Every photo in this post was taken between March and May, in NYC or the area in northern New Jersey which my mother called home for the last forty-five years. Having returned early from my work in Bangladesh in order to be with Mom, I’ve now seen this part of the US through a cold, snowy late winter and into a wet, green spring. Between trips around various parts of the city for medical appointments with Mom or meetings with friends and colleagues, I’ve been around much of Manhattan and northern NJ when the trees were bare and snow was on the ground, through the first blooming of snow-bells and forsythia, to this past week of alternating thunderstorms and clear skies with brilliantly green trees and now the irises starting to pop out. Before leaving this area for more or less the last time after clearing out Mom’s house, it seemed fitting to do a final ode to the sights and seasons of a region that I myself have also called either first or second home since Mom brought us here during the Ford administration…
You probably know I fly a fair bit, and I’m one of those people who stare out the window of the airplane if there’s daylight. I don’t suppose I’m truly claustrophobic in the classic sense, and I do just fine even in a middle seat if I need to (then I do escape into headphones and the in-set tv screen or i-pad), but I certainly enjoy flying much more when I can look out the window and enjoy the magic of seeing the earth from a different angle. Here’s a selection of photos from three flights I took over the past year – each photo has a name that explains what it is, more or less. Hope you find the aerial views as intriguing or enlightening as I do. And happy thanksgiving weekend, if you’re in the US. 🙂
I’m in Bangladesh, doing the kind of work I love – planning to stay for quite a few more months if possible. Even as work occupies and inspires me here, many things draw my thoughts home as well. Next week is Thanksgiving, the most family-oriented of our US holidays — and I’m rather sad to be away yet again on this holiday, even if my vegetarian-ness means the traditional main course doesn’t float my boat. 🙂 My mother expects to start a new treatment the following week. And back home in California, many more lives have been lost and communities harmed by another record-breaking wildfire.
Plus, I already missed Halloween and the joy of watching kids go sugar-crazy… So I’ve sorted through photos I took during the autumn and winter seasons last year, when I was able to spend much good holiday and other time with my family and my friends on both coasts back home. These photos were all taken in NYC and NJ last year in October – December…aside from a few from CT in May 2017, a paean to a loved mentor and friend now gone. Andrew & Tom, I hope you don’t mind…or anyone else. (Tell me and I’ll take photos out if you wish.) Fond memories for me, and I hope you. Much love to you all, this holiday week. Peace, health, human dignity.
Honestly? These photos are for my own enjoyment as much as anything else. I’m now back at work in a location halfway around the world (Bangladesh) from where my Mom, brothers, most friends & family are. But these photos remind me of lovely summer jaunts with Mom and anyone else who’s around to join us. Mom’s facing some health concerns, which of course means that my own heart is tugged between the work I love so much here, and the people I love so much there. I will choose to take comfort in these photos and the fact that I’d far prefer to be tugged between things I love, than between things or people I don’t love, and/or who don’t love me :-). The photos’ names should all say what they are: visits to three lovely locations in northern NJ based on Mom’s expression of interest in exploring: a Stickley home and museum, a historic village along a canal with (at the time) revolutionary technology, and an arboretum.
When I returned from the two year assignment in Haiti, I landed first in a late Canadian winter/early Canadian spring, then came south to spend a week with my mother in New Jersey. A thing that’s changed since I was a youth here is more wildlife — time was when it was rare to see deer even in larger state parks; now they roam our little local streamside parks, where some of these photos were taken. So, as autumn advances in the northern hemisphere, a reminder of this spring and springs to come :-). Enjoy.
I’m back from a short assignment in Sierra Leone, furnished with a new computer and the renewed ability to get photos off both my camera and my phone and then edit them more or less as I like. So I’ll be trying to update my readers – be you known friends & family, or some of my many much-appreciated but unknown viewers from around the world – with all the various things I’ve been seeing and doing in recent months. A thing I’ve learned from my many MSF friends and colleagues is that, even for those who could afford the airplane flights to the US, the idea of visiting the US is very unappealing to many in the world. Either the active adventure travelers assume it’s a destination for one’s older age when the energy to hike and live rough is reduced…or many of my friends and colleagues are understandably concerned about the warmth and humanity of their reception in a country whose “elected” government has gone so bitter, angry, and unwelcoming. I find that a pity since there’s so much worth seeing in the US and also so many people of all backgrounds and perspectives, many or even most of them really quite lovely as individuals, even in states currently driven by the most angry and unwelcoming people. All but one of these photos were taken on the island of Manhattan, the heart of New York City, between April and June. The photo just below, in which my brother Steve & I join our old family friend Jill to celebrate my mother’s 81st birthday, was taken on the far side of the George Washington Bridge (see the slide show below), in New Jersey. Since the GWB is Mom’s favorite bridge in the world, the gallery is a small tribute to her also. Though I love my work and how it exposes me to the realities of a world beyond our shores here in North America…well, it’s always nice when I get back to my family, even if being here means living in denial about the fact that our classy, smart & cosmopolitan President Obama seems to have left the white house… As usual, captions will try to tell you what each photo is, and I’ll write nothing more but let you appreciate NYC and its architecture, skyline and hidden corners.
Every so often I scan through my own blog and remember beautiful things I’ve seen. Last year for the first time, I did my own personal “greatest hits” selection of photos from the ten+ years I’d been blogging at that point. This year, I find myself thinking about ice, even though I’m a few hundred miles at least, I suspect, from the nearest naturally-occuring ice. Perhaps because of that: listening to seasonal tunes about winter wonderlands and white holidays has reminded me of the ice and snow I’ve seen.
I also realize I didn’t photograph things I wish I had, such as snow piling up on the streets of Beijing in the winter of 2005…although I do feature skaters on Beijing’s Qianhai, and cracking ice on a pond outside Beijing during a winter hike, taken the same winter. Above & in the collage below are photos from winter in Yosemite & summer in New Zealand (icy grass on the Keppler Track in Fiordland; and also a shot of the glacier on South Island’s west coast). There are also frosted grass & icicles from a winter trip to the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey: yes, such beauty can be found right off Interstate 80, if you know how and where to look :-). Plus some frosted grass in the early-morning shade at Hood Mountain in Sonoma County, two winters ago. If you’re already experiencing ice and snow, maybe these won’t do much for you…let me know, either way. May your year be warm, safe and dry in 2017.
OK, so I figure if off-angle shots of SF seem to have appealed to enough of my viewers a few weeks ago, I’d finally put up the grab-bag of odd shots from NYC and its region which couldn’t be made to fit in that last entry from Storm King. What you’ll see here are shots from a flat, gray day in Red Hook, which used to be a rather gnarly neighborhood when I lived in Brooklyn. It now seems to be hipster central, and has a few big box stores (most of these were shot in and around the Ikea parking lot), which were not yet permitted inside the 5 boroughs by the time I went west in the late 90s. These shots include some odd views of Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and the lovely new One World Trade Center building. Some people are calling it, in classic American let’s-use-terms-without-considering-what-we-mean-by-them manner, freedom tower. I never quite get which freedoms that kind of folks mean, since they’re always wanting to take away my own freedom to disagree with the foreign wars they like to start start (or to take away my friends’ freedom of choice in matters of reproduction or of life & love partner) – but hey, who ever expected words to actually mean something?!
OK, off that soap box for now. Other things in this entry: the impressive Great Falls at Paterson, NJ; a couple shots from the reservoir in central park; and pond scum at a wonderful bird haven in northern NJ. Paterson began its life as an important and powerful mill town, driven by the force of these waterfalls and the river that creates them. Its manufacturing glory days are long since past, but these falls, like the history of the Erie Canal which I’ve been visiting & will document later here on the blog, remind me of how the country was built and grew and prospered in our formative years.
I’ve noticed a lot more views and viewers on the blog recently, and I want to thank viewers both new and old for your interest. I hope you’ll come back, and I hope you’ll leave comments and let me know what you’d like more (or less!) of. Ciao.
Christmas morning, my brother Steve reading the newspaper while I try to share the last wildly varied batch of 2011 photos before it becomes 2012. Croissants are doing their final rising over in the oven here at my mother’s house. This is my second winter holiday season at ‘home’ or with family since 2004 (since then, in order: China, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, NYC, India, Congo…no wonder I get confused sometimes). Perhaps the smell of croissants baking will prompt Mom to rise and then we can satisfy my older brother’s curiosity about what might be under the lovely Christmas tree off to my right. Last year at this time I’d been in my new home of Mweso for about two weeks and was celebrating these holidays with new colleagues in a beautiful new location and a great new job.
I wrote the last blog entry my final morning on the island of Lamu, in Kenya – early August. Then I returned for about eight final weeks of challenging and productive work in Mweso, did the fastest debriefing and return to the US that I’ve ever done — left Mweso on 30 September, Goma on 2 October after a full day of meetings there, debriefed in Amsterdam on the 3rd afternoon and 4th morning…and did a short presentation about Mweso and MSF’s work to a group of NYC high school students on the afternoon of the 5th. Since then I’ve spent: a wonderfully relaxing five weeks getting my head together and biking along the coast a lot in LA; the thanksgiving holiday with Steve, our mother, and our uncle and aunt in Pittsburgh; and the past four weeks with my mother here in the NYC suburbs. What I’d like to share with you all are photos I took during all that time – last weeks in my Mweso home and our outreach sites around the zone, plus images from lovely outings in my various US homes. Between assignments, I really am an unemployed homeless person but I’m blessed with lots of generous friends and families who welcome me to share their homes here.
Returning to the US was a bigger shock than usual this time – spending my first few nights with my friends near Columbus Circle, I’d stare out their windows at the towers of midtown Manhattan and the bustle of traffic on the street, and wonder if I was really still in the same world. I know I am, but the shock of transition and change can be so overwhelming at times. As usual I’ve taken full advantage of so many luxuries, from Thai food and midnight bike rides through quiet, safe , good streets to concerts and plays with lots of friends. Email conversations have just begun between me and MSF about where I’ll go next, and when. I’ll be in SF for most of January and some of February and then tentatively plan a cross-country trip to visit friends and relatives scattered through the nation’s mid-section…but as always the plans remain open to amendment based on evolving news about possible future assignments… More on that if and when appropriate.
..Above: me in June, on day one of construction of the health post in the beautiful mountain-top village of Ihula, something that we & the village & the BCZ can and should be rightly proud of. Above that, Mweso sunrise a few days before I left in September; Steve, Mom & me at Fallingwater late November; Calder on a hillside at Storm King early October; and two views of the Great Falls in early December. Below, a self-pic the evening I got back to LA.
I don’t want to write much now – I’ve said it all before and I hope the photos are interesting enough on their own. What I’m throwing up here are are photos of the following which occurred in the order listed: a trip Mom and I took in early October to Storm King Sculpture Park in New York State; a few Venice sunsets; a trip with Steve, Mom, and Aunt Judy & Uncle Bill to two Frank Lloyd Wright-designed houses outside Pittsburgh – one being Fallingwater, arguably his most famous creation and the other being Kentuck Knob which also has a sculpture garden on its grounds; and some wintertime views of the Great Falls in Paterson, NJ in early December, which we visited to give Sam a different image of NJ…perhaps they’ll do the same for you. 🙂 I’m organizing the photos based on variety and visual pleasure for me, and hopefully a sense for some of you of why I sometimes find simple questions hard to answer – when you consider that all of these photos were taken between mid-August and mid-December in places that felt at the time, at least to some extent, like home to me. A bit lower down, I will include in italic some text that I wrote on about my third morning back in the US when my nerves will still a bit raw at how totally different everything is here than where I’d been living so very recently. Since it’s sat unfinished for 12+ weeks and I’m now in a very different space, I’m not going to bother completing it… I hope the photos may tell you things I can’t find the words for now. May 2012 bring more peace, more health, happiness and stability to us all, known and unknown, all the rich, beautiful, conflicted & organic mess that is modern homo sapiens and our green home world.
All the autumnal photos of beautiful grounds on a sunny day with sculpture in foreground or background were taken on … October 10 … at Storm King, one of my mother’s and my very favorite places in the NY metro area. I’ve been visiting Storm King since the late 1980s any chance I get and am always happy I’ve gone; this day felt unusually blessed because the weather was so lovely and walking around the grounds cleared my head so well and reminded me some of the things to which I have access here, that I can’t see when I’m working normally.
And here’s the text I started in October and never finished: Early autumn in New York rather than early spring in the high country of North Kivu. (Late September = early spring south of the equator, technically…) Quite the change of location and cultural milieu to take in. As I write this I’m watching the sky grow lighter off to the east, as the nighttime lights of New York City’s skyscrapers slowly wink out and the deep blood-red-orange of sun’s earliest warning lightens to pale peach and the upper sky goes from black to pale blue. Soon the ball of the sun will blaze out and make it uncomfortable in this lovely window seat overlooking central park and the skyline. I’ve been fortunate to take advantage of good friends’ hospitality here in Manhattan, which coupled with three jet-lagged early mornings and three stunningly clear, sunny early autumn New York days have combined to give me three of the best-ever sunrises I’ve seen in New York. Quite the welcome home, really. Pity I didn’t think to bring my camera, but just trust me that the views of central park, skyline and sunrise make this an amazing window seat.
Which is just as well because it all adds up to helping remind me I’m not in Mweso any more. And I’m not really even sure quite what or how to say about that. Since I’ve put so little about Mweso on my blog, I feel a need to give it more air time, so to speak. It hardly seems right that the past ten months of my life were based in this place where I and my colleagues (both international staff and national staff) all worked hard, week in and week out, to do some very good work (if I may say so), and of which I’ve barely put anything up on the blog. Some of my friends have seen emails with more detail about my life and work in Mweso, but since this is always a personal blog and since my life in Mweso was 95% about work, there didn’t seem much to say about life in Mweso.
Most of these photos from DRC were taken during several different days I spent high in the hills at and near the town of Ihula, where we ran a mobile clinic 1x/week, when I arrived there a year ago, and where we worked during my time to construct a new health post which would then make quality care available, with our support, every day of the week to the folks up here who’d otherwise walk many hours – often across front lines – to get to health care. The sunrise shots sprinkled around were taken from our expat home & base-office one morning before my departure.
And so what you see are mostly photos of Lamu and London for the past ten months. Sure, both are great places that I was delighted to visit on my vacations from Mweso. But what have my last ten months been about, really – trust me, it was not dominated by the waves on the beach or great dance and theater in London. (Oh by the way, the sun is about halfway above the horizon over around Queens now; a livid pinkish-orange ball that I can already no longer look at. When I look at the two entries here in which I did show photos of North Kivu and say a bit about it, I think I did a fairly decent job of talking about how we live and what I was doing there, more or less.
My first day back in the US, I spoke to a group of high-school students here in NYC about MSF, our work, my work, and so on. One student asked about common misconceptions and I responded about over-romanticizing, or over-dramatizing, what we do or how we live. (And that’s where I ended in October. Not gonna finish those thoughts now. You probably get it. Lower down there are actually some pics of me at work, hauling rocks and shoveling sand for the foundation of the new health post.)
Above, Fallingwater; below, Kentuck Knob. Fallingwater: a magnificent house constructed on/in/over a waterfall – truly spectacular. Kentuck: so much less dramatic, but so much more like home: I would LOVE to live in Kentuck Knob, and would feel comfortable and happy all the time, I suspect. I think Fallingwater would make me feel constantly overwhelmed by its own magnificence – it doesn’t feel homely to me. 🙂
Mom, Paul & Steve at a Berlin-Wall segment installed in the sculpture garden at Kentuck Knob, which also contains some Andy Goldsworthy stone work, cousin to the two twisty curvy stone walls you’ve been seeing in photos from Storm King. If you don’t know Andy Goldsworthy, find a place to see his installations – photos can’t do them justice; they are site pieces best seen in person. Stones, water, walls are themes in these photos – from hauling stones for the foundation at Ihula, to Goldsworthy’s playful stone walls; from the huge stone support wall on the downslope side of Kentuck Knob to the waterfalls at Fallingwater, the Passaic River in Paterson, or at Ohiopyle on the Youghigheny River downstream from Fallingwater, below.