Salinity

This year has unfolded with a specific kind of delightful unexpectedness. I’m leaning in to surrender to its beauty: the art of saying ‘yes.’ Life in limbo has taught me even more about cultivating a practice of presence, of showing up to unanticipated moments when they arise. Which is why we, of course, said ‘yes’ when we were invited to a friend’s wedding and subsequent four-day adventure exploring Israel just a few weeks before.

I hadn’t envisioned this moment for myself in 2022. I’m at the lowest point on earth: the Dead Sea. I inch my way cautiously into the water. Buoyancy. Floating. Mineral-rich soaking. Salt seeping into my skin. A droplet burning my eye. Warmth and salinity in tandem. 

My skin is taut after the dead sea mud I slathered on is dry. I return to the water, dip low and scrub it off to reveal a softness that is light, airy. 

The following day, I experience the Dead Sea from another vantage point: high above. We climbed Masada, an ancient fortress atop a rocky mesa, at dawn. Overlooking the salt lake with the Jordanian mountains looming in the distance, I found myself veering from our group to find stillness. The sun creeps up from behind the mountainous outline in the east and lights up the crevices of a place steeped in a traumatic history of defense and death. 

I look back and find my through line: everything has led me to here, to this place, at this very time. The only constant is change and the only thing you can control is your mindset. I settle into this feeling of soaking it in: the salt of the earth from below and up high.

photos of the dead sea from below sea level and high above at masada, israel • april 2022

Shuk HaCarmel

It was quiet at Shuk HaCarmel when I arrived in Tel Aviv. Closing time in the evening: market stalls that normally showcase the day’s freshest produce and sweetest treats were empty. 

There is peace in the way darkness and light are intertwined. I thought about this while walking through the market: the contrast allows space for gratitude and balance. Calm and vibrant. Bare and bustling. 

The morning energy the next day was that much more exciting. Stalls were setting up again and the streets shook off the solitude: whirring of blenders at fresh juice stalls; whiffs of fresh, strong garlic alongside a rainbow of produce; bellowing calls in Hebrew from vendors of all kinds. They draw you in with free samples. I always say yes, especially to sweets: chocolate babka and sugary donuts. 

A labyrinth of falafel and shawarma, halva and nuts, household goods and clothes. Local markets pulsate with the heartbeat of a place. I watch vendors interact with each other, exchanging large bills for smaller ones or trading vegetables. I grasp for any recognition of words in Hebrew: Hamesh means five and what was thank you very much again? Toda raba. The juice vendor, Tikva, graciously taught me phrases in the spaces between the roaring of her juicer. 

She sets down my orange fruit elixir and quickly grabs EVOO to splash a drop on top for vitamin E.  She quizzed me on my Hebrew the next day when I showed up and she remembered my order. Do you like it spicy with ginger? Just a little, please. 
I squeeze in time at the market as much as I can, even in the evening. I amble through dark alleyways and stumble upon bars pouring local beer and arak, an aniseed liquor.

A transformation is coming when day breaks and I can locate Tikva again. I’ll say shalom and try my best to echo her Hebrew teachings.

photos of shuk hacarmel, tel aviv • april 2022

Unpredictable

I peered out the plane window as we descended upon Navarino Island. Hovering over an isolated expanse of Chilean Patagonia raised the hairs on my neck. We were entering an unforgiving, yet magnificent landscape. Untouched and enchanting and terrifying for an amateur hiker like me.

I had only heard of Navarino Island a few months ago.

Tooth-like jagged peaks of the mountain range for which the trek gets its name loomed above Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world.

Dientes de Navarino: a fifty-three-kilometer trek with rocky-edged cliffs, slippery, mud-laden inclines, boulder-sized rock trails, and four grueling mountain passes.

I would be at the mercy of Patagonia’s unpredictable climate and my own mental toughness on a trek that only 200 or so people attempt each year. Weather would span the spectrum: from sunshine to downpour, high winds to hail, strong breezes to snow. Temperatures would drop as low as 30℉ at night, and rise to just above 50℉ during the day. And this was summertime, the only season the trail was accessible.

Remote wilderness, a few other hikers and our group of five: my boyfriend Daniel, his best friend Ryan, Felipe, Felipe’s girlfriend Paula, and me.

Why did I not prepare like I usually do for trips? Reading and reading and researching and consuming loads of information. I think maybe because it was so uncharted for me, so drastically different and new. Backcountry is a whole new world with its own set of cultural norms and colloquialisms. But I welcome the challenge.

In a way, it was kind of like teaching in Brazil and learning Portuguese after chasing the depths of the Spanish language from Spain to Colombia. Familiar enough, yet so completely new: just within my realm of possibility. And so, I went.

photos of the dientes de navarino trek • january 2020

Stillness + Sky

I relish the moment I shut the light off on my nightstand and am left with the open sky. It is endless through my bedroom window. Clouds move swiftly, planes even more so. An exhale, a pause, a moment to let the day go.

In the morning, I have time to stare out my window and watch the day go by. It quiets my racing mind and brings me back to my breath. I chase sunspots through the afternoon when bright rays heat up my comforter.

And then the sun dips below the horizon and rays shoot across the sky. Shades of pink, purple and orange on pillowy clouds: blue turns pastel, brushstrokes take over.

My fifth-floor, corner apartment is flanked with southwest-facing windows—portals to the limitless horizon. They allow me to stretch beyond these four walls, this neighborhood, this city. They whisper that I, too, am limitless.

I’m grateful to my past self for saying ‘yes’ to me. I gave myself the gift of time freedom: to appreciate the open sky and bear witness to its changing patterns.

The sunset reminds me of this daily. And the stillness of the night sky reassures me that I get to do it all over again tomorrow.

photos I’ve taken of the stillness of the sky

Barnegat Light

I return to the yellow iron steps that will carry me to the top of Barnegat Light. They twist and curve around the center pole, spiraling upward like a moon shell.

I learn about myself from a new vantage point: Barranquilla, Maceió, Havana, Santiago. I now find myself taking higher ground in a lighthouse above a place so integral to my roots: Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

As I ascend, I’m reminded of the space and sea I put between myself and my home since my dad died seven years ago and transformed into a texture so familiar, a granular form much like that of the beaches he called home. 

Of the unbearable moments of grief abroad, knees buckling, heart sinking, tears falling. On floors and beds, buses and planes, beaches and mountains. 

Of the Chilean mountain pass I descended, legs aching, heart pumping, grief swelling. Feeling connected to his infectious spirit, his laidback laughter, him saying “You gotta have fun, kid.”

I’ve been searching North and South America for a place to heal and it was here all along, after all this time. 

These 217 steps to the top of Barnegat Light are not strenuous, but they are monumental. 

I keep rising. Sun rays poke through the holed steps above me. I move through the lantern room and step out onto the catwalk. Circling my hands around the chipped red paint of the metal railings, I pull myself forward to press my cheeks in between them. An unobstructed view looking south over the sandy shores of Long Beach Island, Atlantic Ocean to my left, Barnegat Inlet to my right.

The deep green bay below surges onto the jetty. I drink it in: the brisk breeze, the squawking seagulls, the grounding sense of belonging that my dad must have felt here. 

I feel his presence in the in-between, just before a wave recedes into the salty abyss. The softest sizzling sound as the waves ebb and flow. 

It is why I return to the sea year after year, place after place. I wait for this opportune moment, and I let it wash my grief away. 

There is a belief surging to the surface that I am meant to be here, to return home. Not only to this familial place, but to myself. Like the current below, I too move forward on a ceaseless path.

photos of myself and my dad taken in Long Beach Island decades apart

written june 2020