December 14, 2015

Just another naked man

Hands on hips

“So who is going to pose naked for me?” I asked. I looked at my friends, who were holding wine glasses, balancing little plates of appetizers, and mostly ignoring my question. These friends have attended many conferences with me. They know the routine. I can’t go home without a naked photo. It’s a tradition – one that most of them choose to ignore. Artist Friend, for instance, just rolled his eyes and tried to change the subject.

But Medieval Woman caught my eye and smiled. Then she pointed quietly to her husband. “I think it’s his turn.”

That’s the advantage of being part of an academic couple. When someone at an academic conference asks you to pose naked, you can volunteer your husband.

I arrived at their hotel room with my camera bright and early the next morning. I knew I’d have to catch Darwin before the day began: conferences have this way of sucking my colleagues into sessions when they really should be doing more important stuff like posing naked for my blog. Medieval Woman greeted me with the cheerful demeanor of someone who has gotten out of posing. “Natural light!” she said enthusiastically, yanking opening the curtains. She and I began pushing the furniture out of the way.

“How do you want to pose?” I asked Darwin. He was sitting on the bed, wearing boxer shorts and socks, rubbing his eyes.

“Whatever,” he muttered. He’s not a morning person.

I’ve always thought that if I took a naked photo of Darwin, I’d ask him to pose with his guitar. He’s a terrific musician. But alas, he’d come to the conference by plane, which meant he’d left all musical instruments at home. “He can be a silhouette in front of the window,” Medieval Woman offered.

By then Darwin was beginning to wake up. Perhaps it was the cool morning air hitting his bare skin. “So am I going to be the object of the female gaze?” he said teasingly. “All these women who are going to be looking at me …. ”

“But you like that,” Medieval Woman said.

“Yeah, you’re right,” he said, grinning.

While his wife and I were still trying to figure out the best pose for him, he stripped off his boxer shorts and walked over to the window, hands on his hips, staring out at the landscape. The pose was so typically him that I snapped the photo.

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

November 30, 2015

Hiking just before the holiday

Slot Canyon

One of the advantages of the academic calendar is that I had a whole week off for Thanksgiving. Oh, there was a pile of work that I should have been doing, but instead my husband and I decided to take the first half of the week and fly off on a hiking adventure.

It turns out that November is a lovely time to visit Zion. The aspen trees had turned a brilliant yellow, the autumn sun glinted off the red rocks, and the cool temperatures meant that we could take strenuous hikes without worrying about heat exhaustion. Most of the other hikers we saw were young, mostly in their twenties and thirties. On the first hike we took, a long series of switchbacks that led to the highest point in the canyon, it quickly became apparent that my husband and I were the oldest people on the trail.

I liked being a trail elder. The younger hikers were so polite and accommodating. My long grey hair makes me pretty recognizable, which meant that by the second day, I got friendly hellos throughout the park. My husband kept offering the young people sunscreen, and whenever he met anyone who hadn't been to the park before, he happily gave them advice on which trails they should take.

Many of the young hikers were sleeping in tents in the canyon, but my husband and I decided that our status as elders meant we deserved a little pampering. So at the end of each day, we retreated to the little town outside the park, where we ate dinner in a restaurant, soaked our sore muscles in a hot tub under the starry night sky, and slept in a bed with clean sheets.

Perhaps it's good that we got some exercise in the first half of the week, because we spent the second half of the week doing what my family does at Thanksgiving: eating, talking, eating, playing games, and eating. I love it when all of my kids are home, even if we're just doing something as simple as playing a board game at the kitchen table. The whole week was lovely and relaxing, and now it feels like we're moving towards Christmas at a fast clip. Mountaintop

November 12, 2015

By the ocean, with babies!

Beach in fall

At the end of last month, my husband and I took the long drive past Big City Like No Other, over several bridges, and out onto the Very Long Island to visit my sister, her husband, and their twin baby girls. The twins are four months old now, plump and smiling, laughing aloud if they hear the right funny noises.

My sister lives in a summer vacation spot, but on a cold fall day, most of the tourists were gone. When we took the babies for a walk on the beach, we wore winter coats. My sister carried one twin under her coat, and I took the other. The beach looked different without lifeguard chairs, umbrellas, or towels. But the ocean waves were just the same, crashing down onto the wet sand.

I love everything about walking on the beach: the smell of the salty air, the rhythm of the surf, the big sky that stretches forever, the softness of sand underfoot, and that realization that the ocean is so much bigger than I am. But the best part of the walk was carrying a warm baby under my coat, her little face just inches from mine. She kept looking right at me and smiling; it was clear that my new niece loves the ocean just as much as I do. How fun it's going to be when the twins are a little older and I can build sand castles with them.

October 25, 2015

Sheep may safely graze

Monastery in fall

The Benedictine monastery is set amidst sheep pastures. In this photo, you can glimpse the steeple of the chapel, the old white farmhouse that serves as a guesthouse, and the big barn that has become a landmark to local people. But mostly, the buildings of the monastery are hidden behind trees: that seems appropriate because the monks who live there are not ones to call attention to themselves.

It was dark when my friends and I arrived for the weekend. We carried our bags into the women’s guesthouse and set about making ourselves at home. I choose the smallest room, the one we jokingly call the closet. It just barely has room for a single bed, shoved tight between the walls. I pushed my bag under the bed and changed into sweatpants. When I sat on that bed to write in my journal, I could look out the single window. I like small rooms, especially on dark nights: there are no places for monsters to hide.

My friends and I had spent the car ride talking, and we all went to bed early that evening. That’s the first thing I need before I can be contemplative: a good night’s sleep. When sunlight through the window woke me, I grabbed my winter coat and went off for a walk. The monks had already been up, praying: their first service of the day is at 4:45 am. But still, the monastery grounds were mostly quiet as I roamed about, checking out familiar spots: the sheep barns, the apple orchards, the sheep pastures, and the stone bench in the oblate cemetery. The sheep turned to look at me curiously as I walked along the pasture fences.

The wind was chilly despite the sunshine, so it felt good to enter the chapel. It would be empty, I knew: the monks were at breakfast. As I pulled open the heavy wooden door, the musty smell of incense met me, triggering memories. I kept thinking about my visit a year ago, when I knew that my oldest sister was dying. I can’t believe, actually, that it will soon be a whole year since her death. My sneakers made soft noises against the stone floor as I walked into the chapel.

The long stone staircase to my right led down to the crypt, which is my favourite place at the monastery. In the middle of the dark room stands a fourteenth century stone statue of Mary, holding baby Jesus, lit by dozens of flickering candles that visitors have placed at her feet. In this candle-lit room, which smelled of melting wax, I sat cross-legged on the stone floor – to meditate, to pray, and to think about all that has happened in my life since my last retreat.

  Monastery sheep

October 21, 2015

By the ocean

At the ocean

That’s my mother in the photo, walking along the beach. Growing up, she spent her summers down the shore, which gave her a lifelong love of the ocean. I took this photo on the very last weekend of September. That’s the weekend that my mother and I drove across the state, through Big City Like No Other, and out to Long Island to visit my youngest sister, her husband, and their twin baby girls. 

We managed to hit some lovely summer-like weather, and our visit included not just a walk on the beach, but a swim in the salty water that had retained the summer heat. But the best part of the weekend was simply spending time with the twins. At three months old, they’ve plumped up into the most adorable little girls ever. All weekend, my mother would take one baby, and I’d take the other, and we’d make funny noises just to watch the babies laugh and smile. I know no better way to spend my time.

Even though my sister and her husband did look exhausted (twins!), they also still looked like a couple who had stepped out of a glamour magazine. My sister is thin and beautiful, and somehow surviving on practically no sleep. Her husband, who has become an expert on all things baby with pretty much no prior experience, found the time to make us delicious Middle Eastern food (he knows I’m vegan, which makes it the perfect meal for me) which he served by candlelight, complete with jazz playing softly in the background and cloth napkins, on Saturday evening after the babies had gone to bed for the evening.

My mother and I spent the whole long drive home talking about how much we loved those babies and what a great time we'd had.

October 19, 2015

Fall weekend in the mountains


Every year at the beginning of October, my parents and I drive to the mountains, where my father worked as a musician back in the 1950s. We admire the fall foliage, we stop at several lakes, we eat lunch at restaurant that used to be a railway stations, we drive past places where my Dad used to work, and we stay the night at an inn that was built in 1903.

This year, the sun shone, but the wind was cold, so none of the walks we took were long. At dinner time, when we went down to the lobby of the inn, we appreciated the warm fire burning at the hearth. “Fall has definitely arrived,” my mother said as she sat down on the comfortable couch near the crackling flames.

Just then we heard footsteps on the crooked old staircase. It was my son Shaggy Hair and his wife Smiley Girl. I’d invited them to join us for dinner, but I’d kept it a secret. Both my parents were surprised. “Where did you come from?” my father asked, so startled that he almost dropped the drink he was holding. My mother laughed and hugged the newlyweds.

Dinner was fun. The owner of the inn, who had been in on the secret, had saved a round table for the five of us. Shaggy Hair Boy and Smiley Girl were full of stories: they’d been to the Wild Center that afternoon. Of course, it wasn’t long before my father was telling Shaggy Hair Boy some of his old stories. They’re both jazz musicians, sixty years apart in age, and my father was Shaggy Hair’s age when he worked up in the mountains. Even though the meal was delicious and filling, we lingered long enough to order dessert.

The five of us gathered again for breakfast in the morning. We ate looking out over the lake, and we drove to Fourth Lake for a walk on the pier. The wind had died down, and the sun felt good as we talked and admired the views. Shaggy Hair Boy and Smiley Girl ran into the little playground in town to climb on the playground equipment, just as if they weren’t a grown-up couple now. My parents and I took the long route home, following a river that wound its way through brilliantly colored trees.

October 14, 2015

On the roof

On the roof

It’s a tradition. Whenever I go away for the weekend, whether it’s an academic conference or a weekend with my friends, I cajole someone into posing for Project Naked. I try to find someone who is willing to get naked outside: the body looks best in natural life, and the whole point of the project is to celebrate the human body. Of course, I live in a cold climate, which means I’ve asked friends to pose barefoot in the snow and naked in subzero winds. Really, I have the most cooperative friends. 

We’ve had such a warm fall this year that when I asked Quilt Artist to pose for me, I figured it would be an easy shot. We were in the mountains and the gorgeous sunny weather felt like summer. In fact the weather was so lovely that the summer camps still had docks and boats in the water. The lakefront camps hadn’t yet been boarded up: people were out strolling along the roads, sunning themselves by the lake, and enjoying the last bit of summer.

“We might not have much privacy,” I warned Quilt Artist. We were walking along the road, looking for a spot for a photo, and it seemed like suddenly, there were people everywhere. She shrugged. She’s posed for me before. And it seems, somehow, that the more often a woman poses for me, the less concerned she gets about passing strangers witnessing the photo shoot. After all, once your naked photo has been posted to a blog for the world to see, why worry about the occasional tourist catching a glimpse of your skin as you undress?

I gestured to a lovely old house set back against the woods. We knew the owners, and we figured they wouldn’t mind if we borrowed it as a prop. A tall wooden staircase rose past the roofline: I figured that had potential. After all, a staircase could be symbolic. But when I began walking up the stairs, I realized my mistake. They were in the shade.

“If I’m taking off my clothes, it’s got to be in the sun,” Quilt Artist said. “I don’t want goosebumps in the photo.”

I looked out from the top of the stairs. “The only place in full sun is the roof.”

I was kidding. But Quilt Artist climbed up, hoisted herself over the railing, and scrambled onto the roof. “Perfect!” she called to me, and promptly stripped off her clothes.

“Be careful!” I yelled as she trotted across the shaded parts of the roof and towards the edge. One misstep and she’d tumble two stories to the ground.

But I didn’t really need to worry. Once Quilt Artist reached the sunny patch, she sat down, safely away from the edge. I relaxed, and so did she. “I can see right up into that pine tree,” she said. “This is pretty cool – even if I am getting pine needles on my butt.”

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

October 08, 2015

Going grey, turning fifty

Going grey, turning fifty

“If you take a naked photo of me,” my friend said, “I want you to highlight my grey hair. I’m turning fifty this year.”

I couldn’t help but smile. I can remember being four years old and telling everyone, “I’m four-going-on-five.” When I was little, I always insisted that everyone recognize just how old I was. In childhood, aging is a badge of honour. I loved that AlmostFifty still thought that way, and wanted to highlight her passage into her fifties.

To be honest, AlmostFifty’s hair looked dark brown to me. But then she pulled the hair up off of her face, and I could see that the underside was streaked with grey.

“We need a grey backdrop,” I said. “Like that stone wall out behind the house.”

The sun was shining, and the stone wall was in a fairly private place, tucked behind a house so that it couldn’t be seen from the road. So AlmostFifty stripped off her clothes and stood in a patch of sun, pulling her hair up to accentuate the silver strands.

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

September 23, 2015

Swimming weather in the mountains


Every fall, I travel to the mountains with a group of women friends for a weekend retreat. It's a tradition. We bring warm clothes and hiking boots, as well as books and journals. Weaving Woman brings her loom; Quilt Artist brings an art project. I'm the firekeeper, and I carry in armloads of firewood while my friends make big pots of delicious soups and stews. We normally spend hours by the fire each night, talking, sometimes dancing, always eating.

This year, Signing Woman — whose generous family owns the beautiful old camp where we stay — moved the weekend from October into September because she's going to a wedding on our usual weekend. The weather was unseasonably warm, and that meant that we got, for the first time, to see this great camp in summer weather, the season that it was clearly built for.

Instead of huddling inside by the fire, we threw open all the windows, letting the breezes flow through. We sat  out on the dock. We swam to the raft and soaked in the water that had been softened by months of summer sun. Makes Bread and I tried out the paddleboards: it turns out that a paddleboard isn't that different than a canoe, except you stand up instead of sit. Best of all, the camp has a little sunfish sailboat. I took the sunfish out for sail on Saturday, and then again on Sunday. Zooming along under wind power, using my body to shift the boat into the right position, made me remember just how much I love sailing.

By the end of the weekend, we were all as relaxed as a bunch of kids on summer vacation. The tough part was remembering that we had to pack up and go back to work on Monday.


September 16, 2015

The last bit of summer

End of the season sail

Labor Day weekend at my parents’ camp is often cold or rainy, coming as it does at the end of the season. But this year, the weekend was sunny and warm. “This feels like July,” we all kept saying. It felt like a wonderful bonus.

About fifteen family members gathered for the weekend, bringing tents and food. My brother brought his sailboat so that he and my father could take several long sails on the river. Red-haired Niece and her boyfriend brought their dog and their motorboat: I went out on the river with them for the fun of leaping off the boat into the deep, clear water. We ate corn on the cob that had been picked that morning, we swam in the afternoon, and we sat by the fire in the evening, enjoying the absence of the mosquitoes.

Schoolteacher Niece brought her one-year-old daughter, who had fun playing at the beach. She seems to love water in all forms, whether it’s water to drink or water to play in. When I handed her an empty bucket, she started right down to the dock with the intent of filling it up with water.

Off to get water

I took several leisurely paddles in my little red kayak. I love the river in September when the cattails are high, the water is low, and the creeks are secret, hidden places. I usually start off by paddling as hard as I can against the wind, and then once I’ve gone far enough, I drift with the wind, taking photos and looking down at the water to spot fish swimming through the weeds. When I was a child, I used to spend hours lying on the bow of my father’s sailboat, staring down at the underwater world of mysterious green weeds and imaging the fairy people who probably lived there.

  Into the creek

September 11, 2015

An event in a history book

My first year students are mostly seventeen and eighteen years old. When we talked about the 9/11 terrorist attack, none of them chimed in to say where they'd been or what they remembered. They were just little kids: they don't remember it at all. The kids who grow up in Big City Like No Other have heard about that day from parents and family members, and others learned about it in school, but they don't remember it. They're too young.

August 31, 2015

And the season changes


This morning, I had to wake up to an alarm clock, put on real clothes, and drive to campus. Fall semester has begun. I don't know how it happened, but somehow another summer has gone by. 

Gardens are filled with black-eyed susans and bright sunflowers. We're still eating zucchini. I spent yesterday evening chopping up tomatoes, filling quart bags to put in the freezer.

With-a-Why, my youngest, is entering his junior year of college. A music major, he's auditioning for a jazz singing group, so he spent last night at the piano, playing and singing The Girl From Ipanema. Boy-in-Black and Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter, who had come by and were just hanging out in the living room, offered helpful suggestions as he practiced scatting. When Boy-in-Black took a turn at scat, he sounded like the bear in The Jungle Book.

My son Shaggy Hair Boy and his wife Smiley Girl are back from their honeymoon. They both teach in the public high schools in Snowstorm City so they will going back to work soon. My daughter, a clinical psychologist, starts her final internship tomorrow. And Boy-in-Black started a new job a few weeks ago.

So we're all busy. I'm always sad to see summer end, but I'm looking forward to everything that fall brings: homemade apple pies, a weekend in the mountains, get-togethers with friends, and a crackling fire at the hearth.

August 19, 2015

Shaggy Hair Boy gets married


I’ve had a fantastic summer, with lovely trips and good family news. My brother-in-law’s cancer is in remission, my youngest sister’s twins were born healthy and beautiful at 38 weeks, and my eighty-something parents are still both in good health. The summer ended with an exciting event: my son Shaggy Hair Boy and his girlfriend Smiley Girl got married. I’ve gained a daughter-in-law. I’ve known Smiley Girl since she was my student at Little Green five years ago, and she’s a perfect match for my middle son. Everyone in the family is thrilled.

They got married on a farm. It’s a working farm, with goats and chickens and several big shaggy dogs. The reception was held in a barn strung with white Christmas lights. A bunch of us gathered there the day before to arrange the flowers the bride’s mother had bought at the farmers’ market. We used mason jars leftover from another wedding. The caterer served food grown locally. The men in the bridal party wore navy blue dress shirts and grey pants, and the women wore navy blue dresses, all clothes that they could re-use. The dessert was gelato, made right on the farm. The bride and groom are very environmentally conscious, and that showed in every decision they made.

The photograph above shows the field where the ceremony was held. As we were all commenting how gorgeous the view was, one of the bride’s friends said, “You can even see a wind farm in the distance. That’s so perfect.” The guests sat on planks of wood balanced on bales of straw. My brother played the guitar. My daughter did a reading. The maid of honor sang. The wedding party included all of the bride’s nieces and nephews, a bunch of adorable kids.

The reception included live music, of course, mostly jazz. My son With-a-Why sang “These Foolish Things.” Drama Niece warmed up the crowd with “When the Saints Go Marching In” while the groom took a turn at the keyboard and my brother led a conga line. Skater Boy, whom we’ve known since he was a tiny kid and who, despite the pseudonym I gave him years ago, is a respectable young man who develops computer software, gave a toast that was touching and funny. The toast was interrupted briefly by a sheep wandering into the barn and right up to the microphone. Then the maid of honor, who has known the bride her whole life, gave another toast while the musicians played with the baby sheep.

The guests were mostly family, but for us that includes our long-time extra kids, even the ones who live in far-off places now. They all showed up, young adults now rather than teenagers, all of them looking so grown-up that I felt nostalgic for the days when they hung out in my living room, jamming and playing games all night. And of course, even in the midst of so much happiness, I felt sad that Blonde Sister, who died last November, couldn’t be with us to celebrate the wedding of the nephew she’d helped raise.

The bride and groom, like most young people nowadays, kept the traditions they liked and discarded outdated traditions. The little kids (and many of the adults) walked down to see the goats and wandered about the farm looking for chickens and dogs. Young people played Kan-Jam and a giant set of Jenga outside the barn. Old people and young danced to jazz music. Everyone stood around talking, eating gelato. And the best part of the whole day was the realization that Smiley Girl, whom we all love, is now officially part of our family.

August 04, 2015

Ah, vacation

Olympic National Park

What I love about the Pacific Northwest is that the landscape is so varied. We hiked up mountains, we walked on sandy beaches, we hiked through a rainforest, and we spend an afternoon climbing around rocks as we searched tide pools for starfish. Every morning, my husband and I would find a diner where we could eat a huge breakfast while we planned our day. "Shall we go hiking? Shall we find a beach? Where should we go for the sunset?" It was lovely to spend a whole week doing nothing but visiting beautiful places.

Sand Dunes

That tiny figure on the beach in the bottom photo is my husband, searching for the best place to watch the sunset.

July 28, 2015

Early morning on the west coast

Quileute Marina

I woke up early to the sound of ocean surf. I dressed quickly, grabbing my fleece and my camera, and walked down to the marina to watch the fishing boats leave for a day's work. I love the sounds of a marina: the clinking of metal when the boats rock in the wind, the slap of hoses and knocking of buckets as the fishermen work, the squawking of seagulls as they circle about in hopes of a snack. This fishing village, home to the Quileute people, is over 800 years old.

My husband and I have travelled to the west coast for a week-long vacation. We've been hiking mountains, exploring tide pools, walking beaches, and eating in little local diners. The weather has been cool and misty, which feels wonderful this time of year. My body tends to stay on east coast time no matter where I go, which means that I wake up at dawn, just like the fishermen in this little village, and that gives me an extra couple of hours to myself each morning, to walk the misty beaches and docks.

July 22, 2015

Newborn twins!


The beach in this photo is just a few minutes away from my youngest sister’s house. So of course, when I visited her, we went over to see the ocean. But the beach was not the main attraction. There was a much more exciting reason for my visit — newborn twins!

Yes, Urban Sophisticate Sister and her husband, Tall Architect, are parents now. Their daughters were born at 38 weeks, which is fantastic for twins, and the babies are clearly thriving. They looked exactly alike when I first met them, but after a few days, I’d spent enough time staring at them that the subtle differences seemed obvious and I could tell them apart easily. (That’s usually my experience with identical twins — they are identical only to people who don’t know them. That’s why, even as a kid, I thought the movie Parent Trap was ridiculous.)

Visiting a household with newborn twins is completely wonderful. Normally, I’m always fighting relatives and friends for a chance to hold whoever the newest baby is. But with twins, there are enough babies to go around! There is ALWAYS a baby to hold. And these babies are especially cute. I took hundreds of photos to try to capture their many expressions.

I will also add that visiting my sister gave me new respect for friends who have raised twins. It’s not twice as much work; it’s like ten times as much. My sister and her husband are new at the parenting, but apparently, having twins is the best crash course ever: after two weeks of non-stop practice, they were experts at changing, holding, swaddling, feeding, and comforting their newborns. They also both seemed totally sleep-deprived, a condition I remember well from my days of having newborns, although looking back, I have to say that I had it easy: I had my kids one at a time.

On the long drive home from my sister’s house, I stopped at rest area and met a woman who was carrying an infant. As I talked to her, I noticed that I was unconsciously looking around; I was wondering where the other baby was. That’s right. After just a few days with my sister’s twins, I have come to think that babies come in pairs.

July 18, 2015


At the beach

The most fun part of the family vacation at my parents' camp this year: my grandniece! She's a year old now. We put our lawn chairs in a big circle to form a human playpen, and she'd walk around, a bit unsteady on the uneven ground, an endless source of entertainment. On the sunny days, she came with us to the beach. I don't think she spent even one minute sitting in the shade under the umbrella: she loved wandering along the water's edge and she kept moving, cheerfully getting up again every time she fell, smiling happily, no matter how wet or sandy she got.

July 12, 2015

After the rainstorm

From the Dock

Whenever I talk about family vacations at my parents’ camp, I describe sunny days that we spend entirely outside of our tents: the gang of kids lazily playing cards on a blanket, lunch on the picnic tables under the oak trees, an afternoon swim off a rocky island, a game of bocce or perhaps a nap in the hammock, tanned family members gathering at the picnic tables for dinner, then a campfire where we play games and sing songs. But the reality is this: sometimes it rains.

During the first half of our week-long vacation, storm clouds moved in. It rained and rained and rained. Once the clouds parted for about 15 minutes. I walked down to the dock, took the photo above, and then reported back to the group huddled under a tarp. “Sunshine is coming our way!” 

Dandelion Niece glanced at her smartphone and said, “Um, not exactly.” That’s the problem with this younger generation. Technology has destroyed any hope of false optimism.

That night, the rain came down so heavily that water began leaking into the small tent I shared with my husband. I reached into the dirty clothes bag to find something to sop up the small puddle that was inching closer and closer to my pillow. I decided that cotton underwear would do the trick. Thankfully, the first panties I grabbed were black, a color that hides all stains, even mud from the floor of a tent. I figured that once I got home and did a wash, there would be no evidence that I’d used them as a mop. Even when it comes to lace panties, I’m practical.

“Is water leaking into the tent?” my husband asked sleepily. Camping isn’t really his thing.

“All taken care of,” I said, smugly, tossing the panties to the bottom of the tent. That next day, the ground at camp was so soaked with water that we were afraid to move any of the vehicles for fear of repeating the Vehicles Entrenched in Mud Incident of May 20ll.  There we were, half of the family stranded on our little peninsula, while family members still at home in Snowstorm Region kept sending us hopeful weather reports via text messages. I began to worry about a possible emergency situation: we might run out of chocolate. Tie-dye Brother-in-Law and Tae Kwondo Nephew said that if the situation became dire, they’d drive their boat down the river and to the grocery store.

But the next day, the weather gave us a break. The sun came out. I began pulling from the tent anything that had gotten damp or wet, draping things on our vehicles to dry. I’ve found that the hot metal of a car, which absorbs the sun heat, works better than a clothes line at camp. The crowd at camp cheered up considerable. My mother made blueberry pancakes, Red-haired Niece arrived a cooler of food, and my husband went off to do errands, driving 30 miles farther north to pick up something he needed for work. My phone kept chiming with messages from various family members who were heading our way, cheered by a weather report that promised four days of sun for the long weekend ahead.

By the time my husband returned from his errand, our kids had all arrived. Colorful tents had multiplied like mushrooms, tucked under the pine trees, and my oldest son had set up a net for badminton, which has morphed from the lazy game I played as a child to a highly competitive sport that my sons take very seriously. The rain was long forgotten.

“Well, that was an interesting drive,” my husband said when he stepped out of his van. I looked up. The shuttlecock dropped to the ground as the badminton players turned to listen. Clearly, there was a story.

“First a pick-up truck went by,” my husband said. “And this guy honked and waved. I thought – wow, these guys in the north country are friendly.”

I looked at him, puzzled.

“Then another bunch of guys went by, laughing and giving me the thumbs-up sign,” he continued. I could tell he was enjoying the story. But I didn’t know where he was going with it. I mean, I’m glad that the men of this rural region were shattering his stereotypes, but it was unlike him to draw attention to something like that.

Then Bill paused for dramatic effect. “Turns out they had a reason to honk. Guess what was hanging from my side view mirror?”

He reached into the van and pulled out a familiar item of clothing, which I’d hung on the mirror earlier that morning to dry — my black lace panties.

“I’m glad they didn’t blow off on the highway,” I said as I grabbed them. “And look – they’re dry now.”

My sons looked from their father to the panties and then in a single move, like a gang of meerkats who have just seen a winged predator, went back to their badminton game.

July 08, 2015

Naked along the Snake River

Exploring the canyon

My conference roommate, Maine Writer, knew she was obligated to pose naked for my blog. The naked photo of my roommate is, after all, a blog tradition. This wasn’t her first rodeo. But she decided that she had had enough of the hurried photo shoots during which we moved generic furniture around in a futile effort to make a bland hotel room look like a Hollywood set. She wanted something more daring, more artistic, more natural – an outdoor shot. What’s more is that she had the means to achieve this: she had a rental car.

“Temperatures are going up over 100 degrees on Saturday,” I said to her. “Maybe we could find a swimming hole.” To be honest, I was more focused on the weather forecast than the naked photo shot. I’m not used to temperatures over 100 degrees. Besides, even though we were having a fantastic time at the conference, we relished the idea of time alone together, a rare commodity. We’ve both been busy this year — her being a famous writer, jetting about giving interviews and doing radio shows — and me with another kind of busy, teaching four classes every semester and revising my unpublished manuscript for the 94th time.

“I’m interviewing a geologist this afternoon,” she said. “I’ll ask him.”

So that’s how it came to be that on Saturday morning, after first walking to the Farmers’ Market to buy fresh, cold peaches and a basket of sun-ripened berries, we sneaked away in her rental car, following the automated voice of her phone, all of our hopes pinned on the location the geologist had typed in. I never even found out the name of the geologist, but Maine Writer seemed to have the utmost confidence in him.

We drove up hills of farmland, lovely mounds of green and gold, the low crops shimmering in the heat. I didn’t see anything that looked like a swimming hole, but Maine Writer drove on confidently, in the manner of – well, pretty much anyone younger than me, used to following a smartphone blindly into the future and quite possibly over a cliff. I clung to the vision of a muddy swimming hole, perhaps with a rope we could swing on, as the rental car took us farther and farther, higher and higher, past farms and fields and small towns. Then we took a sharp turn and the car plunged down into a canyon, an entirely different landscape.

It was the kind of canyon that I’ve seen on postcards and calendars and corny cards with inspirational sayings that make me want to puke. This was no muddy swimming hole. It was a river, a real river, deep and powerful, snaking its way through the steep hills and rocks. Maine Writer gave me a sideways triumphant grin as I stared at the magnificent scene.

“It’s official,” I said. “I love geologists.”

The smartphone led us to a dirt turn-off where we saw only one other vehicle, a pick-up truck that looked like it had weathered some rough times. As Maine Writer parked the car, I could see her hands tense on the steering wheel. A man stood at the river’s edge, holding a gun.

“He’s got a gun,” she said, just in case I hadn’t noticed.

I peered out through the windshield. It’s true that the man was holding a gun, but it was, at least, pointed in the other direction. It’s also true that he looked annoyed. Maine Writer, who had driven here so confidently, made no move to get out of the car.

“Let me just check out the situation,” I said and stepped into the blazing heat. Farther down on the river bank, I could see a teenage boy. Hand on hip, he was poking at some rocks, gun hanging at his side, his face turned away from the older man. I recognized that body language. It was the classic “What? I didn’t hear you tell me that it was time to leave” pose perfected by teenagers everywhere. Clearly, he was stalling. No wonder the older man was annoyed.

I got back into the car without talking to either of them. “They’re leaving,” I said to Maine Writer. “We just need to wait a couple of minutes.” Sure enough, the gruff older man finally got his teenage son to come back to the truck and they drove off in a cloud of dust, taking their guns with them, leaving us in that magnificent canyon all by ourselves. Within minutes we were scrambling up the rock outcropping.

Maine Writer stripped off all her clothes after my assurance that we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, and I’d warn her if I heard a passing car. “Take in the whole landscape,” Maine Writer kept saying. “I can just be a figure in the distance.” As I looked through the viewfinder of the camera, I could barely see her naked body. She looked like a bird or a deer or a seal, just another creature basking in the sun. The landscape was so big, and her human body was tiny in comparison.

I snapped quickly, as the heat rose from the rock and began soaking into my bones. Later, when we looked at the photos, I realized that I was so intent on making sure the landscape looked big in comparison to the humble human figure that I may have over-emphasized my point: the photos are the Where's Waldo of naked photos. But no matter. I was eager to get into that river.

“I’m sure we’ve got a good shot,” I yelled. “Let’s find a place to swim.” As Maine Writer scrambled, naked, down to the water’s edge, I picked up her clothes and followed.

That’s when we heard voices, just on the other side of the rock. Another car was parked next to ours in the parking lot, and a young couple had climbed onto the rock next to us. The young woman was wearing a bathing suit.

“Hey, there,” Maine Writer called to them, poking her head just above the rock that separated us. She’s really quite friendly to strangers who aren’t carrying guns.

“Is this a good place to swim?” she asked the young local woman. “And do you think it will bother anyone that we don’t have bathing suits?”

The local woman waved her arm. “Climb over that next rock, and you’ll find a little cove. It’s a perfect swimming spot.”

She was right. The cove had an overhanging ledge that provided us with both privacy and shade. Maine Writer stretched out on the rock while I stripped off my clothes. I went into the river first, just so I could demonstrate my beached-whale technique of climbing up the slippery rock, a technique I’ve perfected over years of swimming off islands up on the river.

“It’s just a little bit awkward,” I grunted to Maine Writer as I grasped dry rock with my fingertips and dragged my bare skin across the slimy seaweed, my breasts scraping against the rock.

We had a lovely hour, swimming and lounging naked on the rock, singing the praises of the geologist who was now my best friend even though I’d never met him. We took photos, caught up on all that was happening in our lives, and talked gleefully about how bad we felt for our friends back at the conference, who were attending sessions in windowless, air-conditioned rooms.

Swimming in the Snake River

Finally, we decided, sadly, that it was time to go back to our conference, time to get back into the land of wifi and post pictures on facebook to make our friends jealous. When I stood up to take one last swim, I got a glimpse of the parking lot. It was completely filled with cars. Squinting into the sunlight, I saw families with coolers, couples with inner tubes, and whole gangs of teenagers.

“I guess we need to put our clothes back on,” said Maine Writer. I agreed, but I took one last swim anyhow. It was too hot to get back into the car without cooling my body down. Besides, I’m sure no one even noticed that I was naked as I swam along the rocks, cheerfully saying hello to anyone I saw.

“The kind of people who come to a swimming place like this – they are likely to be comfortable with the naked body,” Maine Writer said as I pulled myself back onto the rock. I pondered that truth as I pulled on my shirt, just before a teenage boy in a bathing suit came swimming around the rock, stopping to hang out with us for a minute as he waited for a friend who was swimming with him. 

“Everything about this morning has been perfect,” I said as we walked back to the car. “Including our timing.”


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

June 30, 2015

On the road again

On the road again

After a most fantastic week hanging out with Friendly Green Folks, I'm driving with Ecowoman back to her city, where I'll get on a red-eye flight back to Snowstorm City, then drive up to my parents' camp for our Fourth of July family gathering. 

June 22, 2015

Flowers, cats, and tchotchkes


Ecowoman’s home is filled with vases of fresh flowers, two gray cats who saunter about as if they own the place, books spilling from shelves, decorative pillows piled on couches and chairs, and old-fashioned china teapots crowding the kitchen counters. The hanging bits of colored glass on the front porch and the sparkly peace symbols make me think I’m in a Joni Mitchell song. She’s planted her backyard with every plant that flowers purple, and her little deck floods with sun by about ten o’clock. Everywhere I look, as I drink a mug of chamomile tea at her kitchen table, I see what she calls tchotchkes. She has decorated her little piece of the earth, inside and out.

Her neighborhood is built on a hillside above the lake, and her neighbors seem to share her love of gardening. Every little front yard bursts with flowering plants, a lush profusion. When I woke up early (my body still on East Coast time) and started down to the lake for a walk, it was like meandering through a botanical garden. I noticed that many of the houses are built high, often above their garages, to take advantage of the views. When I finally made it to the bottom of the hill, a lake stretched before me, lined with masses of water lilies. I saw just a few other people — a couple of runners, a mother with two young sons, and single kayaker paddling through the water lilies.

Lake Washington

By the time I returned from my walk, Ecowoman and the cats were awake. She fussed over me, even though I keep assuring her I could make my own breakfast. Her refrigerator is packed with good things to eat, bought at a little store up the street. I ate cinnamon bread toast spread with freshly ground almond butter and ate handfuls of fresh blueberries while we planned our day. We’re driving to a conference — the Friendly Green Conference — so we need to pack our things and buy some snacks for the road trip. It’s a conference that takes place every two years, so we’re both excited to see all of our friends. Text messages keep chiming on my phone as folks begin to gather. I’m likely to be offline for the rest of the week but I’ll return with some stories — and likely a naked photo.


June 21, 2015

Celebrating the Solstice with Naked Bike Riders


“We have to go to the Summer Solstice Parade,” my friend EcoWoman said as soon as I arrived at her house. I’d just flown across the country. She lives in a city on the west coast that’s famous for coffeehouses, the Space Needle, and the bluest skies that Bobby Sherman has ever seen.

I didn’t know what to expect from the parade. The only parade I’ve really ever attended is the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Snowstorm City, held during March which is still winter where I live. I associate parades with marching bands in full uniforms, bagpipe players in kilts, Irish dancers shivering in their kneesocks, and big floats where people wear long underwear under their costumes. 

This parade began with hundreds of people on bicycles, most of them completely naked. They’d painted their bodies — with stripes, with patterns, with bright colors, with dark colors. Some wore accessories, like tutus or capes or butterfly wings. Their bodies were painted to match superheroes and characters from kids’ books. There were mermaids and elves. I got the impression that they’d all come from a big party where artists had gone wild using all these bodies as blank palettes. The result was spectacular.

Ecowoman and I sat on the curb, with crowds of people behind us, the sun shining down on the body paint of the naked bike riders as they coasted past. We saw bikers painted red and wearing Santa hats. We saw naked Batman and naked Robin. We saw Waldo and Elmo and the Cat in the Hat, plus all five of the Power Rangers. We saw nipples painted into flowers and penises that had clearly been dunked into a paint bucket. The artists had left no body part bare: many of the bikers were covered from ankle to scalp in blue or green or fluorescent pink.


The bikers all seemed to be having a great time — whooping and calling out to friends and reaching out to slap palms with people sitting at the curb. A few of the men had a sock or puppet head strategically placed, just to be silly. Many of the bikers made us smile, but I was also struck just how beautiful some of them were — especially the women whose bodies had become silhouettes in swirling shades of green, purple, or blue. They weren’t all on bikes. Some went by on rollerblades or danced along with hula hoops, moving to the music that was blaring from a band down the street.

I turned to EcoWoman, who was laughing and saying, “I knew you’d love this.” “Next year, we need to be in the parade,” I said. I was already planning what colours I’d choose for the body paint. She nodded. “I’ve got a bicycle.”


June 19, 2015

Laptop rainstick

A couple of days ago, when I picked my laptop computer up off my desk, I heard a pleasant chiming sound, rhythmic like rain on a tin roof. I looked around to see what on my desk had caused the noise, but saw nothing. Half an hour later, I stood up from the chair where I'd been writing emails. As I tilted the laptop, I heard the noise again, like a small pebble trickling through spikes of wood or metal. It lasted just a few moments, but this time, there was no doubt where it was coming from.

Yes, my laptop computer had become a rainstick.

Despite my love of chimes, rainsticks, and other pleasant noises, I felt a bit panicky about the fact that SOMETHING was rattling inside my computer. So I sent my computer off on a little vacation, and I'm happy to report that she's back and working fine. The noise was coming from a little piece of plastic broken off the thing that holds the battery. No big deal.

Being without a computer for a couple of days was actually kind of relaxing. I think I need to do it more often. But right now I have to go answer the hundreds of emails that piled up during the last two days.

June 15, 2015

I've had the time of my life

Mountains in June

Last weekend, my husband and I went back to the mountains, this time so that he could attend a conference where he would be getting an award. I’m used to camping and hiking in the mountains, but this stay was quite different: the conference was held in a luxury resort that’s over 100 years old. 

We drove through several terrific thunderstorms and arrived in the dark to drive over a little bridge to get to the resort, which takes up a whole island. The big wooden buildings had decks and balconies. The resort had three pools, all with gorgeous views of the lake, and a boat that’s a replica of a 19th century touring boat. The little book in our room gave me a whole list of options; they had tennis courts, sand volleyball, horseshoe pits, a golf course, ping pong, and billiards. There would be croquet on the teardrop lawn. Yes, croquet. I don’t think I’ve seen a croquet set since my childhood. 

“Look there’s a dress code!” I said to my husband. I started reading aloud. “Smart casual for both ladies and gentlemen. Jeans may be worn as long as they are crisp.”

I looked down at the jeans I was wearing. I’m not sure what exactly “crisp” meant, but I was pretty sure that they didn’t qualify.

“You hate dress codes,” my husband said. He couldn’t figure out why I sounded so excited.

 “That thunderstorm must have caused a wrinkle in the time-space continuum,” I explained. “We’ve gone back to the 1960s. We’re in the movie Dirty Dancing.”

The next day, as I walked to the pool (wearing a cover-up, of course, per the dress code), I passed children playing croquet on the manicured lawn. A group of uniformed bellboys carried luggage into the front lobby, where a coals glowed in the fireplace and a grand piano waited for the musician who would arrive that evening. At the pool, I chose a lounge chair under a big umbrella: past the edge of the pool, I could see the lake, the mountains, and the sky.

I had walked into a movie. Even the chiming of smartphones in the hands of guests around me could not dispel that illusion.

  Infinity Pool at the Sagamore

June 12, 2015

Summertime music

Learning the cello

Even though my husband and I keep talking about empty nest syndrome, our home isn't actually empty yet. My youngest son, With-a-Why, still lives here. (Long-time readers will be shocked to hear that he's twenty years old. Yes. Twenty!) Most days, his girlfriend Shy Smile hangs out here as well. Oh, and they have a friend, Curly Hair, who needed a place to stay for the summer so we invited her to move into one of our upstairs bedrooms.

And all my kids still live nearby. My oldest son Boy-in-Black, who comes here often to spend time with With-a-Why, set up a badminton court in the backyard: that's his obsession when he's not playing Ultimate Frisbee. My daughter comes over every evening to "train" with With-a-Why: he's teaching her to play Starcraft, a computer game that he's apparently quite good at. I usually see my son Shaggy Hair Boy on Tuesdays, since we split the veggies and fruit we get from our CSA farm. He's a ninth grade math teacher, who teaches at one school all day and then puts in a couple of hours every evening at another school; he won't be done for the summer for another week or two.

The house is less like an empty nest and more like a train station where people come and go: you never know who might be here. I no longer have a teenage boy band jamming in my living room —yes, we gave away the drum set — but we still have live music since With-a-Why is a classical pianist. He's also decided that he wants to learn how to tune a piano, which means that some days I come home to find the top of the piano off and his tools spread out on the floor. The piano tuning was going along quite well until he broke a string. Now he's learning how to replace a piano string.

One of With-a-Why's summer projects is to learn the cello. He figures that every composer needs to know a string instrument, and the cello is his favourite. So he rented a cello, and sits down every day to practice. Already he's beginning to play recognizable tunes.

I've always lived with live music in the house. My father plays jazz, and when I was growing up, he and his friends would often jam in the house. Once With-a-Why graduates from college and leaves home, I might have to start taking piano lessons again myself, just to have music in the house.

June 10, 2015

Deer, black flies, and locals

Deer at Moss Lake

Because the summer season in the mountains hasn’t begun yet, the wildlife still have most of the park to themselves, even in the hamlets. We saw deer ambling across the lawns of summer cottages, enjoying the unmown grass. A wild turkey watched us from the side of the road, just outside town. We stopped one morning when we saw a teenage girl standing guard over a big snapping turtle that had wandered onto the road. “I don’t want it to get hit,” she said. We took turns poking and prodding the turtle until we were able to coax it off the pavement and down into a shady gully.

In the little town, many of the businesses were closed. No one stood in line at the ice cream stand. We had the public dock to ourselves as we wandered about in the evening sunlight. Floating docks were still pulled up on the shore all along the lake. The little playground, where we used to bring out kids when they were small, where in fact I played when I was small, was quiet. My father, who worked in the mountains as a musician back in the 1950s, always says, “The season in the mountains is really short. Just July and August.” It seems like he’s still right. The only people we saw were townspeople: the young couple who own the inn, an elderly woman who needed a ride to the grocery store, the teenager rescuing the turtle, and a couple of local boys sitting at the end of a pier after an afternoon of fishing.

Evening on Fourth Lake

June 07, 2015

Sunrise in the mountains

Big Moose Lake -- early

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I drove the winding mountain roads that lead through tall pine trees to the old inn, where we’ve come for a weekend escape. Even though it’s June, the mountain air is still cool so the sunlight felt good as we walked familiar piers and beaches, finding wooden benches where we could sit and talk. The summer season doesn’t really begin here until July: the little towns were empty and everywhere, summer cottages were still boarded up. We had the place to ourselves — well, except for the black flies. We had to be strategic about where we walked, looking for any place with a breeze to keep away the clouds of annoying black insects.

I woke up this morning to blue light reflected from the mist of a mountain lake. Without even checking the clock, I climbed out of bed, pulled on some clothes, and grabbed my camera for an early morning walk. No one else was awake, not even the black flies, it seems, and I had the whole lake to myself. I walked along the shore, testing out floating docks that creaked and swayed under my feet. I wandered about happily, exploring and taking pictures, the dew soaking my socks and sneakers, until I was chilled through. I came back quietly through the side door of the inn, taking off my wet things to climb back into bed with a warm husband, who was still asleep.

Big Moose Lake at dawn

June 05, 2015

For the soul


“We need to get together more often,” my friend Beautiful Hair and I used to always say to each other. When our kids were small, just meeting for a cup of tea took all kinds of planning. But now that our kids are grown up — all in their twenties — we can meet for dinner without getting babysitters or bribing husbands or worrying about what the gang at home is eating for supper.

So we’ve been taking advantage of this new freedom. We met yesterday evening at our new favourite spot, a coffeehouse in the neighborhood where Beautiful Hair grew up. We sat outside at a wrought iron table, sharing our food: a quinoa salad made with black beans, tomatoes, and corn, a spinach salad made with fresh strawberries, pecans, and a balsamic vinaigrette. The organic apple juice I drank tasted so good, so much better than the vending machine juice I often drink at work, that I kept trying to analyze it. Finally I figured out what I liked. “It actually tastes like apples,” I said to Beautiful Hair. She laughed.

When Beautiful Hair went into the coffeehouse to use the bathroom, I stared at the edge of the building and tried to puzzle out the letters I saw. The vertical lettering read: OFE the OL. It made no sense. I finally figured out that OFE could be part of the word coffee but I didn’t see how there was any room for the other letters, even if they had somehow fallen off. Besides, painted letters don’t fall off the way the letters on neon signs do. Perhaps it was some kind of acronym the way LOL is? Maybe it was coded for a younger crowd. It wasn’t until we moved away from the building that I could see the other side of the building, which supplied the missing letters: COFFEE for the SOUL. Ah, that made more sense.

Even though we’d talked the whole time we were eating, we weren’t talked out yet, so we walked along the side streets of the neighborhood. After the hard winter we had, it felt wonderful to be able to stroll about in the evening in just a t-shirt and shorts. It felt wonderful to walk on a sidewalk that’s not blocked by big walls of snow. Many of the homes had flower gardens that were lush with blooms. We saw pink peonies, purple irises, and bright daisies.

“I love this time of year,” I said to Beautiful Hair, and she nodded. “We all do.”

June 04, 2015

Sunset and evening star

We met in third grade so we’ve been friends for 45 years. I’ve written before about Outdoor Girl and some of our high school experiences: how we used to take breaking in new jeans seriously and how we went winter camping in the mountains or how we spent hours after school just wandering the halls. Her family matched mine – five kids roughly the same ages. My mother and her father were friends as well: they shared a love of birdwatching and went to Audubon meetings together.

As a teenager, I spent many hours at Outdoor Girl’s house. Like most big families, they had two bedrooms for the kids, a boys’ room and a girls’ room, but she and I would grab sleeping bags and sleep downstairs in the sewing room, so that we could stay up and talk all night. Her family had a long red toboggan that we took on the hills in Snowstorm City, back in the days before the parks banned sledding because someone decided it was too dangerous. They had a yellow canoe, which was almost always tied to the roof of their station wagon. “It makes it easy to find our car in any parking lot,” her mother joked once. Her father did as much gardening as he could in their small backyard: he had apple trees and little raised beds of vegetables.

Their house was familiar and comfortable. The long bench along the kitchen table made it possible for extras to squeeze in, and I ate many meals there. I can remember Outdoor Girl’s father showing me how to use a spoon to twirl long spaghetti around my fork. (We always ate ziti at my house.) On weekends, he’d make us French toast for breakfast: their family used maple syrup instead of butter and cinnamon sugar like my family. Just behind the long table was the family room, where we kids would sprawl on the floor with pillows. I can remember that when we watched the movie Lawrence of Arabia, Outdoor Girl’s father liked it so much that he applauded at the end.

Outdoor Girl moved away from this area right after college, but I go over to visit whenever she comes to town to see the family. It’s always easy to pick up the friendship: she hasn’t changed much. Her hair is white, her kids are grown-up, and she’s acquired a southern accent from living in a southern rural area for so long, but otherwise she’s just the same. She still loves to be outside: she and her husband are farmers.

Last weekend, Outdoor Girl came to town for her father’s funeral. Even though we’ve known for a while that he was dying, it still seems a shock to me that the good-natured, gentle man I’ve known for so many years is gone. Often, I used to see him at Pretty Colour Lake, standing at the edge with a fishing pole. He’d look up, smile a hello, and tell me all the family news. He was a gentle, good-natured, thoroughly nice person. He was 84, and that still seems too young. I know his family is going to miss him.

June 02, 2015

Promises to keep

The trail

In the woods behind my house, shallow puddles of rainwater stretch amongst trees, the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, which hatched during the first warm spell in May. When I walk through, every step of my boots causes a new cloud of mosquitoes to fly buzzing into the air, swarming eagerly around me to light on my bare arms. When I garden, I wear long pants no matter how hot it is, and I spend about half of my time slapping my arms to fend off bites. I did experiment with bringing a fan out on an extension cord in hopes that the swirling air would keep the mosquitoes away: this worked wonderfully for about an hour and then I accidentally knocked the fan over and broke it.

So for a morning walk, I stayed out of my own woods and drove over to Pretty Colour Lakes, a state park not far from my house. The two lakes are plunge pools formed during the ice age when water came cascading off a glacier. That means they are very deep and rounded, and their sides are fairly steep hills, with no puddles at all. The cedar trees that line the lake paths have been there since my father was a kid, and I've walked these trails my whole life. These two lakes happen also to be miromictic, which means the water doesn't turn over each season the way most lakes do. The water is very deep and clear, with little suspended organic material, and both lakes are an unusual blue-green color that looks almost tropical.

Blue green

The first lake has a beach, which will be crowded later in the summer, but in spring, the only people at the park are a handful of runners and dogwalkers. I could smell the cedar trees as I walked. At Dead Man's Point, the reefs that stretch out into the lake were still underwater. Later this summer, they will be a primary spot for teenagers to go skinny dipping, even though signs strictly forbid swimming there. The water was so clear and inviting that I was tempted to go for a swim myself, but unfortunately, unlike my teenage self, I had other commitments waiting at home, so I forced myself to keep walking.


May 31, 2015

And the seasons, they go round and round


We all went to the wedding, of course. My daughter was a groomswoman — she and Film Guy have been best friends since seventh grade— so she and her boyfriend drove to Bison City Friday morning. The rest of us arrived on Saturday. My husband and I drove with my youngest son, With-a-Why, and his girlfriend Shy Smile. My oldest son, Boy-in-Black, drove with Blonde Niece. Shaggy Hair Boy and Smiley Girl drove with First Extra and Dimple. By lunch time, we’d gathered at a restaurant famous for spicy chicken wings. When we got to the hotel, we were given welcome bags that included homemade chocolate chip cookies! We had time for a swim in the hotel pool before getting dressed for the wedding.

The weather was sunny and just a little cool. The venue was gorgeous — a patio with little white lights, trees and flowers and even a waterfall. I made the ten kids (they’re all in their 20s but they will always be kids to me) pose for a photo before my daughter disappeared with the rest of the wedding party, and we took our seats.

It was a wonderful wedding. The bride and groom kept traditions they liked, and tossed aside traditions they didn’t like. They said vows and lit a candle. My daughter, dressed in a grey dress to match the two other groomsmen, read a poem. The bride looked gorgeous in a traditional wedding gown. The groom wore a grey suit and orange sneakers. Lots of people cried. After the ceremony, we ate all kinds of delicious food, including ice cream sundaes. Everyone kept saying that the groom was Dr. Film Guy now since he had just finished his PhD the week before. Once the music began, my gang moved out onto the dance floor and pretty much stayed there until midnight. Everything was just perfect, but the best part was seeing how happy Film Guy and Sparkly Eyes were. I love it when I go to a wedding that feels so right.

May 28, 2015

The puppies at camp


The dogs in our family love camp. In fact, the two youngest dogs in the family, Omi and Ziva, spent so much time running around at top speed that it was hard to ever get a photo of them. But here's Omi, soaking wet because she got worried when she saw Smiley Girl and Shaggy Hair Boy leaving in the canoes and leaped off the dock to swim after them. (Smiley Girl, touched by this display of loyalty, pulled the wet dog into the canoe.)

And here's Ziva, who has the dock all to herself.


Note: I use pseudonyms for the humans on my blog but not the animals. I figure that the names we call them are pseudonyms already: we don't know what their names are in dog.

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.