Sunday, May 31, 2009

Walt Whitman: A Birthday Meditation

Walt Whitman by the window of his room, Camden, NJ

Walt Whitman has been very much on my mind these past few weeks—and today, May 31, is his birthday. A Gemini; born a century plus five years minus one day before my own father, whose birthday was May 30th. (It's Whitman's 190th birthday today, if we're counting.) A spring/summer birthday; unlike my own, which is a deep winter birthday, in the "moon of popping trees."

Whitman has been on my mind in part because of the set of lectures on CD I was listening to as I drove, this past month, through New England. And I did, after considerable effort, find his home in Camden, NJ, and briefly stop in for a visit. I did not enter or take a tour, as I had wished, as the Foundation was not open; or open by appointment only. But I stood in front of his last home for awhile, in the cool shade of a sunny spring midday, and took in the atmosphere of the place.

I stood in the shade of the trees in front of the building, took several photos, and thought for awhile about the poet before driving on to Pennsylvania.

Walt Whitman is my fellow-traveler. He accompanies me on this journey—not least because he is the poet of inclusion, of taking into himself all of life, all of experience, all masculine and feminine, and embracing them equally—not least for all that, but also because I am a reflection of his lifelong quest to express, artistically, his love for other men. We are alike, or rather I follow in his footsteps, in our love of men and our use of art to depict that love. We seek similar inclusions. I cannot but reflect his art in my own.

ms. of The Unexpress'd

There is literally too much to say on this topic, just now. It inclines me to pull out all my Whitman scholarly books of the shelves are review them. It sends me off to re-read the poems, especially the Calamus section of Leaves of Grass. It overwhelms me with linkages and emotions and ideas.

The recent roadtrip to Maine and back has been most difficult to integrate: so much happened, both light and dark. It might take me a long time. Meanwhile, I feel myself stuttering after meaning, after experience, writing what I can contain, for now, in words, knowing that so much is left out, and must be. I can only sketch, not depict in any finished way, what I went through, what was encountered, how I felt changed afterwards. Everything's the same, and nothing's the same.

I wrote over a year ago my own Ode to Walt Whitman, which says what I feel about Whitman right now, still, better than I can say in prose. Maybe these sorts of thoughts need to be poems, not essays. I will struggle with this for now, and maybe turn to poems later.

book cover & spine of 1860 edition

One of the parts of Whitman's life-story that I have been thinking about was his visit to Louisiana, sometime before or around the time of his first publishing efforts. We don't have a great deal of information about this trip to the deep south; Whitman himself didn't discuss it much. It has been speculated that the poet underwent a personal crisis there and then, which led to his own opening up—spiritually, sexually, and as a writer. It was the 1850s when Whitman came into full flower as a physical (sexual) and mental (artistic) person. After the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass, which was the single most expanded edition in the book's publishing history, there was a turning-inward, a self-censoring of the fearless sexual openness of the 1860 edition, represented in the two sections called Children of Adam and Calamus. Starting with the 1867 edition, Whitman rewrote some of the poems to be more covert about their homosexual content, and dropped many entirely. But what draws me to the 1855 edition over all the others is this very open sexuality, this male-male sexuality; of course I'm not alone in this. What happened to Whitman in the south? Was it a mystical experience? A sexual awakening? An artistic explosion? Some combination of all of these? The only real clue we have is what Whitman himself says, obliquely, in one of the best-known of the Calamus poems:

I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wonder'd how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there
without its friend near, for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it and
twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana
solitary in a wide in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.

Homosexual literature has often been coded; what remains startlingly contemporary about Whitman was how often he could be explicit rather than coded. But there are layers of meaning in this poem, it seems to me, that refer to love, to bonding, to not only sexuality but spiritual companionship and connection with another. I view it as a poem of marriage, in a way.

Whitman with Peter Doyle

Of course, Whitman did have several longtime companions in his life; Horace Traubel was the last one; but Whitman was often photographed with or wrote in letters about his other close friends, his comrades, his serial beloveds.

What I feel connected to, in Whitman—and what I wrote of in my own Ode—is this very comradeship he speaks of. It moves in cycles in my own life, which has often been virtually celibate and monastic, but rarely lonely. I too see the tree uttering joyous life without a friend or lover near—and I too know that I want that friend or lover near, as Whitman does, whether or not I can survive alone or not. There is surviving, and there is living.

consecutive portraits of Whitman by Matthew Brady

Available resources by and about Whitman are voluminous. Many of his poem's manuscripts can be found at the Walt Whitman Collection at the Bienecke Library at Yale. Several volumes of Horace Traubel's oral history of Whitman's last years, With Walt Whitman in Camden can be found at The Walt Whitman Archive. Traubel's legacy of recorded conversations with Whitman is a great and enduring resource for Whitman scholars, full of insight and anecdote and reminiscence. Volume Nine, with Whitman's final months, and Traubel's collections of enconiums sent by well-wishers, and his notes on the funeral and what came after, was only published in 1996, over a hundred years after the fact.

Whitman photographed late in life, at his home in Camden by artist Thomas Eakins

Whitman loved to be photographed—there are 128 images of him at The Walt Whitman Archive—he knew himself, or created himself, to be the first celebrity poet. This was not all ego on Whitman's part: it was an almost prescient awareness of the power of technology, specifically the new tool of photography, to spread the word. It was self-marketing, certainly; but it was also, I think, a love of the technologies themselves. Whitman's constant self-representation in photograph was playful self-awareness: a very good sense of the power and influence of image-making.

I'll end, for now, with two of the poems from Calamus, part of the original group of 45 numbered poems in that section. Both of these speak to my own feelings, my own experience. I am not without experience in seeking out and loving men; but what I like about these poems is how Whitman describes the feelings, the sometimes wordless feelings, that surround encounters with lovers, and with the beloved. There is a quietness here that is not covert or concealed, but accepting that this is how things were, and are.

A Glimpse

A glimpse through an interstice caught,
Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the stove
late of a winter night, and I unremark'd seated in a corner,
Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching and
seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand,
A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking and
oath and smutty jest,
There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little,
perhaps not a word.

To a Stranger

Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me
as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall'd as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate,
chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours
only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you
take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or
wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

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Lake George, NY

I only got as far as the town of Lake George on this day of the roadtrip. I left Ithaca late, after lingering in the morning at Treman SP, making photos of the trillium and other wildflowers. Then I lingered further at a Border's on the north end of town, where I found a book on three generations of Wyeth painters; I plan to stop in at Chadds Ford, PA, at the Brandywine Museum, which is a central node of Andrew Wyeth's heritage. Then I stopped at Phoenix Used & Rare Books; not only was this an amazing used book store, but I found three or four hard-to-find literary treasures, and a hardcover edition of a Jung volume that helps complete my set of the Collected Works. After that, I headed across New York and into the Adirondacks. I stopped several times in the Adirondacks to make photographs, and shoot video footage. Late in the day, I stopped at the Sacandaga River for awhile. Then, a bit later, I crossed the upstate Hudson River, very beautiful in its scenic upstream settings.

I arrived at Lake George an hour before sunset, tired of driving and ready to stop for the day. After finding a fine hotel amongst this resort vacation town's multitude, many of which were not yet open for the season, I wandered down the main street to eat a delicious meal at a new Indian restaurant in town.

I had a pleasant chat with the owners, who had moved upstate a year ago from Queens, having visited and fallen in love with Lake George. This is probably the only Indian restaurant on this long route between New York City and Montreal. Then I went back to my hotel for a restful night. I used the hotel pool and spa to unwind, soaking in the hot-tub till it felt like all the kinks in my back had loosened, then doing laps in the pool for awhile.

In the morning, I lingered on the hotel's balcony, drinking my orange juice and doing some writing.. I had a room on the second floor, with its own sitting area with table and chairs. I good have lingered all day, to be honest. I felt at peace in the morning light, having slept well after a long previous day's drive.

The verandah runs the entire length of the hotel, and in the morning sunlight it was pleasant to enjoy sitting out as though one had the entire resort to oneself for the day.

White on white

Here's a still-life arrangement of discarded towels in my hotel bathroom, a chance arrangement that seemed formally perfect, and caught my attention.

I sat on the verandah for awhile, copying into my road journal the haiku and other momentary poems I'd written over the past couple of days. These were mostly written on scraps, some even written while driving, notepad held on knee under the wheel, and gathered together here to preserve them in one place. I'm a pretty good driver, and every so often, if it's an open road, not too much traffic, and not a lot of curves, I can chicken-scratch something done before I lose the moment, lose the idea; then transcribe it later into the journal, like this.

This all feeds into the arts & literature pilgrimage that this roadtrip has become. This day in early May, with few of the hotels open yet, with the weather still dominated by New England spring rains, I started to realize finally that my real purpose on this roadtrip was to do a pilgrimage to many of the places that were home to writers and artists whose work I have loved and respected. This became the main theme of this roadtrip, eventually. I made many good photographs nonetheless, and got enough good video, waterfall video in particular, to make a complete DVD of just waterfalls. A lot of this material will feed into an eventual Spring DVD from a planned Four Seasons series.

Stieglitz and O'Keeffe at Lake George

Of course, when in Lake George it's impossible not to think of Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe. They were summering and making their art here together a century ago, as attested by many of the photographs in the Alfred Stieglitz/Georgia O'Keeffe Archive at the Bienecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University. A number of these special collections have been digitized and are available online. (I once visited the Bienecke in person some years ago, and was very impressed with the layout of the library, and its method of making even some its rarest books visible to ordinary passersby.)

lakeshore view from the Stieglitz cottage

the Stieglitz "cottage," more of a mansion really

The Stieglitz mansion at Lake George was a family property. It was not long after Stieglitz first met O'Keeffe that he invited her to summer with him at the "cottage."

Stieglitz writing on the cottage verandah

O'Keeffe at Lake George, photographed by Stieglitz

O'Keeffe made some of her earliest abstract landscapes here in the Adirondacks, years before her first trip and eventual move to New Mexico. O'Keeffe was always circling around abstraction, aware of pure form even in her most figurative work. One thing I find in O'Keeffe that I recognize in my awareness of form is a sensitivity to circular and spiral forms.

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Phoenix Books, Freeville, NY

I owe it to Nigel Beale of Nota Bene Books to know about Phoenix Used & Rare Books outside Ithaca, NY. Last fall when Nigel went down to Ithaca for a huge annual book sale, he mentioned this great book store just north of town, and posted photos. (Nigel's ongoing photo series of bookstores can be seen here.) So, when I was driving by, on the way out of town, heading north on Hwy. 13, I recognized it, slammed on the brakes, and just had to stop in for a visit.

Imagine, if you will, a huge barn converted into a warren of small rooms which one winds through, all full of shelves of used books. An entire barn converted into a book store! What treasures abound! Each section is well-labeled and well-stocked. Some rooms are darker than others. Some contain things you might find anywhere, but many are those rare books hidden in amongst the familiar that are found with all the heart-pounding enthusiasm of uncovering buried gold.

It's the sort of place one could spend hours in. And some back corners do have chairs for the reader to sit and peruse the day's discoveries. There's a great literary criticism section, a huge fiction section that goes deeply into obscure titles by authors you know.

The poetry section is also good; a little less deep in the unknown titles, but I did find a hardcover copy of The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, the "mid-career" 1930s edition that Jeffers himself selected as representative. This was when his fame was at its highest in his lifetime, attested to by the fact that this copy is from the sixth printing, and around the time his likeness appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. The book is in very good condition, and being able to read Jeffers' Introduction to his poetry in this edition is itself alone worth the purchase.

Naturally I did not escape unscathed. I had a time limit, as I needed to drive on today, so I allowed myself only an hour for browsing. In that time I found several titles valuable to me, all quite reasonably priced.

So, thanks to Nigel. I owe it all to you. I takes one bibiliomane to know another, I guess. Ithaca and surrounds is well-known for its many excellent used book stores, and annual used book sales. Another good reason to enjoy visiting this region.


Here's a little piece of Photoshop banner art, featuring the front porch of Phoenix Books, that I've made as a series marker for when I post short book reviews. Acknowledgments to Phoenix not only for their books but for their setting, in rural upstate New York, and their scenic exteriors.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fern Fiddleheads

images from Robert H Treman State Park, Ithaca, NY

Young fern sprouts are called fiddleheads till the head uncoils and the leaves spread out. They're edible, when this young and tender. In the Northeast they're supposed to be a delicacy in salads. There are inns and farms and other small businesses named Fiddlehead that I drive by throughout Vermont, New Hampshire, and upstate New York.

This roadtrip, as I follow the line of spring advancing north and east, I've seen more of spring than usual, as my travel extends the season from my viewpoint. I enjoy seeing the wildflower and tree blossoms for two weeks, and the fern fiddleheads for a full week. Usually, if you're not traveling, once spring gets going, it moves fast. It can be a matter of mere days between first bud and full leafing-out. This roadtrip stretches out early spring's timeline from my perspective, making it last weeks. So I'm getting more early spring photos than I ever have before. I'm distracted at times by my own processes, but I still have numerous opportunities to capture early spring, and see it, and appreciate it.

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images from Robert H Treman State Park

In the morning, I was awoken by loud and diverse birdsong in the trees surrounding the tent. I heard some bird calls I'm not familiar with, either early spring mating calls from birds I know, or birds I simply don't know. This year as well as the past two years there's been an explosion in the robin population in my part of the Midwest; I've never seen so many robins as I have this year, and I hear them calling sometimes very early in the pre-dawn, through my open window.

After I made breakfast, bacon and eggs, I packed up camp and got out the cameras to explore a little while before moving on. the hillside behind my campsite was just covered with trillium in bloom.

I grew up in Michigan, where trillium is a protected wildflower, prevented from being picked or moved. So my instincts are to honor trillium wherever I find it, to protect it, never pick it, and treat it as iconic. I gather the trillium is the official state flower of Ohio and the province of Ontario. The state flower of Michigan is the apple blossom. There is a rare and endangered species of painted trillium in Michigan's Lower Peninsula that only found there.

The truth is, trillium is a beautiful, unique flowering herbaceous wild plant. The trefoil design of overlapping triangles has a beautiful mathematical elegance and symmetry. There are circa 50 species of trillium in temperate North America; the species seen here, the most common in the Northeast USA is trillium grandiflorum, with its large white flowers standing out against the forest floor. Grandiflorum is also the most common trillium species in Michigan, and is what I remember seeing on spring forest hikes as a boy. In spring, sometimes you can see a carpet of trillium on the forest floor, like white snow on the brown decaying leaffall under the trees.

It was good to spend the first part of my day with this beautiful flower, in this setting. The day begins in beauty. Yet one more reason why I find the Finger Lakes region so attractive.

ghosts ascending
the hillside

snow-elegant signs
of woodland spring:
trillium blooms

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making Photographs

Trillium and fern fiddleheads, Robert H Treman State Park, Ithaca, NY

In his short essay, "A Personal Credo" (updated 1982, in The Unknown Ansel Adams), Ansel Adams writes about the difference between taking a photograph and making one. This is an important distinction.

I'm not sure when I first began watching my own language on this point, using making by preference; I may have been influenced by Adams directly, having read at some earlier time the original 1994 version of his Credo. I do know that I've been making this distinction in my own language for some time, and that reading it again in his updated Credo was both revelation and reminder.

Adams writes:

The relative importance of photographic craft and its expressive aspects must be clarified. We would not go to a concert to hear only scales performed—even if they were played with consummate skill—nor would we enjoy a sloppy rendition of great music. In photography, technique is frequently exalted for its own sake; or, worst of all, is renounced as an impediment to creative work. The unfortunate complement to this situation occurs when a serious and potentially important statement is rendered impotent by a photographer's inferior understanding of the mechanics of production. Sympathetic interpretation seldom evolves from a predatory attitude; the common term taking a picture is more than just an idiom; it is a symbol of exploitation. Making a picture implies a creative resonance essential to profound expression.

The difference is in the language itself: to hear photographers talk about grabbing a shot, or taking, or stealing an image, or capturing a moment—these are all aggressive, almost violent actions. The indicate the mindset of a conqueror, one who seeks to possess or own; as though taking a photo of a mountain peak meant you could own the mountain. There is present that inculcated grasping personality-ego in such language, such attitudes.

To hear photographers speak of making an image, though, changes the relationship utterly. The work becomes a collaboration, a partnership, a living relationship between subject, photographer, and viewer. The photographer is the first viewer of the image being made; later viewers can share in the photographer's experience of that moment, if the image is well-made, technically well-presented, and evocative of mood and feeling. Adams talked about feeling a lot. I find his use of musical metaphors makes a great deal of sense to me; possibly both we were both trained as musicians before taking up photography. Adams' use of a word like "resonance," an acoustic term that also applies to psychology, emotion, and thought, is one I often in the same way, in discussing poetry as well as art-making. Resonance is one of those elements of a work that takes us into an experience of the work, and perhaps an experience of what the artist felt that led to his or her making of the work; it is a door that opens further into mythic or archetypal awareness. So Adams' advice to use the word making in terms of photography is in part a recognition that there's more going on, in both the making of a photograph and in its later viewing, than meets the surface of the eye. Making includes the photographer's relationship with what is made, as well as with what the image was made from.

(One might add parenthetically that in poetry as in photography, technique is also frequently exalted for its own sake—or renounced—with results parallel in poetry to those Adams deplores in photography.)

Adams continues in his Credo:

Seeing, or visualization, is the fundamentally important element. A photograph is not an accident, it is a concept that exists at, or before, the moment of exposure of the negative. From that point to the realization of the final print, the process is chiefly one of craft; the previsualized photograph is created by a series of procedures unique to the medium. true, changes and enhancements can be effective during these processes, but the fundamental thing that was "seen" is not altered in basic concept.

Both Adams and Edward Weston discuss the primacy of visualization in their work.

The only caveat, and it's a small one, I might have with pre-visualization as a practice is that I have made some of my best images by not looking through the viewfinder, but by trusting my hand and intuition to capture a moment. Discovering this is what led me to my practice of stealth photography. I can hear Adams arguing in rebuttal that in fact I still visualized the image I wanted to make, and I still saw what I wanted to photograph first, before releasing the shutter. Even in the case of photographs shot from the hip, without looking through the viewfinder, I had an idea of my subject, and what I wanted to discover. I could quibble, but Adams would probably be more right than not, in each case.

Also, Adams and Weston were concerned about fine art photography, of course, and their comments exist in the context of their times and their work: remember that, at the time, what they were doing—sharp-focus landscape and portrait photography, captured in a perfect moment after much seeing of the subject, with some of the interpretation occurring in the technical process of making the print—was considered radical at the time. Remember, too, that fine art photography is still somewhat sneered at by both critics and the uncomprehending public, unaware of its potential as an artform in the right hands.

Seeing, or visualization, inevitably leads me to consider another big influence on the way I operate as a photographer and artist. I refer to Frederick Franck, a self-described "image-maker" who I have come to realize has been a central influence on my adult art and life. Franck wrote:

Looking and seeing both start with sense perception, but there the similarity ends. When I "look" at the world and label its phenomena, I make immediate choices, instant appraisals—I like or I dislike, I accept or reject, what I look at, according to its usefulness to the "Me" . . . this me that I imagine myself to be, and that I try to impose on others.

The purpose of "looking" is to survive, to cope, to manipulate, to discern what is useful, agreeable, or threatening to the Me, what enhances or what diminishes the Me. This we are trained to do from our first day.

When, on the other hand, I see—suddenly I am all eyes, I forget this Me, am liberated from it and dive into the reality of what confronts me, become part of it, participate in it. I no longer label, no longer choose. ("Choosing is the sickness of the mind," says a sixth-century Chinese sage.)

It is in order to really see. to see ever deeper, ever more intensely, hence to be fully aware and alive, that I draw what the Chinese call "The Ten Thousand Things" around me. Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world.

—Frederick Franck, The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation (1973)

I can say the same thing for my photography: what I have not seen closely, taking time to see it, before making the photograph, I have not really seen. Once seen, though, in this way, it can stay with me for a very long time; perhaps even always.

I first read The Zen of Seeing so long ago that it feels like I've always known it; it must have been sometime in the 1908s, though, that I first encountered Franck's work. In recent years, as he has become ever more lucid and clear, working through his project towards its essence, I feel as if I have followed, also becoming every more lucid and clear. Perhaps this is just experience, the practice that leads to skill in one's craft. I do know now, regardless, that what began years ago as a practice I called a camera walk has become for me something much richer and deeper in recent years, and has improved both my seeing and my photographic craft.

In his photographic Credo, Adams says something so close to what Franck says above that it must have been a parallel insight—and we can read these side by side as individual accounts of the same insight, the same deep seeing. Adams wrote:

The making of a photograph implies an acute perception of detail in the subject, just as a fine print deserves more than superficial scrutiny. A photograph is usually looked at; it is seldom looked into. The experience of seeing a really fine print may be related to the experience of hearing symphony—appreciation of the broad melodic line, while important, is by no means all. The wealth of detail, forms and values, the minute but vital significances revealed so exquisitely by the lens, also deserve exploration and appreciation. A qualitative appreciation of a print may require only a glance by a practiced eye, but a fine image deserves more contemplative attention. It takes time to really see a fine print, to feel the almost endless revelation of poignant reality which, in our preoccupied haste, we have sadly neglected.

Fern fiddleheads, Robert H Treman State Park, Ithaca, NY

When I go out on a photographic (and/or videographic) journey nowadays, I always take some time to see my subject before I make the image. I might take a long time. I might take only a moment; in which case there is something happening rapidly, changing quickly, that I must see in the viewfinder before it's gone. With so much death amongst my family and friends recently, I've become acutely aware of the fragility of all things, how quickly and suddenly they can all be gone, or broken, or unsayable. But even the quick photographs are made after a moment or seeing. I don't claim this is true for all the images I make; it is true, without fail, for those that I feel are among my best. A moment of contemplation before releasing the shutter is never lost, and deepens and enriches our lives and ourselves, even before the image is printed so that others might view it too.

So, I have consciously chosen to use the word making in terms of photographs for some time now. yet I'm also aware of the creative aspects of my artistic work in general, not only in photography, all of which is Making—a collaboration with nature, or in co-creation with the divine. Creation-centered spirituality comes naturally to me, as what I've always known and felt, even before I had the theological or artistic language with which to express it. Co-creation is precisely what it is—the aspect of making that is collaborative with the subject of the photo, for example—because making is also giving back, or giving into creation: adding to Creation's articulate beauty.

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Robert H Treman State Park

images from Robert H. Treman State Park, Ithaca, NY

After a long day—less than 60 miles of driving, but all morning hiking up and down Watkins Glen, photographing around Seneca Lake, driving over to Cayuga lake for more waterfalls, then wandering around Ithaca and the Cornell campus in the later afternoon—I spent the night at Robert H. Treman State Park, less then a ten minute drive down the road from Ithaca. There are two state parks right next to Ithaca which are both used as municipal swimming places all summer long by the locals: Treman, and Buttermilk Falls State Park. Buttermilk wasn't yet open for the season, but camping was open at Treman.

What's cool about Treman and Buttermilk Falls is that they have big deep pools right at the foot of the lower falls. In summer, at Treman, the pool is partially dammed to make a huge natural swimming area. I remember one hot afternoon in 1990, the place was full of kids and parents cooling off. The place was loud and merry and full of kids running around. There's a diving board installed in summer, and a lifeguard present to keep watch.

One of the activities almost everyone tries is to walk along the ledges in the waterfall itself, those steps and shelves made in the falls by the local flat stones, just as at Watkins Glen. People edge sidewise along the falls, till they reach the side of the falls, step out, and dive back into the water.

That's where I took this photo, in 1990. This has become of my own favorite photos, over the years. It's iconic: a personal symbol carrying deep meaning for me: almost archetypal of struggle, survival, and overcoming. I later used the image as part of a Photoshop piece, some of my earliest B&W collage work in Photoshop.

Beyond the lower falls, Enfield Gorge runs for miles up the hillside. There are several falls along the trail, and some spectacular views. It was too early in the season, unfortunately, for the trails to be open yet.

I found myself a relatively isolated and private campsite under a grove of tall trees, scrounged firewood from the deadfall around my site in the failing light—enough to have a merry campfire till I was ready to go to sleep, at least—set up camp, made dinner, and set up the tent. This roadtrip was so often rainy and cold that I camped out less than I'd originally planned. This was one of the best camping nights of the trip. I used some of the food I'd brought with me from home for dinner, and made myself a gourmet meal of buffalo burgers with green onions, rice, and a glass of wine.

After dinner I drove into Ithaca briefly, feeling restless, and spent time at a big chain bookstore till they closed. This is where I bought a series of lectures on CD about Walt Whitman, which I listened to during the return trip, spaced over three days. The lectures were pretty good lectures, overall, with extensive discussion about the context of Whitman writing his poems, and their importance to and impact upon poetry and culture since Whitman's death. I listened to all of these CDs before eventually stopping at Whitman's final home in Camden, NJ, for a brief visit. (Online, The Walt Whitman Archive is a huge resource worth exploring: it contains texts and images of each edition of Leaves of Grass, extensive scholarly material, and a valuable collection of every known photo of Whitman.) Whitman's presence grew in my mind during this roadtrip, as the trip itself shifted more and more towards being an arts and literature pilgrimage, and away from being purely about photography and video. I'm still sorting all this out; which of course is why I need to write about it; call it thinking out loud, if you must.

When I went to bed, there were stars and a moon standing silent behind the trees, whose uppermost branches were dancing slowly in a night breeze. On the hillside near my campsite, there were trillium in bloom everywhere.

Later, there was a ring around the moon: which means high atmospheric ice crystals, which means cirrus clouds, which usually foretell another storm within a day or two.

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