January 2010

Green and white

You know you’ve hit the aesthetic wall that is late January when you start shooting photos in your bathroom, it being too frigid outside to allow for much interesting photography. This time last year, I was suffering from snow blindness, a term I use to describe the mid-winter photographic lull you feel when you’ve grown tired of monochromatic monotony: “I find myself growing blind to the beauties of snow, which lies strewn and heaped like last week’s laundry: what seemed so lovely and picturesque in early December has outgrown its welcome by mid-January.”

Even in late January, though, moments of beauty occasionally burn through the inertia of white and gray days, and early this morning, it was this crystal-paisley tapestry that inspired me to bring my camera into the bathroom to begin with:

Close-up:  bathroom window frost-feathers

That’s my bathroom window just before 8 am, before I was ready to wake up for good; by 9 am, Jack Frost’s handiwork had melted like last night’s dreams.

Back-lit:  bathroom window frost-feathers

Frost feathers are an ephemeral phenomenon in a season that feels never-ending; that’s why we so often miss them. What normal person brings a camera into the bathroom on a frigid Saturday morning before she’s ready to wake up for good? And yet, why does Jack Frost go to the trouble of painting windowpanes with such delicate brushstrokes if nobody will notice, marvel, and find a way to remember?

Frost-feathers are always ephemeral, and feathers of any sort are more difficult to find these days than during the hot heyday of summer. I cherish the down in the long, quilted coat I wear when walking the dog on cold and windy winter days, and I’m cheered to see juncos, sparrows, and an occasional robin flush at our approach, each of them warmed by a natural down coat.

When you’ve seeded your dreams with visions of frost-feathers, you’re more likely to find this same plumy shape elsewhere. And sure enough, on this morning’s cold and windy dog-walk, there were sparrows chirping and a robin clucking as I shot this image of ornamental grass frizzled into feathers.

Ornamental grass

Off season

In late January, memories of carefree summer days seem impossibly distant. Was there ever a time when it was warm enough to play soccer in shorts at the local playground, and will frigid temperatures ever again allow a friendly game of touch-football, shirts vs. skins?

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Distant. It was 10 degrees outside when I walked Reggie this morning; as I write this, the wind is howling with wind-chills in the negative digits. Spring (much less summer) seems very distant, indeed.


On Monday we had unseasonably mild temperatures and torrential rains which melted much of the remaining snow cover, leaving puddles of snow-melt that froze overnight into intricate crystalline shapes: the sparkle of geometric shards underfoot.

Red-tailed hawk

Today was overcast: not a good day for pictures. But today was the day that one of Waban’s resident red-tailed hawks decided to perch low in a bare tree outside the neighborhood Starbucks–right in the middle of Waban Square, in other words, with its constant stream of cars and people on their way to enjoy Sunday brunch or lattes with their human compatriots. Apparently any day is a good day to perch wherever you want if you’re an impressive-looking red-tail. Who, after all, is going to tell you to move?

Had I seen this red-tailed hawk yesterday, when the skies were blue and I was carrying my larger camera, who knows what sort of image I might have shot. Instead, the only sort of raptor I took pictures of yesterday stayed very, very still while starlings made themselves at home on his outstretched wings.

Starlings on flagpole eagle

Click here for several more images of today’s Waban red-tail. Enjoy!

Insect damaged

Stockpiling photographs is like owning a time machine that can zip you back in an instant from the monochrome monotony of a freezing winter’s day to a now-distant summer when the landscape was green with leaves freshly damaged by insects now dead, dormant, or flown.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Damaged.

Snow and snowdrop

Throughout this week’s meteorological mood swings–thaw then snow then sleet then thaw–I’ve been scrambling to keep ahead of my schedule, with my online classes settling into their third week while my face-to-face semester started yesterday. At Keene State this term, I’m teaching two interdisciplinary “Literature and the Environment” courses: one on the “Literature of Birds and Birding,” and the other on “Rivers and Literary Imagination.” This morning I used these classes as an excuse to go dog-walking along the Ashuelot River, figuring any birds or riparian creatures I saw would serve as grist for the pedagogical mill.

I didn’t get any photos of the muskrat I saw grooming himself on the icy flank of the river, nor did I capture any images of the chickadees I saw foraging in the pines or the downy woodpecker I repeatedly heard calling from nearby trees. I did, though, record this sign of activity from a creature who apparently has been busier than even I’ve been these days.

Beaver sign

Click here for a photo-set from today’s dog-walk along the Ashuelot River. Enjoy!

Dead aster

After weeks in the teens and twenties, the temperature today rose above freezing, initiating a slow, steady melt of old snow.

This is my quick contribution to this week’s Photo Friday theme, Slowly. This image is one of a set of photos I took several weeks ago but never blogged. I guess I’m getting around to sharing them, slowly.

The birthday girl

It’s been almost a week since I celebrated my 41st birthday with a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, and let me tell you: I simply love life on this side of forty.

Above and below

Last year when I celebrated the Big 4-0, I wasn’t sure how middle age would suit me. “Middle age,” in fact, sounded like a term I couldn’t imagine applying to myself. Given the fact that it feels like I finally finished graduate school only yesterday, it seems physically impossible that I could be over forty. But, it really is true when they say time speeds up as you age, for my long-awaited graduation from graduate school happened over five years ago, not yesterday. My twenties were the decade I married and moved to New England; my thirties were the decade I finally finished school, divorced, and came into my own; and my forties are…now. I’m not exactly sure how I got here so fast, but here I am, waking up to “middle age.”

And therein lies the kicker: it turns out I actually like being “middle aged.” I don’t necessarily like that term, as it sounds middling and mediocre: not quite young and not quite old, just a nondescript mishmash of This and That. I don’t like the way that many folks utter the term “middle aged” as if it were an epithet synonymous with “out-of-touch and stuck-in-a rut” rather than “a period of life when you’re still active enough to do fun things and wise enough to enjoy them sensibly.” But despite my initial indecision about how I’d like being 40, I’m finding that being a “woman of a certain age” really suits me. I’m beginning to think, in fact, that I’ve been a 40-something-year-old all along, and only now am I behaving in a way that is age-appropriate. Finally, the sprinkling of gray hair that looked so strange when I started getting it in high school looks entirely appropriate on a 40-something head: a badge of wisdom rather than an unfortunate genetic inheritance.

Sky walker

Jo(e) hit the nail on the head in her post about not making New Year’s resolutions when she remarked, “By the time I was forty, I had decided to accept my vices as part of my charming personality.” In my 20s and 30s, I looked at myself as some sort of self-improvement project that was never quite finished, and this meant I spent a lot of time and energy mentally comparing myself to people I thought were more “improved” than I was. During the long slog to my doctorate, for example, I wondered why I couldn’t/didn’t finish sooner, like others did. In the years leading up to my divorce, I wondered why I couldn’t assume the character of the “perfect wife” as I imagined other married women did. Throughout my twenties, I worried that I wasn’t as good a college instructor as my peers were, and throughout my thirties, I even compared myself to my female students, wondering why I as a 30-something woman couldn’t look as cute, thin, and fashionable as a fresh-faced coed.

Corner of a Calder

Somewhere around the time I turned 40, though, many of these comparisons simply fell away. It was as if I reached a point in my life–as if I reached “a certain age”–where I was simply too tired to worry about how I look, seem, or behave in comparison with other people. Somewhere around the time I turned 40, I remembered I’ve never been cute, thin, or fashionable in a conventional sense. I was always the strange kid who, in elementary school, used to climb to the top of the jungle gym to contemplate the universe while my classmates played kickball; I was always the kid who spent more time reading than socializing. Now when I see my 18- to 20-something female students in their crop tops and skinny jeans, I no longer compare myself with that because I was never a girl who wore the latest fashions or anything called “skinny.” As a 40-something, I’m in a completely different category than all the world’s 20- and even 30-somethings, so there’s no use trying to make a comparison.

Going to an art museum on your birthday, it turns out, is a wonderful way to embrace this kind of age-acceptance. The MFA contains artworks of all ages, with galleries devoted to objects both contemporary and ancient. In an art museum, there is no indication that works “of a certain age” are less valuable than younger works; instead, older pieces are cherished as “classics” and “masterpieces.” Why then do we worship human youth over the more seasoned ripeness of age?

Museum steps

Last year, a few months after I turned 40, I went not once but twice to the MFA’s eye-popping exhibit of paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, and as a woman of a certain age and body shape, I absolutely loved viewing artworks where full-grown and fleshy women were displayed as being the pinnacle of erotic beauty. Titian’s Venus and Tintoretto’s Susannah aren’t young girls or wispy waifs; they are mature, substantial women who would never stoop to squeeze themselves into skinny jeans. Standing in a room where voluptuous Venuses hung on every wall, I had a moment of clarity: “Maybe this is what mature Italian women actually look like.” If you’re a woman of any age who has ever felt a pang of insecurity when you looked in the mirror or compared yourself with the models in magazines, you know how liberating such a realization can be.

Ultimately, the lesson of any museum is that you should enjoy beauty wherever you find it, regardless of its age or shape. It’s a lesson offered to any who would hear it, but it is one especially savored by those of a certain age.

Click here to see my photo-set from my birthday trip to the Museum of Fine Arts. Enjoy!


One of the things I love to do at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, after a few hours of exploring has caused a case of museum-fatigue, is to find a comfortable chair near the upstairs rotunda and spend a quiet while reading whatever issue of The New Yorker I have stashed in my purse, the John Singer Sargent murals overhead providing ample canopy for the most expansive and inspired of thoughts.


It’s become something of an unofficial tradition for me to go to the Museum of Fine Arts on or around my birthday. I did it last year when I turned 40, and I did it several years before that when I turned 38. Taking a day off to stroll the galleries is a simple pleasure that gives me a chance to take stock of where I’ve been and where I’m going, and I love surrounding myself with beautiful things–paintings, sculptures, and the like–as a reminder of how I’d like my life to be.


In characteristically warped fashion, today I want to spend my birthday contemplating death, first in an exhibit of ancient Egyptian funerary art and next (if I have time) in an exhibit of prints by Albrecht Durer. The ancient Egyptians turned preparing for the afterlife into an art, and Durer’s prints often focused on dark and otherworldly subjects. Neither probably sounds like the stuff of your normal birthday celebration, but I’ve never exactly seen myself as normal. In my mind, taking time on your birthday to remember where your life is headed isn’t morbid; it’s realistic. Although I’m not dead yet, I figure it never hurts to check out the scenery in the “neighborhood” where we all eventually end up residing.

Today’s images come from an August trip to the MFA, when I shot lots of pictures of art, images of the Museum’s Japanese garden, and a photo-set of the enormous baby heads outside the Museum’s Fenway entrance. Enjoy, and I’ll see you once I’m another year older.

Next Page »