A Message from our President
Nearly a month into the new year and we are still dealing with this insidious pandemic, awaiting our vaccines, and wondering when this plague shall pass. I am anticipating great joy when I can once again see my family, have lunch with friends, and welcome visitors to my house. I have learned some very important lessons from almost a year of isolation. The main one being there is absolutely nothing that replaces the pleasure I derive from human contact of all kinds. I long to visit the grocery store, chat with fellow shoppers, run into a shop and pick up a needed item, and visit the library meandering through the stacks. I have missed going to the Colonial and the Strand to see movies with fellow cinephiles, worshipping with friends at St. Margaret’s on Sundays, driving a few hours to discover a new Maine attraction or eatery, and just the feeling of freedom which I feel I have lost. Finally, l really miss those Thursday classes at the Hutch with coffee and cookies, and so many friendly faces! But I know it all will return and hopefully before the end of 2021.
When we started the Chronicles we had no idea it would be enjoyed by so many and we are pleased that you are still contributing. We will continue sending it out as long as you send us your essays, reviews, drawings, paintings, photographs, and stories. It is a wonderful way to share with others and to stay in touch with Senior College friends and acquaintances. So write a review, snap a picture from your window, send us a great recipe you have enjoyed, or just a few sentences on how your time is spent. We all want to know about one another!
We recently received an excellent suggestion from a member that inviting former instructors to present updates on their course contents would make for interesting reading. We have written to a number of individuals who have taught in the past and we are looking forward to receiving their contributions to share with you.
In addition, consider joining us on Zoom. There are openings in a number of classes and soon we will be writing about upcoming opportunities in the Spring. In the meantime stay safe, healthy, and warm!
Photographs by Jim Kosinski who teaches photography at Senior College
Icy Cold and Salty
by Brenda Smith
As I stepped onto the sparkling crystalline crust of this remarkable geologic formation, it was impossible to believe that the hard white surface was anything but frozen solid ice. But it wasn’t. It was salt. It covered an ancient brine pool, which in prehistoric times had been an immense lake. From the moment I learned the Salar de Uyuni existed, 340 miles south of my home in La Paz, Bolivia, I set my sights on seeing this natural wonder for myself. Four of my daring friends from the American embassy signed on to make the rugged trip with me.
Our pre-trip research revealed the Salar was the largest salt flat in the world, with a polygonal quilted surface covering 4,000 square miles. (The size of the big island of Hawaii) Ten billion tons of salt are stored in its crust and the submerged brine holds the world’s richest untapped source of lithium. Uyuni, by contrast, was a miniscule village, barely worthy of a dot on the map, in the southwest corner of Bolivia’s Altiplano.
The dry season, when the dirt roadways would be in their most passable condition, was the only practical time to attempt this journey. Unfortunately dry season coincided with the winter months. On the 12,000 foot high plains, daytime temperatures were pleasantly tolerable with warm clothing, but after sunset they quickly plummeted below freezing.
Though we followed the country’s major north to south “highway,” the only other vehicles we encountered were heavy duty transport trucks. For two days each way we bumped and bounced over a route that carried us across hard-packed dirt, ideal for kicking up billowing dust clouds, to narrow, deeply rutted channels requiring skillful navigation. Wherever the roadway became impassable, we followed the truckers’ ad hoc detours into the encroaching desert, avoiding 20 foot high giant cactus while weaving through quivering tussocks of puna grass.
For our two 4-wheel drive jeeps, the toughest challenge was crossing the eight streams that submerged the roadway under anywhere from a few inches to three feet of swift moving water. On the more dicey crossings we waited until a truck arrived to help us plot a safe route through the water. One veteran driver insisted the key to a successful crossing was to scout the route, then hit the gas and not let up until you reached dry ground on the far side. His wisdom served us well as we sloshed through the current from one bank to the other.
Uyuni’s few small buildings appeared on the horizon late in the afternoon of our second day. We decided to set up camp out on the salt flats, to put some distance between us and the settlement’s locals whose unwelcome scowls discouraged us from camping too close to their casitas. Mindful that the night wind tearing across the endless open space of the Salar would be wicked, we positioned our jeeps in a “V” formation, a windbreak of sorts, and set up our tents inside its shelter. Hot soup with bread, washed down with hot tea gave our bodies a head start on fending off the bitter coldness. Exhausted by two hard days of jouncing over washboard roadways, we slept snuggly in our down sleeping bags.
The next morning intensely bright sunshine shone through the nylon walls of our tents waking us to a spectacular day. The wind had calmed to a refreshing breeze and the cloudless sky was a brilliant sapphire blue. We were eager to explore the salt flats. Not far from our camp we noticed a cholita and her children. All around them were three foot tall white cone shaped piles of salt.
She explained that local workers “mined” the salt, by scraping surface layers into piles for exporting to buyers both in Bolivia and beyond. We also learned from her that just a short distance beyond where we camped was the track used by truckers hauling goods to villages further southwest and into Chile. The flat level surface of the Salar was a trucker’s dream as they could cover the 90 miles across the salt in a quarter of the time that circling the lake on dirt roads would take.
When she discovered we were planning to drive out into the middle of the Salar, she wagged a short leathery finger at us, vehemently insisting that we stay on the track. She warned the crust varied dramatically in thickness, and the brine beneath in some places was as much as 430 feet deep. When she pointed at our eyes, I donned the second pair of sunglasses we had been warned to bring as the sun’s reflection off the sparkling salt crystals had been known to cause blindness and permanent eye damage to those who ignored this precaution.
By mid-morning we were speeding along a barely discernible track leaving the shore line far behind in the distance. Soon the only thing ahead of us was a flat scene of nothing but two colors: blue above, white below. After an hour we stopped to take pictures. I wandered away from the group and stood transfixed. I felt like I had stepped into a two dimensional world.
There was nothing except infinite blue and white. There was no sense of depth. Nothing moved. I took two steps forward but the scene ahead of me was exactly the same. There was no sense of time passing. No right or wrong, no ugly or beautiful, no good or bad, just rich deep blue and pure white. There were no sounds, no words. I wanted to swallow the solitude and breathe in the peace of where I was. There was only the moment in which I existed. Alone.
Gradually my feeling of contentment faded. What if this was all that ever existed? What if nothing ever changed? Everything frozen forever with nothing but blue and white. Could this be what hell is? Suddenly I wanted to run from here, to escape the sensory deprivation that unsettled me to my core.
I turned and in doing so, with great relief, re-entered our world of four dimensions. As I dashed back to where my friends were gathered by our jeeps, I felt euphoric to hear their sweet voices and sense myself drawing closer to them. We drove back to a small island we had passed earlier on, where a few tall cactus plants somehow were thriving in the middle of this barren environment. We spread a blanket on the surface of salt, which we constantly had to remind ourselves not to call ice, and prepared our picnic sandwiches. As much as we were awed by the Salar’s unique physical characteristics, we had all sensed and were a bit unnerved by the mystical otherworldly aura that pervaded the surrounding landscape.
Though we had intended to camp another night at the edge of the Salar we came to a unanimous decision to start the journey back toward our own warm beds in La Paz that afternoon. Pleased with our resolve to leave the Salar in the rear view mirror, we turned the jeeps around and headed north.
Brenda lived in Bolivia for four years while working for the U.S. Agency for International Development. At that time there were only two paved roads in the country, so most of the exploring that she did was on dirt roads in her trusty little Suzuki Jeep.
Guilt free good-for-you Brownies
After indulging on rich foods over the holidays, are you looking for a delicious little treat that is good for you and guilt free? Yes, such a thing does exist – and don’t be put off by the black beans, no one will guess they are in there.
15 oz black beans, drained and rinsed
2 ripe bananas
1/3 C agave nectar, honey, molasses, or maple syrup (or any combination thereof)
1/4 C unsweetened cocoa
1 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 C oats
Chocolate chips, chopped dry fruit, chopped crystalized ginger
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 8″x8″ pan and set aside.
Combine all ingredients, except oats, in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, scraping sides as needed.
Stir in the oats, and as much as you like of chocolate chips, fruit or ginger. Pour batter into the pan.
Bake approximately 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before slicing.
If you find these brownies are too soft or too fudgey, add another 1/4 C oats or some flour.
Thought for the Day
What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.
John W. Gardener
Courtesy of Gratefulness.org