Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Things I've seen: Postcards from New York City

I've been here three full days so far. I'm here to do some serious photographing in Central Park and on the High Line. I'll get around to posting some of those, but they'll take time. These are some random things I've seen in my wanderings around town. I hope you find them as intriguing as I did. The captions are necessarily brief. They are in roughly chronological order, but that's mostly irrelevant. The selections are heavy on food and architecture, two preoccupations of mine.

View of Manhattan skyline from the Amtrak train on the way in through Brooklyn.

Live crabs! They were wiggling around in there. Chinatown.

Also in Chinatown I found a luscious fruit that I've only had in Nicaragua before. There it's called pitahaya. Here it's called dragon fruit. It's just as tasty by either name!

Still in Chinatown. These are rambutan; very hairy on the outside but sweet inside.

Four crabs (seems to be a theme) hold up Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park.

The clean lines of FL Wright's Guggenheim balcony contrast with the neighborhood - as he intended.

UBS Plaza on Avenue of the Americas.

Rockefeller Center.

The Maritime 1968 Bulding in Chelsea.

St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Trees grow atop this steeple.

Chelsea Fish Market.

Ditto. If you can read the sign you will note these lobsters cost $20.95 per pound. I bought the same size lobsters in Gloucester, MA a few days ago for $3.99 a pound. No kidding. (I bet they're cheaper in Chinatown, too.)

No need for an appointment at this tatoo parlor.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Postcards from Walden Pond

“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” ~ H. D. Thoreau.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” That, of course, is one of the more popular quotations from the man who made Walden Pond famous. The quote is popular enough to be carved into a wooden sign that stands next to the site of Thoreau’s even more famous cabin in the woods. That site is marked with granite pillars and iron chains.

Lots of people still “go to the woods,” that is, to Walden Pond, but few, it seems go to “live deliberately.” Fewer still go to find the solitude that Thoreau famously craved.  “I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude,” he said. (So he claimed, though society was never far off. He also said, “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

Mostly the multitudes come to swim in the pond, which is a fair sized lake (and quite warm, especially compared with the ocean. I can attest to that!)

They come in droves. Some find their way to the replica of Thoreau’s cabin that has been placed conveniently between large parking lots, across the road from the actual pond and quite a distance from the site of Thoreau’s actual cabin on the far side of the pond. That is to say, about a leisurely 15-minute walk, or 10 minutes at a brisk pace.

The replica of the cabin, along with interpretive signage and a curiously small bronze statue of Thoreau contemplating…what exactly? It appears to be his own hand.

Inside the replica of the cabin are replicas of the three chairs, a replica writing table, replica stove, replica bed with a replica moth-eaten woolen blanket neatly tucked in around it. Also, there were actual tourists. Here a boy holds up his illustrated copy of Walden for his mother who is wielding her cell phone camera. Others came through while I lingered, commenting on the size of the space, or its Spartan furnishings, or the smell. 

"It smells like ham," a group of four unaccompanied young girls all agreed. As they left, the tallest - presumably the eldest - told the others with authority, "This is his real cabin." One of the other girls asked plaintively, "Isn't this like a replica?" The first reasserted, "This is the real one." 

"Did he die here?" I heard one of them ask as they all strode off towards the pond. They were out of earshot before I could catch the answer. Just as well, I suppose.

I made the walk to the actual cabin site, of course. It took me longer than 15 minutes because I stopped frequently to observe, and photograph, the wildlife. All of it was of the human kind, although the sign on this unkempt pile of wood reads, "Turtle nesting site; please do not disturb."

The narrow path is lined with barbed wire. Thoreau wrote, “Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe.” I personally have no problem with a little make-believe now and then, but I'm with Thoreau on this one. This is Walden Pond, the straight facts.

At intervals were hung signs that read “Please stay on the trails…. Violators are subject to fines.” Neither the signs nor the barbed wire, it seems, are enough to thwart some people determined to enjoy the blessings of nature. Thoreau again: “All change is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.” Much has changed here at Walden; miracles, however, seem to be in short supply.

“A lake is a landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”  ~ H. D. Thoreau.
With apologies to Thoreau, I went to the woods deliberately because I wished to pay homage, to front the essential facts of life as it unfolds at Walden Pond in 2013, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach. I learned something. After all, "Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn." 

I paid my respects. I also paid the State of Massachusetts to park and for the honor of owning a T-shirt inscribed with that most famous quote: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” (Which, of course, was not among his writings from Walden, but the essay, “Walking.”)

In the end I went back to my car, which I had parked at the farthest corner of the lot, and I got out the picnic lunch that I’d brought along. I went a short distance along a trail that led away from the pond and the people. Warm sunlight dappled the scene before me. A low, marshy spot was visible through the trees. I sat on a boulder while I ate. No one passed. The solitude of the woods was a refreshing tonic.

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.” ~ H. D. Thoreau

Unlike the one on my new T-shirt, all of the other quotes in this post are from Walden, Thoreau's reflection on his two-year stay in this woods, near the pond. Before leaving I pause to reflect, to greet the day with joy, to understand that there is cause to feel momentarily blessed. I have taken my pictures, made my notes and learned a little of what this place has teach, but the true harvest is intangible.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rockport Massachusetts

I've been coming here for over 50 years, more off and on than in the past, before I moved to WI. Back then I came every summer. Cape Ann (which includes Gloucester and Rockport), has changed some over that time. Mostly there are more houses perched on oceanview plots. But this year there was a most dramatic and topical change.

Three of these enormous wind turbines loom into view as you enter the cape over the bridge from the mainland. They are clearly visible from here on Good Harbor Beach, one of the most popular beaches on the north shore of Boston. I must admit they were a shock when I first drove beneath them. After a few days of seeing them, everpresent on the horizon, I am getting used to the idea. I wonder how the locals feel about them?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Photos available from 3 Bridges Park opening

If you missed the opening of Milwaukee's newest park -- 3 Bridges Park in the Menomonee Valley -- it's not too late to go see it. In fact, it will only get better and better! If you want to see photographs from the day of the event, there are many posted on the Menomonee Valley Partners' flickr site, including some of mine.

I was asked by MVP to take portraits of people who attended the opening. There is an official set of those portraits. Click here to view them. One of the purposes of the portraiture was to document the event itself and to see who was in attendance. There is also another purpose. Our goal is to revisit the site in coming years and document how the park changes over time. I am delighted to be involved in that process.

This is just one of the portraits I made that day. Not a random one, though. Meet Laura Bray, director of Menomonee Valley Partners.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

DOT eyes the County Grounds for concrete crushing

Will the Milwaukee County Grounds ever be allowed to realize its enormous potential as one of Southeastern Wisconsin’s premier public parklands? Threats to the integrity of the landscape seem to be never-ending. Just when most of the pieces of the puzzle seemed to be falling into place, reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange threatens to spill over into the DNR State Forest portion of the land.

Construction on Discovery Parkway and Innovation Park began in earnest earlier this year. This is not news to anyone who has driven on Swan Boulevard through the County Grounds this summer. The steel structure of the ABB building, clearly visible from Swan, has steadily grown. Situated less visibly behind the Parks Administration building the UWM incubator also is under construction. And after months of work, excavation for Discovery Parkway has intersected with Swan.

If you’ve missed these developments, I have included some photos (of course!) below.

These changes, though attended by controversy, have been long anticipated. What has created new consternation is a proposal by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) to use the County Grounds for its concrete crushing operations during the Zoo Interchange reconstruction. This process involves trucking tremendous loads of concrete demolition debris to a mobile crushing center and then hauling it away for recycling. If approved, the operation would occupy approximately 11 acres of land on the DNR State Forest parcel, which lies between Swan Blvd. and MMSD’s west flood basin.

The primary question is “why there?” It is like adding injury to insult. First one agency of the state, the DNR, decides to protect the land and create a Forestry Education Center (FEC) on that very site. Then another agency of the state, the DOT, decides to crush concrete there. It takes no special insight or expertise to understand that these are incompatible objectives.

John Gee, the founding director of the FEC, says that the “concrete crushing operation will make the forest unusable for educational purposes, …primarily because of the noise and dust pollution. But, also, common sense would say that kind of disturbance…will drive out a lot the wildlife.”

Gee has left his position as Executive Director due to a “disagreement with the board of directors over the scope of his authority.” Coincidence?

Understandably, perhaps, wildlife is not the primary concern of the DOT. Understandably, I hope, there are people who have been fighting for the future of the County Grounds for many years who do care deeply how something like this will impact wildlife, the forest and other natural features.

Bill Mohr, DOT Project Manager for the Zoo Interchange project, says that there are “many positives” to using the FEC site. These include being removed from residential and commercial areas—the very thing that makes it a prime candidate for green infrastructure and wildlife habitat—and the ability to work with the DNR, another state agency.

Other sites are being considered as alternatives, Mohr said in a phone conversation. But, the FEC site is the preferred one.

There is some official opposition to the proposal, fortunately. Members of the FEC board of directors assured me that this is “not a done deal.” In an email Tom Gaertner, the treasurer of the FEC board, told me, “The city has the final say on the matter.” The City of Wauwatosa must approve an application for a zoning variance if this proposal is to move forward. As yet no application has been submitted.

When I called Wauwatosa Mayor Kathy Ehley for comment she confirmed that they have not received an application from the DOT. She also said that if they do receive one she believes “the city staff will not recommend approval” of it. She added that the city is “proactively” working with the DOT to promote alternative siting of the operation.

That was welcome information, in my opinion. On the other hand, there are those who express pessimism about anyone’s chance to successfully oppose the DOT. For those who object to this proposal there is some urgency to the matter. Officials at the DOT would like to finalize the decision within a couple weeks and, to my knowledge, there is no public hearing scheduled to allow for public comment or debate on the issue.

The site being proposed was used previously by the MMSD for staging during construction of the flood detention basins. In an agreement with the DNR, part of it is currently being used by the DOT to store steel beams prior to their use in the freeway project (above).

This view from Swan Boulevard shows the proposed location of the concrete crushing operation, on the left side of the photo. Wil-O-Way Woods, the heart of the DNR State Forest, is in the background.

In some parts of the County Grounds, things are looking rosier. Abundant rainfall has produced a bumper crop of wildflowers in the County Park.

There is a new feature on the horizon, as the ABB building rises in Innovation Park.

The view south from Swan Boulevard where Discovery Parkway is under construction.

Construction vehicle tracks among the wildflowers is unwelcome collateral damage on the County Park.

The steel framing of the ABB building contrasts with one of the dormant Eschweiler buildings, as viewed from the Monarch Trail.

During my foray last weekend I came across three volunteers from the Friends of the Monarch Trail. They were planting native wildflowers and other prairie flora in the protected habitat zone next to Discovery Drive. The flags show where the future Monarch Trail has been staked out.