Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

These minimalist photographs seem to tell a story of a philosophical extension beyond what we actually see. We wonder, what is over the horizon or after the last step on a staircase. The tattered phone booth reminds us that we can ignore the rustic housing and pick up a phone and dial anywhere in world. The macro lens extends our eye in to the world of the ladybug, as her tiny feet step into the crevices of her journey.

<a href=””>Minimalist</a&gt;

In Art Imitating Life, I posted a photograph in which workers were unloading a truck and, by coincidence, that scene was depicted exactly in the mural right above their heads. It’s delightful to catch those moments, but photographers can set up similar interactions with art, creating an entire new pictorial presentation, while sometimes adding a bit of whimsy. Another blog post, Mea Culpa: Breaking the Rules at the Art Museum, has an example of creating a new vignette from an old painting.

Here’s a series of photographs that incorporates a new portrayal of a work of art. The photographer doesn’t just take a picture of art, but rather creates a new interpretation from the surrounds or by including their own additions to the scene.

subway station

The escalator provides the conduit for real-life subway patrons to become part of a scene of a train station mural.

Sign Duplicationjpg

Message on the wall replicates the sign the men are holding, reinforcing the theme.


Using a mirror in a still life display to insert a selfie.

Black and White

A couple stands in front of a mural in West Philadelphia. Since the mural is painted in black and white, I changed the color in the photograph to match the background.


When traveling through France we were often lost, and to tell that story, I am asking directions to unresponsive statuary.

Have you incorporated an interesting art piece into any of your photographs to create a new vision? Leave a link in the comments!



longwood-gardens-gazebo closeLongwood Gardens, one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the United States, is a popular destination for visitors in the spring and winter holidays. One of my favorite memories is the skating performances, set in a snow-covered backdrop with colored lights reflecting on the ice.

I couldn’t imagine how the autumn season could complete with the holiday display, but every path through the garden offered beautiful vistas and colorful flowers. On this clear October afternoon, I walked by two lakes, through the meadows, into the woods, over to the train display and inside the conservatory. Even though the parking lot was filled with cars, over 1,000 acres allows visitors to explore the many sites without crowds.

Several months ago I visited Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, where G-scale model trains and trolley cars ran along a quarter-mile of track through a magical garden setting. Longwood Gardens has built a similar display incorporating colorful plants and water features into their train layout.

Given the number of bulbs and gardeners working on the plantings, that display should be spectacular come spring time.

Longwood Gardens bulbs

Did you ever say to yourself, “You’ve got to be young to do that,” and you might have been twenty-something looking at kids jumping on a trampoline? I’ve made up my mind, I’m not going to tell myself I’m too old for a new adventure. Research confirms that learning a mentally demanding skill will improve our thinking processes, especially if we move out of our comfort zone.

A recent bicycle ride along Kelly Drive lingered in my memory as I thought back to that warm afternoon cycling along the river while watching the rowers slide along the water. So when I looked at the courses offered at Mt. Airy Learning Tree, one of the classes, Row the Schuylkill, enticed me to sign up.

How many of us have wondered what it must be like to glide effortlessly along the Schuylkill River in a rowing shell? This course will provide one of the vest vantage point in the city to watch seasons change in Philadelphia.

I tried to ignore my hesitation. I’ve had a hip replaced the other is, well, giving me some feedback now. Regardless, I signed up and returned to the gym for some exercise on the rowing machine.

The Schuylkill River flows through Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, one of the largest city parks in the country. The Philadelphia city scape sets a dramatic backdrop to the river with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Waterworks buildings and the famous boat house row.

Our launching dock is upriver from the architectural landmarks, and from that vantage, trees follow the river on both sides. Only the sound of traffic speeding along the Kelly Drive thoroughfare reminds me that we are in the city. The evening sun is setting and the water takes on the colors of the fading sky. In the distance, a brown stone bridge arches over the river.

IMG_8088Arriving early for my first class, I pause at the edge of the river. What surprises me most is the number of boats on the water–it’s actually crowded with sculls, dragon boats and the small motored vessels transporting coaches next to their teams. Students load and unload along the docks, lifting their sculls over their heads as they return to shore.

Examining the scull on the shoreline, I see an entirely different perspective than watching the boat in the river. The sculls are surprisingly long for just four rowers, the quad size. I thought to myself, how do we ever maneuver such a long craft, let alone sit in that narrow well? Paddlers use two oars in a scull, one in each hand. I thought this is going to take some coördination.


Whatever doubts I had about my first analysis, were soon dispelled by our instructor and coach, Brannon Johnson. With a decade of experience and as a four-year Division I collegiate athlete at the University of Texas, Brannon made beginners feel at ease with her lighthearted approach and detailed instructions. Although I have to say, I was very envious of the experienced group, who just got to hop into the scull and immediately paddle down river. Neubees had to learn a few skills and strategies first.

The first challenge: getting into the boat without falling into the water. Brannon demonstrates how to step in the boat with one foot (an actual diagram of a foot is imprinted there, it’s that important to step correctly.) I envisioned myself stepping on the boat while one foot on the shore and doing a split. I moved my leg over quickly. I noticed when the other rowers rocked the boat just a little, it seems that it could be easily tipped.

Sculling beginning

Want to go fast like the other guys!

Kado holds the tether so that prevents the novice from floating down steam out of control.

Kado holds the tether so that prevents the novice from floating down steam out of control.

On the second lesson, I had the first chance to row in the quad. After managing to get safely in the boat, Brannon patiently repeats the instructions: square and feather. You hold the oars squared when pulling in the water and feather (when face is flat) while returning the oar to the stroke position. What I had the most trouble with is not pressing down on the oars. Pressing down while stroking means the oar is not in the water but rather flying unhappily in the air. Even while feathering, the oar is supposed to stay close to the water. I have slight dyslexic tendencies, so the order of things can sometimes be difficult. I somehow confused the square with the feather and interchanged them from time to time. Yikes! Kado, one of the assistants provides extra guidance on the single scull.

Brannon reports that we all did very well as nobody landed in the water, which did happen during the one of the other classes. Does make a good photo opportunity, she noted.

Lesson three is the most fun so far as we actually row down the river. Rowing demands concentration. I wanted to admire the scenery and gaze at the water; but when I tried that, I found that I became out of sync with my fellow rowers. Sculling demands a cadence, matching the movements of the others. While bending the knees, the seat rolls forward and then rolls back while pulling the oar through the water. I had to remember to place the left hand over right, and since left and right are interchangeable due to my dyslexia, I had to keep my brain focused on that position. Scullers face backwards; in the larger crafts coxswains monitor the direction.

During class four, I return to the quad with two experienced rowers on board, making the skill more demanding as the cadence became faster and consistent. As in the last time, I focus all my concentration on the stroking, repeating to myself the steps as we glide up the river and under the bridge. Rosie, our coach, advises rowers on our techniques. At one point, I “catch a crab,” which means that an oar gets caught awkwardly in the water. Rosie gets me back on track and into the cadence again. My muscles feel the effect of the exercise, but I have graduated to higher skill level!

Lowering Quad

Lowering the Quad

The evening weather continues warm and beautiful for lesson five. Children load off and on paddle boats lined up along the dock. Under the guidance of Brannon, I practice stroking in the single scull.

During the last lesson, Brannon offers to take me out on the launch in the interest of promoting the sport on social media, since I mentioned that I was a blogger and would like to take video footage. Altogether we have two singles, one double and two quads out on the river, and we experience another beautiful evening on the water for our final session.

Check out on Facebook BLJ Community Rowing, “a program that is welcoming to all who want to try (or already love) the sport of rowing.” So if you have thought about learning a new skill, whether rowing or anything else, I’ll leave you with this quote:

Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.
~ Chinese Proverb

Rite of Passage: the Summer Camp Experience 1957

For many children in the U.S., the summer camp experience has become a right of passage: separating from parents, friends and a familiar neighborhood to live in “the great outdoors” and learn life strategies of how to get along with adults and other children. According to the American Camp Association, nearly 11 million kids attend one of the 7,000 overnight camps each summer, with stays ranging from a week to two months. I had classmates whose parents sent them to camp for the entire summer. Research suggests that camp can build confidence, social skills, and independence. Probably for most kids, the experience is a mixed bag, like life.

Girl Scout camp Hidden Falls provided that experience for my sister, Jean, and her two friends. Jean wrote my parents the quintessential camp letter, “Please, please come get me! I hate it! . . . almost mimicking to a tea Allan Sherman’s hit single record years later, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” a comic song in which a camper bemoans his experiences to the tune of Ponchielli‘s Dance of the Hours.

Take me home, oh Mudda Fadda
Take me home, I hate Granada
Don’t leave me out in the forest where
I might get eaten by a bear

Camp Nik-o-Mahs, in the Mountains of Central Pennsylvania 

I remember being intrigued by the Camp Nik-o-Mahs brochure. The camp was once a scout camp founded in the 1920 and named for the nearby town of Shamokin, spelled backwards, that is. The Hall family, who lived in my hometown of Springfield, operated the camp. The list of activities sounded exciting: archery, swimming in a creek, campfires, canoeing, all in a woodsy atmosphere. The cabins resembled little clapboard houses with porches. The camp sponsored overnight hikes and a trip through a water cave. In 1958 the brochure read that campers can “frolic to their heart’s content” in the creek. [1] An adventurous 11-year old, I loved all of that so I begged my parents to let me go. They were not so enthusiastic. My folks were protective and not convinced that the experience would be as joyful as I was imaging. The begging paid off, however, and they submitted the application what I think was about $35 for a week. What could happen in a week, after all?

First Day of Camp (me in the back)

First Day of Camp (me in the back)

Introduction to Latrine Duty

After a four-hour drive, but which seemed endless–due to my excitement, we arrived at the camp. Each cabin had three sets of bunk beds, with four to six sharing girls the quarters. About nineteen cabins lined along a dirt path, the girls’ cabins grouped together, then the boys’ cabins further down. I think there was a rule about not being allowed on the boys’ side.

After saying good-bye to parents, counselors explained the rules and regulations and gave us a tour of the camp. They pointed out the shower room. You could take a bath, but you had to do something with water, like build a fire, to make it hot. I didn’t take any baths.

I was nervous about getting along with the counselor and other girls in the cabin. I recall that I thought the counselor was a bit bossy, but I soon became friends with the other campers and enjoyed their company.

The next morning we dutifully cleaned our cabin, as instructed, and awaited inspection. Beds had to be neat, clothes put away, and the floor clean. Counselors marched in with clipboards and pencils and snooped around the corners of the cabin and found two “dust bunnies” under my bed. For the offense, they assigned our cabin the dreaded latrine duty. Later I would tell my mom about what happened, and she was quite indignant that she was paying good money only to have her daughter clean toilets. The job wasn’t that bad, actually, it was more the idea of cleaning toilets. Our cabin passed all subsequent inspections.

Campfire Philosophy

At the first evening campfire, the camp director introduced us to the hierarchy of swimming privileges. The top place was reserved for the members of the Walrus Club, who carried a card with their special designation and were permitted to swim in the deep water. I made up my mind that night that I would take the swimming test the next day, as I wanted to enhance my status with a Walrus Club membership.

Campfires were held almost every evening, and we would sing the typical camp songs.  Looking back on these songs, I’ve realized that the theme of mortality ran through the lyrics of many of these songs.

There was a ship Titanic that sailed the ocean blue,
And they thought they had a ship that the water wouldn’t go through,
It was sad when the great ship went down.
Husbands and wives, little children lost their lives (in a high voice)
It was sad when the great ship went down.

Can’t Get to Heaven
Can’t get to heaven on roller skates, you’ll roll right past those pearly gates.
I ain’t going to grieve my lord no more, no more.

Found a Peanut
Found a peanut, ate a peanut, got a stomach ache, called the doctor, died anyway, went to heaven, said go the other way.

Maybe these songs were trying to tell us we wouldn’t always be carefree kids and that we’d better wise up to the ways of the world.

Not sure if singing these other lines from the Titanic song also put a psychological bent into my head for class consciousness, which I’ve been confronting of late?

They were nearing to the shore, when the water began to pour.
And the rich refused to associate with the poor,
So they sent them down below
Where they’d be the first to go.
It was sad when the great ship went down.

Food, Glorious Food

Reveille played over the intercom to wake us in the morning, and we lined up at the mess hall for breakfast. We sat on benches in front of long tables, food served in large bowls. At home, we didn’t usually have bread with our dinner, but here everyone scoffed up the bread. Mom told me that after I returned from camp, I ate everything. The camp experience had expanded my palate!

The camp operated a little store, and parents left an allowance for incidentals. I became totally addicted to string, red liquorice, which I considered the yummiest of candies and spent just about all my allowance on the red stuff.

Jumping into Penn's Creek

Jumping into Penn’s Creek

Notoriety on My Second Day: “Can’t get to Heaven”

Standing on the pier over Penn’s Creek, I asked the adult counselor if I could take the swimming test for the Walrus Club. She said ok, and pointed to a wooden raft in the creek. Part of the problem may have been that I am nearsighted, and I wasn’t wearing my glasses and couldn’t see where she was pointing. Two rafts floated on the creek, one just beyond the sliding board and another way down the creek in the deep water. “Well,” I thought, “that raft beyond the slide couldn’t be the destination, it was far too close for any test for the Walrus Club.” I jumped into the water and swam toward the far raft. I was a good swimmer, I knew I could do the swim. On my return trip, I passed by the sliding board, and at that very moment, an inexperienced camper took off down the slide and panicked, grabbing me for support, pulling me under the water. I was tired by that point and could not cast him off. I told myself, “If I could just get one breath . . ..” Then realizing that was hopeless, I thought, “This is it.”

I blacked out. I came to as the lifeguard carried me to the shore. I was crying, but not sure why as I couldn’t remember deciding to start to cry. The waterfront came to a standstill as I sat sobbing on the sand. From that moment on, I was known as “the girl who almost drowned.”

By the next day, I had completely recovered from the ordeal. I wasn’t fussed over, not even sent to the infirmary. What occupied my thoughts now: did I pass the Walrus Club test? I was ready to retake the test. When I asked the swim counselor, she told me, yes, I had passed, and remarked, “It was a good thing I had been watching you.”

Summer Romance 

One serendipitous happening from the almost drowning incident: I met my first love. A seasoned camper at Nik-o-Mahs, “Plottsie,” as everyone called him, approached me on the path to the waterfront, “Are you the girl who almost drowned?,” he asked. Thus, began the romance. Plottise was a thin boy with glasses and usually wore a plaid shirt. We hung out and sat together, and of course, we were teased by the other campers for our attachment.

A special event on the night before we left marked the end of our stay. The counselors handed us candles on little cardboard floats, and we gently placed them on the creek, watching them glide downstream until they fell over the waterfall. The flickering lights in the dark forest reflected on the water, and Plottsie and I held hands as we walked along the path that followed the creek. All was perfect.

Then Plottsie popped a question, “Can I kiss you?” Thrown into confusion, I asked myself, “Was I old enough to kiss?” “Was I allowed to kiss?” “What did this mean?” I replied, “I don’t think right now,” and with that remark, coolness came over the night. The next day, I went looking for Plottsie as I wanted to take his photograph before I returned home. He stood at a distance as I snapped the photo and hurried off. When I returned home, I mistakenly opened the camera, exposing the picture to light. Plottsie had disappeared in a cloud of whiteness.

The Following Year

The next summer I returned to Camp Nik-o-Mahs. The red liquorice had lost its appeal, and the trips and hikes were no longer new experiences. The candle ritual on the last evening was still beautiful, but I stood alone looking through the silhouettes of the trees thinking I probably wouldn’t be back.

De Ja Vou, Returning to the Camp, 50 Years Gone By

For whatever reason, I decided that I wanted to return to Camp Nik-0-Mahs, which had been closed for years. I wasn’t sure what I’d find there, but a road had been named for the camp. I thought that I might be able to recognize the place along the creek even if the buildings were no longer standing.

Returning to the camp meant a road trip through the Allegheny Mountains, part of the Appalachian Range that runs through the eastern United States. Traveling in mid-October the leaves were at their colorful best with reds, yellows and oranges between dark green trees not yet turned. The sun would occasionally peek out from behind heavy cloud cover, casting a glow on the landscape, highlighting nature’s pallet of colors. The road twisted around the mountains as we drove upward, only to come back down on the other side. Farmlands spread out in the valleys with fields of dried cornstalks and sunflowers against meadows of green clover. Barns, some unpainted and rustic, others vivid red, dotted the landscape. Little villages of clapboard houses clustered along crossroads.


Penn’s Cave

An outing to Penn’s Cave was one of the trips we made during our stay at camp, so on this trip, I planned a stop there. Penn’s Cave had been a popular tourist stop back when I was at camp and is still is today, as it is one of the few caves accessible only by boat. Since my camp days, the cave had been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Entrance Penn's Cave

The area looked much the same, with the Penn’s Cave House, the three-story frame house built in 1885, standing near the entrance. Steep stairs still led down to the cave and the familiar flat-bottomed boats that took us through the watery cavern were the method of transport. After gliding through the cave, we came out on the other side to a large pond and then returned through the cave again. The tour was almost exactly as I had remembered it.

Finding The Camp

We followed Route 235 through the towns of Laurelton and Glen Iron, making a turn at Creek Road, near the end of which we found Nikomahs Drive paralleling Penn’s Creek. We drove until the road disappeared into the forest, so we got out of the car to look around for any sign of the camp. The house at the end of the road looked very much the era that I had remembered, painted cream with green trim. A sign confirmed the name of the house, Windy Inn, which the Mifflin Times reported was built sometime before 1920. [2] We found several stone structures, now abandoned and left to the elements. One lone building stood intact with a slab inscribed with the date, 1926. A stone sign above the door read: “Erected in Honor of our Mothers.” I guessed that the building may have been the old mess hall. I couldn’t find any trace of the cabins.

I walked to the edge of Penn’s Creek, which looked quite impressive as the current moved swiftly from the heavy rains on the previous day. I guess those many years ago I could have been lost in those waters, but the fates prescribed that my destiny would be to stand here on the bank of the creek decades later.

[1] “Camp . .  Nik-o-Mahs, In the Mountains of Central Pennsylvania,” Millmont Times, Vol 14, Issue 2, June 1, 2013, p. 1-12.

[2] Ibid.

<a href=””>Finite Creatures</a>

This past June my sister and I biked along the trail that runs parallel to the Schuylkill River, and we returned on a warm October afternoon to head in the opposite direction and try out the new addition to the path, the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. Officials opened the new leg of the path just several weeks ago.


We bicycled past the view of Boathouse Row and around the back of the Philadelphia Art Museum and alongside of Waterworks before coming to the over-the-water extension. A viewing area above the walkway at Locust Street gave us a vantage point to take photographs up and down the river.  On a Tuesday afternoon, there wasn’t much pedestrian traffic so the four-block ride to the end at the South Street Bridge in West Philadelphia took about ten minutes. Along the trail the boardwalk widens with benches so we could pause and view the cityscapes.

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The walkway serves as a practical walking path from 30th Street Station to the Art Museum. Normally, I would take the subway from 30th Street and get off at 22nd Street, and then walk to the Art Museum. Now the walkway conveniently connects those locations while enjoying the beauty of the Schuylkill River.

September 21, 2014

The legend that Blackbeard, the notorious pirate of the 18th Century, once walked the streets of Marcus Hook, a town nestled on the Delaware River just below Philadelphia, provided the justification for a lively festival and an opportunity for the Marcus Hook Preservation Society to raise booty for the restoration of the Plank House, where rumor has it, that Blackbeard and his crew spliced the mainbrace!

Marucs Hook isn’t the only town to celebrate their pirate heritage. At the Beaufort Annual Pirate Invasion: It Takes a Village to Pillage, the town recreates actual pirate invasion in 1747. Blackbeard also made several appearances in Beaufort until the governor of Virginia tracked him down. The seaport festival in Philadelphia is the backdrop for a pirate battle on the Delaware River, as tall ships blast their cannons in mock high seas battles.

The pirates at Markus Hook opened their encampment to visitors, their period tents offering vignettes of camp life, with open fires providing the aroma of burning wood. Firearm displays, cooking demonstrations and craft tables gave the landlubber much to gaze at and appreciate. Pirate garb is particularly fanciful, with feathered hats, long waistcoats, billowy blouses and gold jewelry. Most events didn’t cost a single dabloom, if you can just resist spending your last farthing on pirate wares at the vendor booths.

The entertainment on stage included enthusiastic performances of pirate music and sea shanties, from groups such as the Brigands. Pirates brandished their swords during the lively swashbuckling contests.

Canon firing complements of Archangel, TheVigilant Crew and the Crew of the Mermayde.

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