New York City V: The Empire State Building Strikes Back

I’m glad I made the trip to the ol’ ESB. The new(ish?) Observation Deck and museum is really nice, and well worth the $30-$60 you’ll spend for a trip to the top. I went at sunset, and I was not disappointed with the view. And of course, since I can’t take high-ground photos without tilt-shifting everything to death, I was able to process to my heart’s content. I also got to post the Flatiron photo on Facebook and post my standard gag about building a model of it on my table. Two or three of my Facebook friends always fall for it.

I should feel bad when I do that. But I don’t.

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New York City IV: A Day at the Museum

I’ve wanted to visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York since I was 8 years old and could name for you not only the dinosaurs, but all of the periods of the Mesozoic Era and probably a few from the Paleozoic, too.

After finally getting to check it out, I learned that 1) an afternoon wasn’t enough, and 2) they need to update the astronomy exhibit. I ditched dinos for space the day after seeing Star Wars for the first time, and I’m a little disappointed that my newer love wasn’t well represented. The dinosaur skeletons were amazing. Meanwhile, the exhibits in the Hayden Planetarium look like they were last updated in the early 1990’s—relativistic jets emerging from quasars, for example, aren’t attributed to supermassive black holes, they way we now know they should be.

That’s right, Neil Degrasse Tyson, I’m calling you out! (I’m kidding! Ha ha! You’re smarter and tougher than I’ll ever be please don’t kill me.)

New York City III: Central Park

What can I say about Central Park? It’s big. It’s a park. If you go looking for it, it’s in the center of Manhattan.

Hence the name, people.

Hence the name.

New York City II: Yankees Win

On my first full day in New York, I Ubered out to the Bronx to catch my first Yankee game. They still alive for a playoff spot, with only a couple of games left. I got to see Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka strike out 15—the most ever by an Asian pitcher in the Majors—and flirt with a perfect game until the fifth inning. The Yanks won 4-0, and even though I’m a Red Sox fan (if I’m anything at all), it was a nice day at the ballpark.

New York City I: Nice Day for a Walk

 

I was 16 the summer of 1986 when I won a trip to the United Nations. At that time, New York City was a different animal. And by animal, I mean animal. As in “feral.” It was every bit the horrible urban hellscape we saw on TV, only worse. Our hosts (the Odd Fellows Lodge) were strict about the rules: Stay in your lines, keep your wallets in your front pockets, and for God’s sake, no matter what you do, don’t talk to anyone.

This was good advice. For the entire week, we marched up one side of stinking Manhattan and down the other, sweating in our sport coats or formal dresses. We stepped over street people sleeping on the sidewalk, tried to ignore the piles of garbage stacked like greasy beanbags outside the restaurants, and flinched at the sound of women screaming and chasing the crack addicts who had stolen their purses. The copy of New York Newsday, left on our bed by the maids on Day One, bore the lovely headline COP SHOOTING. To a kid from Cottage Grove, Ore., population 7,000, New York was terrifying. It assaulted the nose with sewage, fryer grease, and urine. And by the time I left, I was in love with it. I loved the buildings that disappeared into clouds. I loved seeing A Chorus Line at the Schubert Theater. I loved seeing all those important places that I’d always heard about on the news. When the bus pulled away and started the long trip back across the continent, I knew I wanted more. Someday soon, I’d return as a writer or a talk show host or some other sweet gig that would put me right in the middle of that beautiful mess.

Thirty-one years later, I finally made it back. I never got that book contract or that sweet NYT job. But I did have a couple of vacation days, some money in the bank, and my Canon. Mindful of the fact that New York wasn’t entirely tamed, I kept my 74-105mm and 200mm lenses at home and forced myself to get by with my 50mm—or, the “Nifty Fifty” as one blog put it. It sticks out of the camera body about 2 inches. It also forces the intrepid photographer to get close to the action.

I’m a little sad to report that New York … just wasn’t the same. That was mostly good, I guess. I could walk the streets without fear. I was ready for anything, of course. But it just wasn’t necessary. This new version of New York reminded me of when I lived in Portland, with maybe more angry car horn-honking but with fewer street people. (I counted two of them, and they were tucked away off the sidewalk, politely sleeping on boxes.) This time around, only hazard to walking around before dawn was getting inadvertently sprayed with a hose, because apparently they clean the sidewalks now. Servers in restaurants were much less cranky; new accents had replaced the standard dropped-R: Dominican, Eastern European, and others that I couldn’t place. But oh, New York. What happened to you? The fight has left the place. I don’t know if it was the much-maligned Disney-fication of Times Square or whatever, or if the city is still recovering from 9/11. Or maybe the creeping automation and Amazon.com has eliminated the need for people and storefronts to be stacked on top of each other.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked the cleaner, safer Manhattan 2.0. But I wanted some of the old New York. I wanted to be yelled at by a cop or something. Just once.

All in all, though, it was great to go back. And now that I’m only four hours a way, I won’t wait another 31 years to do it.

I’ll post a new batch of photos every day this week:

  • I—Nice Day for a Walk (today): I walk around smiling at stuff like that stupid U2 Vegas video.
  • II—THUUHHHHH Yankees Win: New York beats Toronto, David Judge gets tagged out after overrunning first base, and I pay $12.50 for an IPA.
  • III—Central Park: You could fit downtown Manchester in this thing and still have room for the rest of N.H., too.
  • IV—Day at the Museum: Doesn’t anyone around here know how to dust?
  • V—The Empire State Building Strikes Back … by taking $38 of my money for an elevator ride. Oh, and your tilt-shift cup runneth over.

Eclipse 2017

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Total solar eclipse from Gallatin, Tenn., August 2017

Like millions of other people, I braved the crowds and traffic jams to catch the Great American Eclipse on Monday. I didn’t quite get the shots I wanted, since I don’t have the kind of long lens necessary to magnify the sun and moon’s discs, which have only a half-degree of angular diameter. (That’s the width of a pencil held at arm’s length.) At the wide end of the scale, when I upgraded to my new Canon, I gave away my T-5 Rebel and my 10-22mm wide angle lens, which would have allowed me to get more of a landscape view with people and structures in the foreground. My new lens—which in other ways is orders of magnitude better—couldn’t do what I wanted. Worse, we were viewing the eclipse in the South, which means the sun was high up and at 24mm I didn’t have the span to get anything but leaves and branches. But that’s where I started, bracketing down from 1/4000th down to the mutli-second exposures. I’m happy that I live-view focused properly. Everything was sharp.

After getting ten or so wide-angle shots, I took a break to just enjoy what I was seeing. My son was with me, and we had endured a long drive and many misadventures to find ourselves in this little park in eastern Tennessee. Given all of that, fiddling with a camera the entire time felt wrong. But I only had two and a half minutes to work with, so it was time to get a few more exposures in. I zoomed in to 105mm, but the whole thing was still pretty small. I might have had a shot at getting something interesting along the limb of the sun—Bailey’s Beads, prominences, etc.—but by the time I was shooting zoomed in, my exposures were still too long. I was at 1/100th or something when the moon slid out of the way. There was an unbelievably bright flare in my eyes and on my last image, then a cheer from everyone in the park. The big event was over.

I have taught astronomy, written about it, read about it, obsessed about it. I know how an eclipse works. In fact, it’s rather boring: one thing blocks the light from another thing, coincidentally the first thing is small but the bigger thing is far away, etc. But I was not prepared for how it would feel to see a total solar eclipse with my own eyes. For two and a half minutes, I stood at the toe of some benevolent giant, one who could have stepped on me and everyone at that park and kept on walking. Instead, he looked down at us, gave a friendly wink, and wandered off.

Pulpit Falls

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Pulpit Falls, Winchester, N.H., August 2017

I took a couple of chances with my safety to reach this waterfall, which is tucked away in southwest New Hampshire just over the Massachusetts border. The sun was almost down, and it was about a half mile hike up a path that hadn’t been used in a while. All I could think about was the sun going down and not being able to find my way back to the car. About ten seconds into the hike, I lost the signal from my phone’s map program, and I was hiking blind. Fortunately, there are blue ribbons hanging from the trees marking the trail. Without those, I’d have been screwed. But I’m glad I took the risk.

Maine

 

Maine seacoast and west toward New Hampshire.

Scramble

Teenagers running on rocks, Peggy's Cove, NS
Teenagers running on rocks, Peggy’s Cove, NS

I was taking photos of the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove, NS, when I heard a joyous stampede behind me. A youth group visiting the cove were given the green light to race across the rocks toward the light house. It was one of those “I know this could be a good photo but I don’t know why” moments, so I just started shooting randomly. It didn’t turn out as good as I’d hoped, but I do remember how happy the kids were.

Colour

I never pictured the Maritime provinces as being colorful, but they are.

Envy

I saw not one but two seagull fights yesterday. One was in St. John, and the other in a little harbor town forty miles away. This leads me to believe that gulls do more than just glide passively in front of sunsets. I missed the first fight because I had my shutter speed set too fast for some reason, and almost missed this one because I couldn’t focus fast enough. I mostly got it.

I like this scene because it’s clear they’re fighting over a fish. Not sure if Gull No. 1 stole Gull No. 2’s prize, or if Gull No. 2 was just being a jerk.

Either way, Gull No. 1 with the fish, and the win.

Saint John, New Brunswick

Saint John seems like a decent place. The Canadian port city became a new home for several thousand Loyalists who either bailed on the U.S. after the Revolution or were simply told to GTFO for fighting on the wrong side. There are signs of this Pro-UK feel here and there around town, including a framed print of a redcoat that I saw in a shop.

Anyway, the war is over and we’re all friends now.

Shoulder

Gulf of St. Lawrence, looking west from cliffs west of Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia
Gulf of St. Lawrence, looking west from cliffs west of Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia

It rained for about half of the first part of our trip. Then, on Wednesday, it stopped during our circuit of Cape Breton Island. Just in time, too, since we’d just hit the good part of our drive on the Cabot Trail.

Coffee

Rapids above Still Brook Waterfall, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Rapids above Still Brook Waterfall, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Much of the water that I saw on Nova Scotia this week—standing or flowing—was stained deep brown. Part of this may have been from the torrential rain on our first day, but from what I’ve read, the old, marshy soil just makes the water that way. It made this brook look like it was fed by some gigantic Coke fountain.

Greenlight

Kidston Island Lightouse from Baddeck, Nova Scotia
Kidston Island Lighthouse from Baddeck, Nova Scotia

I’m trying to get better at identifying “The Magic Hour,” supposedly the time in the morning and evening when the sun is low and makes for pretty picture-takin. We were out walking around the town of Baddeck after dinner, and noticed the clouds breaking up for the first time all trip. The lake shore had been gray and dreary up to then. But I caught a flash of orange from the lake, and rushed down to see if things were any better and they were.

East

Sunrise over Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
Sunrise over Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

You should click this one and see it full size. I like it more than I should, but it’s my photo so I get to like what I want.

Woke up to this view after taking the over night ferry from Portland to Yarmouth this morning. Then the rain came. It wouldn’t be the first day of a vacation without the animals pairing up.

Millipede

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Dam spillway north of Durham, NH

The “blurry waterfall” pictures always look better in your head when you’re planning them out. Then you get home, find out how overexposed everything is, and notice all the dead vegetation. I do like the little swirls in the water.

Pentultimate Day

From my last full day on this trip:

Three Days of the Camera

Western Cape Cod, Nantucket Island, and Martha’s Vineyard.