At the Beach

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I went swimming yesterday for the first time since early July. It’s amazing, I live in The Bahamas, it’s summer time – surely I’d be at the beach every weekend! But no. You know how life is, it gets in the way.

There were a couple of weekends of bad weather too, like the one where my mum and I planned a beach date but it rained all day, and last weekend, when Hurricane Irma was moving through. The ocean is still churning after her visit. I was surprised when I got to the water at how high the tide was, how fierce the waves. More than that, I was disappointed: this meant I wouldn’t be able to do much swimming.

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I did have my camera with me though, so I walked up the shore taking pictures of the waves, trying to capture their aggression. There’s so much for me to learn about photography, I’m still getting a handle on the basics. ISO, aperture and shutter speed work in tandem, and as one shifts so do the others. Balancing the three is one skill, mastering it for different scenarios is another. Then there’s the matter of the shifting light, and manually focusing – so much to think about! I lost track of time as I practiced and the next thing I knew it was 40 minutes later. Time to meet the waves head on, without the buffer of a camera lens, so I finally went into the water.

The ocean was rough. It felt almost like I was getting beat up: as soon as one wave crashed over my head, another was building right behind it. I tried floating on my back but the waves crashed over my face, pushing water into my mouth and nose, causing me to sputter. The delightful bobbing and underwater somersaults I’ve written about before weren’t possible. The most comfortable position was floating on my stomach. But the water was warm, and I was in it, and I was still happy.

Maybe 10 minutes later I couldn’t take the beatings anymore. I was beginning to have a headache and was afraid I’d soon become nauseous – seasick without being in a boat! It’s happened before, swimming in rough water.

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I packed up my things and slowly made my way back home, grateful for the reprieve. Hopefully it won’t be so long before my next beach visit.

 

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On Hurricanes

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Bahamians spent most of the last week talking about and preparing for Hurricane Irma. We were getting ready for an apocalyptic-level storm, and (most) everyone was taking it very seriously. Our government evacuated people in the southern islands, who were forecast to be the worst hit. Schools and businesses on New Providence, in the northwest and home to the capital, closed as early as Wednesday evening, though they weren’t meant to start feeling the hurricane until Friday. Hurricane prep takes time, and no one had an excuse not to be ready.

Thankfully, the events over the weekend have felt more like a hiccup, and we were spared the devastation experienced by islands like St. Martin and Barbuda. This was the first time I was home for a hurricane in a few years, and it got me thinking about my more dramatic storm experiences.

Floyd
My earliest (storm) memory is of Hurricane Floyd. I was 9, and my family still lived in a condo complex, next door to my best friend. My youngest brother wasn’t born yet. I remember our condo was very dark because of all the shutters up, and that for hours all we could do was imagine what was going on outside, with the wind whistling, rain falling and mysterious things crashing. After the storm passed, my siblings and I walked through our complex with our dad, in awe of the flooding, the sand, the downed trees. I can still see my sister (or brother)’s red rain boots, splashing through the dirty water.

Michelle
Michelle came not too long after Floyd, and she was a doozy as well. By this time though we lived in a house and had much more space to play during the hurricane. Again, most of our house was in darkness because of shutters, but upstairs our two bedrooms were a little brighter since their windows, at the front of the house, were uncovered. My siblings and I ran back and forth between our bedrooms, watching the wind batter the trees from the second-storey windows. The family before us left behind a yellow box in the front yard, covering some small machine or appliance. The wind picked it up and tossed it all across the lawn; it ended up in pieces. Some trees blew over too, and there was generally debris everywhere, much like Floyd. I remember being thankful that we had a generator because of how long the power was off, and playing plenty of board games.

Frances and Jeanne
I don’t remember going through these storms, but I do know they were bad for The Bahamas. I think they both pummeled Grand Bahama, an island in the north, and possibly did major damage elsewhere too. They must have been kinder, if you can say that, to my island though, which is why I don’t remember them.

On top of these four, there was a hurricane somewhere around the end of high school, or in college, where all my cousins and siblings spent the weekend together at one of our homes (or maybe it was Frances or Jeanne?). We kept one another entertained, and afterward my uncle put us all to work cleaning up the many downed trees, tons of leaves and other debris from the yard. We filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, dove to retrieve foreign objects from the bottom of the pool, swept water and wiped windows. It was a lot of work, even though there were at least 10 of us.

After this was what I believe was Hurricane Sandy, since I spent this one almost alone at my parents’ house, and am assuming my cousins and siblings were back at school. I whiled away much of the time on the phone with the guy I was dating. I stayed in my darkened room, reading and texting him, reading and calling him. Every now and again I’d head down to the kitchen for a snack. The storm itself wasn’t very exciting, but I did enjoy having that guy to talk to and to keep me company.

This weekend, for Irma, I spent the time marking essays, getting ahead with other work and tidying my room. Yesterday my family and I watched the US Open women’s final. The weather was windy and grey, but Irma ended up passing us by and we were spared her terrible force. To every reader in a hurricane zone, I pray that we can all get through the rest of this season in an equally quiet fashion. I pray too that everyone whose lives have been dramatically altered by Harvey and Irma can return to a semblance of normalcy soon.

The Time I Wanted to Be a Fisherman

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I told you all about my trip to Abaco last month, to visit my friend Kelly. Part of my stay included a tour of Cherokee Sound, a tiny settlement established in 1783. It’s home to only a couple hundred people, and the ‘streets’ are more like sidewalks – cement pathways running beside the homes and around the circumference of the settlement. Cherokee is one of Kelly’s favourite places, so of course she had to show it to me.

The day was crazy hot, and we didn’t do ourselves any favours by starting out at 1 o’clock. We parked on the beach and walked down to the Long Dock – the only way people and supplies could move to and from Cherokee until the late 1990s – and hailed the people floating in the very shallow water.

Then we headed back, in the direction of the settlement, and met two boys fishing for bait in the creek.

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They told us their names were Walker and Sebastian, and they didn’t talk much, not to us or to each other. They concentrated on finding fish in the clear water, using their net and rods to catch them. I was mesmerised by their easy, expert movements.

I didn’t do any fishing as a girl. Not much anyway. There were a couple times I went out with different uncles on their boats, but I get seasick easily and the whole sitting, rocking and waiting thing is not for my stomach. I don’t remember doing any dock fishing either. If I did, it wouldn’t have been for long enough to catch anything – I don’t have the patience.

But these boys made me want to be a fisherman, even for a day. Part of it was from admiration – I wish I could throw a net like that! – and part of it was the charm in the moment. The boys on the bridge, the blue blue sky and sun so bright your eyes almost hurt, the rods whipping through the air – it was like a scene from a painting, the kind of feeling directors try to capture in movies. Even the boys’ names, Walker and Sebastian, were just right.

They were friendly enough – answering my questions, bringing up a puffer fish for us to see – but focused. Kelly and I hung around for a little, I took pictures (with their permission) and then we left. I think fondly on that snippet from our day: how cool it was to watch those boys and how they were at once the picture of island life and more than that same picture.

Isn’t it strange how that happens? All of the media we consume set up these expectations based on ideals and stereotypes, but also truths; then those seemingly-perfect, but entirely ordinary, moments come and we experience them both in their reality and measuring them against all the pictures of reality we’ve seen and read.

Anyway, I doubt I’ll ever see Walker and Sebastian again, but I’m glad that I met them, that I got to learn a little about them, and that they let Kelly and me share a part of their Saturday.

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When Fossils Lead to Deeper Friendship

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Pine Forest in South Abaco Blue Holes National Park

I’ve learned this year how cool it is to see my friends at work, to get a peek into the ways they spend their weekdays. It was a little strange recognising the thrill this gives me – like, is this weird? What is so exciting about this? But I realise now as I’m collecting my thoughts that these are new experiences for me. I’ve never been old enough before to see my friends do the work they talked about doing and spent years studying. Now I’ve crossed that threshold.

The first time I had this feeling was several months ago, in the dental hygienist’s chair. My friend Toni loves teeth and posts about them all the time on instagram, but this was my first chance to see her in action. She was wonderful! Told me all about my teeth and oral health in general. I left with a sparkly mouth, a heads up about what will likely need to happen with my teeth in the future and new information to incorporate into my cleaning routine.

The second admiration-inducing moment was a few weeks ago when I met up with Elora, a photographer. I’ve worked with her before on a few fun projects, and we talk often about the hours she spends editing pictures and developing her business, but this was the first time I was behind the camera with her. She explained the basics of exposure and helped me navigate the dials and menu options on the DSLR I’m borrowing from my uncle. I had an idea about the technicality involved in her craft, but having her as a teacher for a couple hours provided a deeper level of insight and, correspondingly, respect.

Then this week I’ve been in Abaco, an island in the northern Bahamas, visiting my friend Kelly. She’s an anthropologist for the Antiquities, Monuments & Museums Corporation of The Bahamas, and the office here focuses on natural history. She’s driven me around the island, telling me all about the environment, ecology and history; I alternate between awe at all that I’m learning about my country and Kelly’s fluency in this information.

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Dan’s Cave, South Abaco Blue Holes National Park

Today we went to her office and she showed me prehistoric fossils found in blue holes on the island, preserved almost perfectly because of the anaerobic environment at the bottom of the holes. We don’t have crocodiles or hutia in The Bahamas anymore, but Kelly has sifted their bones from sediment, cleaned and labelled them and taught schoolchildren about their historic presence here, along with other animals that are still around, like bats and wild boar.

Watching my friends at work, or listening to them talk in detail about their work, gives me a glimpse at another side of them. I learn more about the things they’re passionate about and the ways their minds differ from mine: Wow, this person must really enjoy biology/I don’t know if I could ever memorise all these things! I appreciate them in a whole new way for their contributions to our society, and the high standards they hold for their work. As life lasts, I look forward to seeing more friends in action, and the sweeter level of relationship this brings.

An Early Morning, A Gift of Rain

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I woke up too early this morning. I could tell because there wasn’t enough sunlight squeezing into my room. But I felt rested, so I didn’t try to go back to sleep, and I got up to open the blinds. The view was mesmerising.

The sky was blanketed in one big cloud, and reddish grey from the sun that was trying to make its way through. It was a quiet, resolute colour, as though the morning was holding back on itself. From the red sky came a gentle rain, which made a soft whooshing noise that I only noticed because I was looking out the window.

The greens of the three types of palms I could see were muted in the rainy, red-grey light, as were the hibiscus and varieties of crotons. Their leaves moved only slightly, swaying under the direction of the falling water. This was a gentle rain, which made a soft pitter patter on the plants and the ground, whispering its greeting.

After a few minutes, it stopped. I woke in time to see the very last of the morning stretching its way into the work of the day. Then the Saturday that I’m used to came through: the sky, gradually a more vibrant shade of blue; the sun, growing fiercer as it warmed the sky; birds singing to one another. I love the weekend for the way it allows me to savour the beauty of my island.

Yet, as well as I know what it feels like to drink in a weekend morning, I realised this week that there is still plenty about this island that can surprise me. I’ve been driving the same streets that I have for years, with the same trees and flowering plants lining their edges and populating the yards of homes and businesses, and feeling excited because I’m somehow seeing them in a new way. Maybe it’s because I’m older now, and have stood in awe of the greenery produced by other climates, that I can appreciate what gives mine its particular splendour. Everything seems more tropical, or very tropical, somehow. (How can it be more than, or very much so, what it simply is?)

I crested a hill the other morning, driving away from my friends’ house. Looking down at the tops of palms and dots of bright red poinciana flowers I wanted to get out of the car to stand and stare. It looked like the scene on a postcard, or a book cover,  the kind of landscape you read about. Yes, we have the ocean and it is incredibly, heart-stoppingly beautiful. But we also have woman’s tongue and silk cotton trees, poui, gumelemi and mangroves. I read about the oak, birch, redwood and spruce; my island has its majesties too, more than palms, more than exotic fruits. I am thankful for new eyes to see them, rainy mornings to study them, this space to tell you about them.

Swimming Through a Sea of Roses

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I’m back from NYC now, and one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to the New York Botanical Garden. I’d been wanting to go for a while, but it’s all the way in the Bronx and travel time has always been a deterrent. When I found out that there was a Chihuly exhibit up I decided I finally would make the trip, and though I only ended up seeing a few of his pieces the visit overall was well worth it.

After walking past the closed-early conservatory (boo!) and wandering a little aimlessly across the grounds, I was happy to find myself at Thain Family Forest, full of centuries old trees and pieces of rock reminding us of the age when this part of New York was covered in glaciers. When I came out the other side I was at the Cherry Grove, and although the time for cherries has passed it was still a very pleasant experience, with the cute little trees lining the walkway and dotting the grassy slopes. It made me wish I could go climbing into their branches, and afterward enjoy a picnic with a blanket and a basket; picturesque, like the storybook picnics described in books from my childhood.

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Then the grove ended and I came to the lilac collection, which was also unfortunately not in bloom. I did read a little about how supposedly easy they are to grow and make into hybrids. Apparently they’re one of the most popular flowers in the US, which was news to me, but I don’t know much about plants or gardening really so no surprise there.

Finally, I came to the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, which was in bloom with thousands of stunning roses. Oh my goodness. The whole effect was exquisite, and there were so many different varieties, it was astounding. I took a few pictures and just kind of stood in awe of creation and the amazing God responsible for everything I was seeing. Then I made my way slowly back to the entrance of the Garden, past more beautiful flowers and greenery. Despite the disappointments about my visit, it was still wonderful and restorative, and I’m glad I made the effort to go.

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On a Nature High

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I’m writing from my backyard, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon. I so love the sun. It feels like every day since I’ve been home I find myself exulting in the weather. It is so beautiful! How can the sky be so blue? How can the flowers be so richly colourful and the greens of trees, grass and plants so vibrant?  Then there is the persistent kiss of sun on skin. How glorious! Simply being outside I feel it embrace me, like a lover who missed me dearly  and is bursting with exuberance to see me again. I take great pleasure in being able to walk outside in shorts and a tank top, to leave the house in a sundress and sandals. What luxury, to sit on my grandmother’s porch, run on the beach, drive with the windows down. I love being warm. I love being warm.

I surprise myself a little with the depth of my enthusiasm for the climate and the flora, though I remember even as a girl I marvelled at the environment and took advantage of opportunities to be outside. Perhaps now that I’ve lived away for extended periods, and in much colder parts of the world, I have a better sense for how much I appreciate the easy pleasures of these islands. What bliss, to wander the yard barefoot! To look up and see a vast expanse of crisp, clear sky! It is a tonic for my of-late weary soul, a shot of energy and thankfulness more swift and sure than any caffeinated drink or online article. I look outside my window, I step out the front door, and I feel reborn.