This year I finally made it back to Star Island, a speck of rock amidst other specks of rock off the coast of New Hampshire in the northeastern corner of the US. Past entries with photos from weeks of meditation on this island have explained its place amongst earliest permanent European settlements in North America, and its importance at one point in setting the commodity price of cod internationally. This time, I think I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. I got out by kayak and rowboat a few more times than in past years, and our meditation week was later in the season than past years. These two facts meant that 1) was able to explore the Star Island rocks more than usual, because the seagulls were not in nesting season, and therefore were NOT dive-bombing all mammals that came close anywhere near the rocks; and 2) I explored Smuttynose Island more, finding that spiders can ingeniously spin webs anywhere even on apparently barren rock. (See a photo in the gallery just below, for an example.) The minute I started stumbling over spiderwebs in all corners of the rocks, I realized it made perfect logical sense: where birds poop there will be bugs. Where bugs congregate, there will be spiders to feed on them. Where there are spiders, there will be webs upon which to tangle one’s legs in unpleasant messes. Yuck.
But such is life, and such was my week of reflection and gathering myself again after the important family milestones which immediately preceded my week on Star – as documented a bit in the last post. I hope before too much longer to post from other outings and trips in recent months, both here in California and in Europe. Then, at some point, I’ll start posting again from a field assignment for which I am leaving shortly. Thanks, as always, by expressing your support by reading (and often commenting on) this long-lasting little blog project o’ mine 😊. Peace.
An explanation: the bridge passes over Badger Island (home of the houses with the floats hanging from them) then on to Kittery, a town in Maine. Which is famous for blueberries, and has a lovely Mexican restaurant which serves, as you see, colorful blueberry margaritas where I passed time until my boat – yes, that very same boat seen waiting to pass under the bridge – left for the island. I just loved the colors! And the taste was fine, too…)
In the northwesternmost corner of Connecticut lies Bear Mountain, the tallest peak in that state. (Note that I don’t say “highest point,” because in fact there’s a higher point in CT but it’s on a mountain whose actual summit is in Massachusetts.) Over the summit of this mountain runs, of course, a section of the Appalachian Trail – which, for those of you perhaps unfamiliar with it, is a magnificent mountainous trail that runs along the spine of the rocky mountains in the coastal eastern states of the US, all the way from Georgia to Maine.
In the 1970s my mother and one of her dearest friends, also a single mother, took us all out on segments of the AT together several weekends a year. On this segment of the AT, called the Sages Ravine segment because of the river at the bottom which forms a natural border of sorts between the CT and MA portions of the trail (and at times, it seems, the actual border between the two states), our two families had a memorable spring hike influenced by late snowmelt and high water. We all survived that hike and went on to many more in the decades to follow. This August we returned in honor of our two mothers, now both sadly gone. Having hiked this before during spring flood season, we found it with our now-more-aged bodies much more enjoyable to hike it when the ravine was NOT flooded and when there was NOT snow on the north side of the mountain. And we did enjoy sharing memories of ourselves and our mothers, then and since.
My brother Steve and I then went on to North Adams and Williamstown, Massachusetts. There, we fondly remembered and walked, at least metaphorically, in our mother’s footsteps by visiting the absolutely fantastic Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art – which tells us it’s the largest museum of contemporary art in the US. (Many of the most amazing parts weren’t possible to photograph either by rule or because of what they are, like virtual-reality or experiential installations that just can’t be photographed…so what I show is the barest sample.) We also visited Mt Greylock, the highest summit in Massachusetts, at late sunset.
Despite my adopted California snobbery (higher mountains and all, out here, don’t you know…), I was really happy to be reminded how beautiful these green, rocky east coast mountains can be…and how difficult a rocky scrabble up a steep slope can be, even when the summit of that slope may not be all that high in feet above sea level 😊. Though the loss of parents is sad, I found it nourishing to share this time with family and friends who share these memories, as I find it nourishing to go on doing things I know my Mom would enjoy, and to send my thoughts to her when I do so. Hope you enjoy these photos; if you knew my Mom, hope it helps you remember all the great things you shared with her; and if not, that it helps motivate you to share other great things right now with those you care about the most 😊.
I’m in Bangladesh, doing the kind of work I love – planning to stay for quite a few more months if possible. Even as work occupies and inspires me here, many things draw my thoughts home as well. Next week is Thanksgiving, the most family-oriented of our US holidays — and I’m rather sad to be away yet again on this holiday, even if my vegetarian-ness means the traditional main course doesn’t float my boat. 🙂 My mother expects to start a new treatment the following week. And back home in California, many more lives have been lost and communities harmed by another record-breaking wildfire.
Plus, I already missed Halloween and the joy of watching kids go sugar-crazy… So I’ve sorted through photos I took during the autumn and winter seasons last year, when I was able to spend much good holiday and other time with my family and my friends on both coasts back home. These photos were all taken in NYC and NJ last year in October – December…aside from a few from CT in May 2017, a paean to a loved mentor and friend now gone. Andrew & Tom, I hope you don’t mind…or anyone else. (Tell me and I’ll take photos out if you wish.) Fond memories for me, and I hope you. Much love to you all, this holiday week. Peace, health, human dignity.
One of my oldest friends lives near Boston, and occasionally during extended breaks between my assignments, I manage to visit him & family, and explore Massachusetts for a bit. On our last visit, we sought songbirds on an exploration of the historic and quite lovely Mt Auburn cemetery in Cambridge, and did a lovely hike on a semi-rainy day at Wachusett Mtn State Reservation, toward the middle of the Bay State. It was early summer then, and so very green. I often wish I had more literal time and mental space to explore the corners of this country a bit more – and New England is a region I rather wish I could visit a bit more often…though, truth to tell, not in the winter!
Eight miles into the Atlantic from the mainland coast at the border between New Hampshire and Maine lie the Isles of Shoals, a small cluster of windswept rocky bumps in the ocean which housed some of the earliest long-term European settlements in North America. Ample cod fishing fueled the economy, a legacy you’ll see reflected in the weathervane on top of the old stone church which now serves as non- or multi-denominational chapel for the many conference-goers who enjoy week-long conferences and other retreats at Star Island, which has served as a base for Unitarian-Universalist retreats and conferences for more than 100 years. I’ve just been out there for a week of meditation, my third such outing since 2009. I’ve deeply relished and valued all of these meditation weeks, the intensity with which they permit to settle into the moment and clear my mind and emotions of plans, of worries, of day-to-day “reality” and just be for a bit. In essence, meditation – especially when I’m on Star to do it – takes me to a mental and spiritual place which evades intellectual and verbal description. That said, this time more than my two past such retreats, I was intensely drawn all week to attempting to photograph & record the magnificence of that which is small, the perfect beauty and reality of this physical world, its tides and seasons and flowers. And though I’m working with a very basic pocket-sized field-appropriate camera, I think my results were reasonable. Hopefully you’ll find at least some of these images as lovely as I do and maybe they’ll take you into a quieter place for at least a breath or three. Peace, enjoy.
Star Island is the most actively used/inhabited of the Isles of Shoals, a handful of islands 7 or 8 miles out to sea off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine. Located in the heart of coastal North America’s prime cod-fishing grounds (cf photos of Provincetown below; for those who hadn’t pondered it, there’s a REASON the colonists named Cape Cod as they did!), these rocky, windswept isles were among the earliest European settlements on this continent – they sported active year-round fishing villages in the 1600s, I believe. In the photos below, you’ll see indicators of a few small graveyards scattered around Star Island; none of the islands ever supported large populations (they’re small and rocky, and mighty cold and windy in the winter!), so we’re talking small little family plots or memorial stones scattered here and there, more picturesque than spooky or overwhelming.
Anyhoo, so I decided that en route to LA to touch home base before heading out again, I might as well check in with parts of New England I’d not seen in more than a decade – a week’s meditation on Star, and a sadly short stop at Provincetown. On Star, which I’d not visited since a day trip in the 1970s, I found beauty, good company, mental and spiritual renewal through a very enriching program of morning meditations and quiet afternoons walking the island or reading a book, and social evenings with my partners in meditation. I won’t bother saying much more about it all; group meditation can’t be described but only experienced, and the pictures demonstrate Star’s uniqueness far better than anything I can write. Only one small story: sometime in the late 1600s or early 1700s, New Hampshire – which, along with Maine, was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony – split off to become New Hampshire colony on its own. When that happened, Appledore Island (photos below) lost most of its inhabitants to Star: Appledore (then called Hog Island) remained in Mass Bay Colony (now Maine, which split off after independence), where the taxes were higher, so the fisherfolk left for the attractively lower taxes of the new colony of New Hampshire. The first instance of Americans moving to lower their taxes?!
I like to say that Provincetown, a combination old-colonial fishing village, national seashore town and artsy high-concept tourist resort catering to a very wide range of tourists from whale-watching families to lesbian bikers to gay circuit boys and most things in between, is my single favorite spot on the US East Coast. The sand dunes and tidal mudflats of the national seashore are crisscrossed by bicycle and foot paths for endless exploration, and there are reliably inspiring views of clouds, water, grass, sand and sky mirroring and reflecting each other in all weather conditions, from highest flood tide to lowest ebb tide. All this, great restaurants, excellent art galleries and an endless broad array of interesting and curious people strolling down Commerce Street from dawn til well after dusk — all with the town and environs packed into a manageably small space — you can imagine why I love it so much. Why did I let eleven years lapse between my last visit and the two fleeting days I permitted myself here on my way to Star Island?