January 2, 2020

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Dear seafaring friends,

How have the past three hundred and seventeen days treated you? I hope so desperately that you’ve been well throughout at least a good percentage of them! It is difficult to resist the blogging-monologue temptation to tell you exactly what manner of misadventures and magic have colored my past year – but in the spirit of the newly-arrived “twenties,” I will strive to dwell upon the future instead of the past.

I want to start blogging again. No, that’s not quite right – rather than simply returning to form, I intend to change the way in which I share words, pictures, and history with you.

In the five years in which I have “maintained” (a word I use loosely here) this blog, I must have attempted to reshape its overall image and identity at least ten times. I strove to keep up with the times and to adhere to changing design trends, aspiring to a digital minimalism that does not remotely reflect my fondness for visual excess.

When I considered returning to Mailbox Mermaid once more, I decided to search the depths of the British Library’s public domain historical images Flickr for inspiration – and found the perfect late nineteenth-century illustration that captured the frantic and overcrowded coral reef of ideas and whims that has emerged in my mind of late.

“Coral Bank in the Red Sea,” featured in my new blog design, hails from Robert Brown’s 1893 monographic Our Earth And Its Story: A Popular Treatise on Physical Geography. The vivid colors and intricate textures transport me to a stunningly saturated underwater fantasy, a pelagic paradise in which an endless spectrum of pictorial delights compete for the viewer’s attention – here a scattering school of fish, there a distant yet watchful shark.

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What is to come on this blog (if I indeed manage to remain true to my intentions) will involve a similar ecosystem of the imagination. I fancy writing posts that sound like letters more than articles, and sharing stream-of-consciousness musings inspired by the books I read, the natural wonders I observe, and the things that I make by hand.

I aim to cultivate a collection of one-sided correspondence and create a virtual place that feels like a tranquil tidepool tucked at the edge of a halcyon lagoon. May I write to you, and share some of my maritime dreams? I do hope you’ll say yes – at least for one more post! 

Sincerely,

Mailbox Mermaid

scenes from a sail

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As someone who cultivates an association with the ocean throughout all she does, I must confess that I can count the number of times I’ve actually traversed the sea on one hand. Unlike the protagonists of The Wind in the Willows, I lack much experience with “messing about in boats.”

You can imagine, then, what a deeply moving and exhilarating experience I enjoyed on this recent sailing adventure during my trip home! Flat water, clear skies, and a few humpback whales passing through (captured in all their glory thanks to my zoom lens!) made for a most enchanting morning.

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back to north berwick

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When I lived in Edinburgh for a semester – five years ago, if you can believe that! – I arrived in the bleak midwinter and departed at the very end of May. Such a schedule prevented me from experiencing the Scottish summer: a simultaneously blustery and sunkissed time, when the evenings stay illuminated until long into the night.

As I planned my research trip, I knew that finding accommodations in Edinburgh itself would probably deplete my fellowship money all at once. In an attempt to be frugal, then, I decided to find lodging in my beloved North Berwick instead, commuting into the city each day via train to keep my appointments at various galleries and archives.

Saving money and staying by the seaside? I couldn’t be happier!

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Given the nature of my trip – intended as an investigative art historical learning opportunity, not a vacation! – my days proved both productive and exhausting. On a Friday, I had appointments at two branches of the National Gallery that happened to be located a good distance away from each other. My wrist-worn personal fitness robot informed me that I’d walked over 20,000 steps in the process! I’d return to North Berwick feeling as content in my new knowledge of fairy paintings as I was exhausted, and a leisurely evening stroll by the sea restored my energy.

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If you want to avoid the Edinburgh crowds by staying in North Berwick, I’d offer the following words of advice:

  • Buy off-peak day return tickets for the train if you can – you save so many pounds, and the “peak time” window during which you are not allowed to travel is surprisingly short. Ask a conductor or staff member on your train to confirm!
  • If you’re leaving on a Sunday, hire a taxi or car transfer to get you to the airport or the train station, because train schedules are reduced on that particular day.
  • The gelato place near the main street of town is open until 10 PM in the summer. Just saying!

(P.S. Remember the last time I visited North Berwick?)

no place like Orme

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Chasing down the exact etymological history of the Great Orme in Llandudno is akin to pursuing an elusive dragon across the high seas. The most widely disseminated information suggests that it derives from the Old Norse ormr for “serpent” (think wyrm/worm in the Old English/Anglo-Saxon/Tolkienesque sense, depending on your personal preference). Whether that’s fanciful or fact,  I would love to believe that this great cliff rising from the shimmering water reminded someone, Viking or Victorian, of a massive beast standing sentinel at the coast.

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lake como in the snow

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Last year, I spent January 1st by the piers of Monterey and the final days of December next to these chilly harbors. Lake Como, as far as I understand it, is a celebrated summer oasis for boaters, architecture-lovers, and relaxation-seekers alike: of course we visited in the middle of winter, and spent our only full day dodging icy rain.

Yet Como’s weather deities smiled upon us at last during our final four hours in the area, and I had the opportunity to capture a waterscape unlike any I’d ever photographed before, pairing blue waves with distant snowy peaks!

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seventeen-mile drive

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Yesterday, Western Massachusetts suffered a messy and miserable mix of sleet and snow and hail: so please believe that I’m taking any opportunity to send my mind back to California!

Of course, we couldn’t stop in the Monterey area without winding our way along the scenic Seventeen-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. The afternoon began misty and grey (why is that so much more beautiful by the sea than among the gloomy bare trees of New England winters?) and blossomed into another glowing sunset.

And although I can’t teleport myself back to the other side of the country, at least you can follow me on a multi-mile journey around a meandering coastal road!

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Field Notes from Beachcombing

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I come from a family of dedicated, competitive beachcombers.

There’s not much in the way of wisdom that I can impart to aspiring beachcombers, since it’s a very personal, simple activity: all you need is a shoreline and the willingness to look closely. So take the notes that follow with a grain of salt (or, perhaps, sand) and go out there yourself, if you can! You never know what you might discover!

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