Happy Birthday, USA

July 4th, 2024

Neues Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz (StAG)

June 27th, 2024

ENGLISH in a nutshell: Germany now allows dual citizenship! Yay!

Ab heute gilt das neue Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz (StAG) für Deutschland. Das Staatsangehörigkeitsmodernisierungsgesetz (StARModG) wurde am 26. März 2024 erlassen, und es erneuert das StAG in drei wichtigen Punkten:

  1. Erleichterter Zugang zur Einbürgerung: Die Residenzpflicht wird von 8 auf 5 Jahre verkürzt, bei besonderen Integrationsleistungen auf 3 Jahre.
  2. Hinnahme von Mehrstaatigkeit: Die Möglichkeit der Beibehaltung der ausländischen Staatsangehörigkeit nach Erwerb der deutschen durch Geburt im Inland (Ius-soli-Erwerb) wird zur Regel. Die bisherige Optionspflicht entfällt.[2] Auch bei Einbürgerungen ist kein Verzicht auf die bisherige Staatsangehörigkeit mehr nötig.
  3. Wegfall der Beibehaltungsgenehmigung: deutsche Staatsbürger benötigen keine Beibehaltungsgenehmigung nach § 25 StAG mehr, wenn sie eine weitere Staatsangehörigkeit annehmen und die deutsche beibehalten möchten.[3]

    (Quelle Wikipedia)

Diese Modernisierung war dringend notwendig, vor allem für Menschen die schon lange in Deutschland leben, aber keine Deutsche Staatsangehörigkeit haben. Für uns Auslandsdeutsche ist allerdings der 3. Punkt sehr wichtig, denn wir können jetzt viel leichter die Staatsangehörigket unseres Gastgeberlandes erwerben, und uns dort besser integrieren, ohne unsere Bindung an unser Geburtsland kappen zu müssen. Dankeschön!

Happy New Year!

April 14th, 2024

Happy New Year to the Sri Lankan Community on the island and around the world! April 13 Sri Lankans (Sinhala and Tamil) celebrated the move of the sun into the sign of Pisces, which traditionally marks the the beginning of a new year for them. My friends in the local Sri Lankan community here in North Carolina invited me to partake in the rituals and traditions marking this auspicious time at the local temple.

At the appointed time, first we lit the candles on the decorated stand in the photo below (instead of the traditional oil lamp). Then they lit a small, traditional cooking fire while the monks recited auspicious passages from the Buddhist Suttas (sacred teachings). Then they brought a pot of milk to a boil on that fire (see below in the center right of the photo).

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A truly ancient forest

April 12th, 2024

This is the Three Sisters Swamp in North Carolina. It’s a flooded bald cypress forest along the Black River. The large trees in this picture are likely over a thousand years old – possibly around two thousand years even. Laura and I went on a kayak tour through the swamp at the end of March to visit this amazing place. We went with a local tour guide, who was part of the research team that determined the age of a few of these ancient trees by taking core samples and counting the rings. They found several trees that were older than 2000 years!

This is BLK 227, the 6th oldest living tree in the world! It sprouted in the year 626BCE, so this year this tree is 2650 years old! And that’s Laure in the green kayak next to it. You can see that the tree no longer has a crown. A huge storm about 800 years ago ripped off the crowns of all the old trees. Yet, they survived, and put out new branches. This 2650 year old tree had branches with green leaves and seed pods.

The tree behind Laura and me has a huge, hollow buttress where (when the water is lower) 10 adult people can fit. In this photo the cypress “knees” are also clearly visible – the pointy, vaguely cone shaped tree growths sticking out of the water. Laura is actually holding on to one. These “knees” are part of the root system of the cypress trees, and help anchor “their” tree as well as interlocking that tree’s root system with the surrounding trees’ roots. This interlocked root system is the reason why the storms these trees experience may rip the their crowns off and twist the trunks into bizarre shapes, but the winds cannot topple them.

This ancient, battered tree is a great example of how a couple millennia of storms at the coast will twist these trees into corkscrew shapes, rip off their crowns and split them in half, but cannot kill them. This tree still puts out leaves every spring and makes seeds.

Video of the First Moon Landing

March 8th, 2024

This is a recording of the first hour of the broadcast of the Apollo 11 moon landing. A YouTuber bought a 60-year-old video tape on eBay, and it turned out to contain a recording of the moon landing broadcast. The live feed from the moon start at around minute 40 of the video.


February 26th, 2024
Color rendering of Gamma Ray radiation from space
Chromoscope has been created using public-domain datasets from a number of all-sky astronomy projects. It lets you easily move around the sky and fade between wavelengths using a simple user-interface to illustrate the similarities and differences between what is visible at each wavelength.


January 1st, 2024

For us, last year marked a return to (a new) normal, after the COVID pandemic and after my mother’s illness and death in 2022. I am back in the office on a pretty regular basis, and we were able to travel without public health-related restrictions. Although COVID is not “over,” it has become integrated and more normalized. People call in sick for the flu or COVID. I had a cold in late October, and just did a couple of COVID home tests (negative) to inform my management of the illness. Other than a cold, we were all in pretty good health this year, and we are grateful for that.

However, both Laura and I had a bumpy start for 2022 in that regard. On Jan. 2, I went for a run in the neighborhood and encountered a dog who had gotten away from his owner. When I tried to help the owner catch the dog, the dog bit me in my left hand. I got stitched up at Urgent Care, and was fine. Just a week later, on Jan. 10, Laura’s horse bucked her off during a canter in Hill Forest. Laura fell off backwards, but managed to roll on the gravel road. She did hit her head and may have briefly lost consciousness. Julia was with her and called the emergency dispatch, who sent an ambulance their way. Julia also informed me, and I rushed out there, too. Laura was able to walk to the road where the EMT examined her and decided to take her to the hospital. So the ambulance took Laura to Duke Regional hospital, and I arrived as they were leaving, and Julia and I took the horses back home. Then I went to the hospital to check on Laura. A few hours later, she was discharged from the hospital with some pain meds. The only damage from one of her worst riding accident in all these years was a mild concussion and some bruising. We are very grateful for that!

Her horse’s reaction was also very remarkable. Madison was clearly confused by what had happened, and had had no intention of bucking Laura off. When Laura was on the ground, Madison came right over to her to check on her. And when she saw Laura for the first time the next day out in the pasture, Madison whinnied and ran up to Laura to greet her – apparently relieved to see her. Both horses are very bonded to Laura and see her as the “lead mare” in the group. They would never intentionally harm her, but sometimes they do unexpected things that can be dangerous to the rider. Lessons were learned.

Speaking of horses … the highlight of the year for Laura and me was our trip to Iceland in August/Sept. We spent 2 weeks in Iceland, and did 6-day horse tour on the Snaefellsness peninsula. The tour was amazing, and we really got to experience the stamina and character of the Icelandic horses. It was a wild ride in terms of weather conditions, with sunshine, fog, rain, and hail; including spectacular sunrises and hurricane force winds that were pushing the waterfalls back up onto the mountain.

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Huge new fissure eruption in Iceland

December 20th, 2023
A new fissure opened up on Reykjanes peninsula, ejecting huge amounts of lava in the first few hours of the eruption. The location of the Sundhnúksgíga fissure is indicated in red below. See the Icelandic Met Office website for up-to-date information about this eruption.

Iceland vacation

November 11th, 2023

From August 26 to September 8 this year, Laura and I went on a little adventure to Iceland. First we spent a few days with my dad and his partner Marion exploring the area around Reykjavik, then Laura and I went on a 6-day horse riding tour on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Finally, we drove South and visited the Vestmannaeyar archipelago for a couple of days.

Reykjavik area, Þingvellir

Ever since we visited Iceland in 2005, Laura and I had the idea of going back for a longer vacation. So after an exhausting 2022, we decided it was time. Then my dad suggested we should come to visit him for his 81st birthday, since he was not really feeling up for a trip to the States. Half joking, I suggested we should meet halfway, and surprisingly, he was game. So Günther and Marion booked a week-long stay, and we caught up with them on the 26th and spent the weekend with them.

Traveling to Iceland has become super-convenient for us, as we now have a direct flight from RDU to Kevlavik. So Laura and I arrived early in the morning, checked into our vacation home in downtown Reykjavik and then took a bus to the Sky Lagoon to relax after the short night on the plane. In the afternoon we met up with Günther and Marion for a walk around town and dinner. Sunday morning, I picked up our rental Tesla from Blue Car Rental and we went on a day trip around Reykjavik, visited the Leiðarendi Lava Cave, the Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel, the port town of Þorlákshöfn, and the fumerols at Krýsuvík.

Monday was Günther’s birthday, and he wanted to spend the day at Þingvellir, one of the most popular, and most spectacular places to visit in Iceland. Þingvellir is a national park and a historic site. It’s one of the places where the effects of plate tectonics are directly and spectacularly visible, as the entire valley is riddles with deep cracks and fissures, many filled with glacial melt water, and all the direct result of the North Atlantic plate and the Eurasian plate pulling away from each other by a few centimeters every year. It is also the location of the historic Alþing, the parliament of Iceland from the 10th to the 18th centuries.

After walking around Þingvellir for a hours in the sun, we were hungry and headed back to Reykjavik for dinner at a Thai restaurant downtown to close out the day with a nice meal. After dinner, we said our good-byes and went our separate ways. Günther and Marion headed back home the next day, and Laura and I got ready for our next Iceland adventure in Snæfellsnes.

Riding Horses in Snæfellsnes

Tuesday morning we left our AirBnb, returned the Tesla and then we had a few hours to hang out in the city before embarking on our riding tour. So w hung out at the old harbor and ended up going on a whale watching tour. After that, we went to the bus station where we were picked up by the bus that took us to the horse farm where we spent the next 6 days.

The farm is called Gröf, and it is situated on the southern coast of Snæfellsbær, between Búðir and Arnarstapi. Our tour went along the coast eastward for about 50KM (35 miles) and then back to the farm. We rode about 20KM (13 miles) a day and then left the horses in a pasture for the night and were shuttled back to the farm. So we did a fair amount of intense, fast-paced trail riding every day – in amazing and very unique landscapes and along long stretches of beautiful sandy beaches. But we were also pampered with great food, hot tub and sauna and very comfortable rooms every day before and after the ride. Amazing experience.

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New Volcano eruption in Iceland

July 18th, 2023

Last week, the Fagradalsfjall volcano in southern Iceland produced a new eruption near the Litli-Hrútur mountain. There is lots of beautiful drone footage of the eruption, but this is some of the nicest I have seen, so far. Here is a link to a live webcam of the new vent.

R.I.P. Koklo the cat

May 17th, 2023
cat in garden

On April 25, our 18 year-old Russian Blue cat named Koklo died. She had been sick for a long time, but recently her health got worse and worse, and on Tuesday she passed away peacefully at home.

Koklo loved – nay adored – Laura. Koklo always wanted to be near Laura and sleep in her bed, sit on her lap or at least be in the same room with her. Koklo’s second favorite was our youngest cat, Azi.

Biting dogs, bucking horses and Julia’s Ghana trip

April 9th, 2023
Dog sitting in front of blooming pear tree
Spring in February

Winter came early and vigorously in December 2022, and then Spring popped in and out in January and February this year. Here is Patou enjoying spring weather in February. In fact, on Jan 2nd it was so nice I took my shoes off and went for a jog in the neighborhood, only to get attacked by a dog! The little shit bit me in the left hand and I had to go to the Urgent Care to get stitches. Good thing the dog was up-to-date on vaccines. The Sheriff’s Department had a little chat with the owner about keeping their puppers better under control. Yet, a couple of weeks ago, the same dog chased Sassy around. However, the goat turned around and head-butted the dog. when I tried to get the dog to leave her alone, he started charging at me, too. Ugh! Now I am trying to get the owner to hire a dog trainer to prevent this dog from turning into a problem.

About a week after I got bitten by the dog, Laura’s horse bucked her off during a ride in the woods! She landed on her back on a gravel road and hit the back of her head. Good thing she was wearing a good riding helmet! She was stunned, but otherwise OK. Julia called the emergency services, and they sent an ambulance. Laura was able to walk back to the road where they put her on a stretcher in the ambulance and took her to the hospital. At that point I arrived and was able to help Julia take the horses back home. When I got to the hospital, Laura had been thoroughly examined and after a while we finally got the OK for her to go home. She was sore for a while, but that was all. well, there is a reason we always wear a helmet when riding! And now we are also seriously looking into getting additional safety equipment, like an airbag vest, because those spinal injuries are no joke.

forest with house and a dusting of snow
Snow in March
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January 1st, 2023
Sigrid's Funeral with Julia playing her viola
Sigrid’s Funeral

For me, last year was overshadowed by the illness of my mother and her death in September. I ended up taking four trips to Germany this year, none of which were particularly relaxing. Of course this was also year three of COVID, moving from pandemic to endemic. And COVID rules also impacted most of our travel experiences, except for the November trip, when most restrictions had been lifted and we did not enter a nursing home any more.

The insanity that is the the Russian invasion of Ukraine dominated the early months of 2022, although for us initially mostly as news and as a new global worry. The war remains a significant factor in public discourse, but over time it has become a significant economic factor in daily life, causing (for us) an overall increase in the cost of living due to increased energy cost. Closer to the war, in Europe, there is also a significant impact caused by the need to care for a huge number of refugees from Ukraine. And there is also quite a bit of worry about an escalation of the war, potentially plunging the continent (and the world) into another catastrophic conflict. Not even to mention the catastrophic consequences of the Russian invasion for Ukraine. The loss of lives, the trauma, the suffering this war is causing the Ukraininan people is unconscionable, and all efforts should be made to find ways to end this terrible bloodshed.

view of Brightleaf Square
Brightleaf Square

In February, my employer moved my office out of Brightleaf Square and into a new office building closer to campus. I had worked at Brightleaf Square since April 2002, so almost 20 years. The building and several neighboring buildings had also recently been sold, and the new owners were doing major renovations on the entire block, which was causing noise and traffic disruptions. So I was not too sad to miss out on that mess.

In early March we bought a beehive from a local beekeeper and started on that journey. Beekeeping is actually much more involved than one might assume. It’s fun, but also quite a lot of work – checking for mites regularly, treating the hive against parasites, preventing them from swarming and making sure they survive the winter. Our hive decided to swarm in early summer, and then they successfully raised a new queen. We also had to treat them pretty aggressively against mites all year, so all that resulted in us not being able to harvest any honey during our fist year as beekeepers.

In April, Jacob moved into his apartment on the other side of North Durham, a bit closer to his work at Freudenberg. In December, he adopted a dog – a Husky named “Sashimi” – to keep him company in his apartment.

In May, Julia and I embarked on our first trip to Germany to visit Family and give her a chance to reconnect with Germany and her German family.

Julia and Sigrid eating pizza on the terrace
Julia and Sigrid eating pizza on the terrace

We visited my sister and my mom near Stuttgart for a few days. This was the first time I had visited her in the nursing home in Berglen where she had moved in 2019. For Julia and Sigrid, it was the first in-person visit in 10 years, since Sigrid had not been able to travel to the U.S., and we had not been able to take the kids to Germany while they were in High School and College.

Sadly, on the second day of our visit, Laura had to inform us that our old, beloved gelding Wally had died. Laura had to deal with her horse’s sudden and ultimately terminal health decline by herself (and with the help of our vet) while Julia and I were traveling to and in Germany. The sad news from home had a strong impact on Julia and colored the experience of that trip for both of us. After some family discussion, we decided to continue our trip as planned, because even if we immediately started to plan a return trip, by the time we’d be back home there would not have been much we could do to help Laura.

Julia in front of chateau Ludwigsburg
Julia at Ludwigsburg Palace

So despite the bad news from home, we still tried to enjoy our trip. We visited Family in Tübingen, my dad near Freiburg and my aunt near Bremen, all of which gave Julia an opportunity to re-connect with her German-ness. We also visited some touristy sights like Ludwigsburg Palace, Hohenzollern Castle, Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg in Alsace, downtown Düsseldorf, the Schnoor neighborhood in Bremen, the Dangast artist’s colony in Friesland, and the North Sea beach in Cuxhaven-Duhnen. After 10 days and 1500 KM of driving, we returned to Frankfurt, checked into one of the many hotels near the airport, returned the car and early the next morning we took our Lufthansa flight back to the US.

Julia taking pictures at the North Sea beach
Julia at the North Sea

In June, Sigrid was admitted to the hospital because her health was deteriorating rapidly. Previously, she had had a lot of trouble walking, and was mostly wheelchair bound. But now she started having trouble with her hands as well, and her legs became completely paralyzed. This was just a couple of weeks after we sat on her terrace and shared a pizza. She underwent extensive tests at the hospital for several weeks and then the doctors gave her the terrible news that they thought she had ALS. They sent her back to the nursing home, since there is no real treatment for ALS, since it is not known what causes the degeneration of the nerves.

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Sigrid Meinhild Henn, 1942 – 2022

September 19th, 2022

Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment,
and say your last words in silence.

Rabindranath Tagore – The Gardner (61)

Sigrid Henn was born in autumn on December 18, 1942 in Trausen (Gerdauen district, East Prussia, today Lipnjaki, Russian Oblast Kalinigrad) and died on September 12, 2022 at the age of 79 in Berglen, Baden Württemberg, Germany.

Sigrid was the daughter of Meinhild Naujoks (née Mertineit) and Otto Naujoks. Her mother died in 1945 while fleeing East Prussia, and Sigrid’s grandparents took her to Bassum (Lower Saxony), where she grew up for a few years. After her father returned from captivity and settled in Bensheim (Hesse), he took Sigrid to live with him.

In 1961, Sigrid was at the school for textile design in Sindelfingen and met Günther Henn, who worked at IBM Germany in Sindelfingen. In 1964 Sigrid and Günther married in Bensheim. In 1965, Sigrid and Günther moved to Freiburg after Günther had finished his military service and was transferred to Freiburg by IBM. In 1968, Sigrid gave birth to her son Jürgen in Freiburg. In 1970 she gave birth to her daughter Monika in Freiburg. In 1974 Sigrid and Günther bought a house in Biengen (part of of Bad Krozingen in Baden). Sigrid worked as a saleswoman in a clothing boutique in Bad Krozingen and bought her first car – a Renault 5.

In 1979 the family moved to Stuttgart-Möhringen, as Günther moved to the IBM branch in Stuttgart. Sigrid worked as a saleswoman at Breuninger, and then later for a clothing boutique in Stuttgart. At the end of the 1980s, the children left home and Sigrid and Günther moved to Müllheim-Vögisheim (Baden) in 1992. In 1996 Sigrid and Günther divorced.

After the divorce, Sigrid moved to Schorndorf in the Remstal. Monika had settled with her husband Karsten in Weinstadt im Remstal. Günther stayed in Müllheim. Jürgen moved to North Carolina, USA, with his wife Laura in 1994.

In 1997, Sigrid and a friend took a trip to New Zealand with a stopover in Hawaii. The two women spent several weeks traveling all over New Zealand in a mobile home and even took part in a sightseeing flight on a small plane. This adventure left a deep impression on Sigrid, and she fondly remembered this trip to the end. During this time, Sigrid’s creativity flourished and was expressed in a variety of ways: puppets, masks, weaving and textile arts.

In the following years, Sigrid also traveled to the USA several times to help Laura and Jürgen with the birth of the grandchildren Julia and Jacob. Over the years, however, Sigrid’s health got worse and worse, so that soon she was no longer able to travel. So she spent more and more time in her cozy apartment in Schorndorf, doing creative handwork and reading a lot.

After several falls, hip operations and a severe stroke, Sigrid decided in 2019 to move into the nursing home in Berglen and sell her apartment. Originally, she was only admitted to Berglen temporarily to prepare for rehabilitation after her last hip operation. After a few months it was not foreseeable that she would be able to manage on her own again, so she decided to take this step.

When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in March 2020, Sigrid was well cared for in the nursing home, even though she was only able to have contact with her children by telephone for a long time. Despite good care, physiotherapy and encouragement from the nursing staff, things slowly but surely went downhill physically. Shortly after a visit from Jürgen and daughter Julia in May 2022, Sigrid had to go to the hospital, where, after many tests, the diagnosis of ALS was made. In July, the mobile hospice service (SAPV) of the Rems-Murr district was called in to look after Sigrid. On September 12, Sigrid died peacefully in her room in Berglen, with her family present.

R.I.P. Wally

June 19th, 2022

On May 12, our beloved, old gelding Wally died in the pasture where he had lived for the last 12 years.

We purchased Wally in 2010 as a companion for our Tennessee Walker mare Cleo. He was already older – maybe 16-18 years old and scrawny, almost malnourished when we got him. But we got him back in shape, and Laura trained him as a trail riding horse. After a couple of years with us he was a great riding horse with a super smooth gait and a nice rocking-horse canter. The difference is clear between the photo below, right after we bought him, and the one above in 2015 at his peak.

Wally right after we bought him
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Bees – Bienen

March 26th, 2022

Für DEUSCH hier klicken
In Early March, we bought a beehive from a local bee-keeper and set it up on our little farm. Laura had been taking beekeeping classes with the local beekeeper’s club, and one of the members put up his three hives for sale because he was planning to move to a different state. So Saturday evening we drove to South Durham, after dark, when the bees were all snoozing in the hive, we closed up the entrance to the hive, put it in the back of the car and drove it home.

Over the following week, the bees started exploring their new surroundings, and soon we saw them coming back carrying pollen – so they had settled in and went down to business. The following Sunday, the former owner came over and helped us with our first inspection of the hive. These inspections have to be done every 2-4 weeks to assess the health, productivity and space needs of the colony. Below I posted a video of that process. We determined that we had to expand the hive by adding another deep hive body with empty frames – which we pretty much expected, and Laura had already prepared the necessary equipment.

We’re now feeding the bees sugar water to help them draw out the comb for the new frames. Once they are done with that, we’ll add a honey super. We hope later this spring we’ll get our first taste of honey from our own bees.

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Goodbye Brightleaf Square

March 19th, 2022

Last month I moved out of my office in the Brightleaf Square South building, an old tobacco warehouse from 1904 that had been restored and converted to retail and offices in the 1980s. I had had an office in that building since I started working at Duke in 2002 – so for 20 years. At the time, this was one of the busiest entertainment districts in Durham with restaurants and bars, retail and public spaces. Satisfaction was there, which was one of Durham’s most popular bars and pizza places, as well as a popular Greek restaurant, a Mexican restaurant and a bunch of stores.

view of Brightleaf Square
View of Brightleaf Square from the railroad tracks

After downtown was revitalized, Brightleaf businesses really struggled to attract customers. Everyone wanted to hang out in the new, shiny bars and restaurants in downtown. The pandemic did in most of the remaining businesses, and last year the buildings were sold to a new owner. They also bought the Peabody Place complex across the street, which used to house Morgan Imports, a pizza place and Parker & Otis. They completely gutted that building and are in the process of remodeling. Brightleaf is also undergoing extensive remodeling. It’ll be interesting to see if they can start attracting more customers to Brightleaf when they are done. I sure hope they can – it’s a great space and should be a destination in Durham.

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Happy Twosday!

February 22nd, 2022


Snow days

January 29th, 2022

After a fairly mild December, this January has brought some actual winter weather to central North Carolina. This is a video I shot after this morning’s snowfall/ This is the third time we had snow this month, but this was definitely the prettiest morning, with a fresh blanket of snow and the sun rising over the hill. Patou the dog is especially excited about the snow … she looooves the cold weather! Look for her in the video – with her white fur she is pretty well camouflaged. The horses are OK with the cold weather as long as they have their blankets on. The emus, however, hate it! They are not cold weather critters, and they have a hard time keeping their feet warm enough.

The forecast for tonight predicts a low temperature of 16 deg F (-9 deg C). Brrr!

RIP Thich Nhat Hanh

January 22nd, 2022

Thích Nhat Hanh passed away today at Tu Hieu Temple in Vietnam. He was a wise Buddhist master who had a strong impact on Buddhist practice in the West.