Holiday Visits (limited due to Covid Concerns) are over and “Gee, it’s good to be back home……..”

Alexandria National Cemetery after snowfall during a walk with the family... Love the Azores but miss the snowfall:)
Family walk through Alexandria National Cemetery; we love being home but our short holiday sojourn gave us an opportunity to see both daughters, sample a few restaurants, make a new friend, and get our dose of snow and ice before heading back to the island.

With appropriate apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, it’s so wonderful to be home, nestled around an occasional fire in the wood stove as wind and rain beats against the glass. We drink morning coffee looking out over the ocean and Praia Bay, marveling at the awesome majesty of the weather and the ocean. I nearly always comment on the ancient mariners for which Portugal is so famous and their fortitude taking to the sea to explore. In my head, I always wonder if I offer my family the same strength and courage.

With each visit to the USA, as I start to get more homesick for our home, family, and friends on the island, I always speculate on the differences of the two homes and societies, and what attracts me to each. I am currently reading a biography of Ulysses S. Grant, famous U.S. general and president, which describes his challenges supporting his family between his father and mother and in-laws with great cultural and geographic divides. I’m reminded that I love and miss my family in the states, and I love and miss my family on the island. Whenever I get into these thoughts, I repeat my mantra that has helped me survive years in government service, worldwide travel, and significant family separations, “Enjoy this time together, don’t compare other times to this time, and when my present situation changes, I will enjoy that time as well.” I have tried to relate this philosophy to others, but it seems easier for me to accept than others.

So I enjoyed our visit to the states, hampered though it was by pandemic rules, changes, etc. We didn’t get to see many family and friends in other states, a sad hardship in these perilous times. Friends who supported my family over the years got only a video call or some phone time, and of course, very very limited drinking and dining out in the vast array of local establishments in Old Towne Alexandria. (Of course, that also meant less shopping for the girls, which doesn’t break my heart at all; most of those “badly needed” essentials like cooking pans, soaps and bath oils, cooking spices, and of course, the year’s supply of ZipLoc bags (not available on the island for some reason) get squeezed into suitcases and checked on the five-hour flight back home. Some poor schmuck has to carry those suitcases… so I didn’t rue the decreased shopping opportunities:))

The flight home — even in a pandemic — always brings me back to those ancient mariners. We complain about a few extra hours waiting in an airport on weather delay. They endured storms in wooden ships, disease, illness, water shortage (OK, you’re right, they did supplement water with rum … I pay homage to their tradition drinking Aguardente). So I bravely drag my suitcases through TSA lines, lines for Covid testing, and chilly aircraft, to return home from a great family vacation. And I wonder if I would have the fortitude to make the same decisions they would!

Few people realize that Charles Darwin sailed on the HMS Beagle for five years. Terceira was the last island he visited on that five year trip, and as he sailed out of Angra Bay, he must have been thinking about home after he documented life and nature touring Terceira. He left here and headed home…anxious to see family and friends. I know how much I miss it here when I’ve only been gone a few months. Different times and different men.

But I know the sentiment that Simon and Garfunkel sang in my youth…”Gee it’s good to be back home…”

Top of the Volcano…long way up and down:)

view from the top. Roche do Chambre
Seen this volcano crater from the nearby road many times…we decided to try the Trail Roche do Chambre (rated ‘medium”) and spent four hours celebrating nature’s beauty on the island. (There may have been a bit of cursing nature a few times!)

If you leave at 9 a.m. Saturday morning, you might miss the crowds. Family invited us along to enjoy another “medium” trail to the top of the volcano crater which takes up a large part of volcanic Ilha Terceira (the last eruption in this crater was in 1761). It is truly beautiful, truly inspiring, truly more than a “3-hour tour'” and truly more difficult than “medium” as tourists are told. But it was wonderful.

Loose rocks, disgruntled cows, high winds at the summit, ropes to help with the climb, looking straight down more than 700 meters, and puzzling over why there are a few trees much taller and straighter than the rest of the trees in the crater. One young lady only fell a few times, once into a deep crevasse, but nothing serious (brave, tough, and beautiful, that’s how these island woman are!). We saw dozens of different types of trees, soils, rocks, flowers, birds… all things which probably fascinated Darwin when he went to the crater September20, 1836. Beautiful. But then again, he was a lot younger than I.

We braved wind and sun, made it up and down, and pretty much arrived home exhausted. But what a fabulous trip with loved ones all loving nature! Can’t wait to do it again.

photo op with a unique tree along the of many!
Photo op on a unique tree along the trail.

Darwin was right…

He visited Terceira on the Beagle on 16 September 1836 and liked Terceira

When I announced I was retiring to this island, many many many (enough get the idea?) friends and family inquired regarding my sanity…seems no one thought I could just “retire,” as apparently some perceive it against my nature of staying busy. So I added that I would find something to occupy my mind … something besides gin and beaches.

My dear friend and colleague Vince provided me with a unique opportunity when he was researching where I would retire; Vince discovered a book by Patrick Armstrong from the University of Western Australia’s Department of Geology entitled Charles Darwin’s Last Island: Terceira, Azores, 1836. Vince also helped me get in touch with Professor Armstrong, who applauded my plan and sent me one of his last autographed copies of the 64-page book. Armstrong has written extensively on the voyages of the HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin.

My project to stay busy is to examine various accounts of the stop at Terceira (after five years at sea) before Darwin finally returned to England. My plan is to develop a presentation for tourists of Darwin’s stops around the island, his comments and impressions, and offer a better understanding of his work at Terceira. It seems Darwin liked the island, the geology, the flora and fauna, the people and culture. So do I. So to learn more about my adopted home, I will retrace his impressions. (To do the project justice, I must also learn more about some of Darwin’s observations in geology, botany, natural history, evolution, and socioeconomic cultures).

As a side note, Author Patrick Armstrong visited Terceira for his book in May of 1992, unbeknownst to me. At that time I was stationed at Lajes AB with the American Air Force and was busy planning my wedding to the most beautiful girl on the island in just a few months. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the professor and I dined at the same places and visited the same landmarks simultaneously and didn’t know it.

So if you’re used to being active, using both brain and technology to make some contribution to our civilization (no matter how small), and retiring, I suggest you look at your skills, find a project which keeps them sharp, and set a leisurely course for a project to give you something to think about … and if it helps you learn more about your new environment, so much the better.