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

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“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? 

Pumpkin People Are Strange

pumpkin witchThe pumpkin people can be found downtown. They hang out by lamp posts and lounge in rocking chairs. Some resemble politicians or witches or cartoon characters. Even though a few haven’t grown mouths yet, they generate smiles or laughter.

While out strolling among the pumpkin people, it’s best to be prepared for anything. They might even come to life when the autumn moon is full. Yes, people are strange. Pumpkin people are even stranger.

Irish pumpkin

Mexican pumpkin

Salon pumpkin

Pumpkin person

Pumpkin people

Grinch pumpkins

Have you encountered pumpkin people like these? Have you ever tried to create a pumpkin person?

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?

Great Blogs

I just wanted to point out some newer blogs I’ve been enjoying lately. Please give them a visit – they’re all great ones!

trumpeting statue

Suffragette Kitty – Louisa May Alcott has returned as a cat and is continuing her fight for women’s rights. Entertaining and informational posts on historical and present day women of note, Henry David Thoreau, and clean water for everyone. Another great thing about this blog is that I know the person behind the cat in real life! She was my editor at the first newspaper I worked at and is a great person and friend.

Licht Years – Breathtaking photography of the New England area with inspirational quotes and descriptions. I am in awe of Susan’s photos and the feelings that come across in them.

Writing Pieces of Me – Thoughts on writing and life during novel writing and revising. Arlene’s fun personality comes through in her posts and you’ll want to cheer her on as she finishes her novel.

Braith an’ Lithe – Life in the northwest highlands of Scotland. Funny and entertaining posts, especially when talking about things like learning new dance moves while sheep watch through the window.

Christina Lawrence – Book reviews, inspirational quotes, and observances from Great Britain.

Helenvalentina – Beautiful poetry expressing the elements of fire, water, air, and earth.

What do you look for in a blog? What makes it great?

Enjoy!

playing statue

How Does Where You Live Affect Your Writing?

Chatham, Cape Cod

Our surroundings are constantly affecting us. But how much does where we live affect our writing?

Southern writers like Robert Penn Warren are known for a certain cadence, a more languid or lingering tone. His writing feels like sitting out on a front porch on a humid night with cicadas buzzing in the background. Irish writers also bring a sing-song lyrical feeling into their writing.

A certain tone is hard to pinpoint and I don’t know if my writing has anything like that because of where I live. It’s probably more because of what I read and the rhythms found there. But Cape Cod definitely contributes to the overall feeling of my writing, either through descriptions or something more mysterious.

Descriptions of the ocean and sky are always sneaking into my stories. The changing seasons find their way in because I can’t help but be affected by them. If I lived in the tropics, I’d probably keep looking for new ways to describe the heat.

Hancock tower, BostonI used to live in a Boston apartment. Boston is full of edges and angles, like this photo. I loved the energy of the city and being able to walk everywhere, but my writing ended up sounding depressing because I’d describe things I happened to encounter like gum splattered all over a sidewalk or the smell of an alley. I remember trying to describe that particular subway smell: a strange mixture of sweat, popcorn, greased metal, and feet. I could never really fully describe it. Maybe the fact that it can’t be described makes it sound even scarier.

Of course, the fun of writing is in using our imaginations. But our imaginations build off of our surroundings. While living in Boston, I’d be more likely to describe the way the light hit a certain building to make it glow or the sound of different accents and languages mingled together on the city streets. Now that I think about it, I miss Boston. Even that strange subway smell.

Boston street

How does where you live affect your writing? Have you ever tried to describe an indescribable smell?

History as Inspiration

History is more easily overlooked than crazy dogs or nature, but stories from long ago can also be a source of inspiration. It’s the everyday history that inspires and it’s all around us. Whether you’re writing historical fiction or an adventure novel, it’s always fun to sprinkle bits of the past through the pages.

Martha's Vineyard houses

GosnoldSometimes finding these stories is as easy as walking up to a plaque or statue, even if it might make you look like a tourist. I found this plaque practically covered in vines. It mentions Bartholomew Gosnold, who led the first recorded European expedition to Cape Cod before the Pilgrims. It brings to mind what this area would have looked like at that time, what life would have been like, the challenges people faced.

Gosnold's landing area today

historic Cape Cod houseWidow’s walks or cupolas make me think of the days when women waited for years for a ship to appear on the horizon. Although we romanticize that kind of thing today, would it be all that romantic if you were really living it? Somehow, I don’t think so.

windmillShipbuilders, farmers, and fishermen once worked this land. Some may have spent their lives building ships bound for the Orient, hearing only tales and legends from the adventurers who came back.

stone building for whalingStone walls always make me think of borders that are now long gone and the people who placed each heavy stone, building and shaping their land and future.

Just imagine: ice was once cut and harvested from local ponds for refrigeration. Windmills were needed to grind grain into flour. A stone building that’s now a research center was used as a holding area for whales that were caught and hauled in from the ocean. And we think we work hard these days.

I like to imagine these people who came before us. Their stories are everywhere.

stone wall

Have you found inspiration in local or everyday history? Do you think history has a place in all kinds of fiction or just historical fiction?