We Were An Island

“No man is an island, entire of itself,” wrote  John Donne.  And yet, Art and Nan Kellam bought an uninhabited island off the coast of Maine in 1949 and lived there for more than 35 years. They were quite content with little more than the company of each other. And they thought of themselves as an island.

I have been reading several books that I’ll share here about people who did their own Walden kind of experience and it’s very easy to Romanticize those experiences into some kind of idyllic fantasy.  Though the story of the Kellams is appealing, you have to keep in mind that they had no electricity or running water, and heated the house they built with firewood from their forest. To fetch supplies, they rowed a dory several miles to the mainland and back.

The goal was self-sufficiency, so they were building things rather than buying them and growing whatever foods they could. But that was more to stretch their limited money than it was to serve as models of good living or inspire a book.

Their story is told in We Were an Island: The Maine Life of Art and Nan Kellam by New Jersey native and conservationist Peter Blanchard III. The book is based largely on journals kept by the Kellams.

Their island was Placentia Island, a forested 550-acre island a few miles from Acadia National Park. They moved to the island to lead, like Thoreau, a simple life, free of technology and modern contrivances.

These are not Caribbean desert islands or deserted islands that are along the coast of Maine. More often than not, they are rocks in a cold ocean. They lived there year-round for nearly forty years.

The story is illustrated with historic photographs and recent photographs by David Graham. As much a story of a relationship that grew in isolation, it is also one of those tales of “living “off the grid” that I find appealing.

Don’t confuse them with anyone who has some idealistic, environmental, survivalist, sustainability movement behind their actions.  “They made a conscious decision to inhabit a world that they had total control over,” says Blanchard. And though they were not naturalists or conservationists when they took to the island, it would be hard not to say that their mindfulness and appreciation for not only nature’s beauty, but its power grew each year.

And in the end, they didn’t want to see their land destroyed or built on, so they turned to conservation and donated the island to the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy after retaining a “life estate” that allowed them exclusive use of Placentia during their lifetimes.

Blanchard learned of the Kellams when he volunteered for the Nature Conservancy. He himself “owns” two islands near Placentia – Black Island and Sheep Island – that have been permanently preserved, and is part-owner of a third preserved island, Pond Island.

If you visit Placentia Island now (it is a public nature preserve), all you will find of the Kellams are some stone foundations and a square of cement with their footprints.

A Daily Photo Practice

Daily practice is a part of many religions and spiritual quests. But the discipline of daily practices doesn’t have to have anything to do with religion or spirituality. The self-discipline of having a daily practice is good for the mind, body, and soul.

My writing online is a daily practice that is spread around in a number of places. It is the best thing I have done in my life to improve my writing. I have tried daily writing practices before. William Stafford and other poets are known for their daily poems. I have tried that short-term – a poem a day for a month, for example. It helps that Stafford when asked about how he could write a poem each day, he replied that he lowered his standards. He didn’t write a gem every day. But he did write every day.

Maybe your practice is yoga, meditation, working in the garden, painting, a time set aside for serious reading. The list of possibilities is long.

One daily practice that I came across this past week is taking a daily photo.


The idea comes from Lisa Bettany, a professional photographer (an iPhone developer and TV & Web personality) based in San Francisco. She references the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a field. She translates that for photography to about 100 pictures a day for about 5 years.

That sounds like quite a journey, but if it’s something you like to do, it will be a welcome journey.

So, she is encouraging everyone to shoot and share one photo a day for 365 days. To help you with the challenge, she created Mostly365.com where you share your daily photos with the world with one tweet.

It’s something you can do with that fancy DSLR, or your cell phone camera, or whatever camera you have.  Then you post it online (look at her suggested list of sites for that below – they will all work for her site) and then tweet it using the hashtag  #mostly365.

It is doable. It is discipline. I wrote about a friend of mine, John LeMasney, who did a daily digital sketch project last year. That was a lot tougher. But, as much as I like to take photos, to do it daily AND post it online AND be satisfied that it was “worth posting” is not as easy as it may sound.

Are you up for the photo challenge?  Are you up for the challenge of any daily practice? I’m going to give it a try.

“Discipline” has a bad bad reputation. It makes you think of school and getting sent to the principal’s office for detention. But discipline is good and necessary.

Lisa’s suggested photo-sharing sites:

  1. Flickr
  2. Twitpic
  3. yfrog
  4. Twitgoo
  5. Mobypicture
  6. img.ly
  7. Plixi
  8. Instagram
  9. and her own Camera+ for iPhone

Lisa’s portfolio is at http://lisabettany.com

Less Is More

No doubt you have heard the expression that “less is more.” It’s a good line to use on kids and ask them why that might be true, but I would say that most people today would disagree. “More is more” is probably closer to the thinking of 2010.

Less is more is the proposal that we need to live more simply. It might be that having less material or outer wealth is the way towards increased inner wealth. Simplicity. Less stuff, less work, less stress, less debt as a way to more time, more satisfaction, more balance, and more security.

I thought about that aphorism because I came across a book called  Less is More by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska.  It is an essay collection from a number of writers that embrace the simple living movement. Oh yes, it is a movement. It’s not just something you decided to do one weekend or as your New Year’s resolution.

Simple living (also referred to as voluntary simplicity) is a lifestyle characterized by consuming only that which is required to sustain life. Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons – spirituality, health, increase in time for family and friends, reducing their personal ecological footprint, stress reduction, personal taste, frugality or socio-political goals such as conservation, degrowth, social justice, ethnic diversity and sustainable development.

Not all people who embrace simple living have such lofty goals.  Less is More is sub-titled Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness and it offers a balance of essays from the saving-the-planet approach to the simplify-your-own-life-for-yourself idea.

You don’t necessarily have to sell your home and buy a farm, become poor, live in a cabin with no electricity or travel the roads with just the clothing on your back.  You might just feel like you have come down with some affluenza.

affluenza -1.  a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. (de Graaf) 2. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. (PBS)

Downshifting might be the gentler way for you to start a less is more approach to your life. In downshifting, individuals live simpler lives and try to find a better balance between leisure and work. It’s different from voluntary simplicity because of its focus on moderate change and concentration on an individual comfort level.

Tracey Smith is the founder of International Downshifting Week downshiftingweek.com which is the official website for their ongoing awareness campaign.

Maybe you simplify just one part of your life. A good friend of mine who was also a teaching colleague has gone through a long, painful divorce. He continued to teach and he tried to simplify that. He continued to meditate. In fact, I think that took on a new intensity. But, most interestingly to me, he started working on an organic farm.

He didn’t have any real experience other than the backyard gardening. An observer might say that this new commitment was making his life less simple by adding responsibilities and time away from his children. But that’s not the way it has gone. The farm has become his sanctuary. Meditation and work have a very natural connection.

He’s not alone. The World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (AKA Willing Workers on Organic Farms) (WWOOF) is a loose network of organizations in the United States and internationally which facilitate the placement of volunteers on organic farms.

I have had a printed sign over my home desk that says “Simplify your life” for eight years, but I still haven’t totally succeeded.

My approach has been the same as when I thought twenty years ago that I might attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. I did the research. I joined a hiking club and went out every weekend and started building up my endurance. But I had two young children at home. I had my job (though teaching, I did have my summers off).  It was unrealistic. So, I went on a simpler path (no pun intended). I divided the AT into sections. (see my post tomorrow for a bit more on that)

I probably will never hike every section of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. That’s okay.

I love to take photographs. I love to paint and draw. I will never master either art. Sometimes the best thing I can do is to take something I see or photographed and simplify it to a drawing or painting.

Oversimplification is not a good thing, but taking parts of this complex life we live and making them comprehensible, tolerable, even enjoyable, is a good thing.

Ian, Mountains, Water and Sky

Ian Shive is the son of one of my childhood friends, Jim Shive. Jim started a career as a photographer at the end of high school and focused first on the rock bands that were playing in our metro New York area. So photography is in the genes.

Ian was also the writing student of my friend, Steve Smith when Ian was in high school. I recall that when  Ian was in college in Montana, he worked on the Robert Redford film, The Horse Whisperer.  Steve’s wife works on several ranches doing equine therapy. You see, everything is connected.

After college, Ian worked in film marketing for 60+  major motion pictures, but he was always taking photographs.

His specialty has become the outdoors –  lifestyle, landscape, and conservation. His photos have appeared in Time, National Geographic, Popular Science, Popular Photography & Imaging, and Outside Magazine.

He had had an enviable career traveling the world from underwater off California, to the Malaysian rain forest, to the arctic mountainsides of Alaska. He has always been concerned with the preservation of the world’s wild lands.

He’s currently finishing a book for release this September 2009. Palace Press International/Earth Aware Editions will publish The National Parks: Our American Landscape. I believe its release will coincide with the newest Ken Burns documentary.

Ian has been capturing the parks in photos for The Nature Conservancy and the National Parks Conservation Association for several years.  He’s a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Ian is featured in the Winter 2009 issue of National Parks magazine (part of NPCA) with a story about North America’s tallest mountain, Denali’s Mt. McKinley.

Last June, Ian was embedded in a National Park Service search & rescue patrol on Mt. McKinley, in Denali National Park, Alaska. He followed the search-and-rescue team as they did treacherous climbs, in unpredictable weather, and he captured some incredible photos. Ian wrote and photographed the piece about his experience.

Here’s a sample:

Mt. McKinley is the highest mountain in North America and the centerpiece of Denali National Park. Some members of the mountaineering community consider it more difficult than Mt. Everest. Its rise and bulk are greater than Everest, and in Denali there are no sherpas to carry your gear. You’re responsible for carrying every piece of equipment, which can weigh as much as 100 pounds per person. And compared with McKinley, Everest is downright tropical. The icon of Denali National Park sits at 63 degrees latitude, just beyond the edge of the Arctic Circle, sandwiched between the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean, a location that gives the dia­mond-shaped mountain a deathly moist, maritime climate. The greatly reduced barometric pressure has a direct impact on the percentage of breathable oxygen in the atmosphere; 14,000 feet on McKinley feels like a burning, gasping 18,000 on Everest. Gusting winds at the summit have been known to blow people right off the edge, never to be heard from again. Sudden shifts of cold weather can approach -100 degrees Fahrenheit. At least one climber is known to have been flash-frozen, like a mytho­logical creature that made the mistake of looking Medusa in the eyes.

Ian has taken his filmmaking background into creating multimedia pieces for the web mixing still photos and video. he co-founded Aurora Novus last year (a partnership with Aurora Photos) for this new venture.

An Ian gallery

A photo slideshow about the Denali adventure narrated by Ian.

Ian’s website

Ian’s photoblog – many great samples of his work

Penny Postcards

mt college
Montclair Teachers College
(now Montclair State University)

I came across two shoeboxes full of postcards that I have saved over the years.

Some are cards that were sent to me. Some are cards that I mailed home from places that my mom had saved. Some are cards that were never mailed and that I just bought or found. I even have some that have nothing to do with my own life that were mailed by others to others.

These postcards are sometimes called penny postcards. It wasn’t that these postcards cost a penny, but that they cost 1¢ to mail.

Lots of people seem to collect postcards.

Take a look at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~usgenweb/special/ppcs/ppcs.html
and this site about collecting postcards  http://www.postcardcollector.com
which led me to look at this site
and that site has some interesting & odd special projects
and this one on tombstones
and there’s a search tool for all state archives, so I looked at New Jersey obituaries

A few local cards from the childhood section of shoebox #1.
Civic Square, Irvington, New Jersey
Chancellor Avenue Playground
Irvington General Hospital

civic square
chancellor playground