the equestrian chronicles part II

I recently returned from visiting my oldest daughter in Wellington Florida where she is working and training during the Winter Equestrian Festival. I pretty much just marvel at what she does the whole time I’m there.

Camelia has a good eye with horses. Once when she was just sixteen and a junior in high school, she was asking horse questions of two mounted policemen in Greenwich Village and she asked one of officers if he knew that his horse’s foreleg was swollen. The officers just looked at each other, kind of shocked that this city kid would notice that. “We just iced the leg”, they said and asked if she was studying veterinary medicine at the nearby NYU.

I took this series of photographs in the fall when Camelia competed for the first time as an adult professional at a horse show in Connecticut. The horse is Essex. Camelia and Essex are exactly the same age. Camelia is young in life, but Essex is old in horse years and so she stretches him and does bodywork to keep him supple. It was a lyrical dance on the ground between horse and rider that I felt privileged to witness and record on my humble camera phone.

Camelia and Essex are competing together in Wellington this winter. Please wish them luck!

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Camelia Montalvo is an assistant instructor and trainer at Frog Hollow Farm Stables in New York. She is currently a working student for Jennifer Baumert of Cloverlea Dressage in Wellington, FL for the winter season. The Equestrian Chronicles Part I is here

for the birds

Deep winter. I walk the dogs at the start of the latest snowstorm. Soft wet snowflakes brush my face like the whisper of a child. The sparkly holidays lights are down and everything is just dark and grey and cold. Icy winds rake the skin on my forehead and frozen sidewalks chill my toes even through thick wool socks. The dogs want to hurry back inside. Seems like its been forever that we’ve been traversing slush puddles and blocks of grey ice while eternally wearing our snow boots.

After the first polar vortex I decided to set out a window feeder for the birds that inhabit the community garden outside my building. “They must be starving”, I thought. Over the years, the garden has become home to wilder species of birds outside of the rock pigeon, starlings and house sparrows of the urban landscape. We now see robins, thrushes, cardinals and blue jays. Occasionally, a red-tailed hawk will visit and swoop from tree to tree, teasing the squirrels and then perching on the fallen trunk of a willow tree to majestically survey the territory.

Backyard Boys Woodworking tray feeder.

Backyard Boys Woodworking tray feeder.

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I bought a window tray feeder because part of the fun was to see the birds up close. I did a little research because I did not want my window inundated with pigeons. I learned that pigeons don’t like black oil sunflower seeds and that it is a good high-fat, high-energy food for a wide variety of birds. I bought those and a block of suet. The songbirds need fat for energy in the winter because they don’t have insects to eat.

Mourning doves

Mourning doves

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The tray with the sunflower seeds is dominated by Mourning doves. I’m a fan of doves and even have a pet one, so I enjoy seeing these guys even though they bully the smaller birds. Mourning doves are so named because they make a cooing sound like a lament and when they take off in flight they emit a whistling sound that makes you think, “this is what a helicopter would sound like if it were small and had feathers”. They have soulful black eyes and dots on their velvet brown cheeks. The suet block is visited by “cling feeders”, birds that like to hang from it to get at the seeds and suet. I have seen cardinals, blue jays, a woodpecker and something wild and brown that I couldn’t identify.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Female Downy Woodpecker

Female Downy Woodpecker

The sameness of my grey winter mornings is ruffled and brightened by the feeding frenzy outside my window. I’m happy for that, because spring seems so far away.

hello 2014

I felt like a college student on a long mid-winter break. Having Christmas and New Years in the middle of the week created a luxurious lull in my “work for money” life. I used the time to plow a path and unclog things in my home and family life.

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The most stopped up place was my computer, so I started with that.  It was clogged with photographs and old information. The hard drive was bursting and slowing my computer down. It was so full that it would not allow me to transfer any more photos from my phone. As a result, my phone was so stuffed with photograhs that if I wanted to show off one, I had to scroll through a thousand. I was unable to upgrade apps or software on either device and felt guilty and unorganized everytime I clicked the “remind me later”prompt. It was paralyzing me. Whenever I looked at the photo library I felt overwhelmed and frozen. If I needed a photo for a blog post, I would email it to myself from my phone and put it in a folder on my desktop since the hard drive kept yelling at me “no way Jose!”. I knew that I had to deal with this in the way that one shovels snow. You have to just grit your teeth and put your back into it. You may stop and catch your breath at points and assess the progress, but you have to keep going till the path is clear. And it is oh so satisfying when you look at that path you’ve opened up.

When I used a film camera, I organized photographs by season and year into photo albums. This works well because it is an easy way for you to remember where to find a specific photo and for general reminiscing about a particular time. So that is the methodology I used to begin the task of archiving the thousands of photos in my library. I also wanted to print them and have them in photo albums on a shelf. When photographs are in digital form they are often forgotten. I wanted them to have a body as well, a physical form that lives in a book.

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I mapped out an archival strategy that I figured once organized, would be the standard going forward.

1. Trash all the bad photos and transfer all the good photos to an external hard drive into seasonal folders by year. That’s just four folder per year which is managable when you want to look for something.
2. Upload the photographs by seasonal folder to an online printing service.
3. Because I trust neither of the two above, transfer the folders to archival CDs and store in an archival quality box.
4. Print the photos I wanted to have a physical body to place in albums on a shelf labled by season and year or for framing.

And so, I grit my teeth, brewed a big pot of coffee and connected a 500 gigabyte hard drive to my computer. I began with Spring 2007. Thats how far back those digital photographs had been just sitting there. I ruthlessly dumped what was out of focus, where people had their eyes closed and those second shots you take for “just in case”. I had a ridiculous amount of photographs of adorable sleeping dogs.

It took me  three solid long days and whosh – the clog is gone. The computer is speedy again and my phone apps are updated. I organized photos into albums on my phone so that I can illustrate the bragging about my kids without having to scroll through a thousand images.

In the press they write about how futile it is to make New Year’s resolutions and how people abandon those resolutions fairly quickly. I like thinking about the new year and starting off fresh and energized with strong ideas about what I want to accomplish. It’s important because you can’t do something unless you set your mind to do it in the first place.

This year I want to improve my photography and master the DSLR that I’m afraid of. I want to finally learn Photoshop. My shoveling has opened up the path. Now I just have to walk down it.

What do you want to do this New Year, dear readers?

xmas is here

It was almost hot as Oona and I walked to get our Xmas tree. It was as muggy as New York gets in late July. My new glasses fogged up as we headed over to one of the many Xmas tree sale stands in lower Manhattan. They magically sprout up everywhere on the morning after Thanksgiving and their wild piney smell wafts over the city’s sidewalks delighting the passersby.

East Houston Street Xmas 2013

East Houston Street Xmas 2013

We always buy our tree late, right before Xmas because we like the tree to be fresh on that day. We examined the selection of pines propped up against a school fence, judging height of the tree and the lushness of its branches under their net cocoon. We bent the needles and smelled. Yes, it was fresh and sticky with resin. The seller was a lumberjack looking guy with a full beard and kind eyes. He made a fresh cut to the trunk and wrapped the tree in more netting and then delivered it to our apartment.

Friends and family joined us on the winter solstice to bedeck and bedazzle our tree as they do every year and I am grateful for their warmth, light and love.

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Wishing you, dear readers, a holiday season full of peace and joy and a Happy New Year.

Loisaida fire escape lights

Loisaida fire escape lights

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I just returned from a weekend in the Catskills and the holiday spirit was in full swing with the houses dripping in xmas lights. Front lawns were dressed with freshly fallen snow and Santa and candy cane sculptures. People drape their bushes in bush net lights, which I think is the coolest thing.  Urban holiday lighting is so small scale compared to what you see in the countryside and the suburbs. We have mini pockets of holiday decoration. A solitary window draped with twinkling lights , a fire escape bedecked with icicle lights, the kind that people with houses string along their gables. Snowflakes cut out of white paper with blunt scissors by little hands are taped to a window. I love the holiday lights in Loisaida. It’s the cheeriest thing when it gets dark so early.

I took these photos two years ago. Walking home from the dog park, I walked with the pups past the tall and skinny lighted tree in Tompkins Square Park and out the east exit at 7th St. Then I saw the windows of the bar 7B. They were so very christmasy on that icy cold night that I had to stop and take out my phone for pictures. It was a struggle because the dogs would not be still and it was hard to hold the phone steady with their leashes around my wrist. I said “damn you dogs!” threw their leashes on the sidewalk, held them under my boot and aimed the phone. A passerby paused and smiled at the dogs, smiled at the windows and then at me and said “Merry Xmas”.

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The bar 7B has been in lots of movies. I came across this video compilation: 7B: A History in Motion Pictures. Check it out.

foliophoto

I’ve been participating in a photography group called foliophoto dreamed up by Sandra Harris of Raincoast Creative Salon and Christie Jones of Bedsidesign. Its a Flickr group and we’d been doing weekly photo sharing. Every Tuesday we got a word prompt as the idea for the photograph. For the month of October, they decided to step it up, so every day we had a daily word prompt and we took a photo to share on Instagram. Some prompts were elusive till the last minute. All day I would turn ideas over in my head and suddenly turn a corner, see something and say “Aha, there it is”.  At times I felt like I was doing the Bikram yoga 30 day challenge again.

I enjoyed “meeting” interesting and talented folks through this group and getting a glimpse of their landscapes. The prompts have been interpreted in varied and sometimes surprising ways. Most of all, I’ve been inspired.

These are some of the photos I posted. Go to Instagram and search #foliophoto to see the work of the group.

For the prompts New and Look up

For the prompts New and Look up

For the prompts Ground and Favorite

For the prompts Ground and Favorite

For the prompts Yes and Antique

For the prompts Yes and Antique

For the prompts Feet and Red

For the prompts Feet and Red

power from the sun

When we got our land as a getaway from the urban jungle we made a trade-off. The land was beautiful, with a deep forest and a sunny meadow. It came with a trailer the size of our apartment, so that we did not have to build anything to be able to enjoy it right away. But, we had no electricity. We are totally off the grid.

We learned a lot from living without electricity for long stretches at a time in the summer. We learned about how to manage without refrigeration (the hardest part). We learned that two buckets of cold water straight from the well + 1 bucket of boiling water made the perfect amount of warm water for a long haired individual to bathe and wash their hair luxuriously. We read a lot because we could have no computer or TV. I attribute Oona’s extraordinary vocabulary to the fact that she read so much as a way to get out of working in the garden.

In the beginning, we used candles and oil lamps. The light from these was very romantic but dim. It was hard to read unless you were right under the flame and we all had headlamps so that we could read while sitting back on the couch. I do miss the ritual of snuffing out the candles at the end of the night with an old silver candlesnuffer that was found at a yard sale.

After the candles and oil lamps came the Nokero solar bulbs and the Ikea solar lamps. Those were a tremendous breakthrough and allowed us to get rid of the dangerous open flame lighting system. We set the solar lamps outside to charge up in the sun in the morning and hung them in the trailer at night. The Ikea solar floor lamp allowed us to lie back on the couch and read. The table lamps were super bright and we could comfortably read in bed at night. The Nokero bulbs spotlighted the kitchen sink and counters for cooking and clean up.

Charging up the Ikea solar lamps

Charging up the Ikea solar lamps

But we wanted more. Especially refrigeration. We once called the electric company to ask for an estimate for bringing poles to our property to hook us up to the grid. The nearest pole to us is only a half-mile away. They quoted us over $35,000. When we asked if they had a payment plan. The guy says, “Yes, ma’am, we sure do, but there is a 7 percent interest charge for the payment plan”. That’s when I got pissed. First, I researched, but the last rural electrification program was during the time of President Roosevelt. We were on our own and so we “did it ourselves”. Or I should say, Frank did it. He installed our very own off-the-grid solar power system. For very little money.

The panels arrive

The panels arrive

Frank spent months doing research and studying. He mapped out the system and the equipment needed. He did a lot of math and internet shopping. He became friends with solar energy vendors and electrical shop clerks. He spent almost a month this summer, walking around the property wearing a little apron full of screws, tinkering, building, pondering and tweaking. And now we have power. Clean and free energy from the sun. And when the power goes out for our neighbors during a storm, it will not go out for us. Our lights will still be on. We will be able to offer to charge their phones for a change.

Frank

Frank

Solar power base of operations

Solar energy headquarters, work-in-progress

Solar panels installed

Solar panels installed

The trimetric monitor, our batteries are fully charged

The Trimetric monitor, our batteries are fully charged

The first time we turned on the electric light, everything seemed too bright and garish. We were startled and blinked our eyes like people must have done when they first got electric lights in the home. It’s a good thing Frank attached dimmers to all of the lights.

Our first night with electricity from the sun

Our first night with electricity from the sun

Solar powered electric guitar

Solar powered electric guitar

summer’s end

I spent the summer in a 1976 Marlette trailer home in the northern Catskill mountains. Our rural homestead is totally off the grid, without electricity (until this summer) or running water. I love that when you stand at the mailbox and look down the road, you don’t see any electrical poles. It makes me think, what a pristine place, so pristine that I once saw a fisher cat cross the road in full daylight. A fisher cat is a creature so wild that it only exists in a place where nature is in balance and the forests are deep. At the end of summer, yellow goldenrod in full bloom grows thick on the side of the road and the colors of the vegetation change and take on a muted hue – soft purples and maroon start to appear among the lush green leaves.

This summer we installed an off the grid solar energy system (more on that to come), we made a lot of good meals, getting our vegetables from our neighbors “honor system” style roadside stand and our eggs and meat from our friends at Heather Ridge Farm. I am now spoiled by the eggs with bright orange yolks laid by happy hens who peck in a garden eating bugs and other good things. We gathered with beloved friends around bonfires and listened to the coyotes at night. We swam in the inky black water of ponds as smooth as glass and in swimming holes underneath waterfalls. The smell of the last hay harvest was always in the air.

So long summer – see you next year.

Marlette trailer

Marlette trailer

Morning mists at Heather Ridge Farm

Morning mists at Heather Ridge Farm

Eggs from Heather Ridge Farm

Eggs from Heather Ridge Farm

The sun charging our Nokero solar light bulbs

The sun charging our Nokero solar light bulbs

Twilight in the hayfield

Twilight in the hayfield

David, Frank and Oona

David, Frank and Oona

rockaway beach after the storm

Last summer we rediscovered Rockaway Beach. It’s easy and cheap to get to, just a couple of subway trains, then a couple of blocks and you are on the boardwalk. Nothing like the odyssey of getting to Jones Beach where you have to take the subway to Penn Station to take a Long Island railroad train, get on line to buy a ticket for that,  and then a shuttle bus to the beach. The wait for these vehicles on the way back feels so long when you have sand in your sneakers and you are sleepy from the sun.

hipstamatic: john s. lens & dixie film

hipstamatic: john s. lens & dixie film

The ocean at Rockaway is clean and the surf is strong. The crowd is what you will only encounter in New York. Teenaged boys with their bathing trunks slung down under their butt cheeks with underwear over top. Large families with multiple umbrellas and gigantic coolers on wheels that they pull over the sand. Women in hijab and flowing tunics with their pants legs tied tight under their knees as they cool their legs in the salt water. Tattooed girls in high waisted bikinis with scarfs over their florescent colored hair to keep the sun from fading it.

hipstamatic: john s. lens & dixie film

hipstamatic: john s. lens & dixie film

We are on Beach 97. The sun warms your skin in between the little puffs of cool breeze that blows in from the ocean. There are dads playing catch with small children using Frisbees, footballs and softballs. I think to myself, “someone is going to get bopped in the head”. But New Yorkers are so used to moving in their own spaces within a crowd, that it never happens. The water is still icy, so the only people in it are the surfer boys in neck to toe wet suits and little children who hinch their bodies upwards when the cold seafoam hits their ankles.

hipstamatic: helga viking lens & blanko film

hipstamatic: helga viking lens & blanko film

hipstamatic: john s. lens & blanko film

hipstamatic: john s. lens & blanko film

Last summer, before Hurricane Sandy, the boardwalk here had a lively scene with bike rentals, food stands and live music. The boardwalk with its faded grey wood in a beautiful chevron pattern was destroyed and swept away by Hurricane Sandy. The old plank wooden stairs leading down to the sand are being replaced by a sloping concrete ramp. The sights of rebuilding were everywhere. It was a good thing to see.

new boardwalk ramp. hipstamatic: john s. lens & blanko film

new boardwalk ramp. hipstamatic: john s. lens & blanko film

For an article with interviews from residents on the rebuilding see: Rockaway Resurrection: Rebuilding the Beach After Hurricane Sandy.

the robin’s nest

As spring turns into summer, we begin to spend more time in our rural abode in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. More of my posts will be from there this summer. We have a trailer from the seventies that is just the size of a New York City apartment set on a wide meadow surrounded by a pine forest. We are off the grid with no electricity or running water. I call us people of extremes, equally comfortable at both edges of city and country.

June 14, 2013

The hay in the back meadow is as high as my waist. We have not been here for three weeks and nature has encroached on us from all sides. My mind is on the little nest of newborn robins. It was sitting right on the bannister of the porch inches away from the front door. Inside were three newly hatched baby birds. They were naked with only tufts of bright yellow fluff on their heads and their eyes still shut under bulging blue lids. I peer inside the nest and they sense my presence. They blindly stretch their necks out and open their yellow-rimmed beaks towards me to be fed.

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I think we must move the nest. I cannot imagine that the mother will sit on it inches away from the opening and closing of a front door and at waist height of the back and forth of humans and dogs. I decide to move it to another bannister just a little further away from the front door with the hope that the mother will feel safe enough to continue tending her nest. We see her flitting from one branch to another crying piteously. We shoo the dogs into the house and decide to go into town early to give the mother peace and quiet so she can find her nest.

Once in town, I call Oona, who knows a lot about animals after having watched countless hours of Animal Planet. She thinks we did the right thing and that the mother will find them. Frank says that the nest is not secure on the new bannister and will blow over in the wind. He wants to hammer some nails into the bannister to create a support system. I think that will scare the mother more. Over dinner, we argue the merits of over wire versus nails for a nest supporting system. I think about how involved we are in what is such a small matter when you think about the suffering in the world. But, you can’t help but respect the maternal instinct no matter whose it is. And, we want nature to succeed.

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When we return, Frank peers into the nest and says, “They are almost dead.” The baby birds do not make it. She picked a bad spot. Maybe she was a new mother without experience, that she would build a nest so low and within a human structure. Later, I read that mother robins have “nest fidelity” which means that they memorize their nest as they build and if you move it, they will not recognize that nest as theirs.

It is now 8:30pm and it is still full light out as we approach the summer solstice. There are two robins in the grass outside my window. I watch them hopping around hunting bugs. They fly off in the direction of where we relocated the nest. Maybe they will try again this season. It is still spring.

UPDATE: Two weeks later we return and see a mother robin sitting on a nest under the eave of the shed. She is sitting on an old nest that had been there unused for at least a year. I think it is our mother robin. I think that she used the old nest because she did not have time to build a new one. This time, she is successful.