A Sunflower Story

What the hell is wrong with you, Neil?” my unsubtle editor Edgar Reewright shouted into the phone a couple of weeks ago. He had called moments earlier with a special request — he wanted me to compose a story about sunflowers — and I had balked at the idea. “I mean, what do you have against sunflowers? Just about everybody likes sunflowers, right? Right. Furthermore, if they were good enough for Vincent van Gogh, who, unlike yourself, was a genius, then they damn well are good enough for you.”

“Neil,” Edgar continued, “have I ever asked anything of you before? Other than demanding high payments to compensate me for the extraordinary pains I take to make your writings intelligible, the answer is no. I haven’t been myself the last few weeks, so a bright, cheerful piece about the sunniest of flowers probably will boost my spirits. Write it!”

“Listen, Edgar,” I said. “I’ve got nothing against sunflowers. On the contrary, I love them. I mean, they’re just adorable. Big and grinning, and their gangly stalks are so improbable. They’re like dogs that want nothing more than to please you, that know they’re goofy and would have it no other way.”

“So, what’s the problem, Neil?”

“Well, it’s just that I’ve written quite a few nature-related articles the last several years. I don’t want to overdo it, you know.”

“Overdo it? Neil, you can’t go wrong with nature. And I highly doubt if you have anything better to write about right now, anyway.”

“Oh yeah? Listen, Edgar, I’m planning to do a piece on the wonders of napping. I’ll explore its ins and outs: how I position my head just so on the living room sofa before nodding off, for instance. And how I awake 10 or 15 minutes later with glazed eyes, uncertain where the hell I am. Edgar, I’m one hundred percent certain that the readers of that article will be enthralled. My exciting revelations will have them panting for more.”

A few seconds passed. And then Edgar had this to say: “A short while ago I asked, ‘what the hell is wrong with you, Neil?’ And I was right on the money, because a better question hasn’t been posed anywhere in the world today! Napping? You’ve got to be kidding me! Listen up, haven’t I always strived to help you create agreeable product?”

“Yes, that’s very true, Edgar. I don’t know how you do it, but you whip my reportage into decent shape.”

“Thank you, Neil. Even though I’ll never figure you out, I have to admit that anybody who unashamedly uses a clunky word like reportage in conversation can’t be all bad. Okay then, I strongly recommend that you drop the napping idea and move on to sunflowers. Are we on the same page?”

We were.

Thus, during three walks in the latter half of July, in my neighborhood and in nearby towns, I kept an eagle eye out for sunflowers, and found about 15 homes on whose grounds they were displayed. Having strolled past hundreds of houses, though, I was a bit surprised by the low percentage that carried this form of joyful flora. But little matter. Every sunflower that I saw smiled at me. They truly were glad to see me, and the feeling was mutual.

But you know what? Despite the time I spent with real-life sunflowers, I have to admit that I much prefer a particular Vincent van Gogh sunflower painting over them. Vincent painted sunflowers a dozen times, and one of those oils hangs within the Philadelphia Museum Of Art, where I have passed hundreds of hours. (I’ve lived in Philadelphia or its suburbs for most of my adult life.) It very well might be the most popular art work in the museum. It certainly is one of mine.

Vase With Twelve Sunflowers, by Vincent van Gogh (image credit belongs to Philadelphia Museum Of Art and to vggallery.com

Vincent had the abilities to find the hearts and souls of his subjects, to bring his subjects alive in both traditional and unexpected ways. And he did exactly that when he painted the canvas in question in 1889. It is glorious and imbued with vigor. It has deep stories to tell. Sunflowers never have looked so good.

(My editor has been getting on my frigging nerves big-time. So, you know what? F*ck him! I won’t allow Edgar to edit this article. I’m going to press the Publish button right now. Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias.)

Beautiful Indeed

Well, I’ve been real tempted lately to pen an essay about the repressive, heads-up-their-asses people in my country who continue to believe in demagogic, riot-inciting Donald Trump and embrace his outrageous lies about the 2020 election having been stolen from him.

On the other hand, I haven’t been real tempted lately to have my blood pressure head into the stratosphere. So, I’ll stay calm by moving in my semi-natural direction. Towards the light, you dig. What follows, therefore, are a few words about beauty, a quality I found a couple of weeks ago in, among other things, a book, a song and some flowers. Away we go!

First up, the book: Local Girls is a collection of stories, by Alice Hoffman, about Gretel Samuelson and her small circle of relatives and friends. The stories are presented chronologically, and appeared in various publications before being gathered and published in one volume in 1999.

Not exactly a novel (some stories are narrated by Gretel, the others are in the third-person), but close enough, Local Girls follows Gretel from age 11 or 12 into her mid-20s. It’s set in suburban Long Island (which is near New York City), and is not the happiest of tales. Drug addiction and serious illness are among the book’s prime themes.

Nevertheless, drollness permeates the proceedings, partly by way of the sharp observations and bon mots of Gretel, her best friend Jill, Gretel’s mother Franny, and Gretel’s adult cousin Margot. Overall, Local Girls struck me as hard-as-nails realistic, despite the inclusion, unnecessary in my opinion, of some mystical occurrences. (Hoffman, I gather, is known for doing this in her works.) The book took me by the arm and then spoke intimately to me. It is damn well alive.

What got to me more than anything about Local Girls is the absolute beauty of much of its language. Time after time Hoffman took my breath away. Before ending this short discussion of Local Girls, I’ll leave you with three examples of Hoffman’s way with words.

It was a bad summer, and we all knew it. We liked to phrase it that way, as if what was happening was an aberrationa single season of pain and doubtinstead of all-out informing people that our lives were falling apart, plain and simple as pie.

She had been thinking about sorrow for so long she was amazed to hear the sound of love. What a foreign language it was. How odd to an ear unused to such things.

The streetlamps cast a heavy glow, the light of a dream you’re not quite finished waking from.

Yes, Hoffman has more than got the touch.

Now for the song: I’ve seen Brandi Carlile on a couple of TV shows and heard her music pretty often on the radio. I think she’s good but certainly not great. However, her recording Save A Part Of Yourself, is another matter. To me, it’s fab. The song, which Carlile co-wrote and sings lead on, was released in 2012.

Save Part Of Yourself concerns a love relationship that, though ended, has not been forgotten by one of its two parties. She hopes that her ex will not throw away memories of her. Such a lovely composition, so tender and imbued with longing. Yet, it also sparkles. That mandolin riff that enters five seconds into the tune, those handclaps, the joyful whoo-hoo-hoos. I for one cannot resist them.

Save Part Of Yourself’s main message, I think, is that remembrance can help us heal and make us better individuals. Who would argue with that? Here it is, following which we’ll turn our attention to flowers.

The day in which I am described as a knowledgeable identifier of flora isn’t about to arrive any time soon. Yeah, on a good day I’m able to look at a tulip and say, “Yup, that’s a tulip.” Ditto for a pine tree and a maple tree. But my scope doesn’t extend all too far beyond that. Still, that doesn’t stop me from going out to admire nature’s wonders. Hell, I’d be heartbroken if I couldn’t.

And I’m glad when my botanical expertise expands. Such as when I learned last month that a flowering plant I was gazing at during a visit to New Hope, Pennsylvania, a funky, former artists colony to which visitors often throng, was an example of a hydrangea bush. The plant impressed me. Thus, while walking and driving around my town a few days later I kept my eyes open for hydrangeas. And I found some, photographing two of them. Hydrangeas, I believe, were at the height of their flowering powers in my region (greater Philadelphia) at the time that I took these portraits. The flowers are sincerely beautiful.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias.)

Words From A Philly Fan

I’m proud and relieved to say that I am fully vaccinated against coronavirus, the microscopic beast that, for us humans, likes nothing better than to cause pain and death and to make an unholy mess of things. And though there are plenty of unknowns about what the future holds, for the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, I’m proceeding on the assumption that the two doses of Moderna I received have done their job. In other words, protected me from developing COVID.

That’s why, earlier this month and for the first time since the pandemic began, I packaged together activities that used to be semi-regular parts of my repertoire. Namely, I hopped aboard a train, a means of transport that I deemed too risky to use pre-vaccination, and rode it for an hour from my suburban town to a station in the heart of Philadelphia, the city I know better than any other. Then, upon arrival, I took a substantial walk through The City Of Brotherly Love’s streets.

(Yeah, I could have driven into Philly at pretty much any time during the past year, but said drive is a major pain, as is finding somewhere to park in the sections I like to walk around in.)

Vivid sunlight greeted me as I exited the train station at 10th and Filbert Streets. With no game plan, no specific destinations in mind, I looked this way and that, shrugged, and let my legs and feet take me where they would. Three and a quarter hours later — a chunk of time that passed almost in a flash — I had walked upon a fair number of central Philadelphia’s blocks, covering about four and a half miles in all.

Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood

The area that I traversed on the Friday in question forms a large rectangle and includes a host of neighborhoods. Among them are Chinatown, Old City, Society Hill, South Street and Center City West. Old City and Society Hill, by the way, encompass much of what was within the city’s boundaries during its emergence as a major player in the 1700s. Reacquainting myself with these and other Philadelphia neighborhoods felt damn good, though my absence didn’t seem as long as it actually had been. What surprised me more than anything was that, despite all the walking I’ve done in central Philadelphia over the years, I probably never had been on some of the blocks that passed beneath my feet. For instance, had I ever before walked past or seen the enormous mural that proclaims WORK UNITES US on a building that is close to both Chinatown and Old City? I think not.

Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood
Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood

Well, the conditions were as fine as any I might have dialed up. The skies were a sweet blue, the temperature mild, and a healthy number of young ladies strolling around looked superb. Within the eastern half of the rectangle that I visited, the sidewalks were not particularly crowded. Its Old City and Society Hill areas normally teem with tourists, but not now, needless to say. Add to that the fact that mucho workers who used to be on the streets during their lunch hours are now working from home, another consequence of the virus. I saw quite a few more people, however, within the rectangle’s western half, mainly because of cafes and restaurants whose outdoor tables, in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, were packed. But not as many as I would have a year and a half ago.

Philadelphia’s South Street neighborhood
Philadelphia’s Center City West neighborhood

All in all, COVID has put Philly, and just about all American cities, I suppose, in a hell of a hole. For one thing, Philadelphia never will return to its former self should working-from-home remain a significant way of doing business. I mean, can you imagine the ripple effects that will occur if the city’s office buildings, whether modest or skyscraping, become half vacant, or worse, permanently? Man, I’m very worried about this.

Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood
Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square park

However, all is not lost. The city has much going for it. Deep history. Parks galore. Handsome buildings several centuries old. Modern skyscrapers tantalizingly sleek. I saw examples of all of that during my walk. What’s more, during the last 25 or 30 years Philadelphia’s restaurant scene became world-class and its cultural offerings exploded in number. Restaurants, in general, have hung in there fairly well during the pandemic, though there have been casualties of course. And culture is slowly returning as pandemic restrictions are being relaxed more and more.

No doubt about it, I’ll head back to Philadelphia a bunch of times pretty soon. To trek again. To dine. To take in movies and rock and jazz concerts. I dig the city a whole lot, as if you couldn’t tell. If I didn’t, I’d have moved to another region long ago.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Gracias.)

Looking Up Is Where It’s At: A Springtime Story

When my phone rang at 10 AM on April 27, I knew that I would be in for a scolding. That’s because the name displayed on the phone was none other than Dooitt Orr Else, the no-nonsense CEO of the blogosphere. I’d never had the pleasure of speaking with Mrs. Else, but I knew all about her. Bottom line: she does not suffer fools gladly.

I answered the call. “Hello, can I help you?” I asked, my voice trembling.

“Help me? I doubt it, fool. But you can help yourself. Listen, mister — and, by the way, this is Dooitt Orr Else speaking — it has come to my attention that you have yet to publish an article that centers around spring 2021. What is the matter with you? You’ve written about past springs, have you not? The answer is yes. Therefore it will be unacceptable if you allow the present season to vanish into your rearview mirror without comment.”

“Sir, you have fallen short of the contractual obligations that you entered into with WordPress. Get to work on a spring-related article or I shall be forced to revoke your writing privileges. Not that anyone would mind if I did. Over and out!”

Holy shit, that conversation, if you can call it that, left me worried. I mean, what the hell would I do with my freed-up time if I no longer were allowed to hurl my words of quasi-wisdom into cyberspace? Man, I don’t want to learn how to do yoga. And I don’t want to learn how to bake. Hence, the next day I took to the streets to see what spin I might put on spring 2021.

A lovely day it was when I began the adventure soon after breakfast. On the hazy side, yes, but there’s a charm to haziness. And the temperature was very comfortable, so I knew that I wouldn’t start sweating like a pig as I pounded the sidewalks. My plan was to admire and investigate the flora on some of the blocks in my neighborhood and also on some in a nearby area, as nature had begun to come alive gloriously several weeks earlier. Most deciduous trees were fully in leaf. And many of their flowering varieties were strutting their stuff. But what would be my focus? I wasn’t sure when I left the house, but two minutes later I knew.

I knew, because I decided to photograph a pine tree on a home’s front lawn, but not from a distance. Instead, I got real close to the densely-needled beauty and looked up. What a view! No pavement, no houses, no electrical wires were part of the scene. Nothing but the tree and the sky. The template for the walk, and for the story that you now are reading, immediately fell into place. I would look upward frequently and see what was to be found.

The natural world, needless to say, is infinitely complicated in terms of design, structure, materials, color, and in terms of every other aspect that one might think of. We reside on a planet that is an absolute wonderland. These facts are what hit me the hardest as I wandered along, stopping here and there to peer heavenward through tree branches. The branches, the leaves and needles, the blossoms on those trees so adorned, interplayed at wild angles, combining to form intricate canvases, canvases that shape-shifted whenever I changed position even slightly. Add to this the play of sunlight and the calmness of the sky . . .  the sights were truly stunning.

What’s more, most of the canvases looked like works of modern art to me, swaths of colors and in-your-face immediacy being major parts of their hearts and souls. But I also enjoyed the more delicate constructions, especially the unassuming manner in which one tree, with a smattering of white petals on its thin branches, met the sky.

For the past 18 months I’ve been walking my ass off in my and other neighborhoods, most of them in the Philadelphia burbs, doing so for health reasons and also to get off the living room sofa often enough so as not to take root on it. I’m a lazy guy at the core, though, not one who is thrilled about engaging in regular exercise sessions. But I plan to maintain the routine for as long as I am able. And looking up will help. As the title of this opus says, that’s where it’s at. Sometimes, anyway.

Okay, Mrs. Else. I’ve met your demand. Don’t call me again anytime soon!

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Gracias.)

Showing Red Some Love

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My iPhone’s camera and I were made for each other. That’s because it was designed for technologically-challenged people such as I. Aim the camera in the correct direction, tap the phone’s screen to tighten the camera’s focus and to adjust the brightness level, and then press the big button. Easy f*cking peasy. And in most situations I’m pleased as punch with the images that result.

And I use the camera quite a lot. That point was brought home to me for the umpteenth time when I recently scrolled through the photos I snapped last year. I haven’t totaled the number, but four or five hundred feels about right. That’s a good deal of snapping. And a pretty high percentage of the pictures were taken with Yeah, Another Blogger in mind, because I like to jazz up most of my essays with a selection of pix.    

Well, upon examining 2020’s photographic output I came to the conclusion that I should turn some aspect of it into an entry for this publication. Display twelve photos, one from each of last year’s months, perhaps? Or select a bunch of pictures with oddly-angled components? Okay, why not? But in the end I decided to go with photos that feature, and not always prominently, the color red. I’m not exactly sure why, but after a while red was sort of jumping out at me from the photos, even though only a relative handful of them have any red elements in them. Maybe that’s why I gave red the green light. By which I mean that I don’t show red some love often enough, and the time had arrived to begin rectifying that. Which was fitting in a way, of course, as red is the color associated with love.

Cape May, New Jersey. October 2020

 

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. May 2020

And when I say red, I’m talking about bold reds. Not necessarily fire truck red, but not too far from that vicinity. I looked online at color charts a little while ago and was surprised to see colors listed as shades of red that I don’t consider to be reds at all. Pinks, for example, and salmon, and hues that I think of as being in the brown family. Whatever. Nice bright reds are what I’m sticking with for this essay. 

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. January 2020

 

Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. May 2020

You have to love those varieties of red, right? I mean, they’re truly eye-catching. Yet they are anything but ubiquitous in nature. You see bright reds in some flowers and produce and on some birds, yes, but almost nowhere else in the natural world that I can think of. I suppose you could say the same for bright yellows, oranges and purples too, but that’s outside the purview of this little story. (Yellows, oranges and purples, sue me for ignoring you! See how far that will get you.)  Yeah, greens, blues, greys, whites, browns and tans rule when it comes to nature. That’s just the way it is.

Ambler, Pennsylvania. December 2020

What’s more, you don’t come across a startling amount of traditional reds in the man-made world either. STOP signs, certain traffic lights, Coca-Cola vending machines and a smattering of motor vehicles are red, and red is used pretty often as a decorative touch on other objects. Bold red lipstick isn’t uncommon, and a modest number of people dress in red now and then. But, it seems to me, the use of red doesn’t go much beyond all of that. 

Shit, I’m starting to feel sorry for red. Excuse me for the next few hours . . . I’m going to paint both sides of every door of my house bright frigging red!

Okay, I’m back. And I chickened out. My doors remain as they were. Neutral colors, you dig?

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. December 2020

I’m now going to turn my attention to the sunset photo above. It comes from a series of pictures of a sunset and of Christmas lights that I snapped one day last month in my neighborhood (if you click here, my story about those sights will appear). The sunset that late afternoon was glorious, its colors spreading from the west to cover a large portion of the sky. I was facing north, looking at the sweeping colors, when I took this picture. And I took it because, as spectacular as the skies were, the red STOP sign commanded attention and admiration too. I applauded and acknowledged the sign by including it in the scene. I showed red some love.

Is it clichéd of me to stretch a theme wildly by saying that showing love is where it’s at in all aspects of life? For we know that there can’t be too much love in a world where darkness and hate always have been powerful realities. Yes, it is clichéd, but no matter. Concluding this essay in such a manner seems like an appropriate thing to do. Thanks for reading, girls and boys. If you have any comments, please don’t be shy about adding them. Adios till next time.

(My many photos from 2020 include about 40 that have red in them. I chose six of those for this story.) 

Autumn Colors; Biden And Trump; Three Songs By Joes

I wasn’t expecting to write about autumn for a second time this year, seeing that I pretty well summed up my feelings about this, my favorite season, in an essay that hit cyberspace only last month (click here to read it). But I couldn’t resist. How could I, when colors on many of my neighborhood’s trees finally came alive on the 9th of November? How did that even happen? It was kind of a miracle really, because the leaves had been nowhere near as vivid even the day before. And, soon after the 9th, the colors diminished greatly in effect and stature, as our woody friends were having a contest to see which ones could de-leaf themselves the fastest. Yes, I was in the right place at the right time when I took an early afternoon walk through my community on the peak day.

There’s no doubt, however, that I’d have much preferred to wander among gorgeous trees in a forest, or in a substantial wood. You can truly commune with nature in those landscapes, unlike in most of my suburban Philadelphia region, where nature has been paved-over  and tamed significantly. But forests and woods are anything but around the corner from my house. A car not being at my disposal on the 9th, a visit to anywhere not within walking distance was off the table.

I wasn’t complaining, though, because my neighborhood looked so damn good. Golds, ambers, coppers, russets and burgundies abounded, and I was pleased as punch to roam for 45 minutes, soaking up their beauty, basking in their glory, etc. In other words, I dug the shit out of the color explosions! What’s more, the temperature was perfect (72°F, 22°C) and the skies were as soothing a shade of blue as you could hope for. Days such as that one don’t come around often enough, and are rarities in my part of the globe in normally pretty-chilly November.

I almost always listen to music during the walks that, for exercise, I take each week in one locale or another. But not this time. That gave me the opportunity to do a bit more thinking than usually happens during my treks. And what popped into my head and stayed there for a while? Why, thoughts about Joe Biden, a good guy, and Donald Trump, a f*cking jerk. That’s what!

Yup, I don’t like Trump even a teensy weensy bit, he who shamelessly has been trying to steal a decided presidential election. What is there to like about someone who is a force for chaos and darkness; who sneers at democracy’s principles and structure; who emboldens white supremacists; who can’t go more than thirty seconds without lying; who is callous, vindictive, narcissistic, uncivil, unhinged and a bully? Nothing, in my opinion. Yet, roughly 74,000,000 American voters gave him the OK in the recent election. That’s a highly unsettling and sobering truth for anyone who believes in equality and progress, and is concerned about American democracy’s stability and strength. Fortuitously, for the USA and for the rest of the world, about 80,000,000 voters, and a majority of electoral college votes, went for Biden. As a result, better days, saner days, lie ahead. And, by the way, those who agree with my assessment of Trump owe a huge debt of gratitude to Biden for entering the race last year, because I’m certain that no other Democratic Party candidate for president would have beaten The Despicable One.

As I inch closer and closer to this story’s exit door, I feel compelled to conclude the proceedings with hot, steamy recordings by three guys named Joe, all of whom, sadly, are no longer with us. I’m doing this in honor of Joe Biden, who is strongly with us and poised to undo much of the damage that Trump has inflicted at home and abroad during the last four years. Yo, Joe! — you and Kamala could do a whole lot worse than to boogie down to these tunes at your inaugural balls on Inauguration Day (January 20). They’ll fill both of you with loads of energy and get the two of you even more psyched than you already are to do your new jobs.

As for Donald Trump, these songs are appropriate for him too. They would make a fine soundtrack for him to angrily shake his oversized booty to as he leaves the White House, on the just-mentioned January date, for the final time ever.

Here, then, are recordings by Joe Tex (Show Me), Joe Cocker (High Time We Went) and Big Joe Turner (Shake, Rattle And Roll). Enjoy ’em!

Autumnal Thoughts, Autumnal Tunes

Planet Earth, which we humans increasingly have been making a mess of since the Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700s, nonetheless has remained reliable in various ways. It keeps on spinning, for one thing, and traveling around the Sun, for another. Good thing that it does, no? If those movements were thrown out of whack, we, along with every entity taking up earthly space, would be goners in a couple of blinks of an eye.

Well, as we know, on the 22nd of September those good ol’ reliable movements brought about the autumnal equinox and the vernal equinox in, respectively, the northern and southern hemispheres. This was due to the Sun being directly above the equator, by the way. For me, a resident of the north, this event officially marked the beginning of my favorite time of year — fall — and prompted me to gather some thoughts about that season. Here they are, along with a few recordings that capture fall’s cozy, mellow essence. Damn straight, I’m in an autumnal mood!

This is the main reason why I like autumn as much as I do: I was born in late October, smack in the heart of fall. And my birthday has been lovingly acknowledged and celebrated, by one combination of people or another, every year of my life. Over time it became only natural for me to associate autumn with my birth anniversary. How could I not, seeing that autumn never fails to whisper frequent reminders in my ear about the approaching big day? And when that day arrives, autumn, behind the scenes, is one of the celebrants. Yeah, autumn loves me, and I therefore love autumn back, you dig?

Hatboro, Pennsylvania

To meld with autumn righteously and timely, on its first day this year I took a long walk through Hatboro, a cute town a few miles from where I live in the Philadelphia suburbs. I headed there with the newly-hatched season fully on my mind. The mid-day temperature was lovely, about 73° F (23° C), the skies were as blue as you could hope for, and a light breeze ruffled the few strands of hair that remain on the crown of my head. In other words, the day was pretty damn well ideal. How sweet it was not to be sweating like a pig, which I had done numerous times during walks in the just-departed summer. Autumn weather suits me just fine.

Produce Junction (Hatboro, Pennsylvania)

Hints of gold in a tree in Hatboro, Pennsylvania

Hatboro was starting to get its autumnal mode in order. For instance, I saw scarecrows on a couple of porches and in a couple of store windows, and I gazed with admiration at the arrays of pumpkins in Produce Junction, a store on Hatboro’s main drag. But there was little evidence of fall in the billions of leaves within Hatboro’s boundaries. Only in a smattering of trees did I notice a changing of the color guard, such as in a tree outside of Produce Junction. Hints of gold decorated that specimen, harbingers of full-blown color transformations yet to come. I’m eagerly awaiting mid-to-late autumn’s golds, russets, burgundies and ambers. That palette grabs me powerfully each year, yet tenderly. Yes, autumn is a period of beauty that goes down as satisfyingly as comfort food.

As I walked through Hatboro, I pulled some autumn tunes out of my memory bank and let passages of them play silently in my head. I’ve always loved Autumn Almanac, by The Kinks, and Van Morrison’s Autumn Song. They provided part of my stroll’s soundtrack. As did Harvest Moon, a Neil Young composition that quite a number of musicians have covered. Young’s version is special. It makes me go limp with wonder, so beautiful do I find it. In Hatboro, those songs, and a few others, kept me company excellently.

Back home later that day I did some research into fall-themed songs, discovering Eva Cassidy’s live rendition of Autumn Leaves (music by Joseph Kosma, English lyrics by Johnny Mercer). With vocals emanating from Cassidy’s most-private chambers, this performance would break the hearts of all but the stoniest. And I reconnected with Autumn Serenade (music by Peter DeRose, lyrics by Sammy Gallop), off the album that the famous saxophonist John Coltrane recorded in 1963 with the not-so-famous vocalist Johnny Hartman. A bit more research would have revealed many others, so deep a hold has autumn maintained on songwriters past and present.

Rather than overload this essay with YouTube presentations, I’ve decided to limit the recordings to three. I think you’ll enjoy the following Young, Cassidy and Coltrane/Hartman works. Be well, boys and girls. And, as I usually mention, please don’t be shy about adding your comments.

Some Of This Year’s Pix: A Photography Story

Ah, the wonders and the ease of digital photography. I mean, you’ve got to love it. No mess and no fuss, which is precisely the way that little ol’ me, who is lazy as shit, likes things to be.

What’s more, digital photography can be quite addictive, as half or more of the world’s population is fully aware. I’m definitely addicted. In spurts, anyway. I don’t take pictures of every damn thing I do or of every place I go, but, ever since obtaining my first smart phone in 2015, I’ve snapped more than enough. And a fair number of those shots have found their way onto the pages of the publication that you now are reading. Man, writing stories for this site usually drains the hell out of me. But snapping pix for it with my phone? That’s a gas, gas, gas!

And so, the other day I decided to have a look at the hundreds of photos from 2020 that sit quietly and patiently in my phone’s storage room. I did so with the idea in mind to put a small bunch of them on public display for the first time. Fortunately, there were enough that struck me as worthy. Thus, this essay became a go. That brought a nice big sigh of relief because, as I’ve noted semi-regularly over the last few years, story ideas don’t exactly spew from me with the force of volcanic eruptions.

Miles Table (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). January 15, 2020

Abington, Pennsylvania. March 21, 2020

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. May 29, 2020

Are there any connective tissues holding these photos together? I suppose so, since they portray scenes that appealed to me sufficiently to try and capture them. For instance, I’m into color juxtapositions, arrays of angular shapes, and unexpected elements. And all of those are to be found in some of the pictures, such as the one taken in front of Miles Table, the Philadelphia café where my pal Gene and I ate lunch one January day.  The reflections in Miles Table’s windows intermesh giddily with the interior of the shop. Dig that crazy tree cozying up to a prim and proper table! You don’t see that every day.

Photo taken in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania on June 2, 2020

Georgian Bakery And Café (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). January 10, 2020

Photo taken in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania on June 22, 2020

On the other hand, I also enjoy simplicity, and there was a sweet simplicity to the early-evening cottony sky that I photographed from my house’s deck. We’ve all seen skies like this one mucho times before. But we never grow tired of them, because they are both calm and majestic. They give us pause.

My house (Willow Grove, Pennsylvania). May 24, 2020

And, speaking of my house, how could I resist the photo of the rhododendron bush that sits in my front yard? I tell you, that plant preened exuberantly this spring, something that it never had done before during the 15 years that my wife Sandy and I have lived here. To my mind, this was proof that flora can be unpredictable in their moods and actions, sometimes behaving wonderfully and sometimes not. Humans, take heart in that! Every entity on Planet Earth is complicated as hell, not just us.

I’ll leave you with some thoughts related to the selfie that I took a few weeks ago at the Michener Art Museum, a medium-sized and excellent museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It is named after the famous author James Michener, who, in the 1980s, donated tons of money to help establish the institution.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the museum closed its doors in March of this year. But the pandemic situation improved in Pennsylvania over time, allowing some cultural facilities to re-open. The Michener did so on July 20.

Sandy and I, who are museum lovers, were as happy as two masked people could hope to be, because we last had been at a museum in January. Being able to visit the Michener helped to create the illusion that the world was spinning towards normality. Anyway, we spent an hour looking over the exhibits. One of them, which displayed works that various artists created in recent years in reaction to climate change, kept us rapt.

But, as much as anything that day, I liked looking at oil paintings by Fern Coppedge (1883-1951), who lived much of her life not far from Doylestown. A number of her works are in the museum’s collections. Sandy and I have visited the Michener pretty frequently this century, and both of us have come to admire Coppedge’s art very much. Bold, tastefully-arranged colors. Strong brushstrokes. Depictions of scenic old towns and beautiful natural landscapes. I mean, what’s not to like?

Photo taken in Michener Art Museum (Doylestown, Pennsylvania). August 25, 2020

So, natch, it was in front of a Coppedge oil painting that Sandy and I positioned ourselves to grab the selfie, an art form whose mechanics I haven’t come close to mastering. Yeah, the painting appears to be drunkenly crooked in the photo, but that’s kind of charming, don’t you think?  Coppedge, who wasn’t a stickler for perfect balance, probably wouldn’t have minded a bit. And I bet that she’d have dug the contrasts and connections that our masks and tilted heads established with her painting. This photo will remain a fine reminder to Sandy and me of a very good day during the Pandemic Era.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Thanks.)

In Search Of Yellows: A Walking Story

I’m nothing but amazed that I’ve sat myself down at a keyboard to begin the composition of this essay. It’s 11:31 AM on a weekday morn, a mere 27 minutes after I completed the walk around my neighborhood that I shortly will comment upon. I mean, I usually take forever to get enough thoughts together to write a story. What’s more, I usually take forever to come up with story ideas in the first place. So, I better keep pecking away before constipation sets in.

What, another walking story?” I hear a few of you crying in dismay. “Spare us, Neil! You’ve done dozens of them already. Can’t you think of anything else to write about?”

Believe me, I feel your pain, but what can I do? As I just indicated, I don’t exactly generate story ideas like Donald Trump generates lies. Anyway, I like to walk. Always have, because walking is the best way to see what’s going on around us. And the hodgepodge of ruminations and observations that I come up with after wandering around one locale or another is among this publication’s primary fuels.

But I can’t say that I especially love to walk in my suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. My neighborhood is none too fascinating, as is true for suburbs in general. Although I regularly pound its pavements, I do so mostly for health reasons, exercise presumably being beneficial to one’s bodily systems. Once in a while, however, I have an additional motive, and today I put such into play. “Yellows, Neil, yellows,” I said to myself at the start of the walk. “You’ve had it in the back of your mind to look for shades of yellow during a neighborhood walk, probably because yellow was your favorite color when you were a kid, and to turn the experience into an article. Today you shall do so!”

Yes, sir!” I responded silently. “I hear you loud and clear. Yellows it will be!”

To begin, I want to tell you that there ain’t a lot of yellows in my neighborhood. In fact, there’s a paucity of many colors. The greens of nature are what rule here, as they do in much of the world, at least when trees are in leaf. But your faithful and determined correspondent wasn’t deterred. My eyes in constant motion, I spotted enough examples of yellows to illustrate this piece decently. And I did so in a mere 34 minutes. I could have extended the walk beyond that time, but was pretty sure that I’d exhausted the yellow possibilities. And it’s a good thing that I came home when I did. You see, as I entered my house after completing my rounds I thought that the blazing Sun and moist air hadn’t gotten to me very much. Wrong! My sweat glands, in a delayed reaction, suddenly erupted, causing my tee shirt, mostly dry only seconds before, to cling to me amorously. Man, I was shvitzing like a frigging pig! I’m happy to report that the A/C system, and the cool water that I washed off with, quickly set me right.

Okay, it’s time to mention the highlights of today’s trek. The first involves sunflowers. A year ago, on a neighborhood walk, I was delighted to find that a family two blocks away from my residence was a lover of sunflowers. They’d planted a load of the gangly, happy plants on a long narrow strip of their property. And a week or two ago I  noticed that sunflowers were strutting their stuff anew there. Needless to say, I strode down that block this morning to snap the yellow beings’ portraits. Of the various yellow objects in my neighborhood, they are my favorites by far. Indeed, I am a total sucker for sunflowers, thanks to Vincent van Gogh, their greatest immortalizer.

As for the second highlight: On various walks over the last couple of months I’d seen a yellow truck shining proudly and vividly. It always was in the same spot, five blocks from my house. It was there again today. This truck adds needed pizazz to a sleepy block, and makes me wonder why more people don’t buy vehicles of eye-popping color. Like I’m one to talk, though. My wife and I own two cars that are conservative as shit, one of them dark grey and the other dark blue. Next time we’ll go for cars aflame in . . . what? Neon yellow, that’s what!

Well, the blogosphere’s overseers are whispering to me that this article has gone as far in a yellow direction as it needs to go. And I know better than to cross them. But, as usual, I’ll let the piece marinate for a few days, and do plenty of tweaking, before depressing the Publish button. Take care, everybody. And please don’t be shy about adding your comments!

Will We Stay Or Will We Go? (A Cape Cod Story)

I’ve written an awful lot of pieces that revolve around Cape Cod, the narrow 65-mile-long stretch of land, and its surrounding waters, in southeastern Massachusetts. Which is fitting. This publication, after all, is a personal narrative more than anything else, and Cape Cod has played a major part in my life for years.

A small section of the enormous dunes in Provincetown, Cape Cod

In 1998 my wife Sandy and I vacationed on the Cape for five or six days, not knowing what to expect. We had researched Cape Cod, of course, and determined that it seemed to be a place that we’d relate to nicely, but the proof would be in the pudding. Well, we had a grand time, and decided that we would return the following year to soak up more of the Cape’s vibes.

Baker’s Pond (Orleans, Cape Cod)

The trip in 1999 sealed the deal. We were, and remain, smitten. For us, much of what Cape Cod has to offer (beautiful sands, waters, marshlands and forests; sweet villages; good eateries, museums, art galleries, music venues, cinemas, theater companies and more) comprise a damn near perfect package. We’ve returned again and again, usually for one vacation annually. We’ve been there in every season but summer, which is when Cape Cod is jammed with vacationers and visitors. F*ck jammed! We’ll stick with autumn, which has been our preference for the last ten or so years. In autumn, jammed doesn’t come into play.

Wellfleet village (Wellfleet, Cape Cod)

As the years went on, the lengths of our visits increased. In total we’ve spent somewhere in the vicinity of nine months on the Cape, a healthy chunk of our life together. Sandy and I think of Cape Cod as our second home. And, overall, we like Cape Cod more than we do our permanent home, which is the Philadelphia suburbs. We’ve thought of moving to our seaside paradise, but nixed the idea for two reasons. First, health care availability is limited on Cape Cod, but bountiful in the Philly region. When it comes to health care, we are fans of bountiful. Second, we don’t know anyone on Cape Cod. We ain’t spring chickens, and trying to create a good social life there would be a bigger challenge than we’re up to.

Marshland (Orleans, Cape Cod)

Friends, Romans and countrymen, it now has taken me about 400 words to get to the reason I am composing this opus. Here it is at last: Though Sandy and I are undecided as to whether we will visit our favorite place in 2020, it’s doubtful we will.

Hot Chocolate Sparrow café (Orleans, Cape Cod)

Why? Because of the pandemic. On Cape Cod we spend an average of eight hours daily away from our cozy rented house, immersing ourselves in various combinations of the environments and venues that I listed a few paragraphs ago. Yes, this fall we’d be able safely to stroll on beaches and pick our way though forests and around marshlands. Not too many people show up in those locales in autumn, and it would be easy to keep our distance from those that do. But it would be risky to enter restaurants, cinemas and all the other indoor places that help to make Cape Cod special for us (and many might be closed anyway, for pandemic reasons, by government mandate). Too much possibility of coming in contact with coronavirus microbes.

Rock Harbor, at Cape Cod Bay (Orleans, Cape Cod)

What it boils down to is this: With greatly limited options on Cape Cod I’d end up spending way more of my waking hours than usual in the rented house. There I’d watch the tube, work on sudoku and crossword puzzles, scratch my balls, and twirl the five strands of hair that remain on the crown of my head. Shit, that’s what I do at home. I don’t need to travel 360 miles to duplicate those activities somewhere else. Even if that somewhere else is the Cape. For similar reasons, Sandy is leaning towards staying home too.

Our kite in action at the Atlantic Ocean (Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, Cape Cod)

Oh well. C’est la frigging vie. Maybe we’ll end up on Cape Cod anyway. You never know. For now, I’ll picture myself on the Cape’s sand-cliff-backed Atlantic Ocean coastline. Nobody besides Sandy is in view. I’m scanning the skies, the sands and the cliffs, letting their essences flow into me, and also gazing at the ocean, a powerful, mesmerizing beast. I’ve done exactly that, in reality, many dozens of times. It’s as close to experiencing pure bliss as I’ve ever come.

Chatham Orpheum Theater (Chatham, Cape Cod)

And I’ll imagine the kicks that Sandy and I get from flying our kite at the ocean or at Cape Cod Bay. And the quiet awe that fills us when watching sunsets. And the fun we have while wandering the cozy, quirky streets of Provincetown village. And the thrills that climbing up and down the enormous, otherworldly dunes on Cape Cod’s far end gives to me.

Provincetown village (Provincetown, Cape Cod)

Man, I could go on and on about activities such as these. But that’s enough. I will say this though: Until 1998 (the year in which I turned 51) rolled around, it never had occurred to me that there might be a somewhere with which I’d bond profoundly. I’m a fortunate son of a gun that it happened.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this piece. Gracias. All of the photos are from recent years.)