Thursday, August 28, 2014


Busyness can get the better of us sometimes.  We go in too many directions at once to listen to the silence of life. The to-do list, the tyranny of the clock and calendar fill up the spaces in our minds that should be reserved for reflection. Sometimes when we open up the quiet spaces in our awareness, things that were just biding their time, waiting for notice, make their way upwards to the light.

I had such a quiet space a few weeks ago in Wilmington DE. I was there with no agenda, just accompanying Steve on a business trip. I wandered into the local bookstore with a quiet mind, listening to the spaces, looking at all the books. And there sat a new book by an author I have been a fan of ever since when, Bill McKibben

It was Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, a reflection on his movement from quiet author, to international environmental activist. Bill has written and taught about his love for the earth for many years, but recently he realized it was time to use his body and his voice to bring his message to more people. He began with some of his students and began to organize marches against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This mobilization brought him to jail. Jail is something most people strive to avoid with all their being. The helplessness of being locked up is something no one looks for. Bill began to be arrested and detained for civil disobedience. Being jailed is a huge personal sacrifice to show the world how strongly one's belief is held. Luckily, he doesn't spend a lot of time there.

I've always joked that one of my life's goals is to avoid jail, so it is with sincere admiration that I watched Bill's last few years of organizing environmental leaders to do that very thing. I bought the book and dived into reading it. Bill's writing always makes me feel like I am sitting with him in his cozy Vermont kitchen telling me the story over a cup of tea. I feel close to him, even though I've never met him. He feels like my neighbor. We share a common church, and a love of the outdoors, especially the Champlain Valley.

So, I'm reading his book, thinking that I am the proverbial armchair environmentalist. I haven't joined a protest march since my daughter was a baby, more than 25 years ago. Sure, I write a check from time to time, but I have every excuse not to get my hands dirty. While I'm reading his book, I get an email from 350 about the People's Climate March.

This is an invitation to change everything.
In September, world leaders are coming to New York City for a UN summit on the climate crisis. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is urging governments to support an ambitious global agreement to dramatically reduce global warming pollution.

With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history. We’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities.

To change everything, we need everyone on board.
Sunday, September 21 in New York City. Join us.

There's that link at the bottom: JOIN US.

It bubbled up out the space that had been open, listening for something. I looked at my calendar. My summer schedule of trips was winding down and I was still feeling restless. I need a trip to look forward to or I get mighty depressed. There was nothing on the calendar. I clicked.

Then I started thinking about the logistics. How was I going to get from Richmond VA to NYC? The whole point of this is to go with a group. How was I going to find a group? I have about 4 acquaintances in Richmond. I drilled down into the site and found they were planning to get busses from the major cities. That sounds like the right kind of transportation to me. I mean, it's already weird to think about a massive mobilization of people on a tiny island demonstrating about climate disruption. Aren't we just contributing to excess greenhouse gases by traveling there?

I put myself on a waiting list for a bus seat. There were no listings for any buses from Virginia at all. Then I found the Virginia page and an email address of an organizer in Richmond. I sent her a note about the bus. Would there be one? 

I'm out of my armchair now. I've spent the last three weeks attending meetings at the local Sierra Club office, walking miles and miles to put up posters in coffee shops and working on spreadsheets and mass mailings to local groups trying to recruit riders on the bus. We have a bus and it's getting full. 

Come Sept 21st, I'll be marching.

Friday, August 8, 2014

sea and sky

This is my new happy place. Standing, with my right arm wrapped lightly around the mizzen mast, my bare feet planted firmly on the coach roof, toes tenderly hugging the fiberglass. My eyes taking in the expanse of sky and sea all around me. The colors enveloping me. My skin and hair feeling the wind. My muscles feeling the confluence of forward progress and of gentle waves. Smelling the salt water and the slight tinge of diesel exhaust. Listening to the low thrumming of the engine and the swoosh of the water against the sides of the boat. 
Just standing. Just moving.

Here is how it went down: I am retired. Hubby and I just moved from living full-time on our sailboat to a shore-side life in an apartment in an east-coast city. I had the moving blues. Too much stuff to buy. Too little motion in my life. The call came while we were out at having dinner, could he crew on a sailboat from Marathon to Galveston? Unfortunately, no, he just took a job on an IT contract for a big bank. Sitting there at the bar, not entirely thinking this through, I raised my hand. "Tell him I can do it", I said. 

In a split second, I was committed. It was a boat I was familiar with, and a captain I trusted. It felt right. Thus began a most wonderful journey.

Logistics: the boat owner would buy my plane tickets both ways and pay for my food. Could I leave in two days? We had a weather window that looked good for the whole trip. Yep. I started the packing list there at the bar. Shorts and t-shirts, my SPOT device, iPhone and charger, off-shore PFD, flashlight, books to read, and passport. That's pretty much it. 

G, the captain, and I met at the Miami airport, hopped in the rental car and drove down to Marathon where the boat was in a slip at a nice live-aboard marina. We stopped to provision on the way and got all kinds of tasty, easy-to-prepare food. Food is a very important component to a sailboat delivery. If the weather is nasty, you want food that is easy to eat and comforting. Even if the weather is not nasty, you still want that same yummy food. We stocked up on fruit, trail mix, cereal, coffee, more fruit, and various meal-in-a-bag treats (veggie for me, meat for him). There is no calorie-counting while you are out at sea. It's time to indulge and make sure you can function.

We arrived at the boat in the early evening, checked out what we could with the remaining daylight and grabbed a nice meal at a quintessential Florida Keys ocean-front restaurant. Great fish, good beer and a lovely view of the water. We got back to our bunks and crashed.

Early on, we determined that we might not have enough fuel to reach Galveston, so we settled on a termination point of New Orleans. We could get her that far and the owner could find another crew to take her the rest of the way. We set out in a bee line for NoLA. 

Soon enough, the first day, the shoreline of Florida just melted away as we chugged along our way. The gulf was calm, the wind negligible, so the motoring was easy. G put up the mainsail, engaged the auto helm and we relaxed. I am at a total loss to describe the sky and the water surrounding the boat. It is one of the most beautiful offerings of nature. The horizon is out there, shimmering off in the distance, but the space around one is so vast, it's like being able to take in liters and liters of fresh air into one's lungs all at once. 

We stood our watches, we rested, we read, we ate, we told stories. We saw one other sailboat and chatted with them for awhile on the VHF. G put down the mainsail (no wind). We played with dolphins. We went through a little squall. G communed with the engine and watched the fuel gauge. I watched the full moon through the binoculars. G fished and served up the best-tasting mahimahi I've ever had. I stood by the mizzen mast.

Too soon, four and half days and 550 miles had slipped under our keel and Venice LA was in sight. A change of crews and a ride to the airport and it was all over, but my happy place will stay with me always.

the crew of Wild Fire, waving at us.