Before I begin, I have to get something off of my chest.
While we were away in Wales we learned of the tragic news of the airport bombing in Istnabul. I traveled there last September on a scouting trip with SwimVacation, where my partner and I explored the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts looking for great places to take our guests swimming. Everywhere we went we met wonderful people, had incredible food, were humbled by staggering history and swam in crystal clear waters. With an eye on the news and some trepidation, we put a trip together there that we were to run this coming October. In light of the consistent and especially most recent attack at the country's front gates, we have had to cancel our plans to share the gifts of Turkey with people who love to travel and swim as much as we do. I'm heartbroken for the good people of Turkey who continue to suffer at the will of the anger that surrounds them. And I'm so deeply sad that the world, out into which I have asked Finn to be brave and step, seems to be offering a lot more NO than YES right now. I have seen the world be an expansive place, where I have been welcomed and made friends like family in all corners. Right now, it feels like we are all contracting some, on the backside of a breath. Clinging to our own kind and lashing out at others. I can only hope the next inhale of sights and aromas and sounds from mingling cultures near and far is not too long into the future. I hope. I don't get to know. We never get to know for certain.
Meanwhile, we opened our hearts to green and majestic Wales. It rained on us. It gave us teasing moments of glorious sunshine. Mostly, it rained, in which once you accept it, you find a particular beauty. There's mist and cloud and mood and gradient skies and time travel in weather like this. We saw some of Britain's finest castles - so beautiful, and really, often dark and damp on the sunniest of days. Somehow climbing the tower of a seaside stronghold feels appropriate in a bone chilling rain. Imagine. The history and the story these soaked stones could tell if they would. Of human discomfort mingling with vision and courage. Of survival in even the most violent of times. More than once this week I stood atop a time-crumbling tower looking into a humbling wind. We are very rarely in control, no matter how thick the walls we build.
The sheep in the massive expanse of Snowdonia National Park seem unphased in this place which smells of green and wet wool and earth and clear lakes. I felt like I was in the lungs of the Earth there. It felt good to have that proximity to so much air. Even wet. It felt alive and safe and good. So yes, we got wet. We immersed in the damp breath of the greenest land I have ever seen.
Last night, back here in Petersfield, we went once more to the 500 year old pub where Julia and her talented friends played music and sang. Tiny and boistrous and close in that pub, Finn joined us for our final hour there, and was happily lost in the spirit of the evening. He walked in on his own, and sat down and took it in. He moved to the music and clinked glasses with strangers. I'm so proud of his courage on this trip. I'm proud of how he gave over to the world this go round.
We are on our last morning here in England. I'm writing from my bed with a final cup of coffee in one of Julia's delicate and beautiful blue patterned mugs. I'll just post some photos from our Wales excursion for you to take in while I go for one more run up the ancient Cut, and cross the green field with Finn for one more Swing.
Majestic Warwick Castle and it's historical amusements for kids.
Scenes from and around our fun visit to Warwick Castle, including countless Knights in Shining Armour, archery lessons and trebuché.
Our first breathtaking look at Wales, with passage through Snowdonia National Park.
Scenes from our first night on Caernarfon, complete with rowdy pub dinner (England lost to Iceland, Wales was happy with this).
So light at nearly 11pm in Caernarfon, overlooking the Menai Straight.
Stunning views from Conwy Castle.
Caernarfon Castle and views.
A stunning hike at Snowdonia National Park.
Wet clothes and humbling tower top winds at Harlech Castle.
Thank you to our wonderful hosts Mike & Julia, who have fed us and shared with us their beautiful slice of the world. Thank you England, thank you Wales, for a lovely and grounding (if wet!) stay out in a world of uncertain times.
Next, the reward of home.
I started the day with a run. There’s a route I like here that is about 2.8 miles, but I can get it up to 5k with just a little doubling back. Like the Butser hike, I love it because of its variety, its color and its history. It begins up The Cut - the ancient Roman cart path that is just beyond Mike & Julia’s back door.
When I headed out today, a Sunday, I heard the sound of four wheelers in the distance - i think there is a mud course not far from here, and the motors on those things are pretty noisy. I was slightly perturbed by it as this area is normally so quiet. When you enter the cut, it’s a little like entering Nature’s version of the tubes of London’s underground. The path is so worn from a thousand years of use that it is deep between its banks of trees, and their canopies interlock over head. There are places where it is very dark, even in the bright light of day. It feels primitive and special. It can also feel a little eerie when you’re in there alone. The rains have left the cut pretty muddy, so in my tiptoeing the 0.3 mile stretch of it, I was advancing pretty slowly which gave me lots of time to let the environs sink trigger my imagination.
Sight: Dim. Lush green, dark and rich. Lots of texture, but hard to discern edges of path and tree roots and rocks and leaves.
Smell: Wild garlic scapes and scallions. Rich. Damp. Green. Earthy.
Sounds: Motorized vehicles in the distance, echoing across the fields and bouncing off the wooded borders - hard to tell where they were coming from. At times, I looked behind me, heart racing, as I thought they might be coming up the path. Then there were times when the motor sounds receded into the distance, and everything got very quiet and still. In those times, the only sound I heard above the distant rumble was that of my shoes squishing in the mud, and my own breathing. Also the sound of mourning doves cooing - a ubiquitous sound track to the forest here. Occasionally, I’d scare one from its perch, and it would startle me with that flap flap flap through branches and leaves sound… you know what I mean. It’s a sound of panic.
My senses took these inputs and created a feeling within me. One that made it very easy to imagine what it might be like to be on this road, perhaps hiding from danger, perhaps forced to leave home in one of the many times these lands have been a theater of dispute over the last 1000 years. Imagine being a peasant in the middle ages, on the run from one marauding band of soldiers or another. Upheaval. Uncertainty. The change of religious power, the change of ruler, the Great Plague, the First World War, the Second World War, the countless other wars and skirmishes I’m too uneducated to know about but which have repeatedly changed the political and social landscape of Europe. Imagine, in any or all of those times throughout history, being a common man or woman, and needing to flee. Hearing the sounds of pursuit, soldiers on horseback or low flying aircraft. Or in the quiet, imagining the consequences of discovery. Never feeling security or rest while in transit, living with an eye open and an ear to the wind. What must that feel like? Leaving a home, being on the move, with a plan or not, but knowing the only option is to go. How many times has this very ancient path been a means of escape, a road to opportunity, or a place to hide over these centuries?
I have a pretty malleable imagination, and today on my own in the cloistered wood, my senses were alert (perhaps I’m not totally recovered from the bullocks encounter last week), and I was transported. The sights and sounds created a palpable tension within me.
So often throughout history the ancient roads and paths of England have been a route for refugees of struggle, and how lucky I am to not really know what it’s like to be driven from my home. Open to the experience today, it was more authentic than any 4D production put on by Disney or Madam Tussaud’s. I love that cut, but today I was relieved to hit the open sky and paved road at the top of its gentle, muddy, shrouded climb.
Of course, I feel richer for an experience like this. To be able to so vividly imagine the struggles that so many have faced before, and to remember that throughout the world, people face a road like this still.
Later in my run with the security of pavement underfoot, I went past a populated cattle field and gingerly approached the gate. See here, Sir. Let’s talk. Can’t we work it out? The damn bullocks kind of snorted at me and looked ornery in general again. Negotiations still in progress.
The end of my run took me through a non-bovine populated field, the damp grasses cleaning the mud from my running shoes and the tension from my body. The sensation of wet socks returned me squarely to the here and now. I love a run that transports me to an unfamiliar experience, that makes me feel a story in addition to simply burning off yesterday’s cheese.
Not one to sit around, Mike had plotted an outing for the remains of the day when I got back. I cleaned up and we jumped in the car for a trip to the charming town of Chichester, home of shops and cafes and a small but spectacular cathedral. Here we ate another great (smaller) hot sandwich, Finn got his sugar fix with a designer cupcake, and we three bought some warmies for our upcoming trip to Wales - the forecast looks cold(er) and wet(ter) than here, and we were a little too optimistic in our packing for England. I found a crazy fuzzy fleece in bright blue and white stripes, and Mike simply wouldn’t let me leave the store without purchasing it. His shirt today was also blue and white stripes, and his anti-conformity streak loves company. So now I own a very cozy and vivid fleece. I have no regrets.
The entrance to Chichester Cathedral is home to a statue of its founder, Saint Richard. Dick took quick and prideful notice of this, as well as commenting on Saint Richard's employ of the Jedi Mind Trick, seen here. Dick has somewhat of a saintly reputation back home for reasons I won’t go into now. So I present to you a photograph of the two Saint Richards.
Reality check photo bomb provided by Mike in the blue and white striped shirt (pronounced stripED).
From Chichester we made our way to Weald & Downland park. Here are assembled numerous intact and aged houses relocated from two sites elsewhere in England where they would have otherwise been destroyed. The structures have all been restored and filled with furnishings as they would have had in their day. Lots of information at each on plaques and also by very knowledgable docents.
This place is totally cool, but Finn and I tired out more quickly than history geeks Dick and Mike, so we hit the gift shop where Finn went straight to a collection of wooden toys from the world of battling Knights. I’m so glad that England has allowed him to temporarily leave his nerf gun ways behind for the much more chivalrous world of the Knight in Shining Armour. We drove home to play with wooden crossbow, complete with suction cupped arrows. I hope I can get him to escort me for safe and secure passage on my next run up the cut.
We will rise early in the morning for our three day trip to Wales. I’ll post some photos to social media, but will leave my computer behind. I’ll blog about it on our return.
In Wales, a dramatic coast line and countless castles await. It also looks like we could be in for a deluge. But you know I like a little influencing atmosphere in my travel experiences. I also like to add my own splash of color and flare to the landscape, so don’t be surprised if you see some bright blue stripes running across an endless field of green.
We had no hard and fast plans for today, other than trying to find a few hours to revisit Winchester, which we had scoured on our last trip 5 years ago. It's not far - less than a half hour from Petersfield, so when we saw a window in the weather - did I mention it's raining again? - we jumped in the car. Dick and Mike had a mission to see who was buried in the noted mystery mortuary chests in the cathedral. They both felt that this fact finding required a trip to Winchester.
Right out of the car park we ran into this old pub - I love this place because it just looks to good to be real. It is real, and was built (as a pub) back in 1470+ or something, which compared to the 1350 house in Petersfield is really a modern structure. Walking past this thing today was like an old friend, and I instantly recognized where I was and was pretty certain I knew how to get to the Cathedral. So of course Mike changed the route and revealed that there was a whole part of Winchester we'd missed last time. So that was a nice surprise.
My colleague and friend and watercolorist Robbie Henry asked me to photograph some pretty scenes around England for him to paint. I often take pics like this, but then never know quite what to do with them. They sit around cluttering up my hard drives, and have no use other than to make me wish I lived in a house that looked like that, but has all the modern ammenities and is an hour's drive from, say, Hawaii. A fantasy.
So I had kind of laid off taking pics like that. Because it's been more about hoarding a view than actual photography.
But now Robbie's request has given me a wonderful excuse to take pics of random houses that I find impossibly beautiful in that unique, English countryside way. Thanks Robbie for giving me a reason to stand and gawk at strangers houses again. I really do love it, and I feel better having a purpose!
Our walk along the River Itchen took us to the remains of a section of Roman wall, which opened up into Wolvesey Castle or the Old Bishop's Palace.
Bishop's. Palace. hmmm. It turned out that these Bishops of medieval WInchester were rich and powerful men who were the closest relations and advisors to the king. So of course the first one in the 12th century advised the King that a Bishop really required a palace. He did well for himself as we can see here. Well played, Bishop, well played.
The ruins to this palace are stunning and just a stones throw (there are more than a few to throw here) from the cathedral. The funny think about taking this route, is that we approached the cathedral from the back yard, as it were, and in setting up for some sort of event here, the lawn was lined with portaloos. "Loos for Dos" to be specific. It's just not everyday that you see a line of portaloos upstaging Winchester Cathedral. So of course I took a picture (I'm assuming Robbie won't be painting this one).
Walking around to the front....
Of course this cathedral is stunning and majestic. It holds the relics of hundreds of notable people in history, and harbors so many stories within its walls.
When you walk into this place the first thing you are compelled to do is look up. This cathedral is nearly 1000 years old. How? How. It's so humbling and impressive. My personal favorite part of Winchester Cathedral is the the main front window, called poignently, The Joy of Shards. It's a massive stained glass space. The original window was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century (Jerk). Twenty years later, it was rebuilt with the shards of glass that had been collected from the original piece. Impossible to puzzle back together, the original story panels have become splatters of color, confetti. A celebration. Screw you, Cromwell, we like it better like this. Brilliant.
Of course, when you have a building this old, it can get a little dusty. So it was a relief to see that a docent had the vacuum in service when we walked in.
As you walk around the outside of the cathedral, you see a building with a plaque stating that it is the place where Jane Austin spent her final days, and passed away. Jane is buried within the cathedral, and on this visit I took special note of the words at her grave site: "She openeth her mouth with wisdom and in her tongue is the law of kindness". Words to live by. It makes me want to be better. Later, I caught Finn attempting to read the latin inscription in a tiny chapel room in the cathedral. He sounded it all out, but neither of us new what it said.
We waited out an impressive deluge to leave the cathedral for the heart of Winchester, where we had some business to attend to. First stop, the sweet shop. I personally thought this sweet shop was particularly good. I mean, who wouldn't want candies named Pear Drops, Snowies, Jazzies and Wine Gums?
On our exit, we were entertained by the Winchester Morris Men. Adorned in bells, they sound like Santa is coming to town. They were fun to watch, but close observation suggested they might be on a break between pubs. But I managed to catch a single frame that I thought did them considerable justice.
Right. By this time we were starving. A great thing about this cool town is the open air market, filled with food stalls. We sidled up to a guy making ciabatta grilled sandwiches. He had me at chorizo. It was so fantastic. It was so huge. I shouldn't have eaten the whole thing. But I did. Unapologetically, I did. By the way, if anyone ever offers you a grilled Halloumi cheese (Blessed!) chorizo sandwich with pesto mayo, roasted peppers, minted onion (that's right I said minted) and olives, grilled in the open English air while you watch for 5 pounds sterling, you should say Yes.
Bellies full of choriso and cheese paradise, it was time for Dick's version of hitting a candy shop - visiting the monument honoring Ælfred the Great. Ælfred. You have absolutely no idea how I made the Æ do you. But I did. It's something you learn how to do when you're in England. Ælfred was the first King of England, and became so by uniting what until then was many many warring tribes or mini-kingdoms in to one, unified England to face and beat the Vikings. So of course he was Great (hmmm I wonder what he thinks about BrExit). He made this pivotal move in the history of Britain in the late 9th century. I have come to know a little bit about Ælfred because Dick is a British history junky and has become a devoted listener to The British History Pod Cast on long car trips (it also helps me sleep). The host of this pod cast is so educated and informed about the history of Britain - which begins looooooooong before the monarchy we think of dominating this history (enter Dick's interest in the Sutton Hoo Anglo Saxo.... oh no not again zzzzz), that he delivers these episodes in the most incredible detail. Case in point: Dick has listened to over 200 of these episodes, and Ælfred, the first king of England, is barely a teenager so far. He is reliving British history in ACTUAL time (come to think of it, this blog is beginning to recount this trip in ACTUAL time. I better wrap this up and get to bed). At any rate, Dick Weafer never asks to be photographed in front of any tourist attraction. So you know that when he wants his picture taken with Ælfred, he's a true fan.
We went home to a lazy afternoon of rain and reading and a little inadvertent napping truth be told. In spite of my self abuse with the chorizo and cheese monster sandwich for lunch, I indulged in Julia's fantastic dinner followed by our favorite dessert, Pavlova. Metabolism status: Ruined.
Just as I was about to put Finn to bed, I looked out the window to see a break in the clouds. The fields were suddenly aglow with magic light. I told Finn to put on his shoes, and he and I headed out for a cross-pasture evening journey to The Swing. The sun finally came. Bed could wait. And I know he was more than a little happy about this spontaneous idea, because he danced and jumped all across the field. After a scant few swings we headed back beneath one of the crazy kind of skies we've been treated to during our time here. It was a special walk for me and my boy. Better than any candy or cheese any day.
No plans for tomorrow, but I'm sure there will be something to write about.
In the middle of the night I woke and checked the news. BrExit leaders had conceded defeat. Ok. That's that I thought. Rolled over and back to sleep. So imagine my surprise when I woke in the morning to the news that the the same leaders had "Unconceded" - that the BrExit option had won the referendum. Great Britain will be leaving the European Union. There is disappointment here on Stroud Lane, and I thought I detected a note of sadness in Petersfield today, but it's hard to say really. There's a part of me that wished I'd been in London today, to take a pulse and maybe get some photographs of the reaction. Though I'm not really sure there was much to be seen. I did hear one comment: "We won't be Great Britain any more. We'll go back to being Little England". We shall see. The full ramifications of the decision - for England, for Europe, and indeed, for us all, are yet to be fully fathomed. I have my own fears and hopes, but this isn't the place for that.
Regardless, I'm honored in a strange way to have been here for this moment in British History - a history that is long and storied and full of defining moments. Today was another, and we'll see where it leads.
After our whirlwind two days in London, we spent two days close to home. Thursday was very wet - Ok, we got it. It rains in the English summer. And we all slept in. I'm not actually sure Finn and Dick did much beyond that. I went with Julia to her Stay Fit class - she teaches a light hearted and fun fitness class for seniors. At its surface, it's a hoot and a romp and was a totally fun way to spend an hour. But it's also totally uplifting to watch Julia in this role. She's ON, with a gentle energy and compassion for her charges. She guides them through steps that push them and make them feel successful, and in doing so, they laugh and use their bodies and adore her. She's totally dialed in to what they need for fitness, and has a way of helping each of them to feel their youth. From the moment she walks in the door, they are having a good time. Many of them spoke to me after and told me how important the class is to them each week. Fun and totally worth the nutty drive in the downpour.
Later that evening, Dick, Finn and I accompanied Julia to a 500 year old pub in town called The Good Intent. It looks like something out of Dickens, with its post and beam interior, low ceilings and pubby charm. It also has wifi. I love you, England. We were there for their weekly Open Mic night, in which our Julia was participating. She plays guitar and sings like an angel from Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s. We were very excited to see her perform in front of a crowd. When we arrived, we sat down in a booth next to the nuttiest, drunkest couple in all of the South Downs. They were harmless, really - just an old couple who seem to have grown old, very eccentric, too thin, and more and more drunk together. They are clearly a fixture in the place, and as we sat down, they of course wanted to be hospitable and barraged us with all sorts of peculiar questions and statements. Dick and I found this mostly entertaining, if not a little annoying. But for a young one like Finn who had never met anyone like them, the experience was unnerving. He got very still and I saw that look come over him that tells me he's in trouble deep in his head. I kept my hands on him, I whispered in his ear that he was safe, that the two of them were strange, but meant no harm. He got more and more squirrelly and asked me to take him outside. We went out to the sidewalk where the poor kid sort of went to pieces. Finn is a guy who prefers to know all the details about a given situation before he steps into it. As such, the world can be a scary place for him sometimes, and he often has trouble walking out into it. He's been doing so well on this trip, trying new things and trusting us that we know enough to get him to and from experiences safely, but an encounter like this had pushed him just one step beyond the already bulging border of his comfort zone.
Outside I coached him through some breaths, and we talked about travel for a bit. I shared with him that when you go out in the world, you see amazing things, like castles and towers and mighty rivers and 3500 year old Egyptian artifacts. You also meet all different kinds of people with different stories to tell. It's a gift if you can listen to them, take it in, and hang on to your own story and trust where you come from and that you'll find your way back. It's GOOD to meet people so different. It's also hard. It's hard to experience people to whom life has been unkind, from whom life has taken their grasp on reality. But it's important, too. The world is a challenging place. We admire the people around us who navigate it well, and we try to have compassion for the ones who fall down. I know this sounds lofty for a kid in a near panic attack, but I promise you, he was ok, he was hearing me, and it was helping. A little. But not entirely.
Just then, the owner of the pub, I lovely young woman named Abi whom we have never met before, came outside to us and held out a bag of crisps (potato chips). With the kindest, gentlest smile, she said, "Crisps make everything better". Finn said thank you and she said "No need to thank me" and left with a wink. I immediately jumped on this - Finn, this lovely woman who cared enough to notice you needed something - she's a stranger too. Her story is different, and she took the time to notice your struggle. She came to help. Without going out into the world, you don't meet people like this either. But they exist, everywhere. And that matters.
He got it. He took a deep breath and wiped away the tears and in we went. He devoured the chips, he kept an eye on the crazy couple, he faltered a few times, he held my hand some, and we all listened to Julia sing.
It was a great night out in the real world. These are the moments when I feel so grateful to be able to travel with my family.
After our late night "down the pub", Friday came fast and early. No worries, we had nowhere to be and once again slept in. This time (in addition to the news that England has flown the coop) I awoke to sunshine and birdsong instead of gray skies and rain. My god that was nice. I didn't realize how much the weather was starting to bother me until it cleared up. I actually sat in the sun for 5 minutes during my second (small) cup of coffee.
While our Songbird and ever-busy-taking-care-of-us Julia hung laundry outside (oddly poignant on this day as she hung my new purchase - Union Jack knee socks - like small, narrow flags), we all chatted quietly about decision BrExit. Regardless of how you feel about it or about our own politics, it's a privilege to sit quietly in the sun with a cup of coffee to discuss these things.
Having thoroughly worked the issue through (to no real resolution or comfort) we decided to take advantage of what could be our only sunny day and get out into town. Petersfield is old, like all of England, and has some beautiful old structures within its tiny parameters. We walked the village with Mike as tour guide, stopping to read the blue plaques on buildings of special note and impressive age. The oldest building we saw was 1350. Come on. This little home has been around twice as long as the United States. It's closing in on 700 years. The stories it could tell. We saw other buildings in which slept the likes of King Charles II and Sir Thomas Moore. Just in this sleepy little town, the history is staggering and so long compared to our own. Other signs of note included my name sake, Heath Road, and perhaps most importantly, a pub with a sign that says "Blessed are the Cheesemakers". Regardless of whether you voted Leave or Remain, I think we can all agree on that.
Petersfield is a lovely village full of kind and good people who were just a little more quiet today, it seemed. We rendez-vous'd with Julia's son Johnny, who handed over to us the delightful Sammy, who joined us for lunch at a great little Italian restaurant, and lunch turned into a boy-strous, pizza-pasta-lasagna sort of affair. Thank you, Cheesemakers!
And before we returned home, we made the requisite sweet shop stop. My boy left this place with only a Pez dispenser and three refill packs. Slowing down on the candy a bit here....
We haven't had much of our host Mike, as he's been working since our arrival, but I'm happy to say that I think we've got him to ourselves for the rest of our stay. As Mike isn't one to sit still for long, we decided on an afternoon hike before we even finished with lunch.
I'm not a hiker. I have short legs and unsure balance and am awkard on land in general. I sure as hell don't like to walk up hills. But the 6 mile round trip trek from Mike & Julia's back door, up Butser Hill and back has been a stand out in my memory from our last trip. With its start up the ancient Roman cart path (past the ornery cows), through a sleepy hamlet of thatched-roof homes, up the steepest greenest hill I've ever seen (called Grandfather's Bottom - I don't know why), and back through an ancient wood and numerous verdant fields, this South Down loop has got history and variety and a great payoff of a view at the top. This allure combined with my desire to burn off cheesy (Blessed!) lunch had me joining hiker ranks without hesitation. Mike, Dick, Finn and I set out in glorious sunshine and just a light breeze for a great 3+ hour adventure (Julia can do it in 2, but I'm slow when not swimming).
Just when I needed a boost, we came upon a tree on which someone had written my name. That's twice in one day I've been given signs of welcome - three if you include the sun (I do).
More than just a hike (with fitbit accounting at 6 miles and 15000+ steps for me), our Butser trek was yet another shot at redemption for Finn, who made this trip last time mostly on Dick's back. This year (to Dick's relief), he walked, ran, hopped, leaped and ninja moved the whole way on his own power. All while jabbering away and refilling his Pez dispenser twice. He makes me feel both proud and old, as I hobbled home the last mile through the stunning wheat field, so beautiful in the breeze.
This kid is doing so well on this trip. I love him so much.
So it was a big and quiet few days here in the South Downs, full of downs and ups, and important moments of both the global and personal variety. Old pubs and houses, ancient cart paths and wheat fields, remind us that we build and cultivate things that can last and last. Strangers can be both strange and kind, but always have a story of their own to tell, and for us to hear. Humbling group decisions remind us that sometimes people feel a need to take a step back before they keep moving forward. Happy, fit old folks and stunning hill top views remind us that forward movement is usually good, even when we don't feel like we can. Amid all of that, I have the inordinate pleasure of watching my boy make strides, big and small, both internal and corporeal, as he bravely runs out into a world where nothing is ever for certain.
He can be certain that we will continue to stop for candy and cheese along the way.
Blessed be the Cheesemakers indeed.
Today a home day. Time for resting our city weary bodies and a chance to catch up on editing and story telling.
We've been to London! Two jam packed full days in this magical and historical city.
When we were planning this trip, we asked Finn what he'd like to do and he stated unequivically that he wanted to see London. In our strategizing of what exactly to see, it became quickly apparent that we could not do everything we wanted in one day, so we committed to two. A brief outline of our itinerary:
Train from Petersfield to Waterloo Station in London.
Tube to the Tower of London.
Tube to Covent Garden for lunch, ice cream and browsing, street performance watching.
Walk to British Museum via Neal Street, named for one of Dick's actual ancestors.
Back to Covent Garden for candy.
Tube back to Waterloo, train back to Petersfield.
Swimming laps at the local pool with Mike (9-10 pm EEK so late!).
Local pub with Mike & his mates.
Miles walked: 7.03, 17K - 21K steps.
Train from Petersfield to Waterloo Station in London.
Walk to the London Eye. Ride high into the sky!
Fish and chips for lunch.
Walk across Westminster Bridge (across river Thames) to Westminster Abbey.
(Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament)
Walk to Buckingham Palace, and away through St. James Park.
Tube to Madame Tussaud's.
Tube to Science Museum. Finn & Heather ride the flight simulator. Hmmm.
Tube and walk to the Founders' Arms restaurant to meet pals from work in South Africa (4 years ago!).
Walk along river back to Waterloo, late train to Petersfield.
Miles walked: 6.5, 17K - 20K steps.
While we did lots of Minding the Gap and Keeping Calm while Carrying On, London held her temperatures and resisted the apparent urge to rain. Thank you, London! Finn Weafer was a champ through it all. Walked without complaint (mostly), stayed engaged (mostly) even when Dick wanted to do a lap through the Sutton Hoo Anglo Saxon Horde exhibit at the British Museu m ...
Sorry I just fell asleep typing that (I was with Finn on that one). Finn was patient and present throughout these busy two days that had lots of things he was interested in, but also lots of things meant for a 10 year old to just tolerate. His gameness and enthusiasm were boosted with strategically timed candy and ice cream pit stops (these may have been for us as much as him). We left, and on a crowded train ride home, he declared: "London is my favorite city."
Cheers and well done, Finn.
Today, Thursday, we slept in. Indulge me please as I throw at you now a bunch of photos from the two days we've just walked the hell out of. I'll offer a few captions, too.
The sky line of the Tower of London.
Training in to London, first view of the London Eye, off duty workers reading up on BrExit at Waterloo Station, two ravens discussing BrExit at the Tower.
Rambunctious school boys lunching at the Tower, Finn considering the consequences of coming through Traitor's Gate, a Knight in Shining Armour considering the consequences of BrExit.
Requisite English phone booth shot (his idea, how could I resist?), ice cream at Covent Garden, Neal decendents on Neal St.
Street entertainment at Covent Garden, included public shaming for those who don't throw pounds in the hat...
Taking a break on arrival at the British Museum, making a plan of what to see (Dick already plotting a detour to the Sutton Hoo Anglo Saxon Ho r ...
sorry. nodded off there again...
The stunning entrance to the British Museum, Finn takes in 3500 year old artifacts from Ancient Egypt, and a temple excavated from the Lycean coast of Turkey where I traveled and swam last September!
THE Rosetta Stone. Yeah. The actual Rosetta Stone.
Dick taking in the wonders of ancient Greece. The ancient Greece hall bathed in light. Heather & Finn losing steam in the Sutton Hoo Angl o....oh no.
The candy payoff...
Paying the man for the candy, sitting before the final push to Waterloo, a walk across the Thames toward Waterloo.
A chilly gray start to the day, waiting for the train back to London.
Training into London, reaching great heights on the London Eye!
Finn & Big Ben clock tower of Parliament, looking up at Westminster (my favorite).
Buckingham Palace (yes, she's home).
Navigation break at Buckingham Palace.
A stroll through St. James park to the tube, where there are high winds and Finn gives his seat up for the ladies (on his own).
Insanity at Madam Tussaud's (oh well the one of me and Princess Leah with Jaba the Hut wouldn't post properly...shame).
And finally, to cap off two jam packed days in this wonderful city, dinner with friends of mine from a job I did in Cape Town 4 years ago. Chris, Paul & Billy are funny and warm and reconnecting with them felt like a great giggle and hug and shot of energy all in one. One of the things I love so much about the work I do is that I make friends everywhere I go. In the end, I have faces like family in places all over the globe. It's good, you know? To know people from other places. Family beyond geographical borders. It's important, and it makes the world better. I've said it before and I'll say it again: travel is the antidote to misunderstanding.
Along those lines, it's a pivotal week here in the UK. Today is the referendum vote on BrExit - Britainers came to vote all day on whether they will continue on as part of the European Union, or withdraw altogether. It's a huge moment in the history of England - indeed, in the future of Europe. And it's quite something to be here to witness it. The debate has been contentious here, and the issues that are dividing people are not unlike the things we are arguing about in the US right now - most notably, immigration. As our nations flex and shift to accommodate people in need of safe harbor, so many people see us all as a global community, while so many others fear for a borderless future and crave an order from the past.
Signs in favor of BrExit are as numerous as signs for remaining in the EU here and all over London. Even Madam Tussaud's has gotten in on the debate, with a display of key political rivals Prime Minister David Cameron and former London Mayor Boris Johnson, who leads the BrExit charge. On the steps of Waterloo station, we heard concurrent chants of We Want Our Country Back in dischord with chants of Vote Love Not Leave.
A sad note in all of this has been the vicious attack and murder of MP Jo Cox. She was a strong voice for the UK remaining in the EU, and her attacker was aprehended while yelling "Britain First!". Cox was 41 years old and the mother of two small childern. She's the first casualty of this contentious debate, hopefully the last.
We walked by a touching memorial to Jo Cox, just behind Parliament, on the lawn of Westminster Abbey.
Tonight the votes are being counted. In the morning we will know whether England will stay or go. It's a nail biter, and even as of 11pm here, the vote is too close to call.
Tomorrow I'll report on the results as well as fill you in on our quiet yet very satisfying day here in the small hamlet of Petersfield.
This is our back yard.
My favorite way to travel is to make myself at home. Find a home, make a home, feel at home. Live in a place. And so we are fortunate in our friendship with Mike & Julia, as they have, twice now, made their home, ours. All three of us remember this place well from our two week stay 5 years ago, which eliminated that potentially awkward getting comfortable period. So when this morning brought us rain with a forecast of more rain, we didn't panic. Still a little jet lagged (though adapting surprisingly quickly), we started slowly and hunkered in for a day cozy here at home. With views like this, how bad could it be? Even a rainy day here at the end of Stroud Lane is full of tranquil beauty.
I began with coffee. And then a second (they're elegant but small). Some home made muslix while gazing out to the rain drenched patio. Then some exercise to exorcize the last bands of stiffness from our travel. And then of course we welcomed young Sammy back for the day, and soon enough we had to deal with the business of Finn and his quest for candy. When we were here last, amid the cathedrals and castles and other epic sites we visited, what sticks most in Finn's mind are the seemingly ubiquitous sweet shops in every tiny town. I can relate - my parents first brought me to England when I was 11, and if I'm honest, I think these shops are the thing that most stood (stands?) out in my mind. So. We piled in the car for the quick trip to town (Petersfield) and found the sweet shop. Which was closed. Hmm. So thinking quickly, we pivoted into a toy store. And then another store that also had candy. Lucky Sammy was along for this excursion with us out-of-towners and got a toy and candy in one day. Sorry Sammy's Mommy!
But to me, the best part of the day was the Winnie the Pooh type scene that materialized before my eyes....
Home for lunch and as we ate (candy for desert) the sun just barely began to break through, giving us the afternoon outside. Sammy showed us his vegetable garden ("Yew can FotoGwaph my CarrOTs." Be still, my heart), and we went for walks. First to the cut and back with Sammy and Julia - a puddle jumping mission. Then Finn and Dick and I returned to The Swing. From there we followed a new and very muddy path up to a vast wheat field atop a hill. Finally, both Dick and I headed out for our separate runs. I did a portion of my old favorite 3 mile loop here, while giving the cut some time to firm up. Maybe later in the week. Here are a bunch of photographs from the afternoon, which gave us moments of brilliant sunshine lighting up the rain drops, dark and dramatic clouds, and a sunset complete with mist rolling over Butser Hill in the distance, not unlike the look of Table Mountain in Cape Town.
Finn very much likes having a favorite spot here, and knowing the way there. I very much like it for him.
An impressive mud today after last night's rain followed by this morning's rain. Worth the slog up the hill to the wheat field - such a beautfiul wide open space (no cows). Throughout the woods we are seeing wild foxglove, which has led to an intriguing discussion with Dr. Mike about the plant and its extract, digitalis, and its ability to kill or save you. In short, it can still a beating heart, and beat a still one. I over simplify, but these splashes of purple throughout the endless green are an ominous but mesmerizing attention grabber on a muddy climb up or down a rolling hill.
After my run, I sat to cool off at one of the many lovely spots to enjoy Mike & Julia's extensive gardens. The boys (the little one freshly bathed after mud puddle shenanigans) entertained me in the front yard.After a great dinner we enjoyed an impromptu skype concert of Julia and her musical partner who lives in Kent. Through the miracle of the internet, they played guitars and sang for us. Live and remote entertainment at once.At day's end, Mike called us outside to see the mist spilling over Butser Hill. So beautiful to see something like this right here where we are living.
And that was our very simple and comfortable Monday. It's nice to be able to stay in a place where a rainy day isn't a bad thing.
Tomorrow will be day one of two in London town for we three Weafers. We have a jam packed itinerary, good walking shoes and lots of camera batteries. You can be certain that wherever we go in England's big city, there will be a stop at a sweet shop (at least one).
- HeatherPS. Seen on my run today, and everywhere we have been so far. This coming Thursday is the referendum vote on "BrExit" - a decision about whether or not Great Britain will leave the European Union. It's kind of an exciting week to be here, as the debates dominate the airwaves. This vote brings up a lot of issues similar to the ones in debate back in the US - views on inclusiveness and nationalism. The details are different, but the root concerns are the same. I'm told this decision could be a real nail biter, and there are no hard and fast predictions about which side will win. More on that as the week goes on.
An early rise at the cousins' in Massachusetts, a smooth ride and check in at Logan airport. One plane, 6 hours, touchdown at London-Heathrow's Terminal 5. A nice man named Steve is holding a sign. He's here for us, sent by Julia. He whisks our luggage to the waiting car and makes straight for the South Downs. 45 minutes later we are in her arms, in her beautiful garden, as if we've never left. Hello Spring Cottage on Stroud Lane, hello Julia and Mike, hello again dear one England. So green you are, so glad to be back are we!
Our internal clocks are 5 hours behind those of our hosts, so we sent them to bed and promptly raided the ice box. Snacked and excited we lay in our bunks, not quite sure how to sleep yet. I saw 1:00 am (8pm at home) and finally drifted off to sleep. Morning came fast and with a shakey body I stumbled down stairs to find Dick already enjoying his morning coffee on the patio with Mike, Finn already at play with Julia's grandson Sammy, and Julia already devising ways to stuff us full of delicious home cooking. We took it slow and enjoyed our surrounds - walking the extensive gardens and making ourselves at home in a place it feels like we never even left.
We decided on our first order of business: we needed to revisit The Swing.
Mike lead the way. He really didn't want to miss this.Back story: if you followed my blog on our last family trip to England, you may or may not remember a certain video I posted of young Master Finn (then only 5) not-so-much enjoying an epic ride on a long swing we found in the woods just down the path. Let me offer this link for your entertainment (please be sure to have the sound turned up).
Let's just say our more mature Finn had some unfinished business with this swing, and we really couldn't put anything else to rest until we gave him a shot at redemption. We set off onto a familiar path, across these verdant fields where walkers have had right of way for centuries. Just barely into an ancient wood stands a stunningly large beech tree. And there from its lowest branch no lower than 35 feet from the ground, hangs our remembered swing. This tree is probably older than my home in Bath, Maine. And this swing is long, and offers a ride like no other. Without hesitation Finn took to it.
Needless to say, he faced his 5 year fear, he flew. He loved it. He didn't want to leave. We hiked a little more before Finn & Dick returned to The Swing, and Mike and I continued on to my personal favorite neighborhood feature here, the ancient cart path. Just a little further up the path is a cut in the woods - a path which may very well have origins back to Roman times. It's so well worn that the path itself now runs about 15 feet lower than the ground on either side of it (you'll need this information later), exposing fantastic labrynths of roots and stones. I love this path, love its solitude, its quiet, its light green canopy (not chartreuse, not dark green, but something you'd like to drink and it would make you feel all fresh inside), and most of all, its history. Having been wet these last few weeks, the cut was fairly muddy, and I was grateful for the wellies Mike had loaned me.
We returned to Spring Cottage to the smells of hot lunch. Roasted chicken and Yorkshire Pudding and other amazing things to fill our bellies. Finn and Grandson Sammy played with trucks and cars and other boy things that seem to know no bounds of nationality.
Sammy is in a word, adorable. Strawberry hair and great big brown eyes, and of course a high voice with a british accent, which, if you find anything other than absolutely heart melting, you have no soul.
Sammy has been raising tadpoles he took from Mike's pond for weeks. Today it was time to let another batch of frogs go back to the pond.
"Feenn (Finn), will you come wif me to welease the fwowgs?"
Melted into a puddle, I'm done. Yes. Yes we will ALL go to release the frogs, Sammy, and thank you for being so heart crushingly British.
And so the Fwowgs have been weleased into this perfect English country garden pond.
For a quick afternoon field trip Mike took us to Butser Ancient Farm, which is an archealogical site now populated with living museum type structures from the Neolithic, Iron and Roman ages. Here, Finn fed goats and sheep, tried on some armour for size (Hello, my handsome Knight!), and came home with a roman sword (I can't wait to see this in action in a neighborhood nerf gun war).
It's more than a little neat to be so close to these roaming herd animals. But see that neolithic style artwork on the long house wall there? The one of the devilish looking bull beast? I snapped this photograph having no idea that it was foreshadowing the next experience of the day....
On our return to Spring Cottage, and consulting our new FitBits, we decided that one more walk was in order before supper. Finn decided he'd had enough and so Dick and I set out for a damp and time limited wander. We have any variety of paths and right of ways through woods and fields to choose from here, and after a short distance up the ancient cart path, we crossed into a field through one of this country's noted right-of-way styles. The field was full of cows. So beautiful, the cows, standing there in the light rain, grazing on the grass. We walked a ways along the fence which was atop the steep (steep) embankment down to the very muddy, ancient cut - the sunken cart path of old. After a while we turned back, and as we did, we noticed the herd taking interest in us. It seemed they were on the move, and looking to head us off at the pass. It became a kind of game of chicken, and suddenly I was not sure who would get to the style exit first. We started to run, and as we did, so did the cattle. I really couldn't believe it - these beasts were suddenly running right for us. I looked frantically among them to be sure there wasn't a bull, and thankfully, there wasn't. I felt like that should be enough reason for them to stop, but they just wouldn't. Dick said, rather excitedly, "crawl under the fence!", pointing to the barbed wire fence between us and the steep drop off below. "No!" I insisted. How could this be? These fields have had right of ways for walkers for centuries! There's been some mistake! These cows don't know I am allowed to be here! They kept coming. I could hear them snuffling and snorting. "Go!" he urged. I crawled under the fence and barely caught the branch of a hazel nut tree so as not to plummet to the muddy cut below. I turned around to see Dick scrambling under the fence, just a nanosecond before 4 huge animals pushed up against that wire so deliberately I thought for certain they were going to tumble down the embankment on top of us. Dick performed some acrobatic, neck-saving move that landed him, miraculously, on his feet in the mud, while I slid down on my arse, heart pounding that there wouldn't be a bovine atop me before I hit bottom.
We looked up to notice that, ahem, our pursuers were in fact males - bullocks, to be specific, who in spite of being castrated, still had some agression left. They looked like they wanted us. So we ran down the path, and they proceeded to run along the fence with us. Snorting and thumping along. They seemed so mad! Honestly, I couldn't believe it.
Really, the whole thing was absurd, and I was totally scared. And I'm still a little confused...There's been some sort of miscommunication. Don't they know, those cow bullocks bovine beasts that I was SUPPOSED to be there??! I'm sure this has just been a misunderstanding. More negotiations required....but for now, phew.
So there it is, our first day back in the Realm. Complete with gardens and mud and the perfect shades of green and a Knight and a sword and two walks on an ancient road and some cow beasts that really misunderstood me. You know I won't be satisfied till I'm heard on this.
It's late here. And though we just came from a place where it's barely dinner time, my family is all asleep. I suppose I'll wrap up here and follow them.
For tonight, I thank you England, for the hills and the trees and the Yorkshire pudding and the nicest hosts we know and even your curmudgenly cows. Tomorrow we will begin Finn's Sweet Shoppe tour of England. We'll start right here in Petersfield.
Cheerio and sweet stampede-free dreams,
March was a great month of assignment and personal photographic work, here in Maine and far afield. Lots of good photographs to share, now and after publication.
Spent a whirlwind 5 days in Washington DC. On the hustle for photo biz, and checking out the Adventure Travel trade show for SwimVacation. I love stirring the pot like this, but it's always good to get back home.
In October I made my way half way around the world for a very exciting commercial assigment to be unveiled next month. After my shoot wrapped, I did a little touring around, met up with some friends, delved into the offerings of two of Japan's urban centers. Here's a quick recap of some of my favorite personal images.
You can click here to take a more leisurely look.
There are approximately 5107 miles between Kona, Hawaii and my home town of Bath, Maine. Going that distance yesterday required 2 cars, 2 airplanes and 2 shuttle busses. It also took, for me, a deep breath and a few tears to initiate movement east.
Like love, open water swimming is part joy, part work, part ecstasy, part laundry. When we set out for a week of swimming in the sea, we make a commitment. For better or worse, in good conditions and bad, we’re here to swim. Sometimes the going is easy and sometimes the sea has issues we just have to deal with. But it’s always best when we don’t fight the awesome blue power supporting us, and just go with the flow.
I slept restlessly last night. I love Muskmelon Bay off Guana Island, but it just seems like lately, it hasn’t much cared for me. It’s been a few trips since I’ve had a descent swim there. The wind and swell has kept us from the western shore of Guana, and when we have gotten there, we’ve been chased out by invisible stinging sea lice. I’ve been dying to get back there – give our guests a taste of one of the best long swims I’ve ever done along Guana’s western shore. But the sea has thrown some speed bumps in our way. The excitement of yesterday’s night swim there was slightly dampened by sea lice – everyone felt it and poor Nicole came out covered in itchy bumps. So I tossed and turned in my bunk, wondering, hoping, that the bay would clear out by morning.
I woke up to the wind howling. Swell had built over night and was coming from the North, and conditions in Muskmelon were rough. It didn’t make sense to swim there, so we decided we would move and find a sheltered spot for our morning swim. But first – I had to get in. I had to know if the sea lice were gone – if Muskmelon would have me. I jumped off the stern and swam for about 5 minutes – a lap around the boat, a few hundred yards out and back. Not a sting. Ok. At least there’s that. But still, we had to go.
We rounded Monkey Point to look at the South East facing shore. It looked calm and beautiful. We all suited up and plunged in for a triangular swim. Five minutes in and it became clear that the sea lice had found us again. Sea lice are basically larval jellyfish – perhaps greater in numbers on a full moon, perhaps more plentiful because of I don’t know why. Regardless, their interference in a swim is something that drives me a little mad. I know it’s ridiculous, but I take it personally. Sometimes the sea gives a dolphin and sometimes a stinger. Sometimes she takes almost everything I have to give.
We climbed out and sat at anchor while Will, Chad and I came up with a new plan. Another run for White Harbour, Peter Island, our old stand-by and a damn good place to swim. Sometimes the sea just has us on the run.
But who doesn’t love a boat ride? Our guests have gotten really good at the relax portion of our program by now, and they fell right into napping, reading, snacking, sunning, watching the sea go by. I was discouraged, but I knew we could have a great big swim in White Harbour. I also looked around and saw that our swimmers seemed perfectly content and have been having a ball. What more could I want?
We dropped anchor in White Bay and plotted a course for our biggest swim of the week. Everyone has been working on stroke technique with instruction from Will, and it was time to put our new skills to work. We set out on the swim and immediately came upon a turtle, a big ray and two giant barracuda, cool and cruising. The reef was inviting – we pushed against a small current to a rock outcrop before turning around for a near total circumnavigation of the harbor. When we did turn, we lengthened strokes and felt the push. We cruised along parallel to the beach, visited the fabulous little nursery reef in the corner, swam along the rock cliffs clear to the other side of the bay. A puffer, a spotted eagle ray, another turtle. And us – we belong here too.
As I swam along, my frustration for this morning’s false starts began to slip away, and that’s when the love analogy occurred to me. Sometimes we don’t see eye to eye, me and the sea, and sometimes there’s a blissful moment with the tide at my back. Today’s 2+ mile swim was like the slow-mo finale of a romantic movie, where the hero and heroine re-live the highs and lows of their time together. In that way, this swim had it all: wildlife, blissful calm, distance and periods of slightly challenging chop. A little push, a little pull. A little give and take.
About 300 yards from the boat, I stopped Nicole, Natalie and Sonia who happened to be near by. I explained about the great energy you can tap into when you swim along side someone, stroke for stroke at exactly the same pace. The 4 of us lined up shoulder to shoulder and finished the swim, in sync and feeling a connection – to each other and the this great Caribbean Sea. Everything working together. Galvanized. It was a perfect way to finish the biggest swim of the week.
Towel off, it’s time for late lunch. We feasted on BLTs and everyone reported their wildlife sighting. We teased Sonia for a seemingly nonchalant spotted eagle ray mention…nice when you’re seeing so many cool things that you can point them out without too much excitement!
After lunch, the rain. The first we’ve had all week. Kind of perfect timing, really. It was as if we finished our last swim and the weather let go of a held breath. Release. Everyone napped or went below to begin the bitter-sweet process of packing up for home.
Not so fast, SwimVacationers! Swimmer portrait time! The rain stopped but the sky stayed moody – a perfect backdrop to photograph our guests as the serious swimmers they have become this week. Nicole had never swum in open water before. I didn’t even know that till she told me yesterday. Welcome to something you’re very very good at, Nicole. Natalie went further in rougher seas than I think she thought she could. She lengthened and strengthened an already powerful stroke. Sonia, a gifted triathlete and running machine, worked on her stroke and got stronger, more efficient. She stuck out the night swim even after she thought she might not. Jenny was brave. Very, very brave. She was afraid at Pelican Island, and she did it anyway. That’s the definition of courage. And Mark? Well. May we all be swimming like Mark at his age (70!). And let’s not forget Alina! Our guest guide, a seasoned and powerful open water swimmer, but new to this thing we do on this boat we love. She picked it up in a nano-second and pitched right in. She made a great thing better and it felt like she’s been with us for years.
So i liked the ominous skies and cool light in White Bay this afternoon. The sea and I had battled this morning. We made up, slowly, over the course of 2.2 miles. The pictures we made after that were reflective of the kind of transformation that a real commitment to something – hard work, listening, tapping into inner strength and yielding to a need greater than your own – can make. That’s open water swimming. That’s love in the sea.
Look at these faces, these bodies. They’ve found home here.
Who would believe an adventure that was all dolphins and blue tangs? It’s not the real deal without a few stings and waves along the way. Is it worth it? Totally. Because when the sea is accepting of us, wrapping us in great arms of blue and weightlessness and light and magic…well. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Tomorrow I’ll say goodbye to the Caribbean Sea and we’ll resume our long distance relationship. But we’ve proven our commitment to one another this week, and she knows I can’t and won’t stay away for long. After the miles these swimmers covered, I doubt they will either.
At long last I can share with you the product of my work with South African Tourism last October when I was on assignment in Cape Town. This vignette is one of many in the Through The Lens series, which features National Geographic Photographers in regions of South Africa that match their photographic style. The minute-long features will run on the NG Channel throughout Europe and Asia.
Filming with an amazing crew made up of many talented people from Cape Town, London and Paris was a fantastic experience for me, and the work offered me a thorough overview of the city before I set out on my own for another week of freelance shooting.
Thanks again to my agents, Alice Keating and Sara Snider Papademetriou at National Geographic Assignment for sending me on this assignemnt, to Lindsay Rocke at NG Channel, Ian Utermohlen at SAT, and everyone of the great people who put this together. It was an experience I will never forget.
In between snow storms here in Maine, I hopped south for a few days of editorial meetings at magazine headquarters in New York City. Looking forward to building relationships with the folks at both Audubon and Martha Stewart Living, and hopefully doing some work for them this year. I even ended up with a spontaneous meeting at Self Magazine which might lead to some stock photo placement.
Thanks to friends Matt & Ray, I had great accommodations (and sleeping buddy, Scout the dog) on the cool Lower East Side. While navigating the subway system, I did a fun little instaseries I call #sleepingonatrain. Right before flying home a enjoyed an art opening for friend and eel colleague James Prosek. It was a great busy and bustling few days. Home to followups and more shoveling....!
Every year in January I head to DC for the National Geographic Photographers Seminar. It's 3 days of business meetings and presentations by a diverse group of working photographers. I always come back fired up and inspired to do more. This year was no exception. I'm headed back down in March for some more business...i feel like I'm in a perfect position as the agency portrion of the Society undergoes some rebranding in its effort to market NG photographers better. I'm excited for what the coming year will hold.
HIghlights of the seminar for me:
It was a great week!- HP
- an outstanding panel discussion on business of photography featuring Richard Kelly, Rob Haggart (Editor, APhotoEditor.com), Rob Henson (Founder, Evolve Images, past president of PACA) and Allen Murabayashi (Chairman and Co-founder, PhotoShelter).
- an outstanding presentation by photographer / artist JR
- fantastic interviews with David Alan Harvey and the ledendary Sebastiao Salgado.
Early morning flight out of PWM
Business men sleep on the plane. Not photogs.
Landing in Baltimore.
Suprise buzz by POTUS.
Awesome mention at NG stock business meeting.
Great interview with David Alan Harvey.
Processing notes at Caribou Coffee (the best).
(It kind of never gets old)
Late home in fog.
Sunday, Oct 14
Flight BA0058: Cape Town - London
In some ways it seems like I have been gone for so long. Im really ready to go home and see my friends and family. But I hate to leave this place. I do feel very at home in Cape Town - in particular the smaller villages outside the city. My time there this week has been so special.
I can't believe I nearly forgot to write about a fantastic stop yesterday. After our morning shoot with the Bathing Beauties, I took the girls to brunch. We chatted and giggled and shared like old friends do. I felt like I'd been swimming with them for years. Lorraine had mentioned she likes to play scrabble and does so with some friends once or twice a week. She invited me for a game. So Gui and I parked at her house - right on the bay in Fish Hoek - and sat down at Lorraine's kitchen table with a beautiful view of the sea. She whipped out the board and the game commenced. Gui and I teamed up against the pro. I managed a 7 letter word for 90 points and it set us up for the game. Then things took a turn and Lorraine came back with a vengeance… we managed to just barely win, two against one, and with use of a cheat sheet. It was a sweet time.
Lorraine is a scrabble pro. It took both Gui and I + cheat sheet to beat (barely) beat her.
Visits like this are the stuff I love about traveling to other places. Being invited into someone's home, having a cup of tea or playing a game of scrabble. These kinds of opportunities force me to slow down and really feel a place.
I had some moments like this with the swimmer guys too. We visited Ram in his office where he runs all things ice swimming, Andrew at his home and we tagged along while he picked up his daughter from school, and we sat with Ryan at his home with his little boy.
Ram at his office. Andrew shuttling Layla. Ryan walking his boy at home.
I tried to sleep in this morning but no. But I did putter around the apartment, enjoying a fab espresso (did I mention my apartment had a push one button espresso machine? Yes.) and several cups of Rooibos tea. I walked around in the fuzzy guest bathrobe, sat in the sun on the terrace, packed, edited, blogged. It was a really sweet apartment. I hated to leave.
Scenes from my loft apartment. Views from the terrace, cool living spaces.
Manni (who i have been working with for months preparing for this trip) invited me to a Braai (South African BBQ) at his friends' house before my departure for the airport. So i loaded up the rental and prepared to drive myself there. I promptly sat in the passenger seat thinking I was ready to drive. Awesome start - Gui! Where are you??!
I managed to get myself to the braai and only got lost once-ish. I stayed leeeeeffffffffft (Thanks, Hop!) and only went the wrong way on one one-way street. I call it a success.
The braai was casual and fun, great food, lots of laughter. It was lovely to be a part of a close gathering of friends. Real life in another place.
It's not that different from real life at home. And maybe that's why I felt so at home in Cape Town.
I've said it before and will say it again - if you can travel, go. And if you travel, rent a house or a flat and go to the market and drive a car and meet local people and go to their houses and play scrabble and listen to what they have to say. Make friends. Stay in touch and invite them to visit. Connect. It's how the world gets better.
So now I'm 36000 feet somewhere over Africa. I'm still below the equator and still have a long way to go before I get to my stop in London. I'm feeling great about the work I did in Cape Town. Two totally different projects - the Through The Lens shoot seems like years ago. It was so much fun and I made so many new friends and laughed so hard and got a great overview of the city. And working with the swimmers was so rewarding. Meeting kindred sea spirits and jumping in to wild cold waters. Making pictures to celebrate what they do and who they are.
The guys have ice cream after a frigid swim. Ice cream!! The Bathing Beauties before their dip at St. James.
I worked hard and made some great imagery, none of which would have been created without the help of Gui Gouws. He contributed ideas and great assistance and companionship on the road. Having an assistant for this kind of work is essential. I've never had the opportunity to do so before. There is no question that without his knowledge of the region and expertise in the field, I would not have been successful in my photographic goals for this trip. Regardless of what anyone may tell you, this kind of photographic work is a team sport. I'm so grateful to have had this Gui on my team!
My goodness I've slept and London is 30 minutes away. I can't lie - I'm a little confused about all the feelings rolling around in my head at the moment. I loved Cape Town. Felt at home there. Connected with people who are like me and do things I love to do. I slept little and saw much. But I think I'm also feeling a little sad and like I may have missed out on some of what Cape Town has to offer. Working on a story is so great - you chase down characters and immerse into their world. But in being so focused on the story, I had little time to just sit and take it all in. I never got to check out the music scene or go for that run on the promenade.
And then there are the other parts of the city I only caught a glimpse of.
I haven't spoken much about this because to be honest, I'm not very well educated on the subject. But I can't deny that my minor observations have made an impact on my time here. There are at least three distinct cultural communities in Cape Town, commonly and without prejudice known here as Whites, Blacks and Colored. The white community are the caucasian residents, the Black community made up of black Africans native to South Africa and other countries in Africa, and the Colored community is a rich mix of Malay and northern African Islamic cultures, who also came to cape town long long ago. While there is some mixing of these communities, there seems to be a situational segregation that makes it hard to fully immerse in all that makes up this diverse city. The lines are geographical as well as dramatically socio-economic. To be clear, I didn't detect any prejudice or racism among any of the different Cape Tonians I met. The separation seems to me to be tacitly accepted as the way things are, at least for now. In my conversations with Gui, it seems to be something that everyone is aware of and at least partially troubled by, but no one is really sure what to do about it.
Black African Township on the outskirts of town.
According to some, Cape Town may well be the least African city in Africa. I'm sure this is both a strength and a weakness of this place. But there is no question that Cape Town is one of the most unique cities I have ever visited. It is a dynamic mix of dominant natural landscapes and growing urban center. The people are warm and inviting, accepting of strangers from all over the world. The food is so good - too good - I'll have some work to do on my return home! Brilliant color and art and creativity is everywhere, and this facet of the place runs through all neighborhoods - no matter the color of the people. This inspiring creative light may be Cape Town's greatest unifier. Creativity is free here. Liberal and ubiquitous. It touches everything in this place. I know it touched me.
An artful shop front in Khayelitsha township. The colorful homes of Bo Kaap.
Cape Town seems to me like a giant sweet onion - there are so many layers to it. I came here to shoot with National Geographic Channel and SAT, and also to meet some fellow swimmers and check out their home pool. In doing so I learned so much, but really, I think i've only just scratched the surface.
I guess I'll just have to return.
Before I left last night, Manni gave me a lovely little necklace with a charm in the shape of Africa. I'm wearing it now. Hard to drive away from that mountain yesterday. Hard to say good bye to this side of the Atlantic. The greatest gift of this trip has been the friends I have made for life. With that I leave a little of myself there and take some of Cape Town home with me.
Isn't that what travel is all about?
Until next time, Africa.
Spent Saturday with the Bathing Buties of Fish Hoek. We brought them to St. James for their morning swim. SO many great pics - both in and out of the water. These ladies are generous with themselves, giving me - a near stranger - so much of their time, and being so comfortable in front of my camera. I hope I can have half the grace they have when I am their age. I leave them knowing I have more good friends in Cape Town. Thanks again, Ladies! More photos to come!
Desree, Rose, Lorraine and a shy but very game Dot.
Gui and I meandered home from our morning shoot, stopping for stock photos of the sea and views and surfers and baboons. Baboons! RIght there in the middle of the road. Here are a few shots from the ride...
The mini in Cape Town! Surfers in the wild Atlantic.
Baboons! The Table Cloth drapes over Table Mountain.
I have to go. There's so much more to say, and I will over a few of the 19 hours of flying I have between me and home. But right now I have to throw my stuff into the rental car and attempt to drive it to a braai I've been invited to. I haven't been driving (on the left) all week and I'm kind of a wreck about it. I'll be a much better blogger after I'm settled into my flight.
Stay tuned for a wrap up.
Today I got a look at Cape Town from different angles.
This morning I went up in a beautiful little acrobatic plane, opened the windows and shot some aerials of Cape Town and its surrounds. Beautiful. Stunning to see this city from up so high, a broader point of view. Stunning.
My ride for photo flight, Cape Point from the air, Cape Town's wine region from above.
Cape Town's posh sea shore and out door pool, kelp forests from above, one of CT's townships.
In the afternoon, Gui and I went with a fixer into one of Cape Town's African townships. This is another part of the city, also vivid, though sometimes hard to see.
Here are some things that were validated for me about the world over the course of my day today:
1. The world is a stunningly beautiful place.
2. It is also unfair.
3. Beer can be brewed in a day.
4. Boys are spazier than girls in any country on earth.
5. Children playing with a ball in the street will always make up the rules as they go along.
6. Pre-schoolers are pre-schoolers, no matter where they are.
7. Friday night means barbeque, whethere you are in Maine or Khayelitsha township.
Another late night. Gui will be here to collect me at 6am tomorrow. We'll head back to Fish Hoek and St. James to work with our Grannies. It will be my last full day of work here in South Africa. I hope to make the most of it.
Right. So. Let's get you all caught up. I've been out and about, beyond the borders of Cape Town city center with my trusty guide, Gui.
I should start by saying that months ago I had the foresight to know that shooting a story in South Africa in a week would be impossible without someone who really knows this place and how to get around. The ins and outs. A fixer. I knew I needed one. I made some calls and sent some emails and found myself connected to Gui. I met him first thing Tuesday morning at my little loft apartment and we've been on the run ever since.
In terms of guides / assistants / general Guy-Fridays, I have hit the lottery with Gui. He's waaaaayyyyy over qualified to be my assistant, but WOW am i taking full advantage of his skills and knowledge. It's been only three days of work together and he has helped me make some photographic dreams come true. Thanks, Gui!
We spent Tuesday scouting locations for photo shoots with swimmers. Places where we could find cover from the wind, and dramatic and colorful back drops for images I've been dreaming of. Our trek took us to the sea side town of Muizenberg. Famous for a long sandy beach dotted with colorful little changing houses, no longer in use. Stunning. We cruised through other towns on the eastern side of the Cape Town / Table Mountain National Park peninsula. Each has a sea-pool or lido as they call them in the UK. I've always been attracted to these sites and have big plans for at least one of them later in the week.
These beach towns are rustic and authentic. There are attractions for tourists here to be sure, but I get the sense that they haven't changed all that much in the last few decades. They remain the locales of sea side trains and of fishermen and the SA Navy and a wide array local fauna.
Let's talk about the local fauna for a sec. Over the last few days and without trying very hard at all, I have seen African penguins, Hirax or Dassie (Hello cutie pie! Never seen one of these before!), seal, whale, baboon and an ostrich. I love you, Africa.
What I haven't seen, but have heard much about, is the Great White Shark. Now this is a tricky thing to discuss, so please pay attention. The sea never has, does not now, and never will, belong to us. No. This is the domain of a remarkable array of marine creatures, mammals and fish alike, all with an important role to play in this dynamic ecosystem. The shark is known as a keystone predator - It has a very important job to do in that it is partly responsible for keeping the populations of species below it in the food chain in check. Sharks are amazing animals, perfectly adapted to do what they do. They are so good at it in fact, that they have changed very little in the last several thousand years. See: if it ain't broke don't fix it.
As creatures who often wade into the sea, we humans open ourselves up to the opportunity to see and interact with the beings who live there. Of course as animals ourselves, we have a particular and ancient aversion to being eaten. Thus many of us come to the sea with a concern - will I be eaten by a shark?
South Africa is bordered by two oceans - the Indian and the Atlantic. Somewhere east and a bit south of here, these two majestic water bodies collide. Both are home to a fantastic collection of marine animals. This is also an area with a high(er) concentration of sharks. Important to note is that this concentration is not as high as it once was, and is dwindling every day thanks to overfishing and careless fishing and other human misbehaviors.
There's no other way to say it: There have been unfortunate incidents between humans and sharks here. The waters of False Bay which I am now exploring have been the setting for most of these. Human flesh is not a part of a shark's particular diet. But the more often these two animals meet, the higher the chance of a bad thing coming to pass. That said, you are still more likely, even here in Cape Town, to be killed in a car accident on your way to the seashore than you are to be bitten by a shark. But it does happen.
And yet, we swim. I can only speak for myself when I say that when it comes to going in the water, I have to.
So. We found a group of seniors who swim in the ocean off Fish Hoek every day of the year. Bathing suits, caps. No muss, no fuss, a bracing swim in the waves followed by hot coffee and laughter in a cafe on the beach. Delicious.
One of the most remarkable things about these ladies (and a few gents) is that they will go for their daily morning swim no matter what. No matter how the wind blows or how cold the sea gets, these folks (who we have lovingly come to call our "Grannies") walk down to the sea for their swim. They go, even when they have suffered a loss. In 2004, one of their own was taken by a White. A passerby witnessed the struggle, and her friends collected her swim cap from the water. It was devastating for them.
In the last few years the towns around False Bay have instituted a shark patrol program. There are men with binoculars perched high up on the hill, watching the crystal clear waters for sharks. There is a flag system that acts as a warning. When people come to the beach, they can look at the flag to see if there is a current warning.
When I asked Lorraine if it was hard to get back into the water after this event, she said simply: Yes. It was. But, we want to have our swim. There is a resolute strength and centeredness in her answer. She is glowing and full of grace. They all are. The laugh and smile as they play in the waves. She and her peers believe in this morning ritual. They believe in the benefits it brings them physically and mentally. Believe in the power of these cold waters on their well being.
So I spent yesterday morning in the surf with these lovely Grannies, followed by a coffee in a seaside cafe. I'll be back to them on Saturday and I can't wait.
The afternoon was spent on an epic photo event, as I took two of my extreme ice swimmers by boat to the tip of Cape Point. Google it. Very dramatic. We got to the point in howling wind and rough seas, and they jumped in, speedos, caps and goggles. I made cool pictures of them swimming with the light house on the point in the background. Then I jumped in with them and made some more pics from the water as they swam among the kelp beds. Beautiful. Wild. Thrilling. I could hardly believe I was there.
Today I visited the guys in their homes and did some lifestyle shots, documenting these ordinary guys who happen to do extraordinary things. After that I took the 5 of them for a swim at Clifton beach where the water was a shockingly cool 10.4 C (about 49 or 50 F). It was so strange because the water is the color of the Caribbean, but then you step in and the cold hurts. It doesn't match up. Confusing for the senses. The guys were sports and swam for the camera which meant they had a lot of time just treading water rather than actually swimming hard. We all came out chilled to the core.
Back in my little apartment, Gui-Friday and I worked on some of the day's imagery. He's a whiz at post production and is really helping me get the most out of the stuff I'm shooting.
Dinner was odds and ends I have in the fridge - crackers and a bit of hummus, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, South African Rooibos tea and a bit of dark chocolate for desert. A hot shower and bed await.
Gui will come fetch me early in the morning for an aerial shoot! I'll be flying a tiny fixed wing over Cape Point and some other spots I've been working this week. It should be a spectacular ride.
I'll report in tomorrow. These days are full and good here in Cape Town. I remain on a quest to make the most of my time here.
Cold Water Swimmers of Cape Town - Day 1
Too tired for words tonight, but wanted to share some pics from the day...
Senior Swimmers at Fish Hoek
Cold Water Men at Cape of Good Hope