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Sculpture: Nancy Whelan
Cat sculpture “Henry VIII — Six Wives, Nine Lives,” Catskill, New York.  See and hear the artist’s description, here.

Sandy and Pat attended a family wedding at Lettterbox Farm in upstate New York recently and took a little time to check out the local sights. They loved the cat sculptures in the town of Catskill and the owl sculptures in Coxsackie, whose name is thought to come from an Indian word for “owl.”

Ariél Zangla wrote at the Daily Freeman, ” ‘Cat’n Around Catskill’ is celebrating its 10th anniversary. …

“Visitors come from local communities, but also from out of state. [Catskill Association President Tina Annese] said she knows of at least one family that has visited the cats each year as part of their summer vacation. She said people come to see the cats, get their pictures taken with them, and then visit area businesses.

“ ‘It brings tourism into the area, without a doubt,’ Annese said. She added that with neighboring communities doing their own art displays, visitors can stop in multiple areas. Annese said she loves that — and the more public art displays, the merrier.

“Locally, Saugerties once again has its decorated horse statues on display, while Greenville will have its ducks for the second year.”

More about the cats at the Daily Freeman, here. And if you are on Facebook, you will want to check the Cat’n Around Catskill page, here.

As for owls, it was last September that Coxsackie decided to get into the act.

Melanie Lekocevic of Columbia-Greene Media wrote about the effort at the Daily Mail: “Catskill has its cats, Cairo has bears, and Ravena had trains. Now, it’s Coxsackie’s turn.

“A volunteer committee has been working for several months to get a new project off the ground – ‘Hoot of the Owl,’ a public art exhibit that will bring sculptures of creatively decorated owls to the community.

“Owls have long been the symbol of Coxsackie; indeed, some translations of the name ‘Coxsackie’ – said to be of Native American extraction – are thought to reference owls, according to an article by Coxsackie Town Historian Michael Rausch on the town website. …

“Like the Catskill cats, once completed each owl will be posted at locations around the village for several months, and later auctioned off at an extravagant gala.

“Visitors to [the early September] Coxsackie Farmers Market got a taste of what is possible in creating an owl when local artist Ellen DeLucia put on display an owl she created just to get the creative juices flowing around town.

“ ‘When we started, we decided to buy one owl prototype and have Ellen DeLucia paint it to give people an idea of what it would look like,’ said Committee Chair Joseph Ellis, also a village trustee.” More at the Daily Mail, here.

Horses, ducks, owls, bears, cats. Dragons, Anyone? I’d definitely go out of my way to see dragons.

Photo: Melanie Lekocevic/Columbia-Greene Media
Artist Ellen DeLucia created the owl “Freedom” to give artists an idea of what a finished owl can look like.

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Photo: Bettmann/Corbis
Alan Lomax helped discover Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. Now 17,000 of his field recordings are online.

Back in the day, folklorist Alan Lomax recorded music of the people — in Britain, Ireland, the US, the Caribbean, the former USSR, and more. Now you can hear 17,000 recordings online.

Sean Michaels wrote at the Guardian in February, “The Association for Cultural Equity is to begin streaming 17,000 tracks recorded by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax …

“Lomax spent much of the 20th century collecting and promoting folk music. He founded the association in 1983, aiming to ‘explore and preserve the world’s expressive traditions.’ …

“This month, Lomax’s inheritors will unveil a website of his recordings, the Global Jukebox, allowing visitors to listen for free. While some of this music has been licensed for previous compilations, most is unheard. The association also plans to sell MP3s and CDs through the site.

” ‘This project has evolved as the technology has evolved,’ Lomax’s daughter, Anna Lomax Wood, told the New York Times. In addition to sound recordings, she hopes to make available her father’s footage of international dance styles, ‘the biggest private collection of dance film anywhere, and from everywhere.’ …

“[Lomax] introduced Pete Seeger to ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight,’ recorded Vera Hall’s ‘Trouble So Hard’ (made famous by Moby), and his recordings will even be featured on Bruce Springsteen’s forthcoming album, Wrecking Ball.” More at the Guardian, here.

These kinds of recordings are priceless. When music of ordinary people is lost, it is lost forever. I wish it were still possible to hear the original Hmong songs that Kao Kalia Yang describes in her breathtakingly beautiful The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father. The way Yang’s father moved his refugee audience with his songs of home, suffering, and hope is something I would have liked to experience.

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After feeling pretty under the weather for a couple days, I rejoiced to be back to normal on Friday, well enough to help out at the ESL class for Haitians in Boston, if not well enough to eat, say, a pizza. I feel the way you are supposed to feel when you stop hitting your head with a hammer. Perhaps you can tell that the two quirkier photos were taken in a happy mood.

Anyway, the collection represents more of my Rhode Island and Massachusetts travels, in sun and shade.

First, New Shoreham, Rhode Island, overcast but lovely.

The Providence photos start with the wild turkey I saw on a morning walk. Erik tells me the turkeys are common. He and the children followed a group of them one day to see if they could find out where they were headed.

Next comes a reproduction of the Hokusai’s “The Great Wave of Kanagawa” on the bleachers of a high school baseball stadium. Then a piece of art welcoming urban farmers to the Fox Point Community Garden. My third Providence photo shows the end of the line for an old train track near a new bikeway. The drawbridge has been frozen in time.

The off-kilter gargoyle is on a building at Downtown Crossing, Boston. Near there I took a picture of the mosaic at St. Anthony’s Shrine, where Lillian and I went to light a candle in amazement and gratitude for an election some years ago. Neither of us is Catholic, but we felt the need of a ceremony.

I had to look up St. Anthony on Wikipedia, which says, “He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on 16 January 1946. He is also the patron saint of lost things.”

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Photo: The Waterfront Partnership
Known as “Mr. Trash Wheel,” this floating device sucks up plastic from polluted harbors.

There’s an ongoing controversy about whether the energy spent on cleaning up trash in the ocean and other waterways should be devoted to eliminating trash at its source. I’m inclined to think we need to try everything.

Baltimore’s Mr. Trash Wheel is an example of dealing with the litter that got away.

Jackie Snow wrote about it at National Geographic. “Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel, the latter of which was installed in December, are solar- and hydro-powered trash interceptors based in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, clearing debris before it enters the Chesapeake Bay. Over a million pounds of trash has been pulled out of the water by Mr. Trash Wheel since it was installed in May 2014.

“The trash wheel’s creator, John Kellett, worked on the harbor for years and saw garbage floating on the water every day. A sailor and engineer, he approached the city and offered to take a stab at cleaning up the harbor. He built a pilot trash wheel and installed it in 2008. …

“The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, a local nonprofit organization that works on the harbor, noticed a significant reduction of the amount of trash during the pilot program. The organization approached Kellett and offered to get the funds for a bigger trash wheel. The result was installed at the end of the Jones Falls River, which empties into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Besides the pilot, no other like it had existed.

“ ‘No one knew what they were getting themselves into,” said Adam Lindquist, the director of Healthy Harbor Initiative at the ‎Waterfront Partnership.

“The contraption works by drawing power from solar panels and the current of Jones Falls River to turn a waterwheel, which in turn powers a conveyer belt. Containment booms direct the trash towards the conveyer belt, which then drops the debris into a waiting Dumpster. That bin sits on its own platform and can be floated out when it’s time to change it.

“Kellett keeps track of the garbage pulled out of the water. The haul includes almost nine million cigarette butts and over 300,000 plastic bags. The data is used to support environmental legislation. For example, the Waterfront Partnership recently supported a bill that would ban Styrofoam containers. Mr. Trash Wheel picks up an average of 14,000 Styrofoam containers a month, second only to cigarettes. …

“The waste is most often common consumer products, but some unusual things turn up occasionally, like a live ball python—which the National Aquarium in Baltimore helped rescue — and a keg, which was returned for a deposit. Once, an acoustic guitar in pretty good shape turned up. Lindquist asked to keep that one.”

More here and here, where you can see a diagram explaining how it works.

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The clouds on Wednesday were amazing here, and to share my photos of them, I first tried to find a cloud poem on Google.  But after reading several that weren’t quite right, I decided to change tack and see what I could learn about languages with numerous names for clouds.

That’s how I came across photographer and journalist Arati Kumar-Rao, who writes at Peepli about clouds in an Indian desert, where clouds are few and far between.

“There was excitement in the air. The horizon was flashing an intermittent neon in the darkness, silhouetting ghostly clouds.

“What are those clouds called? I asked. Chhattar Singh gazed into the distance, as if mining a lost memory. The words began to trickle — hesitant at first, then faster, crowding one another in his excitement. Those were kanThi, he said. And if they consolidate and promise rain, their name will change to ghaTaaTope. If the clouds become very dense, they’ll be called kaLaan.

“That night, the kanThi did not build up. It did not rain.

“Life stirred awake next morning under a pretty-patterned sky — tufts of white trailing in arcs and lines, horizon to blue horizon.

“We sat sipping chai and watching a distant wind ripple through a feathery, fruit-laden khejri. ‘Those clouds won’t rain either,’ I offered.

“ ‘Teetar pankhi’ Chhattar Singh replied. They had a word for this cloud pattern too – a perfect analogy that likened it to the pattern on the wings of a partridge.

“They say eskimos have 40 names for snow. I get that — they are surrounded by snow all year. The people of the Thar have just forty cloudy days in a year — and yet they have as many names for clouds! …

“The area I have been visiting over the past three years, the deep western part of the Thar desert, lies in Jaisalmer district. It is bounded on the north and west by Pakistan, in the east by Jodhpur district, in the south by Barmer district, and in the northeast by Bikaner district.

“The rainfall here is a meager 100-150mm, about a tenth of the national average and a pitiful 2 per cent of the rainfall Kerala and some other of the wettest areas in India get. For the people of the Thar, sighting clouds and rain are events. Memorable. Priceless. Because these moments hold the key to their very existence.” Read Kumar-Rao’s report here. I think you will like how respectful she is of Singh, controlling her instinct to ask a million questions.

My Massachusetts scenes don’t look much like the Thar desert, I know, but maybe clouds are similar everywhere.

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Photo: Travel Blog
Crow Hop dance, one of several being adapted for exercise classes on the reservation.

A fitness program for members of a tribe in Idaho is showing results with its combination of exercise and spirituality.

Emily Schwing reports at National Public Radio, “In Indian Country, a gym membership is not a cultural norm and the incidence of heart disease and obesity are high. Native Americans are 60 percent more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic whites. The Coeur D’Alene tribe, whose headquarters is in northern Idaho, is trying to combat the problem by incorporating culture into fitness programs.

“The tribe has created an exercise routine — called ‘Powwow Sweat’ — based on traditional dancing. The program features a series of workout videos that break down six traditional dances into step-by-step exercise routines.

” ‘Drop the pringles and let’s jingle,’ commands Shedaezha Hodge, as she demonstrates the steps that make up the women’s ‘Jingle Dress’ dance.

“High steps, box steps, cross steps and kicks combine into a routine that would give any Zumba class a run for its money. …

“All the dances in the exercise program are typical at powwows, including the ‘Men’s Fancy Dance’ — which features four basic steps and a hip move. The hip move involves lifting your knee up, then circling it out to the side, all the while bouncing to the drum beat.

” ‘I lost 13 1/2 pounds,’ says Ryan Ortivez, who attends the weekly ‘Powwow Sweat’ classes at the Coeur D’Alene Wellness Center, in Plummer, Idaho. …

“The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has given the Coeur D’Alene tribe $2 million to develop ‘Powwow Sweat.’ It also supports a community garden on the reservation and a project that stocks the gas station market with healthy food options. …

“Mainstream fitness and nutrition programs don’t meet the needs of tribal members, [LoVina Louie, director of the tribe’s wellness center] says.

” ‘What they lack is spirituality,’ says Louie. ‘Most programming is only physical, or it’s only nutrition. It’s in these compartments — whereas we’re more holistic,’ Louie says. …

“It’s this combination of tradition and exercise that keeps tribal member Ryan Ortivez and his neighbors coming to class each week, to watch the videos and dance alongside each other.

” ‘It’s a lot more attractive than doing jogging or the bicycle for me, because it also relates to my culture,’ says Ortivez.

I’m in love with my community, first and foremost,’ he says. ‘My people. I love to see my community get involved and get active and be healthy.’ “

More here. Be sure to see the great little videos.

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Love your universe. Here’s how.

First, as we discussed, there is forest bathing (note the comment on the June 15 post about regular forest-bathing excursions in Lowell, Mass.). Now we turn to star gazing. For both, you need to leave behind superfluous stuff like social media and bright lights.

Margaret Regan writes for the Guardian, “Take a nighttime drive into Arizona Sky Village, in a remote valley in south-east Arizona, and the only thing you can see clearly are the millions of stars twinkling overhead. Beyond the light show, the sky is a deep inky black, and the ground below is nothing but shadows. Dimmed car headlights might pick up spooked jackrabbits hopping through the desert brush, but the village’s unlit houses are all but invisible in the darkness.

“That’s the way the residents of this astronomy-loving community like it. The less light, the better their view of the universe.  …

“Arizona Sky Village is home to a quirky community of stargazers. Shielded by the nearby Chiricahua mountains from urban sky glow – scientists’ poetic name for light pollution – nearly every house in the rural 450-acre development has its own domed observatory, complete with an array of telescopes.

“Outdoor lights are strictly forbidden; blackout shades are required in every window of every house; and nighttime driving is discouraged. Most residents don’t want to be bothered with driving at night anyway: they’re too busy scanning the skies.

“ ‘This is what we do,’ villager Frank Gilliland says cheerfully one starry night as he peers through the community’s biggest telescope, a 24-incher belonging to neighbor Rick Beno. At the moment, the scope is aimed at the Milky Way through an open hatch in the dome of Beno’s personal observatory, giving Gilliland a crystal-clear view of the Orion nebula, a remarkable 1,344 light years away. …

“Most of the Sky Villagers had technical or scientific careers – Dr Fred Espenak, a bona fide astronomy pro, is a retired Nasa astrophysicist known as Mr Eclipse – but [Arizona Sky Village founder Jack] Newton spent his working life managing department stores in his native Canada. He always made time for the sky though, rambling miles into the countryside outside his hometown of Victoria. …

“When Jack retired, the Newtons wanted a break from rainy Victoria and its murky skies. After a first retirement stop at a sky village in Florida, Newton and development partner Gene Turner came out to Arizona to scout dark places.

“The isolated stretch of treeless desert they found outside Portal was perfect: it was sparsely populated, 150 miles distant from Tucson, the nearest city, and velvety black at night. Now some 21 households live there peaceably under Newton’s Law: they cover up their windows and they turn off the ‘goddam’ lights. …

“Even Arizona’s state government – not known for progressive policies – has restricted electronic billboards. The flashy placards are allowed only in several designated sites at least 75 miles from the venerated Grand Canyon and from the Kitt Peak and Mt Lemmon observatories. In 2012, the then governor Jan Brewer vetoed a 2012 attempt to light up more of the state’s highways with dancing electronic videos, declaring that she refused to put astronomy in jeopardy. As she noted, the industry contributes $250m annually to Arizona’s economy and employs more than 3,300 people.” More here.

Seems a shame to have to make economic arguments to do good, but whatever works. We do need to keep seeking common ground when addressing challenges.

Photograph: Rick Beno
Emission Nebula in Aries. Arizona Sky Village is one of the best places in America to see the stars.

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