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.


Ship of Gold

True Story: The Central American, was a steam/sailing vessel that carried gold and passengers during the 1850's from gold rush in California to the east coast of the United States.  Everything started in California, went to Panama where it was carried across and then reloaded onto ships waiting on the Atlantic side, The Central American being one of them.

The vessel encountered a hurricane 200 miles off the coast of the Carolinas. She was filling with water and the people on board were desperate to keep the water from extinguishing the boilers.   That was the critical thing.  As long as they had the boilers they could propel the ship and keep her from turning sideways to the waves.  The men bailed all day and all night, and they continued into the next day, but they were passing out from exhaustion.  The women begged to be allowed to bail, some of them even dressing as men, but they were thrown off of the line as soon as they were discovered. 

Another ship passed and they threw a line, but it missed.  Neither ship could turn because of the wind, but life boats could travel from one ship to another.  All they needed was the strength to last until everyone could be rescued, but the men were already exhausted.  A few trips were accomplished as the ships grew farther and farther apart.  That saved the children, the women and some of the men, but by then, their strength had failed them completely.  The water rose.  The boilers were extinguished.  The mighty Central American broached and she was overcome.  She sank with almost 600 souls, including the brave Captain Herndon, who had refused to leave the ship while a single person remained aboard.  The year was 1857.  The ship and its treasure remained 8000 feet below the surface until 1989, when the treasure was salvaged.  It was one of the most difficult and expensive salvage operations ever undertaken and one of the greatest treasures ever recovered. 

I'm telling you this story and showing you this picture (I drew it myself by the way), in part so you can see why I chose photography over illustration, and in part because I think there might be something in this story that is relevant right now.

Here is more of the story.

The people threw all the gold overboard to lighten the ship, 21 tons of it.   Survivors reported that it became a sort of ecstatic frenzy, that people found liberation in discovering that when faced with death, the gold meant nothing to them.  There was also a couple on their honeymoon.  The young man sent a note to his bride after she had been carried to the other ship.  He said that he could die in peace because he had found such happiness in the time they had been together.  The woman reported about it later.  She said that there she was, exhausted, wet, cold, seasick, desperate, grieving, and by no means out of danger.  She said that note made her so happy that in that moment, nothing else mattered.  The note made all of her suffering go away.  

I like it that the love between this young man and woman was more important to them than anything, more important than their lives.  I also wish to point out that the people could easily give up their gold, but they couldn't give up their beliefs - in this case, their beliefs about men and women and about their proper place.  This story helps me understand how strongly beliefs are held inside of people, how they should not be taken lightly, how people will die before they will give up their beliefs.

I don't think they had a choice about it.  I don't think they could say, "Shall we go down with the ship, or shall we think a little more broadly?"  I think their identity was at stake and their sense of self-integrity as well as their reputation and their place in their tribe.  I think it was about what they thought was important and true and real in the world.  It would have helped if they had had time to think about it, and perhaps a little diversity.  I think they could have used a couple of different opinions.

So now I will come to the political application.  I consider this story when I can't understand why people act or believe the way they do, and I especially think of it when I want to challenge my own beliefs, especially the ones that might be blinding me to what what might be possible in life.

People are now saying anything, and they act like it doesn't matter if it's true.  People act like they could easily sacrifice their country to serve their parties' interests. And as much as some call on higher ideals, they act like there are no ideals at all. 

I don't think there is any wall we can build when our enemies are in our own country, and the current climate could turn us into a country full of enemies.  I listened to the audience during the second debate last week, and I found it quite disturbing.  There were times when it sounded very primal.  It sounded like the people wanted blood.  We have become a deeply fractured country.  People have their beliefs and we already know about how people commit to beliefs.  So what do we do about that?

Photography has taught me about certain kinds of truth - physical truth, practical truth.  And perhaps that kind of truth can be unifying, if people get used to knowing what it is.  For example, when I lost my new camera, it could only be in a one place.  No matter where I wanted it to be, no matter how many opinions I might have had about it, it could only be in that place.  In that case, perception was not reality.  Reality was reality.  And if I wanted to find my camera I had to look for it where it was.

Perhaps there are things we can agree on together, certain physical things, and if we can't agree on the truth itself, perhaps we can agree on where to find it.  Because now everything gets picked apart and taken out of context, put in its most click-worthy and divisive light and I don't think we can afford that.  I think that falsehood comes in many flavors.  I also think since it has no inherent reality it needs a lot of propping up.  But truth is true, and it waits for us, because there it was, in the ferry parking lot, dangling by its camera strap from the driver's side mirror of my car.

The Ship of Gold story tells me two things.  First, that people can get stuck on a certain point of view.  But second, that people are much more than their point of view.   They are about each other, and also about honor and love.  So let's start with that. 

And now I have some pictures for you, just to cheer you up.  I thought they might show that nature still knows what she's doing.  And perhaps we might find in this story some hope for the future, because it tells us that more is possible than we currently can know.

This is a milk weed pod at the fish hatchery.

This is detail on another pod, with a good look at the beautiful dew.

These are two seeds together when a soft breeze was coming, getting ready to fly.

This is another seed that has partially landed.  She still has to wait for the grass to fall down, before she can complete her journey.

This is a lovely spider web and I put it in because my friend Lisa likes it.

I put this one in because of the dragonfly.


PS.  You might like to know that the new husband was one of those ultimately rescued, so he and his new bride were able to live out their lives together.





Moving and Mansion Beach

We had just moved back into the house, after the summer rental.  It's a change for us and it's not just because of the move.  The whole island changes.  The number of visitors reduces by about half, and will keep reducing, week by week, until after Columbus Day weekend, when most things will close down.   And the weather is changing.  The mornings are cooler, even on hot days, and after a drought that lasted most of the summer, we've started to get little smatterings of rain. 

After living on a boat, where everything is just a few steps from everything thing else, the house seems to call for a lot of walking.  I can make a whole meal on the boat without ever taking a step.  The sink is right there and to chop things up, I just put a cutting board over it.  Then to use the stove, I only have to turn to the side.  The food is stored all around me.  It seems exactly right.  In the house, the sink is in one place and the stove is in another with a place to walk in between.  It's not a big kitchen, but until my sense of living space adjusts, it will feel like a little commute.

On the other hand, when I live on a boat on a mooring, my normal pattern of living means I'm spending a lot of time in nature.  In a house, I can do most things without going outside.  So I get this feeling every year, that my life is more convenient, but suddenly more confined.  Unless I make a decision to get out there.  Which of course, I do.

I'd been thinking about some friends who normally come to the island and couldn't make it this year.  I was missing them and I thought it would be nice to go to Mansion Beach, which is one of their favorite places.   So I went out one cool evening, the first of September, and I got the image above after sunset, by using my tripod and taking a long exposure.

Four days later, Hurricane Hermine was hanging off the coast.  The beaches were suddenly empty.  I decided to go back to Mansion Beach and take another picture, to show that two pictures taken from the same spot can be very different from each other.  I've always tried to make photographs that were "true", by that I mean, unaltered, as close as possible to the feeling and also the "reality" that was out there.  But I've been realizing lately how much a photographer affects a picture.  I choose what to take and on top of that, I also choose how to take it.  Different lenses and changes in length of exposure and aperture make a big difference.  So this another picture of the point just north of Mansion.  I used a telephoto instead of a wide angle lens and a short exposure instead of a long one.  Also, because the second picture was more about pattern than about color, I desaturated it a little, made it half way to black and white.

This next photograph was taken, also from Mansion Beach, but looking south toward town.  I stood in the water to get this picture.  Well actually, the way it happened is I was so busy taking pictures that I didn't pay attention to the water coming in.  So I got wet, and then what difference did it make?  So I went in, just a little bit, and the water splashed up to my waist.   I didn't go in very far.  It was probably not the best day for a swim. 

Here another picture, taken the same evening as I took the first picture.  It's also a nighttime, long exposure.

Bill and I just got home from the hospital yesterday.  He had a successful hernia operation.  It was a little tricky because of his prior operation, but the doctor in his words, was a little "creative", so he was still able to do it laparoscopically.  I'm sure once we get through the initial period of recovery, he'll be leaping around.  I thank those of you who knew about it for all your good thoughts and prayers and wishes. 

As I sat there in the surgical waiting area, and in the his room afterward and as I spent the night on a cot next to his bed, do you know what I was doing?  I was working on my pictures.  This is why I'm telling you.  It was the best and most interesting and most sustaining thing I could possibly do in that hospital.  Much better than reading a New Yorker that I was initially pleased to see in the waiting room, until I realized it was the same issue that had also been in that waiting room last March.

So anyway, be well, everyone, and thank you for reading my blog.  I got a good sleep last night.  Bill is out of pain.  Everything is good.


Good Ones

Sometimes I think about the fact that I’ve been taking wave pictures, primarily here on Block Island, for more than 10 years.  I go out a lot and on any given day I’ll take somewhere between 400 and 1000 pictures.  I go out when ever I am able.  That’s a lot of wave pictures. 

I ask myself whether I will get sick of them, or whether it would be more fun to take pictures in Hawaii for example, or in the Bahamas.  I’m certainly up for that, but I want to tell you what it’s like, time after time.  Here, in this place.  I go out and it's hot or cold or in between.   The waves are enormous with an impact so deep and powerful I feel it in the ground and against my whole body.  Or not.  They are blowing back.  Or not.  They are coming in orderly rolls, or thrashing around like soapy water in a washing machine.  Their color is grey or black or green or blue or purple or silver or red or golden.  The wind is blasting with sand or it’s lightly brushing my skin and bringing the scent of roses.  Their crests are like soft cotton or they are carrying diamonds. 

I would say that even after all the years, there are times when I get to see waves like I’ve never, ever seen them before.  But that’s not the most important thing… I mean, that’s pretty interesting but that’s not the reason I love them. 

I know there have been a lot of changes lately.  A lot of us have lost things that we dearly love.  I have come to feel that when that happens, when we lose something big, we actually have to disintegrate inside for a little while.  It’s as if we have to reshape our lives, make our lives over again.  I think that grieving is physical.  It’s a time for resting, and for going down as deep as you can and knowing what you love.  You know, it’s like that butterfly thing… the caterpillar actually liquefies inside.  All its organs turn into mush in order to reorganize. 

I think that loss is part of what makes us beautiful and wonderful, makes us true human beings.   It takes time, but I think that life is built for that, we are built for that, and healing forces come.   Sometimes it helps me to be transparent, I mean, to just let the energies of life keep moving in me, as unobstructedly as possible.  Like water.  Like waves in the water.

There is nothing better for me than to see the ocean crashing around, or more to feel it - to let that power and energy get a hold of my body.  It comes to me, it blows right into me and through me.  It gives me something I need.

These are some good waves taken at the end of October, just after a storm passed by.

Observable Light

I asked myself if it helped Wilson to see me so upset and I decided to try to feel better.   I asked myself if other people hadn’t also done this… made room for some happiness in the midst of the sorrow in their lives.

I figured out that chances are, the natural world I love, the one I feel so close to, the one I find so beautiful, has probably dealt with death before and that it’s probably got this covered.  I decided I would trust it. 

So I put on a smile.   At first I felt that I was pushing my face muscles against a mask of sadness, but then I had a little more courage.  And then I found I could hold a lot of things that I wouldn’t have thought I could hold in the same moment.   Sorrow and love and happiness and beauty and sweetness and careful attention to Wilson all remained together and one did not diminish the other. 

Wilson and Molly and I went out to the water.  We went to Mansion Beach and Wilson was able to walk himself out there.  I made him a little fort to keep him out of the sun. 

The storm from the last four days had passed and light was in the water.  Long rollers were coming in.  Now, I’m the last one to say that everything should be all shiny.  I like dark water very much.  But on this particular day, all that sparkle, all that laughing energy was good for my heart.  After four days of rolling and boiling, the water was still so clear.   It could still carry all of that light inside it. 

We couldn’t stay long.  It was really too hot for Wilson, but I was able to get a few pictures.  I carried him back to the car, and we had a fine day.  We went to Andy’s Way, and we rode around in the car.  He rested against the towel I used to prop him but he smiled and he lifted his nose to the wind.  In the afternoon we went to Ballard’s Beach where the building could give him shade in the afternoon.  The rollers were still coming in.  I had been wondering if it mattered to Wilson, if he or any other dog gets the same energy as we do from big waves crashing.  I’ll tell you this.  He loved it. 

I returned this morning after taking Wilson out for a drive.  He slept the whole time and when I put him by the water, he didn’t lift up his head.  He was working too hard to breathe.  I could feel his heart pounding.  I just got back from the grocery store, and this is one of the things about Block Island, that half the people knew about Wilson.  They said it is one of the prices we pay on the island; that we will not be able to get to a vet in time to prevent real suffering.  They told me their stories.   They said not to wait.  We felt like we were together in something.   I just made the arrangements to get off the island and put Wilson down.  I just walked into the house.

The light is bouncing off the ocean, and is beaming in and shining on the ceiling all the way into the hallway, the darkest part of our house.  I have gone to get my camera and am lying down on the floor.  The light has separated into all its colors and as the sun moves the light across the ceiling, I am content to lie here and watch and take pictures as they slowly merge back together. 

I don’t know, I don’t know at all, how the light that fills our eyes and lives will carry our good Wilson, but I know it carried him to us.  And meantime, this is the situation we’ve got right now, and we know what we have to do and we accept it, and Wilson is ours and we love him. 

PS.  We put Wilson down a week ago last Monday.  Bill was right there also.  Our vet did a wonderful job.  Wilson was so beautiful.  I felt an unexpected burst of joy and gratitude at the very second of his passing.   I could easily have missed it.  It was so small, just like maybe the feeling of the wind from the wings of a little bird flying by.  I don’t know how to say this.  I was overwhelmed at first, when Wilson’s death was in the immediate present, to realize how death is part of everything, how life includes death every minute.   It’s not something I experience all the time, even while I’m writing this now I’ve forgotten.  But what I felt at first was how much of life is given to us, how costly that is.  I saw all the death it takes to keep us going.  And of course these animals come and give us their whole lives.  I saw life gives itself to us all the time.  It spends itself for us, so freely.  It made me feel that there’s more to who and what we are, more to all of us, animal, vegetable, mineral, so much more than we realize.  It made me feel precious.  It made the whole thing feel precious.

I think of him now.  I carry a stone in my pocket for him.  I hold him in the biggest, brightest place I can imagine, and with the most freedom and beauty, and perhaps, if possible, with the tastiest snacks.  I feel love - his love, my love, “the” love?  I don’t know.  But that’s what helps me the most.

Grief is physical.  I think so.  I need to rest.  I feel pretty naked.  But here I am with every other person who has ever lost someone she loves.  

We’ll be alright.  We are alright.  

Snowy Day

I went out from Scotch to Mansion Beach and back again during the last big snow storm.  Wilson and Molly as you will see, were happy about it.  I loved the quiet and the way the snow made a blanket on everything, even on the sand, right up to the water.  I also loved the way the dense falling snow obscured my sight.  The beach will be covered in people and color and heat and action soon enough, but on this snowy day, I could only see the suggestions of things - just some shapes and shadows and the falling snow and the softest light.  I thought I would let the pictures stand for themselves, and let you enjoy them in peace except to tell you two things:  I am working on making these and other images into a children's E-book.  I hope to have it done in a few weeks.  And also, it should come with a warning because the early indication from children who have been kind enough to read it for me, is that it makes them want to get a puppy.

A Little Swim

Wilson and Molly in Great Salt Pond.  I have always liked their colors together with the golden grasses.

I have a waterproof housing for my camera and I've been working up my nerve to use it for several months.  The last time I used it, after all my careful tightening and testing, it leaked.  It doesn't take a lot of salt water to totally destroy a camera, which is what happened.  I sent the housing back to the guy who built it and he put in an improved gasket, but the problem is the little wing nuts that hold the housing together.  I don't trust them.  I think that's what of them got knocked last time.  The housing can't leak if it rides around in a dinghy next to a motor that vibrates all the screws loose, or if someone puts something on top of it, or if I get thrown by a wave.  It can't leak ever, no matter what happens. I need at least one fail safe and possibly another one after that.  So this is a work in progress. 

Meantime, it was such a beautiful evening.  The dogs were in the water and there were white egrets edging the pond.  The fall light was showing everything in gold and copper colors.  I waded into the water, mostly looking out toward the egrets but also being very careful where I put my feet.  I imagined how to fall.  I've read stories about photographers who fell into the water on their backs, their heads submerged, but their arms up, their camera held high above the water.  That was the plan. 

Here are three egrets at the edge of Great Salt Pond.  See the Great Blue Heron?  He's a newcomer I think.  I haven't seen him all summer.  Blue Heron are exactly the same birds as the Egrets, except for their color. 

It was a cool evening with beautiful warm light.  The birds, who can wait patiently fishing for hours, eventually flew, and I followed one, turning as he turned and I got his wings open against the sky.

It's an aspiration of mine... to get the perfect picture of almost nothing but coppery, smooth, atmospheric light.  I love Egrets and Heron in any case, their great elegance, their primordial ways.  You know birds are from dinosaur days, correct?  So maybe if there was a sky like this and a bird like this, this could have been back in the day.  I mean, actually back in the day.

And then we went swimming.  I love to swim and Wilson and Molly love to swim with me.  Sometimes we swim side by side, three dogs in the pond, and sometimes they go to shore and tussle while I'm swimming.  This is the perfect time to do this.  No people to bother on the beaches while the dogs run around.  No birds nesting.  But the water is getting colder.  I have all these little tricks for measuring how how cold it's getting day by day.  It's one thing to get into the water.  It's another to stay.  There comes a day when I don't get used to it, when it just stays cold the whole time.  That was yesterday.   

I love all the things that can only be seen from down inside the water - and I want to show you.  I've been planning how I was going to do this for months, but the limiting factor is that housing.  Maybe I can solve it before the water gets too cold to get in.  We'll see.  I might have another few weeks.  For now I have to be content to get as close as possible.

Sometimes, just at sunset, the wind dies and Great Salt Pond becomes as still as glass.  This was after I finished swimming.  I was still wet, carrying my fins and snorkel and other gear back to the car, with my dogs jumping around me.  I had to shoot quickly, as the light was changing very fast.  I was gingerly balancing the camera, holding it away from me to keep it from getting sandy and salty.  I liked the patterns made by the sand with the outgoing tide, and I also like the touches of smooth light.   I had the telephoto on the camera when I really could have used the wide angle lens.  I didn't have time to do anything about it and had to improvise.  This is actually six pictures stitched together in Photoshop. 

The Heart of a Place

This picture is from Block Island.  It's called "The Sun Drawing Water".

So I’ve been feverishly working on my show for several weeks and I wanted to tell you about it.   (The show by the way, is this coming Saturday, from 5 - 7, at the Spring Street Gallery on Block Island.)

I went through my pictures for the year.  I picked out a little over a hundred pictures, and then I studied them every which way.  I culled through the pictures and then culled them again, favoring the ones I liked the most and the ones I hoped others would like.  I also imposed upon the good graces of family and friends to give me their opinions.  I kept casting around for a concept… a story to tell that would make the selection of pictures make sense.  That was tricky because I liked so many pictures from so many different places.

OK, well there are waves from Block Island.  What a surprise.  But have also have many others.  I should tell you that I actually desaturated this picture from what you saw before, taking it half way to black and white.  While the actual colors at sunset were more vibrant, I liked the softer colors.

I finally got down to a few dozen pictures.  I printed some small ones to see how the colors on the screen would work out on actual paper.  I made adjustments.  Then, I started to think about sizes.  I liked some when they were nice and small… only six inches square, and some got bigger and bigger and until I had a few that were almost four feet tall.

This is one of the small ones, only six inches square.  It's hard to give you a sense of scale, here in the blog, because some pictures change completely if you change their size.  I'm doing this one, both on paper, matted and framed, and on wood in encaustic wax.

Here's another Block Island wave picture, taken the same evening as the one with the big rock above.  The real colors were in melon oranges and greens but the black and white was my favorite.

I printed them and then there were the inevitable reprints.  I was framing one large picture, leaning over a 19” by 29” image, and a drop of my sweat fell on the picture.  Another one was entirely about a large span of perfect calm water, glowing through the fog.  After I printed it, I found a few tiny dots from sensor dust.  There was another long picture, with rocks going back into the distance.  It posed a classic photography problem because a camera “sees” in a narrower “dynamic range”, or span from light to dark, than a person sees.  So the bright water and the dark rocks stood in more contrast to each other than was actually so on that day. I lightened the rocks to be closer to what I remembered.  Then, I thought they were too light and so I went back and reprinted the original file.  But then they were too dark and I went back and lightened some of the rocks.  Then I changed my mind and went back to the one I printed the first time.

This is the one from Nova Scotia where I kept fooling around with the color of the rocks.  What happens is you see it on the screen when it's back lit and then when you print on mat paper it's darker.  So you have to account for that.  The folks at Pro Digital Gear (see below) are suggesting I buy a calibrated monitor, where what I see here on the screen would be much closer to the actual print.  I'm tempted.  It would save a lot of time.

I made this one really big, and as you can see, if there is the tiniest little spot in all that expanse of flat calm water there is no place to hide.  I had to reprint it.  This is also from Nova Scotia.

Now it was time to give them names.  Sometimes an excellent name pops into my head, and sometimes not so much.  Edie named the first picture in this blog, “The Sun Drawing Water” because that’s what her father used to say when rays of sun came through the clouds, presumably sipping water from the ocean.  I named the one with all the stones “Long Walk” because that’s when my 85-year old mother got a much longer outing than we planned on the tippy shores of Nova Scotia.  At other times, I fell back as usual onto the simplest, most functional names.  It’s like when I was a kid and the six of us children could not agree on a name for our cat.  So we finally named her “Cat”.  So I have names like that:  “Egret 1, 2, and 3”.  And “Blue Heron 1 and 2”.

There were also moments of synchronicity.  For example, I’m doing a new thing this year because of my friends Karen and Robin, called “encaustic wax”.  You prepare a wooden base and then glue on a picture using special stuff and then you paint it with bees wax mixed with resin and then you take a heat gun and you melt some of it off.  I asked my friend Larry to make the wooden bases for me.  I went to see him in Moosup, bringing the intended pictures, so there would not be any mistake.  We took an hour one morning and measured very carefully together. 

Now, Larry’s work is perfect.  I’ve never known him to measure anything incorrectly. But he made the wooden bases and I went and picked them up in Moosup and I could see that they were too tall.  I decided to save them for another time.  Then I thought of a pair of pictures I had worked on.  I was attached to them because they were from the morning of the anniversary of my father’s death but they were an odd size and I had put them aside.  I didn’t want to do them.  I argued with myself.  I had enough pictures.  I had never done anything that big in wax.  I didn’t have the time and isn’t that why I drive myself so crazy anyway, trying to do too much in too many directions?  Wasn’t it better to simplify?  That would be my new motto…to simplify, especially when I’m living like a nomad in the summer… That was the secret… the key to everything…to live an orderly, serene, intentional life.  But I couldn’t get those pictures out of my head.  I finally said, “Oh fine.  If the pictures are the right size I’ll do it.”  And they were.  They were 23 ¾ inches wide and 43 ¾ inches tall.  When things slot in like that, who am I to object?  So I’m not making any promises but I’m going to work on them.

This will be a super big one in the encaustic wax.  There is another one to go with it, taken at the same time.  As I said, I've never done this size before, but if it works, they'll both be in my show.  Waterfront 1 and 2.

Pretty soon, I’ll see the final pictures, all matted and framed or covered in wax and done.  As my niece Elisabeth (who helped me, by the way, with matting) would say, “Done and done.”  That’s when I will feel lucky and grateful. 

Because everyone has his or her own way of seeing and choosing what to see.  And not it's just people who do so.  In my whole year of pictures, there were Wilson and Molly, and birds and turtles and deer and insects and many other creatures and they were all out there seeing exactly what they needed to see, in exactly the way they needed to see it, for their own particular purpose.  Every landscape, every crashing wave, every still, calm pond, every span of stones sweeping into the distance, was holding a world of creatures, alive and breathing and watching.  And there I was with my little camera in one particular spot and I got to see it in my way also.

It is something to review your life as represented in a year of pictures.  And then to choose and choose, progressively narrowing down to the ones that seem most beautiful or significant.  And then to have them in front of you, and then to put them up on a wall. 

You feel exposed at first when people come into the Gallery and start looking, but sometimes you get to know a person in the connection that is made around a picture, and you know her in a way that is beyond the ways that people often get to know each other.  And because people are normally kind and because you get stronger, you become willing to take more risks in your pictures and more willing to stand up and let yourself show what matters to you and in that way, you get to be more of who you are.

Our house is still rented, and will be until the day after the opening for the show.  With moving around so much and with my congenitally short attention span, there is major coordination going on all the time just to know where my toothbrush might be.  (It is missing at the moment.) That means I’m tired.  That means that putting a show together, with mats and frames and papers and printing and all the associated stuff, not to mention the food for the show, not to mention figuring out what I’m going to wear when I’ve worn the same thing every day for three months, is going to be interesting.  But things are moving along.  It will all get done.  It’s getting done now. 

I hope when you read this you don’t get overtaken with all the complications.  I mean, they are there. I just have to get through them.  And if I didn’t have this pressure, this show to put on, I would never have pushed it the way I am pushing, I would never have begun to find out what is possible.  In the end it’s wonderful.  It’s my life, affirmed in all these pictures, lived and seen and remembered and shared.

This is one of three egrets, creatively named Egret 1, 2, and 3.   They are little 6" pictures, on paper, matted and framed.

Now I’m standing back and looking at all my pictures for the show, which are arrayed because of boundless generosity and kindness, along the walls of a bedroom at our friends’ Paula and Greg’s (and Ricki and Alex and Max's) house.  There are the ones you've seen in this blog and then if the encaustic goes well, 17 more.

Why did I pick these particular pictures?  I was always looking for light… light on or through the water… special light breaking through the fog… the last light of the day or the first light of morning.  I am struck by how much is always happening everywhere… light dancing, wind blowing, waves crashing, plants growing or going to seed, birds flying.  The pictures remind me of what was happening on the day of each picture, of what those places mean.  They reflect what I hope is close to the heart or spirit of these places, at least to my eyes.   

So that will be the name of my show, The Heart of a Place.  That’s whether it’s Block Island or Moosup or Nova Scotia or anywhere, there is always a heart to be found by paying close attention. 

This wave is from Block Island again, and it's similar to some of my others.  I like it because it looks a little smokey.  I called it Salt and Smoke.


PS.  For those of you who are photographers, I want to tell you about some colleagues who have also become friends through the years.  I go to the folks at Pro Digital Gear in Salem, CT. for my cameras and lenses and papers and printers and inks.  They are the people who cheerfully helped me when I spilled a can of soda on my camera or when I have to do a repair on my giant printer myself rather than bringing someone over from the mainland.  I also went there just last week because I have another big project and they were very generous with their time and expertise.  John Fast, one of their experts, is having a photography show this coming Friday.  Here is info about his show at the Artist's Cooperative Gallery of Westerly, RI. And here is Pro Digital Gear's website.  Best prices anywhere.  These folks are professional and good to every single person who calls them on the phone.

And also Stu-Art Supplies.  They cut my mats and provide me with the parts to do all my framing.  They have beautiful, thick, museum quality materials and Nielsen frames.  If there is the slightest question or problem they help immediately, even if I am stammering my way through an order on the phone, calling at the last minute. getting dyslexically confused between mat outside sizes and inside sizes and frame heights and widths and so on.  They are wonderful people also.  Here is their site.    And here is their blog.

You've seen this picture before if you've been following this blog.  It's a great old tree from Amy and Stan's farm.  It's one of the pictures I still have to frame and I haven't named it yet.  Or maybe it will be Great Old Tree.  In any case, it's in the show even though it's different from the others because I love it so much.

Morning Light

Taken from Crescent Beach at about 6 AM.  The sun is up so early at this time of year!  See the tiny black spots up in the cloud?  Those are little birds whizzing by.

I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect light in the morning.  There is simple pure light when the sun is rising on a clear day but the best thing is when there is fog.  I wanted to see the fog burning off and the light coming through.  I wanted to be on the water already when the sun was rising, so I aimed for getting up at 4:30.  When the morning came however, I talked myself out of it.  So I didn’t make it down to the beach at 5, but at 6.  The sun had already risen and if there had been fog on the water it had already burned off.  So I got this shot up above, very nice, but I was disappointed in myself for not getting down just a little bit sooner.

I saw that fog was still blowing in from the west so I went to that side of the island.  Here are shots of the green and the mist, and especially in this shot, you can see the misty “Ireland” side of the island. 

This is in the southwest part of the island, looking toward Rodman's Hollow.

This was taken in Rodman's Hollow.  Do you see that bright edge by the farthest bluffs?  That’s looking north… that’s where I was when I took the first picture.  You can see it’s bright over there.

I did get out the next day, early like I wanted, and I got all the fog I could possibly use.

This is Mansion Beach, looking south into the fog.

There was just one woman walking on the beach.  Cool and misty and wonderful at this time of day. 

The sun began to show itself.  I was hoping the light would break through and it did.

Here is the sun, just breaking through.  See the lace in the water?

And here it is a little later... the sun was soft on the water.

The sun only lasted for a minute and then the fog socked in again.  I waited, hoping for another chance with this beautiful light.   I waited through fleas that woke up and bit me for about half an hour, disappearing as suddenly as they came.  I went in for a swim but abandoned that plan when I felt the strength of the current around my legs.  (I have learned to be careful.  Mansion Beach is a wonderful place to take pictures and a wonderful place to swim, but the tide makes a current that runs north along this shoreline.  When it hits the point that you see in the distance in this picture, it curves out into the ocean.  If you can feel the current running against your legs, you do not want to be in this water, believe me.) 

So I left and went farther south to the Town Beach for my swim with the dogs.  I continued to look toward Mansion however, telling myself to let go because I already had my good pictures.  But I think if the fog had begun to lift, I would have run right back again.

The fog thickened and deepened.   It was like that all day.  There is a hurricane coming up the coast… you already know that… Hurricane Arthur… we’ll get the edge of it tonight.  So the weather has turned wet, starting with fog all day yesterday and rain on and off today.  Then it will rain all night and possibly clear by morning. 

Tomorrow will be beautiful.  There might be big waves… we’ll see.  Even after the waves have calmed you can still feel the agitation in the water.  It’s like the water remembers for a little while.  (There will certainly be strong currents.)

We’ve had the most perfect weather up until now.  It was good to have this day for resting.  After our morning walk and pictures, the dogs have been sleeping all day.  I’ve been working on the blog.  It’s good to feel the plants are finally getting all the rain they need.

Time Study


I've continued to be very busy.  The Gallery opened yesterday.  And I've sort of hit a wall.  I've declared tomorrow an official Sabbath.... (these come on me suddenly in my tradition...  when I can't do one more thing... when I feel I'm a danger to myself and others... when I can no longer finish a thought and when I bump into door posts as I did yesterday at the Gallery, I declare a day of rest).  So.  No Gallery... no getting the house ready for rental... no big photo projects...  no emails...  no web browsing.  I need this rest.  I really, really do. 

But I didn't want to let any more time go by before giving you a weekly posting.  So here I am on my Sabbath-eve and I'm looking through my photos for something to show you.  If I could pick one or two things from all the pictures, something simple and brief and nice, what would it be?  So I decided on these pictures. 

These are pictures I took with a tripod.  I took them as the light was fading and also later, in real darkness.   I made the exposure long enough to collect the light that was there.  It collected light I couldn't even see. 

These time exposures play with my head a little bit around the whole question of time.  The picture above was taken in late dusk.  The shutter speed was 8/10ths of a second.  You can see the wave starting to get blurry around the edges.  The picture below was taken about a half an hour later.  That was in real darkness.  (It's amazing when doing this kind of photography, what a difference a few minutes can make.  It changes second by second.)   

The shutter speed for this picture was 25 seconds.  Way longer.  And look what happened to the waves.  In the first picture you can still discern the form of the wave, but not in the second picture.  Waves came in and out again and again, each leaving a trace on the sensor, but nothing defined.  All the waves accumulated into the ghostly, smoky, richly colored nothing you see in this picture.  And of course the stones were there the whole time, substantial and solid, with nothing to do and all the time in the world.

I like this a lot without having too good of a reason... the idea that perception of the passage of time might be optional... that we might experience time at a certain pace and that another creature... say a bacteria or even a little insect that only lives for a day might feel like she has lots and lots of time.  Maybe there are creatures who know time and see the world the way the camera captured the waves in this picture. 

I'm not a very good rester.  I'm sure my mind will conjure some emergency or some new hobby such as learning a foreign language to try to get me back into my comfort zone of zooming around.   I've done this before, declared a Sabbath and decided to start it after finishing just one more thing.  So then a Sabbath turns into a half an hour sitting on the beach just before making dinner.  But I really need this time and I'm determined.  And the tourists who have suddenly arrived and are already walking in the middle of the road will be much safer if I get some rest.  So this is a public service.  I've already decided and now I'm telling you.   I might live on a different time scale tomorrow with nothing to think of, nothing to solve, nothing to start or finish, and plenty of time.  If that's too difficult I'll watch my favorite movie.  Apollo 13 or possibly Star Trek into Darkness.

The sun is setting in a few minutes.  There is a cap of  clouds over the island.  The sky is clear at the east horizon, and the sky is light pink or melon... similar to the color on the water in the picture above.  The ocean is turning into deeper and deeper blue.  It's beginning to get that wonderful indigo color.  It is soft in the west... nothing fancy.  Sometimes the softest colors are beautiful too... just shade of grey, with faint touches of pink and traces where it's glowing in the color of pearls.   Oh, but now the sun has dropped under the clouds and it's like a burning coal on the horizon, and it's beginning to bring fire underneath, and now that's spreading.  Maybe it will light the whole sky like it does sometimes, but now I don't think so... it's darkening, deepening, more purple now.  It's going.   

Maybe in a world that's made like this I don't have to do everything all the time.  Maybe the world will turn without my opinions or directions.  Sabbath is starting now.



Energy Management

Water falling in Savoy, Mass, near Lisa and Bill's cabin. 

I am busy right now.  We move out of the house for summer rental on June 8th.  Because it’s a maritime environment, every wall, ceiling, and floor is washed, and all the bedding and slipcovers, and then both offices are converted to bedrooms, everything of ours in the kitchen, and in bureaus and cabinets is squashed into lock out closets.  All the stuff that in my impeccable system of housekeeping has been piled in corners and left to breed and multiply through the winter has to be decompiled and dealt with.  There is an electrician coming today and we’re standing by for the itinerant appliance repair person who comes from the mainland and whose time is more difficult to get than let’s say, the Pope's. 

In addition to that, this is the narrow window of time for many much loved people to come and see us.  There were four people here last weekend.  There are six people here right now.  There are more coming the day these folks leave, and then two more and those may overlap with two more, in which case our neighbor will kindly allow us to house the overflow, and then there will be four more people over Memorial Day weekend and then we have two weeks until we move out. 

Not much effort.  A lot of force and power.

Oh yes, and then all my pictures have to be planned and made and matted and framed at least for the beginning of the summer art season.  The Gallery opens on the 23rd of May and the building has to be finished (Becca, Eileen and I have been painting, and Jerry has been doing construction) and there are innumerable meetings and many, many details. 

How am I going to get this done?

My Dad’s father used to make his own shoes and tools.  He worked pressing clothes during the day and worked on his farm in the evening.  There was economic necessity but there was also an ideological component.  There was something morally wrong in not doing everything yourself, unless you had children, and in that case it was definitely wrong if they were not doing everything with you.)   My father used to take copper, coat it with two-part epoxy and wrap it with electrical tape.  (My father loved two-part epoxy.  Everything in our childhood seemed to involve two-part epoxy.  Or duct tape, preferably smuggled out of work.)  That is how he made his own wire for the boat and I remember holding it for him by the hour so he could wrap it.  This, instead of going to the hardware store and buying some.  We were not “parasites” - lazy, privileged people who didn’t even know how to make our own wire.  We were self-sufficient people living in America, a free and democratic country where everyone was equal.  (The boat would be ready in August or possibly September.) 

So I tried to do everything myself, with a certain righteous strain, as if my personal worth or even my right to be on the planet could be measured by how overworked I was.  But over the years I have learned that it feels so much better and we actually do a much better job when we ask for help.  So Gabby (God bless her and keep her) and her folks (ditto) have been cleaning, and Nick (ditto) has been working in the yard, and Becca (ditto) is going to help me paint, and Larry (ditto) is coming to do some construction and Bob, another photography friend, is helping with broken screens and wobbly furniture, simply out of the greatness of his heart (ditto, ditto).  As a result, we are in better shape right now than we have often been three days before we move.  So I have help.  I have plenty of help.  What a concept.

This has left me with time, I wouldn’t say with an abundance of time but with enough time to work on my pictures.  This has also changed through the years.  Going out and about with a camera around my neck is part of my life now.  It’s just what I do.  The side effect of doing this is pictures.  So now, there are so many pictures and I have to choose. And once I choose I have to make them up.  There are papers and inks and the size and shape of each picture, and matching mats and frames and glass or plexi.  Controlling all that is a little like doing taxes.  It’s easy to get lost in the weeds.   So I am taking the time to develop a master plan.

In winter, on Great Salt Pond, it's a little less busy than it's about to get immediately.

Among other things in my former corporate life, I used to be responsible for “performance management” in my company.  I used to think a lot about this… how to get a whole bunch of people marching quickly and efficiently in a planned and measured direction.  I would go to conferences about this.  I would run home and make up forms and manuals and training and incentive programs.  I found the conferences a little upsetting.   People were paid a lot of money to get all worked up about performance management concepts.  I thought that there was too much about going faster and more cheaply and too little about what we were doing and why we were doing it. I remember one time coming home and saying that these systems would have been very useful to Adolf Hitler, that great performance manager. 

(I happened to be in a doctor’s office and I picked up an article in Time magazine about suicide prevention.  The article said it would be so much better if the people who were at the point of suicide could be reached closer to the beginning of the downward spiral, rather than waiting for them to make a call from the emergency phone on the bridge.  They said it would be much more cost effective for the whole system if they could find a way to do that.  I thought, “cost effective?” It just killed me how automatically that was written, how deeply that has been driven into our cultural water table.  Upon reflection, I thought maybe this was social worker lingo… from people who were used to having to justify what they do to the people who pay for their programs.  I know that game, sneaking human values into corporate language, but I imagine a world where the undisputed bottom line includes the value of being alive.)

I used to measure life, especially at this time of year, in terms of “Things to Do.”  I would make a list and try to get through it as quickly as possible.   But now, because of help, I have the pure luxury of stepping back a little.

And here we were in March a few years ago, everything about to burst out.

I’m thinking about the context in which I work:  Where are my tools… what is my way of being organized?   I’m thinking about my energy:  Do I need to step back or rest for one minute right now… do I need to say “no” to something?   What feels good about working?  I’m thinking about my purpose.  Why am I doing this?  What is precious?  

I’m older.  I can’t blast myself out of a canon and do two weeks of work in two days.  (Plus, that requires cramming a lot of stuff into my closets and my closets are already full of other stuff.)  Plus, the things I want to do now require consistent effort and emerging, clarifying purpose over an extended period of time.  So I need to keep working on context… tools and places and practices that will carry me along.  And also, this is something… I used to work as if it was the product that mattered… not what it took out of me to make it.  Now I matter more - my life matters more.

I used to go around with my hair on fire as if I was always in a life or death situation.  Well animals are in a life or death situation and they rest whenever they can.  (Great White Egret on Great Salt Pond.)

I want my pictures to fit together.  When people come to see my part of the gallery, I want the whole thing…the wall, the bin, the book, the portfolio to give a coherent experience. There are the pictures for now and then I will have my show in the fall, and that will be a different experience.  My niece Elizabeth is going to help me with the matting and framing (she is very good at this) and that will leave me time to do one thing that I never seem to get time to do, figure out how to market my book and if I’m going to do any advertising.  I will.  See, that’s the difference between having help and not having help.  I will have time to do this.  I’m often working right now, from five in the morning until ten o’clock at night.  (I had to tell you.  I’m still my father’s daughter.)  But it’s fine.  I came in from the studio the other night.  Bill said, “How was the commute?”  (I used to drive three hours a day.)  I said, “Oh, it was terrible… you know, weeds in the path and everything.”  

There is a Navajo saying.  “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  I am learning who can be trusted and I’m asking for advice and help.  I am spending time on the context and process and purpose of working and I feel that my life matters as much as the output itself.

Yesterday I cleaned the house, prepared bedrooms, made dinner, took the dogs for a walk, wrote some stuff for the gallery, welcomed guests, took a few pictures, moved all my matting and framing materials, ordered more materials, paid bills, printed pictures, talked to a friend and photography client and to the electrician and the appliance repair person, and locked myself out of the car… and the funny thing is… I never felt like I was working.  I basically felt like I was doing what I wanted to do.  Why do I want to do this?  For my life.  For the lives of other people.  I'm not alone.  We're in this together.

It’s five o’clock in the morning right now.  The sun will be coming up soon.  It’s orange and red and purple across the north and east horizon.  The water is glowing blue and silver through a tangle of newly budding trees and bushes.  And I’m not getting up to take its picture.  I’m enjoying it very much in any case.  And Bill is up and making coffee.  Coffee.  Very nice.

North LIght

The Block Island Poetry Project

The people at the Poetry Project saw my book and asked to see the pictures bigger.  Here is one of the pictures from the book, called "Cathy's Wave".  It's named for my sister.

I taught at the Block Island Poetry Project last weekend and then I went right home and finished our taxes.  So I got to have one big experience juxtaposed with another.  I had tried to psych myself into doing taxes and not indulge in whining about them.  I tried to say, “Isn’t it nice to be alive while working with taxes - to spend time in this knowable, orderly world?  But we have four different businesses plus our own taxes, and some (all) of my filing systems looked like the back of my closet.  So all of that had to be carefully organized with much ADHD and gnashing of teeth. 

Now the taxes are done and I think it is best to forget them as soon as possible.  I want to focus instead on telling you about the Poetry Project.  I led a session called “Photography and a Creative Life”. 

This is another picture from the book, called "Amy's Wave".  It's for another sister.  The only sister left without a wave is Mary, and she's out in Colorado.  Perhaps she can visit and we'll find a wave together, or if I go there it might have to be a mountain:  "Mary's Mountain."  That would be fine.

I asked people to tell me what was important to them, how they wanted to express their creative instincts.  One woman talked about beauty and where it can be found.  She opened this line of inquiry:  “Do we have to be in a place like Block Island to live our lives in beauty, or can we find it anywhere?”  Another spoke of writing as craft.  She said so many people dash words onto a page because there is a kind of truth that comes from blurting things out.  But she wants to find the exact center, and so she works hard on her writing.  She lets it refine and emerge, and she discovers both words and a deeper understanding.  A man said he used to be afraid to expose himself, but when his father died, he was no longer willing to wait.  He wants to be as authentic as possible and to experience that from others.  A woman came with her beautiful young daughter.  This child paid much closer attention than I would have expected, and when she was tired, she leaned into her mother and played with her mother’s long hair.  One man was a little bit quiet in the workshop and like so many quiet people has so much to say.  When we were out taking pictures, he used my long telephoto lens and got a good picture of swans bursting unexpectedly into flight.  Happiness.

This picture is called "Back Splash."  It's also in the book.

Each person generously spoke about his or her own life and aspirations.  Each person’s world and work and way of being was different, and each person’s story was so big.

The mother said, “I thought we were going to talk about photography, and we are, but this is about so much more than photography!”  I found myself saying, “Photography is about so much more than photography.”  

On the last night, Coleman Barks (a poet), David Darling (a cellist), John de Kadt (a drummer) and Zuleikha (a story-telling dancer) performed some poems adapted from Rumi.  I have known these poems for years but I never saw them dancing.  Zuleikha could swing her hips and I could see a cow.  She could raise her shoulders and I could see a parrot. (That cow, for example, would eat grass all day and worry about it all night.  It forgot that the grass would grow again and would always be there in the morning.)  I have also worried that I would run out of things to say.  But now, I will remember that woman’s bottom swaying while she happily, busily, munched the new grass, and I will laugh and believe that life will continue to grow for me also.                                                                                          

I was convinced again about the special power of seeing.  It helps me know things more deeply and use what I learn in my life.  It can show things before words come in to make up philosophies and arguments.  No one has ever looked at my pictures and said, “But that’s against my religion.”  I like that very much.      

I want to spend time on this, to explore the ways that pictures show what words can’t say, and the ways that pictures and words can work together to tell a better story. 

This is a puzzle I've been working on all week.  I took the color out because I wanted the gulls to blend into the ocean.  I'm not really satisfied yet.  I want to convey  a feeling about birds and waves coming from the same wind.  I want them to look like each other, or to look like they derive from each other, or derive together from the same source. 

There are many ways to know about this picture.  One is to count the birds for tax purposes.  There are 18 birds, and X% of that is what?  This is just what I need.  Another is to write a story about them.  Another is to evaluate... it's a little light, the contrast could be greater but then you'd see the birds more clearly and do you want that or not?  The wave coming through is "effective" or else it's "distracting."  Another way is to know by seeing and just be with it and not put anything else on top of it.  That way you can have your experience and I can have mine.  It can do what is needed in both of our lives, and both can be true. 


PS.  I am going to work to make an eBook out of the content from the workshop.  I’ve never done that before and I’m sure I’ll be telling you about it.

PPS.  This picture is called, “I Want That.”  One seagull is attempting to take a fish from the other.  I think it is appropriate for taxes.


I went out to take pictures on the west side of the island.  The colors were rich and beautiful…more beautiful because with all the dull skies we've been having, I had almost forgotten what evening light could be.

The next day, April 9, was the seventh anniversary of my father’s death, so of course he was on my mind.  I remembered how he loved it here and how we loved taking pictures together.  I felt grateful and lucky to have had so much time together in such a beautiful place.

I went out in the morning and it was beautiful again.  Mornings like this normally make me happy but this time I felt more than raw, more than vulnerable, more like kind of pulverized.  I wanted my father to be here.  





So I lived with those feelings for the day.  It wasn't the best day to have to finish our taxes, but I got them done, well... basically done.  Done enough to tidy them up a bit after the Poetry Project this weekend. 

I will try to say how it is for me.  When my father died, there was a gathering of forces.  There were so many changes inside of me.  Deep, deep rearrangements.  What had been external to me - things that I had known about my father - were now inside of me.  There is loneliness in losing my father and sometimes I miss him so much, especially when I'm taking pictures, but there is also a sense of wholeness, and also some strength or courage, maybe.    My life, that started with my mother and him, and is grounded in them, is taking its own direction.  

My father was at his best in nature.  He took delight in every little thing that happened, every little thing he found.  When a wave was splashing or falling, he wanted to open his mouth and taste it.  I feel all of that, alive and well inside of me, and growing.  And his eyes were exactly the color of the ocean.  And those are my eyes also.

PS.  My friend Karen Capuciati and her sister Kim have a wonderful blog called, "In Care of Dad."  It's about caring for loved ones in the face of serious illness.  They have published an excerpt from my blog in their post this week.  Their blog is a wonderful resource.  You can find it at or here. 

PPS.  I like this picture.  I took it the same night as the first ones but it was too big to fit up at the top of this post.  I didn't want to leave it out so I'm putting it here.  I also want to mention that the evening pictures are from the same place as the pictures for the blog post, "Wilson and Molly and the Wind".  That was back in January.  What a difference kinder weather can make. 

The wind had blown the fog into vertical streams that caught the setting sun. 


The lighthouse on the way into Nantucket Harbor.

As you know, it has been a long winter.  So I thought I would try a little change.  I mean, something really different…like going off to see a small island off the coast of southern New England. 

It all seemed very familiar… planning and organizing ferry schedules, a long ocean ride....until I saw the harbor.  Nantucket Harbor is the site of the largest whaling fleet in history… its hay day was in the early 1800’s… so it’s like stepping back in time…walking down narrow, winding cobble streets and alleys…looking at fine old colonial houses, each with a widow’s walk.  The people at the restaurants told us how you have to be so sturdy and everything because there are only 15 restaurants open on the island at this time of year.  So Mimi and I got to act like we had just come back from the wilds of Alaska and explain how it is on Block Island. 

The harbor in the rain.

In any case, I was only there for two nights.  We had an excellent time, with wonderful, long-time friendship and good food.  It rained most of the time, but we did get out to take pictures.  We saw a white egret.

When I came home and told Malcolm Greenaway about the egret, he said, "Then why aren't they here on Block Island?  I said, "Maybe they are on their way."  And it was just as I prophesied.  I saw one arriving last night.

We also took many pictures of the Nantucket Shoals.  I have heard about these waters all my life, in every maritime weather report.  The shoals are a series of shifting sandbars, in waters sometimes as shallow as 3 feet.  They stretch out to the south and east of the island.  Waves “feel the bottom”, peak up and crash when they encounter the shoals.  Ships driven through the shoals because of wind or errors in navigation are almost certainly lost.

Scary water.

See how the sand darkens the water and how close the waves are breaking to the shore?

It was something to stand there in wind that was only 25 knots and coming from the other direction, looking at water that was so dark with churning sand.  I’ve only seen it like that on Block Island in a hurricane. 

Another dark wave.


When I left the island, it was a little bumpy for the first half hour of the two-hour ride, and I got to listen to the familiar sound of a steel hull slamming against the water.  But the wind was from the north, and the seas continued to calm as we got closer to the mainland.  I was content to lie down and eves drop while Nantucket islanders talked about things that reminded me very much of ferry conversations on the way from Block Island… there was talk of getting ready for the summer and of someone getting all bent out of shape about something…and people talked about where they were going and what they would buy on the mainland and when they were coming back.

Back home.  See the deer?

It was snowing (!) when I got back to the mainland and the huge ferry terminal.  I drove to Moosup.  Went to the fish hatchery, of course.  Got some pictures of blue heron, of course.  And then I came home to Block Island. 











Small Block Islanders.

The dogs were hysterically happy to see me and I was equally happy to see them.  I took them out to take pictures that night and then again yesterday morning. Then they waited in the car all day, in case I tried to make another escape.  We went out again last night.  The weather has changed at last.  There were moments of blue sky and good light and we went to many familiar places.  I realized how much I love it here.  All the years and the emptiness in winter and the freedom of movement and the thousands of walks and pictures have given me a sense of place.  It’s like even more than our house, our physical building, which is rented out in the summer, the island itself is home.   I know how the waves are likely to be under given conditions, at different parts of the island.  I call the people by name and they call me.  I have an idea where I might find ducks and deer and piping plovers and possibly now, even owls.  I’ve now been lucky enough to go to Nantucket but luckier still because I am so happy to come home.  I would love to go again when I have more time, and I'd also like to see Martha's Vineyard.  But right now I have egrets to find on Block Island and I need to say goodbye to the snowy owls, and actually I have to get down to the ferry because our son and his wife and new baby will be here in about 15 minutes.  I promised to go out on the breakwater and take the baby's first Block Island picture as the boat comes into the harbor.

A fortuitous welcome from a snowy owl.  I happened to find him, the first morning home.

PS.  I want you to see the difference light makes in a photograph.  This is the same egret I took up above, except in afternoon, overcast light.  The three pictures were taken almost at sunrise.  The sky was overcast then also, but the difference is that in so little light, the contrast was so much greater.

Same egret.  Different light.

The Snowy Owl

A nice picture of seagulls, as well as North Light, which I normally would have appreciated.

I went out first thing in the morning to find the snowy owl.  I knew when I found her that I’d have the best chance of getting close if I was alone, so I left the dogs at home, which I never do, which made us all a little sad.  I went down the dump road and began the long walk up the west side of the island to North Light.  I was ready to see the snowy owl at any moment.  I made myself patient, silent, perceptive and benign, like Marybeth or Pocahontas, someone an owl would like to be with. 

And then I saw her, the snowy owl, in the far distance.  I raised my camera and took a picture.  The snowy owl flew.  She came toward me and away at an angle, and disappeared off to the east.  I can usually focus on birds in flight.  Why couldn’t I do it this time?  Damn.  Plus, my feelings were hurt.  The owl had stayed for Marybeth and not for me.

I kept on walking because Marybeth said there had been two owls, one very skittish and one not so much.  I went all the way to North Light.  I didn’t see anything.  Well, I did see a lot of sea glass, but I didn’t care.  Stupid sea glass.  And I did see many sea gulls and even got some good pictures but I didn’t care about those either.  I began to walk back.  I saw a man with his dog about a mile away.  How was I supposed to get a picture of the snowy owl with people everywhere?  Then he cut into the dunes at the middle path that led back up around near the back of Sachem Pond.  I thought there might still be a chance if he hadn’t been at the far part, near where I had come in.  Then, I saw four more people.  I said, “This is how the snowy owl must feel.”  I went all the way back, fuming, missing my dogs because I didn’t know how to go for a walk without them.  At one point, I turned and a brown lab was there without his person.  I talked to him quietly, “Well, hello.”  And, “Who are you?”  And, “Are you lost?”  He looked at me with slightly uncertain and with soulful, serious eyes.  He followed me for a little while.  That made me feel a tiny bit better.   I called my husband.  I said, “I’m so upset I feel like I need to take a pill, or something.”  He said, “There will be more chances.”  I said, “No, there won’t.  There really won’t.  She is going back to the Arctic and I’ll never see her again.” I got to the people.  They were actually OK.  I showed them where to look for sea glass and found a particularly interesting piece and let the woman have it, which I thought was very nice of me, under the circumstances.  I got back to my car and saw they had parked next to me, and were from Delaware.  Stupid Delaware.

A nice picture of a wave.  Looking over the Old Harbor breakwater to Clay Head.

I went out again and took many more pictures of things that would normally make me happy, including some very nice waves but I couldn’t appreciate them at the time because I was being such a head case. 

Another perfectly good picture.

Then I ran into Malcolm Greenaway, a great Block Island photographer.  He had been out traipsing in the vicinity of North Light, looking for the snowy owl also.  We commiserated.  He showed me his equipment and the snowy owl picture he had gotten after trying for almost three hours, but the owl was in the far distance.  I told him that Edie had said to look near Cuttings Cottages and I went home to walk the dogs.  I was out with them, trying to make it up to them for my neglectful ways, when my husband called.   He had just spoken to Malcolm who had called to say that he found an owl exactly where I suggested.  So the dogs and I got back in the car and arrived just in time to see the owl flying away.  Malcolm had gotten some good pictures and that was something, at least. 

The beach on the West Side with no snowy owl.

When I woke up in the night, still inexpressibly sad, I said, “Enough.”  And I began to deconstruct my feelings.  I asked, “What is it about the snowy owl?”  I saw that this was different from all the other times that I have taken pictures.  It wasn’t like scores of chances with blue heron or thousands of chances with waves.  It wasn’t about being a grateful witness to the myriad beauties and surprises of the natural world.  This was about wanting.  One particular thing.  And having to have it. 

I asked myself what having a picture would get me.  I remembered that one of my teachers once said, “You can never have enough of something you don’t need.” I saw that this way of wanting was just confirming my lack of something, pushing it farther away.  I said, “If I really want the mystery that I feel in a snowy owl, wouldn’t it be just as good not to fix her in time in a picture, to let her remain alive and un-possessed? I thought, “Is there anything here that I don’t have already?”   I said, “I claim my sight, my birthright, my ancient and ancestral eyes.  I claim my wildish ways.”  That calmed me down completely.

So next morning I went out early to look for the snowy owl, but I brought my dogs, at least for the ride.  I passed Marybeth’s house and her car wasn’t in the driveway so I thought she might be out looking also.  I made up my mind that if I saw Marybeth or Malcolm in the distance I would leave and not screw up their chances, because you know, there are things more important than a snowy owl picture, such as my snowy owl support group, my photography friends. I did scan for the owl, but when I didn’t see her, I found myself picking things up on the beach, not sea glass… well, just a few specimens… but mostly pieces of plastic…a holder for a six-pack of beer, plastic bags and plastic flags and deflated balloons.  And here is something strange.  I felt a lot of snowy owl-ness all around me or even in me.  I just had snowy owl on the brain. 

I went out that afternoon and I bumped into Malcolm again…and then again the next day, when again I went out looking.  (I was not finding the snowy owl, but I was getting pretty good at finding Malcolm Greenaway.)  I told him I would be leaving this weekend to go to Nantucket with my friend Mimi.  He offered to help me clean the sensor on my camera.  He smiled.  He said, “Are you going to look for the snowy owl?”  “Of course”, I said, “it’s an illness.”  But I knew I'd be fine if I found her and fine if I didn't. 

I told Marybeth all about it, including my lust and jealousy.  She said she had just been lucky.  (That was true.  Well, partly true.  That woman has superpowers.)  She chuckled kindly.  She said, “Maybe the universe will reward your good deeds with a snowy owl picture.”  I chuckled in return, “You know it never works that way.” 

You know, it doesn’t… you can never get the recipe, or the equation or the way to get the soul of nature to buckle under pressure.  It is too powerful, wild and wily for containment, but you can learn and work with its wonders.  It’s generous and intimate in any case.


I went out yesterday...just for a short walk with the dogs.  I didn’t have much time because a friend was coming to dinner.  I'd given up on the snowy owl.  I went down by the back of Sachem Pond, not expecting or looking for anything.  And guess who was perched on the last house before the ocean?  I walked up to the stonewall and took her picture, knowing it wouldn’t be anything special from such a far distance.  She was the skittish owl but stayed much longer than I would have expected, leaving only when Molly started to bark.  I walked down the path to the water, and there she was in the grasses. 

The snowy owl turning her head to look at a crow.

I began to talk.  “I know you’re not that happy to see me, especially with the dogs, but if you let me take your picture, I’ll be very grateful.”  The dogs started walking toward her and still, she stayed.  I called them back and I got a little closer.   And closer still.  I took her picture again and again, and once again Molly and Wilson wanted to check her out.  I called them back.  And they came again, and I got a little closer.  By then my heart had melted.  I said, “Thank you.  Thank you.”  And, “I hope you have a good trip to the Arctic Circle.” 

The snowy owl staying and staying.

The snowy owl flying away.  I think that little bird in front of her must have been glad the snowy had better things to do than have a snack.

Wilson went about ten feet more.  I called him and he sat down and looked at that owl and the owl looked back at all of us and considered for a moment and then calmly flew away.  I called Malcolm and Bill and Marybeth to tell them.  Marybeth said, “I knew you would get a picture!”  I said, “I love that owl.  I love her so much, I want to come back as a snowy owl in my next life.”  She said, “Maybe you’ve already been one.”  I said, “I don’t think so.  Dead seagull is not really my favorite food.”  She said, “Lemmings then.”  I said, “That wouldn't be so bad.  I could come back and eat lemmings.” 

I went home and made dinner and my friend came and we had a wonderful time.  But then I was done.  Personal growth can be very tiring.

The same picture as the one above... with a little more perspective.

Something Difficult

Another picture from the same night I wrote about in the last blog post.

You know those beautiful unexpected pictures I put in the post last time? I didn’t tell you something else that happened because it was so difficult.  I’ve been thinking about it all week.  On one hand I thought, “People’s lives are hard enough."   And then I thought, “That’s precisely why I should say it, because it is the truth, and the truth is what people deal with.”  It was unfair I thought, to go around in sunshine all the time, like beauty, beauty, blah, blah, blah and not say something that was important to the story of that evening.

So here it is.  While I was taking my pictures the dogs kept working the same spot at the edge of Sachem Pond.  They were breaking the ice around something and then they started tugging at it.  They finally started pulling it out of the water.  I saw what it was, a dead baby deer that was under the ice.  I saw its delicate ribs and the darkening of the water and the mixture of flesh and bone and teeth exposed because its little body had been there for some time.  I said, “Oh….no.”  And I called Wilson and Molly and I loved them because this was very special to them but they left it for my sake. 

I’ve asked myself about it because I said in another post that difficult things are also beautiful.  I can’t say this was beautiful.   I can say it was held in a beautiful night, but the actual sight was a shock and then sadness with a certain tender aspect.  

All the time I keep holding the image in my mind... I keep returning to it.  And it is not just for the deer, but for all of our difficult things…I keep thinking of my friends, many of whom have had recent losses, but it is also of all of our losses…the fact that they can even happen, the fact that life is made this way. 

These two pictures are of Japanese Iris, taken on black velvet.

These two pictures are of Japanese Iris, taken on black velvet.

Now I’m thinking maybe I can show you something better than I can tell you.  This is out of a series on some flowers I’ve been working on… just some ordinary flowers, just like any other flowers, but as beautiful as anything.  If you look closely and especially at the second picture, you’ll see just one or two spots where the edges are curling.  This iris is already dying.  In fact, by the time I was done with the shoot, it was in pieces.  I thought about getting new flowers and starting over, but I felt that the dying edge was also important, or that the flower was more because of it.

My friend Lisa, who has had her share of grief, says, “Everyone loses the same thing, which is everything.”  And, “Sadness is never far from me.” and, “Death, when it comes… It teaches you what it is.”  And then she goes out to live her heartfelt and honest and generous and courageous and exuberant life.  (Her comments were part of long conversations we've had over the years.  We've been through a lot together.  I'm sure I don't have to tell you how important this good friend is in my life.  She is, I believe, going to post a comment when I publish this blog.  It will be worth reading as she is loving, articulate and wise.)   

I can only say that I know it is difficult to find a person who isn’t grieving and that grief comes in many forms.  There is grief like I have for my father, and as big as that is, I would say it is an easier type of grief.  There is grief out of order or grief that leaves no place or no future or grief that includes the destruction of love or trust or hope or identity or history or dignity or faith in anything. I know that grief can be like waves or like fire or like a frozen lake or like falling.  I know that answers and no answers come to each person in his or her own way and time.

I like to notice my breathing.  I like to watch a breath going out and the next one coming after. I have lived my whole life like a watch dog and I like to notice that something is happening, that I don’t have to do it, that something is breathing my life for me.  I find it restful, and encouraging, and the opposite of being separate from anyone or anything.

I also do my photography.  If you haven’t noticed, I like it a lot.  It’s become my way of living... to be out in nature… seeing… to cooperate by seeing and working with the things that are offered… to join life in this way.   This is what I’ve come to stand on.  It’s not just the beauty… it’s the implication of beauty.  I feel if I want to understand the things I don’t know… I can look at the things I do know.  Because I have seen that the universe is congruent… it operates in similar ways at every level that I can perceive.  So I’m going to say if the life I know is beautiful then the “bigger life”, the life that includes both birth and death…that must be beautiful also.  

I’ve been thinking about life getting bigger and bigger the way I talked about it last week, and I also watched a show on TV in the middle of the night:  “How the Universe Works”.  It told me how the iron and water in my blood were formed over millions of years during a supernova of a double star that happened billions of years ago, and that the gold in my wedding ring was made in an age before that, in another supernova, this time from a single star.  Everything we live in, everything we are...was constructed over eons and with incomprehensible violence.  They said this on TV…on regular, secular, non-political TV.  Scientists said it…that we are that energy… that we are those stars, down to every single molecule in our bodies. 

This is the Sombrero Galaxy  (M 104).  Credit: HST/NASA/ESA.

They said that solar systems, galaxies even, can be destroyed… that it’s happening all the time … in black holes and quasars and places where stars are flung at millions of miles an hour and in explosions that equal the energy expended in the entire rest of the universe.  They said that our solar system is looking directly “down the gun barrel” of a potential quasar, which is set to go off any time (any time in astronomical terms is now or in several million years).  The program said in fact, it could have already happened, and we just don’t know it yet, on account of the distance and time it would take to get here.  It also said not to worry, because if that were the case, it would be over so fast that we wouldn’t know what hit us.  I said, “Well, that would take care of my insomnia.”  And I said, “Oh, thank you very much.  This is just what I need to know at 2 o’clock in the morning.” 

There are all these thing…all these big, big things…and still, this little deer is under the ice… and this one death matters to someone… to me… I saw it…

These are things I don’t understand, and I will admit that I spend a good bit of time thinking about them.  I live with my questions… wondering what I could possibly tell you about such large and tender things… how I could avoid being trite or intrusive… how I could respect your losses and the way you have to live with them right now.  I admit that my body or my sense of being keeps rooting down…wanting… feeling its way a little further into these questions… and meantime I keep breathing.

It will be the seventh anniversary of my father’s death in April… and now is the anniversary of the time when we were all going through it.  It was difficult… new parts of my dad’s body not working… new lowering of hopes and expectations… and new exhaustions and new sufferings… past anything we ever thought we could handle and then past that.   And we had to say yes to everything because he was going through it and we had to say yes to him. 

So he was dying and we were dying with him and then he kept going and we came back.   I learned I could function on two hours of sleep and go into the ocean (in Florida) and the ocean would take some of my exhaustion away.  I learned that little things matter as much as big things.  I learned how people made a difference… when everything was so raw and every moment so precious… how brief words and kindnesses still shine on me as greatness and wisdom... and how utter stupidity, and the damage it did, was always in the form of personal smallness disguised as adherence to procedures. 

This picture is called, "Remembering Dad".  I took it on Block Island, in February before he died in April.  It was very cold and the wind was blowing, blasting me with sand.  It was on this walk that I gave up fighting for my father's life.  He was in a coma in March and I flew down to Florida and got to the hospital at midnight.  I was told that he wouldn't live out the night.  I walked into his room and said, "Dad, I've got pictures."   He woke up.  He said, "Watcha got?"  He saw this picture and many others, including many waves and deer.  He also, and this is more to the point, lived a few more weeks and he saw or spoke to all my brothers and sisters and also to his grandchildren.  We took him out on a dock to see the ocean just days before he died.

I was of course zooming around, trying to "fix it."  He was in his chair and looking out the window.  He said, “Gracie.  Stop trying to entertain me.  Look at the sky.  It’s so blue.”  That has helped me a lot… to know at the end of his life, as he was edging over, the blue sky was good for my father.   The thing itself… the simplest thing… a most fundamental and obvious thing about living on this particular planet… the only thing left for him when everything else was taken away.  That was enough for him.  That and his courage… my whole families’ courage during that time helped me afterward and it still helps me now.

This picture is called "Now". 

Valentine's Day Waves

Impact wave, blooming at Vaill Beach.


There was a big storm with wind from the northwest at 30 knots, gusting to 50.  My friend Linda had already called to tell me the waves near her house were awesome.  So of course I had to go out and take pictures.

I went to Vaill Beach.  The trail had turned to a stream on account of the snow melt.  I climbed down in slippery stages, carefully placing my equipment below me in order to use my hands.

There were new waves churning, made by near wind.  These are different than waves that have come from a distance.  Waves combine as they travel.  They smooth and they organize.  They are farther apart.  But these were like suds in a washing machine.   I wanted to show you their energy and chaos, but I also wanted some form.  I didn't want to show you mountains of mashed potatoes.

I climbed up on a boulder,  just outside of the impact zone.  I saw the white water coming at speed.  There is a reason they speak of war in the language of water... an army surging or pouring forward...waves of attack.  One wave would come directly at me and before I could recover, another one would come. 

The entire island is glacial till, made of sand and clay and boulders.  The bluffs are always unstable - particularly after a thaw.

Then I made my way around the southwest corner of the island and I felt the full force of the wind.  I walked in the margin between the water and the bluffs, which are always in the process of falling.   I called my dogs when they got too close.  I called “danger!” and they came running.  (This is not an example of obedience but of our history together.  We spend a lot of time on this beach and they know what that word means.)

I wanted to find patterns.  I needed some height.  I got myself up to a grassy, stable perch.  It was a gentle slope with nothing to calve off, no stones or sand above me to fall.  My dogs sat up there with me, smelling the wind, as always.  I saw the trains of waves and the wind blowing wave tops sideways.   I braced myself in the strong wind.  I saw how the light was changing, and I knew I would get some good pictures.

Every wave is true, and everything about it is true, but you can tell a different story through what you choose to show.  In close, you'll show detail and people will feel how it is to be in the water, and farther away they'll see the shape of the ocean.  There is always a series of questions... Where does a wave begin and end?  Where is the best light shining?  Where is the clearest pattern?  What is the most beautiful or powerful thing?  

I was weighing my situation.  The waves would be getting bigger.   It was a full moon, and a very high tide was coming.   I didn’t want to have to hug the bluffs and I didn’t want to walk through water that was 39 degrees, Fahrenheit.  I told myself it was time to leave. 

But the colors were getting glorious...

... and the cormorants began circling round and round.  They were working between the sky and the ocean.  I wanted them low.  I wanted their dark shapes in front of white water.  I found myself saying, “Come on… come on…” and then they flew right where I wanted.

And the colors kept deepening...

I began to say, "39 degrees is not that cold." and "I'll only get wet on my feet."  And I stayed for several more minutes. I finally talked myself into leaving by making a number of excellent observations.   I said I didn’t have to cling to a dangerous situation…that I would find new things on my way.  I reminded myself that I have always found surprising new beauty, the moment I moved along.

So I was walking back and I actually practiced how I would tell you about my maturity and respect for the forces of nature, you know, being one with the elements and everything.   And I did get some wonderful pictures.

Facing northeast, the sky was already darkening, and waves were breaking on the same boulders as they had been at the beginning of my expedition.  Now, the waves were catching the evening light.  It helps my heart to see this... light and wind and water and stone...what could be better?

There was only one spot where I had to rush, timing myself between waves, and everywhere else I had lots of room.  I'm not saying I was reckless.  Living on Block Island has been a progressive realization, not just of beauty but of danger.  As Edie's father told her, "You never turn your back on the ocean".  If I had doubts I would have listened.  But my body turned around and I just let it happen.  I followed my pictures.   I went back and I stayed until sunset.






I went out this week to take pictures at Mansion Beach. The wind was blowing the wave crests back to make streams of spray called “horses' manes”.

This is the same wave as the one above, taken a second later.  Just a lucky moment with a bird flying by.  If you compare the two pictures you will see that there is a boulder in the second picture, down in the left corner.  I took it out of the first picture with Photoshop.

Given my years on the island and my well-documented tendency to take many pictures of any moving object, I would wildly guess that I’ve taken 30,000 pictures of waves. 

At one point, I changed from a telephoto to a wide-angle lens and this presented a problem.  With a telephoto I could choose my picture, but with a wide-angle I got everything, especially Wilson and Molly, who could see we were on a mission and wanted to lead the way.  I developed the technique of walking in the opposite direction until Wilson and Molly inevitably put themselves in front of me.  Then I would suddenly whip around and take my pictures.  That’s one thing I like about Block Island.   There’s room to be a little odd.   

I got the idea that it would be fun to get down low... use the qualities of a wide angle lens to get that feeling of big space, with the waves coming directly toward me.

Wilson on patrol.

2014Jan26_3461 1 blog wm.jpg

Because this lens takes a wider view than is normal for a person, the mind adjusts, and close things look like they’re far away.  I reminded myself of this interesting fact as I lay on my stomach with my camera and my chin on the sand.  But then I was busy and you probably see this coming.  I got hit by a wave. 

Now it wasn’t very big.  That’s the one, there in the picture.  It’s about six inches from my face and I’m realizing what will happen and I’ve started to get up.

There are billions of waves in every ocean at this very moment.  There are bigger, more beautiful waves, but you might like to know that in January in New England,  no matter how many wave pictures you have taken, when a wave hits you, it is the only one.

So I took my pictures and then I took them home.  I looked at them over and over.  And then I didn’t remember how many pictures I’ve taken.  I didn’t compare them to things I’ve seen before.  I saw this one particular picture and this one and this one - this pattern of light and energy - this motion changing from one picture to the next - this spray blowing back and freezing.   

I saw metallic reflections of clouds in wet sand.  I saw light in the Biblical clouds and the place where the sun was hitting the water when the land was still in shadow.   I saw clean, green water and the sun flying up like diamonds.   Water and light spoke directly to my body.  For a moment, I had tears in my eyes because my heart was filled with these pictures.

I looked at them all day and dragged myself away to make dinner and then looked at them again.  I had to make myself go to bed. And then in the morning, I didn't do anything else until I had looked at my waves, just for a minute. 

These are the wind sculptured trees on the way back to the parking lot at Mansion Beach.  That wind, it's always doing something.  And for those of you who like to go swimming at Mansion will note that at this time of year there is plenty of parking.

PS:  I’m fine, and my camera is fine.  It’s a photographer’s instinct to save the camera first.


Namibian Desert.  The dry river bed of the Tsauchab River shows as blue and white.  The bright white areas are salt.

I found a website published by the European Space Agency.   Among many excellent things, it has a gallery of images of earth, taken from space.   (All of the images  in this post are downloaded from that site with their permission.)  Links are provided toward the end of this post. 

I love the patterns in these pictures.  They show me that nature builds patterns upon patterns in the biggest and smallest ways.  It seems…well… kind of perfect.

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Central Australia. 

You know how Steve Jobs told Apple to make circuit boards that were beautiful, even if no one was looking inside the computers?  Well, nature is like that also.  I love it that such beauty has been out there for billions of years when no one could even see it.  I love it that the beauty we now can see from way up there has the same patterns as the beauty we have always been able to see down here. 

Before there was life, there was beauty.  I have this fantasy that beauty called to consciousness…”I’m here.  Come see me.”  That’s a creation story for you.  At least it was like this:  When the first breath was taken, beauty was already here to call to our senses.  Just like the wind made seed pods and wings… it helped to make us who we are.


Flander's Range, Australia

Great Britain and Ireland

I know I said this in an earlier post but there is a book called “Deep Survival”.   It studies the question of why some people survive when others do not.  Let’s say someone gets caught in a rock slide.  He amputates his leg with his pocketknife and hops 15 miles down a glacier at 10 degrees below zero to safety.  How is this person different from someone who has ample water, and food and fuel, and who has survival training, and two good legs, and help nearby, who decides to sit down and die?  Here’s one difference.  According to the book, every survivor says the same thing.  “I saw moments of incredible beauty.”


That same book said that a child under the age of seven is more likely to survive alone in the woods than an older child.  Because of instinct.  Little ones feel what they feel…. hungry…scared…cold… but they don’t abstract from there to the concepts that arise in an older person.  So when they take action, it’s directed to the fact of the matter and not to an idea about it.  They don’t over-think and complicate.  They don’t waffle. They don’t waste precious energy or time or motion.  When they are tired they sleep.  When they are cold, they crawl into a hollow spot.

North American Snowstorm.  (You can see Block Island in this picture.  Look to the east of the tip of Long Island for a tiny dot shaped like a pork chop.  It's south and slightly west of the break in the Rhode Island coast that is Narraganset Bay.  Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket are to the north and east of Block Island. This picture was taken in January, 2011.  Look very carefully for a woman with two golden retrievers.  I was probably out there taking pictures after the storm!)

I think beauty is a call to instinct…to the things we all know without knowing why.  It helps in a deep and wordless way.  It is one of the ways to nourish our souls, to give us hope and energy, to guide our direction, to keep us from giving up.  It moves us out of our heads and into the complete and integrated equipment that we all receive when we get a body… and that equipment is very fine… our minds, eyes, hearts, senses, guts, breath… all honed through millennia, all in one body… all in one life.  I would say we are perfect, also.

It's almost the New Year, and time for resolutions.  A resolution means a lot of things:  a decree, a promise, a resolve, a solution, or the power with which something can be seen.

Southern Central Romania

I’ve been thinking that this will be my resolution.  I’ll practice seeing in all the ways that humans are able to see… like for hunting, shopping, working, loving, resting, drinking in.  Seeing with my whole body.  Seeing for a short moment.  Seeing and breathing together.  Seeing right now.

Sometimes I’ll see beauty.

Algerian Sahara

I know there is more beauty in the height and depth of the universe than I will ever see, and everything large and small is made with beauty.  I trust all the things working together to make beauty without my even knowing about it. 

I can spend some time each day, let the sand blow without interference… just observe and let things happen…let nature work her patterns in my life.


The Palouse Region, Washington State

Golden Curves, North Central Iran's Salt Desert, Dasht-e Kavir

Kagerdlugssuaq Glacier, Greenland

Tibesti Mountains, Chad


Nejd, Central Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula

Iceberg Alley, Labrador

The European Space Agency is generous to allow use of many of their images for noncommercial purposes.   All of the images in this post came from their site.

To go to their "Earth from Space" gallery, go to: or click here.

To go to their home page, go to:, or click here.

Here are more pictures.  Excuse me for getting carried away.  There are so many good ones, I couldn't choose.

Rainforest and River, Brazil

Dasht-e Lut Salt Desert, Iran

Russian Far East

Heart Photography

A beautiful wave on Block Island.


Before I lived on Block Island, I visited for a week or two every year.  I remember the feeling of release from my home obligations and the beauty that astonished me at every turn.  But when I moved to the island, I took those obligations with me.  I found it was possible for the beauty of the island to recede into the background.  When that happened, I lost the point of being here… without the beauty, Block Island is just a place where you can’t buy gasoline after 2 in the afternoon.

The same thing happened with photography… what was utterly beautiful, surprising and new to me the first year became “same old same old” five years later.  So I began to see the different ways I could go out to take my pictures.  I could go out as a hunter, as the language used in photography suggests.  I could "shoot" or "capture" or "take" my pictures.  I could go out as a shopper, with my recipes and my list, and gather them for a specific purpose.  I could go out open, ready to discover, ready to be surprised by something new.   All these ways were available to me and all created a different experience, a different way of seeing, a different focus, and even with the same subject matter, a different picture. 

A closer view.

There is a saying, "Keep your mind where your body is."    And taking pictures from a place of being in a relationship with the landscape helps me do that.   It helps me to come out of my head and out of my agenda and into my heart.  And then, to use the old language from the poem, "The Love of Tristan and Isolde", instead of using my eyes to capture or shoot a picture, my eyes can "go reconnoitering" for my heart.  When I see in this way, I can see the same things again and again, and they're always new and I am always part of it.  The island has become more beautiful to me, more intimate, and more nourishing.  I can find my place in the landscape, not as its owner or master, but perhaps as its guest, or in a certain way, as its child.  Then I feel that I belong on the earth. 



The Love of Tristan and Isolde


"So through the eyes love attains the heart:

For the eyes are scouts of the heart,

And the eyes go reconnoitering

For what it would please the heart to possess.

And when they are in full accord

And firm, all three, in the one resolve,

At that time, perfect love is born

From what the eyes have made welcome to the heart.

For as all true lovers

Know, love is perfect kindness,

Which is born – there is no doubt – from the heart and the eyes."

Guiraut de Bornelh (ca. 1138 – 1215); (From Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth”)