Posts Tagged ‘Nature’


Wishing you all a peaceful, joyous day!

Crocus & Bumblebee, March 13, 2013

Crocus & Bumblebee, March 30, 2013

Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata

Sagebrush buttercups blooming in the sunny spots on the hillside.

Sagebrush buttercups blooming in the sunny spots on the hillside.

Photos courtesy of my son, out and about and documenting our signs of spring.

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the autobiography david suzukiDavid Suzuki: The Autobiography by David Suzuki ~ 2006. This edition: Greystone Books, 2006. Hardcover. ISBN: 1-55365-156-1. 404 pages.

My rating: 5/10. Interesting to get some of Suzuki’s back story, but sadly my personal regard for this enviro-icon took a small step downward after reading it. It seems like the ego displayed here is as large as the legend.


There’s a little comment someone made in my hearing years ago, which comes to mind right now: “If you want to know how good he is, just ask him”.

Packing a whole bundle of firewood on his shoulder (and understandably so) stemming from his family’s mistreatment during the World War II Japanese-Canadian internments and appropriation of property, David Suzuki grew up feeling like he had something to prove, and he’s succeeded to do just that, in spades. The depth of love/hate public feeling regarding this one soft-spoken and absolutely brilliant man goes to show how influential he has become.

The political right wing hates him, the lefties have made him their god. I tend to swing left, and I deeply admire David Suzuki for the focus on environmentalism he has forced into the public eye, but this autobiography shows all too clearly the god’s feet of clay.

This book looks back briefly to Suzuki’s childhood in B.C. Born in 1936, David Suzuki was six years old when he, his mother and sisters were interned in one of the camps for Japanese-Candians in the Slocan Valley. His father spent the war in a separate labour camp. After the war, the Suzukis moved to Ontario, where David completed his high school education before attending university in the U.S.A., attaining a PhD in Zoology in 1961.

Returning to Canada, Suzuki worked as a professor and researcher in genetics at the University of British Columbia. Branching out to participate in public education, he founded the popular CBC Radio science program Quirks and Quarks in 1974, and the iconic television series The Nature of Things in 1979. David Suzuki was a household name by the mid-70s, and his profile has grown exponentially through the years.

The Autobiography is honest enough in that Suzuki frankly discusses his two marriages and his shortcomings as a less than involved husband and father. His deep dedication to his work and his increasingly hectic public life often separated him from his family, and he freely admits that this is something he now regrets.

Most of this book is a listing of various events Suzuki has been involved in during the past twenty years; plenty of name-dropping of the celebrities he rubbed elbows with – Sting! Buffy St. Marie! John Denver! – and plenty of slightly patronizing commentary on how he brought this, that and the next thing to the public attention. True, so true, but the tone doesn’t feel very kind-spirited at times.

The writing is not the strong point here, either. The subject matter would be much more enthralling if it weren’t dealt with in such a flat “Then I said, then I did, then I said, then I did” manner. There are some personal anecdotes, mostly concerning his parents, and the death of his father, where he lets himself go, and these are the most poignant and memorable of this rather dull book.

I would say “read it” just to get a deeper understanding of this fascinating and frequently self-sacrificing man, but be prepared to come away feeling something like a member of the great unenlightened, living in the dark and waiting for The Master to flick the switch. You really want to know how good David Suzuki is? Read The Autobiography. He’ll tell you.

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the shape of a year jean hersey 001The Shape of a Year by Jean Hersey ~ 1967. This edition: Scribner’s, 1967. Hardcover. Library of Congress# 67-13158. 243 pages.

My rating: 6/10.

This is not at all a poor book, but rather an unexceptional one. Set in the author’s rural homeplace of Weston, Connecticut, here are month-by-month musings and reportings of the little incidents of her life. These definitely have a certain appeal, but there is a creeping banality clothed in florid description to some of what she judges worthy of note. Most of it is all very well and good, but while readable this does not promise to become a favourite.

As a personal record it seems just a bit too good to be true, a shade too sweet and optimistic; there is little record of any sort of frustration, annoyance, disappointment or anger; it is all very “nice”, as if the author decided ahead of time to only include the more inspiring incidents of her days. I think this would be a much stronger memoir if it showed a broader range of emotion.

Golly, these comments sound a little harsher than I had intended. Here, I’ll share some of the author’s words with you so you can get a better picture of what this one is all about. I suspect this author will appeal most to the Gladys Taber crowd. (For the record, I like Gladys Taber; my mother had a number of her Stillmeadow books and I read them with deep delight during my teen years.)

Jean Hersey, born in 1902 and living in the Eastern United States, in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, was a prolific writer of magazine articles for Woman’s Day and various gardening and houseplant periodicals. She also authored something like a dozen non-fiction books dealing with gardening, homemaking, and semi-rural life.


From The Shape of a Year: January, 1965.

January mornings at seven are like opals, soft, milky white and pink around the edges. The January sun rises silvery white, bright but not warm, and a mist like an aura hovers over the south meadow.

One morning early as we ate breakfast, Bob was eyeing a cluster of many colored Christmas tree balls lying in one of the upholstered chairs. We had dismantled the tree the day before.

“They look,” said he sipping his coffee, “as if they were waiting for a goose to come along and hatch them.”

“It would have to be a golden goose,” I replied watching the stars laid on their shiny surfaces by the early sun streaming in the windows. Obviously no ordinary goose could sit on these bits of Christmas magic.

May, 1965:

May sweeps in on a theme of daffodils. I gather armfuls from the meadow and next day so many more unfold that I cannot see where I have picked. Along the roadside the willows are tumbled masses of pale green foam, and forsythia, in streaming fountains of flowers, reflects the sun’s golden rays. Here a dusky pink weeping cherry adds a soft note of color. There a magnolia tree is a bouquet of pink blossoms, and everywhere maples are shaking out their tight fists of green into lacy green leaves.

July, 1965:

Where is our grandson? I am waiting on the station platform for this young thirteen-year-old who will be carrying a suitcase and I don’t see him. Other people get off, but no Jeff. There is a boy down the platform – or is it a boy – it seems more like a thatched roof moving along.

“Hi, Grandma, here I am.”

“Why, Jeff,” I gasp. “Hello, how good to see you.”

I gasp because here we have the Beatles incarnate. I have no war with these young Englishmen beyond what they have done to the hairdos of America…

October, 1965:

The fragrance of burning leaves is another autumn delight. Their delicious rustle and the scent of their smoke invariably carries me back to the days when my father used to rake great piles to burn. Before he lit them my friends and I would burrow deep and hide ourselves in the slightly scratchy heaps. From here we would look out at the world through tiny odd-shaped chinks of light …

December, 1965:

These days the car is always filled with Christmas presents on the way in or the way out. One time we were in New York City with presents to deliver and we parked our convertible. When we returned the presents were gone and the top neatly slit with a little triangle just large enough to reach in and draw things out. The gifts did look rather festive with their gay paper and ribbons. I’ve often considered though, what their effect was on the person who appropriated them. He overlooked a suitcase and overcoat on the back seat, and took instead a package of wild bird food destined for my brother-in-law and a book called The Power of Constructive Thinking by Emmet Fox. I’ve never ceased to wonder about the reaction of this particular thief as he opened his haul.


And there are recipes.

While I wouldn’t search this author out, I also wouldn’t turn down another of her books if it came to me cheap and easy, as this one did – on the bargain rack at a used bookstore this autumn.

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My Kingdom for a Donkey by Doris Rybot ~ 1963. This edition: Hutchinson & Co., 1963. First Edition. Hardcover. Line drawings by Douglas Hall. 128 pages.

My rating: Another unique book which is hard to rate. It’s centered on the author’s pet donkey, Dorcas, with predictable anecdotes about the creature itself, but it also ranges much more broadly into history, philosophy, animal rights and general opinionating by the author.

I liked it. I initially bought the book to give to a donkey-owning friend, but am finding it difficult to make up my mind to let it go just yet. And I love the illustrations. I should send it on its way back out into the world, but I strongly suspect I won’t.

Anyway – rating. I’m thinking 8/10. A slender little volume, but earnestly written, and beautifully sincere. Almost makes you yearn for a donkey of your own. (“Or not!” exclaims my reading-over-the-shoulder daughter, who has spent a number of sessions brushing out the knots in down-the-road Fanny’s woolly coat.)


I’ve been carrying this one around with me for weeks, to the detriment of its rather fragile dustjacket, so I’ll try to pull off a quick review in my little window of time this evening so I can at last leave the poor thing on the shelf.

The author writes:

My own Dorcas is a plump, well-liking donkey. But even I – who can say of her as Sancho Panza said of his ass Dapple, she is the ‘delight of my eyes, my sweet companion’ – even I cannot call her beautiful. She is too like a child’s inexpert drawing, with her head absurdly big for the mouse-brown body that is at the same time neat and clumsy.

Poor grotesque beasts! Whose fault is it that they are as they are? From that day far down the increasing centuries, before the Pyramids, before Abraham, when the first wild ass was haltered and loaded. his kind have been abused, overweighted, beaten, ill-fed, chancily watered; kicks and goads have come their way more often than pats and praise. Little wonder they were reft of their real grace and swiftness to become the stunted toilers that we know, waifs of the world, clowns among horses, a byword for patience and humbleness.

This particular donkey has been acquired to keep the grass down on a small country acreage. She has not been neglected or abused, but instead was deliberately sought out and purchased from a horse dealer who kept the little jenny among a herd of ponies in the New Forest of England’s Hampshire region. Dorcas was a costly acquisition, donkeys apparently being rare and hard to come by in this particular place and time – England in the late 1950s – but the transaction was made and Dorcas soon adapted to her new home.

Dorcas’ new life was in no way harsh or unhappy; her days were filled with peaceful grazing and visits over the fence with many passers-by, occasionally pulling a small cart, being taken for short rides by her owner and visiting children, and, on one memorable occasion, embarrassing her owner mightily by refusing to participate in a horse show in the most public fashion possible, by rooting herself immovably in the show ring as the rest of the participants circled round in perfect form.

Dorcas provided her owner with years of interest and pleasure, mostly by her mere possession and the enjoyment of watching her carry on her natural inclinations and habits.

Doris Rybot tells the tale of Dorcas with the minimum of sentimentality – she sees her donkey and her own role as animal owner and caregiver through pragmatic eyes – but at the same time she speaks most movingly about the treatment of Dorcas’s tribe through the centuries, and expands this to a plea to treat all animals with respect. In between personal anecdotes featuring not only Dorcas but the other animals in her life, Doris retells a number of legends and Biblical stories in which the humble ass takes a prominent part.

An unusual and very heartfelt book, by a writer who has a deep and articulate love of all creatures from the lowliest insect to humankind itself. A hidden gem of a book, which I am quite thrilled (in a quiet way) to have come across.

I’ve done a little bit of background research on Doris Rybot, and have discovered little about her except that she did write at least one other book, It Began Before Noah, and that she also appears as Doris Almon Ponsonby, and that she was born in 1907.

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I’ve been on a lightning trip to the coast to take the dancer to choreography sessions and to pick up pointe shoes and other arcane neccessities. It was an enjoyable and productive – if rather rushed – excursion, but I’m glad to be back home.

A few glimpses from the side of the road on the trip home today.

A frozen waterfall in the Fraser Canyon near Boston Bar; snow-dusted hills above Lytton; sagebrush above the Thompson River south of Ashcroft.

I would have liked to have stopped more often and taken many more photos. It was a beautiful day to be out and about –  the roads were quiet and the light was lovely – but dark comes quickly this time of year and we just made it home as dusk deepened into night as it was.

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The Way of a Gardener: a life’s journey by Des Kennedy ~ 2010. This edition: Greystone Books, 2010. Softcover. ISBN: 978-1-55365-417-9. 271 pages.

My rating: 8/10. Beautifully written, but I found myself occasionally tuning out – just a tiny bit – in the later chapters. The author’s life has been so full that he just barely touches on many of the events in his later years. I would love to have seen this as a volume one of a multi-volume biography, ending at his leaving the seminary, or settling on Denman Island (one of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia’s Georgia Strait, between southern Vancouver Island and the mainland), because I think the last four decades on Denman plus all the environmental involvement could easily fill a book of its own.


I remember when Des Kennedy first blipped onto my radar, through his 1990s columns in Gardens West magazine, a Canadian publication which is de rigueur reading in my fellow gardeners’ social circle. This was soon followed by my purchase of Kennedy’s first book, a collection of essays on unloved creatures – think rats, slugs, spiders and their ilk – called Nature’s Outcasts: Living Things We Love to Hate (1993),and the rest of his gardening books as they were published, the most recent, before this one, being 2008’s An Ecology of Enchantment, which hints at some of the backstory detailed in this current memoir.

He popped up here and there, speaking at a garden show, authoring an article in a gardening magazine, leading a well-advertised garden tour to Ireland – an instantly recognizable figure with his halo of unruly red hair, and his confident gaze straight into the camera.

Much has been made of his time spent as a Catholic seminarian and novice monk; Kennedy left the monastery before he took full vows after continually clashing with his superiors in matters concerning involvement with the secular and artistic world. (Kennedy was in favour of a degree of inter-mingling between the seminarians and the local population of artists, poets and musicians; his immediate supervisors were not.)

From the Greystone Books website:

A personal and revealing exploration of a life lived close to the earth, from one of Canada’s best-loved gardeners.

Called “a green-thumb rogue” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis), accomplished novelist, satirist, and garden writer Des Kennedy describes his life journey from a childhood of strict Irish Catholicism in Britain to a charmed existence amid the gardens of his Gulf Island home in British Columbia.

From his appearance as an innocent dressed in white for his First Holy Communion to his days as a young seminarian in black habit, through the Beat poetry scene in New York City and the social upheavals of the 1960s, this monk-turned-pilgrim pursues a quest for meaning and purpose.

After leaving monastic life and moving west, Kennedy takes up a new vocation in what has been called the Church of the Earth. On a rural acreage, he and his partner build their home from recycled and hand-hewn materials and create gardens that provide food as well as a symbiosis with the earth that is as profoundly spiritual as past religious rituals. Spiced with irreverence and an eye for the absurd, The Way of a Gardener ranges over environmental activism, Aboriginal rights, writing for a living, amateur wood butchery, the protocols of small community living, and the devilish obscenity of a billy goat at stud.

This book describes Kennedy’s childhood years in Liverpool, before his emigration with his family to Canada at the age of ten in 1955. Growing up in a strongly religious Roman-Catholic family, Kennedy convinced himself that a religious career was his vocation; he spent eight years studying and working towards this goal, and eventually graduated with a degree in Philosophy from the Passionist Monastic Seminary in New York in 1968.

He then left the religious life and drifted and travelled for a time, ending in Vancouver as a school teacher and social worker. There he met the love of his life, Sandy Lesyk, who has been his companion and partner ever since. In 1972 the couple moved to a rural acreage on quiet Denman Island, where they proceeded to pursue the not-terribly-simple “simple” life, building a house from salvaged materials and clearing the land to establish a large garden. The couple still live there today, and still pursue the same lifestyle, though the vegetables now share space with a unique and individualistic mature ornamental garden which has received many praises and was the site of a weekly television show in the 1990s.

Despite the title, this is most emphatically not a book about gardening. It is a highly personal memoir about the time before the gardener emerged, and a look backwards at the sometimes rough and twisted path the author travelled, before the arrival at the gates of the present very earthly “Eden”.

Those coming cold to this book, without knowing who the heck Des Kennedy is now, may wonder what it’s all about. I must confess that if I had not already had the context of knowing about the writer, I might not have found this partial autobiography as interesting as I did.

Definitely recommended for those already familiar with this author, as it gives a marvelous insight into the background of this mesmerizing British Columbia gardening and environmentally “green” figure.

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On the outer edge of autumn. October 17, 2012.

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Small Stories of a Gentle Island by Ruth Loomis ~ 1986. This edition: Reflections, Ladysmith, British Columbia, 1986. Illustrated by Carol Evans. Softcover. ISBN: 0-9692570-0-7. 96 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10. I enjoy re-reading up this slight volume of memoirs every few years, and I suspect it will always remain in my permanent collection of British Columbia books. I do wish it were a bit longer; many of the stories stop short, leaving the reader yearning for more. Ruth Loomis doubtless has a fount of knowledge and stories of this area; I would be thrilled to read a longer, more in-depth volume going into more detail. A very personal memoir, this one, and one almost feels as if one were eavesdropping on a private conversation. Well done.


In 1952, young and newly married Ruth Loomis moved with her husband from bustling Seattle to small Pylades Island in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. Here an alternative lifestyle moved from dream to reality. A home and garden were established, two babies born, and the challenges and joys of a life intimately connected with the sea and nature were embraced.

Time moved on, and twenty years later the marriage dissolved and the island was left behind. This was shortly followed by the tragic death of Ruth’s eldest daughter, and, after trying to cope with her multiple sorrows by immersing herself in the busy mainland world, Ruth decided to go back to the island alone.

She lived there until 1985, when she left for the last time. Pylades was sold, and Ruth moved to Vancouver Island. This book is a collection of reminiscences and a loving farewell to the dream and the reality.

A slender volume, only ninety-six pages, but it captures the essence of one woman’s thoughts and feelings about a very unique time and place. Having recently returned from a Vancouver Island visit, and after having leaned on the railings of the ferry crossing the Strait, yearning romantically for a chance to explore those wave-surrounded rocky isles glimpsed all too briefly in the ship’s swift passage, I sought out this book on my return. The smell of sea and cedar seem to waft from its pages, among other evocative aromas.

The Gulf Islands are famous for their free spirits and willing experimenters with various relaxants and hallucinogens, and it is apparent from this memoir that Ruth was no exception; some of the vignettes are very much tinted with a haze of unreality, though most are straightforward stories. There is a strong vein of melancholy and sorrow throughout, though it is balanced by remembrances of joy and healing.

In her Introduction, Ruth says

I survived, discovering that life has a healing balm alongside its searing forces. I needed time, time to feel my past dissolve into the present. That love of now Pylades gave, with its interplay of seasons and sea-life. The fantasy that I controlled my life vanished. I became interested in the essence of creation, slowly realizing I was not separate but part of it. Others occasionally came to this gentle island who needed time too, whether a few hours, days or months which Pylades gave.

The stories follow a chronological path, from 1957 to 1986, allowing brief and vivid glimpses of moments now lost in time. Along with the poignancy and the regrets there is plenty of humour and thoughtful musing. This is a slender little volume, an hour or two’s reading, but the stories stay in one’s head long after the book is put back on the shelf.

The Visitor ~ 1957

Butter Money ~ 1959

Today, Tomorrow and the Brother ~ 1961

Fog ~ 1968

Five Days of Nina ~ 1970

Appointment with God ~ 1974

Squatters ~ 1975

Susanne ~ 1978

Mushrooms and the Renaissance Man ~ 1979

Play with the Dolphin ~ 1980

Eagles ~ 1984

The Last Season ~ 1985

B.C. readers, keep an eye out for this one in secondhand book stores. If you find it, open it up and spend a few minutes in Ruth’s lost world, and perhaps give it a home on your own shelves among other records of our past.

A postscript. We were curious about the eventual fate of Pylades Island, and did a bit of internet research. Pylades was on the market again  in 2009, and a lot comprising half of the island, with Ruth’s derelict old home on it, had just sold for something like $2,400,000. I hope Ruth profited to a like degree upon her departure. Here are several picture taken at the time of that sale. Dream away!

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Over 40 in Broken Hill by Jack Hodgins ~ 1992. This edition: McClelland and Stewart, 1992. Softcover. ISBN: 0-7710-4192-6. 197 pages.

My rating: 8.5/10. Unpretentious and good-humoured, without stooping to farce. Jack can, as needed, poke a bit of fun at himself, but he keeps his self-respect and extends that regard to others.


This is a book without a Great Big Purpose, which is too often rare in a travel book, into which category this work mainly falls. Over 40 is a rather elegantly presented account of two writers on the loose in Australia. One, Australian novelist Roger McDonald, is researching his next book, a non-fiction account of the politics and conflicts between New Zealand and Australian sheep shearers working the vast outback flocks, and the other is our own British Columbian Jack, tagging along with his friends and colleague for the four-week trip.

Jack finds himself taking notes throughout the journey, and ends by writing his own account of the fascinating people and unique places the two encounter. Quirky, often humorous, fair-minded and very readable. I enjoyed this travel memoir.

Jack Hodgins is well-known in B.C. literary circles for his fiction, from his now-iconic short story collection Spit Delaney’s Island in 1976 to his most recent novel, The Master of Happy Endings in 2010. Over 40 in Broken Hill was something of a departure from the fictional norm of this author, but it worked for me.

I’ve read a number of this author’s works over the years, and think very highly of his distinctive style. (He reminds me a bit of Robertson Davies, but without the aura of intellectual snobbery that Davies sometimes projects.) I am not alone in this regard, as Jack Hodgins was awarded an Order of Canada in 2010 for his lifetime contribution to Canadian literature. An author well worth exploring, if you are not already familiar with him.

Side note: The “40” referred to in the title has a double meaning. Think age, and then think degrees Celsius. There is a chapter midway through the book that clarifies the reference most engagingly.

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The best-laid plans oft gang agley, and so also do the spontaneous ones. We’ve all been laid low, in beautiful synchronicity, by an evil virus our daughter brought home from her newly convened dance studio chums. Hacking and barking like a bevy of two-legged seals, we hiked about Pacific Rim Park with ever-lessening enthusiasm for several days, before blearily deciding to suffer the rest of the awful illness’ term at home in relative comfort.

It wasn’t all so bad – there were some quite good bits. We hit low tide in early morning on several beaches, all alone but for the sea creatures in the intertidal zones; we napped away two beautifully sunny afternoons in the warm sand, wakening to read for a bit, watch the surfers attempt to catch those obviously rare “perfect waves”, and doze again; we people-watched one morning in Tofino and had a grand brunch at The Common Loaf, the iconic local bakery; we sat around numerous campfires commiserating with each other and comparing symptoms; we visited the Ucluelet Aquarium and chatted with the ever-enthusiastic and knowledgeable biologists and volunteers; and even, on our last day, managed a side trip into the big city to visit the Cone Sisters Retrospective “Collecting Matisse” exhibition on loan from Baltimore, at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

We pulled out of the city and headed up the Sea-to-Sky Highway at 2:30 and made it home just before midnight – a marathon drive, but the reward was an enthusiastic greeting by our canine and feline crew, and our own cozy beds. Today we’ve been wandering about a bit lost and culture-shocked by the abrupt changes in our generally sedate lives this past week.

Newly topped up with sea air and a dash of culture, we’re thinking we’re now ready to face our getting-ready-for-winter chores with fresh enthusiasm. Or, to be honest, we will be ready soon, once we get a bit further along in our viral journey.

I only managed to read two short books, and I didn’t take too many pictures, but here are a few souvenirs of the lightning-fast trip. Next time…


We arrived just in time for a rare clear evening and an awe-inspiring sunset over the ocean, next landfall Japan.

Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

A very special place.

And a while later, the real celestial show began.

Early the next morning we enjoyed the company of ravens scouting for a low tide meal, and using a convenient driftwood structure as a lookout post.

Starfish. (But you knew that, didn’t you?)

 And many sea anemones.

Waves at Incinerator Rock, a favourite surfer’s hangout. Can you see the two “Bobs” in the water? We decided that all surfers are named Bob, because that’s what they spent the vast majority of their time doing. Waiting on the perfect wave! This is wetsuit water, even in high summer. They hung around for hours out there, like seals in the surf, while we napped and watched from our warm and sandy nook among the washed up driftwood logs.

And on our last morning, we caught low tide and waited for the turning at the perfectly named Halfmoon Bay. Down a kilometre and a half of no longer sign-posted trail, ending in a precipitous ocean side staircase fast giving in to the elements, we were the only people here for hours. We met a few fellow trekkers coming in as we were leaving – perfect timing and a lovely way to end our too-short visit.

If you ever get a chance to visit this glorious area, do it! There’s never a bad time, summer or winter, rain or shine.

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