Meandering along the Basin Trail

In case you haven’t noticed, I quite enjoy walks and hikes. My latest excursion, last weekend, was The Basin Trail at Fort Fisher. The Basin Trail (difficulty: easy) is 1.10 miles one way-so a little over 2 miles there and back.  It begins at the Fort Fisher Visitor Center and winds along the sound side of Fort Fisher across straw, wooded walkways and sand. It travels down a path surrounded by trees, shrubbery, the marsh, a World War II bunker and it ends at an observation deck overlooking the Basin.

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Along the way, you can expect to see Spartina salt marsh, hermit crabs and an assortment of seabirds, including but not limited to, plovers and oystercatchers. There is also an abundance of fish, shrimp, clams and oysters. Depending on the time of year, you may also see loggerhead turtles, hawks, ducks and many more species.

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You will pass a WWII bunker that was originally built by the Army Service Forces in 1942 when Fort Fisher was part of a training and support facility for Camp Davis, located in Holly Ridge. Fort Fisher closed as a training facility in 1944 and the bunker was abandoned; but from 1956-1972, Robert Harrill, a hermit who lived on the salt marsh, found and occupied the bunker. Mr. Harrill fascinates me and I intend to talk about him further in a separate post. 

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Once you reach the observation deck, you will see Zeke’s Island across the water. You may also see Brown pelicans fishing, kayakers or even an occasional wind skier.  

After you walk the trail, you can do like I did and enjoy the beach. The parking at the visitor center is free and provides access to the beach. The visitor center also provides restrooms, tables and an area to rinse off when you exit the beach.

Not a bad afternoon for free fun.

Wanderlust

I just wish the world was twice as big and half of it was still unexplored.
-David Attenborough

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When I was a kid, there were two ways that I could explore: in my head or by going outside. A little patch of land like this one, nestled between homes in a busy housing development, could have represented a number of things to me. It could have been a forest in medieval Europe or a haunted patch of land in my hometown. It could have been the home of faeries, ghosts or a haven for talking animals whose voices came alive at night after humans went to sleep. In my mind, I could have used this spot to travel anywhere. I just needed it to set the atmosphere.

In reality, this patch of land is located in a lovely middle-class neighborhood, not a new cookie-cutter community, but one of the older ones where people have bigger yards, the trees are established, and each home is unique. This neighborhood is in a prime location that is currently under heavy development. In a way that is understandable, but it is also rather sad. I worry for the character of the neighborhood. I worry about the animals that live in these little patches of land. And I worry about our collective imaginations as we lose so much green space.

I came across this spot this afternoon when I was walking with a friend and her dog. When I saw it, my imagination was immediately piqued. I knew that I had to take a picture and I felt the same twinge of excitement that I did when I encountered such scenes as a kid. That heartens me. It shows me that I haven’t completely lost the curiosity and sense of adventure that I had as a kid, even if it has been tamed by the demands of “adulting”. I hope I never do.

This world is but a canvas for our imagination.

-Henry David Thoreau

Brookgreen Gardens

A few days ago, I wrote my Haiku of the Spectacular Pig whom I met recently when I visited Brookgreen Gardens. I actually saw several beautiful sculptures that day and thought I would share a few more with you.

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Brookgreen Gardens was founded in Myrtle Beach, SC in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Their intent was to display American sculpture, develop gardens using plants from the South Carolina Low Country, and educate others about art, conservation and the history of the region.

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Archer Huntington wrote that Brookgreen was “a quiet joining of hand between science and art”.  Today, among other things, it contains several plant and sculpture gardens, a zoo that houses animals which are native to the region and an old rice plantation. Brookgreen offers exhibits, classes, pontoon rides, nature excursions and much more.

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I spent several hours at Brookgreen and only saw a small portion of what it has to offer. My first trip focused mostly on the sculpture gardens. I have yet to see the zoo or experience the excursions. 

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But Brookgreen is not a place that you want to rush. I enjoyed savoring the trip. I will go back later to see more. 

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On a practical note, Brookgreen contains two restaurants which are affordably priced so you can stay all day. And if that isn’t long enough, tickets, which are $16 for adults, are good for seven days so you can go back later if you are still in the area!

 

 

Greensboro Writer’s Conference

This weekend, I did something very writery and attended the NC Writer’s Spring Conference. Located at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the conference offered exhibits and book sales, a choice of one morning and one afternoon workshop, faculty readings, open Mike readings and more.

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It was actually a busy weekend in Greensboro as an annual Furniture Market was also taking place. After driving over three hours to Greensboro on Friday afternoon, I was glad to have secured a room early at the local Hyatt as rooms were scarce and overpriced in response to the crowds.  While I sat at the hotel bar sipping a rum and coke and dining on chili and spinach salad, I overheard a few people at the front desk trying to get a room, only to be told that there were no rooms available. I felt very fortunate for mine.

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I slept well on Friday and arrived at the conference on Saturday morning early enough to peruse the exhibit tables. Small publishers and independent bookstores filled their tables with books from NC authors that they had published or were affiliated. A few of them offered information on writing contests. I met a woman who offered to put my name on an email list for an online critique group for people who write children’s books.

 

Next, I attended my first workshop at the conference. The topic was building poems that editors will publish. In the workshop, we discussed lyricism in poetry and finding one’s unique voice as a poet. The author and editor leading the workshop gave us some insight on what she looks for when she screens poems for her press.

 

Afterwards, we broke for lunch. I had never been to the UNCG campus so I googled restaurants close by. There were two within walking distance. As I stood inside the Old Town Draught House, a fellow workshopper from Charlotte, Reita, offered me a look at her menu. A gentleman behind us told us that in order to be served we simply needed to sit down at the bar. We decided to sit together and order. I dined on the Turkey melt with veggies and sweet tea and conversed with Reita over lunch. By the time we finished eating, we had exchanged contact information. We walked back to the workshop and parted ways. I went on to listen to a few faculty readings.

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My afternoon workshop, geared towards children’s authors, was titled “Exercising the Imagination”.  We discussed ways to tap into our personal passions and take our stories in new directions. The author leading the workshop gave us some ideas for exercises that we could use to access our imaginations. He was also a good source of information regarding future conferences.

 

Before I left for the day, I decided to pick up a book from both of my workshop presenters. They were on sale at the exhibit tables and were reasonably priced. Running Music  by Crystal Simone Smith is a book of poems and The Nine Pound Hammer  by John Claude Bemis is a YA fantasy book that explores American mythology. I look forward to reading them both.

 

Before I hit the road, I googled the closest Starbuck’s and picked up a Starbuck’s Mocha and a cookie. Probably not so wise as I’m trying to lose a little weight, but I’ll start over tomorrow. I had a long ride ahead of me and kind of wanted something special to take the edge off the commute.

I’m really glad I went to the conference this weekend. It was a great source of instruction and information, and I met a lot of pleasant people. Plus it was empowering. I don’t often travel alone overnight and it was kind of nice to go on my own. It was also nice to take another step towards fulfilling my desire to be a writer.   

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Brunswick Nature Park

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I encountered Brunswick Nature Park a while back when I passed it leaving Brunswick Town. I had heard about the park in the past, but I had never explored it. As I hadn’t intended upon exploring it when I did, I wasn’t wearing the best walking shoes; but they were good enough for a quick look around so I decided to check it out.

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Brunswick Nature Park is located in Winnabow NC, along Town Creek, on 911 acres of land. It includes three hiking trails (my biggest interest): The Long Leaf Trail (beginner level), the Live Oak Trail (beginner) and the Dogwood Trail (intermediate) and four bike trails, including an advanced obstacle course. Hikers are allowed on the bike trails, but I am sure you would want to be mindful of bikers and exercise both caution and courtesy when walking on those trails. In addition, the park offers picnic shelters, kayak launches and scenic overlooks.

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I parked my car near one of the overlooks and decided to venture just a little ways onto the Live Oak hiking trail which is 1.44 miles long. The scenic dirt trail, marked by red dots on the trees, is not too difficult but you do want to watch your step. The terrain is a little more hilly than we locals generally encounter in our flat beach communities-which I love- and is strewn with branches, roots and all kinds of vegetation. I’m sure there are plenty of critters out there, as well. In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw a gator sign on the way into the park (although he probably hangs out near the creek) and if I was a snake I would certainly choose to live there. Despite that, as I walked along the trail I found myself wanting to go deeper and deeper into the woods, there was so much to see and explore. Had I been wearing the proper shoes, and maybe had a buddy with me, I could have turned it into a very good hike. I’m certain that it is also a great place to watch for birds and other animals. I was fortunate enough to have my camera with me so I took advantage of that and snapped some pictures. At some point, because of my shoes, I cut the hike short and turned around. I walked back to the overlook, where a family sat by the water, and looked at the creek for a while.

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My trip to the park was brief, but it was long enough for me to soak up some of the magic of the outdoors. I left feeling more relaxed than when I came and with a greater sense of well-being (that tends to happen to me outside) and it was also long enough for me to establish that I will go back to visit again when I’m better prepared, perhaps take a pair of binoculars and a picnic lunch. You might want to check it out, too, if you are in the area!

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Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church

Saints Peter and Paul Russian and Greek Orthodox Church resides in St. Helena, NC about 26 miles outside of Wilmington. I was introduced to the church by my parents a while back when they found out that I was writing and taking pictures of churches.

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Called The Disappearing Church, there are currently only three members: Ann Debaylo Mizerak, her son, David and her sister, Mary. When Ann and Mary are no longer able to help care for the church, David will care for it along with some cousins. They have not had a full-time priest since 1998, but they meet loyally every Sunday at 10am.  *Check out the short video documentary at the link above for more details. I personally found it rather haunting in a good way.*

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According to an article in Our State Magazine Sts Peter and Paul church is the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in North Carolina. In 1905, a developer from Wilmington, Hugh McRae, purchased land in Pender County, NC for the purpose of creating small, European-style farms. He hired immigrants from various ethnic groups to do the farming and between 1923-1932, several Ukrainian and Russian families made their way to St. Helena. In 1932, McRae gave them a deed for land so they could build a church. The church was once thriving, but throughout the years, as families moved away or children assimilated and moved on, attendance began to wane.

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Some unique features of the church, at least for this area, are the gold dome architecture associated with Byzantine churches and the triple-barred cross. The triple-barred cross has three cross-beams: the top one is a title bar where “Jesus, King of Jews” was written, there is the center beam standard to Christian crosses and the bottom beam which is a foot rest.

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Currently, Sts Peter and Paul Church is in the process of being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. I would like to see that happen as this church contributes a unique and fascinating story. It would be a shame to forget it.

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St. Philip’s Church at Brunswick Town

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I first started writing about churches at the beginning of Lent. In some countries, it is customary to visit seven churches during Holy Week. I knew that I could not visit seven churches in one week, but felt like I could talk about seven different churches over the season of Lent. So far, we have talked about:

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Wilmington, NC; Santo Thomas Catholic Church in Chichicastenango, Guatemala; Chapel of the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Sedona, AZ, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Episcopalian Church in Savannah, GA and Ann Street Methodist Church in Beaufort, NC. 

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The sixth church on my list is St. Phillip’s Anglican Church. St. Philip’s is not an active church anymore, but rather ruins of a previous church. It was occupied for only 8 years, from 1768-1776, when the British set it on fire during an attack. The walls of the church are the only thing that remain. The church is located in Brunswick town, a “colonial ghost town” along the Cape Fear River in an area that was originally inhabited by Native Americans who were defeated in the Tuscarora War in 1715.  

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In 1862, during the Civil War, Confederate Army soldiers built trenches and a fort in Brunswick Town. It was eventually named Fort Anderson.  In 1865, when Union soldiers attacked and defeated Confederate soldiers at Fort Anderson, some of the graves at St. Philip’s church were desecrated and Confederate bodies were left inside the church.

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In the 1950’s, archaeologists began excavating the area around St. Philip’s and Ft. Anderson. They were able to find many historical artifacts, including the foundations of various structures, old bullets and “bombproofs” which were shelters used during enemy bombardment. Excavations are still ongoing and archaeologists continue to find artifacts.

In 1978, the area was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and more recently the television show, “Sleepy Hollow”, used the site as a set location for some of its episodes.

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(Yikes)

I visited the site in the 1980’s as a teenager and did not return again until recently, when I decided to write about it. I walked around inside the shell of the church and toured the grounds. Due to the multitude of historical tragedies that occurred in the area, an air of creepiness hovers about the site. Honestly, that is probably what drew me there as a teenager. However, and on the other hand, it is genuinely fascinating and quite lovely, as well. There is ample space for walking, a trail that extends along the river and lush, old trees all around the property.

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Ann Street Methodist Church and Old Burying Ground

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My introduction to the Ann Street Methodist Church occurred when I visited the Old Burying Ground in Beaufort, NC. Beaufort, founded in 1709, is the third-oldest city in North Carolina. It is a town rich in history with stories from the civil war, pre-civil war and even Blackbeard the pirate who ran his ship ashore in 1719. The Old Burying Ground, the town’s oldest cemetery,  is located between two churches on Ann St: First Baptist Church and Ann Street Methodist Church which was established in 1778.

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(Photo credit: Ann Street United Methodist Church)

Ann Street Methodist Church has its own stories. During the civil war, Union soldiers moved into the church. The sanctuary was used as a field hospital then later it was also used as a hospital during the yellow fever. The cemetery entrance is to the side of the church with the grounds stretching behind the church.

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Upon entering the burying grounds, one can take a brochure which highlights the graves in the cemetery. I, myself, am a fan of cemeteries, not because of some morbid curiosity, but rather because of the stories that they tell. Each grave is a snapshot both into someone’s life and into the times in which they lived. Here are a few interesting snapshots taken directly from the brochure:

 

Pierre Henry (1812-1877) — and Annie Henry (1816-1904) African Americans who were leaders in the education of emancipated slaves and their children at the Washburn Seminary. He was born free during the period of slavery. The school was one of many established in the South by the Congregational Churches of the North following the Civil War.

 

Captain John Sabiston (1800’s) — Died near Charleston, S.C. and was brought home by his crew. People gathered by the wharf at the foot of Turner Street as his body was taken off his ship. They followed as it was taken on a bier through the dark streets of town to the graveyard and lowered into the readied grave by torch light.

 

Sarah Gibbs (d.1792) & Jacob Shepard (d.1773) — Sarah was married to Jacob Shepard, a seaman. Jacob’s ship went to sea, but never returned. He was presumed to be dead. Later, Sarah married Nathaniel Gibbs and had a child with him. After an absence of several years, the shipwrecked Jacob Shepard unexpectedly returned to Beaufort to find his wife married to another man. The two men agreed that Sarah would remain with Gibbs as long as she lived, but must spend eternity at the side of Jacob Shepard.

 

“Crissie Wright” Common Grave — “Cold as the night the ‘Crissie Wright’ went ashore” is still heard around Beaufort. The sailors who froze to death after the wreck of that ship in January, 1886 are buried together in this grave. It is said this tragedy led to the establishment of the Cape Lookout Lifesaving Station in 1887.

 

Girl in Barrel of Rum — Here is the grave of a girl buried in a barrel of rum. In the 1700s an English family, including an infant daughter, came to Beaufort. The girl grew up with a desire to see her homeland, and finally persuaded her mother to allow her to make the voyage. Her father promised his wife he would return the girl safely. The girl enjoyed her visit to London, but died on the voyage home. She would have been buried at sea, but her father could not bear to break his promise. He purchased a barrel of rum from the captain, placed her body in it, and brought it to Beaufort for burial.

 

Can you imagine the reaction to a story like the Girl in Barrel of Rum if it were to happen today?

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(Photo Credit: Old Burying Ground)

If you ever get the chance to visit Beaufort, I encourage you to stop by the Old Burying Ground behind Ann St Methodist Church. Afterwards, there are several quaint restaurants and coffee houses in case you are hungry or just need a little pick me up. I’m particularly fond of the Chai Latte at the Beaufort Coffee shop on Turner St.

Have a great weekend, all!

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

I’m fortunate enough to have an old group of girlfriends with which to travel from time to time. As a group, we’ve taken several “girls weekends” together. We’re all scattered across North Carolina so the trips have generally been around the south for close proximity: Savannah, Myrtle Beach, Topsail Island, Beaufort, Williamsburg and more. I’ve known these ladies for years. For me, the relationships date back to college or shortly after; for a few of them they date back even further. We’ve even named our group: SWAGs. It stands for Southern Women Aging Gracefully. I’m not sure who came up with it. It wasn’t me. Truthfully, it took a while for me to really embrace the name, mostly because I didn’t feel old. Now, in my forties, I’ve finally started to grow into it.

 

It’s often a challenge to schedule our weekends. There are seven of us with busy and differing schedules. A couple of the ladies are single. The rest are married with children. A few work full or part-time jobs. Others are stay-at-home moms or have gone back to school. And not every SWAG can make it on every trip, but we’ve had some good ones throughout the years. I was terribly excited the year we went to Savannah. We rented a beach house on Tybee Island, 30 minutes from Savannah, and spent part of our time relaxing on the beach. We also spent some time in downtown Savannah. We strolled the streets, visited the shops, and ate lunch (shrimp and grits for me). We toured cemeteries and even took a haunted carriage ride as it became dark later in the day. I loved Savannah. It was eclectic, dripping with history, but also populated with young artsy hipsters.

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We encountered the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist during our exploration of downtown Savannah. St. John’s, a Victorian Gothic cathedral, is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Georgia. It was founded by French Catholic emigres from Haiti in the 1700’s.  The original building suffered a fire in 1898, but was rebuilt in 1900. It was larger than life in every sense of the word. In order to find the cathedral we followed the steeples from a distance, and once we entered the church, it did not disappoint. From the stained-glass windows to the ornate altar to the images of the crucifixion displayed around the church, it was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever visited.

Below are some more of the photos I took of the Cathedral.

You can see additional pictures at the link above.

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Have a great Saturday, all!

 

Iglesia de Santo Tomás

Iglesia de Santo Tomas is located in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. I visited the church in 2010 while on a short-term mission trip with a team from the church that I was attending at the time. The goal of my team was to help build houses for widows and orphans and to work in feeding centers following an intense period of civil war in Guatemala. Our house was blocks from Santo Tomas.

 

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I found the opportunity to explore the church late one afternoon with a few people from my team. I believe it was a Sunday after the market closed. Chichicastenango is also host to one of the largest, most colorful outdoor markets in Central America. It occurs on Thursdays and Sundays.

One of the girls on my team stopped me as I started to walk out the door. She frowned and asked if I really wanted to go to  Santo Tomas. She said that someone else on our team had already visited the church and told her that it was “dark” and had kind of an eerie feel to it. I said that I would be mindful of that, but I really wanted to see the church. I remembered researching Chichi before I ever visited Guatemala and I had seen pictures of Santo Tomas. There was no way I was not going to seize the opportunity to explore the site.

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People and flowers from the market lingered on the steps of Santo Tomas as we approached. My research had taught me that it was a Catholic church that doubled as a Mayan temple of sorts, as Mayan priests also used the church for their rituals, burning candles and incense and sometimes sacrificing chickens at the church. There was a time when human sacrifices were conducted there, too, but thank goodness, that is no more. There were 18 steps that led to the doors of the church, each one representing a year on the Mayan calendar. The church was enormous, impressive and rather surreal.

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We entered the church and it was, in fact, dark that afternoon. Literally. The lighting was very dim. Candles were scattered throughout the building. Almost immediately, I noticed an older man sitting on the floor surrounded by candles. He was chanting in a language that I did not understand, probably K’iche’. I moved past him toward the sanctuary. A few people sat and prayed in church pews, just like you would see in any Catholic church. It was an interesting juxtaposition to see the two religions being practiced within feet of one another.

As I wandered about the sanctuary, I saw a mixture of sights. In some areas, there were large stains of soot from candles on the wall. It was as if the candles had been burning in the temple for the entire 400 years since it had been built, and nobody had ever offered to wipe down the walls. Of course, that’s an exaggeration and even if it wasn’t, in a country where people are starving, wiping the soot off the walls is the least of anyone’s concerns.

In the front of the church, there were ornate paintings and statues paying tribute to Christ and his followers. Some of them were strikingly beautiful, others not as much. One display, in particular, a gruesome bloody bust of a head, caught my eye. I assumed it was John the Baptist at the time, but it could have been a bust of Christ. We meandered out into a courtyard, which was filled with light and greenery, then proceeded to the front door where we were approached by men begging for money. I’m not sure if they were affiliated with the church or if they wandered in off of the street.

As we walked back to our house, I could see why someone from my church would have found Santo Tomas disconcerting. Our church near the beach was clean with huge windows and lots of light. People went to church in their flipflops, got a coffee from a cafe located inside the church then sat to chit chat with friends as they waited for the service. Services always began with Christian rock songs and sermons were delivered by a cute, good-natured, good-humored preacher. It was a church that delivered positivity. Many of the people who visited Santo Tomas were hungry, desperate and praying to any God that they knew of to ease their suffering. The suffering from the streets bled into the church. This was difficult to reconcile if you felt that churches were supposed to be safe havens to which people retreated to avoid suffering. It was a sharp contrast between two worlds.

I think it’s important to say that even though I saw a lot of suffering in Guatemala, I also saw a lot of resilience and beauty. I went there twice, once in 2010 then again in 2011, and I experienced moments there that were among the most profound and beautiful in my life. I still feel pangs of longing for Guatemala sometimes.

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of one of my trips to Guatemala.

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Corn-it’s very central to the Mayan religion.

 

 

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Beautiful babies peeking at us through the trees.

A tourist day to see the volcano and Lake Atitlan.