Coming Home

Rough Ride

I have become accustomed to the journey between the mainland and Block Island.  And it’s a real journey - you don’t just pick up and go.  You check the weather and the ferry schedules and those are limited in winter.  You make a boat reservation if you are bringing a car or you go down and load a pallet with your belongings if you are walking on.

In any case, there are stages.  You drive and wait, you get a ticket, you load up, go on the boat and then ride, unload, reload and then drive again and unload again.  It takes the whole day and usually requires an overnight stay.  So you bunch everything together… visits and work and groceries and sometimes a Christmas tree or some cord wood or a piece of furniture so you don't just travel, you deploy.   And then you can always do something stupid, like let’s say, realize the moment the boat leaves the dock that you have forgotten your keys and you have to take a cab with everything and your two dogs and find a hotel for the night so that keys can be sent over in the morning.

Because the island is out in open ocean, if the wind is high enough the boats do not run, and in winter that happens about once a week, usually for one day, but sometimes for two or on rare occasions, for more.   So it is not in your control.  I actually like that… being back in a relationship with nature that is more like what people have lived in forever… but ask me how I like it if I am teaching on the mainland and have to leave four days early to be sure I get there.  Also ask me how I liked it the day the boat almost cancelled and the weather was bad but I really wanted to get home and I decided to go anyway.  Old seafaring salt that I am, I stayed in the car to keep the dogs from being afraid.  We had 6-8 foot seas but the bow reaches up and out beyond the waves, and that is where I was so it was more than that.  I can't even say.  We were rising and falling 10 feet?  12 feet?  It was too late to get out, as I could not have navigated the deck in those conditions.  So I was stuck, with nothing to do but pray for death as the bow lurched up, held and swung for a moment, and then fell and slammed into the water, hitting hard.  Cars bounced on their tires, straining against their emergency brakes.  Spray and green water came over the bow.  The steel hull boomed like a drum. 

You can imagine under those conditions what coming to a safe harbor feels like.  The boat turns and in bad weather that turn is something.  There is the last high swell and you ride it down and sometimes it feels like you’ve got to hit bottom and then you pass the breakwater.  The sea calms.  The boat stops slamming. 

When I came home last week the weather was snotty.  There were waves but nothing like that other time.  I unloaded the car, put the groceries away, cooked, and settled in.   My life is different here than it has ever been anywhere else.  I go out and take pictures with many open spaces, trails and fields and beaches open to everyone.  I feel safe out walking (after accounting for hunters) day or night, wherever I go. 

The sea changes quickly... waves one day and calm the next.  I took this picture the evening after coming home.  I worried about those ducks resting on the water at feeding time, wondered about the big fish looking up at all those tasty feet, but I told myself that like all things in nature, those ducks must know what they are doing.

It’s strange how I forget when I go away.  It’s like the mainland is different from here, and it’s changed in the fourteen years I’ve been on the island.  So I really do feel like I’m in another country.  So many cars, so many people.  (Sometimes I wave by mistake at the people in the other cars, like we do on the island.)  Stores are open all the time and filled with everything.   There is amazing fresh produce, amazing choices.   I go into a mall and it sparkles and my mouth hangs open.   I have to switch channels and the island and my life here disappears.  And then I have to switch channels to come back so it has taken a few days but my life has reassembled and it feels very good. 

I was out taking photos with a friend the other night, and we both took a series of long exposure pictures.  This is a 30 second exposure taken in the "early" dark, the waves blurring into smoke.

Home is a place of course, but there is also a way to come home to yourself, to define and protect your life like the ocean defines the boundaries of this island, and maybe deciding you can do that and then learning how is a most important journey.  And guess what?  I’m leaving again on Monday.  Bill is arriving after four weeks working in Southeast Asia and we’re going to see our children.   So I’ll be changing channels again, but I’ll be taking my cameras with me.  I’m hoping to go with my family to take some pictures of fine old trees and Bill will be with me and we’ll all be together and that will be home also.

I took this picture the same night I took all those sitting ducks. 

Listen to What I Tell You

Stony Beach, Port Maitland, Nova Scotia

I called yesterday. I picked this registrar for a reason.  They have an office in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, not far from my family’s house.  My family has had a tiny house in Port Maitland on the Bay of Fundy for almost 30 years. 

You really need to go to Nova Scotia.  This is why.

  1. Nova Scotia is very beautiful.
  2. The people there want you to come and will be extremely nice to you.
  3. The ferry out of Portland, Maine, which hasn’t run for several years, is going to start up again in the spring.  It will go directly to Yarmouth.  Happiness.
  4. You will have peace and quiet.
  5. The air is clean.  The water is clean.
  6. You will be able to eat Rappie Pie.  Just kidding.  Rappie Pie is terrible.  It is made out of potatoes that have been grated and squeezed in cheesecloth and cooked with chicken broth and turned into a pie filling.  Let me just say that if you like poi or boiled okra you will like Rappie Pie.  What you really need to eat are the best scallops in the world.  We get ours in Saulnierville, at the fish market.

 And, you should take up photography.  And, this is why.

  1. When you call and talk to a wonderful person named Julie, you will be able to say so much more than “have a nice day”.  You will be able to send her a photograph of Port Maitland Beach and promise her that your next blog post will be about Nova Scotia.  It will make both of you a little bit happier.  (As an aside, please read the comment posted by this same Julie - Julie Saulnier-Spurr to be exact.  She is a proud Acadian and she loves Rappie Pie.)

Up on top is a picture of the stone beach near our house in Port Maitland.  Off in the distance is our land.  My 84 year-old mother and I got ourselves out to where I took this picture by thinking that it would be so much easier to keep walking and cut across the neighbor’s yard than it would be to turn back, which did not turn out to be the case.  It was pretty far.  Those are very tippy rocks.  My retired air force colonel brother and his wife and their son staged a rescue but we didn’t need it.  We were almost to the neighbor’s by the time my brother came bounding along.  We were fine.

This is a picture of the tea colored marsh that feeds into the north end of Port Maitland Beach.

Foggy Morning, Port Maitland, Nova Scotia, August 2013.  When I went back to this picture, I remembered that morning all over again.  I like to look at my pictures many times.  I need to.  I don't necessarily get things right away.  I like to know a place the way I know a person...  in a relationship…  over a period of time. 

I think Nova Scotia is where my parents spent the best years of their lives…  They were retired and we were grown.  For the first time…they had time.   Dad fished.  They did projects in the house.  The children and their spouses and friends and grandchildren came and we did our signature things… walked and explored the land, mowed the lawn, making it bigger and bigger, drove around, slept like cordwood where ever we possibly could, ate scallops, usually every night, painted rocks with little scenes… It was a big event if someone drove down my parents’ road.  They would run to the window to see who it was.  Their bedroom was not much bigger than their bed, but it has French doors and the wind from the ocean is always blowing.  You can always hear it.  My mom still sleeps in that bedroom, preferring it greatly to the much bigger new bedroom downstairs.

I could have picked so many pictures to show you about Nova Scotia.  There are quaint little cottages, colorful fishing boats sitting high and dry on account of the enormous tides, but I wanted to show you what is most important to me…. the quiet and the coolness and the simplicity and the space (outdoors) for everyone.  What a relief.

At the End of the Day

Taken on Great Salt Pond, November 4, 2013. 


On Block Island in the off-season, the gas station closes at three and sometimes two in the afternoon.  I was there at five of the hour.  I waited.  The attendant came out on the dot and said the pumps were closed.  I said, “I have been waiting.”  He said, “I didn’t see you.”  That was Cliff, Jr.  I was so mad I came back the next day and ordered one dollar of gas, just to be annoying.  He said, “I won’t sell you one dollar of gas.”  I said, “Then alright, two.”  He said, “That won’t get you very far.”  Which was technically correct because his is the only gas station on the island.  I got my gas, and when I had gone the distance that less than half of a gallon will take you I had no choice but to ask my patient husband to go and get some more.  Eventually, I had to go back, hoping Cliff wouldn’t remember, which was unrealistic, given the size of our island, but he never said anything and I didn’t either.

He was watching the Red Sox game last week.  People in his house said they could hear him shouting at all the big moments.  His wife went to bed and he stayed up to watch the replays.  In the morning she found him dead in his chair.  He was 50 years old.  He has left two young children. 

I went to the funeral yesterday. I think the whole island came.  The school bus was there, having brought all the children from school.  All his buddies were there.  They said he was generous, that he'd help them when he was tired, that he never wanted any thanks for anything.  His grave is in a little valley, and all the people, they just filled that valley.  On the way out I stopped at other graves.  People can still leave things for their people in our cemetery.   There were candles and seashells and notes, and toys and other things.

I went out last night to take pictures.  It was a little cold.   It was getting dark, so I got my tripod and did longer and longer night-time exposures.  I kept thinking of Cliff.  The tide was coming in… sliding in on such a quiet night.  Every so often I would look down and see my feet were standing in water.  I used my new wide-angle lens. Every lens is like a language.  It sees things in a certain way, different from other lenses, and different from people.  The same goes for these long time exposures.  They catch the little light that we can barely see and multiply it over and over. 

It was good to give my mind a rest.  I could look through my camera, listen for birds, breathe the cool air, hear the waves from the other side of the island, watch Wilson and Molly play all around me and wait for the light to change. 

This is for Cliff, Jr.


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You know how when you are in college and you have to write a thesis, the best thing is to pick a narrow topic?  Did I do that?  No I did not.  These were a few of my major papers:  "Aging Women in China - A Religious, Economic and Cultural Perspective", (All the) "Theories of Psychotherapy", "The Future of the Insurance Industry."  So I didn't exactly make things easy for myself.  And I also didn't today. 

I spent the day bashing my head against some satanic software that I needed for a project.  Here is an advanced and seldom mentioned hint from a professional photographer:  If you don't know how to do something the first time, you still won't know how after you do it the same way another 400 times.  (I would never suggest that you slow down and read the directions step by step.  That would be a waste of time).  If you're like me, sometimes it's harder to stop working on a project than it ever is to start.  I had to drag myself away and go exploring with my camera on the island...stop trying to do so much, start taking in.  And of course, solutions presented themselves the moment I stopped fighting and sighing about them.  I could simplify.  I really needed to simplify.  I complicate everything and I totally need to simplify.  Always.  Plus, I could ask for help with the things I didn't know how to do.  Plus, I talked to a friend and we love each other and that is always like medicine.  Plus, the only thing I might say that could possibly be of use to you, comes from the way I am learning to care for my life.  I know that.  So here's to stopping, going outside, talking to friends and simplification.

Carrying Water

This is a poster of a painting by Amado Pena.  It is named "Peoplescape One".   

I have a poster of an American Indian woman carrying water in the desert by Amado Pena.  He was kind enough to give me permission to show it to you.  His beautiful work can be seen at his website and you can view it here  ( 

I have loved this poster for thirty years, and for the longest time, could not have told you why.  The answer has been slowly unfolding in my life, especially as I have become a photographer.   My photographs are like the water.  I just work on the habit and craft of going out to get them.  And then I made the book, and now I am making this website...  just the ways to carry my pictures. 

There's a lot of water in the world... a lot of juice and flow and energy and beauty and movement.  Those of us living on the ocean and in the desert know that water is life.  I think it's our job and very great joy to carefully build our own containers and to stay with it until we know how to hold and carry this most precious thing, each in our own way,  to each other. 

Blue and Blue, taken in the early morning on September 26th, 2011 on Block Island off of Mansion Beach.