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.