Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Sacred grid

A thangka begins with a grid of lines. Acting like a skeleton the grid frames the project so the artist can organize proportions. These traditional Tibetan Buddhist paintings can be as big as several yards diameter and contain hundreds of elements such as humans, deities, animals, and sacred objects. Some are scenes of famous Buddhist stories, others are portraits of colorful beings who symbolize values and ideas. Once a year we get to experience the thangka creation process right here in the Hudson Valley. Nepali-born thangka painter Sonam Rinzin makes the trip upstate once a year with fellow artists to host a thangka class for beginners.

Held in a community room at the temple at Tsechen Kunchab Ling in Walden, thangkas in various levels of completion are on display painted on canvas and stretched on frames. There is so much to learn before even getting to touch a canvas so students begin with paper, drawing small elements like a lotus flower, bowl of food, water or burning incense. They begin with a light grid shaped like a cross followed by a sketch of an image. Rinzin brings books of images, supplying students with lots of examples to see there isn’t just one way to draw a flower. He provides colored pencils and paint to make the images come alive.

Some traditional thangkas are intended for meditation while others are used in instruction. They appear in temples, museums and homes. Rinzin hosts thangka classes on Saturdays at Ethan Petit Gallery in Brooklyn. Tsechen Kunchab Ling is a Tibetan Buddhist temple established in Walden in 2001 to strengthen the practice in North America and give both renunciates and lay people a place to study and meditate.

Himalayan Tibetan Thangka Arts with Sonam Rinzin: https://www.facebook.com/SonamRinzinTibetanThangkaPainting/

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Bad feminist

Tough conversations sometimes don’t end up happening. When topics like race, sexuality, poverty, gender, health, death, and finance are hard to talk about, progress slows, misperceptions remain, and solutions don’t emerge. Issues can suffer when we hold out for the perfect face to lead a movement, not knowing if that person will ever come—or if they even exists. Writer Roxane Gay’s 2014 book Bad Feminist focuses on the personal qualities of people who consider themselves feminists and examines our perceptions of who is “good enough” to speak and lead.

Each year Vassar College honors a writer as the William A. Starr Distinguished Lecturer. Students in the school’s first-year writing seminar program are assigned a book to read and the author is invited to campus to speak about their work. Bad Feminist was chosen as the 2018 book. Gay came to Vassar's Poughkeepsie campus on Wednesday, November 7 for her talk Roxane Gay: With One N.

Gay is an essayist and contributing writer for the New York Times. Bad Feminist is a collection of insightful and funny essays about how we view women and work in their service when they, or ourselves, enjoy things that are considered “non-feminist.” Can a feminist wear makeup and dresses? Can they have children? Can one love chocolate? Gay stressed the importance of embracing women who contradict themselves, and encouraged us to reject strict tests to label someone a feminist. Gay’s version of feminism welcomes women who are stay-at-home moms and those who like short skirts. But where do we draw the line? What is not acceptable? A member of the audience asked just that and Gay said the one issue we can’t compromise on is forbidding women to chose abortion. Gay broke up her talk of serious topics with her now-not-so-secret fondness for maxi dresses and how she has almost no knowledge of cars and no desire to learn how to solve a vehicle crisis on her own.

Gay talked about her struggles as a first-year college professor: the usual fears of public speaking and memorizing names, but also being the only black professor in her department at Eastern Illinois University and sharing that sense of aloneness and isolation with the few black students in her classes by ensuring they knew she was available outside of class if they needed to talk. A humorous frustration was trying to understand why her students wore breezy basketball shorts in the freezing Midwestern winter.

Gay’s reading happened the day after mid-term elections and she made sure to recognize the leadership gains by women, people of color, and candidates from non-Catholic or Protestant religions. Despite a loss, the margin of the gubernatorial race in Texas was a victory that laid out a blueprint for other Democrats. She talked about the challenges faced by candidates of color like Stacey Abrams and how polling voters is unreliable when race is involved as people lie to hide race bias. Gay touched on the role of trauma survivors in the progressive movement, particularly in Me Too stories. We need to be mindful about not encouraging survivors to cannibalize themselves for the greater good by giving in to people who don't help the movement by latching on to a personal story and pry out more juicy details.

Gay encouraged students of elite privileged institutions like Vassar to examine their school’s role in social movements by, for example, seeing where the school’s endowment is being spent.

The audience asked questions about the writing industry and I really liked Gay’s remedy for writers block: treat writing like a job. Her talk about genres helped the audience learn to use them in different ways: nonfiction is more immediate and urgent, while fiction gives readers and writers more time and space to explore an issue. Gay talked about social media as a great connector for writers to find each other, but to avoid insulating ourselves in social bubbles.

She talked about Twitter being conducive to conversation but limited in reach. Many people, including the ones we want to reach, simply are not using it. How do we reach the unreachable? By prioritizing our resources for groups outside our bubble, and knowing the difference between expending energy on people who didn’t vote and not wasting it trying to understand the mysteries of disaffected white men.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Fall changes

This time of year the Hudson Valley is famous for its fall foliage displays. Reds, yellows, oranges and browns catch the sunlight and fall to the ground just before snow comes. But what is actually happening when leaves change colors? During spring and summer, green leaves get their color from food-making chlorophyll. The chemical absorbs sunlight, turning carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates that sustain the trees. The leaves contain other pigments like yellow and red but these are masked by more prevalent green. Fall brings cooler temperatures and less sunlight which trigger trees to stop making food. Chlorophyll breaks down and disappears, leaving yellows, oranges, and reds.

What affects leaf changes? Mild autumn temperatures, not warm or freezing, are ideal. Severe drought can cause leaves to drop early, and violent winds rip leaves from trees prematurely

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Wall art

Kingston has storied history. This Hudson River city was the first capital of New York before it was burned by the British in 1777, and it lived richly in the 19th Century as important rail and canal transit hub. The oldest still-standing church, First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Kingston, was organized in 1659. The City’s three historic districts draw visitors for historical reenactments, trendy shops and riverfront festivities. The walkable 8-block Uptown Stockade District is an early settlement filled with Dutch buildings.

Kingston has also found fame for its modern public art. The 2000s brought a steady stream of wall murals to the city’s streets, some occupying the entire side of buildings. Themes vary and include environmentalism, migration, recognition of indigenous heritage, and other social justice issues. Works are dispersed throughout the city and visitors can stop at the arts council for a map enabling a self-guided tour. More murals are revealed each year during the annual O+ arts and music festival.

Many residents welcome the artworks and the business the festival brings each year, but the works find the dismay of some historical preservationists. How can a striking 20-foot-long Atlantic sturgeon painting get approval on a street where laws dictate paint colors must blend with and complement others? How can a 6-story mural of the Greek goddess Artemis cover decades-old historic advertisements painted on buildings? There are a bunch of answers that draw ideas from the U.S. Constitution’s protection of freedom of expression, the transient nature of wall art, and the need for neighborhoods to avoid stagnation and attract new generations.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Stone faces

Newburgh Open Studios was last month and one of the stops was Glenlily Grounds off Grand Avenue. The site featured 29 artist with works throughout the 11-acre property that incudes fields, steep hills, and a path through woods. Mediums included metal, acrylic, and more. One display was a group of carved stone faces by Renee Ludwiczak at the edge of a hill overlooking the Hudson River. Some faces hung on a tree or nestled in the base and trunk of a tree, while a grouping sat upright on flat stones. The works look like miniature expressions of the Moai statues of Easter Island, a remote region off the coast of South America.

Moai are large stone carvings shaped as humans. Over 900 statues have been found, the tallest measuring over 30 feet tall. The works are a spectacular feat considering they were created and transported between 1250AD and 1500AD. Just as Ludwiczak’s pieces were carved from different varieties of stone, Moai were formed from such materials as compressed volcanic ash, basalt and trachyte.  Debate continues today as about how the statues were transported from a quarry where they originated. Theories extoll dozens of people rolling the statues across the ground on logs or “walking” them upright with ropes. Some statues found lying on the ground are thought to have fallen accidentally during their walk and could not be lifted back up. Researchers, puzzled by the existence of unfinished statues on this desolate island, seek to understand why people left. Land clearing, rat infestation, climate change and deforestation made the region unsustainable for agriculture, fishing, and farming, and the population was affected by Christian missionaries who encouraged natives to abandon their culture and customs.

Sunday, September 30, 2018


Flashback to the Ram Dass Library at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck where on the top floor lounge you’ll find a brass statue of Hanuman, the half-human-half-monkey Hindu god. Hanuman has super-human strength and is able to fly. He represents resistance to persecution and in this depiction is seated holding a torch and mountain stone. In Hindu mythology Hanuman was a mischievous child and would use his supernatural powers to prank innocent bystanders and would steal devotional objects from the collections of village spiritual teachers. One day he pranked the wrong meditating sage who in return cursed Hanuman into forgetting his powers—which would return only if someone reminded him of their existence.

Brass statues of Hindu deities are popular and come in lots of sizes. The process begins with a carved piece of wax which is covered in cement and heated so the wax melts. It is poured out and the mold is filled with molten brass which hardens into the desired shape. The hardened cement covering is removed and the statue is buffed and polished. Elements of a single statue, such as the items Hanuman holds on his hands, may be created separately and affixed later.

Ram Dass Library: https://www.eomega.org/rhinebeck/play

Stop and smell the milkweed

It’s a real treat to find a garden filled with native plants. Compared to perfectly manicured lawns and gardens dotted with exotic ornamentals, sustainable landscapes are low maintenance and require far less water. They provide homes for insects that feed native birds and their seasonal changes showcase the Hudson Valley’s famous fall foliage. 

Safe Harbors Green in Newburgh is a spectacular example of re-introducing native species to an urban area. This once vacant lot on the corner of Broadway and Liberty Street was renovated a few years ago into a welcoming community space. Improvements brought terraced lawns to the formerly flat space along with crushed stone walkways and seating areas. The space has hosted stages during events and a travelling trapeze school setup for a period last summer. Special features include storm runoff management and ADA accessibility.     

The space is home to thousands of native plants including milkweed, goldenrod and sumac. Milkweed’s sticky milky sap feeds pollinator insects including monarch butterflies. Monarchs lay their eggs solely on milkweed plants upon which the caterpillars feed until they pupate. It’s estimated each caterpillar needs to consume 20 leaves to successfully pupate. Once a common prairie plant, milkweed has been destroyed across the country to make way for agriculture and eliminated in favor of ornamental gardens.  There were so many milkweed plants in Safe Harbors Green and I’m excited to visit later next month when the pods dry out, pulling the garden into fall.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Santa fe juice

I drove by this place and it was so open and bright and people were outside so I stopped and left with a juice. A big sidewalk sign outside the already welcoming façade of Santa fe Interprices on William Street in Newburgh draws people in with juices, ice cream, and milkshakes. Also on the menu is the Central American specialty horchata, a pale rice-based protein drink with cinnamon and morro seeds. I picked up a mango-guava juice. Another popular juice variety is blackberry or strawberry with chia seeds.

The restaurant is connected to a grocery and is run by Honduran proprietors Jorge and his father who opened the establishment 5 years ago. They specialize in foods from Central America especially rice, beans, cheese, and bread. Friday feature chicken and pork tamales. Interprices is open 7 days a week and opens early and closes late.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


I first heard the name Vandana Shiva as the name of a chocolate. Lagusta’s Luscious chocolate shop in New Paltz has a series of candies named after feminist icons. The one called Vandana Shiva is a piece of bittersweet chocolate with bits of vanilla bean, cinnamon and chilies. Its unique gritty texture is the result of omitting the surface-scraping “conching” process. Conching is what produces the familiar smooth texture of European chocolate. Instead, Vandana Shivas are stone ground which produces a granular chocolate.

The real Vandana Shiva is a world-renowned environmental leader, activist and eco-feminist. Born in India in 1952 to a farmer mother, she has spent decades defending indigenous knowledge and biodiversity. Campaigned against corporate patents in seeds, received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, and serves as an advisor to governments on issues including women, food justice, and third world countries.  

Vandana Shiva was in the Hudson Valley for Omega Center’s Making Peace with the Earth retreat on July 6-8. She spoke about colonization, the process of establishing control over an indigenous population, and the ensuing clash of not just cultures but economies as well. She brought up the famines in India after the country was overtaken by British rule. When war was brought to an end by treaty in 1765, the British East India Company claimed lands in the Ganges river valley. The effects of scarce rainfall were compounded by British practices of charging rent for land people were already on, war levies, and export crops replacing food. During the Bengal famine of 1770 almost a third of the country’s population starved to death. Colonization caused native populations to lose control of their independence. British rule took what didn’t belong to them and turned it into a source of rentals. Taxation increased and forced people to sell food stores meant for protection against famine.

The 3-day event at Omega focused on a move toward earth-centered politics. Other topics included inner colonization, food justice, sustainable agriculture, and mindful approaches to social change. The weekend featured lectures, panels, Q&A sessions, a seed exchange, and an in-depth tour of the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL)’s EcoMachine, an on-site sustainable water reclamation center.

Omega: www.eomega.org

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Red dot

Lately I’ve been reading about ghee. It’s like butter if butter could get more buttery. A popular fat in Indian and South Asian dishes, it’s made by heating butter until it reduces and the solids (the dairy proteins) separate and are drained out. The end product is 100% fat version of butter which is usually 80% fat. It’s appropriate for higher heat cooking and imparts a nutty flavor in place of the burned scent that fast-melting butter can leave behind.

Anyone can make ghee at home with a stick of butter and 10 minutes, or you can pick up a jar of homemade ghee along with lunch at the Red Dot Kitchen in Wurtsboro. This vegetarian restaurant offers traditional Indian dishes: soups and sides such as daal (lentil soup) and pakora (battered vegetables in sweet chili sauce), lunch and dinner options like tofu curry and kulcha (naan stuffed with seasoned filling). For breakfast are pancakes with coconut sauce, multigrain waffles, and Indian breakfast potatoes. I had the protein burrito, a spinach tortilla wrap filled with brown rice, black beans, veggie chicken nuggets, kale, tomato, red onion, and a lemon-tahini dressing. House-made canned ghee is available and is found in many Red Dot dishes including brushed on the breakfast paratha wrap and drizzled on the sourdough bread starter.

The Red Dot is one of two restaurants, the first presently in the mountain town of Frasier Park, California.  The seasonal menus of both are packed with vegetables and Indian flavor. Paired with the restaurant’s welcoming, bright, peace & love vibe the experience is something even a carnivore can savor.    

The Red Dot: www.thered.kitchen

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Water path

With a current population of almost 30,000 the City of Newburgh has changed dramatically since native Waoranek people lived here in dome huts and paddled the Hudson River in dugout canoes. During the 20th Century deaths from infectious disease decreased dramatically in the U.S. largely due to public sanitation. In 1908 Jersey City, New Jersey was the first U.S. city to routinely disinfest public drinking water supplies and other cities soon followed the model.

Newburgh’s Water Department on Little Britain Road in Newburgh is home to the branch’s offices and water treatment operation. The plant, staffed 24/7, is 1A licensed which is the highest in the U.S. and is rated to process 8.85 million gallons per day.

The plant offers tours every second Saturday for the public to view the site’s buildings, operations, offices and walk the path water makes during filtration. I took the tour in June with Water Superintendent Wayne Vradenburgh. It started at the garage and leads to the nearby chemical building which houses new digital meters. All activity in the space is recorded and monitored daily. Vradenburgh noted the facility’s transition from treatment with gas to much safer liquid chlorine, and how all grease used in operations is food-grade. The space’s square vats churn the water, bringing bottom levels to the top. We followed the facility’s path alongside floculator tanks, underground settling tanks which must be manually cleaned, filters, and the lab which tests temperature, fluoride, alkalinity, chlorine, pH and color. Staff send out samples for bacterial tests and post water quality reports on the City website.

The site’s administrative office sends out water bills and generates boil water notices. Staff read residents’ meters each month and help them find leaks. Vradenburgh noted City Council had just approved staff to investigate new state-of-the-art meters that will eliminate staff home visits and enable customers to manage their use with a phone app. The office is filled with historical photos and artifacts that document the changes in the department brought on by technology and industrialization. Photos show old steam shovels and early plant construction. A shelf unit holds antique bottles unearthed in digs, early leak detecting equipment, pipe samples, lead service line, a procurement log from the 1920s, and meters used in the early 1900s. One photo showed men at work wearing black top hats and on a shelf sat a sample of wood water main circa 1800.

After walking through the basement’s supervisory control panel we headed to the new horseshoe-shaped Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) plant. This is the last step for chemical absorption from the finished water. The GAC building holds 18 vessels and from a control panel staff can analyze the process and identify problems. Vradenburgh explained how the panel settings were changed to manage hydrant flow during a recent fire in the City. A giant dehumidifier attached to the building prevents the tanks from sweating as they fill with the cold water the system draws from the bottom of the Ashokan reservoir in Ulster County. The vessels are arranged in a lead and lag pattern and inside are cone-shaped screens that hold carbon above the water. The system can process 8.85 million gallons each day before individual tanks are taken offline to replace the carbon every 1 or 2 years.

Vradenburgh said a congressman from Flint, Michigan, which still suffers from dangerous levels of lead in public water supplies identified in 2015, visited site recently and was impressed with the measures taken to protect Newburgh’s water. The tour provides a glimpse into just how much work goes into maintaining drinking water.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Rich habitat

European settlement of the Hudson Valley brought the practice of filling tidal marshes along the Hudson River in an effort to eliminate mosquitoes and turn what was perceived as wasted land into something more useful. Unbeknownst to settlers, so much goes on in these spaces. These types of wetlands, found alongside coasts and rivers, collect nutrients for animals, provide breeding grounds for birds and fish, and safeguard communities from flooding. Marshes are fed by groundwater, rivers and oceans and act to filter pollution.

Iona Island/Doodletown Bird Conservation Area, in the Town of Stonypoint in Rockland County, is one of the largest wetlands adjoining the 300-mile-long Hudson River. It‘s a valued habitat for mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and native and spawning fish. The area’s open water and plentiful fish attract not just migrating birds as a place to rest and feed, but also appeals to Bald Eagles as a winter home. Native Americans occupied the area as far back as 3500 BC. It was used for grapes cultivation in the mid-19th century followed by time as a summer resort area. The Navy purchased the island in 1899 for use as an ammunition depot, and it was purchased in 1965 by the Palisades Interstate Parks Commission and dedicated as s recreation area.    

New York State is home to 59 Bird Conservation Areas (BCAs). Signed into law in 1997, the Bird Conservation Area Program (BCA) coordinates ecosystem management and restoration, and ensures public access and education in these area.

Iona Island/Doodletown Bird Conservation Area: www.dec.ny.gov/animals/30779.html

Friday, June 8, 2018

Cupcakes wars

It's no surprise that cupcakes seem to get more and more popular every year. Yes they're delicious, but also easy to make and inexpensive. They're portion-controlled and don't need a fork, they're easy to transport and bare cakes are a blank canvas for decorating.

The 7th annual K104.7 Cupcake Festival was Saturday, May 5 on Main Street in Beacon and featured over 20,000 cupcakes for every taste. Fun varieties included Coquito, Blueberry Lemon, Beerbutter, and Irish Car Bomb. Almost 100 vendors lined Main Street including food and crafts.  Organized by K104.7 radio, the event ended with the Cupcake Wars final at 3pm. The winner took home $1,000 and a year's worth of bragging rights for 'Best Cupcake in the Hudson Valley."

K104.7 Cupcake Festival: http://www.k104online.com/common/page.php?pt=cupcake&id=1251

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Water discussion

How does pollution enter your drinking water? That was a core question at The Taste of Sprawl: A Water Discussion hosted by Hudson Highlands Land Trust. Held Sunday, April 15 at Highlands Country Club in Garrison, the event was filled to capacity and began with a panel discussion followed by afternoon breakout groups focused on particular regions.

Presenters stressed the importance of educating the public about the path water takes to our faucets. Protection of watersheds is crucial. A watershed, also referred to as a catchment or drainage basin, is an area in which water collects and drains into a common larger source such as a reservoir. A watershed consists of a grid of land and surface water such as ponds, rivers, streams, and wetlands, as well as underlying water sources. Watersheds receive precipitation and snowmelt which are either absorbed or run off. Watershed makeup varies. Soil type and saturation vary in watersheds. Soil affects absorption and can be any variety from fine to rocky. Soil that is saturated can’t absorb any more water causing increased run off.

The morning panel, Safe Drinking Water: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure, featured four panelists: Paul Gallay envoronmental group Riverkeeper, Peter Smith of watershed protection group Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, Russell Urban-Mead Hazen engineering company, and Elisa Chae of Cornell Water Resoures Institute/NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program. Moderator Carla Casillo of Hudson Valley Regional Council/Cornwall Conservation Advosory Council hoped attendees left with messaging to use in their own communities about the effects of population and industry outpacing water protections. Participants were encouraged to use the event's resources to influence lawmakers and funders, encourage citizen science projects, and examine their own actions.

Panelist Peter Smith of Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance talked about his exploration of Newburgh's watershed, situated in an increasingly developed industrial region. He found the area was miscategorized and contributing streams were misclassified as not carrying drinking water when in fact they were. The watershed contains a capped landfill and Newburgh's source of drinking water, Washington Lake, is in the flight path of planes that take off and land at Stewart Airport. Panelist Paul Gallay of Riverkeeper said water filtration plants are not a end-all solution. Municipalities must keep contaminants our of water supplies to reduce pressure on filtration systems. He stressed three priorities: investing in infrastructure, tracking down and reducing sources of pollution, and getting ahead of emerging contaminants.

The actions of citizens affect what governments do. Panelist Elisa Chae of Cornell Water Resources Institute/NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program talked about the importance of being proactive over reactive. She talked about the regulations on water as it makes its way from underground aquifers to the finished product flowing from our tap. Many people don't know where tap water comes from because there haven't been many newsworthy issues, but these stories are emerging as development increases, notably water problems in Hoosick Falls, Flint and Long Island.  Chae said better technology enables researchers to detect substances before human impact catches up. She stressed that now is the time for communities to voice gaps and needs and that there is funding available to help people better understand and react to issues.

Panelist and hydrogeologist Rusell Urban-Mead of the Chazen Companies explained precipitation. Of the region's snow/rainfall, half supports plants and half sinks into the ground. Climate models indicate in the future we will get this much or more in the future. Paul Gallay from Riverkeeper talked about pharmaceutical disposal within households and plastic reside from plastic bottles. Each winter water sources face contamination from road salt and a panelist recommended a special report on road salt published in 2010 by the Cary Institute in Millbrook, NY

After lunch participants could choose breakout sessions on the areas of Newburgh, Phillipstown, and Beacon. Peter Smith led the Newburgh group with a watershed map and an overview of permits and profits of its industry invaders. The Beacon group was led by City Council member Lee Kyriacou and Asher Pacht of Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries/Beacon Conservation Advisory Committtee. It was interstingto learn about the nearby correctional facility's water use and how Beacon must purchase it's water from outside its city.

How does this information get to the public? Participation is critical. Citizen attendance at government meetings has meaning. Thinking to ourselves that it'll work out in the end isn't solving problems. Panelist Paul Gallay of Riverkeeper was leaving for China a few days later where he was, coincidentally, presenting about the power of public engagement and its effect on policy.

Hudson Highands Land Trust: www.hhlt.org

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bluff garden in winter

“Vajra is connected with the East, the dawn, winter. It is a winter morning, crystal clear, icicles sharp and glittering, The landscape is not empty or desolate but is full of all sorts of thought-provoking sharpness.”
-Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chogyam Trungpa

Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson stretches across nearly 1,000 acres. One of the most historically dense sections is a rectangular walled garden overlooking the Hudson River with a view of the Catskill mountains in the distance. Designed around 1903, Blithewood is an Italianate garden, part of Blithewood Estate which includes a mansion donated to the college. Its angular geometric structure includes paths and beds, statues, semi-enclosed areas, a water feature in its center, a copper-roofed pavilion and two pagodas.  The garden is open year-round and if free to tour.

The college celebrated the garden’s 115th anniversary by kicking off a campaign in 2016 to facilitate its renovation. Because the site is open to the elements year-round deterioration from over a century of freeze/thaw cycles is evident. Plaster from the columns of the pavilion is falling off and brick mortar is crumbling.

Last year a new development in the project was the installation of interpretive signs for visitors. The Bard Arboretum was awarded a grant from the Hudson River Valley Heritage Area to add signs to the site which display the garden’s structures and history. The signs were researched and designed by a Bard graduate student then built in 2017 by local firm Terrabilt which specializes in interpretive, informational, and wayfinding signage that is durable and sustainably constructed.

The hillside below the garden is overrun by invasive plants including common reed and Japanese knotweed and is irregular and steep, making it difficult to maintain. The school implemented an environmentally sound solution by leasing goats to remediate the 1.5-acre hill. The goats eat the weeds for weeks at a time, needing only water and some human help for dense sections. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation awarded the college a 3-year Invasive Species Rapid Response Grant to host the goats for three growing seasons through 2019.

Blithewood Garden: www.bard.edu/arboretum/gardens/blithewood

Monday, April 30, 2018

A space for all things

With its asymmetrical leaning stones and border of water Parliament of Reality looks like a Japanese rock garden but it’s inspiration actually comes from Iceland. Since 2009 Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s first permanent outdoor installation has rested on Bard College’s campus in Annandale-on-Hudson. Modeled after Iceland’s parliament structure, called Althing, which is the oldest parliament in the world, the installation sits in the campus’s North end across from the massive Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. 

The work consists of a stone island surrounded encircled by water and reachable by a bridge covered in a steel  lattice tunnel. Althing translates to “a space for all things,” an idea conceived with the life of the campus in mind.

Bard College: www.bard.edu

Saturday, March 31, 2018

War crimes

How can you walk by a grid of bones on a table and not read the story?

Last month we took a trip out of the Hudson Valley to MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Set on 16 acres of an urban section of North Adams, Massachusetts, the site’s 26 buildings are connected by elevated walkways and courtyards. The Hoosick River flows through the site which has an unmistakably industrial vibe. Since before the Revolutionary War, the area was instrumental in the manufacture of shoes, hats, cabinets, and armor plates for a Civil War ship and components for the atomic bomb in World War II. Manufacturing ended in 1986 and the site was transformed into a museum after staff of Williams College museum of Art sought an economic space to exhibit large works that would not fit in conventional museums. MASS MoCA opened in 1999.

Artist Jenny Holzer’s giant light projections, carved stone benches, and posters make up her campus-wide exhibit of words and messages. In the East Gallery Lustmord Table features arranged bones on a wooden table, a project rooted in the war in former Yugoslavia. Attached to some bones are metal bands engraved with words from sex crimes perpetrated against Muslim women and girls. In the 1990s, 20,000 to 50,000 women endured rape and forced pregnancy, events the Golden Gate University Law Review called “one of the most egregious orchestrated human rights violations against women in this century.” Lustmord is German for “sexually motivated murder.” The bones were sourced from decommissioned medical samples and teaching materials. 

Other works show an autopsy reports indicating torture of detainees killed while in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan and an image of a handprint from an Iraqi detainee who died in U.S. custody in 2003.

MASS MoCA: www.massmoca.org

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Ice on the hudson

“One of the reasons there are so many terms for conditions of ice is that the mariners observing it were often trapped in it, and had nothing to do except look at it.” 

Alec WilkinsonThe Ice Balloon: S. A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration

One of the most striking places to see the effects of below-zero temperatures is on the Hudson River. Though jet skis and leisure boats are not in season, the river remains a year-round shipping route for petroleum products as well as a source of drinking water for over 100,000 Hudson Valley residents in communities such as Poughkeepsie, Highland and Rhinebeck.

When the Hudson freezes over the route is cleared by icebreaking boats. This past January the 140-foot U.S. Coast Guard Penobscot Bay icebreaking tug made it’s way from New Jersey to Albany. Can ram through ice up to 3 feet thick with the aid of a lubrication system that forces air and water between the boat’s hull and ice.  

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Myco tincture

What do you make with mushrooms and alcohol? A reishi mushroom tincture was the final product of Reishi & the Power of Medicinal Mushrooms, a workshop on February 16 at the Moon Infospace in Newburgh. Hosted by Rochester-based fungi cultivator Olga Tzogas of Smugtown Mushrooms, we learned about medicinal mushroom varieties, sources, preparation, as well as some fungi lore.

Medicinal mushrooms have been around for centuries and utilized by countries the world over. Olga presented a slideshow of photos and uses of common medicinal varieties. Tooth fungi is a strong antiflamatory which can rebuild nerves and treat crohn’s disease. Reishi is a liver detoxifier and improves oxygen utilization. Maitake regulates blood sugar and birch polypore can substitute for a bandage. Turkeytail, one of the most common and studied varieties, can expel dampness from lungs and help build muscle. Shitake improves circulation and offers protection from nitrates which are found in bacon.

Mushroom images appear in prehistoric rock paintings. A variety called amanita muscaria, commonly recognized as a red cap with white spots, takes many forms: from Christmas tree ornaments to an iconic role in Nintendo’s Mario franchise. Mushrooms appear in a fresco depicting Adam and Eve within 12th Century Plaincourault Abbey in France, as well as in Alice in Wonderland and the 1940 Disney film Fantasia.

Olga helped participants create tinctures using a simple pack-and-cover method. She brought her own farmed Reishi pieces which we broke up and packed into jars which were then filled with alcohol which both preserves and extracts material as it sits for 6-8 weeks. The next step in this “double extraction” process involves draining, adding water and simmering the solution into a viscous liquid that can be consumed in tea form.

Olga’s knowledge of mushrooms is vast: she talked about industries using mushrooms as a substitute for plastic in packing material and how they “create life from death” by breaking down dead and decaying plant matter on forest floors. Though they are superficially plant-like, mushrooms are actually genetically more similar to humans. Olga’s passion in the mushroom kingdom is for medicinals. Utilizing them as both food and medicine is not only a great way to take control of how we eat and treat illness, but restores a connection between food and medicine that we forgot or never learned.

Smugtown Mushrooms: www.smugtownmushrooms.com

Monday, February 12, 2018

Readers place

If a 50 cent purchase keeps me occupied for at least a month I’d say that’s a good deal. My favorite spot to visit during my work lunch is a used bookstore next to Thrall Library in Middletown. Run entirely by volunteers, this shop isn’t a musty-smelling room overflowing with piles of auto manuals and copies upon copies of the classics. It’s organized by genres like travel, economics, law, gender issues, and more. I always see best-sellers, hot topics, and current magazines.

The store regularly accepts donations and a curated section of fun new arrivals sits on a shelf near the entrance. Prices range from .10 for National Geographic magazines to $1 for hardcovers. Magazines are .25 and softcovers go for .50. I picked up a biography: Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki, about Suzuki who authored the modern spiritual classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. The store next to Middletown Thrall Library which first opened in 1843 as a main station on the Erie Railroad.

Thrall Library Use Bookstore: https://fomtl.wordpress.com/our-store/