Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Seeing America sideways (from a long-distance train)

When you travel by train you never look forward, maybe a little backward, but mostly sideways. Quickly landscapes swish past, except at stations where speeds slow down.


You see the backyard of American lives, not the front meant for eye consumption.  What you see are the alleys, backyards, abandoned lots, weedy places and industrial parks far from the manicured front lawns of highways and city streets.


Bridges and tunnels provide structure and landscape channels - light or dark, over water or through rock.  Both have that sense of danger, non is completely safe, but fascinating and exciting. Better to be back on firm ground though. In the forests and swamps no people are present, their sometimes presence just marked by old, dried-out ATV ruts, a barely holding-together deer stand in a tree, or the remnants of a dock, long since gone. I imagine alligators and beavers in the lakes, but see white egrets and maybe a deer.

Through the backyards and hidden lives of Americans, from swimming-pools so small they are non-swimmable, to room extension after room extension built out back, maybe to fit ever-growing families.

Like an invisible snake  the polished train passes through, nobody, except some young excited kids that not have have learned to ignore, pays attention to the metal Amtrak tech wonder, pushed by electricity down the tracks.  Everybody else doesn't even look up, they go on with their business, be it hanging laundry, carrying groceries, running a red light, yelling at some kids, waiting for the bus with the headphones plugged in, or doing homework behind a dirty window...

Weedy plants are everywhere, covering up the empty spaces people left behind - an old parking lot, railroad sidings, ruins of factories with their hand-painted names that can barely be seen on the old bricks, and neglected yards.  Abundant green life everywhere. They are pretty, but uncontrolled - red leaves color the landscape in sunset colors in the middle of the October day.  Sumac, kudzu, virginia creeper, mugwort and tree-of-heaven... Each plant has a story and the humans have stories about it, all linked to human histories and miseries.

The train on its shiny steel tracks cuts through it all, relentless, just passing by on to distant places, different lives. Behind it are kids starting, pointing, and laughing, and maybe imagining jumping on, one day.

(Written after taking the train today from Trenton to Washington, DC, and passing through Wilmington, Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland, and over Delaware River and Susquehanna River. All photos are taken from the train, many at full speed, so they are of course blurry, and therefore accurate.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

A year later... superstorm Sandy remembered

2012 was a bad storm year, really bad, and this year we have been incredibly lucky.

Sweden (and Britain) is right now being hit by hurricane Simone, that is wreaking havoc a year later after Sandy, exactly.  We are used to storms now, we have two generators, food  (lots), a gas stove, buckets,  backup sump pumps, extra gasoline for the generators, flashlights, emergency radio, and we know our neighbors...  I don't think most people in Sweden are as prepared because the weather is nicer there, usually.  Our power has probably gone out at least 10 times this year already... rotten infrastructure, indeed. Also a lot of rotten trees.

I remember it all how it was a year ago, very vividly, hearing the noises of the storm that hit our house around midnight and hearing booms and cracks in the dark, power going out, and then trying to sleep for a bit, and waking up in the morning to a changed world.  Here are some photos from back then.  I hope you weather the storm better in Sweden tonight.

After hurricane Sandy, New Jersey
Yep, that is a power pole with a transformer on it.

After hurricane Sandy, New Jersey
Christmas fell over.

There used to be a forest here, after hurricane Sandy
There used to be a very dark pine forest here.

nor'easther Athena
And then, on November 8, still without neighborhood electric power, we got this. Nice! Not. (I love snow, just not right then.)

If you want to revisit our blog posts on hurricane Sandy, just look under keyword hurricane, or search for 'Sandy' in the search box.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunsets around the world

Tonight, while driving to pick up LA, there was a golden-red sunset in the west.  One of those that we described in Swedish as 'the sky is on fire" (himmelen står i brand). It made me think of other amazing sunsets I have seen around the world, and how amazing it is that a fireball far away affects our colors and emotions so much.  So, here is a trip around the world in sunsets:

 Sunset and thunder in Brazil
Brazil, near Itaiaia National Park, between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, sunset on thunderclouds in the rainforest.

sunset over Palo Verde marshlands
Costa Rica, over Palo Verde marshlands in early spring.

sunset over Klarabergskanalen
Sunset over Stockholm in September, Sweden (of course)

Chicago sunset 2
Chicago sunset, in Illinois, USA, out on Lake Michigan. A hot day in August.

November sunset at the Sourland Mountain
Sourland Mountains, New Jersey, USA, with oaks and ash trees in the foreground.  Home. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On the cinema

The life of Monica Zetterlund is presented on the cinema. She was a fantastic jazz singer and her music is loved by many. The other interesting thing here is the cinema "Bio Kontrast". In this case (our town) the city hall also have a concert hall, which is used for movies. When I grew up, I could see, for example, French and Russian films on Bio Kontrast, in a small cinema in the library basement in my old home town. These movies were not the mainstream movies, but a bit peculiar. Like Koyaanisqatsi and Pica Pica about magpies, not a word spoken).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stamp of the day: Insects and spiders

American insect and other invertebrate fauna is colorful, diverse, and fascinating.  Just here on our place in New Jersey, we have 10+ cm long praying mantises, walking sticks, migrating giant dragonflies and monarch butterflies, large wasp-colored garden spiders, scorpion flies, and a myriad other arthropods.  It is now October, and most of them are gone, but we still here katydids and cicadas in the trees at night.  When there is a warm day, the pesty and invasive brown marmorated stink bugs show up and try to get into our house to hibernate.  We don't see that many Asian lady beetles anymore, they seem to have been reduced in numbers, after their giant invasion a few years ago. There were some years we had to suck them up with vacuum cleaners from the ceiling corners in our living room.  But most insects are not invasive and over-abundant, but form an important piece of the ecosystem puzzle.  Enjoy!
{Sheet of stamps from United States}

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fall colors

I love the red hues that our sumac plants create along highways, fences and forest edges this time of the year. Here is a photo from today's rainy morning.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Old cars by SAAB

When we were small, we had a car exactly like this one. It is funny how the mind works, suddenly I remember details like the chromed list, the window scraper on the frontlights that moved side to side, the shape of the door handles. LS, what is your memory?

Both these cars are standing in a backyard not far from my house.