Category Archives: Nature

Blooming Portugal

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Flowers of Costa Rica

Flowers of Jamaica

Wild Flower Inspiration

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Spending the Day with Antonio and Jose

jose and antonioMeet Antonio and Jose.  Two great guys who spent four hours introducing us to Portugal’s cork forest. antonioAntonio is a geometry teacher, wine maker and sculptor who studied art in Italy and now lives with his wife and two children in Redondo Portugal.  joseJose is an archeologist who grew up in a little village called Freixo and now lives in his wife’s grandparents’ home in Redondo. Jose will become a father in a couple of months. He is an accomplished accordion player.

peach tree

Outside the Herdade da Maroteria farmhouse/office where our tour began.

Together these two intelligent, incredibly informative and talkative fellows give tours in the Aljento area of Portugal for Herdade da Maroteira Farms a fifth generation family business.

cork farm logo

The two R’s in the farm’s logo refer to its founder Robert Reynolds.

 The farm was started in the 1800s by a British immigrant named Robert Reynolds.  It has a huge cork forest, a vineyard, an olive orchard and raises sheep.  

logo of cork trekking tour company

The current farm owner is a big fan of the children’s book Ferdinand the Bull and this is reflected in the tour company’s logo.

Tours have recently been added to their business model under a label called Cork Trekking.  

dave and simbaOur tour started with coffee in the Herdade da Maroteira Farms office. The farm owns six dogs and Simba the beagle really liked Dave. Simba has one injured foot from when she was caught in a fox trap as a pup.  

sheep block our roadOur tour had just begun when our road was blocked by part of the farm’s sheep flock. sheep herd portugalWe had to wait till the shepherd had herded them out-of-the-way. cork forestThe cork trees all grow naturally. None were planted by the owner on the 900 acres of the farm’s cork forest. The forest has been here since the 1500s. The forest is separated into 10 sections and only one section has the cork stripped from the trees in any given year. A cork tree’s bark can be harvested only once every decade. dave cork branchOnly the outer layer can be stripped off the tree.  If the inner layer is damaged the tree will die.  Here Jose’ shows Dave the outer layer of the tree that is stripped during a short period of time in spring when the temperature and humidity is exactly right. Cork stripping must be done expertly and people train for years to learn how to do it. It is a job that is physically and technically demanding but only can be done for a few weeks each year so cork strippers although paid well, need other employment to supplement their income. numberon cork treeTrees are numbered after being stripped of their cork bark. This tree was harvested in 2014 so it won’t be stripped again till 2024. 

Here are a few photos of the cork stripping process from Jose’s  Facebook page. cork stripping

cork strippers

cork strips piled upmarylou with baby corkI am beside a baby cork tree.  Most of the trees in the cork forest are 150-200 years old and the cork is not stripped from a tree till it is between 35-50 years old. Although there are cork trees in other countries, Portugal is the number one producer of cork. cork trees

Jose and Antonio told us how good cork trees are for the environment. They remove far more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than other trees. There are no chemicals used in the growing of the trees. The bark is not even stripped with modern electric tools but simple axes and knives. dave marylouJose is a practicing archeologist so he ended the tour by showing us a series of monoliths, ancient burial sites from the neolithic period. monolith cork forest portugalThese stone monolith structures could mark the spot of hundreds of buried bodies from a community. The bodies were buried in the fetal position and the structures looked like wombs with a passageway in front. monolith portugalThis monolith may have provided shelter to hermit monks in the 14th and 15th century. in a monolithIt provided a nice reprieve from the wind and rain for us too. dave with jose and antonioThe day of our tour it was almost always drizzling and sometimes pouring. It was cold and so incredibly windy at times we were sure we’d be blown over. Yet we had a great adventure, not only because we learned about cork and monoliths but mostly because talking with Jose and Antonio who are widely read, thoughtful and great conversationalists….. about politics, history, culture, agriculture, immigration, education, family history, social dynamics and economics gave us a great window into life in Portugal. 

Other posts……..

Walking in a Haunted Forest

Up in the Trees With a Man Who Knew it All

Trillium Walk


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A Blackout, A Flood and Chilly Temperatures

“You can easily experience bone-dry winter months. The crisp, sharp sunshine makes winter an appealing time to visit Portugal. In the south, especially on the coast, it is mild all year round.”- Rough Guide to Portugal

Those bone dry winter months and mild temperatures are not what we have been experiencing here in Portugal.  When we first arrived it was COLD!  

bundled up for a walk in portugal

All wrapped up for a seaside walk on one of our first days in the Algarve. I’ve got a T-shirt, hoodie, jacket and shawl on.

We bundled up and went out adventuring anyway but…….. our house which is kept warm only by small space heaters was always on the ‘chilly’ side. It reminded us of the winter months in Hong Kong where none of the buildings were heated either.

dave and rudyseven hanging valleys

Dave and Rudy in shorts and T-shirts for a hike

Eventually it warmed up enough so we were able to go hiking and golfing in the sunshine.  Then this week the rains came. The Algarve is experiencing unusual amounts of rain.  

rudy wet and cold

Rudy soaked and cold on the 18th hole

On Monday Dave and Rudy got pretty much soaked during their golf round.  Tuesday night our power went out and we found our way around using the lights from our cell phones and computers as we got ready for bed. We found out later much of the community of Praia da Luz had been without power. 

Wednesday morning when our friend Rudy left to go back to Canada it was pouring.  After saying good-bye to him in the early morning hours we noticed there was a virtual lake covering half of our diningroom floor.  Water had seeped in under the patio doors.  We tried putting towels along the door frame but they were soon wringing wet.  A repairman came later in the morning to fix the problem and the housekeeper came to mop up and bring us dry towels.  

dave walk in algarve portugal

A chilly day for an oceanside walk

We went out for a little walk when the sun reappeared briefly. The ocean had big waves and it wasn’t long before thunder was cracking and it started to rain again. 

Rain is predicted for the whole first week of March.  We don’t mind so much because we’ve already had a chance to enjoy a warmer, sunnier Portugal but we have friends and family coming on the weekend and I’m afraid their Portugal experience may be chilly and wet.  

We ended a cold rainy day with a lovely dinner out at a restaurant on our street

Those are the chances you take when you travel and we have been traveling enough that we know we can still have a good time despite the weather.  But the warm sunshine and bone dry conditions the travel guide brags about sure would be nice!

Other posts……..


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Can This Necklace Save the Elephants?


I was picking up some books at the Human Rights Museum Shop and saw this beautiful necklace.  I decided to splurge and buy it for a late birthday gift to myself.  I felt a little guilty about it.  I really don’t need more jewelry. The cashier asked me if I would like a card that provided more information about the necklace. 

tagua (1)The card said the necklace had been made from the tagua nut.  It is the fruit of a kind of palm tree in northern South America. Each fruit has about four to nine seeds the size and shape of an egg.  There is a liquid inside each seed and when it hardens it has the look and feel of real ivory.  In the past tagua ivory was used primarily for making buttons.  Now it is being used to make jewelry and carvings as well.  

I read an interesting article about how tagua might help to save elephants because it can act as a substitute for real ivory. Only problem is the rainforests where the tagua nut trees grow are being threatened by slash and burn agriculture.  If more people demand products made from tagua it may be profitable to leave those trees standing. 

So now I  am feeling a whole lot less guilty about buying my necklace. My purchase may have helped to save an elephant and some rainforest trees. Why buying that necklace was a positively saintly thing to do!

Other posts…….

Looking at Stuff In a Different Way

Dipping My Toe Into the Human Rights Museum

Travel Alphabet

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The Book of Creation

Last Sunday the sermon in my church was about creation. Our pastor talked about nature being a kind of book and when we are outside enjoying creation we are reading the pages of that book. It is good to read scripture but it is also important to read the book God has written with creation. That made me think about references to the created world in Scripture and so on this Sunday I am going to illustrate some passages with photos I’ve taken. 

Rainbow near Vik Iceland

When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature- Genesis 9:15

Flowers in Sydney Australia

The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, – Song of Solomon 2:12

Morning flight of pelicans at Isle De Capitan in Costa Rica

………..and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky. – Genesis 1:20

Natural grasses in New Zealand

You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning- Psalm 90:5

Clouds reflected in the water in a pond in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Winnipeg

God it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth- Psalm 135:7

Bamboo forest in Costa Rica that sang when the wind blew through it

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy- Psalm 96:12

On the ocean in Tulum Mexico

You silence the roaring of the seas- Psalm 65:7

Red Rocks in Sedona, Arizona

Enduring is your dwelling place, and your nest is set in the rock-Numbers 24:21

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The Myrdalsjokull Glacier Hike

quartet on glacierWe hiked up to the Myrdalsjokull glacier. kaaren and me glacier vikThe weather kept changing drastically during our hike.  One minute it would be sunny and the next freezing and raining like in this photo with my sister.  streams from glacier vikAll along the way we saw these streams running down from the sides of the mountains.  hike to galcierIn some places there were so many they made a loud rushing sound. hike to glacierOf course Dave as usual was way ahead of the rest of us….. dave sign glacierand was the first to reach the sign that said we shouldn’t proceed any further without proper ice hiking equipment. Since everyone else seemed to be ignoring the sign we did too and kept walking closer to the glacier. ken on glacierMy intrepid brother-in-law Ken climbed a little further and higher than the rest of us.dave and me glacier vikWhen we got up right close to the glacier the sun came out.dave and ken having funAnd Ken and Dave hammed it up a bit for the photographer. woman who took our photo vikThis fellow hiker lived in Columbia for most of her life but now resides in Florida.  Here she is telling Ken and Dave about the effects of the recent hurricane in her home city of Fort Lauderdale.  group photo glacier vikShe offered to take group photos of us. hiking to vik glacierMyrdalsjokull is Iceland’s fourth largest glacier covering nearly 600 square kilometers. vik glacierIt is on top of the volcano Katla which erupts every 40-80 years. The last eruption was in 1918. at the glacier vikApparently at places the ice on this glacier is hundreds of metres thick. three trolls with rainbowOn our drive home from the glacier we stopped at another lookout point to see the iconic local landform nicknamed The Three Trolls. Can you see the faint rainbow off to the left?rainbow near vik icelandAlthough the constant switch of the weather from cold and rainy to sunny and warmer all day wasn’t convenient it did create many beautiful rainbowsarch rainbowand some lovely light effects over the ocean. sun over the oceanWe’ve only been in Iceland a couple days but I’m beginning to believe what writer Stephen Markley said is  true……. rock bridge“The problem with driving around in Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five minutes. It’s totally exhausting.”

Other posts……………….

 Hiking Up to the Church in Vik Iceland


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Thinking About the Florida Keys

We spent time in the Florida Keys with our friends Rudy and Sue in 2014.  As I have watched the news about Hurricane Irma I’ve been thinking about that trip and wondering what has happened to the places we visited. HemingwayhouseMy friend Sue and I toured Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West and saw the more than fifty cats that make their home there, direct descendants of a feline that was a gift to Hemingway from a Florida sea-captain.  Apparently during the hurricane a group of dedicated employees stayed behind to protect the Hemingway house and the cats even though authorities ordered them to evacuate and Hemingway’s granddaughter urged them to evacuate as well.  

cat at hemingway house in florida

One of the cats I photographed on our visit to Hemingway’s House.

I’ve discovered that luckily both the museum staff and the cats survived the hurricane and Hemingway’s house was not damaged.  chillin out on the prow floridaIn Marathon Florida we went for a sail on a boat our friends Ed and Millie had worked on during an earlier visit to the Keys.  I have read that at one point Marathon was completely underwater and many marinas in the area look like giant shipwrecks. jay and sue and meI wonder how our boat the Geni Green and its Captain Jay fared? florida alligatorAnother thing we did in the Keys was take a drive down Alligator Alley. We saw literally hundreds of alligators.  alligators in floridaNews reports say that thousands of these alligators have been displaced from their natural habitat because of the hurricane and some are wandering the streets of Florida’s cities and towns. 

Having visited the Florida Keys the news I’m seeing about the devastation there seems just a little more personal. The Florida Keys was a terrific tourist destination.  Hopefully it will be able to rebound from this tragedy and become a beautiful place to visit once again. 

Other posts………..

A Spanish Birthing Chair , His Last Penny and Six Toed Cats

A Serendipitous Sail

Alligator Alley



Filed under Florida, Nature