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Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Prisoners and pelicans and bears — oh, my!

In culture, life, nature, photography, travel, US on March 2, 2014 at 12:09 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Many people will never visit the bit of Florida where we just spent a brief five-day vacation. Its white sand beaches have the consistency of fresh brown sugar, but it doesn’t have, blessedly, rows of condo towers or huge hotels.

Tucked between Panama City to the west and Tallahassee to the east, closer to Alabama than the rest of the state, it’s called the Forgotten Coast.

photo: Caitlin Kelly

photo: Caitlin Kelly

Jose and I had each been to Florida several times, for work and pleasure. I’d visited Key West, Miami, Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg. But we’d never been here.

My father and his partner rented a house — like most on St. George Island, set high atop stilts — and invited us; we flew on points, rented a car and drove the 90 minutes west from Tallahassee, sharing our small aircraft with South Florida University’s women’s tennis team.

The very day we arrived, carrying our usual pile of weekend newspapers, The Wall Street Journal ran a cover story on Old Florida, naming only a few historic towns, one of them the one we were heading to, Apalachicola.

The town is tiny, barely 2,000 people, but cars lining the main street bore license plates from Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, others, like us, desperate to flee winter for a while.

There are many small, one-storey houses and several enormous, beautifully-renovated ones, Victorian-style, with large windows and gingerbread trim, painted soft yellow or pale green, and clearly the second (or first) home of wealthy outsiders.

There’s a small, narrow bookshop, in a building from 1900 and a place selling home-made Turkish delight. You can buy a natural sponge or a jar of Tupelo honey, all very exotic to a Yankee.

It’s home to fisherman, whose daily catch of fish, scallops, oysters and shrimp made for a delicious, healthy change from the frozen lumps imported from Thailand that pass as “shrimp” where we live.

Can you imagine this many oysters?!

Can you imagine this many oysters?!

To reach the town, we passed Carabelle, Sopchoppy and Panacea, then saw Lake Morality Rd. — leading to a state prison. We also saw multiple road signs warning us of bears, then bears with cubs.

photo

In Florida?!

We also saw a neon-pink sign: State Prisoners Ahead.

Here are some of my images:

The biggest lichen I've ever seen: sponge-soft and hand-sized

The biggest lichen I’ve ever seen: sponge-soft and hand-sized

This lovely faded green seemed to appear everywhere; this is the door of an ancient barber shop in town

This lovely faded green seemed to appear everywhere; this is the door of an ancient barber shop in town

lizard

shadow

heron

shells

I loved driving across the causeway and having a pelican whiz past me, at eye-level, heading the opposite direction. The island is surrounded by marshland, filled with wildlife and birds: osprey, heron, pelican, bald eagles.

As we drove back to the airport, every pelican sat atop its own wooden pole at the water’s edge, and sunlight backlit the Spanish moss, draping from every tree.

Closer to Alabama than the rest of Florida, this region is definitely the South — with White Lily flour and pralines at the local grocery chain, named Piggly Wiggly, grits and biscuits for breakfast and hush puppies at dinner.

I stopped to photograph one of the town’s major industries — oysters — warned to stay far away from the loading dock by one of the workers. I felt like Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s film The Birds, as seagulls swooped past my head, diving into the growing mountain of discarded oyster shells dropping from the factory’s conveyor belt.

gull and oyster machine

We had poor weather — so cold one night we layered on multiple blankets — but it was still a brief relief to shed our hats, mitts, boots and coats for even five days, heading back to more bloody frigid winter for at least another month.

It’s too easy to forget how many other worlds are out there for the discovering. At the table behind us one night, a huge, burly fisherman, hands the size of plates, gently cradled his tiny baby, gurgling in her pink onesie. You don’t see that where I live, in manicured, overpriced, suburban New York.

Sunset, our last night. photo: Jose R. Lopez.

Sunset, our last night. photo: Jose R. Lopez.

How was your last vacation?

Or do you have one coming up?

Four terrific books about traveling by water

In beauty, behavior, culture, History, life, men, nature, travel on January 5, 2014 at 12:44 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Not sure what the appeal is — no TSA lines? — but I’m drawn to books about travel by water, slowly reading two and eager to read two new ones.

One is “Voyageur”, published in 2006 by British writer Robert Twigger; here’s a review of it from The Guardian.

It’s the unlikely story of his attempt — in the same sort of oversized canoe used by the voyageurs who ventured across Canada in the 18th century — to make a 1,000-mile journey across Canada with three companions. (One leaves after suffering a truly horrific injury en-route.)

Shooting_the_Rapids_1879

By canoe.

Look at a map of Canada — a fairly gigantic country (and my home and native land) — and you’ll see what an exciting insane idea it is. I love his low-key, “what the hell were we thinking?” tone. As someone who spent many summers canoeing across deep, dark northern Ontario lakes — portaging along muddy, twisting, narrow paths while savaged by mosquitoes, horseflies and black flies, it all rings true.

Twigger's route

Twigger’s route

I loved his line: “Because in the end it is the imagination and the will that carries you through; body and boat are only servants.”

Twigger, now living in Cairo, clearly has a thing for rivers – his latest book is a biography of the Nile.

Cover of "Desert Solitaire"

Cover of Desert Solitaire

I’m sloooooowly finishing, (so reluctant to have this lovely, passionate book end), “Desert Solitaire”, recommended to me by fellow blogger Michelle, who blogs at The Green Study, a classic from 1968 by Edward Abbey. In it, he journeys through the Grand Canyon, another part of the world I know a little, and deeply love.

From Wikipedia:

“the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need—if only we had the eyes to see” (208).

He continues by saying that man is rightly obsessed with Mother Nature. It is where we came from, and something we still recognize as our starting point: “Standing there, gaping at this monstrous and inhuman spectacle of rock and cloud and sky and space, I feel a ridiculous greed and possessiveness come over me. I want to know it all, possess it all, embrace the entire scene intimately, deeply, totally, as a man desires a beautiful woman. An insane wish? Perhaps not-at least there’s nothing else, no one human, to dispute possession with me” (6).

Finally, Abbey makes the statement that man needs nature to sustain humanity: “No, wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread” (211). Abbey explores our strong connection to nature in Desert Solitaire, and he urges everyone to take something from his story to try to make the connection for themselves. That is Abbey’s final goal.

Two new books — both by British writers as well — address travel by sea and I’m dying to read both of them. Rose George’s second book — best title ever! — is “Ninety Per Cent of Everything”, about the shipping industry. Like every good journalist, this young reporter made an ocean journey herself aboard an enormous cargo ship to see this wearying, dangerous world firsthand; here’s the Boston Globe review.

And this one, by Horatio Clare, about traveling the world by freighter — a trip my mother made years ago to cross the Atlantic to Morocco.

The Voyage Out

The Voyage Out (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other favorites of the genre include “Heart of Darkness”, by Joseph Conrad — “the horror, the horror!” — and “The Voyage Out” by Virginia Woolf, published in 1915 and which satirizes Edwardian society. (A useful companion to the new season of Downton Abbey?)

I do love classic sailor’s yarns, like Tania Aiebi’s crazy tale of circumnavigating the globe — alone — at 18, the first American woman to do so and then the youngest.

English: Lake freighter CSL Niagara on the St....

English: Lake freighter CSL Niagara on the St. Lawrence River near Alexandria Bay in the Thousand Islands. Schip op de Saint Lawrence, recht tegenover Alexandria Bay in de Thousand Islands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I also spent a fantastic and highly improbable few days, at the age of 12 or so, playing in the cargo holds of a freighter carrying rapeseed (now re-named, more appealingly, as canola), along the St. Lawrence River; my mother, who never had a dull beau, was dating the company’s owner and he took us aboard for a brief voyage.

Here’s a photo of a life-changing sea voyage — me, age five or so, coming back to Canada to live aboard the S.S. France after a few years living in London.

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Here’s a 26-minute promo film abut the ocean liner, for the deeply curious.

Have you got a favorite book — or film — about a watery voyage?

Have you taken a memorable one?

Tell us about it…

An early winter’s walk along the Hudson River

In beauty, life, nature, travel, US on December 4, 2013 at 2:59 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The western side of the Hudson; the cliffs reach 800 feet in height.

The western side of the Hudson; the cliffs reach 800 feet in height.

This riverside park, just north of Nyack, N.Y.,  is barely 25 miles north of New York City, barely a 40-minute train or car’s journey from the traffic and noise and crush and crowds of Times Square.

Here is another New York, the one its residents equally treasure.

Here, the world is wild, a rare, refreshing place of silence. It’s an easy 15 minute drive from our apartment on the other side of the river.

I’m looking northwest at these cliffs as I write this post, and they’re our first sight every morning from our bedroom window.

I love living at the edge of a river, watching its moods change with the hours and the seasons. Sometimes you can see a rainstorm moving down the water like a scrim, like this legendary 1857 Japanese woodcut.

In the bitterest of winters, the river freezes, and if you stand at its edge you’ll hear the ice cracking and groaning.

These cliffs are 200 million years old, first described in 1541 by the map-maker Mercator. Today they’re called The Palisades.

The famous “brownstones” of Manhattan and Brooklyn? Quarried here.

The only sounds are a murder of crows squawking high atop the cliffs, waves lapping the stony shore, the scree of a soaring red-tailed hawk, the drone of a passing airplane.

Yet you can glimpse Manhattan — what locals call The City — shimmering 30 miles south, like some faint version of Oz.

On the eastern shore, the train carrying commuters to work in New York City, and all the towns and cities along the way, slides south like a slim, silvery snake.

The Hudson is still commercially highly active, with barges heading north and south every day carrying coal, gravel and other elements. They’re always guided by tug boats, stout little vessels with tremendous power.

I wonder if this brick was former ballast.

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I love seeing what’s washed up on the shores, like this oyster shell. The Hudson has 13 acres (!) of oyster beds in this area, recently moved at a cost of $100,000 from a mile north of the Tappan Zee Bridge (now under re-construction) to further south to protect them from harm during the work.

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The variety of foliage, even in winter, is amazing. I have no idea what this is, but isn’t it amazing? It looks like a messy horse’s tail.

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One of the sights I’ve grown accustomed to here are these vines, entwined. They’re a common sight — yet they never fail to mesmerize me.

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I love bittersweet. It’s one of my favorite sights in the parks and woods here.

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The base of these cliffs is also fascinating — the indentations remind me of the Canyon de Chelly, one of Arizona’s most ancient and mysterious indigenous sites. 20131129145214

This is the path. In the winter, populated only by walkers and their dogs, it’s a pleasant stroll. In the summer, when too many people stride across it, plus whizzing cyclists, I find it less enjoyable and safe.

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Here’s a terrific book about all the ruined and abandoned buildings along the Hudson. There are many, and they’re mysterious and beautiful.

Here’s a useful essay that explains the region’s geology and history.

Do you have a favorite place you like to walk near your home?

A stubborn goat, a shooting star and an empty 175-year-old inn

In animals, cars, culture, domestic life, entertainment, life, nature, travel on September 10, 2013 at 12:58 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Never a dull moment, kids!

A map of Prince Edward County

A map of Prince Edward County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On day two of our vacation, we decided to visit the final day of the Picton County Fair, in Prince Edward County, about two hours east of Toronto.

It was one of those perfect fall afternoons — hot sunshine with a cool breeze.

We saw:

– a lawnmower race (Jason plowed into a hay bale)

– a collection of antique tractors, including one from 1926 and this one from 1953

picton01

– the entries in the flower and food competitions

– some fantastic quilts, embroidery, crochet and hooked rugs

– a huge red $175,000 tractor

– a very stubborn goat who, when it was time to parade around the ring for the 4H contest, dug in his hooves, bleated and simply refused to budge

picton 02

– some gorgeous vintage automobiles, including this one

picton fair detail

Watching the four young girls posing with their goats was fascinating, as they moved, kneeling in the sawdust, from one side of their animal to the other, rearranged their goat’s legs for the best pose, and awaited the judge’s decision.

It takes a lot of poise and training to wrangle a small stubborn beast, and I admired their dedication. In New York, the girls would have been the ones preening and posing, nervously subject to dismissal.

Here, instead, they were in charge.

And we really liked the judge’s decision to hoist the stubborn one and move him into the ring to get on with it, already. He could have left its owner crying at the entrance, but he didn’t.

I loved seeing all the skills people here are proud of, whether growing a 74 pound pumpkin or hooking a rug…I couldn’t do any of them!

It’s humbling to be reminded how little city-folk generally know about how to care for animals or vegetables or fruit or how to create lovely things for your home. Instead, we buy stuff from enormous corporations, most of it made by low-wage labor in some distant Asian sweatshop.

The inn we chose is simply amazing, a square white building built in 1838 and moved to its current location a few years ago in numbered pieces, then re-constructed by a local historian.

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A pair of Toronto lawyers have poured Godknowshowmuchmoney into renovating it, to perfection. It’s a little austere, but serene, all in calm, neutral colors: rust, cream, olive, black.

It has only four guest rooms, but we were the only people here for all three nights.

So we had this exquisite place all to ourselves: wide plank floors, some original glass in the windows casting bubbled and swirling shadows, a formal oil portrait in the hallway. I love looking out at the trees through ancient glass, wondering what others were thinking when they did so a century and a half ago.

The only sound we can hear is wind rustling the crisping leaves, blown from Lake Ontario across the street.

The front door handle is small, round, brass — even opening the door transports you to a different time and way of moving through space.

I imagine being a woman of the period, alighting from our carriage, and sweeping in with a wide, bustled skirt to a home with no electricity, wi-fi or telephone.

And the stars here are glorious, the Milky Way blessedly once more visible.

I even saw a shooting star.

The value of staring into stars/fire/backlit leaves

In beauty, behavior, life, nature, travel on August 31, 2013 at 11:38 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Comparison showing the effects of light pollut...

Comparison showing the effects of light pollution on viewing the sky at night. The southern sky, featuring Sagittarius and Scorpius. Top – Leamington, UT, pop. 217 Bottom – Orem, UT, in a metropolitan area of ~400,000 I’ve attempted to match sky brightness to how it appeared to my eyes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love you guys. Really.

But two entire days far away from email and computer is a blessed and necessary break for my hands, eyes and brain.

To spend it, as we did last weekend at a friend’s cabin in the Catskills, right beside a rushing stream lulling us to sleep — bliss!

I was very lucky to grow up with parents who loved the outdoors and took long country walks. I also spent every summer, ages 8 to 17, at a summer camp in northern Ontario, surrounded by silence and birch trees, whispering pines and weathered granite.

We canoed across deep lakes, and the sunlight refracted in the tiny whirlpool of our every paddle stroke created a star sapphire in those ancient waters.

A stand of birch trees.

A stand of birch trees. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Loons called.

For a while, my father had a 200+ year old house in the Irish countryside, complete with a wide, cold stream thick with watercress we could pick and make into salad. We stood in Galway Bay, plucking fresh mussels, and went home and made soup.

I love re-connecting with nature and after too much time indoors by artificial light touching plastic, I miss it terribly.

After a week of so much computer time my eyes were sore and watery, I really needed to look at leaves and stars and stone.

So the weekend was perfect.

Lying, snoozing, in a wide hammock strung between two towering trees, dappled by filtered sunlight, all I could see was some bright blue sky with a fresh contrail.

Walking through the woods, I marveled at moss so thick and springy I wanted to make a bed of it and settle down for a nap. Mushrooms, of every possible variety, lay everywhere — many of them with their edges delicately nibbled by something small and hungry.

At night we light a bonfire and sat beside it, feeling small and primeval — not just weary New Yorkers, (three journalists and a spokesman for one of the area’s most-used services), usually attached to cellphones rushing to deal with the latest emergency. We stared up into the night sky and marveled at a rare sight in this light-polluted part of the world: the Milky Way.

As the fire burned out, we pushed the charred logs closer and closer, the embers winking and glowing through the darkness.

In the Catskills

In the Catskills (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you make time to be at home in the natural world?

When and where?

What did you make today?

In animals, beauty, design, life, nature, science on August 17, 2013 at 12:02 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It was the end of the day, time to go for my walk along our town’s reservoir.

It’s a walk I’ve made dozens of times, in every season, for many years, along an asphalt path shaded by towering trees, the  reservoir on one side, filled with ducks and swans and turtles. People come there to fish, or sit, or jog.

Cyclists whiz past.

Nothing new.

All familiar.

But for…a trick of the light.

Spider web

Spider web (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re in the right place at just the right moment, and you’re paying attention — not yammering on your cellphone or texting or racing past — you’ll see stuff.

A deer. A small black turtle. Some ripe raspberries.

And there, shimmering in the early evening sunshine, was a huge spiderweb, as big — I measured — as the entire size of my hand, from base of my palm to the end of my middle finger, seven inches.

It was spectacular!

It was attached, with multiple strands, to the thick bark of a tree, as if, like some bivouacking mountain-climber, s/he’d decided to latch on and dangle. There were multiple attachment points, and then the web itself, with so many concentric circles I couldn’t count them all — 20?

In the center sat a very small brown spider, (probably exhausted!), perhaps half the size of my smallest fingernail. Even better, there were about five other, smaller webs nearby, sort of a spider condominium, each with its own spider. (Relatives? Tenants? Guests?)

I stood there for a few minutes, awestruck by the skill, artistry and the spontaneous beauty it brought to the end of my day.

What on earth could I possibly make of such delicate strength?

What did you make today?

Worried about global warming? Q and A with Linda Marsa, author of “Fevered”

In behavior, books, cities, culture, Health, journalism, nature, science, urban life, US, Weather, world on August 7, 2013 at 2:25 am

I couldn’t put this book down.

Fevered cover image (1)

Initially, I decided to blog about it because I know Linda professionally and I like her — I try whenever it feels right to support other authors. I know what it takes to get a book commercially published!

But when this book arrived, I started reading it dutifully, prepared to be bored or overwhelmed.

Instead, I found myself touring the world, from the outback of Australia to my birth city of Vancouver, from the condo towers of Miami to Manhattan’s High Line, from Amsterdam to New Orleans. Linda found great interviews everywhere, with people whose eloquent passion for this issue make this potentially grim and tedious topic completely compelling.

This book is really a tour de force and I urge every one of you to read it, today.

She’s done something truly remarkable and damned difficult — taking one of the most complex issues facing the planet today and making it completely relatable, from little kids in L.A. whose asthma is out of control due to dusty, dirty air to victims of “Valley fever”, a disease now spreading through the U.S. Southwest.

You’ll also learn a whole new vocabulary: fierce winds such as derechos and haboobs and diseases like dengue fever and cocolitzli. You may have heard of El Nino — meet the Indian Ocean Dipole, and why it’s hurting Australian farmers and threatening its cities.

Here’s my Q and A with her; her book, “Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health — and How We Can Save Ourselves” is on sale as of today.

linda.heatshot

Tell us a little bit about you: where you live, how you got into writing/journalism and what sorts of things you typically cover.

 

I’ve lived in Los Angeles since the 1970s, after growing up and attending college and graduate school in NY and Pennsylvania. I became a journalist after stints as a labor organizer, inner city school teacher and waitress.   Not happy with any of these jobs, I took night school writing classes and found my bliss and began my career at a scrappy local city magazine in LA’s beach cities.  I stumbled into science and medical writing in the mid-1980s, and discovered I had an unexpected knack for science.  I like to rake the muck—and the heavily research driven stories are ones that galvanize me–but writing about scientific discovery is a welcome palate cleanser from digging up dirt.

 

Where did you get the idea for this book and when?

 

My “beat” for a long time was the pharmaceutical industry.  But I had gotten pretty burned out writing about bad drugs and Big Pharma malfeasance.  I thought hard about where I could focus my energy in a productive way that would also be intellectually satisfying and I realized that climate change was the most important science of story of our times.  So much had already been written on the topic but when I saw a study in the Lancet in 2009 about how our health will be affected by climate change, that fell directly in my wheelhouse and I thought there might be a book there.  I did a cover story for Discover on the spread of vector borne diseases in a warming planet which won some awards and became the springboard for the book.

 

Was it a difficult book to sell to an agent or publisher?

 

I already had an agent, who was on board with the idea.  So after doing the Discover story, I spent much of the summer of 2009 writing the proposal.  After some revisions, the proposal went out right after Thanksgiving and the book was sold in January of 2010.  I think what sold the book was that this was a fresh take on the climate change story.

 

What were the most challenging aspects of reporting or researching the book?

 

The most challenging aspect of writing the book was taking an abstract idea—climate change—and breathing life into it in a meaningful way.  I searched long and hard to find compelling stories to illuminate key points and to drive home the point that climate change is affecting our health right here in the U.S. and right now.

 

Tell us a bit about your research for the book – where you went, who you spoke to, how you found sources.

 

I did tons of reading to bring myself up to speed on what had already been written, and started talking with the usual suspects—i.e., scientists who are doing research on climate change and public health doctors who are witnessing the effects of a warming planet.  But I realized about halfway through my research that I needed to get beyond the science and talk to real people whose health is already being harmed by a changing climate.

 

I went to places where we’re starting to feel the effects of hotter temperatures.  In California’s Central Valley, for example, outbreaks of Valley Fever have become endemic because of hotter temperatures and the air has worsened due to the increased heat that’s cooking particulates, creating that smog which contributes to skyrocketing rates of asthma, allergies and respiratory ills.  I spent over a week in New Orleans to see what happens to the public health system in the aftermath of extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina.  I was in Australia—which is on the front lines of climate change–for nearly a month to see the effects of wild weather in an advanced, industrialized democracy.  Aside from the cities, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rain Forest, the world’s most ancient rain forest (one of the high points of my career), I drove about 1,500 miles in the bush– on the “wrong” side of the road–visiting rural communities that have been flattened by floods, fires and droughts.  And I visited New York and Vancouver, which are way on their way to becoming sustainable cities, and are pioneering model programs that will smooth the transition to a cleaner, greener future.  

 

How I found people to interview was where the hard work came in—scouring newspaper stories, talking to people like the PR person at the Rural Doctors Association in Australia—who was a tremendous help; signing up for ex-patriate blogs to find Americans living in Moscow during the heat wave in 2010; querying friends and social networks for personal contacts, (how I found many of the real people anecdotes for the New Orleans chapter).  Journalist pals helped a lot, too, and generously shared sources and contacts.

 

 

How long did it take you, from signed contract to delivered manuscript?  Three years.

 

 

 

Was this faster or slower than you anticipated?

 

Much slower for a number of reasons, mainly family issues that required my attention.

 

What did you enjoy most about working on the book?

 

Hitting the road and interviewing real people—although the prep work for research trips often took many weeks.  When I’m talking to regular folks, I’m always reminded of why I became a journalist—to give voice to the voiceless and to bear witness to human suffering.  And the writing itself was a sheer pleasure—taking all the pieces I had gathered, distilling them down to their essence, and assembling them into a seamless and engaging narrative. 

 

What was the least fun part?

 

Sorting out the complicated science—sometimes my head hurt.  I had to come up to speed on ocean currents, atmospheric physics, water management, insect life cycles, farming techniques and on and on.  It was challenging and difficult, and because climate change remains controversial here in the U.S., I was careful to make sure everything I wrote was based on solid science.

 

Who do you see as readers for this book?

 

Everyone.  Climate change threatens the very underpinnings of our civilization.  The fate of humanity hinges upon the steps we take in the next decade.  This is not a fight any of us can sit out. 

 

Initially, when I began my research, climate change wasn’t on most people’s radar screens and I despaired that we were heedlessly careening into the abyss. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that civic leaders across the country take climate change very seriously and many cities were implementing innovative programs.  We can fix this—and preparing for climate change may be a catalyst for creating a better, more livable society–but we must start now.  That’s the message I want to get across.

 

If you have written other books, how is this one different – in tone, content, approach?

 

The other book I wrote, Prescription for Profits, was about how the commercialization of academic research threatened public health.  While interesting, I think that book was too “inside baseball” for the general reader.  The timing wasn’t good either as a spate of books on the subject came out soon after. 

 

Fevered is targeted much more towards a general audience and is about a subject that has an immediate impact on their lives.  And the timing, unfortunately, could not be better.

 

What advice would you offer a would-be non-fiction author?

 

Books take a long time to write. Consequently, you’ve got to find a topic that will hold your interest for—literally–years.  Plus, you need to determine if your topic is worthy of a book, or is simply a long magazine article. You also need to immerse yourself on what’s been written on a subject to see if you have something fresh to say and if it will be relevant in three years—which is the normal time lag from idea to publication.  And finally, you need to find an agent who not only believes in your idea but believes in you.

 

Va-ca-tion!

In behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, family, Health, life, nature, travel, urban life, US, work on August 3, 2013 at 12:08 am

By Caitlin Kelly

If you live or work in the United States, vacation is a taboo word for many people — their employers don’t offer paid time off and/or they just can’t afford to take any.

Or they’re such workaholics they can’t bear the thought of missing a call/email/client meeting.

The typical American workplace offers a measly two weeks off each year. As someone who runs at a very high speed, and who loves to travel, taking time off whenever I want and can afford to is one of the reasons I stay self-employed.

I tend to work at a pretty intense pace. The harder/faster I run, the more downtime I need to recharge and come back at it, hard, with gusto — not weary resentment.

The seal of the United States Department of Labor

The seal of the United States Department of Labor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently, the tide is turning, says The Wall Street Journal:

The two-martini lunch may be extinct, but another perk common to yesteryear’s workplace, the two-week vacation, is making a comeback. No longer limited to students, honeymooners and retirees, drawn-out holidays are finding converts in overachieving professionals.

“It used to be that Americans did the drive-by vacation,” breezing through major tourist attractions, said Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, an upscale travel agency in McLean, Va. “They’re not doing that anymore.” Her company has seen a 25% to 30% increase in longer holiday bookings over the last year, she said.

Plenty of Americans have a hard time taking vacation at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about a quarter of private-industry workers didn’t get any paid time off in 2012. And some who have holiday packages are loath to max them out, for fear of seeming dispensable in a still-shaky economy.

The lack of American vacation time strikes people living in many other nations — Australia, Canada, much of Europe — as weird indeed. But here, where affordable health insurance is tied to your job, and you’re scared to lose both, going anywhere for very long feels too risky to many people. (Talk about a capitalist culture!)

I try to take off six weeks a year, or more, if possible. My trips are rarely exotic or costly, but I desperately need to get out of our apartment, where I work alone all day, and our (lovely) town where I’ve lived for 24 years.

I need new scenery, new experiences, foreign accents, adventure!

Our recent two-week trip to Arizona was perfect, even with temperatures that could soar to 100 by noon. I saw old friends, made new ones, did a bit of work, bought some pretty new clothes, took lots of photos, read for pleasure, lay by the hotel pool, did a long road trip, stayed in a funky hotel, stayed in nature for five days.

The best part?

No computer. I didn’t touch my laptop for five full days, which made me feel like I’d been gone for a month, not merely five days off the net.

I came home blessedly and gratefully refreshed, ready to pick up the traces again.

Our next vacation is planned for two weeks mid-September.

We had hoped for Newfoundland, but are doing some planned, costly renovations instead. Luckily, we now have a tent and sleeping pads and a car that will accommodate our sports gear, so even a two or three-hour drive in any direction can take us to somewhere fun and new — the shore of Long Island Sound in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, even as far as Delaware.

Here’s an unlikely essay, in yesterday’s The New York Times, from an American employer who actually gives his first-year employees four weeks off. Hire me, dude!

More than ever, we live in a culture that overvalues the ethic of “more, bigger, faster” and undervalues the importance of rest, renewal and reflection. I preach this lesson for a living, but I, too, can get so passionately immersed in my work that I intermittently forget to apply the lesson to myself.

A growing body of evidence suggests that more overall vacation time – intense effort offset regularly by real renewal — fuels greater productivity and more sustainable performance…If you’re in any sort of demanding job, it makes sense to take at least a week of true vacation every three months…

The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t mandate employers to provide vacation time. Most companies do provide it, but often stingily and insufficiently.

To my fellow leaders: Two weeks isn’t enough if what you’re seeking from your people is their best. Is there any doubt, for example, that the greater the demand, the more frequent our need to replenish and rejuvenate? Demand in our lives is rising so relentlessly that I’m beginning to believe even four weeks of vacation a year isn’t enough.

The most basic aim of a vacation ought to be restoration – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

A recent national survey of 977 people, published in Vanity Fair magazine offered some funny, and not so funny, statistics about Americans on vacation:

— 90 percent said they’d try to help a lost tourist

– but 21 percent (cheap bastards!) never leave a tip for the daily maid service for their room; luckily 29 percent said they leave $3 to $5 a day

– not at all surprising, only 1 percent said they prefer to travel by bus; 50 percent said car and 39 percent by plane. Only 5 percent (!), which is very American, chose the train — by far my favorite! But American train service is costly and atrocious compared to that of many other nations.

English: The Long Island Sound steamboat Rhode...

English: The Long Island Sound steamboat Rhode Island (1836). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you able to take vacations?

Where do you like to go?

What do you like to do when you get there?

Here’s a helpful list of suggestions of how to enjoy your time off, from one of my favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy.

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Twenty things that make me happy

In animals, beauty, behavior, culture, domestic life, life, nature, travel, US on July 20, 2013 at 12:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve spent much of my adult life striving, mostly professionally, often socially. I left my native Canada, and a thriving career and dear friends, to follow a man I married, (who walked out after two years of marriage). I’ve survived three recessions since 1989 and four orthopedic surgeries since 2000.

Would I ever have a calmer, steadier life?

Recently, I’ve felt…happy.

OMG!

Dare I even write those words? I feel like I’m tempting fate.

But things have been lovely of late.

I know one reason — the endless crisis/problem-solving/emotional dramas/fear and pain of the past few years are gone. My left hip, which caused me 2.5 years of 24/7 pain, was replaced 18 months ago. My mother, whose crises seemed endless, is now in a nursing home. Work, finally, seems to be much more solid than the terrifying, scraping pennies-from-the-sofa-cushions dips of 2008-9.

Here are some of the things that make me happy:

– Our town’s reservoir, whose landmarks are a cormorant who stands very still and spreads his wings in the sunshine, white swans, duck bums in the air, Queen Ann’s lace and orange lilies by the roadside. Best of all — turtles! There are about a dozen of them, all black and round, who line up along some rubber tubing at the water’s edge.

Queen Ann s Lace 02

Queen Ann s Lace 02 (Photo credit: Macomb Paynes)

– The flowers on our balcony, orange and purple and white and yellow, adding beauty to every day.

– My husband’s kisses.

– My dance classes, jazz and modern. It’s such a delicious relief to leave words and speech behind, to sway and bend and spin and twist with others. To stretch, still touching my palms flat to the floor. I love using a corporeal vocabulary I’ve known for decades: chassees, plies, tendues, battements, ronds de jambes.

– A surprise check at the exact moment I need it.

– An unexpected assignment, two of which showed up this week.

– A full refund, many years later, for a spendy skirt I bought at Nordstrom.

– The pool at our apartment building. On these 95+ degree days, it is such a blessing to plunge in and cool off.

– Freshly-baked banana bread, hot from the oven, that I made.

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– A full pot of tea, poured from a white china teapot.

– A big bunch of white flowers.

20130719142148

– Fresh corn.

– Our new tent, which I can put up, alone, within minutes.

– Outdoors antiques fairs and flea markets, where I always find something fantastic — an Edwardian necklace, a Moroccan lantern or some vintage crochet edging.

necklaceblog

Mother of pearl, metal, glass beads and ebony, $55. Score!

– Throwing a party. Tomorrow we’re having about two dozen friends over to celebrate Malled’s publication in China.

– Making new friends.

Flo and Friend 1908

Flo and Friend 1908 (Photo credit: dottygirl)

– Discovering the most unlikely connections with a new friend, like the woman my age with whom I went for lunch to talk about work. She had been a professional ballerina, and danced in productions with Nureyev. I had performed at Lincoln Center in Sleeping Beauty with him in the lead. The odds?!

Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center (Photo credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

– An hour+ long phone chat with a friend who’s known me for decades.

– Helping younger journalists who ask me for advice.

– Having our suburban NY street thick with bushes full of ripe raspberries.

How about you?

What makes you happy these days?

My Grand Canyon photos — and some stories to go with them

In animals, beauty, History, life, nature, science, travel, US on June 5, 2013 at 12:16 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The Grand Canyon is 277 river miles long, a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. It was declared a national park in 1919 — and today receives five million visitors a year. You can visit the South Rim, (the most popular), which is dotted with hotels and two campgrounds, restaurants and shops, or the North Rim, which is 1,000 feet higher — and therefore even cooler. Altitude is about 7,000 feet, which can leave you breathless from even simple activities.

At the bottom lies the Colorado River, along which veteran boatmen take brave souls.

Many visitors, though, never venture below the rim, preferring only to snap a few photos or walk around the rim, which is easily done through a system of free buses allowing you to walk as little, or as much, as you like.

In 1994, I hiked down Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point — stupidly, doing the last, unshaded section, alone at noon — by then 100+ degrees. It was the first time I truly understood hyperthermia, how the body literally cooks. In desperation, I began pouring my bottles of water over my head. I sat in the creek at Indian Garden for 30 minutes, soaking my clothes completely and trying to cool my core temperature.

Then I looked up at the rim and thought, “Not possible.” Eight hours later, I emerged, the straps of my backpack crusted white with the dried salt of my sweat. I would urge every visitor to hike into the Canyon, intelligently. Nothing compares to the experience of being inside it, not just looking at it from a safe, noisy, crowded distance.

Note: all images here are mine, and copyright!

If you are afraid of heights, don’t stand close to the rim! The edges are rocky, slippery and unprotected.  People have fallen to their deaths.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

The canyon is the result of billions of years of erosion, with multiple layers of rock. The white layer is Kaibab limestone.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

This is Bright Angel Trail, on a nice, flat bit! It is the most-used trail and is also used by people riding on mules, so look out for fresh dung! Hikers must step aside when they meet a mule and give them right of way. I shot this image late afternoon, in late May, so there is some shade. Hiking in direct sun, and 100-degree temperatures — the temperature rises as you descend into the canyon — is doubly tiring. Drink a lot of water!

I didn’t take as many photos as I thought, but Jose and I like this one the best of all. Several challenges make photographing the Canyon difficult — there is often dust; the scale is enormous; it’s hard to pick a spot that includes some sense of scale (which is why I framed this with weathered, gnarled branches.) The small silvery curve on the left-hand side is the Colorado River, far below.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

This sunset image was taken from Hopi Point, one of the overlooks on the South Rim. It is one of the two most popular spots for people to congregate, and the views are excellent. But too many people are rude, noisy and distracting — if you really want to savor a sunset in solitude and silence, do not pick that spot! The sun sets around 7:30 (late May) and rises by 5:00 a.m.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

One of the most amazing and lovely aspects of the Canyon is the terrific abundance of wildlife. This shot was taken with a small Canon G7, not a telephoto lens — i.e. I was barely a few feet away from this squirrel. But — very serious warning! — the single most common injury here is squirrel attacks. If you are bitten, you will need five injections from the lovely folks staffing the GC Clinic: plague, tetanus, rabies and two others. Do not feed the damn squirrels!

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

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