Curves and Straight Edges: Meditations on Architectural Shapes in New York



A curve of glass – arched

eyebrow? Sheltering

arm? It holds us

in place,

smooths the edges,

invites rest, perhaps.




A soaring stone curve leads the eye to

a place we were looking for,

anchors us to what

we might forget.








Thick blocks of stone. The fortress

is protection

I don’t want. Inky darkness. I turn away, then

decide to venture deeper. A circle

of light floats down

illuminating an empty chair.




Doors close.

Everything’s in place. There is



Will the old brick and stone buildings with neatly

closed doors

soon stand alone among

glittering glass giants

with perfect edges?










Then again, the glass towers have

their own edgy beauty, an orderly flow of pattern in a

city teetering on chaos, chaos even on

the best of days, days when we

thought we could forget the

planes, the van, the












Curves and edges duke it out. As I walk the sidewalks downtown

architectural transitions are split-second, from

order to confusion.

Turn a corner, it’s quiet,

turn again,

and gulp down

the sensory flood.












Edges and curves,


and edges.



The photographs:

  1. The clean lines of Brookfield Place, a few blocks from One World Trade Center.
  2. Brookfield Place is a six building office complex built in the 80’s (it used to be called the World Financial Center). After extensive damage on 9/11, buildings underwent renovation and restoration. The arched roofed glass building houses the Winter Garden, an airy atrium with tall palm trees, a welcome respite on winter days. The complex has abundant outdoor space for sitting and enjoying close-up views of a marina on the busy Hudson River. You can walk underground though a new passageway to the Oculus (below), the transport hub of the World Trade Center.
  3. A limestone arch and dome inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With two million square feet of gallery space packed with two million works of art from all over the world, it is New York’s high church of culture. The building dates from 1879 and is the largest museum in the US. This view of ceiling details in the Great Hall is from a balcony on the second floor. HERE, you can peruse a well-thought out presentation of 100 works from the museum.
  4. Fort Totten, in Queens. Construction of the coastal defense fort began in 1862 and halted after the Civil War because this type of masonry became obsolete. It was used by the Army for various purposes, including developing underwater minefields, electric powered torpedo experiments and Army administrative offices through the 1970’s, then it was transferred to the Army Reserve. Rumor had it that a mob boss who ratted was hidden here for a time. Much of the sixty acres is now a park.
  5. Inside the Fort Totten battery. There is a small museum on the property and a long, dark underground tunnel leading to the battery, which on a sunny October weekday was almost deserted. There are beautiful views of the East River converging with Long Island Sound under the Throgs Neck Bridge.
  6. The battery.
  7. Deep inside the ammunition magazine, which is now empty, someone carefully placed a metal folding chair under a circle of light formed by a skylight. Was this a clever reference to the ghost of La Cosa Nostra’s “Cargo Joe” Valachi, rumored to be hidden here by authorities in 1970? After all, his testimony about the Mafia brought the inner workings of the criminal organization into the light.
  8. The exterior of the magazine is overgrown with Porcelain berry vines. New York City has a surprising number of romantically overgrown, seemingly (but not really) abandoned spots like this.
  9. This stalwart pre-war brick apartment building on West 27th Street in Chelsea is literally a stone’s throw from the High Line. Art galleries and the popular High Line park have transformed this area from a rough and tumble, Wild West-like wholesale meat market to a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of wealthy New Yorkers. The land this building sits on is worth a lot; it may not last.
  10. A nice late 1860’s example of New York’s cast iron architecture seen through a window at ABC Home, a large home goods store on Broadway. The Arnold Constable Building was also a retail enterprise. I like the way the window arches curve more sharply as your eyes move skywards. Manufacturing went on upstairs and retail and wholesale below. It was one of New York’s most important stores, catering to the carriage trade in the 19th and 20th centuries. Later, the store moved uptown, closing in 1975.  The building is now protected as part of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, which includes the famous Flatiron Building.
  11. A lower Manhattan scene contrasts old and new. On the left, a sliver of the Beaux-Arts style Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, now housing the National Museum of the American Indian. The “new” building is 1 Whitehall Street, in the heart of the financial district, built for offices in 1962.
  12. Another look at architectural contrasts in the city, with One World Trade Center on the left. The older Art Deco building towards the middle is 21 West Street, an office tower built around 1930 and converted to residence rentals in 1997. Currently, a tiny 5th floor studio can be had for $2975/month.  The glass tower with rounded corners is 50 West Street, a brand new 64 story residential building for Manhattan’s elite. As I write this, a 1000 sf one bed, one bath apartment on the 21st floor was rented at $5,700/mo.  For three bedrooms you’re looking at over $15,000/mo.  Or you can purchase a 3 BR penthouse (Fantastic Views!) for $24,540,000. Ah, life in the city…
  13. Looking west on Ann Street, One World Trade is in the center. St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church, built in 1766, is on the left. This beautiful little church was the location of a ninth-month long, round-the-clock ministry to workers at Ground Zero after 9/11. Upcoming events include a Conversation on Achieving Racial Equity and a presentation of the Rachmaninoff Vespers, an a capella choral composition.
  14. One World Trade soars above office buildings at Brookfield Place, a six building office complex built in the 80’s (formerly called the World Financial Center). Some buildings suffered extensive damage on 9/11. These days, the complex has abundant outdoor space for sitting and enjoying close-up views of the North Cove marina and the busy Hudson River. You can walk underground though a new passageway to the Oculus, the transport hub of the World Trade Center.
  15. One World Trade reflected in the glass skin of Four World Trade Center, a 1.76 billion dollar project completed in 2013. Osamu Sassa of the architectural firm that designed the building said, “We like the idea of the building dematerializing.” It is essentially a parallelogram topped by a trapezoid with an especially thick glass facade making for a smooth, flat appearance, in deference to the Memorial.
  16. A favorite view from Zucotti Park, a tiny park in lower Manhattan. This is where Occupy Wall Street was encamped back in 2011. The park was replanted after 9/11, so its Honeylocust trees are relatively young; their delicate branches are a nice foil to the glass and concrete masses surrounding the park. Here’s a photo I took during Occupy days, after work one evening.
  17. Frank Gehry’s IAC Building in Chelsea is now ten years old. Made of reinforced concrete and glass, the building has only two vertical columns – all the others are off vertical, by as much as 25 degrees. The glass “curtain” walls, which were cold-warped (bent on site!), have two laminated panes, an airspace, and a tempered pane. Small white ceramic particles are embedded in the glass, increasing energy efficiency and reducing glare. Perhaps my favorite building in New York.
  18. The IAC Building again. Here is a photo I took in 2012 of it in the evening through a fence covered with morning glory vines gone to seed.
  19. The World Trade Center’s Oculus, a transportation hub designed by Santiago Calatrava. Cost overruns were “insane” and of course, the building’s facade is controversial. I doubt there was ever much controversy about the quietly dignified office building behind it, 90 Church Street. I used to work there. We had a fascinating bird’s eye view of the excavation and construction at Ground Zero. When Obama came to lay a wreath in 2011, we watched as snipers methodically unwrapped their gear on the overhang below our windows. We had to stay in the building while he was on site – it was lunch at the desk, or eat late.
  20. The Oculus inside.
  21. The ammunition magazine at Fort Totten in Queens.
  22. Broadway and John Street, downtown Manhattan. The red building is the Corbin Building, an 1889 Romanesque Revival style office building. It was restored by the Metropolitan Transit Authority as part of the huge Fulton Transit Center next door; you can enter the subway through the John Street entrance.  While hand-digging the foundation for the transit center renovation, an old well and artifacts such as a clay pipe and ledger books from the 1880’s were found under the building, now a city landmark.
  23. Looking west on Dey Street, Friday afternoon crowds move quickly down narrow sidewalks. On the right is 195 Broadway, the old AT&T/Western Union building, built in the early 1900’s with oversized columns designed by the architect who designed Rockefeller’s country home, Kykuit. Harper Collins has offices there now. Just to the left of the American flag is the 9/11 Memorial Museum.





























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.”



























































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







Three years ago I posted about New York City’s Staten Island, the borough New Yorkers love to hate. As I said back then, I had lived in the city on and off for four decades – on Manhattan’s Lower and Upper East Sides, the Bowery, the Upper West Side, Brooklyn, the Bronx’s pretty Riverdale neighborhood, and other city locations. In 2008 I worked in Lower Manhattan and commuted from Connecticut – a four hour round trip by car, train, and subway: pure madness.  At the time I couldn’t afford Manhattan or Brooklyn rent, so I decided to look on Staten Island. I found a big, rambling apartment on the north end of the island, a pleasant ten minute walk to the ferry to Lower Manhattan. After the ferry ride, I could jump on the subway or walk the last bit to my job, in an office building next to the old World Trade Center site, then under construction.

On weekends I explored my new back yard: the somewhat wild and very weird Staten Island. I found it to be an endlessly fascinating mashup of the sublime and the ridiculous.

I’m grounded this month – I can’t drive, I can’t use my camera. I can pick away at the keyboard with my left hand though, so it’s an opportunity to dredge the archives and see what surfaces.This handful of images from New York’s forgotten borough has waited long enough.

As I said in that last Staten Island post, when I lived there I found plenty to hate – noise, traffic, pollution, rudeness, stupidity – but I also found lots to love, and much to wonder about.

This too, is New York City:

Great egrets stalk prey in a flooded park next to a Staten Island beach, after a September hurricane ripped apart the thin margin separating ocean and lawn. Like New York’s other boroughs – Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx – Staten Island has an abundance of bird life. It offers good habitat variety and sits right on the Atlantic flyway, one of North America’s main avian migration routes.

The beaches also attract island residents, who migrate here from all over the world.

Our favorite stretch of beach for walks was off the beaten track and boasted a series of cairn sculptures that grew into an elaborate installation, transforming a good half mile of coastline into an ingenious wonderland.  A dedicated local zookeeper named Doug Schwartz was behind this obsessive labor of love. We ran into him once. A quiet man, he seemed to be a typically eccentric Staten Islander. Every piece of the stone monoliths was found on site, hauled and stacked by hand. Beach walkers, captivated by the impressive effort, would sometimes lend a hand, or add their own touches in typically spontaneous New York fashion.

Powerful storms washed the sturdy cairns away several times, but Doug kept at it. Then, unbelievably, he was ordered by the Department of Environmental Conservation to remove all the sculptures. I thought the sculptures were an intelligent, attractive solution to the problem of debris that continuously washes up on Staten Island’s none-too-pristine beaches. The DEC guys thought otherwise.  Here’s a story about that fiasco.  It exemplifies the bloated, inhuman, bureaucratic side of New York, which was partially responsible for my leaving the state.


Beach debris is so tempting, isn’t it?  The day I took this picture, we were sorely tempted by these rusted artifacts, but the car was too far away – a photo had to suffice.  In the background are migrating ducks and Brant geese.

Speaking of debris washing up, while exploring the industrialized north shore one day, we noticed a promising dirt road leading towards the waterfront.  OK, it was private property – but no one was around and the gate was open, so I insisted on checking it out. At the end of the narrow, overgrown road we came to a sliver of sand littered with debris. Looking closely, I realized that dozens of small, old potsherds and bits of glass were scattered about, and were still washing up in the gentle tide.

It was an amazing find – everything was quite old and seemed to have originated in the same place – maybe Britain circa 1920, or even earlier. A shipwreck?

I was unable to ferret out any clues as to the origin of this small bonanza. We returned once more that summer to collect more artifacts. The following year we returned again, but a tall fence blocked access to the road and property. A younger, braver member of our group tried to scale it, but he couldn’t. That was the end of that.

I wonder if old fragments of forgotten lives still wash ashore there, and if anyone notices.

Inland on Staten Island, the greenest borough, there are many parks and preserves – over 12,000 acres. Some are still fairly wild, considering you’re in a city of eight million souls.

But wildness attracts the “wrong kind” of New Yorker, too, and Staten Island has plenty of those. This park was beset with rusting car wrecks, tires and garbage.

In another park nearby, a sweet statue survived relatively unscathed at an open air shrine. Perched on a bluff overlooking the water and dating to 1935, the shrine is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. People leaves flowers, crosses, hand written prayers, photos of loved ones, rosaries…and during the four years I lived in the area, the offerings remained undisturbed. An old broom leaned against the wall, ready to tidy the shrine.

You can see the figure take the weather in stride – the second photo was taken a few years before the first one.


Staten Island is a famously Italian borough. Besides the shrine at Mount Loretto and fabulous Italian food, a local cultural center boasts a pretty little Italianate building and reflecting pool, built a few years ago for weddings and receptions.

A few steps away, the center (Snug Harbor) offers a charmingly overgrown botanical garden. It may be a poor cousin to the well known New York Botanical Garden, but I came to love it more, for its simple charms and air of subtly elegant neglect. I must have a thousand pictures of the gardens and flowers at Snug Harbor. It became my go-to place for R & R after long weeks of working for the state department of health, monitoring services for people with brain injuries.  My office in a building adjacent to the twin towers site was a stressful place to be during the reconstruction, and Snug Harbor provided respite.




There is a Chinese Scholar’s Garden at Snug Harbor, too. Other than a nominal charge to enter the Scholar’s Garden, the grounds of Snug Harbor are free to all.



Surprises are a dime a dozen on Staten Island – turn down a side street in a residential area, and you may find something like this next to a modest home.  Explore back roads in sparsely populated neighborhoods, and you’ll see the occasional rooster scratching in a side yard.

Here’s Superman atop a business that makes awnings. Around the corner in this mixed use neighborhood was a dignified, if dilapidated older home, with interesting curtains on the door.



The island was (and still is, I hope) a rich hunting ground for oddball attractions. One sunny Saturday we ventured warily through an open chain link gate in a post-industrial wasteland just off a highway. Someone had been living in an abandoned trailer on a concrete-covered lot that was quickly reverting to weeds. It was hard to tell how long ago they last used the space, but they certainly left their mark. Behind the trailer, hard by a marsh and winding creek, sculptures constructed from waste dumped at the site dotted the rough landscape.

This is REAL outsider art! Who else ever saw these? Anyone? What impulse moved the artist – you’d have to give them that – to create these?

On the trailer wall, a broken plastic candy cane played visual tag with a series of stencils. I couldn’t decide whether it was creepy or poignant.

I think the latter.

Staten Island offers quotidian delights like magnolia blossom-strewn sidewalks as readily as the strange sights of less traveled roads. This was on the block where I lived.


And sunsets – I remember sitting alone on the sandy beach and watching the sun go down on this beautiful April evening, reveling in that brief, glowing meld of color that settles in once the sun is below the horizon. How about wild deer on an island in New York City? Staten Island has that. Folks say they swam over from New Jersey. (We were in a car, when I took this, exploring back roads again).


The flora of Staten Island is what a botanist would consider degraded, since it is overrun with alien species and invasives. Still, I enjoyed my regular wildflower forays each summer and fall. I explored every back road I could find on that island. Pretty soon I knew exactly where I could go to put together a bouquet.



I drew maps to remember where I’d been – and how to get back.

If the weather didn’t cooperate, there was always the view from my window. Looking west, the old St. Peters clock tower is just visible during a winter ice storm. A neighbor is burning cardboard and trash in his old furnace to get warm – just don’t inhale too much!

To the northwest are the busy ports of Bayonne and Elizabeth, New Jersey, just past the Kill van Kull’s busy shipping lanes. I never tired of watching the ships and tugs. I would google a container ship name to learn where it came from and where it was going.  Here, a barge is pushed out the Kill van Kull by a local tug as another tug returns to port. Dramatic skies vie for attention.

There are too many window views to include here – they deserve their own post. Another day.

Parting shot: sunset on the Kill van Kull with the Bayonne Bridge in the distance. A curve of neglected rail track glints and a trio of gulls soars west past the ubiquitous chain link fence – a typical meeting of the mundane and sublime, on Staten Island.


At Wind Against Current, a blog you should know, Johna and Vladimir have posted a terrific story and photos from a recent kayak paddle, titled Staten Island Serendipity.  I follow their blog because they take beautiful photographs and write entertaining, thoughtful posts about the city I love, but left: New York.

I lived in the city on and off for four decades. The last time I moved back was 2008.  I had a job in Lower Manhattan but couldn’t afford Manhattan or Brooklyn rent. I found an apartment at the north end of Staten Island where I could walk to the ferry, cross the water to Manhattan, and then walk to work. There were buses or subways at either end of the trip for rainy days.

On the weekends I spent a lot of time exploring this weird NYC borough, the one all New Yorkers love to bash. What I found was an unlikely amalgam of eccentricity and beauty, much of which I documented with camera and phone.  Little of that has appeared on my blog, so now, inspired by Wind Against Current, I’m determined to create a post about Staten Island.

Let’s start with the ferry – it’s a fun trip and a good place to watch people and photograph the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty.  Sometimes I brought my camera along too…


You never know what you’re going to see from the ferry, even as it docks.

A short walk from the ferry is Staten Island’s memorial to the 274 island residents who were killed on 9/11. The first time I stumbled across it, it took my breath away. I slowly realized what it was and teared up. As I approached the monument its outspread wings seem to release the suffering that occurred that day in that small piece of skyline across the water. Standing between the wings I saw the name and silhouette of each person, and on narrow shelves below the portraits there were flowers and mementos.

On a lighter note, Staten Island has its share of friendly, eccentric people. The corner deli near my old apartment sells coffee and the morning paper, and for a while the owner added a fountain full of soap suds, just to catch the eye of passers-by. Originally from Iran, he teaches college mathematics at a university in Manhattan and runs the deli on the side. I can’t vouch for the coffee – I take black tea in the morning, espresso later on – and I have no idea who Sean is.

I used to see this van around the island regularly – here, it’s all done up for Christmas. For Mothers Day it was every bit as colorful, festooned with plastic flowers.

We bought our vegetables at a wholesale produce store pretty far off the beaten path. One busy day we had to park in the back, and there we found this old Dodge, parked in the corner.  A faded 1956 New Jersey Inspection sticker was still affixed to the driver’s window.  “E H Scroggy, Barnegat, NJ” was painted on the door.  (A quick internet search shows the Scroggy name going back centuries in New Jersey.)

Some parts of Staten Island are not known for their friendliness and may welcome you with a mixed message:

But I suspect there’s always a friendly nod to be had this old bar:

In a residential neighborhood wild (or used-to-be-wild) turkeys have taken over. I’ve seen them standing on cars, too:

Back up near the Verrazano Bridge you might find a small herd of goats if you happen to wander around Fort Wadsworth on a summer day. It seems they do a bang-up job on the poison ivy that infests park land surrounding the fort.

Speaking of goats, in the old Arthur Kill neighborhood you might come across this – it’s got to be the city’s only feed store. Don’t ask me what’s going on in that second story window…

It’s not all weirdly wonderful though – there are beautiful birds to be found in the parks here, in surroundings worthy of a wildlife refuge. This Great Egret found a perfect hidden spot in a stream one May afternoon:

A church spire provides a hint of the city beyond this field set with wild iris glowing in the sun’s last rays.

Monarch butterflies seem to find ample nectar in local wildflowers. There are thousands of acres of open land here.

Sophisticated garden vignettes abound at Staten Island’s free Snug Harbor Botanical Garden:

And at the end of the day, there’s always the beach – a place to fish and relax like a native New Yorker…

I found far too many photos for one post, so this will be the first of an intermittent series.  I hope you find something of interest – and while I’m talking about the wonders of Staten Island, let me mention a friend who offers a very inexpensive room on airbnb. The disadvantage of course is that you are not in Manhattan but for some the relaxing ferry ride is an advantage, a way to decompress after a busy day.  The rate can’t be beat and you won’t find a more charming, urbane host.

(The header photo was taken from a vantage point on the Kill van Kull, the very dangerous-to-cross-at-night-in-your-kayak waterway described by Johna and Vlad in their post. In the distance is Brooklyn’s iconic 1929 Williamsburgh Savings Bank building.  My apologies for the sub-standard quality of a few of these images – they were taken with a phone, an older point & shoot camera, and a Sony Nex3.)

Unique AND Universal: Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge

This week’s Daily Post Weekly Photo challenge is to express the concept, “Unique”.   I was struck by the thought that many of the images below, of people engaged in what must have felt like unique situations, at the same time express universal themes: play and self-expression, love, work, journeys, death.

A toddler throws pebbles into a lake, fascinated by each splash and  ripple, his own creation. Standing on tiptoes to kiss a statue, a young woman expresses the unique possibilities of love.  A man belts out tunes on a  piano, singing his own song, for love and money.

In pouring rain on a warm summer evening another man’s handstand expresses the sheer joy in shared experience.  A neighborhood eccentric leans across his porch to tell you a personal, intricate story about his house.  What unique stories the contents of a Marine’s rucksack, fresh from an Afghanistan deployment, must hold. And finally, graves in a rural cemetery bear flower and pottery offerings – visitors’  unique, yet universal expressions of honor and commitment.




















More images expressing the idea of “unique” are here:

What a Difference a Year Can Make

This week I will celebrate my first 365 days in the Pacific Northwest. These images, photographs of places I frequented in my old home town and places I’m been exploring here on my new home ground, bookend the year.

Last week I drove up Cougar Mountain, outside Seattle, to the so-called “Million Dollar View”.  We had been stuck in a weather inversion that produced nothing but thick fog day and night. It’s easy to rise above it though – a thousand or so feet up and I was out of the mist. Foggy cloud banks rested gracefully across the valleys and Douglas firs cast soft lavender blue reflections on the lake below. Over a hundred miles north of where I stood, sunlight graced the flanks of Mount Baker, one of the snowiest places in the world and the site of extensive volcanic research.

Exactly a year before that day I met old friends for coffee at Think Coffee near New York University. Walking past an alley in Soho later that afternoon I came across this softly lit and surprisingly quiet scene:

A few days later I took a break from packing to spend an hour in one of my favorite places – the Conservatory at Snug Harbor Botanical Garden. A Bird of Paradise flower provided all the scrumptious candy color I craved on that cold, dark New York winter afternoon.

Exactly a year later I was looking for a diversion from winter’s dreariness again. This time a  handsome horse named Diamond trotted over to see what I was up to as I walked beside a fenced field where she boards. Realizing I had no treats for her, she turned and broke into a wild gallop in the mud with another horse. She’s clearly well cared for, and what nice digs she has in the foothills of the Cascades. (How do I know her name? Because a guy on a four wheeler zoomed over to tell me I shouldn’t be trespassing. Before walking back to the road I asked about the horse, who he said was Diamond,  “a real show-off.”)

The next day, I was watching the sun set along a back road that follows a meandering river ten miles east of my house.  I had spotted a Great Blue Heron in a wet field a mile down the road, but here the only sign of life was a lone, out of season frog calling from its hiding spot in the tangle of grass. I wondered how old that barn is, and what they grow here, and I was glad for the small farms that somehow manage to survive so close to my new home.

Just a year ago I was on the water in New York Harbor, taking this photograph of the MOL Endurance, a container ship making its way towards port. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge, connecting the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island, spanned sparkling blue harbor waters that morning. On a good day the light and spaciousness of New York Harbor trigger ideas and possibilities in my mind – where did that ship come from, what’s in those containers, and what adventure awaits me in a few minutes, when I walk off the ferry to Manhattan?

Two late January sunsets complete my coastal seesaw – one taken a year ago from my old apartment above New York Harbor, looking over snowy rooftops to the soft glow of lights at a container terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey. The other sunset is over the Snoqualmie River, just outside the little town of Duvall, Washington:


Themes seem to repeat on both sides of the country: landscapes seen through the filigree of tangled grasses or branches, colors and textures that make me want to reach out and touch, and foregrounds giving way to distant views. A lot has changed in a year, but my central concerns in photography – the love of nature and of ordinary, everyday life – have just shifted their expression a few thousand miles to the west.











This week, The Daily Post at WordPress challenged readers to post photographs on the subject of illumination. Here are  illuminations of scenes that brightened my day: subtle auras surrounding hothouse orchids, a crescent moon rising over New York harbor and twinkling lights screening a landmark building in the making.

The first two pictures were taken at Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle. It’s warm, humid conditions contrasted sharply with dry, frosty January air, and it felt good being surrounded by orchids and tropical plants, basking in radiant sunlight that’s in scarce supply during the Northwest winter. Our winter color palette plays the deep greens of Douglas firs and sword ferns off soft grays and browns, but inside the greenhouse, hot colors soaked up the sunlight, casting tropical candy auras around the voluptuous flowers.

At Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, a November sunset created an unusually quiet moment at the edge of the city that never sleeps.  The street lamps, reproductions of posts dating back about a hundred years, seem to tilt because of the wide angle lens, leaning in towards the distant Statue of Liberty. Smudgy gray clouds almost conceal a crescent moon and a plane heading up the Hudson River.

On a cool fall evening in Lower Manhattan, tiny lights threaded through the trees of Zuccotti Park cast pinpricks of light against the still incomplete One World Trade Center.  Over ten years ago this park and surrounding blocks were severely damaged by the 9/11 attacks. New York politics has prevented timely completion of the Twin Towers replacement – you can see a construction crew elevator ascending the corner of the building –  but it is almost finished.  Zuccotti Park also was the site of the recent Occupy Wall Street Movement; on this night, the delicate filigree of honey locust tree leaves against a soft blue sky belied the unrest of the past.

Illumination, along with those light bulbs constantly popping with ideas behind my eyes, allows me to create photographs that I can share with you. Thanks for visiting!

The challenge:

Surprises Everywhere – Weekly Photo Challenge

There are all kinds of surprises…


Six years ago today I took this picture, and some thing never change.

But the upside to being distractable is that I notice a lot. And a  lot that I see interests and surprises me.

These men – one in Seattle, one in Manhattan – found creative ways to enjoy themselves in the city.

Sometimes though, the city has surprises that are not so appealing.

This rusted out car was abandoned in a park in New York City. And surprisingly, I saw this butterfly nectaring on a wildflower nearby on the same day.

People who are naturally curious find surprises everywhere.  The other day as dusk fell and fog settled over the fields, the lights went on in the greenhouses nearby, captivating me with their eerie glow.

And this afternoon amid the gloom of a cold gray rain, I found fuchsias blooming in Seattle:

And what’s more, I did not burn my toast today. Or my napkin. Surprise!

The Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge subject this week is “Surprise”.  I could have posted an empty frame – “Surprise!” –  but I think that has limited appeal.  I’m hoping you enjoyed the photographs of just a few surprising things I’ve seen, and you’ll find more at:

MAPPING A CONCEPT: Weekly Photo Challenge: Concept

Jake’s Weekly Photo Challenge topic is “Concept”.  I like maps as maps and I like maps as concepts – above, a plant found on Florida’s West coast sits on a map of the region, the plant’s tangled arcs echoing the curves of road and shoreline.

My scribbled map of local wanderings in the “wilds” of Staten Island, a forgotten borough of New York City that, if you explore its fringes, can reveal old pot shards at the water’s edge and fields of yellow sweet clover.


Photoshopping a picture of tropical leaves from a greenhouse produces a map-like array of lines and shapes – countries, rivers, boundaries and highways.


The broken glass at an abandoned greenhouse in Yonkers, New York reminds me of a map too. The fragments could be islands separated by canals.


Twigs reach into space like roads reach across a territory; their buds are the exits where something new awaits.



The Boardman Bombing Range in Oregon: No Public Access – says the map.

The Columbia River passing through Longview, and on down into the uncharted parts of a well eaten magnolia leaf.

Today I was planning to post some photographic studies I did earlier this week of  “skeletonized” leaves (their essence pared down to vein structure) and a map of Washington. The leaf  veins are a kind of map themselves, and when they are superimposed over the routes of the map a confusion of lines and scale erupts: the vast spaces represented by the map mix it up with the tiny interstices of leaf veins.  I must have intuited that Jake was going to challenge us to photograph a concept this week. Maps exist as objects but they’re deeply imprinted as concepts in our minds, too. There’s something deeply satisfying about the way maps  reflect our internal sense of order and our external knowledge of the land.

Maps fire the imagination. I like to pour over them at home, make a plan, follow it for awhile, then jettison the map and veer off into the unknown.

And I love GPS, especially when I drive onto a ferry and the screen puts the little car in the middle of the vast blue water.  There’s nothing so pleasurable as turning off the GPS once you’ve reached new territory and exploring until you’re hungry, knowing you can turn it back on again and find your way “Home” anytime.

“A map is by nature interdisciplinary.”  P.C. Meuhrcke



Natural Resources – a Weekly Photo Challenge

Another Weekly Photo Challenge – Natural Resources – suggests an obvious answer: water.

A less obvious take on water as a natural resource is this crustacean’s-eye-view of Great South Bay from Fire Island, NY. Our shores and the water that defines them – sometimes gently and sometimes ferociously – are natural resources people around the world depend on. Paying closer attention to shoreline ecosystems saves lives – human, crustacean and otherwise!

Another basic a natural resource is air – the air we breathe, the air that buoys us up:

Trees are fundamental natural resources too – as shade and shelter, as slope stabilizers and air purifiers. Here in the pacific northwest, trees seem so eager to grow that when big cedars and firs topple, new trees will take root on the stumps, their roots steadily groping their way towards the soil.

From plant giant to animal dwarf – bees are a natural resource, providing for themselves, for flowers, for us –

And…chickens! An important natural resource for us – sometimes for entertainment as well as food.

About as unprocessed a natural resource as you can ask for, these freshly dug razor clams were for sale at Pikes Place Market in Seattle a few days ago. But for me, they have the “eww” factor, big time.

And what about humans as a natural resource?

Human creativity is a natural resource that expresses itself in an incomprehensible variety of ways –  from graffiti as art,

to protest as the creation of new forms of discourse, (above, Occupy Wall Street, fall, 2011).

Or, meditation as protest (nearby in lower Manhattan, 2011).

Dance as celebration – a worldwide natural human resource (here, at a Turkish Festival in Manhattan).

“Abundant natural resources” – that’s such a cliche. But it’s never unintelligent to ask how we are impacting our natural resources.  Are we wasting water? Dirtying the air? Breaking the food chain? Squandering our energy? Shutting down our creativity? Forgetting to celebrate? Our goal needn’t be perfection – just a little more attention.

More responses to this week’s photo challenge are at: