April 2008


But is it Art?

Yesterday, it was the shoe-fruits of London. Today, it’s the coat hangers of Keene. What do you think will start growing on trees tomorrow?

RIP Richard "Rico" Modica

One thing I love about being a place-blogger in an urban area like Boston or Cambridge is the way no one seems to care if you stop, snoop, and snap photos: there’s nothing you’re doing, after all, that’s any weirder than anything anyone else is doing.

Mixed messages

Although I know folks who have been asked not to take photos in particular public places, I’ve never been confronted for my shutter-buggery. Either I look boring enough that I don’t arouse suspicion, or I look weird enough that folks aren’t surprise when I do something quirky with a camera.

Usually when I snap photos in public places, I try to be discreet: not only do I not want people to think I’m taking photos of them, I don’t want to call attention to myself. One of the benefits of using a purse-sized digicam is the fact I can pull out my camera quickly, snap a few surreptitious shots, and then sneak it back into my pocket or purse before anyone’s noticed what I’m doing. If there are people milling around something I want to photograph, I’ll typically wait until they disperse, or I’ll refrain entirely from taking pictures. The last thing I want to do is make myself an object of attention while focusing my attention on some interesting object.

Iceman

As I was composing the above photo of the graffiti along Modica Way, for instance, I heard the crack and static of a police officer’s two-way radio as a faceless person passed behind me. “Holy crap,” I thought as I froze mid-shot. “All I need is for Mr. Cop to ask me what I’m doing in a graffiti-covered alley taking pictures.” After I’d snapped my shot, I looked down Modica Way to see Mr. Cop walking away unconcerned, a McDonald’s bag in one hand. I don’t know how Cambridge cops feel about street artists, but apparently hungry officers won’t interrupt their takeout breakfasts to harass place-bloggers who like to snoop and snap.

Click here for a photo-set of images from today’s and yesterday’s posts. Enjoy!

Loud

On Sunday mornings when I’m scheduled to give consulting interviews at the Cambridge Zen Center, I make a point to arrive in Central Square early so I can take a quick walk, camera in hand, to see what’s new in my old neighborhood.

Be curious!

Taking a quick stroll around the Square helps clear my head before I meditate…and it’s one way I heed Cambridge’s official command that I “Be curious!” What better way, I think, to put the Buddha’s mantra of “What is this?” into practice than by taking a quick spin around the block to see what’s changed since the last time I strolled the streets?

Central Square, like any urban neighborhood, is always full of surprises. I already knew from blog reports that a new crop of street art had sprouted like spring wildflowers along Modica Way since the last time I’d taken pictures there. Every time I walk around Central Square, I see something I hadn’t noticed before–something new, perhaps, or something I’d previously ignored. Even though I lived in Central Square for two and a half years more than a decade ago, the streets there still surprise me. Even if I were Kwan Seum Bosal with her thousand hands and eyes, I still wouldn’t be able to take it all in.

Easter egg

The surprises you encounter in urban neighborhoods like Central Square shouldn’t be surprises: in urban areas, nothing should surprise you. Are you surprised to find a cracked but otherwise whole Easter egg lying in the middle of a parking lot more than a month after the holiday? When you remember that the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Easter later than we Westerners do, and when you remember that there’s a Greek Orthodox Church in Central Square, a late April Easter egg makes sense.

When I was a child, I always loved looking for Easter eggs because it gave me once-a-year permission to snoop around looking for surprises. In retrospect, I guess keeping a photo-blog gives me a similar excuse to scour my surroundings for things that are interesting or odd.

Once you start looking for Easter eggs, you start finding them everywhere: it’s as if you hone your senses to notice All Things Egg. On Sunday, for instance, I wanted to snap a photo of the Goldenstash decal I’d previously seen on an electrical box at the heart of Central Square…

Goldenstash

…only to find the mustachioed man nearly everywhere I looked.

Goldenstash

The enigmatic character known as Goldenstash is something of a legend in the greater Boston area, appearing as street art on signs, electrical boxes, and walls.

Goldenstash rules!

Goldenstash’s street-mystique has garnered press attention and a slew of Flickr photos.

Goldenstash

Going ‘stash-spotting, I’ve learned, is a bit like looking for Easter eggs: you’ll find him in the usual spots you’d expect, and then you’ll find him in spots (and in poses, and with people) you’d never have expected.

Goldenstash with girl

But just like an Easter egg, you’ll never spot the ‘stash until you start looking, even if that means seeming a bit silly as you snoop around.

Goldenstash

A street artist’s Everyman, Goldenstash is the ultimate Easter egg. Simultaneously elusive and everywhere, ‘stash is a stealthy secret until you learn he’s ubiquitous, sticking around with the sole purpose of being spotted by someone, sometime.

After having snapped these shots in Cambridge on Sunday morning, later in the day I spotted Goldenstash on the back of a sign somewhere in Jamaica Plain while a friend drove down unfamiliar-to-me streets on our way to dinner. I wasn’t quick enough with my camera, unfortunately, to achieve a drive-by ‘stash-shot, so you’ll have to believe me when I say the mustachioed one is everywhere.

Cardinal in maple

Now that the maples of Newton are bursting into leaf and flower, the cardinals here are still sitting pretty, just as they were back in February when the trees were bare.

Even trees get thirsty sometimes

With all the spring sun we’ve been getting in New England these days, even the trees are thirsty, sneaking surreptitious sips of high fructose corn syrup in the form of McDonald’s sodas. Either that, or “leaf litter” isn’t the only kind of dry detritus you can find in the woods in springtime.

Forsythias

Last week in Keene, we had our first fire warning of the season: a reminder that low humidity and dry leaf litter make for dangerously flammable forests. This weekend in Waban, the “fire” outside is metaphoric, with forsythia blooming like a yellow-hot blaze in suburban yards and gardens.

Although I mentioned Earth Day earlier this week, yesterday I was remiss in remembering Arbor Day. Steve was similarly remiss, mentioning today that he’d forgotten both Earth and Arbor Days, presumably because he was “not watching the calendar closely enough!” For good or ill, neither Earth nor Arbor Day is on my calendar, but I’d like to think that doesn’t matter: wouldn’t it better for us (and the health of the planet) if we spent less time watching our calendars and more time listening to trees?

In New England at least, the trees right now will tell you it’s spring, their “words” being unfolding leaves, blooming flowers, and (in the case of pines) a yellow dusting of pollen. Before he died, Thoreau had intended to construct a local “Kalendar” that, according to Bradley Dean, would provide a biological time-line of the natural year, with the blooming and breeding of plant and animal species serving as temporal markers:

Apparently he intended to write a comprehensive history of the natural phenomena that took place in his hometown each year. Although he planned to base his natural history of Concord upon field observations recorded in his journal over a period of several years, he would synthesize those observations so that he could construct a single “archetypal” year, a technique he had used to wonderful effect in Walden.

Maple blossoms

In my neck of the woods, I’ve learned, trout lilies bloom at the end of April, and forsythias flame not long after. I don’t need a calendar to remind me of that fact, just my blog (the 21st-century, high-tech equivalent of Thoreau’s journal) and photo archives. Next week, I’m hoping the wake-robin (Trillium erectum, also known as purple or red trillium) will be blooming since I have an unofficial ritual of blogging them on May 1st, whether at Goose Pond or Beech Hill. After May 1st, I’ve learned from years of New Hampshire living, the black flies will emerge, and my days in the woods around Keene will be numbered, at least until blood-sucking insects die off.

It might be true that the trees of the greater Boston area are fond of McDonald’s soda, but I’d prefer that instead of “loving it,” they simply leaf it. Steve rightfully notes that every day should be both Earth and Arbor day, for “When should we not be thinking about trees, about the health of the planet?” Between you and me, I think the trees in New England and elsewhere would be healthier if they just said no to soda.

This post is a roundabout excuse to mention two tree-related things. First, the Nature Conservancy is spearheading an effort called Plant a Billion Trees which is attempting to re-forest a richly bio-diverse (and unfortunately endangered) area in Brazil. If you, like Steve, can’t plant a tree in your urban backyard, you might consider donating to the cause of “One dollar – One tree – One planet.”

Rooted

Second, don’t forget to submit your tree-related links and pictures to next month’s Festival of the Trees. You can send permalinks to mike (at) 10000birds (dot) com, submit them via the Contact page at 10,000 Bird’s, or use the Festival’s online submission form. The deadline is April 29, so get moving!

Hula hoops

Circus performer Yelena Larkina looks positively electric in this photo from the Big Apple Circus last weekend. Surely this is what a cloud of electrons twirling around a nucleus looks like, at least if atoms consisted of circus performers spinning a half dozen silver hula hoops.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Electricity. You can see a photo-set from the Big Apple Circus here.

Trout lily

Violets

I wasn’t expecting to see trout lilies (Erythronium americanum, also known as fawn lilies or dogtooth violets, pictured above) on my stroll to the Soggy Sink during my lunch break on campus today. According to my blog archives, though, I saw trout lilies on April 24, 2004 and on April 21, 2005.

I also discovered today that the spring beauties blooming along the Ashuelot River here in Keene (pictured below) are of the oval-leaved Carolina variety (Claytonia caroliniana) rather than the more narrow-leaved variety I grew up seeing in Ohio (C. virginica). I didn’t bother to key the precise species of violets I also spotted underfoot (pictured at right). They were uncatalogued icing on today’s botanical cake.

Spring beauties

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