An Idiosyncratic View

Here are 25 images from 8 days in New York City, where I lived on and off through the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 2000’s. My view of the city is never the same two days running, but it’s likely it will be in line with this:

“There is no surrender of beauty, only an effort to find beauty by going past the typical and arriving at the common. I do not love the travel pages. I look past them and go to the substratum of the visible environment. What I love about Bali is what I love about Sao Paulo, Nairobi, Seoul and Reykjavik: the material evidence of human life, which goes on in spite of the world’s enmity. In this search, the intense attachment to the beautiful remains. The sun pours itself all over the world and the world’s things. Things are being built, or repaired, or broken. Things sit in the street, free of use. Things are on the verge of speech. Ladders rise, angels invisibly ascend and descend.”

“Assemblages inhabit their own complexity and color. What I visit less often is what has been labeled beautiful ahead of time, what has been verified by the tourist board. I want to see the things the people who live there see, or at least what they would see after all the performance of tourism is stripped away.  I love these places that are not mine for the underground channel of perception by which they are connected, the common semantics of used space, the shock of familiarity, the impossibility of exact repetition.”

Teju Cole, from the book “Blind Spot.”

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1) A Long Island Railroad crossing in a town just outside New York City

2) Graffiti sticker at historic Fort Totten: Queens

3) A photographer in the garden at the Noguchi Museum in Astoria: Queens

4) One World Trade seen through a scrim of Sycamore branches: lower Manhattan

5) Waiting to cross the street at Fifth Avenue and 80th Street: uptown Manhattan

6) Overgrown ammunition magazine at Fort Totten: Queens

7) One seat left at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: uptown Manhattan

8) I wore silly shoes, I dropped my scarf

9) The residential buildings, Toren Tower and Avalon Fort Greene: Brooklyn

10) The W train (elevated subway) in Astoria: Queens

11) Two crab escapees at the fish counter at a Chinese grocery store in Flushing: Queens

12) Looking up Broadway near Wall Street at rush hour: lower Manhattan

13) There’s always construction: lower Manhattan

14) There’s always construction: Queens

15) Ductwork and fire escape, vicinity of Church Street: lower Manhattan

16) Texting in a cafe in Chelsea: Manhattan

17) “All is Not Lost Too” when texting while walking in Astoria: Queens

18) A high rise seen through ornamental grasses in Battery Park: lower Manhattan

19) One World Trade Center seen through trees in Zucotti Park: lower Manhattan

20) Pedestrians at rush hour in Zucotti Park: lower Manhattan

21) The Oculus at the World Trade Center: lower Manhattan

22) Train tracks outside the city: New Hyde Park, Long Island

23) A woman rests her gaze at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: uptown Manhattan

24) A migrating Monarch butterfly on Verbena: Battery Park, lower Manhattan

25) The Throgs Neck Bridge seen through Black locust tree seed pods at Fort Totten Park: Queens

 

 

 

 

 

The Three Graces

Ever since I first saw a reproduction of a statue of the Three Graces, I’ve been drawn to the idea and manifestation of Three Graces. In mythology the three graces are Aglaia (Beauty), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Abundance). Who doesn’t need more of those qualities? Who would foolishly turn away from them?

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I walk though the Greek and Roman Galleries on my way to see another exhibit, and I’m stopped short by the vision of my old friends, the Three Graces. Full size, the hover above me but are not out of reach. The galleries are crowded with visitors but the familiar form burns into my retina, cancelling out everything else.

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The three women connect with each other, joined in a relaxed stance that belies the importance of their work: bringing joy and beauty to the world. Facing, not facing, facing, they include everyone in grace. Fellowship and power – the power of grace – are embodied in the feminine.

(Also called the Kharities (Charities), they attended Aphrodite and Hera. Dance, song, joy, goodwill and adornment can be added to their virtues. Cults worshiped them in southern Greece and Asia Minor, and many artistic renditions of them sprang up in pottery, on coins, in sculpture, etc. At first they were clothed, later they were shown naked. From Botticelli to Niki de Saint Phalle, artists continue to work the theme.)

The 2nd century AD statue was purchased in 2010 with the help of, among others, Oscar de la Renta, the fashion designer. Mr. de la Renta, famous for clothing women elegantly, helped the museum keep these unclothed beauties in the public eye.

 

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Upstairs I noticed another rendition:

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The painting (titled “Meeting (The Three Graces)” is by Manierre Dawson, whom I hadn’t heard of. An American born in 1887 to an art-loving family, he studied civil engineering and worked in an architectural firm. In 1910 he traveled to Europe, where he looked at lots of art and attended a soiree at Gertrude Stein’s. What an education it must have been!  After returning to America he was producing innovative abstract paintings, one of which Stein purchased. He supported himself and his family by working a fruit farm at his family’s summer property in rural Michigan. The contradictions artists often live within:  Dawson purchased a Marcel Duchamp painting at the Armory show in 1913; on the farm he mastered orchard skills: what trees need to bear fruit.

In a 1913 journal entry he writes, “Why not stay here on the farm, add a few acres of level land … and earn a living from the soil, with every spare hour devoted, at times to the pleasures of married life, or at times to the pleasures of painting, sketching or carving.”  “The pleasures of” – the Three Graces’ whispered message is heard, and heeded. The farm became successful and Dawson devoted more time to making art, finally achieving recognition late in life with shows in Florida, and later New York.  He is considered an American pioneer of abstract art.

The day after visiting the Met, I was in Chelsea and again I was stopped short by a vision of Three Graces.

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A water offering sits at the base. Traffic streams down Ninth Avenue. The women are a counterpart to all that rushes and flows around them and I’m drawn in to the warm, sensual feeling emanating from gray stone.

One more image from New York seems to fit the theme:

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A tree mars the composition but you take what you can get when you’re taking pictures on the street. The women are part of a wedding party gathering for pictures on a Friday afternoon in Battery Park, in lower Manhattan. There are more than three people and they’re not all women, but Beauty, Mirth and Abundance are embodied here, on this October afternoon.

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Besides seeing various versions of the Three Graces, I made other connections on this trip, connections that are inevitable if you think about what you see, and unfetter your mind. There was the work of two Japanese American artists who were interned during WWII, Isamu Noguchi and Ruth Asawa. I don’t know if they ever met, but I saw connections in their experiences as Japanese Americans with complicated identities, in their mastery of materials and in the simplicity of form in their work.

Trees were a running theme, whether at an old African Burial ground in Queens or a busy downtown park. Monarch butterflies too, because they were flying at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Battery Park. Bamboo, featured in a Metropolitan Museum exhibit, also drew my eye at the Noguchi Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Architecture and ordinary buildings held my attention everywhere. The sensory overload was intense, but my eyes were hungry.

It felt good to return to the gentle rains of the Pacific Northwest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BACK AGAIN

I went back again to

my beloved

New York City

now

I’m back again, in

my treasured

Pacific Northwest.

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And needless to say, there are many photographs to look at, think about, process and share. There are more in my inbox; the backlog is eleven days old. Today I’ll begin catching up with what everyone is doing.

On this trip, we spent a lot of time in the outer boroughs – five days of seeing sights and lively, often raucous, get-togethers with family and friends in Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island – leaving just three days in Manhattan. New York is divided into five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.  Manhattan is at the center, the others are the outer boroughs. When people say “New York City” they usually mean Manhattan, but a city resident could spend their entire life in the Bronx and never go into Manhattan.

As we traveled from borough to borough by car, glimpses of the Manhattan skyline captivated me, just as they have for many years. I first came to New York as a five-year-old to visit my grandparents. We went up to my grandfather’s office in a building on Park Avenue, and looking out his window, I was transfixed by all the yellow cabs, the activity, the color and movement. The view up Park Avenue and the energy on the streets and sidewalks of New York became focus points driving a deep longing to fully experience life in the city. By the age of 18 I was living in Manhattan. A photo from that early trip:

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Here are a few views of Manhattan from the elevated BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway), a notorious traffic nightmare. It wasn’t too hard to grab shots of the skyline as we went from Queens to Brooklyn at a 20 mph clip, which is decent for the BQE.  The old Kosciuszko Bridge over Newtown Creek had just been demolished, leaving sections of the roadway angled wildly into the air like a sculpture John Chamberlin or Mark di Suvero might have done back in the 60’s. That’s the kind of eyeball-popping excitement I expect from New York, and I’m never disappointed. There are always surprises in New York, especially when you’ve been away for a few years…

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How about that? The iconic Empire State Building and Chrysler Building stand proud behind a foreground lush trees and a cemetery. Not your average NYC skyline view.

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The Chrysler Building is on the left, and to the right is the soaring, skinny 452 Park Avenue, said to be the western hemisphere’s tallest residential building. The East River, which separates Manhattan from Brooklyn and Queens, can’t be seen here. It’s between the high rises and the older buildings.

 

 

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Pieces of the old Kosciuzko Bridge roadway, seen from the new one, after the bridge was demolished. The center section of the bridge was cut off, lowered towards the water and barged to a New Jersey scrapyard, then sections of bridge roadway on either side were VERY carefully detonated. Watch the demolition here and here. I think the sections I photographed are farther from the main bridge, so they haven’t been fully demolished yet – but if anyone knows better, I’m all ears.

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This view shows Newtown Creek in the foreground. It separates Brooklyn from Queens, and has been a busy hub of industrial activity for decades. It’s a Superfund site now because of copious amounts of raw sewage and industrial waste dumped there over the years, along with 30 million gallons of spilled oil. How placid the polluted estuary seems!

In my mind, the old smokestack echoes the new residential tower in Manhattan, tying together two very different sides of New York – the glitzy world of high-price Manhattan real estate and the workaday world of heavy industry and sewage disposal. Just two days ago an 8-acre residential site went up for sale on Newtown Creek, in the middle of what has been an industrial wasteland for many years. Someday, this could all be gentrified…

I’ll be back soon with more from New York….where just five miles from the places pictured above I saw this magical sight – a group of hungry Monarch butterflies feeding on asters at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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Variations on Local Themes

A grand collapse of foliage,

a lens that distorts.

Old willows frame

paths to obscurity.

 

 

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Photographs made at Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland, Washington with a Lensbaby Composer Pro and processed in Lightroom (a few changes made in Color Efex Pro). For some photographs, in-camera filters such as Dramatic Tone, Grainy Film & Soft Focus (on an Olympus OM D1 camera) were used.

The trees are mainly willows, the ferns are Lady ferns (Athrium felix-femina). The single leaf on the ground that’s turning color as if it were a map is from a Cottonwood tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HIGHS & lows

The beauty of mountain landscape was all I wanted to talk about. The photographs from two trips to Mount Rainier, one last week and one on June 30th, were almost ready to publish. I love being high up in the mountains. I’m very thankful I can go there regularly and I enjoy sharing photos of these “wanderings.”

But my mind is clouded with the knowledge that three nights ago, 59 people were killed when a man whose mind I cannot fathom, opened fire on an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. Posting about trips to the mountains as if nothing had happened doesn’t feel right.

As America debates the wisdom of laws that allowed this man to legally buy weapons that made it only too easy for him to kill and maim hundreds of people, the second amendment comes up once again. The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” 

I wonder, where do we draw the line at defining arms? The perpetrator couldn’t buy a missile – we seem to agree on that limit – but in Nevada he could legally buy assault weapons, large capacity magazines, and equipment to turn his guns into fully automatic weapons with the ability to kill dozens of people with one squeeze of the trigger.  Now, 59 innocent people are dead and 489 are injured.

I don’t expect America to ban guns – I’m not naive. But lines can be drawn. Will tighter laws that outlaw the sale or possession of military-style assault weapons prevent every mass shooting? No, but we can start somewhere, can’t we?  Lives do not have to be wasted this way. So many innocent people died, and the waves of people who were and will be affected by those deaths ripple out farther than we might think.

I believe millions of people are discouraged by this event and other acts of violence around the world. It’s not a good feeling. So instead of running the text I originally wrote alongside the photos, I’m going to post the images by themselves, in the hope that if you’ve been discouraged by recent events, public or private, you might find a bit of respite in seeing an uninterrupted stream of photographs from high places.  (The original text is at the bottom).

 

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It’s about 110 miles from my house to Paradise.

Paradise, Mount Rainier that is. On that long drive to Mt. Rainier National Park we pass through cities, suburbs and deep forests, but the critical distance traveled is in elevation. To go from 400 feet to over 5400 feet (1646m) above sea level completely changes your perspective – geographically, environmentally, emotionally and spiritually.  To raise ourselves above our ordinary surroundings is why we go. Arriving at this pristine place where the busy world drops away, our perspective widens, and we touch the infinite.

The winding two lane road up to Paradise is kept clear of snow all year, but even in late June, huge piles of snow lingered up at the visitors center. I had been eager to see Paradise in the snow, and we could have traipsed around on rented snowshoes, but I was content just to sit on a log, watching as a couple threw snowballs at one another, peering at trail markers half-buried in snow, and listening to the pleasant gurgle of icy water pouring down the steps and across the parking lot. It’s hard to describe, but there is something about the atmosphere on a mountain that feels pure, relaxing, and energizing. That day we stopped at Longmire, too. It’s several thousand feet lower so butterflies and bright Spring flowers replaced the snow of Paradise. What a difference the elevation makes!

We returned to the mountain on August 16th for a hike at Sunrise, on the other side of the mountain from Paradise; the hike is described in a recent post.  Last week we went back again. A trail I’d hiked two years ago, the Naches Peak Loop, had been closed for weeks this summer because of smoke from wildfires in the area. After some rain the smoke cleared enough for the pass and trails to reopen, giving us a window of time to enjoy the hike before the weather turns cold. The menu of spectacular hikes on and around Mt. Rainier is long and varied; I’m sure we’ll never exhaust it!

At 14,410 feet (4392m), Rainier’s perennially snow-covered summit is typically climbed in two days. That’s one hike we don’t plan to attempt. Rainier isn’t among the grandest or toughest climbs, but it’s not a walk in the park, and it challenges even an experienced climber’s mountaineering, crevasse, and glacier skills. Not everyone makes it. Many turn back, some perish on the summit bid, and others lose their lives on or off the hundreds of trails that trace the mountain’s rugged contours.

The current list of people who died on Mount Rainier tops out at 421 (record keeping began in 1897).  Towards the bottom you’ll find the name Karen Sykes. A locally respected 70-year-old nature writer and an experienced hiker, Karen died on Rainier three years ago. She and a friend split up during a hike on the east side of the mountain. She didn’t return at the agreed upon time, he was unable to locate her, and rescue operations were called in.

Three days after Karen disappeared on the mountain I was on the way to Ohanapecosh, an old-growth forest of towering trees in the southeast corner of the park. We noticed  rescue and recovery vehicles that day and I wondered what was up.  I didn’t put two and two together until later that week, when I heard about Karen on the news. It had taken search teams three days to find her; they were bringing her out when we drove past.  She had been photographing alpine flowers for an upcoming book.  She and I had exchanged comments on our Flickr pages and I had hoped to meet her someday, but that was not to be.

Karen surely would have been able to identify the wildflowers gone to seed that I struggled with last week on the Naches Peak Loop. She would have reveled in the fall color, too. I enjoyed seeing the fluffy-headed Western pasqueflower (Anenome occidentalis) – or Hippie-on-a-stick in local parlance – scattered throughout the alpine meadows. Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) still sported papery white flowers, but many stems were already flattened to the ground. False Hellbore (Veratrum viride) leaves were decomposing artfully, and every single Beargrass flower stem was nibbled clean, probably by deer.  The intense purples and reds of Huckleberries turning color seemed to promise a few berries to savor, but the fruits were long gone.

We were charmed by the diminutive Townsend’s chipmunks along the trail but we heard a cautionary tale from a fellow hiker. A chipmunk had chewed the mouthpiece off her friend’s Hydrapak (a backpack water carrier with a tube to sip from). The woman put the pack down for a few minutes, turned her back, and the chipmunk went to work.

We watched in delight as two ravens soared together, owning the sky as they twisted and turned in tandem within inches of each other.  An older couple pointed out a coyote laying in the sun in a meadow far below the trail. We’re used to seeing coyotes on their feet, looking alert, but this one seemed delightfully lazy and content. The big wildlife score of the day was a Mountain goat browsing its way up Naches Peak while a small crowd watched from below. The shaggy white goat picked its way across the talus and rock, climbed to the very top and disappeared. Without binoculars we had to concentrate and squint to follow the goat’s progress but that was fine. He’s a little white speck in the photograph above.

Back in late June at Paradise, the flowers had barely begun pushing up, but at Longmire (elev. 2700′) beautiful specimens of Prince’s Pine, Pink Mountain heather and Avalanche lilies (Chimaphila umbellata, Phyllodoce empetriformis, Erythronium montanum) were in full bloom. The lilies are the first flowers to penetrate the snow; a few were out around the parking lot at Paradise, too. I liked the way the alders leaned out precariously from the edges of giant rocks at Longmire. The rocks support fascinating communities of living things to investigate. There are more pretty lichen-spattered rocks on the Naches Peak Loop, many with Subalpine and Douglas fir trees growing in the cracks.

Though we hiked Naches Peak on a weekday, many people were out on the trails, including a gentleman who appeared to be in his 80’s with a trekking pole, a camera, a backpack and two tiny dogs on leashes (how did he keep all that straight?). A family stopped at one of the picturesque shallow ponds of the trail for snacks, and the kids stripped to their underwear to splash in the pond.

Halfway through the hike we noticed another snow-covered mountain, Mt. Adams. It rose far off to the southwest above ranks of blue-on-blue mountain tops that grew paler and paler in the distance. We were inspired and content to be in a stunningly beautiful place, breathing clear, cool air, enjoying the gorgeous fall color, glimpsing wildlife and gazing across distant mountain views.  At times we experienced a profound silence, the type of wilderness silence that seems to ring, until it’s interrupted by the deep croak of a raven.