My next few posts are going to be pictures from the Corning Glass Museum.

This is part of my series “Shameless Plugs for Upstate New York” – – my icy, crumbling, semi-medieval homeland.

The museum is a highlight of the “Southern Tier.”

This is the area along the Pennsylvania border, more often synonymous with job loss, aging population, and population loss.

Unless you’re making cheese, or meth, you’re often unemployed.

So Corning, NY, about four hours from New York City, seems a strange setting for a huge, rich treasure trove of ancient and modern glass – – that symbol of beauty, fragility, and civilization.

The explanation is the Corning Glass Company — operating here since 1868.

They’ve made glassware, windshields, Pyrex, Corelle, the telescope mirror for the Palomar Observatory, photochromatic lenses, and the glass for Edison’s light bulbs.

One of their offshoots, Steuben Glass, now defunct, made engraved pieces, for more than a century, that the White House used to present to foreign dignitaries, etc.

More recently, the company’s invented catalytic converters, touchscreens, and fiber optic cable.

But getting back to the museum.

Artists make pilgrimages here from around the world.

The bowl in the photograph has been on display, I think, since the 1980’s, and has always been one my favorites.

“Cityscape” is by Jay Munger, a California artist.

A Pyrex bowl, cut, sandblasted, and painted.




1980's, Art, Finger Lakes, FLX, NY, United States, Upstate New York

Pictures of Upstate New York. Corning Glass Museum.

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

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.

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!













Boy, what a difference an hour makes.

I was looking at snapshots taken some time ago, on my cellphone.

I think both of these pictures are a bit awkward – –

but I also thought they were interesting, because of the change in atmosphere.

They were taken just a couple of yards from each other, same day, one hour apart.

The first picture looks “seasonal” and almost festive, nice red winterberries (thanks Linda & Steve for identifying!)

Reminds me of cranberries, which I love.

An hour later, the swamp presents quite a different aspect, kinda spooky.

Reminds me of a ham dinner with too much cranberry relish – a portrait of the atmosphere in my stomach.

The dark blobs on the dead trees in the background, just barely visible, are nests in a blue heron rookery heronry.

BTW, a lot of people, none of them birders, have told me that herons kill off the trees they roost in.

I don’t know if herons seek out dead, mostly limbless trees, because they’re somewhat awkward fliers, and can’t navigate through branches, or if it’s true, what the old folks around here say, that by pooping on the trees day after day, they actually kill them off.

I’m not sure how that would be fatal, but it certainly seems like it would be discouraging.

I remember reading about a primitive tribe, that rather than trying to cut down trees, to clear a field for cultivation, would get up very early each morning, and whack the tree with a club, while yelling at it.

The theory was that the pre-dawn shock killed the tree.

I figure the tribespeople were eventually severing the phloem layer, girdling it, and that’s what killed the tree, but who knows.

Doesn’t it seem an awful lot like waking up to talk radio in the USA?

Caveman thinking & poo-flinging in a dismal swamp.

Heron excrement, Stone Age tree-clubbing, or paranoid rabble-rousers — may not be fatal, but it’s surely discouraging.

As one rookery tree said to another — all this crap just has to be taking years off our lives.

On a happier note, from the album “In My Tribe”

Here’s 10,000 Maniacs with Natalie Merchant “Like the Weather”

Obviously not taken in December! But wouldn’t they make nice Xmas tree decorations?  Same location, during the summer – – I think I mentioned some time ago, seeing buttonbush – – this is the area  where I always see it.  Sterling, NY, on the shore of Lake Ontario.

Finger Lakes, FLX, Frostbite, Nature, NY, Ontario, United States, Upstate New York, Winter

Pictures of Upstate New York. December. Sterling Swamp

Colonial History, Dental, George Washington, Public Art, Sculpture, statue, United States

Stumping for President (Learning All About History By Looking at Statues. Chapter I )


I want to achieve two goals with this post.


Inaugurate a new series “Learning History By Looking At Statues, Before They’re All Taken Down”.


I don’t want my kid sister to feel badly about not having a driver’s license.


Geo. Washington, in the park. Sometimes stumped, often defeated, but never beaten. Carried through the Revolution by his single-minded drive, and a horse.


Dear Sis –

George Washington was a great man.

He fought the French, he fought the English, he fought the Hessians, and he fought the Whiskey Rebellion.

And despite all that, he isn’t seen as a hostile guy, everybody thinks he’s a great guy.


Like many otherwise nice, intelligent people…

He.  Could.  Not.  Parallel.  Park.

Look at this statue.  This happened all the time.

Stuck  on  a  stump.

Because he just couldn’t parallel park.

“Martha?  Can you give me a lift?  There’s something the matter with this horse again.”

And did he give up?  I do not think so.



What is carved on the base of this statue?  A quotation from the Marquis de Lafayette:

Il est un conducteur terrible.     Mais il est toujours un grand homme”

“He is a terrible driver, but still, a great man.”

Washington was a lesson in perseverance, and overcoming all obstacles in your path.  Except granite curbs.  And light poles.  Stray shopping carts, too.




Now, here he’s crossing the Delaware.

Why would you do that in a little boat, standing up, when the river’s full of ice?

Because you cannot get your horse to go around the safety cones, on the bridge to New Jersey.

So you don’t give up, you take the ferry.

You just have to keep trying.  And re-taking the driving test.  I will give you driving lessons over the holidays.

But not with my car.














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,


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

FLX, hiking, NY, politics, Uncategorized, United States, Upstate New York

Zen Stone Stacking & the Art of Auto Maintenance

We’d been walking along the shore of Lake Ontario,and stopped to watch the sailboats and drink some water.

A very nice lady saw us fooling with these rocks, and asked if we were professional artists, and if she could photograph our “stone stacking.”

It almost seemed like she was serious, so I told her, we artists prefer our creations to be called “Cobble Assemblages”.  And that we’re novices, from the Spiral Jetty School, working our way up to pyramids and standing stone circles.

No money is required to view them, but an offering of fresh fruit is appreciated.


This strange little hobby, stacking up stones, “rock balancing” seems to have really caught on.

We’ve run across them in stream beds, woods, parks, even on the berms near shopping malls.

Sometimes there are so many, it appears a Neolithic cult is out there in the woods.


What is the point of this?  I’ve heard a lot of people take this pretty seriously, saying “it’s kind of a Zen thing,” finding the center of gravity of these eccentric objects, and easing you into a contemplative state.

OK.  Sure, you bet.

That sounds “a bit much,” New Age nonsense, and the funny thing is, I think they’re kind of right.

This balancing act takes focus, maybe even discipline.



I’m thinking, as we gravely heft the rocks and find the center of gravity, it’s kind of like politics.

Whether a box of rocks, or the electorate, or that portion of the electorate that resembles a box of rocks, it takes an artist to find the center, to balance every component, including the unstable and unbalanced.   This is rock stacking, kids, not mud slinging, not casting stones.

When you do this stacking thing, you don’t select only perfectly flat rocks, where’s the challenge in that?

To be a sportin’ proposition, you have to take ’em as you find ’em.

That’s not to say, that sometimes, you get frustrated, it’s just not working, and you just chunk it back into the water, to get a few rough edges knocked off, or it can swim back to Canada, and wait for the next glacier to bring it south again, a bit more polished.

Politics is also supposed to somehow build things, using all of us lumpy, uncooperative, odd people, being gathered together to build something, say, a city on the hill.



My sister sings while she gathers stones, and the music reminds me of an old metaphor used in politics  — the “bandwagon,” and I’ve always liked that image – – a big, brassy, hurly-burly, rock ‘n’roll hell-on-wheels.

Like taking a bunch of kids on a car trip – – just an unholy load of mischief, loud and unruly.  Off-tune singing in the back seat, a bit smelly from sunblock and bug repellent, missed turns, negotiating over radio stations, seating assignments, fast food stops, arguments and sharp elbows.

But after an eternity or two, you do get to the beach, and everybody pitches in to build some beautiful sandcastles, or, in our rocky part of the world, a cool stone stack.

Bandwagon or stone stack, it has to find a place for everybody — leaning left, leaning right, centrist, positive, negative, neutral.

Doesn’t that sound kind of fun?  “Come on, blow your own horn if you must, but everybody up on the bandwagon.”

(And in the case of many politicians, we can add “Stay on the wagon!”)

It has to be a big ol’ wagon.

Not a buggy of the extreme and the angry.

The surly with the lunatic fringe on top.


A cairn by environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, in Sapsucker Woods, the preserve around the Cornell Ornithology Lab, in Ithaca, NY

~ ~ ~

We had a huge old car once, that kept turning over, even after it was switched off, mindlessly “dieseling,” kind of like it had a coughing jag, and couldn’t stop.

Like a lot of folks, I find it can be surprisingly hard to shut your thoughts off, like that old car, definitely not firing on all cylinders, but just spluttering along.

Like some of our public figures, the car was too greasy, too much carbon buildup, too much hot gas coming out the back end.

Missing filters, endless idling, running on and on, throwing a smoke screen, leaking oil into the ground water.  Chugging along, backfiring out half-digested dinosaur crap.

Our system right now, it appears some wiseguy snuck in, and switched the spark plug wires around, firing all out of order.

Like taking a Cadillac, all rose-tinted glass and a plush ride, in for a tuneup, to a shady shadetree mechanic.

And that bad grease monkey fast-talks us into trading for a rusted-out Gremlin, with no muffler, twisted axis, sorry, I mean, axle, and bad tie rods, so it keeps swerving to the right, and into the gutter.

~ ~ ~

Stone stacking helps us relax.  You focus and forget about squabbles and arguments.

And when you don’t focus, you drop a rock on your toe, which sure takes your mind off less pressing concerns.

Like politicking, we’re just childishly happy to shut down any higher brain functions, and see Just How High Can We Pile It, before it all falls over.

~ ~ ~ ~

Meanwhile… we were On The Beach.

The lake shore we’re hiking along is a shingle — tons of piled-up pebbles, so we weren’t prying stones out of the ground and contributing to erosion, or disturbing a stream bed, etc.

Sometimes it’s fun to poke at a few things with a stick, and see what crawls out from under a rock, but we’ve had quite enough of that lately.

A  key thing with these stone stacks:  they’re not cairns, memorials, or markers, so take them apart when you’re done.  Some of the ones we’ve seen, are big enough, they seem like a survivalist’s deadfall trap for little kids.

It falls under the “Leave No Trace” law of the woods.

Leave no stone un-returned.

And for heaven’s sake let’s get some bright new spark plugs and a tuneup for that heap.








We’ve had plenty of rain in Upstate New York this summer, so the countryside is lush and green.

A steady stream of storms hanging over our heads.  A summer flooded with talk of swollen swamps, mushrooms and clouds.

And now, talk of mushroom clouds.

The sound of running water fills the damp woods, and I’ve been taking photos of pretty rivulets, graced with ferns and arching tree limbs.

But yesterday, while listening to the news about Korea, I saw this shot, of black shale in an unnamed stream, and it suited my mood.

A geology website informs us that this little waterfall runs through a “dissected plateau” – – layers of shale, sandstone, and limestone.

“Dissect” always has an unpleasant connotation to me, of high school biology class.

Personally, I like my frogs live and hopping.

The rocks are dull-colored and lifeless-looking, but if you pry open some of the layers, they’re teaming with fossils.

The ancient creatures embedded in the rock, probably thought things were going ok, and went about their business, but in some layers, the density of their remains, speaks of mass die-offs.

These were lower lifeforms, I guess they never saw it coming.

Sounding a bit downbeat!  So what to do?

I suggest…go take a walk.  Enjoy the green woods and the sound of waterfalls.

One of my favorite presidents, Harry Truman, used to walk two miles every day.

Following his walk, he then had one shot of bourbon.

If you feel an affection or need for clubs, ok, do your walking on a golf course.

Harry did not play golf.  He just took a brisk little hike, and shook hands with people he met.

He used an old-fashioned word to describe his walk:  his morning “constitutional”.

These are clearly winning concepts:  Take a walk.  Take a drink.  Shake hands.  Constitutional.

I don’t think there’s too many people, after more than sixty years, who care deeply about MacArthur’s dismissal.  If you’re not a student of history, MacArthur was our top general, when we were fighting in Korea.  Truman decided he’d gotten too big for his britches, and we couldn’t have a military leader who was arrogant, contemptuous, disrespectful and reckless.   Korea was a bad place to be reckless.

And Harry sent him walking.








hiking, Not humorous, politics, Uncategorized, United States

Sometimes it’s a waterfall, and sometimes, it’s just things going downhill