All posts by naturedesignsjohnfranci

EPIPHANY

 

Day merging softly into the cool winter’s night. Soft blue shadows deepening to black with the early evening light. A perfect sunny day proceeding into a perfect nocturnal mirror, stars shining brighter by the minute as the last light fades behind me to the west.

Gently tired after a long day of work around my land, showered and clean, the vista from my verandah overwhelmed me. Forest, and the dipping and rising of the eastern horizon, while the escarpment of the caldera to the north loomed over the ancient rainforest now inky black in shadow. Not an artificial light to be seen, as it’s always been from here; as it will always be, hopefully. Not a mechanical noise to be heard; only the stillness of nature, now silent in one of those rare times when all the teeming life of that rich landscape seems to take a breath, as one.

I couldn’t help myself, from breaking the silence. Spontaneously a loud, pure cooooeeeee, broke loose from my being, the perfection of the moment expressing itself in sound. Out it flew, across the valleys before me, over the cauliflower form of the trees, the great forest.

And back it came. Four or five times my cooo-eee returned to me from across the valleys and hills, from here and from there, nearer and further away, softer with distance until it was no more than a whisper of coo-ee.

Oooh, sweet ecstasy. A life-changing ecstasy; I knew that I was actually part of the whole exquisite thing; life, nature. Not separate, not an observer mentally looking and understanding, judging or feeling it as an outsider, apart from everything else. No effort, no thoughts; just recognition, knowing, for the first time.

Tomorrow as I worked or walked in the forest, a great branch – a ‘widow-maker’ as they’re prosaicly called – may fall on me. Dead, instantly, and in the heat and fecundity of the rainforest, if nobody found me, it would not be so long before I’d be reduced to a skeleton, consumed by the forest itself, by bacteria and moulds and worms and enzymes. Composted, to feed the forest, to be a part of it, albeit in a transformed state.

I could also hire a huge bulldozer, a squadron of men armed with large chainsaws, and in a short time, the great forest would disappear, be consumed by Man’s desire and power to do what he wished, regardless of all else except himself. Me.

Or I could work and play, create and transform, with an awareness and intention to heal and nurture that land, to work and be a regenerative element in the whole remarkable play of plant and animal, bacteria and funghi and enzymes; all the seen and invisible elements that make the miracle happen.

Ah, an epiphany, the moment that sealed my path ahead, in the moment that an echo returned. We all seem to live mostly in shadow, unconscious for much of the time, automatically living out lives with little reflection. That cool evening on the verandah of my little hand-hewn house in the forest, changed everything, still haunts me beautifully, wisely reminding me back on my true way.

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NOT A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP.

We left the Bloomfield River at first light, in anticipation of a long hoof down to Cape Tribulation. First the climb up the escarpment from the River, then across the open forest plateau, before descending down into the full-on rainforest and along the track just in from the beaches to Cape Tribulation. Nearly forty kilometres, so we’d certainly need the full day.

A great day to be doing the walk, and we were sweating like pigs by the time we’d scaled the hill and were tramping across the plateau. Feeling good though, and seemed to be doing well time-wise.

Wow, what an incredible contrast there is to reach the end of the flat stretch. Baking in the semi-sunshine, it’s easy to make good time through the wooded grassland. Where the plateau tumbles down to the thin coastal plain though, everything changes. Sheltered from the blazing sun by the escarpment, the dry open forest transforms to an impenetrable wall of dripping green jungle, with the track violently cut through it a few years earlier rapidly swallowed up and over-shadowed by the towering rainforest trees.

Down, down, down the ‘road’ slides, demanding constant maintenance just to keep it open for the 4-wheel drive soft-arsed ‘adventurers’ who ply it. Crazy, pretending to insist on motor access to a world where Nature rules so imperiously. The highest rainfall in the country falls in these parts; more fool the arrogance, which thinks to dominate Her.

We arrive at the foot of the escarpment, only mildly lacerated by the treacherous What-a-while vine that drapes the path wherever the sun offers encouragement. The beach is only a hundred metres from the track here, and the sound of lapping waves seduces us to pause for a short break; it’s only early afternoon – we’ve made good time – and will surely reach Cape Trib by nightfall at this rate.

We follow the sinuous path that has been compacted through the roots and vines  by years of walkers before us, to greet the Coral Sea and catch our breath.

Catch our breath is right, and not only with the view, for beyond the aquamarine coast and well short of where the horizon should be, there is a black line and threatening thunderstorm. It’s  heading onshore, and fast, leaving no doubt about the transformation about to unfold.

Action stations! With a ridge pole offered by a fallen branch slung between the limbs of a mangrove tree, we frantically gather palm fronds to fashion a shelter, creating a thick, sloped wedge against the approaching deluge. The dense forest on the inland side protects against any possibility of rain entering our refuge from that side.

By the time the first drops are splattering thunderously on the beach ten minutes later, we are high and dry and well prepared, even to the point of smugly coaxing life from the small fire we’ve lit. There’s no shortage of driftwood and forest litter to ensure we had a healthy stock of fuel to cook ourselves a cuppa tea, and later a meal.

Enthusiastic with the instant house we’d created, our plans to reach the Cape by evening had been shelved. The idea of battling through torrential rainfall and swollen creek crossings has no appeal at all, and even seems downright foolish to consider.

It’s no passing thunderstorm, but a fully-fledged that sets in for the rest of the day, bucketing down, imprisoning us in out makeshift shelter. But hey, we’re dry, well fed, and enjoying this romantic unexpected highlight to our tropical adventure. What could be better? No worries at all.

None at all, until way beyond nightfall. The rain had eased by then, though way too late to consider walking any further, so we cooked a very Spartan meal with the limited food we’d carried, and Kerrilyn curled up to sleep while I continued toying with the fire, mesmerising myself in the flames and coals.

All good, for an hour or so. Then, as the wind died away completely, the sounds of the night began to intrude. The forest stirs under cover of darkness, and another world begins it’s shift. Small voices and exclamation, smooth calls, in sharp twitters, dulcet whistles and strange songs. Other noises too: the percussion as twigs and branches, fronds and leaves fall from on high; rustling of small bodies swishing past leaves; dragging of material over the back there, and now actually quite close. Hmmm, and what can that be? The sound of footsteps cracking dry  branches, over to the left, closer the creek.

Oh shit! Surely not? The thought dawns on me, of what sort of creatures might be making these various noises of the night. What could that one be? Foot on wood, and sound of dragging. Something quite heavy even; a larger animal apparently. It occurs to me that we’re in forest that  is the territory of animals quite different than those found in the sub-tropical rainforest where we’re from,  a couple of thousand kilometres further south.

For example: crocodiles! Enormous, powerful, lightning-fast, saltwater crocs, live in exactly these hereabouts. Huge, cold-blooded, jaws like elephant-traps, reptilian carnivores certainly partial to a morsel of sweet human flesh for supper. Fucking hell, what an idiot I am. Huddled under a open palm-leaf lean-to, with nothing more than a blazing brand and Swiss Army knife to protect us.

Now the Swiss are the ingenious creators of a pocket knife that performs quite a remarkable number of functions very well, but among them there is nothing designed to tackle a tonne of ravenous reptile that wouldn’t raise a crocodile sweat in take out a pair of brainless hippies dreaming of romance. Fucking hell again; there’s absolutely nothing to be done, except wait. And listen.

All night long I wait, and listen, and wonder, while my wife snoozes peacefully on, sometimes snoring quietly, oblivious to the mortal danger of possibly becoming a midnight snack for a monstrous killing machine. How many words can I find to describe this situation? Dumb, crazy, idiotic, stupid, stoned, naïve, barmy, insane, thoughtless, imbecilic, gormless, mad … well, who cares how many. Dead men tell no tales.

Well, clearly there was no crocodile. Dawn finally fades the night towards day, a million sleepless moments later. The day is grey and threatening, quite apart from any animal threats. I prepare a sweet chai to fuel our flight, rouse Kerrilyn from her innocence, and explain our precarious situation in few words. Having washed down a bowl of basic muesli with the chai, we raise camp, bid farewell to our refuge, and set out for the Cape, still some hours away.

Ha, not more than five or six metres behind our shelter, there is an enormous leaf and twig dome, several metres broad and almost a metre high; a bush-turkey’s next. All night long, the fellow has been foraging around in the forest, scavenging material to maintain the nest, adjusting and rearranging to maintain the perfect temperature in the next to incubate his eggs, burrowing his head in the pile frequently to gauge the warmth of the decomposing material. Just right for hatching.  My sleepless night has been disturbed mostly by the noise of a medium sized ground bird fussing around with his nursing.

Reaching the track again, we are stopped almost immediately by another bird, ambushed by a cassowary on the path, ten metres or so ahead of us. Though not rating in comparison with six metres of teeth and muscle, it’s quite intimidating nevertheless, confronted by a two metre tall flightless bird with a reputation for having a cranky foul humour and occasional fierce aggression towards featherless bipeds like us.

He stands his ground, apparently well aware of his capacity, and fossicks for breakfast while we respect his ritual. Appetite sated, he eventually retires deeper into the forest, and we continue on our way.

A wet day, of intermittent squalls, fording swollen creeks, looking out for reptilian locals, but seeing none. Almost an anti-climax to yesterday’s night of anonymous rustling. I  might think twice in future, about romantic sleepovers on tropical beaches.

NERAKUTTASWAMY – THE LITTLE JACKAL

Nerikuttaswami – The Little Jackal

He wasn’t always a nice man, living up to his name. A cantankerous coot, as someone described him. In the one aspect, he would growl and curse, and lament his travails, and in another, he was soft and sympathetic, caring and accepting. More a pussycat than a wild dog.

He had his reasons, and motives for grumbling too. Nerikuttaswami wanted a green holy mountain, and the world seemed against him succeeding. He planted and planted, and planted. Good for him, for having a try. Even if they were all eucalyptus; he did his planting in the seventies and eighties, before awareness of appropriate species gained root. I suppose that he just thought a green, forested mountain was better than a brown pile of rocks and clumpy grasses. Very few on his seedlings survived.

He was an aesthetic, living in a stone hut a hundred metres or so up, and as much as he had renounced the world of material attachments, his yearning for the childhood memory of the smell of gum trees in his nostrils may have gotten the better or him. Just one of his seedlings had survived as a rangy tall sentinel watching over his failures, right next to his hut where he was able to zealously guard it. The rest of them had long perished, some from drought and withering heat, but the majority hacked away as thin seedlings for the small but treasured fuel wood that they would provide.

Nerikutta was an Australian in his past life, and that origin still snuck out every now and again, in ways apart from the choice of the trees he planted. Built like the proverbial outhouse dunny (Australian slang for an ‘long-drop’ toilet shed, built separate from the house), he was short and squat, and usually skull-shaved; he would have made a good school rugby lock-forward in his youth.

I suspect he took a shine to me as a fellow rabid tree planter, as well as a fellow Ozzy. We spent some time together up on the mountain, discussing reforestation strategies, occasionally drifting away when reminiscences distracted him, of early days in Tiruvannamalai, where he’d lived for many years, and sometimes to escapades he recalled from his wayward youth. The consequences of his debauched life there in the western suburbs of Sydney finally jolted him to his senses and precipitated his flight from the city, and then the country, as he struggled to find reason in his life.

India was where he found it, in a life so far removed from booze and burn-outs on the tarmac of suburban streets. He dropped all that and entered another world, of renunciation and years deeply immersed in a search for truth and meaning. Whatever he found, he kept to himself, and his only outward activity beyond the bare necessities was devoted to the mountain, and how he might clothe the barren Siva lingam in trees.

He was ahead of the times though, when reforestation would become a crusade, and most locals simply ignored his passionate mission, or did their best to frustrate it, pulling out what the goats did not uproot, or burning them on their cooking fires. And if that did not thwart him, the mountain seemed bent on doing so. Apart from Siva being the Lord of destruction and re-creation, in His mountain manifestation as Arunachala, He took the form of Fire. So flames raged up the slopes every year, burning away what little vegetation existed, offering a little ready fertility in the form of ash to feed the grasses that would be harvested for thatching, almost the only productive resource that could be exploited from it. A forested mountain? The crazed fantasy of a God-touched fanatic, surely. Matches made sure of that.

He’d all but given up by the time Apeetha dreamed our project into being, and while he encouraged such efforts, his own experiences had embittered all hope he had for success. That cynicism seemed justified in our first futile efforts, which suffered the same fate as his. He railed about the lack of consciousness and sheer vandalism.

One day Nerakutti and I were walking together near the Ashram, heading for a chai shop to refresh ourselves. On this particular scorching hot day, he was chattering along, actually telling a profane tale from his youth. Very much in the “bloke from the suburbs” mode. A small woman in a sari of the poor, approached us, clearly recognising him, for she pressed her palms in devoted greetings, adoration in her eyes. She fell to the dusty street and prostrated, touching the feet of my craggy companion. I watched him transformed in an instant from that ordinary ‘bloke’ from Sydney, into the holy man of her devotion.

He bent and touched her shoulder, returned her Namaste respectfully as she hauled herself up from the dirt, and we moved on towards our chai, almost as if the interruption had not occurred.

A few months later, after a bout of illness, he was found one morning, in the cross-legged lotus position of meditation. Dead. Grace to a frustrated tree planter.

DANCING IN AFGHANISTAN

DANCING IN AFGHANISTAN

Lapis lazuli lakes stepped down in lacy rapids and hanging waterfalls, before losing themselves in the sand and rubble deposited by the crumbling walls of the towering escarpment. Sunbeams of gold streamed through a cleft high in the ragged ridge, casting a dazzling spotlight on the adjacent rockface. The valley below my rocky knoll was veiled in a deepening purple, with pale blue mists distinguishing the higher ground and obscuring the lakes.

For many months the waters freeze over, and snow blankets the landscape; even in the height of summer, the temperature plummeted the moment the sun dipped below the jagged horizon.

Shivering as an icy gust of wind penetrated my inadequate clothing, I hastened down towards the three tents which comprised the temporary seasonal village of Band-i-Amir. A perimeter of rough stone walls formed a partial barrier against the weather and wolves, and thwarted the cruel wind, but canvas did little to insulate the tent and its inhabitants. Continue reading DANCING IN AFGHANISTAN

GOANNA

GOANNA

Goanna blinked its leathery lidded eyes, keening its senses to the source of the noise as they had approached, and flicked a pink forked tongue at the air, trying to determine the identity of the intruder. The male he had already seen from a distance for a few years, now and then, but this colourful flower he brought with him was a new curiosity for the reptile.

“Take a look at that monster”, exclaimed the young woman, leaping back several steps, in case the advance of Goanna was a warning she should heed. Continue reading GOANNA

LAXMAN

He was a beggar. Laxman. Just another of the hoarde of beggars who clustered around the Ashram, where they could always anticipate a good midday meal handout, and perhaps a few paise in alms from the pilgrims and devotees of Ramana Maharshi, who passed by in a constant flow.

 

Like many of the beggars, Laxman had not always been one with his hands stretched out in hope of generosity. He had a history too, of a life far less dependent on others; less humbling. Continue reading LAXMAN

BEGGARS BANQUET

Beggars Banquet

 

I was absolutely broke, in India. Well, to be more accurate, I had just four rupees and a few paise – around forty cents – in my wallet, although I had several thousand dollars in traveller’s cheques. My problem was really only temporary, since as soon as the banks would open, my poverty would be past.

 

It was Sunday though, and I had just arrived in the large town of Dehra Dun after almost a month walking in the Himalayas, in a remote area. I had intended to trek for much longer but had made a slight misjudgement. Having been told it was possible to cash cheques in the small town of Purola, I descended from the high passes and tiny villages, just to get some money. Anyway, I really did need a few days of some comfort to recover from too much time spent trekking in the monsoon season. All my clothes were damp or soggy, and certainly filthy. Stinking actually. There had been literally not even half a day without rain to consider drying anything. Added to this, my heels were pulpy with blisters from walking a couple of hundred kilometers at altitude, and were threatening to become badly infected. I had to have a hotel room for some days rest.

 

Purola had no bank for changing money, and I had barely enough rupees for one night’s very basic accommodation, plus the bus fare to Dehra Dun. No choice. I took the bus at the crack of dawn and arrived jolted and bruised in the early evening, with my four rupees, which was clearly too little even for the most spartan hotel room. Somehow I had also managed to lose my rubber flip -flops. I limped painfully on the heels of my sodden boots, hoping to win the favour of a cheap hotel on credit. Luck was on my side and an inn-keeper trusted me enough to allow me to pay on the morrow. With the four rupees still intact, I had to choose between soap and a meal of dal and chappatis. Hunger won my decision. I ate frugally, had a soapless shower, and crashed into bed exhausted. Tomorrow I would eat like a king, wash myself and my clothes spotlessly clean, and buy fresh clothes while all my laundry dried. I slept like a log, dreaming of indulging in all those luxuries.

 

Waking refreshed and buoyant, I decided it was ridiculous to continue playing the pauper. I approached the inn-keeper and, offering my expensive camera as surety, asked if he could lend me some money which I would repay as soon as the banks opened at ten and I had cashed my cheque. His generosity had reached its limit.

 

‘I am not a banker, sir, and will not be lending you money,’ he bristled, and was even more adamant when I pleaded with him.

 

Well damn him then! I stormed out of the hotel, fuming at his refusal. There had been no question of wearing the boots again, so I was bare-footed, with my festering feet a perfect accompaniment to my putrid clothes, lank oily long hair and untrimmed beard. I must have looked like the original dirty hippy, and certainly felt like it. The world out on the street mirrored that perception, and my appearance earned dark expressions from more than a few in the streets, and derisive comments from a pack of toffy private schoolboys who jeered and mocked as I passed. I felt miserable, and hobbled as fast as I could beyond their presence. Well stuff them too; I would hang out at the bank until it opened in an hour or so, and my situation would be remedied. I limped up the dusty street, trying to insulate myself from the world around me.

 

“Hey mister, hey!” I ignored the call, which was clearly directed at me. Putting my head down, I kept walking, wanting to distance myself from more attention. The caller would not be put off though, and I was aware that someone was coming after me. “Hey mister!”

 

My damaged feet would not permit me to run. I felt a hand on my arm, and turned.

 

“Hey mister, kya baat hai? What’s the matter?” My questioner was a middle-aged man, apparently a shopkeeper from his clothes and demeanour. A kindly face though, and the concern on his face seemed genuinely sympathetic. It melted my resistance, disarmed me. I allowed him to gently herd me over the road to his shop.

 

It was a very simple provenance shop, open-fronted with bins of grains, a few onions and potatoes, and little else apart from crude shelves behind him, sparsely filled with jars of spices and condiments, and a modest range of household necessities such as candles, matches, tooth powder and soaps. He repeated his first question.

 

Kya baat hai,” he enquired, indicating my appalling state of dress and injury. My Hindi was far from fluent, but I spoke enough to be able to communicate my situation. Walking in the mountains, incessant rain, blisters, no bank to exchange my traveller’s cheques; the basics of my plight.

 

He looked at me, brow furrowed. Clearly dubious. He probably thought I was too proud to admit to being destitute. Determined to at least change my immediate circumstance, he reached into one bin, pulled out a dried coconut, and gave it to me. Then, looking at my bare and wounded feet, he tugged my shirt sleeve and led me next door. A shoe seller. Some words from my benefactor, and the proprietor looked through his modest stock, selected his largest pair of rubber flipflops, and fitted them on my feet. Slightly too small, but certainly adequate.

 

With my feet now shod, I was guided back to his shop. Deftly twisting a square of newspaper into a cone, he filled it with dried savouries. “Le lo – take it, sir.” Apparently still not satisfied, he opened the cash drawer, took out a twenty rupee note and pressed it into my palm, closing my fingers over it. “Abhi challiye, khaiye, ji. Now go and eat, sir.” I was dismissed, with tears in my eyes and the most appreciative salutation I could offer.

 

There was only an hour to wait until the bank would open, but I had enough money to pay for a very substantial – almost luxurious – breakfast. I indulged myself gratefully, my mood transformed from self-pity to delighted humility. How exquisitely generous India can be, often moreso when we reach rock-bottom.

 

Relaxed and with my hunger well-sated, I headed to the bank at 10 o’clock, and cashed enough to ensure that I could rest well for a few days and return to my beloved mountains. I felt very rich and well-taken care of. In fact, I felt a sense of guilt, that I had taken money on false pretenses, even though I had done my best to explain that my poverty was very temporary. I returned to the provenance store, determined to return the money which the shopkeeper had pressed on me.

 

When I sought to give him money for all that he had given me, he stiffened in indignation. Then he looked closely at me, and apparently decided that my intentions were honorable. His manner softened, although he made clear that he was still refusing to take my money.

 

“Today sir, the beggars will do well, yes?”

 

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ANYONE FOR PERMACULTURE – Italy too?!

 

At last the sleeping boot awakes; Permaculture in Italy at last is moving – some people have actually heard of it! I was tired of the lack of people interested in Permaculture courses and workshops, in the ignorant criticisms by people who had little idea of it, and no experience of having tried to put Permaculture principles into practise. Tired of hearing that it wouldn’t work in Italy, as if by some miracle Italy is another planet that just happens to occupy a space on Earth. As if Permaculture is some sort of exotic cultural virus seeking to invade from somewhere else. From Australia? Well of course it couldn’t work here, since Australia is on the other side of this planet. The upside down side, to make matters worse.

But wait a minute. Continue reading ANYONE FOR PERMACULTURE – Italy too?!

A BOX FOR THE MOON

A BOX FOR THE MOON

 

CHAPTER ONE .

Day 1

Northern New South Wales, 1865

 

With one last blow of his well-honed axe, the great red cedar let out a mighty crack. That sharp sound, of splintering wood, announced to the ancient forest that one tree’s last resistance against an antagonist had been broken. The axeman leapt down off his springboard and craned his neck to look way up the mighty trunk, to ascertain the perfection of his cut, the direction of the fall. He knew precisely where it would drop.

 For a few long seconds the whole forest was suspended in a breathless silence, witness to the ear-splitting crash that would inevitably follow. Many heads turned towards the source of the sound. Soft furred marsupials, shiny scaled reptiles, many-coloured feathered creatures too, peering through the leafy mid-distance from canopy perches, staring between the lichen mosaics of other tree trunks, ogling upwards from the mouldering forest floor.

 Jack Threader stood transfixed, head thrown back as he looked up forty metres of perfectly straight thick trunk to where the branches seemed to tremble for a second. Not a sound punctuated that momentary dance of leaf and limb.

 `Waaaah!` the wiry wood cutter yelled as another crack cleaved the air, and the tree shuddered, teetered, and began to fall. …… 

This novel is complete, but I am not yet satisfied  with the editing process. It goes on. Nevertheless, I welcome any feedback. Here is the skeleton of this tale:

This is a three-generational novel set on the far north coast of New South Wales, Australia. The interwoven stories explore the different relationships of the characters with their environment, and how they confront their individual issues in the cultural context of their times. 

The first is a novel covering three different generations of settlers on the far North Coast of New South Wales, exploring their relationships with their environment and the cultural context of their times.

The first main character is Jack Threader, an indentured convict who has escaped with his companion from violent forced labour near Sydney to the anonymity of a harsh life as a cedar cutter in the rainforest valleys in the 1850s. A loner, he errs when cutting a huge tree and is trapped under the fallen giant for 4 days, watching his life ebbing out as he slips deeper into insanity with each passing of the moon. Finally he is rescued by two local aborigines alerted to his plight by their capacity to ‘read’ the landscape.

The second is a nephew, John Threader, who has settled the land as a returned soldier following the horror of Gallipoli. Working his land is an escape from the nightmare of his memories of the war and his incapacity to fit into peacetime life in the city. His wife joins him when John has created a primitive farm nucleus and together they pioneer the pastureland he has wrested from the rainforested slopes.

The third character, Peter Threader, is a ‘refugee’ from the city in the nineteen seventies, part of the ‘back-to-the earth’ migration to the countryside in the wake of the anti-Vietnam demonstrations. Full of dreams and ideals, he and his partner must confront the realities of their choice of ‘the simple life’.

The three stories of three ages are woven together through the hallucinations and illuminations of Jack Threader’s experience while trapped in the great rainforest.

A YEAR OF GRATITUDE

A YEAR OF GRATITUDE

JANUARY, 2013 – Tuebingen, south Germany

I must be honest with you from the start. It was not simply that I liked the title for this essay, but I also believed it to be true. It was not. That ‘year’ has now entered it’s third, and I can’t be so bold as to say that it has finished yet. The ‘gratitude’ bit, though, is absolutely true.

Two perspectives: the patient and the beloved-carer. Of course we’re talking about the same subject: my cancer and my transplant, and all that has gone and goes with it. But how diverse are our viewpoints. Much of my memory needs to be prompted by Franci’s recollection of events and emotions, but often what emerges is again a pair of different pictures, of the same theme but from a different angle. Continue reading A YEAR OF GRATITUDE