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

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.

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