A winter walk in the woods

By Caitlin Kelly

It had been weeks, maybe months, since I’d walked our reservoir path, the reservoir to the left and hilly woods to the right. I’ve been walking it for decades, in every season, and know it well. But there are spots I’ve still not explored, close to the water’s edge, like the moss colony I found this weekend.

In winter, the trees are bare, except for one species whose stiff, dried leaves — a pale biscuit beige — stick straight out as if in a breeze. I spied many nests and two squirrels but the silence was absolute, the only sound a tiny creek.

There’s a busy road circling the reservoir so there is some traffic noise, but no birds or animals now.

There are plenty of big flat rocks to rest on or sit on and a few benches at various points to sit and enjoy the view.

It was cold! Thirty degrees Fahrenheit, plus a 16 mph wind.

This anorak — which I’ve worn for 20 years — is the best garment ever: warm, windproof, water-resistant, elastic cuffs, a hood, multiple pockets. Even after gaining a lot of weight since I bought it, it still fits, thank heaven. I was absolutely cosy, plus lined wool hat and lined suede gloves.

It felt so good to fill my lungs for an hour with fresh cold air.

To be alone.

To sit in silence.

To look closely at natural beauty, which always soothes and refreshes me.

To see how different the familiar appears in every season.

To savor such a respite a five minute drive from home.

To know it hasn’t changed in decades and likely won’t, even though our suburban village is starting to add a lot more density and buildings, to our dismay. Some will basically wreck our fantastic Hudson river shoreline, so every unchanged vista matters even more to me.

Some images:

The value of solitude

By Caitlin Kelly


“Loneliness creates sadness, but solitude is quite lovely because you really start to think of — and take care of — yourself.” artist Marina Abramovic, quoted in How To Spend It magazine in the FT

If there’s one thing the pandemic has imposed on us, it’s either way too much solitude — those living alone, isolated, shut-in, vulnerable to the virus — or far too little, for people living with lots of children and/or parents or in-laws.

I really value solitude.

If I go too long without it, I feel ill and angry and resentful of having to constantly be social. I find it tiring.

So my recent four days away, even in a place I didn’t love — small-town Pennsylvania — reminded me how much I need it.

The very best moments were an hour or so at a nature sanctuary, filled with old, very tall pine trees and total silence. No one else around.

It is so rare now, anywhere, to just be totally free of people and their noises!

I lay down on my back and stared up into the trees, their glossy green branches glistening in the sun, waving in the breeze.

I watched a Daddy-Long-Legs amble past.

I got pine sap on my arms and sneakers.

Then, to my surprise, I started to cry, hard.

Months of anxiety and grief and frustration had piled up, unacknowledged and unprocessed.

My mother died February 15 — on my best friend’s birthday — and even though she and I were estranged for a decade, I grieve all the losses we sustained because of that.

I grieve the deaths of 200,000 Americans from COVID.

I grieve the loss of the hopes so many of us had for 2020, let alone 2021 and beyond.

It felt good to let it all out, alone and in private, surrounded by beauty.

Even driving the two hours home again, alone, singing along to my favorite music, was replenishing.

I really enjoy others’ company and my 20 years, so far, with Jose, my husband.

But time alone is as necessary to my happiness as time with others.

Women, especially, often have to fight hard for time alone, tending only to their own needs. We’re expected to keep everyone else happy, and it’s depleting when you have no equal time to just be quiet and by ourselves.

And there’s a big difference between precious privacy — which usually implies others, and their noises and their needs, nearby — and solitude.

Do you need and value solitude?

The woods, as metaphor

 

IMG_6319By Caitlin Kelly

 

In the decades of living in our suburban New York town, I’ve walked the reservoir path — a mile each way, paved — many many times, in broiling summer heat (blissfully shaded by old-growth trees) and in the dead of a snowy winter.

There’s something really special about getting to know a landscape well, to know what to look for and anticipate — from the fragrant purple lilac bush at the western end of the walk to the benches at the other end, a perfect spot to stare out across the water at sunset.

I love to watch the woods change with each season, always with my favorite smell in the world — sun-dried pine needles.

 

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I know where the creek is, and love to hear it gurgling — now disturbingly silent and completely dry after weeks without rain. The enormous pond has also shrunk, and I can now see rocks in the reservoir that reveal its drop as well.

 

 

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The pond in springtime

 

 

I love the landmarks — watermarks? — like the beaded strand of little black turtles that line up along a rubber tube on one edge of the water.

The cormorant who chooses to stand on the same rock every year to dry his wings.

The elegant swans.

The screeching red-tailed hawks.

The rustle of a chipmunk fleeing through dead leaves.

There are many trees wrapped tightly in vines — like people who so desperately cling to others.

 

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There’s a rock split in two by a tree — reminding me how much force we can bring when needed to even the toughest problem.

 

There are many live trees with dead ones propped against them, where they’ve fallen — like dear friends sustaining the ill or grieving.

 

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There’s lacy ice in winter

 

When I bend down and look closely, there are entire worlds in even just an inch or two beneath my feet: moss, acorns, lichen, stones, earth, leaves, bits of feather and foliage. Everything contains multitudes.

 

 

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Hobbit holes?!

 

 

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I value an intimate relationship with nature.

 

Do you have one like this?

“Trapped” — perfect pandemic TV!

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Thanks to a Nordic pal here in the U.S., we recently discovered Trapped — and loved! — this Icelandic cop show.

It’s the most expensive series ever filmed there, two seasons of 10 episodes each, from 2015.

I might be the only person left in the world who has yet to visit Iceland, but I can now really see why people go. What a spectacular and dramatic landscape it is!

It only has 364,000 people, and 60,000 in the capital, and is the most sparsely-populated nation in Europe.

The characters in Trapped are all very human, often confused, working either in Reykjavik or an isolated small town on a fjord — where the evil runs mighty deep and sometimes for generations.

There’s Andri, the police chief in Season One, who’s a tall, hefty guy with a thick brown beard and hair that always needs brushing, His assistants, Hinrika and Asgeir, are small town residents, and a real contrast — Hinrika is tough, smart and cynical while Asgeir is always vaguely goofing off and playing chess on his computer.

Their police station is small, and, like everything here, absolutely dwarfed by snow-capped mountains.

The sense of being trapped in this show has many layers: by small town life, by family dramas and secrets, by unsolved murders and disappearances, by ambition. Mostly by weather! So much snow, rain, ice! Roads get shut down and planes and helicopters grounded.

The opening credits are visually very strong and the music very good, initially composed by the late and very talented Johann Johannsson.

By Season Two, Andri has moved back to big-city Reykjavik, and Hinrika is now police chief. But her marriage to Bardur, 20 years her senior, is ending and Andri’s oldest daughter has become a rebellious 15-year-old in a lot of black eyeshadow, living with an aunt.

The pace is slow, but there’s plenty of plot development and it takes a while to finally reveal who’s the true baddie.

Along the way, we get to see Icelandic sheep farmers and ponies and an enormous ferry that is key to the first season plot. There’s a female minister whose formal collar is a white ruffle that looks positively medieval.

Several people die in gruesome ways — consumed by flames, and one with a bolt gun used to kill sheep.

But it’s really compelling and the murder of one character left us on the the verge of tears.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry about Baltasar Koromákur, its creator.

 

Have you seen it?

 

 

Valles Caldera; NM’s gorgeous national preserve

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

The silence!

Only broken by….the squeaks of dozens of prairie dogs, the first time I’d ever seen one.

 

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A caldera is the bowl-like depression in the landscape after a volcanic eruption — in this case 1.25 millions years ago, 300 times larger than Mount St. Helens in 1980. Valles Caldera is one of the world’s best examples of an intact volcanic caldera.

 

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Since then, of course, the land was inhabited by natives and later (after 1500) by Spanish settlers.

 

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The site contains a few log cabins, from 1915 to 1963, but no one is allowed to stay in the park overnight although hiking and skiing in winter are allowed.

 

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It’s a stunning place in its scale and also gave me my first sightings of wild iris and elk — we could only see a large herd of elk thanks to a telescope offered by the park rangers.

The caldera is about a 90 minute drive northwest of Santa Fe.

 

 

Climate change: what next?

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By Caitlin Kelly

I won’t repeat the endless warnings I read daily.

If you follow the news, you’re also well aware.

We were back up in Montreal last weekend where I was heartened to see this large street protest — calmly protected by multiple police officers — as students took to to the streets for their Friday school strike.

 

 

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“Don’t adapt — act” …

 

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They were inspired by a high school student far away across the ocean, Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, recently profiled by Time magazine as their cover story, extraordinary in itself.

An excerpt:

Castigating the powerful has become routine for the 16-year-old. In December, she addressed the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Poland; in January she berated billionaires at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Her London speech was the last stop of a tour that included meeting the Pope. (“Continue to work, continue,” he told her, ending with, “Go along, go ahead.” It was an exhortation, not a dismissal.)

Just nine months ago, Thunberg had no such audiences. She was a lone figure sitting outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, carrying a sign emblazoned with Skolstrejk for Klimatet (School Strike for Climate). She was there for a reason that felt primal and personal. While Thunberg was studying climate change in school at the age of 11, she reacted in a surprisingly intense way: she suffered an episode of severe depression. After a time it lifted, only to resurface last spring.

“I felt everything was meaningless and there was no point going to school if there was no future,” Thunberg says. But this time, rather than suffer the pain, she decided to push back at its cause, channeling her sadness into action. “I promised myself I was going to do everything I could do to make a difference,” she says.

 

I confess to feeling daily despair over a changing climate wreaking havoc worldwide: floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, incredible heatwaves, all of which are damaging agriculture and the oceans, drying up crucial sources of water and causing millions of people living in vulnerable areas to wonder where else they might possibly live safely.

Indians recently fled a cyclone thanks to receiving in advance millions of warning text messages —- while Ottawa, Canada’s capital, recently coped with the worst flooding in 25 years.

 

No one is safe.

 

What, if anything, are you doing to deal with climate change?

 

Is it affecting your life?

 

Will it affect how you vote?

 

A mid-winter walk

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

When it’s bitterly cold for long weeks, it’s easy to stop going out for a walk. But then cabin fever sets in…

These are woods near our home, in a town 25 miles north of New York City, with a paved trail a mile long that runs beside a reservoir, whose landmarks — officially, watermarks, I guess — can include several white swans, enormous flocks of geese who rest on the ice mid-migration, and, in the summer, multiple small black turtles and a cormorant who stands on a rock to dry out his wings.

In the winter, though, the woods are silent. I can only hear planes overhead and traffic circling the reservoir and the gurgling of a stream. No scurrying squirrels or chipmunks or birdsong.

It’s a more austere world, the remaining leaves bleached, bare branches etched against the sky, thick fungi crowding a log.

And, of course, the Rockefellers (yes, those ones, who live just up the road) affected our landscape, as did millionaire Jay Gould.

Here are some images, full of subtle beauty:

 

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No idea why that little structure is there!

 

 

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Love the reflections

 

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That little bit of down, memory of a bird…

 

 

IMG_3711The patterns of the ice were amazing — shifting with the water’s movements

 

 

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This week’s best moment

By Caitlin Kelly

 

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It always starts with a bang.

We now know what it is — a tiny bird has hit our sixth-floor windows mid-flight and fallen, stunned and possibly injured, onto our balcony.

I heard it, jumped up and was there within seconds to find a tiny gray bird lying there.

We have a routine now. We get water and, very gently, pick them up, hold them and drop a tiny bit of water onto their beak.

If we’re lucky, they revive.

It takes a while — poor wee things are disoriented from the impact.

This little one sat very calmly in my left palm for maybe 15 minutes as (s?)he came back to himself.

What an amazing privilege it is to see and hold a wild creature, even briefly, and help them recover.

Our apartment is literally at the tree-tops so, after a few uncertain hops on the balcony, he flew back into them.

Exploring Long Island’s East End

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Space bear! This little guy was in a vending machine at the movie theater in Ronkonkoma.

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s hard to believe that this lovely bit of the state is only a few hours’ drive east of crowded, crazy New York City, not my favorite place in the hot, humid and smelly summer.

Long Island — lying to the southeast of the city’s five boroughs — on its north shore devolves as you keep moving northeast, away from wealthy suburban enclaves to the endless vineyards of the East End.

We stayed for five days in Islandia, (where my husband Jose was photo editing the U.S. Open nearby), and I went off exploring alone every day from there.

In about an hour’s drive — headed northeast on what’s known as the North Fork, I retreated a few decades to flat green fields, weathered shingled houses and left the suburban chain-store sprawl far behind.

This diner in Cutchogue was perfect!

 

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Built in 1941, its prices were the lowest I’d seen in years. I had blueberry pancakes with sausage on heavy diner china; if you go, it closes at 3pm.

 

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I managed to miss the turnoff to Route 48 and ended up driving instead on 25, which was slower and much prettier, passing white churches and farm stands and fire halls and schools — and two llamas!

I spent a few hours exploring Greenport, which is lovely and filled with elegant shops and restaurants. One sells an astonishing array of hand-painted Italian pottery and Murano glass, and some amazing high-end costume jewelry.

 

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The area is so gorgeous I started looking at real estate prices. Hah! The lowest-priced house was $525,000.

I pushed on to the literal end of the road in Orient, the furthest northeastern tip of the Island, and was so glad I did. The town has 743 residents, settled in the 17th century, making this part of the state one of its oldest.

 

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For $8, I visited Orient State Park and lay on the beach, savoring only the soothing sounds of wind and waves. The place was virtually empty, and the road in is lined with osprey nests and huge signs warning drivers to look out for box turtles.

I came home with a handful of the most beautiful white stones, smooth as eggs, as a souvenir.

Here’s a tips-filled, links-packed guide to the region from Vogue, 2017.

 

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These Hamptons estates range from $29.5 million to $35 million. Welcome to 1-percent-world!

I also drove southeast one day to Westhampton, one of the legendary Hamptons on the Island’s South Fork — filled with enormous mansions, some of which rent seasonally for tens of thousands of dollars. Whew! The parking lots were full of Range Rovers, Mercedes and a Maserati, a very moneyed crowd.

 

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A hanging flower basket in Westhampton. Love these colors!

But I had a great day — lunch at the Bakery Cafe, a bit of shopping and people were friendly and welcoming.

I spent another day in the nothern side hamlet of Stony Brook, and drove its tree-shaded Harbor Drive, peeking through the woods at massive mansions facing the water. So beautiful! Had a great lunch at Crazy Beans, twice, in a low, white-shingled shopping center built in 1941 that includes elegant outdoor tables and benches, shady umbrellas and even a waterfall.

The town holds Avalon Park, a large pond that’s home to so many birds! I saw swans, ducks, cormorants, heron.

 

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Near Stony Brook is this amazing bit of history — a general store from 1857 still in operation.

It was a really relaxing break and left me eager to return.

Living on — and loving — a river

By Caitlin Kelly

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Early morning — 7:30 a.m.-ish — view from our apartment on the east side of the Hudson River. That gentle pink is the sun’s rays.

 

I started writing this post as I rocketed north toward Canada on an Amtrak train, its tracks right alongside the Hudson River. On the opposite side, I could see cargo trains heading south.

I’ve been living on eastern side of the river now for decades, and love it deeply.

If you’ve never been to New York or to the Hudson Valley, it’s really one of the nation’s prettiest places and I feel lucky to have landed there.

 

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The newly-completed Tappan Zee Bridge

 

We live in an (owned) apartment whose every window faces the river, and I’ve witnessed its changing moods — fog so thick the world disappears, rainstorms sliding down the water like a Hokusai print, heat lighting flashing for miles.

Our little town has a lighthouse and, as you head north up the Hudson, it narrows dramatically, with steep, jagged rock cliffs encircled by bald eagles and red-tailed hawks.

On the west bank sits a collection of buildings, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions — West Point Military Academy. In the winter, you sometimes see its students getting on the train in New York at Grand Central, their thick gray cloaks giving them an 18th-century elegance.

 

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The Palisades, south of us where the river narrows

 

The Hudson is a working river, filled with enormous barges being pushed or towed by small but extremely powerful tugboats.

You can sail, canoe and kayak on the Hudson and even swim off of some its beaches.

There are even (!) oyster beds near our town, which were carefully removed for a few years while they built the new and beautiful bridge between the eastern and western shores.

 

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I’ve lived in cities with a river before — Montreal, on the St. Lawrence, Paris, with the Seine — but never paid as close attention to them as I do to the Hudson.

 

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In winter, it’s equally amazing, with huge blocks of ice shuffling up against one another.

 

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This last image is where the top of the Harlem River — and the beginning of the island of Manhattan — meets the Hudson, one of our regular views from the Metro-North commuter train, and a sight I never tire of.

The station stop where I snapped this image from the train is Spuyten Duyvil, in a fancy part of the Bronx — and in Dutch means Spouting Devil; as you may know, this was once New Amsterdam and many places around New York still bear Dutch names. (The Bronx derives from Jacob Bronck, who claimed the land in 1639.)

 

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