These blog entries are arranged newest on top. Reading down takes you backwards throughout 2016.
I do group them into subjects for coherency.
World Trade Center, New York City.
Been wanting to get here for 14 years, just never actually did until now.
Like the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, this memorial lists the names of the fallen.
We didn't get down into the museum, just no time, didn't plan ahead, huge crowds, pick an excuse, any excuse...
Stupidly had my camera settings all wrong, shooting at an unnecessarily high ISO, so images are grainy when they didn't need to be.
Sometimes I think so much that i am not thinking at all...
Last College Visit
Ithaca NY. One last college visit, even though she knows where she wants to go.
As always, we wander the nearby towns so see what is there, because that is important.
Ithaca was cool, but not like New Paltz!
Me, I am looking at different things.
I love the small details. The forgotten things that show age and patina, that seem to be aged and, in a way, cast aside. These details, to my way of thinking, add needed character to an environment.
Like New Paltz, Ithaca had it's share.
Texture, color, exquisite decay, I find these alluring and beautiful.
I seek them out, observe them and interpret them, thinking about the history and how they came to be.
Finding them, composing, selecting focus and then post processing for impact and truth.
Immersed in the detail.
The Simple Instructions
Walker Evans was fascinated by signs. So am I.
Wandering small towns (and big ones), if you look, you will find all kinds of gems.
I am most interested in the small hand made signs. A reaction to a need, an opinion expressed, a useful piece of information, a critical instruction on how to proceed.
Important communication, made in the moment, cob-jobbed together and hung.
A great door here to an open shop.
Taped in place, probably multiple times as the instruction aged. Weather, human hands, dirt, grime, all take their toll. All add to the age and look, all gather to create the incredible beauty of such a simple thing.
Something so easily taken for granted, so easily ignored, blending right into the environment, a part of it all and expected.
To me, a great find...
Art is Anything, Anywhere
Ithaca had it's share of purposely painted wall art all over the town.
Wonderful stuff, all.
I especially love finding the ones that capture unexpectedness within the piece.
A place where there are practical infrastructure objects already there that are incorporated into the overall look.
It is these that i vector in on, that catch my attention, more so that the larger artistic endeavor.
A small unexpected detail, or a sloppy approach, no matter.
All become art.
My wife and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary on September 22nd.
We had decided to visit Granville to see the Second Chance Barn, a rescue place that sold antiques and other vintage things like windows and doors and who knew what else. Jenna was also interested and we were going to go there via Manchester Vermont to stop and see a friend of ours whose daughter played soccer with Jenna.
Our route took us past Arlington Vermont and this iconic covered bridge.
Almost 28 years ago (will be in November), Kim and I stopped here on our way to Manchester on our second date, in the first week we were moving beyond just knowing each other because she was my roommate's sister.
It was at this bridge where we had our first kiss, all those years ago.
Jenna knows this story and insisted on taking our picture with this sacred site. She did do one of us kissing but I thought this was a better image to post here in celebration of our life together.
The circle is unbroken.
We live in Albany County and, by rights, should attend the Altamont Fair in mid August. Big, gaudy, huge overpowering midway, and the grandstand burned down years ago and was never rebuilt.
We like the Rensselaer County fair in Schaghticoke much better. Smaller, less expensive, easier, more 'country-ish', and still has a grandstand where they hold demolition derbies. Yes, I admit it, we enjoy watching crazy people crash into each other with junk cars.
I mostly, however, am totally fascinated with the livestock exhibits. Can't explain it, but I love the cows, horses, goats and prize chickens. Love the people who work with them and enjoy watching it all.
One farm was doing a milking exhibit and we were there at milking time.
The relationship these people have with their animals and each other is a joy to see. Cows and humans who seem to understand and respect each other.
Yes I know that these cows will be killed and butchered by these same caretakers when they stop producing, but that is part of this life. It's not suburbia.
Right Place, Right Time, Almost
As we were exploring the Schaghticoke Fair, we wandered into one of a number of cow barns to see an intent crowd elbowing each other to see something in the stalls.
A cow was in labor in the straw. Serious caretakers monitoring her and a crowd of strangers watching every grunt. We craned and jockeyed for position to get a glimpse. All very interesting.
40 years ago, when I was attending SUNY Cobleskill, my roommate was a dairy major and suggested I take a one credit 'class' called barn duty, just to experience it (I grew up in a small city). This class consisted of two days a week getting to the barn at 3AM and mucking stalls, watering and feeding the cows and generally keeping order.
One day, around 4AM, one of the cows started giving birth. Normally they don't need help so the managers didn't give a thought to me being there alone with them; she'd take care of things herself. Well, the calf was breach (backwards in the birch canal) and the mother was clearly in serious distress. Long story short, I reached into the birth canal up to my shoulders, twisted the calf and delivered it by instinct. They later told me that my actions saved the mother and the calf. Maybe. Threw away a perfectly good shirt.
This time, at the fair, things slowed down and we wandered away for 15 minutes to amuse ourselves, expecting it all still to be going on later. Of course when we got back, there was a new healthy calf. We missed the show. The show???
So, yes, I think cows are cool.
They have personality and a kind of enduring warmth. They bond with us at least as much as our cats do. They are bigger than us and could rebel and harm us, but they don't.
I think they are smarter than we give them credit.
I think they know.
I think they know that we need and want their milk. I think they know that we could treat them better. Give them cleaner quarters and better food. Less drugs and more fresh air.
I think they know that we will kill them and eat them when they stop giving us what we want. That our concern for them is entirely self serving.
Look at them here. I think they know.
A Local Adventure
My wife and I love the Adirondacks and try to get up to paddle or hike as often as we can.
There are many weekends, though, where life just gets in the way and we can't find a day to get out.
We are surrounded, though, with local places to go that we are now trying to remember when we get the urge to get outdoors but only have an afternoon to spare.
So, on a busy Labor Day weekend, we found a few hours to drive about 30 minutes to Grafton Lakes State Park out in the Rensselaer County hills and get our boats in the water.
Long Pond is the largest of the lakes. It is the one with the popular beach and, though late in the season, there were bathers there having cookouts and renting kayaks.
Not our Adirondacks, nowhere near wilderness, but clean water, not too many people and nice shoreline to poot along.
Just satisfying enough...
The First Hint
September (early!) 2016
It is only Labor Day weekend, about as early in September you can get, and we saw the first turning leaves on Long Pond, Grafton lakes.
Summer flew by.
We had a ton of great adventures and enjoyed the heat and the many fine hiking and paddling days.
But, now, it is all winding down.
I like autumn, have always loved the colors, the crisp air, and the smells of dry foliage and the beginning of the death of the growing season. But, as I get older, I am not as fond of cold and ice and the logistics of getting through another winter as I once was.
I know, I know, I shouldn't be negative. I should embrace the seasons. I choose to live in this area (do I?) so should not complain.
Our friend Kathy told us there was a craft fair at Mabee Farm in Rotterdam and we decided to go and meet her there.
Mabee Farm is a historic site on the Mohawk river west of Schenectady. A 1700's house, vintage outbuildings and staff demonstrating carpentry and blacksmith work.
The craft fair was terrible. Mostly unimaginative low quality jewelry and a few vendors of knickknack type stuff that you might see in Walmart. One fabric person who made some decent table runners and such. And, only about 20 vendors anyway so it was quite sparse.
I quickly realized I was completely uninterested and so visited the grounds instead.
Spent time watching the blacksmith bend and shape iron. Wrestled with myself about whether or not he should have been in antique historical garb, then decided that I only really cared because I thought it would make a better picture than his bright yellow modern T Shirt.
I can be such an ass sometimes!
Inside the main house at Mabee farm, the furnishings were sparse, as was probably the real life case back then.
They did have some wonderfully authentic pieces with richly earned patina.
I love old things that have been used well and show the effects of years of that use.
These old objects looked like they could have been sitting here since the 1700's, taken down only to perform their function, then placed back on their mantel.
The misaligned walls and old coats of thickly applied paint added to the effect.
My difficulty was trying to make images that didn't include signs saying DO NOT TOUCH, or the ropes that walled off rooms or ancient pieces of furniture, keeping we sloppy and uncaring moderns from breaking or otherwise sullying something irreplaceable. Or keeping modernly dressed visitors from mucking up the authenticity of my images.
Then I realize that this is all really manufactured for our education and entertainment and my trying to make authentic images is just a copy of some historian's idea of authenticity.
Solace in My Special Place
I am whole and at peace. Again.
I am at Forked Lake with my wife and daughter, my family.
This is our annual camping trip here. We take special care to camp on this lake at least one night every year. My 47th year in a row, Kim's 28th and Jenna's 18th.
Our family tradition.
We are at the State Campground on site #36. Open site with wonderful rock promontory looking east over North Bay, very close to the Inlet wetlands. Campfire going, supper ended, sitting with my daughter, visually drawn to the stars and the lanterns on the east shore of the bay.
This is my place. I am at home here, at peace, all is well with life.
When I am done on this earth, my daughter (maybe my wife) will sprinkle my ashes here.
I will fertilize and maybe seep into the water, to flow into Canada from where my parents came. Home after labors. At peace.
One More Try With the Big Night Sky
I get caught up, sometimes.
Me, who never uses a tripod, who disdains the technical aspects of image making, who wants to capture a moment artistically.
Me, again, trying to photograph the night sky, and losing sight of what is true and real around me.
Not happy with myself.
Instead of chatting with my daughter, enjoying the fire and some time with her at my special place, i set up the tripod and worked on images for about 20 minutes.
The moon was risen and was polluting what otherwise might have been a spectacular meteor shower night. meteors and Milky Way, what a bonanza...
I got this. Am I proud?????
Where It All Started
If I am known for anything photographically, if I have any reputation at all, it is probably for my morning mist images.
I have been making these since 1970, and here is where is all started.
I made my absolute first morning mist images in August 1970 in the North Bay Inlet of Forked Lake, right where this location at left is. I have been photographing this scene for all these years, not every year, but most of them.
This all may seem repetitious and unimaginative, but, quite simply, it is in my blood. This is my special place, the place I come back to over and over, the place where I feel most at home.
Sometimes the mist is thick, sometimes orange, or yellow, or pink, or blue-gray like this. There are fewer dead trees rising from the water than there used to be. It is at once very different yet always the same, in a very comforting way for me.
I plan to keep coming every year while I am physically able, and then one last time with my daughter's help.
Maybe she will make a photograph for me, one last time...
Serenity in North Bay Inlet
Interlude with Ducks
While pooting around in a backwater of the North Bay Inlet, I came upon a family of Mallard Ducks.
About 9 of them, babies mostly all grown, bobbing for food, alternating heads up and then tails in the air.
Mom was on sentry duty, but obviously not bothered by me. I kept my quiet distance and she was at ease.
I learned long ago not to make these sightings all about me. I am not in a zoo, these animals are not tame; no one feeds them here.
They are home; I am only visiting. They don't know or care that this is my special place.
I understand that I need to be quiet and non-threatening. I carry a long lens and float at a respectful distance and if I get a shot, I get a shot.
I follow the same protocol with people that I meet during my documentary shoots. The image is of secondary importance.
Interlude with Pickerel Weed
I am just starting to really notice flowers.
For years, bothering with them was 'beneath' me. I had mist images to make and wildlife to search for.
Years later, I became fascinated with lilypads and have accumulated a significant collection of images of them.
Then I wandered my yard one day and found Bee Balm and Cosmos and realized that I could make semi abstract images that were satisfying.
This year, after sunrise, not ready to head back to camp yet, I floated among stands of pickerel weed.
200mm lens, no wind to speak of, I drifted here and there isolating purple flowers.
Not art for the ages by any stretch, but a very pleasant and undemanding use of about 45 minutes of a lovely morning.
Yeah, enough of being a photo snob...
Right Time, Right Light, Right Place
Morning mist, wildlife, lilypads, water abstractions, and Spiderwebs!
Spiderwebs are notoriously difficult to shoot.
You need a properly damp morning. The light has to be just right and you have to be able to photograph them at the proper angle, that is they have to be positioned correctly to get the light to diffuse them and make them look translucent.
You need a properly out of focus and dark enough background so that they show up well.
Then you have to be ready because as the sun rises and the light and warmth hit them, the dew quickly dries and disappears, rendering them virtually invisible, as they will stay the rest of the day.
Kind of like wildlife photography, you have to be where they are at the right time and work very quickly and have a ton of luck and skill on your side.
Then, every once in a while when everything works and the luck is running, you catch an image.
I don't work on this all the time but i can say for sure that I have made no more than about 20 successful spiderweb images in 45 years of looking for them. i always have my eye out when I am in the proper situation, which is only really a few times a year, and know how to do it and am usually well prepared if i find one, but, still.
I do crazier things with less positive result!
Then She Joins Me...
After being out in the boat doing my thing in the inlet for over 2 hours, I start to head back to Campsite 36 to see if anyone is stirring yet.
As I get to the mouth of the inlet, I see her paddling her boat towards me.
A welcome sight, my girl is, out enjoying the sun and the warmth and the incredible location.
We paddle together, then separately, then together again, each enjoying the idea of being able to be in such a beautiful place, in great weather, experiencing solitude and beauty almost to the point of rapture.
We poke around in small bays and streams, watch skating bugs and listen to the loon in the distance. Now and again we are close to each other and exchange a smile.
Peace, tranquility, and a special kind of companionship.
My special place.
High on her list, too!
Enveloped in a Mist
I am enveloped in a mist.
I dragged myself out of a warm, cosy bed. Left my wife snuggled alone.
Into my boat, cameras in dry bag, cast off, paddled out on to Upper Chateaugay Lake.
The mist was soup thick. Gray, colorless, visibility limited to 25 feet or so.
As I rounded the sand bar that separates the lake from the narrows, the Great Blue appeared. He/she was looking for breakfast; I was looking for salvation.
We watched each other for a bit; I was able to make a few images, using the heavy mist to isolate the hunter.
After 10 minutes, the heron apparently decided that hunting would be better elsewhere and flew off to see about it.
I continued on my quest...
The Elegance of Simple Composition
I had thought that this would be one of those mornings with mist so impenetrable that there would be no striking visuals, or sunrise, or color to be seen.
I was wrong, as usual.
I found an offshore island about a mile down the west shore of the lake. The bay between it and shore was narrow with some rock outcropping and dead-falls.
As the sun approached the horizon, a changing glow of color permeated the mist, alternating from brown to pink to gray-blue, and the mist thickness ebbed and flowed, changing the overall look every few minutes.
I made many images of this particular dead-fall, attracted by it's simplicity against the backdrop of fog.
I would make a photograph, the boat would drift a bit and I would quietly scull back and make another, repeating this process for well over a half hour while the sun gamely tried to break through.
I was at home with myself, doing what I love to do.
The Evolution of Expectation
The bay I was in was beautiful in it's simplicity and feel of wildness.
I never tire of being in these remote spots in morning light.
The only noise is the dripping of water off my paddle blades, the call of the loon, the croak of a frog, or the voice of a bobcat or coyote off in the woods.
And the click of my shutter.
I am a short time visitor here. I do not own this place any more than I own my house and property or possessions. We are transient and, compared to our time here alive on earth, these places are near eternal. How can we own?
At any rate, I floated as a visitor, as an observer, enjoying the solitude and wildness, breathing in the damp air, witnessing the incredible feel of this special place, knowing that later in the day the quiet would be broken by jet skis and party boats.
Such are the compromises we are now forced to make in our pursuit of solitude. There are so many of us and so few truly wild places that we must do what we can, visiting particular locations early or late when the many are doing other things. Early morning, late evening, off season, whenever we might have a place to ourselves and have at least the feeling of wildness.
We know we are fooling ourselves.
We are no longer true explorers, happening upon a place no human has seen before. I do know of and visit some really remote areas in my beloved Adirondacks. Places where FEW people visit. Places where maybe I was the only visitor that month. Places that have an unending vista of wilderness untouched by mankind. Until I happen on an old lumber camp artifact deep in the woods by a river or the remains of a many year old hunting camp on the shore of a remote pond.
Objectively I know that the Adirondacks, like most places on earth, have been being visited and USED for centuries. I am completely aware of the fact that most everywhere in the Adirondacks has been logged over within the last 150 years and my pristine forests grew up not much before my father's lifetime.
Subjectively, though, I treasure the feeling that I am somewhere remote, photographically recording a wilderness and primitive look and feel, and enjoying the fact that, at least in this moment, I am a pioneer. I did not live 300 years ago, so I am making do as best I can.
A Visitor on Earth
So, being an early morning visitor, telling myself that I am exploring, following my nose and my muse, spending one of an average of 10 mornings per year paddling yet again a somewhat remote Adirondack shore, imagining myself pulled up to a wild beach in my lightweight high tech and very modern solo canoe...
Yes, the stories we tell ourselves and the imagination we relish.
This was Upper Chateaugay Lake, lined with camps, filled with speed-boaters and people partying during the day, making waves, dropping scraps of litter, crapping in a tuft of brush on the sandbar, and leaving it. Their boat engines leaking gas and oil into the water.
And here I am, 7:00 o'clock in the morning, stretching my legs on a beach on the bay, behind the island with the dead-falls, after making some actually stunning morning light photographs. Finding a few natural found objects for my daughter's art projects. A beaver-chewed stick, a piece of dried sphagnum moss. Watching the mist start to thin, thinking about catching a late sunrise; long after actual sunrise due to the denseness of this morning's fog.
I am OK...
The Sun Also Rises
The sun finally breaks through while I am still on the beach.
I opt to focus on on its reflection in a backwater beyond a beaver lodge.
The water is starting to move with a soft new breeze shattering a dead-fall reflection.
After all my bad tempered grousing about humanity and the death of true wilderness experience, I can still make my image art.
It could all be worse...
Night Sky at Hornbeck Pond
Kim and I traipsed up to Olmstedville on Friday night and had dinner with Ann an Pete Hornbeck.
Great food at Cafe Adirondack in Pottersville and a wonderful, relaxing evening sitting on their screened porch talking about anything and everything.
Kim and I then said goodnight and walked over to the shop next door and got ourselves set up to spend the night in the apartment over the shop.
before settling down, we took a flashlight (and my camera and tripod) and walked up to the boat pond to look at the night sky and listen to night sounds.
I made a few images while my wife communed with the night.
I was frustrated using my cheap equipment in the dark and Kim finally got tired of my cussing and walked back down to the apartment.
Sometimes I am slow to realize what is important and what is not. Sorry, babe!
Hurley Stone House Day
I have an intern at work.
In conversation with her, the subject of history and antiques came up and she mentioned that the Hurley Stone House Day was coming up in a few weeks.
Hurley NY is just southwest of Kingston and about an hour drove from our house. Her grandfather owns one of the original stone houses that were built in the late 1700's to early 1800's.
Kim and I made plans to attend.
Among the houses we were able to tour was the Parsonage where, more than any other, there were period costumed volunteers performing period associated activities, in this case yarn spinning.
These people, in this location, presented the closest feel to what it would actually have been like to live in such a house way back then. The players talked of their handiwork and explained how things were done and were amenable to pictures.
I had to carefully compose my images to leave out obvious modern amenities, like radiators and microwaves; after all these houses are all pretty much currently lived in and have bathrooms and modern kitchens and all.
In this image at left, I was able to successfully make a careful composition that showed, i believe, nothing that couldn't have been available in 1820 or so. I am no expert on period decor but I think this was as close as I could get. This would have been a rich person's house. We looked into some others that looked more unkempt and, possibly, more authentic in terms of how more common people might have lived, but, of course, I don't really know.
In all, for me, it was a satisfying day. Jenna was with us and was a good sport, as was my wife, but after about the 5th house, they were approaching critical mass. I could have tarried longer and drifted around a bit more.
Liz's grandfathers house was wonderful and her family, including herself, manned the volunteer work and though they didn't perform period work, they did dress up in vintage clothing and did give short history lessons, which i felt were quite charming.
I guess I am a history nerd...
Imaging the Milky Way
Attended my second year of the annual League of Extraordinary Adirondack Gentlemen (LEAG) camping trip, this year on Round Lake, Whitney Wilderness Area between Long Lake and Tupper Lake.
This is a one night annual trip that has been happening for about 8 years or so and I was invited for the first time in 2015 when we camped at Forked Lake, my all time favorite place.
It is a quick trip and this year a few were especially late and/or had to leave early, so we didn't do any group paddling activity.
We did, however, sit around the fire expounding on politics and economics at great length, helped along by cold Davidson Brothers Beer, thoughtfully supplied by absent member Rick Davidson.
Attending this year were: Pete Hornbeck, Dan Way, Tom Curley, Bill McKibben, Rich Rosen, Mike Prescott and I. Missing were members Dan Berggan and Rick Davidson, sorely missed.
By bedtime, it was still clear and the stars were thick and bright. Dan, Tom and I went down to the beach where we had an expansive southern view. I set up my tripod and we three took turns photographing the southern night sky.
We started with a benchmark ISO 3200, 30 seconds at f5.6 and bracketed around that.
The exposure at left turned out to be ISO 1600, 30 seconds at f2.4 with my 16mm lens pointed near straight up.
I don't have a full frame sensor camera and my lenses are not quite as sharp as top professional ones are but I was pretty happy with this first ever attempt of the night sky.
I am sure Dan's effort is much sharper with much more clarity than mine; he is much more technically astute than I am.
Last year I led a very successful foray into the morning mist at Forked Lake that members were still talking about this year. The early morning this time showed a somewhat gray, brooding atmosphere with no mist and kind of a leaden feeling about it; you could just tell weather was coming in at some point in the afternoon.
I was sore, my leg was swollen and cramped up (I was diagnosed less than a week later with a DVT Blood Clot in my leg) and so didn't get up, nor did I wake anyone else, ending up one of the last to emerge from my tent.
Still, a great trip and a good image to boot.
Great Hike with Great Friends
Todd and Jennifer invited us to spend 4th of July weekend at their family camp on Lake Rondaxe near Old Forge in the Adirondacks. We happily and quickly accepted!
Todd and Jen used to live across the street from us but moved a bit ago. They are salt of the earth type people and wonderful to know. Easy to be with and interested in doing outdoorsy stuff. Our daughter loved their two daughters as she was growing up. They were the big girls that she could look up to, and who were willing to play with a younger kid, and we still consider them to be exemplary young women, well raised.
We brought Saturday night dinner and had a great time with our hosts and Todd's mother and her husband. Good food, good conversation, a nice relaxing time.
Near their place is Bald Mountain, a beautiful low ridge with great views of the Fulton Chain of Lakes and a great firetower. Tons of south facing outcroppings give breathtaking views.
I tried out my new trekking poles and my knees thanked me enthusiastically.
Not a tough hike, but a huge bang for our hiking buck!
Yes we did climb the firetower...
A Meander Down a River
After our Bald Mountain Hike, we had lunch, a quick rest, and then got our boats on the water and paddled a six mile stretch of the Moose River, north branch.
Lake Rondaxe, like many Adirondack lakes, is really a damned section of river. We paddled to the dam across from camp, carried around it, and set off down river, after spotting a car at the take out in Old Forge.
Kim and I in our Hornbecks and Todd and Jen in a venerable Old Town canoe, made a motley three craft flotilla.
Bend after bend after bend, sandbars, sharp turns, a few bridges, altogether a very satisfying paddle that we all thought was much longer than the 6 miles the map said it was.
Called for a cold one after...
Moose River Grasses
Shortly after the start of our afternoon paddle, as often happens, I got distracted by, then quickly immersed in, something.
As we floated downstream, I was taken by the grasses flowing underneath the water surface, flowing with the current.
As usual, I lost track of what I was supposed to be doing, grabbing compositions as I floated, sometimes hitting shore, unaware that I was moving, unheeding the narrowness of the stream or the sharp turns everywhere.
As always, my wife, per my standard instructions, ignored me and paddled on, urging our friends to pay me no mind and go on about their business.
In a three and a half hour paddle, made longer, I am sure, by my change of focus, I managed to make a portfolio of 80 of these images.
See them here: http://www.tombessette.com/Collections/New-Images-2016/Rondaxe-Weekend-July-2016/Moose-River-Grasses
Witnessing the Wondrous
I got myself up, leaving my warm, slumbering wife, and was on the water at 5:35 AM on the 4th of July.
Another misty morning on a remote Adirondack lake. Not really so remote; there are quite a few camps on this shore, but at this time of day, I have it all to myself. At most, a camp owner might be on a screened porch, drinking coffee, feeling the early chill. No matter, I was alone.
As my wife loves sitting on the beach at Avalon, watching and listening to the waves, feeling the hot sun, and being a part of it all, so I feel - floating in my boat before sunrise in the Adirondacks. The loons call, the light is changing. I feel the dampness, the quiet and the certain feeling that I am in the presence of God. Not some gray haired human creation lording it over me, nor a savior atoning for my sins, but the real presence of God. The wondrousness of natural beauty, of clarity of thought, of the mystical natural environment surrounding me on all sides.
I float in poetry, drift in serenity and pray with the swirling mist.
Witnessing the wondrous approach of another day alive,
And It Begins Anew
At about 5:50AM, me floating a half mile down the lake from camp, the new sun bested the horizon.
I had found a spot about 40 yards off an island in the lake.
I watched the bright spot brightening, sculled a tad right and caught the sun nudging trees and blinking in the mist.
Immediately, I felt the warmth, the glow, the reassurance of witnessing another sunrise.
I have been doing this since 1970. Getting up before sunrise, getting out on the water and watching, yet again, this incredible spiritual reawakening.
Never do I feel closer to God, never more at peace, and never do I feel more alive and in tune with mother earth than on these mornings.
Many times I am morally weak and fail to get out of the warm bed or sleeping bag. Those times my anger with myself is palpable and I seethe at my slackness all day, even weeks and months.
But then, on a special morning I do get up, and again feel fulfilled. Again, I am soothed.
Thinking About My Brother
I've been thinking about my brother Bob a lot lately. Dark thoughts in a dark place.
Bob was roughly 6 1/2 years older than me. Though we shared a bedroom growing up, I was always the bratty little brother and I can't say we ever really developed any kind of special relationship.
He was drafted and sent to Viet Nam somewhere about 1967-8; one of my sisters will have a better memory of when.
I have one burning memory of a letter home that mentioned his distaste for killing Viet Cong soldiers that were really only kids, this by a kid not yet in his 20's.
About 8 months into his tour, a mortar went off near him, filling him with shrapnel. He laid in the mud where he was overnight and was evacuated early the next morning. He spent nearly a year in a VA hospital stateside on Long Island. I have another memory of sitting by his bed and seeing his skin tent, then a trickle of blood, and his body expelling yet another tiny shred of shrapnel.
He came home clearly suffering from what we would now call PTSD and floated a while, hanging out with his survivor friends, getting high to various degrees and hanging at Matty's Tavern well into most mornings.
By 1973, he seemed to be getting it together. He still hung out at Matty's and smoked some dope, but had gotten a job at the Post Office and seemed to be more accessible and communicative. Bought a guitar and started playing. Lamented my love of Chicago; he preferred Ten Years After, musically.
I had my own demons then, but he and I were talking a bit. He would sometimes rag on me for doing much the same stupid things he had been doing; he had an excuse, I did not, or so I think he thought. I was done with drug experimentation by then but was still battling my parents and going nowhere in nothing jobs with no purpose.
July 5th, 1975. He went to the Poestenkill Gorge with his slacker cohorts. They drank and did some pot; how much I don't know, doesn't matter I guess.
He was on a rock, probably a bit out of it, slipped, hit his head, fell into the creek and drowned. Not sure if his friends even attempted to go in after him, blasted as they all probably where.
I have always wondered what would have become of him. Would we have been friends? Gotten along at all? Respected each other? Felt anything at all?
The Need to Get Out in the Boat
Yesterday, Kim and I were invited to join good friends and former neighbors at their family camp this coming 4th of July weekend.
Jenna will be en route to Avalon NJ with her friend's family and Kim and I had been going back and forth as to what to do with ourselves. The kind of back and forth dithering that often leads to doing not much at all.
Now, we know. We will bring our boats and be able to get out on the water right from their camp. Maybe I will get a nice morning mist and make some images reminiscent of this one.
We will be able to test our knees and new hiking poles on Bald Mountain; see if we can still do it.
We will bring Saturday supper and break bread and take libations with our friends who moved to a different town last year and reconnect.
Looking forward to a wonderful weekend. maybe there won't be fireworks. Quiet...
Practicing the Guitar
I gave my daughter a guitar last fall.
It was my brother Bob's before he died in 1975 and I have had it since.
I attempted to learn to play it back in '77 and '78 when I was in college. learned a few songs, a simple finger-pick pattern, but never developed a passion or the seriousness needed to become competent. On my bucket list for when I retire.
It is just an inexpensive Japanese made Epiphone, all Bob could afford way back when. I have just never been able to part with it. I am glad I kept it.
Got it cleaned up, restrung and well tuned and gave it to my daughter. She has gotten deeply into Classic Rock and Blues, is taking guitar lessons from two different instructors and spends considerable time practicing.
I don't know where this will all go or how far into it she will get, but so far she seems pretty serious about it.
I have offered to buy her a 'better' guitar but she seems satisfied with this one, at least for now. She never knew Bob, but seems to appreciate that she is playing this guitar that has a special place in my heart.
Here's hoping that she hangs on to it, even if only as her first one, and as a family heirloom. Not expensive, not fancy, not great, but important just the same.
Thank you, Jenna for letting this live on.
Taking Down the Tree
The beautiful King Crimson maple tree in our front yard killed itself. It seemed fine last year, but just plain never sprouted leaved this spring.
Called some tree people and one of them said there was no evidence of insect damage or disease but that in clay soils like ours, some of these shallow rooted trees can suffocate themselves by twisting their roots around each other.
They came this morning with a crane truck and a chipper; two guys total. The crane guy dropped a huge hook down the center of the tree and attached it to a stout lower limb, then took up the slack. Then the chipper guy sawed the tree down near grass level and, unbelievably, lifted the whole tree towards the chipper. 15 minutes later it was wood chips.
This is not making me happy. My daughter climbed this tree a lot when she was in elementary school. Brody and I used to sit under it and commune with each other. Sigh...
Fathers Day 2016
June 20, 2016
I feel the need to throw a shout out to my two best girls. They gave me a wonderful Father's Day (usually do, but this year was the best)!
Kim surprised me with a Dark Roast Iced Coffee first thing, along with a wonderful (and wonderfully edited!) card that talked about our relationship, our special bond with each other, and how we get through all the interesting times.
Jenna presented me with a homemade card with a handwritten treatise on how she appreciates my occasional toughness and usual openness, my stories and the fact that we talk about all manner of things. She knows that I always have her back and always will as long as I am drawing breath. Did she really call me 'about her best friend'?????
Both overwhelmed me for a bit; (I don't often tear up...) made everything so worth it!
Then they took me out to breakfast at my favorite joint and sat at the counter as I like to do.
After breakfast they willingly followed me to the cemetery where we said hello to my father, mother, and also my brother Bob who died tragically so long ago. Bob never got to be a father; he died of drowning at age 26 after surviving Viet Nam. We even found the graves of two sets of grandparents and one set of great grandparents.
Then they happily let me take them to the Waterford Flight of Locks (Erie Canal) where we caught some large pleasure boats locking through on their way to Lake Ontario. Very strong memories of my childhood when my father and I would routinely spend whole evenings watching the big tugs and barges travel though the flight.
It was one of those very simple days that make me realize the wonderfulness of being part of a family, being in the lives of these incredible women, loving them to distraction, and totally thankful that they are wiling to put up with all my lunacy.
Yesterday was the best present I have ever received!
As I re-read this, I see that I am boasting and I am realizing that not everyone experiences this. I know there are fathers estranged from their kids, fathers whose children are dead (as my father experienced) or terribly ill or handicapped. There are fathers with children and/or wives who might never show or even feel the gratitude that mine have. And there are those fathers whose offspring have gone down a bad road. I feel for all of you...
I am shot with luck and feel incredibly humble and not deserving.
Thank you! I love you!
Starting to Come Together
I have been exploring the idea of a cemetery project.
Old cemeteries, thinking how to depict them, how to study, what am I really seeing here?
Not particularly trying to make them look spooky. Not really thinking of a documentary style investigation. Not attempting to relate history.
Not any of these, but maybe all of these.
This one is the Rensselaerville Cemetery in Rensselaerville NY. I am currently exploring cemeteries in the Albany County hilltowns like this one.
Playing with the look of cold color, and black and white and my favorite blue cast duo-tone, like this one at left.
I might be starting to get somewhere...
This just absolutely fascinates me, and warms my heart. I have seen this at every cemetery I have visited so far, from large ones like Rensselaerville to small hidden plots.
Most commonly, I see flags like this one at left.
I guess I am assuming that there are veterans societies that make note of the graves of war veterans, possibly VFW, maybe, and who do the honor of keeping fresh flags on these graves.
This particular grave is from the late 1870's or so. The engraving is weather worn and corroded to the point of unreadability. Somehow, someone knows this person is a veteran and comes here to perform this honorable service. Who? When did it start? I am amazed.
Here is the grave of one Jennie Decker, who was laid to rest in 1936. This was the most recent grave in the Cotton Hill Cemetery between Berne and Middleburgh.
With it was this splay of artificial pink flowers that were clearly placed there quite recently, like possibly the just past Memorial Day. Perhaps.
This was not a war veteran memorial, not any kind of institutional honor given to a fallen soldier, servant of the realm.
This is someone's grandmother, or great grandmother, being honored by a descendant or reminiscing remaining friend or relative.
How old would someone be to be placing these flowers as a remembrance of someone they once knew? The deceased was old enough to have taken a husband by 1936.
How unusual would it be to be the person placing this tribute at the resting place of someone they never knew in life?
This grown woman died 80 years ago...
The Wrong Road
Wandering the Hilltowns near my home.
Ask my wife! I am always following nowhere roads, tempted by paths, happiest when I have no specific destination and can follow my nose.
Often I come to a dead end.
Nowhere to go, nothing to see. A waste of time, a wrong turn, another foray to nothing special.
Unless all these wrong turns and hidden places are the whole point. Unless finding these spots and exploring them and enjoying the hunt and the journey are really what I am all about.
Searching for the next obscure road, walking the unexplored path, paddling up that stream, looking for...
The joy is the ride...
A Night at Lake George
I'm not much for taking cell phone pictures.
Tiny sensors, crappy lenses, especially my Samsung S3 which pales in comparison to my daughter's iPhone, which is no great shakes itself.
That said, it can be a quick grab, and something always on my pocket (that is a whole different subject that I have been thinking about lately!).
So we had gone to the beach to watch the Americade fireworks.
The sun had just set, there was still a glow in the west and the village lights were on. Big Deal...
Watching Birds instead of TV
I have some friends who are into bird pictures.
I keep thinking I should try my hand, but it never seems important enough to get out the camera and spend some time posted at a good vantage point to see what I can get.
On this day, chores up to date, some time to kill, TV off, wife and daughter somewhere doing whatever, I got my interest up.
I do not have great telephoto lenses, nor the patience to really do fine wildlife work. That requires sitting a long time waiting or being incredibly lucky, neither of which is my usual thing.
Today, I was visited by a few woodpeckers and this White Breasted Nuthatch.
Not much, not great, but satisfying nevertheless.
How bad is this chipmunk?
I am in the chair, on the patio, leaning on the rail, intent on the feeder, when something catches the corner of my eye.
There he was, watching me.
The chippy (or one of them) who is living under the patio stairs.
The same one who likes to eat flowers and make holes everywhere.
The ones who tauntingly flick their tails at the cat, who is wanting to pounce and catch, but who is shut-in and claw-less behind the screen door.
Hell no! Just a welcome member of our backyard community.
Waiting for more birds to visit the feeder, I got distracted by the Bleeding Hearts on the edge of the patio.
Soft light, my long lens; I have been meaning to come out here and make images like this for years now.
Just never seem to actually get to it.
Maybe the TV is on and a ballgame holds my attention.
Or the dishes need to be washed and put away.
Laundry is calling, carrots need peeling, forgot to make the bed, have to get the kid somewhere...
Today the flowers and birds won.
June 3rd. A Friday. Nothing on my schedule, so took a day off and played hooky up in Long Lake to attend the Great Adirondack Garage Sale up there.
OK, not so great. 17 individual sales, most of them with the typical crap that people should probably really throw out.
Or maybe I am too much of an antique hound, snobby about household goods that to me have no value.
Made the best of it by finding Sue's barn. Nothing I wanted to buy at her sale but she graciously allowed me to photograph her white (!) barn.
Spent a beautiful balmy summer day riding around in my mountains, talking to people, squashing blackflies and making a few images.
Keeping body and soul together.
Newcomb Burial Ground
As I started to meander back home on my play hooky day, the pink flowers caught my eye.
I have driven by this old burying ground in Newcomb (Adirondacks) for years and was always drawn to the contours of the graveyard.
I had just never bothered to stop before.
This day, I found myself thinking of the people interred here and the general feeling of being in an ancient place.
When the clouds obscured the sun, I started making images, attempting to instill my mood into my photographs, as I always do lately.
Not interested in perfect lighting, grain-less rendition, or any display of sunny day blandness.
Feeling a project coming on, here...
Went a wandering of a Sunday with Brother-in-law Laurin...
On our way to the Johnstown/Gloversville area, we made a quick detour into Central Bridge, west of Schenectady and east of Cobleskill.
In all the many years I have traveled through Central Bridge, I never realized that there was a Main Street. It is off all of the traveled highways (Routes 7 and 30A, and I88) and so I have always missed it.
Here is my rendition of it, at left. On my left, across the street was a nice manicured park. Down the street to my left was a fire hall. Down the street to my right was an active church. I saw no other evidence of intact business or any place for people to commerce or congregate.
What would it be like to live here...
As we headed north on 30A outside Sloansville NY, I spotted a red door, skewed, slowed and reversed direction.
An abandoned church. I don't know how long, the denomination, the history, the reasons why.
Did the people stop coming? Did the minister/pastor leave or die and no one came to replace them?
Who was mowing the lawn?
All I knew was that there was this incredibly aged front door, bright red peeling paint, exposing gray metal underneath. The aging parsonage and church hall next door. A vision of decay and abandonment.
I wonder if someone was trying to tell us something...
Forget that this is a church door.
It was once painted red, presumably on purpose. There was a reason.
Sure, someone wanted to cover the industrial look of the grey metal the door was made of. How pious is that?
Perhaps the color red was somehow integral to the worship that went on inside. The blood of Christ, maybe.
It could be that it was a congregation just being formed, with little money, and this was the color that was donated.
Maybe it was meant to be a beacon in the storm. An irresistible sign that salvation lie within. Able to be found on the grayest rainy days, the fiercest blizzard. The lure into an otherwise wasp-ish building.
All ye who enter here...
It might be simpler than that. The minister or pastor just liked the color.
Today the church is unused.
The minister gone.
The congregation moved on.
Possibly they are gathered in a brand new, larger church, worshiping a more affluent god.
I got up close and studied.
From Red to Green
It must be Christmas!
After we left the Red Door church, we happened across this green door barn a ways up the hill.
Another bright, bold color had me wondering about the back story that would explain: why here, why this color?
This barn also had a green roof. Green hued tar paper as far as I could tell.
This was one of two doors, the other being the same as the weathered grey wood of the barn proper.
I love finding ancient color...
More Questions than Answers
We continued our exploration north on 30A to Fultonville.
Before crossing the bridge over the Mohawk to Fonda, we noticed a side street with a few old buildings on it; possible remnants of the canal days.
At the front of a warehouse near the riverbank was this storefront. I know nothing of this, pictured at left, other than that there was a cat in the window, looking out at us.
Is this really someone's law office? If so, are they a recent admission to the bar, just starting out, hanging their shingle in the cheapest place they could find, hoping to build a practice?
Is this an old sign and they have moved on to happier quarters, after long labors approaching solvency? Then why the cat?
Or maybe it is some elaborate joke...
Gloversville , Past Glory
The twin cities of Johnstown and Gloversville personify the decline of small city manufacturing.
Gloversville, as the name implies, was once the leading manufactury of leather gloves, at least in the northeast. The leather was tanned in Johnstown, just to the north, then sewn into gloves in factories here.
This all died out when alternate materials became the norm for gloves and accessories. There is still some leather being tanned in Johnstown, but the minuscule demand for leather gloves has made the glove industry here untenable.
These companies used to provide a good living in this area but it was all slowing down by the early 60's and the last big glove factories closed in the last few decades.
Now, the old factories molder away, though there is an attempt at re-purposing. The problem is that the remaining population is not at all wealthy, so who living here will afford loft apartments; what business will relocate here?
Beauty in Decay
A continuing theme of my urban and rural work is the exquisite beauty that can be generated by decay.
While I lament the closing of businesses, the decay of once vibrant infrastructure, and the related destruction of formerly positive lifework, I cannot help but be drawn to the intoxicating textures and colors of stone and wood structures as they rot away.
Surfaces become weathered, then eroded, then start to loosen and separate and fall apart. Colors shift, often react with successive coats or paint and become something never intended.
The elements work their magic and recolor, resize and remake.
Parasites, often human, alter surfaces and structure, degrading original design, turning it into something new.
Then I come along and see incredible beauty and art, and record it in my poor simple way. I am a parasite in my own way.
The amazing details of decay. I get close and intimate and get lost in them.
An Incredible Tribute
This is a detail of the right side of a large mural on the side of a building, as seen from one of may empty lots in Gloversville.
The mural is probably 15 feet high by 30 feet wide. The left side is a list of great authors.
I had never heard of this man, memorialized here. He was clearly a local man whose public service grew to a statewide service.
For a man to have a son so inclined to pay such a tribute sends a shiver down my spine.
For such a bright light of positivity to me illustrated in a town that has seen much better days makes me feel that maybe humanity still has a chance to get something right.
After wandering these streets for a few hours, to find this, after all my glorification of decay, sets me back to thinking of the opposite of decay, and how beauty can be found in that spectrum also.
Bravo, young Mr. Best. You have done your father proud, I suspect.
Bravo the youth of Gloversville. You have not defaced this nor added your own tag art to mar it. You have shown respect.
Bravo Gloversville, for displaying a spark of optimism and positivity. Perhaps your city will rise again.
An Abandoned Railcar
I was meeting members of the League of Extraordinary Adirondack Gentlemen for lunch in North Creek to plan our summer outing.
Got there plenty early because I recalled seeing some abandoned railcars on the tracks just north of town a while back.
I walked up to them along the tracks and poked around, making images as I went. The door of the sleeper car seemed unlocked; sure enough it was and I entered the car.
Surprisingly well preserved, exquisite period detail, lushness somewhat decayed.
Afterwards I understand that they are owned by the Saratoga North Creek Railroad and the intention is to rehab them and put them in service.
Of course, I like them like this...
Exquisite Aged Simplicity
The simplest things can satisfy.
Among the railcars was a passenger car with the most peeling of paint jobs.
I am thinking that there had been multiple layers, all now peeling down to the bare metal of the structure.
The peeled areas made interesting shapes and the remaining paint looked inexpertly applied, as if a child had attempted a large scale project.
I awoke to the fact that I had been in a visual trance for a spell, that the blackflies were gathering and that I had about 20 of these images in my camera memory with little idea how they had gotten there. Again...
A New Richard Russo Book
Richard Russo has a new book out!
If you are familiar with his work, this is a long awaited sequel to Nobody's Fool, a character rich story of a small upstate NY town and the desperate lives lived within.
If he is new to you, you will find a heartfelt, funny and poignant examination of simple, blue collar small town life. He is hands down my favorite currently working author.
My wife and I were fortunate to be invited to a private reception for him before his talk at UAlbany about a week ago.
We got to shake his hand, have a few words and get our copy signed. He talked about the genesis of the book and had a funny repartee with William Kennedy (Ironweed) who also attended.
If you ever drive Route 443 through the Hilltowns southwest of Albany NY. you have passed this place.
It used to be Vern's garage just a bit east of East Berne. I do not remember it being actually open for business but I have visited it many times since.
Sometimes you come across a mess that is absolutely beautiful, in an ugly, eyesore way.
This time, the foliage growing through the junk pile was just budding and not grown out yet, so the plethora of accumulated junk was much more visible.
Mess, color, texture, confusion. Just lovely...
Found a School
Brother-in-law Laurin found a school house, took cool images and gave me directions.
The Bradt Hollow school is in the hills west and a bit south of Berne NY.
Established 1813 and joined the Berne School District in 1932.
Nicely maintained in a small town non over the top way with some quirky touches.
I visited on a Saturday morning and as Laurin had said, you can just go in.
There was a small sign inside stating that it was open Sundays 2-4. Perhaps with a volunteer guide?
I spent about 45 minutes in and outside...
Stepping Back in Time...
Entering this preserved one room schoolhouse was like stepping back in time, reliving history.
After initial surprise and critical investigation, it became clear that it wasn't just left as is, one day but rather somewhat staged with furniture and artifacts from across decades.
That's OK with me.
I could feel what it would have been like to attend this school. The wood-stove in the center of the room, original plank benches with more recent (40's - 50's) desk and seat combinations. Vintage books, and a well patinaed American Flag on the wall.
They did a pretty nice job with this, if you don't expect strict adherence to proper vintage detail.
The teacher's desk had the feel of a working desk. A quill feather for writing with an ink pot, very near a sharpie. Mouse chewed composition book near a mouse chewed visitor book, either of which could be purchased in any Staples store today. A modern foam eraser near a vintage pointer.
Why quibble the details? The overall feel works for me.
An Old Burial Ground
About 4 miles south of Bradt Hollow, after Bradt Hollow Road turned to gravel,, I found the cemetery where Laurin said it would be.
Nicely mowed, obviously tended to, but old gravestones.
One stood out, the grave pictured at left. Held down by a rock just to the left of the marker was a printed story about this woman possibly being a witch.
As I walked around, making images, a possible new long term project started noodling at me. Perhaps find a way to depict the mood, history, and even the other-worldliness of these old burial grounds.
How to approach it in a way that is not trite. Something to think about.
On Thursday of college visit week, we got down to New Paltz.
To be honest, I like New Paltz. Got my graduate degree there and, though I wasn't living the campus life, being married and commuting four days a week, I still thought the school was nice and thought it might be a good fit for Jenna.
We took a tour of the school and Jenna seemed to like it, then said she loved it. Eureka!
Then we forayed into the town, scouting lunch.
Found a great (Tiny!) taco place and ate our food at a steel bench and table right on the sidewalk in front of the place.
The town has two used bookstores! Amazing in this day and age when Albany has only one.
Then we found two vinyl record stores. My daughter is a huge fan of classic rock and blues and has just gotten a turntable and has a few albums to play.
We found this funky tie-dye clothing and accessory store.
Pubs, coffee houses, eateries, funky, unusual stores, street pedestrian traffic and musicians on the street corners.
OK, we are still going to look at a few others, but this is seeming perfect so far.
If you love visual history, visit Huguenot Street in New Paltz.
There is a collection of old stone houses, preserved as museums, that were built by original settlers in the late 1600's to early 1700's.
Pictured here is the Hasbrouck House, built in 1712.
Great detail, texture, color, patina; just everything is, to my eye, sumptuous.
They weren't open on this day at this hour but I have been inside two if them and they are kept with period furniture and accessories.
Definitely worth a trip for those who appreciate this stuff!
While my Daughter Drives
We had left Montreal and were heading to visit Plattsburg.
It started spitting snow in Chazy and there was a tad of accumulation by the time we got to Plattsburg State.
Did that have something to do with my daughter's lack of interest in the school? Perhaps?
When we left we decided she would drive a good way home for the practice, to get an hour, plus, in of steady driving on an interstate.
As she drove, I became interested in the bit of spitty snow and rolled my window down and made a few images at high speed.
While my daughter was driving...
Back in Montreal
We visited Montreal for a soccer game and other tourist activities last June.
This year, we went back to take a look at McGill University.
Daughter was interested in checking it out. Big city that she already liked, and had the idea she was interested in a big school. Knew about my French Canadian heritage, learning french in school, birth grandmother has family here, all kinds of reasons.
Turns out that the school was much bigger and impersonal than she expected. Nice enough tour guide but not especially enthusiastic or personable. No information session included. Tons of smokers.
No longer interested. They say the kids will know when they get on the right campus. Whoever 'they' are...
Anyway, visit concluded, we traipsed down to old Montreal to see if there was anything going on this early in the season; not much. Had dinner at the Keg, again great, and back to our dumpy hotel downtown.
Next morning we found our way to Olive and Gourmando, a funky place we had found last year, had breakfast and I caught Jenna and Maddy (mostly Maddy) in this mirror grab shot.
Jenna loves places like this and was hoping that the McGill area would be inundated with them. If they were, we didn't see them.
Next visits up: Plattsburg, Albany, New Paltz and Stony Brook.
Decay Amid Vibrancy
This is not specific to Montreal, of course.
Anywhere you go, especially big cites, you will see areas of decay or rehab within otherwise vibrant areas.
It is just part of the constant transformational nature of human habitations.
Business and populations bob and weave with economics. Formerly bustling areas die with the loss of business or poor maintenance.
There is always the ever-present graffiti to entertain us. Some see it as vandalism, others see it as art and expression. A statement, perhaps.
I see all of this being true...
Then there is the found art.
You can be walking along a city street or alleyway and, if you are being observant, suddenly see something that stands out and grabs your attention.
It is always important, once you think something has caught your eye, to get to the essence of what it is that you 'saw'.
First, I saw the drainpipe, then the slate steps, then it really occurred to me that this was a deep blue door with yellow, and I decided to focus in on that part of the scene.
In my mind, I saw rich color but the camera muted it all. Post processing in order here.
Then I saw the cup with straw and lemon. Yes.
A Single Word
Sometimes one word is everything.
Enigmatic as it may be...
Rust Belt Johnson City
Took a few days off to attend the America East Women's Basketball Championship at Binghamton University in Vestal NY.
Had plenty of time before Sunday's noon start time to venture into Johnson City and Binghamton for some urban imagery.
Like many of these northeast rust belt cities, much of the industrial business that built these places is long gone, leaving behind the leftover factories and warehouses to deteriorate, business districts to empty out and residences to decline into the lowest of low cost housing options.
Of course there are bright spots and some good things going on, but on balance, the overall impression is that of decay and poverty.
This is what I seek out in these photographic explorations, trying to learn the history and the social aspects of societal change.
New Uses for Old Storefronts
So, when a community can no longer support commercial enterprises, perhaps a dose of public support or old time religion might flourish.
The short two block downtown business district of Johnson City is pretty well changed from the old days. A pizza place, a small diner, a Chinese take-out pretty much cover the business sector.
I saw a drug rehab storefront, a social services location and this ministry storefront.
All important and supported, clearly, but frightening to someone like me. That these are so obviously needed as to have taken over the business district speaks volumes as to what is going on in this town.
This tells me of despair and lives being lived out in desperation.
A Splash of Color to no Avail
You see this in the most upbeat places, and the most desperate.
The attempt of some enterprising business hopeful, or a plaintive act of a misguided community booster to draw interest and support.
The positive try at regeneration, a period of excitement, of hoping for the future, drawing in of supporters, customers, anybody...
Then, the inevitable slide into doubt when not enough people come. Maybe there aren't enough of the right people for whatever this place was. Maybe there just weren't enough people with the necessary disposable income. Maybe it was just a bad idea born of the idea to try SOMETHING.
Maybe it was just done poorly. Poorly though out, poorly run, doomed...
I Like the Detail
Once I am lured to or accidentally find one of these environments, my artistic muse grabs me by the eye and I start examining details. I start slowing down and hovering over some minuscule segment of a wall or other surface, reveling in texture and color and, yes, oddity.
I find the remnants of a posted sheet that had been glued to a store window.
What was this? Was it a note to someone? A sale description done on the cheap? Maybe it was a small manifesto, a rail against something or someone; a rant against injustice.
I especially like that much of it is missing. I think it is not important for us to know what was meant to be said here. It is OK for the meaning to be obscure, the purpose not understood. I enjoy wondering and not knowing; I don't need to know for sure.
The best part, to me, is to just appreciate that it was there and is totally enigmatic.
Color and Texture
In Southside Binghamton, I found a wall.
On the side of a remaining building, after its attached mate was torn down.
Old stucco covering old cement covering old brick.
Layers of paint on the stucco, old patterns of attached materials, whatever, who knows?
Spent a good hour here, mesmerized by the detail, the colors, the textures, the overwhelming, over the top avalanche of unintended art.
People watching me, trying to see what I see. Failing, I think.
They walk away without acknowledgement , shaking their heads.
Near the border of Johnson City and Binghamton, I found a garage covered in art.
Clearly art, meant to be art, not graffiti, not vandalism.
A garage, warehouse, maybe 20 X 20 feet, painted completely on three sides. The siding is that kind of plywood made by pressing and gluing wood chips. Gives the paintings a very interesting and unexpected texture.
I do this quite a bit. I find art in a public space, made on an accessible surface, and I record it, document it, my stamp of appreciation and worthiness.
Unintended Art, Everywhere...
Then there is that art that you find that was not meant to be art at all.
That which was assembled by someone and placed a certain way that catches the eye.
Just things placed out of the way, to be discarded or used later. Placed to be hidden or forgotten, or just cast aside against a wall for the sake of convenience.
I always have my eye out for this stuff. You find the best images in alleys, on the sides of and in backs of buildings.
I love urban exploration...
I wander, hope to find, hope to see, and hope to understand.
Puerto Rico, with Friends
One major drawback about leaving the Premiere soccer world was that we no longer spent any time with our 'soccer family'.
When we started planning a winter break trip to Puerto Rico with our daughter, we decided to take her good friend Maddy with us. Maddy usually goes on vacation with us, both to Blue Mountain lake in the Adirondacks and also Avalon in New Jersey, so it made sense.
We had mentioned this trip to our former soccer friends (formerly soccer family, NOT former friends!) Ronnie and Maya, whose daughter Alana was a favorite of Jenna's. They decided to join us.
They are a great family to go on vacation with! Tons of fun, willing to go anywhere and do anything. Right with you when you want company and able to recognize when you need a bit of space. They are easily the most generous people we know. They pay their way and then some and know how to have a good time.
Thanks for coming, McNulty's!
The Girls On the Town
February 16 2016
Happy Birthday, Jenna!
On Jenna's birthday, we spent the afternoon and evening in Old San Juan, wandering the streets, taking in the sights (I became obsessed with the blue bricks) getting ice cream, all that.
At left are Alana, Maddy and Jenna. The girls had a great time and got along with each other wonderfully.
Looking at this photo makes me wistful, in a way. They are so young, at the beginning of their lives, just starting to get an idea of the larger world out there.
Alana still plays premiere and varsity school soccer and is talking to college coaches. Maddy is no longer that tiny thing from preschool; yes she has been in our life for 15 years. Jenna has left soccer but is now into music, enjoying classic rock and blues; obsessed with Keith and the Stones, among others.
They have their personalities, their thoughts and emerging beliefs (Jenna is a Bernie Sanders fan) and their confidence to wander a town like this without needing us (parents, guardians, mentors, disciplinarians) hovering every minute.
I look at my only child and can only hope that my wife and I have influenced her for the good, for her good. I am hoping we have set her on the path of being a good citizen, intelligent thinker, and someone who will proactively live her life, as opposed to letting her life happen to her (as I often did and often still do).
These are fine young women, every one. Worth knowing, worth caring about and fascinating to witness.
Street Musicians of Old San Juan
As I find in every 'Old Town' I visit, San Juan had its share of street musicians.
We saw a guitarist who could barely play and who seemed to be bemused by us tourists who would throw a dollar or some coins in his cup. I threw in two and he immediately took them and put them in his pocket, leaving a paltry few coins in the cup, poor man.
On another street, a saxophonist was serenading the people waiting to cross the street. He obligingly offered unsolicited edgy commentary to all who looked to him like they might benefit.
On Calle De Fortaleza, a street paved in blue bricks, an accordion player crouched in a doorway.
He was exquisitely aged and played an instrument that communicated its long history in much the same way as Willie Nelson's 'Trigger'. It reflects every bump and patch of its life. As did the man playing it.
I took a few horizontal frames and a few vertical frames, then vectored in on the essence of what I saw and got his keyboard arm on the accordion.
We nodded to each other and I walked away, knowing I had made an image of exactly what I saw.
The Blue Bricks of San Juan
Sometimes the Muse hits...
As I explored Old San Juan with my family and friends, it hit hard.
I was wandering around, looking at buildings and colors and shops and people, when I became peripherally aware of something unusual underfoot.
Many of the narrow streets were paved with these surprising blue-gray bricks. They ranged in color depending on the intensity of the light hitting them and their location in the street.
I stopped to consider; my companions moved on. My wife, especially, is used to this and I long ago advised her to ignore me and I would catch up. She did.
I glanced up now and again to see where they might be, sometimes having to sprint ahead to catch them having just turned the corner of a cross street.
Then I looked down again and studied...
Lost in the Pattern
On my knees again, middle of a street, a car horn toots.
I come to awareness groggily, snap the latest image and move to the sidewalk.
Takes a minute for memory to flood in. I am in Old San Juan with my wife, daughter and another family and have gotten distracted yet again by these damnable bricks.
I peer into the distances, all directions, for recognizable clothing; none. A vague feeling that I should scurry on, maybe find them quickly, rejoin the group. How long has it been?
How far could they be?
Then I see another composition. I step back in the street, squat, frame and release. Then again...
As the Streetlights Come On
Still lost in the muse...
I don't use a tripod; rarely carry one. I like the freedom of grabbing a quick shot and I get very impatient when making images is getting too technical.
As dusk descended, I was watching the play of light on the bricks. Streetlights were coming on and interesting oranges and yellows were modifying y blue brick color.
I played with color and composition as my friends and family searched out ice cream.
As I came back to the world around me, I had to text them to find out where they were.
Yes, there is a Ben and Jerry's in Old San Juan...
A Great Wall
Before (and during) the time I became obsessed with blue bricks, I was getting distracted by great walls.
This one caught my eye early on after we arrived in Old San Juan.
Stucco over stone, stains and peeling areas. Growing foliage in cracks and a great shadow of a palm.
Shot details and then this view.
Was still keeping up with companions pretty well at this point. Meaning i wasn't yet getting totally lost in the imagery. I was still seeing quickly and shooting quickly, imagining, deciding, framing and exposing in a matter of a few seconds.
Hardly anyone was yet stopping to look back, urging me to stay with the group.
She Suddenly Appeared
In my Photo classes, I am constantly talking about learning to see.
That is, i am urging students to observe, to look, to analyze and to understand what their eyes light upon, then learn to look a little more.
Then I find that I have a lot to learn about seeing also.
Just off to the right of the previous wall, I was with my daughter and her friends who were looking at a piece of clothing in a shop window. My attention was on them.
Bright day, contrasty light, the shade of a tree obscuring the front of a house next door.
I dawned on me that I was seeing something that hadn't quite registered yet. Then I saw her, her curious, but patient and benign expression. No more than five feet away from me.
Yo tomar tu photo, por favor? She nodded, barely. I grabbed this shot.
The Old and the New
I am lured by the history of the places I visit and am constantly trying to show that historical aspect in my images.
As with most places that have centuries of history as our disposal, these old towns are interesting combinations of ancientness and modernity.
My daughter and her friends were making images of these old streets and buildings with their smartphones; posting them on their Instagram pages while they walked.
A young woman sat in the stoop of a 200 year old well patinaed building talking to someone on her smartphone.
I would love to be a spirit who could have watched what went on at this spot through the years, as civilization grew, as society changed, as technology progressed.
Just a fly on the wall, witnessing it all...
A Funky Place for a Nightcap
After wandering Old San Juan, and after ice cream, while our girls sat out in the public square listening to music from a nearby nightclub, we found a cool funky bar to have a nightcap.
The bar was carved with the names and initials of countless visitors.
It was on a corner near a public square and the doors and large windows were open to the night air.
Kim carved our initials in the old wood and we sat with Ronnie and Maya and gabbed with other visitors and sipped away (me totally aware that I had a 40 minute drive back to the resort).
Great way to end a great day.
Into the Wild
On an intermittently rainy day, we drove up into the Mountains south of Rio Grande and into El Yunque rain forest.
El Yunque is a National Park (Puerto Rico is a territory of the US!) and is a true rain forest. Many streams and MANY waterfalls.
It is a small park and gets a lot of visitors, not like Yosemite or other big ones, but certainly a lot for its size.
Narrow roads, sharp switchbacks, steep inclines, limited parking, funky bathrooms, questionable gift shops, all make an interesting experience.
We had visited a few years ago and hiked into or otherwise stopped at the more popular destinations. All were crowded, still enjoyable, but not too much of a 'wild' experience.
This time, I did a bit of research and learned about a very slightly visited waterfall that was unmarked and unknown to most visitors.
We found the proper pull off, identified the second trail on the right and hiked a half mile to a nice 8' waterfall, only one other family there. Nice enough, but my source had spoken of a 30' fall and this was not it.
Peering through the jungle, we could hear and see evidence of something higher up. We bushwhacked a trail, negotiated a muddy steep slope and found the nice grotto at left, sharing it with the other family.
Spectacular solitude, the kind of thing we are able to find only rarely. Shoes were muddy, my weak legs were crabbing at me for days afterward and there were a few times i had difficulty keeping up, but...
I do so like these out of the way places...
At left is the view from probably the most visited stop, the Kokahu tower.
I had to wait a bit to get a spot at the rail but thought this image best described the terrain of El Yunque.
The tower is a stucco cylinder with circular stairs inside; a pretty good climb and in no way handicap accessible.
Quick, short stop with a quality view rewarding a mild effort.
Dinner, Puerto Rican Style
We ate almost nothing at our resort, preferring to venture out into the surrounding communities to try local food.
A local favorite was red snapper. If you are in Puerto Rico and you see this on the menu, try it!
It is deep fried (OK, OK!!) and you are served the whole fish. This was Maya's, but we all took a bite or two. Doesn't look appetizing at all, I guess, but we got past out initial concerns and found it to be far and away the best tasting fried anything that any of us had ever had.
In this restaurant, English was barely spoken, so ordering was a bit of an adventure.
Kim heard a special that sounded like baked 'Jello Fish'. With our clumsy Spanish and the waitress asking the owner, I finally realized that she was saying yellow fish and meant grouper. Kim ordered it...
She was presented with a whole fish (yes, head and fins still attached) covered in sauce and sprinkled with peppers and onions. She said she didn't know if she could do it, that is, dig into a whole fish. I took my fork and dug out a chunk and popped it into my mouth. Indescribably delicious! Kim tried it and then devoured the whole thing down to the bones. Ronnie tried the eyeball, brave man.
I ordered a Mofoto, as close as one get get to a national dish. I was presented with a shaped scoop of ground Yucca (most places serve plantain). Covered in a succulent sauce and shrimp, it was a taste treat unlike anything i had ever had. Absolutely delicious.
We had other meals at the nearby Luquillo kiosks and had Puerto Rican hamburgers at a roadside joint near Fajardo.
My only complaint about Puerto Rico is that there doesn't seem to me much in the way of craft beer production. A minor quibble at best, but we managed to drink our share of Medalla Light, Puerto Rico's answer to Bud Light.
Oh, what I do for my family!
We spent quite a bit of time in Luquillo, a small town east of Rio Grande where we were staying.
The Kiosks at Luquillo have shops, bars and restaurants that look like total crap on the outside but have great food.
Behind the kiosks is Luquillo Beach. A wonderful quarter mile expanse of sand with shade palms on shore, a gifts shop and a snack (and beer!) stand right on the premises.
Not crowded on the weekdays we went, we sprawled, walked the shore and waded the flats.
A great view of El Yunque in the image at left, and a good sense of what it is like there.
Having Left Soccer...
My daughter abruptly quit playing soccer last spring and I have been reflecting on the implications and reality since then.
She had very good reasons for giving it up; I need not go into them now.
It did, however leave a significant hole in our life.
She loved her teammates (well, almost all of them...) and they loved her. They still stay in touch but she is no longer part of their active team and so does not practice and play with them multiple times a week nearly year round. No more tournament hotel stays and the camaraderie that came with that.
For Kim and I, we are missing our parent friends; the soccer family to which we were so attached. No more tournament hotel stays and the camaraderie that came with that.
We have our weekends back, and now have free weeknights. Jenna is doing much better in school, having more time to approach her studies. We are saving a ton of money. Jenna has time to study guitar and have down time that was not available for the last 5 years.
We are keeping in touch with our soccer family but miss a lot of it, and them.
Missing Our Boy
We lost our boy, Brody last month.
We all still miss him.
You can read about him in my 2015 blog if you want.
Just wanted to send one last shout out to him. He was a good guy. Food hound, nudge, loyal friend, uncomplaining companion.
Still thinking of you, buddy...