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.

Hiking and Peeping New Hampshire

I’ve spent the last week as tourist in New England. As the carpet of nearing-peak fall colour unfurls in the White Mountains’ valleys, this week I relinquish thoughts that one must go far and wide to properly travel. It’s like touristing in my backyard: open-eyed, wondrous and ready for whatever nature (and New Hampshire) has in store…

Fall cooperates fully, with seasonably-warm days and threats of hurricane and cool, wet weather all but an afterthought. Nature’s annual fireworks show begins in earnest on the drive along New Hampshire’s scenic Kancamagus Highway, as we stop intermittently (as one does) for photo opps with nature.

My friend has arrived from Europe to tick off an item on his bucket list: fall hiking on the Appalachian Trail. First stop, the Twinway Trail via the Zealand Trail and the AMC’s Zealand Falls hutDSC_2146Views from the lookout over Whitewall Brook towards Whitewall Mountain are nothing short of show-stopping (Mt. Washington making a cameo appearance in the far background, over my shoulder…actually I don’t think it even snuck into this picture), and we realise this is just the hors d’oeuvres for our big hike tomorrow: the Franconia Ridge. Looking out over these purple (green, red and orange) mountain majesties, it’s no wonder my hiking partner keeps breaking into assorted patriotic tunes as background music to the rhythmic sound of boots on rock (and f-bombs exclaiming the occasional mis-step). The only irony is that he hails from some distance across the pond.

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Franconia Ridge: I’ve done this hike before, but not in something on the order of 15 years. It’s a rocky, bouldery, scraggly above treeline hike that’s accessed by the sweet-sounding Falling Waters Trail. I say sweet because for all its scenic splendor, the trail traverses active waterfalls and ascends a steep and treacherous boulder-laden trail that teases you at every corner (“we’re almost at treeline…really…just 1km to go…hehehe”). So just when your quads are screaming, “uncle” and you’ve gotten one foot stuck beneath the other in a bit of rock (and just by telling said hiking partner, will never live that admission down) there’s just a little bit more to climb.

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The above-treeline views are more the reward than are the (now-squashed) sandwiches we’ve packed for lunch. But our revelry is short-lived because the fog rolls in and its little cat feet kick our butts into gear to move along the trail, bagging Little Haystack (4760ft), Mt. Lincoln (5089ft) and Mt. Lafayette (5260ft) in the process. There’s something deeply satisfying about both checking 4000-footers off a “did that” list and feeling that you did that with your own steam. Yay, us!

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DSC_2223As if the descent might be easier than the ascent… We descend with the hope that the wisps of cloud and fog don’t follow us back into the trees and morph into forest trolls. Quads steeled for the endeavour, we march onward, downward and into the forest via the AMC Greenleaf Hut and the Greenleaf Trail. It’s all downhill from here, though this particular downhill section also includes its gauntlet of slick granite and really gnarly boulderized and rooty outcroppings. Proceeding with caution and a smattering of hummed ballads (and Queen songs), we land back at the car feeling that way you do when you’ve used the human machine as intended.

Our third day of hiking was the much more relaxing, yet only slightly less bouldery, Arethusa Falls trail to Frankenstein Cliff. As if the highest/biggest/best views thing could be outdone with each subsequent day, it delivered as promised: tallest waterfall in New Hampshire, jaw-dropping views from the cliff and an opportunity to walk along the tallest railway trestle in NH. By suggestion, I’m bringing back the term “neat-o!”

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Leaf-peeping in New England is somewhat a sport, with prognosticators forecasting the best weeks to catch peak foliage months in advance. Reality dictates that you get what you get, though we’re more than giddy to have caught New Hampshire on a good week, the right side of peak.

Another thing you don’t much do when you’re home: hire a guide. So in the tourist spirit, we hired a climbing instructor for the day from IME (best climbing store in the region), and set off to scale some rock and help me surmount a dread-fear of multi-pitch climbs.

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And so, looking from the top of the first climb, seeing Mt. Washington and the butt-crack of Huntington Ravine, I felt small but strong; held firmly by my faithful belayer and the trusty ropes and harness. The 2nd pitch was not nearly as daunting as expected (though the bruises on my legs from gripping razor-sharp rock may tell a different tale), and from something on the order of 100 feet from where my feet left the ground, the views and the feeling of being simultaneously surrounded by and part of nature were something there are not words in the English language to describe.

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While my version of travelling has little to do with seeing crowded attractions or doing the mainstream, we surely partook in our share of cider donuts (a seasonal New England delicacy), wandered in and out of gift shops and even contemplated taking the Cog Railway up Mt. Washington before nixing that idea in favor of a day of climbing across the way. Another hike to add to the next NH Adventure itinerary, I reckon…

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The ride home had us detour through Ogunquit, ME for lobsters at Barnacle Billy’s (because you have to!) and some outlet shopping in Kittery to dodge the inevitable raindrops. A good time was had by all as they say… And so the week ends with a local afternoon of people-watching in Salem as the witch-crazy flock here from all ends of the earth for their annual pilgrimage.

Next adventure will hopefully take me out of New England, but as adventures in one’s backyard – and adventures in general – go, it was pretty great.

On World Photography Day

I’m an amateur and today is World Photography Day.

I inherited my love of photography from my father. Hours spent in the basement darkroom taught me patience, persistence, practice (in not necessarily that order) and the wonder that comes from seeing an image emerge from its liquid bath. I try to take a picture or two (or sixteen) every day. It’s like a snapshot in time, capturing my moods, my perspective and a connection with the natural world; the world around me. It’s amazing to observe the ocean or the woods, my dog, or even interesting geometry in the things we walk past every day…even the same vantage point provides a new perspective each time you visit.

It’s a reminder that we live in an evolving, moving and living-breathing space.

Pictures capture the wry smiles and the veiled tears; the summer growth spurts, the holiday silliness and our “I can finally do this” moments. I love how ubiquitous images are today – there is truth to the saying, “a picture tells a thousand words.”

While we live in a world where we hang our shameless selves out there, biggifying and aggrandizing our humble existences, I think photography – with the shutter’s click – reminds us that we are individual historians, capturing and curating our life’s work for posterity. It reminds us to slow down, to pay attention to details and to sometimes put the camera down to just listen.

Today, I captured nature’s symmetry and a woman in a hat. Yesterday, it was ships in the harbour and a giant hibiscus. Photography enables us to be travellers in our own daily routines, and observers that discern amazing tidbits from the daily ritual.

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Beverly Harbour, just after sunrise   2015-08-17 13.13.43

Bonus: dragonflies…

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