February 2006


Since taking a slew of photos at Goose Pond on Sunday, I’ve taken only a quick handful of photos of these icicles on a roof edge along the Ashuelot River, where I walked Reg in the bitter, windswept cold yesterday. Today, I coaxed Reg to “do his business” in the yard while I waited, fully bundled yet still shivering; it was simply too cold (in my opinion, at least) to go walking.

When it’s brutally cold, I tend to walk with my head down, face buried in my scarf and collar: it’s not exactly a posture that encourages looking up. And since thick gloves don’t lend themselves to shutterbugging, taking pictures means taking your gloves off, which isn’t something you do lightly in these bone-achingly low temperatures. Now that March will be racing in like a lion, I’m looking forward to the lamb-mild days of spring, which promise to arrive eventually. In the meantime, it tooks like I might be reduced to posting pictures taken from the warm inside looking out.

Diamond Dust

The aftermath of this weekend’s snowfall has been nearly picture-perfect. The six-or-so inches of snow that fell on Saturday were light as powder, which meant yesterday’s task of shoveling sidewalks and driveway then brushing off my buried car was sinfully easy, like scooping spun-sugar. Since there’s nothing prettier than sunlight on snow backed by blue sky, it’s no surprise that I went wild with my camera at Goose Pond yesterday.

Yesterday’s pictures, though, didn’t capture the diamond dust: the purely magical sensation of being surrounding by crystal-sparkling air. Since the snow in trees was light as air, with every breeze, a puff of minute snow particles swirled in the light of slanting sunbeams. This picture gives you a hint of the shimmering effect of light on pulverized, wind-tossed snow, but you’d have to close your eyes to get the true effect, imagining yourself in a swirling snowglobe surrounded by infinitesimal bits of dancing diamond.

Walking today at Goose Pond, I went a bit wild taking panoramic pictures, both horizontal ones like the snowy scene above (click on the image for an enlarged version) and vertical ones like this:

I haven’t yet decided which of these pictures best captures the experience of hiking around Goose Pond the morning after a day-long snowfall. Is the experience best described through an image of wide white space? (Click on the image for an enlarged version.)

Or does the sight of sunlight sifting through snow-laden boughs best embody a wintery morning after?

Walking at Goose Pond this morning, I felt like I’d hit an aesthetic jackpot, with images of loveliness on all sides (click on image for an enlarged version)

…as well as towering overhead.

At the end of the day, I couldn’t decide which picture best captured this morning’s dog-walk at Goose Pond, so I’m sharing all of them, leaving it to you to pick the panorama you feel best captures the snowy scene. (Click on image for an enlarged version.)

Today after all her recent oddness, Mother Nature got down to business by delivering the sort of snowfall we’re supposed to have in February. The white stuff started to fall here in southern New Hampshire around 10 this morning, and by the time Reggie and I went exploring after lunchtime, the snow was already ankle-deep and still falling.

Tomorrow after the snow stops falling and the skies presumably clear, I hope to get better pictures. Today, wanting to protect my digicam from the elements, I used my pencam to snap some images of Snow In Progress…and learned in the process that a trusty pencam (unlike, I’m assuming, a digicam) will still function even after you’ve dropped it in a snowdrift.

In the meantime, Reggie is one Happy Puppy now that Mother Nature is finally delivering the snowy goods.

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Masculine, and although my first impulse was to re-post this picture from this post, in fact I didn’t take that picture; instead, I trusted my camera in the hands of a friend of a friend on his way to use the celebrated urinals at this comedy club. Given that he took several pictures in that busy restroom, Mr. Friend of a Friend is lucky that he (and my camera!) survived the experience without getting a thorough beating from masculine types outraged that their privacy had been infringed. I know I wouldn’t have been man enough to take that photo.

In lieu of Irish urinals, then, today I’m posting this picture of a member the mounted police unit from Dover, NH, snapped back in 2004 at Keene’s annual Pumpkin Festival. Although I’ve no doubt that women make fine mounted police, there’s something quintessentially masculine about a man in uniform on horseback.

I originally shared this picture of one of Dover’s Finest in this post, and it’s a good thing I did. This past year, due to energy costs and other financial considerations, the Dover Mounties decided not to truck their horses from the seacoast to work the crowds at the 2005 Pumpkin Festival here. In lieu of uniformed men on horseback, then, the closest Keene has recently come to boasting Major Masculinity comes in a slightly more Hollywood form:

    Yes, I’ve seen Brokeback here at the Colonial, and it was as good as everyone said.

Leaf litter

Yesterday, as is our habit on laundry day, Reggie and I walked atop Beech Hill between wash cycles. Devoid of snow cover, Beech Hill these days is topped with leaf litter, including a cast-off scrap from some botanist’s notebook: a schematic drawing of flower parts.

In other laundry-day developments, I discovered yesterday atop Beech Hill that the same software I use to make horizontal panoramas can be used to make oversize vertical pictures:

Tall tree

In case you’re wondering what’s been happening here in Keene while I’ve been regaling you with Ireland posts, it’s turned cold here in southern New Hampshire. I’ve been posting Ireland pictures partly because I have them to spare, but also because I’ve been largely un-motivated to wander around taking pictures with temperatures in the single digits Fahrenheit.

I’m usually not a weather-wimp: having a dog typically means you walk in all weathers and temperatures. This current cold snap, though, has thrown me for a proverbial loop: I don’t want to walk, I don’t want to explore, and I certainly don’t want to take pictures. These past few days, it’s taken all my will power and then some to get myself out of the house to take Reggie on the shortest walk possible…with half of that walk consisting of me hurrying Reg homeward to where it’s warm.

What’s most pathetic about all this whining is the fact that it’s not currently cold by typical New England standards: in February, it’s supposed to be in the single digits Fahrenheit. But because my body apparently got used to (read: was spoiled by) the unseasonably mild temperatures we had for most of the winter, now I feel almost genetically incapable of coping with a “normal” New Hampshire winter. In a normal year, by February I’d have months of cold and snowy weather under my belt: my body would have grown used to the usual winter routine. But this year, even normal winter temperatures have come as a rude shock: hey, I thought it was spring already, or autumn still. How did winter suddenly arrive as if through the backdoor, unnoticed?

So while I’d typically, in a normal year, have a “been there, done that” attitude toward February weather, this year I’m reacting with an air of “Hey! Who left the door open?” It seems unfair to say I’m sick of winter when we really haven’t had much of it…but here I am, already sick of cold temperatures that have only relatively recently arrived.

If nothing else, this current cold snap points to the fact that Mother Nature is indeed a mother, delighting in her own ability to mess with the minds of youngsters like me by subjecting us to her capricious moods: then warm, now cold, and still almost completely snowless. Ireland at least was predictably chill, damp, and green; New Hampshire, on the other hand, has been all over the meteorological map, regaling us this year with autumn floods, a warm winter, and this current cold snap almost as a kind of afterthought. They say you can’t fool with Mother Nature, but in New England these days, it seems clear that Mother Nature can quite happily fool with you.

It’s been a week since I got home from my whirlwind weekend abroad, and I’ve yet to show you this sign of American encroachment in Ireland: yes, Starbucks has landed in Dublin, setting up not one but three coffee shops there.

That girl has long grappled with the question of what constitutes “real” Ireland: when international friends arrive on your doorstep, what sort of local color do you insist on showing them? Given that I’ve been blogging Keene for over two years now and feel I’ve come nowhere near to capturing what it’s “really” like, it’s absurd to think a weekend visitor could capture even a corner of a foreign scene. But it somehow seems disingenuous to show pictures of sleeping stones and purple pharmacies without at least acknowledging that downtown Dublin has some amenities are unfortunately quite familiar to American tourists. Although it’s true that I never leave home without my American Express card, it seems silly that I can’t leave the country without corporate chains like Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Foot Locker following me.

A long weekend isn’t nearly long enough to see a city much less any corner of countryside: of my short-list of Like-to-See’s, Howth and Newgrange and Kilmainham Jail will have to wait for another trip. But on my last full day in Dublin, I took less than an hour to tour a site that only I would think is cool, really: Dublin’s Natural History Museum, known among locals as the Dead Zoo.

Photography is disallowed in the Dead Zoo, so you’ll have to rely upon my admittedly crude pencil sketches to imagine a place that is exactly what its name suggests: a large building filled with stuffed dead animals. In the style of old Victorian museums, these dead animals are either housed in antique glass cases which are crammed in rows like shelves in a library or hanging in suspension from the ceilings overhead, giving the eery impression of dead sharks and whale skeletons floating in midair while terns and guillemots huddle in glass-cased rows beneath.

On a Sunday afternoon, the Dead Zoo is packed with families: mothers, fathers, and children in tow. Standing long enough to sketch a basking shark or row of taxidermied mammal heads, I was privy to the sort of overheard conversation I wouldn’t normally hear in the usual tourist haunts. In response to a youngster’s query about the origin of these species, for instance, one dad answered honestly, then embellished with a white lie: “I don’t know…people just found them dead.” And in front of an impressively mounted dead wolf, I heard one child explain to a sibling, “They used to be real!”

I’m guessing that child was referring to the animals who people the Dead Zoo, creatures that used to be really alive and now are fakely stuffed. But he could just as well have been referring to the Dead Zoo itself, which my guidebook notes “is now practically a museum piece itself.” Natural history collections like the Dead Zoo used to be real…and then they went completely out of vogue. If you want to get children (especially media-savvy American children) interested in natural history, you do not take them to a museum cram-packed with stuffed dead animals. What fun are stuffed dead animals when you can watch “real” living and breathing ones on TV (think Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel) or when you can go to high-tech science museums with multi-media displays, interactive computer consoles, and other highlights of modern techno-wizardry?

And yet. I went to the Dead Zoo because I for one like old-fashioned natural history museums with their dusty specimens and jars of formaldyhyde. Just as a good art museum knows the value of empty silence spaces–do you need flashing lights or multi-media displays to “really” appreciate a good, old-fashioned painting?–old-fashioned natural history museums are designed with old-school science geeks in mind: those of us who like looking long and hard at rows of reindeer and shelves of serpents.

The Dead Zoo is to modern science museums what a brick-and-mortar library is to the Internet. As much as I love the flash and sizzle of high-tech exhibits at places like Boston’s Museum of Science, I typically go into sensory overload about 15 minutes after entering: the over-abundance light, color, and sound is nearly intoxicating, with everything designed and catering to a youthful (read: short) attention span. A decade or more ago, I used to love spending hours contemplating the quiet old dioramas at New York’s American Museum of Natural History; when I finally got around to reading (as an adult) J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, I was endeared by Holden Caulfield because he too spent many an imaginative hour admiring the Haida canoe that stands solemnly at one of the Museum entrances.

The last time I went to the American Museum of Natural History, though, I was saddened to discover it had been “improved” since my last visit: now there are hefty entrance fees to fund a profusion of high-tech displays and sense-bombarding interactive exhibits. Although I’ve no doubt these new-fangled displays are more popular, I wonder if they are truly more effective: is it necessary (or honest) to make science “exciting” by shaping it to the attention-spans and pop-culture-addicted tastes of modern American children?

Whereas I (ancient relic that I am) remember when it was possible to spend a quiet afternoon enjoying dim-lit dioramas while well-behaved children walked with a parent or two in tow, the last time I went to the American Museum of Natural History, there seemed to be screaming packs of children running amok everywhere. (Gary blogged his impressions of our visit: you can ask him if he remembers being overwhelmed by wailing children.) Perhaps modern museum exhibits are better suited to modern attention spans…but how much learning and absorbing can even a bright and engaged child get while on-the-fly?

I wonder if modern museums sell children (and their parents) short by assuming that exhibits need television screens, computer monitors, and other high-tech bells and whistles to catch and keep youthful interest. During my admittedly brief breeze through the Dead Zoo, two items of note caught my attention. First, nearly all of the strolling families I saw consisted of two parents: in a country where divorces are difficult to obtain and thus uncommon, dads as well as moms seemed to be out with their kids on a Sunday afternoon. And second, I didn’t see a single running or screaming child: everyone young and old alike was walking calmly, patiently looking at all those dead animals on display. Although the Dead Zoo seems to be boring by design, virtually no one seemed bored: instead, children and parents paused to pore over displays while talking at a normal conversational level. Presumably the Dead Zoo still attracts crowds of Dubliners because generations of Irish families haven’t yet been caffeinated to Starbucks levels, nor have they reached the same loudness of discourse as we notoriously Loud-Mouthed Americans have.

I don’t know if the Dead Zoo says anything about the “real” Ireland…but I think it says something about America and Americans. The Dead Zoo wouldn’t fly in a large American city: as they’d say down south, that (dead) dog don’t hunt. Here in America, we like our burgers over-processed, our coffee over-priced, our shoes over-homogenized, and our museums loud, technologically flashy, and anything but Victorian. Someday soon when every Dubliner is addicted to Grande Latte-Whatevers, the Dead Zoo will presumably perish into oblivion, its old-fashioned charm falling on deaf and dead ears. Until then, though, I enjoyed a brief opportunity to visit not only a foreign land but a strange century, a time when animals that used to be real piqued the interest of innumerable Holden Caulfields.

What do hot New England women do on a brutally cold Saturday night? They go underground in search of strong drink.

The picture is blurry, but it accurately captures the warm, cozy ambience at the Tunnel Bar in downtown Northampton, MA, where last night Leslee and I came in from the cold and stoked our Inner Fires with a couple martinis. The Tunnel Bar is located in Northampton’s renovated Union Station, built in 1896 along the railroad connecting New York and Canada. The Tunnel Bar’s unique atmosphere is as tasty as its impressive drink selection; as Leslee observed, “This would be a great place to ride out a nuclear holocaust.”

I don’t know about nuclear holocausts…but the Tunnel Bar was a great place to ride out a cold Saturday night. I’d report the rest of our martini-fueled conversation, but after a couple drinks, the conversation started to blur as much as an underlit digital photo. Besides, under the influence of strong drink, even hot New England women end up saying things that probably best belong in one or both of the blank notebooks we’d seen while shopping earlier in the afternoon:

Contented cat with well-fed pigeons

Last weekend, in the yard of Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, I learned an interesting albeit all-but-useless lesson. If you offer a cat a heap of sliced turkey, said cat will drowsily ignore a nearby flock of fattened pigeons. Perhaps the peaceable kingdom isn’t so unattainable after all…unless, of course, you’re a turkey.

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