Saturday, March 17, 2007

International Relations

In the mid-1960s, my family moved to a suburb of Oakland, California, for what my parents called our ‘California vacation.’ Two years later we moved to Pittsburgh, Pa. Thirty years later, I revisited the Bay Area with a close friend.

We sought a lunch spot in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and one block seemed hauntingly familiar. I remembered eating Chinese food there with my elementary school Girl Scout troop. Our waiter taught us how to use chopsticks correctly and I tried in vain to pick up bits of chicken and vegetables. But, by the end of the meal, I had abandoned my fork.

My elementary school had a sister school in Japan, so I joined a singing group that learned and performed Japanese songs. I loved to wrap my tongue around the unusual syllables and know my words made sense in another country. I used those words again, a decade later.

While I worked towards a master’s degree in speech pathology, I lived in an international dormitory. As my Japanese roommate moved into our room, an Iranian friend repeated the words of ‘Sakura,’ a popular Japanese song, through the intercom – under my direction. The year I spent living with students from Japan, Quebec, Canada; Micronesia, Thailand, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq and China taught me more about life than anything I’d ever learned in a classroom.

Six years ago, a Pakistani friend from the dorm and I rekindled our friendship via email. He later visited our home and cooked for me, my husband and our teenage daughters.

Last week, my husband and I hosted ambassadors from U.S. embassies in Japan and Pakistan for Sunday dinner. As we talked and laughed throughout the evening, I once again felt at home.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chasing Butterflies

My family already had used Echinacea as medicine to treat upper respiratory illnesses for many years when we added the plant – often known as a purple cone flower – to our backyard garden. Although I first thought of planting these flowers so we could make our own medicine, I quickly learned the work involved to convert plants into usable product was not worth the expected yield.

But, by that time, I’d fallen hard for the daisy-like flowers with several twists. Down-turned petals, in a stunning pale purple, surrounded dark brown and slightly prickly-looking centers. During our second summer growing these lovely perennials, they bloomed profusely, filling nearly one third of the garden with riotous color.

Little did I know that purple cone flowers also are one of the top 12 perennials for attracting butterflies. The next summer, they became a Monarch magnet, the striking black and orange wings a perfect visual counterpoint to lovely blossoms. The fragile creatures flitted from one flower to the next and one day to the next, until my camera beckoned me to capture the magical scene, only steps away from my kitchen. I zeroed in on a single butterfly and followed him with my lens for a quarter hour, seeking just the right shots.

Six months later, one of those images graced the Nature Conservancy’s Natural Events Almanac.