Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Life everlasting

Though I am taking time off from work this week, the rest of the world is busy making things. It’s easy to be awed by what I see people doing with their lives. This first day away from home has been a study for me in human creativity and industry.

We are in Vermont with special friends who recently suffered the loss of two beloved parents. The father — to ensure his family's privacy I'll call him Hann — was a master woodworker who grew up and trained in Germany. He was an electric, commanding presence who did not like holding still. My own grandfather was a woodworker from Berlin who came to Southern California to build houses. From the moment I met Hann and his family, I felt a kinship hewn from sawdust and ancestry. Though we are acutely aware of Hann's absence on this visit, we see his handsome work all about us. It will be impossible to forget him.

The woodworking patriarch loved to spend time on Spirit II
which is docked on Lake Champlain. 
Among the many pieces he made for Spirit II is this table.

Upon waking on the first bright and chilly morning of our stay in Vermont, my friend Berta, who is Hann's daughter-in-law, and I took a walk in the woods. We both routinely start our day with a little vigorous exercise outdoors. This morning a strong wind roughed up Burr Pond and sent leaves scrambling. On September 22 fall finally gave us a sobering nudge. Berta had her walking sticks and I had my iPhone camera. We plunged on and up. 

Such early morning outings in the woods or along the shore give us time to recharge. We’ve learned that undistracted time spent outdoors boosts our creativity. And, as this day has reminded me, humans are, at their core, creative beings.

Berta pointed out the many salamanders crossing the path we took. 
Soon the leaves, which are just starting to turn and fall, 
will match the salamanders’ glorious coloring.

It was so early in the morning that the pond 
we hiked to looked and sounded like it was just waking up.

Hann came to America to practice his craft and support his family. What he started, his son carries on. Erich built and periodically expands the growing plant in Rutland to produce the beautiful wood windows and doors he and his crew make for customers around the country. Often they are called upon to design windows doors that seem more like works of art than a means of access or merely conveyors of light and fresh air. I've seen groups of architects and contractors gather in Erich's shop to marvel, in awe and respect, at his feats of breathtaking design and workmanship.

Just down the street from Erich's plant is the Carving and Sculpting Center in West Rutland, site of a former marble quarry. Here carvers and other artists now gather annually to create and exhibit works made from marble, stone and found objects. The vast grounds are littered with all shades of glistening marble. Sculptural works are found throughout the property. Marble crunches underfoot when you walk. And the sculptors at work on their pieces are covered in marble dust, looking not unlike the pieces they're carving.

33-year-old Alasdair Thomson of Edinburgh, Scotland, 
carved this 2,400-pound wedding dress after a dress 
by designer Pnina Tornai. Next week he moves this piece 
to Kleinfield bridal boutique in NYC to sit among the real gowns. 
“If people in the shop don’t realize at first that it’s marble, 
then I have succeeded,” he told a newspaper reporter.

Hann started the window and door crafting company
that his son Erich now runs. They 
made these windows in the Sculpting Center, 
which is built of marble.

Rick Rothrock of Wilmington, Delaware, 
is working on this marble bench for Newburyport, Massachusetts.
It will take him another year to finish the bench.

Here’s another sculpture by Rothrock. 
It’s impossible not to run your hand 
along the silky finish of the white marble.

Here are three more sculptures (of many) that we discovered on 
the trails at the marble quarry. 
The marble undies are just one of the items on the clothesline below. 

This bittersweet trip to Vermont, spent in affection and appreciation, has been a poignant reminder of the creative drive we all nurture, rue, ignore, and sometimes milk for all it's worth. Whether carving wood or marble, words or song, a juicy roast chicken from the local farm or a classic shoulder-length bob, we all want to pause to recharge and reconsider. It's different for each of us. Hann, whose remarkable drive kindled a network of love and livelihood for many, had Spirit I and II to bring him where he needed to be. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Vacation imagination

This is where I watch the sun come up. 

So much of the pleasure of a vacation happens weeks in advance.

My upcoming three-day hiking trip to my favorite wilderness retreat — Pittsburg, New Hampshire — begins next Tuesday. But in my heart and my imagination, my nature getaway begins the minute I open Evernote and begin itemizing packing and to do lists.

  • S’mores ingredients. Check.
  • Hat and gloves. Check.
  • Running shoes. Check.
  • Walking stick. Check.
  • Travel mug. Check.

Each item on the list comes with a treasured repository of memory. There’s the hilly, chilly morning run past First Lake and on to Happy Corners restaurant for celebration pancakes. Hat and gloves a must. There’s the late-night, fire-pit roasting of marshmallows under a jewel box of radiant stars. And that steep and miserable climb up to Magalloway’s summit, where my walking stick’s a necessary appendage? Up there, breathtaking — oooh, aaaah — tempts hyperventilation it is all so beautiful.

And what about the travel mug? My daughter Ardis and I sip coffee on our before-dawn photo safaris up and down remote logging roads, where fox, bull moose and deer bound in front of us, flushed from their meanderings, as surprised as we are. Ardis, the daring one, takes our off-road vehicle places I would never go alone.

Full moon over First Connecticut Lake.

For years I have opted for Pittsburg adventures in lieu of travel to Italy or France or Greece or Spain — all places I have no personal knowledge of despite how right they seem for me. I choose nature. And it calls to me so persistently that I never fail to reserve a cabin and let myself be drawn, mile by forested mile, till I am breathing pine and peat and wood smoke. My hiking buddy Lynn called it “the Pittsburg effect.” Once I pull away from it and head home, and that is a wrenching moment, it haunts when I blink, turn my head, bring a fork to my mouth, mount a lectern to greet an audience. I know the siren call personally. And so did Lynn.

And yet, you cannot know what is to come.

I often open my iPhoto library and scroll through Pittsburg photos taken year after year, season after season. How many photos do I have of Murphy Dam? Of the moose feeding in the wallows? Of Lynn? Of Cliff? Two of my favorite hiking companions, Lynn Harnett and Cliff Post, died within a week of each other just a couple of years ago. They both look so happy in Pittsburg, with the panorama of Maine, Canada, Vermont at their backs and the solid granite summit stone at their feet. I miss them most right there and in the memory of there.

Cliff Post, left, feeling content,
at the end of the scramble
to Table Rock. Lynn Harnett, right
thrilled to have found a new trail
in nearby Vermont. 

I have packing-for-Pittsburg rituals that keep up my end of the bargain so that Pittsburg won’t disappoint. I wedge a sharp chopping knife into the middle of a roll of paper towels because my knife is a good one. I bring two-ply toilet paper because we do appreciate our creature comforts more than the lodge owners do. I have a gin-and-tonic on the deck after a long day of hiking and exploring so that, despite the chill this time of year, I suck in enough of her essence to carry me through the winter and bring me back to her next year.

As the sun sets, there's time to commune.

In the top tier of New Hampshire, where Pittsburg spreads its ever-changing woodlands and waterways like a Secret Garden, there is always something new to see and do in nature. Or, put another way, there’s always another way to bully fate.

Pittsburg doesn’t get old. It is the lover with always the new trick up her sleeve. Or the soft shale on the precipice’s tempting edge.   

All this pre-travel fantasy may psyche me for my next rendezvous with Pittsburg, but it will never prepare me. Imagination gets me only so far. I have to be there to truly know.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The end of my excellent NYC writers group

As obvious as it was, 

I didn't see the storm coming.

My NYC writers group imploded. The implosion happened in mid-June, out of nowhere, and it caught me by surprise.

Sometimes writing about something helps me understand it, or put it into perspective or, when necessary, let it go. Maybe I’ll land squarely on some nugget of truth we can all benefit from.

The breakup was ugly and wrenching, with accusations and tears and hurt feelings. Not only did our group break up, but at least one valued friendship ended. Since then, none of us has communicated. Our Thursday afternoon writers group was very good and now it’s very gone. I am still in disbelief.

Every week we listened to amazing stories — a handsome young husband’s cruel betrayal, a loving father’s midnight whiskey fogs, a single mom’s multiplying payday loans. We talked about the metaphors, the points of view, the sentences that worked and those that didn’t. We referenced other books. We brought luscious treats like chocolate chunk cookies and creamy gelatos from New York’s finest shops. Could it get any better?

We told each other how important this group was, how well it served us, how we wouldn’t know what we’d do without it and then … boom. Just like that.

Writers groups have to have rules. A few I’m familiar with are: Don’t debate another member’s critique; leave it to the author to take it or leave it. Be polite when you critique but by all means critique. Be on time. Don’t mistake the writers group for a pajama party. There’s work to be done and limited time. Yes, there are lots of rules and most long-lived groups end up adopting a few.

Sometimes you have to evict a member from your group. If you have to do it, do it right away. Better yet, have a very strict admittance protocol so that you induct only those who fit in. I’ve heard myself tell groups: This is not a democracy. She has to go.

If she doesn’t, the group will go down.

My NYC writers group evicted one of our members a year ago last spring. She was reading a very personal, powerful memoir about her life as a sex worker and her battle with acute depression and hallucinations. She was a dominant that specialized in kicking men in the testicles. She had good reasons to like this. And the men that signed up for what’s called ball busting liked it as well. Though her stories were hard to take, they were well written. I thought her book had a chance if she were to pull the various chapters together into a cohesive whole.

NYC is often called the creative capital of the world. 
It's easier to find and connect with writers here. 
But there's a volatility, too.

Our group took a retreat and spent a long night helping her produce an outline with chapter synopses. She wore us out and the next day one of our key members said she’d had enough. The schizophrenic had to go. We ousted her for being too needy and too oblivious to us. The previous afternoon, while we were in the swimming pool, the about-to-be-ousted member asked me to photograph her. I noticed that she was always aware of me, always posing, always turning herself toward me provocatively. One of her attributes was her beauty. If she was a narcissist, as some thought, she was oddly vulnerable and sweetly likable — attributes she used to her advantage.

This spring another group member got targeted as disruptive and insensitive. The complaint: She talked too much and she interrupted others to the point that some felt the quality of our critiques had suffered. The objecting member proposed a slew of rules meant to eliminate all the chitchat and keep things more orderly. In an instant we were to go from collegial and friendly to no-nonsense workshop. The transition felt undoable. The two members locked horns, laying down boundaries that essentially took both from the group.

With two of the four core members gone, that was it. Immediately prior to all this happening, I had recruited three new members who knew nothing of the dispute. I still haven’t had the heart to tell them. I’ve been hosting a virtual group with the new members this summer in hopes that all will be forgiven and that our group will miraculously reconvene this fall. This kind of protracted hoping is an example of me needing to work the serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  

I think the clarity I’ve been looking for is starting to materialize.

There are good reasons this implosion happened. Groups need rules but rules are hard to implement after a certain critical point — specifically, when patience has dried up. Second, writers groups resemble therapy groups even if they’re not therapy groups. Lots of psychology gets revealed in the process of reading, critiquing and rewriting. In other words, we know a lot about each other. Thus, and third, trust and sensitivity are essential. Had we trusted each other, we could have brought up the issue of excessive chitchat a lot earlier and simply helped each other through the hurt feelings.

Our writers group retreat in the Hamptons 
felt like a gift till one member tried our patience. 
The rest of us planted the seeds of our eventual destruction.

I once started a writers group that functioned for years with me as host. We met in a conference room at the newspaper where I worked as an arts magazine managing editor. I invited the people. I disinvited them. Once, one of our long-term members plagiarized a short story. She put her name on another member’s story, changed the beginning slightly and got it published. When I found out, I did what I thought was the logical thing and told her to leave. I loved my writers group more than it loved me. When I took a job at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and asked if we could move the group’s starting time up 15 minutes to accommodate the train schedule, they said no and that was that.

Which proves to me that a writers group is not a family. It’s not a bunch of best buddies. It’s not therapy. And it’s not school. Its primary purpose is to help you produce good writing. If that stops happening — for any reason — expect an implosion.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

The immigrants close to home

Salvador and Enriqueta Padilla, 
my grandparents, journeyed from
Leon, Mexico, to Santa Barbara,
in stages. They battled hardships
along the way, stopping to earn money
as farmhands and railroad section hands.

My grandparents, Enriqueta and Salvador Padilla, made their way to the United States on foot and on trains during the Mexican Revolution. For part of the trip, rather than share a freight car with enemy soldiers, all thirteen family members rode on top. Danger is relative and the soldiers proved the greater threat. The story goes that my great-grandmother, Porfiria, sold the family homestead during the revolution so her family could get to safety in the United States.
As my family journeyed toward the border with the United States, Grandpa made a little money roasting pieces of meat in the earth over hot coals, and selling this food as they went. I’ve seen him butcher pigs in his backyard in downtown Santa Barbara, so I suspect he may have had held onto a few goats or other livestock to slaughter on their long trek to safety. The enterprise reminds me of a nomadic version of the taco trucks we see on city streets. Perhaps Grandma, admired for her superlative Mexican cooking, helped prepare these al fresco offerings. When they crossed the border in El Paso in 1915, they had $20 left between them.
Salvador and Enriqueta, so busy working to raise and put all twelve of their children through college, rarely sat still. I knew them hardly at all. Grandma always wore an apron and never learned English. She communicated with me in sign language, a big smile on her beautiful face. I learned how to iron and make flour tortillas by following her nonverbal instructions. Both of my grandparents went to church every morning at dawn and slept with a large and rather gruesome crucifix hanging on the wall above them. The graphic natures of Jesus’ wounds clearly did not dampen their physical love for each other.
These days my significant other, Jim, and I find some of the best Mexican food at NYC’s Union Square farmers market. Hidden between the farm trucks and tents, a handful of immigrants dish up similarly complex, aromatic Mexican dishes from a bunch of coolers, steamers and vats. I’m told they are routinely rounded up and evicted from the market. We locate them because long lines of hungry patrons point us toward these accomplished, hard-working cooks like a stem to a rare bloom. The enterprising women charge $2, a pittance, for the most delicious tamales you’re likely to eat. And I’ve had to argue to get them to take a tip.
As I read Deval Patrick’s remarks about the 50,000 homeless migrant children between 3 and 17 years of age that no one seems to know what to do with, I do so remembering that I am blessed by my grandparents’ fortitude and courage, and by the bounty of this country. My gifts — a home, an education, a daughter, friends and loved ones — were not won by me exclusively. We are all buoyed by our amazing privilege at having landed in United States, recently or generations past. Our schools, libraries, roads, systems of jurisprudence that ensure fair practices in business and in life, our neighborhoods with our town governments that oversee our safety and quality of life — these are resources I inherited by virtue of sheer good luck. Except for the Native Americans, we are all guests here and our occupancy is, indeed, quite temporary. As I see it, we are stewards with responsibilities that we now must be reminded of.
The 50,000 migrant children who risked their lives to escape dire conditions we probably cannot imagine, have become, like everything else these days, a bullet point in a political rationale for why we must do nothing. These children are but one more proof of Obama’s bad judgment, some politicians aver; therefore, they are, I fear, fatally tainted. What will become of them is anyone’s guess. Patrick and those of like kind are going to have to shed additional and copious tears to get these unfortunate children minimal resources.
According to this morning’s Boston Globe, a woman living in Bourne said the children should be sent back to their countries. “We will do anything for illegals, and we won’t do anything for Americans. I don’t have sympathy for people breaking the law.”
We don’t do anything for Americans? Just look around. Is not Bourne, on the mouth of glorious Cape Cod, a gift in and of itself? Is not your life, free of constant threat of rape and starvation and extortion, not a gift our individual tax payments could never pay for by themselves? Is not that salt air and the road that leads you home every night from your job in a nursery not a gift? Is your job, all by itself, not a gift?
These are just children, our Massachusetts governor reminds us. It bears remembering that these are children alone in a foreign land. He quotes scripture, though I hasten to insist that we don’t need religion to know right from wrong. Yes, he’s correct in framing this as a moral issue. We don’t need Cardinal Sean O’Malley to remind us of that.
But if the idea of God is going to move us closer to helping these children, then fine. Here’s what Patrick says: “Every major faith tradition on the planet charges its followers to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated. I don’t know what good there is in faith if we can’t, and won’t, turn to it in moments of human need.”
We should give back, not once with an envelope dropped in saintly humility, into a basket on Sundays, but every day. We must give of ourselves. Here on Cape Ann there sits an empty school, with empty classrooms, toilets, a cafeteria, offices and grounds. This looks, from my uninformed point of view, like a perfect location to house some of these children for the four months they are to be housed in this country.
Let us lend a helping hand in the same generous way we daily receive our own gifts of love and life and freedom — won for us by others who came before and paved the way.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Think of sentences as opportunities

“My writing process — a blog tour”

I always write in complete sentences, our journalism professor told our feature-writing class one afternoon. Don Murray was talking to us, as he often did, about his own writing life. Although I resisted a lot of what he (and everyone in positions of authority) had to say back then, his example shaped the writer I was to become.

The only time I use fragments is when I intend to do so, thanks to my teacher. Every opportunity to put words to a page is an opportunity to practice my craft. That is the lesson I was meant to learn. Even my journals are written in complete sentences, just like Don’s were. I do not abbreviate words and I do not use clich├ęs and hackneyed language.

It’s with Don Murray’s lesson in mind that I come to today’s blog entry, “My Writing Process — Blog Tour.” I promised my good friend and fellow writer Betsy Marro I would participate because she did a very similar blog tour for me last year. You can see Betsy’s current entry on thistopic here.

I’m tired of and unimpressed with my own thoughts about process despite the value of the exercise. Last year I learned that thinking through such process questions (see below) helped me step back and define my intent, my unique point of view, my motivation. And the exercise helped me to see if and why it all still mattered. I’ve had writer friends who, after such exercises, gave it up.  
The four questions:
What am I working on?
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Why do I write what I do?
How does my writing process work?

Today, I’m going to avoid obvious answers and attempt to turn this exercise into a writing session in the spirit of Don Murray.

What am I working on?

These people pictured above, some of whom are friends, have gathered, as they often do, in late afternoon for drinks. For me, the theme is loss. A key member has died and this is the first time I’ve sat with them in this way, and in this lovely setting, since her death. It’s a terribly sad moment for me and yet I want to see everything. What do I see happening here? What are the details around me? How much do I miss when I look? How much do I, aged 65, infer due to experience and longevity when I believe I should infer nothing at all.

How much do I misread because of my own emotional point of view in that moment? What does it take to look harder and deeper? Can I even do this? What does this white wine I’m drinking do to the picture I’m taking in as I sit with these people? What can I do to make myself see everything as if for the first time, with fresh eyes, without assumptions and expectations? How do I forever access that sense of wonder? What will I come away with when I stand up and get into the car to drive away? What will I forget? What will I turn this moment into, back home in Rockport?

What am I working on? I am working on concentrating my effort, whatever it is, to make it as fruitful as I am able.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My father Angelo a few years before he died, is seen here wearing what’s called a Mexican wedding shirt. He’s with is wife Carolyn and his older sister Jennie. We are at Jennie’s house in Carpinteria, about to head to a gigantic Padilla family reunion in our hometown of Santa Barbara. I am writing about this Padilla family and my early relationship to them in the Santa Barbara of the 50s and 60s in a memoir I’ve titled “Partial Recall.” This writing project is a journey of discovery, a problem-solving work of writing (all creative projects are problems to be solved), another attempt to go deeper, with any eloquence I can muster. How is this memoir different from all the others? It started with Angelo, who made me who I am whether or not I like it.

Why do I write what I do?

Betsy, in the middle wearing the wide-brimmed hat, strolls along the San Diego pier toward her home a few blocks away. I am over to the right, happily remembering the aroma of the air off the Pacific I grew up loving. It feels in every way like home though I have just come in from NYC, where I now spend a great deal of my time. All impressions, ideas, reactions, thoughts — everything — start with this primal connection to the micro-universe from which I came. Betsy, my new and better family, is one of the reasons I have the courage to do this. And Betsy, many years ago, showed me how creative nonfiction writing can be.

How does your writing process work?

It’s a daily discipline that’s energized by wonder. I can go back to question #1 for details on how to recharge. 

Next up

On April 28 author and my longtime friend Susan Oleksiw will blog about her recent work. She has a new Anita Ray mystery novel coming out. This series is set in India where Susan has lived and visits often. If you have an opportunity to view exhibits of her photographs taken in India, don’t miss it. And, of course, don’t miss her wonderful Anita Ray series.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My bad day with Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin loved horses. 
 I guess she thought everybody else did, too.

It was a beautiful fall morning in 2000 or 2001 when I drove north to Warner, N.H., to spend the day with Maxine Kumin. I was working on a profile of Kumin for The Larcom Review, a literary journal published by author Susan Oleksiw.

Reading last week about Kumin’s death at the age of 88, I thought back to that absolutely horrid afternoon at her farm in Warner. It was the worst interview experience in my career as a journalist. It provided me with a new truth: I could not salvage something just because I put my mind to it. My usual tools — research, persistence, compassion, curiosity — were as useless as my questions that she slapped down, one after the other.  By the time I left that farmhouse, Kumin was sputtering.

I was motivated to do the interview because I’d recently read and reviewed her unforgettable memoir, “Inside the Halo and Beyond,” about her arduous recovery from a broken neck and numerous broken ribs. One of her most beloved horses was pulling the carriage she was racing when a truck spooked him. Kumin flew off the carriage and the horse pulled the carriage over her. More than a year had passed. She and her husband were back to maintaining their farm and her horses. I remember her saying she had no intention of ever leaving there.

A few years before that, Kumin had been keynote speaker at a small writers conference I attended in New Hampshire. She spoke about her close friendship with Anne Sexton and about her profound grief after Sexton’s suicide. She was so honest and heartfelt the whole room felt a connection. Kumin was a feminist, a part of history, a survivor, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet as well as the U.S. poet laureate. I loved her. After reading her book, I had to see and hear from the person who beat 95 percent odds. Not only had she lived but she walked and she wrote and she farmed. I wanted to see that kind of will up close.

The first thing she did was introduce me to her horses. “Come out back and say hello,” she said. Was this a test? Or did everybody but me want to snuggle up with a bunch of horses?

I didn’t have time to put down my purse or my notebook. We walked to the corral in back of her farmhouse. The horse who’d been spooked by a truck was among the six or seven horses gathered there. I was paralyzed with fear when all of them — so much taller than I, it seemed — galloped over to greet us. We got into a bit of a tussle over who would get to have my reporter’s notebook. They nudged, nuzzled and bonked me repeatedly. I could barely keep my balance as Kumin stood back, smiling as her brood enthusiastically welcomed me. Words like stampede and crushed and horseflesh were whirling through my anxiety. I tried, of course, to conceal my terror but I’m sure it was obvious. By the time we left the corral, I smelled like wet hay and mud and manure. My reporter’s notebook was slimy. My Ferragamo flats were caked with dirt. I slipped into the living room, ahead of Kumin, to find her husband on his knees, tending the fire.

Though my stated purpose that day was to follow up on the accident and see how a working writer had found her way back to the writing, Kumin wanted to elevate the discussion. She wanted to talk about her poetry. I could not oblige her. Despite the serious homework I had done, I’m no scholar and no poet. And even though I lived with a poet, I had no insights that could carry me through this excruciating mismatch.

Of course my intention was never to annoy or frustrate Maxine Kumin. But I had. I persisted with the questions she didn’t want to answer. Call me inflexible. I took notes. I acted like everything was okay when, in fact, I was assuring that this fiasco would fully fledge and that I would bring her down with me. Guess what? Sometimes you just have to give it up and walk away.

I left at dusk, spent the night at a local B&B, explored the fabulous bookstore and somewhere around midnight, after a couple of glasses of wine, I stopped shaking. When I got back to Massachusetts, I called my editor and said, “I’m going to write about Andre Dubus III going on the Oprah show instead.”

I saved my notes from the Maxine Kumin interview, not for whatever value they may have, but to never forget. I don't want to forget her, and what she means to me. And I don't want to forget the lesson she taught me: There are times when I will fail. But there are good and bad ways to fail.

It's always good if you can see it coming before the horses slobber all over you.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


The alligators can thrive in this protected environment. 
Below is a much smaller gator.

I’ve been visiting the Everglades in southern Florida for a couple of decades. Especially since Hurricane Rita in 2005, it’s been hard to watch the slow deterioration of one of our most unique and important national parks. Rita played a role because there was never the money or willingness to repair the devastation to Flamingo, in particular.

This wood stork is good news. A ranger I met on the trail 
told me it's an indicator that water levels are improving in the Everglades.

On our brief visit to the park late this afternoon, we were shocked to find empty water bottles and candy wrappers floating in the water along the Anhinga Trail. An alligator swam up against a plastic, baby blue mechanical pencil caught up in an imperceptible current. Boardwalk railings are swayback and wooden fences are missing rungs. This is in sharp contrast to what was once the pride and joy of the Everglades. The Anhinga Trail was meticulously maintained and watched over.

Snowy egret, in flight. Perhaps it 
tired of tourists photographing it.

People from all over the world visit and photograph the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm just outside of Homestead. I spoke with a woman from France and a couple of men from Germany. What must they think about the way we prioritize in this country?

There is only one Everglades. The part that’s truly visible — the national park — serves as an important symbol for all that we don’t see of this vast river of grass. People regularly make pilgrimages to the Everglades. Today I met one man who comes here every other year. Everything is cyclical, he says. Someday our attention will come back to this spot. 

Let’s hope it’s not too late.

For the first time since I’ve been visiting, there was no gatekeeper to take the $10 entrance fee, just a handwritten sign that said: Enjoy.

This is what the river of grass typically looks like, 
with a hard-wood hammock to the left.