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.

April 26, 2015

Lambing season

Sheep pastures

At least twice each year, I drive with a couple of friends to a Benedictine Monastery for a weekend retreat. In the winter, I enjoy sitting by the fire with my journal. In the fall, I take long walks with my camera, admiring the brilliant foliage. But my favourite time of the year at the monastery is the end of April, which is lambing season. The monks raise sheep, and every spring, the ewes give birth to adorable baby sheep.


April 21, 2015

A moment of stillness

A moment of stillness

Maine Writer’s arrival at the Big Creative Writing conference was quite dramatic. Her plane was late, touching the ground just 46 minutes before she was supposed to give a presentation. So she ran through the airport, jumped into a cab, used her charm to convince the cab driver that this was indeed an urgent matter, paid the cab driver while the vehicle was still moving, burst out of the cab, and ran into the convention center. Her boots clicking on the tile floor, the skirt of her red dress swirling, she pushed her way past groups of conference attendees, dragging her suitcase behind her. She leaped onto the escalator, ran through the crowd at the bottom, and arrived with not a minute to spare in the room where people were beginning to gather for her panel.

“I’m panting,” she said into the microphone, while the audience looked at her appreciatively. “That’s because I get excited about longform journalism.”

Even though we roomed together, she and I didn’t get too much time together at this conference. She arrived late because she was giving a talk somewhere else, and I left a day early to get to my nephew’s wedding. But we made the most of our time. Luckily, we both talk fast. We managed, in just a few hours that evening, to talk about life, about death, about books and writers and editors. We ate dinner with some friends, after a bunch of frantic text messages that included a photo of the strange statue in the lobby — odd statures serve as great meeting places in otherwise bland hotels — and it was late by the time we got back to the room.

“You’re leaving in the morning,” Maine Writer said. “So we better take the naked photo now.” She knows the tradition: my conference roommate always poses for my blog.

“Let’s get that mirror into the photo,” I said. I began shoving furniture around.

“Great idea,” she said and began stripping off her clothes. “So tell me how your kids are doing. Shaggy Hair Boy is getting married this summer?”

Our conversation continued as I cleared the desktop and she climbed up, naked. I took the photo. Then we plunged back into our conversation, even while I uploaded the photos to my laptop. It took us only minutes to choose the photo, and then we kept talking some more while I packed all my stuff. I left the next morning before dawn.

I’m glad that in the busy swirl of the conference, we had that moment of stillness.

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

April 16, 2015

The Naked Nature Writer


At the end of a long conference day, a bunch of us met at a restaurant for a leisurely meal and plunged almost immediately into a ridiculous conversation. That’s the magic of conference meals: you gather a bunch of interesting folks around a table, and then just see what conversations happen.

As the men at the table were exchanging witty insults, Maine Writer kicked me under the table. She gave me a knowing glance. “Isn’t it time we got a man to pose for you?”

Since all the men at the table were nature writers, I figured it would be pretty easy to get a volunteer for the naked photo project. I mean, nature writers! They skinny dip all the time. They’re hippies who love to cavort naked. Every stereotype suggested I’d have more models than I knew what to do with. 

Really, the prospects looked good. The novelist at the table wrote a book about a decorative hermit: his main character is NAKED for a good half of the book. The memoirist wrote a book about fatherhood with a whole section about how his son who didn’t like to wear clothes. The cartoonist-turned-nature-writer, who kept telling funny stories and then apologizing for talking too much, has published essays about peeing in public. Yes, he’s written MORE THAN ONCE about peeing in public.

Surely someone in this group would pose, I thought. I looked over at Maine Writer and smiled confidently. But Cartoonist-Turned-Nature-Writer found the loophole. “I might need another drink,” he said. That’s when I looked at the glasses at the table and sighed, caught by one of my own rules. It’s rule number eight: I won’t photograph anyone if they’ve been drinking.

Just at that moment, a text message chimed in, and Maine Writer looked at her phone. Another of our friends had been at an event where he was reading from his latest book. He was coming over to meet us — and thanks to the reading — he hadn’t had anything to drink.

“Perfect,” I said. “He can be the Designated Nature Writer.” The men at the table visibly relaxed when they realized they were off the hook.

“We’ll all come along for the photo shoot,” said Cartoonist-Turned-Nature-Writer. “We want to be supportive.”

Soon the whole group were happily agreeing to come up to my hotel room for the naked photo shoot. “Um, it’s not really a spectator sport,” I kept saying, a bit puzzled by this turn of events.

We returned to the conference hotel, which was teeming with writers who filled the bar and spilled into the lobby, providing a nice distraction. As soon as the Designated Nature Writer arrived, Maine Writer quietly explained to him he was to pose naked for me. Her charm must have won him over because surprisingly, he agreed right away. Leaving behind the gang of spectators, we whisked him up to our room where he obligingly took off his clothes, sat on the bed, and let me snap his photo.

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

April 13, 2015

Blogger meet-up: naked, of course


I’ve known LovesBooks online for years, and last week when we realized we were both at the same conference, we finally had a chance to meet in person. We met for breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and we plunged immediately into intimate conversation, talking about grief and death, kids and parenting, and our goals for the future. Then she came up to my hotel room, took off her clothes, and climbed up onto the windowsill so that I could take a photo of her naked.

It’s what I’ve come to expect from blogger meet-ups.

The naked photo project means that as soon as I meet someone who reads my blog, we begin talking about body image — and our relationship with our own bodies. LovesBooks and I talked about how our culture tends to focus so much on what our bodies look like and whether or not they fit into certain rigid stereotypes. “As I get older,” LovesBooks said, “I find that I am not focused on what my body looks like. I’m appreciating what my body can do. I like that I’m strong enough to carry a kayak or canoe.”

That sentiment resonated with me. Especially as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value a body that is still strong enough to hike, swim, kayak, cross-country ski, and walk for hours in a city without getting tired. I rarely even think about what I look like or what I will look like as I continue to age. My health and how my body functions is my priority.

I snapped photos quickly while LovesBooks balanced precariously on the windowsill, with me yelling, “Don’t fall and get hurt! That would be missing the point of the project altogether.” After she climbed down, we looked at the photos on my laptop, and we talked about what pseudonym to use. The name LovesBooks was an obvious choice. She loves to read, she loves to write, and she even loves books so much that she’s made them herself: that is, making the paper. That's a real commitment to books.

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

April 07, 2015

Tree frogs singing

We had a long winter this year. During the month of February, temperatures never rose about freezing. We got about ten feet of snow, which is absolutely normal, but without any thaws to melt the snow, it kept piling up. Snow plows pushed up tall white walls along the roadways.

March wasn't really much better than February this year. And April began as a pretty cold month. Last weekend, as I was busy making food for Easter dinner, I looked outside to see that it was snowing.

But tonight, just as I was beginning to wonder if warm weather would ever come, I heard the unmistakable sound of spring: the peepers! Over in the just-thawed pond, the little tree frogs are singing. Finally.

April 03, 2015

Bubble Bath: the classic naked photo

Hot bath on a winter day

Whenever I’m on a weekend with my women friends, I try to think of themes that will lure them into posing naked for me. One year, it was the Grandmothers Pose Naked theme. Of course, since then, so many of friends have become grandparents that it’s always Naked Grandmothers day. For example, that beautiful woman taking a shower in my last blog post? She’s got a teenage grandson.

One summer, when I spent a wonderful week with friends in the northwest, we tried a Dancing in the Lupines theme. That led to my friends making a new rule for Project Naked: the photographer must promise to delete all photos in which make it look like the dancer has a lupine up her butt. Naturally, I was happy to comply.

I decided that the theme for last weekend was hot water. After all, on a cold winter weekend, when you’ve just been out hiking through snowdrifts and you’ve stripped off layers of sweaty clothing, few things feel more relaxing than soaking in a bathtub of hot water. Of course, the leisurely bubble bath is probably less relaxing when you’ve got a friend perched on the bathroom counter yelling, “Shift that way. I can see your face! I can see your nipples!”

Questioning Woman, who had been up late with us the night before while we got into deep discussions about relationships, body image, and big life decisions, seemed unfazed by me climbing up onto furniture to take her photo while she stretched out in the bathtub. She lolled about in the hot water, looking out at the snow-covered woods outside the window. The best way to appreciate a wintry scene is from inside a tub full of steaming hot water.

Questioning Woman was such an obliging model that she even sat up so I could get a picture of the tattoo on her back. “Aren’t you worried that it’s an identifying feature?” I asked. After all, I always assure my women friends that they will be completely anonymous in this top secret project that I put on the internet for everyone to see. She shrugged. “The only people who will recognize the tattoo – well, let’s just say, they’ve already seen me naked.”

Bubble bath

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