Autumn Appreciation

photography

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I am going to do my best to dwell on the parts of autumn that I like because even though I COULD write a book a post on how little I care for the abbreviated evenings, the encroaching darkness, the leafless trees, and the cold temperatures, there are some things that are nice about this season.

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I mean, there must be, right?

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“Right?” she whispers quietly into a vast, echoing chamber. 

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  • The quality of the light, while greatly diminished in quantity, is quite beautiful in the fall. Right before the sun sets there is the most fantastic golden glow over the whole earth, and I have photos to prove it!

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  • Okay, hunting season, I’m glad you’re there to cull the deer and to perhaps make Lyme disease slow its treacherous spreading. I mean yeah, you make it tough to go into the woods or take a step off the road, but thanks to you I now have a great story about encountering some guy on a trail who was holding the severed head of a deer in one hand as he walked toward me.

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  • Oh, and also that time we were on a walk in the woods and someone said hello and then we looked up and there was a camouflaged bow-hunter sitting high up in a tree watching us.

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  • Thanksgiving (PIE) gets its own bullet point not only for the truly delicious food (AND PIE) but because it was really nice to have Thanksgiving in a country that celebrates Thanksgiving. There’s a whole different atmosphere when the entire country gets a long weekend and everyone is hoarding unsalted butter and eggs. Also, I enjoyed having (almost) the whole extended family together again for the first time in many a year. (PIE.)
  • While it lasted, the fall foliage was spectacular. 

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  • I found an abandoned paper wasp nest which is pretty cool. Did you know that wasps’ nests are built as the wasps chew wood pulp and, when it is mixed with their saliva, it forms a papery substance that they can build with? THAT IS SO COOL.

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  • I have seen some really beautiful wildlife around here now that the fields of corn have been cut and the leaves are gone. A few red-tailed hawks, some bucks with big antlers, and a couple of circling bald eagles high up in the sky.

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  • I’ve been filling up my gardening-void by taking cuttings of lots of houseplants from just about anyone who will give me cuttings. My room is now full of little pots full of snake plants, jade, and christmas cactus. Sister gave me a card earlier this year which said Crazy Cat Lady, but she crossed out the cat part and wrote in plants and I am okay with that. My desk is covered with foraged leaves, dried flowers, a wasp nest, a few picture frames, more leaves, an air plant, some acorns, and some seeds I’ve collected.

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  • The warm weather lasted longer than usual this year which ended up being really pleasant.

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  • I’m really quite grateful for long country walks. I’ve made so many beautiful discoveries along those walks, and the sun on my face and breezes around me just feel healthy and good. Since the sun sets pretty early these days, I’m making a concerted effort to get out and go for a walk or head to an exercise class every day. The activity really makes me feel good both mentally and physically and I don’t want to brag but I can keep up with at least half of one of the Zumba dances.

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  • Finally, I am grateful for having this home to return to, and the beauty of seeing seasons change gradually from one to another, and for having family here to share it with 🙂

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The Redwoods and Route 1

culture shock, family, friends, friendship, personal essay, personal growth, photography, small town life

Okay, so it has been a while!

In the six weeks since I last posted, I have been indulging in the relaxation of being home, of having family around, and of picking grape tomatoes from the garden. I have had time to update the blog but I just haven’t done it because I’ve been enjoying the slow, good life here in my small town in the middle of nowhere.

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A bunch of doofuses

There are lots of posts to write and photos to share and stories to tell, but I’ll be honest, I may not get to it. Instead, I thought I’d just share a highlight of the last few months which was a quick, quick trip out to California to see Brother T get married. We were busy with wedding stuff most of the time, but on Thursday we got to take a trip to Big Basin State Park which is where some of the world’s biggest trees reside. It was breathtaking.

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The photos don’t even do them justice. Redwoods live to an average of 500-700 years and some of them are up to 2000 years old. Imagine!!!

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Earlier this year I read the book Valley of the Giants by Peter Kyne. It was written about one-hundred years ago and focuses on a family of loggers and mill-owners out in California from 1850-1917-ish and how they deal with an underhanded business rival etc. It has some beautiful, beautiful descriptions of the redwood forests as it centers on the family who is milling them. It’s an odd thing, but while I read it I felt almost sad thinking of the destruction of something so grandiose, so ancient and so irreplaceable. Ninety-five percent of the old-growth redwoods have been cut down in California (and there are still a lot, so I can’t imagine what it was like before), and the remaining ones seem to all be in protected national and state parks. The trees are about 300 feet tall (91 meters).

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More doofuses, above and below 🙂

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Yours truly, posing with a tree. (Not a doofus.)

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Driving up the mountains on a winding, single-lane road, you look down off the steep mountain-sides and can’t even see where the trees begin, and when you swivel your head and look up, you can’t see the top either. They are massive, massive, massive trees, and so stately and lovely. The smell is delicious and fresh and woody, the air is cool and crisp, and the silence is almost overwhelming. I was happy when we got to the park check-in because there were a few other people around chatting and making noise; we all tried to keep totally silent for fifteen seconds and it is so quiet that it presses in on your ears.

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We were on a tight timeframe and we left Big Basin to head down to the Pacific Ocean, taking Route 1 North toward San Francisco. It was gorgeous.

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There are beautiful cliffs the whole way up and down the coast and it is spectacular. There are little beaches you can pull into the whole way up. It was lovely until we reached Traffic. Oh Traffic. I do not miss you.

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America is so BIG, you guys.

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Look close and see the quilt-like squares of cornfields somewhere over Kansas

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Yuck. Ugh. No. No. No. (Las Vegas.)

It took one whole day of travel to get to California and another whole day to get back. We flew over canyons, fields, flatlands, prairies, the Rocky Mountains, rivers, deserts, forests, cities, and vast open wilderness to get to the other side of the country. There are so many languages and people and foods and landscapes and so much beauty. We all commented that it felt like we were in a different country after so much time in the air and with the different landscape and climate.

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It’s easy to get swept into a constant need to check the news and social media, but my life has personally become much more peaceful since I gave up Facebook and stopped looking at the news, and then when you go to a place like the Redwood Forest, all the other stuff seems to fade away in the face of something that has stood so peacefully and so tall for so long, and it reminds you that God is bigger than all of our squabbling and just how beautiful His creation is, and I’m thankful for a glimpse of that.

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That is the San Francisco skyline from the hotel in downtown Oakland. Each morning it seemed the whole day would be foggy and overcast but then the sun would burn through and it would be bright and sunny for the rest of the afternoon. It was much cooler than it currently is in New York.

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The above bird is a California Scrub Jay. It was hopping around the trees and rocks of the house we rented and then it very nicely agreed to pose for a picture for me.

 

Finally, I know I need to get back to posting regularly! Even if the posts are primarily photos and not so many words, there are lots of things to share and remember about this summer!

Thomas Cole and Bad Mexican

family, friends, humor, personal essay, photography, small town life, Uncategorized

Today, the three of us siblings which are present here in New York went adventuring (the fourth sibling unable to make it as he currently resides in the far-off land of Kansas. HI J!).

We drove thirty minutes south-west-ish and crossed the mighty, winding Hudson River, and ended up in Catskill. We were hungry after all of that pre-adventuring, so we thought we would look for a cute cafe or a tasty-looking treat.

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One of the last remaining places with a functional fax machine.

Alas.

There was no cute cafe and there were no tasty-looking treats. We settled on a Mexican joint, and we don’t need to talk about it much as we shall not be returning there. Nor shall we be returning to Catskill in the near future.

But then we wound our way to the Thomas Cole Museum!

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The view from the porch. Wowwee.

Thomas Cole was one of the leaders of the Hudson River School of art, which originated right around here in the Hudson River Valley. The museum was smaller than I expected, but had stellar views off the front porch and some nice flowers. There were a few rooms open to the public and since we were too late for a guided tour, it didn’t take long to see the contents of them.

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Nice flowers

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Re: the Hudson River School of art, I’ll quote Wikipedia, because that is the easiest thing for me to do and it’s late and I’m kind of lazy:

The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement embodied by a group of landscape painters whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism. The paintings for which the movement is named depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, including the Catskill, Adirondack, and the White Mountains.

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I will forever have a soft spot for The Hudson River School, in part because I grew up with those landscapes saturating my mind, and in part because both my Mom and my teachers did a great job exposing me to local art and history as a kid. The art that came out of those landscape painters was idealistic and romanticized, but also beautiful and idyllic.

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Back to the Thomas Cole Museum: there was a lot less art than I had hoped for. The house is decked out with cardboard-y reproductions of the paintings that hung when Cole lived there. They are not very good reproductions. However, the “New Studio” has rotating, temporary exhibits and they were featuring some works of Sanford Gifford, who was one of the leaders of the Hudson River School.

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“Going Sketching in the Catskills” Sanford Gifford, 1866

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Details of oil paintings by Sanford Gifford

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There are other famous painters from the Hudson River School around here–I was so lucky to grow up in a place that is so steeped with history! Olana, the home and studio of Frederick Church, is only 25 minutes away, and we visited it a lot when I was growing up. It is a beautiful home full of interesting architecture, although the last time I visited, it was full of contemporary, experimental art which I found really jarring in the 19th-century surroundings. Also, as you will see below, Mr. Church and I have a bit of a history.

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Maybe this is just me, but if you’re at a museum dedicated to one of the country’s foremost landscape artists, should you at least paint feet onto the guy?

The following things happened at Olana:

  • I had many, many, many amazing picnics with my mom, pizza bagels, and siblings
  • I learned from Patty O that I could cross one eye and make the other one go in loops. This is largely a useless skill.
  • I loved those picnics and the pizza bagels
  • Frederick Church put in a heart-shaped pond for his wife, which I thought was the most romantic thing I ever heard of when I was about 10. Now I think it is kind of impractical and hard to see the shape clearly? But good for him!
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In Thomas Cole’s “old” studio

Once, on a school field-trip, our class went to see Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire”  which is a thought-provoking series of five paintings depicting the rise and fall of human civilization. The Internet tells me that their permanent home is in NYC, but I think it must have been a temporary exhibit around here, because I don’t remember going to The New York Historical Society, which is where they live. It was a memorable experience and I’ve thought of those paintings a lot over the years.

There were also a few Frederick Church paintings at that same exhibit and, guys, I don’t much like it when people tell me what to do. This was in the pre-moving-around-the-world era of my life and I think I hadn’t been to many art museums, so when they told us not to touch the paintings, the inside of me basically crawled inside-out and demanded that I touch a painting. I chose a landscape by Frederick Church which had lots of little, bumpy green leaves, and I looked to my right (covertly) and saw the museum guard glance away, and I DID IT. I reached out and touched it!

I JUST WANTED TO AND I DID.

I can’t believe it. Present-day Alex would NEVER DO THAT.*

I think the guard saw me and told me not to do it and I had a secret thrill and then I went into the next room and saw that civilization was destined to crumble anyway, according to Thomas Cole, who based his series on a poem by Lord Byron, who is not someone I want to base anything on.

I digress.

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Anyway, in summary, we had a nice time out and learned a few things** and we saw gorgeous views of the Catskills. I also saw a piece of dust adhered to an oil painting and I longed to reach out and brush it away and also touch the painting. Instead, I just weirdly blew on the painting a few times, watching this giant dust bunny flutter around, and then I realized that hearing me suddenly breathe loudly in the very silent New Studio probably sounded super weird to the elderly couple behind me.***

Kindly old man: “Excuse me, I noticed you were quietly appreciating the paintings, but now you are loudly huffing and puffing. Are you having an asthma attack?”

Me: “No, I just saw that there is this clump of dust on the painting and it’s really bugging me, so I thought I would just try to loosely, like, you know, blow it off of there…”

Kindly old man (fumbles for his wallet, rifles through it, withdraws business card, holds it out): “Here, this is the number of my psychiatrist. Maybe he could help you.”

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Why yes, there is a large piece of dust affixed to this painting. Perhaps someone should blow it off or something?

*but she still kind of wants to

**like avoid Catskill and the Mexican restaurant in Catskill

***because it was super weird