Monday, November 28, 2005

The Triumph of Legal Realism?

Apparently the facade of the U.S. Supreme Court has begun to crumble - literally. First Harriet Miers, and now this. The legal realists are undoubtedly dancing in the aisles, but it's a sad day for the rest of us.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


My family and I enjoyed the mild weather and sunshine of southwest Florida for Thanksgiving, as we have done for most of the past 27 years.

We no longer drive down every year from the midwest (that stopped 22 years ago when we moved overseas), but instead fly in from our respective cities. These days, as a New York resident, I suppose I'm actually the "southerner" in my nuclear family -- my parents keep drifting north. Considering their current residence selection criteria, the only suitable location north of them would be Alaska. I can't see that happening; my mom would hate to live so far away from her grandchild. (My sister-in-law's parents have nine grandchildren, and my mom was taken aback to see that they included a picture of "her" grandchild - since she has only one - along with the rest of them in their holiday cards last year. Seemed a bit greedy, or something. I pointed out that if my parents wanted nine grandchildren, they should have had five kids. You take your chances if you have just two kids.)

As always, a highlight of the trip was biking around the island -- there are wonderfully extensive bike paths throughout.

We are roughly in the middle of the island, so you can bike 5 miles one direction to a lighthouse, or 5 miles in the other direction to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. There are plenty of mangroves.

Many years ago, a supposed naturalist/guide told me that mangroves absorb radiation, so the mangrove forest would be the best place to be in the event of a nuclear holocaust. However, I've never been able to confirm his claim that mangroves somehow protect you from radiation. I still like mangroves though.

On this trip, we saw a crocodile (meaner looking than the more common alligator).

Later, in the Bailey Tract (a small nature preserve with ponds, set up for short walks and nature observation), we saw moor hens and a woodpecker, as well as a rabbit which might end up as an alligator's meal.

Pools are always fun for the kids. For instance my 18-month old niece loves to swim. Of course, this love has not really been put to the test -- we do all the work of holding her up and moving her along the surface of the water (it's great arm exercise) while she gleefully splashes with her feet.

The light is lovely and transformative. You can see the water glimmering in the harsh afternoon sun...

... and then everything becomes silky and softened in the twilight.

We enjoyed beautiful sunsets.

On my last night, I couldn't sleep. So at 3 am I went out to the beach and looked at the stars for a while. I even saw one shooting star -- nothing like the display in November 2001, but still.... "Every star shining brightly /Just like a million years before /And we were feeling very small /Underneath the universe."

I am so grateful for all these things.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


After catching the latest Harry Potter flick on Friday night, I spent Saturday with a friend from Michigan, whom I've not seen for a while. We munched on bagels in Prospect Park, then headed for the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

Soon after you enter the garden, you pass through some trellises wound about with gnarled vines:

The trellises were pretty cool; here's a better perspective.

Surprisingly, a few roses were in bloom. We didn't pick any of the flowers, though.

The Powers That Be at the garden decided that the maples that were planted in 1917 were at the end of their useful life, so they recently ripped them all out and planted red oaks - lovely at this time of year.

The new trees were dedicated to the victims of 9/11 (i.e., they are no longer commemorating WWI), and someone went through the trouble of painting American flags on small stones and placing them around the base of each tree.

Some trees, though barren of leaves, were festive with berries.

The Japanese Hill and Pond Garden is a meditative spot, espcially at this time of year without the crowds.

The "celebrity walk" near the Japanese Hill and Pond Garden features famous Brooklynites. Some are formerly famous - sic transit gloria mundi.
Maurice Sendak has his own star, er, leaf, which is well-deserved.
I've read several of Sendak's books, including his most popular work Where the Wild Things Are, and a few books written by others but illustrated by him in his inimitable style - including the witty etiquette guide for children, What Do You Say, Dear? (Sample scenario: "You are a pilot flying a plane, and you remember that your friend the princess has invited you to drop in some time. So you do." -- Next page shows the pilot has literally dropped in through the roof, frightening the princess and her dog: "What do you say, dear?" -- Next page: "I'm sorry." And the drawing shows that the breach of etiquette has been forgiven in light of the courteous apology.)

I have also seen Sendak in person, in interviews at the Met and at Fairley Dickenson, and luckily caught the Sendak exhibit at The Jewish Museum in Manhattan. All of these things have increased my respect for Sendak as an artist and as a person.

We visited the HQ of the New York Public Library (serving only Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island -- Brooklyn and Queens have their own independent library systems). Rumor has it that the NYPL is even bigger than the Detroit Public Library.

Instead of visiting the cadaver exhibit, we ended up at the Transit Museum, which was somewhat less macabre and (presumably) much more hands-on. You even can pose for pictures that make it look like you are driving a bus -- although I settled for this period picture instead.

It was good to wander around Brooklyn and Manhattan together; we laughed a lot and were quite tired by the end of the day.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Hiking the Wilds of the Garden State

At the last minute, I was able to join up with some friends and nature-loving Redeemerites for an expedition into the wilds of New Jersey, led by our fearless leader Bruce (not to be confused with his fellow Garden Stater, Bruce Springsteen, or his perhaps distant ancestor, Robert the Bruce).

I thought I would know just one person on the hike, Patricia. Instead, I knew four people -- and one person remembered me from a retreat in July 2003. Very impressive memory, Joyce! She remembered my name AND some facts about me (e.g., I'm a mahjong buff). Here is Joyce, immortalized in a photograph so that the next time we run into each other I will hopefully remember her as well. This was our first scenic overlook on the hike, but I gave her a patriotic backdrop instead of a fall foliage backdrop:

From that first lookout point, we could just barely see NYC through the haze. Or maybe it wasn't really smog, it was just realllllly far away. From Millburn, NJ. Right. The picture came out pretty well though:

Here's the whole gang -- a good turnout of 22 people at the time this picture was taken, although I guess you can't really see everyone in the picture because it was an unposed, totally candid shot with people blocking each other and wandering out of the frame. (Of course, with a group of New Yorkers that large, it took a while for us all to get ready -- everyone was buying coffee, etc. -- and then even once we started, we moved very slowly. I believe the technical term for the sort of hiking we were doing was "moseying." We went so slowly, that Alda's friend who overslept and caught the next train an hour later was able to catch up with us, raising our number to 23.)

You may have noticed something funny about the ground in that last photo: it was paved. That's right folks, after a brief walk through the woods, we quickly found a paved road to follow to the scenic overlook. This made several of my friends very happy. They were disappointed when we returned to the forest to begin the real 5 mile hike through the woods.

It was a beautiful late fall day, perfect for hiking. About half the trees had lost their leaves already, but this one was nicely silhouetted against the sky -- note the bulbous seed pods:

As we marched on, I saw an interesting fungus growing on the side of a tree. It looked like it was made of wax -- or maybe like one of those fake plaster wall sconces you can buy for an ersatz classic look. I didn't try eating any of it:

The city folks' yen for pavement may have reached its apex at this point, when the way forward was totally blocked by two toppled trees. Yes, we had to climb over and through, and I'm happy to report that everyone made it. But not everyone was happy about it; New Yorkers don't really like obstacles. We want instant gratification! (Can't we have fresh country air and the exhilaration of a hike without spending four hours out in the country and getting a workout?).

Hopefullly even the complainers enjoyed this nice waterfall. It was not exactly a raging torrent, but it was pretty.

Here is a sample of the lovely fall foliage we saw on roughly half the trees - I love seeing the sun shine through the leaves like this:

We also passed a number of ponds with ducks
and geese

Seven of us dawdled afterward and enjoyed some tea and light supper at the local diner, then three of us peeled off to catch the 4:56 train back to civilization (not that we were ever out of earshot of the sound of traffic, but what do you expect when you are a few train stops away from NYC).

Afterward, I caught The Weatherman with Nicholas Cage. (No, I didn't see it with him; he was just starring in the movie.) There were some funny moments, and some positive developments over the course of the movie - particularly the fact that the hero actually learns a useful new skill, archery - but overall, it was a bit of a downer. Plus the story line with the son didn't really seem to go anywhere; what exactly was the point of including the son character at all?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Call of the Digital Camera

Well, I have learned the hard way that I can't count on friends and relatives to (a) take pictures of everything that needs to be memorialized and (b) send me the pictures afterward. Not to name any names, but the parents of a certain niece who shall not be named would do well to upload their darned pictures already and email them to a certain aunt.

But I digress. My point is: Welcome to Brooklyn! Now that I finally gave in and got my own digital camera, here's a brief photo tour.

All you ecologists out there, take heart. A tree does, in fact, grow in Brooklyn. Okay, this one may not literally be growing at the moment since its leaves have already turned color in preparation for winter.

Here's another one for our skeptical Michigan friends who do not believe that, as compared with certain inhospitable northern climes, NYC is essentially in the tropics. You will note that as of November 6, the leaves are still entirely green. Amateur botanists confirm that this specimen is not any variety of coniferous tree known in the vernacular as "evergreen". To the contrary, it is an oak tree, known primarily for its propensity to drop copious numbers of acorns and to change its leaves directly from vibrant green to dull boring brown.

This next one is also a scene from Brooklyn. Note the palm fronds sticking out from the terrace. A palm tree grows in Brooklyn too, it seems, and this is outside in November.

That's it for now. In the immortal words of Bill Watterson, "Further bulletins as events warrant."

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Color Purple (Broadway 2005)

I had no intention of ever watching the musical The Color Purple.

For one thing, I typically hate musicals. I dislike the standard plot, which revolves around people making it in show biz. And for some reason I really dislike the usual "big Broadway sound," which is powerful but somehow hollow/tinny to my ear.

For another thing, much as I admire Oprah Winfrey (one of the producers of the musical and sure to be a key to its success if she promotes it on her show... or in her magazine... or on her TV station... or on her web site... or any other part of her empire), I have to say that I've seen a few scenes from the movie and found it extraordinarily tedious and unwatchable.

So of course when invited to see the musical, I end up agreeing to go.

The show is far more gospel-y than I expected (which is both good and bad), but it is really well done and entertaining. Act I is generally better than Act II, but even Act II has its redeeming qualities -- for instance, there is a wonderful duet called "Is there anything I can do for you?" which is sung by two spouses who have finished their chores and just can't wait to get busy. The jubilant scenes set in Africa in Act II are pretty cool too.

Well, the whole gang loved it (me, my friend, his family, and the rest of the audience). Ho hum, another triumph for Oprah. (Let's just be glad she's using her powers for good instead of evil.) The Color Purple now joins the select few musicals that I've actually liked -- The Lion King, Little Shop of Horrors, The Full Monty, Avenue Q, Frog and Toad, and Sunset Boulevard.