8.26.2014

AS SOON AS THERE IS A GUEST ROOM, DAHLIAS ARRIVE


It is lovely to have friends who will jump in the car for a visit the moment the paint has dried in the guest room.


Frances, Queen of Dahlias, came to see me at my new cabin in the woods, bearing buckets full of her beauties. (I link to her website for all of you who don't know her work as a potter, as she is as truly gifted at the wheel as in her garden.) And my friends Kate and Brian with their 6 month old Elliot joined us for lunch on the terrace and a walk on the beach.




I am happy to share the dahlias with you. (And as well the corner of a postcard bearing a painting called Question of Balance by artist Joe Keiffer, also a marvelously talented person.) I don't think there is much for me to say about dahlias except that it wasn't until I sat myself down in front of a pitcher full of them in the quiet of this early morning, the day after all the company had left, that I really began to examine their curly, kooky ways. Dahlias pose questions of balance, among other of their ways. They bear up under intense scrutiny. And they know it, too.


YES, IT HAS BEEN A WHILE....



And though I haven't been posting about it, life has unspooled with rich variety, great joy, and enormous speed. I have moved, twice, but I am like that employer who looks all the way around the world and finds the perfect candidate for the job (the job being to shelter me) right in my own backyard. So I have settled once again--in quite different ways--in Rhode Island and New York. Moms Clean Air Force is growing strong, thanks to all your support. And I have Other Projects going. So I'll simply share bursts of photos when I can here, until I sort out what goes where, which, when I think of it, is one of the great challenges of life in general, to say nothing of writing.

All this to say, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth, and I move more deeply than ever in slow love with this miracle of a world in which we find ourselves.



And I marvel at the ways people find to decorate the beach, knowing the tide will soon wash them all away.

We were here, these clam shells seem to say. And we left you something. We enjoyed making it but we didn't think too much about it; we scooped these shells into the sand, scalloped the edges of a picture that framed a long, wandering, rather intense conversation....

Or so I imagine the scene.

What more can we ask of one another that we move through the world paying attention, taking the time to care, and leaving behind gentle traces of beauty?




5.05.2014

WAVE HILL ALPINE WALL OF JEWELS



I had a hankering this weekend to visit Wave Hill, a beautiful garden in Riverdale, NYC,  in the Bronx. There were a couple of pines I wanted to check out, and I needed a hit of spring bulbs (beyond the beloved daffodils.) A friend had never seen the place, but always wanted to, and that sealed the deal. I packed a few slices of olive oil cake for fortification, as one always needs a snack after a stroll. (This is my favorite new recipe for tea parties, one that I have baked a few too many times this winter--and yes, one always needs stoutness exercises after a snack....)


I found the pine I've been fantasizing about planting, a Lace Bark. It has a beautiful architecture (this one has been well-pruned over the years) and a marvelous mottled pattern on its bark. And the spring ephemera did not disappoint; the beds are a riot of hellebore and tulips and hyacinth and everything else you would expect to see in spring.


But I was surprised by what I consider the shy star of the garden right now. At the back of a clever series of troughs we spotted a stone wall--at least six feet high--covered with miniature jewels: the Alpine Wall, running alongside the glass Alpine House. We got a lesson in planting walls with tiny delights.




In general the hothouses are looking good; there's an enormous therapeutic benefit to breathing the air in a glasshouse. Several beds of large sedum were handsome and elegantly plump. I'm looking forward to more variety on the wall, and in the house--they can only get better.

There is so much to see in this classic garden, high above the Hudson--an excellent perch from which to watch migrating birds, too. The views of the Palisades are worth the trip, but so are the specimen trees, and right now the magnolias are in heavy bloom. This was once a private garden, and its scale is welcoming; many visitors had settled into the surprisingly comfortable wooden armchairs (painted with Benjamin Moore's Mountain Sage--we asked), their newspapers pinned down against the winds, steaming mugs of coffee in hand, basking in spring sun. We got an extra treat when the legendary Marco Polo Stufano wheeled around the corner. He retired as the director of horticulture in 2001, but he is still invited by to "check up on things"--thankfully for all of us who love this garden; we are the beneficiaries of his keen and discerning eye.



5.03.2014

SPRING WOODS





Last year I took my spring walks in the dunes. This year, I find myself spending hours in Rhode Island woods, tromping across bogs, wading across streams, mesmerized by moss and rot.




Just a few pictures here from a recent walk--and perhaps a desire on my part to balance my last screed on air pollution. I want to share joy as well as frustration.

It's been a long, cold, wet spring, and I have loved every minute of it. I know that soon enough we will all be complaining about how hot it is.





NYC 311: HOW TO MAKE REPORTING ON AIR QUALITY AS DIFFICULT AS POSSIBLE


Outside my window, a few buildings regularly spew black soot into the air. All winter, all spring, all throughout the day, on and off, as the boilers for heat and hot water kick in, every day. This happens across the city. The pollution is hugely improved because of NYC's Clean Heat program.

But it sure isn't solved. And here's an additional problem: It is difficult to figure out how to report the issue, as a plain old citizen.

I'm still on hold at 311, after 15 minutes, so I'm writing while I'm waiting. I am trying to log a complaint about pollution from 835 Riverside Drive and its neighbors. Watching an especially alarming spew of soot this morning--one that went on for 20 minutes--I took a series of photographs, then laced on the sneakers, and tracked down the building. I got addresses, names of the owners, the management companies, and the superintendent for two of the buildings, but not 835. I met a resident from that address, told him what was going on, and he said, "Ha, they don't care." 

The super returns my phone call, and says he has no idea what I'm talking about. Never mind that there is a thick residue of soot around all the stacks. He's never seen smoke.

Next, onto 311--online. Expecting this to be a piece of cake--given de Blasio's recent announcement about air quality as a top priority--I go to the drop-down menu of complaints on the home page. Air Quality? Nothing. Air pollution? Nothing. Smokestack pollution? Nothing. Literally nothing on the 311 home page that makes it clear how to report air pollution. There's garbage, and apartments, transit, graffiti, even. But no air pollution.

Next I go Old School, and phone 311. Eventually, I am sent to the person who will report this issue to the Department of Environmental Protection. He takes down the complaint.

All of this phone calling takes 25 minutes. All told, it took 45 minutes to log a complaint. 

I happen to be obsessed with air pollution--it is my job to be, for starters. But what about all the people who hardly have the time or the patience for reporting?

I've learned a great deal about soot and our hearts, and our lungs. Soot contributes to heart disease and stroke. Asthma levels are epidemic in Northern Manhattan. Smaller lungs take a bigger hit.

I know buildings are supposed to be switching from burning filthy #6 heating oil to #4 or #2--and the city overall has enjoyed much cleaner air since this rule went into effect. Except in my neighborhood of Washington Heights. But honestly,  I see soot billowing from smokestacks all over the city. Soot pouring over hospital buildings, and wafting across office windows. When I lived in Harlem, I watched it pour out of buildings all around 125th Street.

It is much harder to get smaller buildings to comply with the new regulations, and landlords claim that they will have to pass the costs onto tenants who can ill afford higher rents. Surely there are ways around this with creative financing mechanisms, if necessary. And then there's the foot-dragging, if not plain old cynical defiance of these rules. After all, most building owners don't live under the pollution.

Here's a mantra: You cannot fix a problem if you cannot find the problem.

For those of us who are trying to be good citizens, trying to protect the quality of our air, NYC needs to update its 311 home page to include air pollution, and make reporting much easier. These are problems that usually cannot be seen from the street. They are seen from our bedroom windows, so to speak. And they leave their dirty residue on our windowsills, and, more alarmingly, in our hearts and lungs. 

We live in a net of interdependence. Let's make all parts strong, so we can all do our parts to clean up New York City air.  

4.11.2014

LIFE WITH MY CAMERA


Heads up! Essay in the New York Times Travel section on having a camera, which happened thanks to this blog--and your enthusiasm and encouragement. With thanks!

Pictures here display my moss/wood/rock obsession....and after the soggy spring we've had, there's plenty of enchantment around.


3.07.2014

THIS I WEAR BLOG


It is fun for me to meet people producing wonderful blogs. I had lunch with some of the Eileen Fisher crew recently; they are always interested in who is doing good work in the world, and Moms Clean Air Force is focusing lots of time not only on climate change, but on toxic chemical reform. (Sign our petition for reform now; a bill is working its way through Congress.) As we went around the table introducing ourselves, describing a bit of our journeys, Rebecca Magee talked about a blog she started years ago, called This I Wear.

Intrigued by how blogs give us all a chance to run down any rabbit hole that catches our attention--without having to ask a slowpoke editor for permission--I started exploring. (Really, this should be the golden age of magazines; instead, too many editors are stuck. I especially noticed this as I pored over shelter magazines and their websites during my renovation. But that's another story.)  This I Wear is charming, it has a sweet tone and carefully considered posts. (And, by the way, college grads, please note: it led Magee into her job at Eileen Fisher.)

This I Wear is about the soul of clothing, and the bond of attachment we form with so many of the things we buy--and what that says about us. Magee's got a post up now on a Japanese technique of embroidery, called Sashiko, begun as a way to reinforce weak spots in clothing (those pesky knees, toes and elbows). Kinship: it reminded me of my mending techniques.

One of the things I love about This I Wear is Magee's fascination with her mother's closet. She writes about Liberty scarves, for instance, and how excited she was to find one in NYC; it brought back loving memories of her mother's collection. The other theme in her writing has to do with cherishing old things, and how clothes just get better with time. Some of my friends were, um, gently scandalized that I wasn't buying a new dress for my son's wedding. But I had an outfit that I love--one I wore so often in magazine days that my publisher told me to change clothes, as there were too many photographs during the year of me wearing the same outfits.  My silver-embroidered coat and skirt were perfect for the grand occasion--one of the most important in my life--they were comfortable and glittering, a neat combination, and I wanted to imbue them with wedding bliss.

How easy it is these days to have a "Just Throw It Away" attitude about our stuff. When you can buy fabulous wool socks at Century 21 for a couple of dollars--why bother to darn them? But then....those socks might last a month before your toes start poking through, or the heel is threadbare. Far better to buy fewer things of higher quality, things that will last a lifetime. Or at least through a wedding or two.