Hiking through Words

Reading and writing are adventures of the mind. So it makes sense that they can easily be compared to hiking or mountain climbing. Each word is a step. There will be curves and cliffs, mountains and canyons.

Arizona hiking trail

Bell Rock hiking trail

You can stay on the path or wander off in a new direction. You might get lost. Just don’t look down.

Devils Bridge looking down

You can map it all out beforehand or let yourself be surprised. Remember to look back to see how far you’ve come.

Devils Bridge trail

Arizona hiking trail

No matter where you end up, you’re better off for taking those steps. Enjoy the view.

Devils Bridge trail

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Nehru

“Adventure is not outside man; it is within.” – George Eliot 

Hidden Colors

frozen ocean

After months of snow and ice, we feel like we’re living in a black and white movie. We become color deprived. The ocean is frozen and icicles are everywhere.

sand icicles

But somewhere underneath it all, the colors are waiting. Maybe if the sun doesn’t melt the snow, the colors will.

marsh flowers

castle

flowers

ocean

marsh

Whether you’re enjoying the beginnings of spring or fall or an everlasting summer, I hope your colors are shining through.

The Beauty of Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

When I first heard of the most recent oil spill in Lake Michigan, my thoughts flashed back to the beauty that can be found there while hoping it won’t be destroyed.

Lake Michigan

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of gallons of crude oil discharged into Lake Michigan from an Indiana refinery last week. BP recently doubled its oil spill estimate to up to 1,638 gallons.

Lake Michigan

Every time something like this happens anywhere in the world, it feels like something has been lost. It’s not going to be the same. The environment has been altered again. And it’s our fault. And we keep doing it.

Lake Michigan

I visit my dad there often. The water along the Michigan side is crystal clear. I can see the sand at the bottom even when I’m out over my head. My dad worked on Lake Michigan freighters that hauled cars between cities in the early 1960s. He remembers when they would siphon water right from the lakes and use it as drinking water. It didn’t need to be purified.

Lake Michigan

Seven million people in and around Chicago still use Lake Michigan for drinking water. Although some parts of it look clean, I doubt if anyone would risk drinking right from the lake these days. But it wasn’t that long ago when people could do just that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn everything around and go back to the days of a cleaner, healthier environment? If we could, would we take it for granted all over again?

Lake Michigan

Melting Into Words

melting leaf

Frozen gray skies melt into blue. Signs of life appear: a singing stream, babbling birds, ducks visiting the birdfeeder.

visiting ducks

ducks in the woods

Ducks don’t usually visit a house in the woods. But somehow, these ducks sniffed out the birdseed from their lakeside home. Now the springtime sound of chirping combines with quacks, reminding me how funny life can be.

frozen pond

As the snow glaciers retreat, we smell the Earth again. It smells like life. We inhale it. Slices of green delight poke through the ground, waiting to bloom. Cranberry bogs that served as skating rinks over the winter are thawing out.

cranberry bog

I’ve been revising and tinkering with the novel through the winter, but it still seemed frozen into place while I knew it needed more. Lately though, whatever was frozen has been melting into words. Whether our words drip or flood in, it’s progress. Every word, every revision, brings us closer to a finished book. It takes time but that’s true for anything worth doing. If your words were frozen over the winter, I hope they’re melting.

stream

“Spring drew on…and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.” – Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

“As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.” – John Muir

Happy Spring! Have you ever had a pet duck? Does the weather affect your creativity?

Decorate Your Story with Outdoor Art

Whale tail

Outdoor art can be easy to overlook. It becomes part of the landscape as we rush on by. Most novels will give weather details while describing a setting, but there aren’t many I can think of that bring art into it. Yet when we stop and pay attention to a statue or sculpture, it adds to our understanding of a place.

In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Augustus and Hazel picnic near an oversized skeleton sculpture with all kinds of symbolic implications. Even missing art reveals something about a place. In The Orphan Master’s Son, “There seemed to be no statue, and they could not tell what the square glorified.”

A while back, Jilanne Hoffmann wrote a post about San Francisco artists who were using words to create visual art. The idea of a sculpture of a man made of words intrigued me. I wasn’t sure if I had seen local art made from words or if the art around here would be any different. I decided to go on a treasure hunt just to see what could be found. As it turns out, Cape Cod outdoor art is….definitely different:

It might be inexplicable. It might be an eyesore. It might even be something people wouldn’t expect to see in that particular place. Whatever it is, it adds the kind of detail that brings a setting to life.

Cape Cod has its own way of being unique. It’s filled with characters and subtle humor. So it makes sense that the art found here is as craggy and enduring as the land. Ocean life including crabs or an octopus take on funny personalities. The lobster could be called strangely detailed. Sometimes tourists stand in line to get their pictures taken with it.

Except for a warning not to climb on the whale, no words could be found. The art speaks in another way by showing our ties to the ocean and ocean life. Still, my favorite kind of outdoor art is found at the beach.

Snow art

What kind of outdoor art can be found near you?

Ocean Victories

DSC02440_2

“With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live.” – Sylvia Earle

The ocean rejuvenates, inspires, and restores us. It gives us so much, but any ocean-related news is too often depressing. One of the reasons I love the nonprofit group Oceana is that it does something about the depressing news. Members receive notifications of petitions to sign and the group works with lawyers and politicians to create real environmental change. So for some good news, here are a few ocean victories that came about this year:

ocean walkNo seismic airgun blasts in the Atlantic: More than 100,000 supporters signed petitions to stop seismic airgun blasts in the Atlantic. In August, the Department of the Interior postponed its decision on the blasts for the third time. This will come up again, but in the meantime it’s been a reprieve for whales and dolphins. Airgun blasts can also kill fish eggs and scare fish away from important habitats. Following seismic surveys, catch rates of cod and haddock declined by 40 to 80 percent.

at the beachProtecting seafloor habitats: After seven years of campaigning by Oceana, Spain agreed to prohibit trawling over fragile habitats on the seamounts of the Mallorca Channel and the coral reefs east of Cabrera, protecting these important habitats from being crushed and destroyed.

Saving sharks: More than 4,000 New Yorkers petitioned for their state to ban the trade of shark fins. In July, New York became the eighth state to implement a shark fin trade ban. Most of the shark fins imported into the U.S. came in through the eight states that enacted these bans. In the same month, the European Union banned all shark finning by EU vessels. The U.S. government banned shark finning in U.S. waters in 2000, but until this year the trade in shark fins was still legal across the country.

Stopping offshore drilling in Belize: Until recently offshore drilling still took place near Belize’s famous barrier reef, threatening tourism and the reef’s fragile environment. Supporters collected more than 20,000 signatures against offshore drilling in the area. This year, Belize’s Supreme Court declared all offshore drilling contracts issued by the Belizean government null and void, essentially stopping all offshore drilling in Belizean waters.

ocean sunrise

Alpaca Fun on Martha’s Vineyard

alpaca smileAlpacas pop up in the most unlikely places. While riding down the bike path on Martha’s Vineyard, alpacas can be seen through the trees, tempting anyone to stop for a visit.

At Island Alpaca in Oak Bluffs, the original purchase of eight alpacas in 2004
has grown to more than 80, plus one llama named Lucy. Most visitors want to know what the difference is between a llama and an alpaca. They’re cousins, but llamas are larger and they’re known for their spitting abilities.

alpaca smileAlpacas are gentle and timid with faces that resemble puppies or teddy bears. They have no top teeth in the front and they don’t bite. They will run for food and they’ll run away from any trouble. While goats are known to eat anything, when alpacas graze they eat only the top part of the grass so that it can continue to grow.

The alpacas at Island Alpaca have names like Roberto, Zora, Silver Angel, Dom Perignon, or Captain Jack, embracing their South American heritage, their colors, and pirate names for their new island home. Alpacas boast 22 natural colors from snow white to auburn to coal. Their luxurious fleece creates material that’s lighter and stronger than wool while feeling like cashmere.

Island Alpaca visitors are given the chance to help out with the morning chores, feed the alpacas, and learn how to harness and walk them. If they’re lucky, springtime visitors might get to watch a birthing.

Peru, Bolivia, and Chile are still home to the largest percentage of alpacas in the world but with their ability to adapt to most climates, alpacas are being raised in places like Florida, California, Maine, and even islands like Martha’s Vineyard.

There’s a recent trend of adding goats to books. Why not alpacas? They look like characters to me. As long as I’m still revising my novel, I think I’ll add an alpaca.

To meet the Martha’s Vineyard alpacas, visit Island Alpaca.

Island Alpaca, Martha's Vineyard

Island Alpaca, Martha's Vineyard

Have you ever seen an alpaca? Could alpacas be the new goats? Would you want to be an alpaca farmer? (I’m considering it after reading the article below.)

View from a Park Bench

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Whether we choose to stroll or run through life, a park bench is the ultimate stopping place. Sometimes we need to sit and breathe and watch as life continues to scuttle on by.

On this day, a tiny dog trotted by while wearing a backpack. Other dogs on leashes dragged their owners along as they chased squirrels up trees. Girls in frilly dresses joined in on the fun and chased more squirrels up trees. I started to feel sorry for the squirrels but in a flash they were back to find food among the fallen leaves. Off in the background of it all, the trees gave out a last gasp of color and glowed with all the stored up energy of summer.

Boston Public Garden

Boston Public Garden fall leaves

squirrel photographer

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” – John Muir

On an unrelated goat note, thank you to Britt Skrabanek for this post and thank you to the Goat Club for making me laugh. Anyone can join as long as you like goats and really, who doesn’t?

Thank You and a Giveaway

November oceanWriting can be a lonely thing to do. We’re observers of life so it does help to get out there every once in a while, but we also need to lock ourselves away as often as possible if we’re ever going to get any writing done.

These days, we’re not writing alone. Thanks to blogging and Twitter, we can find other writers, cheer each other on, and commiserate together. If you’re doing NanoWriMo, you know what I’m talking about and I hope you’re locked away somewhere with a fresh supply of chocolate.

The road to publication is filled with potholes of self doubt. We wonder if anyone will hear our words. We wonder if anyone will care. Maybe they’ll laugh at us or think we’re horrible writers. Still, we take that risk and put ourselves out there. Because we’re hoping someone somewhere will care.

I’m amazed by the friends I’ve found here and I just want to say thank you. So it’s about time to start doing some random giveaways. If you leave a comment on this post, I’ll put your name in for a $25 Amazon gift card. If you already follow me on Twitter, I’ll put your name in again. Finally, if you follow me @SheilaHurst11 by Monday, November 11, I’ll put your name in for the gift card and I’ll make sure to follow back. The winner will be announced here on Wednesday. In the meantime, just think of all the books you’ll be able to get to last you through the winter.

November is a good time to look back at the year and give thanks. I’m thankful for the beauty of the ocean, the joy of finding and reading that perfect book, friends that are more like family, and family that’s more like friends.

What are you thankful for? Which books are you thinking of reading next? If you’re doing NanoWriMo, how’s that going so far? 

The Beach, a Bonfire, and…a Movie?

bonfire

Wood smoke mingled with ocean spray. Our bonfire crackled and popped, contributing exclamation points to the conversation. Sparks drifted up to the stars as the waves swished in song. Everyone huddled closer to the fire as the sky darkened.

setting up firepitWe laughed when the people in the encampment near us whipped out a large movie screen and set it up so that it blocked their view of the ocean and sunset. They had a bonfire going but turned away from it in favor of the technicolor fireentertainment. A family with young children. Why wouldn’t they want to use a chance like that to talk with each other? We laughed at a lot of things that night. I didn’t hear laughter coming from the movie encampment.

It’s getting harder to get away from it all when everything can be carried in a cell phone. Maybe some things have been gained with more and more technology to entertain us, but what have we lost?

What are we losing when we continue to block out the sky, the stars, and the sound of the waves?

beach sunset

World Oceans Day

ocean

World Oceans Day is coming up this Saturday, June 8. We’ve all heard of Earth Day, but this is the first year I’ve heard of World Oceans Day. On some calendars, today is also World Environment Day.

What does it all mean? Will naming certain days after the environment make it all better? Well, let’s hope so.

I remember feeling skeptical when Earth Day first came around, but it’s definitely a good thing whenever gangs of people descend on the beach to pick up trash for the day. Really though, we need to make every day Earth/Ocean Day.

The ocean is facing overwhelming problems these days. Here are just a few off the top of my head: ocean acidification, oil spills, coral bleaching, bottom trawling, miles of fishing nets that catch ocean life like whales, dolphins, and sea turtles, all leading to a major depletion of ocean life.

I like the idea of one Earth, one ocean. We all know by now that everything is connected. But do we really understand what that means? It means that everything we do makes a difference. Whether we leave a tiny piece of plastic on the beach or decide to pick it up, whether we use fertilizers and insecticides or organic gardening methods, it all makes a difference.

Let’s celebrate nature, the ocean, and this one world today and every day. For more information on what we can do to help the ocean and ocean life, click here.

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On Sandy Necks and Primordial Ooze

Sandy Neck, Cape CodShifting sands create an ever-changing artistry. The constant wind sculpts peaks and valleys while smoothing out any edges. This is a place called Sandy Neck. On a map, it looks more like a tiny finger jutting out into the ocean. Over time, this barrier beach has developed into 4,700 acres of dunes, maritime forests, and marshes.

Sandy Neck, Cape CodStrangely enough, the beach at Sandy Neck is a rocky one. It’s usually packed with sunbathers in the summer, so I like to hide from the crowds and investigate the 13-mile trail behind the dunes. A small parking lot at the entrance can be used for the trail.

Mash at Sandy Neck, Cape CodAt first, the trail winds between towering sand and marshes. It branches off every once in a while to bring tired feet and pounding hearts back to the beach for some easier walking. Those trails also bring hikers up higher for views of the dunescape and ocean.

Sandy Neck dune trail

Dune trail at Sandy NeckSandy Neck, Cape CodFarther ahead on the main trail, a few scattered and lost cottages call up images of possible shotguns pointing through broken windows. Someday if I’m brave enough, I might walk the whole trail.

muddy, sandy dogSparks isn’t afraid of the cottages. She’ll trot right up, wag her tail, and practically knock on the door. By that time, she looks scarier than the cottages because she loves to splash around in the primordial ooze found in the marsh. This is the smelliest mud my dog has ever found. The overall smell is a combination of rotten eggs, fish, and dog breath. I’m planning on giving her lots of baths this summer.

What are your plans for the summer?

Sea Turtle Rescues and Spring Break Road Trips

sea turtleA record 242 sea turtles were rescued from the icy waters around Cape Cod this winter and most have now been released into the warmer ocean waters around Florida.

Sea turtles are susceptible to hypothermia and can strand on Cape Cod beaches during the fall and winter. Volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay walk the beaches, find the cold-stunned turtles, and transport them to the New England Aquarium Animal Care Center near Boston. In an average year, about 70 juvenile, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead and green sea turtles are taken in, according to the New England Aquarium website. This past season’s total of 242 was the largest yet recorded.

Aquarium facilities all along the Northeast coast made room for the sea turtles. Then this spring, once the turtles were warmed and revitalized, the road trips to Florida began. Volunteers picked the sea turtles up and drove them to the Florida beaches.

I wonder what the sea turtles were thinking during those road trips. After suffering through the Cape Cod winter season, I’m sure they must have been looking forward to swimming in warmer ocean waters and soaking up the sun.

Click here for sea turtle Spring Break photos showing one of the releases in Florida.

Sea turtles are one of the Earth’s most ancient animals. The seven species that can be found today have been around for about 110 million years, since the time of the dinosaurs. By comparison, modern humans have only been around for a fraction of that time – about 200 thousand years.

Unlike other turtles, sea turtles can’t retract their legs and head into their shells.

Sea turtles play a part in my novel, Ocean Echoes, which will hopefully be published someday (I know, I keep saying that).