Monthly Archives: December 2017

Coming Home, Leaving Home

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photographs Andrew the resident peacock at DoubleTree Hotel in Alice Springs, Australia where he has made his home on the pool patio.This is Andrew, the resident peacock at Hotel DoubleTree in Alice Springs, Australia. One of the staff there told me, “He just found the place one day, decided he liked the patio around the pool, and never left.”

Andrew happily hangs around his chosen home. Unlike me. I come and go. Home has become my springboard as much as it is my sanctuary. My house is the wreck I escape from most mornings, or when cabin fever overtakes me; and it’s the sweet mess I gratefully return to, time and time again.

When my daughter died, my relationship with home changed, as did my ties to almost everyone and everything. And after my son left to make his own home across the country, I thought there was nothing holding me here. No one needed me. I was free to simply move on, start a new life elsewhere. But I chose to stay. Despite some of the less endearing things about the place: the pipes that freeze in winter, the potholes in the driveway. The mice. Stinkbugs. The woodchuck that lives under the deck. Smoke detectors that go off in the middle of the night. Coming home from Australia, I cried for days about these plagues of home ownership. But in every corner, the house held sweet memories from my most beautiful, chaotic times. Living here was well worth a few minor inconveniences.

Some day I suppose I will have to leave my house for good. It will have to be some quick, traumatic exit where perhaps I fall and break my pelvis, and get transplanted to a nursing home, never to recover. And maybe one day I will return home as a ghost. Maybe I’ll come back as a bird pecking at the windows, or gazing out at the pond, standing tall and still like some decorative lawn ornament.

On Day Nine in Australia I discovered Andrew the peacock on the DoubleTree patio, and crouched down at a respectful distance to photograph him. Obligingly, Andrew stood still, and then turned around very slowly to make sure I got good views of all his sides. Then he came closer and closer to where I was kneeling behind the camera. The more I snapped his picture, the closer he got. Until I got nervous, stumbled backward, quickly picked myself up, and left

 

What makes a home a home? How many different places have you called Home?

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Australia Trip: Sacred

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, at Uluru aka Ayers Rock watching a double rainbow.Everywhere I went in the first half of November – Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Cairns, and Sydney – Christmas decorations were springing up. In Australia there’s no Thanksgiving to buffer the way into the holidays. All the sparkle and flash of the upcoming season suddenly hit me. Hard. But it had no spiritual significance to me.

I’ve always wanted something in my life to mean more, to mean everything. To be sacred. The closest I ever get to sacred is when I’m hiking. Especially in mountains. Or by the sea. Walking where people have walked for eons. To me, rock that’s been tread down, paths worn bare, and ancient places that have drawn wanderers forever, are holy.

It took all of Day 10 to travel by bus from Alice Springs to Uluru aka Ayers Rock, a big rock in the middle of the desert. I was bummed because I’d dressed expecting sun and heat. But it was raining. Drizzling on and off. Downright gloomy. Just my luck to come to the desert in Australia in late spring-almost summer, and it rains.

From a distance, the rock looked like a massive meatloaf. Only majestic. Monumental. Mesmerizing. Even from far off, the sandstone monolith seemed to have some ancient mystical spirit pulsing within. Nothing else was anywhere near. How could that rock NOT be sacred to the indigenous Anangu, or to anyone in this desert? “The home of the culture of the world’s oldest culture, it means everything to the indigenous people,” said the literature we’d been handed.

We were to watch the setting sun bounce rays off the rock’s surface. Only – there was no sun. It was cold and dismal. Still, we “rugged up” in every bit of warm clothing we could find, and headed out on the bus. “You never know what you’ll get,” our tour leader said.

At the site it was pouring. I pulled up my hood and hurried to the huge tent that had been set up over tables of champagne, smoked salmon, veggies with dip, cheese and fresh fruits. At least I wouldn’t go hungry. Along with hiking, food is my religion. I stuffed myself, and hardly looked at the sacred Uluru rock. Until somebody yelled, Miracle!

Gulping down the champagne, I grabbed a last piece of salmon. Outside people were hollering, “Double rainbow! Over the rock, it’s a miracle!” I crept out of the tent and joined the crowd that was now scrambling every which way in the finest drizzle, to capture rainbows on cameras and cellphones. An eerie light lit up the rock and the landscape around it. Two rainbows ended at the rock. The sacred place. I stood there trying to focus my camera, through tears. Remembering how rainbows meant everything to my girl. My Marika. Who I pray to, now. Who I’d asked ten days before, “You’re coming with me to Australia, right?” Who is forevermore, Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

 

What is sacred to you? What do you look for when you travel?

 

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Australia Trip: Beyond Appearances

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, hops around a barricade that conceals a construction site in Adelaide, on her recent trip to visit with bereaved mothers in Australia.“I’m kinda nervous about this,” I confessed to the leader of the tour group, as I waited for the stranger I was to drive off with. Before going to Australia I’d put out pleas on Facebook to meet up with Australian bereaved mothers on my free days, “to make my trip more meaningful.” This was my first. Dianne. Complete stranger, all I had was a name and phone number. She had messaged back, “No worries, hun,” to everything I’d written, which made me feel icky, reminded me of extinct relationships with men. But when Dianne pulled up in her shiny black RAV, I plopped into the passenger seat, and immediately knew I’d found a sister.

“Where d’you want to go?” she asked. Envisioning a peaceful quiet place to talk, I replied, “Can we walk along the Yarra River?” She took me to the Crown Casino.

She paid $50 to park in Crown’s endless garage below the snazzy scene of casino, hotel, shops, and restaurants. Huge dripping chandeliers, Prada, expensive jewelry displays…. As we trotted by I snapped photos of the colorful lights and our distorted images reflected in the mirrored facades of slot machines. I wondered if photographing was permitted in the casino. Trekking up and down escalators and elevators, we finally found ourselves outside, on a boardwalk lined with oyster bars and ritzy cafes. There was the Yarra.

We strolled, sharing the stories of our kids who died, and then sat on the edge of the Crown dock with our feet dangling off the edge. It didn’t look like the quiet clean river I’d thrown a good portion of my daughter’s ashes in, five years before. An old, bloated tennis ball floated by. It didn’t feel at all like I was littering when I tossed in my daughter’s dolphin necklace and tiny gold ring.

At a nearby outdoor café, I bought lunch for almost double what Dianne paid for parking. As we sat, a butterfly hovered between us. Long enough that I suspected one of us would get a visit from The Beyond. It was a butterfly like no other I’d ever seen. Giant. Rugged, like a moth. Its colors, blues, browns and gold, matched Dianne’s outfit perfectly. It flitted around her, and finally landed near her heart. The butterfly rested there, like a precious opalescent brooch. And then it perched on her hand. I snapped photos.

As we retraced our path through the casino and the dazzling courts of the palatial Crown to the RAV in the depths of the garage, I clicked away until we drove off to my hotel.

And when I got back home after my trip to Australia, I found that all the photos I had taken that day with Dianne disappeared. The picture you see here of me hopping around barricade panels concealing a construction site was taken by the next mother I met up with, two days later, in Adelaide. Miserable, in disbelief, I took my camera cards to various technicians but they found no trace that I ever took photos that day. I still see them in my head. The casino lights. The butterfly. The Crown chandelier shining, like starburst. All ghosts now. But so clear in my mind, I sit at my computer, stunned, still awaiting their appearance.

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Australia Trip: Screaming Birds

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops emus in Australia.Leeches were not on my list of things to be afraid of in Australia. There were so many other scary things. Stingrays. Screaming birds. Poisonous snakes. Jellyfish…. On the morning of the day I was headed to the Great Barrier Reef, my heart was clunking so wildly I could hardly breathe.

“I’m terrified. This is a real challenge for me,” I said to my tour-leader, trying to hold back tears. I envisioned myself bumping into the coral and bleeding, choking on seawater, getting stung by stingrays, and ripped apart by sharks. I imagined getting left behind in strong waves, and drowning. Alone. All this was really just my regular old cry of fear. I’m always finding things to worry and whimper about. The leader assured me we’d all stick together, I’d do fine.

With a heavy sinking dread, I pulled on the tight black lycra full-body suit, complete with hood and mittens, to protect from hungry fish and sun. The rental suit was still damp and sandy from the last brave soul who’d used it. Zipped up, it exaggerated every bulge of belly fat, but I was more concerned about how I could pee. Dragging my feet, I followed my tour-mates from big boat to small boat to Michaelmas Cay, the tiny reef island from where we’d snorkel.

Once landed, to keep up with the others, I threw on the fins and facemask with snorkel, and took off kicking as fast as I could without getting cramps. Head down 45 degrees as instructed, every half-minute I looked up for the others, while schools of white ghostlike fish surrounded me. The waves were shallow but the current was strong. Soon I spotted green parrotfish, banana fish. Zebras. They hovered around the nooks and crannies of the coral, which was bleached gray from pollution and climate changes. Beautiful anyway. Ahead, something big was approaching. Turtle? Snapping man-eating turtle? I choked. My snorkel filled with saltwater. Panicking, I looked up and realized, Hey. Where is everyone? A wave hit. I bumped against the coral, then took off like a rocket, flipping my feet hard as I could, swimming against the current. Head down. Blow hard out the snorkel. Long way to shore, kick harder. Lots of little white fish with long pointy fins. Keep kicking.

In the shallows I tried to stand, but the fins made me flimsy on my feet and the waves kept toppling me over. Flailing, unable to keep upright, I was laughing because the alternative was to cry. I needed a bathroom, hoped a little pee wouldn’t hurt the fragile reef. I realized half of what I’d feared had hit me, yet I’d survived. So I shook out the snorkel and swam back to the coral twice more, all by myself, still scared but determined to make the most of my once-in-a-lifetime moment on the Great Barrier Reef.

I didn’t get rid of the heavy sinking feeling until I had one more sob-fest, this time to the tune of “It should have been Marika out here enjoying every bit of this Reef, not me.” My daughter would have been there. If she had lived. Maybe that was what I’d been struggling with all along: not the fears so much as the sadness. Because when I set free that thought, I felt like I could float forever with her smiling down at me, laughing at all my fussing.

And that night, while safe and snug in my hotel bed, I heard the bird that screams like it’s being murdered. Bush stone-curlew, the tour-leader had told us earlier. When scared or threatened, it shrieks a blood-curdling cry. I turned over, went back to sleep. And in the morning we headed out for the Daintree Rainforest where the Kuka Yalanji man leading us through the trails warned about snakes. And crocodiles that kill for pleasure. And leeches.

 

What fears have you overcome in your travels or ventures into the unknown? What has triggered hidden emotions?

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