I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Urban poetry

City reflections, melted and distorted and blended and sliced by a car headlight.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong

Reading through the outpouring of memories online as people reacted to the news of Armstrong's death yesterday, I was struck by how every story was basically the same except for a few details: a family, co-workers, a group of strangers, all huddling around a black and white television, watching history together.

Even my eccentric family managed to follow the pattern. I watched the coverage of the landing by myself; I remember clearly how excited I was to hear "The Eagle has landed" and ran to tell my mother the astronauts were on the moon. But a few hours later, when Armstrong crawled out of the lunar module and took that astonishing first step on the moon, we were all there in the living room in San Francisco, watching history in black and white.

There are so many reasons it couldn't happen that way anymore. It wasn't just that most families only had one television then and so of course we all watched it together, and now most Americans have access to multiple screens much bigger and much smaller than anything we could have imagined in 1969. But sometimes I forget how impermanent television itself was then. If you missed seeing a show or a special event, you might have lost the opportunity forever. (Or so we thought; I'm not sure anyone's imagination extended to YouTube or the boxed DVD set then.) You might see a 15 second snippet of a real-life event on the evening news if it was important enough, but if you missed seeing the sitcom episode that everyone at school was talking about the next day you were just out of luck.

I'm not especially nostalgic about any of that. I tend to be more interested in books than in television but I would hate to give up the instant access to information I've grown accustomed to. I love the Internet. I love Amazon and Netflix. I love my Kindle and my MacBook.

But I do find myself a little sad at the thought that probably no human will return to the moon in my lifetime, and that although Curiosity is busy crawling around Mars even as I write this, there won't be any astronauts following in its wake. Reaching for the stars is too expensive when we've got wars and tax breaks we can waste money on here on Earth (and plenty of people said the moon program was a waste of money in 1969 as well). And I live in a country so suspicious of science that every single candidate for the Republican presidential nomination claimed not to believe in evolution. There won't be any programs on the scale of Apollo any time soon, maybe never again.

But the next time there's a full moon, find the Sea of Tranquillity -- it's the bottom half of what looks like a pair of sunglasses in the lower right quadrant -- and remember that there is still a flag there, bleached white by decades of sun, and footprints that no wind has blown away, and a plaque that says, Here Men From the Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We Came in Peace For All Mankind.

Sunday bird blogging

Female mallards on the lake in Central Park, looking as though they're deep in conversation.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


A mundane facade of brick and concrete zoomed and tilted into the abstract.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Great, kid. Don't get cocky.

After congratulating myself in my post this morning on how much more aware I'm becoming, I went off to the office where it took me until lunchtime to realize that I hadn't changed out of my sneakers.

Or rather, I hadn't changed out of both of my sneakers. I spent the morning walking around in one loafer and one sneaker. I even noticed that my feet didn't feel quite right; the foot in the loafer was less constricted and I wondered if the shoe was getting stretched out. I even looked at my feet to see if the loafer looked funny, and didn't notice that I was wearing two different shoes.

I am suitably humbled. I clearly am not quite as good at being present as I thought I was, though apparently I am still extremely talented at being a doofus.

That wasn't life, that was pop music

Bruce Springsteen gave the keynote address at SXSW, thoughtful and funny and wise about the history of rock and the masters he learned from. He shows how the influences of doo wop and the Animals and punk show up in his own music. "Listen up, youngsters: this is how successful theft is accomplished."

On Roy Orbison:
And for those few moments, he told you that the wreckage, and the ruin and the heartbreak was all worth it...Life is tragedy, broken by moments of unworldly bliss that make that tragedy bearable. I was half right. That wasn't life, that was pop music. But at 24, who knew the difference?

Sometimes I think I still don't know the difference, but I am less and less interested in the ever more rare "moments of unworldly bliss." I prefer to be totally worldly, and recognize the bits of bliss that are all around me whenever I can.

Photography has been a great gift here. I have never been very good at paying attention, at mindfulness, at being present. Instead I daydream, I imagine, I think. I have spent much of my life with my head in the clouds, and while I always appreciated the beautiful, the quirky and the unusual, I didn't always notice them. I have offended more than one friend who stopped to say hello on the street only to be completely ignored.

Walking around with a camera, I'm always looking. Even when I don't have a camera with me, I see everything with a different eye. I notice. I observe.

I'm here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Urban poetry

Paint peeling from the ceiling of an overpass by the zoo.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

So that's what all the fuss was about

Bonus bird blogging.

I went to the park this morning more because I needed the restorative powers of green thought in a green shade than because I harbored any realistic hopes of getting interesting pictures.

The fall migration has already begun, but because it's still hot sticky summer despite what the migratory calendars may claim, most of those early arrivals, along with the remaining summer residents, are well hidden from avian paparazzi by the thick foliage.

So I saw beautiful redstarts and black and white warblers along with the usual robins and grackles and cardinals, but didn't get good pictures of any of them -- and honestly, didn't try all that hard.

I was sitting by the Azalea Pond in the Ramble when the distress calls started, and every bird in the nearby trees went into shrieky fluttery panic mode, followed by abrupt dead silence as a hawk flew overhead.

Usually the birds come back once the predator is safely gone, but it remained quiet by the pond, and when I got up to leave I saw why: the hawk had circled back and was perched on a low branch on the other side of the water.

So I got a good picture after all -- not my first of the park's famous red-tails, but my best, and the first one where the hawk wasn't covered in the blood of some unlucky songbird. (I know raptors aren't vegetarians, and they have to live too, but I hate to see any creature killed. Even rats, which hawks consider quite a delicacy.)

Sunday bird blogging

The perfect feathery s-curves of an American white pelican, at the Bronx zoo.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday reflections

I love the crisscross geometries of the angled reflections in these windows.

There are so many beams and crossbars reflecting back and forth that the reflections start to look like more windows, as though these were two walls of windows meeting and crossing at a right angle and there's no actual building there.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Urban poetry

Webbing around a construction site on West 51st Street in Manhattan.

The light makes the orange feel very festive, as though it's actually decorations for a party. And everyone's invited!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Red panda

This is it for the zoo pictures for now -- a red panda who refused to turn around and look at the camera.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Animal rehabilitation, continued

And here's a much less silly looking Pere David's stag taking a drink.

For all the Leos in August

Here's the beautiful male lion, upright and looking much less stoned than in the pose I posted yesterday.

Animal yoga

This Pere David's deer on the right appears to be trying to get her leg behind her neck, in some kind of ruminant contortion.

(I assume she's just scratching, and doing it rather gracefully on three legs without having to sprawl on the ground the way most animals would.)

Which doesn't mean there won't be editorial comments from the peanut gallery.

Welcome to the working week

This nyala at the zoo has the right attitude.

These antelopes have every possible kind of distinguishing mark, and end up looking as though some of the children giggling over the fence at them used them for a fingerpainting project.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Snow leopard

Here's an animal that never has to worry about anyone saying "Ugh!"


That was my first reaction, and probably yours, to this really unattractive giant rat. There are those whose love of animals extends even to the rodent and the reptile, and God bless them. But I've lived in New York too long to think that seeing a rat can ever be a good thing.

Except that it's not a rat, and despite a strong resemblance, not even a member of the rodent family. This is a rock hyrax, and they are more closely related to elephants than to rodents.

And viewed from the right angle, they're actually kind of cute. But still nothing like an elephant.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Just a fine and fancy ramble to the zoo

A peahen at the Bronx zoo.

The forecast promised cooler and less humid weather than we've been experiencing recently, and after a week that was more than usually Sisyphean (if you replace the mythological boulder with a set of email folders that I created and deleted and recreated and deleted and recreated) I was desperate to break the routine and get out of Manhattan for a while.

So I took the express bus up to the Bronx, and spent a pleasant couple of hours taking pictures of animals instead of windows and ledges and taillights.

I have mixed feelings about zoos. I hate to see animals in captivity, even if it's really protective custody, but at least they're much nicer environments now, and not the miserable animals on the other side of a concrete moat I remember from my childhood. And the children get so excited at seeing lions and tigers and baboons, maybe they'll grow into adults who think they're creatures worth saving.

Sunday bird blogging

A house sparrow directing traffic on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday reflections

More than usually hallucinatory -- I like the way the church tower seems to be waving back and forth.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Urban poetry

Angles and curlicues in overlapping fire escapes on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan.

The circle on the side of the balcony is unusual; I haven't seen another fire escape like that before.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Welcome to the working week

Another photo from the weekend -- the revolving door in my office building, spinning into an colorful abstract of light and reflection.

Alas, it's not a magic portal, and there are no rainbows or unicorns in the modern Levittown of Cubicle Nation, but that moment of light skimming by in gold and blue is still beautiful. Sometimes, if no one's looking, I spin around a second time before going inside.

The journey not the arrival matters.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday bird blogging

I don't think this starling is a juvenile -- too colorful -- but the fuzzy head is quite youthful.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Editorial comment

After spending many hours this week troubleshooting urgent software issues with engineers in Chicago and a developer in India, while a baby cried endlessly in the background half a world away, all I wanted this weekend was repose and silence.

But my remote connection wasn't working for some reason, and I had three days worth of emails to slog through, so I dragged myself most reluctantly into the office (mood nicely represented by the photo above.)

But at least I could take my time getting there and could take pictures of some of the wonderful windows I pass by every morning in a rush and always promise myself I'll come back to. I love how the photo on the right came out, so on balance, I'm going to call the day a win.

Saturday reflections

A little change of pace -- reflections in a window in the Garment District in Manhattan.

This is kind of a Photography 101 image, but I like it because the building pediments and window in the reflection seem so much more solid than the mannequin behind the glass.

And of course, I love the pigeon sitting in the middle of everything.

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