“Let the beauty we love be what we do.”


I gazed up and up through the palm fronds to the conservatory dome above. It was a cold February day in New York and my job was in jeopardy. I worked for the state Department of Health in a program created to help people with brain injuries maintain life at home in their communities, but deep budget cuts had torn the program apart, leaving me in a bureaucratic limbo.

There was no work that day because I (and many others) had been “sort of fired” and we were waiting to hear what was next. Would funding be restored? Was this really the end? So camera in hand, I took a trip to the botanical garden and lost myself in the restorative beauty of the conservatory.  And yes, it was very beautiful. The greens and pinks and yellows, the shapes and scents, they all worked their way under my skin, until I felt a calm certainly that everything would work out. Then my cell phone rang. Our jobs had been restored.

But here’s the thing: my mind didn’t stretch far enough (as surely my eyes did) to grasp the bigger truth. That call was just the first of a series of calls that would ping pong me in and out work for the better part of the year, until finally my job was truly gone. The positive feeling I had, and the photos I took that day that reflected a beautiful certainty? They did not reflect just the fact that I had my job back – that confident intuition reflected something much bigger.

I lost the job later that year, but with the loss came the decision to leave New York for good. I moved west, and for many long, unemployed months when I had little or no income, I joyfully explored my new home. And with camera in hand, as I explored, I created this blog. That was the bigger picture, of which I had no inkling that day among the palms – I only knew that things would work out. Since then, more and more, I’ve been able to let the beauty I love be what I do.

At the Palm House in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, New York Botanical Garden, NYC, NY.

Today I invite Johnnycrabcakes  to join the 5 Day Black and White Challenge. He’s a bit ornery sometimes, so he I suspect will hate me for asking him to join a challenge. So be it. Take a look at a recent black and white photo of his that’s full of mystery.

If he’s up for it –

  1. For 5 days, create a post using any past or present photo in black and white.
  2. Each day, invite a new photographer to join the fun.

If he’s not up for it, go see him anyway – he writes really well, and takes terrific photos. And I’ll be back for the third day soon.


Looking at Palms

All of the images above were taken a few years ago, at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.



Here’s another take on palms, in front of the Wilmington, North Carolina courthouse:



And another view of palms, in the Palm House at the Conservatory, New York Botanical Garden, New York City:



And my most recent take on palms…









Fronds of the Windmill Palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, photographed at Everett Arboretum in Everett, Washington.

More From the Conservatory

This cactus has a very blue cast. I wonder what those two furry places are in the center – the beginning of flowers?  In any case, this cactus is an attention getter, with its big size and fuzzy textures.  I’m not one for anthropomorphizing or getting cute, but I have to say, this cactus has the look of a Sesame Street character.

Long ago I had a temporary job in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden – what a gorgeous, magical place to work. I loved it, hard work and all, but weeding the beds in the desert houses is tricky – at least once I got a bottom-full of cactus spines after squatting down to weed in a narrow space.

This is a Tillandsia, a kind of “air plant” that obtains moisture and nutrients through the air, using other plants as a support. These dry looking plants have beautiful gray green color and pleasing symmetry.

This is some kind of Bromeliad. They also absorb moisture from the air, collecting it in the central rosette, where there is often enough water to harbor insects, or even animals, which depend on it. The shiny red and deep green leaves in this species are not at all subtle!  The flower is in the middle, and that’s Spanish moss in the right-hand corner.

As I took the photo on a longish exposure, I turned the lens to zoom out, creating the blur. You could do this with a tripod and get the center more perfectly in focus but I have little patience for tripods.

Next time I have to be more disciplined about noting the names…this is an I-don’t-know plant, in the cactus house.

Another Tillandsia.   The image was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.  I moved the camera a little when I took it, to emphasize the exuberant feeling of movement in the leaves.

Also in the Cactus House, I’m pretty sure this is an agave. These succulent plants bloom only once, and were an important food source in the drier, warmer parts of the Americas where they grow. I zoomed the lens again to blur the image, then made the digital color photo into a black and white image in Lightroom.

All photos taken recently at the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle. It’s looking greener and greener outside here – no need to depend on a conservatory for botanical inspiration. Soon I’ll go out and dodge the raindrops for photos of buds, blossoms and branches.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Architecture

Jake from Manila is challenging bloggers to submit photographs of architecture this week. He has some interesting points to make about architecture, saying that architecture is to building as literature is to the printed word…that architectural structures are culturally significant and have aesthetic meaning:  architecture as social art.

Once more I can’t leave well enough alone, so I will color outside the lines a bit as I interpret the challenge.

First, an architectural gem that most anyone would agree has significance, whether they appreciate it aesthetically or not (I love it). Gehry’s IAC Building, with its subtle curves and softly banded exterior, as seen from the High Line in Manhattan:

Another Gehry building, the Experience Music Project is in Jimi Hendrix’s hometown of Seattle. Its voluptuous, undulating curves below are, according to, inspired in part by the image of a shattered Fender Stratocaster. And the colors are real eye candy.

More curves, this time gracefully Italianate, are on a small building whose arched windows perfectly echo curves in the landscape around it.

The Lemon House at the Tuscan Garden, Snug Harbor, Staten Island, NYC:

Another New York City Botanical Garden building, in the Bronx (New York City) is the gorgeous Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, America’s largest glass house, 110 years old this year. As beautiful outside as it is inside.


But what about vernacular architecture? I love that just as much.

On a roadside in northwestern Arkansas, a deceptively simple looking stone house begs shade from a hot day with a corrugated metal awning, whose angle reflects the building’s roof line.


On St. Helena Island near Beaufort, South Carolina, Spanish moss lends atmosphere to a ruin built of tabby called the Chapel of Ease. Tabby is a mixture of oyster shells, sand and lime and was used extensively in the area. Built around 1740, the chapel served plantation owners who could not always get to church in Beaufort, on the mainland. It was deserted after 1861, when residents fled from Civil War strife, and later it was used by northerners to educate freedmen. In 1886 it burned in a forest fire but much of the building still stands today. Some history of this fascinating area can be found here:

Click to access MPS033.pdf


A barn in Adna, Washington, sports a series of angles that are dumbfounding. Why? Maybe no reason, I don’t know!

But when you view it from different sides you can appreciate the way it settles into the landscape and, I assume, fulfills its function.

and…(yes, it’s the same barn!)…

Another weathered example of vernacular architecture sits abandoned along a rural road in Wayne County, North Carolina, about halfway between Raleigh-Durham and the coast.

I think it still has a very graceful roof line.

Here’s a link to the Vernacular Architecture Forum: site

And examples of vernacular architecture are here:

Going further out on an architectural limb, sometimes temporary structures also show a strong aesthetic impulse:

On Whidbey Island in Washington, someone has built a shelter from driftwood and logs that washed up on the beach.

You can’t do much better at blending with the landscape.  And look at the view from the inside:

Another beach structure, on Camano Island in Washington’s Puget Sound, really works the angles and pays close attention to surface decoration:

Angles are featured in these buildings, too, but in a context that’s a little…shinier, shall we say?

This was taken last week, on another island, on another coast.

On the left is One World Trade Center, slowly rising up near the empty square beds of the World Trade Center Towers that were destroyed on 9/11 and now mark the memorial site.  I stood next to the building on the right, across the street from the building site, so it looks taller – but it’s not.

The antenna for One World Trade Center will rise 1776 feet. Needless to say, the structure is designed around strength and durability as much as aesthetics. It’s also said to be the most environmentally sustainable project of its size in the world, with LEED Gold Certification and energy performance that exceeds code requirements by 20%. I bet the beach structures exceed local codes too.


So there you are, from a humble beach lean on a quiet island to a Manhattan skyscraper, with a few stops in between.

More entries are at: