So, I’m in the Azores, a Portuguese island archipelago about 800 miles west of Lisbon, in the middle of the North Atlantic. That lake behind me is in the caldera of a dormant volcano. There are steam vents a few places around it. There’s a restaurant where you can have your food cooked in one of them.

This hotel where my friends and I are staying has a botanical garden next to it, the Parque Terra Nostra. It’s an incredible thing. You longtime readers know that I am an avid indoorsman, and don’t like to go outside much. This garden, built in the 18th and 19th centuries, has been a game-changer for me. The first time I went into it, I did nothing but walk around alone and pray my prayer rope, and marvel at the beauty of all the plant life there. I swear, I thought I was going to round a bend on one of the trails and find Tom Bombadil’s house.

Look at this amazing tree:

It has been a revelation to me to see how much I love being in nature when it’s not soul-crushingly hot and humid outside, and I don’t have to worry about rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, and coral snakes (there are no venomous snakes in the Azores).

We’re not going to be in this town much longer, but I intend to go back to the garden as often as I can. Maybe it’s not that I don’t like nature, and the outdoors; maybe it’s that I don’t like nature and the outdoors in the subtropics, where I grew up, and where I live now. I hate a damn snake worse than just about anything.

Hydrangeas grow wild here. It’s not hydrangea season, but you can still see some. In the botanical garden, I walked through a grove of camellias, which are widely cultivated on these islands. These islands are unbelievably lush for being so far north, but it’s the jet stream that keeps them so temperate year round. It’s never too cold nor too hot.

UPDATE: I’m driving a rental car here, a zippy five-speed hatchback. I haven’t driven a manual transmission car since college over 30 years ago. I had forgotten how much fun it is!