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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Urban poetry

I got out of the office early, and fortunately the people pens for the big ball drop in Times Square were not all in place yet, and I was able to get home without having to cajole my way across the barricades. The NYPD is not in a terribly cajole-able mood these days, and you just never know.

Sometimes they have let me cross as soon as I say I'm just going home, sometimes they've made me show my driver's license to prove that my home is indeed on the far side of Times Square, and sometimes I've had to walk all the way up to Central Park and then back down again because there was no crossing Broadway, period, end of story.

This is one New York ritual I've never been the least bit tempted to join. I'd rather be warm and have access to a bathroom, and anyway, from my apartment I can actually hear the roar of the crowd at midnight. Or that is, I could hear it, if I were awake, which I won't be.

Happy New Year and pleasant dreams of a bright 2015 to you all.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Astronomy Tuesday

The Star of Bethlehem may not actually have been a comet, but here's one in Christmas colors -- Comet Lovejoy, discovered in August, set for its pass by Earth on January 7th.

Image Credit and Copyright: Damian Peach/SEN

Sunday, December 28, 2014

I've been for a walk on a winter's day

Two more photos from yesterday.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray

The sky was actually bright blue yesterday, but that's rare; typically these days it's as gray as the landscape.

Here's a look at the world without the distraction of color, Central Park in winter, when we're left with the consolations of shape and texture. The beauty isn't as obvious -- you have to work for it -- but it's definitely still there.

Sunday bird blogging

Okay, this is not exactly fine wildlife photography -- you can't even tell what kind of bird it is -- but it made me laugh so I'm using it.

The bird -- it's a junco -- landed on the path right by my feet in the park yesterday. Of course by the time I'd hoisted the camera to my eye it was hopping away, and I caught it mid-hop, en pointe like a ballerina. Except that what it makes me think of isn't ballet, but Michael Jackson moonwalking.

Here's a better picture of the same bird.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Saturday reflections

Tis the season -- mud and puddles and dead leaves piled up. But at least it's not snow, and we had a rare blue sky today, unaccompanied by Arctic temperatures.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The day after

My Christmas present to myself was a sampler of fifty different colors of wool roving for felting. I'm always greedy for colors -- I can't buy one strand of glass beads; I have to buy one in every available color. I crave the paint sets and boxes of pastels in my art catalogs, even though I'm not likely to use them; I'm drawn in by the rows of bright silk scarves in upscale department stores and want all of them, even though I'd never wear them.

I will use this wool, but right now I'm so delighted by the silky texture and bright colors I just want to pile it in a huge glass bowl and use it as a centerpiece.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Astronomy Tuesday

I don't think I'd ever seen this before: the Jellyfish Nebula. It's another supernova remnant, in Gemini (the bright star on the right is Eta Geminorum, part of the constellation.)

Image Credit and Copyright: César Blanco González

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday bird blogging

The darkest evening of the year

Winter solstice this evening, so the long crawl back to daylight has started, even though I know we still have months of nasty weather to look forward to.

It's been overcast and gloomy every weekend so I haven't been taking many pictures, and there's rarely been sufficient light for bird photographs. So here's yet another Galapagos souvenir, a juvenile swallowtail gull on Genovesa.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Agriculture for the 21st century: your basic cube farm.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Urban poetry

Graffiti is almost too easy, but I couldn't resist these.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Astronomy Tuesday

Just because, obviously, there can never be too many galaxies, here's a Hubble image of the one our friend M. Messier designated as number 83, also known as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy.

It's been the site of at least six recorded supernovae. Oh, and it's pretty.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday reflections


I love how something so mundane has such complexities when you look at it closely, the textures of the glass, the distortions of the reflections.

This was a difficult week for many reasons -- I'm still really anemic and have come far too close to fainting a couple of times -- and though I've tried to filter out the toxic responses of the apologists to the damning torture report -- enough seeped through to sicken me more.

I wish I believed in hell, because it would be an enormous comfort to think of Dick Cheney there.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Street photography


Another iPhone shot from the cab Wednesday night. I'm starting to like the way the iPhone does night shots -- the lack of detail doesn't matter as much and there's a dreamy, abstract quality I love.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Urban poetry

A glimpse of Grand Central, taken with my phone through the back window of a cab on my way home from dinner with Geraldine last night.

First snow yesterday, thin but persistent, coming down through the afternoon and into the night. It melted as soon as it landed, so it was more like a light rain, not unpleasant to walk in bare-headed.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday bird blogging

A seabird swooping over the icy waters of Prince William Sound.

I love the colors on the wings and body against the steely blue of the water. The crew on our boat fished out some of the glacial ice floating in the sound and made margaritas from it. I didn't have one, but after a weekend spent alternating between moving heavy furniture around, and looking bleary-eyed at the ensuing chaos and wondering just how I managed to acquire so much stuff, I could definitely use one now.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


I spent much of today emptying out a desk and two storage units I'm having carted away tomorrow, and now I'm trying to soothe myself towards sleep and away from thoughts of being smothered by all the stuff that's now sitting in piles everywhere.

This nice depiction of the fluorescent hell that is the modern cube farm at least has the virtue of looking nothing like my cramped and cluttered apartment.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Urban poetry

Another overlooked shot from Seattle.

I thought I had seldom seen a less promising venue for the creation and/or consumption of quality beer, but I looked at the website, and it is much more charming when it's open for business.

What qualifies it as true urban poetry though is this:

At Peddler, we strive to be a gathering place for beer lovers and support bicycling as an awesome way to get around our beautiful city.

Beer and bicycling!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Astronomy Tuesday

The Galileo spacecraft spent eight years exploring Jupiter beginning in 1995, and the images have now been remastered.

This is a new look at Europa, calibrated to approximate what the human eye would see. There may be a liquid ocean under that icy surface, and if so, it's the most likely location for extraterrestrial life in our solar system.

Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, SETI Institute, Cynthia Phillips, Marty Valenti

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pulling the wool

It's back to work tomorrow, and while I didn't get as much accomplished at home as I'd hoped -- despite throwing out bags and bags of junk, and making three trips to the Salvation Army, my apartment looks pretty much the same way it did before I started -- I did manage to complete one of my many art projects.

I always love fibers and fabrics but they're even more appealing when it starts to get cold outside. I find knitting soothing, but trying to follow complicated patterns takes the fun out of it for me. So I've been felting.

I first made felt seven or eight years ago, when I'd broken my left hand and I was looking for new activities that would help me get my strength and dexterity back. Basic felting is easy enough -- you add soap and hot water to wool, and roll it and rub it and throw it around and it turns into felt -- and it was an excellent workout for my hands (and elbows and shoulders and back.)

The problem was what to do with the end product. I played around with mixing colors and adding silk or metallic threads, and the felt I made was pretty, and it was definitely felt -- thick and solid and strong -- but I didn't really have any use for it. I cut it up and used it for coasters and pot holders and a couple of pieces are still glued to the bottoms of lamps, but I quickly exhausted the potential uses. I threw the scraps away and moved on to something else.

I've been seeing a lot of beautiful felt work in the past few years though, much nicer than anything I had available for inspiration during my own brief feltmaking career. Then I discovered Moy Mackay, a Scottish artist who creates beautiful Impressionistic landscapes out of wool, and I decided that I would try to do an Alaskan landscape.

I bought some wool roving and gave it a try, and the results would have shamed your average five year old, who could have kicked my ass with a sheet of paper and a box of Crayolas. (Jayne said, “Well, you can tell that's the sky." And she was being generous.)

So I thought something a little less ambitious might be called for. Like flowers. Really big flowers so I didn't have to worry about a lot of detail (which tends to migrate in unexpected ways when the wool starts doing its thing.) And I'm pleased with the result. I had planned to add some hand stitched detail but I like the way the colors bleed into each other, so I'm leaving it as plain old felt. Click to enlarge.

Sunday bird blogging

A tufted titmouse surveys the Ramble, in Central Park.

Further along those lines….

A quote (via SwissMiss) that perfectly describes why I find travel so important. Of course, part of it just incurable curiosity (some might even say “nosiness") about the world and everything and everyone in it. And part of it is that I tend to be timid and you only learn to be brave by doing things that frighten you.

But I've also learned that I am never so much myself as when I'm somewhere I've never been before. So much of our lives is necessarily spent in the habitual, the familiar: wake, work, eat, sleep. Wash the dishes. Laugh with friends. Worry about money or a wayward child. When I'm somewhere new, somewhere else, habits necessarily fall away -- I'm still eating but it's different foods, sleeping, but in strange beds -- and eventually the stresses and worries do as well. (Brooding about something my boss said becomes much less urgent when I'm in an Italian train station wrestling with a ticket machine that has apparently decided I won't be on the next train to Rome after all.)

Without the pinch of routine, you not only recognize what's really you, you expand to be even more of yourself. Strange places, strange people, the challenges of navigation, all push at you. And you push back.

Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do. 
At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves - that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us. It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, but who may not be who we essentially are.
--Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saturday reflections


While enjoying my staycation this week, I realized that this is the first year since I was able to start traveling again that I never actually left the United States.

But even though you don't need a passport to go there, I think Alaska really should count as a foreign country. So far away -- I could fly to several places in Europe faster than I could get back to Fairbanks -- so beautiful, so strange.

I'm already looking forward to a new year in travel though -- starting with a most unexpected opportunity to visit Istanbul and points east in April, and a tentative return to Scotland (yes, I've been watching Outlander, and I want to see more of the Highlands) in September.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Urban poetry

I think we can all agree that every bridge (or overpass) ought to have a troll living underneath, but in Seattle they've done something about it.

My sympathies to anyone attempting to fly around the United States today. Although the big storm moved a little more out to sea than expected and we will not be having a white Thanksgiving after all, it was a chilly day with precipitation that couldn't make up its mind between rain and snow and just gave us both, in enormous quantities, from morning to early evening.

Trolls may prefer cold damp hiding places (at least if there are a few delicious billy goats to snack on) but I spent a completely useless afternoon wallowing in the luxury of having nowhere I had to be,  with tea and a fat book and a blanket, and I can assure you I look much happier than this guy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Astronomy Tuesday

This beauty is the Tulip Nebula, in Cygnus.

Image Credit and Copyright: J-P Metsävainio (Astro Anarchy)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday bird blogging

Thanksgiving is the week of big birds, so here's a very large red-tailed hawk in Central Park a couple of years ago.

Like most humans, I have my real dark nights of the soul, but mine tend to be on weekday afternoons, and not at three o'clock in the morning. I'm seldom awake then, for one thing -- I don't usually fall asleep easily but once I'm out, I'm out -- and while I realize the 3 am is meant metaphorically, I like the middle of the night. I like the quiet and the darkness and burrowing back in warm blankets after a quick pee, knowing that there's hours of sleep still before the nagging of the alarm clock.

What's even better is getting up in the middle of the night as I did last night and realizing that I have an entire week of sleep ahead of me -- nothing I have to do, nowhere I have to go. I haven't stayed at home on vacation for a very long time.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday reflections

Brick within brick.

I took this picture in June, in Chicago, but it has an autumnal air, with the leafless vines snaking up the bricks against the growly sky.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Urban poetry

I love old signs, faded, usually obsolete, painted on the sides of buildings. This one happens to be in Portland, but there are many more of them in New York, like ghosts of a city that no longer exists, directing you to establishments that no one remembers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Astronomy Tuesday

So this is what a comet looks like.

Philae, the lander for the Rosetta mission, landed safely on the surface of C67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but sadly not in a position where its solar panels received enough light to keep it going. So this sort of selfie -- the lander's foot is in the bottom left corner -- may be the best photo we get.

Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday bird blogging


Out of nowhere, the beautiful fall weather gave way to bone-chilling cold. And my body clock is completely turned around because I had to get up in the middle of the night and spend two hours testing critical systems after an upgrade. And I just spilled my pasta dinner all over my duvet. Disgruntled is a very mild term for how I'm feeling.

So here's a souvenir from one of the perfect moments of my life: sitting on the beach at Gardner Bay in the Galapagos, listening to the waves and the sea lions and watching finches hop around the sand, completely unconcerned with my presence once they figured out I wasn't something to eat.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday reflections

Windows on the waterfront, in Seattle.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Street photography

I took so many pictures in Alaska that I never quite finished going through the Seattle folder.

Here's one I missed. I love how completely unimpressed this man looks, standing in front of the beautiful window display and that gorgeous red dress.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Urban poetry

Evening light on the terrace of the Explorers Club a few weeks ago.

You can't really call anything on the Upper East Side of Manhattan a hidden gem, but there are gardens and parks and terraces behind the facades of those snooty townhouses that you wouldn't know are there unless you happen to be invited inside. You could live here forever and never see this hidden city.

I'd never been to the Explorers Club, but Russell Gammon, our wonderful tour director in Africa, had been invited to talk about David Livingstone. Russell is a brilliant storyteller and Livingstone is a story that I suspect he tells better than anyone, and I was thrilled to have a chance to hear it again. The video is below.

Every time I'm tempted to think my life is hard, I should remind myself of Livingstone going to work in the factories in Scotland as a child, balancing a book on the machines so he could teach himself Latin while he worked.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Astronomy Tuesday

This is the romantically named NGC 660, a so-called polar ring galaxy 20 million light years away in Pisces. This is a rare galaxy type, and astronomers aren't sure how they happen. There's a substantial ring of stars, gas, and a variety of space dust in orbit around the galaxy, but not in the same plane as the galactic disk, which is what you'd expect. Instead, as you can see in the picture, the galaxy tilts one way, and the ring another, almost perpendicular to its parent.

This image is from the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea, which seems appropriate because that pink ring reminds me of a rope of flowers, swinging in rhythm while the stars dance a hula. (I also like the variety of galaxies in the background, including the one in the bottom right that appears to be balancing on its edge.)

Image Credit: Gemini Observatory, AURA, Travis Rector (Univ. Alaska Anchorage)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday bird blogging

A male downy woodpecker.

This is one of the most common birds in Central Park (apart from pigeons and house sparrows, of course) and you see them all year round. I love the great big feet on those tiny bodies, perfect for hopping around vertical tree trunks without losing one's grip, but I'm used to them, and don't even bother to take pictures unless they're posing in plain view like this fellow.

But what's commonplace to me can be an astonishment to a stranger. When I was in the park a few weeks ago, a woman from England excitedly showed me a photo of a bird on her phone and asked if I knew what it was. I told her that it was a male cardinal, and I pointed out a female that was hopping around not far from where we were standing.

She was surprised when I told her they were fairly common. “But it's so beautiful!" she said. And they are. A reminder that we are lucky to live in a world that has bright red birds poking around in it, color even in the darkest days of winter.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Saturday geometries

Well, sort of. There are angles enough here, against that washed out sky, but it's not the first thing you would notice about this picture. I want to call it “The Lighting of the Lamps", which makes me think of “Prelude":

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.

That's T.S. Eliot, always good for a chuckle and a bit of cheer when you could really use it. Many years ago, I went to a reading by Stephen Spender, and he talked about Eliot, and said that the voice in his poems was the way he actually talked. He imitated him saying, “I don't like bread and butter, and jam's too much trouble," in a deep, ponderous drawl, and suddenly idle tea table chatter sounded like something out of “The Waste Land."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Urban poetry

A slice of the many levels of infrastructure making up elevated tracks in Chicago.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Astronomy Tuesday

I am always fascinated by photos of the Earth from space, but I especially love this one, with the battered body of our moon in the foreground and our beautiful planet just a blue wink in the distance.

The Chinese Chang'e 5-T1 spacecraft took the picture last week.

Image Credit: Chinese National Space Administration, Xinhuanet

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Cream


Many people linked to videos of Cream after the recent death of Jack Bruce, but this was my favorite. I like the sign identifying “The Cream" of course, and the way there's no real attempt to pretend that all of the vocals are live, with Mr. Bruce singing one part and then, apparently randomly, another.

Mostly I like the way Eric Clapton looks like a stand-in for Michael Cera in Juno. He's so adorably dorky.

Sunday bird blogging

This is the female purple finch. With that spotted breast she could be any of a number of sparrows or other female birds.

Birders identify her by the white stripes on her face and the notch in her tail. And, in my case, by the very useful fact that she was hanging out with male purple finches.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Saturday reflections

Some seasonal reds, on a day when it's pouring rain out of pitch black skies in New York and there's very little color to be found.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Urban poetry

I'm still paying for carrying a camera with a big lens to the park last weekend, so here's a picture I took with my phone yesterday while I was sitting in traffic in a cab on Seventh Avenue.

I'm obsessed with reflections, as anyone who reads this blog knows, and also with headlights and taillights on cars, so here's a nice abstract image combining both.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Astronomy Tuesday

There was a partial solar eclipse last week; sadly, it wasn't visible from the East Coast.  This photo was taken from Santa Cruz, and shows the giant sunspot group with the romantic name AR 2192.

If I had a life list, if I believed in such things, seeing a total solar eclipse would be near the top of the list. There's one visible from Northern Europe in March and I almost signed up for a tour to see it. (Of course, right now I can barely make it to the corner so the idea of going anywhere outside of Midtown Manhattan is comical.)

If I can't make it to the eclipse, I'll just have to wait for the eclipse to come to me. There's one in 2017, visible in most of the United States.

Image Credit and Copyright: Michael Bolte (UCSC)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday bird blogging

October is the most beautiful month in New York, but I admit I haven't been paying much attention, and I hadn't been to the park in months.

Many months ago, I broke my foot. It got better, then worse, then better. Months of limping took a toll on my knees. I'm not supposed to take NSAID's because of the bleeding risk, but I get away with an Advil now and then. But after three days of trudging up and down the hills of Seattle I was in serious pain and I bought some Aleve before going to Alaska.

I'd probably do it again -- every step in Alaska was worth it -- but I've been paying for it, getting by on two-thirds of a normal blood supply while undergoing the familiar endless tests and treatments for anemia. So that's why blogging has been sporadic; just going to work and doing the minimum necessary chores has taken all of the energy I have.

It was perfect October in the park this morning. Although I couldn't walk far, and the light wasn't ideal for photos, I was rewarded for the effort with a rare pair of purple finches hanging out by the feeders. Here's the male.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Because every building has to have a back door -- how else are the staff going to sneak out for smokes?

Here's the Frank Gehry version, from EMP in Seattle.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Urban poetry

Perhaps not the marketing approach I would have taken.

Astronomy Tuesday, uh Wednesday

The cluster of stars in the bottom half of this photo is Messier 6, photographed in enough detail so that even Monsieur Messier would have immediately realized it's not a comet.

The object in the top half of the photo, on the other hand, is -- Comet Siding Spring, which this past weekend came within 140,000 miles of Mars.

Image Credit and Copyright: Rolando Ligustri (CARA Project, CAST)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday bird blogging

An eastern wood pewee hanging out in Central Park on a lazy weekend morning.

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