October 2011

Two views

On Saturday, A (not her real initial) and I went walking at the Minute Man National Historical Park in Lincoln, MA, sketchbooks in hand. Although both A and I were looking at the same pastoral landscape, our views are slightly different: A drew in pen and captured the architectural nuances of the Captain William Smith house, and I used a mechanical pencil to capture the larger landscape with its stone wall, fringe of forest, and scrubby burdock.

Neither sketch captures the afternoon’s brisk temperature, the smattering of raindrops that pelted the page as we began to draw, the red-tailed hawk that zoomed past as we stood motionless, or the steady parade of families with toddlers, baby strollers, and inquisitive dogs that passed us. Regardless of which drawing you prefer, either one offers more warmth and personality than a pixel-perfect photograph of the same scene.

Captain William Smith House

Toy soldiers

It’s the time of year when Keene State College art students use whatever’s close at hand to make temporary sculptures they display on campus. Because the typical college student doesn’t have a lot of money, these art projects rely heavily on inexpensive supplies such as chicken wire and papier-mâché along with everyday objects like castoff water bottles, plastic coat hangers, or little green army men. You don’t need a lot of money to build an interesting sculpture, just a little creativity.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Little. For more photos of this year’s art projects, click here. Enjoy!

Stopping by woods...

On sunny autumn days, I remember how lucky I am to live in New England, a place some people only get to visit on vacation. This past weekend was Columbus Day, an excuse for Massachusetts residents–leaf peepers–to invade New Hampshire in search of foliage, but their annual pilgrimage is one I do twice a week, there and back.

New England asters

On my Tuesday commute, the road from Newton to Keene was fringed with color like a swaddling scarf. Mostly red and gold, these colors glowed as if illuminated from within. The air itself even looked golden: the sky pale blue and trailed with wispy clouds, with everything tinted with a yellow metallic glint that occurs only this time of year. These golden days are precious because they never last.

At one point as I steered my car along a gray ribbon of road wending between glowing trees, a crew of inmates in eye-smarting orange safety vests clustered along the berm, gathering litter into bright yellow bags. On the opposite side of the road, a stubbly brown farm field was liberally dotted with orange pumpkins. Driving from Newton to Keene on days like these is like unrolling an earth-toned panorama, but instead of looking at the scene, you’re in it, wondering if your own skin glows gold and electric.

I wrote this entry on Tuesday in one of my Creative Nonfiction classes, in response to the prompt “Morning Commute.” Many times I’ve wished I had a camera attached to the hood of my car, so I could show you what I see on my Tuesday and Thursday drives between Newton and Keene.

Tuesday was so lovely, I had to stop to snap at least one picture, taken in the parking area of the High Ridge Wildlife Management Area in Westminster, MA, which I pass every time I drive to Keene. Today, it’s pouring rain, making for a much gloomier commute.

Bathing birds

Yesterday on our way to Bren Bataclan’s studio in Boston’s South End, J and wandered unfamiliar streets, snapping random photos. I often come home from such photo-walks with individual images that don’t tell a particular story: just a picture here and another there. The above photo is a classic example. What kind of story might I tell about three birds–two starlings and a house sparrow–bathing in a parking lot puddle, a photo I shot through a chain-link fence as the afternoon sun slanted toward evening, their shapes silhouetted and reflected among silent ripples?

Gray squirrel with walnut

The neighborhood squirrels are busy these days stockpiling walnuts, acorns, and any other nuts they can find for their winter caches, while I’m busy with paper-piles and planning for the next online semester. These days, I have more blog ideas than I have hours to actually blog, so I squirrel those ideas away for later: a day (eventually) when the hours are long and my inspiration short.

Twin saucers

Two years ago, we had a bumper crop of acorns here in New England, and this year, we seem to have more mushrooms than usual. This week has been damp and humid, with misty mornings and drizzly days. On my morning dog-walks, I’ve been on the lookout for fungi and have not been disappointed, the work of decomposition happening at every step.


Looking for mushrooms is like looking for Easter eggs: you never know what strange thing will appear on any given morning. Some mushrooms look like saucers landed from another planet; others resemble alien outgrowths from otherwise healthy-looking trees.

Even though I know mushrooms and other fungi don’t appear out of nowhere–fungi, like icebergs, hide most of their mass below the surface, in a spreading web of mycelia–it always comes as a surprise to see Something where there once was Nothing. A sudden eruption of fungi reminds us of the invisible forces that are always present, lurking underfoot.


All year long, mycelial mats have wormed underground, ferreting the food that fungi consume. Lacking chlorophyll, fungi suck nutrients from the living or steal them from the dead, and when the conditions are right, fungal mycelia send up fruiting bodies to spread spores. The mushrooms and other colorful fungi we see above-ground are reproductive parts, with a fungus’ true work happening in secret, underground. Mycelial mats are workhorses, toiling (and enduring) in secret, while their ephemeral fruiting bodies garner all the attention with their fleshy (and transient) exuberance.

As a composition instructor, I teach my students how to craft sentences and paragraphs to communicate meaning, word upon word. Fungi of all shapes and sizes are experts in decomposition, reminding us through their sudden autumnal emergence that everything eventually falls prey to parasitism, death, and decay.

Click here for more photos of fall fungi. Enjoy!