Zen And The Art Of Stacking Wood

Pete and Shelley's wood pile 2008
Pete and Shelley’s wood pile 2008

Pete and Shelley set the standard by which we judge woodpiles. Off the grid in the Adirondacks, they thin their property for heat in the long winter months. Their stacks are worthy of a Chelsea art gallery installation.

Jared's wood pile 2010
Jared’s wood pile 2010

Our neighbor, Jared, a retired chemist for Eastman Kodak, puts wood up not like an artist but like a scientist. We turn to him for advice on all matter practical.

Our woodpile in 2020
Our woodpile in 2020

After two 75 year old oaks came down out back this spring Peggi and I had a record of wood, more than in 2020 when the picture above was taken. Instead of walking we’ve been chipping away at the pile each day for the last two weeks. We strap on our Home Depot noise cancelling headphones, cut the trunks and limbs into log length with a chainsaw, fire up the Heathkit splitter we inherited from our former neighbor, Leo and then stack the split logs. This is where it all comes together Physics, geometry and risk. We have had only one pile tumble over in twenty years.

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In The Groove

Willow leaves in Durand Eastman Park
Willow leaves in Durand Eastman Park

So autumn lasts forever now. We split wood yesterday. We have a serious amount from the two oaks that came down this spring. With temperatures in the fifties today it was too warm to split we so moved a few face cords onto the porch in preparation for winter’s fury.

We tried a new setup for our Thanksgiving eve gig. Melissa, the cello. player wanted to hear a little more bass. Ken usually plays his double bass in the corner so he can get a big sound without an amp. I set my drums up between him and the piano and the cello was in front of the piano. This time Melissa sat right in front of me. I had to move backward and Ken forward to accommodate the new arrangement and everything felt off.

We took Brad Fox’s stereo amp to the Hi-Fi Lounge for some maintenance. Mark, the owner was talking about the upcoming Record Store Day. I looked at the releases and spotted the the Clear Spot reissue with an album worth of outtakes so I had my neighbor pick me up one of those on Friday. Frying Pan had one of their rare gigs that night, along with Nod, so we made a night of that – after watching two World Cup matches. We have Argentina vs. Mexico in the can and plan to watch that soon and then we’re off for more music, the Debbie Kendrick Project at the Little. We plan to bring the new Clear Spot out to Brad’s and listen to it on his big speakers.

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Big Dose Of History

Sol Lewitt Wall Drawing going up at Memorial Art Gallery
Sol Lewitt Wall Drawing going up at Memorial Art Gallery

Sol Lewitt’s art is more than the final piece. It is the plans, the installation and the temporary display on a wall. One of Sol LeWitt’s iconic “Wall Drawings,” has been generously gifted to MAG and it is being rendered directly on a wall in the Vanden Brul Pavilion by a representative of the LeWitt Estate and an artist from the Rochester community. The installation of “Wall Drawing #957: Form Derived from a Cube” can be seen after the holiday, starting November 26, when the gallery resumes its regular hours.

The new exhibition at MAG, “Striking Power: Iconoclasm in Ancient Egypt,” starts with the definition of “iconoclasm” which literally means “image breaking.” With statues and sculptures from ancient Egypt, all with body parts deliberately broken for religious or political reasons, it made for pretty interesting shows as it packed in a big dose of history.

The Memorial Art Gallery’s buildings sit on ground that formerly belonged to the Haudenosaunee tribe, part of the Seneca Nation. The three-channel video installation in the MAG’s video gallery, “Here you are before the trees” (2020) features his grandmother, Dolli Big John, and focuses on the Indigenous histories of upstate New York and the devastating consequences of the US colonization of Indigenous peoples. Beautiful, sad and powerful, it is an especially moving 12 minutes.

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Passage Of Peace

Teepees near Exit 33 along Interstate 90
Teepees near Exit 33 along Interstate 90

We had parked our car at the Poughkeepsie train station and took a Metro North train into the city. I was driving when we passed these teepees along the New York State Thruway so I couldn’t very well snap a shot. On the way back Peggi was behind the wheel and I was looking down at my iPad when she said, “There are those teepees again.” I fumbled for my camera and got this shot. They looked so beautiful.

When we returned I searched “Teepees Interstate 90” and discovered they are part of an art installation by members of the Oneida Indian Nation called “Passage of Peace,” ten teepees , some on each side of the thruway. The installation is ongoing through the holidays and if you drive by at night you will see them lit in different colors. Two are illuminated in orange, the color used by advocates to raise awareness around the impact of the forcible removal of Native children to attend residential boarding schools.

From their website – “Between 1869 and the late 1970s, hundreds of thousands of Native American children attended boarding schools far from their families and tribal communities. These schools sought to achieve assimilation through denial of Native culture and language.” 

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Slipping Away

Paul at sunset, photo by Peggi Fournier
Paul at sunset, photo by Peggi Fournier

During the flight down Peggi sat next to a talkative little guy with a “Pickleball Getaway” cap on. On our way back the woman sitting next to us asked me if I could open the 16 oz Pepsi bottle she had bought in San Jose. I couldn’t. It was sort of embarrassing. But then again I have a hard time opening those little plastic bags of pretzels that they give you.

We travelled with one small carry-on bag and one of the things that wasn’t in there was our earplugs. We spent a good bit of our days in the water and my left ear plugged up on the third day. As we descended into Newark it popped and I can hear again. I was sort of getting used to not being able to hear but I don’t need to slip away anymore than I already have.

What I think I’ll miss most about our stay in Costa Rica is the early morning dip in the plunge pool. I am in the habit of waking at sunrise, just a few minutes before Peggi, and I would push the button on the coffee maker and slowly slip into the pool, allowing each part of my body to experience the exhilaration. That magic doesn’t happen later in the day, only when you’re not fully awake. Secondly, I will miss the Arugula and Fennel Salad that we ordered three times.

We had no IPAs in CostaRica. I like it when most of the country drinks the same beer. You order a cerveza, you get an Imperial. We had plenty of fresh seafood, often caught the day before. We had fresh fruit every morning. We had time for yoga, everyday. We recharged our batteries. We fell in love with Costa Rica.

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Recharging

Two rocks along the coast in Costa Rica
Two rocks along the coast in Costa Rica

I can’t imagine how boring these last few entries would be to read. Nothing happens here, by design. There are big decisions being made behind the scenes. How long to hold the plank? Which way to walk down the beach in the morning, whether to have coffee before or after and where to take a dip in the ocean without being towed out to sea.

It is our last day here and we finally saw our first boat go by, out just beyond the big waves. I was beginning to think it was too rough even for fishermen. It is pretty fantastic for surfers. Michael Gribbroek has surfed here. Our nephew, Andrew, messaged us to find out if we had surfed yet. We sent him back this link to a story in the Washington Post.

Duane emailed us to to arrange details for our visit to NYC. Peggi and I started singing the Swollen Monkeys song, “On Vacation.” They were label mates of ours in the early Personal Effects days and they performed at our record release in NYC. The party was held on the roof of Danceteria and they played out in the crowd rather than on the stage.

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Black Flag

Peñon, Nicoya pennisula
Peñon, Nicoya pennisula

We set the alarm the past few days to make sure we didn’t miss the sunrise. It’s not as dramatic as the sunsets. We’re on the western coast and the sun sinks into the ocean with a blaze of colors. The sunrises sneak up on you. And the color of the light keeps changing as the golden hour develops so its perfect for photos.

We’ve walked down the beach, in both directions, a couple of times now and our walks are not limited by distance, they are cut short by the intensity of the midday sun. So this morning we were on the beach at 5:30, the only ones on the beach, and we walked two and half mikes to this this big rock, Peñon. and then turned around. The surfers were out dodging the rocks between the black flags at high tide.

Our room came with a jar of Costa Rica’s ”Grano de Oro” and a ”Choreador,” cloth filter drip setup. The coffee, by the pool, tasted especially good when we got back.

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Highlights Magazine

Find four howler monkeys
Find four howler monkeys

Everything comes to you if you wait long enough. We were out front of our place, watching the sunset, the best one yet, when we heard barking coming from somewhere in the direction of next door. It wasn’t barking, it was seven howler monkeys right over our bungalow. They call them “Congos.”

Our necks were sore today from staring up at the monkeys for so long. Telling the waiter we saw monkeys yesterday is like telling someone you saw a squirrel back home. We did see a squirrel today, a giant red one with a long, bushy tail, in the big tree over our place. We laid flat on our backs and watched her build a nest.

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Bread House

Cockatoo
Cockatoo

We find ourselves in another one of those situations where the hospitality workers want to practice their English while Peggi would rather use her Spanish. And I like hearing Peggi speak Spanish. The woman behind a desk was telling us about a “chuttle” and we asked her to repeat it about three times before we realized she was offering us a shuttle. We have somehow latched onto Brian as our server at dinner and when he put the bread on the table he said, “This is the Bread House.” We laughed when he left the table, not at him but just visualizing it.

We’re here in the slow season, the rainy season, so there are very few people around. And it hasn’t rained yet. We can’t think of a really good reason to leave our place. Our waiter this morning, Manuel, recommended Montezuma. “More chill, more relaxed, not as many people.” Another of the workers recommended Montezuma as well and she described it as a “hippie town” with a beautiful beach. I’m wondering if we fit some sort of a profile.

We made a half-hearted attempt at catching up on the news and saw this headline from the Guardian. “Mondrian painting has been hanging upside down for 75 years.”

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More Minimal

Our temporary place in Costa Rica
Our temporary place in Costa Rica

The only thing on the white walls of our open plan bungalow is a big round mirror, maybe ten feet in diameter. The design of this whole place is minimal, just the way we like it. Floor to ceiling windows slide open to completely remove any barrier between the room, the patio and plunge pool. The shower has a frosted glass door that swings open to an optional outdoor shower. We choose to skip the daily room cleaning in keeping with Costa Rica’s green push. There was one yoga mat in the closet so we asked for a second and Peggi led an early morning class of two followed by a plunge. We turned on the tv just long enough to determine what “smart tv” means. Not smart enough to let us stream content to the screen. So that will go unused for a week. We walked to a nearby grocery store and plan to watch the sunset and make a meal out of hummus, chips, a long loaf of bread, some Manchego cheese (from Costa Rica?) and Spanish wine.

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Sunny Side Up

Banana tree blossom
Banana tree blossom

There are two high tides here each day, of eight or nine feet. And as spectacular as the beach is, it is almost too dangerous for swimming. Big rock formations line the small bays. The waves are huge and loud enough to drown out the air conditioners at night. Wading is possible but I didn’t feel safe beyond my waist. The water is the same temperature as the air so it is tempting to push that. There is a plunge pool behind our bungalow with a view of the ocean and our place is completely surrounded by exotic vegetation so we spent most of the first day without any clothes on.

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Paradise

Perfect fall day 2022
Perfect fall day 2022

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Other than NYC and Buffalo, we hadn’t been anywhere since Covid hit. A travel article we read in the depths of winter made this small hotel on the rather remote Pacific coast of Costa Rica sound like paradise. So we booked for late October never imagining the equator would only be a bit warmer than upstate New York. And can it possibly be any prettier?

We were originally scheduled to fly to Newark and then Dallas but United routed us through Chicago first. I hate the idea of traveling in the wrong direction. The sun was setting by the time we reached San Jose so instead of moving toward our destination we took a shuttle to a chain hotel near the airport. We asked the desk clerk where we could change money and get sim cards for our devices and she suggested Walmart next door. We stumbled through both transactions but the young Walmart workers could not have been more helpful or sweet.

We slept so soundly we missed the early bus to Puntarenas so we arranged an Uber. Instead of going through the small town,s he drove on a toll road with all his windows down. He told us he also worked from home for Amazon España and he want to practice his English so I  came up with random topics. The temperature got hotter and hotter as we approached the coast.

At Puntarenas we bought tickets for the ferry, an hour’s ride to the peninsula where our place is. We were sitting on the top deck and I began to feel a bit seasick when we hit rougher water so we moved to the lower level. There was a bus down there (with all the cars) and the destination on the front read “Santa Teresa” so Peggi asked the driver if there was room for us. He told her there wasn’t.

On land we found a bus that would take us part way, to Cobano. We felt like we were in that Buñuel Mexican bus movie where someone gets on with a live chicken. There was no air conditioning, of course, and standing room only. We were crammed in the back, standing over a women with a board in her lap, displaying jewelry she had been trying to sell somewhere. Out the windows lots of almost outdoor living going on. Rusty metal roofs and tarps, shacks in the lush tropical jungle. One lane bridges and serious switchbacks, at one point the bus slowed to crawl as we rode in first gear up the side of a mountain, then views of the Pacific Ocean from Bahia Tambor. The bus stopped anytime someone was standing along the road. With a lower vantage point Peggi saw a monkey hanging from its tail in the tropical jungle.

En Cobano nosotros tomamos otro autobus. This one was like a Sea Breeze ride but without the seat belts. The driver had the doors wide open. One lane of the road was washed out in several spots and the brakes squealed so loud we had to plug our ears. Waterfalls and amazing flora along the way. Bob Marley on the driver’s radio. We were following his route on the phone and when he got to the coast he turned the wrong way. Peggi asked him if we should get off and told us he was going to come back to that spot and then continue to our place. We hung in there.

We did indeed reach paradise.

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
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Welcome To Our City

Spanish American War monument downtown Rochester
Spanish American War monument downtown Rochester

We picked the perfect day to do our monthly co-op shop. Before going in the store we took a walk around the city, Down Averill to the river and then across the Ford Street bridge, along the newly refurbished West Side Riverwalk to the Broad Street Bridge. We expected the lid to have been removed by now but I guess that project is a ways off. The river was raging after all the rain. Water was pouring out of the races under the library. Peggi took a movie and I took a pano. There were a few out-of-towers reading the placards on the bridge. We felt like tourists ourselves.

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Proper Marsh

Marsh along Hoffman Road in early September
Marsh along Hoffman Road in early September

I’ve been staring out the window now for at least five minutes, trying to figure out what the brown lump in our Hemlock is. I had just convinced myself that it was a bee hive, one of those layered paper structures, and then it moved. A squirrel in some sort of trance.

I took this photo from the road at the edge of the marsh that fills this whole valley. It didn’t always look like this. These purple flowering grasses are new, another invasive. Its all cattails on the other side of the road. The two don’t mix. Morning Glory vines crawl up both with blue flowers all summer.

According to the old-timers, back when we moved here, this property used to be garden plots for the neighbors. A creek ran through it, on its way out to the lake, but when a large plot of land was cleared for a driving range and then a sprawling subdivision south of Titus Avenue, the creek overflowed and the sandy soil shifted.

The lowest section of the road overflowed in the spring. Peggi and I would take our shoes off to wade through. Large snapping turtles crawled out of the marsh to lay their eggs near the road but coyotes got most of them before they hatched. A group of neighbors sued the town for failing to address the drainage issues and the Army Corps came in to engineer curves in the creek to slow down the flow. They raised Hoffman Road a good five feet and distributed the water over a wide area by cutting a least five culverts under the road. Over time we watched all the big trees, the ones with hawks at the top and the red winged black birds in the branches, lose their bark, turn white and tumble into the marsh.

This old timer says it is a proper marsh now.

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No War, Stop Putin

Olga in front of my two  contributions to "Artists For Ukraine" show at Rochester Contemporary
Olga in front of my contributions to “Artists For Ukraine” show at Rochester Contemporary

Rochester Contemporary’s show, “Artists For Ukraine,” opened on Friday night and there were already quite a few red dots on the wall by the time we arrived. All proceeds benefit Humanitarian & Medical Aid to Ukraine. Larry Merrill donated two beautiful photos from his “Wards of Time: Photographs of Antiquities” series and we chatted with him at the opening. I wish Putin was listening.

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Not So Recent

"Concrete Abstracts" shown in "Manifestation - Recent Work | Paul Dodd" at Colleen Burrard's Studio 2022
“Concrete Abstracts” shown in “Manifestation – Recent Work | Paul Dodd” at Colleen Buzzard’s Studio 2022

Colleen’s gallery space included this small white wall in the back that I was originally going to leave empty. But why? How many opportunities does one get to show your work? So pulled these b&w abstracts out of a box and pinned them to the wall. They were taken in 1976 and were part of a much larger series. We had a darkroom in our basement at that time with an enlarger that our friend, Kim, gave us. They are in the same key as the rest of the show even if they don’t align with the subtitle, “Recent Work by . . .” The show is up for another week.

Our neighbor, Diana, shops at Costco and they sort of force you to buy too much. She offered us some mangos and we said yes but some other things came along with them. Pairs of cold little pancakes and some flat, chocolate crepes from France. We ate the crepes while we visited with our friends, Rich and Andrea, over Zoom. They told us they had decided who would inherit their houseboat when they passed on.

We told them we had just finished the series finale of “Better Call Saul” and Rich asked if the ending was disappointing. Peggi and I went both ways on that. Diana had already told us last night she didn’t care for the finish. But then she added she is bored with all the shows. The ending was a feel good one and I can see how that might be disappointing.

Our friend, Brad, has moved from the Bay Area back to Rochester. He’s living in a house he inherited, the one where he was living when I first met him in high school, the same one where his mother started screaming at him for singing, “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth,” a line from a popular song at the time

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Light Installation

Light installation in the former Xerox Corporate Office Building
Light installation in the former Xerox Corporate Office Building

This is one of the coolest things I’ve seen at the Jazz Festival. It is between flights in the stairwell leading to the auditorium in Innovation Square, formerly Xerox Corporate Headquarters. As good as Dan Flavin.

Does it seem that every building in Rochester has a stronger identity connected to its former life than its present incarnation? Or is that observation just a reflection of my age? We skipped the Jazz Fest again last night. Kind of a luxury skipping three of the nine nights. We check the sound samples and follow our ears and there was nothing to follow on those nights. I’m keeping track of what we have seen over here.

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More Inventions

Ravi Coltrane Freedom Trio performing at the 2022 Rochester International Jazz Fest
Ravi Coltrane Freedom Trio performing at the 2022 Rochester International Jazz Fest

Ravi Coltrane travels in good company. His trio included Jonathan Blake who we saw at Hochstein with Tom Harrell and Esperanza Spalding. He sets his drums up low, everything waist high and level. He plays two snares, one crisp and the other sloppy. We had a hard time finding something interesting enough to leave home for on Tuesday so we skipped our second of the nine days. I wish the promoters leaned toward inventive and away from studied. This year we have to work a harder to find things we like.

The neighborhood is humming again. Another large oak, maybe 80 years old, fell over behind our neighbor’s house. It damaged the gutter on the house next door them but left but their house intact. It tore down the lines running up the hill and the neighbors’ generators kicked on. The trees, especially the oaks were severely stressed by the Gypsy Moth infestation the last two years. They’ve moved on and changed their name.

Mi Hacienda Jalisciense in Alton (just past Sodus) is open again. Serving mostly migrant workers from the nearby fruit orchards, they have the best Mexican food in town. Mui tipico. When I was in grade school my mom and my brother and I went out to Wayne County as volunteers from Holy Trinity. I played basketball with the migrant workers’ kids. They were all black back then.

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Urban Removal

"Negro Riot" headlines in Rochester Democrat & Chronicle from 1964. "Clarissa Uprooted" exhibit at City Art Space in former Sibley building downtown.
“Negro Riot” headlines in Rochester Democrat & Chronicle from 1964. “Clarissa Uprooted” exhibit at City Art Space in former Sibley building downtown.

The euphemism, “urban renewal,” was used by city planners as a catch-all for grand plans, like tearing down whole neighborhoods to put a highway in to whisk white suburban workers in and out of downtown. Interstate 490 tore right through Rochester’s 3rd Ward, a thriving Black community.

The “Clarissa Uprooted” exhibit at City Art Space in the former Sibley building downtown is too much to take in in one visit. It is too much to take in period. Black people were only allowed to live in two of Rochester’s 24 Wards, the 3rd and the 7th, so where else would they put a highway? And while they were at it they tore down far more homes than they had to. The empty lots are still there.

The exhibition organizers have recreated the stage from the Pythodd Room (named after the two social clubs, the Knights of Pythias and Odd Fellows that shared the space.) Located at the corner of Clarissa and Troup Street, it was a regular stop on the Chitlin’ Circuit in the late fifties and early sixties. Alice McCloud (Coltrane), Jimmy Smith, Art Blakey all played there along with Rochester musicians, Gap and Chuck Mangione, Pee Wee Ellis and Ron Carter. and surrounded it with photos (Susan Plunkett is pictured down front) and videos the club in the day. There was band playing on the stage on opening night.

The oral histories, video interviews Teen Empowerment made with current and former residents, (Shep from Shep’s Paradise), Rochesterer’s first black policeman, lawyers and community elders are the heart and soul of this exhibit. They clearly had a good hing going here in the day but there is plenty of personal stories of police abuse, one about guy who worked two jobs, the second being as a gas station attendant at night. He was closing up the station on South Plymouth Street when the cops pulled in and accused him of breaking in. He told them he worked there but they beat the shit out of him

Listen to Shep’s Paradise by Margaret Explosion

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Fiery World

Trimble Lake in June
Trimble Lake in June

Duane asked if Lakeside Hots was still open. We said yes reflexively. The alternative is unthinkable. The Sea Breeze restaurant is the closest we’re going to get in the 2000s to the legendary Vic & Irv’s. We walked through the park this morning and then down Culver to the lake just to verify. Because Duane is on FB and we’re not he sometimes finds out about things in our hometown before we do.

I have been so busy the last few weeks I was unable to find time to read the pdf of “Fiery World,” Louise Wareham Leonard’s upcoming book. Peggi has read it twice. Today was the day. We sat under one of the umbrellas down at the pool and read. My iPad as portal did not take us far. The setting for her book is the nearby park, the fruticetum, the pinetum, the flowering trees and the small lakes.

The main character, grieving the loss of her sister, meets an amorphous mystic in the park. He tells her, “You think you’re mourning because your true life is behind you. But it’s before you.” His wisdom comes from literature and they trade favorite passages. She almost becomes dependent but then he sets her straight. “I do not exist to give you meaning.” ” . . . you cannot live for me.” A healthy, happy ending to a poetic whirlwind.

Look for “Fiery World” in the Kindle shop .

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