New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

When my brother and niece visited Thanksgiving weekend, we decided to check out the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show, which runs until January 21, 2019. It was amazing! My youngest asked, “Why haven’t we come here before? I loved trains as a kid!” I had no answer, but I know we’ll be going back next year!

My way too many pictures don’t capture the scale and artistry of the buildings, train tracks and trains but, in the next few posts, I’m going to share them anyway.

Choo chooooo!

Model trains navigate painstakingly crafted miniatures of New York City’s built environment, all made entirely out of plant parts. The Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and Yankee Stadium are among the 150 landmarks that form a fantastically rendered city landscape built from seeds, bark, leaves and twigs, serviced by a robust half-mile of track, all nestled within the stunning and historic Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. This year’s train show showcases Lower Manhattan’s famous skyscrapers with replicas of the Woolworth Building and One World Trade Center—and some vintage ferry boats, too. Other events coinciding with the train show include a cappella performances, classical music concerts, a poetry reading and activities for kids.



Manhattan Mystery, Where Did the Mandarin Duck Come From?

Sometimes, we need a good news story. Truthfully, we could always use a good news story. The sighting of a rare Mandarin Duck in Central Park is one of those pick-me-up’s that filled with mystery (just where did that duck come from?), intrigue (can the duck be coaxed from one side of the pond to the other?), a gorgeous duck (aren’t the photos from Sarah Samaroo awesome?) and silliness…as in QUACK!

Odd Bird in Central Park: Mandarin Duck by Julia Jacobs for The New York Times, 10/31/18

On the crescent-shaped pond in the southeast corner of Central Park, a spectacularly colorful duck floats on the surface with an air of majesty.

His head looks like a punk rocker’s multicolored mohawk. Beneath his beady black eyes, fringed orange feathers splay across his dark purple chest. His bill is colored a striking hot pink and sits under an emerald green forehead.

The male Mandarin duck, native to East Asia, should not be in the middle of Manhattan. And yet, against all odds, he is here. And he is dazzling.

On Oct. 10, the duck was first spotted near the Pond in Central Park and a video was shared on social media. The city’s avid birders were amazed: These ducks are commonly found in China and Japan — not the United States. Plus, ducks aren’t allowed to be kept as pets in the city.

David Barrett, the creator and manager of Manhattan Bird Alert, a Twitter account used to document bird sightings across the borough, originally believed there were three ways the duck may have reached Central Park.

First, he could have escaped from a local zoo. Second, he could have fled captivity somewhere nearby, such as New Jersey. Or third, a duck owner could have tired of having a feathered friend and dumped him in the park.

Shortly after he was spotted, the duck disappeared. “For almost two weeks we didn’t know what happened to it,” Mr. Barrett said. “We assumed it got eaten by a raptor.”

But on Thursday, the duck was spotted by the boat basin at West 79th Street, Mr. Barrett said. And on Sunday, he reappeared in the Pond, floating not too far away from the concrete jungle at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. He had the same band on his right leg as the duck that was seen earlier.

One possible origin story was ruled out. The duck did not come from any of New York’s four major zoos run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, said Craig Piper, the director of city zoos for the organization.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Barrett, 54, returned to the Pond to check on the Mandarin duck. Carrying binoculars, Mr. Barrett, who works as an investor and computer scientist when he’s not birding, circled the shore trying to spot the glamorous creature.

After many minutes of fruitless searching, he spotted the duck nestled near a rock across the Pond, on the eastern shore of the Hallett Nature Sanctuary.

Joined by a fellow birder on a lunch break from her day job, Mr. Barrett began to strategize how he’d coax the duck from the other side, which was thick with trees and shadows in the late afternoon. “We need to be enterprising,” he said.

First, the pair of birders tried to entice him. Mr. Barrett purchased a salted soft pretzel from a cart in the park, ripping off tiny pieces and tossing them off the shore. No luck.

The second birder, Sandra Critelli, muttered that she needed to get back to the office soon. “But that damn duck!” she said.

As his next option, Mr. Barrett tried to chase the duck away from its nook on the distant side of the Pond. After walking around the Pond to the forested nature sanctuary, Mr. Barrett climbed around trees and over branches to reach the shore. Then, he began to quack.

Yes, quack. And soon, a small group of ducks began to swim out of the shadows.

Mr. Barrett sprinted over the bridge and back to the other side of the Pond. By the time he got there, the Mandarin duck was already basking in the sun with his mallard friends, posing for awe-struck onlookers with cameras.

Swimming near the shore of the Pond, New York’s Mandarin duck, with his orange upturned wings and black-white rump, was the center of attention.

“He’s the star of the show,” said Juan Jimenez, a 74-year-old photographer who has been taking pictures in Central Park for decades.

“As far as the colors are concerned, only nature can provide that,” Mr. Jimenez said. “We could try to paint it, but you won’t be able to.”

As of Tuesday, park officials had no intention of capturing the duck, said John McCoy, the deputy director of the Urban Park Rangers, which is part of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. He added that they still do not know for certain whether the duck arrived on his own or was left there by a fed-up duck owner.

Park officials will take action only if the duck gets injured and needs medical care, Mr. McCoy said. But the duck, which has no known name, appears to be quite healthy, paddling across the sprawling Pond and even integrating with the native mallards.

Mr. Barrett has faith that the Mandarin duck can survive in his current habitat. Because this type of duck is a “dabbler,” which means it often feeds by moving its bill across the water to find insects and vegetation, it could last in Central Park for a while, he said.

“As long as it has open water, it will do just fine,” Mr. Barrett said. “He might live very happily on the Central Park Pond.”

Source: Photos courtesy of Sarah Samaroo for Untapped Cities

Water Week, Historic Waters

We had to get to the Atlantic Ocean! Hannah at Sullivan Island, SC

In June, one of my daughters and I took a trip to Charleston, South Carolina. On a sunset cruise with Adventure Harbor Tours, we not only enjoyed the relaxing ride and beautiful views, but got a history lesson to boot! Here are some highlights.

  • Fort Sumter: historic fort, start of the Civil War, Confederate forces fired shots upon Federal troops on April 12, 1861

Since the American Revolution, Americans have built systems of forts at harbors along the coast to strengthen maritime defenses. Following the War of 1812, several major weaknesses in the American coastal defense system were identified. To fill these voids, Congress and the US Army Corps of Engineers planned the construction of forty-two forts, primarily located along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Maine to Louisiana. These forts are collectively known as the Third System of Seacoast Defense.

Charleston Harbor made the list of sites vulnerable to attack, prompting the construction of Fort Sumter. Construction on the man-made island began in 1829. Thirty-one years later, sectional tensions exploded at Fort Sumter into armed conflict.

  • USS Yorktown: tenth aircraft carrier to serve in United States Navy, built in 16 1/2 months

 YORKTOWN was commissioned on April 15, 1943. World War II’s famous “Fighting Lady” would participate significantly in the Pacific offensive that began in late 1943 and ended with the defeat of Japan in 1945. YORKTOWN received the Presidential Unit Citation and earned 11 battle stars for service in World War II.

In the 1950s, YORKTOWN was modernized to operate jet aircraft as an attack carrier. In 1957, she was re-designated an anti-submarine aircraft carrier, and would later earn 5 battle stars for service off Vietnam (1965-68). The ship also recovered the Apollo 8 astronauts and capsule (December 1968). YORKTOWN was decommissioned in 1970 and placed in reserve.

In 1975, this historic ship was towed from Bayonne, NJ to Charleston to become the centerpiece of Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.

  • Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge: opened on July 16, 2005, the longest cable-stayed bridge of its time in North America, the tallest structure in South Carolina

The new bridge had to be high enough to accommodate ship traffic to a world-class port, strong enough to withstand seismic events like Charleston’s 1886 earthquake (magnitude 7.3), sturdy enough to weather hurricanes like Hugo and aesthetically pleasing enough to satisfy the discerning public eye. The new structure also had to meet long-term traffic needs. To that end, it has eight vehicular lanes, and pedestrian and bicycle accommodations.

The awe-inspiring, cable-stayed main span boasts a deck almost 200 feet above the water of Charleston Harbor’s shipping channel and two diamond towers almost 600 feet high.

Have you been to Charleston, SC? Did you tour some of these sights? 

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Sources: National Park Service,  South Carolina Picture Project, Patriot’s Point

Water Week, Mystic Boat Adventures

It was two to a boat on Mystic Boat Adventures’ motor-boats-fitted-with-foam-pontoons. We rode through Mystic Seaport and out to the open water where, not only could we we could see Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island waters, we “let it rip.” So fun!

We passed under the Mystic Drawbridge, an 85-foot bridge that lifts with 460-tons of concrete counterweights! Click here if you want to see the drawbridge in action.

The Mystic River Bascule Bridge (often called the Mystic Drawbridge) was built in 1922. The bridge opens, drawbridge-style, to let boats up and down the Mystic River. When it’s closed, locals and tourists alike travel over it to visit many destinations along Main St. and beyond. The bridge is raised every hour at 40 minutes after the hour between 8:40 am and 6:40 pm.

If you’re not familiar with the term, a Bascule Bridge is one that can be raised or lowered using counterweights (bascule is the French word for seesaw). What makes the Mystic bridge even more interesting is the fact that the mechanism that’s used to raise and lower the bridge is not enclosed, so you can see all the moving parts. This particular style of Bascule Bridge was patented by New York City engineerThomas E. Brown in 1918. No doubt an engineering marvel of its time, it’s still fascinating to watch now.

We also got a a close-up view of the Mayflower II, a replica of the 17th-century ship Mayflower. It’s being restored for the 400th anniversary in 2020 of the Pilgrims’ arrival in 1620. Click here if you want to learn more about the restoration.

Sources: Mystic KnotworkScenic USA, Mystic Seaport Museum

Water Week, Argia Mystic Cruises

Sailing Schooner Argia

Welcome to Water Week!

Despite the fact that I’m over–really over–the ridiculous amount of rain we had this summer and continue to have this fall, I love water. Being on the water in any kind of boat. When my family visited Mystic, CT in July, we had perfect weather for a sunset sail on a beautiful schooner, the Argia.

ARGIA is built of Honduran Mahogany on White Oak frames. Her masts are of Douglas Fir and her bowsprit of Cyprus. Her bottom is Chesapeake Bay dead-rise planking of Long-leaf Yellow Pine. ARGIA’s rig is that of a 19th Century East Coast trading, or packet, schooner and is most properly described as that of a Two-Masted Gaff Topsail Schooner.

Crosby, Still and Nash’s song, Southern Cross came to mind. It was always one of my favorite songs, but now that I’m in the query trenches, it’s even more meaningful.

Think about how many times I have fallen. Spirits are using me, larger voices calling.
What heaven brought you and me cannot be forgotten.
I have been around the world, looking for that woman-girl who knows love can endure.
And you know it will, and you know it will.  Chorus for Southern Cross

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I Held Her Hand

Robert, Barbara, Ruth, Andrew, Naomi

My mom died two years ago today. One of the most profound things I’ve ever done and, probably, will ever do, was to walk with my mom to the liminal line between here on Earth and not. I told her it was okay to step off. Into the unknown. Alone. Maybe to be greeted by her parents. Who really knows? But cancer free. I stepped back and watched her go. I kissed her. I told her she was my rock.  I told her the shining light of her soul was separate from her wasted body. She told me she was afraid. So afraid. I held her hand.

My mother’s brother, Robert, passed away suddenly less than a year after she did. Maybe they met again in a place language has no words for.


(The same images are in the slideshow and collage.)

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Poetry in Motion

I love these photos of my daughter and her friend, taken right before their recital in June. My daughter loves to dance, practicing ballet, modern, lyrical and jazz. Lucky girls–in March, they’ll be performing on a cruise with their dance company.

Hope is the thing with feathers

that perches in the soul,

and sings in tune without words

and never stops at all.  Emily Dickinson