Found dangling in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The helpful tag led me to @seemetellme, an artist who gifts small objects around the city, and, indeed, other parts of world. A sucker for animal art, I took this but left another, non-animal, elsewhere in the park. For someone else’s accidental discovery. (Through the magic of the interwebs, I told SMTM of my find, and now I tell all.)
Archive for the 'Art Culture Politics' Category
Did you notice that there were fewer Monarch Butterflies this year? I only saw a few here and there. They were notable for their rarity. Others I know reported the same situation. The word spread. Of course, this was all anecdotal, as the publicists and lawyers, who one supposes have to feed their children with their lies, obfuscation, and cooperation with evil, like to say. But now the numbers are in and they are appalling. Please read this important article by Jim Robbins. Last year 60 million Monarchs arrived in their wintering fastness in Mexico after their epic migration down the coast. That was considered a low-number year. This year, there have been 3 million.
And this, in a pesticide-filled nation of invasive species on sterile lawns, dominated by mono-crops and the destruction of meadows, is only the canary in the coal mine of an insect apocalypse.
Or six and a half miles to start with… I walked down Clinton Street, still fairly leafy, with yellowing Ginkgo in particular still hanging on, but no female trees along this stretch; their tell-tale fruit, crushed upon the sidewalk, did stench up other sections of my route. The fig growing on a side street is almost completely bare; I suppose the next time I pass it wall be swaddled in burlap to help it through the winter, as in years past. Carroll Gardens, with its deep front yards, most atypical for western Brooklyn, marks the border between brownstones and clapboards, with the formerly working class housing and industrial zone beyond; moving downhill here is like passing over a tree line; the mature trees, so many arching London Planes cathedraling the streets, simply end. I crossed the Gowanus at 9th Street. The blocks on either side of the greasy green Superfund Site, which canalized the old wetlands behind the once and future island of Red Hook, were barren of trees and smelled like it. Two of a million trees looking lonely on the corner of 3rd Avenue… But you get a great sense of the local geography here: it’s a long slow rise from 2nd Avenue to Prospect Park West (9th Avenue) up 9th Street to the top of the hill, Prospect Park on the heights of the Harbor Hill Moraine. I only went part way up because my target was that other green moraine-topper, so I turned down 5th Avenue, along the flank of the glacial pile now, and walked to the 25th Street entrance of Green-Wood. I exited an hour later at PPW and 20th Street, the Monday holiday meaning that particular gate was open, where I again flanked the slope along 7th Avenue before descending again into the valley of the Gowanus and the slight uphill on the other side to home. Pigeons and Sparrows, of course, but also gulls, the screech of a Bluejay, and the white flash of a Mockingbird’s wings, until I entered the greenland of the Green-Wood, where the raucous Monk Parakeets announced an expansion of life. A Kestrel flew overhead to land briefly on a ridiculously thin-looking branch, one claw over the other. In the distance, a big raptor. Something, also, over the Gowanus on the way home: flying like a Accipter, flap-flap-glide, but me without my bins.Unknown cypress cones with seeds.
I started the 1000 Urban Miles Challenge last Monday. Since then I’ve walked 23 miles in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Read more about Liam Heneghan’s project and do it yourself. It only takes a year, or 19 and a quarter miles per week. You don’t have to be in a city. The idea is to walk consciously, aware of the natural world all around you, as with Liam’s inspiration, Irish naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger, an indefatigable walker. I have essentially been doing this for some years now, and reporting my findings here for nearly four years, but without having any real notion of how far I have walked. As I type this, I realize I mean the actual milage AND, rather more importantly, all the other ways, too. White-Throated Sparrow finding a gravestone good for a lookout. #1000UrbanMiles is the Twitter tag if you want to play that way.
Seen within a couple blocks of each other recently on Centre St. in the Inner Borough. Above, business card on the street. Below: throw pillow through a window (…it would be a serious pillow to be able to break the glass).Now, you may protest that a whale is not a fish, as do I. A 19th Century New York City court, and Melville’s Ishmael, would both have disagreed with us.
Or boars to be more exact. This is an early 14th Century coat of arms from the Porcelet family of Provence. The family Piglet! I would guess they changed their name and emblem by the time the Renaissance showed up in the form of Caterina de Medici, who brought the fork, for sticking into Huguenots, and some couth, from Firenze. This coat of arms was at the Cloisters, where I went to hear the astonishing Forty Part Motet of Janet Cardiff and Thomas Tallis; it is playing until early December. While I was there, I heard a guard say he could take listening to the performance all day long; I listened five times and whole-heartedly agreed with him. Sublime.
Four rows of striding boars: one of the amazing Mesopotamian seals at the Morgan Library & Museum. This is one from late in the game, c. 550-330BC; the peoples between the rivers had been making them for nearly three millennia before this. The seal here in the left hand top corner is just over an inch tall, and made of rock crystal. Others were marble, lapis lazuli, chalcedony, serpentine, etc., and they depict hosts of animals real and mythological (including the serpent-necked feline!). I was privileged to be given a tour by the curator, Sidney Babcock, who was also responsible for rolling out each of the clay impressions set up alongside the actual seal. (The photographs below are for revealing greater detail of these often minute objects). After many years of being mostly behind the scenes, the seals now have a permanent exhibit in the Librarian’s Office, part of the McKim, Mead, & White building, the original library. Another astonishing experience. (Ah, New York!) Thank you, Sidney!
There are so many life forms here on Earth that it is impossible to comprehend the sheer variety and diversity of them all. Sure, there are Internet projects attempting to catalog all the planet’s species, perhaps a Sisyphean task, but for any one individual, it is all surely far too much. Mind-boggling; a good word, really, for the effect, at least on me, rather like the unfathomable sense of time on display in the Grand Canyon, upon whose edge I recently stood and looked down. 10,000 bird species, maybe; but 100,000 or so species of beetles? At least we can see those. Many species are too small to be seen with the unaided eye — at least 5000 species of phytoplankton, for instance; many of those that are visible are too far away to ever be experienced in one life-time; many have yet to be discovered. Some are disappearing at this moment…
The Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities, was one kind of attempt to make some kind of sense of all this life. These often also included inanimate forms like minerals and fossils and even chimeras, fakes. They came out of a Renaissance urge to discover, describe, collect, and display, which flowed into the imperialist mission of Europe in the age of colonization. At first, these collections were private, cabinets or rooms in the homes of the wealthy and powerful; eventually, museums were founded to present the evidence of the Earth’s fecundity to the public, though every museum can only display a tiny proportion of its collection.
The Wagner Free Institute of Science of Philadelphia was established in the middle of the 19th century to provide free science education to all adults. Its exhibition hall, on the 2nd floor of its neoclassical home, is today still what it was set up as, a Victorian science museum. Row upon row of display cases reveal insects, mollusks, fish, birds, mammals, minerals, fossils, those ghosts of past life forms, and much more. Wandering around, as I did recently, the only person in the three-story space most of the time I was there, began to give me a sense of the expansiveness of planet Earth’s life like no other experience has. (And this, of course, is still just a very small sample.) I find this expansiveness, this amazing plethora, breathtaking, gobsmacking.
Interestingly, the Wagner was also the first branch of the Philadelphia Free Library, a broader view of libraries than one generally finds today. You should check it out.
Note: photography is not allowed in the Wagner. My collage is made up of their upcoming event notices, a postcard, and a Tiger cowrie shell I found in the gift store and could not resist even though I usually like to find my own natural history objects in the wild.
Tags: birding, birds, Philadelphia
A taxidermy representation of a Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis), a species hunted to extinction by the mid-19th century. This was the largest Alcid, up to a three feet tall and weighing some 11 lbs. They were flightless but excellent swimmers in the cold, fish rich waters of the north. The bird’s scientific name was later applied to similar but unrelated swimming birds of the southern hemisphere, since those “penguins” reminded Europeans of the Pinguinus of their home seas. Initially, the Great Auks were hunted for their down, to stuff pillows, then for their fat, finally for their very rareness; collectors wanted specimens and their eggs — egg collecting was once huge — before it was too late. We actually know the names of the Icelanders who killed what are generally considered to be very last ones on the planet, a breeding pair, no less, for the benefit of a collector, as someday we may know the name of the fisherman who catches the last giant bluefin to hosannas of media hype over the hundreds of thousands of dollars he will be able to sell it for before he too becomes a minor note in the history of destruction. Today there are 78 Great Auk skins in museums around the world, along with 75 eggs and 24 complete skeletons. This skin is in the Academy of Natural Sciences in a ghostly diorama of the past. On the right are male and female Labrador ducks (Camptorhynchus labradorius), which were once found in the waters off NY and NJ; they were gone by 1875. On the left, the Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis) which lasted, on Barbados at least, until the year of my birth, 1963.
Surely the most frightening thing on the roads tonight will be the automobiles, especially the single occupancy vehicles which clog the life-blood of the city like a diseased vampire. The number of traffic deaths in NYC up to the end of 9/13 was 203, while the number of homicides was 242 (the NYPD rarely considers death by car as homicide); but I’m also thinking about the burning of gasoline that’s heating the future, and the particulate they pump into our lungs.
This possum isn’t playing dead. (I’ve spared you the picture of the deer chunks on the MetroNorth tracks, being pecked by crows.)
Or costume ideas. These live at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, in Philadelphia.