Please turn off all electronic devices

I am in my 50s (how did that happen?). I did not grow up in the world of personal computers, cell phones, tablets, iPods, etc. It was with great excitement that my family bought a color television. The old black and white set was relegated to my mother’s bedroom, where it sat on her dresser with its wire coat hanger antenna. When one of us was sick (or pretending to be), we would camp in Mom’s room and watch from her bed. We didn’t have remote controls. As the youngest of 4 children, I was the human remote control (“Hey Gen, change the channel to Mannix.”)

old tv
I think we got 4 channels.
mannix_tv_series-630966247-large
Mannix, starring Mike Connors, ran from 1967 to 1975.

A fun Friday night at the Cottraux house was eating TV dinners in front of Mannix. My teenaged sisters were usually out on dates, so it would be me, my brother, and Mom, each with a TV tray and the dinner of choice. I enjoyed these, surprisingly. They were considered a treat. My food tastes have changed, thank goodness!

Tvdinner
Yes, I actually enjoyed these.

None of us in the immediate family like to talk on the telephone. In fact, some of us (me) hate to talk on the telephone and have telephonophobia. This is a real thing, the fear of telephones, and is considered a form of social anxiety. But my teenaged sisters HAD to have their own phone in their bedroom. It was a beautiful Princess phone. I thought my sisters were so COOL and I wanted to be just like them. Still do in fact.

phone
I’m not sure if my sisters’ phone was pink, but I thought it was beautiful.

 

I had no interest in mobile phones when they came out. None. Plus they were huge and hideous.

old mobile

I finally got a mobile phone in 2000 when I was working for California State Parks on a 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. shift and was often the first one at the park on cold, dark mornings. I justified it as a safety thing. I never talked on it. I had it for years. It didn’t even have games that I know of.

nokia 6101

So how did I become the person at the summer residency program at the Institute for Humane Education in Surry, Maine who always had her iPhone in her pocket and had trouble setting it aside during activities?

 

I’ve written a little bit about the week in Maine:

I’m finally headed to summer camp…

Falling in love with frogs

This was a time to enjoy being in a beautiful natural setting with amazing people and at least 5 species of awesome frogs. It was not a time to be worrying about where to charge a phone. Some of my favorite activities:

The Bioblitz Dance (Bioblitz Dance)

The Bioblitz Dance is an ongoing “dance” challenge as part of the National Park Service’s Centennial.  The dance was created by John Griffith of the California Conservstion Corps. You too can do the Bioblitz, and post the video to YouTube under the title “The Bioblitz Dance”. It’s fun! And remember, it MUST be done outdoors.

 

Seton Watching (Go Out and Seton Watch!)

At first I heard the name of this activity as Seated Watching. Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) was a naturalist and wildlife artist, born in England to Scottish parents. His family emigrated to Toronto, Canada when he was a child. He reportedly retreated to the woods to escape his abusive father.

800px-Ernest_Thompson_Seton
Ernest Thompson Seton

The idea is pretty simple. Find a comfortable spot outdoors, sit quietly, and observe. Each of us chose a spot, and every day for the week we had varying lengths of time set aside to go sit and observe. You might think my spot was the frog pond, but it wasn’t. I did my own version of Seton watching in the early morning hours at the pond. My “official” Seton watch spot was in a hammock under the trees at the edge of the meadow leading to the pond. My first choice was actually an old school desk in the woods, but I couldn’t remember which trail went there, and the hammock was empty and close by.

IMG_4436

The instruction was to observe a spot about the size of a magazine spread, but since I was looking up into the tree canopy, it was a little different. But still amazing. The play of light through the leaves varied each day depending on time and weather. The sounds of the wind through the trees (I think they were birches) was always intriguing. I could hear birds all around me but I couldn’t see them. I stayed awake. And I didn’t look at my phone.

Wonder Walk (Wonder Walk instructions)

Wonder Walking is done in pairs, with each person taking a turn as the Leader and as the Follower. We did this on the first day when we really didn’t know each other, so there was an element of trust that had to be assumed in turning yourself over to a stranger to be led eyes closed. The odd thing is that I was much more relaxed as the Follower than I was as the Leader. Maybe not that odd, when I think about it!

my hand
Rafael leads me on a Wonder Walk. Photo by Abba Charice Carmichael for IHE, 2016.
with Rafael
Photo by Abba Charice Carmichael for IHE, 2016.

If you are at all curious about Wonder Walking, I am game to go on one with you. Just let me know!

Group Outdoor Art Project

When this activity was announced, my first reaction was “Can’t I do an art project by myself?” Once a loner, always a loner.( I am trying to prove that wrong in my old age.) As an art museum registrar, I found it particularly interesting that all of the groups chose to do ephemeral, performance pieces. Some involved sound, including music created with natural objects in the environment. Flowers played a big role in other offerings. My group did a participatory, silent piece that resulted in a bird bath filled with flowers. It was quite beautiful. And I enjoyed the group process more than I admit.

IMG_4493

Also highly recommended: eating your meals with friends out of doors. And campfires with campsongs (learn the lyrics to Señor Don Gato; you’ll thank me) and (vegan) S’mores. 

IMG_4506
Veggie dog on the dock at Castine, Maine.
IMG_4559
Who doesn’t love a campfire?
IMG_4596
Age 54, my first S’mores experience.
senor-don-gato-manders
Illustration by John Manders

Get outside, and please, turn off your electronic devices!

shutterstock

Falling in love with frogs

Maybe it started with Kermit the Frog, the iconic Muppet with a heart of green-gold.

Kermit
How can you not love that face?

As someone who struggles with anxiety and self-esteem, Kermit singing Bein’ Green, written by Joe Raposo, on Sesame Street in 1970 (maybe I was a little old for Sesame Street at 9 but then again, is anyone ever too old for Sesame Street?) touched my soul and still does.

 

I still watch The Muppet Show when I have a chance. 

Or maybe it was our grandfather Papa, singing the folk song A Frog Went A-Courting to us when we were children. Although this wouldn’t explain my sister Ellen’s fear of frogs. Maybe that’s from Mom supposedly cooking frogs’ legs for Daddy and the legs jumping out of the pan. Mom swore this was true.

froggiewoo2
From the children’s book by Janet Kay Jensen.

On You Tube I found versions by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, and a bunch of guys with guitars who I never heard of. But I think Pete Seeger is the closest I’m going to get to Papa.

There are some seriously stupid jokes about frogs. I like stupid jokes. Unfortunately, in many of them things don’t go well for the frog (you know, the word croak being the punchline).

Waiter, waiter, do you have frog legs?

No, I always walk this way.

What do stylish frogs wear?

Jumpsuits!

A few years ago, I took a class called Phobease on dealing with phobias and anxieties. No, frogs weren’t on my list, though they are on Ellen’s. One of Dr. Fear’s (aka Dr. Howard Liebgold) sayings was “If you have to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning. If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.” I never liked this saying. I get it. If you have to do something that makes you anxious, just do it and get it over with, and do the hardest first. But I felt bad for that poor so-called ugly frog. At the end of the class, Dr. Fear handed out little plastic frogs to all of us. I still have mine.

FullSizeRender

I recently spent a week in Maine at the Institute for Humane Education in Surry with a group of my fellow Humane Education students. It was there that my love for frogs was finally made clear. I don’t sleep well away from home, especially if I get in the habit of drinking coffee during the day. And if I’m anxious. Which I was.

sleepless
Sleepless in Surry.

Not wanting to wake my cabin mates (did I mention we all stayed in a bunkhouse together? I’m finally headed to summer camp…) I found myself out of doors in the early hours of the morning down at the pond.

the pond
The Pond.
my feet at the pond
Girl meets pond.

I am not particularly an outdoorsy person, and going barefoot is one of my phobias. But there I’d be at 5 a.m. in the damp, on the dock, watching and listening at the pond.

my feet with sunset
Pond and feet at sunrise.

I don’t mediatate either; I always feel like my hyperactive brain sabotages me. But I could easily spend an hour or more in the early morning sitting on the dock listening to the frogs. 

(I don’t know how to embed the videos I took, so this sound clip from You Tube will suffice.)

bullfrogs 3

I was curious if there were any poems about frogs, particularly American, New-Englandy style ones. And lo’ and behold, Robert Frost wrote a poem called Hyla Brook. (Hyla is the genus of the small green tree frog.)

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 5.42.28 PM

I also decided to search for frog sounds on iTunes. I am not the only one who loves the sound of frogs!

frog sounds search

I’m considering forking over $9.99 for this one.

frog sounds search album

I can play the sounds while I do the next best thing to pond meditating, which is spending time with the animals who share a home with me.

pretend pond
Our version of the frog pond.

Of course, I have no idea how Einstein and Misty will react to the frog sounds. It might not be as calming for them as it is for me.

Maybe they’ll prefer this selection: Hair of the Frog by Three Weird Sisters. And don’t get me started again on the whole “three sisters” thing! A Tale of Three Sisters

Hair of the Frog

 

I’m finally headed to summer camp…

Not really, but I’m going to Maine for a week for a residency at the Institute for Humane Education in Surry, Maine for my doctoral program. Fourteen (yes, 14)  of us will be staying in a cabin with bunk beds and 1 (yes, one) bathroom. Am I excited? Anxious, more like.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.41.14 AM
Surry, it’s there somewhere.
Surry Maine
Surry, Maine. Note the lobster traps. I don’t eat lobsters.

 

As a child, I NEVER wanted to go to summer camp. EVER. My siblings were of a more “joining” nature–sports, after school activities, student government, scouts (ugh). I was not of this nature. In the least. I much preferred the solitude of a good book in a quiet place ALONE.

girl_810_sitting_in_treehouse_reading_book_low
A child after my own heart.

Mom signed me up for Brownies. I was okay with that. Brownies is basically craft time with snacks, things I love (still).

snacks and crafts 1
Arts and crafts, yes.

Then came Girl Scouts. I was an awful Girl Scout. Sell cookies and earn badges and make camp stoves out of tin cans? Exactly what were the tin can stoves for? CAMPING! I played hookey from troop meetings until Mom caught on and then she let me drop out. Thank you, Mom!

Girl-Scouts-Header
Not me.

 

badges
Not interested if I have to actually work for them.

She know better than to propose summer camp. I spent my summersreading books, drawing pictures, and watching way too much television. I was so happy!

My vision of summer camp is of mean girls, being humiliated and probably drowning, awful food, and bug bites and sunburn. The word rustic should be applied to expensive artisanal foods, not living arrangements.

rustic cabin
What I see when you say rustic cabin.
rustic bread
Rustic bread? Now you’re speaking my language!

When I was about 10 or 11, in an effort to get us out of the house, my stepfather gave my brother money to take me to the movies. He took me to see the double feature of Butterflies are Free and Bless the Beasts and the Children. Probably not appropriate for my age. Have you seen Bless the Beasts and the Children? (Get the Carpenters song out of your head.) Summer camp is not a nice place. People and animals DIE.

Bless

How I imagine myself at summer camp:

me at camp

The letter I would write to my mother (soaked in tears):

camp-letters-summer-365

I am sure the house will be very nice and surprise me. The 14 of us will become good friends (we’ll for sure get to know each other), have a good time, and learn a lot from our instructors and mentors. That part I am excited about. I have a feeling I’ll be taking showers at weird hours and mostly avoiding the bathroom as much as possible. I will post updates, no worries about that! And if anyone pushes me in any body of water, maybe I’ll finally learn to swim.