Friday, June 28, 2019

Fabulous flowers: rain, rich soil yield blooming bonanza in the Beartooths

The lavender flowers of the lilac are associated with refinement, grace, elegance and grief.
Walt Whitman's poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" mourns the death of Lincoln.

 The poppy bloomed on much of the Western Front in World War I, and is
a symbol of remembrance in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.


Gran planted the thrift, this one "joystick red."

What's in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
--from "Romeo and Juliet"


WHEN IT RAINS, we stay indoors and accomplish plenty:  writing, repairing, tidying,  packing for the next adventure. But when the sun's out in Montana, who can stay inside?
Nature's call is seductive, with a bonanza of blooming wonders. Housework be damned.  That can happen when it rains.
The iris has come to be a symbol of hope, valor and friendship.
When Mr. Sol shines, we answer the call.  We drink in the fresh mountain air, stroll about the yard and admire the iris, peony, poppies, lilacs, columbine, daisies, snapdragons and bluebells.
My grandmother Olive, a lifelong lover of flowers, quoted James Russell Lowell's "The Vision of Sir Launfal in this much loved poem:
"What is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days; Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune, And over it softly her warm ear lays...So is my memory thrilled and stirred...."
It's hard not to be stirred and thrilled by a day in the Beartooth Mountains of Big Sky Country. Poets and historians, travel writers and nature
The columbine are spectacular this year, 
lovers have waxed about Montana's beauty. John Steinbeck's homage is my favorite: “I'm in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love."And love it is for me.  My paternal grandfather Gustav Nystul came West in 1912, purchasing property now known as the Beartooth Ranch between Columbus and Absarokee.
He named it Sunnyside Ranch, and sunny it was.  I remember lilacs blooming through spring snow, daisies in June, snapdragons in July, a haven of hollyhocks in August.
John Lennon said "Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow” and those of us in love with Montana know that feeling. Buddha loved nature and its transformative powers: "If we could see the miracle of a single flower
Remembrance is what we think of with the poppy.
clearly our whole life would change.”
I remember my grandmother's love of the sea pink thrift, a beautiful bundle of blooms, and her affection for the poppy. For her and other Victorians, the poppy was an enduring symbol of remembrance of World War One. Winnipeg born, Gran's strong ties to Canada were lifelong. She and millions of North Americans wore poppies on Remembrance Day.
Lady Bird Johnson, championing her wonderful beautification projects said, "Where flowers bloom, so does hope."
 The iris, whose botanical name is iris xiphium, symbolizes hope. It is my favorite flower blooming this time of year. My grandmother  said it represents cherished friendship and valor. She taught us that her beloved iris is the inspiration for the fleur-de-lis, symbolizing the royal family of France.
A court jester's hat does come to mind with columbine.

 The columbine, she believed, resembles the hat of a court jester. Indeed it does.
My late sister Peny named her only daughter Amarylla, inspired by her love of the amaryllis, a brilliant symbol of pride.
The daffodils were waning when we arrived at High Chaparral, but I love that this flower indicates rebirth, new beginnings and eternal life. It also symbolizes unrequited love.
I like to think, though, that we are worthy stewards of the land and that our love for Montana is reciprocated.

Jake Shimobokuru is perhaps the most famous ukulele player.
UP NEXT: Come learn the ukulele with us, explore its rich and fascinating history and discover how much fun it is to play Hawaii's famous instrument. The trusty little wonder of a stringed instrument came to the Islands with Portuguese fishermen and has become a much loved part of the allure of Hawaii.  Most famous of its players today is Jake Shimobokuru.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a unique take on travel, the arts, nature, family and more.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Hawaii by helicopter: Blue Hawaiian adventure soars above the clouds for hotel, landmark spotting

Honolulu's distinctive skyline is even more impressive when viewed from a helicopter.


Dole Plantation's pineapple fields make striking patterns from the air.


SOARING HIGH above the Pacific, Bruce Keller leaned over to me in our ringside seats. "We're flying with the birds," he whispered, emotion in his voice.  It's true. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters delivers a thrilling experience, the closest we'll ever come to flying.  Because we're much closer to the ground than in an airplane, we see pineapple fields, the motion of the waves hitting the beach, gorgeous high-rise hotels -- including ours in Hilton's Hawaiian Village and Alana DoubleTree. Lush waterfalls sparkle in the sunlight, almost touchable.
HAWAII is meant to be seen from many vantage points.  The beach is an essential; a mountain hike is a must.  Snorkeling or scuba, definitely. But flying with professionals
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters delivers fine views.

high above the land, gazing down to admire the hotels, jungles and waterfalls that make Hawaii famous, is a treat for at least once in a lifetime.
As the 'copter blades rev up, "Keller and Cookie"
prepare to board Blue Hawaiian.
For decades, Hollywood studios have hired Blue Hawaiian to make their films on the islands.  "Pirates of the Caribbean" is one of the most famous films shot on Oahu, followed by a trio of  "Jurassic Park" blockbusters,  several films about Pearl Harbor, "George of the Jungle," "Flight of the Intruder," "Crimson Tide" and many more.
So we boarded one of Blue Hawaiian's handsome T2Eco-Stars, with seven seats, including the pilot's.  The comfy, quiet ride offered an hour of blissful fascination as our expert pilot-guide pointed out movie locations, famous mountains and valleys, the stunning familiar curves of Diamond Head and the Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial, Honolulu's two most famous landmarks. He circled the beautifully designed and historic Hilton Hawaiian Village, where we were staying for a pampering week. We also admired another hidden gem, Hilton Alana DoubleTree, where we had a splendid ocean view from our lanai and tasty ahi at the cordial eatery.
WHAT FUN to admire our hotels from on high, to breathe in the beauty of the verdant rainforests below, imagining village life as the Polynesians swam in the rivers, harvested crops, relaxed in  
Beautiful Hilton properties inhabit a prime corner
of the beach with historic Hawaiian Village Resort.
Nearby is a hidden gem, Hilton's DoubleTree Alana.
"Pirates of the Caribbean" was shot in the lush forests of Oahu.
Diamond Head looms spectacularly from the helicopter. 
cascading waterfalls. We loved seeing the white-sand and black-sand beaches from the air, as we swept over the turquoise blue Pacific then up to the craters of Hawaii's volcanic badlands.
The helicopter is a great way to compare the differences of the islands.
OUR PILOT pointed out historic landings, explaining that daring and adventuresome Tahitians settled on Oahu in 500 AD. Then in 1795,  Kamehameha I, king of the island of  Hawaii, conquered Oahu and united the Hawaiian Islands. In 1845 the capital was moved from Lahaina, on Maui, to Honolulu, on Oahu. Elvis Presley loved Hawaii, too, and stayed in Hilton Hawaiian Village's elegant Ali'i Tower, during the filming of his hit movie, "Blue Hawaii."  Ali'i Tower remains a pampering, popular high-end get-away which I've enjoyed.
WE DELIGHTED in  a  bird's eye view of Iolani Palace, the United State's only royal palace, with its revered history.  Across the street is Hawaii's judicial system, with a building made famous in episodes of "Hawaii Five-O." (More on that soon.) It was fun to watch the pilot at his controls, as we lifted off and arose, soaring over one of the country's most beautiful states.
Fun watching the pilot at his command station. 

WITH SEVEN of us in the vehicle, he skillfully circled at important sightings, making sure everyone had a chance to see everything.
Our favorite sights were our Hilton properties, the gorgeous pineapple fields, and the cone-shaped outcroppings of lava off Kualoa Point.  Ka'a'awa Valley was beautiful, too, where many fun movies were shot, including the mentioned "Pirates of the Caribbean." The North Shore with its famous surfing beaches delighted my aging but agile partner.
HAVING BEEN to Pearl Harbor the day before, it was thrilling seeing the Arizona memorial. The showy orange and yellow "Magnum" helicopters also caught our eye,  lifting off near us. That's for next time! This time, we opted for Blue Hawaiian, and were thrilled. Our ride was smooth, flawless, breathtaking.  Only one criticism:  it was too short.
The beautiful but fast disappearing blooms of a poppy adorn 
the hillsides of High Chaparral, in south-central Montana.

UP NEXT: Flower power.  We're soaking up an inordinate amount of summer moisture, and with that come beautiful blooms, in fact, a real gardener's bonanza. We'll share some of the photos from the past two weeks of floral abundance, and a few favorite lines of poetry about gardening -- from Hawaii's tropics to Down Under and the far north of Scandinavia. Do remember to explore, learn and live, while you catch us each Friday for a novel look at the arts, travel, nature, family and much more, always with wit, fresh insights, warmth and humor.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Swimming with sting rays on idyllic Antigua

The sting rays we swam with were friendly and enjoy people. The creature has one or more large sharp barbed dorsal spines near the base of the whiplike tail and is capable of inflicting severe wounds, and even death.  We braved an encounter recently.

Christene Meyers, right, holds a sting ray with help from a naturalist.


The man in blue is the naturalist, guiding tourists
from Germany, Australia and the U.S. 


IF YOU have never taken a swim with a sting ray, why not stretch yourself a bit, widen your horizons, try something new.
I am not a water baby like much of my family or my part-amphibian partner.
But I love nature and enjoy the bonds I've made with other species.
So I entered the water and for a brief, happy time, making friends with a pair of sting rays off Antigua.
Southern rays are the brightest rays in the
It's believed to be good luck to kiss a ray as they snorkelers do.
Caribbean. As promised, we found them friendly, gentle and as interested in us as we were in them.
According to my partner, photographer Bruce Keller, they have learned to trust humans because they get food from them, and because people treat them with respect.
WE FOUND the experience "a thrill of a lifetime," to use an overworked but accurate cliche.  The cruise line billed it as "a unique opportunity to interact and feed the rays."  What do these graceful guys and gals eat?  Animals that are smaller and live on the bottom of the sea: worms, clams, oysters, shrimp, squid and fish smaller than they are.  They're carnivors, like lions and tigers. Speaking of tigers, a segue to the incident with naturalist Steve Irwin.  His bizarre death by a sting ray was caused because the creature believed his shadow was that of the tiger shark, the ray's greatest predator. That was a fluke. But the byword is still be careful and make slow movements. 
The sting rays are friendly and swim up to humans.
 The lure to visiting Stingray City is two-fold:  besides the sting ray opportunity, Antigua offers some of the most magnificent snorkeling with brilliantly colored coral reefs and wildly colorful tropical fish. 
WE TOOK a bus from our cruise
 Captain Keller
on the boat to 
swim with the rays.

You will be in a group when you venture out to swim with the sting rays.
ship terminal, then boarded a speedboat for a 15-minute ride which whisked us to a shallow pool with a white sand bottom surrounded by beautiful coral reef. You may stand up or swim with the rays. After feeding, snorkeling and taking pictures with our new friends, we returned to our land base for punch and a rinse off. The "city" has a small bird zoo, with disappointing small cages. The sting ray experience is the highlight.
TO CHECK on Antigua travel given recent safety issues, use a free service for travelers or nationals living abroad: Smart Travel Enrollment Program, or STEP, issues updated advisory on global travel safety, sanctioned by the U.S. State Department:;

UP NEXT: Blue Hawaii beckons. That's Blue Hawaii Helicopter. Ride with us high above the clouds for a breathtaking adventure. The top-rated helicopter tour of the islands is waiting for you and we'll take you along on our journey above volcanic mountain tops, the city skyline of bustling Honolulu, the gorgeous canyons and beaches that make Hawaii famous -- and beautiful from a bird's eye view. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel look at travel, art, nature and family.  

Friday, June 7, 2019

Magical Montana: Big Sky Country beckons road warriors

The approach to the place we cherish, tucked away in the Beartooths.   
"Montana has the kind of mountains I'd create if mountains were put on my agenda."
 -- John Steinbeck in "My Travels with Charley"

Our little corner of the world, with clouds, trees,
mountains and the sound of the water.



NO MATTER HOW far we wander -- to the fjords of Norway or the deserts Down Under -- we are no more excited than when we answer the call of the Big Sky sirens and return to Montana.
I'm a fourth generation native of the Treasure State and I love traveling the world.
But my heart soars and my breathing quickens when I glimpse the meandering Yellowstone River out the airplane window and see the Rimrocks framing the town of Billings.
And it's no more beautiful  than this time of year, when the lilacs are still pretty in the high country and the lupine and mountain phlox are about to bloom.
Yes, it's a real cowboy -- not a rhinestone one.  Working ranches mean
working cowboys to move cattle, deliver feed, check for problems.
OUR LITTLE corner of the Beartooths is dear to my heart.  As a kid growing up in the 1950s, I traveled with my parents on regular trips "up country" to visit cousins in Roscoe and friends in Red Lodge.  My grandparents played bridge with chums at a cabin on the West Fork of the Stillwater River near where 30 years later I'd buy property.
I rode my first horse on the Beartooth Ranch between Columbus and Absarokee, which my grandfather Gus owned a few proprietors back. (He called it "Sunnyside Ranch" and I have photos of me on the ancient horse, Peanuts, riding down the same road we see from Highway 78.)
Red Lodge boasts many restored Victorian homes, a treasure
to behold in Livingston, Billings, and other Montana towns.
For those of us grounded in the natural world, there's nothing more pleasing than spring after a brutal winter.  While I can't claim to have suffered through the snow and chill, I've kept up on the miseries, stress and hard work of our rancher neighbors, and I feel grateful for their endurance and spirit. Nothing makes me happier than to have to stop the car while a cowboy moves cattle to summer pasture. "These are my people;  this is my country." Corny, but true. Sometimes I even belt out the state song: "Montana, Montana, glory of the west.......        M-O-N-T-A-N-A, Montana I love you."
YES, OF ALL the states from coast to coast, it's easily the best. I love my part-time California life, world travels and regular visits to Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Miami and Boston. But there's no place like home. The aging Yorkies love Montana, too. Nick and Nora romp and hike and get in shape, just as we do. Home on the range will always be dear to our hearts.
Cookie and Keller, Nick and Nora hike the East Rosebud.
Sioux Charley splendor
We love our Montana based road trips to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, forays to Red Lodge, Livingston, Bozeman, Butte,
Glacier Park is part of our summer itinerary, with an annual road trip.
Missoula, Harlowton, to visit friends and catch up on theater and dining. I spent the first years of my life in Bozeman where my parents were university students, and it's been fun to watch the Gallatin Valley grow and change, still feeling like part of the real West.
The little western towns in between are fun, too. Big Timber, Roundup, White Sulphur Springs, Harlowton, Lewistown, Cody, Wyo.

ONE OF OUR recent thrills is the opening of an internationally known art and music center just a few miles away.  Tippet Rise, built by the heirs to the Grey Goose vodka fortune, is a masterful creation presenting concerts by world-renowned classical musicians. The patron Halsteads commissioned stunning contemporary outdoor sculptures by famous artists to enhance the connection between land and art. More on Tippet Rise
We've written about this grand accomplishment for national venues and are fortunate to score a few cherished tickets each season. Places to stay if you come visit?
Mark di Suvero's "Beethoven's Quartet" is inspired by the string quartets of  the great composer.
The fascinating piece is one of several world class sculptures at Tippet Rise Art Center. 
Yes! Many gorgeous digs await visitors. Blue Ribbon Run Fishery, for instance, offers a tranquil, handsomely appointed vista on the Stillwater, fine fishing, abundant birds and wildlife (check it out at
Montana is a place where people still greet one another on the streets.  When we mow the front lawn, neighbors wave and honk. Our love of nature bonds us to Montana where we have cherished family and friends. "Summer people" arrive and that's fun, too -- from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Washington, Florida, New York. And we catch up with the "locals," those tough people who stick out the winter there.
DO I MISS city life?  The ocean, plays, nightlife, tango shows, watching Gustavo Dudamel conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Greek food, sushi on demand, ocean hikes, Macy's and Nordstrom's within walking distance.  Yes, I suffer temporary withdrawal. But we have Shakespeare in the Parks, Tippet Rise Art Center, my pianos, guitars, saxophones and talented voices to sing show tunes.  Peace and joy, happiness in the mountains, reunions, contentment in the serenity,, plus the bonus of reading and reflection. Lucky are we.

Swimming with the sting rays made for a memorable afternoon recently.

UP NEXT:  Manta rays! Come with us to swim with the rays in Sting Ray City, Antigua. We booked a day with these fascinating and beautiful creatures, escorted by trained nature guides. What evolved was an exciting  encounter with some of the ocean's most graceful inhabitants. The carefully choreographed aquatic adventure made one of our most memorable days, happily spent with southern stingrays, as we snorkeled and even fed them. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday.