Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Backyard Artist Date - November 2015

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It's been a while since I've written on my blog, or gone on my backyard artist dates. I figured it was time to start up again. It's been a glorious week here in Ithaca, and I couldn't resist trying to capture these golden days of sunshine spilling into my yard. Of course, they'll pass by soon enough, but it sure is lovely right now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

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7/17/15 at 2:30 pm
At the Stewart Park Promontory

  • Temperature: 77 degrees
  • Wind: 1-10 MPH
  • Sky: Partly cloudy
  • Turtles
  • Geese
  • Mallards
  • Cormorants
  • Gulls
  • Songbirds
  • Camp kids playing tennis
  • Fishermen
  • People of all shapes and sizes walking and running and biking

I've been absent for a while; both at this blog, and my Stewart Park Promontory. Actually, I've been to the Promontory twice since April, but never felt inspired enough to get the experiences written down. Then spring slipped into summer, and without writing deadlines I have slipped away from words and into the world of my garden. But today I went to the park in search of something in particular, something I knew I could get my hands on at the Promontory.

As I strolled the well-worn path, I noticed how reinvigorating it was to be back. Strange to think that I visited there (almost) every week from January to May. Yet now it seemed almost foreign to me. The trail was grown over with lush green honeysuckle, poison ivy, and poplar. Grey, cackling birds I couldn't name hollered at me and startled out of the bushes. Logs were strewn against the shoreline, a product of heavy rains and flooding. Turtles sunned in the swan pen. It was still my place, but it had changed. I suppose, the same could be said of me. I regret, slightly, that I missed so many weeks of observation. But I walked on to find the thing I had come for.

Once upon a time, circa 1880, Ithaca's roads were paved with yellow bricks. This is a fact. There is a legend that goes along with it: Back in those days, a man named L. Frank Baum was a theatre actor touring the country. He opened one of his plays in Ithaca, where he met a girl who attended Cornell University. He returned to Ithaca often for his romance and likely noticed the yellow brick roads during his visits. Years later, Baum wrote a little novel you may have heard of-- The Wizard of Oz-- which features a particularly special Yellow Brick Road.

Over time, the yellow bricks of Ithaca were pulled up. Some red bricks replaced them, and eventually cement and asphalt covered what was left. In places around Ithaca one can still find asphalt worn away and yellow bricks layered underneath. And on a visit to the Promontory in May I found this:

Is it stealing to enter a public park and squish around in the shallows to dig up bricks that are yellow? If it is, I am confessing here.

Along with tending my pea and tomato and bean plants, I have been resurfacing my weed-covered, shale-shattered stone patio. I already had a couple of yellow bricks from my original patio creation ten years ago. But I coveted a few more. Most of those I found in the water's edge were red. But I scrounged up a few yellows to create a yellow brick road in my backyard. I think it came out quite nicely. It will serve as a reminder to me that should I get lost, should I need to find my way back to the natural world, all I need to do is follow Ithaca's yellow brick road and it will lead me home. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

May at the Promontory

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5-15-15 at 11:30 am
at the Stewart Park Promontory

  • Temperature: 66 degrees
  • Winds: 6 - 13 MPH
  • Skies: high clouds


  • Three water snakes
  • Mallards
  • Canada Geese
  • Gulls
  • Gnats
  • Robins
  • Jumping fish
  • A turtle
  • Starlings
  • Cormorants
  • People working around the boathouse
  • Walkers
  • Runners
  • Tourists
  • Sailors
  • Mom stroller gangs
  • Fishermen

I'm posting this two months after I drafted it, and without any accompanying thoughts. Here is my Promontory in May. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

On Punks and Snakes

5/4/15 at 12:30pm
At the Stewart Park Promontory

  • Temperature: 79 degrees
  • Wind: 2 - 11 MPH
  • Clouds: Few clouds

  • Canada geese
  • Chickadees
  • Gulls
  • Mallards
  • Robins
  • Goldfinches
  • Red-winged blackbirds
  • Cormorants
  • Northern water snake
  • Ants

  • Walkers and runners
  • Moms and kids at the playground
  • Taxi driver looking around with binoculars
  • Skinny white guy looking for something by a secluded bench
  • Show-off Harley bikers
  • Sunbathers

For the first time this year, I wore shorts and a t-shirt. I strolled through the sun along the Promontory loop and stopped by the first bench. What to photograph today? Water at the edge of the mossy bank. The spiraling tree trunk of an old fallen willow. A skinny young man twisting the cap of a bottle he held. His arrival at the bench where I stood was unexpected. He seemed equally surprised to see me. He sauntered past, and I covertly noted the piercings and white tank top t-shirt. I got the feeling that he wanted to be right where I was standing, and that I was in the way. His eyes scanned the ground all around, clearly looking for something. I took a few more pictures as he wandered away, then came back to the bench.

"What you takin' pictures of?" He asked.
"Oh just birds, the water. Whatever." I replied. This skinny punk was so out of place in this little naturey place, his presence didn't quite compute. I didn't know what to say. I scanned the ground too, thinking he was looking for a drug drop-off. Was it fear I felt of such a man? Was it concern for his perhaps misguided youth?

He shrugged. I kept my eyes down and slowly walked away, while he stepped toward the bench. A couple of minutes later, I saw the back of him, leaving the Promontory, off to the rest of his life.

About thirty feet past the bench, I saw another movement. A gray tail sliding into the leaves next to the trail. This time it was definitely a thrill of fear zipping through me. I watched him, curious about his plan. His uniformly gray body had faint lighter rings around it. I knew he was not poisonous, but also not someone I really wanted to tangle with. But I stepped into the bushes to get a better look.

He moved right to the mossy bank, and stuck his head down to the water. I figured he was getting a drink.

Then he turned toward me, and I leap backward. I was, again, right where someone else wanted to be. When I backed away, he slid past and toward a lower bank. Then without another glance, he dropped into the water and sped away, surprising me with his speed, off to the rest of his life.

What a strange juxtaposition of human and animal at the Promontory. In winter there was just me and the ice, the gulls, the geese. Now, the warmth and light had drawn out everything from punks to snakes. Mrs. Goose was still on her nest, eyeing me warily. Songbirds jumped from branch to branch in the trees. The cormorants were back. As were the sunbathers. And the tourists. People with binoculars moved around, looking up at the skies, and the insects followed them. 
There is not one without the other. I don't mean punks and snakes. I mean human and wild. We are here, together. This little Stewart Park is just a microcosm of the rest of the world. A jumble of creatures living their lives, basking in the sun, wanting to enjoy a warm day.