Disconnected for a Sabbath

Recently I took a group of women with me for an overnight road trip to go visit a retired faculty member at her home in the mountains of Maine.  Twenty-eight hours of uninterrupted and great conversation, great food, rest, and incredible beauty.  No cell phone coverage.  No internet.  No TV.  No need to look at our watches.  No household tasks–other than doing dishes and setting the table while we talked.  How rare was this sabbath!

Sitting in the living room, we saw two Bald Eagles over the river outside the window.  One swooped down and scooped up a fish from the river.  We watched as it managed to get over to a log in the river with the fish in its talons, where it could sit patiently until it was ready to eat.  I said to the group:  “This is better than Nature on PBS.”  Really?  Nature in real life is better than nature on TV?  Imagine that!

But the action of nature outside this window was slow.  It required patience, quiet, and observation–attentiveness. How do we cultivate the virtue of attentiveness?

I once took a class to New Zealand for 2 weeks.  I felt like my students spent much of their time trying to get on the internet to communicate with friends at home, to post pictures on our blog, and to skype with boyfriends.  I went to China the next time I took students abroad.  Before I left, I told everyone:  For every minute you are on the internet, you are not in China.  I established no class blog and no class Facebook page, and we had no cell phone coverage for our North American phones.  I told parents that I would send them emails assuring them that we were safe as we traveled, but did not share details of our experiences–I wanted to be fully present where I was.  And I wanted their sons and daughters to share their own experiences once they got home.

How do we make sure that we have the patience to take in what is around us?  I don’t think it is possible without these times of sabbath.



Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag is a novel that depicts the lives of Norwegian settlers in the Dakotas.  Berek, a main character, struggles with depression that comes with the expansiveness of the landscape and the ever present wind.  I once had a student from Wyoming describe how they tested large garbage dumpsters in her hometown for their ability to stay in place.  Rather than tumble weeds, she would occasionally see a new dumpster model rolling down the street under the force of the wind, having failed the test.

Wind is an element of place.  I can still conjure up the sound and feeling of the wind rattling the big wooden storm windows in the house where I grew up.  Later, when I lived in Minnesota, I had braved three hours of driving in white out conditions, traveling home from my grandmother’s birthday party.  The sun was shining while the wind was howling and blowing the winter snow across the winter fields and roads.  The combination of bright sun and blowing white snow made it impossible to discern the edges of the road or the back of the car in front of us.

I thought I had experienced wind until I lived in New Zealand.  Located in the “roaring 40s” southern latitude where little landmass exists to slow down the wind, there were several times when I had to hold on to my younger daughter to keep her from being blown over. I used to think we might find our laundry in the next town if we didn’t use enough clothes pins to tack it to the clothesline.

Drifts come with wind.  My parents have pictures of snow drifts in Minnesota the height of telephone poles.  Many a time I have had to remove the snow from a driveway–not just the inches of snow that have fallen, but the drifts that can be many feet deep next to other places where the wind has blown a patch of the driveway clean.  Fall leaves follow the same patterns.  Raking leaves too soon only means that they are replaced with the neighbor’s leaves that blow onto your yard.  Timing is everything.  If you live in the right place relative to the wind, you can let nature do your work and blow your leaves onto your neighbor’s yard.  This does not make for good relationships however.

I have been struck by how the leaves stay in place in the wooded landscape of New England.  My town picks up your piles of leaves on the edge of the street two times each fall.  I was a bit mystified initially on how this would work, thinking about the challenge of getting piles of leaves to stay in one place while you waited for the day for the truck to come by.  But alas, they seem to just sit there for the most part.  They stay where they fall unless you move them.  On the rare occasion of a “wind event” they are not gusty winds, but the straight line winds of a Nor’easter or a hurricane.  None have occurred this year.

There is something comforting about hearing the changing tempo and whistle of gusty winds while I sit inside with a cup of hot tea on a cold winter night. These types of winds are my friends.  I miss them.



Funicular life list

If I had a life list, I think it would be of funiculars I have taken.  A funicular is a cable car that goes up a mountain while it is counterbalanced by a descending car.  Other words used to describe these are:  inclines, tram, or cliff railways.

I was 18 when I encountered my first funicular.  I had been traveling through Europe on trains and staying at youth hostels when I ended up in Bergen, Norway for almost a week.  Bergen, situated on the western coast of Norway, is on a fjord that was carved out by glaciers, leaving a bowl shaped geologic formation with the downtown at the bottom of the bowl, and steep slopes behind.  My youth hostel was at the top of the geologic bowl.  It probably had the most beautiful view of any youth hostel in the world.  I was student-poor and would walk down the steep path every morning, saving my money to pay for the funicular ride when I went back up. Somehow I doubt that the youth hostel, with its very cheap daily rate, is still there, but I hope so.



Another funicular, necessitated by different geologic forces, is in Wellington, NZ.  Here, tectonic forces have created uplift, continuing to raise up a hillside next to the harbor.


Fault line creating the hillside






This funicular begins downtown Wellington, stops at the university on its way up, and ends at a botanic garden at the top.  My favorite place for lunch was the restaurant at the top with the incredible view.















Then there is the tram in Hong Kong which goes from lower midlevels to The Peak.  The temperature changes as you go upward, as does the culture and socio-economic level.

The challenge is to find a clear day when The Peak is not in the clouds or smog.  And then there was the one night when I was on The Peak and it was totally clear…there is nothing in the world to compare.













My most recent funicular ride was in Pittsburgh.  It wasn’t a glacial valley or fault line uplift that created the environment for the incline, but rather the valley formed by the meeting of three rivers.  Pittsburgh actually has two inclines and I went up one, walked along the ridge, and then went down the second incline.  What could be better than riding two different inclines in one day!




These inclines are a bit strange because they remain horizontal as they go up and down rather than have the seats horizontal, but the car at an angle like most of the others I have been on.













There is one other incline I have taken–the Angels Flight in downtown Los Angeles.  It is just plain pitiful.  I don’t even count it.


But I hear that there is a city in Chile with more than a dozen inclines!  I think I will brush up on my Spanish.