On whales, sunsets, out-of-town visitors and other random dribbles…

I’m in something of a travel drought: work has been madness and springtime plans got thwarted by a combination of bad timing and worse inertia. So it’s been a summer of routine routines to discharge the static in the overloaded head.

Enter: sunsets. I bought a fancy new lens a few months back, and took a personal oath to get better at low-light photography. I still should take a class or find a mentor or something. In the meantime, I’m dabbling…

Wearing a camera: I read somewhere a while back that to improve one’s photography, you should put your camera on each day, wear it so it becomes like an article of clothing. So I’m probably that freak marching around town with dog leash in one hand and a camera slung across my body, stalking sunrises, ocean fog, evening light and the egrets that hang around the docks. Some of my recent favourites, in no particular order:

Whirlwind guests: And my first visitors of the summer came a week or so ago, my co-adventuring Calvin brought his adventurers-in-training to my part of the world at the start of their whirlwind tour of the Northeast. We made the most of a brilliant summer weekend: Salem Willows arcade, an authentic New England clam shack experience at Woodman’s, swimming and SUP-ing right here in Bev, and topped it off with a diner brekkie at Cape Ann’s best-kept secret and a whale watch out of Gloucester!

We had the luck of watching local humpback, Dross, lunge feeding for the better part of an hour. In some of these frames, you can see the sardines escaping from her massive mouth, the gulls at the ready for any fish she’s missed. Also seen this day: a few minke whales and an elusive ocean sunfish (on my hit list for diving, but never expected to see one in the North Atlantic)!

My next summer visitor comes in a week or so, and I wonder if it’s cheating to repeat the same classic New England summer rituals? I take for granted that these things are in my backyard, never going on these excursions except when visitors are here, but feel grateful every day to live in a place that people from out of town come for holiday.

I’m writing this not-really-a-travel-post post, in part, to appease that feeling of restlessness crawling in my bones, as the sparks of the next grand adventure take form. I’m writing to practice the artform because I’m feeling rusty. I’m writing because I still wonder quite often if I’m meant to stay in one place, and whether some inner Gypsy isn’t being squelched by this traditional concept of home; whether home is a feeling or if it’s a social construct, fabricated to display tangible wealth. And of course it is both, since the universe as it meets the human condition is this deeply-layered paradox.

So, stay tuned to this space. Even I don’t know for sure what will appear next… but there’s a nagging urge to swim with big animals, and see island-nations that have their own ecosystems, and see rock formations where, for thousands of years, people have built villages into the stone, and animals whose ancestors once existed on this continent, and structures far older than this country’s years.

On wings and sunlight, harbingers of spring

I’ll parrot an Instagram post I made today…

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After a blizzardy day, the sun decided to make itself known again. This photo says something aspirational to me. Maybe it’s the light, tap-dancing on the storm’s receding waves. Maybe it’s the idea of flight; the allure of escaping, by wing, to warmer climes. The touch of warm sun on cool earth, like spring’s teasing foreplay, as dormant life finds new purchase and scrabbles for its footing amidst a slippery, snow-covered terra (not-so) firma. Or it’s just seagulls, doing what they do.

These cold days, as winter winds down and attempts its last hurrah, I’m drawn to the sea and to watching the birds: the real harbingers of springtime; nests built in a race against the seasonal clock, their spirits (and their birdsong) warming the skies with the slowly-warming days. Today I named seagull moods (despite a dear friend’s observation that maybe this hibernating mermaid needs more hooman interaction):

A blizzard this week, and who knows what the rest of March will bring (of late, it seems to come in like a lion and go out like a pissed-off yeti rather than lamb), it will be weeks before we feel true warmth here in New England. Until then, I’ll watch and wait, planning the next tropical adventure, a continuation of Year of Africa and a land-locked mermaid’s dream; my own spirits warming with the increasing daylight.

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Countering my own Earth Day rant

It’s Earth Day, 2017. This morning, I felt like writing a rant about the things we’ve done to fuck up this beloved planet of ours, and to complain about the egomaniacal, thing-filled greed that fuels the raping and pillaging of Planet Earth and the butchering of its wild animals, the slow execution of our reef systems, and the rampant willful ignorance that paralyses a government from acting to save ourselves from ourselves.

This will continue for as long as corporations keep the heroin needle of constant consumption in our arms, necessitating individually wrapped everything; ubiquitous use of convenient, single-use plastic bottles and wrappers and bags and cups; easy, convenient, processed consumables, disguised as food, laced with deforesting palm oil; absurdly low gas prices, “disposable” electronics, a government-subsidized diabetes epidemic, funded in part by a corn syrup industry and a PAC-funded government denial of the merits of real food. Corporate pockets will get deeper in direct correlation with the width of our waistlines; they will grow richer in inverse proportion to the level of natural resources remaining; they will get more resolute and change their doublespeak as our majestic wildlife, our tropical fauna, dwindles and fades into mere memory… paradise paved to put up a parking lot (or office park or housing tract), as it were; they will point fingers as coral reefs bleach, then die, and watch as the base of our planet’s ecosystem fails in an ignorant dismissal of science at all costs.

I wanted to rant about all this, but then got sidetracked by a quest for beauty this afternoon. A self-posed question of what I love about Planet Earth. What have I seen that has taken my breath away? If the only will or want I can control is my own: what can I share that might change someone else’s?

So on this Earth Day, I share some photos of the things on Planet Earth I’ve seen in my near half-century, as ocean temperatures rise and carbon levels increase and sugar-induced disease becomes endemic; these are the things that give me pause every day to stop and appreciate the Wonder that is inherent in this magnificent ball of rock that we inhabit, for as long as she will have us.

Happy Earth Day 2017.

Hometown exploring: adventures in Dogtown

There is a magical place in Gloucester, which is said to house the spirits of witches, the ghosts of its working class and vagrant denizens from the 17th and 18th Centuries, and the memories of a band of dogs who became feral as their owners died off or abandoned them amongst the rocks and boulders; dumped in a place formed by glaciers’ terminus. Dogtown, Massachusetts. Anita Diamant wrote an exceptional historical novel set here, The Last Days of Dogtown.

This is a place I go to get lost and find myself healed by nature, its rocky, windy, rooted trails wending their way through the woods. And, it’s a place I’ve been lost more times than possibly any other. Take one wrong turn (or, like today, let the dog choose the trail) and you’ve arrived squarely in what I call “land of the giant boulders,” a wooded, natural obstacle course whose gauntlet requires keen attention and preferably Vibram soles to survive. It’s a tame version of the Fire Swamp, devoid of ROUSs, lightning sand (tho during the wetter months, its mud pits quite rival) or fire spurts.

During the Great Depression, Roger Babson commissioned the carving of inspirational sayings on 30+ boulders strewn throughout the woods. One end of the trail starts with Truth. The other end is Work. On the trail, we’re reminded to Be On Time. And of the importance of Integrity. Intelligence. Courage. Loyalty. Initiative. Kindness. Ideas. Study. Ideals. Spiritual Power (this is emblazoned on rock that towers 5 or 6 metres high; coincidence?). Scattered elsewhere in the woods (most of which I’ve found; many after being lost over the years): Prosperity Follows Service. If Work Stops Values Decay. Be True. Help Mother. Get A Job. Keep Out Of Debt. Use Your Head. Never Try Never Win.

2016-10-08-13-21-25-1So today, I started with Truth. Found Courage and Loyalty along the way; Kindness, Ideas… stopped for some bouldering on Spiritual Power. Got lost somewhere after Work; a wrong trail taken and a bridge crossed that I haven’t seen in eons. Got found before I reached Never Try Never Win.

Sometimes I let Gus choose which trail to take, and sometimes he gets us lost. Part of the fun in exploring, even in a place you’ve been countless times before, is finding your way back after taking the wrong trail. So, on a day that began with a yoga class focused on the energies of living as an intentioned, breathing, thinking, doing being, a hike in the woods amongst these reminders (Truth = Satya; Kindness = Ahimsa; Ideas = Iccha; Spiritual Power = Samadhi) was perfect.

2016-10-08-15-03-15Today was most certainly a win!

A letter to 25-year-old me.

I just read a letter that Richard Branson wrote to his 25-year-old self. It is touching, inspirational, humble and sweet. It made me wonder what I’d say to my 25-year-old self, as that was a wild time in my life, full of the magic and wonder of an entire universe available and open right in front of me.

At 25, I was working at a marketing agency, an early career change from accounting, and moving into a new job as an Assistant Account Executive on the Bose account – I managed their first online ad (on Prodigy) as well as countless direct mail programs. Our team produced one of their first animated TV spots, which would live on for years (“can your radio do this…”). I was a founding member of the Inline Club of Boston, managing events and excursions; I was an inline skating instructor, in the IISA’s Instructor Certification program and a member of this inline counter-culture that was pervading city streets throughout the US. Around that year, I started my own skating school (SkateBoston) and wanted to start an events management company but didn’t have either the guts or the funding. I was involved with fundraising for the Aids Action Committee and we even tried to start a young professionals philanthropy group (‘The Realists’) for them. I lived on the 3rd floor of a brownstone in the South End of Boston and loved every minute of the freedom that living in a great neighborhood of a young, thriving city affords. Out-of-town weekends and holidays were spent mostly in New York City, skating in Central Park and drinking in myriad bars on the Upper West Side. There were weekends on dad’s boat, Camp Rollerblade weekends (those may have been the following year) and summer Sundays spent first skating on Memorial Drive, then feasting at our weekly “Celebrity BBQ” series at the friends’ compound in Union Square, Somerville. International dinner parties, scones at Claremont Cafe, drinks at TarBar or the DeLux, brunch at Tremont Ice Cream…Life was (very) good.

Letter to my 25-year-old self:

Dear Lesli,

This is a letter from 48-year-old you, to say hi from the 21st Century and to let you know that you didn’t turn out so bad from this vantage point, 23 years in the future…You are having one of the best years of your life. Cherish your freedom, harness your optimism and whatever you do, don’t let corporate negativity dampen your spirit.

The Universe is going to challenge your every sense and you are going to question both your place in the corporate world and your place in the human world. While challenging, it will be worth sticking to your values, honoring your integrity and listening to your heart. You’ve received one of the best pieces of life advice this year: pick your battles. Never forget it, as these words will be a mantra for you throughout your adult life.

Surround yourself with people who make you think and laugh, who embrace curiosity, and who care about the natural world. You will be faced with life-changing moments in the coming years, and you’ll need all your inner strength and courage to get through some of the days. Fear not, wild woman, you will make it – and come out stronger on the other end.

My bits of advice from the future which may or may not change your trajectory: respect boundaries, listen more, pause before acting. Listen to your heart and figure out who it is you are… then go for what calls you, with everything you’ve got. You’ve got unfulfilled dreams that have merit. You have ideas and opportunities and future diverging roads – which path you choose is up to you, but choose thoughtfully.

Ask your dad all the nagging questions about your childhood. Find out who you are and where you’re from and find out about your family’s history. Go home for Thanksgiving and Christmas even when it’s easier or more fun to stay in Boston. Ask him for career advice, whether or not you take it. Hug him more.

Travel. Explore. Spend as much time as you can in nature. Never stop reading or asking questions or seeking meaning. Keep writing. Keep dreaming. Keep learning. Love will come and love will go, but underneath it all you have this amazing sense of self…do not lose that. Ever.

Now, keep being you…

–Your older self.

 

#lessstuffmorehumanity

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Gus is an almost 12-yr old German Shorthaired Pointer, who teaches me something every day (for the long version, read this ). This week, he’s been spreading holiday cheer by just being his doofy Gus self: hauling around sticks bigger than his head, stalking squirrels and cosying up to me on the dark chilly nights here in New England.

G-dog is oblivious to the Paris attacks, downed planes, level-4 terror threats, rampant domestic terrorism and the ugly xenophobia that is percolating and bubbling close to the surface here in the US. He’s blind to the infectious “want” that pervades at this time of year and is overjoyed equally at the prospect of an extra dog treat, a long walk in the woods or a giant smelly pile of something rancid (to roll or not to roll, that is the question).

While I’ve always been wary of the thing-filled culture that has evolved, each year I find myself more and more polarized and foreign-feeling here, on my own turf, in my own skin. There is that “I just got the greatest deal on the planet” endorphin rush that puts one in the buying (erm, holiday…) spirit. And there is that “I just made my friend some homemade herbal tea and sent it via airmail” feeling that warms much deeper and lasts longer than a quick chemical high. Each year, I gravitate more towards the things and actions that make people feel good vs. the stuff that fills an immediate want. Sometimes I’m paralysed by the options available.

It’s an anxious time, a somewhat precarious time and a wholly uneasy world to live in… and, bonus: we’re heading into what’s supposed to be a happy, carefree, joy- and wonder-filled season. I, for one, would like to hide under the bed until the dust settles. But that’s just me.

I can’t confess to a completely purchase-free season, however I make these assertions and pledge a new hashtag #lessstuffmorehumanity

  • New traditions make indelible memories; a pile of “wants” are quickly forgotten
  • Some of the best gifts are smiles, songs and handwritten notes (even better are ones hand-delivered)
  • Take photographs, create memories, leave pieces of your heart, make friends…
  • Share meals and stories with those around you
  • Find similarities in others instead of differences
  • Do what you can, from your heart, and it will be more meaningful than a giant thing which will take months to pay off
  • Even the most meager gift has intrinsically more value when it is accompanied by the story of its origin
  • Indulge in experiences, skimp on excess, hatch new plans

As I just texted a friend, “I’m trying to start a revolution, want to help?”

#lessstuffmorehumanity

Oh, and happy holidays.

We’re all immigrants here

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This is the passenger list of a boat that sailed from Antwerp in December of 1921.

On it were my great-grandmother (my father’s father’s mother), my grandfather and two other great-uncles I never met. From what I’ve been able to gather, Tillie (my great-grandmother) crossed the ocean with the three boys, and apparently followed my great-grandfather here after he was settled (he arrived around 1914). They were Russian and spoke Yiddish. My father’s maternal side of the family came from Palestine, presumably on similar ships, around 1912.

I am a 2nd generation American, granddaughter of immigrants (who were also likely refugees of both a World War and a Revolution), though I can’t pretend to know their stories. They lived in Brooklyn and built decent lives for their families. They came to this country for the opportunities it offered, for the freedom and security it promised and for a way of life they were not able to achieve in their native lands.

This is the story of how our nation was built: ship by ship; immigrants and refugees bringing their stories, skills and entrepreneurial spirits to this “land of the free.”

While the attacks in Paris made me angry and sick and scared – to me, it was an attack on the western freedoms we take for granted, I’m more disheartened by the way my homeland is responding to a larger crisis. While I don’t think we can accommodate every refugee, and I do think we need to weed out the *known* bad guys, the fact that we’re turning our backs and slamming doors on humans facing the same (or likely worse) conditions that our not-so-distant ancestors did is really truly sad.

I was young when she died, but I remember my great-grandmother Tillie. And it was decades later that I found out how she got to this country. I think about that now, the sacrifices and the challenges my ancestors faced in trying to find a better life, in order to give me a privileged and comfortable one. And I think about the even worse sacrifices the current-day refugees and (im)migrants are making…as I wonder how these politicians can look themselves in the mirror each morning when they realise they are metaphorically turning their backs on the great-grandmother Tillies of their own.

We’re all immigrants here, regardless that we came from Europe or Asia or Africa… Maybe we should embrace that and start to act like better humans now.