Winter wind

Blow, blow, though winter wind. Thou art not unkind in intention, really, and that veiling effect of driving snow makes all the old red brick of this neighborhood mysterious and inviting rather than chunky and boring, but I’m not sure the little flying shards of frozen water you’re flinging into people’s faces at 20, 25 mph were the most fun I’ve ever had. Did I mention, it’s cold? Also the sidewalks and streets are sketchily cleared if at all and there’s a fair amount on the ground, only 3″ so far but drifts of 5-8 in spots (it’s windy in Bay Ridge, we have the ocean right by us), enough to make for some adventurous guessing of where sidewalks and curbs end.  Weirdly fun but I’m glad to be back from the post office — 3/4 mile at snow walking speeds is enough my face is still tingling and I’ve been back 1/2 hour. Safe evening commute, people. Next fall, I WILL remember to order a balaclava and silk glove liners.

politics, rice pudding, & the ocean: also, science 101

I’m going on holiday soon and was thinking what to take to read. This morning, I decided: mathematics. A long time ago, I was a math/physics student, and then a NASA science drone. Mathematics, unfolding, is as beautiful as the ocean, alive, intricate, complete in itself. Physics unfolds mysteries, and I don’t mean the God-particle nonsense that people have been getting excited about but the even more wondrous daily mysteries: wind, weather, why there is that odd-shaped shadow on my ceiling, how to park on a hill so your car doesn’t roll away…

Physics enchanted me, as a girl, because it the fundamental rules were essential simple, and clear. Water rolls downhill, ALWAYS. Stuff like that. Studying physics was a way to allow my mind to be simple, and clear. It does not contradict itself. Subtlety exist, but there is always the real to measure against.

For some years now I’ve been a writer. Fiction, mostly cross-cultural, dealing with social, political, and emotional issues. My community is now mostly writers, artists, activists, and nothing is simple, or clear; or rather, much of it probably could be, but people cultivate complexity. To include ALL the data — by which I mean all the facts, not all the opinions — on something, or as much data as one can get, and look at it all in balance, is not a popular sport. Balance, as best I understand it, requires calm. But the troubles of our times, from tars sands to Islamophobia to economic class warfare, call for concern. And most people don’t find concern and calm coexistent within themselves, especially in American culture, which says, subliminally, that we should be able to fix anything. So there is tumult, and shouting: a noise of long-winded thoughts and exhortations that seem to be saying, ‘Care more, care more! Don’t relax, don’t spin down, not for a minute, the world will cease to be if you do, the battle will be lost…’

I’ve tried to get people to care about some of these issues, particularly the race-related ones, without stirring anxiety. I think I have failed. Caring deeply while being staying as calm as we can is an emotional reality in daily life for most people, else we’d never let our loved ones go out the door, never mind become skydivers or firefighters. I think it’s okay, even essential, to deal with political issues the same way — do what you can, everything you can, and then let go and fix dinner. I talk a lot about politics, but I’ve never said this before, and I apologize for not doing so.

I am going to read, on my vacation, not a novel, full of sculpted emotion, or a nonfiction book full of argument, however just, but mathematics: to find a state of clarity in my mind again. It will be like eating fresh fruit, or rice pudding, after too rich a diet. Cleaning, and strengthening. In-between, I will go to California farmers markets, which are a paradise of grounded goodness, and I will cook dinner. I will look at the ocean.

I will be simple.

After Sandy: Bay Ridge and beyond

Big things and little in my neighborhood, day after Sandy.176607_10151113669092335_1554886193_o

The large black/dark grey rocks below the retaining wall are normal, the 1/2 to 1 football-sized rocks on the pavement etc are not! This bank was solid the day before.

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Rocks and sea sand, a gift from Sandy.

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This isn’t what the place usually looks like!

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No idea what this pipe is.

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The other end of the pipe. You can see the size of it by the garden chairs.

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Rock stuck under the railing, and seaweed.

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Kids returning stones to the sea. Super cute.

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By the bridge.

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The base of the tree.

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The other end of the tree.

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The second car under the same tree. End to end across the street, one car under each end. Yesterday I walked by and didn’t see the cars, which is to say apparently hurricanes leave one shaken up.

I just heard an estimate of 20 billion for Hurricane Sandy related damage. Is this non-business friendly enough for Republicans to now acknowledge climate change science?

10 years at NASA, and my first job was calculating what happened to clouds in the presence of greenhouse gases (roughly). This devastation needn’t be happening on this scale. I can’t reconcile ‘family values’ with people voting to doom their children to this and worse for the sake of a short-term bottom line.

I seldom talk about my NASA days, it’s not relevant to the present. But then I seldom feel like punching someone, or maybe half a country.

Minor personal note: there’s an absurdity to canceling an overseas vacation because I wasn’t sure I was well enough for the stress of travel only to have a hurricane come visiting. Which is to say, it’s time for me to rest and write for a few days.

11/6: Thinking of all those in 6 hours voting lines in winter weather, or struggling to get to the polls in hurricane affected areas with no gas: thank you. Stay safe.

11/7: Snowflakes. Fat snowflakes in between the drizzle. Please don’t let it snow on flooded people.

11/8: Sorry, but I’m just watching election night news now: FOX News said Republicans lost the election because the hurricane ‘disrupted the story line’? This is what they think is important about an event that smacked 60 million people upside the head?

11/10, morning: Subtle but pervasive shifts in the texture of life here, and weird dissonances. Life is back to near normal for some and still completely destroyed for others. Scarcity of gas makes it harder for those who would try to help and changes a million small things. It’s strangely difficult even to know what to think and feel.

A friend on the west coast asked me how things were in NYC and I just started to laugh and couldn’t stop. At this point zombies wouldn’t surprise me!

People here are comparing it to 9/11. I was in a healthier place on 9/11. Living near Fort Meade, lots of military families and a neighbor who worked at the Pentagon and didn’t come home for 3 days. I was healthy enough then to know that if one wasn’t experiencing the disaster, then emotion enough to help was useful but past the point of what one could do it wasn’t right to get spun up. A form of disrespect to the people experiencing the real trauma. Trickier as a writer, I’m feeling a need to record and monitor as well, which means resonating somewhat.

Trick is empathy exists to motivate us to help. Past the point we can help, it isn’t useful. Tired, so the boundaries are not as easy: human response here, nosey-parker writer there.

11/10, afternoon:  Exterminator just came. He lives on Staten Island, works for the Department of Buildings. Talked of 20′ storm surge and 20′ wave behind that. That people ordered to evacuate stayed and are now bodies being pulled out of houses. I asked if they were given resources to evacuate with, and he didn’t think so. Now I am wondering about the income level in these areas. A horrid question. I’m sure some people stayed because Hurricane Irene was a non-event and so they expect Sandy to be a false alarm too. But there may have been others… Meanwhile the guy got here and was another familiar face not drowned, which is always nice.

Sandy afternoon

Hot chocolate with salt, maple syrup, orange oil, cinnamon and vanilla, just perfect after a long, cold walk. Wind is still strong and cold down by the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. My neighborhood, and I, are relatively lucky. This is the bottom of Bay Ridge, facing Staten Island, what the cabbies describe as ‘under the bridge’. We have power. There’s a large downed tree uprooted from the sidewalk and fallen across the street fortunately just short of hitting the opposite house, partly because some branches broke off. Lying across the road it’s about the height of a man’s waist.

Down by the Narrows, there’s a large hollow pipe, half the width of this tree trunk but at least half again as long, lying on the rocks below the boardwalk and partially submerged. The exposed end is full of bolts and other fittings, I try to guess what it is: something from a ship, or a pier, perhaps? Somewhere a business is probably filing an insurance claim for this lost pipe. There’s a tremendous amount of debris in the water, from the expected plastic trash cans and traffic cones to what looks like someone’s kitchen table. A sweet watering can goes by, the kind with an embossed flower on one side. So many pieces of people’s lives washed into that water.

In return the sea has given what I think must be sand from the bottom of the water. The water is a browny-green, like tropical river water, and quite unlike it’s usual northern, Atlantic-coast blues. There’s sand deposited in curves on the boardwalk of the park, and across that and the bike lane and small road — a total of about 50 feet — on the surface of the parking lot. Stones, also, about 1/2 to 1 soccer ball in size, mostly of a color and shape not like the rocks against the retaining wall below the boardwalk. The sea and the storm have brought them from elsewhere. They are too large to have made it through the protective railing. I guess the water must have literally thrown them over the waist-high railing.

There are smaller stones. Several very small children, perhaps demonstrating the resilience of our species or at least of New Yorkers, are busily tossing the smaller stones back into the river. To them it’s a lovely game, a day when parents are unexpectedly and wonderfully at home.

All over the neighborhood, as I walk, is the evidence of hard working and determined people. I only managed to force myself out, pushing through the oddest panicky feeling, at a quarter to three in the afternoon. There were sounds outside from first light, and by the time I’m out much of the debris is done, miscellaneous debris bagged, tree limbs cut down to be hauled away. It’s still messy, but the piles of trash-bags and testimony to how much has worse it was. One house has a side covered with that plastic sheeting one sees on construction sites, either a very quick repair or an ongoing job, I can’t tell. Many stores, in this neighborhood which didn’t flood except down by the water, are open, all the ones where people live close enough to get in to work. There’s still food on the shelves, and no panic. I am not the only one taking pictures, though, and walking around marveling. We all know we’re tremendously lucky to be in a neighborhood that’s come off so lightly. I pass the subway station, and wonder when it is I’ll be able to get to the city again. It smells musty, or perhaps I’m imagining it.

I’ve heard from most of my friends in Sandy’s path, but not all. I am wishing this hadn’t happened, that the storm of the century hadn’t been bred by persistent denial of climate change. I’m remembering my NASA years and thinking how futile it is to know so much when we, as a country and a people, do so little. I am anxious too, remembering Katrina and New Orleans. I know New York won’t be like that, but don’t know what it will be. I’m wondering about life, and choices, probably in the same generally anxious and tired and not very smart way most people are today. The last days have been a blur of pre-hurricane prep, which in this city means hauling stuff around through the subway or on foot from stores, carrying water bottles and that last carton of milk and canned soups and such, all those foods one never buys except for such emergencies. Yesterday as the hurricane approached, and then during, there was the building and the howling of wind, and then more howling, and louder, a maddening sound that freaked out the body without stopping to consult the mind, and then there were the images and reports of horrible things happening, flooded streets and exploding power stations and fires…

I come home from my walk, and write this, and get ready to post my pictures, and wish I had something intelligent to say, a better closing thought than how to make amazing hot chocolate, but I don’t. There’s only waiting now.

One final thought. I am grateful, sitting here waiting to see what will happen to my city after a hurricane, that Obama is in the White House and not Romney, who would have us privatize disaster relief and who thinks climate change is a myth. I don’t want what Bush let happen to New Orleans to happen to me. Call me selfish. But it could be you and your city next time.

Be safe, you all.

Hurricane Sandy coming to call

It’s not everyday a girl finds a hurricane/nor’easter knocking on the door. Here’s what it was like in my neighborhood, down by the Verrazano Narrows bridge a stone’s throw from Staten Island.

10/27, 10:55am: Auxiliary IPhone battery yes, auxiliary battery charging cable no. Moving equals chaos.

10/28, 1pm: 1 block closer to the water than my place is in the zone B Eva area (not at all an issue this storm) but the point is, that’s the ritzy block, the super pricey, water view… block, and mine is where regular people like. Strange similarity to the areas of SF south bay where the crazy expensive places in the hills get hit by mudslides every rainy season.

10/28, 6pm: Wind is picking up and temp beginning to drop, lovely lovely bite in the air. Storm coming in from the ocean may be dangerous, but dear God it is beautiful too. Now if there’s just no storm surge into the sewers here (I’m v. close to the water) I shall be happy.

10/28, midnight: Internet and phone cutting out occasionally. Time to go to bed and hope not to be flooded or cleaning up from flooding soon. Goodnight, world.

10/29, 1:30pm: Walked over to the Verrazano Narrows bridge river park a little bit ago (around noon). Wind was still low enough people were out. We really are zone B and higher than Red Hook, high tide didn’t get over the wall. Looks probable storm surge + tonight’s high time will, but where I am (uphill from the river a couple of blocks) it’s only going to be potential nuisance stuff of sewer backups and power outages. Wind was getting pre-tornado-ish by the time I got home, and it’s getting stronger now.

10/29, 2pm: Okay. this is the water near by me now. High tide this morning, 9am, didn’t come onto the boardwalk, and at 12 noon when I was out there it was about 3 feet below the level of this pavement. I’m indoors now (2 blocks inland and UP, so no worries.) Wind is blocking harder. Indoors for the duration now, I guess.

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10/29, 8pm: Got the Con Ed robocall. Still have power, but if it goes out I’m perfectly safe; will shut off cellphones and such to save battery and go to bed. So if I stop chattering…. Meanwhile the wind is crazy out there.

10/29, 11pm: Heading to bed. Goodnight all. Wind is still wuthering but I think a tiny bit quieter.

Verrazano evening

Night time waters under the Verrazano Narrows bridge, tonight pale salmon, brilliant white, blues from silver to night. Soundscape of water glugging against the foundations of the boardwalk, giggles of tricycling children, shushing of traffic on bridge… And now a cricket singing outside my window. I think it’s the quiet, courting song. I wonder if she will say yes.

Goodnight friends.

99 degrees

99 degrees in NYC today and the sun is just shifting around to the windows of the room I work in. It’s an older building with large rooms and high ceilings and lovely large, deep windows I don’t want to block with an A/C unit, and I don’t want to shut out the sea air and birdsong: but it’s getting a tad warm.

Con Ed: ‘Please turn off all unnecessary electrical…’ Accepted all suggestions except the computer. A girl has to work. Meanwhile, lime, mint, honey, ice, water. Remarkably cooling.

Tsunami in South Asia

‎6.7 earthquake in Indonesia and Indian Ocean tsunami alert, 2nd earthquake and some alerts lifting, but, prayers please for coastal areas of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand. Friends and family but also, ever single person is someone’s beloved. And so, prayers please.

Obsessed with my own home country and (horribly) forgetting: Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Maldives… Presumably, hopefully, nothing will happen. But still, prayers for all countries around the Indian Ocean, and the coastal populations.

Bridges, rivers, and cats

The river under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge appears to be tidal, or at least changeable, as at the ocean. Midnight walk after a writing burst, it is serene and beautiful. I am meeting my neighbors: black and white tabby, more or less spherical, about the size of Ohio. I think I shall be happy here.

2011 final sky

final sky

Pacifica, CA. I didn’t have the real camera with me. iPhone seems to have color-balanced in a way that shifted the sky colors, to be honest. But both the original and this are really beautiful.

My touch with the iPhone is getting better after working with the real camera. It’s just interesting that with the other camera the colors would have looked completely different. Or maybe not. The iPhone makes some sort of averaging decisions about brightness, and I guess one could program a regular camera to make the same choice.

I just record. The engineer on this light show is pretty awesome.

Kelp

Just found this while sorting pics. it gives a sense of the scale of Big Sur. And the wind. I’m tilted. My hair is tilted. The kelp is tilted…

Kelp at Gibson Beach

When kelp’s floating in surf, you get these isolated curves popping in and out of the water. I shot about an hour of what I thought was a school of seals before I realized I had a thousand pictures of kelp.