We’re just another species

By Caitlin Kelly

 

This is an amazing backlit mural at our local Tarrytown commuter train station, by Holly Sears. I love it!
This amazing backlit mural is at our local Tarrytown commuter train station, by artist Holly Sears. It is filled with all sorts of creatures in unlikely juxtapositions

I assume many of you have already seen this amazing video of a seal climbing onto a surfboard in England?

If not, spare 2:04 minutes of your life for a lovely, charming reminder of something we often forget — we’re just another species.

I’m writing this on our top-floor balcony, listening to the wind in the trees and the buzzing of passing bumblebees. Birds twitter. One recent evening, at 2:40 a.m. we bolted awake to the howling of a pack of coyotes.

 

Tired of feeling trapped by sexist, misogynist assholes!

 

But we live 25 miles north of New York City, able to see the city’s skyscrapers from our street, not some Montana ranch!

Our planters are bursting with flowers and our woods are filled with deer, raccoon, squirrels, chipmunks.

I fear for our planet when so many children and teens are suffering from nature deficit disorder, because you can’t fight for legislation and other protective behaviors if “nature” remains something you’ve only seen or heard mediated through a glass screen.

You have to feel it, taste it, touch it, know it. We all need intimate, consistent, ongoing connections to the natural world, not just simulacra or a packaged bit of it in plastic at the grocery store.

I’m grateful for having spent my childhood and teen summers in the wild of northern Ontario at summer camp and on multi-day canoe trips. I love a loon call, the peel of a birch tree, the striations of granite.

We are still, as homo sapiens, only one of millions of other species in our world, some furry, some feathered, some scaled, some noisy and some mostly (to our ears anyway) silent.

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A few years ago, a red-tailed hawk landed on our 6th floor balcony railing, which is only 12 feet wide. He stared at me silently, and I felt like prey. Having written about raptors, I know they can see for many miles. I wondered what he saw when he gazed into my eyes.

We don’t have any pets, so any encounter with a (non-threatening!) animal or bird is a real joy for me — especially horses and dogs; I’m the person who always stops to say hello and pat other people’s dogs (with permission.)

My young friend Molly recently fell off an elephant into the Mekong River.

I don’t envy the fall, or her ruined camera and lens, but elephants are my favorite animals of all. I rode on one myself in Thailand, sitting on his neck, and dreamed of a second career as a mahout.

Here’s a review of a spectacular new book, of photographs of the earth.

Do you (and your kids and/or grandkids) spend much time in natural surroundings?

 

I loved summer camp; she hated it. How about you?

By Caitlin Kelly

It's hard to appreciate nature if you never spend much time in it
It’s hard to appreciate nature if you never spend much time in it

Here’s a recent rant from The New York Times by a woman who hated her time at summer camp:

Here is the truth: I hated camp. I hated camp so much, and continue to hate it and to resent the fact that I hated it, that I’ve come to develop a grand, if wobbly, theory about it. The world divides into those people who despised camp and those people who loved it. What about those who never even went? They would probably fall into either camp if they had.

People who like camp, naturally (that’s a key word in this divide) are different from me in every way. Campers are outgoing; they are out-everything, really — outdoorsy, outward bound. They dart through bushes without worrying about ticks or slugs or sharp metal objects hidden in the undergrowth. They enjoy getting undressed in front of large groups of strangers. They know how to throw and catch Frisbees. They don’t mind bologna.

I loved it, and here’s some of my first blog post about why, from 2009:

You learn to pick your bunk, preferably the lower one so you can draw your knees up and kick the bum of the kid above you. You hope the kid above you does not wet the bed, snore or have an epileptic fit.

You learn to hoist a sail, build a fire, portage a canoe, gunwhale bob (and pronounce gunwhale, “gunnel”), twang a bow, pitch a tent, collect firewood from the highest branches (using a Melamine mug and long rope swung like a lasso.)

You get homesick, and get over it. You discover you’re really good at the J-stroke or singing Broadway show tunes in the summer musical. You learn how to cup your hands and imitate a loon call.

You learn how to spot a loon across a lake before he dives deep and disappears. You learn to find your place in a new community, amid the bed-wetters and thumb-suckers, the jocks and the artistes.

You realize, no matter how poorly you might fit into your class or your school or your neighborhood or town or your family, these people are genuinely happy to see you. The best counselors, and they are gifts indeed, want to see you thrive and grow. Your shoulders drop a little with relief.

Camp is definitely a North American thing, and usually for people whose families have healthy incomes.

For me, it was also the place I put myself back together again — emotionally and intellectually — after yet another year in boarding school being yelled at by old, fat Scottish housemothers and competing all the time for grades. There, I was often in trouble, being messy and scoring low marks for our room’s neatness, which then required that I memorize Bible verses (yes) in order to even be allowed off campus for the weekend.

I attended summer camp for all eight weeks ages eight to 16, and went to three of them, all in northern Ontario, each about three hours by bus from my home city of Toronto. Each camp was all-girl, and one of the things it taught me is that smart, athletic, kind girls rock.

The counselors who took us out on 10-day canoe trips through Algonquin Park, battling rain and black flies, were female. They kept us alive!

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua

I doubt I’d have been as comfortable in a Nicaraguan dugout canoe without it!

Competence was expected and excellence often the norm. Those are powerful lessons for any young girl.

If you come from a happy family, and/or have a safe, calm and lovely place to escape city smell, noise and humidity during the summer, camp isn’t probably very appealing.

But if you don’t, and also hunger for a place where all your talents can thrive — and the best camps do — it can be such a refuge.

It was for me. One reason I’m still so deeply comforted by nature is having spent so much time in it there: canoeing, hiking, sailing, swimming and living in a wooden cabin with the sound of the lake lapping on the rocks below. Sharing space with four or five or six girls I didn’t know was normal after boarding school.

And only in the safe harbor of camp was I able to fully become all the things I wanted to be: a singer, actress, sailor, friend, and even a leader of my peers. No school or classroom, anywhere, ever, allowed me such freedom, or gave me access to so many people who loved me, every year, for the quirky and creative kid I was, and would remain.

Camp gave me the confidence I might never have found elsewhere, and the guts to survive three years of high school bullying. I am grateful beyond measure for having had that experience.

Have you been to summer camp? Or your kids?

Love it or hate it?

Back from the Canyon — tired, happy, injured!

By Caitlin Kelly

Southend of the Grand Canyon with Plateau Poin...
South end of the Grand Canyon with Plateau Point and Bright Angel Trail…The last time I was here, I hiked all the way out to the of the bottom of the trail you can see here at the outer edge of that plateau; 4 hours down; 8 hrs back up! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m back in Tucson again — after a 5.5 hour drive from Grand Canyon: 90 minutes south to Flagstaff; two hours south to Phoenix then another two hours southeast to Tucson, to rejoin Jose and the NYT Institute students and staff for fond farewells tonight and the final banquet tomorrow.

So this post is just a quick hello and a place-holder.

I’ll put up a few detailed posts from the three days I spent alone there, with lots of photos. (Even Jose said ‘Wow!”, nice praise from a  pro photo editor.)

It was a fantastic time, a badly-needed break from the daily stranglehold of the computer and the cellphone and the telephone and the daily newspaper. It was such a relief to not have to talk to anyone, or listen to anyone, or look at anyone. To not have to be polite or cheerful or attentive.

To not pitch editors or follow up or come up with any ideas or write or revise, (or cook, shop or clean.)

To be alone, and self-reliant and have to figure it all out by myself, without the protective help of my lovely husband. To remember how to be a woman out there, solo, in the wider world.

To just be.

I had no idea what was happening in the rest of the world — even though (sigh) there are newspaper boxes with daily papers all over the Park.

All that mattered was making sure I could put up my tent alone (yes) and not lock my keys in the car (no.) I ate out of the cooler I borrowed from a local friend and went to sleep early; it was dark by 7:30 p.m.

All those stars!

The injury — gah! — was self-inflicted when I was putting up the tent for the first time ever, and barefoot and filthy, jammed a tent peg into the middle of the bottom of my left foot.

Shit!

Thank heaven I had a bottle of water to wash off the dirt, and soap and antiseptic cream and a bandage. But, just in case, I went to the clinic…and they wisely gave me a tetanus shot. No puncture, no stitches, just a nasty scrape.

So much for all the hiking I had planned!

Tomorrow morning at 8:00 am, I head off for a two-hour private horseback ride. Perfect way to end a fantastic vacation; we fly home to New York on Sunday.

Here’s a pic of me on the Bright Angel Trail, taken by a man with his daughter who — of course! — turned out to live all of 20 minutes’ drive away from my home in New York.

CAITI GC AZ

Loons, Lakes and Lily-Dippers: Lessons Learned at Camp

300px-wooden_canoe_sharbot_lake_ontario1I work every Tuesday night at The North Face, selling tents and sleeping bags and hiking shoes to people sometimes as passionate about the outdoors as I am.

Last night, it was a 12-year-old boy with a blond bowl haircut and his mom. The boy, just back from summer camp in New Hampshire, needed a backpack to replace the one he had shredded hiking 4,000-foot peaks. Total strangers, we chatted like old friends about camp — my memories more than 20 years old, his from last week. We had plenty to talk about: mice, bugs, bears, buying candy from the camp store twice a week, (and making sure it didn’t attract bears), how to use a signaling device when you’re lost.

You learn a lot at camp, as much about yourself as anything. I spent eight summers at sleep-away camp (a redundancy for many Canadians), at three in northern Ontario, beginning the summer I was eight. I went for eight weeks every year, trading boarding school and its bells and shared rooms and meals for a bunk bed, spiders and a fresh batch of kids.

Continue reading “Loons, Lakes and Lily-Dippers: Lessons Learned at Camp”