Pictures from Bridges

This song is a conversation across time between a present-day, reasonably happy and well-adjusted protagonist and his pseudo-suicidally-depressed earlier self.

The mature version reaches back over the decades to hopefully assure the younger version that circumstances can and will get better. But there’s a subtext that darkness—and the neurochemical reality of depression—lurks in the shadows, and can return unexpectedly if not managed.

If you want to hear just the song without the video, you may find it on Apple MusicSpotify, or CD Baby. (It may also be available on other streaming music services.)

Below are the lyrics. You may also see these in the context of the song if you enable closed-captions in the video above.

Pictures from Bridges

A million years ago you grappled with your plight
The existential pain of a life
The Great Unknown was nigh
And complications were running high
You contemplated darkening night with your flight
But something turned you back to the light

A premonition of the hope and joy that were to come
Your people and your purpose here
Now, like a tree, you know
Seasons are the way it goes
Riding out your storm while you sing to the breeze
A lovesong that you learned from the night

Pictures from bridges overgrown
Memory of a future unknown
Song of a million years ago
Painted in a cave in Lascaux
Pictures from bridges made of stone
Self-extraction overthrown
Pictures from bridges haunt me
Pictures from bridges haunt me

Happy Valley

In January of 2019 I made a painting I call Happy Valley. It’s 6 by 8 inches, and made with acrylic paint on watercolor paper. It now lives in a private collection in New York.

“Happy Valley” is a pet name for the Pioneer Valley region of Western Massachusetts, which is a wonderful place to live.

Three Rivers

Ode to a sleepy little village in Western Massachusetts.

Three Rivers is a sleepy little village in Western Massachusetts, a few miles down the road from where I live. Right in the middle of the village, the Ware River and the Quaboag River (pictured above) flow together and form the Chicopee River, thus giving the place its name. I’m not sure why it wasn’t called “Four Rivers”—less than a mile away the Swift River flows into the Ware River.

Many years ago in an earlier chapter of my life, I had considered moving here. At the time I was in need of a home base that would allow reasonable access to both Boston to the east, and the heart of the Pioneer Valley to the west. The plan never materialized—I ended up living in Easthampton for the ensuing dozen years. But over the years Three Rivers stayed lodged in the back of my mind as a little bookmark or touchstone of a “road not taken.”

Recently I had some business to do at a nearby hospital. As a result, I had occasion to pass through Three Rivers a few times over the course of a month. I took advantage of the opportunity to get out on foot, and I explored and reminisced a bit. I wondered again what I ever saw in the place.

One could say that Three Rivers is a bit depressed, economically and culturally. There’s not much going on here. There are many seemingly empty storefronts. But the local liquor store seems to stay afloat. Like many towns in the area, it sports a couple of dilapidated 19th century mills that mingle with modest homes and tenement houses in varying stages of disrepair.

But as unassuming and downtrodden as Three Rivers is, there is still something magical about it. I mean, come on—the place has three rivers in it! (Four, if you count the Swift.) And it’s somebody’s hometown, so it must be special. I’ll bet there are many people living here who actively appreciate the lack of culture and hubbub.

A few miles downstream the Chicopee River flows into the Connecticut River, which eventually flows on into the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic Ocean evaporates, and it rains in Three Rivers. The cycle repeats. It’s all one water, really.

Confluence of three rivers
Confluence of three rivers, punctuated by a railroad bridge

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.

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.

2016 Odds & Ends

Vimeo—one of the services where I host my videos—offers a recurring workshop they call the Weekend Challenge. The 2016 Memory Bank episode challenges filmmakers to create a short film (under 3 minutes) out of their orphaned video clips from the year.

Until I learned about this assignment, I hadn’t given much thought to how many videos I’d recorded incidentally over the course of the year, nor whether they would fit together into a coherent narrative. I was surprised to discover that yes, they did. I hadn’t done very much work in this “video montage” style, so it was a new and interesting challenge.

I’d also never begun a movie project with the music. Previously, I had only added music to films after making the video part, like adding spices or a garnish to a meal. But using that approach has often resulted in movies where the music seemed like a poor fit or an afterthought.

This time around, I approached the project as a music video. (I was a big fan of MTV back in the early 1980s.) I started by writing and recording the music using Apple’s GarageBand software, overdubbing piano, synthesizer, and drum loops.

Then I imported the song into the Final Cut Pro video editing software, and added video clips to the song’s rhythmic timeline (versus the other way around). I liked this approach—it shifted my way of thinking and got me out of a couple of ruts I had slipped into.

I’m not exactly sure of the overarching theme among the clips. In 2016 I traveled more than usual. I had surgery. I got sick a couple of times. I had a good year at work and some pretty great times with family and friends. I got outdoors and did some hiking and bicycling. I played hockey. I grew some amazing garlic. I made sprouts. I learned to roast my own coffee. I took a bunch of photos and movies. I made four paintings. I published. I tried to improve. I learned some new technological skills. All the while a relentless and dissonant political battle raged in the background. My team lost, twice.

Perhaps the theme is one of continuing to be kind, creative, resilient, graceful, and happy despite the challenging nature of the times. Or maybe the lesson is simply to focus on the good stuff in life, because there really is so much of it to be enjoyed and shared. Hopefully this short film captures some of the happy highlights.