The Casual Blog

Tag: Fletcher Park

Spring, the morphing pandemic, meditating, and catching up on movies

Looking southwest from our apartment at new construction

It’s definitely spring.  It always amazes me how fast the hardwood trees here leaf in, once they get started.  Just in the last week, things have gotten very green. 

Looking west from our apartment

Raulston Arboretum is closed because of the pandemic, and so I won’t be seeing the big irises this year.  I did spend some time with the tulips in Fletcher Park, and made a few images I liked. I experimented with intentional camera movement to get an impressionistic effect.

The pandemic seems to morph every few days into a more severe disaster, with a mounting death toll and more severe disruptions to ordinary life.  It’s painful to see a very big chunk of our nest egg disappear as the stock market plummets. It’s painful to be isolated from loved ones and unable to do our usual activities.  

I’ve been clearing some extra time for meditation and listening to some new lessons on managing thoughts and feelings.  Just sitting still and observing the breath can go a long way toward calm and peace. There are free lessons on the free app, Insight Timer.  

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is normally a highlight of early spring for us, and we were sorry it was cancelled.  But on the bright side, we’ve been seeing some good movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Last night, we watched Just Mercy, a fictionalized version of the non-fiction book of that title by Bryan Stephenson.  It’s about a young black lawyer with a Harvard Law degree who sets up a non-profit practice in Alabama to help prisoners on death row.  

The dramatic elements come from the racists who threaten him with violence and his clients with execution.  It’s never emphasized, but worth noting, that the real Stephenson, with his talent and a Harvard degree, could have made a fortune in a big law firm, rather than take big risks for almost no money.  He had extraordinary courage and compassion.

This week we also watched Harriet, a biopic about the great abolitionist Harriet Tubman.  Slavery is something we know about, but the more I learn, the more I find I still need to know.  Tubman was an extraordinary person who managed to get herself out of slavery and then risk death to free dozens of others.  Cynthia Erivo is a powerful and touching Tubman.  

We also saw Bombshell, a fictionalized account of Fox News under Roger Ailes and his culture of exploitation, sexual and otherwise.  John Lithgow is a wonderfully evil Aisles, and Charlize Theron is a convincing, bombshellish Megyn Kelly. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News is an amazingly effective propaganda organ, and getting some perspective on its workings is worthwhile.  


On lovely dogwoods, exercise as medicine, and golf with a big big hole

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This week in Raleigh the dogwoods were blossoming. By the time I got to Fletcher Park this morning, they were past their peak, but still lovely. The tulips had come and almost all gone while I was away in Spain, and I was sorry to have missed them. I took some photos of the remains.
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Gabe came out from Telluride this week for a visit with mom and dad. I was very glad to hear of his successful first season in an adult amateur hockey league, in which he scored some goals. He’s kept up his running, and also has been experimenting yoga, using lessons on YouTube. He asked for some pointers on his down dog pose, and also for a demonstration of a headstand. Fortunately, I got up smoothly and didn’t topple over, and he was suitably impressed.
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I heard a doc on an NPR program recently say that exercise is the best medicine. This makes sense. Staying active surely does a body more good most of the time than any pill, injection, or ointment. I’d note obvious exceptions for traumatic injuries and serious diseases, and still say, exercise is tremendously important for health.

So I feel good knowing my progeny are exercising. In a phone call this week, Jocelyn confirmed that she was doing so, having joined a new gym convenient to her subway stop in Brooklyn. It turns out that she, like me, gets a lot of reading done on a cardio machine. Her boyfriend, a former college athlete, has been trying to give her a little coaching on gym activities, which she has strongly discourage. She likes to find her own way.
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I used to be more like that, but now I am usually grateful for knowledgeable coaching. Figuring everything out yourself, even if it were possible, would just take too long. An example: when Jenn, my regular spin class instructor, made an announcement recently that anyone who comes to class regularly should have special cycling shoes, I took it on board. After several years of spinning, I finally bought my first pair of Shimanos at REI this week. Unfortunately, at my Friday class, Jenn was out sick – I’d been looking forward to letting her know I was listening to what she said. Anyhow, the shoes, which clip only the pedals, did change the experience. They allow you to pull as well as push. New muscles can get into the act.
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I’d hoped we’d have good golfing for the weekend, so that Gabe and I could get out for a round, but it turned out to be wet and a bit raw on Saturday, and cool and gusty on Sunday. In golfing news, there were stories about an interesting new variation of golf in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Instead of the regulation 4.25 inch hole, the hole is 15 inches wide. This turns 10 foot putts into gimmes, and 30 foot putts into opportunities.

This sounds like fun to me. The putting is the most frustrating part of the game. I don’t consider myself particularly bad at putting, but you can putt fairly well and still miss – a lot. I wouldn’t propose to change the whole game, since I’m sure there are those who love putting towards small holes more than anything, and some who are uncomfortable with any change on principle. But it would be nice to have the option of dialing down the fraughtness a bit with a larger hole.

Buds, laughs, and cries, including Romeo and Juliet (the ballet)

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Sally’s taking a flower arranging class at Wake Tech, and here is her latest project, which I really liked. With spring officially here, I’m very much ready for the big blossoming , and took a Saturday morning walk through Fletcher Park and Raulston Arboretum to see what was up. They’re not here in numbers just yet. But it was fun to take a close look at some things on the point of bursting out.
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Is there anything more boring than people bragging about their marvelous kids? Perhaps hearing people complain about their aches and pains. But other people’s impressive kids are still a serious problem, conversation-wise. Why is it, then, that stories about my own kids are so interesting?

So, sorry, but here goes a proud papa: Jocelyn, having conquered the book publishing business in Manhattan (i.e. getting an entry-level job in ebooks at Macmillan), has now published her first professional writing. It’s a humorous essay about getting the fun of a good cry, which you may read at Quarterlette, a site for twenty-something women. The pay was not good (zero), but she was very excited to be a beginning author. Who knows what comes next? She’s got a piece on online dating in the works, and we kicked around ideas for a funny piece about the annoyances of Facebook.
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At an opposite extreme, there’s a piece in last week’s New Yorker by Andrew Solomon about Peter Lanza, the father of Adam Lanza. Remember Adam, the Sandy Hook killer, who took the life of 26 little kids, his mom, and himself? This is worse than a parent’s worst nightmare. I hadn’t known that he was a high functioning autistic kid who may also have been psychotic. We want to know why he did what he did or what might have made things unfold differently, but there are no full, satisfying answers. Nobody saw Adam’s potential for horrific violence, including the mental health professionals who examined him or his parents. I was moved by Peter Lanza’s struggle with both the pain of loss and profound guilt.
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There’s another good story about death and love called Romeo and Juliet, which the Carolina Ballet performed on Saturday night. We’ve seen Robert Weiss’s choreographed version several times over the past 15 years, and it’s one of my favorites. Shakespeare’s story, it turns out, works quite well without words. The language of ballet is fully sufficient to convey the richness of the trembling, tingling ecstasy of first love, and the explosive violence of feuding clans.

In this production, Margaret Severin-Hansen played Juliet with sweet innocence, and her Romeo, Sokvannara Sar, was strong and sensitive. Their balcony scene was complete, unmitigated, overwhelming love — love that obliterates everything else. Eugene Barnes was a smoldering, intimidating Tybalt. I thought the group sword fights could have used a bit more edge and brio, though I hesitate to say so – I wouldn’t want any dancers to actually get hurt.

Lindsay Turkel was radiant in the trio of gypsy street dancers. We were also happy to see Alyssa Pilger, a corps member and our pointe shoe sponsoree, get a high-profile solo as the Mandolin Girl. She rocked! I’d previously been struck by her beautiful technique, but last night she danced with amazing power, impassioned and electrifying.

Some pre-spring photography, and appreciating Diana Nyad, a swimmer for the ages

14 03 16_7805This week we had one day in the high 20s, and another in the low 70s. It’s been a roller coaster winter, and we’re all ready for spring. On Saturday morning after yoga, I went to Fletcher Park with my camera and checked for signs of emerging life. Daffodils had popped out, and tulips and others were getting ready. On Sunday I scouted Raulston Arboretum, which was mostly brown and gray (as in photo at bottom), but there were some delicate blooms and buds. Spring is getting close. We’ve just got to hang on!
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As I’ve been taking more pictures I’ve also been trying to figure out what it is I’m trying to do. Make a picture, of course, but there’s more to it. The camera subtly changes the way you see and feel. You look a little harder, and discover there are feelings associated with objects. You wonder, can they be captured, and can they be shared? Your relationship to the visual world has changed. Sure, there’s always a risk that the camera will distance you from the world, but I’m finding it can also draw you closer.
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So there’s a little voyage of discovery that happens in photographic outings, even when the output isn’t especially remarkable. It’s a type of meditation. And from time to time everything is right – the light and shapes and the colors – and none of the many things that can go wrong go wrong (you didn’t forget to take the lens cover off, or get a cat hair off the lens, or to adjust the white balance, ISO, aperture, etc.). At just the right second, you push the shutter, and everything clicks. Ah, happiness.
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It’s just a tiny fraction of a second (say, one six-thousandth). But it ‘s the culmination of many moments – years and years. It depends on your having looked carefully at your subject, but also your having looked for a long time at nature with intensity and affection. It also takes having looked at a lot of art, and considered how humans use images to represent things and communicate emotions. It also depends on your having learned your craft – how to hold the camera steady, how to frame the subject, how to choose the settings. It takes time. And usually there’s something a little off. There are so many not bad, almost-good, but ultimately useless, pictures. But you keep trying, and gradually get better.
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I’m crazy about my new Nikon D7100. Such marvelous engineering – a sensor with twenty-four million pixels! Fifty-one point auto-focus! The focus responsiveness is truly amazing. But I’m also a bit overwhelmed by the apparatus. Weeks into our relationship, I’ve got the basics, but I’m still finding new little buttons I hadn’t previously noticed. I seldom read users manuals, but for the D7100, I’ve felt moved to purchase two additional how-to books. Seriously, its complicated. But on the bright side, I don’t feel the equipment is holding me back. It’s more like I’m holding it back. So I’m daunted, but also inspired. I don’t want its brilliance to go to waste.

Also inspiring: Diana Nyad, who finally made the swim from Cuba to Florida at age 64 – a 53-hour, 110 mile swim, which she was the first to do without a shark cage. This is a feat of human endurance almost beyond imagination. I got round to reading Ariel Levy’s piece on her in the Feb. 10 New Yorker, which gave me a new appreciation for the amazing grit and relentlessness behind this feat. Nyad turns out to be at once a dreamer and a grinder, a brilliant, charming personality with considerable gaps and flaws. It soundss like she has OCD, relationship problems, and no money sense. She was horribly molested as a child. She has a drive that surpasses all known limits.

She started thinking about the Cuba-Florida swim when she was a little girl, and became a world-famous endurance swimmer in her twenties. After becoming the first to swim from the Bahamas to Florida (102 miles), she retired at age 30 and became a network sportscaster and did other things. Then she took up the quest for the Cuba to Florida at age 60. She failed. Then failed again. Then again. And each of these was physically harrowing – hours of nausea, shark worries (perhaps exaggerated, but understandable), and jelly fish stings. And then she did it. After two nights of swimming, she saw the lights of Key West, and knew she had 14 or 15 more hours to go. Which for her was a mere training swim.
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Amazing drawings, the N.C. Zoo, and some photos of butterflies

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Congratulations, to Jocelyn, who just graduated from the Columbia University publishing program. Now she’s hunting for a publishing job in New York, and we’re hopeful that she’ll quickly find one. (If you have any leads, please let me know.)

This week she sent me this link to a group of drawings and paintings that are astonishing in their photographic realism. Truly, the work is uncanny. I had no idea that there were humans with such technical facility.

But after the initial shock of astonishment wore off a bit, I wondered a little what was the point. If you could do the same thing with a camera, why wouldn’t you just use the camera? I suppose it might be like deciding to hike when you could drive, or building furniture with hand tools rather than power tools. There could be joy in the activity.

At any rate, I’m so glad I’ve got a camera, because it would take me at least another lifetime to learn to draw like these artists. Lately I’ve been learning more about my Nikon D3200, and having fun with it.
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Week before last, I took the Sally and the camera over to the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro. We took in most of the Africa section, which features a spacious layout for such iconic species as elephants, giraffes, and rhinos, and relatively humane enclosures for the lions, chimps, baboons, lemurs, and exotic birds.
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We saw an adorable and sociable ostrich (above). I was also particularly touched by a baby baboon, just 6 months old, who rode about on mama, dropped off to bother brother, and hitched another ride on top of an aunt. We also enjoyed the many swimming turtles, including snappers, we saw from the bridge at the entrance.

I generally associate zoos with children, and recalled with pleasure taking my kids years ago, but also was reminded of the many challenges of young children and their needs (“I’m thirsty.” “I’m hungry” “I’m tired.” “I’m bored.”) It was good for a change to have no worries of that sort, and freedom to just enjoy the animals and environments.
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Of course I have mixed feelings: it doesn’t feel quite right to cage these creatures up, even in nice cages. In the best of worlds they’d be free to live as best they could in habitat unmarred by humans. But in an imperfect world, I appreciate the chance to get close to these marvelous creatures.
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As a birthday present to myself I recently got a new tool: AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105 mm f/2.8G IF-ED. It’s a high quality macro lens suitable for extreme closeups. I’m interested in doing more with flowers and insects. Yesterday morning I got to Raulston Arboretum just after it opened at 8:00 a.m., and had good light, and proceeded thereafter to Fletcher Park. There were bees and butterflies hard at work, including these.
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