June 2005

…is give cinderblocks a chance!

One last image from the campus of Keene State College before I drive off into the sunrise on my 11-hour way to Ohio to visit my family. While I’m on the road and in only occasional online contact, you can pass the time by re-visiting posts from my last Ohio trip, which are located here, here, here, and here. Enjoy, and I’ll see you from the next Internet oasis.

The campus of Keene State College is looking mighty green (and empty) these days now that summer’s in full force. One of the things I love about Keene State is the fact that they don’t drench their lawns with clover-killing chemicals. So if you were to stretch out flat on Fisk Quad right now, you could spend many an hour looking for four-leaf clovers…and feeling damned lucky in the process.

Speaking of feeling damned lucky, the sticky weather here in Keene has finally broken: yesterday’s 80-degree temperature and 70-degree dewpoint have both dropped by some 30 points. Thanks to Rurality for her comments explaining (in words even I could understand) the difference between dewpoint and relative humidity. Whichever number you consider, today is much more comfortable than yesterday, and I’m feeling grateful for a good night’s sleep under covers.

So whether I’m counting sheep, dewpoint, or clover leaflets, things are looking mighty nice from the ground here in Keene right now. I guess you could say we’re in clover.

Thank you, dear sweet Jesus, for that modern technological marvel known as central air conditioning…and for those life-saving places that offer it along with free wifi!

We’ve continued to swelter (or is that sautee?) in humidity here in southern New Hampshire: although a drenching downpour finally broke the heat late last night, the percentage of humidity in the air is still in the 90s. Yesterday when I walked the dog early in an attempt to see if morning fog is any cooler than evening haze, the air was so saturated I could feel occasional drops of water condensing on my skin like raindrops. Then again, those occasional drops of condensation could have been sweat since I’ve been doing a lot of that, too. Yesterday afternoon, in an attempt to make up for the sticky sleep I didn’t get the night before, I took a brief catnap and woke up drenched, again: you know it’s hot when the simple act of sleeping makes you feel like you’re in a perpetual sauna.

Needless to say, my apartment doesn’t have air conditioning, just a handful of window fans that have done nothing but move the moisture-laden air around, nonstop, for the past few days. Sticky air that moves is a step up from sticky air that stagnates, weighing down upon you like a wet wool blanket, but fans do nothing to alleviate the sluggishness that comes with humidity. Yes, there’s temporary relief from the heat in a nice cool shower…until you step out of that shower and discover that even a pile of towels won’t dry you, the wetness on your skin matching the moisture in the air. Whoever said that “women don’t sweat, they perspire, and ladies don’t perspire, they glow” never visited southern New Hampshire in the summertime: lady or no, I’m certainly a woman, and I definitely have been sweating these past few days, the luxury of “clean, fresh clothes” being an ephemeral delight that quickly transforms into “another sweat-sticky outfit.”

Last night, I finally couldn’t take it any more. Those of you who live in hotter climes are probably chuckling at my lack of resilience as I whine about temperatures that have “only” been in the 80s (with humidity in the 90s, I’d add!) But those of you who live in hotter climes typically enjoy the benefits of air conditioning, the travails of a Southern summer being broken into manageable pieces as you move from air conditioned house to air conditioned car to air conditioned workplace and back. As for me, I’m working from home this summer, and not even my car has air conditioning. So last night after I couldn’t take the ubiquitous damp any more, I packed my laptop and books and headed to Panera Bread to enjoy their free wifi, ample air conditioning, and a tasty sandwich. After stagnating and being less-than-fully productive for days, last night I zipped through a batch of online papers and had time for dinner, web-surfing, and a handful of surreptitious pencam shots as well. It’s true. After sweltering (or is that sauteeing?) in my apartment for far too long, last night I found the cool, dry delight of Breaded Bliss.

Just another graffito

Parked cars

The recent weather here in southern New Hampshire has provided particular challenges for walking. It’s been hazy, hot, and humid, so walking during the daytime is uncomfortable. Reggie is part chow, so he’s furred for cooler climes. Walking in the woods is cool enough…but there are both mosquitoes and black flies to consider. Walking somewhere where Reggie can swim is the ideal solution…but on weekends and even afternoons, local parks and swimming holes are crowded. Walking in-town is still best for bug-free strolls, but walking on pavement in scorching heat produces a panting, drooping doggie. What’s a peripatetic dog owner to do?

For the past few days, I’ve been walking Reg after dinner, in the crepuscular pause before the sun goes down. As luck would have it, we’ve been having afternoon thunderstorms these past few days, so these twilight hours are also moody, with dark skies and knotted clouds. It’s a delightfully contemplative time to walk the usual streets: a chance to see the same old downtown in an entirely different light. As much as I love downtown Keene in fully sunny brilliance, stormy twilight skies lend a timeless tone to the place, transforming today’s setting into something out of a photo from long ago.

Orange construction webbing

Henry David Thoreau loved to walk his usual diurnal haunts after dark. His 1851 journal recounts several night walks in which he admired the usual landscape in an unaccustomed guise. In his entry for June 11, Thoreau noted the “colder damp & misty atmosphere” he encountered, remarking “There is something creative & primal in the cool mist.” (For another passage from this same journal entry, see yesterday’s entry in Thoreau’s blog.) Thoreau was a prodigious walker who knew the countryside around Concord, MA like the back of his hand…and yet darkness transformed this familiar place into a misty wonderland where even the most ordinary objects seemed strange and mysterious.

Dog-walking is the most mundane of pursuits: it’s something you do everyday. And yet a simple shift in when you do it is transformative; suddenly the same old routine is somehow slightly different. Although I won’t be sad to see an end to these hazy, hot, and humid days, I might have to continue my crepuscular walks. They say that nighttime is the right time, and when it comes to walking, this might be a true saying indeed.

    Update: To those of you who have followed my meditation audio-blog Creative Mindfulness, please note that I’ve resumed posting (albeit with a non-audio post) after a two-week blog-break. Enjoy!)

Hotel Pharmacy

Yes, I still shoot odd camera angles, even when I’m wandering out-of-state. Yesterday afternoon I took a drive to Brattleboro to walk the streets and browse the shops there: a short junket to Keene’s Vermont sister.

Ivy wall

The last time I was in Brattleboro, I was seeking signatures from my ex-husband to dissolve the Zen Group we’d started some five years ago; the time before that, I was seeking signatures from my ex-husband to dissolve our marriage. Neither of these visits was a fun one: I have a particularly vivid memory of my visit last September when Chris and I went to his bank to get our just-signed divorce papers notarized. “Have a nice day!” the notary enthused as we stood to walk away: apparently she hadn’t read the heading on the documents we’d signed (nor noted the strain in my blanched face) to realize Chris and I had just with a signature ended a relationship that had spanned our entire adult lives.

Since Brattleboro is where my ex-husband has lived for the past ten months, it is a haunted town for me. Before we separated, I’d been to Brattleboro only with Chris: we’d occasionally go there to browse shops or go out to eat with his brother and sister-in-law. After Chris moved to Brattleboro, it became his town, a place I visited only when I was coming to do “official business with the ex.” The chance of running into Chris on the street, either alone or (worse yet) accompanied, was too big a risk: what fun is there in visiting a town where the potential for awkward agony lurks behind every corner?

Carter's Little Liver Pills

Now that Chris has moved back to Massachusetts–back, in fact, to the Cambridge Zen Center, where we’d lived together for over two years–Brattleboro is free for reclamation. Just as I tried to exorcise my Cambridge Zen Center ghosts by meeting up with new-found blog-buddies there, yesterday I walked the streets of Brattleboro in an attempt to take back the town. Brattleboro never was our town, and it no longer is his town, so there’s nothing preventing it from being my town, a place I can freely visit without fear of ghostly visitations: an exorcised place that bears the shadow of bad memories but is now ready to be cleared of its karma.

Chris always said he’d love to live in Brattleboro, and I always countered that it was a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there, Brattleboro being more crowded and less walkable than my beloved Keene. After a mere ten months, Chris ended up hating Brattleboro because it wasn’t lively enough: knowing no one and having made few friends, he felt both lonely and alone, facing ghosts of his own as he too struggles to move on.


If only one of us can have Cambridge, I’ll take Brattleboro in return. It’s fine and good to say you’ll stay friends with your ex, but those awkward agonies intervene. While Chris is living at CZC–and especially after his girlfriend moves in to join him there–I’ll practice elsewhere. Although it’s a cliche to say a town like Cambridge isn’t big enough for the both of us, there’s truth behind the truism. Whether or not I’m comfortable running into Chris on the streets of Cambridge or meditating alongside him at CZC, there’s his space to consider as well: as he starts a new life with a new girl in a place we once shared, I myself don’t want to be the “ghost of relationships past,” a specter who hovers above a space they are trying to reclaim.

When we lived together at CZC and I’d go on long retreats, it always comforted me to know that there were other folks in the Zen Center who would look after Chris while I was gone, some sort of sublimated maternal instincts leading me to believe he “needed” my tending. Walking the strange streets of Brattleboro yesterday, I realized that it could indeed be a sad and lonely place if you landed there knowing no one. In Cambridge at least, Chris will have the comfort of a whole house of other people, the prospect of companionship being as close as his own kitchen. Here in Keene, I’ve occasionally felt alone but rarely lonely, surrounded as I am with work colleagues, a handful of nearby friends, and a larger network of cherished ones that transcends the boundaries of this or any town. For as long as he needs it or until he again grows disenchanted, Chris can have Cambridge. As for me, I’ve always had Keene, and now I’ll reclaim Brattleboro, the ghost town he left behind.

Brattleboro Books

Corner mural

Parked motorcycles

And yes, a quintessential Hoarded Ordinaries image: still life with shop window, mannequin, and reflection of Yours Truly:

Sidewalk treasures

Leslee & Dave peruse poetry

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Nerdy. Although I would never dare to suggest that either Leslee or Dave is a nerd, I think it says something about my nerdy ways that this photo of the two of them–snapped in a New York City bookstore after we’d visited The Gates with Abdul-Walid–is one of my favorite images from that February trip. Want a snapshot of happening New York City nightlife as imagined by Yours Truly? Here you have it: a bunch of bloggers in a bookstore. How nerdy is that?

Not having a green thumb (nor a garden) of my own, these days I enjoy the fruit (and the blossoms) of other people’s toil. Simply walking down a residential street here in Keene these days is a treat for the senses, with everyone’s gardens blooming to the brim with tantalizing lovelies.

And yet, looks can (of course) be deceiving. Although this ornamental garden sprite is the very picture of winsome innocence as she sits demurely on a leafy perch, she hides a deadly secret behind one wing. I saw a hint of spider legs stirring from behind this statue and stuck my digicam behind one wing to take an upside down blind shot; the result is blurry but conclusive. A dime-sized predatory spider has found plenty of food to feed her fat and furry self in this otherwise tranquil garden. Have passing insects been lured into blissful oblivion by the presumed protection of fairy wings? If so, they’ve faced a bitter surprise: a poisonous death wrought by chitinous fangs. Elves may themselves be innocent, but beware the neighbors they harbor.

Perhaps I myself am like a predatory spider, hanging around other people’s gardens, armed with a digicam, picking off the best and most tasty bits. Surely the owners of this house and garden enjoy the fruit (and the blossoms) of their summer labors, but haven’t I enjoyed them equally, skimming the cream of the crop without lifting a finger in exchange? It seems unfair to benefit from other’s toil, and yet isn’t the natural world filled to the brim with such unfairness?

Is it because I’m short that I so habitually take upward-looking photos? I’ve blogged previously about my penchant for looking up: is this a psychological trait or merely a photographic quirk? True, I like the look of sky and love the jutting angles of overlapping eaves…but why don’t I photograph more full facades or even (dare I suggest it) entire buildings? Why the bits, pieces, and random corners; why, given the prospect of brilliant orange flowers against a striking architectural facade, do I almost inevitably shoot the picture from ground level looking up rather than from a “normal” horizontal perspective?

Last year when I met Fred First, he called me on my affinity for odd angles. We were walking toward the North Bridge in Concord, MA, and I stopped to take this picture of a sign hawking the site’s cell phone audio tour. As I started to shoot the image from my usual perspective–askance–Fred winced. “No, shoot it straight on,” he insisted, it being obvious that the thought of a crooked camera angle was as appealing to him as the sound of nails on a chalkboard. I remember laughing and complying…after, of course, I took at least one off-kilter shot. Of the pictures I took, of course the straight-on shot looked the best, but you’ll never hear me telling Fred that.

Perhaps it’s telling that two of my all-time favorite Emily Dickinson poems contain the word “slant”; could it be I simply have an affinity for the Odd? Yes, Fred, signs should be shot straight-on…but to my eye, buildings still look best when shot askance, their lines and angles accentuated. Is it a fitting irony that when I Googled those two Emily Dickinson poems, I discovered that today is the birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright, the undisputed king of architectural angle? I doubt that even a straight-shooter like Fred First could find a way of photographing Fallingwater straight-on; somehow, Wright’s iconic buildings simply beg to be viewed askew. There is in Manchester, NH a house that Wright designed, and inexplicably I’ve never seen much less toured it. Given the way I inevitably photograph even the most straight-up-and-down edifice, though, surely you can imagine how I’d see and shoot angularity.

Tell me, quick: which first catches your eye. The sign or the ivy which surrounds it?

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