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

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year

Is this a comment on what many of us agree was an unbelievable suckhole of a year -- sending it off with a pretty lousy sample of the photographic art?

Well, no. True, this picture is not likely to join my portfolio of gallery submissions in 2017, or like, ever, and yes, this year, by any measure, was Awful. Just, Awful.

But Venus was so high in the sky this week, and so brilliant, that it was not merely visible in Manhattan, it was dazzling. And watching it for two nights while I walked home from work made me so happy that I took this crappy picture with my phone just to remember the feeling. (Venus is the white dot in the middle of the picture, in case you're wondering. The other lights are apartment buildings.)

If Oscar Wilde had lived in New York, he would never have written, We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. You could spend months in a Manhattan gutter and never see a single star; the bright lights of my big city turn the sky into a dull opaque gray, and even bright planets like Venus or Mars are barely noticeable except under perfect conditions. So what, you might ask. No one on Venus cares about our Planet of Fools, and noticing a light in the sky that I happen to know is coming from a particular rock several million miles away does not improve my life in any detectable way.

And yet, it made me smile. It made me happy. It was a little gift from the universe, which has a memory much longer than our seasons or lifespans or election cycles. It was a reminder to look up, to look outward, to let go of the shoulder-hunched, gut-clenched posture I've adopted over the past several months, and think, calmly if I can, rationally if I can, about what comes next.

I don't know what that is yet. The helicopters are circling in the sky overhead, keeping an eye on the crowds in Times Square a few blocks away. Earlier when I was buying groceries, the cashier asked if I was ready for the new year. “No,” I said. “But it's coming anyway.” He thought that was hilarious. And now it's almost here, though I'll probably be asleep before the cheering starts.

Don't forget to look for the stars. Look up. Look around. Unclench. We'll get through this.

Saturday reflections

Well, not much reflection there, but on a dark December day, this cityscape from last summer cheers me up: the unlovely West Side, flanked by the very lovely Armenian church and the Empire State Building.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Astronomy Tuesday

Images like this make it impossible for me to believe that the universe isn't really dancing, to a music deeper and slower than anything our puny ears can detect. Anyway, it does move, as Signor Galilei reportedly muttered under his breath at the Inquisition, and if I want to think of that movement as dancing, I will.

This is the Cartwheel Galaxy -- 100,000 light years across and 400 million light years away. Long ago one galaxy passed through another and what you see here are the ripples, like water in a pond when you've tossed a stone in.

Image credit: Image Credit: ESA, NASA, Hubble

Monday, December 26, 2016

Church of the Good Shepherd

I meant to post this yesterday as it has a kind of Christmassy feel to it -- twilight at Lake Tekapo in New Zealand.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Bonus bird blogging

A female house sparrow grooming herself in the park this morning.

Sunday bird blogging

This year I was sorely tempted to take up celebrating Festivus instead of Christmas, but I'm afraid if I get started on the Airing of Grievances I'll still be going well into the new year.

So Merry Christmas, and here's a nuthatch displaying their typical disregard for dignity, decorum and the laws of gravity.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday reflections

I did not write Wash Me with my finger on the hood of this car but it was a temptation. The reflections on the left would have been much nicer with just a little less dirt.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Urban poetry

Taking a break.

I took this with my phone while sitting in a cab on my way back to work after a doctor's appointment a couple of weeks ago. I just liked the way the men were sitting there, and I was in a yellow mood.

This is another example of the less than stellar phone lens with its odd distortions giving an old, almost oil painting feel to ordinary brickwork for an interesting effect.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Astronomy Tuesday

Even I can see why this is called the Seagull Nebula; I can clearly see a bird swooping down with a dramatic, almost stylized, curve of wing. But a seagull wouldn't be my first idea -- more likely a bird of prey, with claws ready to snatch the poor little baby nebula cowering below. (Okay, maybe a seagull diving for a chunk of bread is a more attractive idea after all.)

The big blue star is Sirius, the brightest star in our sky, and just below and to the right of it, that smudgy bright spot is the star cluster M. Messier designated as number 41.

Image Credit and Copyright: Rogelio Bernal Andreo (Deep Sky Colors)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday bird blogging

Because I didn't get to California this year, despite detailed plans and high expectations: a mediocre picture of a hawk over Stinson Beach, from last Thanksgiving.

Really just an excuse to quote Rumi on a gray day when I could use a little transcendence:

Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom. 
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling,
they're given wings.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday reflections

Equitable Tower always creates interesting reflections, in this case in some new construction across West 52nd Street. I love the texture of these strips of color -- almost like bolts of fabric.

I woke up in the middle of the night to snow tapping against the window and there's a soft white blanket over the world this morning. Unfortunately, it's going to turn to rain as the day warms up so I have to run out and do my errands before the streets turn into giant slush puddles.

Friday, December 16, 2016

More urban poetry

On the other hand -- who needs tinsel snowflakes when the soft golden light of an almost-winter afternoon can turn even the grittiest cityscape into something magical?

Urban poetry

I'm guessing that somebody in some city planning bureau said, "Hey, those giant snowflakes look great on Fifth Avenue -- let's put some up on the West Side so you see them when you come out of the Lincoln Tunnel!"

Somehow the effect is not the same.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Astronomy Tuesday

The Hubble team was actually interested in that strange spiral object on the left -- possibly a planetary nebula -- rather than the enormous Christmassy local star photo-bombing on the right.

But as usual I'm more fascinated by all the tiny galaxies dancing in the background. This is your universe, ladies and gentlemen, and it's a beautiful one.

Image Credit: ESA, Hubble, R. Sahai (JPL), NASA

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What the light is good for

I took this one yesterday, on West 39th Street.

I've always been fascinated by what remains of the Garment District, West Manhattan in the Thirties, just south of where I live in Hell's Kitchen. There are still manufacturers there, mostly high-end designers, and back when I cared more about how I dressed I went to the occasional sample sale, riding up scary elevators in warehouse buildings on a Saturday afternoon and leaving with a designer coat for $150 cash.

At street level there are the suppliers, fabric stores and trimming shops and sellers of sequins and jewelry supplies and sewing machines. I used to buy colorful odds and ends there to make jewelry, and I still have some beautiful brown cashmere fabric I bought for pennies at a going out of business sale that I will turn into a jacket someday.

I've been taking pictures there recently because it's an easy walk on even raw blustery December days, and I'm attracted by the bright colors of the bolts of fabric and racks of thread in window displays that appear not to have changed in the past fifty years. But this picture -- which I love -- makes me think that focusing on colors isn't the best way to capture this place.

Sunday bird blogging

Old stuff, still -- I have not had much luck with the light on days when I could conceivably have been hunting down the local avians, so I don't have any recent pictures to post.

This is an appropriately named goldeneye, in Grand Teton National Park.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday reflections

An empty retail space in the midst of the fabric stores and notions shops on West 39th Street in the Garment District.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Urban poetry

This looks like the bell tower in some Tuscan hill town, but it's actually an anachronistic adornment on an old industrial building turned big box store in Chelsea.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

From the hotel archives

Pretend this is a sunrise instead of a sunset and it's a pretty way to start the day.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Astronomy Tuesday

I know what you're thinking -- A nebula!

Silly Grasshopper. This may be a pretty picture of colorful tendrils of light, but that doesn't mean it's a nebula. This is more properly referred to as the Vela Supernova Remnant, the gases from a massive star explosion approximately 12,000 years ago.

But, you may ask, the Crab Nebula is also the result of a supernova -- why isn't it called the Crab Supernova Remnant? The easiest answer is that we've been looking at the sky for a long time, long before we had any idea what we were looking at, and the word nebula, from the Latin for cloud, was applied to any fuzzy-looking bright patch in the sky. This could and did include objects that we now know are galaxies and globular clusters and star nurseries as well as supernova remnants.

Things that weren't easily visible before the invention of high-powered telescopes got more precise names. End of lesson.

Credit and Copyright: Robert Gendler

Monday, December 5, 2016

Welcome to the working week

A fleet of bicycles on Sixth Avenue, ready to deliver Chinese food to hungry New Yorkers.

I don't quite get why they're festooned with empty plastic bags -- do the delivery guys have to bag the food themselves as it comes out of the restaurant? -- but it makes for a nice picture.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday bird blogging

Another shot of the female cardinal from a few weeks ago, for Sally.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Urban poetry

Well, urban if the city in question is Sydney: learning to surf on Bondi Beach.

How ridiculously idyllic is this -- well minus the killer jellyfish and occasional great white?

Saturday reflections

Peering into the Block Arcade in Melbourne from the street outside.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Like all proper young ladies of the time -- especially those who wanted to work as teachers or governesses -- Charlotte practiced drawing and painting by copying from books. The painting above was done in sepia (I had never known that the color is named for the cuttlefish whose brownish ink was used for writing and painting from Roman times until the nineteenth century.)

But I really love the doodles on the left. This is what Charlotte Bronte drew to amuse herself -- fashionable young ladies and potential dress designs.


One of Charlotte's dresses.

You can't tell the scale from this photo, but she was only 4'9" tall, so to modern eyes it appeared to be made for a very large doll. Even a skinny ten year old might have trouble fastening that tiny waist.

The Pillar Portrait

A not-great phone photograph of a not terribly well-executed and very badly maintained oil painting.

But as it's the only recorded likeness of the three Bronte sisters -- that's Anne on the left, Emily in the middle, and Charlotte, by herself, on the right -- it's of great historical importance. It was painted by their wastrel brother Branwell, who was originally part of the group, sitting between Emily and Charlotte. He painted a pillar over his likeness, but because he didn't mix his paints properly they faded and you can now see the ghostly outlines of the figure that was once there.

I saw this painting many years ago at the National Portrait Gallery in London, but it was wonderful to encounter it again at a Charlotte Bronte exhibition at the Morgan Library that I went to a couple of days before I left for Iceland. 

It was the frontispiece in my first copy of Jane Eyre, an abridged version our neighbor Fran Owens bought me at the Green Apple bookstore in San Francisco when I was ten or eleven. (I had originally picked out a copy of The Odyssey -- yeah, I was a weird kid -- but Fran refused to buy it, telling me I'd get quite enough of that in high school.) I read that book at least half a dozen times before graduating to an unabridged paperback, and I loved the long introduction with the stories of the famous siblings -- the chilly parsonage, the tragic early deaths, Angria and Gondal -- as much as I loved the actual novel.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Astronomy Tuesday

NGC 4414 is what's known as a flocculent spiral galaxy -- an unattractive adjective for such a lovely object. It means that the spiral arms aren't well-defined; galaxies with clear spiral arms are called grand design galaxies.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, W. Freedman (U. Chicago) et al., and the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI), SDSS; Processing: Judy Schmidt

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Just for fun

These are actually from last week: primary colors on one block of West 44th Street. I saw the red (okay, mostly orange but there is some red there), then noticed the yellow signs across the street. I thought, Now all I need is some blue, and I looked up and saw sky reflected in the windows of the Intercontinental right across the street.

Bonus bird blogging

Another Melbourne bird -- the hyphenated because we can't make up our minds what to call it -- magpie-lark.

I saw a lot of these, but none of them wanted to be photographed, so this is the best picture I have.

Sunday bird blogging

Australia, obviously. North American birds aren't usually quite this eccentric.

This is a spotted dove, in the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne. I'm still laying low, so spending time binge-watching Netflix and sorting through this year's pictures.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday reflections

I'm still feeling like a somewhat abstracted version of my normal self, so here's an appropriate picture: an acrylic chair in one of my many recent hotels, reflecting the lights and shadows of the curtained room.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Astronomy Tuesday

I love that I immediately recognized this as Pluto when it turned up as today's Astronomy Picture of the Day. It never stops feeling miraculous to me that the icy not-quite-a-planet that was shown as nothing more than a dim star in my college astronomy textbooks can now be seen in so much detail.

Proof that we idiot humans do manage to get many things right, despite all the recent evidence to the contrary. (This picture shows the Sputnik Planum; click over to the link to read more about it.)

Image Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins U./APL, Southwest Research Inst.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sunday bird blogging

Because I never get tired of cardinals, even in imperfect pictures with twiggy shadows across their eyes.

And because I know everyone is dying to know the latest gossip from my digestive tract, I am as expected getting better, but slowly. Yesterday I thought I might like some fruit salad with my yogurt. There's a market a few blocks away that sells beautiful fruit already cut up, so I went there.

And although I'd been thinking earlier that maybe I could have gone on vacation after all -- really, the actual trip is mostly just sitting, and I could lie down when I got there -- the trip to the market cured me of that illusion. It's only six blocks but it felt like six miles. I had to sit down and rest when I got there, and I had to sit down again after walking back before tackling the steps to my apartment. The idea that I could lift a suitcase or stand in line or deal with crowds was clearly ludicrous.

Obviously I needed more calories if I was going to get my strength back any time before 2017 and fruit wasn't going to cut it. So I also bought peanut butter, some nice squishy bread and fancy French preserves and I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with tea. It tasted delicious and I ate the entire thing.

Then I felt sick and couldn't eat anything else the rest of the day, but hey, it's progress.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday reflections

A row of wheelchairs lined up to take in the view from La Guardia.

Both airports and wheelchairs are appropriate today -- the wheelchairs because of the previously mentioned stomach bug, which has lingered long past its overdue date, and has left me weak enough to make a wheelchair sound like a really good idea; and the airport, because I was supposed to be flying out this morning to spend Thanksgiving with friends.

I'm very disappointed (for some reason everyone I know is in serious need of huddling with loved ones these days) but honestly the thought of facing an airport -- frankly the thought of packing a suitcase -- was so overwhelming that I'm a little relieved as well. I know I'll be back to normal in a couple of days but that feels like forever from now.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Urban poetry

I missed the supermoon but here's a preview from a few weeks ago.

I woke up yesterday with the worst intestinal bug I have had in many years (I'm thinking, not at all fondly, of a norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship in St Petersburg). I'm better, in that I'm no longer puking every fifteen minutes but I still have no appetite and have to force myself to eat soup or a few spoonfuls of yogurt. It's difficult to imagine that I will ever desire food again. 

The fact that TV stations are full of commercials featuring big fat raw turkeys doesn't help.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Astronomy Tuesday

This very cool image of last month's supermoon -- the first of three in a row -- was stitched together from ten images. The pictures were timed with the passing of the International Space Station, so you can see a series of mini silhouettes against the moonscape.

Image Credit and Copyright: Kris Smith

Monday, November 14, 2016

And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black

Anyone who is inspired by Frost to tread all of these tempting crunchy leaves into black mulch will be in for an unpleasant surprise when they find themselves splashing around hip-deep in the Azalea Pond. The leaves were so thick on the surface of the water yesterday I honestly wouldn't have guessed there was a pond under there if I hadn't been taking pictures there for years.

Blog Archive