July 20, 2017

The two-for-one naked photo shoot

Reflection

When LovesBooks told me that she was coming to the Friendly Green Conference, I knew that she’d get naked for me. Heck, she practically risked her life to pose for me two years ago – and she stripped naked IN THE SNOW to pose for me last year. I wondered what she’d be willing to do this year. I soon found out: she brought her husband and got him to pose too.

That’s one of the things I love about the naked photo project — the way it gathers momentum. Once someone poses, they usually start coercing their friends to get naked for me as well. When Great Blue Heron finally posed for me, after years of pressure from his friends, he said to me, “I’m relieved to be in the club.”

All the cool kids pose naked for my blog. Everyone knows that.

I had a fun time getting to know Trail Mix, the husband of LovesBooks, and we all agreed to meet on the last morning of the conference for an early morning photo shoot. I figured everyone would be relaxed because we’d have all of our obligations out of the way. What I forgot to factor in was how sleep-deprived we’d all be.

As the three of us stumbled sleepily out of the dorm, I looked around at the campus buildings, filled with windows and people, and wondered where the heck we could find a secluded spot. I was so tired that my head felt like someone had filled it with jello which was congealing nicely.

Luckily, Trail Mix had given the enterprise some thought. “Remember that building where we had the opening reception? There were reflecting pools. And even naked statues.” I knew the spot he meant. It wasn’t terribly private. In fact, it was right in the middle of the campus.

But he led us confidently over to the spot, stripped off his clothes, and handed them to his wife. It helped, actually, having an assistant. It’s nice to have someone to hold the clothes.

He walked barefoot over to the sculptures and began posing, while I yelled ideas. “Put your arms in the air! Now, maybe a sitting down shot? Like you’re doing yoga?”

“Ouch,” Trail Mix said as he sat down obligingly. “The stones are a little rough on my butt.”

“Think of it as a massage,” LovesBooks said helpfully. I snapped the photo pretty quickly, just as the sun was coming up over the building.

“You might as well get a shot of me,” LovesBooks volunteered, before I even asked. Seriously, I love this couple. She sat down near the water, her legs stretched out, and I took the shot.

We didn’t even have time to look at the photos on my computer. We squinted at the photos in the back of my camera and exchanged hugs all around before they went back to pack up for their journey home.

Morning Sun

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

June 29, 2017

Out on a limb

This spring, I got the distinct impression that my friend Maine Writer had changed careers. On facebook, I saw photos of her hanging upside down, supported only by a long stretch of silky fabric, and photos of her swinging from a trapeze. There was a fabulous photo of her body stretched out in mid-air, poised and confident, supported only by an aerial hoop.

Clearly, she’d run off and joined the circus.

I could imagine it all: raucous music playing under the big top, the smell of popcorn and elephant manure, the sawdust floor, the bright silks – and Maine Writer swinging from a trapeze to thunderous applause. I figured she would quickly make friends with the lion tamer, the clowns, and the ringmaster. She’s got that personality. Within days of joining a circus, she’d be star of the show, and what’s more, she’d be friends with EVERYONE.

But when Maine Writer arrived at Friendly Green Conference last week, she seemed just the same. Still a writer. Oh, she had the shiny brightness of a trapeze artist, for sure, but she was talking about a book she just wrote and brainstorming ideas for the next book. When I asked about the photos, she said, “I went to circus camp!” Ah. A once-per-week camp? That made more sense.

Her circus camp training, we both felt, would come in very handy for a naked photo shoot. We just needed to find a tree with smooth branches so she could dangle naked. We planned to get up at dawn — really, we intended to venture out early, before a single soul was out — but of course, the Friendly Green Conference means late nights with friends we hardly ever see, and so it happened that the campus was populated with colleagues walking to sessions by the time we began strolling about in search of a place for a naked photo.

Our friend Ocean Breeze came with us, and rain began to sprinkle down as we walked along. Conditions weren't ideal -- but then again, they so rarely are.

We’d been talking, that morning, about relationships, and the ways in which we are vulnerable. At Maine Writer’s reading the night before, she’d read a piece in which the emotion was so raw that half the room was crying by the time she was done.

“There are people coming this way,” Ocean Breeze warned in her quiet way, as we stopped by some trees and Maine Writer stripped off her clothes. We hadn’t gone very far. We were right in the middle of campus, in fact. And it was daylight.

“I’ll just climb into this tree,” said Maine Writer. It’s true that being naked in public can make most of us feel vulnerable. But perhaps it’s different for writers. I mean, once you’ve taken the smashed pieces of your heart, held them up to the overhead lights of a bookstore, and shown them to a roomful of friends and strangers and people who love you – perhaps being naked physically is easy in comparison.

Out on a limb

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

June 28, 2017

The Man with the Great Blue Heron Tattoo

GreatBlueHeronTattoo

You’d think it would be awkward, asking a man to come back to my room to strip off his clothes, but really it wasn’t. I’ve known the Man with the Great Blue Heron Tattoo for many years, but we only see each other at conferences, so we were both talking like crazy as we walked across the campus where the Friendly Green Conference was held. He shared with me the story of a dramatic health crisis (now safely in the past), and we were so busy catching up on the goings-on of our spouses and grown children that, before you knew it, we were in my dorm room.

The room was private, but otherwise not an ideal place for a photo shoot: lots of wooden furniture crammed into a small space, with a single window and a bed across the space in front of the window. My friend wanted his tattoo in the photo, but not his face (I assure all who pose for me that the photos will be anonymous), and unfortunately, he’s not a contortionist.

“I think you should pose with a computer,” I said. “You’re so quick to reply to emails, no matter what time of day.” I grabbed my laptop and handed it to him. He leaned over the computer, touched a couple of keys. And then he was so startled that, naked or not, he turned to look at me. “YOUR COMPUTER ISN’T PASSWORD-PROTECTED?”

I held up my camera and looked at my friend standing stark naked in my room. “THAT is what you find startling about this situation?”

“But really, you ought to have a password,” he said, patiently, gently, the way he likely talks to his daughters. He pulled up a photo of a great blue heron so that the picture on the screen would echo his tattoo. Yes, we are THAT clever. Then I told him that my smart phone wasn’t password protected either. It seemed ironic, somehow, for the naked man in my room to tell me that I’m too trusting. He’s probably right.

In the end, we managed to get the great blue heron into the shot. And we did find time later in the conference to sit and talk about how much we love that beautiful, graceful, ageless bird. He shared with me his decision to get a tattoo, to mark a moment in his life or perhaps, I should say, the graceful passage from one moment to the next.

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

March 05, 2017

In sickness and in health

The travel gods conspired against my conference roommate, Maine Writer. First she was told that her flight was going to be late. Then it was cancelled. So she got on a train, which -- based on the texts she kept sending me -- was only minimally faster than a dog sled. She arrived in the middle of the night, missing the dinner she had planned, where friends toasted her health in her absence.

She also missed the lovely, sunny weather that we all enjoyed the first day of the conference. During the three hours of sleep she got that night, a cold front rolled in. As she walked over to the conference center to give her talk, bitter winds slapped cold air against her throat, her forehead, and her bare legs. The toast to her health was clearly defective. By the time her panel ended, she was flushed and running a fever. Her usual throng of admirers, rushing up to talk to her about her upcoming book, didn’t seem to notice.

“Are you meeting us for dinner?” I texted her from the back of the room.
“Can you get me some drugs?” she texted back.

That was her conference: hours of traveling and a miserable cold, with very little time to spend with her friends. Yet, despite these dreadful conditions, Maine Writer remained loyal to the naked photo project. She knows the tradition: anyone who rooms for me has to pose. I was willing, at this point, to let her off the hook, but she insisted.

"Of course I still want to pose," she told me. We went together to the hotel spa on the third floor, which had a sauna. “This heat feels so good,” she said. "I've been shivering all day."

Then she stretched out on a bench, naked. “This is all I have the energy for.”

We’d been talking earlier about self-care, and I’d listed the things I do for myself: long walks outdoors, potluck meals with friends, making time to read and write and meditate. Sometimes self-care means just taking the time to be still and listen to our bodies. Especially when we’re away from home and miserably sick.

At the spa

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

February 26, 2017

Felt like spring

Lake in February

Last week, the area schools had their annual February break. So on Friday, I drove to a little town on the other side of the lake to visit the 16-year-old who used to live across the street from me. We kept in touch while he moved from foster home to foster home, and then four years ago, he was adopted by a wonderful family.

Biker Boy has grown taller than me and his voice is deeper, but he’s still the same sweet kid who used to come over and play with train tracks on my living room floor. He and I went out for breakfast to a diner that served delicious blueberry pancakes, and he told me everything happening in his life. He likes his high school, he broke up with his girlfriend, and he still loves to fish. He joined the fire department where both his adoptive father and his adoptive grandfather volunteer: he’s the youngest firefighter.

After breakfast, we took a detour to stop at the fire department, so he could show me their trucks. It’s a one-story building, which means it has no fire pole, but it seemed like a nice facility. I took a photo of him out in front. “If there were kids in a burning house, I would do anything to get them out,” Biker Boy told me. “I’m like that.”

“I know,” I said to him. “I’ve always liked that about you.”

We had a lovely morning. We took a walk along the lake, where the wind had piled up mounds of soft ice in various shades of white and blue. We stopped to take a hike at a park where the melted snow was rushing and crashing over a cliff. And of course, we ate the same lunch we always do: slices of pizza with root beer. It’s a tradition

.Chittenango Falls

February 14, 2017

Sunlight in mid-February

Sunshine in February

When I got home from work today, I realized that something was different: the sun was shining. It was still light out. And everywhere, snow was melting. Wet snow slid from tree branches. The banks along the driveway were shrinking. When I walked to the creek, I saw water instead of ice. 

October 21, 2016

Wild Woman

Wild Woman

They call us the Wild Women.

That’s our nickname. We’re a group of close women friends who go to the mountains every year for a retreat. We bring food, we take walks, we hike mountains, we build fires, and we walk a labyrinth. We’ve been known to strip off our clothes for massages, dance in the moonlight, and skinny dip in the lake. But mostly, we talk, sharing our lives, our triumphs, our struggles and our griefs.

Signing Woman, whose family owns the beautiful camp where we stay, tells the story that inspired the nickname. It was perhaps twenty years ago, on a fall weekend at the mountains, when the weather was unusually warm. Long Beautiful Hair, attracted to the clear water of the mountain lake and the sun pouring down onto her skin, decided to take a swim. She stripped off her clothes, keeping only her flannel shirt to use as a towel, and went down to the water’s edge without telling anyone.

Twenty minutes later, Signing Woman looked out the window and was startled to see a naked woman running across the lawn, wet hair streaming down her back, clutching only a flannel shirt. “Look,” she said to her friends. “What on earth – wait, that’s one of us!”

I think it was Makes Bread who grabbed her camera and snapped a photo of Long Beautiful Hair, smiling and radiant after her swim in icy cold water, drying herself with her flannel shirt as she came into the camp. And that story, embellished by several of the husbands who were not present, earned us the nickname Wild Women. Perhaps the reason the name stuck is because it’s appropriate to the place. In 1885, the legislature established a Forest Preserve in the mountains, saying that land should be kept "forever wild." That’s a sentiment that most of us women agree with: wildness should be forever.

So on our retreat this year, when I saw Long Beautiful Hair out on the deck, stripped naked to expose her skin to the sunlight, once again using a flannel shirt as a towel, I felt inspired to recreate the original photograph. She cooperated fully, dancing about the deck, smiling at the camera. “You want one for the naked photo project?” she asked. “I’ll turn away from the camera and be more discreet. You take it from inside to get the effect.”

I always let women choose the photo they want me to put on my blog. In the photo Long Beautiful Hair chose, she's standing demurely, using her flannel shirt as a towel, gazing out at the lake, her hair flowing down her back. You really have to be her friend and get to know her before you're allowed to see how wild she is.

Read more about the history of the naked blogging project and check out the gallery of photos.

October 14, 2016

Road trip in autumn

Bridge

Every fall, I travel to the mountains for a long weekend with a bunch of women friends. This year, as we were figuring out who was going to go in which car, Birding Woman said, "I want to take a slow route and take photographs along the way. Want to come with me?"

I love a long, leisurely drive, especially on a sunny day in fall. We stopped at a lake where the water was so clear I could see little fish swimming by. We walked paths slowly enough to find woolly bear caterpillars — and make our predictions for the winter based on the fact that the bands of rusty brown were unusually long. We tramped through picnic areas where the wooden tables were already propped upright in anticipation of this winter's snow. We stopped to listen to birdsong, with Birding Woman identifying every bird she heard. We visited an inn that was set high above a lake. By the time we arrived at our destination in the mountains, we were filled with sunshine and sated with the brilliant colors of fall foliage.

Gone fishing

September 11, 2016

Another loss

Toward the sun

Blond Brother-in-law was only 19 when he married my oldest sister. He’s been part of my family for my entire adult life.

Everyone loved Blond Brother-in-law for his easy-going disposition. He was always calm and reassuring, and easy to please. He was happy with the simple things of life: a swim at camp, a well-cooked meal, or a movie he hadn’t seen yet. He loved our family trips to camp. Every evening, he stood at the grill, making food for everyone, never sitting down until everyone else had been fed. When we’d go out to the islands for a swim, he’d be the first in the water. He knew how to relax: he’d lie in the shallows when the water was warm, just letting the water rock him back and forth, or he’d climb to the top of the island and flop into the old wooden chair where he’d take a nap in the sun.

At holiday events at my house, Blond Brother-in-law always came to the kitchen to help with the food. That meant I could relax. I knew he’d refill the punch bowl, or rescue the rolls from burning, or check the potatoes, or clean the dirty dishes off the counter, or anything else that needed to be done. He loved to be helpful. If I mentioned to Blond Brother-in-law that I needed to buy something, he’d go online, do some research to see where the best place to get it would be, and then send me the link.

Blond Brother-in-law’s cheerful, easy-going nature remained, even when he had surgery on his spine that cost him the use of his right leg, even when he had to leave his job and go out on disability, even when he was diagnosed with cancer, even when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, even when his wife died just three months after her diagnosis, even when his cancer returned, and even when the oncologists finally told him this summer that there was nothing more they could do. Through the last three years, his concern has been for his three daughters. He wanted to spare them any pain. He knew that even though the three daughters are grown-ups, losing two parents in less than two years is a lot to deal with.

The last couple of weeks of the summer, we took shifts to stay with Blond Brother-in-law around the clock. We had to keep upping his dosage of morphine to keep him out of pain, and soon he was sleeping most of the time. He died peacefully, slipping away mid-morning, just like Blonde Sister did almost two years ago.

He was 54 years old.

July 10, 2016

Cool, cool water

Swimming in the marsh

My parents' camp, where we all gather every year during the first week of July, is a peninsula of oak trees next to a big marsh. Their dock juts into a creek that winds through cattails. It's a lovely place to take a swim after you've just come back from a morning run in the hot sun. (That's my youngest sister in the photo -- I'm not a runner.)