Inky the octopus may have dreamed about escaping his tank before he slipped through a six-inch-wide drain about four months ago at the New Zealand National Aquarium. He not only had the ability to squish his football-sized-body through the drain but could also likely open jars, solve puzzles, and apparently got bored.
When I first read about Inky’s escape, I realized how little I know about the Earth’s sea creatures and invertebrates like the octopus. I wondered if Inky had planned his escape. How did he know the ocean was at the end of that drainage pipe? Could he make a distinction between the experience of being in an enclosed secure tank versus the vast, open and dangerous ocean?
I read several articles that stated octopuses have memory and can recall humans as well as respond to their name being called like a dog or cat. A feature written for Discover magazine describes octopuses as mollusks with complex brains that have tactile memory centers. They are also said to sleep.
In the article, a biologist observed, “that octopuses, ordinarily hypervigilant, may sleep deeply. Their eyes glaze over, their breathing turns slow and shallow, they don’t respond to light taps…”
Known for deception and being savvy hunters, an octopus like Inky could have very well been devising strategy in his dreams.
We should all be more like Inky; flexible and ready to jump at the opportunity to go beyond our constraints and explore the unknown.
On a stretch of highway near Great Barrington, MA, I was called to stop at a dirt road framed by trees (pictured above). On one side a cemetery hid in the shade and on the other a green, grassy lawn stretched into the sunlight. The road felt majestic like the trees were tall knights guarding a secret passage. And the road’s existence itself felt hidden, especially to me as someone who wasn’t from the area but rather enjoying an extended stay one hot July.
Very few people traveled the road. It was quiet. Surrounded by these tall, beautiful trees I felt an invitation to be still, to listen.
When I look at images from my time on this small stretch of road, I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems by David Wagoner, Lost, from Collected Poems 1956-1976, Indiana University Press.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
Reading the poem alone brings a sense of stillness and calm but above that it captures the knowingness of the trees and what exists in the space of the present moment.
Read the entire poem on the Writer’s Almanac site.
Some books fill the sky with color. Some authors leave a distinct hue, their indelible mark in the space beyond the clouds. When Maya Angelou passed on May 28 in 2014, I watched a gorgeous sky(pictured above) take shape at sunset in Salinas, Ecuador. The clouds stretched across the sky and shades of pink lingered before giving way to gold then yellow then orange.
It was her sky that evening, a majestic tribute in her honor. That evening I began a Maya Angelou reading marathon of sorts. While familiar with her poetry, I hadn’t read her autobiographies. I started with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which opens with a vivid scene of a young Maya in church. She evokes feelings of displacement and not being enough through a description of an ill-fitting, faded lavender dress.
“It was old-lady-long too, but it didn’t hide my skinny legs, which had been greased with Blue Seal Vaseline and powdered with the Arkansas red clay.”
She goes on to compare her skin to the color of mud, the minister’s wife has a long yellow face, and then a green persimmon or a lemon catches her between the legs after she trips on her way to the bathroom. Angelou manages to work every color of the rainbow into her story.
By the time I finished reading all of her autobiographies, she had taken residence in our home on the beach. I felt her presence in the hammock, in the bedroom with the green decor, and at the kitchen table. We had many visitors come and go during that extended stay but the one person I felt most connected to was Angelou.
Her stories were like the clouds in the sky floating in and around me, coming and going. Now each time I think about Salinas, I can’t help but remember her life experiences. For me Salinas belongs to the ocean, the sea lions, the sunsets, and Maya Angelou.
I have an imaginary pair of wings. Each time I move through certain yoga poses such as the various warriors, I attempt to expand beyond the limits of my fingertips. One day I hope to take off and fly.
A cow stands guard at a clearing in the woods in Mount Vernon, New Jersey.
I noticed the cow standing guard at a clearing in the woods. He had wandered into the forest and watched as we trekked to an area of moss-covered rocks. It was sometime after 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I had led a group on a hike during a recent Jersey City Writers rustic retreat in Mount Vernon, New Jersey. About 11 of us were staying in a farmhouse for a weekend writing immersion.
Could we be as diligent and disciplined with our writing as the cows were with their grass chewing and grazing? Could we return to the same field day after day? What these cows had was incredible amounts of space to go about their work and that’s what we were attempting to create for ourselves. But creating space to write requires more than just showing up to a retreat, your chair, laptop, or notebook for that matter. Landing in a scenic, quiet setting doesn’t instantly bring words to the page.
You have to allow for the space that comes from just being. You have to let go of all the distractions that keep your mind cluttered and allow for that clearing in the woods to manifest inside. I found that the moments I spent hiking through the woods, observing the night sky, or just listening and watching the cows as they pretended to be busy were just as valuable to creating space as sitting down in front of a blank screen.
Hovering above the George Washington Bridge.
Take to the sky on a helicopter ride for some writing inspiration.
When I did a few months ago, I experienced awe and excitement at incredible heights. My mind’s eye took in the expansiveness of the New York City area as the helicopter made its way up the Hudson River.
I took the excursion on a beautiful, sunny day when the views were crisp and clear. Tall buildings multiplied into small squares, trees resembled bushes, and the Statue of Liberty shrunk to miniature.
Sometimes it is a good idea to get out of your writing comfort zone and experience how your writing can take a different direction inspired by an unfamiliar setting. When you take to the sky and have the opportunity to observe the mechanics of life on the ground from a distance it not only shifts your perspective but also sharpens your senses.
I had the opportunity to explore the sky with Helicopter Flight Services for a feature in Jersey City Magazine. My goal was to capture a sense of the full experience from takeoff to landing.
I took away a new understanding of what it feels like to hover in the air—that state of being suspended without the fear of falling.
It surprisingly feels like being held, secure in a transparent capsule, similar to what I imagined Wonder Woman experienced as she flew her invisible airplane.
Take a look at the full story, “Hovering above the Hudson: Helicopter tour offers inspiring views.”
By the time we arrived at the road named after Juan Montalvo, a famous Ecuadorian author and essayist, the dawn’s mountain mist had given way to gray morning light. The streets in Baños, Ecuador were mostly empty and quiet that Sunday morning as my husband and I made our way to the thermal pools. Without a map or a guide, our desire to get to the healing mineral baths served as our compass.
We headed in the wrong direction at first, waited for a bus, then walked uphill, then hailed the bus down, then walked uphill some more. As we walked through the center of town, I stopped often but not only to ask for directions rather to look at the amazing murals and graffiti along the way.
On one wall a sea-mother-earth goddess slept while her baby volcano spouted clouds of pink and purple. On another wall an astronaut family glowing pink held hands walking in one direction perhaps on a trek of their own. From faces to cryptic letters to aliens, the drawings told a story about life in the Northern foothills of the Tungurahua volcano. I felt a part of that tale if only for a brief moment – a quirky character wearing socks and sandals – trekking up a mountain, sometimes lost, but with a destination and purpose in mind.
A character manifests