The Zulu Hitchhiker


Did you ever find yourself in a situation that seemed to be trying to tell you something, but you never discovered its secret? This encounter, during our vacation in South Africa this past April, remains an enigma.

The day after visiting the Anglo-Zulu battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift (a few hours’ drive northwest of Durban), Kerry and I set off in our barely adequate rental car from the lodge (think serious 4X4 territory in a Hyundai!) We’d been sleeping in a traditional Zulu beehive hut perched on a ridge overlooking an astonishing valley, where monkeys scampered around on our straw roof and the surrounding vegetation, no civilization in sight. But the middle of nowhere is always somewhere to someone, right? We bade farewell to the friendly manager of the lodge, Bruce, and his associate, Naya, crunching and creeping along the pothole-ridden dirt roads leading back to the “highway” (I say this in the most euphemistic of terms, where pavement was an unexpected and rare blessing.) About 10 kilometers (7 miles) down the gravel path past Elandskraal, we saw a pretty young woman, dressed in brightly colored fabrics, hair tied up in a scarf, holding a pink pocketbook, walking down the road. We had encountered numerous hitchhikers over the preceding days, but up to this point, we hadn’t stopped. On impulse, I suggested we give her a ride, at least up to the main road, where she might be able to catch a bus to her destination. Wherever that might be.
We came to a halt. The woman jogged over to our car and let herself in the back seat, and I asked her where she was headed. At first she just smiled and said nothing . So I pulled out the map we were using and showed it to her, asking, “Are you going to Dundee? Are you going to Ladysmith?” and pointing at each place as I said it. And she stared at the map as if I had given her a bowl of spaghetti and asked her the circumference of the Earth! I inquired about Dundee again since it was the nearest town, but she shook her head. Finally, we heard (I think this is what she said) “Near Ladysmith,” which was 60 km away and the direction we were heading anyway. So she sat very quietly in the back seat with a small smile on her face, and we drove on. I speak a few languages and get by in a few others, but Zulu is not among them…. Every once in a while, I would ask her in English where she wanted us to take her. She didn’t seem to understand, but we managed to exchange names – hers sounded like “Nympha.” It slowly dawned on us that she may never have seen a map before, but she seemed happy with our route. Kerry drove down a rather bumpy (but, wonder of wonders, paved) road leading towards Ladysmith, stopping now and then to avoid the cows and goats wandering in and out of our lane. Eventually I had the idea of calling the lodge and asking Naya, who spoke Zulu, to translate for me and find out where we could take our passenger. I reached Bruce, who put me through to Naya, and then handed my iPhone to the back seat to have Nympha talk to her. At first, she seemed reluctant to take it, then finally put it to her ear. As she spoke to the woman at the lodge, her whole expression changed. She looked irritated, unhappy, tense. After a moment she passed the phone back to me. Bruce was on the other end. “She says she wants to go to Dundee,” (we had just traveled 25 minutes in the wrong direction!) and so we started to turn the car around. Suddenly Nympha grew agitated, put her hand on Kerry’s shoulder, and pointed forward, in the direction we were already going. We didn’t know what to do, but ended up turning around and driving back anyway. It seemed worse to whisk her 60 km away from home because of a misunderstanding. We all sat silently, driving east again, back where we had come from, past the livestock, past the scrubby landscape, and pulled over at the intersection with the main road to Dundee, where a few other people were standing around and where traffic came by in all directions. I pointed north and said, “You want to go to Dundee? It’s that way, I hope you get a ride! Good luck! Goodbye!” Our passenger got out of the car slowly, looking at me with an unfathomable expression in her eyes, then turned away. We drove off, back towards Ladysmith again, wondering what had just happened. We imagined various scenarios. We imagined she was just enjoying the ride – a friend told us that Europeans never pick up Zulu hitchhikers. We imagined she hoped we would take her in and give her a job and a new home. We imagined a secret lover for her in Ladysmith. We wondered if she was running away from an abusive father or husband. But all she had to do was to tell Naya at the lodge that she wanted to go to Ladysmith, or wherever, and we would have taken her with us. Then we asked ourselves if picking Nympha up, driving west then backtracking, had taken us out of the path of danger, of a traffic accident. Or if it led to an encounter that changed her life. Or if it was just weird and puzzling and meant nothing. It felt all the more surreal, discussing it in our high-rise Durban beachfront hotel room that evening, overlooking the Indian Ocean and surrounded by creature comforts.

We will never know, we can never know – and we will probably never see our Zulu hitchhiker again. So why can’t I stop thinking about it, why do I insist on assigning meaning and mystery to a random encounter? Or was it random at all?

Why Your Life Matters | Spirituality & Health Magazine


After having finished the intelligent, funny, and moving book “Naked in Dangerous Places” by travel writer and television / radio presenter, Cash Peters, I discovered this beautiful article he wrote for Spirituality and Health Magazine. It’s about the magic and miracle of being in the right place at the right time, with the willingness to be an instrument for healing, and to open ourselves to an important part of our purpose. This brief essay resonated within me and is worth taking the time to read.

11 New Year’s resolutions for 2011

Every once in a while, I’ll make New Year’s resolutions – not every year, but when I do, I tend to take them seriously. Here is my list for the coming year:

1) Improve my spoken French

2) Train for a half-marathon

3) Develop a comfortable, reliable high E

4) Do more things by telephone, rather than always resorting to emails and text messages

5) Spend more time with Kerry (make sure I’m home enough between gigs and tours!)

6) Keep better contact with my brothers

7) Continue the momentum with my chamber music ensembles

8) Make more time for Reiki – treatments, meditations, teaching

9) Attend interesting seminars and workshops, like the sweat lodge I participated in last year

10) Do a better job collecting frequent flyer miles instead of remembering my card somewhere in-flight and never doing anything about it.

11) Do more improvising on the horn 

Also, I would like to share a link to a fantastic article from one of my favorite newsletters, The Good News Network, entitled Eleven Things to Give Up in 2011. It’s all about being more honest with yourself and others, getting rid of your dramas such as guilt, martyrdom, perfectionism. We so often slip into these behaviors as a matter of habit, and though we may only do these things in small ways, they can sabotage our lives and rob us of vital energy and enthusiasm. Please have a look.

Hiking the holy mountain – a day on Mt. Kurama

A recent tour with the Ictus Ensemble enabled me to realize my dream of visiting Japan for the first time.  In the middle of our performance schedule was a 2 ½-day block of free time – some of the musicians chose to explore Tokyo, or the beautiful slopes of Mt. Fuji.  Others made a day trip to Kyoto to see the temples.  I took a room in a traditional Japanese-style hotel (called a Ryokan) for two nights in a gorgeous old street in the heart of historic Kyoto.  


It had also long been a dream of mine to go to Mt. Kurama, the mountain where Mikao Usui, the founder of Reiki, did his spiritual practice of Shugendo that enabled him to develop his formidable spiritual and healing powers.  Kurama is located about half an hour by train north of Kyoto, though somewhat complicated to reach from my hotel.  As my guide, I had some pages ripped out of a friend’s Lonely Planet Japan book with a tiny map of the Kurama area, an e-mail from my former husband Peter with suggestions where to start my hike and the idea to leave the main trail and take off up the mountain for the true summit, and the help of the owner of the Ryokan (who was rather puzzled why I would want to go up there alone!)  The morning for my journey dawned with clear skies and mild temperatures, a perfect day for a trip to the mountains.  I knew I needed to take a bus from Kyoto Central Station to Demachiyenagi Station and had a couple of bus numbers and a vague route map in Japanese kanji.  After taking out some yen from a money machine at the post office (not as simple as it seems, if you don’t speak Japanese!) and eventually locating the right bus, I was on my way. 

Buying my round-trip ticket to Kurama from Demachiyenagi Station was fun, done in a mixture of phrase-book Japanese, English, pointing and smiling.  The whole time, I had this wonderful, fresh sense of leaving the known behind and venturing into something completely new.  Anything could happen, and that thought filled me with a childlike happiness.  The man at the ticket booth handed me a hiking map of the area, only in Japanese of course, with cute little cartoon figures and drawings of temples, trees, dragons, even cranky little pigs regarding a barbecue pit (!)  The Kurama train wound through a mountain valley, stopping at several stations and revealing foliage that was just beginning to turn the fiery reds and oranges for which the Kyoto region is famous in the autumn. 

Normally while traveling, I do my best to blend in with the locals, but my height and blonde hair betrayed me instantly, not to mention the backpack, camera around my neck, and white sneakers that practically screamed “TOURIST!”  At least I wasn’t gawking at a big silly map with cartoon characters on it (oops, that too.)  Did it really matter that on that day, I was as much pilgrim as tourist?

After leaving the train at Kibuneguchi Station, one stop before Kurama, I walked up a paved road for about 20 minutes before coming to the village of Kibune.  This led to the back entrance of the trail over Mt. Kurama.  Most people begin on the Kurama side at the temple site and work their way towards Kibune.  At the beginning of the trail was a little booth where I paid 200 yen (about $2) to enter the path – I also picked up a walking stick, for which I was soon grateful. 

The beautiful weather meant also that the path shone with a bright sunlight, filtering through trees, giving the nature around me a transcendent, glowing beauty.  One of the first things I saw while climbing was a spot with 2 small stone carvings on them, very old and faded.  The figure depicted was Fudo Myoo, a key figure in certain sects of esoteric Buddhism.  His appearance is fierce, a sword in one hand and rope in the other, with one tooth pointing upwards and another downwards, surrounded by a halo of fire.  He is called upon to aid people in staying on their spiritual path, unmoved by temptations of the world, cut free from their Karma and purified in the spirit of fire.  Fudo has everything to do with the power of Mt. Kurama, and his shrines are found hidden in the mountain forests as well as near waterfalls.  Several years ago, I had an experience of the gifts of Fudo while visiting Madrid just after the terrorist bombings that destroyed Atocha Station and resulted in heavy loss of life – I wrote an article (in German) called The Firebird about what happened to me there which can be found here.  We live so much of our lives in our own illusions; Fudo Myoo represents leaving these illusions behind so that we may see ourselves as we truly are.  This lesson from Fudo found me in a strange way later on my hike. 

The energy on Mt. Kurama was astonishing.   Different sites on the mountain had different vibrations – some places were deep and still, others shimmered, some seemed to have a sort of forward-propelling feeling to them, others hummed in an almost audible sensation through my body and mind.  These are some of the things that moved me: The ancient cedars, their roots twisting impossibly over the trail, sunlight and shadow bringing them into focus, teaching the need to be grounded in, take nourishment, from the Earth.  Patterns of grain in the wood.  Contrast of tree to deep blue sky.  Moss.  Water.  Stone.  Birdsong.  Silence. 

Very few people were on the mountain that day, which I consider to be fortunate for the experience of solitude.  On my map, I could see that I would soon be coming to the Fudo shrine, and I moved with solemnity and reverent anticipation at what I might see and feel.  As I mentioned, I had had the mountain practically to myself ever since entering the western gate and taking my walking stick at Kibune.  Just as I arrived at the Fudo shrine, so did a small but steady stream of people coming from the other direction.  Suddenly in this silent place everyone was smiling at me and saying Konnichi-wa! and offering to take my picture in front of the temple structures.  These Japanese were so amused to see this strange Western lady all by herself that soon we were all laughing.  It was totally unexpected.  It was what it was.  After I moved on up the hill, it came to me that I had been given a lesson there about who I am and about my spiritual path – I am still reflecting upon it.

Later on, around the highest point of the path, I saw another trail that had a chain across it and half a dozen emphatic signs, probably saying “off limits” or some variation thereof.  So of course I had to go.  It was an extremely steep climb with a good deal of bushwhacking, and I was glad of my walking stick.  After about 15 minutes, I came upon a little shrine and behind it a pond; behind the pond was a tall cedar tree perfectly reflected in the surface of the still water.  You could turn a photograph upside down and hardly distinguish between the tree and its mirror image.  As above, so below.  I had the urge to sit down and meditate at the edge of the pool, and then I noticed a woman sitting quietly on a little stone stool deep in meditation herself.  I climbed further up the hill, aiming for the summit of the mountain and the small Shakyamuni Buddha statue located there, but I didn’t find it.  When I returned to the pool, the woman was still there; I departed, not wanting to disturb her.   

Though incredibly beautiful, the main temple site of Kurama-dera seemed somehow anticlimactic after the majesty of the mountain path.  After descending a few hundred steps into the town of Kurama, I found a noodle restaurant and refreshed myself before heading to the onsen, or mineral hot spring spa.  I spent the end of the afternoon in a pool of deliciously warm water, with a perfect view of the mountain I had just hiked, the sun disappearing behind the foliage. 

Taking the train back to Kyoto, gratitude for the day’s adventure brought tears to my eyes.  Someday I hope to go back to Mt. Kurama.  The mountain is full of mysteries and secrets, and I am sure I only scratched the surface.  

Piece of ancient family history

My cousin Linda has been doing genealogical research for some years now for the Hord family (Hord is my maiden name and therefore my patrilineal ancestry) and has recently come into possession of a volume entitled “Genealogy of the Hord Family” by Rev. Arnold Harris Hord, Philadelphia, copyright 1897.  His research confirms the work my Aunt Lois had done many years ago – with the common ancestor who first came to America (John Hord, son of Sir Thomas Hord, Knight of Cote in Bampton, County Oxford) to the Virginia colony in the late 17th century.  It’s quite exciting to me to read these histories.  The earliest references are from the year 1215, and the Hords are said to have been Norsemen who settled in England before that time.  The raven, that sacred symbol of many Scandinavian peoples, is still in my family’s coat of arms. The 1215 reference is about a gift Henry de Hord made to King John.  Later generations were knights, esquires, barristers (one was Attorney General during the reign of Henry VII), Sheriffs of Salop (what is now known as Shropshire) – and there was even one murderer in the 14th century.  Luckily he was pardoned by King Edward III because of his wartime service to the Earl of Stafford, but he fell eventually in Burgundy, among the English caught up in the fray during the time of Joan of Arc.  John Hord, our first American ancestor, was involved in the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth against James II, and those who were not executed chose to make their fortunes in the New World.  Several members of the family seem to have been engaged in the rebellion, and good old Sir Thomas was imprisoned in Oxford Castle for a time after the defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor.

I would like to share one lovely passage written to an ancestor, Alan Hord of the Middle Temple, by his brother, the Rev. Edmund Hord (apparently  many of them were lawyers and clergymen as well as landed gentry) during the realm of Henry VIII.  It seems the King needed more money for his military campaigns against the French and the Scots and decided the Church was a good place to go knocking.  Rev. Hord had little choice but to comply, as resistance to such requests in the time of Cromwell often meant torture on the rack, or worse.  The original of the letter can be found in this collection.

EDMUND HORD. In All Soul’s College, Oxford, are these arms : Or, on a chief a Cornish chough ppr. over which was written, Edm. Horcl Juris Canonis Doctor.’ He became Fellow of this house 1504 and was a benefactor thereto. (Gutch’s Oxford,’ 111,30.) June 10, 1510, for the degree of D.C.L. (Doctor Canon Law) inley alia (among other things) supplicated Edm. Hoorde, Batchelor of the Civil Law of All Soul’s College, some time Principal of Greek
Hall, afterward Principal of Burnell’s Inn, alias London College. (Wood’s Fasti Oxon.’)
May 25, 1513. Edmund Hord, of All Soul’s College, admitted Doctor of Canon Law. About this time he was a noted advocate in the Court of the Arches and Procurator of the Charter-house near London ibid (in the same place). At the dissolution of Hinton Charter-house near Bath in 1540, Edmund Hord, the Prior, was assigned a pension of 44 pounds. In Ellis’sOriginal-Letters,’ 2nd series, 1827, volume iv. page 130, is a letter from him dated at that place, To hys brother Alan Horde in the Medylle Tempulle.’
This letter, from the prior of a Carthusian monastery to his brother, probably explains the feeling of a large portion of the heads of religious houses at the time of the suppression.  They were called upon to give up that Which was not theirs to give,’ – that which was dedicated to the Almighty for service to be done to his honor continually, and limited in its distribution to deeds of charity.  They yielded to necessity. Willis says that Henton was surrendered to the king by the prior and nineteen monks, March 31, 1539, –
“In owr Lord Jhesu shall be your salutation. And where ye marvelle that I and my brotherne do nott frelye and voluntnrilie geve and surrendure upe owr House at the mocyone off the Kyngs Commissinars but stonde styffe (and as ye thynke obstenatelye in owr opynion) trulye Brothere I marvel1 gretlye that ye thinke soo ; but rather that ye wolde have thowght us lyght and hasty in gevyn upe that thynge whyche ys not owrs “to geve, but dedicate to Allmyghtye Gode for service to be done to hys honoure contynuallye, with othor many goode dedds of charite whiche daylye be done in thye Home to owr Christen neybors. And consideryng that ther ys no cause gevyn by us why the Howse shull be putt downe, but that the service of Gode, religious conversacion off’ the bretherne, hospitalite, almes deddis, with all other owr duties be as well observyde in this poore House as in any religious Howse in thys Realme or in Fraance ; whiche we have trustyde that the Kynges Grace wolde considere. But by cause that ye wrytte off the Kyngs hye displeasure and my Lorde Prevy Sealis, who ever hath byn my especialle good Lorde, and I truste yette wyll be, I wyll endevere my selffe, as much as I maye, to perswade my brotherne to a comfformyte in thys matere; soo that the Kyngs Hynes nor my Sayd good Lorde shall have eny cause to be displeside with us; trustyng that my poor brothern (whiche knowe not where to have theme lyvynge) shall be charitable looke upon. Thus our Lord Jhesu preserve you in grace.
Henton X. die ffebruarii
To hys brother Alen Horde in Medylle Tempulle dd.”

What I Did Last Summer… Part 1: Singapore and Australia



It’s a bit daunting for me to try and sum up our summer 2010 adventures, but I might as well plunge in and just start writing this blog!  After much preparation and rehearsal, we embarked in July on the performing part of our travels.  With husband Kerry and pianist/friend/soul sister Lauretta in tow, we made our first stop in the almost magical land of Singapore.  On each visit to Singapore, I’ve been struck by the way so many diverse cuisines, religions, and languages live practically on top of each other, harmoniously, like a crazy multicultural patchwork quilt.  The purpose of our brief stay there was to get over our jet lag on the way to Brisbane (more about that later) and to try out our Virtuoso Horn Duo recital program before presenting it at the International Horn Symposium. 


Shortly after arriving at our comfortable hotel, we met up with our friend Jamie Hersch, who plays horn in the Singapore Symphony and is a fine soloist in his own right.  We went out for some local food (Kerry and I opting for Mee Rebus, a Malay jungle noodle dish we first ate 6 years ago at the Singapore Zoo.)  Afterwards, we went for a walk and ended up at the Raffles Hotel, sitting outdoors and enjoying a Singapore Sling from the cocktail’s birthplace.  The next couple of days were spent rehearsing at Top Brass, the hosts of our recital, as well as taking long walks through different parts of town – Little India, Arab Street, Chinatown, Boat Quay (oh, that Indian restaurant!!) , and other neighborhoods, great and small.   Kerry is very much in his element in the tropics – it was a delight to watch him blending in with the local scenery like an exotic bird among exotic birds.  It was also exciting for me to introduce Laurie to one of my favorite cities.  Our recital was a joy to play and the audience enthusiastic.  Afterwards, we were treated to a delicious Turkish dinner down the street from the Sultan Mosque, under a crescent moon, with old and new friends.

The next leg of our journey took us to Brisbane, a new city for me, on the occasion of the 42nd International Horn Society Symposium.  Both the American Horn Quartet (Geof and Charlie had come directly from Europe and were pretty jet-lagged for the first part of the week!) and Virtuoso Horn Duo were featured artists, so we had a busy week.  The weather was beautiful most of the time, despite it being “winter.”  They should see OUR winters!  Actually, it was warmer there than it is here today in early September… I was able to go running a few times along the river.  Symposium host Peter Luff and his collaborators (especially Armin Terzer, whom I bombarded with emails for months before the symposium!) ran an amazingly well organized week of concerts, master classes, workshops, and other events.  Through past workshops and the master classes and concerts we’ve played over the past few years, so many of the horn players at the symposium were already familiar faces.  Many of the world’s finest players and teachers were present, but of course it was a special sort of thrill to come down to the hotel bar and have breakfast with Barry Tuckwell!  As usual, the hotel bar was the scene for post-concert merriment every evening. Sometimes it got just a wee bit raucous down there 🙂


We played in the opening ceremony (a larger horn ensemble piece composed for the occasion and with the AHQ), the AHQ shared a recital with Frank Lloyd which included his collaboration on The Casbah of Tetouan, the VHD shared a recital with Bill Vermeulen and Nicole Cash (both of whom I met for the first time and whose exquisite playing I enjoyed,) the AHQ gave a master class and a warm-up session, we played the Schumann Konzertstück on the final concert with the wonderful Queensland Symphony orchestra, I taught several private lessons… Laurie was incredibly busy too, playing a heroic number of new notes on numerous recitals and differing pianos.  I’m not sure she knew what she was getting herself into when she agreed to come with us to Australia!  If you’re a horn player and have never gone to an international symposium, do make an effort to do so.  I promise you will come away inspired, energized, with new friends.


One funny moment – before the AHQ warm up session (at which I once again delivered my lip trill sermon) I was waiting outside the door for the key to show up and fell into conversation with a couple of ladies from upstate New York.  I think they took me for a student until I mentioned that I wished I’d had a little more coffee to be able to help present this session at such an early hour.  They did a double-take, then one of them exclaimed, “Wait a minute… You’re THE GIRL!”  She pointed to me for emphasis then enthused to her friend, “She’s THE GIRL!” 

The last morning we were in Brisbane, we went to see the absolutely unique exhibit of the sculptures of Australian artist Ron Mueck.  Look him up.  Really.  


We flew from Brisbane to Sydney, where we were the guests of Tina Brain.  If Tina could bottle up and sell little doses of her boundless energy and enthusiasm, she’d make a fortune!  To say she teaches at the Barker College, a private Anglican school in Hornsby, would be an unfair understatement – she is as much mentor and surrogate parent to her students as instructor.  We had the opportunity to work with some of her students as well as to play a VHD recital, all organized by her.  It was great fun to hang out with her for a couple of days, to hand-feed the exotic birds (including kookaburras, rainbow lorikeets, and yellow-crested cockatoos) who visit her balcony, to peruse the old photographs hanging on the walls of her downstairs study of her horn dynasty family – some of which were already familiar to me from Dennis Brain’s biography.  I only wish we didn’t live so far apart.  Anyone who says “it’s a small world!” obviously hasn’t flown to Australia recently.


Our last “on-duty” day was back in Sydney, where we gave a master class for Ben Jacks’ students at the “Con” (Sydney Conservatory.)  Ben himself came straight from having oral surgery and very bravely came to hear us for most of the afternoon anyway!   I first met Ben at the Melbourne International Festival of Brass in 2004, and it was great to see him again. 


We flew that night back to Brisbane to catch our flight the next day back to Singapore.  I had looked for a cheap hotel near the airport, and we ended up at Brisbane’s equivalent of the Bates Motel, seriously creepy.  Kerry and I went for a late-night walk looking for a place to have breakfast the next morning – the hotel was located in a sort of industrial wasteland – but we did meet a man from Papua New Guinea, which was pretty cool.


The three of us, Kerry, Laurie, and I, ended our trip with three nights at a gorgeous resort hotel with a remarkable landscape pool on Sentosa Island, bordered on one side by the tropical beach and on the other by thick, tangled jungle.  I love the tropics, the sultry heat, the impossibly bright flowers and towering palm trees, the relaxed pace, the spices, the weird and wonderful wildlife – each time we have left Singapore behind, I have pined for it for weeks afterward.  Even the storm that lasted most of the second day was beautiful and vibrant. 


Coming back to gentler, civilized, grayish Europe was its own sort of shock, but it’s home.  We were back for about 6 days before taking off on our “real” vacation to Andalusia.  Perhaps the subject of another blog…