to crash.

 

The young crew (and I do mean young) employed this year range in age from 18 to 24. Most hail from Queensland and two young men, Garrum and Taylor, are Aborigines. Stock men/women are paid a salary depending on their skill level. Room and board is $6.00 a day, a good deal!   There is a recreation area for after work hours and weekends and a swimming pool.  The previous station manager added this effective note to be sure the expense was approved by corporate: ” If funds for this pool are not approved, you can make the phone call to parents explaining that their son/daughter was killed by a crocodile while taking a swim in the river to cool off after a long, hot day!” It was immediately approved. (Stations on average loose one head of cattle a day to crocodiles–a million dollar loss.)

I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and met Sarah who I would be tagging along with for the week.  The remainder of the crew had gone to Katherine for the weekend to a cattle show.  Sarah, only 24, is wise beyond her years.  She is basically Emily’s right hand woman, and if there is a job she doesn’t know how to do, she’ll figure out how to do it. This is Sarah’s second season at Auvergne, and she plans on coming back again next year.

The work day begins early at the station.  Breakfast is served at 6:00 am buffet style, and each person then takes his/her dishes and washes/dries them for a quick clean up.  A short meeting starts at 6:30 with Station Manager Emily to go over the day’s duties.  Several of the young stock men pack lunches to have out on job and do not return until 5:00pm in the evening.  Morning tea is served at 9:00, lunch at 12:00, and dinner at 6:30.

Sarah explained to me that these young people (the stock camp) muster (round up) the cattle, draft them into separate categories, process them ( castrate, dehorn, vaccinate, brand, etc) then bush them (put them back in their paddocks).  In addition, they are also given two horses at the start of the season (March to early December) to care for, they do a bit of bore running ( maintain water pump stations), and they perform general upkeep around the station.

The weather can be unforgiving during the hot, dry season, and I quickly learned that sunscreen, jeans, work boots, long-sleeved shirts with collars, and wide brimmed hats are not a fashion statement but worn for a reason:  a simple t-shirt is no protection in this climate.

My day also started early with Sarah.  Forgetting I was almost forty years older, I figured I could keep up with her busy schedule. Monday’s work began at 6:30 feeding the poddies (orphaned calves) their formula from bottles (some hand-held), next, we were off changing beds, doing laundry, and cleaning guests’ rooms.

As you can imagine, there is a lot of fresh, organic beef eaten at the station and someone has to prepare and butcher it. I worked with Sarah next in the meat locker(her dad is a butcher–she knows meat) cutting up beef for meals at the station into steaks, stew beef, and ribs and grinding hamburger.  This is a dangerous job as a large power saw is used to cut through bone (at the same time operating an on/off foot, power switch), sharp knives are wielded to filet the beef, and a huge, old-fashioned meat grinder churns out copious amounts of hamburg. Incredibly, she sometimes manages this job by herself!

During the afternoon we started installing a sprinkler system around a section of living quarters in order to provide a little welcome “green” to the scorched landscape, and then it was off to feed the crooks (chickens), hogs, and, once more the poddies before quitting at five.  By Wednesday afternoon, I couldn’t keep up and asked to quit at 3:00 and did so for the rest of the week!

One day after morning tea, I was asked if I wanted to go out and do some “baiting” with some of the stock men.  Not to be deterred by a little dirty work, I was not prepared for the bloody scene presented.  A nine-year-old bull had just been shot, and four of the crew were flaying and butchering the carcass while the others were cutting  large sections of meat into smaller pieces that would be injected with a natural, toxic substance lethal to feral dogs and dingoes that attack and kill young calves. Oddly enough, it didn’t take long to grow accustomed to what is “life on the station,” and I joined in to help with the meat cutting.

 

Generally, the work week is Monday through Friday, but often, when required, the stock camp can work two or three weeks in a row without a day off.  When a weekend off does roll around, as it did when I visited, there is cause for celebration and fun on Friday night.   Instead of dinner in the kitchen, Chloe treated with an outdoor barbeque of steak, salad, potatoes au gratin and, of course, beer.

Since there were no cattle housed in nearby paddocks, Emily allowed for a special treat: fireworks later in the evening.  I eventually headed to bed WAY earlier than most, and the partying continued into the wee hours.  At one point I got up to go to the bathroom around 3:00am and was startled to see a brush fire out in distance.  I could still hear voices coming from the rec center and figured they were aware of it.  If they weren’t concerned about it, I wasn’t either and went back to bed.  It was a subdued Saturday morning!  When you work this hard, you have to play hard too.

In this rugged,remote, and harsh outback, life is demanding and tough. Working a season at a station like this is an exercise in what it means to be mature and requires, respect, cooperation, communication, honesty…in a word: integrity. These young people have it in spades.

I may have been old enough to be their mo…grandmother, but for eight days chronological age became irrelevant thanks to their kindness and generosity of spirit.  A prized possession is the Auvergne Station work shirt that Emily and Sarah gave me. Another, an invitation to come back again anytime.  Hmm… I wonder if they could use a cheerful cook next season?

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out! Traveling Solo at 63…and on a Budget.

Volunteering and Meeting Aboriginal Artists at Waringarri Art Center in Kununurra, The East Kimberley.

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Artist Phyllis Ningamara working on a canvas at the Waringarri Art Center, in Kununurra. She told me she is very proud of the fact that her work is sold all over Australia.

 

A strong racial divide has existed for years in Kununurra similar to that in Alice Springs.  The Indigenous population is housed separately on the outskirts of town, and poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence are pervasive.  Add to that the terrible distinction in 2014 when The World Health Organization found that suicide rates among Indigenous people in the Kimberley region were among the highest in the world.

Despite these troubling problems, there is a bright spot in the form of Waringarri Aboriginal Arts, an art center that houses both artists’ studios and galleries open to the public.  Waringarri is the first wholly Indigenous owned art center established in the Kimberley region, and one of the oldest continuously operating Centers in Australia.  Since studying art was one of my traveling goals, volunteering at the Center,  a short drive from where I was staying, was paramount.  I was given an introduction via email from a gallery owner in Perth who represents Waringarri artists back in April, but when I went to the center in June to introduce myself to the director, I was told that I had to first write a letter and be approved by the board before I could do any volunteering.  Finally, after two weeks of cancelled board meetings, I was approved to work in the studio with the artists.

Waringarri Art Center supports over 100 artists who specialize in natural ocher painting on canvas and paper, limited edition prints, wood carvings and sculptures, and hand- printed fabrics.  The Indigenous group represented in this area are the Miriwoong people who hold the land sacred and see themselves as custodians caring for the country and resting places of their spiritual ancestors.  Artists typically paint a kind of aerial map of the land they grew up in which helps them maintain a connection to the sacred places of that country.  I was lucky to have the chance to meet and speak with some of the artists while helping out in the studio for several days.

In the photo above, Phyllis Ningamara explained to me that she was painting a view of the river after the wet season where she grew up and the many colored river stones reflecting in the sunshine.

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Artist Ben Ward explaining a just-completed work.

Bigger than life and very chatty is artist Ben Ward, who with his family, worked and lived at Argyle Downs station until he was ten.  He later worked at Carlton Station, and his paintings focus on his memories of when he was a young man mustering cattle. Triangles of different colors representing the rivers, Boab trees, water, and mountains appear in his most recent work.  I later saw that this piece (shown in the above photo) had been sold in the gallery.  In the past, my experience with Aboriginal art brought to mind paintings consisting primarily of hundreds of dots.  Different regions depict different styles, and the work here has a much more contemporary, abstract quality that I particularly like.

Peggy Griffiths, and her husband Alan Griffiths, are two well known artists from this region.  Peggy was born in the Norther Territory but moved to Argyle Station when she was 15.  At the age of 16, she was promised in marriage to Alan Griffiths.  She started working at Waringarri in 1985, is now a senior artist, and teaches other artists. While helping to organize the studio, I noticed lots of Peggy’s notes explaining how to do color mixing.  Peggy is a beautiful woman who though quiet, has a regal air about her.  She and husband Alan are highly respected in the community, and their work is prominently displayed at the impressive, new court house in Kununurra.  I’m told they often paint together.

 

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Lovely Jalah home from acting school in Sydney volunteered with me at Waringarri Art Center where her mother works in the office. She was a great source of information about Aboriginal culture and informed me that she is what is known as “half caste”( half white and half Aboriginal). This was a common term used in the past but is now considered derogatory.

Volunteering at the center was a great experience in many ways. One morning I got a call from the center to come in as soon as possible.  The Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council (WAITOC) was doing a photo shoot for some new brochures, and they were looking for “tourists” to be in their photos.

Another local couple was drafted from town and we headed out with photographer Jack, business development manager Liz, and several members from the art center to a location just outside of town considered sacred by the Miriwoong.  After a “blessings” ceremony at the Dunham River welcoming us to the land, we headed to another location featuring a  mighty Boab tree thought to be thousands of years old.

At one point, I got a little annoyed, and even felt a little discriminated against when Liz asked me, the single person, to step aside in a few of the shots because they wanted “couple photos.”  Although they didn’t want the photos to appear staged, they looked pretty staged to me. During my travels, I’ve met lots of single women, young and old, traveling alone.  Tourism groups and businesses would be wise to cater to lone travelers; there is a need and a market in the industry!

Several weeks after the shoot, I followed up with Liz about the brochures and asked if I had made it into any of the photos.  She said, indeed, I was included.  I’m now waiting to get a copy!

Up until this point in my travels I hadn’t purchased any art or souvenirs, but at the art center, where I knew the money would go directly back to the artists, I splurged on two hand-carved didgeridoos for my son and his dad(women are not allowed to play the didgeridoo), and several hand-carved Boab nuts for other family members and friends.  Each item came with a certificate of provenance and identified the artist who created it.

In the process of volunteering and meeting some of these Aboriginal artists, I’ve gained a greater respect for their culture and the deep love they have for the land of their ancestors. I’ve also come to realize that art illuminates (stealing a quote from Maya Angelou) that “… we are more alike than we are unalike,” and in this global society, we can all do with a little more understanding and less fear.  In the words of author Andrew Solomon:

It is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out! Traveling Solo at 63…on a Budget.

Kununurra in the East Kimberley:  Adventure in a Wild and Ancient Alternate Universe.  (Part 1 of 3)

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View of the Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park, a World Heritage Area that only became widely known in 1982. These “beehive” domes are striated with beautiful colors of ocher, orange, and black!

 

When I told a friend that my travels would be taking me to Kununurra and the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia, he snapped to attention, eyes wide, brows raised, and exclaimed, “Wow!  You’re going to the outback of the outback!”   My well-traveled friend is right.  Over and over I’ve been told here that most Australians don’t ever get to this beautifully remote, wild, and rugged region, let alone Americans.  And I was spending a month!

As luck would have it, I would be house sitting for the month of June(during the “dry” season May -September) for friend Gayl’s daughter Victoria, a nurse in Kununurra for the past five years.  Best of all,  Gayl would be meeting me here from Perth to help me settle in. That would mean three things:  five star hospitality, a whirl-wind of activities, and fantastic eating planned for the week.  How many people do you know fly with their travel baggage packed with farm fresh eggs, specialty goat cheese, and an organic shoulder of lamb (just to name a few)?

I’ve known Gayl since she was an exchange student at my high school back in 1971 when we were seniors. She’s had a love affair with Maine ever since and continues to visit every couple of years.  After leaving my teaching career and leaping into the unknown, well-traveled Gayl and her daughter Victoria, on a recent visit to Maine, mentioned travel and posed the question: “What are you waiting for?”  They have been both instrumental and a great support system in making this odyssey a positive and life-changing event.

Gayl is a force to be reckoned with.  Strikingly elegant, youthful, and charged with electricity and charisma, I elect her our Boomer poster girl for “Sixty is the new Forty.”  Before I knew it, we had exchanged our excited hellos, and she began rattling off all the adventures planned for the week including a camping trip to the Bungle Bungles!  But not before she and daughter Victoria (her mother’s daughter and very much her own person) acquainted me with my new home and surroundings.

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Toasting my first day in Kununurra with Gayl and Victoria and an action-packed, upcoming week.

Kununurra is a young town established in 1961 and now has a population of about 7,000.  During the dry season, the number doubles with tourists, many of them known throughout Australia as “Grey Nomads”–retirees traveling in a wide array of campers and caravans(RVs). On any given day, the local Coles supermarket is jammed with campers and backpackers, and the parking lot is filled with a multitude of vehicles resembling a tamer version of Mad Max engineering!  Eggs are always the first item to sell out.

 

The CBD (central business district) isn’t overly impressive, but located on the outskirts are interesting cafes and businesses.

One of Kununurra’s chief industries is agriculture (cattle, mining, and tourism too) thanks to its most famous landmark the Ord River Conversion Dam constructed in 1963. Water is released from Lake Argyle( created in 1967 as a major storage reservoir) into the Ord River, into Lake Kununurra, which then is irrigated to thousands of acres of farmland.  Some local crops include mangos, watermelons, melons, citrus, and seed crops such as chic peas and sunflower and chia seeds.  Australian sandalwood is also grown here, and the pure sandalwood oil is used by many of the world’s luxury perfume houses.

After familiarizing myself with the town(a friend of Gayl and Victoria lent me a car for the month–hospitality), we were off on our second day to El Questro (just over 700,000 acres in size) and a hot soak in Zebedee Springs.  This is truly a tropical paradise with palm trees, hot shallow pools, sheltered by rugged, orange rock looming from above. We enjoyed ourselves until a small snake slithered by my left shoulder, and we suddenly burst from the pool like waterfowl hearing gunshot!

On day three, Victoria’s boyfriend Joel, a helicopter pilot who mustered cattle up here for ten years, joined us for a visit, and we headed to Wyndham, the Kimberley’s oldest town and once a thriving port when Wyndham Meat Works was operating. The abattoir closed in 1985, and the only thing happening now is the occasional export of live cattle to Indonesia. Most “live export”(pretty controversial) is shipped from Darwin or Broome, and it’s common to see the mammoth, three-vehicle-long “road trains” coming from various cattle stations on the roads.

A popular tourist attraction in Wyndham is the Five Rivers Lookout on top of the Erskine Range, where you can see all of Wyndham and the whole Gulf Coast where the Forrest, King, Durak, Pentecost, and Ord rivers flow into. We also made our way past the salt flats to the Prison Boab tree, but not before a stop at the popular Rusty Shed Cafe.

Barely taking a breath and barely containing our excitement, we were off day four and five camping in the Bungle Bungles at Purnululu National Park, a World Heritage area.  If you are going to spend any time in the Kimberley, a four-wheel vehicle is a must. There are a variety of trucks and SUVs on the road up here, many of them with “snorkels” attached for stream and river crossings.

An iconic, Australian vehicle in these parts is the “Ute.”  The popular story goes that in 1933, a Gippsland farmer’s wife wrote a letter to Ford Australia asking, “Can you build me a vehicle that we can use to go to church in on Sunday, without getting wet, and that my husband can use to take the pigs to market on Monday?” A young designer modified a 1933 coupe with just a tray on the back and strengthened the chassis so it could carry a load, and the rest is history.

Fortunately Victoria had a Toyota SUV for the four of us and all our gear because the drive in to the Bungle Bungles involves about two hours of off-road driving on narrow, deeply rutted, dirt roads over numerous creek crossings of various depths.  (I later met a very large, cane-toting  74-year-old woman who told me she was visiting Kununurra for two days and driving to the Bungle Bungles.  After I talked with her, she thought she might fly over them instead.)

The landscape in this part of the world is like nothing I’ve ever seen.  Not only is it visually stunning with its changing light and colors, but it also touches you on some deep, cellular level that you can’t quite understand. The land vibrates with the mysteries of the human condition, its traumas and its joys…  OK…. it’s just feels *~x#1+$%) OLD!

Having not done a lot of camping, I experienced the pleasures of sleeping under the stars in my “mozzie dome,” comfortably curled up in my “swag.” (Does LL Bean have these?) The Milky Way is visible in these parts.  Another wonder to behold.

Back home on day six, Gayl and Victoria made sure I got my library card, visited Birdland Functional Pottery and the Artopia Gallery where I signed up for life-drawing classes, enjoyed “cuppas” at their favorite cafes, connected with the Waringarri Art Center, where I would be volunteering with the Aboriginal artists, learned Banjo the dog’s routine, and, finally, (whew!) met some of the locals I could call on.  I have never felt so cared for.

Then, Gayl left, followed by Victoria and Joel the next day.  I would be meeting up with Gayl again in her hometown of Perth in three months and seeing Victoria and Joel after their holiday abroad.

They left in their wake, a colorless vacuum:  The house quiet…a sense of loss. But I relish being in one place for four weeks, in one of the remotest parts of the world.

Every day I wake to sunshine*  The laundry dries in 15 minutes*