Tag Archives: Jack Beck

Si Me Ven: Los Penguinos!

So it’s Si Me Ven, not si me ren, but we’re still doing a lot of walking! And what’s really cool is, so were the penguins. My friend and I went on an ecoturismo excursion to the three islands off the northern part of Chile, near La Serena, called the Humboldt Penguin Preserve. They house 80% of the world’s Humboldt Penguin population.

(I don’t know the difference between a Humboldt and the others.)

Here are the photos of our day driving north, going out on the boat, seeing the penguins, and then, because (as the guide said) some of us must have been living right, we also saw a sea otter, nursing sea lion pups, a sea lion fight between father and son (well, I am a Quaker, so that didn’t feel so lucky, but there you go) and two humpback whales.

As the guide said, “This has been an exceptional day.”

Isla del Damas 020

It’s kind of annoying that Cami looks adorable no matter what she wears – including, in this case, a crocheted skull cap and a life vest. But then, we’ve been friends a long time, so I accept this.

Isla del Damas 028

I had no idea that sea gulls nested in sand. Her husband stood nearby, honking at us in an unfriendly way, so I only snatched one shot. I didn’t want to stress him out too much.

Isla del Damas 030

It is called Camel Rock – well, yes.

Isla del Damas 031

That is a sea otter swimming. At first we thought it might be the only wildlife we saw besides cormorants and sea gulls, but the guides knew what they were doing. You can walk on only one of the three islands that make up the preserve. They give you an hour to walk around, then take you to see the penguins and stuff. So everyone on the island was getting all bummed out at not seeing anything much, and then got happy from being taken to the best viewing spots. Good strategy! Isla del Damas 036

Pretty view of the cliffs, pretty view of the cliffs. and then…..?????????? Isla del Damas 046

“Hola! Que pasa?” The guide said he was a teenager. ?????????? ?????????? ??????????Then came the boobies. Yes, that’s what they are called. They were still nesting, didn’t have babies yet.

??????????

And then, penguins, penguins, and more penguins!??????????

We rounded the corner, and there was a mama with her two baby sea lions. The one below is nursing. She was lying down, but as we came around the corner she lifted her head and then stroked the baby, as if saying, “This is my daughter; isn’t she lovely? Say hello to the nice tourists, dear.”?????????? ?????????? ??????????

And more penguins. My first time seeing them in the wild. I was enchanted.??????????

They took us in this cave to show us the minerals and coral.??????????

It is very hard to photograph coral in the dark in a moving boat. They’d asked us not to use flash with the wildlife because it startled them, so I forgot to use it in the cave. This coral was about the size of my head.??????????

Cormorants, and that white stuff is cormorant crap. (Guana, they calls it, and they use it to build their nests. It is about 20 degrees warmer in the nest than outside because of the guano. A mother’s love… but still, guano is crap. I dunno….)??????????

We rounded the corner and were snapping shots of another mama and baby when the guide at the back of the boat started laughing and said something in Spanish. The guide at the front said in English, “There is a sea otter below the lions. This is very unusual. And it is being exceptionally cute.” It was on its back pawing the air at first. You have to look pretty hard to see it in these photos.

??????????

This is her preparing to slip back into the water. The boat made her a little nervous.Isla del Damas 110

I could not stop being charmed by the penguins. Suddenly they were everywhere. Isla del Damas 121

This is “Big Daddy” of the next harem of sea lions.Isla del Damas 125

And this is “Big Daddy” explaining to his son why he would be moving out soon, according to our guide. Apparently son was getting a little too big for his britches.Isla del Damas 131

And just when we thought it couldn’t get nicer, this happened. This is when the guide said, “Someone on this boat has been living right.” Humpback WhaleIsla del Damas 139

The guide didn’t want to get too close to keep from stressing him out. That’s his tale just as he flipped it at us. He stayed a good five minutes.Isla del Damas 144

And then we went home and had a glass of wine. Does it get any better?!Isla del Damas 146

1 Comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

Jack’s Travels

chileI count myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel widely during my life, and mostly at little cost for various reasons. When I was a part of the folk band ‘Heritage’ from the late ’70s through the early ’90s we toured in France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Then just before and after my retirement from the college in Scotland where I worked for twenty years, I visited Romania and Vietnam on business. Of course I came over here to the US every year from the late ’80s until I moved here permanently, and visited Newfoundland when Wendy was studying there.
I really enjoyed all of that, made some good friends, and experienced wonderful cultures that I would never have known much about otherwise.
Every year, of course, I get to go back to Scotland at the end of June when I lead a small group tour of my homeland. So I get around. But next Wednesday I’ll be going to a part of the world I’ve never been to – South America!
Our good friends Cami and Bill are coming to the end of an extended stay in Chile, thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship, we will be joining them for their last few days and then staying on for a few more on our own. I know very little about this part of the world, other than something of the troubled politics of the 20th Century.
If I can I’ll blog about my impressions while we’re there. Who knows, perhaps the Chilean tourism industry will employ me to lead tours there! (A guy can dream….)

 

Leave a comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Don’t Look Down….

garg_grimstonchurchtower28_1aJack tackles the topic of stress in this week’s guest blog.

When things get a bit fraught around the bookstore, such as when yet another unexpected litter of kittens appears, or we discover a leak under the water heater (Chef Kelley joke there) I only have to think back a few years to put it all into perspective.

Years ago I was an apprentice painter and decorator in my Dad’s business. Being the boss’s son, I was usually the one to be called on to do the particularly mucky or scary jobs–such as painting the drain pipe running from top to bottom of the bell tower on an old church in Kinross–full height of the pipe about 50 feet, starting more than 200 feet off the ground. On its way down the pipe passed about a foot away from the louvers where the sound of the bells issued.

The trickiest job was of course put off until it was the last thing left, so finally it just had to be done. We assembled our longest three-part wooden ladder with ropes and pulleys that weighed a ton, only to discover it didn’t even reach the bottom of the aforementioned louvers. Nothing daunted, we lashed an extra length of ladder onto the three-parter and that did just get to those pesky sound emitters.

Feeling a little nervous I looked to my two older workmates and realized they were making no moves towards the ladder(s). Sizing up the situation my Dad put his foot on the first rung getting set to put everyone to shame. “Hang on,” I said (after all he was approaching retirement). “I’ll do it.”

So, up I went until the ladder bent in so far, hardly and room remained for my toes against the wall. Still couldn’t reach the whole pipe. Down I came and tied the brush to a length of scrap wood and ascended once more. That got the pipe painted from the ground to about 1/3 of the way up, past the bottom of the louvers.

Pondering on how we’d get the rest done I followed my Dad as he entered the tower and climbed up the stairway until we emerged on the roof, carrying the paint pot and the brush still attached to the scrap wood.  We managed the middle next to those blasted louvers; I put my arm out of the nearest opening to the pipe (which I couldn’t see from inside) while my colleagues shouted instructions from the ground – “left a bit, right a bit, up a bit, down a bit.”

That still left the top of the pipe, just below the battlements. I looked over at my dad. He was looking at me in a speculative way, rubbing his chin. A horrible thought struck me….

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I found myself shortly afterwards dangling upside down outside the tower between two battlements with my Dad holding my ankles while I stretched as far as I could with the extended brush.

Once you’ve been suspended upside down 50 feet off the ground by your ankles, there’s not much that happens in a bookstore that can faze you. I remind myself of this as I play with our new foster kittens.

Epilogue: Years later Wendy and I were visiting my elderly Mum and sharing stories about my by-then- deceased Dad. I was certain she would never have known about the Church tower, but I had hardy started when she began chuckling. “I knew about that before you got home, Son. Don’t think I didn’t speak to your father about it, either!” Her chuckle erupted into laughter. Let that be a lesson to you; don’t think your Momma don’t know!

Leave a comment

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, writing

Someday—-

Jack’s poignant guest blog reflecting on then, now, and someday

Back in the early 1960s, I was a twentysomething hanging out on the Scottish folk scene. We had a number of dedicated folk-song clubs established in cellars, cycle clubs and all sorts of unlikely venues, and they all had one thing in common: singing in harmony together at the end of the evening We Shall Overcome!

Now we did (and still do) have a certain ‘fellow feeling’ in singing it, Scotland being a country that felt put upon by its bigger neighbor, but we had no real understanding of where the song came from or what it meant to the folk who created it. We just knew it made us feel strong and special.

Overcome has haunted me for years. An African American gospel song, it was brought to the famous Highlander Center in Tennessee in the late 1950s by Lucille Simmons and members of the Food and Tobacco Workers’ Union. There they adapted it, and staff member Guy Carawan passed it on to Pete Seeger. The rest is history, including more re-makes and re-shapes than Kumbiya.

Over the years I learned about Highlander’s work, and the place seemed near-mystical. When a mutual friend introduced me to Guy Carawan himself just a couple of years ago, I was able to shake hands with a man as legendary to me as John Lennon might be to someone else.

Knowing that back in Scotland we had a too-easy enthusiasm for identifying with those who had faced down the color bar, I was overjoyed when just last weekend Wendy and I were invited to join a group of Appalachian writers at Highlander Center – the very same place where We shall Overcome was re-born as a folk anthem for social justice.

Oddly enough, all the participants that weekend were white. I watched the day’s activities unfold, examined pictures on the walls celebrating the triumphs of activism, read news clippings and wandered around, feeling out of place. Was it my being from Scotland that made it feel an exclusive rather than inclusive experience? Was it worship from afar meeting the reality that one group can only do so much?

A friend uses the term ‘folk elite’ to describe people who mean well but who don’t ultimately impact the place in which they have decided to practice charity. Perhaps that is what I was: one of the elite, incapable of grasping the legacy spread before me. But I have to admit, at the end of that weekend I felt no closer to being part of the “We” in We Shall Overcome than I did back in the sixties, in Scotland, holding hands with all my fellow middle-class singing friends. And that saddened me.

 

3 Comments

Filed under blue funks, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, writing

Half a League, Half a League – – -

jackWhen Wendy and I first met she asked me if I liked walking. “Of course!” I lied. I was smitten and would have said anything.

Ever since, when given the option, she will walk rather than take a bus or taxi when we’re out of town on book or health business. Her preferred enticement for me to join her in this activity is to find an Indian restaurant nearby, knowing I love a curry dinner above most things in life.

“It’s only half a mile” is the usual precursor – -

On pretty much every occasion, however, the ‘half a mile’ turns out to be considerably more. I have learned to ask “a Wendy half-mile or a standard half-mile?”

It’s sometimes been necessary to cross busy highways, garnering strange looks from car drivers who are obviously wondering who these idiots are clamboring over guardrails. Sometimes the Indian place is no longer there, or it’s become a Mexican eatery, or it’s not open for another two hours – or it’s not open on Sundays.

That’s not the point, though – it’s all about the walk – – -

Yesterday we went to the Kennedy Center in DC to see ‘Evita,’ which involved a forty minute walk from the hotel to the Metro station. Because we had extra time, Wendy suggested a walk to the botanic gardens, which of course started with a twenty minute walk in the wrong direction. A suggestion from me that we avail ourselves of the shuttle from the wonderfully named Foggy Bottom station to the Center was grudgingly accepted, as was my later suggestion that we do the same in reverse going back.

Wendy always wins out in the end, though; she was saving the final ‘cherry on the cake’.

We still had a forty minute walk back to the hotel from the Metro.

The view was lovely, but my feet hurt.dc sunset

4 Comments

Filed under humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Hi! I’m Prince Caspian!

DSCN1247Hi! I’m Prince Caspian! I’m a very brave explorer and a good shoulder sailor. I love to find small spaces to hide in and then jump out at people’s feet. And I love, love, love to cuddle.

I’m just here at the bookstore until I get my forever home. The bookstore is fun for now, though. Lotsa tall places to climb up and jump on people’s shoulders from. The other day I did a perfect four-paw landing on the back of one of the ladies who works here, as she was stooped over shelving some books.

DSCN1214Was it my fault she screamed like that? Honestly, it was kinda fun though, flying through the air. It didn’t hurt cause I landed on a soft chair. Just kinda bounced a little. But to hear her tell it, she thought the devil had her.

I’m just a little kitten, lady, no big deal!

Really I’m kinda sweet and innocent. Except I’m gonna be a pirate when I grow up. But don’t tell the people in the bookshop, ’cause they said I’m named for a character in a Christian children’s book.

People say I’m cute, but what they don’t know is what a very brave cat I am.They used to call me Small Fry, but I didn’t like that very much because it reminded me of the scary time I spent in that garbage can. There wasn’t anything to eat in there but cold french fries and it was so hot and hard to breathe. I knew I had to get out so I was very brave and cried and cried for help, and a nice lady heard me and got me out.

I’m trying not to hold a grudge against the guy who put me in there. He said I’d find some stuff to eat and it wouldn’t be his problem. Buddy, you need to rethink how you’re living your life. That’s all I’m saying.

DSCN1226Who needs a grudge when I’ve got all these nice people around me? First I went to the animal hospital and I stayed there a whole two weeks because I was so small and you could see my ribs – well, cold fries just aren’t much to eat, are they? And I had coccidea, which is a kitten disease that’s easy to take care of if you get the right nutrition. (Again, with the cold fries….)

Everybody loved me at the hospital and carried me around on their shoulders and let me ride on their shoes. And then I came to the bookstore, and everybody here loves me too. I’m a really lovable guy. And I get all I want to eat here! This place is great.

Mom says soon somebody will take me to another place and that will be my forever home, and I’ll get all I want to eat and have lots of laps and shoulders and chairs and shelves. I’m looking forward to it.

‘Scuse me, I see somebody coming and I don’t want them to know I’m using the computer. Come see me! Ask for Prince Caspian! Bye!

DSCN1253

 

6 Comments

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot – –

Jack’s guest post this week is all about friendship

Wendy blogged about our friend Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver last week, but I wanted to say something about their visit too.

Barbara and I sang together as a ‘folk-duo’ in Scotland back in the 1960s, and although we’ve stayed in touch over the years – – – -

It’s often the case that people we think of as good friends we don’t actually see very often and in the case of Barbara, we haven’t spent any personal time together in almost fifty years. So I imagine she was as nervous as I was at committing to two weeks of living cheek-by-jowl here in our house/bookstore. I had no idea if she and Oliver would get along with our dogs and cats or how they’d feel about sharing the floor that the guest room is on with our cafe, cafe manager or cafe manager’s frequently visiting family (also known as our second family).

Barbara is a world ranking singer and actor who’s recording and performing career far outstrips mine, so another concern was how she’d react when, inevitably, our curious local friends would ask to hear us singing again together.

In the event we needn’t have worried!

Barbara and Oliver have become surrogate aunt and uncle to the cafe kids, she carries our latest foster-kitten Small-Fry around on her shoulder, they’ve made space for themselves and we’ve shared our part of Appalachia with them, to their obvious delight.

And the singing? We ended up discovering we still had some songs in common and we were able to re-create the kind of intimate setting that neither of us had experienced for a very long time and share that with our friends here – and we had a ball!

They got to see Carter Fold, The Museum of Country Music and Dollywood, but not all the other places they might have, so already we’re making plans for the return visit, when they will see all the stuff there wasn’t time for this year.

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA