August 11th, 2017 § 5 comments § permalink

Water provides us with a freedom that is the main feature of our life right now. Since we got the boat “done”, the sea is the open highway that stretches out before us.

But our “process water”, what we use for cooking, cleaning, and drinking, is our main limitation. Being the smallest boat out here means that we are less insulated from the environment by infrastructure like water makers and large freshwater tanks, and puts us in the company of how most of the world lives, as it turns out.

Even though it’s the rainy season here in Panama, the last few days have been dry, and local reserves were getting low.

A Guna neighbor, Rauliano, paddled up yesterday and discussed with us a plan to accompany one another to the nearest island with piped freshwater. We would tow his cayuco with our boat, and we could all load up on water. At 8 this morning we were scheduled to go.

Still waking up a bit slowly at 7:30, I knew that we had cloud cover. If the sky is clear, our cabin is fully illuminated fully by 6am. #equatorlife

When I poked my head out, I saw those gravid clouds full of delicious sky water. And then I heard Rauliano running up and down his beach with the signaling conch – honking out a code that relays along the strings of other islands like a radio repeater, each one with their own shell. I don’t claim to know what the shell-horn code means in any detail, but I am sure today the main topic was WATER. Far and wide, off in the distance, the shell horn repeaters said, “water, water, water”.

Now, there is rain that wakes up the Capitan (F), and there is rain that wakes up the XO (me). Rain with changes in wind speed or wind direction will get F out of bed at any time, to stand on deck with a headlamp glaring around with all the other capitans. Instead, I have a humidity alarm in my brain, which is connected to whatever dish pan, snorkling gear, or laundry that is in rotation through the cockpit in a never ending cycle of  rinsing and drying. It’s a ballet, really.

This morning’s soft, warm rain, was of my variety. Big fat drops turn the water around us into a grey static, and mini rivulets take shape all over our deck. Our dinghy, and every container we have get “redded up” and deployed for sweetwater catchment, and I know our 8am appointment has hereby been cancelled.

The visibility among the boats and shore was very low, and so I take the opportunity for a head-to-toe scrub down, with actual shampoo in my hair. I cannot tell you enough, dear reader, what a luxury this is. There are many not-glamorous parts of my current lifestyle, but when I am alone washing my hair in warm rain, I gotta say I’m feeling pretty extra.

At a certain point I hear Rauliano again, now freestyling on the shell horn. His family is scurrying around the island doing the same things as me, setting out containers to catch the rain and giving everything a good scrub. Between honks, he is shouting into the rain thanking God in three languages, and cheering the good fortune of the day. We can just barely make each other out, but we exchange international signs of joy, with gesticulations toward the sky and whatever source up there we happen to feel grateful toward.

The rest of the morning was spent with a second coffee, planning a pasta supper tonight (a water–intensive treat!), and washing ALL THE CLOTHES. Our time is extended again.

dear president

December 1st, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

Many of my acquaintances are writing good old fashioned letters lately, to their elected officials. This is for you, dears:

ORDER HERE (this is real)

I have diligent friends who generously circulate their hand-crafted call lists and phone scripts, encouraging their circle to support the Water Protectors, watchdog political appointments, and bear witness to the uptick of hate crimes in Trump’s America.  I know some that battle in an online scrum and others who are organizing travel to protests.  For many reasons, I weigh how and where my own energy can be directed.

After swastikas with pro-Trump slogans were spray painted on the Brooklyn playground named after Adam “MCA” Yauch, late member of the Beastie Boys and avowed peace warrior, his former bandmate said the following:

“If you’re able to volunteer, volunteer…if you’re a musician, write that anthem. If you’re a writer, write. Take what you’re good at, and what you truly enjoy, and lend your services to the causes you care most about. ‘Cause we can’t, and we won’t, and we don’t stop.”

Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz

This struck me, because I have a hope that my most purposeful work lies ahead, but my next steps are (still) less than clear.

Side note – During the same event, Public Advocate Tish James sang “We Shall Overcome” with the gathered crowd, a mental image that gives me an attack of nostalgia for NYC and makes me wonder if there is a video out there pls?

Right now I watch those individuals and groups who have been doing this thing – those who have been engaged in resistance and will be for the long haul. I admire those who have steadily stoked a fire that fuels their ability to both row and steer.  I was shocked by the election outcome, but I have been even more impacted by those who are making new ways forward.  Specifically, I mean #BlackLivesMatter and #noDAPL, campaigns I view as expressions of pure love for humanity and the earth, respectively. If you try to tell me different, mind you are in for a long conversation with footnotes.

I try to steer clear of echo chambers and instead make eye contact and hear/learn/use people’s names right away. Traveling often makes me feel like my hands are cut off, like I have no pull in a place where people don’t know me. Lately, I’m moving more as a pilgrim, so that every wandering step has more purpose, and every stranger is the next opportunity for exchange.

I am still thinking of what I have to offer in that exchange besides postcards, tho.


November 10th, 2016 § 2 comments § permalink

My personal mission is to heal the divide between me and the environment. Sometimes that looks like community and land use planning, but more recently that looks like sailing up and down the East Coast. I would like to try explaining what I get from this life on a sailboat. You know that What People Think I Do/What I Really Do meme? I should probably just make one of those sometime.

On land, I had developed an out-sized stress response*. It is something that sort of sat on top of me for most of my twenties, then sat politely beside me in my thirties as I gained some perspective, “invited it in for tea”, and other hipster nonsense. I think many have this to some degree – a full fight-or-flight response to something that is decidedly NOT a predator in the wild.

Over time, my adrenal system was trained to treat every risk of even small failure as a life-or-death situation. It’s a long line of fallen dominoes that I can follow right up to where I am today, through the tough decision to change my life and career, the unlikely events of becoming an Italian psychologist/sailor’s bride, and ultimately leaving land full time.


When I am offshore for a few days, after the watch routine settles in and the discomfort of transition wanes, I have the following experience. I feel cold, rain, waves and wind. I see stars, moon, sun, birds and bioluminescent plankton. I steer the boat, and check instruments while I maintain my own personal safety and support that of my husband and boat cat. We work as a team, we have to communicate clearly but efficiently because there is not much surplus time or energy. When a threat arises, like a squall or too-high winds, or too-cold weather or too-hot sun…then I feel fight-or-flight in the appropriate context. The crisis passes because the response works (!), we complete the leg, we come to shore, and I can walk back arm-in-arm with my stress response all the way to “normal”.

Its like therapy in reverse – instead of trying to bring the mind into context with the body, sailing brings my body into context with the mind.

Here is where this swerves from the personal to national politics, as every damn thing does now, apparently**. I want to challenge you, dear reader, to consider a deeply-rooted pattern of your own. Maybe one that doesn’t often see the light of day. Is it based in fear? What would happen if this fear was removed, even for one moment?

Relief from fear offers me moments of clear purpose, compassion and love for others, and enough mental space to act on that. With practice, maybe I can live this way “full time”.

*If you worked with me, you may or may not have noticed it (I say that winkingly to my friend-colleagues, who totally saw this, and whom often helped me along or were caught up in my stress by proximity. Ps. still thx and sorry). My best friends for sure know what I am talking about, because I grappled with it as it progressed. Before any big deadline, meeting, presentation, whatever cumulative professional moment, no matter how prepared I could be, my body would physically go through the same process – insomnia, anxiety, and tunnel vision on the work until the moment of the thing. Then, after the thing, during which I would typically appear pretty calm and capable, there would be a second cascade – reviewing the thing over and over to evaluate my part, waves of self doubt and beating back negative thoughts of shame, guilt and remorse. People, I am talking about all this over a half-hour talk on water quality monitoring – to a room full of nerds like me.

**I hear from some NYC friends that they feel like they have lived in a bubble, couldn’t imagine the turnout that turned out for Trump. Inside of NYC, my life, work and relationships challenged me daily to (imperfectly) develop my own ability to serve as an ally for peace and justice. I owe this refrain to Alexie Torres Flemming, and the still-unfolding slow knowledge I gained from working with her. Today, I have to be grateful that my last few years as a nomad expanded my worldview to include more political diversity, especially among people who look just like me. While I will never be silenced by racism, sexism or the idea that anyone is more or less “legal” than me, I can see how each of us arrives at our own worldview through authentic lived experience, and how each of us can be so deeply affected by our fears that we might be moved to behave against our own best interests.

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