The Blind Men and the Elephant


indian_elephant_116229In the ancient Indian poem, six blind men approach an elephant from all directions and seek to describe it by touching different parts.  Not surprisingly, they come away with six different answers: an elephant is like a wall, a spear, a snake, and more.  The tale has been used to illustrate myriad mortal foibles over the centuries, especially the inability or refusal to see the big picture in subjects like religion or politics.

The elephant’s opinion of this experience has not been reported.  Nor is it known whether any of the men realized they were collectively fondling an animal the size of a small barn.

The concept also seems to work in other applications.  In four years in Ecuador—a small country that I know you’re getting tired of hearing about—I have now lived in three places as different from one another as spears and snakes.  The unexpected effect is to make it seem much bigger than it is.

I first settled in the scenic mountain town of Cotacachi, known for handcrafted leather and a few hundred resident expats, some of them sealed in walled communities.  Tour buses disgorge Americans and Europeans, and Ecuadorians from the capital, to shop for leather jackets, purses, boots, and even custom saddles (horse not included).  It’s a nice town with nice people, and I spent two and a half years there.


But in search of something a little less influenced by invasive species like me, I moved just a few miles to the village of Peguche, an industrious town of clicking looms, defined by Kichwa culture and music and bound together by the business of producing woven fabric.  In fifteen months of living directly on the town square, I experienced the whole range of seasonal celebrations and family events with people who were unfailingly warm and welcoming.

And then, through sheer happenstance triggered by a casual comment from a friend, I recently fell into the irresistible allure of a 17th century hacienda.  It’s something like the American pioneers who left perfectly good cities to strike out across the prairies in search of a bright new future, although I just had peace and quiet in mind.


The haciendas of Latin America were the spoils of colonization, vast landed estates granted to high officials by the Spanish Crown.  One of the first was given to the conqueror Cortés in 1529 and comprised what is now the Mexican state of Morales—an expanse of nearly 1900 square miles.  Here in South America, haciendas were often established or financed by Jesuits, producing cattle, sugar cane and other crops with indigenous labor under a system called encomiendas.  It was posited as a way to “protect” native populations, but in reality was barely a step above slavery.

Land reform that peaked in the mid-20th century led to redistribution of enormous Latin estates.  That movement, combined with an assortment of economic events, broke up the expanses of terrain on the South American continent, in many cases leaving the original residences to become attractive resorts.

But while the landed gentry were gone after 500 years, the land was still there and still producing.  In this area of high Andean valleys—once within the northern reaches of the Inca Empire—an elevation of around 2000 meters delivered the best climate for agriculture, and that describes the one where I now have a place to live.  Temperatures are mild and the weather a little drier than it is nearby, but a complex and far-reaching system of irrigation channels takes care of that, powered only by gravity.


The fields on all sides are dotted with cattle and planted in alfalfa, potatoes, and sugar cane, and tomatoes grown in greenhouses.  It makes a gorgeous and peaceful place to live for someone so inclined.  And it’s obviously not for everyone, or the former haciendas would be overrun.  Some people want to be close to shopping.  Some of us dream of a quiet spot to write.

Wherever one lives in Ecuador, nonetheless, it’s a base from which to explore.  The country is only about the size of Burkina Faso—an impoverished, flat, landlocked, tropical West African republic.  But the diversity of Ecuador’s geography and climate make it feel gigantic.

You can spend a weekend deep in the steamy Amazon jungle, and the next on a cold, windswept mountain páramo far above the tree line.  There are big cities, and flame-throwing volcanos, and historic gold-mining towns.  Spectacular waterfalls and hot springs are beyond counting.


And if it’s agriculture you want, look for timber, coffee, bananas, cocoa, rice, and cassava, in addition to sugar cane, potatoes, and shrimp.  It’s like traveling through the regions of an entire continent, and not just a small country.  On the sweltering Pacific coast, there are even groves of tagua trees, producing a nut that can be carved just like ivory without harming a single tusk.  It’s sometimes called “vegetable ivory.”

One out of six mythical blind men might mistake it for an elephant.

Posted in Ecuador, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

That Burning Sensation

Look out the window on any morning and you’ll see smoke ascending, if it’s not already snaking in under the door.  In most villages, as in the Ecuadorian countryside in all directions, fire is a constant presence.

Morning2Sometimes an indoor cooking fire sends smoke rising right through the roof tiles, making chimneys an indulgent frill.  More often it’s outside in the form of burning heaps of dried weeds or trash.  Corn cobs are charred in damp and smoky piles, sometimes as a seasonal symbol of housecleaning and fresh starts, but usually just to get rid of them.

You’d think they were electing a Pope.

When the garbage truck pulls through town, alerting residents with its tinkling music, not everyone rushes out.  Some people have already burned all or most of their refuse, while the wasteful resident gringo typically has more trash to discard than an average indigenous family of six, who waste nothing.

The fires are no joke.  In the dry summer months, typically windy as well, fires take off.  When last summer’s season ran much longer than normal, some farmers lit fires according to the traditional belief that smoke attracts drought-busting rain.  The opposite usually happens, and grass and forest fires rage out of control, driven by squalling summer whirlwinds that have been known to lift the roofs off houses.


Forest fire, Otavalo

In 2015, at least three firefighters died battling such conflagrations.  After all, it’s the kind of blaze where they are most likely to gain experience.  The sierras are a region of fireproof cement houses, and house fires are almost unheard of.  So universal is the devotion to cement construction, I have often kidded that if Ecuador produced fine watches, they would be made of cement.  Now I see that the Italians have already done it.

Scientists tell us that wildfires lit up the nascent earth long before humans appeared—just as soon as there were plants to be burned and oxygen produced by those plants.  Until we came along, the planet had to get by with lightning, volcanos and meteorites as the source of ignition.  Time passed.  Campfires were invented, and mosquitos.

I earned my weekly allowance in the early 1960s by lugging the household trash out to a rusty metal drum once or twice a week and setting it ablaze, something most people wouldn’t dream of doing now.  It was a time of rich aromatic smoke from autumn leaves, a smell that still triggers powerful olfactory memories for those of a certain age.  These days it would trigger a stiff fine.

Who among us has never stared hypnotically into the glowing embers of a campfire?  (And if you haven’t, never admit it.)  Campfire songs, S’mores, and swirling showers of sparks are seared into the human consciousness, sometimes into the human skin, all the way back to the days of cave paintings.  Jack London made the campfire into a riveting short story of life and death.

But back to Ecuador.  This is not Beijing.  A hazy afternoon in the mountains is more likely caused by dust than smoke from widely scattered fires.  The atmosphere has a remarkable capacity, within reason, for cleaning itself.  And the Ecuadorian government has long worked to nudge at least some combustion away from wood and charcoal toward hydro-electricity and propane.


Chances are this country will get over its fondness for bonfires, like we eventually did.  It’s even more likely that Earth will get over us.  Given everything that the planet has been through in its cataclysmic history, “I doubt if it cares much about life on Earth,” says one geochemist.

We may eventually succeed in making our world uninhabitable, but as George R. Stewart concluded in 1949, Earth Abides.

We really ought to be more responsible.  Still, sometimes you just want to poke another marshmallow on the stick and see what happens.



Posted in Ecuador, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Civic Pride

AThe gray statue was easy to miss in a driving downpour, along a narrow road of jarring cobblestones carved into the steep side of Imbabura volcano hundreds of feet above the Pan American Highway.  Seen through the rainfall sheeting on the windshield, its broken base was an indisputable ear of corn, with four human figures above, holding an open book to the slate-colored sky.  Next to it was a cement cross, partly covered with white ceramic tiles, half of them fallen away like scales.

The pairing of the statuary and the cross looked like a mistake.

It was worth another visit on a sunny morning a couple of days later to search for meaning, or at least an identifying plaque.  But there were no more clues.  A man and a woman stood above the corn—an important symbol of fertility in the Kichwa culture.  They hoisted the big book over their heads.  A Bible?  What else could it be?

The man wore a broad, floppy hat of a style never seen around here.  The woman’s left hand was broken off.  She, and the two children crouched below, might have been attired as contemporaries of Columbus.  Or for that matter, American pioneers in a Conestoga on the prairie.

The mute enigma stood by the road, amid weeds and litter, keeping its secrets, above an expansive, million-dollar view of a broad valley and more mountains beyond.

AAlmost every town in Ecuador has a statue, but not like that one.  They depict something about the identity of each place, such as local products or historical events, and their meaning is literal.  In Pimampiro, it’s all about the tomatoes grown in greenhouses that spread across the slopes above town.  In Cotacachi, they celebrate the leather trade or musical instruments, along with a tribute to the ever-popular pastime of spinning tops called trompos.

And they all appear to have leapt from the same slightly eerie drawing board—brightly painted goliaths that are like mannequins but not quite human, with staring eyes and frozen smiles.  It’s easy to imagine a dodgy traveling salesman crisscrossing the country, unable to believe his luck in closing a deal at every stop.

BThese will not be mistaken for New York City’s gilded “Civic Fame.”

I faintly remember a story many years ago—possibly from Ben Katchor’s Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer—about a man who painted gold letters on the windows of New York offices.  He worked the first floor, and then the second, telling each prospect that all their competitors on the previous floor were having it done.  Eventually, seeing no reason to stop, he was lettering the windows of lawyers and accountants more than fifty floors above the street.

It’s another version of the many legends of lightning rod salesmen—and I’m sure they were all men—peddling their wares across America.  Ray Bradbury made them terrifying.  In some other iterations, houses were so bristling with rods after the sale that they were not only protected from lightning storms; they might actually cause them.

Mark Twain wrote the definitive version in his short story called Political Economy, in which a pretentious columnist producing a windy essay on economics suffers constant interruptions by the crafty salesman at his door.  In his impatience, the writer tells the installer to do whatever is needed, resulting in 1,631 lightning rods and 3,211 feet of “best quality, zinc-plated, spiral twist” wire.

Somebody probably knows the story behind Ecuador’s look-alike statues, but the fiction of a runaway salesman might be more entertaining than the truth.  Better to let it remain a mystery.

BAnd the sculpture on the mountain?

On the sunny morning of my second visit, an elderly Kichwa woman walked down a mountain path to catch a bus.  Here was my chance to unravel the origins of the crumbling family and their book.  We exchanged pleasant greetings and I asked her—what was the history of this local treasure?  What was its significance?

She cackled.  “I have no idea,” she said as her bus hove into sight around the bend.   “Something about corn.”

Posted in Ecuador, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments


News itemA week after the mass shooting in Orlando, a congressional candidate and state senator from Florida’s Panhandle announced a “Homeland Defender Giveaway” contest to give residents of the district a chance to win an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle on Independence Day.

Just when you think ultra-conservatives couldn’t possibly sink any lower, they transport you to high noon in a third-rate spaghetti Western.

I clearly remember the day I first visited the offices of NPR in Washington, D.C., in the early 1970s, long before I would return to work there.  I was invited to sit in on the daily story meeting for All Things Considered, the network’s only news program at the time, where staff members brought ideas to the table.  Suggestions were offered, batted around, challenged and improved upon as the evening’s show began to take shape.

Richie Adams, a producer and newscaster, suggested an interview with the editor of a collection of the year’s political cartoons that had just been published.  His colleagues fell on him, as was traditional.

Cartoons are visual!  This is radio!  Why should we do this story?

“Because,” Adams said evenly.  “They’re not funny.”

What’s past is prologue.  More than forty years later, just take a look.

One can only hope that when the dust clears on November 9, the bad guys will all be on a political Boot Hill where they belong.  At this early point, it seems likely.  But even if that’s true, their stain will linger.

H.L. Mencken famously observed, No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

As Molly used to say to Fibber McGee, “Tain’t funny.”  Not even a little.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Water World

Having a car again was never part of the plan for living in South America.  I can only explain that my position on the subject, as the politicians like to say, “has evolved.”


Ecuador boasts an outstanding system of buses that go anywhere and often, at bargain prices and in reasonable comfort.  Even so, for anyone driven to part the bamboo curtains of the Amazon Basin or plunge down rocky Andean trails on a whim, the art of improvisational wandering is greatly enhanced by having a car handy.

Last week’s impetuous five-day jaunt was a case in point.  Because of recent earthquake damage in the western part of the country, heading toward the south and east seemed like a good general choice.  There was no more to the plan than that.

In Ambato, “The City of Flowers and Fruit,” they also sell a special fruit-infused ice cream from Salcedo.  The entire town of Pelileo makes nothing but jeans.  Just down the road in Baños, at the foot of the volatile Tungurahua volcano that’s been active for the past 15 years, European tourists flock to scale tall cascades and assault the slopes with mountain bikes.

And that was just the first day.

The journey was full of surprises as the landscape unreeled ahead, and it occurred to me there are two kinds.

The first is the kind of surprise that makes people say, “Look out!” or “That was close!” or, “Does anyone have a tourniquet?”  Things like open manholes, a closed lane marked only with a small heap of branches, or a renegade waterfall gushing slick mud across the pavement.  Cruising along one smooth highway I saw a sign that said there was heavy machinery ahead, two seconds before the blacktop ended and I careened into a minefield of mud, boulders, and yawning craters.  But there was no machinery.

The second, and more important kind of surprise has to do with uncovering little unexpected delights—things that are not especially significant in themselves, and could never be planned, yet getting to them is deeply satisfying.  It’s what Dostoevsky called “the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself, at all.”


It is here, I think, that travel by car makes the trip more personal.  A plucky little vehicle enables the art of the closeup.  A place will open up, like a flower, to reveal more and more about what lies beneath the surface, but only if you are looking.  That’s harder to do from a bus window.

Ecuador has its famous “Avenue of the Volcanos” that runs down the spine of the Andes.  Heading out from Baños toward Puyo, there is “The Route of the Waterfalls.”  The highway follows along the gorge of the Rio Pastaza, into which giant waterfalls erupt from clifftops in churning white columns that would surely crush anything that got under them.  There are dark tunnels bored through the mountains, with more water raining down inside.

The Amazon basin is made of water.  It tumbles from mountains and dribbles over rocks, saturating soil and surging through streams and ditches that make their way to the branches that feed the mighty Amazon River, ultimately disgorging sixty million gallons of water a second into the Atlantic Ocean.  It is one-fifth of all the world’s fresh water.



On a local, closeup scale, water in myriad rivers makes the jungle thrive.  Creaky one-lane suspension bridges lead ever deeper into the labyrinth of green to new sights.  A steep gravel road will take you to a path, and the path down slippery slopes and past jumbo bunches of bright yellow plantains to the hidden Pimpilitu waterfall, if you like.

Where there’s pavement, someone has spread cacao beans to dry in the sun along the edge.

In a town called Archidona (population 4205), an artisan shop offered up spears carved from a hardwood called chonta alongside wreaths of dried guayusa leaves for making a stimulant tea loaded with caffeine.  The leaves look like old, folded currency.  A few miles away, the El Arca Zoo invites travelers to stroll past birds, peccary pigs, tortoises and a pair of napping lions under mammoth bamboo arches.  Or you can visit the Jumany Caverns nearby.

None of this is advertised much of anywhere.  It’s just there, waiting to be run across.  Who has ever heard of the annual Christmas Bird Census held in the village of Cosanga?  The 11th annual one is due this December.  Their record is 529 different species spotted in 24 hours around the Yanayacu Biological Station.


In the former river port town of Misahuallí, monkeys walk among the townspeople, stealing fruit from a disinterested vendor and climbing to the roof to eat it.  “Former” port town, because the arrival of decent roads displaced the role of the Rio Napo, a major Amazon tributary, for the transportation of goods.  Today’s residents say they are content with the slow pace of life in the shimmering tropical heat.

A few miles away, near the provincial capital of Tena, I order dinner at an attractive but deserted restaurant where a soccer game blares from a big flat screen on the wall.  “That’ll be ready in about an hour,” says the waiter, who goes to phone the order to the cook at his home.  I go for a leisurely walk.  An hour later, I return to a delicious plate of grilled chicken in an apple sauce, with an amazing salad and potatoes.  These things can’t be rushed.

Nothing can.  I headed back to the north, climbing gradually up an out of the basin toward the central ridge of the Andes, through Cotundo, Jondachi, Baeza, Mospa and Papallacta.  There were still more spectacular waterfalls.  The traffic came to a sudden stop at one point, and across a valley ahead, the oncoming traffic was backed up too.  After half an hour, we moved again.  A landslide had closed the road, and a bulldozer had been pushing boulders and red clay from the pavement over a cliff.

There were signs of recent slides all along the route, where clearing rockslides is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge—it’s never done.  The relentless water sees to that.

Where to next?  Probably someplace new and equally spontaneous.  I’m thinking of naming the car “Rocinante,” after the tired but faithful old horse of Don Quixote.

But I could surely retrace this very circuit next week and uncover a whole new set of small discoveries, partly because the closeup leaves so much out of the picture, but mostly because in the shifting, flowing, flowering world of the steamy Amazon rain forest, nothing stays the same for long.

Posted in Ecuador, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Kindness of Strangers

The quest for a driver’s license, so deftly parried by the Ecuadorian bureaucracy three month ago, is on again.  It required more than a few deep breaths to recover from the government’s conclusion that I was illiterate and unworthy, but you can’t let that kind of thing go unanswered forever.

It was time to try for a corrected cédula ID card.


Iowa State Capitol

Since circumstances had brought me to Iowa last month, I took my diploma to the office of the Secretary of State in Des Moines to acquire an apostille.  It’s a word you’re unlikely ever to need if you don’t live abroad or plan to buy a highly regulated overseas business.  Bracing myself for a wintry encounter with indifferent paper-shufflers, I swung open the tall oaken doors to an empty lobby.

But I had forgotten this was Iowa.  A friendly woman floated out of the inner office to help me, like some fairy godmother.  I asked where I might find a nearby photocopy service, to copy the diploma that I needed to consecrate, but she said there weren’t any.  Ecuador has several on every block, but those businesses must have fallen victim to the ubiquity of home printers and scanners in the US.

“I’ll just make you a copy and certify it, and then get you the apostille,” she said in a soothing voice.  “You wait right here.”  She was back in exactly seven minutes with everything done, including a handsome cover sheet with the Secretary’s signature, and a bill for five dollars.

Out in the car, my cup of coffee from McDonald’s was still hot.  It’s hard to believe anything that easy could have any official clout, but I ferried the apostille back to Ecuador, protected in a stiff cardboard envelope.


It took about three more weeks to assemble all the rest—a zany, contradictory array of forms and certificates that made no sense, but rules are rules.  The diploma had to be translated into Spanish, and the translation notarized, and a Notary in Ecuador is a very big deal.  That alone consumed two days.  I needed a passport photo, bank statements, and a report from the Migration Police listing every time I had entered and left the country since my first exploratory visit in 2012.

Yes, there really are Migration Police.

Photocopies of my passport, visa, and old cédula were a no-brainer, but the need for my most recent utility bill, while a common requirement in official transactions, always comes as a slight surprise.  I made an appointment with an attorney and planned an overnight stay in Quito, the capital.

The first step is the filing of something called an empadronamiento, a document that gets a person into the official national register despite already having done it twice before.  That transpires at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, where you submit a one-page form that backroom functionaries always must consider overnight.  When asked whether the procedure might be accelerated in any way, a supervisor said, “Oh, no.  This is very complicated.”

“That’s because you MAKE it complicated!” I wanted to scream.

Instead, I heard myself saying, “Of course.”

A few words about Latin social customs are in order.  There is a thread of warmth and civility that runs through nearly every routine interaction or transaction, and it explains a great deal about How Things Work.  Walk into any typical neighborhood store, and you ought to say, Buenos días! loudly enough to be heard by the four or five customers inside, all of whom will return the greeting in unison with the shopkeeper.  Isn’t that nice?

Jump into a taxi and shout, “To the market!” and the driver is likely to turn slowly in his seat and say, just as slowly, “Good afternoon.”  You do the same, and only then is this informal etiquette coach ready to entertain your destination plans.

When you’re eating in a restaurant, complete strangers coming in or leaving will say buen provecho as they pass your table—the Spanish equivalent of “bon appétit.”  When your turn comes to say it to other diners on your way out, the convivial vibe is impossible to miss.

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and later at the Civil Registry over the course of two days, public servants scrutinized every scrap of paper, questioned every detail, and wondered aloud whether my application ought to be approved.  The rules give them an abundance of ways to cast doubt on every jot and tittle, but almost no leeway to make subjective interpretations of any of it on their own.  As maddening as the experience can be, these stewards are courteous, calm, and at worst, businesslike.

At the end of the second day, following a 90-minute wait in still another lobby, a woman called my name and handed me the new plastic card with everything done exactly right for a new assault on the driver’s license challenge. P1170553_4_5_tonemapped

When people ask, as they often do, how I can remain calm while strangling in knots of red tape, this may be the answer.  The rules are absurdly draconian, yes.  But the personnel could be Iowans in disguise.


Postscript: On May 25, about four months after the whole process began, I was finally issued an Ecuadorian driver’s license.

Posted in Ecuador, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The Reach

FeetChicken feet are everywhere in Ecuador, it seems.  They reach for the sky, jutting bright yellow from heaps of plucked hens in the backs of pickup trucks, market-bound.  They are piled up for purchase wherever chickens are sold, as the main ingredient in a popular broth seasoned with cilantro and carrots.

My mother always had a good chuckle when she saw them in pictures.  It takes a certain kind of expert to appreciate a chicken foot, and she was one of those experts.  As she and her sister grew up on an Iowa farm in the 1920s with the Great Depression lurking, the menfolk did the back-breaking work that made the prairie bloom.  The laborers’ energies were fueled with pork, beef, potatoes and gravy.  Little girls got chicken feet.

If you knew where to look, she would say with obvious expertise, there was a dinky pad of meat to be found on each scrawny foot.

Colleen Kralik was born of Czech immigrant stock in the year that women got the right to vote, and in the decade when for the first time, more Americans lived in cities than on the farms.  But not her, not yet.

She came into the world in the closing months of the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who was an acknowledged racist, and died in the closing months of the Barack Obama administration on April 13.  A few more months, and she might have lived to see the first woman in the Oval Office.

In 1920, a Model T Ford was $395 and the nation’s first commercial radio station went on the air in Pittsburgh.  Today, moon landings beyond a little girl’s imagination are already very old news.

Ninety-five years is an eventful arc of history.  But it’s not the canvas stretched across one’s background that counts; it’s what you paint on it.

“Life is what you make it,” Eleanor Roosevelt declared.  “Always has been, always will be.”  (Her contemporary, Winston Churchill, was more blunt: “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”)

Mom and Dad were married shortly before he was whisked off to war in the Pacific, and when it was finally over, they settled down to begin their lives and raise four children in Creston, Iowa.  There would be three more intrastate moves before they arrived in Iowa City in late 1960, for what felt like another short stay.

They never left, except on occasional trips in later years to destinations like Greece and Spain.

It’s hard to imagine today that they were only 40 at the time, and as deep community connections go, they were just getting started.

That was nowhere more obvious in later years than on a trip to the supermarket with Mom, where she was greeted like a politician working the rope line.  Customers and cashiers alike had to trade stories about children, grandchildren, neighbors and events.  They wanted her advice, and picking up a loaf of bread could easily take an hour.


1920 – 2016

That’s what happens after 55 years of work, volunteering, church leadership, book clubs, dinner clubs, extended family and being a good neighbor, all in one town.  She cared tirelessly for Dad when he fell ill, dropping everything else for two years.  After he died in 1995, breaking up a devoted team, she relaunched a life of socializing and service on her own.  She baked desserts for funeral receptions, and for years held the record for the longest unbroken potato peel at the annual sauerkraut dinner.  She volunteered as a hospital receptionist.

She called on elderly parishioners twenty years her junior, along with her pastors.  “She drove,” one of them noted.

I will never doubt that she committed more quiet acts of kindness than we will ever know.

She discovered the internet, sitting down each evening to write emails to far-flung family.  I heard from her every day, we talked weekly for at least an hour, and I was not the only one.  Renowned for her adventurous cooking skills, she searched the web for recipes, and printed stacks of them.

In her last three weeks, as lifelong friends flocked to see her, she rose to meet them.  She held their hands, and told them how much they meant to her, and sent them away feeling better.  She was still working the rope line.

She was a sweet little old lady, and a popular one. But what set her apart—what will make her memory endure—was her powerful role as what might be called an Elder.

Elders are not just old.  In varied indigenous cultures, and probably most religions, an Elder possesses “a deep spirituality that influences every aspect of their lives and teachings. They strive to show by example–by living their lives according to deeply ingrained principles, values and teachings.”

Elders are the storytellers who pass accrued knowledge across generations.  They do this, not to entertain, but to enlighten.

“All glory is fleeting,” George Patton memorably said.

Wisdom, not so much.


It was the acquisition of wisdom, and a determination to share it, that made Colleen Lewis an unforgettable mother, wife, matriarch, counselor, neighbor and friend.  She could have just stayed on the farm, among the chickens.  Plenty of honorable people did.

But she chose instead to go out into the world, and reach for the stars.  And became one.

Posted in Ecuador, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 9 Comments