I never knew I had a bucket list until I saw the movie. Not that I'm terminally ill. I'm not. And, not that I have a list of places I must go before I do kick the bucket forsaking everything else. Well, I do have a list of sorts. But, in the days after watching the movie, I slowly realized that my life has been my bucket list. I don't expect the reaper to be knocking at my door soon, but, if he dropped by a few days before the day for a chat about my life, I think I'd tell him that I've done most of the things I wanted to do. Not that I popped out of my mom's womb trailing this long list of things to do and places to go. It took me at least eight or ten years to begin the list. And, most importantly, not that I'm done with the list. I hope I'll keep crossing things off of it until the day the reaper finally says, "OK, that's it. Put down your list." But, until that day, here are some of the things off my bucket list ....... in no particular order .......

The Cradle of Humankind

Following my military service, I attended college at the University of Connecticut. My degree program would yield a BS degree, and even though I was a business major, I was required to take at least a few science courses. Today I laughingly admit to my friends that even though I have a daughter with a PhD in Microbiology and a son who is a nurse, I never could pass a course that ended in "-ology". And so it was that I found myself sitting across the desk from my anthropology professor during her office hours confessing that I could not figure out how knowing the cranial capacity of Australopithecus could possibly help me in my future career in business. She either was unusually sympathetic or just couldn't bear to see me in her class another day struggling to appear interested in a topic that obviously meant a lot to her. So, she worked out a program of independent study for me focusing on a project that I agreed I could muster enthusiasm for.

Little did I know at that time that the few weeks I did spend in her classroom contributed an inner hunger that ultimately led me to add another item to my bucket list ..... visiting the Cradle of Humankind at Sterkfontein Caves just northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. I actually traveled half way around the world to the place where the skull of Mrs. Plez, Australopithecus Africanus, had been found. Mrs. Plez was one of the early hominids (estimated age is 2.6 million years), whos cranial capacity (485 cc) had driven me to distraction in my anthropology class.

And so it was, many years later, that we found ourselves winging our way to Africa. We spent weeks travelling through six countries in southern Africa and had another one of those experiences that we will never forget. We began our African oddysey at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. We journeyed through Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozabmbique, Swaziland and ended up in South Africa. There we stayed for a few days in Johannesburg. Two of what will probably be some of the most memorable events in my life happened on successive days. On November 5, 2008, Barack Obama was elected President. The next day we visited Sterkfontein Caves.
Don't we all wonder where we came from? How did we get here? Who were our ancestors? What were their lives like?

I've spent many hours talking with friends about their ancestries. These conversations usually focus on their parents' lineage; when and from where did their ancestors migrate to the United States? True to the question I asked my anthropolgy professor, I have never had any of those conversations end up in a discussion about whether humankind descended from Mrs. Plez.

Still, it is something I have often found myself thinking about. I have always been a spiritual person. I don't want to confuse "spiritual" with "religious". Religion is an element of spirituality, and I have read most of the texts - the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the Tipitaka. All have perspectives on the origins of the human race. My ongoing curiosity and desire to learn drove me to Sterkfontein. I am reasonably convinced that my ancestors wandered around that area at some point in time. I just can't find the book that they wrote to tell me that.

And so there I was staring at the achaelogical site that produced Mrs. Plez. It was a moving time for me - thinking about all that had transpired between the time Mrs. Plez and her family had wandered around the very spot where I now stood until today. It also made me wonder what others thousands or millions of years hence will think about us.

Thoughts about other places I had traveled played into the entire scenario (see my post, "Guns, Germs and Steel").

Although, as with most of the other places I have traveled, I would love to return to the area around Johannesburg, I think I can check the cradle of humankind off my list. There are so many places to go and so little time available to go there.

Paddling Amongst The Glaciers

When I hear the phrase "contemplating your navel", it always conjures up a mind picture of being somewhere remote, serene and majestic. I suppose I have spent more time looking for great places to do that than actually doing it. But, being one who believes that life is all about the journey, that makes sense. One of the most memorable items on my list certainly meets any criteria I can imagine for a great place to meditate and so much more .........

If there's any connection at all, most folks connect Alaska's Prince William Sound with the site of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. And there is a good reason a lot of folks got up in arms about the damage that event caused to a pristine wilderness environment. The damage was massive.

Prince William Sound is one of the most spectacular tidewater areas on the globe. Here the waters of the Gulf of Alaska meet the Chugach Mountains, home to of one of the largest ice fields anywhere on earth. The ice fields flow to the sea in the form of flowing rivers of ice, the glaciers. Whether advancing or retreating, these massive frozen rivers are always moving. At tidewater these incredible examples of nature and power tower hundreds of feet above the ocean's surface cracking and shifting and periodically sluffing off tons of ice. The ice, often in pieces the size of houses, crashes down the face of the glacier splashing into the ocean sending geysers of water into the air and producing waves that take miles to dissipate. In the fjords, bays and coves where these calving icy behemoths meet the sea is where kayakers often hang out. This is an experience that would do any bucket list proud.
I ticked this adventure off my list the first time we paddled in Blackstone Bay and bobbed on the surface a short distance off the face of Beloit amd Blackstone Glaciers, but we've returned again and again for the same experience.

Although we'd love to spend longer, our kayaking journeys to Prince William Sound usually extend over a long weekend. If we were to put in at Whittier, our jumping off point, it would take a day or more of paddling just to get near our destination. So, thanks to modern day conveniences, we are able to hop on a sea taxi that will take us into Blackstone bay and drop us and our gear off at our predetermined base camp site. From there, it's a quiet paddle to the glaciers. We will often drift quietly during our paddle to or between the glaciers and observe the abundant sea life. Orcas often ply the waters as do seals. Rafts of sea otters float quietly on the surface. Sea birds fly noisily overhead. And, often deep rumblings reverbrate across the waters indicating another portion of a glacier has calved into the sea.

The summetime weather in the sound can be anything from sunny warm days to cold drizzle or downright downpours. Regardless of the weather, the routine is fairly consistent. Days are spent out paddling around the bays and fjords enjoying the serenity, wildlife in and out of the water and the massive glaciers. Evenings are spent at camp enjoying the sounds, views, space, meals and often a crackling camp fire.
On the mainland, bears frequent many of the shorline areas. Rarely do they cause any problems, but it's always important to remember to make 3-point camps. That's also a reason many paddlers like to camp on islands.
We've camped and paddled in Prince William Sound in the sunshine and in the rain. Each creates its own special atmosphere. Regardless of the weather, the experience is always, peaceful yet exhilarating, serene yet often filled with natural noise, relaxing yet energizing. It's one of my favorite things to do and adventures to go on. The very fact that I can't be there as often or as long as I'd like to be makes each visit to Prince William Sound special, and I cling to every moment and experience, both while there and then in my memory in the days and years that follow.

Paris, the City of Love

It didn't take long for Paris to get on the list. From early childhood, I had heard people gush over the beauty and feel of Paris. There just never seemed to be enough superlatives when visitors tried to relate why their trip to Paris was something they would never forget. My fascination with history added to the mystique and aura of this great city. And so, Paris got on the list. I've visited twice; once in my teenage years and again later in life. The two visits were about as different as they could be, both memorable, but both from completely diferent times in my life.

Memories from my first visit left little doubt in my mind that I hoped to return again some day. It took years to make that happen, but the wait was truly worthwhile. And it did reafirm why Paris is often referred to as The City of Love.
Parisians are classy people. First of all, you never see anyone from Paris who doesn't look like they are from Paris. They have a an unmistakable style and flair about them. But, what I appreciate most about Parisians is how much they enjoy life. I realized that on my first visit, but didn't really experience it until my second visit. The fact that on my second visit I was accompanied by the love of my life probably has something to do with that.

Paris has it all. You can spend days, weeks, months or even years exploring the history, art and architecture of the city. And then you can spend a lifetime just learning how to enjoy life in that great city. Just the thought of hanging out in Paris gets me excited.
First, back to the history part. Charles Dickens opens his "Tale of Two Cities" with the line, "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." That was such a tumultuous time in France's history, particularly if you were one of the aristocrats who arrived at Place de la Concorde (then named Place de la Revolution) in one piece and left without your head thanks to your visit to Madame de la Guillotine. Everywhere you look in Paris you find history. The museums are spectacular and every item in every museum has a story to tell. Often the stories are linked to other things you can go see: the buildings, the palaces, the monuments, the tombs. It's almost dizzying to try to think about how Paris is linked in so many ways to over two thousand years of global history.
OK, so enough about history and edifices. How about life in Paris? Well, one thing Paris is known for is its sidewalk cafes. To be sure, Paris isn't the only city on earth that has sidewalk cafes. But, it's the Parisians who firmly established the sidewalk cafe culture that has spread around the globe. So many people visit the city and are in such a rush to see and do everything, they miss one of the the very things that makes the place so much fun. Well, I don't. We spent about and hour and a half having a leisurely lunch at this cafe (picture) while we waited for the Palais de Justice to open after lunch. We sat and talked and ate and watched people passing by. Everyone had a story.
There aren't enough cafes in Paris for everyone to be able to stake out their own table, so Parisians also hang out in their parks .... and there are a lot of them. The parks are full of benches, and it's no wonder why. People sit on them. Not for just a few minutes - for hours. They come to spoon, to read, to eat lunch, to talk with friends or just to sit back, watch and enjoy the people and scenery. Based on what I observed, what they don't go to cafes or parks to do is to text message all their buddies. I also didn't observe people having lengthy conversations on their cell phones while they ignored their tablemates. Parisians are way too classy for that. Americans, on the other hand .........

The most romantic, and, I think, the most Parisian habit we developed was to head for the quais along the Seine in the evenings. There are plenty of places where one can find steps leading from the street level along the river down to the broad quais just above the water's edge. Groups of friends congregate there, often spreading a blanket out to hold some wine, bread and cheese while they talk or strum guitars or other instruments and sing. As darkness falls, candles are lighted adding a warmer more romantic element to a scene so much that way already. Out in the river, barges and brightly lighted tour boats quietly glide through the water. Music drifts from the dinner cruise boats adding to the aura of music, fun, energy and romance.
Our favorite practice was to stop by the small shops on the Isle St. Louis where we stayed to pick up wine at the wine merchant's, fresh bread at the boulangerie, meat from the butcher shop, and some cheese and fruit from the grocery. We'd walk to the end of the island and descend down broad worn old stone steps to the quai, where we'd find a place to sit, spread out out our dinner, and enjoy the evening. Just the thought of that now brings on a sense of serenity and happiness.
Paris doesn't get off the list. It's one of the items that's going to stay on it reminding us to stop by as we pass through to other destinations or perhaps even to plan another vacation there.

Wranglers, Wagons and Wilderness

Few people get to live their dreams, but isn't that what Bucket Lists are all about? The call of the wild has always been strong in my life. Some folks may recall times when that probably was a bad thing. But that's what life is about; following your inner voice and trying to work that into some sort of lifestyle for yourself. I didn't always get it right the first time or even the second time, but practice makes perfect. And I let that call of the wild take me to many places.

I spent many happy years in and around the mountains of Wyoming. In that part of the country seasonal jobs are are a very common way to make a living. All through the Rockies and the West, as the winter snows melt, people push their way up into the high country and the mountain wilderness areas for the summertime and early fall only to be chased out again when the snow starts to fly in late fall. Well, not always.
I do recall waking up one Fourth of July morning and looking out from beneath the wagon that I was sleeping under to see a summertime snowstorm dusting the the high meadow around me. But that's part of summertime in the Rockies, and I need to get back to the subject at hand.
Lots of folks who live in other areas of the U.S. or the world want to experience the mountains and wilderness areas of the American West. Many do that by joining organized groups or trips that will take them into those areas. For many years I worked alongside other local folk who made those trips possible. I worked as a camp cook, packer, wrangler and guide in the mountains of northwestern Wyoming. Often my job changed seasonally depending upon what outfit I signed on with. For many years I was hired by an outfitter as a cook and camp jack on his wagon train that rumbled through the high country on bumpy old logging roads east of Jackson's Hole. Guests would join the wagon train for about a week during which time the outfit would move daily from one camp to the next.

For many, this trip was the epitome of roughing it. Meals were prepared over an open cooking fire in huge cast iron pots and pans. Cakes were baked in dutch ovens buried in hot coals. Bathroom facilities were minimal. Pit toilets with a seat fixed atop a wooden box housed in a small tent served everyone. Wash water was heated over a fire. Bathing consisted of a sponge bath or, for the completely hardy ones, a plunge in a frigid mountain stream. Everyone slept in sleeping bags rolled out inside small tents that were pitched and taken down daily as the outfit moved from camp to camp.

The guests could take off on horseback after breakfast with some of the guides for day-long riding adventures and rejoin the wagin train later in the day. Or they could ride in the wagons and just enjoy the scenery as the teams pulled the wagons slowly along the old mountain roads. It was a fun job.

The men I worked with were a great bunch. We all worked hard and long every day. Our days would start about 5:00 A.M. and end around 9:00 P.M., but we all enjoyed the work in the mountains and sharing our country with visitors from all across the globe.

Trips began Monday morning and ended Saturday morning. Most weeks, the rest of the crew would take off once the guests were gone leaving me to tend to the camp, wagons and horses for the weekend until the whole affair began again the next Monday morning. I thoroughly enjoyed my solitary weekends when I had the outfit to myself. I'd go for short hikes, read books, write letters, get a leg up on chores for the week ahead, and in general just enjoy being alone with Nature and my thoughts. Sometimes I'd drive down to the nearest campground and buy a shower. Othertimes, I'd just find a good hole in a nearby creek and bathe in it.
This is one of those examples where an item on my list was simple, enjoyable, lasting and created more of those great memories I'll carry with me for the rest of my life.

The Islands of Hawaii

As we prepare for yet another escape to America's 50th state, I have been reflecting on the reasons why it has become so much a part of our lives. Over the past 25 years, we have visited the former island nation more times than we can count. Hawaii represents so many things that put destinations on the bucket list. It's remote and exotic and has a rich history. Two of the most powerful natural forces in my life, the energy exuded by the sea and the mountains, are abundant there. The perpetually tropical weather, accompanied by beautiful beaches and endless diving opportunities from every island, also make Hawaii a natural for the list.

I am sure that I romanticized Hawaii as a youngster (as I also posted in the New Guinea section) as I read about sailing ships, explorers and buccaneers plying the waters of the Pacific seeking fortune, fame, adventure and uncharted lands. Closer to my life's experiences, the role that Hawaii played in World War II always captured my interest. And, I guess when it really comes right down to it, I could say that Hawaii is the first destination that reinforced my then awakening desire to travel the globe.

As it turns out, the first thing that captured my attention on my first visit to Hawaii was the culture and history of the islands. A visit to Oahu's Polynesian Cultural Center explained how the islands were discovered and then colonized by explorers from the Marquesas and then later from Tahiti, Raiatea and Bora Bora. The famed explorer Capt. James Cook was the first European to discover the islands. That began the exploitation of Hawaii by Europeans. Protestant missionaries worked hard to bring Christianity to the islands and, at the same time, worked equally hard to destroy the Hawaiian culture. King David Kalakaua (pictured) initiated the resurgence of Hawaiian traditions in the late 1800's. It's those traditions as well as the ever happy and welcoming Hawaiians that hooked me on the Lands of Aloha.
After several trips to the islands, we dedicated one vacation to becoming certified scuba divers. We then sharpened our skills and became advanced divers. And, as you have read in other sections, scuba diving then became one of the leading factors that contributed to our desires to visit other parts of the globe.
The undersea world, the single largest unexplored wilderness on the globe, has completely captured me. In my younger years, I learned that in any pristine wilderness area, you walk softly, take ony photographs and leave only footprints. That practice is even more important when diving. The damage that those who do not follow those principles have done is probably more evident in that environment.
I recall the words of one of America's memorable movie roles, "Stupid is as stupid does." (Forrest Gump). When I see divers kissing sharks, it reminds me of dumbass pedestrians here in Alaska that want to go up and touch the wild moose or commune too closely with half ton brown bears. Of course, the result is frequently the same, and the perpetrators then wonder why on earth whatever creature it was decided to attack them.
Hawaii's role in history is interesting from every aspect. Over the years we have visited all of the major islands, Oahu and Maui most frequently. More than once we have taken a day on Oahu to visit Pearl Harbor. Being able to climb aboard the U.S.S. Missouri and explore its seeming miles of passageways or scrunching ourselves into the Bowfin (pictured) wondering how so many sailors could endure so many days beneath the surface in such cramped quarters are very interesting experiences. Likewise, taking the trip to the U.S.S. Arizona memorial is a must-do, but that activity is quite sobering and thought provoking.
Of all the visits we have made to Hawaii, we have found ourselves on Maui more often than any other island. It just suits our style. Every island is unique and has its own charm.

Guns, Germs and Steel

I have always wondered why some societies around the globe thrived, prospered and evolved into our modern day civilizations while others seemed to sort of get stuck back in their own time. In his book, Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond proposed it was because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.

Primitive civilizations probably found their way onto my list as I dreamed of swashbuckling adventurers I met in books or movies finding themselves on the short end of the stick in the midst of head hunters or people making human sacrifices off at the far corners of the world. As I grew up and learned more about the world, the idea of visiting one of these places and meeting the people in an effort to understand these larger questions in life stuck vividly with me. And so it was one day that we found ourselves departing home for a 22-day 28,000 mile oddysey to the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

It took us three days of travel to reach Mount Hagen, a comparatively large town (17,000) in the New Guinea highlands. Our lodging,located in the hills above the town, was a small bungalow constructed in the native fashion. Everyone staying at the lodge socialized and took family style meals at the main building. I truly enjoyed our accomodation. By PNG standards, it was deluxe. We did share our room with all the local critters (but we were bigger than they were).

One family we visited was just finishing the cooking of several days worth of yams, the most common food. They asked us to join them in a meal, which consisted simply of taking a yam from the baking pit, peeling it and eating it. Yams are not only a staple for humans. They are also fed to dogs and pigs (I'm not sure where we fell in that heirarchy).


A note about clothing. We got the distinct impression that the missionaries didn't work too diligently to get rural folks to wear clothes when nobody else was around. But, we noted that almost everyone donned some sort of local or westernesque garb whenever we appeared. We'd see kids dressed only in an adult western style shirt, which worked well as it would hang to their knees or lower. In towns and larger population centers, locals were always dressed in western attire.

We learned that most tribal folks do not identify themselves as being New Guineans. They do not have much of a concept of nationalism as their worlds still revolve around their tribal lands and associated boundaries. Altercations between tribes usually involve members of one tribe doing something in another tribe's territory or doing something to a member of another tribe. Retribution is usally the result. Interestingly enough, tribes are seen as families, so it doesn't really make any difference who the offenders are. Retribution is simply taken against any member of the offending tribe.

After visiting some small villages, getting a thoroughly warm welcome from the locals, and learning a lot about subsistence and local traditions in PNG, we flew from Mount Hagen to Goroka for the annual tribal dance festival. The festival is THE annual event in PNG. We were told that it attracts the single largest group of visitors of any event in the country. Over the days we attended, I think we may have counted something between 100-200 foreginers. Tribes from all over the country came to the festival to out show and out dance their rivals. It wasn't that long ago that these same tribes were attacking and killing each other.

To say the least, the festival was spectacular and colorful. Every tribe is visibly different from each other as they turn out in their traditional tribal regalia. Dress is tribal, so all members of a tribe wear the same clothing and plumage and paint themselves similarly.
There was only one hotel in Garoka, and we were not able to secure a room there for the dance festival. So, we followed the suggestion of a local tour company and booked lodging in Kainantu, a provincial center about 90 km from Garoka. The tour company informed us that we would have to travel through an area that could be dangerous for visitors between the two towns. They notified the local constabulary, who was quite willing to escort us back and forth each day.


Locals had heard of our arrival and we spent a few hours each evening after dinner in the company of the local Commissioner, Police Chief and doctor quaffing local brews and discussing current events in PNG, America and the rest of the world. When we travel, we are always amazed at how similar our issues really are around the globe despite the different ways in which they are couched.


All of PNG is quite lawless. Interestingly enough, the capital, Port Moresby, can be one of the most dangerous places in the country. Hotels there are surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire and broken glass. Armed guards patrol their perimiters. Guests are not permitted to leave hotel compounds in the evenings without an escort. Similar situations are found in the larger towns across the country. It seems that as the population becomes less urban and more rural the safer one is there. Of course, there are tales of busses being stopped by bandits as they ply the lesser populated areas of the country. All of this is because there is extremely high unemployment in PNG. So, thievery has grown into a means of support. I don't want to unduly alarm readers. Visitors from across the word visit PNG annually and trek its rural areas without ever running afoul of ne'erdowells, as did we. But crime is a risk that needs to be heeded.


As we boarded our flight in Port Moresby for our return trip home, we felt as if we had grown some more. We had traveled to remote places and met people on their own terms. We had been rewarded with their smiles and friendship, and we had learned from them. Again, the globe shrunk a bit more for us.

Dive The Great Barrier Reef

Scuba diving is a passion of mine. I first learned how to dive when I was about eighteen. Then life took me in other directions and I didn't dive for many years. Back in the early 90's, I recertified and diving became a major part of our lives. One of the first places I wanted to go was The Great Barrier Reef. Every recreational diver dreams about dropping down onto the reef of reefs looking for undersea life of every form. Ands so it was that this item was ticked off my list.

Divers are a gregarious lot. During our diving travels, we made friends with many scuba enthusiasts. We bonded particularly well with one group on a liveaboard dive trip to the Netherlands Antilles. As that trip came to an end, we all found ourselves hoping we could meet again in another diving location in a year or so. The idea of diving The Great Barrier Reef was put forth, and all quickly agreed it was a splendid destination. We challenged Sasha, our trip organizer, to outdo himself by getting us all together again in that distant location. He did a yeoman's job and delivered us The Nimrod Explorer, a 72-foot steel and aluminum liveaboard diving boat.

So, on a sunny day in April we all found orselves gathered at the airport in Cairns, Australia loading our gear aboard two small planes bound for Lizzard Island, where we were to rendezvous with our floating home for the next ten days.

Scuba diving is a lot of fun no matter where you do it. But, if you're at one of the world's premier diving spots with a group of diving buddies that are all focused on having a great time both under and on the surface, you have a recipe for a lot of fun. And we all did have an incredible experience.
The warming of the oceans has a profound effect on corals. So, if one is diving on the largest assemblage of coral in the world, you are bound to see the effects of warming. That we did.

While every aspect of our diving experience could only be described using superlatives, there is one aspect of diving that many friends ask me about continually. That is about diving with sharks. We certainly dived with our share of sharks on this expedition. To be sure, they were not the great whites. But, many people wonder about diving with any sharks at all. Considering the the profligation of nature programs on TV that extoll the fearsomeness of sharks, it's not a wonder that people think we divers must be out of our skulls when we hang out with them.

First of all, sharks have an extraordinary sense of smell. But the bad news is they can't see nearly as well as they can smell. So, when we hear of a luckless surfer being munched on by a shark, it's usually because the surfer kind of looked like one of the shark's favorite snacks, a turtle, floating on the surface. When sharks do bite a surfer, that's what they do - they bite it. You rarely hear of a shark eating a surfer because once the shark tastes what he thought was going to be a yummy morsel of turtle (or something else equally tasty) and it turns out to be a bony human, the shark usually lets go. The problem is even a nip by a shark can be a really bad life threatening experience for a human.

These pictures taken during our GBR oddysey show some of the sharks we encountered. Although the picture below was a close enough encounter for me, the skipper of the Nimrod just had to demonstrate how snuggly a small shark could be (NOT!!).
Diving with sharks actually gives me a great deal more comfort than swimming on the surface wondering if one is lurking below me. And, when diving with them, they treat divers just like any other denizen of the depths. They exhibit curiosity and do come in close for a look sometimes, but not normally. And, as I said, these guys were not the ferocious carnivores that would have sent us scurrying for the boat.
On this trip we did venture out into the Coral Sea to a place named Osprey Reef. It was one of the highlights of the trip. During our dives out there at places with names like Nobby's Wall, C.C., North Horn, and Half Way Wall, we often found sharks coming in to check us out.