Appreciation for the Ocean, the Chinese, Courage, and Connie’s spirit.

It was Teacher Appreciation day last Friday.  My art colleague and I did a presentation to the elementary students about a school wide mural we are doing to raise awareness about plastic pollution in our oceans.

We asked the kids if we looked silly wearing plastic.  They decided we did.  Then we all decided the ocean looked even sillier than us wearing plastic.  (please check out

When I returned from giving the presentation, feeling a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of the extent to which plastic are filling up our oceans and why do I need to be explaining this to these sweet little elementary students, I found these thank you notes on my desk in honor of Teacher Appreciation Day.

We as a species have made a big mistake for the past 150 years thinking plastic was a good idea.  Today more than one million plastic bags are used every minute.  Albatross mamma birds are feeding their chicks plastic toys and combs thinking they are food for them, like shrimp.  It is so easy to look the other way. But apparently, this is what I am teaching the kids:

  So, time to practice what I am preaching, and face the plastic mistake head on.  We are doing our tiny little part, cleaning up some beaches and using that plastic to create a paint and plastic ocean mural in our school, raising awareness of how and why we use plastic.  And making something beautiful out of our mistakes.  The heightened awareness and hopefully rippling out  change will certainly be the most beautiful thing.


Today, our ocean began to come to life.

The kids are inspired, and ready to find the right combinations of turquoise and ultramarine and pthalo blues and greens to make our under-the-ocean scene flourish.

One set of hands at a time;

They are not giving up.


This weekend, Trinidad celebrated the 65th anniversary of the arrival of Chinese to Trinidad.

In celebration, the dragon boat paddlers got some great cheering on;

they did not give up.

The drummer kept the beat, and the paddlers kept the strokes to the rhythm of the beat.And


looked on.

The Chinese Steel Band played,

As the Aruban-American Trinidad transplants watched,

One of them sporting a new do.

When it comes to giving up, it is often about fear.  While it is always there for the taking, fear doesn’t always have an image that comes along with it.  For example, this weekend, while Junie and Elias were preparing to explore the underwater world at their scuba certification class,

Nicole and I were braving the Port of Spain roadways to get to Claxton’s Bay.  We made it all the way through town to get to the highway that leads us past Chaguanas and eventually to the front porch of the lovely woman that braids Nicole’s hair.  (She lives “over that way, a ways, just past the sugar cane fields, right before the corner where the doubles stand used to be…”  I pretty much grabbed a big handful of fear, put it in my pocket, and embarked on the journey.  The fact that we managed to stay  on the left side of the road the whole way, and the incredible relief upon coming home with a beautifully braided girl, a car in one piece, and no nervous breakdown for mamma almost made carrying that fear with me all morning worth it?


These intrepid tap dancers are not showing any fear nor signs of giving up.

The teacher on the other hand may be not quite so convinced.

 But she will make something beautiful out of their mistakes, I’m sure.


Elias shows complete confidence that he won’t be pushed in.

Nicole on the other hand, is a little more dubious about what is in front of her.

The iguana must have scurried right away when he heard the sounds of the cards slapping on the table.  Nertz has arrived in Trinidad, and talk about not giving up.  The Spanish and the Trinidadians are relentless in their Nertz playing.


But the most relentless of all has to be those frangipani caterpillars.

They  carefully, methodically, and indiscriminately ate every single blossom and leaf on the tree.

And then seemed to skulk away in the middle of the night, when we awoke, they were gone..

No  cacoon, no hidden gifts, nor debris left in their path.  It was a clean job.  They did leave plenty of frangipani trees in the yard so that when they come flying back as Giant Gray Sphinx moths, they will still have something to munch on.

There is always hope for the taking.


Someone was asking me this week if I still see signs of Connie.  She was worried that maybe she had forgotten her laugh.  She wasn’t noticing the signs of Connie’s spirit within or around her.  Do you see signs of Connie she asked?    She sounded as though she was worried that she was giving up hope.


 I remembered a poem I wrote about a year after Connie died

Running in Circles
When, in high school, I discovered the joy of running.
I  took great joy in the adrenaline surging solace I found in zipping through woods and trails.
I would drag my big sister out for runs,
her walking
and me literally running circles around her.When we got older,
I watched in awe as my big sister zipped through her life with such beauty, glamour, and fearless curiosity.
She would drag me and my not so glamorous friends out to clubs,
she dancing and flirting so gorgeously,
and me awkwardly watching from the sidelines,
she metaphorically running circles around me.It took the rolling hills of Vermont  for us to truly walk side by side,
literally and metaphorically.
As we shared our Vermont lives together in a uniquely intertwining fashion, we couldn’t imagine how we ever did  it without the other.
Thinking of her was all I needed to do to make my phone ring,
and vice versa.
We helped each other through the ups and downs of life’s choices,
the monumental and the seemingly inconsequential.
We were two side by side streams;
rolling along,
overlapping at some points,
flowing in opposite directions at others,.
Always returning to and finding peace in our parallel courses.One winter night, we were returning to VT from a family vacation,
one of those endless drives along route 91.
It was cold and dark and we each drove separate cars.
We stopped at a gas station, kids packed sleepily into their car seats,
we braved the bitter weather
to pump gas into our respective subaru station wagons.
Sporting the same hunched-over-I-hate-this-freezing-cold posture,
gas nozzle in hand,
both of us fumbling with the gas tank door;
we simultaneously looked up.
Recognizing the mirror nature of the glance, she said to me,
“Ever feel like we live parallel lives, El?”Our laughter warmed up the night,
and we kept on with our journey.

One spring day, we were at a family gathering (at her house!),
both of us feeling out of place and claustrophobic.
A white lie:
the dog needed desperately to have a walk.
We ended up deep in the woods,
a stream-side sisterly confabulation.
We took turns sharing our woes of the month,
crying on each other’s shoulders til we felt better.
She looked at me with her soft  blue eyes and said,
“It’s times like this when I realize how much I need you and how much you need me, El.”
When we remembered the guests,
we laughed at our social faux pas.

Our tears and laughter cooled us down,
and we kept on with our journey.

A new spring day.
I decided to take a run.
The same route Connie and I did so often during our
optimism-will-win-over-cancer campaign.
She would pick me up in her white subaru.
Two iced teas; no sugar, extra lemon
always appeared in the cup holder,
supplying energy for our summer strolls.
Sharing stories and gossip, solving the world’s problems, arguing, strategizing,
we walked together,
as we had learned to do so well over the past twelve years.

I had travelled this loop many times alone since she died,
always looking for some sign of her presence
in a bird’s song, or  a leaf falling,
the blowing of the wind, or the color of the setting sun.
Sometimes I would resume unfinished conversations with her as I walked along,
appearing  like a crazy woman to the occasional passerby.

This new spring day I  vowed to notice even the most subtle of Connie signs.
The almost forgotten smell of the earth as a homeowner raked out his garden.  A sign?
A bright red cardinal juxtaposed against a deep green pine tree.  A sign?
Three turkey vultures flying in circles above my head.  A sign?

Then I looked right at my feet,
to notice a little white dog running along beside me.
When she joined me on my journey, I didn’t know–
I was too busy looking for signs.
She had bright eyes, and even though all her legs were intact,
I noticed she sometimes used only three.
We did not speak to each other,
but she kept with me for the whole 5 mile course.
At times, we ran together, side by side.
At other times, when a bird or a puddle caught her attention, she went away from me.
But it was always a momentary parting,
and she would rejoin me as we quietly ran along the Vermont dirt roads.
When the hills were too steep, we walked, together.
Enjoying the views and the fresh air.
Revelling in each other’s company,
knowing it wouldn’t be forever.

It was so easy to spend time with her.

We had almost come to the end of the loop.
I started getting attached,
but I knew she didn’t belong with me any more.
I could hear the tags jingling, and saw her colorful collar.
I decided I would keep running, even though she was falling behind.
Maybe she’d find her home.

I looked up at our usual parking spot, and noticed
a white subaru parked.
I didn’t see any iced tea inside, but I did see a woman in the drivers seat.
She reminded me of Connie– the light brown hair,
and something of the angle of her face.
As I got closer, the subaru began to pull away.
The closer I got, the smaller the red taillights grew
until the car disappeared into the sunset.

As I peered into the distance wanting so much  to catch
another glimpse what I knew was really gone,
I kept running.
I had about two miles to go before home.
I continued down the hill,
happy that running still had the power to boost my spirits,
even though my teenage runner self would have
run circles around my forty-six year old jogger self.

As I continued down the hill,
I noticed that my dog companion was still with me,
bright and steady as ever.
I had to cross a busy street to get home.
I was sure I would lose her.
I tried not to be too attached,
I was getting so used to her being by my side.
Maybe I was getting used to saying goodbye.

I started down the last mile before home.
One last backwards glance and a jingly sound
told me that my fellow traveller was still there,
trotting along,
still switching between a 3 legged and a 4 legged gait.
She looked at me as if to say, “Wait up.”
We ran this last mile together,
feeling like kindred spirits.

As I ran up my front walk,
she ran right with me, as though she knew where to go.
We walked in the door together,
as though we were both coming home.

Upon calling the dog officer,
we soon found out her name was Grace.
We learned where Grace lived,
I said my thank-you’s and goodbye’s
and drove her home,
where she needed to be.


On my early morning walk to school, I was thinking about this poem, and about Connie’s spirit.  I heard a sweet little song, and  looked up, to see  a pretty yellow bird, watching me from the wires.

Every time I looked around for her, she was there, as though waiting for me to catch up.

When I arrived at school, she flew off.

and I continued on with my journey.

8 thoughts on “Appreciation for the Ocean, the Chinese, Courage, and Connie’s spirit.

  1. Dear Ellen, Junie, Nicole and Elias,
    This blog is so beautiful: it shows us, that you are enjoying your living in Trinidad.
    Ellen, you really are a writer, a poet, a photographer, an observer.
    Hopi cumindamento di

  2. Trinidad looks great on all of you guys, you’re all glowing in all of your pictures! You never fail to put a smile on my face.

    I wanna come play nertz with you guys! I like how you’re all standing- chairs do nothing but hold you back in nertz!

    Ps: I saw two butterflies today, right when I least expected them. 🙂

  3. i wanna see pictures of veronica in a future blog. you would be the perfect trinidadian butterfly. i read your poem and found myself on that same trail in vermont walking with connie and it made me smile. thanks el, miss you a bunch, see you in jan

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