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Milestones and Musings

Today Franca and I are married 36 years. Seems to have passed by in a flash but perusing the memories takes a while so I guess the flash of time is an illusion. What is not an illusion is the wonderful journey it is being. I got really lucky and have been able to spend this time with my best friend and a beautiful, talented person.

I’m in the throes of changing servers, hosting, etc. in order to better accommodate the power of WordPress for both of us. I would never have attempted this a few years ago but we need the best approach we can get to showing our work and it seems doable, even fun. Stay tuned and expect a few rocky moments.

I’m photographing in a mode I call Walk Around; shadows, odd juxtapositions, colorful patterns. I’ll pass on a few.

And another one…

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We’re also getting ready for Franca to have a show this fall. Details when they are worked out. I’m going to enter the Swan Coach House Gallery “Small” show this fall. I’ll drop the four pieces in here.

Ever onward.

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The Pace of Life…


Hmm, not that things haven’t been happening but I”m less sure of their significance as far as being of interest to anyone else. Nevertheless, here goes.

In part I chronicle the Sprinter adventure here but the art work venture as well. This is about travel. Being retired means only a new set of activities, the time to plan for them and… choose a pace. I find our pace of life is slower but maybe more understandable and even, dare I say, controllable apart from illness and road rage.

The trips have been family related, Mississippi and Florida. I must say I know of no more hospitable family than the Otis Allen family(ies). We were able to see my dear aunt Helen Tucker Allen for her 95th. Seems pretty spry to be approaching the century mark. But then her sister was able to attend the party at 100+ years. Amazing sisters. We spent time there with a bunch of other family as well from Arizona, Florida and Kansas. Every minute with those folks is fun. The best of memory makers.

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We had planned to take our first Sprinter long trip in May. We did. The itinerary was pretty full, hoping to see some sights and a lot of friends we haven’t seen in a while. We went from Atlanta to Flat Rock North Carolina so that we could see the Carl Sandburg Home. It was worth every minute. Our guide was our age, funny, informative, involved in the history of the laureate. Mrs. Sandburg had 270 goats there at the farm the descendants of whom roam around in lesser numbers. There is nothing more joyful than watching about 12 little goat kids play around until exhausted when they collapse together. Much of Sandburg’s life relics are in the house as they were. Moving at times.

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We stayed overnight in Verona Virginia the next night before heading into D.C and over to Maryland to see Paula Beall and Ken Schiano. It had been about 14 years since we were together. They look pretty much the same but a lot of water has passed beneath the bridge since we last met in Eastport Maine. Wonderful place, Eastport, on the Bay of Fundy and near Campobello, but the winters are harsh and the economy depressed.

They moved to Chestertown Maryland a few years ago. They are practicing, licensed architects. The company is QA13 Architects. We saw first hand the extraordinary nature of their combined talents in their own house. As a house it might have started out pretty ordinary but now it’s one of the coolest I’ve seen. It is extremely comfortable and spacious… for them and their cats, those they chose and those that choose them. Lucky cats. We got to see other examples of their architectural work in the area and were equally impressed. Totally livable, beautiful spaces.

Ken is somebody you don’t get to see much, a working artist. He is represented there in Chestertown and elsewhere, successfully. His work is difficult to explain in words, not because it must be understood and containerized as words attempt, categorized, but because it is consistently mysterious, varied and inspiring and about what it should be about, discovery. It’s about his peering into that lovable abyss of possible creations and finding the process to make real what he sees in there. It means we’re sighing with relief that the trip he had to take to get here is his alone and we get to share in the results without the pain. I was always just short of laughing with joy at all the work and the way it made me feel. Such beauty and adventure, I’ll always be grateful for the experience and exhilarated at the possible continuation, his as an artist and ours as observers.

Ken has an obvious galloping compulsion to make the stuff he makes. Wanna see? Enjoy.

Paula is about things I think matter a great deal, deliberately ignored by some. She’s what we need a more of, an opinionated, daily operational conservationist. She is about caring for living things and it’s always obvious. And her sense of design and her contributions to the QA13 combine show her to be a quiet powerhouse. Someone to know, and learn from while enjoying her company.

Eating at their house was a treat. They are vegetarians, Franca and I are near vegetarians, maybe nearer after this visit. (Photos from D. C.; Street Scene, Korean Costume, Lobby of The Hirschorn Museum, an extremely important corner shadow, a sculpture from the Hirschorn Sculpture Garden and a sign I thought was amusing.)

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It’s a short drive from Chestertown to Livingston New Jersey. In Livingston lives one of the most singular people I know. I’m always happy in her presence because she is “there” every minute. Carole was Franca’s first friend at Cooper Union. She has worked at Random House since 1972 and is now a vice-president with many books to her credit and affiliations with many authors. Her heart… on a beautiful neighborhood street in Livingston in the little red house she has worked on for years, soon to be the place she always wanted. Her decisions are careful and the results are appropriate and absolute. The sprinter looked huge in her driveway but cool. We talked and ate together and got to see her wonderful mother, Jeannette, going strong at 91.

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On our way north we stopped at a couple of interesting places, the home of the author Washington Irving, Sunnyside, and the Old Dutch Church which has some of my dutch relatives buried in the cemetery. We had an unexpected guide at the church and it was a really nice experience overall. The now beautiful Hudson river was never very far away. (Photos are Sunnyside and the Old Dutch Church in order.)

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I graduated from Western Kentucky University in 1964. Finally got focused enough to declare a major, finished my course work and went into the army. My college career, while pretty satisfying to me, wasn’t that of a scholar. I was just  interested in everything and took classes about… everything. I did have some memorable roommates in that stretch. Among those was Eric Knutsen, a guy from my home town, actually. I was a sophomore he was a freshman in South Hall, on campus. I could relate a lot of stories… but they did not involve college capers, they were about conversation, music, aspirations. He was the kindred spirit the others never became. After I left to be in life Eric and I lost touch. Fifty years of lost touch. Out of continued curiosity, I had tried before to find him, one day at the computer I searched the web for Eric and there appeared a photograph of a guy who looked pretty much the same as he always did and with a little effort I found his email. Long story shorter…   after Livingston we went to Wappinger’s Falls, New York and spent some time with Eric and his wonderful wife Valerie.

I have to tell you it was strange. Fifty years is half a century, yes, I know you know. I’m sure we didn’t remember the last conversation we had but it seemed that way, just picked up. I’m here to tell you that if you’ve lost touch with  someone who meant and means something to you… go at it. The worst anyone could say is, “Who?”

We really ate well at their home, Rick’s culinary efforts taught me to like Salmon after all. And we ate at a couple of places around that part of New York state, neat towns on the way back to vital from years of just being there, good food. Got to go to Dia Beacon again. I never tire of that space. We took in a lot of small commercial galleries and then there was Storm King Art Center. Storm King is 600 acres, plus or minus, really well kept with sculpture judiciously placed over the entirety of hills, forest and standing water. Magnificent! Some of the pieces are 40 feet tall, taller maybe. Some painted, some natural rust, some finished metal surface, some stone, various. I think there must be some very satisfied sculptors out there who worked to a grand scale and then placed their work without compromise at Storm King. I’ll always be grateful to Eric and Val for taking us there. Won’t be the last time.

Rick and Val’s personal life is theirs to reveal. They’ve done well, have a wonderful family, are accomplished and are great hosts. Remember, don’t wait.

(Photos here and the header are from Storm King Art Center.)

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We then spent a short couple of days with another of our favorite couples in the world, Barbara and David Hirsch, Brooklyn. We’ve visited their wonderful home before. They have a way of making you feel at home immediately… read French Toast for breakfast that was the best I ever had and conversation. They are the best company and time spent with them is always too short. We walked from their house to Prospect Park together and over to the Brooklyn Museum. The Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the museum was awe inspiring. It represents 20 plus years of work by a singular Chinese artist, a lot of monumental installations, an acerbic visual statement about oppression as he sees it in his native land. We look forward to a western trip next year and seeing David and Barbara in their new house there.

 

(Photo of an Ai Wei Wei installation at the Brooklyn Museum.)

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On home. Our experience has been that the RV parks we have encountered so far have been run by nice people and every single one of the now 25 stopovers has been a nice experience.

(Photo self portrait. I get transparent when I get tired, I’ve noticed.)

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I must say that traveling with my wife is a joy. She makes the day enfold the way it should and is always up for side trips and unexpected adventures. Lucky dude… me. After planning to do this for years while slugging away in business it is certainly a pleasure getting to do what we planned together.

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Next post? Who knows… C

 

 

 

 

 

When the Wheels Leave the Ground…

Soon we’ll be in the land of olives, grapes and Michelangelo.

We’re leaving a bit early this year to attend a wedding. Giorgio Rossini stayed with us here in Atlanta for 6 weeks 17 years ago, when he was 17. We responded to a request from one of Franca’s mother’s friends to provide a place for a young man from Mantova who wanted to improve his English and see a bit of the USA. It was only on the way to the airport we asked ourselves if there was even a possibility we had made this decision in error… without weighing all the possibilities. Not to worry, as soon as we met him at the international terminal we knew everything was fine. He was and is an exceptional young man and we had a great time for his entire stay.

Since then we have visited him and his family in Mantova , a visit that explained why he is the way he is. His parents and his sister are delightful people and very generous with their time and attention. And now Sara becomes  part of the family. We’re very anxious to meet her and wish them well on their way to a happy life together. It’ll be nice to see the family again and get to spend some time in Mantova.

As we have traveled to Italy and Europe in general, I’ve come to realize that there are things I can do to make the traveling easier. First thing is stay in a nice place near the airport for a day or two. Get some sleep, walk about, then move on. Divide the trips into 3-4 hour drives and take it easy. Eat well from the get go. In that regard we’ll land in Munich, stay in Erding for the night and into the next day before we move on to Mantova. We’ll get there a couple of days before the wedding, get to see the family and the sights, then attend the wedding. On to Pietrabuona for almost a month… day trips to see family and friends, Florence, Lucca, Carrara, maybe Aulla, Monte Carlo (not that one the other one, in Tuscany) maybe a trip down toward Rome to see some Etruscan ruins. Mostly we’ll wander around Pescia, up the valley, over to Montecatini and spend a lot of time talking to Maristella and Serena at the Fattoria about important things like how well the crops have done, visitors she has had through the year and the weather.

On the return to Munich we’ll stop for a couple of days in Glorenza, one night in Erding, over to the Munich airport and home.

The reference to wheels up… when the wheels of the airplane leave the ground the US is gone. Telephone calls, knocks on the door, trucks on the street, sirens in the night… all gone.

Summer Edging In

Sprinter note: tail light replacement was a breeze. I spent an hour or so on the web looking for instructions on how to replace the light… instructions were in the manual. I guess because this is a delivery van in normal use the damage happens often. Whole operation took about 10 minutes.

Florida by way of Cumberland Island and Okefenokee …

We drove to St. Mary’s the first day out. That’s the jumping off place for Cumberland. We actually stayed in an RV park very near the submarine base. Really nice place. Not too big, the usual semi-permanent guests and a few sites for guys like us. We are learning not to run into each other in the van and I have finally managed to cut the concussions to 2 per trip. I was as clear-headed as I ever am for most of the trip. Everything worked as advertised in the van.

We spent the first day out on Cumberland Island. It was really hot so we took our time walking, went in at the Dungeness dock, walked over to the beach via the boardwalks. Sun is relentless but we walked around the Dungeness grounds, sat in the shade, walked to a few places we never had before. Nice day. Few birds. Bad time of year I guess although we went to Cumberland the first time in June and there were birds everywhere. No bugs, that was good.

Next day to Okefenokee swamp. We took a guided tour. Total crew and passengers on board, 5. Three smoked, guess which 2 didn’t? God, I hate cigarettes. Nice boat trip though. The guide was a bit over the top but it made the trip more of an adventure, I guess. Actually we went up a river, turned into a “swamp prairie” and came back. To really see the swamp the Folkston entrance  is not the one to take. Seems like I went with the group before to a more southern entrance, closer to Billy’s Island.

On to Florida. I was looking forward to seeing my daughter and her family and I wasn’t disappointed. We had a great visit. They live in a really nice place, surrounded by green. My daughter had a nice meal for us after we arrived and we caught up over the next few hours with her and her family.

We went to Merritt Island next day. That’s a place that deserves attention. It’s laid out well and is very large. But, there again, not too many birds. We saw almost a complete heron/egret set including a Reddish egret dancing across the mud flats. Saw a Loggerhead shrike, Swallow-tailed kite, Ospreys… We saw about 5-6 Manatees at the north end of the area. Usual for the park.

I didn’t make many photographs. I’m getting tired of carrying the weight around for questionable results. I was seldom moved to get out the equipment by what I was seeing. No regret there, I’m just worried that the birds are in trouble. But then, I know they are. We did use the scope and I was glad we brought it.

Wound our way back home. Stopped for the night at another great RV park near Valdosta. I have to admit that the reservations about the quality of the parks I had at the beginning of “RVing” haven’t proved to be founded. We’ve stayed in about 10 now and there really wasn’t a dog in the bunch. The Valdosta park was clean, the facilities were nice and the whole operation was easy.

Got back into Atlanta, no mishaps and home was unmolested. Plants were healthy and the back yard was filled with the fragrance of Gardenias. All in all a good trip, relaxing, nothing spectacular. The goal was to have a good time with family and we did that.

Next out… hell, I don’t know.

Franca may add a bit later and a few photos. Ever onward.

Rumblings of Travel

We’re about to travel again. This time we’ll be going to Florida to see our daughter in Eustis. On the way we’ll stop at Cumberland Island for a day and Okefenokee for a day. We know Cumberland well and I’ve been to the swamp but Franca has never seen it so we’ll take a tour.

I backed into a wire not long ago with the Sprinter and broke the right taillight, not too badly but… gotta fix it. I ordered the replacement online and worried that it wasn’t actually a Mercedes replacement part but it is and it looks fairly easy to fix. We made a “sheet sleeping bag,” a much lighter weight sleeping arrangement. Hard to control the temperature.

Still studying  Broxton Rocks. I got a geology book, “The Rocks of Georgia” by Dan D. Williams. Strange little book but informative and what I needed. I’m not sure how it works but it looks like Amazon prints it on demand. The first copy I got was abysmal, banding in the photographs, color aberrations and I sent it back. Subsequent copies are fine. It’s not a sophisticated production but it works. If you’re interested in the geology of Georgia I would recommend it.

We’re seeing the “usual suspects” here at 712, pairs of Northern Cardinals, House Wrens, Carolina Wrens… haven’t seen the rabbit in a while. Finally had to cut the grass.

Franca’s Sidebar ——————————–

I thought that Costa Rica, with its 7 different ecozones and intense, colorful vegetation, would be a tough act to follow, and that Texas couldn’t possibly measure up, with CR so fresh in our minds. We got home on Monday and flew to Austin four days later, picked up the Sprinter (wow!) and drove late into the night until we reached Del Rio.

The drive from Austin was a single texture of vegetation and 50 shades of beige but became a geological wonderland west of Amistad National Recreation Area. Wow! (again) There is a lot of history here, Judge Roy Bean, the Wild West, the camel project spearheaded by Jefferson Davis (yes, THAT Jefferson Davis) among others, and I have a feeling I am going to learn a lot about Texas as we travel around. And as much as I hate to admit it, it’s beautiful, too.

It’s hard to get Costa Rica out of my mind: it will always have a special place in my heart for so many reasons. My late father-in law talked about it often, and until we met our indefatigable guide Charlie Gomez he was unrivaled in his knowledge of the indigenous plants and animals. His greenhouse on the hill in the tiny town of Vine Grove KY had every kind of tropical plant imaginable, including orchids, and I saw all of them growing in the wild in CR.

It seemed only fitting that our bird guide’s name was Charlie. Three days after our return to Atlanta from Costa Rica we were having lunch up the street at Stone Soup, and sat next to a young woman, a filmmaker, who needed directions to “Five Little Points.” (In case you’re not familiar with Atlanta, Little Five Points is a section of the city where five streets used to meet. One of them is not open to traffic anymore but the name stuck and all us old hippies either live there or go there from time to time.) She was in Atlanta to present her short film ”Not Blue” at 7 Stages, Her name was Nathalie Alvarez and she was from… Costa Rica. In our last conversation with Charlie Gomez, Costa Rican guide extraordinaire, he explained the meaning of “Pura Vida” (the good life, life is good) so, in honor of the three Charlies, the serendipity of Nathalie, we decided to name the Sprinter “Pura Vida.”

A Shoutout to our Taxi Drivers 

Because we needed transportation to and from Atlanta, San Jose and Austin airports, we interacted with wonderful taxi drivers from Cameroon, Nepal, Costa Rica and places unknown in Africa. Our adorable Costa Rican cab driver pointed out landmarks in San Jose, in his pigeon English, as he drove us to the Museo Nacional. The cab driver from Nepal liked his job because it gave him the flexible hours to take his 2 teen-aged kids to soccer practice. All of them were courteous, incredibly interesting and prompt (even at 4 am!)

We missed our flight back to Atlanta (it’s a long story) and we HAD to spend three extra days in CR. No problem, once we found a hotel, courtesy of the free WiFi at the airport, we used our bonus time to explore downtown San Jose. Here’s some photos.

…written from the front porch of the Stillwell General Store in Big Bend, TX, Sunday, March 24, 2013

Just Sittin’

Yesterday I decided to just sit on the back porch and record what I saw. I’m reading a book every Georgian who is interested in the ecology of our state could benefit from reading, “The Natural Communities of Georgia,” by Edwards, Ambrose and Kirkman, The University of Georgia Press, 2013. (It’s $45.16 from Amazon)  I’ve been looking for this compiled information for a long time. It’s not a field manual, bit heavy, not cheap, but really good. The photographs are excellent and actually informative.

So, I read and listened and looked around a lot but I never left the porch.

I’m using an app for the iPad to record bird sightings. It’s called “Birdwatcher’s Diary.” I tried it out some time ago, before the Christmas Bird Count, and it was OK. Now it seems to be improved and was quick and easy. I saw about 10 squirrels, 8 Chipmunks and one Cottontail, yeah a bunny. And the birds…

36 records of 30 species seen or heard at 712 Boulevard SE on 5/8/13.

1 Rock Pigeon 5/8/13 6:56 PM
1 Mourning Dove 5/8/13 1:51 PM
3 Chimney Swift 5/8/13 7:46 PM
1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird 5/8/13 1:52 PM
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker 5/8/13 1:51 PM
1 Downy Woodpecker 5/8/13 1:51 PM
1 Downy Woodpecker 5/8/13 8:20 PM
1 Great Crested Flycatcher 5/8/13 5:10 PM
1 Red-eyed Vireo 5/8/13 7:37 PM
1 Blue Jay 5/8/13 2:08 PM
1 American Crow 5/8/13 2:58 PM
1 Tufted Titmouse 5/8/13 1:52 PM
1 White-breasted Nuthatch 5/8/13 1:48 PM
1 Carolina Wren 5/8/13 1:51 PM
1 Carolina Wren 5/8/13 6:57 PM
1 Carolina Wren 5/8/13 8:20 PM
1 House Wren 5/8/13 1:51 PM
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 5/8/13 7:37 PM
1 Veery 5/8/13 1:51 PM
1 American Robin 5/8/13 2:03 PM
1 Gray Catbird 5/8/13 1:53 PM
1 Gray Catbird 5/8/13 5:25 PM
1 Northern Mockingbird 5/8/13 7:46 PM
1 Brown Thrasher 5/8/13 3:09 PM
1 Brown Thrasher 5/8/13 6:54 PM
1 European Starling 5/8/13 1:51 PM
1 Magnolia Warbler 5/8/13 1:52 PM
1 Blackpoll Warbler 5/8/13 7:46 PM
1 Pine Warbler (H) 5/8/13 1:52 PM
1 Eastern Towhee 5/8/13 6:41 PM
1 White-throated Sparrow 5/8/13 1:50 PM
1 White-crowned Sparrow 5/8/13 1:50 PM
1 Northern Cardinal 5/8/13 1:51 PM
1 Northern Cardinal 5/8/13 4:27 PM
1 Rose-breasted Grosbeak 5/8/13 1:53 PM
1 House Finch 5/8/13 1:51 PM

712 Boulevard SE (33.73274, -84.36591)

Nothing exotic, nice easy day. They don’t like millet, any of ’em. They choose black sunflower seeds over everything. They line up and take turns bathing and drinking, except the nuthatches that never acknowledge the other birds regardless of size or anything else.

That was my day, mundane maybe, lot of fun.

Broxton Rocks, Rocks

Broxton Rocks may seem remote but it’s certainly worth the drive. Get off I-16 at Dublin, turn onto GA 441, drive south to Broxton, and it’s a couple of miles to the gate. Of course right now you’ll need “clearance” because an impromptu visit might conflict with turkey hunting season or a similar event. Best to watch for tours by the Nature Conservancy or GOS and go with them. By the way my personal opinion, and that’s all it is, is that hunting is a good thing when it’s regulated and controls a population of prey which can stand it and needs it. The “Bambi” syndrome has created a huge problem with deer in this country, overpopulation, disease and I think a sensible approach is to follow history. As long as what is taken is eaten and not hung on a wall… more power to ’em.

Without getting into things about which I know very little, like geology, (and almost everything else…) a description of the “Rocks” must include the fact that they exist because a tiny part of a vast area of subterranean rock rarely in view is exposed there which has allowed a relatively small stream to alter the landscape through time. The Altamaha grit, as it’s called, underlies 12,000 to 15,000 square miles of the southeastern United States from South Carolina to Mississippi. Through the eons tiny Rocky Creek, in Coffee County, Georgia, has carved this little wonder world only because of this rare exposure of the Altamaha grit.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has been involved in acquiring land in the area of the Broxton Rocks over many years for the purpose of protecting the fragile inhabitants of these cliffs and pine woods. Some of the plants exist nowhere else at this latitude. Much of the land has been forcibly changed from its natural logical characteristics by the actions of farmers, land developers and lumber companies. TNC is slowly bringing those areas back to what they were when nature directed its own course. This is a project which will not be completed in a short time and it’s nice to be assured that TNC and their partners in the state will be in it for the long haul, with our help and the help of succeeding generations.

Fortunately there are people who take on the responsibility of protecting that which cannot protect itself… mostly from us. They plan for the future, working under the auspices of various organizations like The Nature Conservancy, The Georgia Ornithological Society, The Audubon Society, The Georgia Forest Watch and others. On this trip Malcolm Hodges of TNC led our group. What a privilege it was just to be there, listen to him and start to get a feeling for the unique place the “Rocks” is. Malcolm has a wealth of information about the wide range of wildlife present at the Rocks, which he willingly and colorfully shared throughout the day, always informative, patient, funny and pleasant. I thank him so much for helping us begin to understand this wonderful place.

I made photographs, mostly wildflowers. I’ll present them with labels as I identify them. (That means I’ll come back and add names when I find them). If I know what they are it’ll be here, otherwise just numbered.