Posts Tagged ‘nature’

The healing power of beauty

In beauty, design on July 30, 2016 at 1:15 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

We need beauty as much as we need food, water and air, whether it’s visual or auditory. Ignoring that fundamental need parches us.

In a time when so many people spend their lives staring at a screen, encountering beauty in real life — a flower, a bird, a sky filled with stars, a painting or piece of music — can be transformative.

We’re lucky to live in a small town — pop. 10,000 — 25 miles north of Manhattan, named one of the nation’s 10 prettiest by Forbes magazine. If you’ve seen the films Mona Lisa Smile, The Preacher’s Wife or  The Good Shepherd, (one of my favorites), you’ve glimpsed our handsome main street in each of these, filled with Victorian-era shops and homes.

Our apartment has great views of the Hudson River, tree-tops, acres of sky and clouds. We savor spectacular sunsets and birdsong, butterflies and fireflies in the cool, green dusk.

In New York city, we have access to museums and art galleries and parks, grateful for every bit of it.


Here are some of the things I find beautiful, that nurture and calm me…


IMG_20160619_122748558 (1)Beautiful architecture — this is Union Station in D.C.


IMG_20160616_133549584_HDRColor, design, elegant neo-classical murals — part of the Library of Congress, in D.C.


IMG_20160412_165237000Every patch of earth, if you kneel down and really look closely, is a tapestry of color, texture, growth and decay


IMG_20151202_130507813More neo-classical fabulousness — this, a corner of Bryant Park, midtown Manhattan



I’m crazy about textiles — the purple floral is now curtains in our sitting room


IMG_20160316_204755470_HDRPattern is everywhere! This is in Soho, Manhattan — glass inserts to allow light into a basement of an early building there


L1010182ANothing unusual — lawn furniture in autumn — but I love the symmetry of it from above; this at Hovey Manor, Quebec



This plant was outside our Donegal cottage




I love this painted tin wall, one of the shops on our main street in Tarrytown, NY



Looking down the stairs at Fortnum & Mason, London




Beauty is everywhere — like this Paris cafe




I love this view — Bucks County, Pennsylvania — out the window of a 1905 farmhouse a friend used to rent



Every year I wait with bated breath for this lilac tree near us to bloom. Swoon!



Nicaragua is the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti — but its wooden houses are amazingly colored and cared for



A lamp on the campus of Pratt Institute, a private college in Brooklyn


Where in your daily life does beauty manifest itself?



Simple but lovely — cut glass, silver plate, curves — and cool water!

A hundred million miracles…

In beauty, life, nature on April 13, 2016 at 12:26 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

A hundred million miracles

A hundred million miracles are happening every day

And those who say they don’t agree

Are those who do not hear or see…

— Flower Drum Song, musical, 1958



Take a walk now, anywhere there’s spring.

The light.

The wind.

The warming sun.

I love the in-between-ness of spring, how tentative and hopeful it is, all those delicate green shoots bursting forth from the pale detritus of last fall’s dead leaves and twigs and scattered acorns.

And I know this path so well, after decades of walking it in every season, so I know when the light is low and slanting, and highlights every bit of moss and lichen and leaf.


I wait each year for a nearby lilac tree to blossom into purple fragrance. My favorite smell!

And what a basic, taken-for-granted miracle to hear the wind, to feel the sun, to walk easily and without pain. Mobility itself is a great gift.

I think of the many people who lie in a hospital or hospice bed, or waiting in a crowded and noisy and dirty refugee camp, or beneath the bombs of war…and walk in grateful silence.

It is such a simple thing, for some of us, to have a clean place to walk freely and safely, as a woman alone.

Here are a few of the lovely things I spotted on a recent walk near the reservoir in our town, 25 miles north of Manhattan:













And a very persistent little leaf who came along for the ride…



Out for a walk

In beauty, life, nature on February 29, 2016 at 10:43 pm

By Caitlin Kelly


Only a few weeks ago!


Are you — fellow Northern Hemisphere folk — feeling as cabin feverish as I am?

In mid-winter, it’s either gray or rainy or windy or bitterly cold or the streets are too icy.

But today….aaaaah.

Today was a blessed 57 unseasonally warm degrees and out I went to enjoy the walk along the reservoir.


Our view of the Hudson River

One of the things I love most about living somewhere for a long time is getting to know a landscape intimately, like the face of a dear friend or the hands of your sweetie.

I’ve walked the reservoir path, a paved mile in each direction, shaded the whole way by tall trees, for the past 27 years now, in all four seasons, alone and with my husband and, a long time ago, with my lovely little terrier, Petra, who died in June 1996.

Here’s some of what I saw, heard, smelled and savored today:


The stream is starting to rush again as the snow and ice melt


Trees are showing the tiniest bit of bud


Winter-weathered leaves rustle gently in the breeze, the soft creamy beige of a very good camel hair overcoat


The white flash of a swan’s bum as it digs into the lakebed


The tang of woodsmoke from someone’s chimney


Soft emerald moss, tossed like a velvet duvet


Strengthening sun gilding the edges of the forest


Vines clinging to weathered granite


The soothing lapping sound of water on rock at the lake’s edge


Two Canada geese honking overhead



A jet heading southwest


A tiny Yorkie in a pink coat running very fast


Warm sun on my cheeks



The most important thing school can teach you is…

In behavior, children, culture, education, life, parenting on August 27, 2015 at 1:37 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Loved this story in Intelligent Life magazine, which asked seven thinkers and writers what they consider the most essential subject to learn in school.

Still very much an experiental learner

Still very much an experiental learner

Their answers: music, emotional intelligence, cultural literacy, history (backwards), basic geography, open-air dawdling, physics.

Of open-air dawdling, Deb Wilenski answered:

I have worked in the wild outdoors with young children and educators for more than ten years. I work in classrooms too, but there is no better place for dawdling than the woods. Free from the props and expectations of The Curriculum, children become explorers, philosophers, inventors, illustrators, poets, scientists, professionals of every kind.

If I were in charge of education, I would build open-air dawdling into the curriculum, giving every child time, slow time, to explore their own burning questions. The best subject is the one you can’t leave alone.

You need to why this shadow is here...

You need to why this shadow is here…

Here’s Jessica Lahey on cultural literacy:

Consequently, every subject depends on cultural literacy. The underlying warp of the class could be Latin, literature, writing or law, but the weft is all connection, linking new content to the strands of knowledge the students already possess. Words that are utterly forgettable in their dry state of denotation can be retained given connotation and a bit of context. Characters and plot lines that might otherwise slip through holes in attention become memorable when safely tethered by literary allusion.

Before we read Chapter 15 of “Great Expectations”, I tell the story of Cain and Abel. Cain’s jealousy, murderous anger and subsequent exile prepare my students to meet Orlick, the morose journeyman with no liking for Pip. When they read “he would slouch out, like Cain or the Wandering Jew,” they have a nuanced understanding of Orlick, and see why Pip senses that he may become fuel for his ire.

I attended private school Grades 4-9, and am grateful I did, even as I also learned to loathe arbitrary rules, (aren’t they all?!), crummy boarding school food and sharing a bedroom with four strangers.

Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland -- the world ready for me to explore!

Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland — the world ready for me to explore!

I still vividly recall our terrifying fifth grade teacher who had us use carbon paper to trace the maps of various countries so we would learn what they looked like and our eighth grade teacher — whose last name rhymed, appropriately enough, with the words gruff, tough and rough — who had us ploughing through The Scarlet Letter, a dictionary necessary for almost every single sentence.

What did I learn that’s most useful to me, decades later?

To question and challenge authority. It’s not a subject taught in any classroom, but it’s a crucial life skill, certainly for a woman, a feminist and, as a journalist, someone paid to ask questions

To trust my judgement. Even as a child, much to some teachers’ frustration, I knew what mattered most to me and fought for my principles.

To see the world as a place worth exploring, as often and widely as possible. Reading work from other cultures, traveling, listening to the stories of people who’d ventured out and come back, whetted my lifelong appetite for more of the same.

To understand that someone expecting excellence of me will bring out my best. I’m a high-octane girl and need a lot of intellectual stimulation and challenge. I’m much happier feeling scared of a difficult assignment from which I’ll learn and grow than bored silly by something mundane and simple.

To write quickly and confidently. Our private school had an annual essay contest, in which Grades 4, 5 and 6 would compete against one another, Grades 7 and 8, Grades 9, 10 and 11 and Grades 12 and 13, (this was Ontario, Canada.) I won the contest in Grade 8, giving me, even then, the confidence I could do this writing thing, well and under pressure. It’s what I’ve been doing for a living for a long time.

This odd little plant was outside our Donegal cottage

This odd little plant was outside our Donegal cottage

To savor nature. Our school grounds had enormous chestnut trees and every fall I’d marvel at the ground littered with their thick, spongy, spiky green casings — and the glossy brown nuts inside them. We’d walk the block every morning, scuffing through leaves or snow. Being alone outdoors also offered a blessed respite from constant company, in class, at meals, in the common room or in our bedrooms.

Victoria College, University of Toronto, my alma mater

Victoria College, University of Toronto, my alma mater

I later studied English literature for four years at University of Toronto, Canada’s highest-ranked, but also learned that I don’t enjoy sitting still for hours being lectured to, no matter how much I love to learn new material. I much preferred my training at the New York School of Interior Design, two decades later, also because choosing color or knowing what materials work best in certain situations has proven a more useful tool day-to-day than the nuances of 16th-century drama.

I don’t envy today’s teachers — competing with (or at best making great use of) technology but also “teaching to the test”.

I fear that some of life’s most important skills, from financial literacy to civics to how our bodies work and how to keep them healthy, have little to no place in most classrooms. We learn them much later, if we’re lucky.

What did you learn in your early years of formal education you still find most useful today?


A landscape forever altered

In beauty, business, cities, design, nature, urban design, urban life on June 15, 2015 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

A walk along the Palisades, on the western shore of the Hudson River

A walk along the Palisades, on the western shore of the Hudson River

I’ve lived — which stuns me — for 25 years on the same street, a steeply hilly winding road that has raccoons, deer, coyotes, raspberry bushes and still has a clear view, however unlikely, of the gleaming towers of Manhattan 25 miles due south.

When I moved here, the corporate headquarters for Hitachi on our street, a vast expanse of orchards and green lawns, was ringed by split-rail wooden fences. Those fences are gone now and I miss their rural charm.

Across the street from Hitachi, all this time, has been a thick, impenetrable woods, deep, dark, leafy and green, a lush and powerful natural sight and sound barrier dividing our quiet street from a busy four-lane highway running east-west a block away across our suburban county.

I’ve always marveled at how rustic and quiet it’s kept our street — it has never felt suburban to me because of this — and been grateful for that.


Here are some images of the sudden changes that began this month. Changes that have now forever altered the bucolic character of our street. Now, in an unwelcome change, we can see not only the office buildings on the north side of that road, but clear through to the south side.






The world is intruding.

It’s inevitable. Undeveloped land often holds potential commercial value. Land offers developers profit and the town added tax revenues.

But landscapes unaltered retain their own beauty, silence, natural life and history.

Once they’ve been altered, they’re gone for good.

Here’s a cool way to guesstimate the age of a tree non-invasively — if you see me out there this summer hugging trees with a measure tape, you’ll know why!

I often wonder what our suburban New York landscape was like before the Europeans arrived — as it is, we still have New York State’s second-oldest church a mere 10 minutes north of our home.

Dating from 1685, the Old Dutch Church, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Dating from 1685, the Old Dutch Church, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Who remembers what lay there before?

And there I was recently, in a shiny, new-ish TD Bank in Elmsford, NY, one of the least lovely towns in Westchester, NY, a sadly industrial mish-mash of office complexes, car washes, big box grocery stores. You wouldn’t think, seeing it today, there would have been much very attractive to miss.


And there was a photo mural — here’s a poster they’ve printed and keep in a stack for us to take — of what was there before.

I found this deeply moving and so unusual. A multinational bank caring about what its local customers might have remembered of that landscape, of their town’s history?

I love this Japanese word — yugen – a profound mysterious sense of the beauty of the natural world.

I’m at an age now where too many places I’ve known and loved are gone for good.

In Manhattan, the extraordinary profits to be made in real estate have closed many well-loved spots. One of the most recent was a pharmacy, Avignone, on the southwest corner of Sixth and Bleecker, which was one of the city’s oldest.

The lovely Cafe Angelique, barely a decade old at the corner of Grove and Bleecker, closed this year when the landlord suddenly demanded a monthly rent of $45,000. You just can’t sell that much coffee or that many cupcakes.


20131114134802Here’s Neil’s, on the same corner of Lexington and 70th for 50 years.

If you, like me, are a fan of the TV show Project Runway, you might mourn the loss of this midtown New York City Building.

From The New York Times:

It is only 53 years old, but the cornerstone of a doomed building in Manhattan’s garment district reads like an impossibly hopeful sentiment from a distant time, from a world that can never be recovered.

“Dedicated to the ideal that, through better human relations, understanding and good will among peoples, the supreme dignity and indissoluble brotherhood of man can be achieved.”

This was once Brotherhood House.

At the end, the six-story building at 560 Seventh Avenue, at 40th Street, was barely remembered by that name, or as a crucible of social advocacy in the 1960s.

But it was nationally known as the home of “Project Runway,” a television program in which aspiring fashion designers endure excruciating competition and withering critiques as they try to make their mark. In the series, the building played itself: the David M. Schwartz Fashion Education Center of the Parsons School of Design.

Now, it is vacant. The departure of the last tenant, the Garment Center Synagogue, has allowed asbestos abatement to begin. Demolition is to start this year, followed by the construction of a 29-story, 238-room Dream Hotel, opening in 2018.

In my hometown of Toronto, a beloved landmark, The Coffee Mill, closed this year after a 50-year run. I will miss their goulash and strudel, their cappuccino — and the memory of my childhood visits there when they first opened.

It’s one thing to mourn a lost restaurant or shop.

It’s another entirely when our natural landscape, as it is every day anyway, is forever changed — and possibly destroyed.

The Grand Canyon -- whose profound silence makes your ears ring

The Grand Canyon — whose profound silence makes your ears ring (photo: Caitlin Kelly)

I fear for one of my favorite places in the world, The Grand Canyon, threatened by major development. From The New York Times:

On the South Rim plateau, less than two miles from the park’s entrance, the gateway community of Tusayan, a town just a few blocks long, has approved plans to construct 2,200 homes and three million square feet of commercial space that will include shops and hotels, a spa and a dude ranch.

Among its many demands, the development requires water, and tapping new wells would deplete the aquifer that drives many of the springs deep inside the canyon — delicate oases with names like Elves Chasm and Mystic Spring. These pockets of life, tucked amid a searing expanse of bare rock, are among the park’s most exquisite gems…

Less than 25 miles to the northeast of Tusayan, Navajo leaders are working with developers from Scottsdale to construct a 1.4-mile tramway that would descend about 3,200 feet directly into the heart of the canyon. They call it Grand Canyon Escalade.

The cable system would take more than 4,000 visitors a day in eight-person gondolas to a spot on the floor of the canyon known as the Confluence, where the turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River merge with the emerald green current of the Colorado. The area, which is sacred to many in the Hopi and Zuni tribes, as well as Navajo people, would feature an elevated walkway, a restaurant and an amphitheater.

Maybe it’s the result of having spent my childhood summers at camp, canoeing through landscapes unchanged for centuries, possibly millennia — granite outcroppings, wind-whipped pines, dark, deep, cold lakes.

I am most moved, sometimes to tears, by places of timeless natural beauty: Corsica, Thailand, the Arizona and New Mexico desert, northern Ontario.

We’ll soon be renting a seaside cottage in one of the most rural parts of one of the most rural countries, Co. Donegal in Ireland. Can’t wait!

Here is one, of Ontario's Georgian Bay

Here is one, of Ontario’s Georgian Bay

I love the paintings by The Group of Seven, Canada’s equivalent of the Impressionists, whose images of our land, from the Arctic to the crimson trees of autumn, always make me homesick.

Do you have a landscape you’re deeply attached to?

Where and what is it?

Has it changed much?

We’re just another species

In animals, beauty, behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, life, nature, urban life on August 13, 2014 at 12:14 am

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.


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?


The world’s sounds: muezzins, halyards, woodpeckers

In beauty, behavior, books, culture, life, nature, travel, urban life, world on May 1, 2014 at 10:33 am


By Caitlin Kelly

Close your eyes.

And just…listen.

Birdsong (which ones?)


Someone’s footsteps (what sort of shoes are they wearing? Are they young or old? Thin or heavy?)

The distant echoing whistle of a passing train.

The hum of the refrigerator.

Your dog’s whimper as he naps.

Your children, laughing (or crying!)

Blessed with sight, we often forget how much we hear, or could hear, in any given moment if we stopped to pay closer attention. If you live in a noisy, crowded city — car horns, engine sounds, cellphones, sirens, the beeping of a truck backing up, bus brakes sighing — it seems counter-intuitive as we we’re always trying to block it out.

But stand somewhere quieter, eyes closed, and you’ll be amazed how many sounds you’ll pick up.


Some of my favorites include:

Street singers, walking and clapping their hands, in Andalusia

The clanging of metal halyards against metal sailboat masts

A bird in Kenya whose call sounded just like a beeping alarm clock

The muezzin’s chant from a tower in Istanbul

The chatter of coins dropped onto a small china dish, change returned in Paris

The click of my husband’s key in the front door as he returns from  work


Wind soughing through tall, fragrant pines

The gurgle of a canoe paddle pushing water

The specific thwack of  a well-hit golf ball

The specific clang of a well-hit softball off of a metal bat

A coyote howling beneath our (suburban New York!?) windows

A baby’s giggle

The crunching of car tires on gravel

Tea being poured into a bone china teacup

A woodpecker

Jet engines revving — a trip about to start!

That odd sing-song-y noise before the subway doors close in Paris

I love this recent book idea, a sort of catalog of global sounds:

But you do not need to be an acoustic engineer armed with a stun gun and sophisticated measuring tools to be awed by the singing sands of the Kelso Dunes in the Californian Mojave Desert (caused by an avalanche of very dry sand down a steep slope) or by the cascading roar of the sea inside Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, which inspired Mendelssohn to compose his “Hebrides” overture…

Mr. Cox also plays with, and explains, the acoustics of whispering galleries like that of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London or the one by the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, in which sound is guided along the tiled archway.

And I wish I were in England at the end of May for this amazing outdoor concert.

(I added the bold/italics as I think this is so cool!)

Two pioneering composers are turning forest plants and animals of Thetford Forest into virtual conductors this summer, creating ‘Living Symphonies’ where visitors will be able to hear the sounds of the forest in musical form from 24-30 May.

The artists, James Bulley and Daniel Jones, have been working with Forestry Commission ecologists to map the true extent of woodland wildlife and plantlife in one of the East’s most beautiful forests, reacting to all that is alive within a forest. The composers have then created a musical motif for each organism living in the forest, then, with speakers hidden amongst the trees, digital technology generates the full symphony in real time – when an animal moves, so does their music.

If a flock of birds moves across the canopy the visitor may hear a cluster of clarinets move with them. When rain causes some animals to emerge while others hide away; it will also trigger moisture sensors causing their musical counterparts to do the same. The animals and plants become the conductors.

Together they hope to create a remarkable new way for audiences to explore forests with their ears as well as their eyes. As the visitor explores the music they will also become aware of just how complex an eco-system a forest is.

I really like it when songs include sounds — whether the croaking in Frogs’ Lullaby by Canadian band Blue Rodeo or the rattling and squeaking of a carriage ride in Katell Keinig’s Waiting for You to Smile or the match striking at the very end of Shawn Colvin’s murder ballad Sunny Came Home or the whining jet plane sounds at the start of the Beatles’ 1968 classic, Back in the USSR.

What sounds do you love to hear?

Twenty more things that make me happy

In beauty, culture, domestic life, entertainment, life on April 20, 2014 at 12:08 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Last-minute $20 fifth-row tickets to one of my favorite bands ever, Johnny Clegg


Seat-dancing like a fiend to his music and singing at the top of my lungs to old favorites like “Scatterlings of Africa”; he’s on tour in North America right now. Go!

Coming home after the concert to a midnight supper of soup and sandwiches

Treating myself to a beautiful DVF skirt on sale

The fresh-earth smell of spring



Forsythia in every vase in every room

Re-finding a very good pair of earrings I’d thought I’d lost years ago

The magnolia tree that blossoms — so briefly! — and smells so delicious on our building’s property


Listening to Yann Tiersen’s haunting, lovely music for La Valse des Monstres

After a long, cold, bitter, icy winter, finally walking along the reservoir with warm sunshine on my shoulders

Pretty new curtains — shower curtains re-purposed! — for a grand total of $50


Finding a very good new-to-me Manhattan restaurant whose desserts are $6 — not the usual $10-12

Receiving an email this week — three years after the publication of my last book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” — which began with the words: “It was a great book. I was captivated from the start, interested in your fellow employees and appreciated the research and insight you provided.” It’s so satisfying to keep finding appreciative readers.

My husband’s surprise gift to me — deep purple suede loafers with bright orange soles


An out-of-the-blue email apologizing for a decades-old shattered friendship from someone I miss

A hand-written thank-you note from a client

Two offers of paid work in one day, both arriving unsolicited

This amazing goat cheese, super-creamy.


The medicinal smell, translucent brown and lush lather of Pears soap, a brand founded in 1807

Daffodils! Everywhere!


A stack of unread library books: (I watch GOT on HBO and follow fellow Canadian and very cool astronaut Chris Hadfield on Twitter)


What’s making you smile recently?


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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?