Sunday, July 8, 2018

Box from the Past

Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Salt Lake City, Utah. Shore of an ancient seabed. Photo by Liji Jinaraj, Creative Commons. 

A box of nature books arrived today. Packed and sealed a year and a half ago, they were left in storage on a hilly, stony street near the waterside in Staten Island.

These are the books I sought in the mega-city. They brought me reminders of the ocean that lapped the edges of that island and the rest of New York’s rocky verges, drawing out my awareness of nature as I gained Lower Manhattan by salt-sprayed ferry each day and sat at a desk as part of a website’s editorial staff.

Having since moved to the Rocky Mountain West, I live on a hill in an old neighborhood in one of the larger cities in this region, making my living in a similar trade. 
Here I breathe easier looking out my kitchen window at the inspiring hump of a foothill, and I walk the shoreline trail in cool temperatures with long views of high mountains. Sage grows on foothills above the neighborhood, and a grassy hiking trail circles the valley on the shores of a prehistoric lake. Beyond the hills, gray, jagged peaks rise—snow-covered in winter, creating stark images of the giants around us. For part of the summer, sun beats upon the valley. 

It’s undeniable that Western cities and Western towns—like their counterparts elsewhere—have affected the landscape in many ways. Also, I know many who find nature in New York, Chicago, Paris through birdwatching, studying marine invertebrates, participating in oyster planting programs, planting trees or photographing them. But I am finding it important to have nature within view, and I tally happily each sighting--even if I sometimes wish the high, cool canyons here were a bit nearer, reached by public transit and bicycle lane as they would have been in the early part of the 20th century. Still, within 35-40 minutes' car travel, streams gurgle beneath leafy undergrowth under conifers. It's a beautiful thing.

When the books arrived, I opened the box—with the salty expectation of words of the sea. I treasured them at the time, but I read only parts of those books; I was too busy seeking nature in the everyday. Now I am happy the books have arrived, reminding me of the natural-history nest I established for myself and can continue to build elsewhere. I’ll also read such books set in the West, and seek out authors, naturalists, biologists, and others of the Intermountain Rockies and the West Coast.

Here are some from the box:

Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab & An Epic Journey, by Deborah Cramer. This concerns a seabird, the red knot, whose main food source is horseshoe crabs; it also migrates 20,000 miles. It's an inspiring, beautifully written book. “One warm May night, around midnight, I drove out to an empty beach on Delaware Bay. The summerhouses nearby were dark and empty, the only light the full moon shining on the bay and the only sound the waves gently lapping against the sand. Just before high tide, horseshoe crabs began emerging from the water. Their shells, some as large as dinnerplates, were dark and scuffed.”

Coastlines, by Patrick Barkham. By a British natural-history writer, this covers walks along 742 miles of coastline in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It begins, “No cars glittered in the large tarmac car park. Seafront razzle dazzle was locked away inside boxy grey amusement arcades shuttered for the winter. The little shops on the stone-and-slate high street betrayed a seaside town’s weakness for punning: Born and Bread, Sophisticut and Cloud Nine. Opposite a derelict patch of weedy concrete, a tiny lane twisted upwards between dainty terraced homes, their chimneys pluming wood smoke from living-room fires.”

The Incidental Steward: Reflections on Citizen Science, by Akiko Busch. “Mohonk Mountain is only 30 miles from where I live in the Hudson Valley, but the ascent always makes it seem farther, mist hugs the ridge and drifts over the valley. The trees have long since shed their foliage, but for those few leaves still lingering on some oaks, and those will hang on for most of the winter.”

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2015 (edited by Rebecca Skloot and Tim Folger). The essay “At Risk” by Jourdan Imani Keith, first published in Orion magazine, begins: “The torrential rain in the first week of September pummels the youth crew’s tents at night, depositing mud and sediment in the creek where they pump water for drinking. For 17 days the teenagers I recruited to build trails for the Northern Cascades National Park are camping during one of the heaviest storms in 100 years.”

Beginning Again: People and Nature in the New Millennium, by David Ehrenfeld (founding editor of the journal Conservation Biology, a biology professor at Rutgers University, and author of The Arrogance of Humanism). “The beginning of my introduction to places was not in Tutuguero at all, but in Gainesville, Florida where I had come to study zoology with Dr. Carr. It was my first day there, and it was summer, hot and humid. My new medical diploma from Harvard was in my suitcase and I was wearing a tie and jacket. I was terribly out of place, the way only a person who doesn’t have a good feeling for places can be.” (Shortly afterward, Ehrenfeld’s advisor takes him to look at an alligator nest.)

Lacking a connection to the sea but telling plenty about naturalism and nature, is A Butterfly Journey: Maria Sybylla Merian, Artist and Scientist, by Boris Friedewald. This beautifully illustrated little book deserves to be better-known, about a woman in the mid-seventeenth century who functioned as a scientist and artist: She collected, observed, and sketched caterpillars and butterflies and their foliage plants. Also, her work took place at a time when her interests could have led to her being suspected of witchcraft. “It was a strange, wondrous and immensely eventful era into which Maria Sybylla was born on 2 April 1647 in Frankfurt am Main. The Thirty Years’ War was still raging. It had pitted the Protestant and Catholic powers against each other and turned nearly all of Germany into a battleground. It came to an end with the Peace of Westphalia, signed in the year after Maria’s birth.”

There’s also Ian Frazier’s Nobody Better, Better Than Nobody, his 1997 roundup of essays. These are not overtly nature-oriented, but Frazier’s writing is always about both land and people, whether the setting is post-Hurricane Sandy Staten Island or reservation North Dakota, or upstate New York in one of his first pieces, about fishing there (arriving by bus) after obtaining guidance from a Manhattan-based fly shop.

It is a lot of inspiration for one box. More soon, on some Western books on my bedside table and some dear people here too.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snow Day: Jolting Back to Nature

**Flickr Creative Commons photo by Alex, in South Lansing, New York

The first lightness entered the air last night, the crystalline feeling of snow as it forms and sends its soft little arrows from the higher atmosphere.

It was near midnight, an inconvenient time to feel the giddy exhilaration of new snow, but I could sense it lifting me into 3 p.m. alertness and a rising joy. From the neighborhood came the sound of children calling out, making their snow greetings.

Since that moment last night, it has snowed steadily. More than 13 inches have fallen and it is 5 p.m. the next day. The air still swirls.

Lately I’ve been thinking about nature, about wanting it to seize the air around me. I read books about natural sciences, making plans to research and study animals larger than myself: orcas, humpback whales, bears. I wouldn’t mind running into a bear or the thin curiosity of a moose. Not to romanticize--because, probably I wouldn’t truly want to meet a Grizzly. But I’d like to take a break from the mental responsibility of being a major predator and maybe interacting with so many -- a megacity full -- of other predators. When I lived briefly in Missoula, MT, a neighbor who rode his bike and wore a hat that was a piece of art he had made, which looked like a screw through his head, said that he had lived in Brooklyn but returned to Montana because he needed to know that he was not beyond conquering. He wanted to see larger forms in the landscape, and not just human ones.

**Flickr Creative Commons photo by Pedrik

Snow is a relief in winter. It brings light to the landscape, and an incentive to step over large drifts, sink into them, think of taking up snowshoeing or cross-country skiing to skim over the land. I think all that lightness of feeling, all that activity, saves me from the slope toward S.A.D. that I feel in November and December and on short days.

In Yellowstone, where I worked from September to November 8 several years ago, snow fell nearly every day. The sky was nearly always either mulling over its plans to form snow, or dropping it. I’ll go so far as to say that, then, I got tired of snow. Herds of elk ranged over the snowy trails to my workplace in the mornings, raising their heads to look at me as I detoured around them.

Today after breakfast, I headed out past no elk, but beyond enormous plow trucks and through many drifted streets, toward the large park up the hill. Reaching the park via five blocks clogged with knee-high snow at the street edges was not easy. But I was able to walk in the car paths. Every so often, a bright shower of snow would shock into the air, tossed over some shoveler's shoulder.

No one was in the park. It resembled a place into which snow had been poured, a sandbox of snow with heaped edges. Bare trees stood starkly, on hills that sloped to the reservoir. I’ve been there on other snow days and seen the long stream of children and parents armed with plastic saucers and other sledding materials. But today the wind swirled, bits of snow bit at the air, and it wasn’t an encouraging environment for sledding.

Fog hovered over the reservoir, its surface bumpy like old glass or a place where ice was forming. From it came the sound of enthusiastic ducks a few feet from shore. It was a happy sound, birds proceeding easily amid the unpredictable changes of nature.

Backtracking home was easier than I had expected. Neighbors were clearing driveways and sidewalks. It was nice to look into the hooded faces of people, to see that they too were dazzled by the full force of a large snow having descended on us. Some of them seemed a little surprised by the streets filled with snow and the few cars that tried to motor awkwardly past and park.

It has been a good day of exhilaration, nature, and humility. Or, just nature.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Winter Nature and the Shock of Flowers


 **photo of New York Bay by Robert Johnson, Flickr Creative Commons**

    Months have passed since my last update on November 30--all of winter, in fact.

    While my writing fell off partly because winter is a darker time with short days and less Vitamin D for me--it's also a fiercely lovely season. Cold and the snow are wonderful, though I can pass on dark and rainy November and December. 

    When winter hit, though, it held us as awed hostages, never sure what we'd see next. On the daily Staten Island Ferry, we rode facing a sea of ice floes and krill-like particles--our new reality, New York Bay as polar-research location. We floated in deep fog, seeing only a few anchored freighters and buoys in the bay. Each arrival, unscathed, at the ferry landing felt a bit miraculous--a return to landed shores. A return to snow-clearing trucks.

    Those ferry rides were the closest I've come to Antarctica work, and I’d like more. Ah, adventure! Ah, husky-dog and polar-bear frolicking weather.

    Fortunately, a few friends are skiers and snow enthusiasts and readers of deep, dark, nature narratives, because snow-enthusiasm isn’t popular in many an office here, heh.

    But sitting on the ferry’s outside side decks, which I sometimes did while wrapped carefully in down and hoods and scarves and boots--was all part of the adventure.

    It was all so exciting, at times, especially when snow fell in great, feathery flakes, even in March--that I wasn’t sure I wanted it to end.

    That said, now we are in spring. We have a dazzlement of crocuses in brownstone front gardens and house yards. First there were just the green tips of slender leaves. Each was remarkable and single, the only green thing. But now there are more and more: They are lavender, and purple, and white with tiny red veins, and yellow. They are touched, each day, ever more by the sun. 

 **photo of crocuses by Bernard Friess, Flickr Creative Commons**

    In the trees are fuzzed buds of what might be magnolias or decorative pears or other trees. So much potential, every day. So much bursting forth.

    From this I can see that I was sitting still for much of the winter, waiting and feeling cabin fever. Invigorated by cold weather in my lungs, I wanted to race about, or cross-country ski. I wanted to cover snowy parks in great strides and leave visible tracks.

    In the city, though, it was necessary to pick trails carefully, to walk in yak-trax and maintain footing on icy, hilly sidewalks. Did I like the city? I enjoy dusty bookstores, interiors, talking with others. But it is nice to go outside now.

    It's excellent to be freer, to walk in golden light that makes us look like screen stars on East Village streets, or pedaling the blue and cumbersome Citi Bikes--till we reach the destinations where we meet friends and sit outside.

    Each season, so glorious. I will walk more, and work more, and be open and honest. And we’ll have more seasons. This will all happen. 

    Also, right now I’m having a little spring whiskey, which might be influencing the tenor of this post. But it’s necessary to celebrate a little. I’m looking forward to the other green plants that will grow, and all that can be gathered and eaten. Happy spring.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dried-out Bee Balm, Brown and tan woods of late fall, Garlic mustard

**Photo of bee balm dried seed pods, by John Lodder, Flickr Creative Commons. 

          Having just returned from the woods, I’m being still, letting the natural remain about my shoulders. I'm in a dim, November-dusk room--sitting near a clear bag of bright-green garlic mustard, an invasive plant that raises havoc nationwide, but tastes succulent. It has round, rippled leaves, a bit like those of an English violet. 

          Not having seen it before, I held onto the bag until I reached home, wondering if I had simply harvested violet leaves past flowering time. Even so, I was pretty sure it was the right thing, and I felt proud of my weighty zip-lock. 

**Photo of Garlic Mustard, by Jacob Enos, Flickr Creative Commons. 

          Now -- having checked several photos and descriptions online -- I'm sure it is garlic mustard, which is good news. It’s energy-full stuff, despite being bad for soil here in North America. But harvesting it (and not adding it to any compost or yard waste) is a good way to clear the woods, while gaining vitamins. Hurrah. That’ll help, because my energy is low. I'm congested, and have been for days. Dust and indoor allergens that flare once the heat is turned on each fall have caused the problem. Mold causes it, in particular. There are other indoor factors: In other apartments, I've noticed the effect of chemical fragrances in winter – laundry detergents, harsh cleansers. Pre-chemical use, we all cleaned with Bon Ami and maybe lye, or rosemary and other essential oils.

          That said, perhaps mold wouldn't trouble me if I lived in a yurt and moved it from place to place, or if I knew all the herbs to boost my immunity each winter. Meanwhile, I’m planning how to cook the garlic mustard--and having nettle tea, which contains Vitamin C. It seems to be helping.

   **Photo of a log in fall woods, by Yo La Tengo, Flickr Creative Commons. 

          The forest has leaf molds too, but I love walking its paths—and they don’t bother me because of the open air. Other than the green garlic mustard scattered in small patches, the woods were all shades of brown and tan. There were beds of brown leaves, bare branches, and many walnut-colored seed pods on long, bent stems.

          After seven years in the Northwest, seeing deciduous woods in winter -- not the damp, moss- and fern-thick woods of the Cascades -- is striking but invigorating. In the garden outside of my house are dark brown pods, a bit like I imagine dried husks of bees would look. These, the gardener told me, are what is left of our spring/summer bee balm—a pink and sprightly flower and herb that is used in teas and other concoctions. It’s exciting to see this cycle, to know that the bee balm isn’t gone, just different.

**Photo of seed pods by Lindy, Flickr Creative Commons.

          Walking along the rock wall that lifts the sidewalk on my street, one passes under trees, past rows of sere and brown varieties of seed pods. All of those are changed now from the bright young plants they were in late spring--but they're still beautiful, if a bit melancholy. It’s only melancholy, though, because I want them to last forever, in my human way. Eventually, hopefully, I’ll know how each pod appeared in its past, and be able to contrast that with its current look.

          Walking the brown paths was calming. I thought about my need for nature, and reflected that maybe we aren’t meant to see crowds of people, humans all the time, our faces rarely interrupted by tree branches, sedge seed pods, tall grasses, clear streams.  

          I thought about how to be in nature more often—it's an age-old question. How can we do that while still being among like-minded, like-aged people and well-employed? There’s a graduate program that focuses on nature and creativity. I wondered if that would be a good idea.

For now, I’ll give myself an assignment: Cover nature weekly.

Peace, happy late-November--it’s time to cook garlic mustard!

**Photo of garlic mustard and orange cup fungus, by Mightyjoepye, Flickr Creative Commons. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Back from Maine

          The short season of adding ice to tall glasses of water has ended, it seems.  We are in mid-September, and my recent trip to southern Maine has punched up the view toward fall.

**Photo of Saco River, by Carter Brown, Flickr Creative Commons.

            Of my four days there, two were gray, two were glowing. They included pancakes, a house tour by a charismatic six-year-old, and dark, tannic river swimming. Also a meeting; local cheese and beer in an Edwardian neighborhood; and a Saturday farmers’ market that is everything organic-farm and progressive and LGBT and collective in culture in southern Maine, at an Olmsted-ian downtown park.These crunchy views are less visible where I live, in Staten Island. 

**Photo of carrots at Deering Oaks Farmers' Market by Mebrett, Flickr Creative Commons. 

         That said, Portland’s overlay of organic and tech and foodie culture is only an overlay, it seems. For a city of 40,000 to have a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe’s is surprising--but it clearly has a hard-bitten side as well. It might be part Burlington, part Boston working-class suburb in a natural setting.

My last afternoon in Portland was spent near the bus station, hearing about a non-working EBT machine at the convenience store across the street, about coffee house offerings being too expensive and too strong in flavor, about how much money is left on food-stamp cards this month, and a long bus trip to Corpus Christi, Texas for a job and a return to Maine after finding only overnight heat and contaminated beach water.

**Hilltop Superette, Munjoy Hill, Portland, by Kate, Flickr Creative Commons. 

People are friendly. At the bus-station convenience store, the counter-women at the pizza/Italian sandwich counter peer toward me as I choose a drink and call, “How are ya?” in a kind, harsh-voiced way that sounds close to a Boston accent to me, but different. I hear that only tourists eat lobster rolls, although I can’t tell, because they seem only to be sold on the coast and in rural areas, not in Portland.

At a coffee shop, people smile to be in one another’s company in the line for espresso. In some regions, smiling appears to be more of an obligation—but here, people seem glad to be with one another, happy to be in a natural place.

**Photo toward Mackworth Island, from Portland, Maine, by Jeff Dunn, Flickr Creative Commons. 

            Outside of town, the rural roads have a kinship with small-town anywhere: mountain-side burgs in Washington state; wooded East Texas. 

Leaving Portland, my bus passes pine woods and rocky areas blasted for the highway.Two retired women behind me are discussing Mount Holyoke and whether Devil in the White City is indeed based on a true story.

As we near Boston, we cross from woods and a certain amount of dereliction into the Northeast Metropolitan Complex--there is a palpable feeling of emerging into the swift click of the cities. With surprise, I realize that I have spent four days outside of the metro area between Boston and Baltimore, which seems to be pulling us in. Now we're in the Tip O’Neill Memorial Tunnel, then passing a farmer’s market on a busy square. City dwellers in business suits shop for dinner, not looking up to make eye contact--they can't show a reaction to every passing Greyhound bus, after all.

At Boston’s South Street Station, a young man asks me to watch his trail backpack while he fetches food. Noticing an Appalachian Trail patch ironed onto his pack, I mention it when he returns. 

He completed the trail the day before, he says—he and others drank champagne and made toasts after fog cleared at the Katahdin summit. It seems magnificent and unusual and world-breaking--I have the urge to give him five, but I refrain from some sense of big-city decorum that I’m not sure is even necessary. He is a laid-back trail kid, a recent NYU graduate with a green-careers degree. I grin and say it’s amazing, how exciting that he did the trail.

After Boston, we drive in darkness past conifers and across waterways. The passengers who boarded in Boston are visibly more diverse and more prosperous: Back in the urban areas, middle-class people use public-transit, and ride long-distance buses between metro centers. In Portland, Somalian and other African refugees were most of the non-white residents, but middle-class African-Americans live near and south of Boston. The passengers around me seem buoyed by suburban security and education. Because only a few of the electrical outlets are working, people allow others to plug smartphones into their outlets. They assure each other that this is fine:“Thank you very much!” and “You’re welcome." This feels like kindness, but also like the urban politeness of strangers.

**Photo of woods in Maine, by Bryan Alexander, Flickr Creative Commons. 

In the four hours between Boston and New York, we pass land, land, the insurance buildings of Hartford, rivers, then more land. I drowse, then wake to realize that buildings are on all sides, and this must be the Bronx. On one side, a stacked garage like a cruise-ship has an outlet mall's name in Roman letters that shine into the night. We whoosh past innumerable buildings, glimpse the tiny red spire of the Empire State Building far ahead, cross a river, then land on Amsterdam or Lexington and head south past the small shops and cafes of Harlem.

Near Times Square, we turn down an alley and find what seems unlikely: a two-story, yawning opening into a garage, our secret entrance into Port Authority. Our bus tucks in with dozens of other buses. I ask the hiker, who is across the aisle, what it’s like to be in the woods for days and days, then here.

He grins, bending to pick up his large knapsack, and says, “It’s—scary, that’s what.” He pauses, then says with decision: “I’m not sure I like it here anymore.”

For the next couple of weeks, he’ll hide out in New Jersey. “Hopefully, I can ease back in,” he says. He plans to work as a bike mechanic in the city, then seek work in sustainability.

I wonder to myself whether I still like New York, either. I’m sure I’d dislike it if I were returning from months on a trail. I’d react against it. I reflect on how it felt to be in a smaller city, with nature not so far beyond it. 

Admittedly, there’s a security in the Mid-Atlantic that I like—it’s an established place, with jobs and culture and milder weather. The temperature is 12 degrees higher here than it was in Portland, and the air is less freighted with chilly moisture. 

As it happens, I have returned to the mega-metropolis at an optimal time, 11 p.m. on a weekday. In the 42nd Street subway station, people move about but there's room to drag my roller bag behind me. The platform is relatively quiet until a man starts singing, his voice like James Brown with a busted voice. He wheezes and shouts, “I *need* you!” in a way that’s a little disturbing. Many performers here seem like naturals, but I wonder how long he's been at it—it’s more that we’re doing him a favor by listening. A man glances over in bemusement when I move further down the tracks, toward the front of where the R train will stop.

The Staten Island ferry, which I’ll ride to go home, stands quiet as a ghost ship. It is like a dream I might have had but didn't realize could materialize: The doors stand wide open to let a trickling stream of people onto the boat, not the usual shopping-mall size crowd. 

**Photo of Staten Island Ferry (daylight), by Rev Stan, Flickr Creative Commons.

I rest on the orange benches on the ship’s side, 10 or so seats from the next person, and gaze into clear night toward Brooklyn and Governor’s Island. 

         I have never seen the boat or the city this peaceful, and I think of the articles I've read about night workers here. Perhaps I can only go forth after 11, I think. How would that feel?

On Staten Island, I board a bus with many others, people returning in a business-like manner to their homes. It is midnight, but the evening feels benign. At my stop I debark with three others, and we walk quickly along the streets. It seems well-lit, as if the streets are quiet but alive. 

        The city is large, its boundaries unseen from here, and I reflect on how that feels around me. I'd been staying in a house with a roommate for a few days, and I wonder if I'll miss the companionship in this city. 

On the way up my block, I pass a woman walking a small dog. I don’t know her. Still, filled with Maine largesse, I wave. She calls out hello, then she continues singing a song in a strong voice. Her dog is scrappy, a Tramp-like terrier.

I don’t know whether I’ll be glad to be away from Portland's easy nature, or easy-smiling Mainers. It's possible that I will miss it. Still, I feel a certain goodwill toward New York as I walk the last incline up my street, and climb the rocky stairs to my house. 


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Summer Places

**Photo by Pleasant Point Inn, Flickr Creative Commons. Maine. 

Our setting: a 1930s kitchen with wide windows. Peonies, pink and white and multi-layered, brim from tin cans. All is quiet. 

Yesterday was trains and crowds and noise. 

This morning I stood and looked at the impervious blue horizon of New York Bay, the view from my housemate's tall window. 

This is an island in the Atlantic Ocean.

Each day in these boroughs is stirring in countless ways. Moods change like air currents, like the ocean. In the summer, energy builds--and it is nice to release it in a calm day. 

I recall heat-wave days in Seattle, rare spans adding up to two or so weeks each summer. Skirts, sandals, hollering. Outdoor seating, bars, green-markets. Full Lake Washington beaches, bathers in patched-together thrift-store swimsuits. A populace suddenly finding use for sunglasses. A normally quiet people who hollered as they walked streets late into the night. Beaming rowdiness. 

**Photo in Maine by Carl Lender, Flickr Creative Commons.**

Each summer weekend in New York is a bit like this, but with the addition of hundreds of thousands of tourists.

I often like to lie low. I love Monday through Thursday because they are more normal, less whooping.

In summer, New Yorkers go to their habitual places. Many drive or train to un-fancy cabins and little houses that aren’t outfitted for winter, set in woods, by quiet lakes, along the Hudson River.

They return on Monday, talking about zucchini and tomatoes and sugar snap peas. They love these spots with wood-paneled walls, afternoon light, drinks on the porch, chats at little stores.

**Currants, by Liz West, Flickr Creative Commons 

The introvert in me appreciates such breaks. I like to be sheltered by forest and find mysteries among the tall trees.

By contrast, yesterday ended loudly and fulsomely, after dinner in a non-green section of New Jersey on the Hudson’s edge. Then a train under the Hudson, a subway to the ferry. Waiting in the large and mall-like ferry landing. A band played ‘70s-style R&B electro-funk music. It was midnight, then 12:05, and the ferry had not arrived. With the delay came uncertainty: Until recently, the ferry arrived hourly on weekends, and none of us were sure we weren't returning to such a schedule. Two children under seven whirled and slid a breakdance. Their skill was exhilarating--but how many of us clapped willingly and how many were captive onlookers there in the fluorescent lighting? We watched for the ferry's arriving orange/blue bulk, for wide glass doors to slide open to admit the massive, waiting crowd.

It was a lot for midnight, as it sometimes is.

Today, I am in the 1930s kitchen, here on Staten Island.  I sit at a formica table, looking toward a plane tree and a vegetable garden. A different house-mate rolls ruggelagh dough. She has poured chai iced tea into glasses for us both. 

The craftsmanship makes me happy: the preparation of the dough, the addition of fig jam, and lemon and sugar in the tea.

This kitchen is like a summer cabin, here on this island that was New York's summer escape in decades past. “Must be the wood paneling,” says my housemate, referring to the wood cabinets.

**Photo of Pennsylvania forest, by Nicholas A. Tonelli, Flickr Creative Commons. 

I will talk to nature-seekers. Cabin-goers. Ecologists and naturalists and nature writers.

We'll see what I learn.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Early Heat

**photo of lower Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry, by DieselDemon, Flickr Creative Commons.

Today’s high is 82 degrees. It is bunched and muggy and mostly euphoric on the sidewalks. The temperature has set the city into a different tone today, one of skirt-awareness, bare-arm awareness, warmth-on-skin awareness.

My route to the ferry landing passes a bus stop that is a long, peopled alcove, like Venus’ half shell. People there seem bored, waiting, like they could be prone to catcalls or sneering. They haven’t, so far, and I’ve needed to grant (reluctantly, sometimes, and the reluctance is with good reason) points to Staten Island. 

This morning I passed the bus stop without incident, but next went by two teenage boys, one of whom was speaking to the air in front of me as I walked past.  I was surprised by the anatomical specificity of what he was saying. The other boy said to him, “Are you talking to her?” The first boy spun away and said, “Hell No!” It was one of those teenage things. I have no idea to whom he was talking. He was a good-looking kid, which might help him--and I do think our culture tells him it’s fine to be that direct. Maybe this will last a year or two, his way of talking.  In a way I felt sympathetic for his raw teenage struggle, his awkwardness.  I wondered how far this would get him. (On the other hand, ick, boundaries.)

But it was just part of the heat-wave morning, and I breezed onto the ferry, where the front and back doors of the ship were left ajar for air to waft in from the bay, and we multitudes sat on long, multi-colored benches, trying not to crib body heat in our proximity. The sun was low and a heated yellow in the sky, the Statue of Liberty glinting in its light. The water had a muggy, blurred edge.

**photo by Lindsey Turner, Flickr Creative Commons. 

Later, at a Midtown elevator, a man in a suit said to me, “I was waiting for you." I said, “Ah. Well, thanks,” meaning for not letting the door shut too fast. I remarked about the weather. “Hot day!” he declared. I observed that we were expecting rain, and that it might get cooler. “Yes, but HOT rain!” he said. We laughed, though I was a little uncertain. “You will not be satisfied!” he said. “By this rain,” he continued after a pause.

Heat waves bring out strange things, yes. It is an electric day.