Rio da Dúvida – The River of Doubt

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The River

“The mightiest river in the world is the Amazon.  It runs from west to east, from the sunset to the sunrise, from the Andes to the Atlantic. The main stream flows almost along the equator, while the basin which contains the affluents extends many degrees north and south of the equator.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness

The New Year is a beginning.  And when there is a beginning, there seems to be an undercurrent of promised adventures.  Humanity has always been fascinated by the unknown, the thrill of discovery, and the prospect for advancement.  What is less understood is the concept of risk.  Where there is the opportunity for reward, there is always a likelihood of some form of peril.

This River flowed northward toward the equator, but whither it would go, whether it would turn one way or another, the length of its course, where it would come out, the character of the stream itself, and the character of the dwellers along its banks – all these things were yet to be discovered.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness

Theodore “T.R.” Roosevelt, Jr. was a man of action and adventure.  His high-spirited personality and robust appearance belied his sickly childhood clouded by the presence of asthma. Courage and determination pushed him forward, despite losing his first wife and mother on the same day, February 14, 1884.   At 42, he became the youngest President of the United States and the first of three sitting presidents to win the Nobel Peace Prize.   His terms in office were eventful:  The acquisition of the Panama Canal Rights (1904); the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905), the San Francisco earthquake (1906) and the Panic of 1907 where the New York Stock Exchange fell almost 50% from its peak the previous year.  Yet Theodore Roosevelt’s most dramatic adventure was 1913 – 1914 when he teamed up with Cândido Rondon, Brazil’s most famous explorer to follow the River of Doubt, an uncharted tributary of the Amazon, one of the most dangerous and treacherous rivers in the world.  Confident at the outset, the hardships, losses and sickness challenged their resolve. Surviving became a daily goal.

The expedition changed the map of the western hemisphere and the name of the river: Roosevelt River.   In his letter of May 1, 1914 to His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rio de Janeiro, Theodore Roosevelt wrote “My dear Sir, I thank you from my heart for the chance to take part in this great work of exploration.”

Once an adventure starts, there is no telling where it will lead.  As we head into a New Year, may we be open to new ideas and possibilities, to seek the greater good, and to strive with great enthusiasm.

On the Banks of the River Mbashe

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Autumn Rose

 

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 
 Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

The Mbashe flows in a south-eastern direction from its source, Drakensberg, NE of Elliot, Eastern Cape of South Africa through an estuary by the lighthouse at Bashee, to its mouth, the Indian Ocean.   With a basin area of 6,030 km², its tributaries are the Xuka, Mgwali, Dutywa and the Mnyolo rivers.  On the banks of the Mbashe, the small village of Mvezo recorded the birth of a boy on July 18, 1918.  He was named Rolihlahla Mandela.    In the Xhosa language, Rolihlahla means “pulling the branch of a tree,” or “troublemaker.” Whether or not this was a foreshadowing of what his destiny would be, Nelson Mandela changed the way the world fought against social injustice. Facing insurmountable odds, he walked the long and difficult road to freedom – not only for his people, but for all who yearn for peaceful and fair-minded solutions.

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires” 
 Nelson Mandela

Today, twenty-two kilometres away from his birthplace, Nelson Mandela came home to Qunu, the place he grew up and remembered as his happiest moments.  Nelson Mandela once said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” 

Nelson Mandela has been laid to rest.  Even so, his voice, like the River Mbashe, continues to flow and nourish. We will carry on with his work, inspired by his life and vision.

Tread softly,
Brathe peacefully,
Laugh hysterically.”

Nelson Mandela (July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013)

Rome & The River Taff

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“And can you, then, who have got such possessions and so many of them, covet our poor tents?

Caratacus, On seeing the City of Rome

River Taff

Rivers have been a witness to human history, long before the events were recorded in written form.    So it was with the River Taff (Afon Taf in Welsh), which rises from two rivers, Taf Fechan (Little Taff) and Taf Fawr (Big Taff), in the Brecon Beacons of Wales.

Archaeological evidence suggests that in the time of Emperor Nero (CE 54-68), a Roman fort was constructed on the River Taff at the point where it comes near the Bristol Channel.  They came as conquerors.  A few years before, in 51 CE, Rome defeated the Silures, a powerful and warlike tribe of ancient Britain and dispatched their courageous leader, Caratacus, to Rome in chains to face Emperor Claudius.

Rome was elated with the capture of Caratacus.  This was no ordinary leader.  Brilliant and tenacious, Caratacus had defied the Roman war machine since CE 43, which marked the launch of the Roman invasion under Claudius.  Following a two-day battle at a river crossing near Rochester on the River Medway, Caratacus escaped capture and fled to the eastern part of Wales where he resisted Rome’s advances for another eight years. Caratacus knew his fate would be death, after a final humiliation in a triumphal parade.  Yet, destiny was to give him another outcome.

Caratacus was permitted a last word before the Roman senate.  He faced his captors with dignity and persuasive eloquence that stunned the audience.  He argued that his stubborn resistance and glorious defeat gave greater honour to Rome.  Moved by Caratacus’ speech, Claudius pardoned him and granted him the right to live in peace within the city Rome.

“If the degree of my nobility and fortune had been matched by moderation in success, I would have come to this City as a friend rather than a captive, nor would you have disdained to receive with a treaty of peace one sprung from brilliant ancestors and commanding a great many nations. But my present lot, disfiguring as it is for me, is magnificent for you. I had horses, men, arms, and wealth: what wonder if I was unwilling to lose them? If you wish to command everyone, does it really follow that everyone should accept your slavery? If I were now being handed over as one who had surrendered immediately, neither my fortune nor your glory would have achieved brilliance. It is also true that in my case any reprisal will be followed by oblivion. On the other hand, if you preserve me safe and sound, I shall be an eternal example of your clemency.”

Tacitus, The Annals, translated by A. J. Woodman, Indianapolis and Cambridge, Hackett, 2004

Tintern Abbey – On the Banks of the River Wye

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Tintern Abbey

It was as I had imagined is would be – a pastoral setting, with a herd of cows in the forefront of the ruins of Tintern Abbey.  Founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow in May 1131, Tintern  (Welsh – Abaty Tyndyrn) is on the Welsh bank of the River Wye.  The Cistercians, known as the White Monks, who lived in the Abbey were adherents to the Rule of St. Benedict, the principles of which were obedience, poverty, chastity, silence, prayer and work.

King Henry VIII’s reign brought about the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  On September 3, 1536, Abbot Wyche surrendered Tintern Abbey and all of its estates to the King.  And so ended a way of life that had lasted for over 400 years. Nevertheless, Tintern remains a gracious testament to survival.  It has outlasted the vagaries of human intervention. Perhaps it is the miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary that stands as a vigilant protector.

Over the centuries, Tintern has become a place of inspiration.    This visit was no different.  For in the center of the chapel was a young woman reciting the words of William Wordsworth to the solid walls and open skies.  I stood there, a silent listener… Continue reading

Crossing the Delaware

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“Washington’s task was to transform the improbable into the inevitable.” 
Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington

Washington

George Washington once said, “The turning points of lives are not the great moments. The real crises are often concealed in occurrences so trivial in appearance that they pass unobserved.” 

Christmas 1776, while others gathered around the hearth to celebrate an uneasy yuletide, George Washington led a column of Continental Army troops across the frigid Delaware River the night of December 25 – 26. It was a decisive act that carried danger, risk and the uncertainty of outcome. The situation was bleak.  To that point, The Continental Army had lost most of the battles. Spirits were down, and many had deserted, their initial passion for independence replaced with hopeless resignation.   5,000 men remained, yet half of these were ill and unfit for duty.  Wrapped in rags, many did not have the shoes to protect them against the cold winter.

Crossing the Delaware was the single event, the catalyst that transformed the momentum of the Revolution. Wet, cold, and three hours behind, the Continental Army surprised the Hessians, professional mercenaries sent by King George III to wipe out the seemingly innocuous American rebellion.    With the victory, strength and courage returned.  In the immortal words of George Washington, – “The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph!”  The moment was captured in an 1851 oil-on-canvas painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, by German American Artist Emanuel Leutze.

The Delaware River, from its primary and secondary source in the heart of the Catskill Mountains, flows 674 kilometres into Delaware Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Its watershed drains an area of 36,568 square kilometres.  Millions of people depend upon the waters of the Delaware River for drinking water.  The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a protected area of 70,000 acres that is situated in the middle section of the Delaware River in New Jersey, came into being out of environmental opposition to a controversial plan to build a dam.

Every voice makes a difference.

“Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.” 
George Washington

To the River Charles

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Shoreline

Today, I came across a poem by one of my favourite poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, that spoke of his feelings for the Charles River, which is located in the state of Massachusetts. From its source in Hopkinton, it flows 129 kilometres through cities and towns in the eastern part of the state until reaching the Atlantic Ocean in Boston.  Despite its diminutive length, the Charles River has a relatively large drainage area; its watershed contains over 8,000 acres of protected wetlands.  Considering that Brandeis University, Harvard University, Boston University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sprung up along its shores, perhaps there is something in the water that invigorates the mind.

To the River Charles

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

River! that in silence windest
Through the meadows, bright and free,
Till at length thy rest thou findest
In the bosom of the sea!
Four long years of mingled feeling,
Half in rest, and half in strife,
I have seen thy waters stealing
Onward, like the stream of life.
Thou hast taught me, Silent River!
Many a lesson, deep and long;
Thou hast been a generous giver;
I can give thee but a song.
Oft in sadness and in illness,
I have watched thy current glide,
Till the beauty of its stillness
Overflowed me, like a tide.
And in better hours and brighter,
When I saw thy waters gleam,
I have felt my heart beat lighter,
And leap onward with thy stream.
Not for this alone I love thee,
Nor because thy waves of blue
From celestial seas above thee
Take their own celestial hue.
Where yon shadowy woodlands hide thee,
And thy waters disappear,
Friends I love have dwelt beside thee,
And have made thy margin dear.
More than this;–thy name reminds me
Of three friends, all true and tried;
And that name, like magic, binds me
Closer, closer to thy side.
Friends my soul with joy remembers!
How like quivering flames they start,
When I fan the living embers
On the hearth-stone of my heart!
‘T is for this, thou Silent River!
That my spirit leans to thee;
Thou hast been a generous giver,
Take this idle song from me.