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?