Fronds and friends
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Longtime reader Ernst Enns joined me for coffee in Cochrane the other day and soon had me touring the world with him through memories prompted by his photo of a palm tree at sunset (attached).
A University of Calgary professor emeritus of mathematics, Ernst had just recently been in Nuevo Vallarta, in west central Mexico, where he encountered the palm in all its glory. Its fronds, radiating from the glow of the sun, seemed to be pointing to every continent in the world, all of which Ernst has visited in his encounters with the beauty of humanity in all its diversity.
Ernst describes himself as “just an ordinary retired guy,” but what a globetrotting “ordinary” guy he is! Going on 83 now, he has ridden his horse through most of the Rockies, canoed the Nahanni, summitted Mont Blanc, skied the Alps, scuba-dived the Great Barrier Reef, and sailed the coasts of Scandinavia – all in his encounters with the beautiful oneness of our humanity.
This beauty evidenced itself movingly 14 years ago this month when he biked the length of Africa, where he had “an experience in real diversity” in that oneness, as he cycled 11,800 km north to south through that magical continent. (See my column for April 1, 2009.)
There was that time, for instance, when he was riding through the desert in Sudan, he says. “A local gentleman, sitting in some scarce shade, was brewing a pot of tea. He waved me over and we shared a cup. We had no language in common, but we both smiled and talked. When I offered money before I left, he shook my hand and waved, No!”
Some years later, Ernst was on an academic trip to Bern, Switzerland, when he recalled a visit 10 years earlier during which he’d met a wonderful Swiss couple. “I wondered if they’d remember a short visit by a stranger that long ago,” he says.
“I found their number in the phone book and hesitated. Do I call or not? I called and started to explain who I was. I was not through my explanation when Fritz, the man who answered, said of course he remembered me and invited me over. This was December and they had me over for Christmas dinner. We have been best friends since.”
And story after story, across the whole wide world embraced by that sunset palm, Ernst recalls other beautiful moments in his encounters as friends together in our common humanity. Thanks, Ernst, for the memories.
© 2023 Warren Harbeck