I once had a professor, who was fond of criticizing uninspired, half-hearted student efforts as “pedestrian,” in the sense of humdrum and unimaginative.

That’s actually the original meaning of the word, back in the days of the Roman Empire, where I think the professor lived his happiest days.  Dull and drab.  Just your basic wage-earning proletarians, plodding along, rather than the patricians and equestrians, racing on horseback to the Colosseum or an uptown bacchanalia.

In Boston, my recent home, I learned that “pedestrian” is also synonymous with “victim,” in the sense of someone mad enough to venture out on foot, among the city’s psychopathic drivers.  Stop signs mean nothing to these people, sidewalks do not curb them, you cannot claim sanctuary, you’re always fair game.

To be on foot in Boston is simply asking for it.  Like the poor schmoes with walk-on roles in Ben Hur, getting shoved in front of a chariot race, or tipped into the lion’s den.  On foot in Boston traffic, you’re just dipped in gravy and dropped into a cage of weasels.

So walking is not the relaxing pastime it used to be.  Sometimes in the parks around Upstate NY, we’ll be the only ones walking – –  jumping off the path as off-road bicyclists race past, with helmets and carbon fiber chariots.  OK, to each their own.  They’re having fun, non-motorized, so happy to see them enjoying the outdoors.  We look for trails that are too narrow and strewn with fallen tree trunks for bikers, and continue on our plebian way.

And the stretch of woods we walked through, here at summer’s close, was pretty “pedestrian,” – – just middling-size maples, average ash, basic beeches, a handful of hemlocks, hummocky swamps with ferns beginning to turn brown.

 

 

 

But when we took a break and sat down, there were wonderful miniature landscapes of moss and fungi.

It was getting toward sundown and the tiny mushrooms seemed to glow.

 

 

 

 

Well, speaking as a groundling, worm’s-eye views are sometimes pretty neat!

 

 

 

Although, I guess technically, these are more bird’s-eye views.

I mean, if the bird was walking, not flying.

 

 

And we’re not talking ostrich or heron, maybe about grouse-height.

Next week, we’ll address “perambulate.”  Class is dismissed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finger Lakes, FLX, Nature, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

Pictures of Upstate New York. Late August, Early Evening, Finger Lakes Forest

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The Black Diamond Trail is for walkers and bikers in the Finger Lakes, near Cayuga Lake.  It’s a new railroad bed conversion, running eight miles between Cass Park in Ithaca, NY and Taughannock Falls Park, in Trumansburg.  Eventually it will continue south to Treman Park, another eight miles or so.

The trail’s name refers to coal – – the north-south railroads in the Finger Lakes generally ran coal from Pennsylvania, to ships on Lake Ontario, and thence to sooty places around the world.  This particular route of the Lehigh Valley RR also had a luxurious “Black Diamond” passenger service from NYC to Ithaca, and then on to Niagara Falls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve sometimes been, well, not entirely complimentary about sumacs. In autumn, they’re quite often looking like the tattered and hungover remnants of a Mardi Gras parade. But they’re unfailingly colorful in the fall, and can look pretty darn elegant in summertime, too.

 

 

The south (Ithaca) end of the trail is a bit dull.  Some tiny rivulet-size waterfalls, blackberries, raspberries, Joe Pye Weed, and sumac alongside.  A powerline is overhead for a mile, and the cars on Route 89 are visible through the trees.

Serious bikers streak past, unsmiling, bug-eyed goggles, spandex and sinew, their tee-shirts advertising an obscure microbrewery in Rochester.  The beers and ales are a bit too hopped-up, and the cyclists too – – pretty much oblivious to the waterfalls, wildflowers and views of Cayuga Lake.

 

 

 

 

The aged hippies from Trumansburg glide by at a more sedate pace, on recumbent bikes or ancient Schwinns, “Uncle John’s Band” and “Jack Straw” audible from their headphones.  They wave, stop to look at the little streams, comb a few bugs out of their gray beards, and offer you a sip of homemade kombucha.  They’re nice, but I don’t drink, afraid I might wake up under a tree, like Rip Van Winkle, a few decades in the future, a rusty  peace medallion around my neck, wearing mossy old bellbottoms, and “California Dreamin” running through my head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mile or so north of Ithaca, the trail becomes nicer.  Most of the pastel-jumpsuit-joggers turn back toward the city.  The powerline decides to head west, and it’s just trees overhead.  The trail moves farther and farther from the highway.  An unmarked but well-beaten footpath goes up the hill, alongside a nice stream with lots of little falls.

 

 

 

 

After a while, as we go up the hill, a sound like passing trains or traffic starts coming through the trees.  Past an old picnic area with stone tables, and we’ve come out behind the county hospital.  Huge air conditioners are making the rushing sound.

 

 

 

 

Going back down the hill toward the rail-trail, a side trail is covered with matchstick-sized fungus.  Tiny but creepy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’re unmoving, but we walk around them, just in case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finger Lakes, FLX, Ithaca, Nature, NY, Railroads, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

Pictures of Upstate New York. August. Matchstick Army on the Black Diamond Trail

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Have you ever experienced a recurring dream?

I have one, that comes to me during ragweed season.

I find myself walking and walking in the country.

Trees and plants, woods and fields, hills and dales.

There are people with me, walking and talking, talking and talking, talking of stalking, pointing and gesticulating.

In the dream, I don’t know the time, but I know it’s very early.  Too early for all this gesticulating – I can’t even say that word, at this early hour.  Hand-waving, then, and sounds like they’re speaking in Latin.  Are we monks??  I don’t understand any of it.

Then I hear a voice say clearly “…The F Stop…” and I look around for a bus.  But there isn’t any, so we keep walking.  I don’t know what time it is, but I know somehow, that it’s early, and we’re rambling in the grayness of Pre-Noon – that horrible, fuzzy zone that exists before lunchtime.

Without looking, I can tell my socks don’t match.  One feels like it’s wool, knee-high, and itchy.  I don’t own any socks like that.

It’s at that point, the slow dawning horror comes over me, as I become aware, that I’m not dreaming.

I’m actually awake, out and about at this ungodly hour, hiking apparently, and have fallen among  some roving cult of naturalists, botanists, forest-bathers, and photographers.  Why does this keep happening.  Apparently sometime last night, once again, I agreed to an Early Morning Nature Walk.  Don’t remember.  Don’t remember if anyone thought to give me breakfast first, or brunch, like decent, civilized people.  Don’t remember signing on to wander around in the shrubbery and thickets of binomial nomenclature.

But that explains the people in my dream, talking in Latin.  And the “F Stops” – the photographer has us straying through sodden “Depths of Field” or suchlike, and my socks are soggy.

Ragweed Season.  I don’t sleep well, and I don’t do awake so well, either.  I’m stumbling along, coked to the gills on antihistamines, Echinacea, Sudafed, Mucinex.  Just let the mosquitoes drink as much of my blood as they want.  They try to fly off, but then the Benadryl hits, and they drop from the sky like stones.

Walking at breakfast time.  Dogwoods, but no doughnuts, fritillaries, but no frittatas.  Someone offers me a handful of Dragon’s Tongues.  They’re surprisingly tiny and green.  It seems like the dream-state is resuming.  But “dragon’s tongues” turns out to be a mixture of grape vine tendrils and the leaves of a flowering mustard plant, they call “wild arugula.”  Not bad!  The grape tendrils are delicious, kind of lemony.  Someone pulls out a thermos and gives me some coffee.

I open my eyes, and it’s a pretty nice day!   Nature’s not so bad, really, as long as the plant life includes coffee beans and tea leaves.

 

x

 

 

Pollen thy name is Legion

 

breakfast, Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, Nature, NY, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

It’s always a cakewalk in ragweed time.

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“Still Life with Fungus & Poison Ivy”

 

I know, these pictures look like a nature walk with the Addams Family.  I’m enjoying the fresh new foliage and spring flowers as much as anyone, really, but on a recent hike, it was the tree fungi that caught my eye.

Doesn’t the 2nd shot looks like Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge cake)?

I also wondered about the minimalist spider web in the 3rd shot.  I once saw photos of spiderwebs, after the spiders had been given various drugs (OK, I guess it’s occurred to all of us to do that).  The caffeine web was jazzy, random, frenetic-looking.  The LSD web, as I remember, was unnaturally perfect.

Apparently nibbling on this fungus leads to a lack of ambition and inability to complete tasks?

Or just a desire to simplify and try something new, even if you don’t catch any juicy bugs that way.

 

Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, Nature, NY, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

A Fetching Flock of Fungus for Friday. Pictures of Upstate New York. May.

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Chanukah, Christmas, food, Itchy Sweaters, music, Sweaters, Uncategorized, United States

Spinning the Seasonal Favorites. Renaissance 33’s & Medieval 78’s.

 

“Traditional holiday music” to me, means scratchy old records.

 

There’s strange-looking people on the covers, with lacquered or pomaded hair, and sweaters.

 

Golf sweaters, cardigans, turtlenecks, enormous cableknits,  cashmere, V-necks, crewnecks.

 

 

How the heck do they get the crewnecks on over that bouffant hair?

 

Or do they just always have the sweaters on, and the hair is shipped in, layered on, and sculpted afterward?  By the same crew that does the artificial snowdrifts.

 

Are Angora, Mohair, and Perry Como Hair all the same substance somehow?

 

These are the same people who engineered Stereophonic Recordings, the tailfins on the ’59 Cadillac Eldorado, and then the Apollo space mission, I guess they could do anything.

All of these inventions were adapted onto Santa’s sleigh.

 

 

I studied these record covers when I was a kid.

 

 

Sometimes the people seemed to have a lot of sideburns & weird sorts of pajamas on, like the crew of the old Star Trek, so I figured there was some connection.

We celebrate both Hannukah and Christmas in my house, and adding in Star Trek just compounded the confusion.

 

 

There seem to be more of these albums around the house every year.

The old folks don’t go to garage sales, so they must have discovered eBay.  Or it may be down to one particular aunt, who’s cleaning out her garage, by UPS’ing everything to my parents.

In the family room, High Fidelity Long-Play albums are gently hissing and crackling on the hifi , and there’s a little wisp of smoke, as if from a tiny Yule log.

But it’s coming from the amplifier – the tubes have really heated up, and are incinerating the dust bunnies.

All 6,327 recordings by the Robert Shaw Chorale

They’re mostly 33 1/3, and full of lovely singing, but I really recommend playing them at least 78 RPM, or you’ll be in an Induced-Eggnog-Zombie-like state until Valentine’s Day.

The Christmas Waltz  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfmcEok4mkE

Dean Martin, well-oiled in hair and spirits, sliding over the artificial snowdrifts in his holiday louche, singing  “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.

It’s a heartwarming tale about getting his date liquored up?

The Scratch’n’Sniff sticker on his old album still works!  It says “Hey, what’s in this drink?” and smells like bourbon, Brylcreem & cigarettes.

A 4-disc set — Arthur Fiedler & The Massed Bagpipes of the Edinburgh Tattoo Presents  “Awa’ ‘n’ Boil Yer Head, Ya Dobber Elf & Other Seasonal Favorites

Impossibly high notes from the King’s College boy’s choir.  The album cover says:  “Festival of Nine Lessons.  And Carols.”

I always figured it was some oldtime singers, like Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, giving the choirboys a hand, but they aren’t listed on the liner notes.

The Nutcracker Suite is magical every time.

I searched for other pieces that use the celesta, that delicate, beautiful little chiming sound – – and ran across Louis Armstrong & his Hot Five!  It’s in the introduction to his 1928 “Basin Street Blues“!  Ok, so that’s holiday music now – – I can see the Sugar Plum Fairy sneaking out of the ballet, picking up Louis, knocking back a few and hitting the town.  You may have to cut & paste the link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQBjD06a6l8

Digging farther back into the boxes of records, into the mists of time, the sweaters are now pinkish & woolly mammoth yarn.  Back to the parental units’ high school days, during the Late Middle Ages:  Steeleye Span sings Gaudete, Ex Maria virgine, gaudete Back from the days of Silver Bells, Chestnuts Roasting, Gregorian chants and stuff like that.  Some of the people on the record covers now have braided hair, leather jerkins & tights.  Ancient hippy minstrels wailin’ on wooden flutes, lutes, sackbuts, primitive electric guitars, & whatnot.

What do all these jumbled tunes have in common? They’ve become part & parcel of the jumble of family tradition.

I had to check the spelling of “miscellany” and look at all these lovely synonyms:

salamagundi, medley, hodgepodge, potpourri, mélange

Don’t all these words just look perfect for the holidays?

Our family feast will always have a crazy assortment of foods – – some sort of roast meat, sitting next to the panzanella (in case there’s vegetarian guests), Penna. Dutch pickled eggs & beets, Penna. Dutch pickled piccalilli, Penna. Dutch pickled everything, mulled cider, maybe some borscht (the good kind, not the kind that tastes like beets), maybe this year, some Thai-style shrimp, and then Mexican Wedding Cakes, Hamantaschen, English plum pudding, etc.

Most dishes are attributed to a particular person, many no longer with us.  It will never taste quite as good as when they made it, but we do our very best, to do it right.  This Alka Selzter advertisement of a meal represents all the folks who’ve joined the family over the years.  It’s not very Norman Rockwell-looking, but it’s very American, not the melting pot, but the mixing pot.  Different churches, different faiths, or none at all.  The religious break bread with the pagans.  And what is old & traditional to some, is new and confusing to others.

The music on the old records is a perfect counterpoint – – it’s a crazy mishmash!  Religious, profane, silly.

“Christmas” music encompasses hallowed hymns, ancient carols, Disney tunes, sentimental lounge acts, soul, singing chipmunks, mariachi remixes, etc.   Poems of beauty and spirituality set to music, mix with “fa la la’s” when the carolers forgot the words after a few bowls of wassail.

“White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Let It Snow!” etc. all written by nice Jewish guys.

There are essential messages that come  “upon a midnight clear,” or with the Hanukkah Festival of Lights.  The messages are not confused.  They are absolutely clear and wonderful.

But we’re also allowed to celebrate and even cherish all this crazy confusion  — the old, sometimes cheesy music, the crazy meals,and the crazy relatives.  And different beliefs.

Up & Out of frozen ruts for the new year — try something new and random, mix it up.  There’s an old Royal Navy toast “To the Confusion of Our Enemies,”  but I wish a dash of confusion and mayhem, in the best possible way, for my friends.

We will not always have a perfect comprehension of everything.

We will not always understand everything, and everyone.

Pick out some people who’ve always confused us, and even if we don’t really understand them, be understanding.

We’re never going to understand everything and everyone, but we may just find something new and rewarding amidst the confusion.

I don’t know why people believe what they believe, or like the music they do, or eat beet soup, or wear ugly sweaters, or get religion, or lose faith, or fall in love.

So in the new year, I’m going to try to keep an open mind, even if it means sometimes living in a state of confusion.

I hope everybody is having a lovely merry & muddled ol’ time this holiday season!

 

 

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Alternate History, Colonial History, History, Pantheon, statue, Uncategorized

Learning All About History By Looking At Statues. Chapter III “A Tale of A Forgotten Colony”

Harold, of the House of Hamburg

Kammerjunker Harold, of the House of Hamburg

 

Old postcards, of a no-longer-extant statue, lead me to an interesting bit of early American history.

In college, I became interested in the study of colonial emigration to North America.  It’s a field that’s rich, complex, and often surprising.

Why would people suddenly leave the Old Country, with all the Shakespeare plays, great wines, fun accents, Eiffel towers, etc. and go live in a wilderness?

Religious wars, family squabbles, a gradual weariness with eating bread soaked in olive oil, are the usual back stories.  Escape from feudalism and blood feuds, incessant bagpipe and accordion playing, and other loud wheezing kinds of sounds, from aristocrats and their drafty castles.  But this statue tells one of the other, less-well-known motivations, and thereby hangs a tale.

One of the most powerful royal families in Europe, the Hapsburgs were a case study in inbreeding.  They suffered from an exaggerated chin (“Hapsburg jaw”), gout, depression, dropsy, and an overfondness for Bourbons.

Their cousins, the House of Hamburg, had all these hereditary problems, and more.

Including, in a few cases, and not to put too fine a point on it, tails.

The Hamburgs are usually only remembered now, because their difficulty in chewing caused them to create ground-meat patties, which became popular for a time as “hamburgers”.

 

 

Examine the portrait above – –  around this nobleman’s neck hangs a tiny dead sheep.

Now look at the pedestal in the picture below, with its goat heads.

What are the artists trying to tell us?

 

 

The pedestal was inscribed “Postremo superbia semper,” and “Last to leave the fight,” although a more literal translation would be, “Bringing up the rear with pride”

A sword hilt is visible, but in fact, the Hamburgs never carried on their persons, so much as cuticle scissors, due to a neurotic aversion to the sight of blood.

The hilt is just a prop.

Poking out from under the cape, disguised as a scabbard, but fooling no one, we see the hereditary Hamburg tail.

The family fled the Old World — which had turned it’s back on them  – – subjected to persecution, and often painfully pinched, when people were too quick to slam shut those enormous bronze doors they have on castles and churches.

Aristocrats who were destined to never sit upon a throne, because they just couldn’t sit comfortably on anything other than ottomans.

Off they went to America, back to fundamentals, to establish a new family seat, a place to rear their young.

But their New World colony “Hinterland” (near present-day Piscataway) was short-lived and tragic, and with the exception of a huge number of porcelain cats, no artifacts of any note have been unearthed at the site.   Why did they settle on that particular spot?  No one knows.  The Hamburgs, famously articulated in some ways, never clearly articulated their plans.

They left, but didn’t leave a note, and probably became extinct or something.

So there’s really no reason to talk about them anymore.

 

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Yesterday we walked by plantations of white pines and spruce,  remnants of old apple orchards, lovely red sugar maples, beeches, hornbeams, and hophornbeams.

Those last two trees are pictured above.

Of the two, I prefer the hophornbeam.

I mean, who wants a hornbeam that just sits there?

I find it’s true that Nature abhors a vacuum – –

ambling along,  pretty much totally vacant of thought,

empty-headed,

so Nature provided a little wake-up call – –

two ruffed grouse, alway wiseguys, suddenly shot up,

like whirring rockets.

I’ve never gotten a picture of a grouse,

just a few minor heart attacks,

when they suddenly blast off,

three feet in front of my face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’d gone into a stretch of hemlocks, where it’s always a bit darker,

and getting along toward sundown,

so we’d decided to head back, while we could still see the trail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But first we walked just a bit down the hill,

to listen to the creek,

and look at the tiny waterfalls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And found a shrine-like assemblage of pebbles on the bank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little heart-shaped stones were tucked every which way into crevices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know, damn hippies.

This won’t gladden the hearts of most hikers I know,

who are fundamentally opposed to leaving any alteration or trace of human activity in the woods.

And humans being humans, they kinda overdid things,

maybe just a tad,

so it ended up looking like a Neolithic dump,

just after Valentine’s Day in the Stone Age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there were no beer cans, cigarette butts, or shell casings,

and to be honest,

I kind of got a kick out of this particular little display of weirdness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why am I always thinking about food? I saw these lovely ferns, and all I could think was, how come there’s never a good salad bar in the woods, when you need one.  With those little croutons.

 

Autumn, Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, Ithaca, NY, photography, Public Art, Uncategorized, United States, Upstate New York, Valentine's Day

Pictures of Upstate New York. October. Corazón de piedra

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