Three Walks in Nepal

SujanPic
Photo by: Sujan Ranjit

In March 2018, I spent 12 days in Nepal at the invitation of Risk Management Solutions to volunteer with Build Change, an NGO that is helping with the re-building efforts following the 2015 Earthquake. Approximately 1 million homes were damaged during this event and organizations like Build Change are playing a vital role in the reconstruction by designing earthquake resistant construction techniques and training local builders.  There are three walks that took place during my visit that I would like to share with you.

The first walk was unplanned and came about during a visit to the remote village of Dhunkarka, which sits on a steep hillside at 2,050 meters. The purpose of our visit was to inspect a home that had been retrofitted by Build Change.  Due to poor road conditions our 4 wheel drive vehicle could only make it halfway to the village so we got out and walked the rest of the way. This walk was both grueling and informative.  Grueling because of the steepness of the climb, which caused my leg muscles to burn and my lungs to gasp for much of the way.  Informative because I learned about the daunting logistical challenges facing homeowners, builders and organizations like Build Change because many of the damaged homes are in remote areas on steep slopes.  I learned that the 6-person crew who worked on the reconstruction of one home walked 1 ½ hours to the village each morning on this steep road and returned to the main village far below each evening for the duration of the construction.

 

Once there, the gracious Nepalese couple in the photo above invited us to inspect their home, which had been retrofitted by build change and is now safe for habitation.  You can see the new support beams connected to the original frame in the other photo below.

The second walk was a trek, which I undertook after my volunteer work with Build Change concluded. I hired a guide and a porter for a 3-day trek around the Kathmandu valley rim.  My guide was Sujan, an articulate and thoughtful 23-year old Nepalese man pictured with me below.

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While we walked, we talked, and I learned that Nepalese often live with their parents for much of their lives because of their desire to provide help and support to their parents as they grow old.  I learned how multiple religions co-exist in Nepal.  According to Sujan, “there is a great harmony among religions in Nepal.  Most Nepalese are Hindu, and they often visit Buddhist Stupas while Buddhists in Nepal frequently visit Hindu temples. All religions are respected.”

Most importantly, I witnessed Sujan’s kindness and respectful attitude toward me, other travelers, shop keepers, villagers and basically everyone we met during our trek.  Thanks to Sujan, I came away from this trek better informed on several levels, than when I began.  When he is not guiding clients, Sujan is an amateur photographer and student.  The photo at the top of the blog was taken by him.  If you wish to see Sujan’s photography, check out his Instagram site here.

The third walk I want to share is a poem I discovered in The Kathmandu Post, a local newspaper, on my last day in Nepal. The poem is entitled, I Walk and was written by Supriya Khadka, a +2 college student and president of St. Xavier’s literary club.  I present it here, having been fortunate to obtain her permission to do so, because it evokes the determination, resiliency and strength of spirit of the Nepalese people.

The poem is also a powerful and timely message during these troubling times, because it is the voice of our youth; our thoughtful, articulate, powerful youth, who are seizing the day.

I Walk Photo

I Walk
by Supriya Khadka

My naïve steps—slow and steady,
Help me move forward
I can feel a pull from behind,
But, I do not stop
Pushing everything aside, I walk
My goal is so far ahead,
It all seems so muzzy,
It’s very blur, blur enough
For people to think there is nothing,
But I know,
it only gets clearer as I march ahead;
So I ignore what they say,
And pushing everything aside, I walk
People sneer, they discourage
When I trip, they don’t help
But I climb,
Climb the steep, tall hills
Every woman for herself
I am enough, I am strong
Pushing everything aside, I walk
My legs wish to halt, they wish to cease
My eyes want a glance, of what’s behind
But, my heart is stubborn and brain is stern,
Checking all the desires,
Pushing everything aside, I walk.

View the original version of this poem, published in the online Kathmandu Post here.

View Pete’s Instagram site with other photos from the Nepal Impact Trek here.

 

Posting While Powerless

The wind is howling, and the snow is gusting here in Sandwich, Massachusetts during the third Nor’easter in 2 weeks, which has threatened to dump 12-18 inches on Cape Cod.  But I am warm and comfy as I sit in my fleece pullover next to a roaring fire several hours after losing power.

When you lose power, you can’t work.  The rules are suspended.  You simply have to hang out with yourself.   You walk around the house, peer out the windows, watch the trees swaying and the snow flying.  You open the kitchen cabinets and plan some of the meals you will be eating without the stove or toaster oven in support.  But if you happen to have a fireplace or wood stove, the experience becomes quite enjoyable.

Fireplace

Watching and being warmed by a wood fire while snow is blowing outside is one of the life’s simple pleasures.  It is not all sitting around either, it is quite active work.  You have to tend the fire to make sure it has enough fuel to generate heat.  You need to poke it with a poker now and again to move the burning pieces around.  Then you need to replenish the wood, which in my case means going outside every few hours to bring a few loads in from the garage.  Just what I like, good physical work.

I am fortunate to have about one third of a cord of dry wood in my garage.  I came upon this wood at an estate sale in Kingston about 2 months ago.  Estate sales are great fun.  You can get good stuff cheap.  Unlike a retail store, you can haggle a bit and can often get the price reduced.  Unlike a yard sale, you can find some amazing items of excellent quality.  Like the solid pine farmers table that I am resting my elbows on as I write this post.  Found it in January at an estate sale in Sandwich.  Waited till noon and scooped it up for 30% of the price they were asking at 8AM, which was also a deal at that early hour, at least to me.  My daughter claims I knocked down a woman in my haste to get to the table when we returned for the discount at noon, but I know I only bumped her gently.  She didn’t appear to mind at all.   I smile every time I sit down at it now.  Not because of how little I paid, nor because I can still hear the guffaws of my daughter as we drove away accusing me of knocking down that woman.  I smile because of how perfectly it fits in my kitchen, and for how functional it is.  And because of all the family stories that were told around that gently scarred, heavily used kitchen table during its lifetime in someone else’s kitchen.

Back to Kingston.  So, at this estate sale in a main street home built in the early 1800’s, my daughter was trying to get me to buy a pair of lamps.  However, I was not feeling a connection and that is a new rule I have for outfitting my new digs.  I must feel a connection to anything that I bring into my new home.  My home is not new, but it is new to me and it is perfect.  It is small, bright and uncluttered.  All the walls are white and I am having a grand time purging the remnants of my former life as I settle into my new permanent space.  Back in Kingston, the friendly attendant even cut the price on the lamps without me asking, but I was not feeling it.

However, on the way out the door, I noticed a neat row of firewood; cut and split.  It was about 4 feet high and over 6 feet long.  A sign on it said $75.  I went inside to find the kind-hearted, deal-making attendant.  We haggled.  I got it for $60 (a steal considering the price of firewood in the northeast).  My daughter was incredulous, “You passed up those cute lamps to buy a bunch of wood?”  Ah, but it wasn’t just any wood.  It was dry, seasoned hardwood and I since I now have a fireplace, it was a perfect find.  We tossed it in my pickup truck, an activity itself that was a lot of fun.  Then we drove it home and stacked it in my garage where it would stay nice and dry and perfect for a powerless situation.  That is how I come to have a blazing fire several feet away from these perfectly warm fingers in an otherwise chilly house during a March blizzard on Cape Cod.

In addition to its primary function as a source of warmth and ambiance, my new fireplace has been a source of mystery and amusement.  You see, there is a male woodpecker who like to perch on the top of my chimney several times a day and smash his hard little beak many times per minute on the metal chimney cap covering the flue.   A second woodpecker, a female he is no doubt trying to impress, is never far away.  I know this because I have seen them both fly off in a great hurry each time I open the kitchen door to peer up at him as he is happily knocking himself senseless.  I am not pleased to admit that it took me several days to figure out the source of the staccato noise coming from my fireplace.  I won’t tell you what I thought it was.  But now as I sit here, stretching my limbs in front of this glorious fire, I am wondering where a pair of love sick woodpeckers go during a blizzard on Cape Cod.  Are they huddled together under a snowy pine bough in the woods behind my house or are they perhaps in separate nests in trees within sight of each other, keeping an eye out for each other, until the storm passes.

DowneyWoodpecker

I never thought I would say this, but it will be nice to hear that staccato sound again a couple of days from now, when the sun is out and the snow has mostly melted, and I will smile to know that they survived the wild blizzard of March, 2018 on Cape Cod.

The Wall – Part 2

There’s been a lot of activity in the new homestead during the past week with the wall removal project.  I took delivery of about 300 lbs of milled southern yellow ‘heart’ pine  on Monday, February 12.  The biggest piece pictured below is the beam, which measures 6″ X 10″ by 11 feet long and weighed about 200 lbs.  It took 3 of us to carry it in.  The black plastic piece at the end is a handle that was attached with several long screws to help with lifting.

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Southern yellow pine is also referred to as longleaf pine.  On wikipedia I learned this pine is native to the Southeastern US, and found from Texas to Virginia, extending into Florida.  It reaches a height of more than 100 ft. with a diameter of 28 in. In the past, before extensive logging, they reportedly grew to more than 150 ft with a diameter of about 4 ft!  In the late 1800’s, these virgin timber stands were prized for their strength and sadly as a result of clear cutting, they have been reduced to less than 5% of their presettlement range.  Below is a photo of one of the few longleaf pine forests in existence.

 

Above is a photo of the piece cut from the end of the beam.  It is hard to say how old this tree was.  The rings of this partial cross-section shows about 75 years of growth, but it seems clear that the tree’s diameter exceeded the visible rings.

I learned from Nate at the sawmill that this wood was recently reclaimed from the McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, which was built in 1892.  McLean was the first psychiatric hospital to establish basic and clinical laboratories to study biological factors in mental illness.   It is gratifying to know that this wood has been reclaimed to be reused in a meaningful way.

 

 

Jim spent the first 2 days of the week constructing staging on either side of the existing wall.  The purpose of this is twofold: to hold up the second floor while the existing wall is removed and to support the beam that will be hoisted up in place of the wall.  In the pic below, note the darker wood is the original wall and the lighter wood is the staging.  Jim used a hydraulic jack to make sure each vertical post of the staging was completely engaged in supporting the second floor.

Structure1

On Wednesday after the original wall was removed and after an electrician moved all the wires, the beam was slowly raised into position. Jim and Doug used the staging to support the beam as it was raised about 18 inches at a time.  In the pic below, the beam is about 3 feet high.

BeamSuspended

In the photo below the beam is now head high, about 4 inches below the ceiling joists.  The hydraulic jack was then put to use to jack the beam up the rest of the way.

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In this view, the beam has been fully raised and is flush against the second floor joists.  It is supported by two vertical 2 X 4’s and 2 horizontal 2 X 4’s held up by the staging.

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The raising of the posts came next, which was the most fascinating part of the project for me.  The posts were milled to be 5 1/2 inches X 5 1/2 inches by 8 ft long.  The posts were cut to the exact length they needed to be and then inserted partially into holes cut into the floor.  I say partially, because they could not be inserted completely into position due to angle of the posts and the presence of the beam.

The hydraulic jack was then used to jack the second floor of the house up between 1/2″ and 3/4″ of an inch, to allow the post to slip into place under the beam.  The jack was then used to gently lower the beam on to the post.  This process was done for each post.  Here is a photo of the right post after it slipped into position.

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And here are a few shots of the newly raised posts and beam.

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BeamandPosts

Next part: installing the threshold and the fireplace mantel, both made out of the same southern yellow pine.

 

 

 

 

A Renovation

THE WALL

I just moved into a new home, which is 100 miles from my previous home, so I know I will want to reflect about this experience from time to time.  The biggest thing happening at the moment is a renovation.  This renovation involves removing a wall between the kitchen and living area to create a more open floor plan.  Although I expect to do future renovations myself, this one is way beyond my skill level because it involves removing a support wall, so I have hired several excellent craftsmen to make this happen. However, I will be paying attention to every detail and helping out whenever possible to learn as much as I can from the process.

Below left is a photo of the wall that will be removed as seen from the kitchen.  On the right is the view from the living room.  The wall on the kitchen side looks unfinished because I already removed 2 floor-to-ceiling maple cabinets.

Last week, the drywall was removed by Jim and Doug in very short order, which exposed the lumber supporting the second floor.  The short ‘stub’ wall on the right side of the left photo was also removed.

THE LUMBER

Early on someone suggested I visit the Cataumet Sawmill in Falmouth to see what they do with antique southern yellow pine, also referred to as heart pine.  I visited their website and lumber yard and became enamored with the beauty of this very special wood.  They reclaim this wood from very old structures, such as mills and factories where the lumber was used to hold up huge floors of heavy machinery.  Their wood is often hundreds of years old because it was generally harvested from large old growth trees that were already hundreds of years old at the time.  Check them out at www.cataumetsawmill.com .

The process of selecting the heart pine and determining the dimensions required to support a 10 foot space involving getting input from 4 people: Jim, my contractor, Nate at the sawmill, Lars, my structural engineer and of course, the Sandwich building inspector.  After a consensus was reached, the order was put in and the lumber was cut and milled by the team at the sawmill.  The finished product is shown below, where it sits in a heated warehouse at the sawmill, until it’s ready for delivery.  In the photo below you can see the finished lumber in the foreground.  In the background is a stack of lumber in it’s unfinished state.

Sawmill4

To be continued…

The last day of the year…

…is a good day to reflect.  2017, like all years before, came with changes: big ones as well as small ones.

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Old Silver Beach, Falmouth, MA – July, 2017

Family: my mom. The death of my mom on August 14, at 90 years old was a big change.  She was a lovely woman and a staunch, strong-willed supporter of my dad, my sisters and me.  From her I learned many things, not the least are the value of planning and saving money, the pleasure from working hard and most important, always aim high.  She opened my eyes to the endless possibilities each of us has in front of us.  Other family changes: a new job for the youngest, a new home for the middle child, a baby on the way for the oldest, and a new home for me in Sandwich, on Cape Cod.

Other changes: this fall I taught 2 online courses at Lesley University, which was a fun change for me – Fundraising and Philanthropy.  In late December, I learned that I was selected to join a team that will travel to Nepal in March, 2018 to learn about earthquake-resistant construction designs at the site of a disastrous earthquake two years ago.  The team will be made up of clients and staff of Risk Management Solutions and the nonprofit, Build Change.  Check them out at www.buildchange.org

The Untethered Soul.  TheUntetheredSoulThis book introduced me to the practice of awareness, which allows one to gracefully handle internal noise and external stimuli.

It has made a profound impact on me, which has enabled me to be present more during the second half of 2017.  I purchased additional copies of this book and gifted it to 10 people in 2017

 

 

Lastly, the new year is now here and what better way to welcome 2018 than a poem.  This one is by Wendall Berry, The Peace of Wild Things, I discovered it several years ago and just spotted it on social media today, the first day of 2018.

ThePeaceOfWildThings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Ask You

3 Candles2

I came across this poem the other day on my company’s Mindfulness community intranet.  This is a great service where employees can create community sites based on their mutual interests on unlimited topics.  The only community I belong to is the Mindfulness community.  I want to share it with you.

I Ask You by Billy Collins

What scene would I want to be enveloped in
more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand?

It gives me time to think
about all that is going on outside–
leaves gathering in corners,
lichen greening the high grey rocks,
while over the dunes the world sails on,
huge, ocean-going, history bubbling in its wake.

But beyond this table
there is nothing that I need,
not even a job that would allow me to row to work,
or a coffee-colored Aston Martin DB4
with cracked green leather seats.

No, it’s all here,
the clear ovals of a glass of water,
a small crate of oranges, a book on Stalin,
not to mention the odd snarling fish
in a frame on the wall,
and the way these three candles–
each a different height–
are singing in perfect harmony.

So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt–
frog at the edge of a pond–
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches.

William James, known as Billy Collins, is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. Source:  Wikipedia

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A day at Walden Pond

Walden 1

I spent Friday, October 13 at Walden Pond, Concord Massachusetts enjoying the natural beauty of the place and reflecting upon the writings of Henry David Thoreau, a naturalist and philosopher who espoused the virtues of mindfulness in his book of essays, Walden.

The website of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation had this to say about Thoreau’s experiment in simplicity.

Henry David Thoreau was a 27-year-old former schoolteacher when he went to live at Walden Pond in the summer of 1845. His friend and fellow Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had recently purchased 14 acres of woodlot on the northwestern shore of Walden Pond, agreed to let the young writer conduct his “experiment in simplicity” there. Near the end of March 1845, Thoreau borrowed an ax and began cutting and hewing the timber for a small, one-room house. With help from friends, he raised and roofed the simple building and, on July 4, 1845, he moved in.

Thoreau remained at the cabin for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days.  During that period, he fished, wrote, walked, entertained visitors and took the first recorded depth measurements of Walden Pond, which is believed to be the deepest fresh water kettle pond in Massachusetts.  The Walden Pond State Reservation comprises 300 acres of land for hiking, swimming and boating.

 

HDT-Signage
Sign near the site of Thoreau’s cabin.

Thoreau’s Walden provides an engaging description of life in the woods by the pond.  He described the building of his cabin in great detail including an itemization of all  materials, which cost in total, $28.12.

I dug my cellar in the side of a hill sloping to the south, where a woodchuck had formerly dug his burrow, down through sumach (sp) and blackberry roots, and the lowest stain of vegetation, six feet square by seven deep, to a fine sand where potatoes would not freeze in any winter. (p 21)

Thoreau also captured many fascinating moments, like the battle between two distinctly different colonies of ants, his rambling walks in the woods or his views on nature.

This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight though every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. (p. 63)

The indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature – of sun and wind and rain, of summer and winter – such health, such cheer, they afford forever! … Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould (sp) myself? (p. 67)

An image of the first edition of the book is provided here featuring an illustration of his cabin by his sister, Sophia.  The original book was titled, Walden; or, Life in the Woods.

WaldenBookCover

As I strolled along the Pond Path in the full sun of a cool fall day, I was initially envious of the opportunity that Thoreau took advantage of.  The idea of embracing a lifestyle of solitude in the woods of central Massachusetts holds a certain appeal to me.  Yet, as I reflected upon my own situation, my independent lifestyle, my financial security, it occurred to me that the only thing holding me back from conjuring an equally tempting adventure was my own limitations.  We all make decisions that shape our lives, sometimes multiple times in the same day like: should we change jobs, should we date that person, should we help that stranger, should we speak up, should we stand up for our principles?

And it dawned on me … that each one of us is capable of making the decision that will change the trajectory of our life, and perhaps the lives of many others.  And so I will think a bit more before I jump into that next big decision that appears to be off in the distance, but that I suspect, is literally upon my doorstep, just waiting for me to make before I die.

References:

http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/region-north/thoreau-at-walden-pond-reservation.html

Thoreau, H.D. (1854). Walden. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.