Mostly it’s just initials. Sometimes it’s numbered dates or cryptic symbols. Why would someone take a knife and carve into a living tree? Is it to make some kind of a mark of permanence? Maybe. There seem to be a lot of declarations of love sliced into heart-shapes. I began noticing a lot of these tattooed trees during my pandemic-time wanderings through Central Park, and after a little research I learned some things. First, it’s illegal to harm a tree in Central Park. Don’t do it. You can be fined. Second, cutting initials into trees has been going on for a long time. The technical term for a tree carving is an arborglyph. And while a deep cut into a tree’s skin can be harmful, a healthy tree will most likely survive the shallow stabbings and heal over with scars that become thicker over time. In Central Park it’s the Beech trees with their smooth grey elephant-like skin that are the most common victims. Once healed, the scars will last for as long as the tree does, which in the case of the Beech can be over 200 years. Also it seems that once a tree is cut, it attracts more carvings, and then even more until the trunk is completely covered like the tattooed lady at a circus sideshow. I photographed more than a hundred trees in Central Park. Here are some of my favorites:
As the clouds cleared and the snowflakes lightened the blustery grey morning turned into a bright sunny afternoon. The joy in the air was as infectious as a virus, and snow-people began appearing all over Central Park. We needed this.
I didn’t see any of the wee folk themselves. Maybe they were out of town for the weekend, or scared off by curious children. But I did see evidence of of a once thriving civilization.
Tucked into tree hollows, roots, and in tangles of branches, delicate structures made of twigs, acorns, tree bark and moss are all that remain. Were these houses made by little people? And if so, then where are they now?
Here are some of the so-called “fairy houses” that I photographed along the edge of the Rahway Trail on the South Mountain Reservation near Millburn, New Jersey.
A few years ago on a bus trip from Mexico City to Morelia I pointed my camera out the window and just snapped at anything that caught my eye along the way for the 6 hour ride. There are a lot of blurry photos of cows, but I liked the little scenes with people sitting in front of houses and shops as we passed through nameless towns along the way. I’ve found that the buses are a nice way to travel in Mexico. They give you a little snack as you board, and the seats are quite comfortable. I find it therapeutic to stare out the window and watch the landscape roll by.
I like Buddhas. Buddhas are calming. I think we can all use some calm these days.
So I decided to concentrate some of that tranquility by collecting all of the photos of Buddhas from a trip to Myanmar a few years ago. Turns out there were a lot.
In Myanmar they practice Theravada Buddhism which is the more conservative of the two major traditions of Buddhism (the other being Mahayana). However it didn’t seem stuffy or overly pretentious in the temples. The atmosphere seemed light, with monks mixing among the tourists and locals. Theravada Buddhism stresses the enlightenment of the individual, self-discipline, and the importance of pure thought and deed. And from my observations, there are no shortage of shiny Buddhas to help and inspire.
The scale of these statues ranged from about average human size to quite large, with some standing (actually sitting) 20 to 30 feet high. Most of the large statues are from the Sule and Shwedagon Pagodas in Yangon, and also the Ananda Temple in Bagan. Others were found in Mandalay, and from smaller temples in out on the Bagan Plain. It was calming to wander among them, or to just to be in their presence.
On a 2017 trip to Myanmar, one of the most magical places for Brig and me was the ancient city of Bagan with so many temples scattered throughout the landscape. Located in the Mandalay region of Myanmar, Bagan thrived during its heyday from the 11th to the 13th centuries when over 4,400 Buddhist temples and pagodas were built in the area. The remains of over 3,800 structures still exist today.
From Mandalay to Bagan our bus shared the road with Brahman cows and whole families on motorbikes, past sunflower fields in full bloom, old ruins of pagodas and other surprises, the 5 hour journey wasn’t so bad. And the Kaday Aung Hotel in Old Bagan with beautiful gardens and an ice cold swimming pool was a bargain at $40 USD.
We spent two days exploring Old Bagan, getting oriented the first day with a couple of guided tours to the larger and more prominent temples in the area such as the Ananda Temple in Old Bagan, and the Shwezigon Pagoda in nearby Nyaung-U, as well as the famous sunset view from the Shwesandaw Pagoda (with a few hundred other tourists).
The best way to experience the temples on the Bagan plain is to rent a motorbike in town and explore at your leisure, so after getting a lay of the land we felt confident enough to head out on our own. Most hotels can arrange a bike rental and will supply a rudimentary map to follow as you make your way through the labyrinth of dirt roads. Bring plenty of water and snacks as it can get hot, and there are no 7-Elevens out on the Bagan plain. We had a fun day riding around and exploring the various pagodas. The area is quite large, and there are so many temples that it felt at times like we were the only ones out there in a post apocalyptic landscape.
I’ll admit this wasn’t what I had in mind when I made this photo of an anatomical model of a human brain in a jar. But when I shoot for stock photography I’m open to different interpretations of my art, so I’m very happy that Men’s Health Magazine licensed my photo to illustrate an article about Dr. Pimple Popper. The dermatologist and TLC host Dr. Sandra Lee squeezed a jiggly lipoma out the middle of a patient’s back… and out popped a brain. or what looked like one. The full article is here with a video. Warning: You won’t be able to un-see this.
The sun was so bright it hurt my eyes as we stood on the elevated platform at 125th Street waiting for the Metro North train to Tarrytown. It was a crisp and clear morning and the first day of Spring, and I played hooky from work to spend the day with my wife tramping through the grass and around the stones at the graveyard, and to make photographs of the statues there. This was a few years ago, but I remember it well because it was one of those mornings where after what seemed like an eternity of grey, the sky opened and the light seemed magical. It’s been a sort of ritual to seek out the cemetery in any new place we go, and the best way to do it is to just follow your instincts and wander.
Originally known Tarrytown Cemetery since its opening in 1849, the name was later changed to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at Washington Irving’s request (whose story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is actually set in the adjacent burying ground at the Old Dutch Church). After a couple of hours of weaving through the stones of Sleepy Hollow I’d agree with Washington Irving, that a pleasing land of drowsy head it was.
Remembering it was Good Friday, we hopped the train back to the city for fish tacos from our favorite Mexican restaurant (Molé on Second Ave).
It happened to be my birthday too, and a surprise gift for me was having The Sun Magazine featuring this photo below, in the March 2020 issue.
“If somebody went to Cleveland it would make the front page!”
My dad would say things like this. He grew up in the 1920s and 30s in Donora, Pennsylvania, and when he would tell stories about those times, it was usually to relate some hardship, but with a a bit of humor. Sometimes it would just be a statement like “I slept outside with a sandwich in my back pocket”. Other stories might have a few more details like eating mulligan stew with hobos with water scooped from the river with a tin cup. One of his favorites was about a cross-country road trip. He and his friend Mike scraped some cash together and bought a car and headed out west to San Francisco. To save money along the way they would knock on doors and offer to do yard work or odd jobs in exchange for a meal. They’d even coast along the downhill stretches in neutral to conserve gas. Early on in the journey in Ohio, they saw a man traveling with his young son heading west in a goat-drawn wagon, and they stopped to talk. A month later on the drive back east, they saw the man with his son and goats again, still heading west. Here are a few old photos from those encounters, with my dad’s notes on the back.
They made it all the way to San Francisco and saw the sights including the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf, and across the bay to Sausalito, then they made the long journey half-coasting back to Pennsylvania, when they’d returned to Donora he and Mike were welcomed as heroes (although I never saw a front page story)!