One of the things I really wanted to do with this list was to try new things and have new experiences. But I also wanted to challenge myself to complete some long overdue goals. This is one that was 10 years in the making but I’m excited to cross it off the list and share it with all of you.
10 years ago I got an acoustic guitar for my 40th birthday. I’m ashamed to admit that being such a music lover that I don’t play any instruments. I figured I would try my hand at guitar finally. When I started off I was excited, but I realized that either I was not putting the effort and practice in…or that it just wasn’t coming natural to me. Honestly it was both.
Sure, I learned some notes, some chord changes and snippets of songs and all of that but that was not the hard part. It was seamlessly shifting between chords where I felt my short stubby fingers were always fumbling. And that frustrated me and led me to letting the guitar sit there for weeks at a time.
But I wanted to give it one more serious try when I put the list together. A few weeks ago I thought wait….a Christmas song might be just the thing. So I went through some of the well known songs trying to pick one before settling on Silent Night. At first I was fumbling with the changes, but I watched some tutorials and practiced every day for a bit. I worked on a strumming pattern that made sense for me. I think I channeled some of John Fahey’s wonderful solo Guitar Christmas albums and added a few subtle touches of my own. I was learning a song!
So here it is…a little rough perhaps, and I was a little freaked out by filming myself but here for you all is me playing Silent Night.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!
Silent Night-Written By Franz Gruber & Joseph Mohr
I knew when I made this list that a lot of them were going to be seasonal. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to a few of the outdoors one before the cold weather settled in so I will focus instead on the ones I can do now through the remainder of fall and winter. As several of them are more locally based, I hope to make a real dent in the list. I was therefore happy to cross Number 22 off the list.
Sometime back, I saw a documentary series on Netflix about the ‘business’of stolen artwork, particularly by the Nazis in World War II. One episode featured the story of Gustav Klimt’s ‘Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Now I studied a bit of art history in college, and I enjoy going to art museums wherever I happen to find myself. There are an awful lot of artists, and even more great works of art out there, and I’m honestly not sure if I ever was aware of this painting before seeing the documentary. If I had seen it in an art book before I failed to notice its splendor. Once the camera panned in and out of view looking at the ornate details of the work I was mesmerized.
Klimt relied heavily on gold and silver leaf for the painting. Broad swaths of gold and smaller decorative motifs give it the feeling of a Byzantine work of art. As the documentary continued, I was surprised to find that it was actually housed in a museum in New York City. I made a mental note that one day I had to see it in person. So finally this past Sunday, I made my way up to Fifth Avenue and 86th Street (part of what is known as Museum Mile) to visit a new museum for me-The Neue Gallery.
Actually in terms of museums, the Neue Gallery is still quite young, having been established in 2001 and dedicated to twentieth century art from Germany and Austria. It sits within what was formerly the William Starr Miller House. As I get older I seem to find myself appreciating the smaller museums more and more. The big museums like the Metropolitan Museum Of Art have something for everyone of course, but I find myself overwhelmed and over saturated at times by the scale of it all. So smaller museums such as the Neue, dedicated to a specific type of art or era appeal to me now.
On Sunday I started meandering through the galleries. I remember going to the Louvre once and watching the mass procession to see the Mona Lisa ignoring everything else nearby. So I decided that I wanted to stumble upon Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer I organically. To turn a corner and realize it was in front of me. When I did it was more magical than I could have imagined. The gold was just so much more vibrant than the pages of a book or a TV show could possibly show. There was a seat directly behind the painting and I sat for a few moments scanning every detail of the work. Even when I got up and began exploring the other paintings in the gallery, I kept glancing at it. Almost as if it was saying-you can’t look away. It is I feel one of the special paintings in all of the art world.
So special in fact that its legend seems to be growing more by the year. There are books and other documentaries and last night I watched ‘Woman In Gold,’ a 2015 film with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds about the true story of Maria Altmann’s (Adele Bloch-Bauer’s niece) efforts to return ownership of it and several other Klimt paintings back to the Bloch-Bauer estate. Those efforts eventually led to the painting being purchased and now permanently housed in the Neue Gallery.
So I definitely recommend a visit to the Neue Gallery to see this little gem of a museum, but most of all to see the Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer. You will not regret it! https://www.neuegalerie.org/
Photo of Neue Gallery By Robert P. Doyle
Photo of Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer- Public Domain/Wikipedia
On I go with the list, trying to cross off as many of the ones I can do in the nice fall weather. Number 25-Go Bird Watching was one I was really excited to do. I never paid much attention to birds growing up, but when I worked at a garden center for a number of years in my 20’s and early 30’s I became especially interested in backyard birdfeeders. I had several different kinds designed to attract many varieties of birds and enjoyed watching them up close.
But going bird watching is something different entirely. It involves a fair amount of preparation beforehand-finding the best spots for viewing, the best time to see the most birds, what camera equipment to bring, what field guides to carry. Indeed even what apps to get for your phone to help with bird identifying. I did a little research and discovered that just like with Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is something of a bird watchers mecca. I saw online a place called The Ravine and was immediately intrigued to find it because I don’t know Prospect Park well.
My good and dear friend Carol volunteered to join me last Sunday morning to cross this item off the bucket list. After a mandatory stop for coffee, we set out to find The Ravine. To be honest it was a gray and damp day. One of those days I could have easily said screw it…I want to stay in bed and sleep. But I was really excited to get out there and see what we would find. Unfortunately maybe the birds had the same notion I did, because initially Carol and I were not seeing or hearing too much out there. It took us awhile to find the Ravine as well, because it is well and truly tucked away in the middle of the park. Surprisingly at one point there were people on horses riding right past us. Eventually we both sensed we were near, and then came the unmistakable sound of running water. Niagara Falls it is not….but it is a beautiful little oasis in the middle of a busy park and an even busier city. We both stopped to take lots of photographs of the falls.
Getting back to the birds, other than a few flying high above us, we were not really seeing or hearing anything much, even though our binoculars and zoom lenses were primed and ready. At one point we saw several medium size birds hopping around and searching for food near a little stream. The combination of the cloudy day and the limits of the zoom on my lens meant I really did not get great, clear photos of them. I also did not recognize them initially. I had a suspicion but wanted to consult the bird guides after we were done. We moved on and Carol observed one spot where the birds were flying back and forth high above us in the trees. From high above the occasional acorn fell to the ground below. Various calls were going on all around us. Though there was not much actual bird watching going on, but there was a lot of bird listening.
And that’s when it kind of hit me. Being a photographer, and having Carol (also an awesome photographer) there with me, I might have made a rookie mistake in thinking that we were going to see dozens of varieties all there in front of us, ready to have their photo taken. I wanted to go bird watching because I wanted to experience those moments of stillness-of watching, waiting, listening that sadly seems to be missing so much these days. As we sat there, necks craned high above us, desperate for something, anything to come within view to get a photograph, I lost sight of that fact. That bird watching is in fact nature watching, and observing. And when I realized that, I was not disappointed that I had not taken good photos. I was not disappointed that I had not seeing rare and exciting species. I was out with a good friend enjoying the treasures of nature that surround us even in the big city. That was what made the experience enjoyable. And it was also only a first of course. Of all the activities I added to this bucket list, I already knew that once I went bird watching once, I would want to do it again. Later on, sitting in a bar having a well deserved beer and a burger I realized why.
Those birds hopping around by the stream that I thought I recognized but was unsure of? Well my instinct from the color of the breast was that they were robins…but something about the coloring of the head and their size did not seem right at first. Eagerly Carol and I looked at the bird guide I had, and also at an app on my phone where it was confirmed that they were in fact robins. But what I realized is that even though it was not a rare bird sighting I had accomplished what I had wanted. First, I actually got out and did it on a lazy Sunday morning. Second, I had observed the terrain, watched the movement of birds high above. I had listened to birdsong chirping all around me. But mostly when I consulted the book, I realized that I was actually bird watching. It did not matter that it was a robin-a bird I have seen plenty of. I don’t ever recall having seen them in such a deep wooded setting. But checking the book out revealed to me the habits of the bird, as well, and explained why I was seeing what I was seeing. Just like the observing, the research is part of it too. So mission accomplished! Thanks again to my buddy Carol for joining me!
Okay it is time to get back to my list again after some time away. I moved last month so the last few weeks have taken prevented me from pursuing items on the list. In addition August is oppressively hot in NYC so I hibernated for much of the last month. But its time to start crossing more things off my list, so this past Sunday I managed to cross two off in one day. So without further delay, here we go!
#37-Drive 100 mph on a back road.
Now this is one I have wanted to do for a very long time. If only for the sensation of seeing that needle on the speedometer hit the 100 mph mark, if only briefly. Of course there is probably nowhere in the entire U.S. where that speed is legal outside of a race course. I know that in the deserts of the southwest people routinely punch the speed limit between points because there is just vast amounts of emptiness, and scarcely any other drivers on the road. But in the northeast especially, it is tough to find roads so sparsely populated. You will read more below about the roads I was on, but suffice it to say at one point early on Sunday morning I came across a stretch of road that seemed like I could make it happen. At the time I was going the allowable 65-70 mph speed limit but I decided to just do it. It’s Now Or Never as someone once sang.
Ahead in the distance were a car or two. Behind me I saw nothing, and saw no police cars in the vicinity. I took a deep breath bracing myself for the likelihood of getting a speeding ticket, but it was definitely one of those ‘fuck it’ moments in my life where I said-just do it. Now I was not driving a sports car, but rather an old Honda, so I had to ease into it a bit. 75….80….85 within 20 seconds I would guess. I had that flicker of panic at that point. Should I keep going? Was I going to chicken out? I decided to trust that desire I had to do this in the first place. I pressed down on the accelerator further with my eyes glued ahead of me. The car started shimmying a little bit, but felt good under my hands nonetheless. Eyes glued to the road ahead of me and with a worrying ear out for a police siren I kept going for what felt like an eternity but in reality was just another 20-25 seconds or so. I have been in fast moving trains before, watching the world whiz by but this felt vastly different because I was controlling the action. It did feel faster. It felt exhilarating. I looked down at the speedometer and saw the needle was just past the 100 mph line. I had done it! I switched over to the brake now and eased the car back towards normal speed. It took even less than the entire acceleration process. Best of all, there were no flashing lights or sirens chasing after me! It may have been only for a few fleeting seconds, but it fulfilled a long held desire.
#46-Go on a random road trip.
When I wrote this one down on my list I envisioned a multiple day road trip, but the likelihood of that happening anytime soon for me is not so great. But then I realized, you can make a good single day road trip too. If a road trip is driving aimlessly with songs on the stereo and not caring about where you wind up in the end, then it makes no difference how long it is. Because this past month has been so oppressive, and because it was a long holiday weekend, I decided Sunday would be a great day to make it happen. Though I had set my alarm for 8:30 am to get ready, in truth I was really excited to just start driving and when I woke up ahead of my alarm at 7, I got my stuff together, fueled up with some coffee and hit the road.
I knew I was heading north of the city towards the Hudson Valley of New York. It is one of my most favorite places in truth. Once out of the suburbs, the towns get a little smaller. Though marred by the occasional strip mall, and chain restaurants, the towns up this way still have a lot of old school charm. I love exploring them all and finding remnants of the past scattered about. The terrain opens up too, and with the Hudson River on one side of you, the hills and valleys rise in all directions among the curving roads. Miles go by with nothing much to see, but in that good way when emptiness is satisfying. The occasional farm darts the landscape set among the green hills. So too do wineries and roadside antique stores. But it has always been the little towns I find so fascinating. My first stop was the town of Wappingers Falls after doing an hours worth of meandering on back roads and getting deliberately lost. Stopping to turn around, going left when signs for the highway say to go right, that sort of thing.
Again taking the side roads I next headed for the larger city of Poughkeepsie. I’ve never really explored the city before and I found some interesting little neighborhoods of old houses and churches. I realized though that instead of meandering around those neighborhoods, I instead wanted to do the Walkway Over The Hudson. This is a re-purposed former railroad bridge that is now only for pedestrians and bikes. It was a wonderful experience to be able to walk over the mighty Hudson River in such a pleasant way without cars whizzing past. It was a leisurely walk on a nice day, and I took pause to take some photos of the Hudson River and the nearby Mid-Hudson Bridge (for vehicle traffic).
From there I gradually turned south and inland, before making my way to another great old Hudson River town-Cold Spring for some lunch. I know that town well from previous visits and it is always nice to go back there. Eventually I started winding my way home, purposely staying off the highway and feeling content in the decision. Highways move you faster but without much scenery. Back roads move you slower but with lots of things to soak in. That is the definition of a road trip for me. As I parked the car and reflected on the day again I felt refreshed. Hours worth of driving usually has the opposite effect. But purposely setting out to do nothing in particular, to see nothing in particular reminded me that is often when I see things the most. And road trips are one of the best ways to achieve that. See below for some photos of the day, as well as my favorite driving song of all time, absolutely required when I set out on a road trip!
Mid-Hudson Bridge, Poughkeepsie
Falling In And Out Of Love/Amie-Written By Craig Fuller
After a week recovering from celebrating 50, I thought it was time to dive in and begin crossing some items off the list. Its probably obvious but I should just mention that there was no plan to do these in order. I think its fun just to randomly cross things off as the year goes on. So we’ll start with this one, which I am rather terrified of. Writing a blog the past (almost) 5 years is one thing. Those are sometimes hastily thrown ideas together, adding a photo and a song and I can call myself a ‘writer’. But the few little bits of fiction and this poem you are about to read represent ‘real’ writing. And that is rather terrifying to me. Even more so because it is a poem. I enjoy reading them and I actually have found myself returning to that recently. But writing them…oh lord!
I took as inspiration a few photos I took of a tree on the property of my family in Ireland. Long time readers here know I have a thing for trees, and indeed might recall these photos from older posts. I have always been drawn to the idea of how strong trees are. Even when the tree is gone, the roots stay deep in the ground long after. They are powerful things and speak to me of the strength we find in our family and friends but more importantly the resilience deep inside of us. So don’t judge me too harshly for these randomly constructed words!
VeinsVeins churning below the earthstrike out into the darkened voidseeking, searching not for lightbut deeper fortitudeVeins climbing the sky laddergrasping for the shimmering skyFurther, higher by the daycapturing the universe itself with a clutch Veins of multiple colored huebalance the natural architecture in viewA swishing, shifting sound on the breezeof nature's choirThese veins sit for generationsA sentinel to history. A guardian, a protectorBending, not breaking to time's willThese veins do not fadeVeins in the earthVeins in our handsRooted and pulsingCrisscrossing between our worlds
Well today is a special day for me. Yes today-July 11, 2018 is my 50th Birthday! It scarcely seems possible. Moments that seemed like yesterday are getting more distant its true, but when you realize that the distance is 20, 30 or maybe even 40 years ago you know you’re getting old! Those of you close to me know that there have been some changes in my life recently and it has been a little chaotic. But as this day drew nearer I started thinking about how I wanted to celebrate it. The celebratory with friends and family part starts tonight and will continue for the next three nights, but I wanted to do something more to mark the occasion. I remembered a friend had done a 50 things to do bucket list to mark the occasion and I decided to do the same thing.
The goal is to do as many of these with my friends as possible in the next year. The deadline will be before my 51st birthday in 2019. Some are things I have always wanted to do. Some are more recent. Some are places I have long wanted to go to which includes places in my own home town. A few are things I have done on some level before but want to do them bigger and better than I originally did them. Altogether the list was actually harder to put together than I thought it would be. I could just list travel destinations but it seems unlikely to get too many of those done in one year. So for any of you out there reading this who want to be a part of it, let me know in the comments below after the list! Activities are more fun with friends. Some of them I will really need to rely on you, my friends to help me do it.
To really do this list up right though, I thought it would be extra fun to write about my experiences doing everything off this list. So…welcome to a new corner of my blog not related to music or photography! The plan is to write a short piece about each one, let you all know what the next one will be, and continue going until I’m finished. I’m really excited for this. So without delay, here is the full list!
Take a train or plane somewhere completely on a whim with no plans
Ride a jet ski
Paint or draw art
Run a 5K race
Learn a whole song on the guitar
Be a guest bartender
Have a photo featured on a major site
Get a shout out from a singer on stage
Swim naked in the ocean
Get a tattoo
Get ear pierced
Camp at the beach
Keep score at a baseball game
Begin learning a language
Finish writing my book
Be a guest speaker
Go whitewater rafting
Do a big zipline
Eat new and exotic foods
Exhibit photos at a group show
Go to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
Go to the Neue Gallery in Manhattan
Go to the Tenement Museum in Manhattan
Go to the Statue Of Liberty
Go Bird Watching
Go Sky watching/Astronomy with someone knowledgeable
Take a cooking class
Bake a Cake
Write a Poem
Climb a mountain
Take sailing lessons
See the wild horses on Assateague Island
Win money on a horse race
Take a photography class
Drive 100mph on a back road
Visit New Orleans
Read at least 50 books
Ride a moped or scooter
Learn to make a really complex cocktail
Ride a steam train
Learn Tai Chi
Have an article published in a magazine or website
Go on a random road trip
Learn a magic trick
Be a guest DJ
Make a new list when this list is completely finished!
So, sit back and enjoy what I know will be some fun and challenging exploits. And you are welcome to join me or at the very least, encourage me as I go forward.