June 2007

Bindweed on chain-link

Initially, I’d complained about the chain-link fence they erected around my favorite abandoned factory, seeing how it cut off one of my favorite short cuts into town. But it seems this field bindweed is rather fond of the fence I’ve never fancied.

Quietly listening

Here is another view of the little listener standing with her tin-can phone outside Turn It Up! used CD shop in downtown Keene: a splash of color to enliven an otherwise gray stairwell.


In theory, I’m not opposed to graffiti: in some cases, a decorated wall is more attractive than a bare one. I don’t know if Turn It Up! officially sanctioned the wall art that appears in the stairwell to their used CD shop, but I like the looks of this line-drawn girl listening through a tin-can phone to the music emanating from within. If graffiti looks like this, spray on.


Other specimens of downtown graffiti are more questionable. Yes, it might help business to have the word “Cigars” on the side of a shop that sells cigarettes, magazines, and the like…but surely the spray-can artist who scrawled this calling card could have made a more attractive pitch for her or his favorite carcinogen.

Whether or not I agree with what it says, at least the graffiti on the Beech Hill water tower is both colorful and interesting to look at; similarly, I have a certain fondness for the art in a can that is found on some funky cars and at least one dam here in southwest New Hampshire. In my opinion, a colorfully spray-painted car is more interesting than a monochromatic one, and I don’t see how a little paint is going to damage an otherwise monotonous-looking, purely functional expanse of concrete. Someone who devotes the time and effort to decorate an otherwise decrepit old vehicle is improving that vehicle, in my opinion, and although tagging something like a dam is technically illegal, I don’t personally see how some rebellious spray-paint is actually hurting anyone.

Defaced factory

But despite my normally lenient attitude toward graffiti, I do draw a line when it comes to defacing private property. The long-abandoned factory on Water Street here in Keene is among the latest buildings to sport an “ECC BK” sign, and I see this as part of a disturbing trend. This particular factory has been abandoned (and crumbling) ever since I moved to Keene in 2002, so it’s not like I bridle at the presumed “damage” caused by spray-paint vandals. This building has already had nearly all of its windows smashed, and its roof has already caved to the elements. If someone were to try to save this building, they’d have their work cut out for them, so an ever-changing selection of graffiti flowering on its facade doesn’t come as a surprise. Abandoned factories gather graffiti as naturally as stationary stones gather moss.

What disturbs me about this “ECC BK” tag is that I’ve seen it elsewhere in places I consider inappropriate. Although some might argue that well-placed graffiti can bear a political message, I fail to see the value of tagging a private home…

Defaced house

…or downtown mural.

Defaced mural

I don’t know who or what “ECC BK” refers to, but whatever message he, she, or it is trying to communicate via spray-paint, I’d argue there has to be a better method, means, and manner of expressing oneself than the defacement of private property. It seems at least one downtown business owner agrees with me, as the “ECC BK” tag next door to Athens Pizza on Main Street has been painted over.

Patched-over graffiti

Whatever message you’re trying to express, ECC BK, it seems some of us here in Keene are making a point not to listen.

Construction webbing

Between the heat and omnipresent road construction in Keene this summer, it’s hard out here for a pedestrian. On Monday morning, simply walking to campus to teach the the first of my summer school classes was a navigational challenge.

I live five minutes from campus, but my accustomed walk goes right past the rotary (de)construction that is clogging Keene with detoured traffic right now. I thought I’d be able to take one of my favorite shortcuts around the affected Main and Winchester/Marlboro Street intersection, but I was wrong: that shortcut through the parking lot of the local historical society landed me on the wrong side of a tangle of caution tape and construction webbing. I ended up cutting through a handful of yards that had been mauled and muddied by construction equipment: apologies, citizens of Keene, for the continued inconvenience.

Rotaries can be tricky to navigate on foot, so I’m curious to see what my pedestrian commute is like once construction is complete. In the meantime, it’s difficult to stroll Main Street sidewalks or traipse local curbs when both sidewalks and curbstones have been unearthed and piled like firewood, an ambiguous sign of “progress.”

Unearthed curbstones

Monadnock Fine Art Gallery

It’s been over two weeks since I’ve taken a proper walk in downtown Keene, so imagine my surprise when I returned from my travels to find new stores in the place of old. The storefront that was smashed, repaired, then emptied now houses an art gallery…and the former site of Bookland will soon be home to Fritz Belgian Fries, their new sign covering the ghostly remnants of the old.

Fritz Belgian Fries

Although Fritz is a long-standing landmark here in Keene, consistently topping the Best of New Hampshire list for their hand-cut, blanched-then-fried potatoes, I’ve never tasted their wares. The strip-mall where Fritz is currently located is one I don’t frequent, lying as it does just beyond my usual walking territory. Driving to eat fries has always seemed too decadent, but now that Fritz will be frying within walking distance of my apartment, I might have to see what the “Best of New Hampshire” fuss is about.

Of course, the very notion of “walking distance” is relative, as the latest bit of wisdom spotted while I was stuck in construction traffic suggests.

Words of wisdom from Chabott Oil

Loyal fan

What baseball-loving kid (or baseball-loving kid-at-heart) doesn’t dream of attending a real live ballgame, catching an errant foul ball, or at least catching the eye of your favorite player with a home-made sign? (Before you comment that this kid has his sign pointing the wrong way, note that it’s double-sided, with “We love you, Big Papi” on one side and a word to Manny Ramirez on the other.)

Curt Schilling, pre-disabled

Boston Red Sox fans are a particularly loyal group…so it should come at no surprise that there were throngs of Sox fans at all three inter-league games at Atlanta’s Turner Field this week. How do I know, you might ask, how many Boston fans traveled all the way to Atlanta to watch their favorite team on the road? I know because I was one of the migrating throng that, motivated by the near impossibility of getting reasonable tickets at Fenway Park, flew to Atlanta, availed myself of the Southern hospitality of friends, and tried my very best not to be an Obnoxious Northerner who offends the locals.

It’s difficult, of course, not to offend the locals when your team ends up winning two out of three games…but on Monday night, before being placed on the Sox disabled list, Curt Schilling served up a loss, so there was a moment of joy in Atlanta before the Sox dominated on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Schilling at bat

To give credit where credit is due, Schilling (himself a blogger) didn’t humiliate himself at the plate, managing to get to first base during one of his Monday night at-bats. One of the delights of inter-league play–something loyal Sox fans who stay at home don’t get to see in person–is the sheer novelty of an American League pitcher batting according to National League rules.

Another part of the fun of a major-league ballgame is observing the crowd in attendance: the peanut-eating, beer-chugging folks sitting around you, after all, are one thing you don’t have when you watch a game on TV from home. On all three nights of our Atlanta Invasion, the resident Atlanta fans seemed completely flummoxed by the rabid Sox fans in attendance. “I was buying a beer and heard this huge cheer,” one Atlanta fan noted dejectedly during Wednesday night’s 11-0 thrashing, “so I assumed we had scored. But it turned out it was the visiting fans who were making so much noise.” On Tuesday night, under the liquid encouragement of seemingly omnipresent beer vendors, some Atlanta fans got fed up with the visiting contingent of Red Sox Nation. In response to the visitors’ loud and insistent cheers of “Let’s go, Red Sox,” several Braves fans countered with “Go home, Red Sox!”

Of course, regardless of your team loyalty, when you attend a major league ballgame, you quickly realize the best seats in the house aren’t seats at all, but the railing of either team’s dugout, where the game’s most attentive spectators turn out to be the players themselves.

The best seats in the house

At one level, baseball fandom is little more than glorified people-watching. Sure, we traveled to Atlanta to watch some actual ballgames, but we also traveled to Atlanta to see the players themselves in the flesh. Where else but six rows back from third base can you contemplate Manny Ramirez’ hair…

Manny Ramirez

Kevin Youkilis’ twisted kick…

Kevin Youkilis

or David Ortiz rounding the bases after knocking a homer out of the ballpark?

David Ortiz rounds the bases

On TV, you’d probably watch commercials while Big Papi and Youk (another blogger) swapped first-baseman’s stories…

First basemen's confab

…and if you watched Tuesday night’s ballgame on TV, you definitely didn’t get the chance to be mesmerized by the ant-like activity of the Turner Field grounds-crew raking and laying dry dirt on the field after a rain delay.

After the rain delay

For a loyal Red Sox fan, though, the most dreamy picture of all is this one of the Atlanta Braves’ drummer sitting dejectedly on his tom-tom. Who’s in the mood to beat a drum, do a politically incorrect tomahawk chop, or utter a war-whoop when your team is losing 11-0?

Dejected drummer

    This is my belated, somewhat off-topic contribution to this week’s Photo Friday theme, Dream.

Three bloggers, one hammock

What better metaphor for the tangled web of interconnections created by this curious phenomenon of blogging than a picture of three bloggers–Jo(e), Rana, and Yours Truly–sharing a single hammock at last week’s ASLE conference in Spartanburg, SC. Apologies for the abundance of hair, lack of identifiable features, and confusion of limbs: both Jo(e) and Rana blog anonymously, and I’m not as comfortable as Jo(e) is about displaying my unclad form online, so semi-clothed and tangled on a hammock is as close to the traditional nude photo as I get. As prior precedent proves, however, I’m not complete averse to displaying an occasional bare belly or my dirty, unshod feet, so here is a flesh-baring shot of three tangled bloggers raising toes to trees.

Toes to trees

Jo(e) and Rana were two of the conference participants who presented along with me at the blogging panel I’d mentioned last week; Chas also presented but didn’t join us in our hammock. The blogosphere is a vast and varied place, and individual bloggers each follow their own protocols when it comes to disclosing personal information online. How much does a blogger which to reveal, and how much does she or he choose to hide?

Whereas Chas and I blog under our real names, both Jo(e) and Rana write pseudonymously; whereas I use first names, initials, or an occasional nom de blog to refer to friends and acquaintances, Jo(e) comes up with witty nicknames like Philadelphia Guy and Artist Friend to protect the innocent. I’ve blogged before about the problematic philosophical questions that arise when you share even a part of yourself online: perhaps it’s easier to untangle semi-clothed bodies in a hammock than it is to sort out the ethics of online self-disclosure.

As for Jo(e)’s account of our in-hammock blogger meet-up, I’m not sure I can identify (with) the High Energy Writer she mentions even though I have been known to talk about sex toys. Sometimes it’s more alluring to disguise a blogger’s real identity rather than showing her or him unmasked. When it comes to bloggish show-and-tell, sometimes you can protect the not-so-innocent by showing them as ghostly blurs or in the shadows. As in the nude photography that Jo(e) is so familiar with, discretion is sometimes as simple as the strategic shielding of significant bits, an eye-level railing going a long way to shroud the identity of three porch-rocking writers.


And when it comes to protecting your friends and sources, sometimes you have to disguise the non-photographers who have been cajoled into recording your not-quite-anonymous mingling. The blogosphere is a tangled web where even a Philadelphia Guy can enjoy his fifteen minutes of faceless fame.

Anonymous paparazzo

    Thanks to Philadelphia Guy for juggling three cameras in order to take the first and third photos in today’s post. Perhaps the title of today’s entry should be “With a Little Help from My Friends.”

Michelangelo's delphic sybil

As I’m packing and getting ready to leave the now-concluded ASLE conference here at Wofford College, I still don’t think I’ve captured the quintessential Spartanburg shot. In lieu of the quintessential, here are some images that are simply quirky: things that caught my eye over the past couple of days.

Above, for instance, is a rug reproduction of Michelangelo’s Delphic sybil: a detail from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Wofford College displays various tapestry-like rug reproductions of art masterpieces in its campus buildings: Michelangelo in the field house, and Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom in the lower level of the campus dining hall. Go figure.

Off-campus, in downtown Spartanburg, there is ample evidence of struggling local industry: closed stores, a half-empty shopping plaza, and ghost signs marking businesses that have literally left the building. Apparently the self-starters in Spartanburg, SC need a little help these days.

Ghost sign

In some cases, the face of urban renewal is faceless. Here, a downtown building has been stripped of its facade, revealing a brick foundation that bears no clues of what (if any) new incarnation is to come.


At least one big-name company still calls Spartanburg home. Although I never encountered a Denny’s restaurant during my admittedly limited rambles around town, I did stumble upon their corporate headquarters downtown.

Denny's plaza

Although only the locals still call Spartanburg “Hub City,” the converging railroads that inspired the nickname still pass through town. In a town where the local business scene is either half-empty or half-full, it’s a good thing local writers are committed to preserving the history and local color that are subsequently endangered. What does the future hold for Spartanburg? I’m afraid only a Delphic sybil is qualified to answer that question.


    Happy Father’s Day to all our Dads. I’m leaving this morning to head back to New Hampshire, then Boston, then Atlanta. It’s a good thing a laptop allows a roaming place-blogger to hang her virtual hat wherever she goes.

pitcher plants

Before you argue that a hollow log planted with pitcher plants doesn’t count as an “action” shot, consider this: these plants are predators, so by simply standing silently, they are staging an epic ambush, albeit on a small scale.

canna flower

On Thursday, I took an ASLE-sponsored field trip to Hatcher Garden here in Spartanburg, SC. A quiet-enough looking place, Hatcher is actually a testament to the transformative power of a little vision and a lot of sweat equity.

canna leaf

When Harold and Josephine Hatcher moved to Spartanburg in 1969–the year I was born–they could have sat back to enjoy a leisurely retirement. Instead, they began gardening in their single acre backyard…then began purchasing half-acre lots of trash-filled, overrun land from their neighbors’ backyards. In the time it took for me to grow from baby to college prof, the Hatchers acquired ten acres of hitherto overlooked land and transformed it into a public garden and wooded preserve.

squirrel tail

The paid and volunteer staff at Hatcher Garden now teach their neighbors how to grow flowers and vegetables, and they also educate urban and suburban children about nature and the environment. Looks can be deceiving. A pitcher plant that looks like it’s hanging out with nothing to do is actually stalking prey, and a hitherto neglected backyard might be a hidden jewel in disguise, simply waiting for a couple of caring, hard-working souls to become active.

walkers by pond

About to bloom

At Wednesday afternoon’s plenary address, ASLE conference attendees were mesmerized by Nalini Nadkarni‘s remarks about the science outreach she does as part of her work with forest canopy ecosystems. As a scientist who studies treetops from the treetops, Nadkarni has brainstormed a handful of innovative ways of bringing ecological insights to people who normally wouldn’t venture into the trees she studies. Whether preaching in places of worship, teaching prisoners how to study moss, or marketing a “TreeTop Barbie” to spread an ecological message to young girls, Nadkarni is energetically committed to spreading her environmental enthusiasm with non-scientists.

The folks who make up ASLE are a tree-loving bunch, so Nadkarni was pretty much preaching to the choir: we didn’t need sermons or Barbie dolls to get us interested in forest canopies. But what I found most interesting about Nadkarni’s various methods of reaching out to non-scientists of all ages and backgrounds was the way she relied upon nonverbal means of engaging her audiences. At one point in her address, Nadkarni shared drawings made by an Innuit man who had never seen much less climbed a giant redwood; Nadkarni also shared her collaborations with composers, rap singers, and modern dancers, all of whom used their creative skills to communicate the ecological vision Nadkarni had turned them onto. Some folks (like those of us belonging to the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment) like to read, write, and talk about environmental ideas; other folks, though, like to make or listen to music, dance, or draw. Nadkarni’s creative, inter-disciplinary, and impressively engaging approach to turning people onto environmental ideas gets them physically involved in the work of conservation. She’s not paying lip service to green ideas: she’s bringing people to their feet and to the trees to get them involved and interested in the work of forest ecology.


As the Lorax was wont to point out, someone like Nadkarni needs to speak for trees, for the trees themselves have no tongues. But merely speaking for trees isn’t enough, either. The Lorax concludes with an emotional appeal: unless listeners to the Lorax’s tale care “a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better; it’s not.” Simply talking about trees isn’t enough, and neither is listening: you have to care about trees “a whole awful lot” to make any sort of difference. On the whole, people (at least regular, non-bookish ones) don’t care much for books, ideas, or words alone: it’s difficult to hug a book or feel the warm embrace of a concept. If part of our mission as environmentalists is to get people to care “a whole awful lot” about trees, forests, and the like, we have to hit people somewhere other than their head. Art, music, dance, and the simple act of climbing a tree all engage people on an emotional, visceral, and/or physical level: you have to get out of your head to climb a tree.

(If you want to hear Nalini Nadkarni’s presentation, you can access it here and here, along with the question-and-answer session here.)

Tightly furled

I mention Nadkarni’s more-than-verbal approach to sharing ecological research with non-scientists because yesterday morning, after breakfast but before the a-ha moment I experienced at the morning plenary session, I was feeling Conference Overload. In my everyday life back in Keene, I have ample opportunities for silent solitude and avoid anything remotely resembling “networking.” It’s not that I don’t play well with others: I can and do interact socially when the moment and mood so moves. But ever since childhood, I’ve had no problem entertaining myself: I can and do play well on my own. So given the choice between, say, a conference meet-and-greet and the chance to explore a new-to-me place with camera in hand, I’ll be sorely tempted to choose the later. I enjoy social interactions, but like Thoreau, I often find I think best when there’s a healthy distance between me and the people I interact and converse with.

In other words, I’m a writer and thinker who thrives on silence and solitude as much as community and conversation…and conferences are designed to encourage the latter more than the former. Conferences are a place where people come together to share ideas, and for some conference-goers, the excitement of this interaction causes a slumber-party-like adrenaline rush where conversations and cameraderie last far into the night. I, for good or ill, am not that kind of conference-goer. I’m the kind of person who needs to simmer ideas in silence awhile before figuring out (in my head or on paper) what I’m trying to say, really.

Just past its prime

Yesterday after breakfast and before the morning plenary session, I was feeling starved for solitude. Having already discovered that my brain isn’t built to absorb an entire day’s worth of presentations, I’d given myself permission to skip several sessions for sanity’s sake: I figured it was wiser to concentrate on absorbing the panels I really wanted to attend rather than trying to guzzle everything on tap. But still, yesterday morning I found myself bridling at the thought of more panels, more presentations, and more people to process. It was as if I’d already hit Information Overload, and the conference had barely begun.

One informal agreement I’d made with myself when I signed up to attend this week’s entire conference was to try to keep my usual breakfast ritual: first eat, then write. Yesterday as I scribbled several pages in my notebook, I found myself wondering why I felt so cranky about being surrounded by intelligent people and their engaging ideas. Have I really become so much of an anti-social hermit, I wondered, that I prefer being holed away with my laptop, writing, than actually interacting with flesh-and-blood humans? Or was there something about my conference experience that was flawed or faulty: was there, in a word, something I could fix to make conference-life in Spartanburg just a bit more Lorianne-friendly?

Gone to seed

In investigating the odd sense of malaise I felt being surrounded by people, I thought of other writers who were similarly solitary. Thoreau, as I already mentioned, cherished solitude, considering three people a crowded house. May Sarton, who lived alone not far from Keene, often complained about loneliness but was honestly relieved whenever she returned to her house after a book-signing or other social event. Both Thoreau and Sarton, I suspect, found themselves fueled by quiet time, their artistic strength coming from a contemplative place, not an active one. As I wrote my post-breakfast pages sitting alone in a cafeteria dotted with clusters of chatting conference-goers, I felt more akin to Thoreau and Sarton than anyone I saw sitting around me. If quiet “downtime” is what I need to re-group and then write, why should I feel guilty about my loner ways?

And yet, I’m not a “loner”; I just occasionally like to be alone. One of the things that occurred to me as I sat writing was the relative lack of structured solitude I’d spent since arriving in Spartanburg: I hadn’t taken any time to intentionally settle into silence. It’s one thing to be silent because the situation demands it; it’s another to make a conscious choice not to speak. Unintentional silence is a shy, lonely person alone at a party hoping someone will introduce themself; intentional silence is an otherwise outgoing person making a conscious decision to unplug, briefly, from the social scene. I don’t consider myself a shy, lonely person, but yesterday I was feeling an acute need to unplug. In the blur of traveling to and then settling into a busy conference, I hadn’t taken any time to de-compress, returning to my senses by consciously returning to the present moment.

A new leaf

And then I remembered the huge, multiple-branched magnolia tree outside the Old Main Building at the center of the Wofford College campus. Part of why I was so personally moved by Nalini Nadkarni’s presentation–and part of why I feel as comfortable alone as I do with other people–has to do with my odd childhood, when my best friend was a tree. The neighborhood where I grew up had few children for me to play with, so I spent a lot of time engaged in quiet, self-entertaining pursuits such as reading. The maple tree that stood in the courtyard between my family’s and our neighbor’s house–the same tree that is inextricably connected with my first memory of death–was my childhood companion and confidante, sheltering my childish thoughts as I lay dreaming below. Is it any surprise that a child who solaced herself with books, solitary games of make-believe, and a single sheltering maple would grow to love trees and books about them? Is it any surprise that a child whose best friend was a tree would acquire a Thoreauvian temperament?

Beneath a magnolia

The Buddha sat beneath a sacred fig, and yesterday I sat beneath a towering magnolia, the leaf-carpeted parlor under its branching boughs providing a quiet place for me to return to my breath. Reading, talking, and writing about trees is fine and good, but sometimes you have to listen to what trees have to say. Trees have no tongues–the Lorax was right about that–but that doesn’t mean trees have nothing to say and share. Trees are short on words but long on wisdom, so you have to quiet your inner chattering self to hear the murmuring message they’d utter, wordless, to your receptive soul.

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