Leo in the World

This is Leo.

After Wilson and Molly died, it made so much sense not to get another dog. And if you asked me how I felt about it, I would say that I was fine. That’s how I actually felt in my day-to-day experience.  I was fine, really fine.  Super fine.

The only problem was that I didn’t want to go outside.  Because Molly and/or Wilson had been with me in almost every picture I had ever taken.  I mean, you didn’t often see them in the pictures, but they were right there with me, ahead or behind. So after they died, whenever I went out to take pictures, I didn’t walk around for miles the way that we had done. I went to where I knew I could get a picture. I walked a short distance, or took my pictures out the window of the truck. Because if I walked around outside in any of our places, which was all of the places everywhere, that was precisely where they were gone.

Somewhere in this puppy pile is Leo, at 4 weeks old.

Then my friend Diane unexpectedly came up with a crop of golden retriever / poodle mixes, and I immediately told her that it wasn’t the right time. We really couldn't get a puppy now, but maybe we would in the future, after the house was sold. Because I was being mature. Then I changed my mind a bunch of times, and then my husband Bill, God bless him, said, “Of course it isn't practical, but you need a dog.”  So I drove up to Diane’s in northern Massachusetts twice, which as you know, is no small feat when coming from Block Island, and I finally picked one out.  

That is when I began to worry in specific terms. I asked Bill many questions.  “What if he’s a sociopath?” “What if he doesn’t love us?” “What if we can’t love another dog the way that we loved Wilson and Molly?”


Here is Leo at six weeks old.

We bought a crate for him and I set it up in our bedroom, with a little canvas cover that I thought was very nice. And we got some toys and we picked out Leo for his name.  Leo Nicholayevich Tolstoy to me, but something simpler to Bill, just Leo, I would say. That’s when I knew I was completely gone over the chance to have another dog, because I sat on the floor and talked to Leo in the empty crate for about half an hour. And I felt the force of my heart reaching out to tell him, “You’re coming here soon. You are going to be our boy.”


This is Leo at eight weeks on his way to Block Island, in the company of our friend Joe Houlihan, also a dog lover, also a guardian of the parking lot at Interstate Navigation, (the boat we use to come to Block Island), also an inveterate sailor, also a passionate, wonderful wordsmith. (Here is an article the ferry wrote about him:  https://www.blockislandferry.com/blog/employee-spotlight-joseph-houlihan.)

And when I went to get him my sister Amy and my niece Elizabeth came with me, and my friend Lisa met us there, and of course there was Diane to shepherd us through the transition.  And then we had the long ride to Moosup, and an overnight with him cuddled up on my chest, which was wonderful except for the issue of sleeping, and the next night we went to my sister Cathy’s and he met Cathy and Anne and the children, and then we had another long drive and he met more people and then he had the ride on the boat. So that was a lot for a brand new dog.


And now Leo is home and Bill and I are learning what he needs.  At first, he only wanted to stay next to me but now he’s branching out. It must be something to be a new fellow, alive for just a few weeks in the whole big world, in a new house with new people, with his first taste of turkey, his first run through a field, his first visit to the ocean. 

Here he is, not using his crate in our bedroom, and not using his dog condo in the kitchen, but sleeping under a chair instead, and also here he is practicing meditation. 

Some things will take a little time. For example, we went to the beach and the waves were not very big, but they were still surging in with lots of sound and motion. And he did what any of us might do when confronted for the first time with things that are large and incomprehensible. He pretended they weren't there. And then the next day he considered them for just a moment, which immediately gave him the hiccups. 

Will he love us, and will we love him? I would say that we only just met a few days ago but the early signs are good. I’ve already taken him to Ballard’s Beach, Mansion Beach, the Hodge Property, the Coast Guard Station, the Southeast Light, and around and around our yard. I’ve been to more places with him in the last three days than I’ve been in past twelve months. Little by little, as he is old enough, he’ll get a tour of all the places where Wilson and Molly and I used to spend our time. I know it will be both happy and sad but I’m ready to do it. I feel that I've been away for a long, long time. I want to show Leo everything. I feel that everything will be like it was with Wilson and Molly, but also different. I’m living in dog terms, in a whole new era, in a whole new generation.

I was afraid that when we got a new puppy, I would forget about Wilson and Molly. But now I know that I will never do that. I see them in Leo.  I have all my pictures.  I will never forget my beautiful friends. And already, there are new things, things that are just about Leo. He has a tiny yellow duck. He loves to run with it in his mouth, squeaking as he goes. Then he throws it up in the air and he stalks it where it falls. Then he puts it in his dog dish and takes it out. Don’t ask me why he does that. He’s got number of different toys, and he works on each one for about a half a minute, then he puts one aside and he runs to something else. Every time he changes to a new project, he jumps up in the air a little bit. He bounces around from one thing to another. A few minutes ago, and this was my mistake, he got behind the screen in the fireplace. I heard a little whine, and found him stuck in there, completely covered in ashes. Needless to say, a trip to the sink was in order, and he was actually OK with that, he trusted me after a minute of squirming, I think he actually liked the water, and now he’s all fresh and fluffy. He really is a cute little guy and he seems to like our adventures.

Leo and I were out on Ballard’s Beach yesterday morning. We were out there early, ready to catch the first light of the day. I will say that watching the sunrise from inside your house or inside your truck is different than being in it, when you’re part of it, when it’s happening all around.  I don’t think that Leo even noticed. He was busy digging in the sand at my feet. But it was for me, I really felt this, a brand new sunrise. It was new for me, an awesome thing, on Ballard Beach with Leo at sunrise, for the first time in his life.   

A Swan's Day, Part 4

Swans in the evening on Sacchem Pond.

I love so many things about birds - I love their feathers.  I love how each feather is a different shape, how they all fit together, how they fan out for flying and fold in for resting.  I love how birds teach me that life can turn on a very small thing – that a bird can stay warm in the winter for example, with only a thin layer of downy or oily feathers, exactly as they need.  I love that the feathers of birds are like the petals of flowers. 

I love to watch the swans on Sacchem Pond.  Their whole day is out there in the open.   They dip their long necks into the mud for tasty morsels.  They groom themselves.  They compete for their favorite spot with very specific rules about how they do that.  They occasionally poke each other.  Sometimes they sail, they actually sail, their wings outstretched, rocking stem to stern when they push with their powerful feet.  They stretch their necks together.  They float and float through the passage of time in a simple, basic day.  Their world is defined and known that way, day after night after day, by what the wind will bring through the turning of the sun and the seasons.

My life of course, has more going on, and that has certain advantages. I’m warmer for one thing and I have better food, at least in my opinion.  But I don’t know my life the way they do, through utter dependence on nature, with a body perfectly matched to my place in nature, with nothing less and nothing more.  

I can still watch the swans and learn that with all my complications, I’m still more like them than I know.  I still belong in the day.  I’m still defined by the open sky that plays, layer upon layer, with light from the sun and moon and all of the constellations.  I can still see it all reflecting / refracting through rain and fog and mist and sea and snow - through all the manifestations of our oldest friend, our ancient, sacred water.  I can still trust nature in general and my nature in particular.   I can have my own life, and when many things are happening, I can trust that life fits together in many layers and also in beauty, like feathers on a swan.

Today would have been my father's 102nd birthday.  He would have loved these swans.  My father lived in nature as his mother and father before him, as an old Russian soul, who loved nothing more than to go into the woods and see if he could find some mushrooms.   He taught us that nature could feed us with food and also with beauty and wonder.  He taught us  that we were able - that we could be strong enough and know enough to live in the natural world.  Most of all, he taught us to love it, really love it, that everything thing we saw and touched in nature was a gift or a treasure or even something holy.  He lived his life that way, tremendously curious, tremendously interested, enthralled with everything he found, and even with all the things that happened in his life, with wars and hardship and illness, I know that he was happy when he was with us and in nature.  That pleases me very much.

My mother, who will be 89 this year, has started reading this blog.  A few times back, she posted a comment, which I thought was very kind and extremely high tech on her part.  My mother says I am my father's daughter, that the way he loved nature is written all over me in everything I do.  There are six of us children.  (I guess when the youngest of us turns 60 in a couple of years I'll have to stop referring to us as children.)  In any case, we live all over the country, but in ways that are always, always deeply connected - to mountains or waterfalls or donkeys or dogs or to gardens or forests or to the ocean.  All of us need the natural world and cannot be ourselves without it.    That pleases me, too.

With all good wishes and hopes and blessings for each of us and for all of us, now and in the coming year.

A Swan's Day, Part 3

All the different kinds of waterfowl, hanging out, acting like one species.  See how the swans are evenly spaced, like they're playing defense?  Seals do that too.

I haven’t told you why I actually go to see the swans. Well, not the whole story.  It’s not just because of the way they spread their wings and the light comes through, even though that’s part of it.  And it’s not because of all the things they do.  It’s because of all the things they don’t do.  Most of the time they just sit there.  Most of the time when I go to take their pictures I just sit there too.  I sit there watching them through my camera.  I can’t put my camera down because every twenty minutes or so, they’ll do something for about three seconds.  If I turn away I’ll miss it.  I wait and wait.  That’s how I take my bird pictures.

This is what I love about them - the way they pass their time.  The way it seems so simple, there floating on the pond - day after day, taking turns on the rock.  They don’t seem to need much more. 

They could be more productive.  They could exercise their judicial system, for example, as we saw in the previous post.  They could fly more, flirt more, maybe collect some grass and put it aside. It's not that they couldn't do it.  When they set their mind on something, you know they really get it done. 

I can hear the thrumming of their wings before I even see them.  One time I was so close that I could feel the wind created by their flight.  And I mean wind, not the baby’s breath you would expect from somebody’s feathers.  I mean wind.  These are powerful animals.  If properly motivated, they could be quite the economic engine.  It’s just that they choose not to do that. They are not the type to measure the meaning of their lives by how fast they go all the time.  They have a few things to do and they do those things, and nothing, nothing more. They know that doing nothing is important for their survival.  This is especially true, I believe, when it’s cold, like it is right now.  It’s not a time to burn any extra calories.  It’s a time to face the wind, and wait.

I could slow down a little.  Perhaps I could use some faith.  I don’t mean I could use some doctrine.  I mean that I could know some things the way that the swans know them, the way they depend on certain things for their lives.  I can sit on the chair right now for example, and know it will hold me up the way the water holds the swans.  I can take a breath and know that the oxygen is here, already right here.  I can know that when the sun is setting, it will come up again.  I can realize that much of what I need is here, as if the world is built that way, as if I belong in the world or belong to the world, like any other creature.

We’re on the island.  I hear Bill upstairs and he’s walking around – he had a fever last night and I’m waiting to see how he does as the day moves forward.  In a minute I’m going to have my coffee.  I’m going to finish this post.  We’re about to have a blizzard, and it’s supposed to start, actually, right now.  It’s the time in the morning when the sun is rising but it’s getting darker and darker.   The lights that were out on the water just a few minutes ago have been hidden in falling snow. Now I can't even see the Southeast Light, which is right by our house, but I can still see its green beacon, cutting through.  I suspect I won't see it for much longer.   Oh, wait, now I can’t see it.  Oh now I can, but just for a minute.  It’s gone.

I went to the grocery store last night to get a few things because of the storm.  On the way back up the hill to our house, I partially saw and partially felt the passage of a snowy owl.  There is nothing like a snowy owl coming out of nowhere, coming right over, big and close, moving fast, a darker shadow in the darkness.  I’ve looked for snowy owls before and this year I’ve decided not to do it.  It’s so important to leave them alone.  I don’t trust myself, once I get close to a good picture, not to go too far.  They can be targets for crows if you flush them.  They can burn too much energy and starve.  I’ve promised myself I won’t risk their lives that way.  But here he was - a big one and he flew right over me, turning and rising over the truck, his floppy wings, amazing in their size and their silence.  I wondered if my truck got between him and his prey because I think he was diving for something and then suddenly veered off.  I didn’t get a picture, but I did get what I wanted, that feeling of his wild nature - that feeling of mystery and power and hunting and seeing in the dark – a feeling that went right down into my bones.

Perhaps it will be a quiet day.  Perhaps today, I’ll just be a small person inside of a big storm.  I’ll do what’s important.  I’ll go sit beside Bill and make sure he doesn’t do too much because he thinks he’s suddenly better and that he should start leaping around. 

Now, the snow is blasting sideways.  It’s sticking to the windows.  It’s leaving layers of white.  (I think I just got my wish for a room of white, like feathers on a swan.)  I just heard a clap of thunder and now another and another. There are house sounds, little clicks, the windows rattling, the beams adjusting, the heat kicking in, thank God.  The wind is starting to sound like a jet flying by or maybe it’s the ocean roaring.  Oh now, when the wind is rising, I can hear that there are two sounds, the higher shifting pitch of the wind, and the sea that’s like a base note, steadily running under all the other sounds. The sky and the ocean are speaking. The wind is walloping the house.

The snowy owl is out there.  The swans are out there too.  (I can see them clearly in my mind because I’ve seen them so many times.  They won’t fly in wind like this.  It could dislocate their shoulders. ) The swans are together, facing the wind.  The owl is alone.  He’s found a dune or a wall, or something to block the worst of it.  His eyes are shut.  The white snow is building up on his white body. 

That’s it.  They can wait for hours.  Animals can do that.  They don’t need what we need or think we need.  They don’t need anything but their lives.

My owl has fluffy white feathers around his beak and around his legs.  He's especially built for the cold.  He’s built for this storm, but still.   I’ve been worrying about him and about the swans.  My friend Edie has informed me that they know what to do and that they’ll be all right.  This, I do believe.

PS.  I just figured out how to do this, put a video up in YouTube and then "embed" it here.  I wanted you to see the swans, being peaceful, like I said.  If you like it and want to share it, please feel free as it will give me more than my current number of YouTube views, which is 2 views, both accomplished by me.  I've never done this before.  I think it's working but if you have any problems, let me know.


Swans on Sacchem Pond

A Swan's Day, Part 2

Here's a series of pictures that tell a little story about the behavior of swans.   I'll show them in the order in which the story occurred and also tell you what else was happening when I don't have a picture about it.  And I'll give only one opinion, well, two or three, but I'll be brief, I promise.

I told you in the last post that there is a preferred rock in the middle of Sacchem Pond where the birds can groom themselves.  All of the different species of birds prefer it.  They prefer it in spite of the fact that they could easily go to the far side of the pond and groom themselves where there is plenty of room and virtually no human intrusion.  Perhaps they enjoy the fact that all the other birds can see them up there being king of the mountain.  In any case, it's clear that from a bird point of view, this is the most valuable real estate on Block Island. 

The proper behavior for a bird who wants a turn on the favorite rock is to patiently wait a short distance away.  In the picture above, the younger swan on the right is actually not doing what he's supposed to do.  He is moving in close, in a "come hither" kind of way, implying that he's not interested in the rock at all, but in her delightful company.  He's acting as if he wants her to leave her perch in order to swim with him around the pond.

And the older swan buys in.  You can see how she enters from her perch, by tipping herself, breast first, into the water.

And having abandoned her spot, she begins to follow the younger swan, as swans love to do together.  He in turn, pretends for a bit but quickly betrays his intention.  He circles around, climbs onto the rock and begins his grooming procedure.  

At that point, the older swan heads back to the swan on the rock.  She's doing this at speed.  You can see that she's putting up a little wave against her breast as she is hurrying toward him.

And then she gives him the benefit of her opinion.

And she chases him off of the rock.

I've sat many times, waiting and watching for pictures as bird after bird takes his or her turn and then gives way to another.   Although the swans seem to get more time on the rock than the others, the rules are the same for big birds and little birds, old ones and young ones, not only with swans but with geese and ducks and seagulls.  I've never before seen anyone forcibly evicted.  

What could this represent, except for a sort of inter-species order?  And in this case, a sense of the violation of that order?  You might say, a sense of justice?  I'm guessing, and this is just a guess, that an older bird, one wiser in the rules of the rock and the pond and its attendant karma, would not have tried to pull this off. 

When he opens his feathers, you can see that this is a young one.  He's still got his darker, first-year feathers.

The first swan didn't reclaim her spot.  That's her in this picture, swimming away after having delivered her correction.

So that concludes the story, except to tell you that I'm always trying to get a better version of this shot, showing the back of a swan, surrounded with layers upon layers of feathers.  Baby swans get to ride around in there when they're little.  I've thought I might like to come back as a swan, let's say for five minutes, so I could know what that's like.  Or failing that, maybe one day I'll get those pictures with the babies tucked in, all cozy and safe and warm and dry - being carried around, the light shining in through those feathers.  I think we could all use a room like that, sometimes.

And the feathers of birds fit so well together, like the petals of flowers.  It's always true in every bird, but you can really see it with swans.  They're an easily seen example of the perfection of feathers in both form and function, which for some reason makes me feel deeply fine.

The feathers of bird open like flowers, except that it's not the season or the time of day that moves them.  It's the will of the birds for flying.  Isn't that something, flowers with the will to fly? 

A Swan's Day, Part 1

Well, here we on New Year's Eve.  Bill and I have been by ourselves on Block Island, staying away from germs, having the quietest of all possible holidays, and watching everyone else zoom around.  We know how it feels to do that, and we watch from the sidelines with sympathy and bemusement.  And a little regret, because we can't be in the thick of things.  And with grateful pleasure, as pictures and videos of over-stimulated children come rolling in.

You might think that this would have made a lonely Christmas, and it did, but I also had a lot to think about, specifically in reference to swans.  That's my new favorite thing, to go down to Sacchem Pond and watch their lives.  I love to watch them.   Their whole day is out there in the open, and so it’s easy for me to see what they do, and it gives me a place from which to imagine my way into their lives.

I've been going several times a week and as a result I had so many pictures for you.  I'd been cutting back on the number of pictures, leaving out good ones, and I still had so many pictures.  Then I learned something, and it's news to me, and I thought I might try to tell you.  I decided it was important, at least in this case,  to confine myself to pictures from one day.  One day's worth of pictures for one post.  That's what I realized.  Because for one thing, the light is consistent on one day.  The other reason is that every time I go to see the swans, I learn something new about their lives.  That's enough for me really, I don't change my idea of reality all in one go.  So I thought you might like to get to know the swans the way I get to know them - one revelation at a time.

Because over the years I've been changing my mind about wild creatures.  I don't think I would have ever put it this way, but I used to think of them as objects... as decorations in the landscape.  If I knew anything about them, it was more on the scientific side, like their migration patterns or the color of their eggs.  I didn't consider their thoughts or feelings or relationships with each other.  I wouldn't have said that they didn't have thoughts or feelings or relationships -  it's just that I couldn't imagine it.  And even if I was looking, my unaided eyes were not sharp or quick enough to get good information.  I could see the briefest moment.  I'd forget by the time I got home. 

But I can see them now.  And while I'll never be able to say I can think like a swan I will say I know more by seeing - by just seeing - by really seeing - than I could have known before.

So you might like to know that on Sacchem Pond there is a favorite rock in the middle of the pond.  All the birds on the pond, the ducks, the gulls and the swans, take turns on that rock so that they can groom themselves without disturbance from the two legged creatures on the shore.  There is a specific etiquette, which you might notice if you look at the first picture in the series of three up above.  The duck is respectfully waiting at a proper distance.  The swan is finishing his ablutions, which he completes I might add, in a very specific way.  He doesn't rush.  It's very important.  He's arranging his lovely feathers and spreading oil, making sure that they are nice and waterproof.   It's the difference between life and death for him in this cold.  It's not a big thing.  It's a little oil.   It's a little thing, exactly what he needs.

I like to think about it.  A teacher once told me that you can never have enough of something you don't need.  But I would add to that.  I think it's a good thing I can do in the world, to know exactly what I actually need.   A little oil on my feathers.  I would say that.  Not too much and not too little, just what I need.  

And then when the swan is done, he will tip himself, chest first, into the water, making way for another, and he'll delicately glide away. 

I've got at least two more posts for you on this topic and I'm going to try to get them done in the next week.  A little holiday mini-series for you from the Luddy family on the topic of swans. 

Happy, happy New Year to you, with love from Bill and me.

Full Circle

Many years ago, my brother George was stationed in upstate New York.  He and Catherine bought a house there.  It sits at the end of a long driveway, on a little bump of land.  And this is the thing.  That bump is just big enough to fit one house, and it’s surrounded on three sides by cliffs and by water.  There are three waterfalls or six waterfalls, depending on rainfall and snow melt.  Big waterfalls, twenty or thirty feet across, sixty-five feet high.  There is also a pond with trout and turtles in it.  And there are rivers and trails on the land up above, then there are the falls that come down around the house to make rivers that run along one side, coming together in the pond on another side, then the water falls over the dam and continues down the hill, skirting a little terrace, splitting around some small islands, and continuing to another pond and still another waterfall that I’m not even counting, down by a cider mill and the main road.

It took courage to buy that house, because of having three children.  The youngest of whom (our famous Matthew, the fellow who took some of the egret pictures in previous blogs) was four years old at the time.  The reason it took courage, or rather well-founded confidence in their exceptional attention spans as parents, is that a four-year old could be out the door and dropping over one of those waterfalls in about a minute and a half.

They lived in the house for three years, and during that time, George was deployed for several months at a time.  As things worked out, despite the fact that he was a fighter pilot, he was also a meteorologist, and he wound up on the ground, first as an Air Force Liaison Officer, and then in other positions, coordinating between the Air Force and the Army.  While George was deployed, Catherine was alone up there with the children.  She shoveled the snow, she brought in the wood, she dealt with the roof, she had to do everything by herself that a winter in that part of the country requires.  She was far away from friends and her family lives in England, so they were far away also.  She was also responsible as George’s spouse, for emotional support for an entire squadron of families whose loved ones were deployed and in some cases, killed in action.  It is not everyone who could do all that, I’m just saying.

George lived in tents and tanks, like my father had done in WW2 and Korea, and sometimes he slept on top of a tank - he did in the first Gulf War, because he decided it was better to burn up quickly on top of a tank if it got hit while he was asleep than to burn up slowly inside it.

Through all of his deployments, through long weeks and months - in the heat and dust, through exhaustion, explosions and danger, George would picture the place back home.  He’d imagine the rivers and the waterfalls and the paths through the forest.  He would clear the trails and restock the pond.  He would shovel clean snow.  He would bring in wood.  He would make a fire.  It would smell good.  He would rebuild the bridges.  He would bathe in the water.  The children would come.  He would buy fresh cider.  He and Catherine would improve the house and remake the place together. 

But their lives moved on.  George was transferred to Seattle and transferred again to Virginia, deployed again and again.  They now have a fine home in Williamsburg.  The children are grown or nearly grown and are beginning to settle down.  It’s nice down there in Williamsburg.  The James River is beautiful.  There are eagles and white egrets nesting.  The ocean is warmish and not far away.  The strawberries come in April.  There is wildlife, nice wildlife, where the worst thing they will do to you is munch on your perennials.  The winter arrives in a gentlemanly fashion, with enough snow to dust the old brick colonials and imply a fourth season without overstaying its welcome.  It doesn’t have North Country Winter, that Mongol barbarian who kicks you in the head in November and keeps on doing so until May.  It doesn’t have bears hibernating in a cave on your hillside.  It doesn’t make fifteen-foot icicles as thick as your leg, any of which could drop at any time, straight onto your children.  It’s not cold enough to freeze your engine or snap your toes and your ears off.  It doesn’t dump ten feet of lake-effect snow on top of your house and threaten to cave it in. 

And so it happened this year that when the renters were leaving, and they got an offer, they determined to let the place go.  They decided to go up for the last few times, to arrange repairs, to move forward and be happy.  They had considered it carefully.  They were philosophical about it.  They had talked and talked it over.  It had made a lot of sense. 

That was until they got there.  I’m not saying that they had forgotten exactly.  But there was something about being there.  I understand because I’m like that about Block Island.  I leave and the mainland world is so different, it’s like another country.  I adjust to that world and Block Island becomes another place, over across the water, not hard to remember but hard to feel.  It’s easier to imagine then, that I don’t need to be here. And then I come home and what was I thinking and I begin to feel my life again.  I know that I could find my home in another place.  I will if I need to and I will be happy.  I’m just saying that home is home and sometimes you have to be in a place before you can know where that is.

I met them up there in New York last week, George and Catherine and Matt.  Matt hadn’t been back since he was seven years old.  We had work to do because there had been a peacock, an actual peacock, living in the house with the tenants.  This had imparted a certain something, especially in the carpets.  We had one table and some chairs that we moved around, depending on our needs.  We slept in bare rooms on cots or mats, with a giant waterfall thundering right outside our windows.   I loved that water rushing by, and I loved the fact that it would make its way to the ocean, including the waters around Block Island.  I love the fact that while children were growing, and George was deployed, and while wars were going on and on, and while lives were being built or broken, that the water was still there and running - beautiful, powerful, life-giving, certain.

So George will work for a few more years and in the spring when the blue heron return, I hope to go back and take some more pictures and perhaps we will pull up more carpets.  Catherine and George will rebuild the stonework around the falls and the house this year, make everything safe and solid, and next year they’ll do something else and in no time they will be there in their home, freezing but happy in all that beauty at Christmas. Hannah and Matt and Amelia will come back to take it all in, in the place where they were children. 

And all the things that George imagined and other things, more than he could have imagined, will certainly come to pass.  And the best thing is the ancient water.  I love it as much as I love a person, in the same way I love a person.  I believe that water can heal anything.  That water will be running right by their house and over to us, here on Block Island.  It will go up in the sky and come down again, around and around and around.



Dream Catcher

Sometimes in the morning… especially early and in the middle of a clearing fog, I can catch these spider webs, heavy with dew, just as the sun is beginning to shine.  This first picture caused me to wonder about how the spider did it, I mean, look at these two blades of grass.  How did the spider get that web to stretch from one blade of grass to the other? 

So I looked it up.  The first thing a spider does is emit a filament from her body.  And then she waits for the smallest breeze or for ambient electrostatic forces to attach it to something far away, and then she can begin.   I like that piece of information.  I like it very much - to know that the whole master plan for a spider, the basis of her survival, begins with something out of her control.

This first step she takes would be sad if after she took it, nothing ever happened. I mean, if she sat there waiting with no chance for a web at all.  She needs a new web every day.  She has to proceed as follows:  First, she has to eat her old web.  She actually has to eat it and sit there for an hour while it digests into new material.  Then she has to drop her line.  Then she has to wait until the line attaches to something, and until it does, there is nothing she can do.

But good for her because that line almost always attaches, and when it does she pulls more  filament out of her body.  She makes up to twenty kinds, according to all the different uses.  She makes strong lines, sticky lines and so on.   And while she is working, she uses her body to get the right spacing, and she looks like a cross between a trapeze artist and a ninja warrior, scooting and stretching and turning, all her legs moving at the same time, all doing different things.  That’s how she makes the radial lines and then the cross lines, widely spaced, and then sometimes she goes back to busily fill them in.  And then when she’s done, she has a fresh new web, all perfect and nice, just in time for the morning.  

Which makes me think that cleaning my attic and packing my boxes might not be that much trouble.  It also makes me wonder how she does it.  I have been thinking about this for several weeks now, sitting on this question.  Let’s start with dropping the line.  Let’s say she does it by instinct.  (Which we love to say about animals, especially when they do things that we cannot, in our wildest dreams, ever, ever do.)  But let’s say that it’s instinct anyway, and now that we’ve said it, what does that mean?  Let’s say that our spider has some internal software, perfectly matched to her needs.  Maybe it runs her life for her, and she doesn’t have to think about it.  Maybe she just builds her web because that’s what spiders do.

But what if it’s more than that?   Did you know for example, that a spider can read the vibrations in her web and decide if what’s caught there is predator or prey?  In fact, she has to do so.  She has to interpret the data.  She has to act according to what it means.  So let’s say she has thoughts and feelings, intentions and needs.  Let's say she carries all of those things, just like we do, in her tiny little mind.  Let’s say that when she drops that line and waits for the connection, she has a plan, a rational plan.  Imagine that, a spider constructing along with her web, her dreams of a possible future, a future of mothy snacks and subsequent babies.  In the words of my four-year old grandson, “How is that even possible?” 

At least we can see that she is not alone in her project.  Because something comes along and connects that filament for her.  So maybe she doesn’t know the whole thing from the beginning.  Maybe she only knows what she wants to do right now.  So she takes a step and then life comes to meet her, and then she takes another step, and life comes to meet her again.   And if that’s how it happens, then she is not so different than I am.  Do I breathe, or beat my heart, or digest my food, or heal my bones by myself, with nothing to help me or carry me along?  I do not.  Or when I go out to take my pictures, do I know what I will find? 

Or when I’m working on a question and I don’t know the answer, and then I suddenly do, where did that answer come from?  Or when I'm working on a project when the way feels messy and foolish and I work it and work it, and it gradually comes clear?  Or when it doesn't come clear and I go on to something else and then I look back, even years later.  And that's when I find out that all that work made the way for something else to unfold - something with an eventual purpose and meaning that I couldn't have imagined.  Say what you want about our big, giant brains and our supposed superiority.   When a truly creative thing has ever happened in my life, can I say I know where that creation came from, exactly how it happened?  No, I cannot.

So when the line connects (and I realize now that she must have made it sticky at the bottom, because of this expectation, and maybe she has to wait for it to dry and maybe she has to test it), she springs right back into action, using her whole body and everything she knows, no matter how she knows it.  She works in the night, completing an architectural wonder, just in time to catch the dew and the light.  Which by the way, is beautiful, beautiful for no functional reason related to us or even to spiders.  In fact, from the point of view of the spider, the thing works best if it’s never even seen. 

I just think that it’s pretty wonderful, staggering in fact.

I saved a moth last summer, when I was up in Nova Scotia, released it from the web just when was the spider was zooming toward it, ready to chew its head off.  I really couldn’t stand to watch or at least I thought I couldn’t stand it.  Now I feel guilty, because of the prime directive and all.  I interfered with the magnificent processes of nature because of let’s say, my limited point of view.  And so I made a mistake, I really think so, but in spite of that, Nova Scotia is fine and the world continues to turn.

I’d rather keep on wondering, both about myself and about spiders.  I’d rather not think I know.  Because thinking I know is a way to shut my eyes when I’d like to keep them open.  At this point I would like to provisionally say what I think I have learned about spiders – that their lives are hunger driven, hope driven, life driven, moth driven, help driven, contained in a day, awesome in tiny things and big things, something like a symphony where everything fits and breathes and sings and cries out together.  And also too terrible and beautiful for words. 

I’d like to know how to work inside of a day like she does, how to live in a natural way, how to put out my lines, how to work and wait and work again, according to my species, how to dare to make something beautiful.  I think I can do that the same way that she does, by knowing that I’m not alone, by being true to my nature, and by doing the next one thing I can do.




I wasn’t going to do waves again so soon but a storm came up and the wind was from the south.  That was the thing.  My friend Edie, who is working on her 89th year, said that wind like that almost never happens.  She said she could count a few times in her whole long life when she saw a storm with wind like that, coming from that direction.  She said I might never see it coming that way again. 

So the waves rolled in with churning dark water and frothy white water, and with mighty streamers blowing back, as big as the waves themselves.  Blowing back, as Edie’s father would say, like stallions.  And the waves came all day, and the weather changed in morning light and evening light and with clouds overhead and clouds parting and everything in between.  I filled up all of my memory cards, then I went home to unload my pictures and then I went out again.  I got 1600 pictures. 

I have so many pictures that I don’t know what to do.  I’ve been going through them for days, now.  And Edie helped me look at some of them, and Bill helped me also.  I thought at least I could pick a few to show you, some that Edie liked (because you could also see Block Island) and some that Bill liked (because of their depth and power) and some that I liked (because of the way the spray and sky and the light merged together, until you couldn't tell one from the other).

I wish I could make them big for you, big like they were that day, big like the world.  I can do so a little, I can try it with my printer, but of course I can’t do it in this blog.  I hope that you can imagine them anyway, because when things like waves are bigger than we are, I think it makes a difference.  I think we can know them better if we can see them or feel them that way. 

I can come to these waves again and again, until I forget to continuously bother myself with the fact that I have not finished cleaning the attic or the basement or the closets.  All of these together, comprise an historic and archeological wonder, created in twenty years of emergency cramming, a new layer made like rings on a tree, every time we moved out of the house for the summer.  It is taking some time to sort things out.

I know I have to finish, and I’m doing it, I really am.  But I don’t have to make it my life, because in between, I come back to these waves.  I can see the old sun, the even older ocean, the beloved land, the new light, the fresh wind, all of it together in so many waves -  beautiful waves, thundering waves, breathing waves, giant waves.  And you and I can see these waves as no one has been ever able to see them, not in all the hundreds of thousands of years that human beings have been pondering the ocean.  Who before us, could scoop up these waves and put them into pictures?  Who could freeze them in motion, the way that we can?  Who could hold them and hold them - let them soak in?  Who could put them on their cell phones and carry them in their pockets?  Who could look at them, every detail of them, who could count every sparkle, every color, every spray whenever they wanted, a hundred times a day?

We know the world by sight.  Here’s a number for you.  Human beings take 83% of their information in through their eyes.  Don’t ask me how scientists get to that number, but they say that's how we’re made.  Like dogs know the world by smelling, as bats know the world by echolocation, as owls know the world by hearing, and spiders by the vibrations carried through their webs, we know the world by sight.  That is how we do it.  Seeing is believing - that is what we say.  So what could we know now?  What do these pictures show us?  What could we know now, that we could never know before?

The Power of Water

After Hurricane Irma passed into the Gulf, Hurricane Jose came out into the Atlantic and sat there and sat there.  The ferries didn’t run for several days, which prevented me from getting off the island.  My sister had come from Colorado and was staying in Moosup, Connecticut, which is our home town.  Brother George was there too, having come from Virginia.  I finally got off and we had a uproarious birthday party for Mary, the six of us together with our Mom, for the first time since our father died.  Then Mary came back to Block Island with me and she stayed for several days. 

We talked and cleaned out the attic and we hiked all over the island.  We reconstructed memories going back for sixty years.  And we swam in the ocean, with wind all around us and in water still churning from Hurricane Jose.  We laughed and jumped and swam like we did long ago - like we hadn’t done together since we were children.

These pictures show what that water was like, off of Vaill beach and down below Mohegan Bluffs.  (We swam in safer parts of the island.)

Then Mary went home and in a few days the water smoothed and settled.  And yesterday, it came clear in the early morning, and the water was like moving glass.  I love that about the ocean, how it is always changing, holding to nothing, moving to carry whatever is happening now. 

Do you know how water got here?  I mean, got here on this planet?  This happens to be, in some circles, a hotly debated subject.  The current story is that hydrogen came from the big bang and oxygen came from the insides of stars.  Then those stars had to live out their whole lives and then had to supernova so that the oxygen could combine with the hydrogen to make water and that had to travel through space in comets and asteroids and hit our earth when it was in its formative years.  There are many variations and theories about whether asteroids brought the water, or whether comets did it, or whether some of the water was in the cosmic dust that clumped together to form our planet, but let’s just agree that water has had quite a journey and that it is very old.

It is that water, that very same water, that was so beautiful just yesterday morning.  And it is that water where a flock of ducks decided to play.  Now, I know that they were playing.  I watched them for an hour.  They weren’t fishing.  They weren’t resting.  They weren’t flocking or poking each other.  They were sitting right where the waves were breaking, and when the waves broke over their heads, they did exactly what my sister and I had done, they dove down through the water and came up on the other side.

All of this is wondrous to me, stupendous, and on top of that, it is wondrous to me that my mind, like water, can go from one thing to another, that I can be free that way, that I can choose how to think of anything.  I can think that water is beautiful.  I can think of how we played in the water as children and how we still can play.   I can think a particular wave is full of ducks as this last one actually is, even though I can’t see them.  I can think of the water itself - how it is an older brother/sister to everything we know; how it is more ancient and precious than diamonds; how it carries life for us; how it changes with every breath of wind or duck or child or passing cloud or ray of sun or moonlight, but how it also stays itself, impeccable, the same as it has done since before the sun was born.

When Things Change

My brother George, up in Nova Scotia, lighting a Chinese Lantern.

Well, here’s some news.  We’re putting our house on the market.  Bill and I have decided that at this stage in our lives, it’s time to not rent out in the summer.  It’s time to live like other people, in a house that is always our home.

So this is throwing me into several conditions at once… I’m thinking and thinking, wondering what will happen, putting myself into organizational hyper-drive.  It’s a time to lighten up, that is, if I want to sleep at all.  I need to let go of the whole situation, and also, let go of a lot of our stuff.  The last time I moved, I had trouble with this.  I learned this from my father.  He thought it was morally wrong to throw things away.  “People went to a lot of trouble to make that,” he would say.  His favorite thing was stocking up, either with things he scrounged from somewhere or things he purchased in bulk.  Because anything could be just what you need in a moment of desperation.  He had for example, titanium sheets left over after they stamped out some parts at his work, and so much duct tape which was useful for every purpose, and blocks of lead in case we wanted to melt them down and make our own sinkers for fishing, and multiple tubes of two-part epoxy, and years and years of canned goods, including some Army rations left over from the Korean War.  Do you know that instead of buying wire for your boat you can make it yourself from copper and two-part epoxy and electrical tape?  We did that one year.  (We got our boat into the water in September, as I recall.)

If the revolution had come, we would have been fine, especially if duct tape could have been used as currency, as I suspect it could.  And I’m a lot like my father, and sorry Dad, but in this case I want to change.  I want to be that person who understands that empty space can be the most useful thing of all.  I want to be that person.  We’ll see what I can do.

And now I have two big things to say.  One is that I can’t believe we’ve been in our home for almost 20 years.  This year was the 19th time we’ve moved out of our house for the summer.  The day after tomorrow is the 19th time that we'll have moved back in.  I’ve been thinking about what I remember - the time I decided, the morning of the move-out, that the dining room needed repainting, the year my father died, and my aunt and uncle got sick right away, and I was leaving to catch a plane to help out in Florida, and how I was not ready, how the taxi driver came to pick me up and rush me to the ferry, and because it was move-out day again, he helped me take everything I had dumped onto the porch and we crammed it into the gazebo, how we went for speed, not elegance, and accomplished what might have been several hours of work in less than 15 minutes, how I gave him what I hope was the biggest tip of his life, and how I’m probably still looking for things that I lost that day.   Then I think about the time when the house was new, that the kids came for New Year’s with 30 of their closest friends, and how they all had computers and could write papers, play chess, and break up with their girlfriends at the same time, and how one of them slept sitting up so the dog could have the rest of the couch.  And how an entire company of folks I had been working with from India came to the house, and how they loved it because it felt like home because the roads were so crowded, and how they rented mopeds and rode them just like they do in India, with the women's scarves blowing in the wind, and how they helped me get ready for the summer rental by putting our dining room chairs together.  And the times our families came, and the grandchildren running around the yard, and the many, many meals in the kitchen, and the sound of the fog horn, and the Southeast Light reflecting on the bedroom walls, and the sunrises every morning, and the Molly waiting for Wilson to scratch at the door so that both of them could come in, and the sea smoke rising off the ocean on a really cold day.  And sleeping in the quiet of the island with the moonlight on my face.  But in other ways, those years blur into one.  It’s made me think that my memories will fade no matter what I do and that it’s so important to have this moment now. 

The other thing is the art of leaving.  When the new people come, I can hope that they will be happy here.  That’s the way I have always felt about the summer people.  Because that is how, year after year, I could let our house turn into their house.  I could think that the children who came would be growing up here, and that this house would hold the best times in their childhoods.  I could love that.  And I do love that.  And they did.  They grew up in our house.

Maybe it’s not the past and future that go on forever before us, forever behind.  Maybe the thing that holds infinity is now.  Maybe it is a giant space that holds everything, including our memories, and maybe not the just memories, maybe the things themselves.  I mean, maybe everything that’s ever happened is always true right now.  I’ve gotten to the point where I deal with my losses and changes this way.  I can think of my father and of Wilson and Molly.  And this is how I can think of the house.  I can think that the biggest possible space I call “now” is holding them for me, and not just them but the things I’ve forgotten.  And then if I love them or love that space, I can find that I still have them with me.

I like to plan.  I like to know everything that could possibly happen and have the right two-part epoxy to put it back together.  But now I don’t know and can’t know what will happen so maybe I will have to decide to trust our lives a little bit.  I have always been able to find what I need, or more to the point, I have found that along with a good twenty-five part contingency plan, the big space I’m talking about has been enough, or more than enough for everything.

Inside Out There

This is Matthew, a few years ago.

This is Matthew now. 

Here is Matthew and his sisters, Hannah and Amelia, up at a whale watch in Nova Scotia.

Matthew, our nephew, is 21 and he’ll be a junior in college in the fall.  I remember when he was born.  It was Thanksgiving and I was cooking a turkey.  It was an organic turkey and I had a long conversation with my sister Amy, both about the advantages of organic poultry and about Matthew's arrival.  I relayed to my sister what my brother George, Matthew's father, had said: “It's just like it was with Amelia and Hannah.  He’s only been home for a day and it already feels like he’s always been here. I can’t remember how we ever lived when he wasn’t part of our family.”

Matt is a baseball player, a fisherman, a rower, a musician (please see the link below for his music), a good writer, a fire fighter, a student, and a particularly smart and kind and quiet man.  (When he’s near me, that is.  I can’t vouch for the quiet part when I am out of the room.)  And he’s a photographer.  He took egret pictures with me down in Virginia and he’s taken other wonderful pictures.

One of the things I love to think about with Matthew is how everything he does is the seed of everything he could become.  And that’s encouraging because whatever I have seen him do is really very fine.  And the other thing I love to notice, specifically about his photography, is how Matthew shows up in his pictures.

When people take pictures from inside, from their own imperatives, you can see it in their pictures, and I think this is what Matthew does.  And then there are two things are in the pictures - what was out in the world and what was inside - in the people behind the cameras.  Because of all the things to see in any given moment, those people picked something.  They did that because of their minds and hearts and eyes.  Because they were human.  Because they thought and felt and saw in a human way, and because they were a specific human, a specific person with a specific need, and they found what they needed “out there”, but it was also in them, the need, the yearning, the vision, the mind, the connection.  They just naturally did all that, as human beings do.

It doesn’t have to be a big deal, it happens all the time when people go out to notice what they notice.  I think that’s what gives pictures uniqueness and that’s what gives them life.  It’s the people behind the cameras and the way they are paying attention, the way they are finding the pictures that only they can find.

That’s when photography is at its best, I feel.  It's a chance to go and look at the world, a chance to find what we care about, a chance to be who we are.  And then when we share the pictures, it gives us a chance to do it together.  I like that very much.

I am delighted to show you some of Matthew’s pictures, and equally delighted to give you the link to Matthew’s music.  It’s very peaceful, very fine.

(If you scroll down in his Facebook page you'll see him playing a song that he wrote.)

A Generous Life

It was my own fault because when we went down to the wedding in Virginia, many of us were sharing a car, and that morning I had put my cameras in the trunk of the car, and my niece was taking the car to run an errand for just an hour.  But as things go, and should be expected to go on a family wedding weekend, that errand had stretched into many errands and several hours and the thing was, I needed my cameras.

Because I had discovered the egret rookery with hundreds of Great White Egrets flying around and this was the last evening I had left to take their pictures.  So I considered the fact that Ansel Adams probably never had to wait for his niece to get back with his cameras.  And I contemplated the fact that photography was the only thing that I had ever done just for me.  And so I told my sister that I needed my cameras. Now.

And then I called my niece and I deliberately kept my voice calm and level, although she would probably disagree, and I very sweetly asked when she was coming back because I needed my cameras.  And she, who had been running errands for other people all day, also spoke calmly and said that she would be back as soon as was humanly possible.

So I walked to where she was expected to arrive and I paced and waited and carefully thanked her, but by then I was pretty upset, partly because I needed my cameras and partly because I was being such an ass.  By then there was a dinner going on, but I skipped it, and began to take my pictures, and the kindest thing, the best thing was that since I hadn’t eaten all day, my sister walked to where I was taking the pictures and brought me some food, carefully selecting the things I might like.  And I thanked her profusely and the misery drained from the whole situation.

I had offered my nephew that he should come and also take some pictures.  And when he arrived I explained to him in my professional voice that bird photography is the hardest kind of photography, because the birds are moving so fast and so far away, and because the telephoto lenses are heavy and it’s hard to hold them and site them properly under so much magnification.  I said he should not be disappointed if he only got a few good ones.  And then I gave him my camera and the best light of the day.

Well, Matthew is a baseball player, skilled in tracking little white objects as they hurl across the sky, and he has many muscles to hold up the camera and the reflexes of an athlete.  He had the best time. He kept saying, “This is crazy!”  He got excited about what was possible, and that was the entire point.  And he took 457 pictures, really well sited and focused, as good as the camera and the distance would allow.  They were better than the ones I had taken.  It took me a month to get over it.

So I did go back to Block Island and I did get on with my life.  And now we have taken our boat to the mainland because we needed some repairs.  And do you know who is coming and landing right next to our boat, several times a day?  An egret.  A beautiful egret, so close that if she had whites in her eyes I could get them in the pictures.

It was wonderful to have all those hundreds of egrets in Virginia, but to take the best egret pictures of my life, I only needed one bird.   And what I might lack in muscles I make up in stealth and persistence.   And I’m going back to Virginia next year, because even though I have many pictures of egrets, I could always use some more.  And because if there is one thing I have learned in the course of being a photographer, it’s that life will always give me more pictures, as many as I need.


Well, hello because I know it’s been a while… just wanted to catch up a little and at least show you some pictures.

It’s been that time of year, when we move out of the house for summer rental, and this year we moved back in and then out again last Sunday.  I also went down to Virginia for our niece’s wedding.  So there I was, sitting in the chapel at William and Mary College, all lined up in two pews with my siblings and our families.  And my beautiful niece Amelia, came down the aisle on my brother George’s arm.  And I thought, “Isn’t that adorable? Amelia is all dressed up and pretending to get married.” 

That’s because a real wedding was impossible, with her being fourteen years old and all.  Because I really hadn’t caught up with the fact that she was a grown-up, an actual grown-up woman.  I mean, I really didn’t think that she should drive.  And then I remembered our wedding, when Amelia was a toddler, when she had to be carried down the aisle in her flower girl dress.  And then I remembered how it was that day, with all of the elders, all of the aunties.  And then I realized that my sisters and I were now those aunties.  All of those older people who are not at the beginning of everything as Amelia is, but well into the middle or the end of the middle, and that is being optimistic.  We sat in our pews all together, and because the pews were lined up along the sides of the sanctuary, it felt like we were on a panel, a panel of aunties and uncles and parents who carried the past for our families and were watching the future coming down the aisle.

Bill and I have been going through a period of adjustment these past few months, since our last golden retriever, Molly, has died.  Speaking for myself, I will say that I haven’t recognized myself without our Molly and without our Wilson who died the year before her.  I’ve been feeling like the shell of someone.  I’ve been doing my tasks and all, but I’ve been feeling like I can only inhabit the surface of my life.

But it’s better now.  While I can’t imagine a future without them, I am starting to allow my memories, and those are starting to feel more beautiful than sad, and life and love are starting to feel like a thread that continues, that that is pulling my heart back into my body.

When we were in Virginia, we stayed on a Navy base, and on that base was a rookery, a place where Blue Heron and Great White Egrets were raising their babies. There were hundreds of them, more than I’ve ever seen, flying around.  I mean, it was incredible.  I've never seen anything like it.  I took thousands of pictures, and now I will be able to keep us in egrets for the rest of all of our lives. 

It’s hard to handle that many pictures, just to choose which ones to show you.  So first I’ve decided to show you the ones with the simplest backgrounds so you can see the egrets in the easiest possible way, see them in all of their glory.

I want to show you this egret, show you her charcoal legs, the way she stands, the gold in her eye, those lovely wisps of trailing feathers, the blaze of her beak, the touch of green around her eye, the reflection of the light on the water against her chest. 

Why is she so beautiful?  And who is her beauty for?  I mean, she doesn’t see herself, she doesn’t even know.  Could it be for us, a little?  Maybe partly?  I mean, so that we will make a connection?  I mean, don’t we need her beauty?  Doesn’t it sustain us, like food, like air, when we can really see her?

I’m always trying to get closer.  I had an 800 mm lens on my camera, and I still cropped into the first pictures so that you could see her details.  And now I want to show you how she really was, standing alone, with the big world all around her.  And of course the scene was bigger than I can even show you, bigger in every direction, bigger than we can imagine, bigger than the world.  And there she was.  And I thought that she had courage, and then I thought it wasn’t courage, that she was just living her life, doing the next thing in front of her.  And then I thought that maybe her babies were right around the corner, and that in any case, she was not alone at all, but connected in beauty to everything.

And then I thought, “How could she possibly be more beautiful than she is right now?” 

But then again, I realized that she could fly.


Molly was doing really well but then she started failing day by day.  She did better after some IV at the vet’s but her then her tests came back and showed that she had cancer in her blood.  After that it seemed like she was not just sliding but falling.  It happened very fast. I’ve been thinking about this every day, how to tell you all about her, because I feel she deserves to be seen and known for who she was.

When Molly first came to us we already had Wilson, and Wilson could already speak human.  So especially at the beginning, whenever anything happened, Wilson would look to us and Molly would look to Wilson. When it was time to come into the house, Wilson would scratch importantly on the door and Molly would sit there waiting.  She didn’t know what to do without Wilson.  But then, Molly came to understand.  My brother commented about this one time when he and Molly were jogging on the trails up in Nova Scotia.  They came around a bend and there was a porcupine.  Molly began to run and my brother yelled, “Molly, stop!”  My brother said she stopped so fast you could see dust rising out of the ground.  Good for Molly.  

Here’s what I often said about both Molly and Wilson, that it wasn’t about obedience, but about credibility. It’s just that we spent so much time together, every hour of every day, and often for many hours hiking and taking pictures, and things would inevitably come up.  If they saw anything they didn’t expect, they would stop and look at me. Truth be told, she was a better listener than Wilson, who often wanted a second opinion.  Molly and Wilson would run side-by-side down every pathway, and the three of us would swim together, Molly on one side and Wilson on the other.  And then they would sit with their noses lifted together, smelling the wind.  When Wilson died, she and I grieved for him together, and I think it was harder for her than it was for me because she had never known the world without him.  I used to feel so bad for her.  But then she also had her own happiness in her own self, and she also had our undivided attention, as well as her favorite seat in the car, without any competition.  I won't say it made up for Wilson, but at least it was something. 

Here are some pictures of Molly and Wilson together...

And some pictures of Molly herself...

And when Molly got sick (after some initial outrage when she woke up and found her leg was missing…) she got through it all, including the discomfort, with strength and energy that grew every day.  And she handled her pain.  It was hard to know how much medicine to give her, because she must have had pain, and I learned as we went through this together, that she had much more pain than she showed. Even so, she had joy every day, I would say almost every day, until the day she died, just the pure physical joy of the moment, the joy of feeling, smelling, running, tasting, the joy of riding in the car, the joy of being with her tribe. 

And she had the softest fur, and the deepest darkest eyes.  She would rest her head on my knee and look up at me with those wonderful eyes.

Molly died in her sleep at my mother's house, with me on a cot beside her.  She died the night before I would have gone to the vet to put her down.   Then Bill and I took a trip to see the family and we just got back to Block Island, and as soon we came home, there was a mixture of ease and sadness. I vacuumed the house, knowing that I was picking up the last of Molly’s hair and our house would stay clean for a while.  I went up and down the stairs freely, I didn’t have to stay on one floor or carry her with me.  I had my side of the bed to myself.  The struggles and worries were over.

I know that everything will be simpler now.  The move out of the house will be simpler.  Trips to the mainland will be simpler.  The boat will be simpler.  We need that right now, but I will say she has left a vast, clean, empty space behind her.  I will say that her absence is everywhere.  I’ve never done photography without Wilson or Molly or both.  With very few exceptions, they were with me in the background of every single picture I have ever taken.  So I don’t know how I will do it.  I don’t know how I will see the natural world without Molly.  I'm actually afraid, but I know that I will keep on taking pictures.   I will just have to do it and not run away. 

I will rest in the empty space that she has left in every aspect of our lives.  I will think of all the ways that life moves in where ever there’s room, especially now with little buds yearning forward, and birds on their nests, and the warming sun melting through the fog as it has been doing here every day. I will think of that space as a beautiful thing, a place to remember, a place to meet heart and longing, a place to know what life is, place where things can grow.

Why do our dogs live for such a short time?  I don’t know, but I accept it.   I mean, I believe in the world the way it is.   I will try… No, I will vow.  I vow to remember all that Molly has taught me about being a person.  There is something so pure in the way that she was in the world.  She was just herself with no filters, and that gave her such presence and connection and courage.  That’s what she gave us, just herself with no filters.  She showed us how beautiful that can be.

I thank those of you who knew about Molly because of your kindness and I apologize to those who didn’t know, because it took me some time to be ready to write about her.

Today I sat down to remember.  I wanted to honor her.  And I felt…no remembered…well, I don’t know… It was as if she was still with me, knowing me with her big dark eyes, leaning up against me, giving me her kisses.  I know that when we got our Molly, we agreed to love and joy and also to losing her someday.  That day is here, and we will have to cry sometimes, but her essence is out in the open, easy to see.  She is a miracle, a mystery, a gift and a blessing, our friend, a piece of our hearts, our beautiful girl.  

Andy's Hope

Andy's Hope

There is a particular thing that can happen with people and pictures, and I’ve seen it enough that I have learned that when it happens, it is always important to follow it down. Every so often someone will see a picture, and it will mean something to him, something he feels deeply. This happened last week with my cousin’s husband Andy.

I showed him a series of pictures, so many of my tried and true pictures that had been in shows and where I had already done large commissions, and then almost offhandedly, I showed him another series.  I only thought of them because they came from Barn Island, which is in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, not far from Andy’s home.  He went right to one picture.  He said, “That’s the one I want.  It gives me hope and transcendence.”  So I was like, ”Well, if it does that for you, then you’ve got to have it.”

So I set out to make a large print for him.  And you might like to know, that with pictures like that on the equipment I use it’s not the same as going to CVS and having some snapshots printed.  It takes a lot of time.  I used special watercolor paper, which meant I needed special procedures.  Then I made a series of small trial images.  Then when I thought I had it right, I printed a big one.  I have to say that doing this is very stressful and also very fine.  I have a printer the size of a piano, and it’s got many colors of ink that run through little clear tubes and the print head swishes back and forth and there is a vacuum that holds the paper to the roller and the whole thing is very high tech and when it gets running I feel like a nerdy master of the universe.  And then I wait to see it printing, which is kind of thrilling but also I’m never quite sure that it’s perfectly right, so then I poke my nose up where the print comes out to watch it coming inch by inch while I wait and inspect and suffer.  And then I see the whole thing and I’m still not sure I think I should try it again with slightly different settings.  And so I do that.  And then in this case I call my cousin (Andy’s wife) and I study and ponder and I am torn between what I feel about the picture and what I think Andy might like and then I think and think and finally decide to try what I should have tried to begin with, because I really should know this by now.  And that is to trust my own instincts.  And then I finally decide to print it one more time.  And then I let the pictures dry, in this case with this paper it takes 24 hours, and then I visited the pictures several times in different light and then I called my cousin Liz again. 


Then I had my own clarity about how the picture was supposed to be which was that it should be as true as possible to how it actually was that morning, and also balanced, very balanced.  Because it turned out that the best thing about this picture was if I wanted to look at the drama of the morning sun and the shadows in the clouds I could do that.

And if I wanted to look at the subtle rosy mists and wisps of fog, I could do that too. 

I mean, it could be my choice.  Because this picture had pictures inside of pictures.  There were sparkles on the water or the little bits of seaweed.  There were fine lacy branches that blurred into the fog.  And colors in the sunrise that were deeper in the water than they were in the sky.  There was something everywhere. 

The picture wouldn’t tell me where to look, I could decide.  It was my point of view that showed me the picture, and my point of view could be different every day.  No matter what was happening I could always have something to find in the picture.  That was the surprise and the learning of that picture and I finally saw it, that this picture was like it is in photography or in life in general.  I mean, we’re always out there choosing from all there is to see - the light and the dark, the detail and the drama.  That’s when I became satisfied that the picture was finished and when I felt that it was ready for Andy. 

If it wasn’t for Andy and his affinity for this picture, I never would have picked it out for a large commission, I never would have struggled with it, never would have learned these things.  And I was so glad I had my cousin Liz, so that as we have done since childhood, we could go through another something together.  The picture now hangs in Andy’s office.  It will remain as a point of connection or meaning or beauty or hope, something he notices on some days more than others, something that Andy wanted, something that is different for Andy than it is for me, and that is just how it should be.







Many Scallions

Edie called and told me that the waves along Crescent Beach were spectacular.  She said, “The wind is blowing them back, making long streamers.  My father used to call them scallions.”  I left right away.  I went right down to Scotch Beach and began to take my pictures.  As I took them I thought, “I wonder why he called them scallions.  That’s such an odd name for waves.” 

I knew that they were beautiful waves, and different in certain ways than I had taken before, but I didn’t know what I really had until I had a chance to look at them later.  I had taken many hundreds of pictures, and I got them home I went through them quickly.  I tried not to think too much, because this is how I usually do it. I just pick the ones in a visceral way that might be better than others.  I still picked 150 pictures, and I just went through them again this morning, looking at them more closely.  I saw wave after wave, each one with something wonderful about it, and while I did that I thought about Edie who sent me down to see the ocean, and I thought about how it is to live here, how I get to be here day by day and how that’s important because the ocean has so many faces, and my heart started to swell up with each new picture.

And then I thought, “I’ll bet she said ‘stallions’, not scallions.  Stallions, of course.”

And then I thought about the waves themselves… We had just had a storm and in places, the water was churned up like waves in a washing machine.  The water was spilling in every direction, like children with so much life in their bodies that they didn’t know how to contain it. 

Then I remembered that all that energy in the ocean will also organize itself into long, sweeping rollers.  I thought about how that’s how you can learn to read the waves.  You can say, “Oh, the waves are shaped this way, and they come this many seconds apart.  That means they’ve come from this far away.  And they’re smooth so that means one thing, or they’re choppy so that means something else.  And now look, the wind has turned and it’s blowing in the other direction.” I thought, “Isn’t that a good thing?  That energy wants to organize? I mean, give it time, just give it some time, and all this chaos will start to sort itself out, because that’s what energy does.”

And then I told myself to consider the wave itself.  I considered the light in the wave, and the wind that drove it, and the internal forces, and the ground coming to meet those forces and causing it to break.  I thought, “Water and light and energy.  That’s what makes a wave.”  But that’s the story of a wave, as in that is how we parse it out, here’s what we can say about it, scientifically speaking.  Then I thought, and here is where I stumble to describe it… “It’s not three things, it’s one thing, just a wave, more than water, more than light, more than motion.”  And I felt like it is more than its parts, much like we are.  We’re more than the mud that made us, more than the air we breathe, more than the energy that runs in our bodies.  There’s a little philosophy for you.

There are people living on this island whose lives have been spent on the ocean.  They can tell you everything about it.  Not me, I can tell you a little, and sometimes I'm more correct than at other times, as in the example of scallions.  But I will say, my heart is really in it.  Whatever I can say about a wave, whatever my great philosophy, is less than the feeling I had when I looked at my pictures, considered each one, my heart getting bigger, my eyes getting tears, because that's the direct and immediate thing, the thing I know before I can think about it, just the feeling inside of a human being who loves to look at the ocean.  And I'm happy about my pictures, because I will say it is also a part of what makes this wonderful, that you are there and human too and I can show them to you.


Capturing Moments


We went up to the Albany area to visit our family for Bill’s birthday.  Long story short, Bill got pneumonia and instead of having a party, we wound up in the emergency room at the hospital.

They gave us a bed in a cubby right away, but it we didn’t get up on a regular floor until two o’clock in the morning.  The curtains were drawn while we waited, but we could still hear all the people around us. First, there was a baby crying.  Then someone was asking an elderly woman if there was anyone at home who could help her.  Then a young man had been wrestling with his friends and had dislocated his shoulder. 

I found that young man to be kind of wonderful because his friends came with him, one on each side, helping him balance and holding his arm and his shoulder at an angle.  And because he had the luxury of doing ridiculous things to his body.  And because he was so cheerful about it... because it was just another adventure in a world where he could still imagine that he would always be strong and healthy.

I like to remember these people.  I bring them to mind in fading snips and fragments. I think of the baby and hope that she is better.  And I hope the old lady’s sister or someone has come down from Schenectady or somewhere.  And I hope that the young man’s shoulder has improved and that he and his friends are cheerfully, blithely out and about, getting themselves into trouble.

I think that my pictures are kind of like it was that night, kind of like listening in.  I like to think that every picture I've taken is part of a bigger story, one that expands in every direction, and one that still continues.  I mean for example, that the little bird at the top of this blog post is still out there somewhere.  I hope so.

And the swans in this picture are still in Sachem Pond, except as I write it's very cold and I know they are hunkered down, conserving their strength and facing into the wind. 


And this boat is still swinging on its mooring. 

And the winter night that was so still and silent is beginning to turn into spring.

And this dock still stands while the tide keeps rising and falling.

And we’re home again and Bill is better, and we're very happy to be here.  And I keep taking pictures, which help me to notice and remember, imagine and hope. 

As a story unfolds in the vast space that holds everything.




The sun was just coming up and starting to light up the frost on the window.

Molly and I haven’t been able to walk far lately.  So it’s been an interesting time to learn.   Because I had been thinking that if I wanted beauty I had to go somewhere else to find it.  But here it was, plastered to my window.  So it made me realize that walking for miles and hunting for beauty is excellent but so is having beauty right here. 

It has been difficult of late.  So I find myself falling back into things that have always helped me.  If I notice the beauty around me… well, that has always been food for my life.   I think life keeps on bubbling up from somewhere, and beauty comes up with it.  

This one is interesting because you can see the horizon line... and then that smoky purple part is the ocean and then the land is still dark.

I have been surprised so many times, by my pictures, but also by life in general.   Bill's and my life together has unfolded through many hardships.  In fact, I learned to see beauty for a reason.  I had to see it - I needed it badly.   But answers did come from unexpected places.  And I have to say that our life together here on Block Island has been richer and more wonderful than anything I had dared to imagine.  I wouldn't say easy, but wonderful.  Perhaps easy and wonderful are two different things.

I realize that everyone is wanting something badly, even if they are wanting it in different ways.  Maybe this is a time to learn, to let ourselves long for the life that is calling to us.  Because I do find that answers can grow inside of that longing.  My hope is that this will be the beginning of changes, because I do think that life is always possible, not only possible but probable.  No, definite.  Inevitable.  Guaranteed.

I had a friend named Ruthie.  She’d had a hard life, including living through polio and a terrible marriage.  Toward the end of her life, she lived on bread and peanut butter - and the love of her friends, because she had many friends.  She meditated all day.  She could find as much beauty in the patch of grass outside of her window as I will ever find on Block Island.  (That patch of grass was two feet by six feet, right next to a parking lot.  She had a Brooklyn accent.  She said it was her paaaark.)  She died with grace and peace about fifteen years ago and was one of the wisest people I’ve ever known.  One time, I was going on about something.  She said, “Gracie, listen.  You can explain everything but that doesn’t explain anything.” 

Of course, then it was getting lighter.  Then you could see the clouds and the place where the water meets the horizon.

We can have all of our opinions, and those have a way of rooting in.  But what if those are not the main thing?  What if we are carried in all of this beauty anyway? 

I have been learning something, especially in the last several days.  That is, that we really need each other.  I have seen the difference between the theory and anger and worry about something and the things you find out by being with people in the same room, and by saying and listening to everything, and by waiting and slowly learning how the world is going to turn.  And perhaps the thing that matters under everything - under the beauty, under the fear, under the speculation and opinions, under anything that could possibly happen, is the fact that we are connected.  

And then it was nice and bright and the frost would start to melt in a minute.

The less I know, the more important it is to me that I remember.  Because that’s the only way I know to find out how to live, and what is important, and how my life will grow.  I want to stay as close to beauty, as close to my people, as close to the core of life as I possibly can.

Our Sweet Molly

Molly Really Running

I can be quite the ray of sunshine.  For example, in my last blog, I said in so many words: “We just had to take our golden retriever’s leg off.  Have a nice Christmas.”  So I thought to make it up to you, I could show you how well our beautiful Molly is doing.

She’s been elevated to Princess of the World, meaning that Bill and I are now sleeping on mattresses in his office so that she doesn’t have to do stairs and so that she can get abundant cuddles from her boyfriend, or rather my husband, whichever you prefer.  She is fed only the choicest morsels, as well as essential fatty acids and glucosamine.  And every afternoon she gets a ride in the car. 

I’ve noticed that she particularly enjoys the ride if we go to the same places every day. It’s as if she’s saying, “Yup, it’s 3 o’clock.  First we’ll go to North Light, and then we’ll go to the docks. I already know all about it.”

It’s been wonderful to watch her growing stronger.  After her stitches came out we started doing short walks and we’ve been going a little farther every day. Yesterday, she seemed overcome with a burst of joy and went tearing off down toward North Light.  I mean she was running, really running, sustaining a distance for the first time.  She went a hundred yards or so, investigated some bushes and came running back, all happy and bright.

Many of our friends said that the situation might be difficult for us, especially at first, but that it would not be as difficult for Molly.  They said she would not develop a theory about the tragedy of her missing leg.  They said she would take each thing as it came.  And that is exactly how it has been.  And it’s been good because she has been teaching us how to live our lives.

Molly’s cancer may come back and it may not.  But it hasn’t come back today.  So we do have a day.  We have one day and one day and one day.  And we know that one day in the future will be her last, and it might be in three months and it might be in five years.  And can we accept that?  Yes, I think we can.  And meantime, we will have many fine days and the last day will only be one day, and really for her, it will be only one moment, with no pain and no worries whatsoever.

I live my life with a list of concerns and of things to be accomplished, and I think I’m having a nice day or a bad day based on how those things are going.  But I want to change that, even just a little bit, as much as I can.  I want to take the time to know where I am – even while I’m working, to feel the sky above and the earth beneath; to locate myself on this island with the ocean all around; to track myself to the movement of the sun and the stars the way that birds do, even while they survive through the long, cold winter on Block Island.  I want to learn to live as beautifully as Molly does, inside of the world, inside of my senses, inside of the day.  And I forget to do it, and forget again, and that’s why I need my pictures.

You know, without the picture of Molly running, I already would have forgotten.  But now I can dwell on that moment and remember how much joy she has in running, even with three legs, and every time I look at that picture, I can feel how happy it makes me to see her doing so well.

Molly is snoozing at my feet right now, and every so often she’ll rouse herself and give me a little kiss.  Today, I’ll work on my writing and my projects.  Then I’ll pay some bills and make spaghetti and then Molly and I will go for a drive together.  Then we’ll drive to North Light and see how the swans are doing.  Then we’ll go to the docks.  And she’ll sit there smiling and maybe she’ll run and her eyes will be bright.  And I’ll see and my camera will help me remember and she’ll smell with her powerful nose.  And between us, we’ll discover so many good things about our moment in the world.

Molly clearly with something to find out.





Being Fine

So I took Molly to the vet because she had a little limp.  The vet, a very experienced and wonderful guy by the way, did not want to do a biopsy, so as not to disturb what was likely to be a tumor, but we made a date to have it removed and biopsied at that time.  When he started the surgery, the whole thing went sideways, as the tumor began to explosively bleed.  They had a hard time stabilizing Molly so that I could drive her to a bigger, emergency veterinary place.  Then we had to choose, and this was very dicey, protracted and unclear as we went through it at the time, whether to put her down or take off her leg.  

We took off her leg.  Meantime, Bill was sick at home and also my knee went out, ironically, in the corresponding place to Molly’s problems, so that gave me the opportunity to sit around, worry about Molly, listen to Bill have trouble breathing, look up stuff about the election on the internet and think about death.

After a few days of this I began to realize that this was possibly not the most helpful approach to our situation. So I hopped around and put up some Christmas ornaments.  I also began to explore what I have begun to explore a lot lately, which is the answer to this question:  What does it for me?  I mean, what really works, and I’m sorry but there is no other way to put this, when things start to suck the way they have been sucking lately?

I realized I had to accept the worst thing that could happen to Molly, and I began to do that.  And then I worked on my pictures a little.  And this is the thing I want to say.  It is not the pictures themselves that help me the most, but it is what they imply.  They point to completeness and coherence in nature and to completeness and coherence in life in general.  There’s a way I get to feel it, a way it lives in my body.  Then I can know some light or joy or energy in being, not because of anything that is happening or not happening at the moment, just in being itself.  That’s what helps me sometimes, and even when it doesn’t help, I mean, even when I can’t feel it, I can still remember.

The biopsy results came back and it turns out the decision to take Molly’s leg was a good one.  It is the only thing that could possibly prevent the recurrence of the cancer and she has a reasonable chance.  And she is doing well.  She has a new red sweater to keep her warm where they shaved her for the operation.  Her beautiful eyes are clear and bright. The other day, she chased after another dog, actually ran, forgetting about her missing leg until she suddenly tipped over, but yesterday when she did the same thing again, she stayed upright.  She is getting homemade, organic, grass-fed, high-protein food, with special supplements, and why not?  And Bill is better and I am better.  And Molly loves to rest her head on Bill’s shoulder and gaze into his eyes.  So my dog and my husband are having an affair, and this is alright with me.  And our friend Rich and Kevin and Emily and their families are coming for the holidays. 

So my heart is sending this wish to your heart.  May you feel some energy and wholeness of being through the holidays and in the coming year, and may this carry you and give you some joy.