The Australian woman pointed. “They look like gigantic penises.”

“On our left are the uncircumcised versions,” said a man from New Zealand. “And on our right are the circumcised versions.”

“Oh my gawd!” Shouted a woman from South Africa. “Look at the size of that one.”

The eroded landscape in the Cappadocia region of Turkey had drawn Mark and me and other visitors from around the world to look at the unusual rock formations. We were riding in a van filled with twelve tourists, most of them from English-speaking countries. We continued to describe variations of the stone pillars: “Short and stubby—,” “Pencil-thin with a top-heavy cap—,” “Squished up and squat—,” and “In need of Viagra.”

I’m sure our tour group wasn’t the first to make these kinds of comparisons. Continue reading


What I Did Not Know



Crystal Lake, 2017


I was 20 years old.  

Staring at the dazzling scenery from the shores of Crystal Lake in the High Sierra Nevada Mountains, the depression that had plagued me for so long eased somewhat. My hiking companion and I stripped and jumped from granite boulders into the transparent, sky-blue water, and shrieked when we landed in the frigid snowmelt. Moments later we stretched out on the sun-baked boulders to dry off, soak up the warmth, and listen to the birdsong surrounding us. I started to doze, but the unending angst returned to send me back into the familiar state of confusion and an overall sense of meaninglessness.

Recent events had caused me to question my sanity. While at a bar with friends, without warning a sudden and overwhelming fear caused my heart to pound rapidly as sticky sweat dampened my forehead and trickled down my back and from under my arms. I had difficulties breathing and developed a choking sensation. Submerging into darkness, I stumbled outside gasping for fresh air, trying to get away from the odor of stale beer and smoke. I remember thinking that I was surrounded by lies…that everything I thought I knew or had been told felt wrong. The sexual revolution of my generation in the 1960s and 1970s was in juxtaposition to my upbringing and skewed experiences. What’s wrong with me? I’d wondered. I wanted to be free-spirited and spontaneous. When my friends noticed my absence, they searched outside, and found me trembling while sitting on a curb. They thought I might have had too much to drink or smoked too much weed, but I assured them I’d had nothing. Someone took me home. A second episode repeated weeks later in a different bar.

I quit going to bars.

Listening to the lapping water of Crystal Lake, I wished I could figure out my problems. I began to sort out what I did not want: I did not want to be around the “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” culture of my generation, I did not want to go to college. I did not want to get married and become a subservient wife to a domineering husband. I did not want to have children. 

But what did I want?

What I did not know is that the frightening episodes had a name: panic attacks. I did not know that with the help of mental health professionals I would discover the source of my deep sorrow that led to the panic attacks, and that I would learn coping strategies to navigate through difficult times. I did not know that forgiveness helps alleviate mental pain. I did not know that the feminist movement of that era would help me find my way through a maze of conflicting idealism. I did not know I would discover a source of inner strength and personal empowerment that would encourage me to define my aspirations and find the drive to pursue them. I did not know I’d go to college and earn a master’s degree. I did not know I would find a good man to share my life with and build a loving family together. I did not know I would discover passions for making art, writing stories, traveling, and recreational sports. I did not know that I would learn to listen to and trust my heart and let it help guide me.

I did not know that 43 years later I would stand again on the shores of Crystal Lake, shedding tears, remembering my other visit, and paying homage to the troubled young woman I was in my youth. An overwhelming appreciation for the life I have lived surged through me. I have been graced with a life I never imagined possible.






“I’m hungry,” Mark announced. “Let’s find a place for lunch.”

Driving north along the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we came to the town of Lone Pine, California. Choosing a restaurant can be risky when traveling, but when we peeked inside the Chuck Wagon Chow, it seemed like a safe bet that the food would be edible since it was filled with diners, but not overly so. We entered. Inside, an old west décor embellished the walls and hung from the ceiling: wagon wheels, rusty spurs, cowboy boots, a noose, saddles…all apropos for a town known for its filming location of dozens of Hollywood Westerns.

A Miss Kitty look-alike greeted us. “Howdy, folks. Welcome.” She wore an updo of strawberry-blond hair piled on her head that was held together with a band of jewels and feathers. A black corset accentuated her bosom and pantaloons peaked from beneath a scarlet, ruffled satin and lace skirt over layers of petticoats. Black fishnet stockings tucked into black cowgirl boots dotted with multi-colored rhinestones completed the look. She grabbed some menus and a pot of coffee. “Follow me.” She seated us. “You folks here for the film festival?”






Anna had just moved to Paris to attend film school.


Red and Blue Polarities

         Pinned to several posts, photographs of our newly elected President Obama smiled to crowds of Parisian shoppers strolling through the open-air market. I felt a patriotic pride, a feeling that sometimes eludes me when I’m in a different country. Striving to live up to the ideologies of the United States of America is often in conflict with its realities, but the election of a black man exemplified the basic credo that “all men (and women) are created equal.”

Anna had just moved to Paris to attend film school. Walking through the vibrant Barbès neighborhood, a community of African and Arab immigrants, we stopped at one stall to check out the wares. The vendor’s headscarf—patterned in geometric shapes of bright yellow, orange, red, green—wound around dark curls that accentuated her deep brown eyes and coffee-colored skin. She dressed in an African dashiki of similar fabric to the headscarf and blended in with the artfully arranged fruits, vegetables, herbs, and piles of spices. She and I were about the same age—both of us having been alive during Rosa Park’s symbolic and bold move, the civil rights movement, and eventually a black man’s election into the most influential leadership role in the world.

I looked at President Obama’s face and in baby French said, Mon president! J’adore mon president! The woman and I looked deeply into one another’s eyes. She came from her display booth, put her arms around me and said. Vous êtes formidable. We stood together with our arms entwined, teary-eyed, and with sloppy grins on our faces while exchanging a pure heartfelt moment. We chatted about the human race and our hope for the possibility overcoming racism and the historic and evolutionary step forward in the direction of equality for all. I told her my optimism in humanity had been restored.

As Anna and I walked on, I remember thinking that if I lived long enough perhaps I’d witness our country’s election of a lesbian woman of color to become our president.

Anything is possible, I thought.

I was right about that.

Eight years later, to surprise Anna for her birthday I scheduled a trip to Paris, leaving the morning after the 2016 presidential election. This trip tells a different story.


When the cab driver took my luggage old glory’s red, white, and blue ID tag lit up like a neon light announcing my nationality. The driver’s eyes narrowed with a look of disbelief and blame as he looked into mine, and then spit out in throaty, pinch-nosed French, Trumph? Trumph? Trumph? Quoi?

Unable to respond, I shrank, my spotty French frozen somewhere in my traumatized brain.

Apparently unconcerned with geniality or a tip he continued. Merde! Il est un imbécile…un clown—he stared at me, and then thrust my luggage into the trunk. Je ne comprends pas!

I found some French words and sputtered, “I don’t understand what happened…I am sorry. It’s awful.” Driving into the heart of Paris, the driver softened slightly once he knew we shared the same sentiments. We exchanged as much information as our language barriers would allow us. In the mid 1990s, as a child he’d fled with his family to live in France as refugees while his home country, The Congo, raged in the civil wars that would continue for decades. Now, the safety he and his family had once felt in their adopted country, had been shattered by terrorist attacks. Eh maintnant Trumph! Il est mauvais pour tous les monde.

“Yes,” I agreed. “He is bad for everyone.” Forty minutes later, after paying the driver, he thanked me, looked in my eyes again; sighed, and then he drove away.

I’d managed to leave Bellingham and fly to Paris without having any conversations about the election results. On that momentous day, passengers flying from our blue state of Washington appeared somber and wouldn’t make eye contact—possibly wondering, like me, whom among us had voted for that man? During the journey, at each airport TV screens blathered, but I couldn’t listen.

Anna was still at work when I arrived at the apartment. Kilian, her partner, buzzed me in and welcomed me with a comforting hug. Having grown up a few generations away from post WWII Germany, Kilian’s warmth reminded me that—like all other species—humans have an innate desire to survive, and that part of survival is being able to advance as a society. Modern Germans I know demonstrate this with good cheer and grace.

While I freshened up from being flung across the world, my thoughts persisted. Would future citizens of The United States someday be in the same position as Germany…kind of a post Trump shame that would force us to wake up to kindness and a promise to work harder to live peacefully? Other questions piled up. Would the president elect’s leadership and agenda cause the death of our country? Will another world war begin? Is this how frightened populations felt leading up to the world wars…with the uncertainty, misinformation, counter-information hiding the  truth? End of civilization stories gathered in my mind. I remembered similar thoughts after 9/11, but the difference then was that United States citizens didn’t choose that catastrophe—but many people apparently chose this current state of pending catastrophe.

After I rested, Kilian and I went out to lunch. In the streets of Paris, life continued in the ancient city, a mecca of culture and renown. During its long history, the city had fallen many times during violent and destructive conflicts, and then risen again like a phoenix from the ashes to rebuild, structurally and socially. This thought comforted me.

Operating on a few hours of scrunched-up sleep and heartbreak, the noisy bustle and stale city air that usually stresses me was a welcomed diversion from current events. After lunch, Kilian and I gathered supplies to prepare for Anna’s surprise.

Walking into the apartment, Anna melted into my arms and cried. I have seldom felt as needed by my adult daughter and the timing of my surprise visit was serendipitous.

“Mama! Mama! It’s you.” She stroked my hair.

“Annie! Annie! It’s you.” I stroked her hair.

My daughter and I, in those moments, didn’t need words—we shared a telepathic synchronicity of sadness and love.

Armistice Day meant that Anna and Kilian had the next day off. We spent a leisurely morning trying not to spew our disbelief about the changing of power in The United States, but our conversations always drifted in that direction. In the afternoon, Anna and I took off to the Sacré-Coeur Cathédrale in the Monmartre District—a place Anna and I first visited in 1994 on a mother/daughter/grandmother trip four weeks before Mom died from cancer. Memories of pushing Mom around in a wheel chair added to our grief.

Anna and I charged on in clear sky and frigid air. The political situation hovered over us, around us, and in us. “Tuesday night as we listened to the results come in, Mark was upset, but he told me that he didn’t want to hear me piss and moan all night. I’m glad that you and I can piss and moan as much as we need to, Annie.”

“Hey Mom. I want to take you to a special place. This will make us feel better.” We walked to an outdoor, 430 square foot, dark-blue ceramic wall, in which the words “I Love You” glazed in white across the tiles in 250 languages. Splashes of red scattered throughout represented broken hearts. Hundreds of other visitors had the same idea so we waited for our turn to stand beneath the English words “I Love You” while someone took our photo.

Anna was right. We did feel better. Symbolic gestures can be soothing and powerful reminders to stay aware of all that is right.

For several more hours we walked around Paris arm-in-arm, in and out of shops, sipping café au lait, and enjoying our time together. At a favorite restaurant of Anna’s, we dined in an enclosed terraced rooftop. While we ate, we gazed out at a panoramic view of the city. In the distance The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and other famous landmarks stood towering above the city’s skyline glowing in the sunset.

Afterwards, we walked until the sky darkened and the crystalline City of Light glistened against the night sky.

The next day, Kilian had a surprise birthday brunch planned for Anna, and my job was to get her out of the apartment. “I need a pharmacy,” I told her. “And a walk.” So off we went. Again, when Parisians recognized our “American-ness” the dismal conversations continued, but most Parisians emanated kindness and sympathy.

During the brunch the younger adults wanted to talk about that man and the outcome of it. We all tried not to, but it seems we needed to. As the older women I felt a certain responsibility to try to keep hope alive even though I felt hopelessness.

Emails from home kept the topic alive—there was no escape. We knew we needed to find ways to move through our fears and implications of what was to come, but how? Our shock was still too raw.

THREE PASSIONS: Art, Adventures, Words

I now have printed copies of THREE PASSIONS Art, Adventures, Words. To purchase a copy, please contact me: threepassionsbyjrb@gmail.com


The making of these essays and art prints span several decades of fun, hard work, and frustration.


A successful artist friend once suggested that I choose one medium and master it. I tried that but soon became bored. Therefore, the material choices I use are all over the place. This is being true to myself.

Inspirations for my work come from everywhere. My imagination is constantly swirling with new ideas—so many, in fact, that I often have several projects going on at once. Nature and my gardens’ bounty inspire many paintings. Symbolism and carefully chosen colors are used to tell the visual stories. Some works of art are inspired by simple beauty and are conceptual and representational renderings.

Honoring creativity is my therapy, meditation, joy, and sometimes obsession. Painting, drawing, making mosaics, writing, gardening, or working on any kind of artistic endeavor completes me. Brain researchers have released studies about the importance of creativity. A simple explanation is that it exercises the brain, is good for the soul, and is a way to communicate ideas.

Many works of art in this collection are older and many have been influenced by the adventures I’ve had while traveling. I hope readers enjoy these works of art as much as I enjoyed making them.


The word fernweh (pronounced |Feirn-veyh|) means to have an ache for distant places: the craving for travel.

I have a severe case of fernweh. My mother had it and our oldest daughter has it. It must be a genetic predisposition. I’ve had the good fortune to travel to many places with my husband, with my kids, with friends, with strangers, and sometimes alone. During my travels I enjoy tourist sites and cultural activities, but what really make my heart sing are recreational adventures that lead to wild beauty. The mention of such places revs up the desire to travel in the same way a triple shot of espresso kick-starts the day. I’ve kayaked, sailed, biked, hiked, and skied thousands of miles and worn out a fair amount of equipment while doing so.

This collection of travel tales describes unexpected surprises that have expanded my thinking. These memories dangle like charms on a bracelet—shiny, unique, and precious. There are stories within the stories, and they reflect many aspects of traveling. They describe high points and low points, sidesplitting humor and tear-jerking tragedy, heartbreaking poverty and mind-boggling wealth, and both delightful and contemptible people. The essence of each tale is true, but some details and names have been altered. All tales are told from a slant based on my experiences and observations.


During college and for continuing education credits as a teacher, I took writing courses. Once I resigned from teaching, I took a memoir-writing class with the idea of crafting my coming-of-age experiences during the sexual revolution in the 1960-70s. Once I completed that, I was hooked and kept on writing. Since then I have completed a novel and a complete book of travel tales. Most of the written selections in this retrospective of art, adventures, and words come from the larger collection of travel tales. I have arranged the stories in a sequence of decades since the 1980s to present, and I’ve included adventures experienced on six out of seven continents.

How fortunate I feel to know so many passions and to have the drive to pursue them.


THREE PASSIONS Art, Adventures, Words, my collection of travel tales and art prints, is now available in a printed format. To purchase a copy please email me at: threepassionsbyjrb@gmail.com


Cathedral Cove, New Zealand


On a golden morning Mark and I stood on the stern of the ferry saying our farewells to The South Island of New Zealand. “How will I find the words to write about this glut of paradise?” I mumbled more to myself than to Mark.

“It’s not over yet. We still have ten days on the North Island.”

“These assortments of landscapes can’t be exaggerated.” I paused looking at the fading peninsulas and islands. “Goodbye Marlborough Sounds. Thank you for being so beautiful. See you in my dreams.” I put my arm through Mark’s. “I can see why most tourists favor The South Island’s natural beauty. This could be the last of New Zealand’s scenic highlights.”

“We’ll find out.”




NEW ZEALAND: A Snake Hater’s Eden


Mt. Cook and her cronies made an appearance.



New Zealand is a completely snake-free country. Not only that, there are not any dangerous plants or animals, venomous, spiders, or scorpions. From Sydney, we flew to the South Island, landed in Christchurch, and stepped into a welcoming embrace of cooler temperatures and a calmer pace. I loved New Zealand immediately.

This endeavor will be  a culmination of three passions, traveling, writing, and painting titled something like THREE PASSIONS: Art, Adventures, Words.



Australia’s Uluru-Kata/Tjuta National Park


A shift in perspective can happen in a moment.


On a recent winter getaway to a sunny climate, the low points of the trip hit us in the beginning. The day we left for Australia Mark had a scratchy throat and by the time we arrived in Sydney thirty hours later, he had a full-on cold. “It’s not bad,” he claimed. So off we went on a walking tour—jet lagged and sleep deprived—into the city that was steeping in a muggy heat wave with temperatures hovering above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

This travel tale is a sneak preview of my latest project called True Travel Tales Between the Poles. This endeavor will be  a culmination of THREE PASSIONS: Art, Adventures, Words. 




The complete collection of TRUE TRAVEL TALES is now available in an ebook format. Click the link below:

True Travel Tales by an Insatiable Adventuress

The word fernweh means to have an ache for distant places, the craving for travel.

true travel tales

My name is J.R. Bergstrom and I have a severe case of fernweh. My mother had it and our oldest daughter has it. It must be a genetic disposition. I’ve had the good fortune to have traveled to many places with my family, with friends, with strangers, and sometimes alone. I enjoy tourist sites and cultural activities, but what really makes my heart sing are recreational adventures that lead to wild beauty. The mention of such places revs up the desire to travel in the same way a triple shot of espresso kick-starts the day. I’ve kayaked, sailed, biked, hiked, and skied thousands of miles and worn out a fair amount of equipment while doing so. Most travel plans center on recreational activities, and are typically enriching and exhilarating. This collection of tales tells about unexpected surprises that stand out and have expanded my thinking.

These true travel tales of adventure dangle in my memory like charms on a bracelet–shiny, unique, and precious. There are stories within the stories and they reflect many aspects of traveling. They describe high points and low points; sidesplitting humor and tearjerking tragedy; heartbreaking poverty and mind-boggling wealth; and both delightful and contemptible people. The essence of these tales is true, but some details and names have been altered. All tales are told from a slant based on my experiences and observations. The following excerpts are examples of what to expect in the complete collection.



I opted for the mean mom approach.

I’m not a child anymore.


“Ma chérie!” said Miss Dos Santos. “You must visit me in Paris. Perhaps your parents will allow you to come next summer?”

Miss Dos Santos, my French teacher when I was in first and second grades, stands out as inspirational among some of the mediocre, dull, and burnt-out teachers I remember. I loved her, and she loved me. With her, I felt special and capable in that way gifted teachers make all children feel.

When I finally made it to France, I took my teenage daughter with me.