My Pretty Oriole

I have lived in northeast Queens for over 20 years, and so I’m familiar with all the creatures and critters in these parts. At the beginning of the summer I spotted a gorgeous colorful bird taking a bath in a puddle at the corner of my street. I stopped to observe this striking beauty but didn’t want to get too close for fear it would fly off. I wondered to myself, is that a Baltimore oriole? So I took this not terribly sharp picture of it on my phone. Lo and behold it was an oriole. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen in my neighborhood. Yay! I’m posting it here to commemorate the end of summer. I love the reflection in the water:

I also want to let my readers know that Monday is our annual blog celebration here on Museworthy, so do check out that post and join in the fun 🙂

Until then, have a great weekend, and I’ll see you right back here on September 24th!

A Whale of a Time

When it’s a hot, gross, sweltering August day in New York City one can find relief in an air conditioned movie theater. An even better option, in my opinion, is to get out of dodge completely and find yourself on a boat 15 miles out from Montauk harbor, where it’s a few degrees cooler, a lot breezier, and the whales are surfacing and putting on a show. Finally, after years of wanting to do so, I went whale watching, and it was everything I imagined it would be; a friendly group of fellow watchers, a great ship crew of hard working young people, and a brilliant expert marine biologist narrating our excursion. Throw in clear blue skies, passing pleasure boaters and fishermen, and the marvelous undulations of the rolling Atlantic waters, and you have a perfect summer experience.

Five finback whales and two minke whales graced us with their presence. Of the five finbacks, two were a mother and her calf. Love! The babies are born in the winter so the calf was approximately six months old. When momma surfaced and then took her deep terminal dive to search for food, the little one soon followed her lead. It was beautiful to see. Whales can stay underwater for around 7-10 minutes before coming back up for air. Amazing creatures.

Cresli (Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island), which organizes the summer whale watches, posted the day’s report on its website:

I am an animal lover through and through. But I have always held a special place for marine wildlife, particularly marine mammals. I don’t really know why exactly, it’s not like I grew up around boats or spent time on the ocean other than sunbathing at Jones Beach. But on Sunday when I saw the dorsal fin of the first minke whale rise out of the water and then ease back underneath with such elegance and cool – sophistication almost – I was in complete awe. Their manner of movement is so distinct. There’s nothing else like it in the natural world. And when the fin whale, at a further distance from our boat, came up to breathe and spouted 30 feet into the air, I was doubly in awe. Our marine biologist explained that the spout may appear like a fountain of actual water but it isn’t. It’s warm air being expelled from the whale’s lungs. Unlike humans and all other mammals, cetaceans have to breathe through conscious effort. And that effort appears so effortless on observation. While the whales were certainly aware of our presence out there on the water, temporarily encroaching on their habitat, they just went about their business attending to the important matters of life in the wild; feeding, breathing, raising babies. Not trying to impress us, but impressing us anyway. I adore these animals. Big, strong, and intelligent, and also graceful and gentle.

Beautiful watercolors of cetaceans by Scottish wildlife painter and illustrator Archibald Thorburn:

The international commercial whaling ban went into effect in 1986, but some countries get around it through loopholes or just flat out defiance. Japan, Norway, and Iceland are the most guilty culprits. An exception to the whaling moratorium is supposed to be for “scientific” reasons, but that is pretty much a crock of shit, as the whale meat is still being sold on the market for consumption, and the scientific research claim is just BS. And Japan continues its horrific annual dolphin slaughter at Taiji by claiming that dolphins and other small cetaceans are not protected by the whaling ban. (If you haven’t seen the Oscar winning documentary “The Cove” please do see it.)

A seagull that hitched a ride on our boat:

So where are my photos of the whales? I don’t have any! I had planned to take pictures but I soon realized that, honestly, unless you’re a professional photographer with a serious camera and a gigantic lens, it isn’t worthwhile to try and snap crappy iPhone pictures of whales on a whale watch. The length of time in which they’re visible is a brief window – just a precious few seconds. And in those precious seconds I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and relish the experience and not deal with taking a picture.

But I do have a human photo for you. This lady had not only a great camera, but a great hat too!

Survival Instincts

I came home from work so tired the other night I had no energy to make anything to eat other than a piece of toast with olive spread that I ate standing at my kitchen counter. That would have to suffice as ‘dinner’. All I wanted to do was get into bed under the covers and find something to watch on TV, as long as it wasn’t cable news. So I stumbled onto “Baboon Queen” on the National Geographic Wild Channel, which had already started 15 minutes prior. The program followed the life of Tubu, a female baboon in Botswana. These shows which focus on the trials and travails of a single animal are really effective at making the viewer feel emotionally invested in that individual. Because by the end of this thing I was bawling my eyes out, my head on the pillow, dabbing my cheeks with tissues. It was an embarrassing display.

The last days of Tubu’s life were heartbreaking. Old, lanky, and slow, she became separated from her troop, grunting out distress calls to them from tree branches to no avail. Tubu was left behind. The last images of Tubu show her despondently stooping down into the reedy backwaters under the golden African sun, and disappearing. She had had enough. She was done.

In my sobbing state, I was reminded – with the help of the program’s narrator – that Tubu had lived an extraordinary life by baboon standards. She reached an amazing 25 years of age, had multiple children, became a grandmother and a great-grandmother. The queen of her baboon troop. Over the years she grieved the losses of vulnerable newborns who didn’t make it and the murdered deaths of other family members. She battled with leopards and other predators, got sprayed with the venom of a poisonous snake and was temporarily blinded. The life of Tubu was marked not just by hardships and survival-of-the-fittest clashes, but also by tight-knit community, familial bonds, and affection. It’s because her life was so incredible that her demise was particularly heart-rending. After all she had survived in the wilds of Botswana, to die lost and alone like that . . I couldn’t handle it 😥

From the Metropolitan Museum collection, baboon ointment jar, ca. 1800-1550 B.C., Northern Upper Egypt. This is so cute. Can I have this? 🙂

Wildlife shows are illuminating in many ways. Apart from their standard educational value they can often evoke deeper, more universal truths. Survival instincts are not exclusive to wild animals on the African plains. Females everywhere require vigilance, acumen, and determination to preserve their lives. Big cities like New York are metaphorically called ‘jungles’, and they are. Whether it’s in an urban jungle, a workplace jungle, or a literal jungle, females have to protect their bodily safety and the safety of their children. Predators and dangers are out there .. everywhere. Tubu the baboon knew it, and she fought tooth and nail for her survival. We do what we have to do.

One of my favorite videos on YouTube. Watch this mother elephant protect her baby while crossing the road. The adorable little one is naturally curious and trusting toward the tourists in a jeep with their clicking cameras. Mama knows better. Check out the death stare look in her eyes around :37. It’s like she’s saying, “Try me. Just try me.”

I want to wish Museworthy readers a very happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for all of you! Enjoy your extended weekend if you have one. I know I’ll be enjoying mine, maybe watching more nature shows 🙂

The Healing Hawk

The big blizzard of 2016 has finally melted away into the pavements and parks of New York City. Yesterday’s rains made efficient work of washing away the last remnants. The January storm really was a doozy. One for the record books. I had two modeling jobs cancelled and, instead, got more upper body workout from one afternoon of snow shoveling than I get all year 😛

But friends, I haven’t been feeling well lately, and I just wanted to let you know. I haven’t been blogging as frequently, or as joyfully, as I normally do. I apologize. You find yourself sliding helplessly into a hole, trying to process various forms of disillusionment, isolation, and frustration with both family and friends, and then the prospect of pulling yourself out of the hole feels like scaling a 500 foot wall … without a rope. At least I’ve managed to pull myself out of bed and get to my modeling jobs, where I’m trying my best to pose with some modicum of enthusiasm and vigor.

The “Snowpocalypse” did provide a magical moment of awe that is still bringing me a sense of peace and comfort when I recall the sight. The day after the storm (which is always a beautiful day, have you noticed?) I decided to take a walk around my neighborhood. It was bright, all brightness: bright white blanket of thick snow, bright clear blue sky, bright light reflecting everywhere. When a storm system passes away after doing its damage, it’s like everything opens up, stretches its limbs, and affirms its existence in the aftermath – we’re still here, we’re alive, we survived! – the trees, the houses, and of course the people, the people who can finally emerge after hunkering down indoors for  36 hours. Now it’s people shoveling snow, neighbors chatting and commiserating next to their buried cars, teenage boys zipping down the streets on snow buggies, groups of bundled up children toting sleds to the park. It was near that very park around the corner from my house that some wild movement at the top of a pine tree caught my eye. I looked up and it was a red-tailed hawk, knocking batches of snow off the branches as it landed down to perch. The sight of that handsome hawk made me so happy, and I stopped in my tracks to observe and enjoy him. He hung out for a minute or two surveying the area and then took off, spreading his impressive wings, revealing his markings, and flied away slowly, confidently, gliding over our park in northeastern Queens, like he was king of the kingdom.

It probably sounds corny and cliched, but experiences with nature, however brief, can truly do wonders for one’s state of mind. It has quite the restorative effect. Why do you think that is? Maybe because they are creatures completely removed from the worries and anxieties we humans deal with? I feel like that’s part of it. I envy animals and wildlife because they don’t give a damn about any of the shit we stress over. They function in harmony with nature’s patterns and rhythms and their innate God-given purposes. Their lives are all about survival and simplicity and existing in their “space”. No traces of discontent, no traces of inadequacy or complications, no personal standards that can’t be met or impossible quests for “fulfillment”. Two weeks later, I can still see, in the vividness of my memory, the form and physique of that hawk against the bright blue sky of that Sunday afternoon. I can still see those batches of fresh powdery snow tumbling down to the ground from that high pine tree branch when the hawk landed. And I can still see that same branch bounce up and down, like a diving board, the moment the hawk pushed off to take flight …

Goshawk Hunting by Bruno Liljefors:

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Wildlife sightings are always welcome here on Museworthy. If you’ve experienced any cool critters or special nature moments this winter season, please share in the comments 🙂

A Place in the Sun

I return to art modeling in eleven days. Should I put a countdown clock on Museworthy, à la the third period of a hockey game? 😆 Honestly though, half of me is looking forward to modeling again, while the other half of me wants to wallow a little longer in these lazy, utterly unproductive summer days. And by utterly unproductive I mean falling asleep in a lawn chair in the middle of the afternoon with an open book in my lap and a half full bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade on the grass next to me. THAT is unproductive, folks. It’s an art form 🙂

Since I can’t control the march of time, I can present a wholly summer-inspired blog post. When I haven’t been falling asleep in lawn chairs I’ve taken several leisurely drives over to the Queens Farm to pet the sheep, hang out with the clucking egg-laying hens, watch the hardworking young volunteers get hands-on experience in sustainable agriculture and, most of all, to patronize their farm stand. It opens at 12:00 but if you arrive early, like many of us do, you’re treated to the marvelous sight of those young people approaching from the fields pushing wheelbarrows and carrying bushels, all filled to the brim with freshly-picked and trimmed produce. That corn is to die for.

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While I was waiting for the farm stand to open I took this picture of a tall, resplendent Helianthus. That’s “sunflower” to you and me. There’s hundreds of them on the farm. I like it against the blue summer sky:

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Not as bright and cheerful as my picture, but Egon Schiele’s Sunflowers is unique. Oil on canvas, 1911. Van Gogh wasn’t the only artist to be inspired by these beauties. How could you not be? They’re awesome.

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I looked for a work of art with both “farm” and “sun” in the title, and Piet Mondrian served it up splendidly. In a departure from all the traditional farm scenes of green fields, plows, and horses, this is Farm Sun in imaginative colors:

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Now, you see the woman in this painting? She’s my hero. You go girl 🙂
In the Sun by Nicolae Vermont:

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Odonata

The Dragon-fly by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.

Although this season is inflicting a whopping dose of allergies on us sufferers – not to mention plenty of humidity – summer does its best to compensate for its discomforts with small enchantments. Works for me! Among them are the presence of dragonflies, which have long been my favorite insects, both as living creatures and attractive motifs on decorative objects. On the latter, Louis Comfort Tiffany certainly agreed.

Found on Tumblr, plate taken from ‘The Biology of Dragonflies’ by R. J. Tillyard. Published by Cambridge University Press (1917):

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My earliest recollection of seeing a dragonfly was as a young child, on the summer days spent at the farm of my great-great aunt. She had a sprawling, rustic property on the north fork of Long Island, and when my parents drove my brother and I out there for visits in July and August, it provided us born-and-bred city kids with bit of country-living experience. Now I can’t say that I’m a person who is totally comfortable with insects in general. Stingers scare me, and any creepy crawlers of the centipede variety are sworn enemies. I can’t with those things. But the dragonfly is cool, man; the flash of iridescent green or blue color, the huge eyes, the long stick-like abdomen, and those two sets of serious wings. A prehistoric species that has inhabited planet earth since forever, the dragonfly gobbles up mosquitoes and darts, zips, and flits through the sticky summer air … like a boss 🙂

I follow the wonderful Maureen Gibbon on Twitter. She is the author of “Paris Red”a novel about Édouard Manet’s muse Victorine Meurent. Maureen recently posted a tweet of a dragonfly that she was able to photograph perfectly. I loved it:

Dragonflies are most commonly seen near water and wetlands and the surrounding areas. In fact, their larval stage is spent entirely underwater. It is believed that the presence of dragonflies is an indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Sometimes referred to as ‘darning needles” (and easily confused with the similar “damselfly”) dragonflies have carried mythical symbolism throughout civilizations. They’re associated with change, adaptability, and transformation. During their brief life span, they make their presence known with robust behavior of evolutionary dynamism: they hunt their prey while in flight, they migrate, they mate, they use their powerful vision to see at all possible angles except directly behind them, and with their agile flight can fly straight up, straight down, zig-zag, hover in mid-air like a helicopter, or go full blast at up to 38 mph. And they’ve been doing all this for 300 million years. Bow down to odonata anisoptera my friends.

Lotus and Dragonfly by Qi Baishi, 1953:

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Since keeping a dragonfly as a pet in a cage would be a completely weird and stupid thing to do, I’ve instead collected dragonfly-adorned items over the years to decorate my home. This pretty light-reflecting dragonfly sits among my potted plants in the bay window of my house:

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You can’t see the top, but this ceramic dragonfly piece is actually a bud vase. It’s a family heirloom that might have been accidentally lost if I didn’t rescue it to safety 🙂

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A very special plaque. My Mom purchased it and then hand painted it for me. It’s been hanging on my bedroom closet door for 14 years:

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Lilacs Everlasting

In the 1988 movie Rain Man, Tom Cruise’s character learns that his recently deceased wealthy father bequeathed him, in a stingingly worded last will and testament, his prized rosebushes. Not the $3 million inheritance Cruise was hoping for, but rosebushes. And a classic 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible. Needless to say, Tom Cruise was none too pleased with the arrangement and interpreted the act as a stern father’s final slap in the face from his grave. While he may not be the most subtle actor in the world, it’s amusing to see Cruise exclaim with great frustration, “I got the rose bushes! I definitely got the rose bushes!”. If you’ve seen the movie you know that as the plot line unravels, the family drama and its secrets are revealed which provide answers. The father, of course, had his reasons for doing what he did.

I’m bringing this up because part of me has always related to people who value prized garden plants, who place their worth above money and inanimate possessions. I read a story once about an elderly woman who had moved several times throughout her long life and each time dug up her cherished peony to bring it with her and transplant it at the new home. Peonies, with proper loving care, can live up to 75 years. That’s not a mere “garden plant” anymore, that is a resilient, tried and true friend – as familiar and comforting a friend as many human beings we’ll encounter in life. I totally understand why that woman brought her peony with her. There’s nothing remotely strange or eccentric about it to me at all.

It was still winter when I moved into my house 15 years ago. While my then-husband and I spent the cold weather months buying furniture and installing shelving, I was thinking about the coming spring, and what flowering plants I would put in the only spot on the property that receives full sun: the front right corner of the house. It was a plot of dirt when Jeff and I arrived, but it wouldn’t be for long. Roses were definitely in the running but by the time March arrived, I had decided on lilacs. And I personally picked out the two young lilac bushes at my local garden center. They bloom at the exact same time every spring, as if on a precise calendar encoded in their DNA. That time is now. Here are my beauties yesterday:

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I came home from work the other night, tired, still sore in my left hip from doing a standing pose. The second I opened my car door in the driveway the aroma – that extra potent nighttime wafting of late May blooms – transported me to paradise. After a day of trains and buses and city crowds and drafty studios full of easels and turpenoid containers and charcoal dust, and elbow pokes on the E train and stench-filled corridors of Penn Station, the lilacs delivered me to peace. Before I went inside I strolled over to the lilacs, in the dark with my house keys in my hand, to inhale them at close range. My beauties. My babies for 15 years. At that moment my communion with the lilacs was interrupted by the sound of my neighbor across the street dragging his garbage can to curb. He saw me and waved. The next morning I took a few cuttings for the house.

Jose the landscaper cuts grass and trims bushes for most of us on this block. I happened to be home one day when he and his crew were working precariously close to my lilacs with pruning shears. I bolted out of the house and, in my best broken Spanish, instructed them to not do anything to those bushes. I wasn’t a bitch, I swear! I just made it clear that those bushes are not to be touched. At all. Ever. I am protective of them like a mother toward her children. It’s slightly embarrassing 😉

I probably shouldn’t worry myself about such things, but the thought that someday, maybe decades from now, this house will fall into the hands of strangers who may very well bulldoze this property and dispose of the lilacs makes me sick. Honestly, it throws me into a nervous panic. I may have to draw up a will and bequeath them to a loved one! Or someone who understands, like Amy Lowell. Check out her poem “Lilacs”. New Englanders especially should read it.

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I invite readers to share pics of their prized garden growings, or stories, or memories. Tell me what’s abloom in your garden, or on your fire escape or balcony, or thriving wild where you are.