Friday, June 27, 2008

The Amazon

One RiverAs things stand now my wife and I will be spending this Christmas and New Year's aboard the mv Explorer on a 21-day cruise to Manaus, Brazil. While only a third of the voyage will be on the Amazon itself, that is the third that sold me on the trip. I have no interest in island-hopping on one of those god-awful "fun cruise" ships (movement with not actually going anywhere). But this chance to see the Amazon is different.

The mv Explorer is the latest ship used by the Semester-at-Sea program. Forty-one years ago I spent a semester aboard the s.s. Ryndam as a student of Chapman College's World Campus Afloat, as the Semester-at-Sea was called in those days. While the program has changed sponsorship several times since then - it is now at The University of Virginia - the experience remains remarkably the same, as I found attending an alumni meeting in Charlotte last week. That voyage remains the most influential single experience of my life.

As we will have a longer time to prepare for the trip than the time we are actually onboard, I am trying to get the most from it by studying ahead of time. I have the DVR programmed to record anything with the words Amazon or Brazil in the title. (Ever watch the Brazil Farm Report on RFD-TV? Riveting.) I have been burning bandwidth with Goggle Earth. I am also reading.

Wade Davis' One River was a mistake, sloppy research on my part. I ordered it thinking it was focused on exploration of the Amazon River. It turned out to be something else entirely, a magical and marvelous book I could barely put down. Read it for Tim Plowman. Read it for Richard Evans Schultes. Read it for Richard Spruce. Read it for Rubber and WW2. Read it for the coca. Read it for the first Americans. Hell, just read it.

It seems like that Semester-at-Sea magic never really went away. Real travel is like that. Go around a corner or turn a page; you never really know what you will see.

I haven't left yet and I want to go back.

Friday, June 13, 2008


AbeliaTwo large abelia plants have grown near the entrance of my family home as far back as I can remember. Photos show them already mature when my parents bought the house in 1949.

Since we now have the house under contract and are in the process of clearing it out and cleaning up, I wanted to take with me a remembrance or two of our yard. Some of dad's Zoysia grass is already plugged into my backyard. These rootings are from one of the abelias. Friendly folks at a local nursery got them started for me and they seem to be doing just fine. In a couple of years they will be ready to transplant. I feel better every time I look at them.

From Wikipedia:
Abelia is a genus of about 15-30 species and many hybrids in the honeysuckle family Caprifoliaceae, in the part of that family split off by some authors in the segregate family Linnaeaceae. The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group considers Linnaeaceae to encompass such genera as Linnaea, Abelia, Dipelta, Kolkwitzia, and Zabelia.

Abelias are shrubs from 1-6 m tall, native to eastern Asia (Japan west to the Himalaya) and southern North America (Mexico); the species from warm climates are evergreen, and colder climate species deciduous. The leaves are opposite or in whorls of three, ovate, glossy, dark green, 1.5-8 cm long, turning purplish-bronze to red in autumn in the deciduous species. The flowers appear in the upper leaf axils and stem ends, 1-8 together in a short cyme; they are pendulous, white to pink, bell-shaped with a five-lobed corolla, 1-5 cm long, and usually scented. Flowering continues over a long and continuous late spring to fall period.
Abelias are a wonderful plant. They tolerate a variety of soils and climates, stay green year round, don't shed leaves in the fall (around here), have pleasant small flowers with a mild fragrance, and provide habitat for the birds and the bees. They come in many varieties, including the smallish Little Richard (Good Golly Miss Molly!!!) I am already using as foundation plants. These are probably an older variety of grandiflora (Abelia Edward Goucher?). But as usual, I could be wrong.