October 16, 2014

Getting naked in the mountains: it's a tradition

My friends were gathered in the lodge with bowls of soup, eating in front of a crackling fire and happily talking about our weekend plans, when I gestured toward my camera. “Who’s going to get naked for me?”

This question no longer comes as a surprise. My friends know all about my naked photo project. The flow of conversation didn’t even stop, but I could see several of the women pausing to consider the factors involved: How warm is it outside? How many boaters will there be on the lake? Did I shave my legs?

“Someone needs to pose,” said Denim Woman. “Our reputation is at stake.”

Years ago, we earned the name Wild Women after one of the husbands heard about a skinny dipping adventure in a cold mountain lake. But we hadn’t done much lately to keep up that reputation. The most spicy thing we’d done so far that weekend was to make soup.

“So what were you thinking?” asked Dancing Woman. “A photo out by the lake?” She asked the question casually, but by now I've learned to recognize that tone of voice: she was in.

So the next day, after we'd returned from a hike that took us through trees bursting gold in afternoon sun, I nudged her. “Hey, the light is perfect. Let’s take a photo.”

When it comes to these naked photos, I'm not really a photographer. I'm really more like a tripod, who happens to be pushing the button on the camera, the mechanism for women to take their own pictures. Dancing Woman chose the spot — stone steps by the lake with a handrail that looks like a branch. It's in a fairly public place, but she stripped off her clothes with a fine disregard for passing boaters.

Dancing Woman held her hands up to the sky in a gesture of release. “This is me,” she said, “letting go.” Sunlight flickered through a tree on the shore, casting a pattern of light and dark on her back and legs.

I yelled some helpful ideas for poses, but she yelled back, “I can’t really hear you. Not with the waves.” Balancing on the stone steps, she turned to smile at me and then stepped toward the lake, looking out across the water as if the lake had something to tell her.

Dancing Woman at the Lake

You can find the gallery of naked photos here.

October 14, 2014

Weekend at Silver Bay

Silver Bay

When I woke up Saturday morning, the sun was just coming over the mountains, lighting the lake with glints of silver. I unzipped my sleeping bag and pulled on some clothes. My women friends were still sleeping, scattered throughout the bedrooms of the lodge where we were gathered for our annual fall retreat. I always sleep on the floor in front of big stone fireplace, which means I get the best room to myself. I fall asleep in a room filled with moonlight and the soft glow that comes from red hot coals, and wake up to the dawn light shining through floor-to-ceiling glass windows.

I grabbed my camera and slipped out of the lodge for an early walk. The camps along the lake are mostly empty by October, the summer season long over. The wind pushed bright leaves about on little sandy beaches, and pine needles spread orange-brown across the tarps tied over boats and lawn furniture. Despite the sun, the wind was cold: I shoved my hands into the pocket of my hoodie and wished I had mittens.

A brisk walk in a cool wind was just what I needed. By the time I got back to the lodge, I was ready to make a cup of hot tea, build a fire, write in my journal, and start the day. My friends were waking up by then, wandering about sleepily with mugs of tea or plates of food. We've been friends long enough to tease each other about who snores and who needs a shower. I don't think I even combed my hair all weekend so I'm sure my hair was the wildest.

We fit as much as we could into the gorgeous fall day. We hiked a trail that followed the lake north. We ate bowls of hot soup. We walked down the YMCA property that has an outdoor labyrinth. And mostly, we talked. Sometimes in groups, sometimes in pairs, we talked and talked and talked, until by evening, we felt caught up on each other’s lives. The blues in the sky deepened into purple, and we gathered in the big room with the stone fireplace, relaxed in the way friends are when they have bared their souls to each other. LovesAnimals had set up her loom right in the midst of our circle of chairs, and we took turns at the loom, weaving yarns together while the fire crackled in the background.


October 09, 2014



My kids are mostly all grown up now, but they all still live in the area, so my husband and I have begun the tradition of Sunday brunch, with the idea that we can lure them home with food. It seems to be working.

That's my daughter in the hammock, talking with Drama Niece, who was here for the weekend, and Blonde Niece, who lives close enough that we've long considered her part of the household.

October 06, 2014

"Shall be forever kept as wild forest lands"

Driving in the mountains

Last weekend, I drove with my parents to the mountains to admire the fall foliage and visit the area where my father worked as a young musician in the early 1950s. Almost every stop included a lake: the mountains are filled with beautiful little lakes. We stayed at an old mountain inn built more than 100 years ago and ended the day sitting comfortably in front of a fire talking to the innkeeper, just as if we were characters in a 1930s movie.

We take this trip every year, and we’re always alert to any changes in the landscape. My father will point out resorts that have closed during the last 60 years. And he’ll shake his head at the size of the summer cottages that private owners build. But of course, since so much of the land is protected under the state constitution, much of the land stays the same. On hiking trails, the tall pines tower above us, the pine needles underfoot release a heady aroma when you walk on them, the ferns crowd the paths, and the hardwoods fill the sky with red, yellow, and orange on a fall day.

“Yeah, it’s still the same,” my father said. “I love that.”

Big Moose Lake

September 15, 2014

September weekend at the monastery

Monastery in September

Saturday morning, it rained. I sat in the little guesthouse at the monastery, watching the water slide down past the big glass window, listening to the drops thumping on the roof. I opened a brand new journal, thrilling at the sight of all those blank pages, and began writing. I drank hot tea, I stared out the window, and I wrote page after page. When finally, I ran out of words, I put on my red raincoat and ran over to the chapel, climbing down the stairs into the crypt lit by dozens of votive candles.

Eventually, the rain stopped. I began the walk I always take, rambling though the barnyard and sheep pastures. The monks had been busy preparing for winter. Tall stacks of hay stood in a row, high up on the hills. The sheep were busy eating the green grasses, fattening themselves up for the long winter ahead. The guard donkey, whose function is to keep the coyotes away from the sheep, wandered over towards the fence. The sun came out long enough to make me take off my rainjacket, the warmth didn't last long. When the rain began again, I walked over to the bookstore, where I knew I'd find Brother Beekeeper. The rain was keeping him from his usual chores on the farm, so we settled down for a long chat.

Guard donkey

September 02, 2014

Labor Day at camp

Goose Bay in August Monday morning, I woke to the birds of the marsh singing outside of my tent. I made my way down to the dock and climbed into my little red kayak, wedging the dry bag that held my camera into a spot between my feet. The water level had dropped as it always does with the approach of all, and the lily pads stood high, curling and flapping in the wind. The great blue heron that nests right at the edge of the cattails flew off as I approached. The kayak glided easily over the weeds and lily pads as I paddled along the edge of the marsh, up to the little creek. I expected to see carp, but the even the pools of water between the big masses of weeds were still. The only person I saw was my father, rowing his little sailboat out past the weeds so that he could take a morning sail on the river.

August 24, 2014

Living in our garage

On the woodpile

Keeping the woodpile in the garage means that even in the most miserable weather, I have only to go a few feet to grab dry logs that will burn nicely. But it also means that on an August day, when I wandered out into the garage barefoot to begin cleaning the backshelves, I was not alone. All along the woodpile, little heads turned toward me, woken by the vibration of my footsteps or perhaps my scent carried across the warm air.

Snakes love a woodpile.

A few years ago, when I asked my students what I should do about the snakes in my garage, they acted like my question was silly. “Why would you want to get rid of the snakes?” a young man said. “They'll eat the mice. And unlike mice, snakes don’t carry diseases.”

As I was cleaning the garage, I tried to remember my students’ words. One snake stretched atop a log like a sunbather on the first day of summer. Another, clearly the shy younger sibling, curled in the corner, almost out of sight. “At least they keep the mice away,” I told myself. I kept up that line of reasoning even when I began sweeping underneath the shelves and came up with a dustpan of mouse droppings.

I found myself tensing up just a bit as I sorted through stuff, even though I was pretty sure that snakes wouldn't climb the metal shelves. When I opened a box of snowboarding boots, I didn’t see any snakes, but it was filled with shredded paper that just might be a mouse’s nest. I carried the box in, set it on the table, and promptly forgot about it. That turned out to be a mistake as I discovered several hours later. With-a-Why, sitting at the couch with his computer, noticed it first. “I think I just saw a mouse run across the room,” he said.

“How could that be?” my husband asked. “We have FIVE cats.” Three of the cats, in fact, were in the room, stretched out comfortably on the carpet. Then I noticed some movement on the kitchen table. A baby mouse ran to the edge of the table, looked down, then ran the other way. Another mouse peeked out of the cardboard box. Another little mouse had reached a wooden chair and was heading to the floor. I yelled for my family to help as I began scooping baby mice up and tossing them out the back door.

The five cats in the house and numerous garter snakes in the garage? They did nothing.