Saturday, November 28, 2015

Whitefish Run

Whitefish Run

They speed upstream to spawn after dark
slick as ice and pearly white:
whitefish from Lake Michigan’s depths
torpedo home.
With sure instincts
with DNA of generations
with chartreuse eggs; with white milt
their sleek white shapes streak
through dark river waters
now starting to freeze.
It’s been this way in the Great Lakes
since Edenic times
when Ice Age glaciers melted away.
And now in this coldest December
anyone alive can remember
fishermen risk a walk the piers
wear cleats on their boots
tie themselves to something solid.
They jig rigged lines on the river bottom
and sometimes land a sleek, slick, delicious fish
while west winds howl.
                               --Barbara Spring
From my book Sophia's Lost and Found: Poems of Above and Below
Available at, etc.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Titanium Moon

Titanium Moon

Titanium moon blinds my eyes
blue goose flesh
on the blue lake’s face.
Winter is a coming in.

And morning brings a bright full moon
soon occluded by gray vagrants
who move across the sky.
The blue faced lake

now erased
and turned to leaden hue.
All titanium glitter gone from the sea
All glitter gone--we’ll have to buy
a Christmas tree.

--Barbara Spring

excerpted from Sophia's Lost and Found

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Philosophy 2015

Philosophy 2015


Each trembling leaf

Each bruised knee

All blue skies

And knarled trees


Take your chances

Don’t fall down

Go for a walk

All over town.


And if you fall

And nothing is broken

You know you’re strong

In spite of books etc.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Whale Watching

A Sea Full of Surprises

 Baja California, the long finger of land dangling into Mexico with the Sea of Cortez on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, is full of surprise encounters: it is  a playground for whales and other marine mammals.
In La Paz, Mexico, we embarked on the Sea Bird, a small cruise ship fitted out with all sorts of equipment designed to investigate this surprising environment. The trip opened worlds of wonder to us.
  The Sea Bird is operated by Lindblad Cruises, a line that specializes in ecotourism.  Our guides were specialists in the flora and fauna of Baja and though they had studied their specialties for many years, they as well as we were constantly surprised by what we encountered.
    "Look, a Blue Whale," Steve our expert in marine mammals shouted.  "It's the largest animal that has ever lived on earth!"
         We saw the dark, majestic body of the whale surface and then slowly sound,   several times.  We watched its dorsal fin and its graceful tail disappear quite close to us.  We peered through binoculars while we waited breathlessly for it to emerge again from the mysterious waters that some call the Sea of California.
         Steve was full of information: "These waters are ll,000 feet deep at their deepest...the whales have a different song in each ocean basin... their low pitched voices can travel l500 one knows how long they live...ivory harpoons have been found in estimate..135-200 years."
  He told us the area is young in geological time.  Millennia ago,  tectonic plates shifted separating the Baja from the mainland causing the depths of the Sea of Cortez and thrusting up the Sierra Madre Mountains on the mainland of Mexico.

    "The rocky islands you see are of volcanic origin," he explained.
    Just then another whale surfaced quite close to the ship.

    "A Brydes Whale," Steve shouted.  "I've never seen one before."

         We had not either.  The Sea of Cortez is full of whales as well as twenty other species of marine mammals.  There is plenty of room for them to cruise its deep canyons and     plenty of food brought up by upwelling currents. Our scientist/guides on board seined the waters with a net to see what sort of plankton they could find. They put a drop of water under a microscope and hooked this to the t.v. in the lounge so we could see the fascinating array of life on the t.v. screen--life forms only visible when magnified. We saw the larvae of star fish and many beautiful shapes of diatoms.  I thought we might see krill, the preferred food of baleen whales, but such was not the case.  The seine net could not go deep enough to strain out krill.

         Our day of whale watching changed to evening as we watched the vivid colors change on the rugged Baja landscape we passed.
         The next day we saw two humpback whales spouting and sounding in unison, perhaps a mother and her calf.  We got quite close and Andrew, the ship's underwater camera man went out in the zodiac to film them.  I gasped when I saw how close he was to the whales flukes when he plunged into the water.     I asked him if he got any pictures when he was back on the Sea Bird. 

    "My heart was just pounding," he said, "but I couldn't  get close enough for filming...we had equipment to record their voices, but they were not vocalizing ."

         We learned to identify whales by their spouts...Humpback whales had V shaped spouts while the Blue Whale spouted straight up.  Gray whales have a heart shaped spout.
Two Common Dolphins rode the bow wake as we cruised along. I leaned over the rail to snap photos. Toward evening the sunlight on the islands we passed turned their rose madder colors to deep royal blues as a full moon rose over them. a perfect photo opportunity.
We also had an underwater camera and we used it the next day to photograph California Sea Lions.
    We were up early and the sunrise shining on the islands turned them to gold. After breakfast we donned wetsuits provided by the cruise line along with fins and snorkels.
    We could hear the barking of the sea lions as they cavorted on a picturesque rocky island.  These were young males, pups, and their mothers.  We slipped into the sea and were greeted by playful sea lions under water.  They zoomed  by us and peered into our masks with their large eyes.  They played. I imagined that one was dancing with me...twisting,   looping, and sleek. I wished I had just some of its under water grace. All around us were vivid flashes of bright colors and the fanciful patterns and shapes of tropical fish going about their lives around the rocky island, hiding in crevices, feeding, peering back at us.
    We stopped at Arroyo Blanco to kayak around the sea caves. We heard the water boom, surge and recede, sonorous and low, in the caves where we paddled. Paddling close to rhe rocks we saw Sally Lightfoot Crabs and lizards and many types of sea birds: pelicans, blue footed boobies, osprey.
 On the sandy beach, well worn small stones and shells washed in and out with the waves.
    We found paddling around the islands easier than walking.
    Many varieties of cactus march up the stony hillsides of the islands we visited.  We took hikes, mindful of the thorns. These rugged islands are not an easy place to live, yet many species of plants have found a way to cling to the rocks in drought and to store water in the rainy season.
We were told that 99% of the living space on planet Earth is in the oceans. I felt we had only scratched the surface on this cruise yet there were mysteries and surprises abounding.  We were fortunate to see a Blue Whale, a Brutus Whale, Humpback Whales sounding and spouting in unison.  We followed a Sperm Whale, but it was elusive. We examined minute plankton through a microsope.  We saw many dolphins and swam with California Sea Lions.  We saw tropical fish and kayaked in sea caves.
    We came home with a deep respect for the surprising life found in and around the Sea of Cortez.

By Barbara Spring

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Trip to Russia

Trip to Russia Oct 4-19. 2007

Church of the Spilt Blood St. Petersburg, Russia

Oct. 6, 2007

Before we left Grand Haven, Len, Wanda’s husband asked me to look out for Wanda, my room mate.  What a responsibility.  I had invited her and so I was always looking around for her.  In Russia, we were in a very different world than we were used to.  I tried to keep my eye on her, but she was always disappearing. Much later I realized that she was taking wonderful photos.  I was too, but somehow, hers turned out better.  After all, she is an artist.

 We arrived in St. Petersburg after 30 hours in airports and on planes with very little sleep.  Our plane went from Grand Rapids to Chicago to Frankfort to St. Petersburg.  We were given a walking tour around the Ambassador Hotel and we purchased bottled water, chocolate and crackers. I was very thirsty, but too tired to go to dinner.

Our hotel was new and very beautiful. From our window we can see the golden dome of St. Isaacs Cathedral, an apartment building and a playground in the foreground. We slept well in the very comfortable room. 

 After a great breakfast, we visited the Church of the Spilt Blood, but we did not go in.  Then we visited St. Isaac’s Cathedral, a marvelous space built on a swamp.  Amazing. The heavy bronze doors and the soaring interior columns of lapis lazuli and malachite caused us to look up at a golden dome with a dove.  The place is a museum, but a small side room is used for worship since 1998. There were many beautiful mosaics.  Under Communism, many churches were torn down until someone got smart and said, “Let’s keep these as museums of atheism.”  That saved many of them.

Then lunch in a restaurant: chicken salad, a lovely soup and ice cream.  The place was rather dark and Wanda tripped over someone’s coat that was on the floor.  She fell on the stairs this a.m. in her haste. Now her back and knees are sore, but this has not slowed her down.  She is eager to see everything.

After lunch, the Hermitage.  We were dismayed to see women wearing stiletto heels on the exquisite parquet floors that were the same design as the gilded ceiling. This was the throne room with two headed eagles.  I loved looking at the famous art collections, but the walls were also painted with traditional Russian scenes. I even got our guide to quote poetry.  Russians love music, dance and poetry.

Wanda, Mary Dow and I stayed longer than the rest.  There is simply far too much to see.  We needed a month.  This was the winter palace and behind it is the Palace Square with a tall Alexander Column in the center.  A beautiful carriage pulled by two young Arabian horses circled it and two teenagers hitched a ride behind on their skateboards.  A group of kids ran by following one with a sign saying “Free Hugs.”

Finally we got on our late bus and returned to the hotel.  Dinner at 7.  We sat at a table with two couples, one from Manistee and the other from New York.  From our table we could see the illuminated city—St. Isaacs and then fireworks.  We had salmon with a lovely sauce, then sat in the lounge downstairs with some of our group.  A trio, piano, guitar and vocalist played jazzy renditions looking thin and tortured.

Oct. 7

Wanda visited Peterhof.  I was too tired and rested.  Then the group went with Guzel, our guide, to a synagogue, fortunately untouched by th war. We also visited a Russian Orthodox Church where I bought an icon of Mary—looking like a black madonna.  In the evening we went to the 19th Century Conservatory Theater and saw a performance of Swan Lake.  What a treat to see a Russian ballet in an elegant white marble building.  On the way, we passed Red Square illuminated at night.

Oct. 8

We visited the Catherine Palace in Pushkin, an hour out of town passing the monuments of war heroes and Lenin.  We’re told that some places toppled statues of Lenin, but not St. Peterburg.  Our guide Ivan says Lenin looks like he is hailing a cab.  He does.  Catherine’s Palace is crowded even at this time of year.  It was put back together like a broken eggshell after being bombed in WW II.

Our dinner is not included and so we eat next door at an Ajerbajen owned restaurant.  The owner is Moslem, and our waitress who looked like a China doll is from South Russia.  Russians are all sorts—like Americans.



Friday, October 30, 2015

Mexico's History

History of Mexico

Los Valadores by Barbara Spring

We visited Quintana Roo, Mexico to escape the blustery winter in Michigan. Our Apple Vacation provided us with a fine all inclusive hotel on the Riviera Maya where an international group of tourists from Canada, Germany, and other cold parts of the world gathered to enjoy the sunshine, fine food, beach and pools. Our hotel was appropriately named Sunscape Puerto Aventura.
All of this was delightful, but the highlight of our trip was a day trip to Xcaret. We arranged for the trip at the hotel desk through Apple Vacations and a minibus picked my husband and I up and whisked us away to Xcaret, nature’s sacred paradise. There we saw ruins of a Mayan city where the ancient Mayans traded goods up and down the coast and became prosperous. We understood how and why Xcaret had once been an important Mayan center for trade. The fresh waters that flowed through it and still do are the key. The cenotes, freshwater limestone pools, in Quintana Roo were sacred to the Mayan people as the source of life.
Xcaret is located 35 miles south of the International Cancun Airport. We paid $79.00 per person through Apple vacations and this included the famous evening show and transportation to and from the park. Those who would like to swim and snorkel in the fresh water stream that runs through it or to swim with dolphins will pay extra. We like to do this, but there were so many other possibilities that we opted to explore the park for the day. At the entry to the park we paused near a pool of pink flamingoes and scarlet macaws.
We joined an ecological tour and our guide showed us many indigenous animals including two magnificent jaguars, one spotted and one black. The cats looked contented lounging in the morning sunlight. There were endangered species: spider monkeys, curious looking manatees, and many varieties of sea turtles. We followed our guide to a small tortilla factory on the grounds with antique photos of how it used to be. We sampled the staple food and then continued on our trek through the jungle and came to dolphins playing about in the pools.
The butterfly house with many colorful tropical butterflies is housed in a stained glass dome.We admired the round stained glass ceiling.
We went into a cave where bats hung on the ceiling and when our eyes adjusted to the dim light we saw mushrooms growing there just as they had been cultivated by the ancient Mayans. Since people are a natural part of the ecosystems, we were pleased to see temple ruins and a replica of an ancient Mayan village. These people knew how to live well in this place and created a sophisticated calendar 3,000 years ago.
There are eight restaurants on the grounds and we stopped at one where we saw a band carrying a guitar, harp and drum. Intrigued by the music, we stayed to enjoy a brew or two and the exotic food: marinated octopus and crab, specialties of the house. Our waiter brought us green tomato salsa with tortilla chips to begin with. We enjoyed the scarlet macaws that seemed to live there and thrive on attention from people.
The best part of our Xcaret adventure was a thrilling evening show. We walked into a huge pavilion through ranks of fierce, colorfully dressed Mayan warriors. Their faces were painted and they wore skins, feathers and held weapons. Four beautiful young Mayan women stood on the lintel where we entered in clouds of copal.
We were all given candles and holders to hold and light during the show. The first part of the show reminded me of an opening ceremony for the Olympics. A little girl, representing a pure soul and wearing a white dress was to be our guide to the Mayan spirits and ancestors. A conch shell trumpet sounded and the stage exploded into Mayan dances to the beat of drums and flutes. We loved seeing how athletes played a sacred Mayan ball game with a rubber ball, a gift from the gods. One team represented the Sun, the other Venus. It looked like a combination of soccer and basketball. The object was to get the ball through a stone hoop.
Another game was played barefooted with a flaming ball that represented a meteor. I wondered if the players had aluminum feet.
Enter Spanish Conquistadors on horseback who fought the Mayans. A chill ran through the crowd as the Mayan spirit wearing a jaguar mask and a resplendent headdress of quetzal feathers screamed. Then the Catholic monks arrived. All of this was done to music and the dancers were perfectly choreographed.
The second part of the show demonstrated the different costumes, songs and dances of Mexico with the blending of indigenous with European peoples. In short, it told the story of Mexico’s peoples in a dramatic and very entertaining stage show. To that we say, Bravo!