Autumn bouquet

Nicolette sent me a photo of a recent bouquet she created for a September bride. So lovely. 

New Kings of Convenience album

Kings of Convenience's new album, after a 5-year wait, is finally here. Influenced by Brazilian music, it's a collection of delicate tunes perfectly suited for a melancholic day like today. I also love the picture on the cover.


Rainy Sunday

It's a rainy sunday and I just want to spend the day looking at beautiful pictures, like this one by Jacqui Hurst. The oak bench around the tree is by the English sculptor Alison Crowther. I wish I could make things like that. 


Autumn leaves and such

Little treasures collected this morning.



My dahlias from the Farmers Market. There's nothing like dahlias to cheer up the autumn garden. Originally discovered in Mexico in 1615 by a Spaniard, the dahlia was also noticed in the same country by the French botanist Nicolas-Joseph Thiéry de Menonville in 1787. It was not until 1789, when the first dahlia – grown from seed sent from Mexico City to Spain – flowered and was named Dahlia coccinea, after the 18th-century Swedish botanist Anders Dahl, by the head of the Madrid Botanical Garden. There are now thousands of cultivars in a riot of colors, and they add cheerful notes to the garden as autumn wraps its bronze hues among the plants. In Japan, the dahlia is called Tenjikubotan, meaning "Peony of India." I like the rather unpretentious dahlias, such relative newcomers in the garden, for their unfussy habit and lovely colors. Around this time of year, they can enliven a garden, or a room, far better than the ubiquitous mums, which get planted by the tons in corporate parks, suburban yards, and outside so-called luxury apartment buildings around the city.

Rugged Beauty

This is Teardrop Park, where Lily has known many happy hours in the last few years. It is an extraordinary park, with the rugged beauty of the Catskills, squeezed in between four unpromising apartment towers in Battery Park City. Into this urban context, Michael Van Valkenberg set out to design  on landfill – ie a site that "never had nature because it's... composed of fill from the original excavation of the World Trade Center" – a park that takes its cues from the landscape of the Hudson River Valley, injecting a heavy dose of robust naturalism into the site. To accomplish this feat, over 1,900 tons of bluestone, granite and limestone from upstate were used. Over 80 percent of the plants are native to New York State, ensuring a year-round attraction to birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Winding paths, rolling hills and steep slopes create a beautiful topography, full of opportunities for discoveries. The pièce-de-resistance in this design gem is the Ice Wall, which Van Valkenberg created in conjunction with the artist Ann Hamilton. It is a 27-foot long bluestone wall whose jagged rock face evokes a mountainside. In the summer, water seeps through the rocks, and in winter, icicles hang from them. My favorite parts are the nooks and crannies in the marsh and hills for the children and adults alike to explore. Despite the apartment buildings towering above, it's not hard to get lost among the plantings and feel as though you're in a Catskill glen.


The Sea

Bolinas, December 2008

On a visit to the library last week with Lily, I picked up Graham Swift's account of his writer life, Making an Elephant, and hardly put it down until I read the last page. Waterland and Last Orders have long been on my list of books to read, but I haven't come anywhere near reading them. I just haven't the urge to read novels lately. But essays pull me in, and Making an Elephant is a collection of essays on subjects as diverse as the genius of Montaigne to the love of the seaside. In the chapter "I do Like to Be Beside the Sea," originally a lecture delivered to a group of French academics in Nice, Swift wrote, "Whatever else the sea is, it's not us, it's the beyond. It makes us feel, and even be reconciled to, our insignificance. It's the great place which is no place, where no one lives. The sea is destiny, eternity, oblivion, death." Last Christmas, our family convened in a house by the sea in Bolinas, where we sat late into the the early morning hours around a big table, nursing our grief for our deceased father. His departure in the spring had cast us all adrift, and in those brief days by the sea, we laughed and cried in equal measure. By gathering ourselves in that tiny town on the coast, we peeled back the years to our childhood by the Pacific, when we grew up deliriously happy together under the watchful eyes of our father. Now his absence hovered around us, binding us once again even as distance and time separate us inexorably. I am reminded of this very special time, a tiny capsule in the sea where I've cast my life, a while ago when my brother Dai sent us, all his brothers and sisters, an email at 3:30 AM Pacific time, telling us he couldn't sleep and missed us all very much. "I miss you all..." I read those words, hurtled across a whole continent, in the pale morning light and was shattered.


Resurrection Fern

In our days we will live 
Like our ghosts will live:
Pitching glass at the cornfield crows 
And folding clothes 

Like stubborn boys across the road 
We'll keep everything:
Grandma's gun and the black bear claw 
That took her dog 

When Sister Lowery says, "Amen" 
We won't hear anything:
The ten-car trains will take that word 
That fledgling bird 

And the fallen house across the way 
It'll keep everything:
The baby's breath
Our bravery wasted and our shame

And we'll undress beside the ashes of the fire 
Both our tender bellies wound in baling wire 
All the more a pair of underwater pearls 
Than the oak tree and its resurrection fern

In our days we will say 
What our ghosts will say:
We gave the world what it saw fit 
And what'd we get?

Like stubborn boys with big green eyes 
We'll see everything:
In the timid shade of the autumn leaves 
And the buzzard's wing 

And we'll undress beside the ashes of the fire 
Our tender bellies are wound around in baling wire 
All the more a pair of underwater pearls 
Than the oak tree and its resurrection fern 

I have been listening to Iron and Wine's song Resurrection Fern obsessively these last couple of days. I had always liked this song but never truly listened to it until two days ago. The lyrics are redolent with rural imagery , like "pitching glass at the cornfield crows and folding clothes" in the stunning first verse. Then there is the reference to Evelyn Lowery, the civil rights activist. Later on, more imagery of the rural landscape: "in the timid shade of autumn leaves" and "buzzard's wing." But the chorus has the most beautiful lines: "And we'll undress beside the ashes of the fire; Our tender bellies are wound around in baling wire; All the more a pair of underwater pearls; Than the oak tree and its resurrection fern." Again, there is the rural reference: baling wire, an ubiquitous object around farms used for repairing fences and such. "Tender bellies... wound around in baling wire... beside the ashes of the fire" is an astonishingly evocative image, and Sam Beam's plaintive voice rises with insistence as he sings these words, as if to underscore their emotional weight.  Then the juxtaposition of "a pair of underwater pearls" – equals in beauty and out of reach – as opposed to "the oak tree and its resurrection fern" – two intertwined entities but one dependent on the other – is so visually forceful. Pearls – small, contained, hard to find – vs. oak tree & its resurrection fern – monumental, ever growing, in plain sight. Aqueous depth vs. aerial height. But the resurrection fern is a strange plant, with the rare ability to survive long periods of drought by curling up, appearing for intents and purposes dead, only to come back to life with the tiniest bit of water. Being an air plant, the resurrection fern's livelihood does not depend on soil but on the air and the bark of the tree to which it attaches itself. Beam closes the song with this powerful image – resurrection fern nimbly entwining itself along the bark of a stately live oak – which lingers,  with all its wider metaphorical meaning about life. Like all great art, this song takes me to a place unfamiliar and unknown to me, the rural South (Beam lives in Florida, where the resurrection fern grows in abundance) – a place that I honestly have little interest in – and shows its beauty to me. In a few words and a wistful melody, gentle acoustic guitar chords overlaid with a country twang from a steel guitar, it sends me on a journey to a foreign landscape, with glimpses of a life so different and yet full of resonance to my own.  The lyrics lend themselves to various interpretations, from the personal to the political – the South, the civil rights, and by implication, the legacy of slavery ("our bravery wasted, our shame"), but either way, the song is indescribably beautiful and tender.

Fall Attractions

Vermeer's Masterpiece: The Milkmaid
Metropolitan Museum

Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans
Metropolitan Museum

Jude Law in Hamlet

Just a few things I am looking forward to seeing soon.


Shimmering trees

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden today. I love these pale rosy mornings. The birds are stopping in the garden on their migration south, flitting in and out of trees, feasting on red juicy crabapples. I caught the moonflowers  (Ipomoea alba) just curling up after a night's blooming. Some of the roses are flowering again, flushed with dew. I walked happily among the trees, thinking of a line by Wilfred Owen:

     Murmuring by myriads in the shimmering trees."


Last look at summer

I'm just going through some photos of Lily from her trip to England with Julian and feeling quite wistful that another summer has come and gone. Soon I'll be missing that feeling of freedom that only a warm summer day out can bring.



My friend Sherry has created a line of textile for Fog Linen Work – a prestigious Japanese company specializing in linen home products – named after me. 


First Day of School

September 9, 2009 - First Day of Third Grade

September 2005  - First Day of Pre-K

My girl has grown so much. I will never forget that first day Lily ever went to school. She got up early and dressed herself, excited and apprehensive to be taking the bus all by herself to go to school. I insisted on photographing her on this momentous day, an act which saved me from breaking down into tears at seeing my girl leave the house on her own for the first time. I love and treasure that picture of her. I could see in her tiny frame so much determination, so many conflicting emotions all kept just under the surface. As I finished photographing her, she quietly turned around, stepped off the terrace, and took her first steps toward independence and into the world beyond my embrace.


Last day of Summer

Lily is going back to school tomorrow. This summer has passed by far too quickly for me. Lily and I have made the most of the last remaining days of summer, riding our bikes, going to the Red Hook pool, eating delicious Salvadoran pusadas from the food truck, and going to the library and the movies. We finished Gombrich's A Little History of the World, which left us with this bit of wisdom:

"Imagine time as a river, and that we are flying high above it in an aeroplane. Far below you can just make out the mountain caves of the mammoth-hunters, and the steppes where the first cereals grew. Those distant dots are the pyramids and the Tower of Babel. In these lowlands the Jews once tended their flocks. This is the sea the Phoenicians sailed across. What looks like a white star shining over there, with the sea on either side, is in fact the Acropolis, the symbol of Greek art. And there, on the other side of the world, are the great, dark forests where the Indian penitents withdrew to meditate and the Buddha experienced Enlightenment. Now we can see the Great Wall of China and, over there, the smouldering ruins of Carthage. In those gigantic stone funnels the Romans watched Christians being torn to pieces by wild beasts. The dark clouds on the horizon are thte storm clouds of the Migrations, and it was in those forests, beside the river, that the first monks converted and educated the Germanic tribes. Leaving the deserts over there behind them, the Arabs set out to conquer the world, and this is where Charlemagne ruled. On this hill the fortress still stands where the struggle between the pope and the emperor, over which of them was to dominate the world, was finally decided. We can see castles from the Age of Chivalry and, nearer still, cities with beautiful cathedrals – over there is Florence, and there the new St Peter's, the cause of Luther's quarrel with the Church. The city of Mexico is on fire, the Invincible Armada is being wrecked off England's coasts. That dense pall of smoke comes from burning villages and the bonfires on which people were burnt during the Thirty Years War. The magnificent chateau set in a great park is Louis XIV's Palace of Versailles. Here are the Turks encamped outside Vienna, and nearer still the simple castles of Frederick the Great and Maria Theresa. In the distance the cries of 'Liberty, Equality and Fraternity' reach us from the streets of Paris, and we can already see Moscow burning over there, and the wintry land in which the solders of the Last Conqueror's Grande Armée perished. Getting nearer, we can see smoke rising from factory chimneys and hear the whistle of railway trains. The Peking Summer Palace lies in ruins, and warships are leaving Japanese ports under the flag of the rising sun. Here, the guns of the World War are still thundering. Poison gas is drifting across the land. And over there, through the open dome of an observatory, a giant telescope directs the gaze of an astronomer towards unimaginably distant galaxies. But below us and in front of us there is nothing but mist, mist that is dense and impenetrable. All we know is that the river flows onwards. On and on it goes, towards an unknown sea.

But let us quickly drop down in our plane towards the river. From close up, we can see it is a real river, with rippling waves like the sea. A strong wind is blowing and there are little crests of foam on the waves. Look carefully at the millions of shimmering white bubbles rising and then vanishing with each wave. Over and over again, new bubbles come to the surface and then vanish in time with the waves. For a brief instant they are lifted on the wave's crest and then they sink down and are seen no more. We are like that. Each one of us no more than a tiny glimmering thing, a sparkling droplet on the waves of time which flow past beneath us into an unknown, misty future. We leap up, look around us and, before we know it, we vanish again. We can hardly be seen in the great river of time. New drops keep rising to the surface. And what we call our fate is no more than our struggle in that great multitude of droplets in the rise and fall of one wave. But we must make use of that moment. It is worth the effort."

I read the above passage to Lily again tonight at bedtime. I especially like the image of "each one of us no more than a tiny glimmering thing, a droplet on the waves" in the river of time. I feel the preciousness of time while Lily probably only sees its infinite stretch ahead. Nonetheless, Grombrich's exhortation for us to make the most of our time is something that I would like us both to keep in mind forever. 


Ted Hughes & T.S. Eliot

Above is Ted Hughes' journal entry on T. S. Eliot's death.

"A. told me casually 'T.S. Eliot died yesterday' – like a crack over the head, exactly, followed by headaches. Heavy after-effects. I've so tangled him into my thoughts, as the guru-in-chief, & dreamed of him so clearly & unambiguously that this will have consequences for me. At once I felt windswept, unsafe. At the same time, realized that from now on everything will be different. He was in my mind, constantly, like a rather over-watchful, over-powerful father, and now he has gone. I shall have to move - be able to move, maybe."