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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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.

Our Birds Besieged

What the hell. Have I left my little blog idle for almost a week? This is outrageous! Bad blogger. Bad bad blogger 😆

Much badder than me is the Port Authority of New York, which has enlisted contractors to gun down over 18 species of migratory birds and waterfowl in the area of JFK Airport. Many of these birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But they’re being shot anyway. The rationale behind this program is to prevent bird strikes on planes and nesting activities too close to runways. Didn’t the waterfowl get the memo? They cannot conduct their flying, migrating, mating, and nesting along the Atlantic coast or around the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge unless they stay safely away from planes. That’s the rule. Because jet airliners own the skies now. Those foolish ospreys and herons and egrets have to understand that they must accommodate the needs of modern man, and the millions of years of instinctual behavior embedded in their DNA cannot be acted upon, their natural primordial impulses to survive and breed must be squashed. And those snowy owls that were nesting on top of a taxiway sign at JFK? Those dummies should have known better. Now they’re on the kill list too.

Herons, by Christian Rohlfs, 1936:

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I apologize for the sarcasm, as I don’t mean to minimize the issues with regard to bird strikes and airplane safety. But this wanton killing of our coastal feathered friends upsets me a great deal. Among the birds being targeted are herons, egrets, plovers, ravens, and the gorgeous American kestrel. And redwing blackbirds! They’re shooting redwing blackbirds for heaven’s sake. There must be a better way. Surely we can find a solution more humane than just blasting innocent birds out of the sky?

Winslow Homer, watercolor, Redwing Blackbirds:

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It was disturbing enough to learn recently that our magnificent North American eagles – hundreds of thousands per year – are being sliced up in the blades of wind turbines at wind farms throughout the country. Our government has now granted the wind energy companies permission to allow these deaths without fear of penalty, for the next 30 years. Ain’t that grand?

Geese In Flight Before A Full Moon, Ohara Koson:

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I love birds so much. I honestly don’t understand how anyone could not love them. They warble and sing outside my bedroom window every morning. They hop across my front lawn. They cheerfully perch in rows across telephone wires. They soar in the skies above my neighborhood. Eradicate all their colors, movements, and sounds from daily life and the absence would be sadly felt. And the observation of bird comings and goings inspires much of my other blog, The Salt Marsh. At this very moment as I’m typing on my laptop, one of those little downy woodpeckers is inching his way up the tree outside my kitchen. What a cutie 🙂

New Blog

Greetings on a beautiful Sunday in New York! Hope this post finds you all well. I’m here to make an announcement of sorts, nothing that will alter the course of history or send shock waves into the universe! But something I’d like to share with my readers. I’ve started a second blog. Yay! It’s called The Salt Marsh. For those of you who are interested (and I hope many of you are) I suggest reading  the “About” page first.  And I might as well inform everyone now that there won’t be any nudity on The Salt Marsh. Stick with Museworthy for that 😉

There are probably thousands upon thousands of nature photoblogs out there. I enjoy many of them myself. I’ll try to make The Salt Marsh unique somehow. Mostly it’s an opportunity for me to hone my photography skills, find a bit of peace from time to time, and deepen my connection to the natural habitats that exist right in my own neighborhood. I doubt I will post there as frequently as I do on Museworthy, as blogging can be quite time consuming. There are people who maintain multiple blogs – four, five, etc – and I don’t how they do it! Either way, if  some Museworthy readers choose to follow me there also that would lovely. And perhaps I’ll earn a new crop of readers as well.

Speaking of Museworthy, I will be posting the submission information for the Art Show very soon. We’ll have a new photo to commemorate Museworthy’s blog birthday on September 24th, in keeping with tradition. So Fred and I figured we’d wait until that picture is taken, as it may be one of the choices if it turns out to be a great one.

I actually have two modeling gigs this week, can you believe it? And before Labor Day, wow. It’s a miracle! 😆 Work is slowly coming back, and the summer is winding down. New blog, new season, fresh new discoveries on the horizon. I hope you all continue to share these experiences with me. Cheers friends! See you soon.