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Weekly Photo Challenge: Family

What is a family? According to the dictionary, family for humans, is a group of people who are affiliated by blood, affinity or co-residence.

Some years ago, as I walked to the subway, a guy began walking beside me. He plied me with the usual questions then asked if I had a family. Of course, I said. I forget now what else I said only his response, which was something to the effect that my parents weren’t my family, they were my relatives. A husband and children were family. I remember feeling taken aback, jolted. If what he said were true, I thought, it meant that all along, I was wrong. I didn’t have a family. It was unsettling, to say the least.

In considering the concept of family, I also thought of same-sex families, blended families, single parent families, families headed by young adults, and families with adopted children.

Zulu woman and child

Zulu mother and child

Lesotho man and children

Lesotho father and children

Ofelia & Ofelia

Ofelia & Ofelia

After seeing wild animals up close last year and watching the way elephants and lions protect and nurture their young, I knew for this challenge that I had to include a few animal families as well.

Jackass penguins

Jackass penguins

Elephant herd

Cow elephant and young

Elephant herds provide an interesting study of animal families. Read more about them here –

Elephants have a matriarchal head. The family will consist of an older matriarch, her daughters (usually about 3 or 4 of them) and their calves. A typical elephant family usually comprises 6 to 12 individual elephants, but can expand to a larger group of 20. These females will assist each other with the birth and care of their young. This ‘babysitting’ is a very important part of the young elephant’s development as it prepares her for when she is a first-time mother. The matriarch is replaced by one of her daughters (usually the oldest) when she dies.

The family will eventually split, depending on the size of the herd. The decision to split also depends on the amount of food available in the area, as it may not be sufficient to sustain them all. This means that, in a large area, there will be several inter-related families. These families remain united to a certain extent and meet at watering holes and favourite feeding spots with much joy and celebration at seeing one another. Sometimes, herds combine to form larger clans. These clans are identified by observing the mannerisms of the members of each herd as they interact with those of another.

When travelling vast areas in search for food, the herd is led by the matriarch. The others follow her footsteps in single file. In this formation, they search for food and water. Calves hold on to the tails of their mothers with their trunks. The other females of the herd ensure that the calves are protected from outside dangers at all times by surrounding them as much as possible.

The fact that elephant herds are matriarch-led is most evident in the manner in which elephants mate. Bulls stick to a bachelor (all-male) pod in which they live and travel. When one of the bulls desires to mate, he will search out a herd of elephant cows. He will select a desirable cow and pursue her until she is ready to mount. She has the final say regarding whether or not she accepts the bull’s advances. Once he has mated with her, he returns to his bachelor herd, having nothing to do with the rearing or caring of the young.

Likewise, when the male calves in the herd mature into adolescence, they will also break away from the herd, gradually at first, and form bachelor pods with their peers. Adolescent females stick to their main herd until adulthood and, sometimes, even until death, depending of the resources available and the size of the herd.

Like humans, elephants are capable of forming very special bonds with their friends and family members. These relationships start at the core of the herd, i.e. mother and calf. But, they radiate out, and there have been astounding reports of lifelong bonds between elephants that have transcended time and even distance apart.

Elephants value their family structure, perhaps more so than many other animals. They are naturally outgoing, sociable animals and, as such, enjoy the interaction with fellow family- and herd members. Although structured, the herd is fluid enough to compensate for unforeseen circumstances (such as the death of one of the mothers, where other mothers allow the orphaned calf to suckle). Such ties are rare, and the empathetic and insightful nature of these magnificent animals continues to lure researchers deeper and deeper into the elephant psyche.


It’s Memorial Day

Picture of graves decorated with flags at Arli...

Image via Wikipedia

Memorial Day is the day set aside to remember the those men and women who have died for this country.

Personally, I’m conflicted about war but I’m clear about this: It isn’t the war, it’s the people – fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts and cousins – who matter. They matter because of the sacrifice they make.

I visited to Arlington National Cemetery twice when I lived in Washington, D.C. The first thing that struck me were the rows and rows of pearly headstones — stretching as far as my eye could see — set atop a carpet of lush green grass. As I walked around, I was struck by the eerie silence that hangs like a blanket over the cemetery. I found myself whispering when there was no need to. As if talking would be irreverent.

As far as I know, I don’t know anyone who’s buried at Arlington but I know it’s an honor to be.

And having lost close family members, I can imagine the grief their loved ones feel.

Years ago, when a holiday was declared to honor Martin Luther King, many of my friends said we had to make sure that the day didn’t turn into a day for sales.

I’m not sure when Memorial Day weekend became known as the unofficial start of summer or when Memorial Day evolved into a day for sales but to my mind it cheapens the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Arlington National Cemetery is open 365 days a year. From 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from April to September and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October to March.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Water

Sometimes, the best photos are the ones imprinted on our minds. They capture more than just the images.

That thought was in my mind as I looked through my collection to select the photos for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge. There’s an image related to water that I wish I had captured on film so I could share.

Fountain at the Louvre - Maynephoto

Some people can’t live without the mountains, I can’t live without water. I love looking at, playing in and being around it. But from time to time, I get so caught up in the everyday that I forget that I need water to wash away the rough edges, to balance and smooth me out. Sometimes, I even forget that I actually live on an island and am therefore surrounded by water.

I remember the day several years ago when I jumped into a cab in a mad rush to get to Penn Station. I was late and pressed the driver to hurry. I could feel the tension in my body when I settled into the back seat.

As the cab zoomed crosstown, I became so overwhelmed by the worry that I wouldn’t make the train that I was oblivious to everything around me. When the car turned onto the West Side Highway, something caused me to look up.

There it was. The Hudson River. I fell silent as I stared at the water, deep blue and sparkling under the mid-day sun. My worry fell away and a calm washed over me. I continued to stare even as we turned off the highway.

There would be another train, I thought.

In a canoe off Jamaica's southwest coast, ©Maynefoto

More thoughts on the significance of water came to me as I sifted through my photos. I used to reject anything that came easily. Life was about struggle. Swimming upstream meant whatever was achieved was worth it.  Then I realized how sweeter it is to be in alignment with one’s purpose and go with the flow.

Cape Town, South Africa, ©Maynefoto

I was looking out the window in the kitchen of my uncle’s house in Canada when the scene changed and I was standing on the beach in Jamaica that I used to go as a child. I was near a sea grape tree, looking towards the ocean. I could taste and smell the sea and raised my hand to shade my eyes from the sun dancing on the waves. Suddenly, I was back in the kitchen but overwhelmed by homesickness. I decided to go home and did the next morning.

I spent a beautiful week with the only grandfather I knew. He died a week to the day I arrived.

Golden Mile Beach, Durban ©Maynefoto

Me, a teenager, sneaking off to the river with friends when my mom said not to leave the house and almost getting carried away by the current. I stopped struggling and floated to the surface.

Avon River, Bath, England ©Maynefoto

Going to Coney Island Beach one rainy Thanksgiving Day. Passing the changing area and stepping onto the sand to the sound of the waves as they crashed ashore, the birds calling to each other and feeling at peace. I cried that day on the beach, in the rain. For joy.

May 28th, Start of Beach Season

Hoffman Island; and to the right, Swinburne Is...

Image via Wikipedia

Memorial Day weekend marks the official/unofficial start of summer and tomorrow, May 28th, kicks off beach season.

And not a moment too soon. It’s been a long and brutal winter in the Northeast and I, for one, am ready for some sea and sun!

The best part about being in this area is that most of the beaches are accessible via public transportation: subways or train, whether the Long Island Railroad or New Jersey Transit. There really is no excuse not to go to the beach.

So grab your bathing suits, sunscreen, beach towels, floppy hats and sun glasses and check out at least one of these beaches.

New York City

Long Island

New Jersey

With roughly 700 beaches on its Atlantic coast, New Jersey offers plenty of places to dip your feet in the water. Here are a few:

  • Avalon Beach
  • Belmar Beach
  • Ocean City
  • Point Pleasant (my favorite)
  • Wildwood Beach


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