Yvon Chouinard, rock climber and founder of the brand Patagonia, announced he has given away his company, worth about $3 billion. He gave it to a non-profit called Holdfast Collective that will ensure all profits (about $100 million per year) are used to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land. Patagonia will continue to exist but Chouinard will no longer own it. Patagonia has given $50 million to Holdfast Collective and plans to give $100 million more this year.
Chouinard’s best friend was Doug Tompkins. They used to go rock climbing and adventuring together and in 1968, they drove from Southern California to Patagonia together to climb Mt FitzRoy on the Chile/Argentina border. They made a film about it called Mountain of Storms.
A later film (2010) recreates their journey and highlights some of the conservation work Tompkins was doing — 180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless.
Tompkins died in 2015. He was the founder of the North Face and then of Esprit. He sold them both and in 1991, he established the Foundation for Deep Ecology. He had always loved spending time in Chile and he eventually moved there and bought a rundown farm. He spent his time climbing and kayaking and considering how he might preserve the area. Over time he bought up land in Patagonia that was still wild and undeveloped. When he died he left over a million acres of land to the Chilean government to create a national park. In 2017, the president of Chile accepted the one million acres and added another 10 million to create the largest protected area in South America.
After watching these documentaries, I became enthralled with Chile. It is definitely on my list and I hope to be able to spend some time there exploring its many diverse landscapes.
By the way, Mount FitzRoy was named after the Captain Robert FitzRoy of the Beagle, Charles Darwin’s ship.
The Queen’s Queue
Not only is Queen Elizabeth II lying in state for close to a week, but there is a “queue tracker” where you can keep tabs on the long line winding its way across London. Last time I checked the wait was 9 hours but this changes constantly. People seem happy to do it. I might even do it if I was in London. After all, it’s a one-time thing (click on image it see it live).
Well, the world is ending. It is starting. The beginning of the end. Europe is in an energy and economic crisis. Queen Elizabeth died. China is still in lockdown. California is burning up. Canadians are stabbing each other. And they still haven’t arrested the Big D (Delusional) trump (I live in hope). More random crazy shootings. I had a brief happy moment when I saw that Bannon was indicted (apparently he raised money to build a wall?…. and there was no wall?…. seems like a such a small thing… smile). And that was just Thursday…
Queen Elizabeth. End of an era. Seventy years on the throne. It is going to be quite a transition. Is King Charles up to the job? I guess we will see. (As you will remember Charles I was beheaded and Charles II lived in exile for a while so not great precidents.) Elizabeth II has been there my whole life. I went to British school when I was little and met Prince Phillip on the polo field when I was a giggly second grader. He was very gracious and shook my hand while I tried to curtsey in my blue jeans. In 1993, I went to work for the British Embassy in Moscow. Soon after I started, I attended a reception and met Princess Anne and her husband Commander Lawrence. She was surprised to come across an American and even laughed at my jokes. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth was the first ruling Monarch to ever set foot in Russia. She and Boris Yeltsin attended a performance of Giselle at the Bolshoi. I was also in the audience. She wore a green flowered outfit and a tiara. It was quite a night. Pro or anti monarchy, you have to admit she was a force.
On a lighter note… I thought the painting of Michelle Obama unveiled at the White House this week was exceptional. Very well done. Artist: Sharon Sprung.
So, last week I went in for my annual mammogram. All very routine. A few days later I got a call to make an appointment for additional screening. This morning I went into a breast cancer center for my appointment. That was scary enough but the waiting room was a stark sterile large room that made me want to bolt for the hills.
I then went in for another mammogram. From there I sat in a smaller version of the bleak waiting room. And then it was on to the ultrasound machine where I spent about an hour being probed by several people and waiting by my myself in a very uncomfortable position. The doctor came and went twice. He sent me back for another mammogram. By the time I saw the doctor for the final time I had been probed for about two hours. He told me he just wanted to be sure. He certainly was thorough, I’ll give him that. The verdict? Come back in six months. Haha… Good thing I’m not the worrying kind… Actually it is fine.
And now the weekend beings. I might have a glass or two of wine!
I have been reading lately about all the airline travel problems people are having. Long delays, cancellations, missed events, long lines. It looks pretty bad, but then I read an article today that compared what was happening now to pre-pandemic numbers and they aren’t far off. There have always been travel uncertainties. I was looking through some old writing of mine and found this from 1997. I was living in Moscow, Russia at the time. My two year old child and I were on home leave in Minnesota and we were flying back to Moscow via Amsterdam. Noah is my son, Nicholas my husband who was in Moscow.
“So we got on the plane and at first they said they had to offload some luggage and it would be about 15 minutes. Then they said they couldn’t start one of the engines automatically so they would have to try it manually. Then it didn’t work manually so they would have to fix that. They never knew for sure what the problem was or how long it would take. Noah fell asleep about an hour into it and slept until we got into the air. After they they fixed the engine, the computer program had to be re-entered with the new times so that took a bit longer and then finally we were off, three hours late.
Noah finally fell asleep about an hour before we landed in Amsterdam. I guess I have blocked it out because I don’t remember most of it or how I entertained him but we survived somehow and when we got off, a woman across the aisle said that my child was such a good traveler!! I didn’t know how to respond to that.
Our connecting flight was just leaving when we arrived in Amsterdam so I went to the transit desk and they told me they would have to put me on the next flight out which was the Aeroflot at 12:45 pm. I said I didn’t want to fly Aeroflot and she said she understood completely and I should go talk to the people at the ticket counter. So I went there and they told me that all the flights to Moscow that day eventually connected to Aeroflot so if I wanted to go that day, I didn’t have a choice. They told me I could refuse to go and I assume they would have put me up for the night but then I didn’t know what would happen to my luggage so I decided to just go. the 12:45 flight was fully booked in Tourist Class so they put us in Business Class and as the KLM guy was giving me my ticket he said – Well, at least it is Business Class, whatever that means…. I said I would find out. They also gave me a free three minute phone call to Moscow so I let Nicholas know when to meet us.
There was a couple with two small children also waiting for the flight to Moscow and I found out they had been on my flight out of Minneapolis. It turns out that they were just moving to Moscow and it was their first time. I thought, what an introduction for her… She won’t forget this trip for a while. I gave her my phone number and she promised to call me. The world is small.
Well, Business Class on Aeroflot is a real treat. The only difference between it and Tourist Class is that there is leg room and you get to use the First Class toilet. Tourist Class has six seats across with no leg room, Business Class has six seats across with leg room, and First Class has four seats across with leg room. All the seats are the same size. Noah slept the whole way and I slept through most of it so can’t comment on the service except the beverage choices were Sprite, Coke or mineral water. The landing reminded me of the UTA pilots in Africa. We would dive, then go up, then drop, then dive again. Noah thought it was great fun.
After we landed and arrived at the gate the announcement was made that in fairness to everybody the Tourist Class passengers would exit first and the Business Class and First Class people would remain in their seats until everybody else had exited. We sat there and watched as all the people in Tourist Class filed past us. Unbelievable.
Luckily my bags showed up right away and Nicholas was there waiting.”
I have survived many such sagas. Some worse than others. But it hasn’t stopped me so far…
I just finished reading The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin. It is historical fiction about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The author explains that what makes it fiction is her lengthy descriptions of Anne’s emotions and inner turmoil. The facts are there but she is guessing at how Anne felt about the events of her life. She did have an eventful life.
The daughter of the American Ambassador to Mexico, Anne met Charles Lindbergh in Mexico City in December of 1927. In May of that same year he had flown solo, non-stop from New York to Paris. It made him one of the most famous people of the time. He was 25 years old. Two years later, when Anne was 23, she and Charles were married.
I learned that Anne became a pilot, a navigator, the first woman to earn a Glider Pilot license, and a successful writer. Not to mention raising six children and running a household on her own. She lived in the shadow of her famous husband but she was really the star.
The book takes us through the pain of losing her first born to kidnappers and murderers. The trauma of being doggedly pursued by journalists and photographers. The confusion about her husband’s feelings toward the Nazis. The sorrow of seeing her husband spend less and less time at home. And the discovery of his infidelity.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote Gift from the Sea, reflections on life, love, marriage, and how things change over time. It was the top non-fiction bestseller of 1955, and is still enjoyed by many today having sold over 3 million copies and been translated into 45 languages. She also wrote about their flight to the Orient. They were the first to fly from Africa to South America and explored polar air routes from North America to Asia and Europe.
Two years ago five friends and I rented a villa on Lake Como in Italy. We had all been to a reunion at our boarding school in Switzerland and were ready for some down time. Sitting on our porch we were soothed by the waves lapping onto the beach and an awe inspiring view. We were all transformed in one way or another after that trip. The beauty of the place, the calm atmosphere and the joy of sharing time with old friends inspired us all.
We would have loved to do it again but finances did not allow another trip to Europe so soon. Instead we decided to share a house on the west coast and coordinate it with a school party at a friend’s house. I found a three bedroom house in the Malibu Colony right on the beach. This time the waves were crashing onto the beach below us. We spent five days mostly mesmerized by the Pacific Ocean. We talked, we ate, we drank, we relaxed. It was sunny and peaceful.
Frederick Rindge, founder of Pacific Life insurance and vice-president of Union Oil Company, purchased the 13,300 acre Spanish land grant Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit in 1892. In 1929, his widow, May Rindge, was forced to start selling the property in lots. One of the first to go was the Malibu Colony. It is located just off the Pacific Coast Highway about an hour north of the Los Angeles airport. Today it is a gated community with multimillion dollar homes right on the beach. We were lucky enough to enjoy five days there. –
I recently read ‘Too Close to the Sun’ about Denys Finch Hatton and it reminded me of the amazing women through the ages who chose to spend their lives in foreign lands. Here area few of my favorites.
Karen Blixen and her brother
Karen Blixen was Danish. She married Baron Bror von Blixen and moved to Kenya in 1914. Unfortunately he gave her syphilis and she returned to Denmark after only one year for arsenic treatment. She lived through it, however, and returned to live in Kenya for another 16 years. She ran a coffee farm for a while but always struggled with it and eventually was forced to sell the land. Her lover, Denys Finch Hatton, was a big game hunter who died in a plane crash just as she was dealing with the loss of her farm. She returned to Denmark and lived there for the rest of her life. She wrote under the name Isak Dineson as well as a few others and a couple of her more famous books are:
Out of Africa (1937); Anecdotes of Destiny (1958) – includes Babette’s Feast which was made into a movie; Letters from Africa 1914-1931 (1981 – posthumous)
Beryl Markam was English. Her family moved to Kenya when she was 4 years old in 1906. She became friends with Karen Blixen even though there was an 18 year gap in age. Beryl also had an affair with Denys Finch Hatton and was due to fly with him the day he crashed. She had some kind of premonition and did not go. However she did go on to fly extensively in the African bush and was the first women to fly across the Atlantic from East to West. She briefly lived in California married to an avocado farmer but eventually retuned to Kenya and became a well known horse trainer. There is a new book out about her life called “Circling the Sun”.
Her memoir (a very good read) is: West with the Night (1942, re-released in 1983)
Alexandra David Neel
Alexandra David-Neel was French. She became an explorer at a young age running away from home at the age of 18 to ride her bicycle to Spain and back. In 1904 at the age of 36 she was traveling in Tunis and married a railway engineer. That didn’t last long since she immediately had itchy feet and set off for India. She told her husband she would be back in 18 months but did not return for 14 years. Her goal was Sikkim in the northern mountains. She spent years studying with the hermits and monks of the region and eventually, dressed as a man, snuck into the forbidden city of Lhasa.
Her account of her trip to Lhasa is a fascinating read: My Journey to Lhasa (1927)
Gertrude Stein by Picasso
Gertrude Stein was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in California, attended Radcliff and Johns Hopkins University, discovered her sexual awakening while in Baltimore and fell in love with another woman. She moved to Paris in 1904 where she collected art and held “Salons” promoting modern unknown artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne. During World War I she learned to drive and drove a supply truck for the American Fund for French Wounded. Her writing was revolutionary and influenced many modern writers including Hemmingway. She was a strong, opinionated woman and a copious writer with a great sense of humor. Her lifelong companion, Alice B. Toklas cooked and ran the household. Two of my favorite books by Stein are:
The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas (1933); Ida, A Novel (1941)
James Joyce and Sylvia Beach
Sylvia Beach was a contemporary of Gertrude Stein and also lived in Paris. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father was a minister and she grew up in Europe. She owned the bookstore Shakespeare and Company and published James Joyce’s Ulysses when nobody else would touch it, even though she had no money herself. She lived in Paris most of her adult life.
Her memoir is: Shakespeare & Company (1959)
Catherine II by Johann Baptist von Lampi
And just for fun… Catherine the Great. She was born in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland), and traveled to Russia in 1744. In 1745, at age 16, she married Grand Duke Peter of Russia and became the Russian empress in 1762. She did not get on well with her husband and managed to “convince” him to abdicate so she could take the throne. Soon afterwards he was mysteriously killed. She continued to rule Russia until her death at age 67. I visited her palace outside St Petersburg a couple of times when I was living in Russia. One room I particularly liked was the Amber Room. The walls are covered in amber and other precious jewels.
A good book about her life is: Catherine the Great by Robert K Massie (2011)
I met Fran Yarbro when I was 17 and she was 15. We were both on the varsity volleyball team at The American School in Switzerland. We spent two hours together every afternoon at practice. She was a natural athlete and good at volleyball as well as all the other sports she played and an excellent skier. She was beautiful. But she was tough. Nobody messed with Fran.
From high school she went on to get a Masters degree from the International School of Business in Arizona. She lived most of her life in the mountains, mainly in Colorado. She was also a mountain climber. When she was 33, she was climbing Annapurna and met Sergei Arsentiev. Sergei was famous in Russia for being one of the best climbers ever. He had climbed all the major mountains in Russia as well as Everest. In 1992 they climbed Mt Elbrus in the Caucasus and Fran skied down. They were married that same year and soon moved to Colorado together.
Fran had a dream. She wanted to summit Everest without oxygen. On May 22, 1998, Fran became the 8th woman to summit the north face of Everest, she was the first American woman to summit the north face of Everest, and she was the first American woman without oxygen to summit the north face of Everest. Fran was 40 years old and she had realized her dream.
Fourteen hours from New York to London. Things have change a bit since then. But they did travel in class….
Sunday, Oct 26, 1952
Our time in Washington is rapidly slipping away. I hope you got my telegram saying we were cleared and would be leaving soon. They have asked for our plane reservations to leave on Wednesday the 29th. Seems like there are lots of last minute preparations to take care of.
The following is the schedule we have asked for but won’t know about reservations until Tuesday morning.
Leave Washington 1/29 12:24 pm
Arr New York 10/29 2:15 pm
Leave New York 10/29 4:00 pm
Arr London 10/30 11:00 am (London time)
Leave London 10/31 5:55 pm
Arrive Beirut 11/1 5:40 am (Beirut time)
Leave Beirut 11/4 4:35 am
Arrive Calcutta 11/4 11:40 pm (Calcutta time)
Leave Calcutta 11/6 6:30 am
Arr Rangoon 11/6 10:55 am
Will go from here to Calcutta on Pan American Airways and from Calcutta to Rangoon on India National Airways.
With the rest stops in London, Beirut and Calcutta it should break up the trip and make it more enjoyable. In Beirut, especially, we will have a chance to see a few things.
I think the least expensive and fastest mail service for you to write us will be on the airmail sheets such as I’ve enclosed. They go for 10 cents and come with the stamp on them. You can buy them only at the post office.
We are sitting on the banks of the Potomac doing our letter writing today while the boys run and play. It’s a nice sunny day just a little on the chilly side.
On Friday evening we took the boys to Bob Wilson’s to watch TV while went to a reception at the Burmese Embassy. We thought it was to be a small reception for a delegation of Burmese who have been here about three weeks and are now returning. It turned out to be this but in addition a most delicious buffet supper. Lots of prominent people there as well as those of small importance such as us. We did have an enjoyable time and I had met most of this delegation at the Dept. of Agriculture so didn’t feel too much out of place. It gave Virginia a chance to meet several of the Burmese people with whom I’ll be working in Rangoon.
… I assume there was more to this letter but that is the end of what I have.
Here is an interesting film promo from 1950 for Pan American Airways.
My first Christmas vacation in college I had a memorable plane trip on my way to Africa. I was to fly from San Francisco to Minneapolis to Nairobi and meet my parents for a two-week camera safari. I had made my flight arrangements through a travel agent in New York and understood that I would change planes in Geneva.
I arrived in Geneva at seven in the morning and went to the transit desk. They told me that I could go into town or get a room at the airport if I wanted because the flight didn’t leave until midnight that night and then they also mentioned that I was wait-listed anyway. What??? I had not looked closely at the ticket. There I was in Geneva, Switzerland. I had a $20 traveler’s check to my name, and I was wait-listed on a flight that left at midnight. There was nothing I could do but wait and see. I spent all day dozing on airport seats and reading my book. I didn’t eat anything because I figured I should save my money and anyway, I was too nervous. It came time to check in for the flight. I went to the gate and they told me I would have to wait until everybody else had boarded the plane. It was agonizing as I watched hundreds of people boarding.
I kept seeing myself stranded in Geneva, eating out of the vending machines and spending Christmas by myself in the terminal. I would have to spend the night in the airport. How would I let my parents know where I was? Finally the airline called the stand-by passengers to the desk. They told me there was one seat left but I had to go downstairs and get my seat assignment. I raced down the stairs but there was nobody there. I waited a while in a panic and then I ran back up the stairs and told them there was nobody down there. Finally a woman got up and said she would go get it for me while I went through security again. As soon as I had my seat assignment, I ran all the way to the plane. I was scared to death they would take off without me. When I reached my seat, I buckled my seat belt and broke into tears of relief.
I arrived in Nairobi the next morning and there was nobody there to meet me. I went to the bank and changed my $20 traveler’s check and figured I would have to take my chances with a taxi. I went out to the parking lot and there were lots of taxis lined up but no people around at all. While I was standing there trying to figure out what to do an airline steward came walking up and I asked him if he knew how I could get a taxi. He said he didn’t know but it wasn’t safe for me to go anywhere in a taxi. He asked his captain if they could give me a ride.
I arrived at the hotel in an airline minibus and rang my parents’ room. No answer. I rang our friends’ room. No answer. I walked all around the hotel lobby and outdoor area. When I returned to the lobby there was my mother sitting on the couch.
She took one look at me and said “What are you doing here?” At this point, I was exhausted, broke, hungry, confused and frankly, a little pissed off. “Thanks, mom.” I said. She replied calmly, not knowing my state of mind. “Your father is out at the airport looking for you”. Communications got really screwed up somehow and they thought I was coming in on a flight from Rome. I wish I could say this was an unfamiliar scenario, but travelling the million miles that I have, this kind of thing happened all the time.
Kenya was wonderful. We drove around several game parks in Kenya and camped in tents. The tents were fairly large and had cots in them with mosquito nets and a bucket in the back for the toilet. There was a communal dining hall where everybody sat on benches and ate family style.
We were driving through a park just at dusk one day and we came upon a lone baby zebra. The game warden was with us and he seemed upset. We asked him what the problem was and he said the zebra would be dead by dark. He said it must have been separated from the rest of the herd somehow and now it didn’t have a chance. We asked if maybe we could take it with us or help it in some way and of course there was nothing we could do. That was just the way things worked: the world was one big food chain, but it was heartbreaking for me to witness it in person.
We crossed over into Tanzania and went to Ngoro Ngoro, a huge volcanic crater with a large plain inside where wildebeasts, flamingoes, hyenas, lions, rhinos, hippos, and monkeys all co-existed. It had a very prehistoric, eerie feel to it. The only way to get to it was in a four-wheel drive jeep creeping over the edge of the volcanic rock that completely surrounded the area. As we were driving across the middle of the plain we came across a family of rhino. Rhino cannot see very well but they hear well and have a good sense of smell. We were down-wind from them but the noise of the engine must have taken them by surprise because they turned and started to run right at us. The driver immediately turned off the engine. The rhinos froze in their tracks and we did too! Pretty soon the rhinos turned and started to walk away but then changed their minds. We sat perfectly still for about 20 minutes while the mama and papa rhino had a quickie and the baby was the lookout.
Another day at another park we came up behind a herd of elephants that was just crossing the road. There was an auntie at the end and she turned and started running towards us, ears flapping and trunk trumpeting. She took our driver by surprise. He shoved the car in reverse going full speed backwards in retreat. When we were a safe distance away, and the elephants had moved on a little we approached them again. This time when they charged us, the driver just gunned his engine. The elephants were afraid of the noise and backed off. When we returned to camp that day, we were told that it was becoming rarer and rarer to be charged by animals because they were becoming too accustomed to people. That was somewhat good news but really bad news in the larger sense of things.
On the way back to Nairobi we camped at the foot of Kilimanjaro. None of us were adventurous enough to climb it but we enjoyed having it as our backdrop.
On my way to Treetops
We spent New Year’s Eve at the Outspan Hotel. From there we took a bus to Treetops, a famous salt lick with a hotel originally built in a tree. It burned down and has been rebuilt, but as you walked along the corridors you could still see branches coming through the walls. We arrived in the afternoon and had to trek in from the bus. Everybody had tea up on the roof. The baboons were really gutsy and came up and tried to steal women’s handbags. We had been warned about them. At night, animals came for the salt and so there was lots of activity. My friends stayed in the Queen Elizabeth suite. Elizabeth was staying there when her father, George the VI died, in 1952.