Thursday, October 30, 2014

Autumn glory

Maples lead the way as the days grow shorter. Trees stop production of green chlorophyll and as it fades, the yellows, reds and oranges that have been there all spring and summer appear.

All photos © by the author. All rights reserved. It is illegal to use them without permission. 

There is no season in New England that is not beautiful. Yet, when one thinks of when it is at its most alluring, it has to be autumn. Whether one has been in New England or not, the reputation of the dazzling display of red, yellow, orange and purple on the oaks, maples, birches, ashes, butternuts and even the muted yellows on the pines are well known iconic images of America's northeast, seen in innumerable posters, calendars, greeting cards and post card set in the mountains and fishing villages along the craggy Atlantic coast.

Typical granite walls and fall colors of New England
For those who have visited during autumn, and especially for those who live in New England, the march of colors beginning in mid-September and fading by late October is unforgettably spectacular. It is a bittersweet time, as the colors are amazingly beautiful, but herald the nearing bitterly cold winter.

Typical autumn scene along U.S. Highway 1 in Maine
For those of you who have not been to New England in autumn, this post is a tour of some of the glorious colors that can be seen. For those who live, or have lived in New England, this is a celebration of the beautiful place you are from, seen through my camera lens during October in Maine.

As the days shorten, the air is cooler and as it passes over the still relatively warmer (but still very cold) waters of the Gulf of Maine, a fog known as "sea smoke" forms, producing an ethereal quality.

Oranges and reds appear, enhancing nature's palette. 

Shrubs also join the colorful display. Here, bittersweet, which has been in plain sight all summer, stands out in bright yellow. The root and bark is used in herbal medicines, but the berries are poisonous.

A boat leaves for open water in the bright early morning Maine sun.

The large gray pine trunks add contrast to the beautiful maples and ferns.

Ferns also lose chlorophyll and add to the autumn colors for a short while before withering away.

Pine trees also drop needles (their type of leaves) in autumn, but do not shed them all.

All over Maine one can find quiet lanes to wander and enjoy the changing colors.

Clam digging with a lovely autumn backdrop

A beautiful fall carpet.

One of the most stunning effects is bright yellow leaves and
wet, black bark.

Eventually, long sections of woods burst forth in continuous colors, giving a gorgeous scene for passersby to enjoy.
Fog mutes the colors, lending a ghostly cover to a cemetery

What New England autumn post would be complete without a picturesque seaside village nestled in brilliant foliage? This beautiful scene is of Blue Hill, Maine.
I hope you enjoyed the tour of Maine in Autumn, and if not a New Englander, come see autumn. It is an amazing experience you will not forget.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A visit to a Buddhist monk country retreat

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to visit a country retreat for Buddhist monks in northeast Thailand. Most people see monks only in the temples located in larger cities or perhaps in small villages as they make their daily rounds accepting alms from the devout. To be taken to a retreat tucked away in the countryside accessible only by a path tramped through grasses and mud, is quite special. 

A Buddhist monk country retreat. The land was donated by a local citizen, about 2 "rai" or a little less than an acre, for monks to practice meditation and learn about the teachings of Buddha in the solace of an isolated place surrounded by nature. This peaceful scene is a few kilometers outside a small village, about 200 meters off a rutted dirt road.
At this particular retreat, four monks and two novices live in simple houses that they made themselves using local materials, and gather rain water for bathing, washing, and watering plants. The monks spend most of each day in meditation and study of dhamma, or Buddhist teachings. Following are some of the photos I took during my visit and explanations offered by one of the monks. 

The simple houses each took four months to build by hand, including the splitting of the wood for the siding and floors, as well as for construction of the bridge. The metal roofs were donated. Notice the large ceramic aung between the houses. This catches water during the rainy season that is used for bathing and watering plants that adorn the small porches. The bridge allows passage over a small pond. I wanted to wade out to take photos of the lotus blossoms, but was warned that there are crocodiles in the water! You will just have to view them from a distance like I did.
Interior of one of the monk's rooms with a simple mat for sleeping, and a mosquito net hung from the ceiling. Note that they do have electricity. I also noticed that they have Internet access, donated by the local village. However, when I asked, the monks said that they do not have computers, so do not use it. Occasionally, visitors may use it, particularly those that may stay several days due to medical needs, which the monks provide.
A novice monk, 18 years old, does chores. The novice monks receive food and care while at the retreat. Usually, novice monks are young boys who do not have families, or whose families are too poor to send them to school. The shelters built by the novices are even more simple than those of the established monks, made mainly of tree limb frames and grass or palm thatched roofs.

Since the monks do not have access to the village to receive food and other alms, the people come to them. Here, a neighbor brings food for the monks' only daily meal, which according to tradition must be eaten before noon. Another woman also brought food on that particular day. Notice that the monks sit on a raised platform and the woman is kneeling. This is to show reverence for the monks' position in Thai society.
Monks partaking of their meal. I found these monks to be particularly fortunate on this day, as they do not often get such a large meal. Leftovers are kept to be shared with hungry visitors, and/or shared with the pet dogs. But the monks eat first.

A novice monk washes dishes as part of his duties. Water is from the aung seen to his left.
Buddhism traditionally is the central anchor of Thai society, and monks play a key role in teaching about the religion and how to live one's life in accordance with the words of Buddha. Historically, every male became a monk for at least a month or so, but that tradition is waning. Monks are still honored, but I have noticed that in the past two decades they receive less deference by Thais. Even so, when I think of Thailand and its culture, one of the most significant influences I observe is that of the monks.