July 24, 2014

Always visit the lighthouse

Montauk Point Lighthouse

That’s my travel tip. I don’t know how many lighthouses I’ve visited in my lifetime, but I haven’t regretted a single one.

Lighthouses are built in interesting places — usually at the top of a cliff that juts out into the ocean, with gorgeous views. The little museums attached to them are filled with history: black-and-white photos of the original site, sketches of shipwrecks, and often some narrative about the lighthouse keepers and their families. In an old journal, you can get a glimpse of the man who spent years living on the edge of a cliff, gardening or reading, polishing the lenses and carrying fuel, responsible for the beacon that just might save someone’s life.

  Journal of a lighthouse keeper

July 20, 2014

Salt water

My parents and my youngest sister

Thursday morning, I traveled with my parents to visit Urban Sophisticate Sister and her husband, Tall Architect. We were eager to see their new home, far out on the long island that lies beyond City Like No Other. Their home is lovely, with tall windows that bring in sunlight, a backyard filled with purple azaleas, and a friendly cat who apparently came with the house. But the best part? They are just a short drive from the ocean. The first thing we did Friday morning was drive to the beach and take a walk with our feet in the waves.

July 12, 2014

Under canvas again

Under canvas again

A couple of summers ago my eighty-something father gave up the wooden sailboat he had designed and built himself. A wooden sailboat takes a lot of upkeep — work that very few people can do even when they aren’t in their eighties — and it had gotten to be too much for him. The wooden hull was pretty damaged, so my father cut it up, putting pieces into the marsh for animals to use. He gave me the forward hatch cover and the wooden strip from the bow that held the registration numbers: I have both pieces in my home office.

My father spent last year exploring the river in just a little aluminum motorboat, even designing a seat that would give him back support, but he missed sailing – the peaceful feeling you get when your boat is powered by nothing more than wind hitting canvas.

So over the winter, my father turned that little aluminum motorboat into a sailboat. He made a mast from PVC pipe and used wire for the rigging. Since the metal boat has no keel or centerboard, he built wooden leeboards that can be raised and lowered from either side of the boat. He worked the calculations out on paper, then built every piece he needed, painting the new wooden parts blue to indicate the transformation the boat was undergoing. The last thing he did was to take an old cotton that he used on his first sailboat, spread it out on the floor, and cut and sew until he had new sail for his boat.

So last week when I was up at camp, we waited for an afternoon with a light wind and I went sailing with my father.

July 08, 2014

Amidst the cattails


I’ve been living in a tent for the last ten days — the annual July vacation at my parents’ camp, a peninsula of oak trees that juts out into a marsh on the river. My parents have a little cabin that they built before the 1972 wetlands legislation went into effect, and the rest of us (that is, my siblings and our families) bring tents. We’re a family that keeps getting bigger all the time, and I counted 11 tents this year. The age range spanned 83 years – from my father, who is the oldest, to my niece’s baby, who just turned six weeks.

People often ask, “So what do you do all week?”

We do spend a lot of time sitting around in the shade of the oak trees, talking and joking and playing games. But we also swim, and paddle canoes or kayaks, and build campfires, and cook meals on the grill, and drive to town for ice cream, and go sailing, and play bocce or cards or that game where you toss cornbags through a hole in a board. When the whole family is up, there’s always something going on. And anyone who wants a break from the noisy crowd at the firepit can take an inner tube and float quietly in the marsh.

That’s Dandelion Niece in the photo.

June 28, 2014

Project Naked: the Mermaid


The conference I went to last week was pretty small — only 75 people and two days of sessons. Technically, it wasn’t a conference at all. It was an unconference, an event during which participants plan the sessions. And I didn’t have a roommate. But still, I felt I needed to do a naked photo shoot. After all, it’s a tradition.

That first morning of the conference, when I woke up hours before the conference began, the beachside town was hidden by a thick layer of fog. When I walked on the beach, I couldn’t see the boardwalk, the casinos, the hotels, or a single other person. Perfect, I thought, for a lovely naked photo. I liked outdoor shots the best. I just needed to find a willing participant.

It was the during the meet-and-greet session that I noticed Mermaid Woman. She had the kind of personality that turns a sleepy breakfast into a party, and she seemed comfortable with her body, ready to jump into a feminist discussion about body image at a moment’s notice. About five sentences into our conversation, I asked her to pose. She laughed, and I knew that meant yes.

Even though my hotel room had lovely natural light, I really wanted a shot on the beach. “I can do a yoga pose,” said Mermaid Woman. I promised her that if we met early for a walk on the beach the next day that we’d the privacy she might want. All my naked photo shoots are top secret, I assured her.

So the next day, Mermaid Woman obligingly met me on the boardwalk, bright and early, and we walked out onto the beach, where ocean water was surging up across the wet sand. As I squinted into the sun, I could see the steel pier, the boardwalk, the tall hotels — and various people walking along the water’s edge. No fog at all.

“Um, this might be less private than I thought,” I said to Mermaid Woman as we stepped off the boardwalk onto the sand. Nearest to us were a couple snuggled under blankets, near the edge of the boardwalk.

“Looks like they spent the night here,” Mermaid Woman said. She shrugged at their presence. No one who sleeps on the beach is going to be offended by a little nudity. We both agreed with that logic.

A fully-clothed man was walking up and down the beach with a metal detector, moving his instrument back and forth methodically. “He’s not even looking this way,” I said. “He’s busy.” In the distance, I could see other figures: a woman running, a man with a dog. Up on the boardwalk, I could see an old couple sitting on a bench and a teenager on a bicycle. Oh, and a police car cruising by, on an early morning round. Yes, a whole heavy police car right on the boardwalk: that seemed more shocking to me than any display of human flesh. And wrong. I decided to ignore the cop, who probably was too busy trying not to run over pedestrians to even glance at the beach.

“They’re all pretty far away,” I assured Mermaid Woman. “And it’s not illegal to take a photo, right?” 

She’d come prepared: she pulled a long scarf out of her bag. “I can sit on this,” she said, tossing it to the ground as she quickly stripped off her clothes. Naked, she quickly assumed a yoga pose — and then began to improvise, stretching her arms towards the sun.

I don’t know whether or not my voice reached the other people on the beach or whether it was lost in the wind as I called out to her, “Oh, do that again – the thing with your arm! Perfect! Beautiful!”

Casinos usually don’t have windows, so all the customers inside the buildings, who had stayed up all night gambling were completely unaware that beautiful Mermaid Woman was posing on the beach, just a hundred yards away, stretching her naked body out in the morning sun.

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

June 26, 2014


Local strawberries

Every Tuesday, I stop at our local CSA farm and pick up two bins over flowing with good food: big bunches of Swiss chard and lettuce, crispy red radishes, long green zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes -- and best of all, freshly picked strawberries. I usually can't wait until I get home to begin eating the strawberries: I start testing them before I've even pulled out of the dirt driveway of the farm.

June 23, 2014

The end of the game

Evening at the monastery

The game Twitter vs Zombies is almost over. The game began with humans pitted against zombies, but thanks to the collaborative nature of the emerging rules, a third choice has come into being: the chorus. These are players who no longer wish to take sides, but who want to stay in the game as narrators, commenters, and poets. They are still adding to the unfolding narrative of the apocalpyse, but they aren't fighting any more.

The way to become a member of the chorus is to pull together lines of poetry tweeted by other players. I've been tweeting lines of poetry in the game ever since that rule got released. Writing poetry is like crack to me: I know I've tweeted more lines than anyone else.

But I don't want to become a member of the chorus. I picture them as spirits, ghosts perhaps, who roam the landscape, drifting across fields and cemeteries, into barnyards, lingering over ponds and baseball stadiums and any place still filled with human memories.

I want to remain human. I don't want to give up my human community or all that comes with being human. I want to take action the injustices in the world, caused by humans or zombies. I want to continue eating human food -- garden fresh vegetables, homemade pie, chocolate cake. So I'm gathering the remaining human players so we can hide out in this barn.