Nature’s Many Faces

Yesterday my daughter discovered what her new rubber boots were for.  While walking Betsy at the creek, she tromped through a puddle and found that her feet were still dry and that a delightful splashing sound accompanied each step.  Her face read like a book, first recognition, then understanding, then realization of the fun that could be had. That small, murky puddle may as well have been the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to Amelia as she proceeded to gleefully splash around in it for the next twenty minutes.  And I stood in a gentle rain watching my daughter begin her lifelong relationship with her new friend, Nature.

It embodied everything that childhood is about and was a joy to behold. It also did much to lighten the load of the previous days’ events.  You see, that innocuous little puddle was a remnant of the driving rain flung across the city by Superstorm Sandy, the massive storm that pummeled the Eastern Seaboard, and reached all the way inland to our city on Lake Ontario. Much like Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast, the awesome devastation of the storm lay not just in its attack, but in its aftermath as well, and as I write, the death toll climbs, people survive without electricity, streets and homes are underwater and many roads and trains are useless. The pictures range from horrifying – like the views of the Breezy Point neighborhood in Rockaway flattened by flood and fire that consumed over 90 homes –  to jaw-dropping – with shots of water pouring into the NYC subway and tunnel systems, to the sublimely beautiful satellite photographs of the entire storm covering our corner of the blue planet.  It was and continues to be a bitter lesson both on the evolving science of climate change and meteorology and on the sheer force of Nature’s dispassionate power.

Hurricane Sandy Viewed in the Dark of Night. Image acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite around 2:42 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time  on October 28, 2012. 

And amid an event marked by one disaster after another, those of us of the maritime profession (present and past), add also the keen pain of the loss the HMS Bounty, her Captain and one crew member.  Though my two years away often feels like much more, I join many of my colleagues in expressing conflicting feelings of despair, anger and profound sadness for the souls lost, their family and friends, and their ship now lying at the bottom of the Atlantic.

This melancholy tune has been with me since this all began.

In 2001, three days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, we began our sailing programs again on Clearwater, up the Hudson River from Ground Zero.  The fourth graders who sailed with us expressed the same enthusiasm at hoisting a sail, the same giddiness at their interaction with the fish they caught and the same thrill in helping steer the ship as those that came before them.  Their excitement was palpable and for the adults on board, all part of a grieving New York community, it was a much needed antidote to that grief.

As she grows I will teach my daughter to respect the beauty, complexity and power of nature, but this week she was the teacher.  Frolicking in that puddle, unaware of it’s origin, she has filled the role of antidote this time. Her joyful discovery snapped my jaw up off the floor into a wide smile and showed me that though Nature can be terribly awesome, she can be wonderfully so as well.


Poems for my daughter, or…

The Ecology, Part 1

I’m an outdoor girl, always have been. My parents weren’t the most hardcore environmentalists – we didn’t sleep in tents – but they got me outside; walking, hiking, skiing, swimming or just sitting in the grass and hanging out.  In every season, in the city and the country and in our own backyard, we found green places, rocky places and sandy places to spend our time; and we “carried out what we carried in” before the phrase was coined.  And I brought that love of nature into my adulthood, managing not just to carve out a career in the outdoors, but to embark on so many remarkable experiences – on water and mountains, at parks and beaches, in forest and desert – experiences who’s feel and taste are etched into my memory.

At Sedona, AZ: the photos from the visit were lost and only the poems remain

I have also managed to surround myself with others who not only share this love, but couple it with a passionate knowledge that has allowed this very unscientific girl to glean a deeper understanding of the natural world in which we live.  My friends Tara, Ally, Chris, Sean, Brian and Maija (among others) all combine the creative with the scientific in unique and inspiring ways. They maintain a joyous awe of the natural world, but can distill the information into a shape and form that speaks to everyone and leaves young and old just a little smarter than when they started – sometimes without even realizing it.  I consider them to be among the ranks of more well-known figures of whom you may have heard:  like Rachel Carson, who’s “Silent Spring” audiobook was my companion while driving cross-country – her chapter on soil is still one of the most intriguing and beautiful pieces of prose I’ve ever seen; and E.O. Wilson, who said, ” Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.”; and indie-pop stalwarts They Might Be Giants, who were not only clever enough to write us a song about The Sun, but were respectful and creative enough to write a follow up when they found out they were wrong.

Today we simply took the dog for a walk at the local creek, but the day and the smell was pure autumn, a true delight.  And I like to think that my friends would be proud that I was cognizant of the fact that detritus – the organic matter left over from the decaying of the leaves falling from those gorgeous autumn trees – was the reason for that rich and timeless scent in the air.  There will be more blog posts forthcoming on this cherished subject, and I believe that it is this attitude towards nature that allows us to find the extraordinary moments in our ordinary routine amidst the urban and suburban landscape.

Without beating a drum, my parents and my friends planted a seed, fed it with care and taught me respect  and understanding for our outdoor spaces that has grown into something much more profound.  I hope that I may pass this on to my daughter as seamlessly as they have done for me.

As Mr. Wilson states, it may be the closest thing to religious spirituality that I know.

At Redwood State Park, Crescent City, CA

A Good Day (with Jimmy)…

No, in fact, a great day, we had a great day yesterday.  And we didn’t do anything. I mean we ate our meals and brushed our teeth and had our bath, but mostly we played.  We played in the pool and on the deck.  We played with the floats and the water wings and the bouncy balls.  We played in the kitchen with the doll and the tupperware and the sippy cup. We played in the raspberry bushes, on the grass and with the dandelions.  And it was amazing to recognize the epic gift of a day like that as it unfolds.

As a full-time mom of a toddler, weekends and vacations tend to blend in with everyday life like the color that runs from a dark shirt accidentally thrown into the white laundry.  Even the word ‘vacation’ stares back at me now disingenuously as I type.  Because even on vacation, the child must be fed, diapers must be changed and travel and new surroundings disrupt hard-won sleep patterns.  Nevermind the new hazards not found at home, like the sparkling blue pool, the thorny thistle underfoot in the yard and Grandma Bonnie’s good china not quite out of reach.  But yesterday, with absolutely no activities planned, we managed to wrap up the necessities with an experienced efficiency, so that hours of freedom lay before us like a buffet of popcorn and cotton candy before a hungry child.

It was a Jimmy Buffett day.  No, we didn’t blast “Margaritaville” and drink Pina Coladas, but philosophically it was a prime day for the King of Kicking Back.  You see, Jimmy has made his way into my music psyche in an oddly profound way.

The truth is that there was a time that I despised Jimmy Buffett and found his music to be frivolous.  Indeed, “Cheeseburger in Paradise” used to make my blood boil.  I was young, at university and convinced that music must be powerful, meaningful and have a message.  I was smitten with the raw and unique albums of Ani Difranco and Tori Amos.

And then my brother gave me a live album of Jimmy Buffett when we were living out on Martha’s Vineyard and I actually – gulp – enjoyed it.  The songs told stories, some sweet & sentimental, some nonsensical, and some just plain fun. Many spoke with an insight that surprised me.

I’ve since been to the infamous “Parrothead” concert only twice – an  experience in pure summertime glee – and think back to those joyful, crowded parties with a smile on my face. It turns out there is a message and that message is to be sure and enjoy life when the opportunity presents itself.

This was a musical “boot to the head” for me and taught me another important lesson… that one can appreciate music in all its forms, it just depends onto which record you choose to drop the needle at that particular moment.  I still love Ani Difranco and the fight in her music, but some days are just meant for rolling around in the grass with your golden-haired daughter mashing raspberries and laughing in the sun.


extras: a couple more links to some Jimmy tunes I really love; “One Particular Harbor” always gets this winter girl dreaming of the tropics, and a good friend touched on how my career echoed so much in Jimmy’s words with “Son of a Son of Sailor” (well, not the part about the jailor, of course).