May 27, 2015

View from the red kayak

The bay

The first couple of days at camp were cold and windy. Temperatures dropped so low at night that I was grateful for my winter sleeping bag, and my father reported that when he woke up early, he had to break some ice in the bucket where we wash our hands. But eventually, the wind died down and the sun came out, and I was able to take my little red kayak out for a paddle.

This early in the year, the cattails are still golden brown, with the new green shoots just beginning to peek through. The lily pads lie flat on the surface of the water: later in the year, they will get crowded and stick up at crazy angles. Past the big rock at the opening of our creek, I could see the summer camps that line the eastern shore of our bay. The docks were still empty. The only activity in the bay seemed to be at our own dock, where the two family dogs were leaping into the water and splashing muddily to shore, egged on by Red-haired Niece and her fiancé, and Shaggy Hair Boy and his fiancée. Skater Boy had attached a GoPro to one of the dogs, who was racing around at such high speeds that I suspect the video will be quite dizzying.

Out on the bay, I saw an osprey flying overhead, circling about in search of a fish and then diving straight down, hitting the water with a splash like a small child doing a cannonball. The water in Cranberry Creek was clear and easy to paddle through because it’s not yet choked by weeds and lily pads. Along the edge of the left fork, a muskrat house is tucked into the reeds. Along the right fork, there’s a new beaver lodge. Masses of yellow irises are coming up along the edge of the creek. But except for these small changes, the creek still looks the same as it did when I was a kid.

Lily pads in May

May 26, 2015

Summer begins: first trip to camp!

Canoeing at dusk

Every Memorial Day weekend, family members gather at my parents’ camp up on the river, setting up tents under the tall pine trees and eating their meals at the picnic tables under the old oak trees. My parents’ camp is a peninsula, a couple of acres set amidst a marsh on a bay that leads the river. We've got an assortment of small boats, including a bunch of canoes and kayaks, that we can use to explore the marsh. In addition to the small cabin that my parents stay in, we have a tiny communal cabin, where everyone stores their food and where the young people play cards at night.

The cabin doesn’t hold much — just a wooden table and benches that my father built and an antique refrigerator, but the refrigerator is an invaluable item when you’re feeding 25 family members on a hot summer day. The refrigerator has been failing for years; in fact, it was broken when we got it. The only way we could keep the freezer shut was to shove some folded cardboard in as we slammed the door shut, a skill that only some of us could master. Those of us sick of hearing the cry “Mom, come shut the freezer door!” were not sad at all when the refrigerator died completely. I’ve been wanting to replace it for years.

Last Thursday, I drove up to camp early to be there for the delivery of the new refrigerator. It arrived on schedule, trundled over the dirt road by two hard-working delivery guys, and I plugged it in immediately. It was exciting to see all the details. Shelves on the door! A freezer that works! Crisper drawers for vegetables! More than one shelf! We'll be able to store lettuce without it turning black. We'll be able to make ice cubes; we can have ice cream, even. We all kept thinking of all the luxuries we are going to enjoy. For the rest of the weekend, family members who arrived were obliged first thing, even before setting up their tents, to go into the cabin and admire the new refrigerator.

I took the photo from the end of my parents' dock -- four of the young people in the family paddling at dusk. I liked it better than a picture of the refrigerator.

May 20, 2015

Sunday on the farm

The farm

One Sunday my husband and I drove out to a farm set high up in the hills. We saw goats, chickens, and several big, furry dogs. At the base of the silo, I saw a snake slithering up a thick vine: the first snake of the year.  A teenage girl carried a rooster over to show us.

It was lovely to spend a spring morning on a farm. The big barn was filled with tables that had been covered with white tablecloths, and we sat down for brunch with my son Shaggy Hair Boy, his girlfriend Smiley Girl, and her parents. As we ate, we talked about an exciting upcoming event: Shaggy Hair Boy and Smiley Girl will be getting married on the farm in August.

Guests will eat and dance and listen to music in the big barn, which will be decorated with strings of little white lights. The ceremony will be held in the meadow, with a long view of the hills in the distance. And probably anyone who comes to the wedding will enjoy playing with the goats.

May 16, 2015

All aboard

New York Harbor

A long-time sailor, my father likes to get out on the water, no matter where we are, even if it’s a big city. So Saturday morning right after breakfast, we took a train to the lower end of the island to catch the Staten Island Ferry.

My mother remembers the ferry costing a nickel when she was a kid. But now it’s even cheaper: it’s free. The commuters who take the ferry to work mostly sit on benches inside, reading newspapers and checking their email on glowing devices. The shoeshine guy hustles between the rows of chairs, looking for customers. The tourists stand eagerly at the rails for spectacular views of the harbor, the wind whipping their hair into their faces.

As we passed the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, I could see people holding up phones all along the rail to snap a picture, jostling each other to get the perfect shot. “I wonder how many iPhones there are at the bottom of New York Harbor,” my sister said to me.

I liked the return trip the best. We found a bench in the sun, out of the wind. It was exciting to watch the skyscrapers get bigger as we got closer and closer to the tip of the island. The bridges in the city are graceful, stretching out across the water to connect boroughs. As we docked, we got up to join the throngs of people hurrying down the gangplank and into the city. Statue of Liberty My father looking out at the Statue of Liberty

May 15, 2015

Stars, dinosaur bones, and butterflies

Diorama

On our last day in the city, Red-haired Sister drove in to join us, and we went to the Museum of Natural History. It's the museum that I loved the most as a little kid. The big dinosaur skeletons that towered above us were as impressive as I remembered.

Even though I have mixed feelings about all the stuffed dead animals in the museum, I have to admit that the dioramas are spectacular. The scenes behind the animals are so beautifully painted that it's really like being at an art museum. "These put those shoebox dioramas we made in elementary school to shame," Red-haired Sister observed.

When we needed a break, we stopped in the cafe for juice — and a glass of red wine for my father. While I sat with my parents, chatting about where to go next, my sister went off to the counter and returned with platters of fruit and cheese. After our snack, we took a rest in the comfortable chairs of the planetarium and watched a show about dark matter.

Not all the animals in the museum are dead. My sister led us to the butterfly room, a humid room filled with plants and butterflies that darted about, sometimes even landing on anyone who stood still. I could have spent hours there, just watching all the colorful butterflies skimming about above the plants.

At the end of the day, my sister drove us to Times Square. We usually try avoid the throngs of tourists in the city, but in this case, there was a street performer we wanted to see: Dandelion Niece. Her hair no longer looks like the top of a dandelion: it's long and blonde. With her hair in one long side braid and a blue gown, she looked just like Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen. When we arrived on the scene, a little girl and her mother saying, "Can we get a picture with you?" I think the little girl thought she actually was Elsa: she was so excited. Dandelion Niece says the amount of tips she gets in an hour is more lucrative than any summer job she could get. It looked like a fun way to spend a summer afternoon.

In the butterfly room

May 14, 2015

May 12, 2015

City in early light

CentralPark

The first morning in the city, I woke early, got dressed quickly, and sneaked out for a walk by myself. I love walking in the city in the early morning. The street was quiet, except for just a few yellow cabs. An old man was rearranging fruit – bright oranges and red apples — outside of a grocery store. Another man, wearing a red apron, was hosing down the sidewalk. On the steps of the church, two homeless men were still asleep, huddled under blankets, strategically positioned to catch the morning sunlight.

I walked down a street of brownstones, where tulips bloomed at the feet of tall trees. A young woman in a suit hurried by with a cup of coffee. A delivery boy came around the corner on a bicycle. As I walked toward the park, I could feel something brush the top of my head: pink flowers were falling from the trees overhead and into my hair.

Inside the park, I saw runners: mostly young men and women, in t-shirts and shorts, some wearing iPods, all of them moving rapidly in the morning sun. Bicyclists came down the road too, zooming along so quickly that I backed up against a tree to take photos.

I wandered the park happily, having no idea where I was. I came across a garden dedicated to flowers from Shakespeare. I found the pond (or one of them, anyhow) and pagodas of different sizes and shapes. I discovered statues and fountains and a Swedish cottage with a puppet theatre. When I reached the big museum, I walked back out onto the city streets and worked my way back to the hotel, stopping at a patisserie to buy croissants for breakfast.

  pagoda

May 11, 2015

Below the surface

Waiting for a train

The trains in Big City Like No Other are fast and efficient, the best way to travel any distance. But what I love is the way they offer glimpses city life.

A woman enters, herding two small children who are chatting about their trip to the park, which apparently involved ice cream. Several teenagers in dark hoodies trade insulting jokes about some baseball team. Three young people dressed smartly in suits talk about a meeting, the details of which are incredibly boring. An older woman has been shopping: the bag rests on the seat next to her. The young woman with the tattoos is reading a book of poetry. An older man climbs on and sits down gratefully: he looks exhausted.

Even when I'm just waiting for a train, I stare across at the people on the opposite platform. We are separated only by a couple of train tracks, but that's enough to make it feel like I'm watching a movie. That couple look like they are bickering: will they make up before they get to their destination? Those two women sitting next to each other, both with the same weary expression: I wonder if they're sisters, both thinking about an emotional event that affected them both. That young woman who keeps looking at her phone and jiggling her left leg is probably late for an important meeting. I wonder if that nervousness will turn to adrenaline once she arrives.

You could ride the trains all day and just keep seeing narrative after narrative in the passengers around you.

May 10, 2015

Spring in the big city

Fresh fruit

As soon as the semester ended, my parents and I boarded a train and headed to Big City Like No Other to visit Urban Sophisticate Sister and her husband. We were eager to see how my sister is handling the exciting changes that are happening in her life: she's pregnant with twins. Urban Sophisticate looked as beautiful as ever: it was if she'd just stuck a basketball under her shirt. In the evening, when she was lying comfortably on the bed, I did reiki on her abdomen, and I could feel my two newest nieces kicking and squirming.

After the long winter we've had — months where every road was lined with walls of snow — I was delighted to be in a city where the trees were bursting with green, and flower petals were scattered over the sidewalks. The warm weather had brought out street vendors, whose tables were piled with fresh fruit, old books, and racks of women's clothing. Bright tulips blooomed all up and down the wide streets.

Beneath the tree

Everywhere, we saw flowering trees: crabapple, ornamental pear, cherry, magnolia, and redbud. Pink and white bloomed against concrete and brick. Somehow, we'd managed to arrive on that first warm weekend, when it's cool enough that the sun still feels wonderful, when city dwellers everywhere are going to the nearest park to sit in the sun, when the teenagers are out playing basketball, and when everyone is happy that spring has arrived at last.

Flowering

April 29, 2015

Guarding the flock

The monastery guard donkey

The monastery where I spent the weekend is a working sheep farm. Benedictine monasteries are self-supporting, and raising sheep is an important part of their income. So a few years back, when coyotes started picking off baby sheep, the monks were alarmed. Brother Tractor consulted the DEC, who offered to send in sharpshooters to kill off the coyotes.

Brother Tractor said, "That's not really in keeping with our monastic ways."

Instead the monks bought a couple of donkeys. The donkeys wander the pastures with the sheep, occasionally stopping to bray, which apparently scares away the coyotes.

Last weekend, while I was standing in the sheep barn, watching the ewes and baby sheep, a donkey came up behind me and brayed loudly. I jumped about a foot. I can see how that noise would keep away predators.