February 15, 2015

Sunshine, warmth, and wet sand

Far Beach

It’s been a long, cold winter. So when I had a chance to go somewhere warm, I took it eagerly. It was just a quick weekend trip, but still a couple days of sun can make all the difference in the world.

The best part was Sunday afternoon, which we spent on a little beach in the islands. It wasn’t a very sandy beach, but the water was warm and shallow, and the beach wasn’t very crowded at all: just a handful of locals. A big family had taken over some picnic benches and were barbecuing food. They spoke Spanish, and at too fast a pace for me to keep up, but even with the language barrier, I could read the family dynamics. That old man and woman, clearly they were the grandparents. Two sisters lounged against the fence, talking rapidly, while their toddlers played. Teenage cousins, too cool to be with the rest of the family, brought their food over to the edge of the parking lot.

One little girl came down to the water’s edge, intent on making a sand castle. She had these plastic molds that didn’t work very well and a bucket that she kept filling up with water. She gave me a big smile, and soon I was helping her with the sand castle. We dug moats, and piled wet sand into cool shapes, and decorated the whole thing with seaweed. It was utterly relaxing to spend a sunny afternoon scooping up wet sand, wading to find seashells, and poking sticks into mounds of sand. As I left, reluctantly, to go back to my hotel, I was wet and sandy and utterly relaxed.

  Late afternoon in the Keys

February 02, 2015

Winter retreat

The chapel in winter

I decided to begin February this year in a place I love: the Benedictine monastery where I go with my friends on retreat. We arrived on one of the coldest nights of the year, but the little upstairs bedroom where I slept was cozy.

When I woke up Saturday morning, the sun was making the snow sparkle. Luckily, I'd brought lots of warm clothing. I dressed hurriedly, eager to get outside into the morning light. The icy cold air felt good in my lungs as I tramped up the road and down the hill toward the chapel, the barn, and the other monastery buildings.

I saw tracks in the snow, mostly deer and rabbit. The sheep pastures curved towards the woods, white and unbroken. I wondered where all the sheep were on this winter day. My footsteps were the only ones in the barnyard.

Barnyard in January

Tall stacks of hay filled two of the barns: these monks have a pretty large herd of sheep to feed. In the third barn, I finally found some sheep: the rams! They are kept separate from the ewes. One ram stepped out into the snowy barnyard to stare at me as I walked through. On this icy day, I envied the sheep their wool coats.


I love the way snow transforms familiar surroundings into something alien. The stacks of hay in the pasture looked to me like whales rising from a light blue sea. I wandered happily about, yanking my mittens off to take photos, until the my feet and fingers were numb, and then I retreated into the warm chapel to light some candles.