Stephen Rothman: Delighted to Dive

A Caribbean cruise in 2009 inspired Stephen Rothman to learn to scuba dive, which would lead him to pursue certification as a professional diving instructor. He had no way of knowing how important his new passion would become.

Rothman, a Vassar College graduate, worked in advertising in New York City before moving to Germany in 1989.  He had studied German in college and thought it would be “an interesting adventure” to live in the heart of Europe – 31 years later, he still lives in Frankfurt. He worked for the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency for 17 years; his favorite account was Pampers, which allowed him to “travel the world, talking to moms and playing with babies in as faraway places as Russia, China, India, Japan, and closer to home in Germany and the U.S.”

Just finished Dive Instructor exam

Hammerhead Sharks, Red Sea, Egypt

In July of 2016, Rothman was able to take early retirement, which meant that he could dive more than just once or twice a year on vacation.  He discovered a store called Happy Dive and pursued certification as a Dive Master (assistant diving instructor) and eventually a full Diving Instructor. 

Hammerhead Sharks, Red Sea, Egypt

Happy Dive owners Pia and Christiane had created more than just a place where customers could buy diving equipment, take courses and sign up for diving trips.  “Thanks to Pia’s outgoing and enthusiastic personality, customers became a part of a community, almost a diving family, and I became a part of that family,” he said.

The Happy Dive family was essential to Rothman when his partner Hans died of throat cancer in 2015.  The following year, he became an unpaid partner in the business, and he continues to work there 2-3 times a week. 

“I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t fun for me – after all, I’m retired!” he said.  He advises customers on equipment, puts together dive kits, refills tanks, and performs many other daily chores.

“But by far the most rewarding part of my job are the evenings in the pool helping new students master the skills they need to become confident, capable divers and establish the foundation for years of safe and enjoyable diving,” he says. Some people are naturally nervous about breathing underwater through a regulator, and he loves helping them overcome those fears.

He becomes poetic when he speaks of the ocean: “It is not of our world, filled with creatures that are completely oblivious to our terrestrial human existence, societies, political tensions and conflicts.”

“One becomes truly in touch with the wonder of creation and develops a great sense of respect and recognition for this world, vastly larger and by some estimates much richer in life than ours on land, and the responsibility we humans have in ensuring its survival.”

In his decades of diving he has seen some lovely places – last February he dove in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, where “I have never seen more variety of undersea life, in such great numbers, or healthier coral reefs.”  He’s been to the Maldives to see “the big stuff”: sharks and whale sharks and mantas, and he has dived in the Red Sea numerous times.  “Depending on where you dive, you can see stunning coral landscapes, wrecks, big fish, or a combination of all three,” he says.

Increasingly, though, Rothman is dismayed by problems in the oceans.  His biggest concern is the impact of global warming, which has put coral reefs around the world in jeopardy, adversely affecting the ocean’s entire ecosystem.

Napoleon, Maldives

He has also witnessed a plague of plastics permeating the ocean environment and affecting all of its creatures. He saw this firsthand on a trip to the Maldives a few years ago, when their boat docked offshore at an uninhabited island.  The divers and boat crew were able to walk around the island, and what they saw was horrifying.

“We discovered that the beach around the entire island was completely covered in piles of rubbish, plastic and junk of all kinds, literally from the shoreline to the vegetation’s perimeter, deposited by the ocean currents.  And I mean piled high, without a speck of the beach visible.”  He added, “It was one of the saddest and most disturbing things I have ever seen.”

Assisting a Fellow Diver, Red Sea, Egypt

Rothman is enjoying the opportunity to pursue interests and activities that were hard to fit in when he was working full-time.  “It’s wonderful to have time to read again, to practice the piano seriously again after many years, to get out in nature and take walks, to take care of things around the house without stress, to tend to my little garden every year when spring comes around,” he said.  He enjoys evenings playing board games with friends, attending concerts and the opera, and the ease of travel throughout Europe.

And, of course, diving. His days at Happy Dive don’t feel like work, so he plans to stay involved as long as he is physically able to do so.  “None of us is in this to make money,” he says. “We’re in it because we love the sport and because we love the unique diving community that Happy Dive has been able to create.”

David Attenborough: Why Retire?

At 94, David Attenborough isn’t finished with his life’s work: celebrating the natural world in ambitious, stunning documentaries, from the groundbreaking 1976 television series Life on Earth to the heartbreaking yet hopeful 2020 tour de force, A Life on our Planet.

This recent release is Attenborough’s “witness statement,” a powerful retrospective of the changes he has observed in the natural world during his own extraordinary lifetime. It’s a film that everyone should see, a compelling and urgent call to action.

A Life on Our Planet begins and ends in the Ukrainian city made uninhabitable by the explosion of the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. Within 48 hours of that disaster, 50,000 residents were forced to evacuate, and no one has lived there since. Attenborough speaks of the bad planning and human error that caused this unprecedented catastrophe, but stresses that it was a single event. “The true tragedy of our time is still unfolding across the globe,” he says, and it too will lead to a place in which we cannot live – that is, if we do not take action now.

The film is filled with the stunning photography viewers have come to expect from an Attenborough production, including fascinating black and white footage from his early days as a BBC broadcaster and astonishing shots of tropical birds and other wildlife in their natural habitats.

But this film also shows the destruction caused by human activity: massive deforestation, a 40% loss of arctic ice in 40 years due to climate change, and an ever diminishing wilderness as the human species explodes in numbers never before seen in nature. These manmade forces have caused tragic loss of biodiversity on land and sea, which in turn threatens the very existence of human beings on Earth.

The power of this film lies in Attenborough’s thoughtful, passionate commentary, its feast of both gorgeous and disturbing images, and the science clearly communicated in numbers. A revolving “scoreboard” periodically flashes the following statistics through successive decades, beginning in 1937 and ending in the present day:

  • World population:
  • 1937 – 2.3 billion
  • 2020 – 7.8 billion
  • Carbon in atmosphere:
  • 1937 – 280 parts per million
  • 2020 – 415 parts per million
  • Remaining wilderness:
  • 1937 – 66%
  • 2020 – 35%

In his early career as a naturalist and broadcaster, Attenborough broke tradition by showing animals in their natural habitats rather than in television studios, and over his 60-year career he has traveled to every part of the planet. “I’ve had the most extraordinary life,” he says.

Even in those early days, however, he noticed that humans were impacting these wild places in dramatic, observable ways. For example, he notes that half of the world’s rainforests have already been cleared for lumber as well as to facilitate enormous monocultures of oil palms and soy. Rainforests are incredibly diverse habitats “where evolution’s talent for design soars” and are critical to regulating climate for the planet as a whole. “If we do things that are unsustainable, the damage accumulates – and the whole system collapses,” he says.

During the production of The Blue Planet (2001), his film crew documented the phenomenon of coral reefs bleached white by loss of the algae within them, now known to be caused by warming oceans. He comments that a species can only thrive when everything else around it thrives, and bleached coral is a sign that the Earth is losing the delicate balance that keeps the planet healthy.

“The reef turns from wonderland to wasteland.” – David Attenborough

Attenborough notes that the stable temperatures and predictable seasons of the Holocene epoch in which we live have allowed the human species to expand in numbers and influence until we have “overrun the world. We’re replacing the wild with the tame,” he says, and he adds:

“We must re-wild the world.”

If humans don’t make changes in the way they interact with the natural world, the predictions are dire: catastrophic destruction of rainforests and species, loss of arctic ice (increasing the rate of global warming), death of coral reefs and fish populations, a global crisis of food production, unpredictable and violent weather, and extreme temperatures that would make large portions of the planet uninhabitable. The sixth massive extinction in the history of the planet would be imminent – and humans would be unlikely to survive.

But Attenborough doesn’t leave the viewer without solutions. He insists that we can help create an alternative future, one in which we treat nature as an ally and an inspiration. He says we must:

  • implement population control through education, healthcare and the elimination of poverty
  • phase out the use of fossil fuels and run our world as nature does, using solar power, wind, water and geothermal
  • safeguard the health of the oceans, which help reduce carbon in the atmosphere and provide food if managed sustainably
  • convert to a largely plant-based diet, which would require less land for raising meat
  • learn to farm more efficiently, without expanding farmland into wild places, which need to be protected
  • immediately halt deforestation and replant areas that have been decimated

In Attenborough’s opinion, these actions are not only possible but essential if we want to save ourselves. “The living world will endure,” he says. “We humans cannot presume the same. We’ve come this far because we’re the smartest creatures that have ever lived. But to continue … we require wisdom.”

“We’ve come this far because we’re the smartest creatures that have ever lived. But to continue … we require wisdom.”

MaryAnn DiPinto: Doing More of What She Loves

MaryAnn with son Matt

For nearly 30 years, MaryAnn DiPinto held her dream job with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), enforcing the state’s Wetlands Protection Act. For the past five years, she’s run her own consulting business, giving her flexibility to pursue other interests, such as spending time with family, growing and preserving food, making wine from wild grapes, and “playing outdoors.”

A Vassar College graduate who majored in ecology/conservation, MaryAnn’s job with the state involved reviewing proposals for construction in or near wetlands, gathering information to evaluate their compliance with the Wetlands Protection Act, holding site meetings with interested parties, and conditioning or denying the proposed work. 

When she was offered an opportunity for early retirement at age 60, she formed Three Oaks Environmental, which continues her work with wetlands. “With my DEP expertise, folks were eager to hire me to help them through the design and permitting processes,” she said. “The best part of my work is in the field where I can play ‘CSI’ of the environment – identifying plants, analyzing soils, noting important wildlife habitat.”

Although she doesn’t advertise, her past connections and word-of-mouth keeps her busier than she anticipated.  “I have to learn to say no when I really can’t take on another project and keep my sanity,” she noted.  She wants to set aside time to go kayaking in summer and skiing in winter. When she attended a conference in Atlanta last summer, she took time to camp along the way from Massachusetts to Georgia, sleeping in a tent and cooking in a Dutch oven over the fire.

Besides her environmental work, MaryAnn plays guitar at the Saturday evening service at her church, has served on her town’s planning board, and was assistant scoutmaster for her son Matt’s Boy Scout troop, where she taught wilderness survival skills, primitive camping, nature observation and environmental science.  Her Women in the Wild weekend workshops include nature observation, hiking, outdoor cooking, drumming, yoga, stargazing, and a campfire with storytelling, singalong and toasted marshmallows.

Fox "concord" grapes for wine

MaryAnn lives with her partner Gene, his daughter and her partner on 11 acres of land in a small Massachusetts town.  Recently, she bought a tractor to convert more of the property to agriculture; she has learned to grow, harvest and preserve vegetables for year-round consumption. She picks wild “Concord” grapes to make wine.  She has also completed hunter education and become a mentor in the Massachusetts Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) Program. She prefers the venison and wild turkey in her freezer to store-bought meat, and keeps chickens for eggs and entertainment. 

MaryAnn is happy to continue doing what she has always loved – protecting and enjoying the natural world.  “I love my work outdoors, trying to blend in as much as possible to catch glimpses of wildlife that pass by without feeling threatened by my presence,” she said. 

On property adjacent to 50 acres of conservation land in Royalston, MA, she’s building a small cabin with the help of her stepson.  “It’s a favorite place for me to just get away and be still,” she remarked.  A peaceful place where she can enjoy the wilderness she’s had a hand in preserving.

Connie Whelan: Diving into New Passions

Clownfish Looking Up

Clownfish Looking Up, Solomon Islands, 2005

When Connie Whelan discovered exquisite aquatic landscapes and creatures while snorkeling in Belize, she dove enthusiastically into her new passion.

Turtle Leaving
Borneo, East Malysia, 2000

Turtle Leaving, Borneo, E. Malaysia 2000

Over the next several years, the Oregon Symphony viola player earned her scuba diving certification and began studying underwater photography. 

Right Angle Christmas Tree, Honduras, 1999

She sold her first two photographs in 1996, which eventually led to creation of Coral Perspectives in 2005, selling her work at home shows and weekend craft markets in Portland and Astoria. “I wanted to sell person to person because I enjoy talking to people, especially children, about the ocean,” she said.

Her vivid images capture the fascinating flora and fauna of the ocean, from the many hued soft coral gardens of Fiji to the undulating black and white stripes of a Zebra Anemone hiding a translucent shrimp.

CuddlingCuttlefish#3 2x3

“Cuddling” Cuttlefish, Burma, 2004

In Burma, Connie waited patiently and was rewarded by a shot of two “cuddling” cuttlefish, difficult to photograph because they instantly camouflage themselves.  Over the course of 25 years, Connie made 1,251 dives to some of the most stunning underwater destinations on Earth.

Orange Soft Coral, Borneo, 2006

In Fiji, Connie observed the symbiotic activities of a couple of Gobies and shrimp.  The Gobies acted as lookouts for predators while the shrimp cleaned out the hole in the ocean floor that they all shared.  The shrimp had one tentacle on a Gobie at all times so any danger would be detected immediately, and they could all quickly retreat.  Connie’s images capture these aquatic relationships with an astute eye and reverence. 

Connie in Cusco, Peru

In 2014, Connie stopped diving.  She was 70 years old, lugging two 50 lb. bags, her computer in her purse, plus cameras and gear in a carry-on bag.  Her many trips, camera upgrades and framing supplies consumed all the profits she made from her photographs.  And she had been diving either part or full-time for a quarter century.  “I had seen the best dive areas in the tropical world,” she said. 

But at 76, Connie still loves to travel; she has visited 45 countries since her first trip to Europe at 19.  “I always encourage low budget travel – going to resorts is not going to the country,” she says.  She often stays in the center of a town so she can walk or bus as much as possible. She has made multiple trips to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, where she’s interested in documenting indigenous people in their daily lives and celebrations.  Now, instead of underwater cameras and strobe lights, she carries a tablet and a smart phone.

Tarabuco, Bolivia

Last year she visited Tarabuco, Bolivia for the Pujllay celebration in March.  The annual event commemorates the battle of Jumbati, when villagers defended their town from Spanish forces. 

The Pukara

On the day before Pujllay, the indigenous Yampara people build a wooden structure called the Pukara, 40 feet high and 4 feet wide.  They cover it with fruit, vegetables, meat, beverages, bags of coca leaves and more to thank the Pachamama (Mother Earth).  There is music, and a parade, and dancing around the Pukara.

These are the sights that excite Connie’s heart and her photographic art these days. 

Carnaval in Oruro, Bolivia







 

Meet Maxine

The Dordogne River near the castle of Beynac in southwest France

Imagine leading food, wine and history tours to some of Europe’s greatest wine regions, a different destination every year.  Envision helping wine lovers understand the nuances and complexities of the fruit of the vine, whether they are tasting wine in Portland, OR, or Bordeaux, France.  This is how Maxine Borcherding spends her time now that she is “retired” from a 30-year career as a caterer and hospitality/restaurant management instructor.

How She Did It

It all began with a teaching assignment at Oregon Culinary Institute, which required writing curriculum for two classes on wine.  Maxine admits that she was a wine novice, but the company supported her education as a sommelier, “and a funny thing happened,” she said.  “I fell in love with wine, and with everything about wine.  I had to learn more.”

Since then, Chef Borcherding has graduated from the International Sommelier Guild Sommelier Diploma Program, become a French Wine Scholar and a Spanish Wine Educator, and is completing certification as a Master Instructor for the Rhone region. 

She confesses that the Sommelier courses and exams were more challenging than earning her Master’s degree. But becoming knowledgeable in this new passion gave Maxine the confidence to retire from full-time teaching in her 60s, and to devote herself to the Taste and Compare Academy of Wine, Spirits and Food that she co-founded with her mentor and friend, Hoke Harden, in 2010.

The Business Model

Taste and Compare provides hospitality staff training, consumer classes and consulting for restaurants in Portland, OR.  Since 2013, they’ve added once-a-year wine tours with stellar destinations such as Provence and the Rhone; the Loire Valley; Burgundy and Beaujolais; and Bordeaux, Cognac and the Dordogne in France.  A Spanish tour included Madrid and the Basque country, Rioja, and Barcelona. 

Coming in May 2020: a 10-day Portuguese Food and Wine tour with local experts (2 spots available as of this posting! – https://www.tasteandcompareacademy.com/portugal-2020.html).  The tours are intimate, limited to 10-18 people, and range from 7-12 days.  The idea is to create an itinerary that allows guests to enjoy the cuisine and the culture, as well as the wine, at a relaxed pace that incorporates unique experiences and free time to explore.

Scott Fisher and his wife Julie Bell traveled to southwest France with Maxine in 2015. He recalls the day they followed Edouard and his truffle hound Farah across a gently sloping hillside punctuated with holm-oak trees. Soon the trusty hound located the intensely fragrant black truffle of Périgord,
one of the most highly prized (and priciest) members of the fungi kingdom.

Later that day, Edouard’s wife Carole created a fabulous lunch featuring a brouillade made with gently cooked eggs, heavy cream, and butter infused with grated black truffles. Scott reflected rapturously about the dish itself, as well as the experience of eating it in a rustic stone farmhouse at the edge of the oak grove where the truffles were unearthed. He added, “The look on Julie’s face when she finally held a freshly dug truffle to her nose and inhaled its fragrance was the height of that trip for me.”

Creating Unique Experiences

For Maxine, the exquisite specialty foods of Europe are highlights of every tour. One memorable meal on the west coast of France featured platters and platters of fresh oysters and whelks, and “the most delicious sole I’ve ever eaten, which they said was caught an hour before,” with the famous rare potatoes of the island of Noirmoutier, which are grown in beds of dried seaweed and “taste like they’re drenched in butter.”

Staying in unusual hotels adds another level of fun to the trips. In the central Loire Valley, people have turned old chalk quarry caverns into charming houses and hotels called troglodytes, where Maxine’s group stayed and enjoyed the local stuffed flatbread called fouees.

Entrance to the restaurant at the troglodyte hotel

In Valladolid, Spain, Maxine and crew stayed in a stunning converted monastery which is also a spa with mineral springs and massage. “Being pampered like that is quite nice if you’ve been traveling for a few days,” Max observes.

What’s Not to Love?

Leading wine tours in Europe may sound like a dream, but it requires a tremendous amount of planning and marketing.  Who is your audience, and where in the world might they want to go?  What activities would excite them?  Are there special sites, festivals or feasts to plan around? Then there are logistics: deciding how long to stay in each destination, arranging transportation and reservations, finding local guides.  “It’s a lot of work,” says Max, “like a giant puzzle where you have to make sure each piece fits, and the result will create a memorable experience and raving fans.”

And that’s also the key to success in her business.  “If you create a great experience for your customers, they will be the best marketers that you can have.  Recommendations from people other people trust have greater credibility than any advertising or promotion,” she said.

Any advice for those who envy her life and would like to do something similar?  “Choose something that you are passionate about, and that interests enough people with enough means to make the venture if not wildly profitable, at least able to cover your costs and pay for your time.”

“Truly you never know when your life course will change – when a door opens, and zoomo, presto, you have an entirely new career.”

Want to learn more?

www.tasteandcompareacademy.com

https://www.tasteandcompareacademy.com/portugal-2020.html

A Beginning

A year ago, at not-quite-64, I embarked on a dream trip to Europe to travel with my daughter for three weeks. We delighted in Barcelona’s exuberant holiday lights at Christmas, and joined thousands of revelers flowing down the Champs-Élysées on New Year’s Eve in Paris. I will always smile to remember the evening in Siena, Italy, when we dined beside a duo singing “Love Potion #9” in Italian, and disco lights bounced off the ancient walls.

Post-Zumba selfie with my daughter Emily

It’s a privilege to have the means and time to travel, and I feel grateful that I am able to do that. We all need to seize the day in all the ways we yearn to, in all the ways we can. Especially when you wake up one day and think, “How on earth did I get to be 64 years old?” Suddenly the remaining seasons are countable, and unaccountably precious.

I dedicate this blog post to my sweet brother Bruce, who didn’t get to explore the possibilities of his 60s. We lost him on November 2nd, the day after his 58th birthday. But I will always have this memory of a sunny southern California day when he and Arthur and I marveled at the mass of succulents in the now-gone Succulent Cafe.

This blog is a space to celebrate those who are lucky enough to enter their 60s in good health, and who have the inspiration to pursue new passions. Like this mysterious hallway in Gaudi’s Casa Batllo in Barcelona, it’s not always clear which way to go or where you will end up, but the path is an essential, powerful piece of the journey.