Who among us will pick up and carry forward the baton Mary Oliver passes to us?
Who will prompt us to stop and take notice of our “one wild and precious life?” Who will remind us to listen to our breath, to pay attention, to be astonished?
I’m not a poetry girl. I have trouble digesting metaphor rich poems that speak of one thing, yet mean another. My brain just doesn’t go there. But then... along comes Mary.
Mary Oliver’s poetry is accessible. She asks the tough questions in a straightforward and honest manner. She understands the importance of nature and solitude. We speak the same language.
As I sit alone on a beach, on a raw May morning in Provincetown, my mind can’t help but think of Mary. Her presence here is palpable. How can I walk across the dunes she loved so dearly and not think of her? This was her fertile ground. The ground in which some of her most recited poems came to life.
Mary awakens me to the magnificence of life by simply noticing. She teaches me that the act of observation quiets the infernal hum and refocuses my attention to the ever-present beauty that surrounds me.
She was an advocate of cultivating one’s observation skills to see at a deeper level. She wanted her readers to look beyond the “ho hum” ultimately to discover the “holy cow!”
I may not be as eloquent, or as wise, as Mary but because of her I will continue to notice, photograph and praise the beauty I find. Hail Mary!
Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell me about it.
Live in color,
The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter.
Lunch break. While wandering through the Old Delhi market, our eyes met, and for a brief moment we had a connection.
When traveling, what do you focus your photographic attention on? Is it the natural beauty of a sweeping landscape or local monuments or other well-visited attractions? For me, it’s all about the people I encounter.
Beauty is not my focus, but more what resides behind the eyes, the soul.
Each of the following images has a story, a brief encounter and connection.
The Sikh gentleman manning one of the information booths at a Hindu temple in Delhi, a sage if ever I saw one.
The boy who begged to have his photo taken in the hectic market of Old Delhi.
The old man who waved to me and graciously posed in Dharamshala.
The young lovers. I was approached by this pretty girl at a Sikh temple. Without saying one word she made it perfectly clear she wanted a photo taken of her and her boyfriend. She gave me her email. I sent her the photo.
The woman at the same Sikh temple who gently touched my arm and stood in front of me and posed. After I took the photo I turned the camera around to show her and she waved, no. She wasn’t interested in seeing the image, only wished to be seen.
I smiled at this gal, she smiled back. I told her she was very pretty, she glowed and posed as her husband looked on, somewhat disapprovingly.
The woman in red, I had to stop when I saw this beauty lit by a shaft of light. I raised my camera and gave the thumbs up sign, she timidly nodded.
The future of Buddhism, but still babies, in a remote monastery in northern India.
The Hindu Sadhu, that has chosen a life of abstinence, leaving behind all material, family, social, and sensual attachments, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals.
A rich tapestry is woven by the many faces of India. Not all are pretty, but all are authentic and not shy of being seen for who they really are.
Is there a lesson here for us?
Live in color.
Sit back while I tell you the story of Devanajari (Deva), a street kid of Delhi.
Nepal, the home of soaring mountains, mystics and wandering yogis is where this saga begins.
Deva was one of three children living with his parents in their traditional Nepalese home, nestled in the rural lowlands. The backdrop to his mud brick dwelling was the soaring Himalayas.
The Himalayas make up 80% of the land mass of the country. Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, is their crown jewel. Deva’s home was situated in the fertile valley, at the base of the southern Himalayas.
As with all typical Nepali households, everyone worked. Deva and his younger brother tended to their two goats and a handful of chickens, while his older sister helped with the cooking and cleaning. None of the siblings attended school. His father cultivated a small farm, while his mother worked in a rice paddy.
One typical morning, Deva and his brother were tending to the animals and his sister was preparing a meal in their makeshift kitchen. His father was already out in the fields, while Deva’s mother was outside collecting firewood. Unbeknownst to Deva, his life was about to be shattered by a blood curdling scream.
As his mother was gathering wood she was bitten by a venomous snake. The children ran to her side, helped her back to the house where they tried to make her comfortable as best they could. Not all snake bites, even from a venomous snake, are lethal, however this was not the case for Deva’s mother.
By nightfall she was dead.
The family was devastated by their loss, especially Deva’s father. He had no idea how to raise three children on his own. Upon hearing of his loss, Deva’s aunt sent a letter to her brother instructing him to move to Mumbai. She had moved to Mumbai three years earlier. She was willing to share her humble home and help raise the children, while he found work and a home of his own. Feeling he had no option, he uprooted his family from their Nepalese village, the only home they had ever known.
Mumbai was a stark contrast to the lush green valleys of Nepal. Deva’s first encounter with the big city was scary, yet somehow exhilarating. The now family of four, settled into the cramped quarters of his aunt’s home.
Deva’s father never recovered from the loss of his wife. Overwhelmed by city life and the struggle to find work, he began to drink.
Deva, now 9, was seduced by city life. While adjusting to his new life in Mumbai, he heard fantastic stories of the gleaming capital of India, Delhi. The tales of Delhi were wildly exaggerated, filled with adventure and endless opportunity.
Deva was headstrong and overly confident, a recipe for disaster for a 9 year old boy. He became frustrated with his father and their cramped living conditions. Growing restless with his situation, he became convinced he could do better on his own. Without any word to his family, he hopped a train illegally, to what he thought would be a promising new life in his nation’s capital.
With images of great riches dancing in his head, he arrived at the dank train station in Delhi. His plan? What plan?
There he sat alone and scared in a foul corner of the station. He watched throngs of people pass by, some with destinations, others, like him, aimless. He noticed bands of children, like ants, scurrying from one point to another. They seemed to have an objective. He was determined to find out what that was.
The children, he carefully studied, were a handful of the lost children of Delhi. On average, there are between 70 - 80 children that arrive daily in India’s capital. These children are runaways, all escaping difficult and dangerous situations, all in search of a better life. This band of lost children Deva watched were about to become his new family.
These runaways taught Deva how to survive on the street. He was first shown where to safely sleep. At night the children would huddle together on scraps of cardboard, in a quiet nook of the station. The next lesson he learned was plastic equaled money. 1 kilo of plastic = 22 rupees. This translates to approximately 2 pounds of plastic = 30 cents. He quickly mastered the art of plastic picking.
That money was usually spent on food, however not always. In place of food, at times money was spent on a movie ticket. In the dark recesses of a theater the children would sit quietly, undisturbed and sniff glue or white-out, to momentarily numb the pain of their ill-fated lives. Deva spiraled down that same hopeless path.
This was his life for almost two years.
Just as his life’s circumstance was quickly shattered the day his mother died, his current way of life was about to take another dramatic turn.
One day, during his normal scavenger routine, a man approached him. Deva was filthy and scrawny. The man asked where Deva’s family was. Deva starred blankly into his eyes.
The man then said, “Come with me.”
Frightened, yet hungry, Deva followed with great hesitation. He was brought to an office not far from the train terminal. It was located on the third floor, next to the police station. Upon his arrival, he was fed. Still distrustful, he was ready to bolt the moment he felt threatened.
His young body was fatigued and worn from living on the streets. Being fed and cared for felt luxurious, something he could get used to. He learned the man that picked him up at the station worked for an organization called Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) Salaam Baalak provides a safe environment for the children rescued from the streets. Since 1988 they offer quality education, nutrition and healthcare for the lost children of Delhi.
Deva needed time to develop trust for his rescuer and SBT, and eventually, that trust built. He began classes in the third floor walk up at SBT. Along with his daily studies he also learned about sanitation and nutrition. As time passed, he grew stronger, healthier and more interested in his studies. He slowly worked his way through SBT education program. He flourished while there, a striking difference from the disheveled eleven year old boy that was picked up at the rail station years earlier.
Today, as part of Salaam Baalak outreach program, guided city walks are provided. For a mere $5, a former street kid will escort anyone interested through the dingy back alleys of Delhi. The same streets that Deva once called home. The guide explains life on the streets for a child and the assistance Salaam Baalak provides.
I took one of SBT‘s city walks and Deva was my guide.
I am not telling you this story for you to support Salaam Baalak https://www.salaambaalaktrust.com/who-we-are.php. That’s up to you. However, I am telling you this story because life isn’t always what it may appear to be. Circumstances sometimes happen beyond anyone’s control, where you are delivered to a situation beyond comprehension.
There are many compelling stories of life on the street. All I ask of you is to hold a compassionate ear and an open heart to each and every one of those stories. Listen without judgement.
Salaam Baalak Trust rose out of the 1988 Indian movie, Salaam Bombay, chronicling the day to day life of children living in the slums of Bombay. The writer and director, Mira Nair, deeply moved by the lost children’s horrific story, started the organization. The movie Salaam Bombay was the precursor to the Academy Award winning film Slumdog Millionaire.
Because of Mira Nair’s connection to the movie industry, a street-based Theatre Action Group was formed teaching the street children all aspects of the arts. Scholarships are awarded to a few graduates each year that have successfully completed the program. The success stories of these children are numerous. The professions of some graduates are impressive, ranging from photographers to engineers. Since 1988, SBT has cared for and protected more than 80,000 children. These children are lost no more.
Deva is now 19 years old. He sent for his brother in Mumbai, who now lives with him in Delhi. His sister is married and living in Mumbai. His father still struggles. Today, Deva escorts visitors on daily SBT city walks. He teaches his brother about life and is focused on getting a scholarship. Deva aspires to become an actor.
As in all good Bollywood movies, this is Deva’s happy ending...or is it just the beginning?
Live in color,
A personal story
Please allow me a few moments to share a story and to explain this photo.
I was living in New York when 911 occurred. Anyone who lived there at that time will remember the shock and numbness that descended on its residents. For months afterwards life in the city and surrounding counties was surreal. There was a choking heaviness, a mixture of fear and uncertainty.
As time passed, the holidays grew closer. I wondered how could I celebrate Christmas that year? Buying frivolous gifts seemed disrespectful and planning a sumptuous meal felt too extravagant. Even when it came down to a Christmas card I was stumped.
Through the years my go to Christmas card was a photo of my son and two Newfoundlands, however, this Christmas I thought the card needed to say something more. After much deliberation, I decided to make a macro image of my Newfie’s nose. Yes, just his nose. In all its glistening, wet glory, an image of a jet-black Newfoundland snout was my Christmas card. The message inside read: Enjoy the small things in life.
It didn’t take long for people to respond. The majority were, “Well, she’s finally lost it.”
In retrospect, it was in that moment that I finally found it.
The horror of 911 quickly put life into perspective. I realized in a flash what was important and what wasn’t. Suddenly my comfortable, suburban lifestyle felt unsettled. All the trappings of my provincial way of being left me hollow and unfulfilled.
Everyone experienced 911 in their own way. I experienced a shift. It was a shift inwards. My relentless outward search for happiness relaxed into an appreciation for what is right in front of me.
Now to the photo attached.
This morning I woke and followed my normal routine beginning by making coffee. Grind, measure, fill and flip on.
After breakfast, I cleaned up. I dumped the remainder of the coffee, opened the lid of the coffee maker to empty the grinds and there they were — a nest of coffee beans. Now I’m sure there is someone out there saying, “Big whoop”. But to me, it was a big whoop. How these four beans made it through the grinding process and how they settled, huddled together, in a seemingly safe and secure nest, put a huge smile on my face.
Each day unexpected visual gifts present themselves. These presents are everywhere, but only apparent to the perceptive observer. These visual surprises are life’s momentary expressions of its playful beauty and certain unpredictability.
Please allow this pithy post be a reminder that it is the little things that ensure a well-balanced, fragant and robust experience.
Live in color,
It happens every year about this time. March rolls in and I become constipated — creatively that is.
Living deep in the woods of Vermont, the solitude and beauty I find in the winter months is breathtaking. The fire and vitality of summer are silenced by a layer of fluffy frosting, revealing only stark contrasts. The March landscape in Vermont is brilliantly minimal.
That’s the good news. The bad news is, I’m a color gal. Just about this time every year my heart and creative pulse yearns for color.
I have enjoyed winter's living grayscale laying outside my window, exposing the whitest whites to the blackest blacks, however, I now pine for color. My monastic, midwinter, white-bread diet is yearning for a little spice. Color is that spice, the remedy I desperately need to stir my creative flow once again.
So until the first signs of spring appear, my eye wildly searches for color. Today’s color was found is a bouquet of orange roses on my kitchen counter.
I pulled one stem from the arrangement, brought it to my windowsill, gently placing it on its side, while admiring its beauty. I said to the rose, “Talk to me”.
Oh, what a conversation we had!
I inadvertently opened a flood gate of emotions for this single rose. Rose told me how misunderstood she was. She resented how she was looked upon as just a pretty little thing. Most never took the time to truly recognize her depth and sensitivity. She went on to explain she was so much more than a cluster of petals. She was life itself.
Rose then felt comfortable enough with me to expose her various sides. In an instant she became my model and muse, perched in front of me, the artist. Slowly she stripped away her layers, exposing her mystery, sensuality and her grandeur.
Just as an artist's brush attempts to capture the grace and emotion of that which lies before him, I tried to document the complexity of this rare beauty.
What would happen if you spent quality time, like this, with everything that crossed your path? How could you not feel the flush of awe and reverence for life itself.
Live in color,
The living room was saturated with the aroma of perfume and smoke, typical for a 1950’s Long Island cocktail party. I scanned the room of usual suspects, elegant women in their brocaded dresses, dapper men in business regalia. However, my attention was drawn to one person in the crowd, Father Kerwin, a Roman Catholic priest. Father Kerwin was a friend and confidant of my parents. He was a fixture at their parties.
Why should a 5-year old little girl be interested in a man of the cloth? I should have been captivated by the glamorous women dripping in shiny bits, precariously balanced on their stiletto heeled opera pumps, but no, it was a priest I found intriguing. A gentle man with a warm smile and an unwavering collected composure.
As a child, I hated church. I never felt the solace that so many experience, I only felt agita. I loathed Sunday services, the choking incense, the half-naked man hanging from a cross, the chanting in Latin and the choreographed movement sent me into a state of nausea, literally. Most Sundays my father had to escort me, mid-service, to the vestibule where he cracked the massive bronze doors open so I could get a breath of fresh air to keep me from fainting.
Needless to say, I was anything but religious. However, during that cocktail party I saw something in Father Kerwin that I never saw before. He stood in a crowd of people, yet somehow stood apart. He radiated an intoxicating aura, something I didn’t see in anyone else. He personified grace and ease. I remember looking at him through the legs of the guests at the gathering, saying to myself, “I want some of that.”
60+ years later, I’m still looking for some of that.
In 2016 my husband and I traveled to Dharamsala, India in search of an exotic adventure. Dharamsala has been the home of the Dali Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile since 1952. This hillside city, on the edge of the Himalayas, has become home to thousands of Tibetan refugees and the spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism.
Our hotel was a stone’s throw away from the Dali Lama’s temple. Every day we would wander into the temple to listen to the monks’ chant, watch prostrations being preformed, candle lighting, horn blowing and the feeding of the hungry. The temple was welcoming, even for a tourist that had no idea what the heck was going on. I was met with warm smiles, approving nods and even an invitation to sit and join the chanting.
On the final day of our trip, we climbed the stairs to the temple, one last time, to bid our fond farewells. I stood in the back corner of the main hall, wedged between a room of flickering candles and an area filled with old Tibetan women clutching their prayer beads, rocking in unison on their woven floor mats. Within the confines of the temple there was no evidence of the frenetic pace that lay just outside the temple walls. Inside it felt safe, as if cloaked in a cape of serenity. I wanted to bottle what I felt and stuff it in my carry-on. After a short while my husband turned to me and said, “We have to go.” I responded, “I don’t want to.”
In a flash I was that 5-year old little girl who saw something special at my parents’ party. Again, I knew I was witnessing something significant, but didn’t know what it was.
These are just two examples, out of many, of how I have been drawn to a scene. The more important question is, why?
So what does a girl do when she’s looking for answers? Well, she could head to her local bookstore and find a book on New Age psychology, meet friends over cocktails and share her thoughts, or find a meditation cushion and just sit. Knowing I do nothing in a small way, I have chosen to go on a explorative journey, a mini pilgrimage of sorts.
Why a pilgrimage? There are many reasons one would set off on such a journey. Usually, someone is looking for an answer to a deeply personal question. For me, it’s about self-discovery, fueled by curiosity. Let me make it clear, I am not looking for religion, or some God or deity, nor am I looking for absolution for some indiscretion.
I am looking to better understand my role in the world I inhabit. Father Kerwin was such a random siting however, it must have held some significance if it has stayed with me all these years. Simply, and this is no simple order, I am looking for some rhyme or reason to why I see the things that I do. Why am I drawn to one subject over another? At times I feel I am being lured into a conversation with my subject, but to say what?
A pilgrimage is a solo journey. Personal time and space are needed to do the heavy lifting. So I am returning to Dharamsala on my own this April, in search of, I’m not sure what, but open to everything. The old adage still holds true: Sometimes you just need to get lost in order to find yourself.
In the past few years, I have learned to express myself through photography and writing, I have tried to highlight moments that catch my attention, moments of splendor that many may over-look. My journey is a deep dive into those attention-grabbing moments that I frame, illuminating them even further. Ah, maybe that’s it: I’m looking for illumination!
So, I head off to India with curiosity and a couple of power bars. Truly, what else does a girl need?
The setting seemed familiar. I knew I stood in this scene once before, however it was a different time, in a different place. Memories came flooding back. My dreamlike recall carried me to the marshlands of Scotland.
The year was 1855, outside the town of Sutherland, on the west coast of Scotland. I followed a footpath through the tall reeds in search of solitude. There I stood amongst the flaxen grasses, tangled brush and assorted wildlife. They welcomed me, I was home.
Photography can transport you.
On a recent Cape Cod photography workshop lead by John Barclay, https://johnbarclayphotography.com and Rad Drew, http://www.raddrewphotography.com, that is exactly what happened to me.
Our group consisted of our fearless leaders and 13 eager participants. Before the crack of dawn we arrived to a seaside site that offered a wide range of photographic opportunities. Forever in search of solitude, I broke away from the group. I followed a dirt path, in the dark, through the ensnared brush to a grand opening alive with waterfowl, enveloped by lush, windswept grasses. A sliver of golden light appeared on the horizon. With my camera down on my side, I watched the morning unfold. The first blush of light cast a sepia tone on the landscape. It was then I was transported.
Was I really the young girl I had imagined wandering alone in the marsh? As my 19th century sweeping epic, in glorious technicolor began to fade from memory, I slowly awakened to the present moment to find the marsh, the morning and little ole’ me.
Who needs movies and popcorn when you have an active imagination and camera at hand?
Live in color,
P.S. If you are looking for an excellent photo workshop please check out the links to John Barclay and Rad Drew. They are both passionate and gifted photographers, who effortlessly guide their students to a better understanding of both the technical and artistic sides of photography... and they're highly cool guys to boot!
Effortless beauty is grace in my eyes.
When I speak of grace I am not speaking in a religious context, but more of the harmonious alignment between something and it’s surroundings.
Recently I came upon a circular Koi pond in the center of a bustling hotel lobby. Flecks of golden light drew me in, however the grace of movement held me. The longer I looked at the Koi being Koi, the more I recognized how elegant these creatures truly are.
I remember as a child being captivated by a television star, Loretta Young. In my 6 year old mind, she epitomized grace and elegance. I remember nothing of her work, just her patented entrances. It was always the same, a door swung open, she crossed the threshold, twirled to close it, then glided across the stage in an elegant haute couture gown, never losing eye contact with the camera. WOW! Now I understand she had make-up on that was probably applied with a palette knife, layers of Aqua Net holding her do in place, and her torso painfully squeezed into a designer gown. Illusion or not, her movement appeared effortless.
So what is it about effortlessness that is attractive?
In each case there seems to be a lack of struggle. Being in harmony with their surroundings creates a dynamic equilibrium which in turn exudes grace.
There is grace in the fluid lines of the Koi, their elegant expression is mesmerizing.
Don't think of this a as fish tale, just a lesson in grace.
Live in color,
Life is in a constant state of flux and how I perceive situations is totally dependent on where I am in my own personal flux.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe, German poet and scientist, understood nature as an assemblage of parts all interrelated. Even the observer becomes an integral part of this assemblage. Seeing in Goethe mind becomes more than a passive act, but an active way to connect to your subject.
This past week I had the opportunity to spend some time at the beach. I happily took one photo after another. While reviewing, they mostly left me flat. They were good enough, but something was missing. I struggled with the composition and tonality, but nothing seemed to feel right. I put the images away and began to read a homework assignment about the Goethian perspective. On page two there it was, I found what was missing: me. I didn’t take the time to connect to the beach, there was no conversation, I just clicked away.
As a photographer, I become as important as the subject I am capturing. Discovering the connections between me and my subject will reveal it even further. Applying a holistic approach to seeing will create a dynamic relationship with dynamic revelations.
After sharing my morning coffee with Goethe I asked myself again, why am I making photographs? I discovered I am looking for the poetic moments in nature. I want more than a pretty picture, I want to capture a sense of poetry.
Spending time on my own personal exploration and how best I can be in conversation with the world I see, will result in my unique perspective being exposed. I have a responsibility to be in constant inquiry and to always be in relationship with my subjects, only then can I make images that have the ability to touch another.
Live in color,
The metamorphosis begins ever so gradually. The morning air now has a nip, not quite enough to chill you, but enough to catch your attention.
The wild meadow grasses have begun to seed, revealing ribbons of cotton candy meandering through lush pastures. Fields of color give way to nature’s abstract expressionism and impressionism. I wasn’t alone standing in this sweeping field, Pollack and Monet were close by.
Before the kaleidoscope of autumnal colors takes hold, summer gently bids a fond farewell. With the brushstroke of a master, summer pays homage to form and color by painting an elegant swath of pastel hues on this late summer landscape.
What a way to go!
Live in color,
Oh, how I struggle for control.
I have spent a lifetime attempting to control my environment, relationships and pretty much anything that crossed my path. In my sixth decade I ask myself, How’s that workin’?
Sitting on a whitewashed deck of a grand hotel in Maine, my perspective shifts like the milky morning fog blanketing the craggy coastline.
In the solitude of this remote mid-coast cove, with the only audible sound the ever so gentle lapping of water on the bow of an elegant sloop, I am in concert with nature. Elegantly gliding over the reflective glass surface, a man, a boat and a faint breeze in unison.
I am discovering the appeal of Maine appears to be the lack of struggle. The need to control the weather or one’s place in it seems not to exist here.
Here in my protective inlet, man and nature live in a harmony. An interplay of melodious tides, in tune with winged and finned creatures, orchestrates nature’s universal rhythm. I am merely a note in this transcendent symphony.
Today, I have surrendered to the moment and the music, becoming as vaporous as the early morning fog.
Am I much more than the impenetrable haze? Thick, yet sometimes transparent, luminescent, yet occasionally dim? Maybe. But like the sultry, impermeable fog, someday I too will simply dissipate.
Live in color,
Not unlike the ripples in the sand, I also try to make my unique mark on the world, until one day I am simply washed away.
This post isn’t meant to be somber however, it is meant to pose the question: How well do I spend my time? Do I flitter away minutes waiting for the next distraction, or take each moment for what it is, a gift?
Am I proud of how I fill my day, or do you squirm with the realization of how much time I actually waste?
Nature became my wake-up call.
Like the sand ripples I will make my mark, accept what comes my way, change what I can, then be grateful I had this day, however imperfect.
Savor the warmth of the sun, luxuriate in the ocean water and feel the coarse sand slide between your toes and smile...
Even when crabs are crawling all over you.
Live in color,
An early spring walk around a mountain pond is a walk around nature’s womb.
This pool of water at the forest’s edge appears to be the genesis of everything alive and wild. It gives birth not only to woodland creatures but, more importantly, gives birth to fresh thoughts and ideas.
Standing on the pond’s edge, a shimmering pearlescent glow caught my eye. Barely noticeable, minuscule in size, I was inexplicably drawn to this mysterious object. Hesitant at first, I became a curious big fish being reeled in by this glistening lure.
I slouched through spring's saturated soil bringing me to my object of desire, a delicate white feather. A plume so small and fluffy it could only be a down feather. It was a beauty, floating effortlessly on the pond’s surface.
This gossamer-like feather seemed to say to me, “ Aren’t I pretty.” I had to agree, responding “Most definitely, dear feather.”
It’s hollow shaft was translucent, with each downy barb separate and unique. Down feathers rarely see the light of day, however on this brilliant morning a feather escaped from a bird's insulation and was languishing on the water's edge. Bitsy beads of morning dew were being served up on the vane of the feather. Each droplet a microscope to what lay below.
On closer examination there were several other down feathers gliding, and communing with one another. One was more beautiful than the next. One revealing its beauty within the pool's discord, one floating in carefree solitude, and the last two feathers in conversation.
The feathers seemed to temporarily surrender to the swirl of life. It was in their surrender their brilliance was amplified, becoming a found jewel in the chaos of nature.
Could I reveal my grace and fragility if I were to surrender to the rush of life? What if I let go of control, to relax into the moment, and to accept the here and now?
My single, frayed feather, demonstrated the importance of relinquishing the need to always manage. At times there is nothing more to do than to just float.
My incubator of a pond gives birth to more than salamanders and frogs. It becomes the birthplace of deep thought and reflection, even at the wisp of a feather.
Live in color,
“If you want to fly give up everything that weighs you down”
She was bathed in golden light.
Within the labyrinth of Angkor Wat’s temple complex, I turned a corner and there she was. The multitude of passing tourists probably just saw an old, tired Cambodian nun, but I saw a Goddess.
Her hands were bronzed and gnarled like the boughs of an ancient Bodhi tree. Her aged, yet delicate features radiated. Her focus was intense and undeniable. Silently, she waited for the occasional tourist to approach her for a traditional Buddhist blessing cord.
A young girl stopped, crouched before the nun, and extended her wrist. From a basket of colored strings a blessed strand was selected. The dexterity of the nuns gnarled fingers equaled that of someone decades younger. She wrapped the young girl’s porcelain wrist with a scarlet cord and began to knot. The first knot was tightened with a prayer of protection, the second knot secured with a prayer of compassion, and the third knot blessed her journey.
A glow emanated from the young girls face. She knew this was a sacred moment.
A sweet smile from the nun concluded this informal ceremony. The impressionable girl rose to her feet and seemed to float away. Her brief encounter with this angelic being momentarily elevated her to a mystical realm.
This old nun, sitting in the hushed recesses of Angkor Wat was simply divine. Without fanfare or pageantry she exemplified quiet beauty and supreme wisdom.
For a moment I thought, “When I grow up I want to be just like her.”
Live in color,
You can sense their presence in the tangled jungle. The ground trembles. Branches crack. Snorts and grunts vibrate through the air. Then across the riverbank three majestic beasts appear with grace and ease.
All creatures are magnificent, however the elephant is simply awesome. Beyond their sheer size, intelligence, and social structure, their capacity to experience a range of interwoven human-like emotions is extraordinary. Humans do not corner the market on emotions. We could learn a thing or two about empathy, sympathy and compassion from these noble creatures.
While staying in Luang Prabang a day trip took me north, along the banks of the Nam Khan River, to MandaLao Elephant Conservation. MandaLao is a 200 acre park promoting the humane and ethical treatment of elephants across Laos and beyond. There are no elephant tricks preformed here, no rides or exploitation of any kind, only education and loving care are offered.
MandaLao came into being last year by an enterprising American, Michael Vogler. The day to day operation is run by an elegant Thai gentleman named Prasop. His thirty years of experience working with elephants was apparent during his morning talk.
Prasop explained the plight of modern elephants and the efforts that are being made to protect them. He discussed their social structure and that elephants are highly social creatures, needing much attention and care. Each elephant at MandaLao is assigned a keeper, called a Mahout. These young boys bond with their elephants, gaining a deep, almost spiritual relationship like no other. The mahout become the eyes and ears of the elephant, detecting illness or injury.
After a brief orientation I slipped on a pair of lightweight, deep tread boots, ready for the day’s muddy hike. I was accompanied by husband Robert, and a mother and daughter from Wyoming. We crossed the river on a long-tail boat, to meet our jumbo companions for the day: Grandma, mom and baby Kit, a bouncing, inquisitive and willful 2 year old male.
Our trio of pachyderms led us into the jungle, through rice fields and along a river’s edge. Kit splashed and frolicked through the water, wrestled with logs, scratched himself on boulders, and he mimicked what mom and granny did. I felt so insignificant next to these imposing creatures. They seem to carry the wisdom of the ages within their soulful, deep-set eyes.
With ears flapping, Kit made his presence known. Somehow he knew he would one day grow into an impressive male, carrying on his noble lineage. But first, he needed to stop and nurse.
Lao people have always had a deep connection with the elephants that roamed their land. Laos became known as “Land of One Million Elephants” but sadly their population has dwindled to only 3000.
The good news is the population is no longer in decline. Conservation efforts towards elephants are increasing across Southeast Asia. The exploitation of these beasts is finally being addressed. Animals are being liberated from logging camps, taken off the streets of Bangkok as tourist attractions, and rescued from the wild when orphaned. Some are even being prepared to go back into the wild, while others stay in sanctuaries with their mahouts.
Can you imagine a world without elephants? I can’t. I want my grandson to see these awe-inspiring animals in person. I want him to feel their magnificence, and be humbled by them. I will support organizations like MandaLao Elephant Conservation, www.mandalaotours.com and continue to spread the word about the humanitarian efforts that still need to be implemented.
There is so much in our world that needs to change. Where does one begin? If one wants change start with educating yourself, followed by setting an intention, then putting that intention into action.
If we all took a little action, change would follow.
Live in color,
Is life nothing more than a game of roulette?
Is one’s destiny determined by a serendipitous spin of the wheel? Who decides where the bouncing ball of life will land? Will it come to rest in the pocket of privilege, hardship, health or sickness?
Returning home from Southeast Asia, questions arose for me, like steam off a morning’s pond.
This past month I stepped out of my comfortable bubble once again, onto the exotic soils of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. The change in culture is jarring, but my past excursions readied me for this sensory jolt. An acute awareness of my surroundings was heightened upon my arrival. The auto-pilot I habitually run on was switched off; I instead opted for the fully engaged manual mode.
When traveling, I usually head to one of two places to get a sense of my surroundings: the countryside, or the water. For my first outing I chose to explore the countryside of Laos.
My starting point was Luang Prabang, a World Heritage site located in Northern Laos on the banks of the Mekong River. At the break of dawn I headed out of town, due west, on a busy, barely paved road. My route meandered through both grassy fields and depleted rice paddies. Being the dry season, rice paddies lie dormant. The rains begin in May flooding the paddy fields, which remain saturated until September.
I left a cloud of dust in my wake as my drive took me through rural terrain, a route few tourists consider. I was in my happy place, the odd woman in a marvelous and alluring culture. I passed lanky, sun-kissed fisherman as they dotted the shallow river bank casting their handmade nets into murky water. I stopped for a closer examination and found barely a handful of bait-size fish wiggling in a leaky bucket, the haul for the day. The beaming smile of the fisherman said it all, he was proud of his catch.
Further down the road I encountered a typical Lao village. Wooden houses, what we may call shacks, sat on stilts that lined the road. Hammocks attached to the underside of the main floor, swung between the stilts, offering cool shelter from the dry season’s sun. Children played without a care while a mother looked on, tending to a bubbling pot, resting on an open flame.
I passed a Buddhist temple where the community gathered for some sort of festival. A strange non-metered melody filled the air. The elders sat in a cluster, while women showed off their intricately designed weavings. Over a loudspeaker a greeting was directed to me, “Hello,” I nodded my head in respect and responded, “Sabaidi” the local greeting. A smile and a sabaidi became my calling card.
My Western eyes saw a humble and meager existence, yet the residents seemed rich. Not rich in a material sense but the rich in spirit. Giggling children ran barefoot with sticks, creating games as they went along. Not one child was crying, or seemed fussy, neglected, or lacking attention. Oh, do we have something to learn from them.
Continuing on my journey I passed women in the fields tending to their crops wearing conical shaped straw hats. Fun fact: Did you know the conical shape is designed so the hat may be dipped in water, then worn to keep cool. I stopped at a plot of ripe eggplants, the exotic variety, the ones I can only find in Chinatown. These bulbous, green eggplants were carefully being picked by hand. Once again I was greeted with radiant smiles.
I found life in this region to be modest, yet not without challenges. Intermittent power light the villages, a long dry season makes farming arduous, while the wet season brings floods. It is a land both of wealth and need — a land of contradictions.
This is where my questions arose.
When a new being is born to this earth, who decides what soul lands where?
I guess I won the lottery in being born in one of the richest countries, to loving parents that could indulge me. But what about the children that are born in a rice paddy, or in a war torn country? Is it by chance or divine plan their lives begin with such hardship? I suppose that is one of those unanswerable questions. My koan for the day.
It is through travel that my veil of privilege is drawn back. Standing on unfamiliar ground I realize how fortunate I am, and how I have an obligation to share my experiences. It is my task to document these encounters for others to consider. There is some insight to be gained from every person that crosses your path, the Lao people are no exception. The resilience of the gentle people of Laos was apparent, the acceptance to their fate was admirable. They became my teachers, I was their student.
Remember that game of roulette? As the ball of life spins on the revolving wheel, bouncing from one pocket to the next, where one’s destiny lands will forever remain a mystery. Acceptance of that destiny, whatever it may be, was my lesson.
As the sun sank into the hazy horizon my days excursion came to an end. I returned to Luang Prabang thinking, take nothing for granted. Be grateful for where you are, and for what you have, for what you have is exactly what you need.
And this was just my first day in Laos!
Live in color,
What makes us, us?
A new year, a new project. In 2018, in Perspectives, I delve into what makes us truly unique. I will look well beyond the material, the “stuff” that may define us, to what really makes us distinct individuals. For me it all comes down to spirit. Spirit, that unique energy that embodies who we are. That force that allows us to move within this material world, immersed in the human experience.
Everyone has seen the spirit of a child in the twinkle of its eye, but what about finding the spirit of an autumnal leaf within its decaying form, or, as illustrated, the spirit of winter’s wind, whipping forcefully across the fridge landscape. Spirit isn’t exclusive to humans, it can also be found in the plant, animal and even the mineral world. To reveal spirit in each of these realms is my goal.
It takes a keen eye to detect this mysterious, yet dynamic life force. I’m up for the challenge: are you?
If this has tickled your curiosity, break free your anchor. Hoist your sails, and join me as I cast off on this uncharted journey into spirit.
Live in color,
After being home from Tanzania for a few weeks I thought I would cleverly craft a compelling story about life in Central Africa. But instead, the words never came.
There are dire struggles across the globe, no country is immune. Want proof? Just pick up The New York Times any morning. Some regions are plagued with greater obstacles than others. I could easily rant against the powers that be, condemning lack of aid or interest. But, do we really need any more ranting? I think not.
So I have changed my perspective.
Now when I review my images from Ipalamwa, Tanzania, instead of seeing adversity, I find cause to celebrate. Yes, this hamlet, unknown to many Americans, has its share of pressing issues. There could be cause for much despair, however, what I found instead was the grace and fortitude of its people. I found dignity in their smiles, and light in their eyes. With what seems to be insurmountable problems, the residents of this community have risen above their challenges. They embrace the hope of a new and better day.
So instead of more words, sit back, and let my pictures say what I cannot. Come with me on a journey back to Tanzania, experience the intoxicating scenery, infectious grins and witness, first-hand, what resilience and strength look like.
With every situation we have a choice on how it may be perceived. I chose to view Ipalamwa with light and love.
Live in color,
As summer began to fade, I stepped out of my comfortable home in the Green Mountains of Vermont. I ventured way out of my comfort zone, and traveled to Tanzania. I was asked to take part in an ambitious project based in a remote corner of this African country. When confronted with a challenge I usually dive in head first, then hope for the best.
An eighteen-hour plane ride out of Boston took me to Dar es Salaam, a sprawling metropolis. This rapidly developing capital is located on the east coast of Africa, on the Indian Ocean.
There, I boarded a single-engine bush plane for a two hour flight to the inland city of Iringa. Not quite there yet, my final leg was a two-hour Jeep ride, on a barely navigable dirt track, up a hill, to the literal end of the road. I arrived in the village of Ipalamwa, an almost forgotten part of the world, where people struggle to scratch out a modest existence.
The Iringa region of central Africa does not represent the Africa most Americans normally think of. This is not the vast oatmeal colored savannah with lions and tigers. This is the the lush highland, hypotonic in nature.
Day-to-day life in Ipalamwa is hard. Many conveniences Americans take for granted; and when there is a momentary disruption, panic; do not exist here. Purified water is scarce. Ground water is available only at central collecting stations in each hamlet. The risk of contamination is real. For women, their day begins by walking to a central water spigot to fill large plastic jugs for their family’s needs.
Lack of sanitation and inadequate nutrition are the pressing concerns in this region. The health of mothers-to-be is especially critical. They carry the future of this community. Insufficient prenatal nutrition causes stunted growth to 40% the region’s children under five years of age. This affects not only the size of the children, but also their cognitive ability.
For one week, this past September, I joined Global Volunteers, https://globalvolunteers.org, to document, through photography, the pervasive problems of this area. Global Volunteers has a wide-ranging project planned for Ipalamwa. Volunteers are the essential component of this project.
I was part of Global’s second team that arrived in Ipalamwa. Fourteen hardy volunteers from across the US, including one from England, took part in this noble cause. Four goals were established.
The first goal was to install primitive, yet highly effective, hand washing stations. These hand washing stations signified the first time locals were able to wash their hands with both soap and water. Proper hand washing is imperative to curtail the spread of disease.
The second goal, the centerpiece program of Global’s work in Ipalamwa is called, Reaching Children's Potential (RCP). Working in partnership with local leaders, young Tanzanian girls are trained in healthcare. Home visits are scheduled in which RCP representatives, accompanied by volunteers, address the health concerns of mothers and their children. RCP lends support to the most critical first 1000 days of the child's life. Additional support is offered in the form of instructional workshops.
The third goal is to build garden box containers. A Global staff member, Makarios, designed, manufactures and assembles these boxes, on site. Once distributed, mothers grow nutrient-rich vegetables, in these convenient boxes. The added nutrition from these vegetables supplements her family’s meager diet, typically one that contains only flour and water.
The fourth goal is to conduct an English language camp for the community’s children. Pre-schoolers through 6th grade are the target audience. All these projects are staffed by eager volunteers.
After two days of orientation, the volunteer tasks are assigned and work commences. My assignment was to photograph the work that Global is heroically doing while capturing the human experience of both volunteers and residents.
Nine am: Monday morning, Global’s home base is bustling. Children gather in the ball field for English camp. Mothers converge in a meeting room in Global’s newly built, well constructed central hub. This building also houses the volunteers. There are ten double rooms, designed with private baths, for the volunteer’s comfort. In the building’s front courtyard, we assemble our first hand washing station, and the RCP reps, along with volunteers set off on their first home visits.
As a photographer I spend my time observing the world. I try make photographs that best convey, not only what I see, but more importantly, what my emotions were when I clicked the shutter. I try to make compelling photographs, tugging at the heartstrings of the viewer.
To chronicle my adventure in Ipalamwa in one sitting is nearly impossible. The magnitude of my experience will take days, if not weeks, to settle. I know the Abby that left Vermont at the end of August is a different Abby then the one that has returned home. My heart has been cracked open by the sweet smiles and penetrating eyes of the people of Ipalamwa.
I seem to have more questions now than answers. The questions that surfaced were those that asked, Why? Why isn't purified water a given for the villagers? Why aren't proper sanitation practices preformed in all households? Questions are good, they can be the beginning of change. My time spent in Tanzania was emotional, eye-opening and unforgettable. I now have a unique perspective on life in Tanzania. The adventure has enriched me.
Another question that keeps replaying in my mind is, “What does it mean to be human?”
It is probably easier to define what it means to be inhuman. To see someone struggle and not offer help feels inhuman.
Yes, Global Volunteers do offer help, and do provide assistance where needed. However, beyond the programmed support, volunteers have many opportunities to connect with these gentle, soft-spoken people. We shared a sympathetic ear, a tender touch, and a warm smile. We were compassionate. We were human.
I chose to dive in head first to this adventure. I wanted to help where I could, and make a difference. I did.
Live in color,
Nothing is more mysterious than a chance encounter. Such an experience for me confirms the existence of some force, greater than myself, providing guidance.
It was a balmy summer’s morning at the shore, my yearly jaunt to Fire Island with the girls. Never wanting to miss a sunrise, I crawled out of bed at the crack of dawn and staggered to the beach. Everything is a little slower on Fire Island. The walk to the shoreline was about 300 steps, each being intentional and deliberate. With each step I noticed the light, shadows, morning dew, the splendor of it all. I could see the boardwalk ahead, a gleaming golden stairway to bliss.
As I approached the walkway I could see someone sitting at the top of the stairs, staring out to the vast blue horizon. I quickly recognized the deflated slump of a teenager, the hunched shoulders, and hanging head, the telltale signs of an unhappy camper. But, how can that be on a glorious summer’s day!
This someone was a girl, probably about 18 years old. What stood out to me was she was covered from head to toe. Her ivory headscarf told me she was Muslim and probably feeling a bit out of place on the beach where nearly naked bodies are the norm.
As I passed I offered a big hello and an acknowledgment of the exceptional day. Her response, a soft grunt. I flashed her a smile and continued to the shoreline.
Only feet from the water I planted myself in the sand and joined darting sandpipers and hermit crabs celebrating the miracle of morning. With one full yogic breath after another I attempted to bank all the energizing beach mojo into my lungs, for future withdrawals, especially during the long, cold Vermont winters. My meditative state was immediately interrupted by the reappearance of the teenager I passed on the boardwalk. On a sweeping beach with maybe only two people within site, this moping teenager walked right up to me and plopped herself down.
A polite conversation began.
“Is this your first visit to Fire Island?”
“Yes”, she said. “I am here with my parents. We are visiting from Egypt, staying in my uncle’s home.”
The usual niceties followed. Mia, was her name, she explained how she was about to start college outside Cario. Then the flood gates opened…
“I hate my father!” She lamented. “He wants me to attend medical school so he can show me off like a prized pony, but I don’t want to go to medical school, I want to become an engineer.”
Mia went on to say she always did what her father wanted, but this time was different. She was sure she didn’t want to go into medicine, but felt trapped. Her mother wasn’t very supportive, she just told her to be a good girl and do what she is told.
It was a story that was all too familiar to me. Fifty years ago, straight out of a New England college, I was offered a job in Palm Beach. I was so excited about the opportunity. I enthusiastically told my father. With his piercing blue eyes and stern demeanor my father told me I would fail at the job, and when I did, not to bother to look to him for help. Ouch! No matter how disheartened I was with his response, I abandoned the job offer and stayed home, like a good girl.
To this day I think of that pivotal moment in my life. If I had defied my father, would my life have been different?
I looked at this young girl and understood her angst.
I explained to Mia that I believed her parents loved her very much and they just wanted what they thought was best for her.
As she wiped her tears, I asked, “Do you feel the energy from the sea?”
She replied, “Yes.”
I said, “Let’s sit here together, with arms outstretched and take it all in.” We giggled at the site of the two of us. For the moment we were two cormorants drying our outstretched wings. We then proceeded to sit in silence.
As we watched the sun rise into the cloudless sky, I gently placed my hand on her back, she didn’t recoil, but instead melted into my palm.
I got up from my seated position, knelt in front of her, and cradled her face in my hands and said…
“First, you are beautiful, and that alone will take you far. Second, it is obvious you are very intelligent, that will take you farther. This, my dear, is your first big test. You must now decide if you want to live your father’s life, or your own. You must lovingly explain to your father medicine is not in your future, then take an unwavering stance for the career that is meaningful to you.”
I asked, “Can you do that?”
Her face lit up as the tears cascaded from her checks. I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a hug as if she were my own child.
She said, “Thank you. I will talk to my father when I get back. I will be strong. I will be strong for you.”
We said our good-byes and with one final hug, I slipped out of her life.
As I walked down the beach I began to cry. How does one explain an encounter of this kind? The connection between two perfect strangers, from two different worlds? The serendipity of a shared predicament? Hearing the exact words I wished to hear so long ago? Questioning whether I gave Mia sound advise, did I empower her or put her in harm’s way?
I don’t have the answers, but I do know it is the mystery, that makes life an ever-fascinating journey.
It’s in the moments we share a kind word, a soft touch, an attentive ear and a warm smile that give life texture and meaning.
Was this just a chance encounter? Unsolicited cosmic guidance? Or just this grand life reminding us both of the wonder and awe of it all.
Live in color,
The forest floor is home to a variety of unusual creatures. This morning, I had an encounter with the most elusive resident of them all.
A flash from the corner of my eye caught my attention. It was early morning, and the forest was thick with dew, perfumed by the scent of pine. I felt I was walking into a cool cathedral, my Sagrada Família of the Green Mountains.
The flash came from under the spiky bough of a 50 year-old stately pine. I pulled back the bough and found a troop of mushrooms. They were tightly clustered, well out of sight, and off the beaten path. On closer examination I realized, I stumbled upon a kingdom of woodland fairies.
Some people actually think fairies are nothing more than a whimsical flight of fancy. Nonsense! For someone who regularly slinks along nature’s floor, I have had many mysterious encounters with sprites. I am convinced of their existence. How else would you explain this finely designed housing complex, disguised as a benign group of mushrooms?
Fairies are very clever architects. When picking a house-site some fairies prefer the security of terra firma. They scout out dwellings that can house an entire communities of nymphs, such as this fine clump of fungi. For fairies, mushrooms made a premier residence. The caps create excellent, well detailed roofs, sheltering them from the unexpected shower, and the broad and towering stems create grand entrances for each family.
Being ultimate gardeners, fairies plant either clover or blooming grass near their front doors so guests don’t accidentally pass by. They also take great care in keeping their residences tidy, so it is not unusual to find a twig propped up against the front door ー a broom in the ready.
By the time I lowered my camera, resting it on a mound of moss, the fairies silently fluttered away, but the evidence of their presence was indisputable.
So the next time you enter the forest, tread softly and speak in whispers for if you believe you may also stumble upon a magical kingdom.
Live in color,
Those that don’t believe in magic will never find it
There’s no way of escaping the complexity of life ー or is there?
We spend half our lives accumulating. We are no better than scurrying chipmunks stockpiling nuts for the long winter, who run on the theory, more is better. But is more always better?
Now that I am well ensconced in my second half of life, nuts no longer have much appeal. There are times I envy the Buddhist monk who travels the world with only his bowl and saffron robe. OK Abby, snap out of it! That's a bit extreme, however, dare I imagine life without the weight of nuts to slow me down?
This new found philosophy became apparent first through my photography. The complex photo has taken a back seat to simplicity. It is now the purity of clean lines and shapes that appeal to me. The elegant, form rich image now feeds my inner self. While composing an image today all I need to do is create an intriguing space to breath, celebrating the moment.
Think of it as a meditative moment, from me to you.
Live in color,
It happens silently. Dotage arrives one dark night and takes up residence upon your chest. It lies on you like a fat cat with no intentions of moving. Each breath then becomes more meaningful.
Just like everything else, how you choose to deal with this oppressive feline is entirely up to you. Option one, throw him off and continue to run in circles or, Option two, make yourself comfy and retire to a place of contemplation.
You could choose to feel his suffocating weight, the heaviness that constricts your every movement, or choose another perspective. Every thing, has two sides, even a fat cat.
Beyond the obvious heaviness, there is also a warmth that cloaks you. It gently holds you down as it softly whispers, there is no place to run to ー be here, now.
The trick is not to buckle from it's weight but, to surrender to the hushed murmur of it's wisdom. Stillness creates the space for the crone's sageness to slowing ooze into your being. It is in this quietude you discover that action is not always appropriate. Inaction is the key to open the treasure trove of insight.
There is no place to run to ー be here, now.
Live in color,
Thank you to the Blanchette's for their handsome feline.
With my feet planted firmly on the ground and head erect, I can obtain a broad and expansive perspective of the world. Or can I?
Sweeping landscapes offer splendid vantage points, however my favorite is the macro perspective.
Lying down on moist grass, peering through blades of new growth, fills me with wonder. Oh, to have Alice's magic potion, labeled "DRINK ME". How I would love for just a moment, to shrink to the size of a beetle and slide down the stalk of a leaf, dropping me into nature’s hidden realm.
In my new beetle body, I would scale the foliage as if it was the Andes. I would drop into the verdant caverns and float in the pristine dew ponds, paddling like mad with my tiny jointed legs.
I imagine lying amongst the towering fronds, while gazing up at the beads of moisture creating columns of mirrors, catching the morning’s light putting Versailles’s Hall of Mirrors to shame. While gliding across my crystal pool it is here the magnitude of nature’s mystery is apparent.
Excuse me while I drift.
Live in color,
An image alone sometimes feels insufficient, that’s where Musings come in. A space where words and images come together to tell the story.
I promise not to sell, rent, or share your email address with anyone. Ever.