Tallgrass Prairie

In May we had an opportunity to visit family in Independence, Missouri (a lovely place, and the hometown of President Harry S. Truman). There were plenty of sights to see and things to do around town (“the Square”—#lovethesquare), but on one of our days we drove west for two hours to Strong City, Kansas.

There, we took a tour of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Our guide told us that we might see some American bison (a.k.a., buffalo) roaming around. As our schoolbus-style tour bus crested a hill, we were treated to this surprise. A twenty-five-mile view and a herd of more than two dozen bison lolling around in the Kansas sun.

The prairie is awe-inspiring—thank goodness for the National Park Service for protecting this swath of it. If you have an inclination or an opportunity to check it out, I recommend it.

Brattleboro, Vermont

We took a nice day trip up to Brattleboro, Vermont for lunch and some sightseeing.

We walked down to the bridge that crosses over the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. In fact, technically we were in New Hampshire when I took this photo. I had set up to take a nice landscape shot with my iCamera. I heard a boat motoring upstream under the bridge, and my initial instinct was to take a photo before the boat came into my field of view and disrupted the natural scene.

But when I heard the boat sound its old-timey steam whistle, I thought that it might be a quaint addition to the composition. And it was—how fortuitious! I waited until the boat reached a perfect position in the scene (near an intersection of thirds, naturally), and took the photo.

I lightly edited this shot in Luminar (which I’ve been loving lately), to unify and balance the light, bring out some of the color and subtlety, and to impart a bit of a magical, film-like look.

Springtime in New England

This was an interesting year in terms of weather. Winter wasn’t particularly harsh, and there wasn’t as much snow as there had been in previous years.

But April was brutal and damp. People seemed to be ready for spring, but Mother Nature had a different plan. Just as we were beginning to dust off our bicycles, hiking shoes, and gardening tools, multiple snow squalls and chilly temperatures sent us scrambling back to our cozy indoors.

On the bright side, we were treated to beautiful views—dramatic, darkened skies punctuated by glimpses of much-craved sunshine.

But that was April. Now it’s May, and springtime is here.

Marching Forth

A mini-manifesto, and a photo essay you might like.

I’m trying an experiment. During the month of March I am avoiding Instagram, which has become unbearably laden with ads. Depending on how it goes, I may extend my “insta-cleanse” by a few months. (For some reason, the ads on Facebook don’t annoy me quite as much.)

I’m enjoying the peace and quiet, and the sense that I’m not addicted to my iPhone. I miss my friends’ lovely photos and movies, but I’m hoping to find better ways to keep up with people’s lives than seeing them play out against a backdrop of talking llamas selling car insurance, and other inanities greedily vying for a slice of our attention and money.

Frank Chimero wrote a superb essay that articulates how I’ve been feeling about the web. In the beginning, the web had such an amazing potential to develop into a public space that prioritized art, education, civic responsibility, and enlightenment. But lowbrow capitalism seems to have outpaced the loftier aspirations of the human spirit. Much of the web is now inundated with ads and other desperate attempts by people to take money from each other. It’s intrusive. It’s gross. And in a way, it’s irrelevant. I’m here for connection with humanity. Won’t you join me?

There has got to be a better way.

I enjoy the slow, deliberate process of crafting a blog post. I often tell myself that I should do it more often. It’s more like a handwritten letter than an email. More like a slow-cooked meal than a fast-food binge. More like a library than a dollar store. I’ll spend hours writing, editing, reading aloud, preparing visual accompaniment, double-checking everything, taking a deep breath, and then hitting the “publish” button. How often do I put this much care into an Instagram post?

I don’t know that publishing here on my independent blog is the answer, nor if it’s going to make any difference in the grand scheme of things. I certainly won’t enjoy the same degree of immediate feedback (likes!) from my audience of friends. But this feels like a small step worth taking—a miniature protest of sorts. A tug in the right direction. Will 2018 be the year that the zombie blog returns from the dead? We will see.

Felling a dead tree

Speaking of tugs in the right direction…

Up until recently, there was a dead tree on the edge of my property, leaning toward my neighbor’s land. I needed to figure out a way to bring it down safely and affordably onto my own property. Hiring a professional tree worker would have been too expensive. And I like doing chores like this myself, whenever possible.

In order to give myself leverage, I tied a string to a baseball and threw it as high as I could through a place where the tree trunk branched into a “Y” shape. This enabled me to guide a heavier-gauge rope around the tree, midway up. Then I used multiple ropes and pulleys to pull the tree as far as I could toward my yard. Once I had stabilized the leaning tree, I used my chainsaw to make the standard front notch and back cuts near its base. But the final act was a brute tug-of-war, which I documented in the video at the bottom of this post.

Tug-of-War with a Dead Tree
Playing tug-of-war with a dead tree. I had leverage on my side.
Force Multiplier
I used a system of ropes and pulleys to multiply the force of my pull.

Thankfully, it all worked out. Now I have some cleanup to do.

2017 in Photos

There’s a lot that can be said about the year 2017. I prefer to focus on the positive, and it’s easier for me to do so through images than words. So here’s a gallery of photos I took in 2017. Many of these images I’ve already posted on Facebook or Instagram, but it’s nice to have them all together here in a commercial-free environment. I hope you enjoy them.

Recently, for personal enrichment, I completed an online photography course taught by the legendary artist Annie Leibovitz. I am enjoying learning more about photographing people, and I’m looking forward to taking my photography to a new level in 2018.

Interested in purchasing prints or a license to republish any of these photos? Get in touch.

Fort Hill

My newest painting portrays Mt. Tom, as seen from the Fort Hill section of Easthampton, Massachusetts. Early summer corn grows in the foreground.

A friend of mine was looking for some art to hang on the wall of his new office, so I obliged. I produced this 44 by 55 inch acrylic-on-canvas painting in one month. I also built a custom frame from select pine, and painted it a deep “espresso” color.

In years past, I might have taken several months to complete a work of this size. This time, I was thankful for the tight deadline, and the opportunity to try a new approach to getting work done more efficiently.

Painting Fort Hill
Yours truly, painting Fort Hill.
Gluing the corners
Gluing up the miter-cut corners of the frame.

Bicycle Dream

Bicycle Dream

This is one from a series of about 50 “Gocco” silkscreen prints I made in the late 1990s (and one of the few that remain in my collection).

The original was a film photo taken by my dear old friend Ben Ostiguy (swimmer4buzzardsbay on Instagram). It’s a picture of yours truly on my bicycle, crossing the bridge over the Connecticut River between Hadley and Northampton, Massachusetts, circa 1991 when much of the Norwottuck Rail Trail had yet to be paved. Ben and I were out gathering photographic imagery for a painting class we were both taking at UMass, and we scouted out the nascent trail off-road style.

I first used the image to illustrate a haiku poem in a chapbook titled “Little Deaths” that I’d written, bound, and self-published in 1995:

When in a painting
you see a beckoning road,
then down it you go!

A few years later I happened to salvage a trove of genuine WWII-era aeronautical maps of Europe that the folks at the W. E. B. Du Bois Library at UMass had been planning to throw out. I used the maps as substrates for a handful of collages and paintings. But none of those projects were as successful as this print run, which supplied me with greeting cards for years.

I suppose I ought to scan the last two or three I have left, and make some giclée prints. There’s nothing quite like an original, though. The way the ink layers interact with each other and with the paper is hard to reproduce via modern printing processes.

Of Switchel and Shrub

Let’s talk about beverages. Water is life. It’s wonderful, but sometimes it’s a little plain and boring. Commercial soda is full of high-fructose corn syrup and who knows what other poisonous chemicals and preservatives. Coffee is sumptuous, but I don’t want to be constantly wired. Something like a cocktail might be nice, but I don’t drink alcohol. Fruit juices are tasty, but I’m trying to limit the amount of sugar I consume. What is a seeker of taste to do?

I’m on a quest to create modern versions of old-world tonic beverages—switchel, shrub, amuse bouche, tonic. My guiding principle is to use natural, minimally-processed, and healthful ingredients.

Water
Cold water is nice, but…

Start with the basics

I’ve been juicing a lot of lemons lately. The vitamin C they contain is beneficial, and they taste so good.

Fresh Lemons
Fresh lemons

I’m also a big fan of these three roots: ginger, onions, and garlic. Turmeric (not pictured) is nice, too.

Back to My Roots
Getting back to my roots

Put it all together

Here is some gingerade I made by boiling some chopped fresh ginger in water, then straining it through a coffee filter and sweetening it lightly with honey. It’s refreshing either hot or cold. Sometimes I’ll make a brew using various combinations of the aforementioned roots.

Fresh Gingerade
Fresh gingerade

Every week I juice about six or seven lemons, add the juice to a glass jar, top it off with apple cider vinegar, shake it up, and put it in the refrigerator. Both of these liquids are surprisingly sweet on their own, so no extra sweetener is required. I start my day by downing a few sips right from the jar. Occasionally I’ll cut it with a little bit of water or plain seltzer.

Vinegar and Lemon
Apple cider vinegar and fresh lemon juice

Commercial alternatives

My initial inspiration for this flavor-quest came from the discovery of a few products I liked, that I found at my local greengrocer. Fire Cider is not for the weak of stomach. It’s hot! It contains the juices of peppers, lemons, garlic, onions, and other spices in a base of apple cider vinegar. It’s also not cheap, so I figured it would be more economical to make something comparable on my own.

Fire Cider
Fire Cider

Switchel—which contains apple cider vinegar and ginger—is a tasty treat. But there’s a fair amount of sugar added, so I don’t indulge in this very often.

Cide Road Blueberry Switchel
Cide Road organic switchel

And then there’s coffee

This doesn’t need much elaboration. It’s a daily staple, but the older I get, the more I find that I want just one really good cup in the morning, before moving on to tea and other drinks throughout the day. Neither my stomach nor my nerves can handle office-grade swill any more. I buy green coffee beans (seeds of the coffee cherry, technically) and roast them myself at home.

Of all the variables in coffee making (freshness of roast, bean origin, preparation technique, darkness of roast), I’ve found freshness of roast to be the most important in terms of the flavor and “aliveness” of the coffee.

Personally I like to mix half Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans and half Columbian beans. I roast them just shy of the oily stage. Pretty dark, but still “dry.”

How about you? What are your favorite homemade beverages?