Carole Owens: Seeing Nature's wonders with a worldly group

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STOCKBRIDGE — Recently, I traveled 3,700 nautical miles into the North Atlantic. I visited four countries, and I learned this: no matter how far you go, no matter the country, no matter how different in other respects, there is always a line in the ladies' room.

It was my spring getaway, and I certainly got away. No Internet, no email, no telephone, no text, and by choice, no TV or radio. I had no idea what a strain they cause until I switched them off.

A good Baedeker, even in short form, recounts the majesty of Nature or at least geographic anomalies, and on this trip, there were many. For a writer I was surprised how often I was without words. For example, as we entered the fjords, our waiter found more words than I could. He was loquacious; I was struck dumb. We stood together staring at the mighty, towering, silently thundering beauty. He accepted it all as proof of God.

Flam, Norway was incredible. A toy village set in the fjords; everything made by man was made small by nature. The climbs were wonderful the reward — the views — worth the panting. There were the myriad waterfalls— water out of rock as in the Bible. The fresh, clear, sparkling water rushing to the sea. In the small and far flung towns, there was fresh king crab in an outdoor restaurant on the shore of the sea from which it was taken. There was the Funicular, a seemingly vertical trolley traveling up 1,800 feet.

Iceland's geothermal areas were magnificent. They are formed by boiling water running just below the earth's crust. There was steam constantly escaping the earth, roiling mud-pots, hissing fumaroles (openings near volcanos where sulfurous gases gather), and geysers. They were exhilarating to look at, but they also signaled instability and danger. In its own way, Iceland was terrifying.

In one geothermal area, the Blue Lagoon, made blue by silica, was beautiful, reputedly curative, and unforgettable. It was also very useful. The steam and hot water are captured and transported to heat much of Iceland.

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On a bridge across the Continental Divide, I was awestruck and a little intimidated. The planet is cracking in half? Soon? I looked at the crowd of gawkers and wondered if there were Continental Divide deniers. As I twisted to get the right angle for a photograph, my phone got away and skidded dangerously near the edge. It was close to landing in the Continental Divide; my phone lost forever. I saw all the faces around me, whatever color or nationality, all with the identical expression. "Oh-no!"

As I stopped my phone's seemingly inevitable slide into the crack in the earth, there was a collective exhale and sigh of relief. I don't know who they were or what we would agree or disagree about, or would be willing go to war over, I only know, in that moment, we were one, in accord about the importance of our phones and relieved that a tragedy was averted.

I am more social historian than geologist or naturalist. It is the people that grab and hold my attention. Among my fellow travelers, I was a minority: there were far more non-Americans than Americans. There was the Chinese threesome, trying with glee and cleverness to sort out English and make us tea. It was fun as no one had all the English words necessary to make a sentence but among the three they did.

There was a man from Iraq who picked me a flower and presented it to me. We had tried and failed to talk. We pantomimed a bit and then were content with smiles.

There was the couple from Israel gushing with friendliness and invitations to visit their country. The man from Japan, constantly hushed by his wife, who wanted to know how the clever Americans, whom he always respected, put a crazy man in the top job. It was a warm and energetic group that I was pleased to be among.

Out the windows of the ship, tour buses, trains, and taxis there was one inevitable and exceptional view. It was a view we rarely have at home anymore. It was the view of wide swaths of land without people. Wild empty land as far as the eye could see and no sign of habitation, no people.

A writer and historian, Carole Owens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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