Monthly Archives: August 2011


Wedding booth at Bretton Woods.

We are always setting space aside for ceremony, for the sacred. We draw a circle, we build an altar, we raise a tent, we consecrate a glade. We are drawn to those liminal places where something meaningful has or will come to pass.

We need that feeling of un-ordinariness. We crave the creation of meaning that emerges from something singled out or special. We cannot bear for it all to be one and the same.

Eventually even the stars will grow cold and dark. All the more reason for us to light up our own lives and warm one another’s hearts when we can.

A Year Ago: Bring On the Cool

Calligraphic, dried leaves on stalk.It’s 93 degrees Fahrenheit at 5:30 pm. Air quality: Code Red…
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On the Edge

Rocks and roots above the Potomac.

Usually, when I crop a photograph, it’s strictly for compositional reasons: the camera’s frame has included something I wish to exclude. But sometimes I feel that a particular format carries an emotional value with it as well. I think, for example, that the square format carries with it both a sense of stability and nostalgia (viz. Instagram). Putting an asymmetrical or offset subject in a square frame creates a different tension than it would in a standard rectangular one, where it would likely conform to the rule of thirds. Centering a subject in a square frame gives a positively iconic quality to the image.

The 16:9 ratio is relatively rare in photography until the modern era. It’s the ratio of HD, the widescreen movie. We associate the shape with drama and motion, the proportion generates its own inherent suspense. Something is going to happen. A photograph in this format reads as if it were a movie still: if it’s been called out of a film, it must be an important frame, right? Why this moment, and not some other? But because it is static, in our Western culture we “read” images that are short and wide from left to right, they have a built in visual narrative. We expect them to develop or unfold. At the very least, we expect a certain grandeur from a panoramic landscape.

That’s a lot of built in semiotics to play with, or against.

This small tree and its rock-grasping roots are found at one end of the Billy Goat Trail above the Potomac River in Maryland. It reminds me very much of the cliffside cypresses of the California coast, and I am suddenly overcome with a desire to revisit Point Lobos. A small state park, Lobos is a place with an astonishing density of natural beauty; around every bend there is a lovely new ecosystem-in-miniature. I went there often when my grandmother lived in Carmel, decades ago.

Happy Tenth, Rapid Eye Reality

I’m not sure how long I’ve been reading Otis’s (real name: Brad Willis) blog—probably not much more than a couple of years now. I found him through my poker connections, but that’s not why I read him. He writes about ordinary life in an extraordinary way. His limpid prose, emotional and intellectual honesty, and wry humor make anything he writes worth reading.

He also takes the best family snapshots I’ve ever seen from someone who doesn’t claim to be a professional.

Here’s to the next ten years!

[Update: Whilst poking around on his main website, I discovered that Brad was also responsible for the blog Up For Poker, which if I knew originally, I had certainly forgotten.]

Autumn Pasture

Field with stone wall and barn.

…And, just like that, even before Labor Day, summer is over. Hurricane Irene blew it right over the horizon.

The weather is gorgeous today: cool, bright, dry. It’s the best weather of the year in DC because it’s the weather of Fall. I’ll do my best to enjoy it in between the necessary tasks.

A Year Ago: Enterprise

Space Shuttle, Udvar-Hazy Center, Air & Space MuseumI was born with the Space Age, more or less…
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Feet Palette

Metal furniture feet and color palette.

I think this four-tone palette would make an excellent start for a web page design. It’s often useful to combine a mostly neutral range with one color that really pops.

In fact, the seemingly monochrome areas of this photograph are filled with additional subtle colors that could be mined to great effect, including a reddish-mauve and a warm sandy yellow.

A Year Ago: Blackbird

Blackbird (SR-71), Udvar-Hazy Center, Air & Space MuseumThis photograph is nothing special, but it is a photograph of something very special indeed…
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Here, Have A Flower

Some pink flower.

This morning, I belatedly remembered that I had no coffee in the house. My houseguest and I brewed the last of it on Thursday, and I dispatched the refrigerated remainder on Friday morning.

Coffeeless! How could I be expected to survive the Impending Watery Wall of Dreadful Doom without coffee?!

What then must be done?

Well, if you live in DC, then you know that the prospect of any kind of Weather Situation engenders a DEFCON 1 panic at the local supermarket. Aaaaa-ooooooo-GAH! And indeed, at 10:30 on a Saturday morning, there were lines twenty deep at my local Giant. One woman in front of me had two grocery carts loaded up with canned and dry goods.

Surprisingly, there were still a couple of fresh baguettes on sale. I bought one of those, a can of Medaglia D’Oro coffee (a family tradition started by my mother long before dark roast coffee was hip), and some blueberry-pomegranite juice. And, in an unusual twist of affairs, I made it home before it started raining in earnest.

I expect the weekend to be very soggy, but otherwise uneventful. At least I’ll be properly caffeinated throughout.

(By the way, can anyone tell me what that flower is?)

A Year Ago: Dreams of Flight

Udvar-Hazy/Air & Space MuseumThere was a time (coinciding with an era of much less widespread affluence and privilege) when flying was a glamorous affair…
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Sail On

Building facade, South Beach, Miami

With yet another end-of-days meme on its way—Hurricane Irene, which I have dubbed Irenegnarok—I thought I’d provide a little calm and stability as a counter-balance to the general elevation of anxiety.

This is another image from the archive, a nautically-themed exterior of an apartment building in South Beach, Miami. I love the monochrome serenity of abstract geometry in this picture. After all, when faced with the much-ballyhooed Watery Wall of Death-Dealing Doom, it’s good to picture oneself sailing steadily through the peril in a seaworthy vessel.

To all my East Coast peops: take sensible precautions, stock up on batteries and drinking water, and enjoy whatever enforced period of relatively inactivity may ensue. Stay safe and sail on!

A Year Ago: Steampunk

Engine at the Air & Space Museum (Udvar-Hazy)Now this, this is a machine…
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Sad Panda is Sad…

Giant Panda with Giant Lifesaver (Fruitcicle)

…because Joanna got on a train back to Boston today.

But actually, this panda is NOT sad. This panda is enjoying a fruitcicle made of apple juice and tasty fruit pieces. Similarly, I got to enjoy the company of a good friend for two days, while also seeing some pretty darn spectacular scenery and a healthy dose of snazzy animal life at the National Zoo today.

Despite the occasional soaking downpour, we enjoyed the lion cubs, elephants, the cloud leopard, an amazingly lively interaction between three zebras and three cheetahs in neighboring enclosures, the fishing cat, and many other delightful creatures.

The lion cubs are three times the size they were on my last visit. The lions have been separated from their progeny and the lionesses, who may come into estrus soon. The zookeepers don’t want them to become pregnant while still caring for these cubs. (These pictures are pretty awful because it was heavily overcast and I was struggling to get usable exposures. The panda picture was shot inside at ISO 3200!)

National Zoo lion cub.

Lioness and cub, National Zoo, Washington DC

Lioness grooms cub, National Zoo, Washington, DC

A Year Ago: Dark Engine

A Pratt-Whitney engine at the Air & Space Museum.I bow to no one in my love of the digital. Well-done digital is, in a word, schweet…
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Formal Garden

Upper garden at Mt. Vernon, VA

This is a slice of the Upper Garden at Mt. Vernon. Joanna and I cut a wide swath through the scenic DC environs, beginning at Great Falls (Maryland side), and then spending most of the afternoon at President Washington’s place in Virginia.

Sore feet are a small price to pay for the delightful company.

A Year Ago: Shining Tile

Entrance to the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space MuseumBob and I spent a few hours at the Udvar-Hazy branch of the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum…
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Rattled, But Still Standing

Spires of the Central Tower show damage.

Spires of the Central Tower show damage.

Central Tower spires show damage.

There was a rumble, almost below hearing, and then my apartment began to shake, rattle, and roll. The outside wall of my apartment shimmied. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and would be quite content to never ever see anything like it again.

A couple of pictures fell off the wall, and a few things on surfaces were knocked over. If I had to estimate how long the disconcerting motion lasted, I would say somewhere between 7 and 15 seconds, which I assure you was plenty long enough.

Showing tremendous presence of mind, I grabbed my keys AND NOTHING ELSE and made my way out of the building.

Did I bring my purse? (Camera, wallet, phone, etc.)

Did I bring my brand new, small, easily grabable laptop?

In short: survival instinct FAIL. This disappoints me, because in past emergency situations I’ve been quite pleased by my ability to take essential steps quickly and with a clear head. This time, I was all excited and curious at first, but I did virtually nothing that would have been sensible had the consequences been direr.

My cell phone couldn’t make outgoing calls for over an hour. (The first thing I tried to do was call my boyfriend.) Then I made a joke via text on Twitter. At about that point, the nerves kicked in and I realized how truly shaken I felt. But someone mentioned something about damage to the Cathedral, so I got my long lens and went to investigate.

My dear friend Joanna is on a much-delayed train wending its way to Washington as I type. It will be wonderful to see her, and I’m very glad we got this earthquake business out of the way BEFORE she arrived.

Nerve-wracking episodes like this make one reach out to loved ones and count one’s blessings. I am now more viscerally alive to the trauma and horror that the suffering people of Haiti must have experienced in a much more violent and destructive quake. We were fortunate that this tremblor was more unnerving than actually damaging.