No Entry

Gila Green_bigger photo (1)

“Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test,” wrote Czech author Milan Kundera, “consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.”  This theme is graphically explored in Gila Green’s latest release, No Entry, in which a Canadian teenager signs on to an elephant conservation program and ends up coming face to face with violence, greed, and murder. Though targeted to young adults, this gripping environmental fiction novel will resonate with anyone who has a passion for wildlife conservation and the protection of endangered species.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us a bit about your journey as a writer and the influences on your particular style of storytelling.

A:  My journey began when I was pregnant with my fourth child and I had three children under the age of six at home. I had my hands full but intellectually, I was restless. Then an MA in Creative Writing program opened in Israel. I’d always dreamed of doing such a program, but assumed I’d have to wait until my kids were old enough for me to study overseas. Suddenly there was an opportunity an hour away from my home and I took it. I got the list of the professors and phoned each one, asking if I could bring my baby to class. Israel is very child-friendly; there are nursing rooms on campus. Second semester, my three-week old was most often being held by the professor who lectured while the rest of us took notes. (It wasn’t easy to get her out of their arms after class either). By the end of that degree I was already sending in (remember stamps and envelopes?) and publishing my stories.

As for influences, I only read what people called literary fiction for years, but thankfully, around the age of 30, I realized that was an old, stale, academic snobbery and I’ve been reading everything ever since. I force myself to take something from a combination of genres when I choose a book. Of course, I have my personal interests and favorites.  I’m particularly influenced by international fiction. I like reading writers from Ireland to Jamaica to South Africa to the American South.

Q: Did you know from a young age you wanted to be an author or did this passion develop over the course of different career choices?

A: Yes, I always wanted to be an author or related careers: librarian, linguist, screenwriter, always coming back to language. I never saw “author” as a realistic choice in terms of supporting myself, which is why I chose journalism as the practical option at the time (hahaha -way back when before internet and when people paid for newspapers and it became entirely unpractical). But here I am for a decade teaching EFL at several colleges—something that was never on my list but is very practical. I also edit manuscripts as a freelancer, which I love. I really enjoy helping other writers get where they want to go.

Q: Your bio reveals you’ve done quite a bit of globetrotting over the years. Which place, though, do you most strongly associate with your personal definition of “home?”

A: I think a person can have more than one home just as they have different “best friends”. Your husband can be your best friend along with a sister and a girlfriend you grew up with—these are different types of best friends, right?

Israel is my home and has been for decades and there is nowhere like it. Israel is always humming, alive. It’s where my children were born and where my paternal great grandparents came when they walked from Yemen in North Africa to Port Said in Egypt and finally, took a train to Jerusalem and lived under Turkish rule. My family has been in Jerusalem since the 1880s.

I’m also proud to be fourth generation Canadian where my maternal great grandparents found refuge from the pogroms in Russia. I once read somewhere that the country in which you obtained your post high-school education becomes the one that shapes your values (vs. high school or primary school) and in my case, I would say that is correct. If you’re asking if I have real maple syrup in my fridge, the answer is yes; it’s next to the humus and my husband’s biltong from Johannesburg.

Q: What was the inspiration behind No Entry?

A: No Entry was inspired by my desire to write about South Africa and highlight an aspect that is often overlooked by the important subject of Apartheid. That’s an extremely necessary issue to write about, but it’s not the only one. There are other things going on in South Africa that need to be brought to people’s attention. I was also interested in connecting animal poaching with global terrorism as these are often the same network of cruel people, another overlooked and important point.

Q: How did you choose the title?

A: No Entry is my only novel that didn’t ultimately take my original title which was Shen (which means ivory in Hebrew). Even when I chose Shen (which I still prefer), I knew it would be too foreign a word for English-speaking audiences. It’s the first time I took the advice of an American marketing team and they convinced me that No Entry was a name teens would like and that my titles are “too subtle.” So, I tried listening to someone else for once.

Q: What governed your decision to pen a novel in a part of the world (South Africa) from which you did not originate? Accordingly, what were the challenges you encountered in depicting the setting and events with accuracy for your readers?

A: I had already written four Israel-based novels (King of the Class, Passport Control, White Zion, A Prayer Apart—the last as yet unpublished). Those novels took on various time periods from the Ottoman Empire, British Mandate to modern Israel and some migrated between Israel and Canada. King of the Class was written in a futuristic post-civil war Israel. I felt I had wrung out those settings– at least for the moment and I was searching. Then I had a coffee with a writing partner who said she feels many authors write the same novel over and over again only with different characters. She said if you analyze the novels they are really always coming back to the same themes, same ideas, same story; different characters.

This horrified me.

I knew she was right and I didn’t want to be one of those authors. I’m a location-driven writer and sought a brand-new location which I felt would ensure I wouldn’t be writing the same story again with different characters. My husband is South African and I’ve been there several times. I thought: let’s do it. I am not South African and, therefore, was not brave enough to have a South African heroine (their English alone is very different from Canadian English). So my first challenge to overcome was how to deal with that, thus, I made Yael a Canadian who travels to South Africa because her parents are from there originally. It’s pretty easy today with accuracy as we have Google and YouTube and I use Google maps a lot. I have a built-in South African reader at home who I’m married to. I also gave the manuscript to a South African friend to check for authenticity and I’m proud to say he only found one, small inauthentic element at Kruger for me to change.

Q: The young heroine of No Entry is Jewish. What was the significance of this choice for you?

A: I wanted to write about a Jewish heroine we don’t see often. In Passport Control, I have a Sephardic heroine—again a type of Jewish heroine we don’t often see unless she’s romanticized like Queen Esther or some other Biblical figure. Jewish heroines need to be expanded, don’t you think? Enough with the stereotypes. Judaism actually has a lot about nature built-in, something not often associated with Jewish culture but it’s there in spades if you look. We have Tu B’ishvat, which is a holiday celebrating trees every year when the stores are flooded with dried and fresh fruits, we have the holiday of Sukkoth where we live outside in a hut for an entire week, we have many prohibitions and laws about trees and fruits and vegetables, when you are allowed to cut trees, eat from their fruits and so on and on and on. It’s time for a Jewish environmental heroine, it’s overdue.

Q: Although technology and media have, in many respects, made the world a smaller place insofar as exposure to other countries and cultures, why has the extinction of elephants fallen off the radar of many people in North America?

A: I think it’s because we are so far removed from the natural world in North America and that’s a massive understatement. We’ve gone way beyond the old cliché of the concrete jungle. We simply don’t relate to animals in the wild on a visceral level the way many other peoples do. Animals are all Disney characters to us. It’s a simplistic reason but in a short answer that’s the truth. Before I went to South Africa the wildest animal I had seen up close and observed was a squirrel. Our food, clothes and so on are so removed from their sources that even when intellectually we know say that elephants are on the verge of extinction, it’s just too far from our lives and too easy for us to look away.

Q: A lot of research went into the development of this story. What were you the most surprised to discover that you didn’t know before?

A: One of the most surprising things I discovered is that the frozen land of Siberia is rapidly thawing due to climate change. As such, wooly mammoths that have been buried for 10,000 years are now accessible to tusk hunters. Tusk hunters are racing to retrieve them due to the very unfortunate demand for tusks, particularly in China.  Inexperienced people cannot tell the difference between illegal elephant tusks and wooly mammoth tusks. This enables elephant ivory traders to pass off their tusks as “ice ivory” or mammoth tusks. It’s very bad news for elephants. It would mean we would have to ban trade in an extinct species (wooly mammoths), something that’s never been done as far as I know of to protect elephants and right now that’s not happening.

Q: Why does this topic so deeply resonate with you?

A: I’m starting to come around to the idea that I should write something light and humorous (it started when a clinically depressed friend of mine complained she had nothing to read because every book depressed her more and why can’t anyone write something light but good that made her feel better…and now with this pandemic I’m thinking even more so), but for my first decade of writing I was always motivated by the idea of writing something to wake people up. The idea that elephants will likely be animals our grandchildren will never see in the wild is shocking and an absolute abdication of responsibility between humans and nature. There is no reason at all for this to happen and is a portent of much worse to come. Look at what’s already happening with this corona virus. The connection is a direct one. We need to stop and think about what we are doing to the natural world and realize it is nothing less than suicide. I’m not an animal conservationist and have no background in animals…I didn’t even grow up with a goldfish. This is just common sense. You don’t have to be an animal lover or a nature lover or a vegan or any of those things; loving human beings is enough to realize we need to act and reverse course when it comes to our relationship with wildlife.

Q: Is this something you plan to extend to future books?

A: I already wrote the sequel to No Entry and it’s ready to go. Yael, Nadine and Sipho are back this time taking on a drone training camp. Sadly, Stormbird Press burned down in the Australian wildfires. They were evacuated and lost their homes, equipment, everything, all physical book copies. They were hoping to make a comeback in April 2020 –even a small one—but now they have been hit with corona virus.  So, I don’t know what will be now with my eco-series. I’m open to suggestions! Please email me through my website (www.gilagreenwrites.com) if you have any.

Q: In writing about global environmental issues and animal activist themes such as elephant poaching, there’s a fine line between educating one’s readership and preaching to them. How did you achieve that difficult balance?

A: I try to keep the story at a personal level to avoid preaching as you say. The story is about Yael Amar and her losses and gains and growth as much as about anything else. She has a best friend, loving parents and a boyfriend who she feels forced to deceive—issues that are beyond the eco aspects of the story. But it’s still an eco-genre, so environmental issues have to be center stage to fulfill the requirements of this genre.

Q: What do you see as the takeaway message for No Entry?

A: Do you love people? If the answer is yes, you should care about elephant extinction and yes, teenagers can make a difference.

Q: Authors are often given the conventional advice to pick just one genre and stay with it forever in order to build an audience. Given that your prior books are largely Israel/Canada based, you seem to be openly defying that mindset and following your heart. Any worries about that?

A:  This advice can be stifling as a writer. I wanted the challenge, I wanted to expand my canvas. In a way telling people to stick with one genre shrinks your canvas. It’s too reductionist for me. It depends on your goals—if they are purely sales, it’s probably the best advice. I also get bored of things easily and need change. Maybe it’s my journalism background, but I like researching new things, learning about aspects of the world I never knew before. If I had never written No Entry, I wouldn’t know anything about elephants beyond the grade one stuff most of us know. It brought me into contact with more people, more opportunities.  In the same way, White Zion taught me so much about living under British Mandate in the 1930s in Jerusalem right down to how people heated their homes.

I have to be interested, engaged and not feel I’m recycling the same plots in the same places. It’s also not necessarily true advice. There are dozens of writers who have written in all different genres who are very successful: Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Lisa See, Roald Dahl.

Q: What’s your best advice to writers who are starting out?

A: Find a mentor who believes in you. Mentors should be talked about more. Much more.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m at a bit of a crossroads because of what’s happened to Stormbird as I mentioned before. I had three novels come out between August 2018 and September 2019 and looking at 2020 right now, it’s probably not the ideal time to release a new book. My most honest answer is that I’m waiting to see what opportunities putting out three traditionally published novels in 13 months brings. I’m making more vlogs and trying to reach out and build my audience whether they are interested in heroines conquering their fears in South Africa or in Israel. I’ve been vlogging educational vlogs related to No Entry for parents/educators/teens/readers and hope to post more often.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Yes, I also found publishing No Entry enabled me to join SCBWI, I’ve already participated in a webinar for the Israel branch and it’s enabled me even more opportunities. I recommend writers join such organizations, something I didn’t have time to invest in when all of my kids were little. Having said that, mothers and fathers do not feel badly about not doing such things. Your kids will only be young once. Join writing organizations and any other extras when you can. You don’t have to do everything at once. I only put up a professional website 10 years after I published my first story because with my family and earning a living, I couldn’t focus on everything and that’s allowed, it’s okay, it’s perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She Said No To The Wind

She Said No to the Wind

I was introduced to César Moran-Cahusac through our Christina Hamlett, who designed the cover for his new poetry collection, She Said No to the Wind. As a fellow poet and nature lover, I was enthusiastic to connect with him.

For every book he sells, he donates a dollar “towards the implementation and development of a tree nursery that will be the seed for an urban reforestation project in the city of Cusco, Peru.” As a poet, his works are seeds for other things as well. He inspired me to write again from that playful, dark, inquisitive, wondrous place, to walk barefoot in the sand and just breathe, and to celebrate the little things that piece together all that counts in the end. His book is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. (You can see samples of his poetry and the gorgeous photography with the “Look Inside” feature.)

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: In your work as an activist, poet, peace advocate and environmentalist, you share a lot of yourself with others. What are some things that people don’t know about you?

A: I think what I don’t share are my weaknesses and fears; it has been a long process to even start recognizing them. Mostly because one was taught not to be weak and vulnerable.

But, that is not true. On the contrary it is vulnerability that makes you resilient. So, as I have been writing I have been learning to accept my vulnerabilities and fears, understand and then overcome them.

It has been my poetry that has allowed me to expose them to myself; this allowed me to be courageous enough to compile them metaphorically in my first poetry anthology called She Said No to the Wind.

So, it has been a long walk where I was accompanied by my fears, and as we took this stroll we talked a lot and now I feel comfortable with some of them. There is still a lot of talking to do.

Q: That’s awesome—your poetry has a lot of heart and sharing that allows us to open up, too. What first drove you to write?

A: I have always been a sensitive and very passionate individual. By this I want to say that I feel things very intensively and these feelings are just there, lingering around me.

In fact, before waking up in the morning I would find myself with phrases and even complete poems in my head, but at that time I did not pay attention to them. I did not consider them important or even good enough to be saved by writing them on a piece of paper. Then little by little I took the risk to jot them down and play with the words I had written.

That is when the magic and the infatuation with words started, their meaning and sound became intensively beautiful to me. So, poetry in the form of free prose allowed me to get these feelings out, as I wanted to shout, cry, laugh, hug, run, dance, jump, and feel. Poetry became the medium to let it all out.

Q: Thank you for taking that risk of publishing it, letting it all out with us. Your cover captures the spirit of the book, with its message “to inspire”. In what other ways do you hope to connect with your readers?

A: I want them to genuinely feel alive, this is to fuel in them the urge to look around and embrace the beauty that surrounds them and that every one of them has stories that can be portrayed in a wonderful way. Hopefully, as they read this book and its lines they can understand who I am, how I see the world and kindle in the reader the urge to live life as uniquely as possible.

Q: What a beautiful way to see things. The poems in your book celebrate daily events. What do you consider the value and power of the seemingly mundane?

A: The mundane is what builds history; it has all the events that construct our lives and the lives of the people who surround us. We all, within our natural setting, weave a fantastic living textile that drapes over the landscape.

It is then when the mundane expresses colors, textures, aromas, that precipitates the wild array of events that construct our lives and makes us move us forward. By being sensitive to this magic one becomes uniquely compassionate.

Q: Your poetry also celebrates the magic of nature. From your work in the field and your Masters in Environmental Management, you’ve considered our world from multiple perspectives. What are you most passionate about when it comes to nature and conservation?

A: Yes, nature is the mother—it is what feeds us, embraces, and cradles our interwoven diverse civilization. Without her we are absolutely nothing. So by understanding her processes and fully acknowledging the fact that the consumption of natural resources is a blessing; we can see the necessity to tread gently over her, and by this I mean tiptoe.

So interacting with her should not be this greedy destruction. Moreover, we have to boldly declare the paradigm of endless growth as obsolete, not even think of sustainable development.

Q: What do you mean, abandon sustainable development?

A:  I do not believe in sustainable development, in the sense that nothing can grow forever; the concept that makes more sense is resilience.  Sustainable development is trying to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. But, nothing that grows forever is sustainable… it was a great concept presented in the Brundtland report in 1987. That had the idea to inspire people to care for nature.  But this has become a catchphrase, and abused by the interests of advocates of exponential economic growth, undermining environmental reforms. We are defunct as a species if we do not consider the fact that we need to start de-growing to reach an adequate balance and actively reduce our demands on nature.

Q: How it is possible to “de-grow”?

A: De-growth is a new term that expresses “that the only way for humanity to live within its biophysical limits and mitigate the effects of climate change is to reduce economic activity, to downscale consumerist lifestyles, to move beyond conventional energy sources, to give up on the fantasy of ‘decoupling’ economic and population growth from environmental impacts, and to rethink the technologies that have gotten us into our current predicament. There has been no known society that has simultaneously expanded economic activity and reduced absolute energy consumption” taken from   A Call to Look Past An Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique [http://www.resilience.org/articles/General/2015/05_May/A-Degrowth-Response-to-An-Ecomodernist-Manifesto.pdf].

This should liberate us from thinking naïvely that technology will save us from overriding planet Earth and look into how can we become resilient and design actions towards adaptation.

Q: You are an advocate of environmentalism and peace. How do you consider these to be connected?

A: I think they are connected through compassion—when we have sincere, compassionate feelings for ourselves, these feelings ripple into the environment. In this way, we build care and slowly but surely the way we look at nature changes, perceiving its small marvels as a delicate equilibrium that can’t be disrupted violently. This is when peace sets in as the way to be in harmony with nature and the rest of living and human beings.

Q: What inspires you in your daily life?

A: Well, to be able to take the any opportunity to smile and enjoy life thoroughly by just recognizing its daily events. Just the fact of waking up in the morning makes me smile, inspiration comes by being open-minded, allowing everything to inspire me. Sounds, words people say, the weather, whatever comes my way has a meaning and brings sensations that need to be expressed.

Q: You also express yourself with martial arts. What draws you to practice?

A: I have practiced two martial arts, Kung Fu and Aikido. The latter is called the art of peace or the way of harmony. I try to live in harmony and I recognize that this is very difficult, but as I train all I want is to polish the art, the expression, the connection, the form, the movement, the ability to create kuzushi or to take your opponents’ balance in a subtle way. So, what draws me to practice is the endless opportunity one has   to polish and perfect a technique  Like with words, I go about with my training—I try to use them in the most precise way possible. The arts in general offer you a stream of incredible surprises than can only be found if you practice them committedly. One always has to train with a beginner’s mind, willing to learn something new every day.

Q: In all your activities, as an activist, advocate, poet, and as one who practices peace, is there something that you consider joins them together?

A: I think it’s my heart that joins them, yes, my heart is a wonderful thing because it embraces them all, I learn from every single one of them. They all interact, taking energy and knowledge from each other, and my heart fuels them, making them move forward with passion.

Q: There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a community to raise an author, an idea. Your book is dedicated to several key people (and our ultimate shared mother, nature). In what way have the people in your life been your village?

A: When we interact with people, they leave in us experiences from which we learn. This is in some ways streams of good and the bad, the happy and the sad.  On which we can navigate, I tend to navigate on the positive side of things, when I meet or interact with the negative side I learn from them that I definitely do not want to be there or become that. “Positiveness” is the force that I share and take from people. This I have I learned from my mother and father that taught me to always look forward for a new day, for a new way and to be able to appreciate the opportunity to learn something new.

And in that sense I give thanks to all the above, to be kind and compassionate to everybody and to draw a smile as fast as one can. In fact become the fastest smile out there and with this practice always laugh every single day of my life. So, it’s my responsibility to stir happiness and postiveness in my village. The people I have mentioned in my dedication have sparked in me this way of being, I have become resilient in so many ways thanks to them and furthermore I would have to add more people on to that list. So I can take the opportunity now to thank them all for inspiring and allowing me to be who I am.

Q: When you look at our future, as a humanitarian and nature advocate, what do you see?

A: I see that there is an urge to change people’s attitudes and level of consciousness. It is unbearable to see how opportunism, manipulation, greediness, oblique disdain for equal human rights is still rampant.

If words can trickle down as gentle rain and sensitize people; well let’s write, share the words in all its forms, so that being  said I will continue writing and expressing what I see and feel intensively.

Editorial Note: Over the course of the interview, César revealed he had been inspired to pen a new poem. We are happy and honored to share it here with our readers.

Can You Draw Your Smile?

Can you draw it fast, as fast as you can?

Yes, can you make that sparkling ivory shine like a blaze?

Shattering the ice that has taken the hearts

Breaking the rusty padlocks that incarcerated joy

Invisibly loitering around lips and cheeks,

So heavy that frowns became conspicuous

Making daily strolls gloomy and the inability to open up a constant

So slap everybody with it, back and forth, be mighty

Become merciless with that smile

Release it quick as lightning that hits the ground with a rumble

Cracking elation to extent of anointing the spirit with warmth that leaks pleasure into the cells

Defusing anger, embracing shyness with a welcoming grin

Evicting shallow greetings that kill love

Invigorate with that nimble feat that flashes your dental sculpture

Allowing eyes balls and brows to expand in surprise

Permeating the spreading of fun vibes in a brink like butter on hot bread

Call upon teeth and gums; astonish at dawn, at sunset,

Halt the stiffness that has cramped faces

Bring abundance with no fear of scrutiny

Because your smile is perfect as it opens any cloud or clouted ideas

A perpetual smile cleanses the body, stretches it to enable tolerance

Killing incisive stares that bleed hatred,

It can relieve agnostic perceptions that life is only crappy

So, become a believer ignite a brouhaha that will ransack everybody,

Yes, a squawking commotion like macaws’ flying into the sunset.

Smile as fast as you can, deliver the blow that knocks out animosity

Fill that face with content; yes be quick, as fast as you can.

César Morán – Cahusac

Cusco, June 2015

Godless

Jeff_Rasley

Stretch your limits and shake up your boundaries! No one does this more or better than writer, philanthropist, mountaineer, husband, and father than Jeff Rasley. Having written and published his eighth non-fiction book, Godless, Jeff goes deep into the discussion of humanity, and what it means to be a believer and non-believer of any religious or political doctrine. As a man who has travelled the world, trekked mountains, and swam with whales, Jeff encourages us to examine our lives and where we’re going. It’s a pleasure to interview this intrepid spirit and share some of his thoughts to the questions posed. Welcome Jeff!

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q     How did your early life as a child, then as a lawyer, prepare you to undertake life-altering global and spiritual explorations?

A   My family encouraged curiosity and intellectual exploration and that has been as aspect of my identity since childhood. Practicing law demands rigorous questioning about facts and evidence. So, both of these influences influenced me to have open eyes and open mind to different and new ideas and spiritual growth.

Q   Who has been your greatest life coach or mentor, and why?

A   Many teachers, professors, coaches, pastors, and friends have had influence on me, and friendships developed with my Nepalese sirdars have been inspiring. But, I can’t name one as being the greatest. The constant love, forgiveness, and understanding of my parents and wife have been more important to me than anything I’ve gained from other people.

Q   What inspires and drives you?

A   I want to take good care of myself, live life as an adventure, and offer what I can to others who ask for and need my assistance. I want to enjoy life and affect the world with pragmatic philanthropy.

Q   Some would say climbing a mountain is the ultimate physical manifestation of spiritual seeking. What did you discover about yourself during your first and subsequent climbs in Nepal?

A   That I could endure a lot of pain even to the point of being barely conscious. There are moments in mountaineering when your body, mind, and will are in sync or flow, which is beautiful. When you are able to stop, look around and savour the view, it’s movingly beautiful. But, most of the time actually climbing is hard slogging, putting one foot in front of the other while trying to maintain steady breathing, and maintaining a focus on staying balanced.

Q   You’ve written eight books now, each dealing with issues of self-discovery, philanthropy, and seeking. What drives you to delve so deeply into yourself and our current societal beliefs, then write about them?

A   The admonition of Socrates, to “know thy self”, is, I think the first step on the path of seeking wisdom. We are our own interpreters of reality, so we need to be self aware of how we filter information through our subjective experience. Then, we can participate in family, community, and the world more intentionally and productively. I discovered during adolescence that it turned me on to figure out how, and then to implement, ways to improve communal relations, to help people get along better. So, I’ve tried to do that in various ways from my own local communities to international philanthropic development projects.

Q   Clearly travel plays a large role in your life, but why?

A   I grew up in a small city which didn’t have much cultural diversity. Whenever my family did a driving trip, it thrilled me. So, when I was 18 I walked to the edge of town, stuck out my thumb and hitch-hiked across the country. It was a wonderful experience of meeting people utterly unlike those I knew. And, I loved seeing different parts of the country both urban and rural areas. It lit a fire in me that still burns. (I’m leaving in a few days for another cross-country driving trip with my wife out to CA.) Every trip, whether it’s just a weekend of outback camping, cultural tour of a city, or solo-kayaking Pacific islands, is an opportunity to learn and grow, so long as it’s understood as an adventure.

Q   Can you share with us a particularly amusing or scary story about your mountain climbing?

A   How about an ocean story, instead? This is excerpted from Islands in My Dreams:

Fifteen times we approached the mother and calf when they surfaced, and then we jumped in the water and swam as fast as we could toward them. Each time they sounded before we reached the whales. The boat captain gave us one last chance as he was low on fuel and it was time for us to get back on the slower boat to be taken back to Neiafu.

The three of us dove in with fins kicking as hard and fast as we could. Anjo told us splashing bothers whales, so we kicked with our fins below the surface and didn’t stroke with our arms to minimize splashing.

The mother and calf didn’t dive this time. They swam just below the surface staying about twenty yards ahead of us. Tashio, the Japanese guy, tired from the fifteen times we had already swam after the whales, gave up the chase after about fifty yards. Kevin, the Floridian, broke off after one hundred yards. I kept kicking. After another fifty yards of pursuit, the whales stopped.

The mother let me swim up beside her, but kept her baby on her other side away from me. I swam up beside her huge eye, turned on my side and looked through my snorkel mask into her eye, which was as big as my head. She looked back at me. Our eyes locked. Time stopped. It was if we were looking into each other’s souls.

She rolled and nudged her calf with her flipper to encourage the calf to swim over to me. The baby whale swam up to me, swam under me, then circled around me, and let me caress its tail. It was surprisingly smooth to my touch. The calf returned to its mother’s side.

They began to swim off slowly. I swam with them for about one hundred yards, but then another whale-watching boat approached. The mother gave one great flick of her tail and they vanished deep into the dark water below me.

I stroked back to the speedboat and clambered up the ladder and dropped over the gunwale. I could barely stand. My legs were vibrating and shaking. Electric current (or adrenaline) was coursing through me from the thrill and power of the encounter.

For a few moments, the otherness separating the mother whale and me had vanished. We looked into each other’s eyes and saw trust and acceptance, instead of fear and danger. She trusted me to caress her baby. I trusted that she would not crush me like a minnow with her gigantic tail.

I can still see her awesome eye in my mind’s eye. And I remember how she trusted me with her calf. It would be a good thing for our finite planet if humans could see the soul of all other species, especially the endangered ones.

Q   What does your family think of your travels, books, philanthropy, and growing ideologies?

A   That it’s all pretty cool.

Q   You say that your wife encouraged you to go “climb a mountain”, so clearly she supported that first climb, but does she ever travel or climb with you?

A   We travel regularly together, and used to do hiking and camping trips. But she has MS and is medically restricted from strenuous physical activity.

Q   On returning home to the United States after your various travels, you must be met with many conflicting emotions regarding (global) economic waste and excess. What else do you struggle with in your integration back into your everyday home life, and how do you deal with your emotional conflicts?

A   I’m really not bothered by the vast discrepancies in material wealth anymore. I was the first few times I experienced “third world” poverty. It felt very weird coming home, caring for our kids, going to the office, and just living my life which was so different from that of the people I had been around in Nepal, India, and other “exotic” places. But the other cultures I’ve spent time with are more wealthy than ours in other ways. I’d like to bring back to the US the emotional and spiritual maturity I have found in Nepal (which it the poorest country outside of Africa). What I still wonder and sort of worry about is whether my own efforts at infrastructure development in Nepal are actually helping or hurting the villages I’ve worked with. But, we do the best we can, and then, “so it goes” (per my fellow Hoosier, Kurt Vonnegut).

Q   People often feel helpless to “do something significant” to improve our world or find meaning to their lives. What suggestions would you give to others perhaps not so adventurous as yourself?

A   Consider deeply what you care about. When you understand what you truly value, then guide your life in a way which promotes the values you care most about.

Q   Your recent book, Godless, is a very provocative title and offers what others may consider controversial insight into religious doctrines and dogma. Have you received any negative feedback or misunderstanding regarding it, and if so, what would you want to clarify for potential readers?

A   “Godless” is explained in the book on several levels. One of the points it makes is that making gods out of religious doctrines or political ideologies has caused much harm throughout human history. Believers tend to divide humanity into us and them, believers and nonbelievers. But what you personally believe or don’t believe probably won’t harm other people so long as you value tolerance. Unfortunately, religious and political zealots tend not to value tolerance and many are led by unscrupulous leaders to treat nonbelievers as less than human. The book makes the case that we would be better off to ditch the whole God-thing and admit we really don’t know whether God exists, or, to think that everything and every moment is sacred.

Q   What’s next for you, Jeff?

A   After finishing writing a book, I take several months to try to promote the book, as I’m doing now. And, the last thing I want to think about is writing another one. Eventually another seed will germinate. In the meantime, I run the Basa Village Foundation, serve on 5 nonprofit boards, teach a class on philanthropy at Butler University, and organize trekking and mountaineering expeditions.

Q   Where can our readers discover more about you, your philanthropic work, and your books?

A   My website has all that info: www.jeffreyrasley.com

Amazon Author page is http://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Rasley/e/B004Q3D6B2

Other social media sites are :

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/jeff-rasley/12/984/619

http://www.pinterest.com/pinner362436

https://twitter.com/jeffrasley

https://plus.google.com/u/0/104731913652844816663

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4114763.Jeffrey_Rasley

https://www.facebook.com/JeffRasleyAndMidsummerBooks