Sunday, January 29, 2006

Going Native

Life on three planes, spotted from inside our local bakery/diner. The handprint is on the window, the globe is a reflected lamp, and the brick column is outside. Except for cropping and a bit of contrast enhancement this is as-is out of the camera.

I have been living elsewhere these past few days. Keeping company with characters who continue to develop, whose struggle for survival continues from the trilogy I am trying to sell. (The trilogy is written; I'm drafting a fourth book because the characters aren't done with me yet.) The problem is that I commune with an ensemble now, with stories orbiting my main dramatic thread but that in doing so muddy the works. And yet my interest in these ongoing characters as "people" makes their stories fascinating to me. Eventually I will need to find ways to tie everything together while keeping the drama strong, or perform drastic cuts, or drastic restructuring....

When my students ask me what I do when dealing with story elements I tell them there is no one process. Writers differ. Stories differ. You take the basic building blocks and you run with them, and sometimes the blocks tumble into a haphazard pile, and then you build again. Sometimes the material comes more easily. Sometimes, like now, I become tangled in my own web and must simply weave my way through, trusting that all those knots will yield a pattern I can work with.

I have on my wall a quote from St. John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz, June 24, 1542 - December 14, 1591), which came to me courtesy of "magic fly paula" (Paula C., in Porto, Portugal):

If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.

On that same paper I have my New Year's resolutions for 2006. First and foremost is marketing the trilogy. The others are: Read/Research; Stay healthy; Honor the Muse; and Keep persevering and keep the faith.

Re-entry has been a challenge for me. After selling short stories and poetry in the 1980s I spent the 1990s and part of the 00s developing and maintaining a communications business, combining that labor with my day job into double and triple shifts, and attending to various family crises.

It wasn't all exhausting or traumatic. I'd spent 1995, my "cycling year," training for and participating in the first Boston-New York AIDS Ride. That year I'd bicycled 3,500 miles on a then-12-year-old Univega touring bike, pushing limits and breaking through barriers I hadn't known before.

In 2000 I began exploring mixed-media art, a direct outgrowth of the neighborhood beautification (what others call "trash picking") techniques I learned from Mary, sparked to life by the international Goddess 2000 project and its local expression in Cambridge. By that time I had also participated in an online Artist's Way cluster, supporting and supported by other folks seeking to reclaim their creativity.

The art saved my sanity at a time when my fiction writing consisted largely of scatterbrained false starts. Art used a different part of my brain. Drying times imposed built-in holds, while steps like applying coatings of gloss medium were no-brainers that I could fit into slivers of time before I headed to the office.

But it wasn't the same. I still felt as though I were in a state of exile from my true creative home. As a child trying to imagine what my adult life would be like, all I could envision was a largely spartan efficiency apartment whose main furnishings were a chair, a desk, and a typewriter. It didn't matter to me what I was going to be when I grew up, so long as it gave me a place to live and the chance to keep writing, letting the visions come through. I did not for a moment assume that I could make a living from my stories -- and to this day I don't know whether that philosophy has limited me or preserved me.

Coffee mug detail. Far from being spartan, my living quarters are filled with my own and other people's artistic endeavors. Mary and I had each bought mugs at the recent manatee festival we attended.

On my wall is also a quote from Buddha, clipped from a Levenger catalogue:

Your work is to discover your work and with all your heart give yourself to it.

In 2001, over the course of a three-week period, (a) my cousin (an only child like me; we called each other "sister") was found dead of morphine poisoning at age 44; (b) my rent increased by $125 a month; and (c) 9/11 occurred. Running had saved my sanity then -- finding the time and the energy at a dilapidated track in South Boston's Moakley Park, named after Joe Moakley, the district's deceased Congressman. It had been during a special vote to replace Moakley that I had stared with so many others at the television by the polling booths, watching black plumes rise from the World Trade Center. 2001-2002 became my "running year."

I ran through a difficult executorship (that for numerous reasons continues more than four years later) and through cutbacks at work, during which time I took voice-over lessons to increase my skill set. I had just managed to meet my goal of running a half-marathon distance in under 2-1/2 hours when Mary and I both suffered severe colds, followed by our cat Red's near-death experience and month-long recuperation. Mary nursed him back to health 'round the clock while I continued working multiple shifts, now producing for two departments simultaneously. I supplemented my paycheck -- which increased deductibles had reduced despite my raise -- with freelance work to make ends meet as my household's sole wage earner.

The following month my father was dead, and we began the process of preparing to move here.

("If you approach the newer agents, be sure to tell all of them some reason why you went off and did something else with your life, and have only recently returned to writing." Advice from an editor at a magazine that had published my stories 20 years ago.)

I walk in the dark here, too. But I am walking. My life patterns itself in ebbs and flows, and the weeks I am about to devote to a hefty freelance job will help ground me as my soul clicks over to the business side. Otherwise I float, tethered to the Muse but buffeted by winds. I need both the clouds and the concrete to function. I need to start preparing my tax receipts, dutifully collected but left chaotic while I lived "offworld" in-between meetings, teaching, and shorter work assignments. Returning to fiction has allowed me to live in Paradise even with its attendant frustrations. And Mary's steadfast support of my "flights" means more to me than I can possibly express, though I have tried.

"A writer must have the skin of a rhino." I forget where I read that bit of advice; Googling it tells me the analogy goes far beyond writing. But for now the image of a rhino serves as my desktop wallpaper, staring me in the eye and reminding me of my purpose.

"Do keep your day job, which I hope is your writing (and not your writing for [Company X] -- that's your other job.)" -- email from a client to whom I had sent some of my published work. I have that up on my wall, too.

The concrete serves its purpose after immersion in the clouds. It not only grounds me but gives me perspective, perhaps what I need to unravel the knots in which my characters have bound me.

Mary had been the first to spot a subdued sun peeking through, partially obliterated by clouds on the cusp of rain.

"First disperse resistance, then accomplish the work. For this to happen your mind must be clear and controlled." -- Ralph Blum, in his Book of Runes for Berkana: Growth. In a Runic spread I had drawn Berkana in the position of blocking: the obstacles that hold me back from what I am trying to accomplish. I use the divinations as focusing tools, meditations that I can apply to the challenges at hand, a psychological You Are Here. Over the years my forays into creativity have served as a side-step from my immersion in earthbound concerns. Now the concrete itself becomes that vehicle -- replacing one focus, one discipline with another.

The weather changes. The robins have returned in their annual pilgrimage back north, our version of the swallows returning to Capistrano. They inundate the trees, the air. Two years ago their sheer numbers had dazzled us. Their songs slip past opened windows and doors, now that we have entered our meteorological sweet spot between winter's chill and summer's stifling heat.

Work on myriad levels awaits.

(Follow-up to previous entry: our painted bisque dishes can be viewed here (Mary's) and here (mine).)

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Daily Recommended Allowance

My soup bowl is backdropped by a rain puddle photographed on the same day as "Water Ballet." I manually masked out portions of the bowl in turn, then filled them with clouds (not posted), sunset (an unposted shot similar to the one here), and a polkadot wasp moth and digger wasps frolicking in goldenrod (though one has chosen to frolic in the clouds instead). A crescent moon hangs among stars copied and rotated from Orion, portions of which also form the border.

A week of play -- from nonverbal storytelling to Diva Night....

This coming Wednesday Mary and I will see how our bisque has come out. A new pottery store has opened up within walking distance of home, and it has a fantastic concept that I hope catches on. Damon, the owner, buys unpainted bisque pottery in a wide variety of shapes and functions. Customers come in and paint their own. An instructor and terrific staff are on hand, and the place is designed for group functions: children's parties, date nights, family fun days, etc. Last Wednesday was Diva Night (ladies only).

Neither Mary nor I had ever done this before; prior, the only bisque I'd dealt with was soup. (I was disappointed to see no molds of lobsters; I think "lobster bisque" would be a natural.) This was a local adventure: a social evening in a room filled with tables -- and balloons, and streamers -- all of us painting and chatting. We were all encouraged to bring our own wine (the store provided cheese, chips and dip, and chocolate-covered strawberries) because the bottles would be melted down and made into cheese dishes for us to take home with our pottery a week later, after everything had been fired in the kiln.

Art books were available for perusal. Sinatra recordings provided part of the background music. A massage therapist was on hand with a massage chair, which was wonderful because in addition to feeling great the massage fit into the 10-minute drying times between layers of glaze. Each of us got a pink or red baseball cap to take home whose sparkling letters spelled out "Diva," "Princess," or "Heart-breaker."

Small World Department: Not only is the store's proprietor from Brooklyn, but he and I had gone to the same high school -- about a decade apart.

Mary and I each chose dishes -- an octagon for her, a circle for me. She painted a sunset on hers; I painted a snake motif on mine. If all goes well I'll post photos once we get the finished product. Damon is thinking of outfitting the place with a pottery wheel for folks who want to make their own from scratch -- again, something I haven't tried -- yet.

Also this past week, I've joined a group on Flickr that features visual narratives told in no more than five frames. "Nature's Hand" is my first offering there:

In addition to my own color-altered hand, I've included yellow wildflowers (unposted) and a Tersa Sphinx caterpillar (from which I've digitally removed the parasites) in frame 1; an autumn dandelion and the clock I used in the collage "Time's Orbit" in frame 2; a full Beaver Moon, copied and rotated stars from Orion, and the clock I used in the stereogram "Floating Time" (digitally-altered) in frame 3; a swamp lily and the same clock I used in the collage "Overtime" in frame 4; and pink flowers (unposted) and a Tersa Sphinx moth in frame 5.

I'll be hunkering down soon -- it looks like a large freelance job is heading down the pike. In the meantime it feels good to play!

An article of mine, "The Poem and the Journal," has just come out in Poets' Forum Magazine (Winter 2006, vol. 17 no. 3). The article originally appeared in the August/September 2005 edition of Of Poets and Poetry, the newsletter of the Florida State Poets Association. The text is somewhat readable in the large view, once you click the magnifying glass on it. It presents another argument of mine for keeping a journal -- in this case mine had helped me track down the 15-line poem (Joseph Payne Brennan's "When Tigers Pass") that helped spark what first became a 9,000+ word short story in 1985 and is now a 990-page trilogy draft. Credit for the photo of me there goes to Howard Harrison of the Citrus County Art League.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

The Week in Review

In the space of 2-1/2 weeks the leaves on our red maples have gone from blighted, faded crimson to this. I took this shot after I picked my jaw up off the ground.

From manatees to mosaics to a mysterious glow in the toilet....

Our colds seem to be finally gone -- not severe as colds go, but draining enough that we hit the sack when we could. We were also saving up our energy for this past weekend's Manatee Festival: arts, crafts, and music in the city of Crystal River, along with pontoon boat tours of Kings Bay for manatee sightings. I teach on Saturdays, so Mary and I had attended the festival on Sunday, which was just as well -- Saturday had come with winds impressive enough to have canceled the boat tours. We were lucky enough to see several manatees -- a first for both of us -- but I couldn't capture any on pixel.

More on the event is here. Manatee appearance, behavior, and lifespan are described in this article.

Kings Bay, where this was taken, became a manatee sanctuary in November 1980. In September 1991 Citrus County officially adopted the Manatee Protection Plan, becoming the first county in Florida to comply with the state's mandate to create protection plans in areas of critical manatee habitat. Speed zones, put in place in January 1992, were part of those plans. (Source: St. Petersburg Times, Manatee Timeline.) Here, cormorants hold the speed sign down.

I was aiming for the ducks but this pelican swooped in and made this my lucky shot of the day.

I noticed this as we were waiting to take the boat tour. At first I wondered if it was a satellite dish, but then I saw all the twigs. These humanmade structures stand near (and higher than) power poles, which ospreys would otherwise use for nesting sites. This article has more on the nest platforms.

(More photos from the festival are here.)

Before heading home we stopped at the mall -- Mary to get blankets for window insulation and I to get a new printer. Some time ago I had run Ad-Aware to get rid of Virtual Bouncer -- which it did quite handily -- but it also put my computer on the outs with my old, Windows 95-compatible printer. Those two weren't supposed to be able to talk to each other but somehow they had managed. I knew, though, that their friendship existed on borrowed time.

No more. For weeks the only way I could print anything was to burn the document on a CD, slip the CD into my old Win95 computer (whose modem is dead and which can't burn CDs), and then print from my outmoded computer connected to my now-outmoded printer.

That routine got old fast. I finally gave in to the new hardware, especially since I was experiencing small but annoying secondary problems associated with the document transfers.

When I awoke the morning of this photograph I thought it had rained.

"That's not rain," Mary said. "That's dew."

Even as we enter our dry season the humidity at night can get up to 100% with nothing falling. Our patio showed no signs of moisture, but the first thing I'd noticed from our southeast-facing window were the drops hanging off our compost barrel frames. They were scintillating.

I took this at 9:18:59 AM (EST) using my darkest setting, a 1/1000-second exposure at f/8. It marked my passing the 2,000-picture mark since purchasing my camera (this particular shot is number 2011). That translated into a bit over 18 photos a day on average, beginning from the last week of September 2005.

Over on Flickr I was invited to join a new group called Making Mosaics.

A canteloupe flower rests in the center. Clockwise from upper left: sunset clouds, footprint in sand, rust, clouds with sunbeams, dirt, ocean wave, moon, and pond. They are set against a wasp nest background.

I wanted to try out a mosaic using something other than squares. I created the octagon in PowerPoint, then brought it into Microsoft Photo Editor and made all but the originally black outline transparent. I set Microsoft Paint 5.0 to transparent, then brought in each photo I wanted, positioned the octagon where I wanted it, and copied that section. (One can choose a photograph to fill a shape in PowerPoint, but PowerPoint then assigns the entire image to the fill.)

After I had filled and copied all the octagons I trimmed them manually in Paint, assembled them, and set them against the wasp nest. I took another copy of the octagon, changed its color, and positioned it over the originally black forms, slightly offset to create some shading. I did the final crop in Photo Editor. Both Paint and Photo Editor had come bundled with my computer. (I don't have Photoshop but use a combination of so-called "primitive" programs.)

The main difference in my technique here is that I've overlapped the tiles. The background is assembled from "Fallen Leaf." Tiles include images from (top to bottom and left to right):
"Autumn Tree 2"; "Late Afternoon Pine"; "Late Afternoon Trees"; a single-leaf shot from the same tree photographed in "Fall Foliage"; "Pine Cone"; "Red Maple Leaf"; "Come Into My Treehouse!"; a photo of a Japanese cork tree, taken at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston and used in a collage here; and "Arboreal Profiling".

Last but not least, there was our toilet episode.

We have quarter-century-old toilets that Mary inspects regularly for algae build-up, excess scale, and other phenomena that make flushing an adventure. Certain house rules are in place: we "let it mellow if it's yellow" but we don't overwhelm the bowl with paper. We often use gray water (e.g., left over from showers) to flush, but we take care not to let the flow overwhelm our drainage holes because dead skin cells make good algae food. And "if it's brown, flush it down" has its own subset of dicta, the least complicated of which is pouring a glug of vinegar into the bowl afterwards to discourage the scale.

Violating these rules can have dire consequences, though we discovered that checking for compliance comes with its own mishaps. Which is why Mary met me in the hallway a few days ago and said, contritely, "This could be either good news or bad news." Good news because the toilet hadn't backed up. Bad news because she seemed to have lost our little flashlight.

We searched our small, cluttered bathroom and came up empty-handed. "That was your flashlight," she said. "You've had it for a long time."

"It's a thing," I assured her. "It has absolutely no sentimental value to me; we can get a new one." There are models I like better that I can buy at the supermarket anyway. The lost flashlight had come in a mesh case that fit it rather loosely. That had been the problem, because Mary had been holding the case and not the flashlight itself. I added, "At least the toilet flushes."

I returned to my studio. Mary turned out the bathroom light and called me back almost immediately. In the darkened room we watched an eerie glow emanate from beyond the bottom of the bowl.

I did what any sensible woman would do. I crowed with laughter until the tears came, then bolted to get the camera. (Positioning a tripod around a toilet seat is tricky.) The flashlight has since been rescued and washed. We had left it on to aid drying in case moisture reached any of its internal parts.

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From the First Solo Flights

My room at the Gorham Hotel during a rare stay, February 1983

For Colleen, who is "curious to know more about your situation at the time when you spent days in hotel lobbies."...

When I left my marriage at the end of January 1983 (age 24) I was on my own for the first time. For a month I had a "home base" with a cousin and her parents, but it was mainly a waystation. I stayed with friends, in the 24-hour student lounge at my graduate school, and on rare occasion (two, maybe three nights) at the Gorham Hotel in Manhattan. I spent my days hanging out in hotel lobbies or the New York Public Library, writing copiously in my journal. I've omitted many details here out of third-party privacy considerations.

I had sent out letters to friends across the country, knowing that I was leaving New York -- but to go where? The two cities I could most see myself living in were San Francisco and Boston. A friend of mine who had been living near Boston for 10 months called; she was ready to move back to southern California. Two days later I was on a Greyhound bus to Boston, where I spent a week with her and registered with temp agencies before I even signed the lease to take over her small rented house in Woburn.

Part of this excerpt has been published in Diarist's Journal.

Journal excerpts, February 1983

I am back at the warm, quiet women’s lounge at the Hotel Roosevelt, where I have walked from 57th and Lexington to 45th and Madison. Fortunately it is not too cold, and I have gotten good walking exercise and traveled at a leisurely pace. It is the type of distance and the type of neighborhood where I prefer the walk to using public transportation.

The banquet room opposite this lounge has a convention reception of dapper young executives, all of them men. I can almost hear my mother say, “There’s your opportunity, like fish in a net.” My cuticles, chipped from the dry cold air, continue to heal; I hardly chew on them, or my nails, at all. I am the homeless of leisure, taking for myself what I can take within my own mores. I need, right now, the lobby and lounge of the Hotel Roosevelt. I am not a paying guest here, I have no room in the hotel registry … but I am quiet and composed, well-dressed and clean and perpetually sober. I do not occupy one space for too long. Until I replace the lining in my coat, I fold the coat neatly and in such a way as to hide the rips and tears that rend the inside.

I feel safest when I am in the middle of Manhattan, mobile, not pinned down and vulnerable. When I was in Manhattan yesterday, “two strange men” ran my uncle’s doorbell; my aunt didn’t answer. Last night, between 1:15 and 1:30 AM, their dog barked about once every 30 seconds. When I asked my uncle if he always does this or does it at all, he evaded the question and still hasn’t answered me. Fugitive life has its drawbacks....

I travel to the Big Kitchen in the World Trade Center. I instinctively saw that my time at the Roosevelt was up; one can shuttle between the lobby and the lounge for only so long before one gets antsy, and I was getting antsy. I headed down close to the Ferry, to my other “haunt,” to write, read, relax. As I passed subway stops from Times Square to 34th Street to 23rd Street I worried about being tracked, stalked. Then, at the 23rd Street stop, something clicked. I thought, “Fear is a form of dependence.”

I purchased a traveling alarm clock. The cashier recognized me; we’d gone to the same elementary school. I found myself wondering: Does she still live at home with her parents? Is she married? She looked well-protected. She asked, “How have you been?” and I answered, “Fine,” thinking: Try compacting ten years including high school, college, graduate school, marriage and separation into answering the question, “How have you been?” Still, meeting her was fun. I was businesslike and cheerful and got an informal discount on the clock.

This is what I get for paying $53.96 at the Gorham Hotel: room 502 under my own name. A window facing out onto 55th Street, directly across from the incredible mosaic façade of the New York City Center. A round table, which I have moved by the table lamp and where I sit on one chair with my feet propped up on a second. A convertible couch. The usual color TV but with digital control, and drawer space with writing table and dozens of stationery sheets. The usual night table with Manhattan yellow pages. Queen-sized bed. Walk-in closet with extra pillows and blanket. Second closet, with extra pillows and blanket. Clean, private bath with fake marble sink and, ironically, the same vanity as in the place I left. Foyer with refrigerator, stove, and shelf space, a kitchen sink. A walk to Carnegie Hall. And an easy chair.

I could live here; these should be apartments -- but if they were apartments I couldn’t afford them. What luxury. The lobby is opulent gold. The Ziegfeld theater, showing Gandhi, is around the corner. The Gorham is identified by having its name painted on the brick wall of the building and by a doormat inside the enormous, gold-handled glass doors.

What I miss here is a radio. I am comfortable with the silence and street noise now, but when I first arrived I needed to turn on the TV and cut the brightness and contrast to have a blank screen. I had it on PBS so as not to be distracted by commercials and jingles.

I closed the curtains, stripped, and showered. In the background the TV played The Electric Company; as I dried off I heard a grown man sing about his night light.

First I feel elated, on my own, alone in a hotel room of my own choosing. Then I feel strange, registering solo in a hotel. I have broken some sort of tie.

I have moved the easy chair from its corner to the table. Even this little gesture to make me feel more comfortable had to be learned -- but if I don’t treat myself right, how can I expect others to? (Alternate thought: If I don’t treat myself right, who will?)

After I showered and put on my sweats, the phone rang twice. First it was the front desk, saying, “You left some articles here when you checked in.”

“No,” I said. “It must be someone else; I have all my baggage with me.”

The second time I answered the phone I heard a click. I thought, “Don’t do this to a paranoid runaway wife.”

No one knows where I am. I’m registered as Malcohn [not yet my legal name at the time], so if someone looks for me they may have to guess a while. I thought: Maybe the front desk is checking to see if I’m still alive. People alone check into a hotel room with next to nothing so they can kill themselves in privacy and the Gorham’s afraid I might do away with myself and give them bad publicity. Suicide is the last thing on my mind.

On the F train, an elderly woman with a cart of bags, looking more matron than derelict, was shouting. She lit a cigarette, a man told her there was no smoking on the train, and she exploded: “You will not dare to tell me what to do!” She ranted about having properties everywhere. I thought: Here is a complete breakdown of rules. This woman’s rule for restraint and rules of communication have been wiped out. Now, sitting here, I think of other breakdowns of rules and credos, those closer to home.

When I woke up this morning I felt good but did not know where I was.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Eagle Watch

The ground we stood on was red dirt typical of this area. This feather had lodged in it. I don't know whom it had belonged to.

On Saturday, Mary and I -- having reached the tail end of our post-nasal drip -- bundled up in chilly weather and joined several dozen other people on a birding expedition to the Citrus County Landfill under the leadership of birder Dick Blewitt. We were joined by crows, gulls, and both turkey and black vultures; but we were there mainly to see bald eagles. (A press release of the event is here. More on Blewitt and our local birding trails is here.)

The landfill did not disappoint....

Before I moved to central Florida, when I thought of landfills the first place that came to mind had been Fresh Kills on Staten Island. More than 20 years ago that landfill was enormous and vile for anyone passing that part of town. It closed in 2001; New York City now plans to convert it into park land.

Bordering the Withlacoochie State Forest, the Citrus County Landfill is a pleasure. What's more, it has birding trails. Its numerous recycling opportunities and provision of mulch and compost remind me of the Cambridge Department of Public Works, where Mary and I had recycled everything we could think of. In Cambridge, though, we saw no vultures or eagles, though we did occasionally spot a red-tailed hawk.

When we hiked to the summit of Mt. Monadnock in 1996, we were thrilled to watch turkey vultures riding the updrafts to either side of our ridge trail. Down here we see them daily this time of year and have become quite blase about the "Florida buzzards." Most of the birds shown here are turkey vultures. The bird in the center with the light wingtips is a black vulture.

A turkey vulture glides by a moon just past first quarter. I color-altered this shot to bring out the contrasts.

The Eagle Watch took place after the landfill had closed to the public for the day. Employees spread the latest crop of garbage inside one of the cells, which made this prime feeding time for the birds.

We learned that the mating season for bald eagles lasts from November through January, at least here; and that next to Alaska, Florida contains the largest breeding bald eagle population. I had seen no eagles -- at least, none that I was aware of -- when I visited Juneau, Sitka, and Skagway back in August 1992. Today marked my first direct observation of them. Mary, who thinks she might have spotted a juvenile eagle before now, had not seen an adult bald eagle until today.

This is inside one of the landfill's cells. For the most part the vultures are up top, the gulls down below. Landfill employees spread garbage out of frame while we stand high above the cell.

This shot has mostly gulls, but sitting on a mound just above the vehicle to the right is an adult bald eagle.

That same bald eagle in closeup, cropped from the previous shot.

This photo has mostly gulls and vultures, but I can find four bald eagles: two adults and two juveniles. The adults are together at the leftmost edge of the water pool (see below). One juvenile perches on the white lining at upper right. Another sits to the left, where the lining folds down into a crevice.

These adult bald eagles (standing in a pool of water at the top) are cropped from the previous shot.

Two juveniles are together in the center of the frame, perched where the white lining folds down into a crevice. The adults -- the same as those shown above -- are still in the water pool, but one has moved to the back while the other has remained on the left.

The same juveniles, cropped from the previous shot. Vultures and gulls are in the foreground; the smaller black bird is probably a crow.

A juvenile is about halfway up the snag (dead tree), facing left.

These are two different shots of probably the same eagle, though several were in flight above the forest.

A snag points the way.

This juvenile is pretty well camouflaged on the floor of the landfill. I toyed with color to enhance the contrast in its raised wings in the right-hand shot.

A better view of the Withlacoochie State Forest, complete with gulls.

This juvenile was sitting above the landfill cell we watched being filled. Two more juveniles (shown below) sat far to its left.

Mary and I had dinner out before heading home. In a mall parking lot I snapped the moon freehand, at a faster shutter speed to get crater and mare detail. I've set up the two exposures below as a stereogram, which can be viewed with crossed eyes, relaxing one's gaze while focusing on the "center" image.

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Friday, January 06, 2006


A journal excerpt from the past, while Mary and I recover from a cold.

December 1983

His name is Frank but he calls himself Quaker. He has just come out of detox....

I have just missed the 6:30 Commuter Rail. I'm sitting in the Burger King at North Station, telling myself as I have dinner that the reason people are "switching from McDonald's to Burger King" is not because of the flame broiling, but because Burger King regularly has rest rooms and McDonald's does not.

As I'm writing a letter he sits opposite me. Disheveled, a haunted-faced derelict. "'Scuse me, sweetheart," he says. "Can I have a nickel?"

I look him in the eye and say, "I'll give you a nickel if you don't call me sweetheart," and he says, "Okay ... ma'am." I give him a nickel.

The Celtics are playing the 76'ers in the Boston Garden across the street from us; a radio by the serving counter squeaks a thin play-by-play. Quaker leans toward the speaker.

"The Celtics are gonna win," he says. His eyes are bright with hunger and he speaks with desperate conviction. "They gotta win! Right? Do you think they're gonna win?"

I have no choice but to agree with him. His need is that great. He strains to hear the radio, enraptured. He gets up, goes over to the counter, asks a young woman for the score. He returns to our table and tells it to me.

Two Styrofoam cups sit before him; one holds coffee, the other water. He lifts each in turn to his lips. His hands tremble. "How nice," he says, struggling. "Oh how nice it would be to have a drink."

I tell him, quietly, "Drink your coffee." Or water. We switch back and forth.

"I'm wicked," Quaker tells me, grinning. "But I'm good. Do you think I'm good?"

"You're good," I say, matter-of-factly.

"How good?"

"Very good."

He nods emphatically. "I know," he says. "I know I'm very good. But I'm wicked." Suddenly he cries out, as though in great pain, "The Celtics gotta win! I can't live if they don't win!" A sob catches in his throat. "That'll be the end. They gotta win."

"They will win," I insist, quietly at first. But soon I grow louder as well. "They will win. But if they don't there's the next game. You've just got to make it to the next game."

He shuffles from our table to the counter and back again. Gets the score. Tells it to me. Tries to drink his water, his coffee. Repeats his litany. Tells me how wicked he is, how good he is. I agree with it all.

On one trip back his face is triumphant. "They're gonna win!" he shouts. "They're ahead by seven points!" He passes me, tousles my hair.

My body tenses. I say, softly, "I was wondering if you could do me a favor -- "

He understands instantly. "I'm sorry," he says quickly, contrite. "I won't do that again."

"That's okay. You didn't know."

He agonizes as the game is tied, as the Celtics and 76'ers go into overtime. I buy him a cup of coffee. The woman at the counter asks, "Is he bothering you?" and I say, "No, not at all."

Two cops dine in the next aisle down from us. The one with hooded eyes and a lean face scowls in our direction. At that moment I realize that if I had a choice of whom I'd want to meet in a dark alley, it would be Quaker.

Quaker asks me for a dollar. I give it to him. He later asks for another dollar so he can get to Lowell; and as I give him that, too, he says, "I know I'm a moocher but I'm good. Do you think I'm good?"

I repeat: Yes, I think he's good. Very good. If I didn't think so I wouldn't have given him the money.

He looks at me with sad eyes and asks, plainly, "Do you think I'd hurt anybody?"

"No." I am not merely agreeing with him; I am sincere this time. "I don't think you would."

"It's not my policy to hurt anyone." He shakes his head. "Not my policy."

I smile at him and say, "I like your policy."

He grins back. "I do, too."

Less than a year earlier I had spent my days in hotel lobbies, careful to carry myself as though I were a paying guest. I walked quietly to the women's lounge when an instinctual alarm went off that told me I should move, and returned to the lobby when I felt my time in the lounge was up. I set out again on a chilly Manhattan street in the middle of February to find another hotel, folded my winter coat carefully to hide the rents inside. I always had a place to stay at night, but I would awaken in a friend's apartment and not remember where I was. Or I would use my graduate school's 24-hour student lounge, stretched out on the couch as others quietly studied, washing up in the bathroom as best I could when morning came.

Then I moved to Massachusetts, and not having a refrigerator was small potatoes. I had registered with a temp agency before I'd signed the lease.

Quaker hurries to the counter again, asks for the score again, hurries back. Tells me what's got to be. The Celtics are an allegory now. They have to win.

The buses to Woburn stopped running hours ago. When I get to the Winchester Depot I'll have a two-and-a-half mile walk home. That is small potatoes, too.

It is 8 PM and I have to leave; the Commuter Rail pulls out at 8:30. Quaker wants to go to the Boston Garden. He holds onto me, rests his arm on my London Fog coat as I carry my attache in my other hand. It takes forever to cross the multi-laned Causeway Street. I feel an affinity with him; there but for the grace of God, Goddess, or Whatever, am I.

He must sit in the doorway to rest for a couple of minutes before we continue on. Once inside I tell him to take care, then make my way to the train.

On the way to Winchester I hear that the 76ers have won, and I wonder how Quaker is taking the news.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Happy Perihelion

Photographed shortly before 1 PM, the Moon slightly trailing the Sun in the middle of the day. I had used my camera's darkest available settings and further darkened the shot on my computer, bringing out the contrasts.

Today the Earth is at Perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun over the course of the year. Up north I felt I could sense the increased speed with which the Earth whipped around the Sun -- it seemed to take the days less time to grow longer than it had for them to lose light after the Summer Solstice. (The Southern Hemisphere experiences the opposite effect.) Here in the tropics, with our shortest days still an hour or more longer than they'd been in Boston (and our longest days equivalently shorter), I am not as conscious of the extremes of light.

Especially since I am finding more and more to appreciate about the darkness....

I was out between 5:30 and 6:00 this morning, continuing my quest to get some decent shots of the constellations. By and large my viewfinder does not pick up the stars I'm photographing, so I take my best guess when aiming. (Clicking on the photos will bring up a larger view.)

When I downloaded my Leo shots the body looked right but the head (the Sickle shape) seems too shallow; it should look more like a backwards question mark. I might have those stars (Epsilon and Mu) mislabeled, but no amount of tweaking could get me a head that looked right.

(Information on Leo and the Big Dipper is from the National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky.)

Leo, the Lion, "was recognized as a lion by the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Persians, Syrians, Greeks, and Romans." It was a horse to the ancient Chinese, a puma (some believe) to the Incans. Around November 16 the Leonid meteor shower radiates from this constellation.

Regulus, Latin for "little king," is Leo's brightest star (magnitude 1.4). The body, going clockwise from Regulus, includes (in this shot):

Coxa (magnitude 3.3), Latin for "hip." Less often it's called Cheratan: Arabic for "two small ribs."
Denebola (magnitude 2.1) is Arabic for "lion's tail."
Zosma (magnitude 2.6), "the girdle," is "a misreading of its older, more appropriate, Greek name, which meant 'hip.'"
Algieba (magnitude 3.5) is a binary star. Its name is Arabic for "the brow" or "the forehead," though most Western depictions show it as the lion's mane.

Algieba also marks the start of the Sickle, which includes (going up and clockwise):

Adhafera (magnitude 3.4) is Arabic for "lock of hair."
Rasalas (magnitude 3.9), at the top of the Sickle, is Arabic for "northern part of the lion's head."
Epsilon (magnitude 3.0) is the eye of the lion.

As I photographed Leo I caught sight of (and unsuccessfully tried to photograph) two artificial satellites. The first traveled across Leo. According to Heavens Above this was the Cosmos 1842 Rocket, headed south. The second artificial satellite, in the western part of the sky and headed north, was the Cosmos 1980 Rocket.

According to Anatoly Zak's Russian Space Web, Cosmos 1842 (a Tselina D rocket) was launched on April 27, 1987 and Cosmos 1980 (a Tselina 2 rocket) on November 23, 1988. Tselina means "Virgin Land." Writes Zak:

"By the beginning of the 1970s, the operations of the first generation electronic intelligence spacecraft allowed TsNII KS, a 'think tank' of the Soviet space forces, compiling a map of the potential targets of radio emissions.

"The Soviet military expected to obtain even more detailed picture on its electronic targets with the next-generation system, which was under study since March 1973. In the first quarter of 1974, the same industrial team, which built Tselina O/D network, completed the preliminary design of the follow-on ELINT system, designated Tselina-2, or Tselina (2)."

Having such clear skies continues to thrill me. I never expected to be able to see so many artificial satellites, or to look up into the Milky Way from my back porch.

The Big Dipper (part of Ursa Major, "The Great Bear") consists of circumpolar stars "noted by poets from Homer to Spenser, Shakespeare, and Tennyson. They are mentioned in the Finnish epic Kalevala and appear clearly in a painting by Van Gogh.... Native American tribes (including the Algonquian, Narraganset, and the Housatonic) also saw a bear among these stars." The Egyptians saw a bull's thigh in the dipper; in ancient China it was Tsieh Sing, "the government."

Going from the tip of the bowl to the tip of the handle are:

Dubhe (magnitude 1.8), Arabic for "bear."
Merak (magnitude 2.4), Arabic for "flank" of the bear. These first two are called "pointer" stars, because if you continue the imaginary line from Merak to Dubhe for about 5 times their distance from one another, you will reach Polaris, the North Star. Polaris marks the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper.
Phecda (magnitude 2.4), Arabic for "thigh" of the bear.
Megrez (magnitude 3.3), Arabic for "root of the tail" of the bear.
Alioth (magnitude 1.8), Arabic for "bull." The word derives from the name of an older Arabic version of the constellation.
Mizar (magnitude 2.3), Arabic for "groin" of the bear. Mizar is also an optical double. If Mizar were the center of a clock face, at about the 5 o'clock position in this shot (11 o'clock when the dipper is seen right side up) there is a very faint star called Alcor (also called 80 Ursae Majoris). Alcor's magnitude is 4.0. An older version of its name, Suha, is Arabic for "the overlooked one." Both the Arabs and Native Americans used Alcor as a test for eyesight. (Alcor is visible in this larger shot.)
Alkaid (magnitude 1.9), also called Benetnasch. Both names are Arabic for "chief of the mourners."

While the pointer stars of Merak and Dubhe help you to find Polaris and the Little Dipper, the handle of the Big Dipper features in the mnemonic, "Arc to Arcturus and Speed to Spica." If you continue the arc of the handle past Aklaid, you will reach a bright reddish star. That is Arcturus, the brighest star in the constellation Bootes (pronounced "bow-oat-tees," meaning "The Herdsman"). If you then stop arcing and instead speed in a fairly straight line, you will reach Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.

Thus I have slightly darker circles under my eyes right now -- in contrast to Daisy, whose cat sense is much better than mine.

The local strip mall we pass on our post office walks supplied several photo ops, including berries that I watercolorized after downloading. I don't know what they are, but the bushes were teeming with them.

A drink at the watering hole: bacteria do Lascaux

A massively-shouldered beast bends to sip from a sun-washed pool of water. It faces right, its snout dipping out of frame at the bottom, its style reminiscent of the Lascaux cave paintings dating from 15,000 BCE.

Actually, it's rust -- found on a steel structure out back of the local strip mall. (Another shot is in "Framed Rust.")

According to MSN's Encarta, "Bacteria are major agents of metal corrosion (wearing away) through the formation of rust, especially on metals containing iron. During the early stages of rust formation, hydrogen is produced, and it acts to slow the rusting process. However, certain bacteria use the hydrogen as a nutrient with the result that they greatly speed up rust formation."

Tonight I aim to start catching up on sleep.

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