Monthly Archives: April 2012

Cherry Tree Ballet

A Ballet

BJ Silberman

Roseate petticoats swirl in pleasure

Practicing a familiar ballet of

Pirouettes, jetes,and  arabesques.

Pink and pearl blossoms

Rain gently.

Spent silken petals

Spread their kimono

Over newly green grass.

Silently , hoping not to awaken summer.

WordPress Photo Challenge: Together Part of the Crowd

Part of the Crowd

Even llamas know how important it is to walk for a cause. This is the Memphis March for Babies for the March of Dimes.

Growing Wings

Growing wings is much less painful

Than being afraid

 to fly.

Visiting the Abandoned Tugboat Graveyard Isn’t Easy

A warm September Sunday morning found us searching for the tugboat graveyard that I’d read about on several abandoned building sites. In New Jersey for a short weekend visit, my husband obligingly helped me search the outer part of Staten Island for the graveyard at Arthur Kill. We found Witte Marine, the salvage company that bought the boats back in the sixties, but that Sunday there was no way to gain admittance .The property is presently known as  Don John Iron and Scrap Metal .

Farther down the road, we spied a boat skeleton out in the distance.Finding a spot to park, we crossed the road to find a worn and weed covered stone staircase.At the top of  the five steps stood a small family cemetery that dated back to the 1700’s, and beyond that- a sea of reeds.

The sun’s heat intensified the stench , and using the reeds as a solid surface enabled us to cross the slimy goop that was mudlike in texture but suggested something more sinister and chemical.It sucked at your shoes and I have to believe anything that succumbed is still buried beneath.  Part way to the water, you could see the carcasses of several tugs.My husband found a stopping point and waited loyally while being devoured by insects.

I ventured forward, taking big high steps to flatten reeds while sliding and juggling two cameras. The remains of the tugs were identifiable but without waders and a crowbar, I wasn’t able to get much closer.

Changing strategies , I veered to the left towards a wooden hulk . As I looked for planks to aid my mud-crossing, two other adventurers appeared and we headed there together. They were more limber and scurried up the side of the boat. I worried that my husband would need a transfusion due to mosquito bites and might not come after me if I fell through the deck.

Eerie and beautiful in the same moment,although difficult to capture the atmosphere , these photos document our visit. I am not sure how many more ships can be seen by kayaking in the Arthur Kill or by gaining entrance into the salvage yard.The numbers I have read indicate at least several hundred recorded.The challenge of the graveyard partially met, I am anxious to return in cooler weather with more appropriate gear.

From preliminary research, I learned that one of the tugs still visible was the Abram S. Hewitt, a fireboat built in 1903. It had played a role in the rescue attempts as the command center at the burning of the General Slocum in 1904. On June 15,1904, over 1,000 women and children perished in the fire on their way to a day’s picnic outing on Long Island. It was the largest loss of lives in New York until September 11.

Also found in the graveyard is the New Bedford which served as a troop transport during the Battle of Normandy. The other ships have their stories also. Buried in the mud lies the history of New York  and beyond.

It turns out that the boats cannot be moved or salvaged because populations of sea life took up residence in the remains and now they are a protected environment by law.

The tiny graveyard sits between the polluted waters and a busy road.It is the resting place of early settlers of Staten Island and is known as The Blazing Star Cemetery. The community was named Blazing Star for a ferry service that ran from the pier at the Witte Salvage Yard across the bay to New Jersey in the early 1800’s. The surviving headstones , beautifully carved and delicate, date from before the Revolutionary War, but that’s for another story.

Relevant sites: ( incredible black and white photos of the area from 2004)

http://www.the – wrecks of NY Harbor

Books and Flowers are Necessities

If you have a library and a garden, you have everything you need. Marcus Tullius Cicero

     Books and flowers come together both in the photograph layers and as simple pleasures to savor.Libraries and gardens provide beauty, sanctuary  and a place to imagine.


Shiloh at Sesquicentennial Reenactment

The last Saturday in March found us trudging through ankle deep mud to reach the encampment at Shiloh.Ahead we could see the sutlers’ tents as we heard  the pounding of gunfire and saw smoke in the distance. I felt transported in time.

One week short of Shiloh’s sesquicentennial anniversary and the conditions were much the same. The mud, heat, and bugs plagued re-enactors and spectators just a they had a century and a half earlier.Unlike the soldiers, we had made the conscious choice to visit , mine based on photo opportunities and my husband’s on his interest in history.

What struck me first was the passion of the re-enactors. They travel from all parts of the country to play a specific  role in battle. Staying in character included sleeping in a tent in the rain with no conveniences.( Although there was a porta- potty nearby. I can’t imagine how that works with a hoop skirt. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d like to find out.) All supplies and equipment are meant to be historically appropriate to the 1860’s.The sutlers ( suppliers) travel the country supplying the troops and for some this is a full-time job.One purveyor had spent hours the day before fitting women’s corsets. The tailor repaired uniforms and a photographer used a box camera and offered tintypes. I realized how much I appreciate my digital camera.

An opportunity to meet the generals was the first scheduled event. I was surprised as to how many people crowded into the tent . General Grant , the first speaker, waved his cigar and stood on a table. A dynamic speaker , he commanded respect . One or two hecklers made their anti-Union sentiments known.After his speech,  visitors crowded Grant with questions and for photo ops ( kind of like the line at Disney to shoot photos with Mickey). They treated him with a deference and awe that surprised me since this was all an act.  General Sherman who was heckled loudly by the Georgia contingent came next. He was followed by General Hardee, a CSA general , who received a standing ovation from most of the crowd. A band played several pieces including The Bonnie Blue Flag which again brought many people to their feet standing hand over heart . They did not play The Star Spangled Banner, which left me sitting and feeling out of place.

One speaker said that The War Between the States should not be called The Civil War. While I totally agree that there is nothing about  war that can be called civil, historians do call it The Civil War.He emphasized that he was often told to get over it, and felt that it was a disservice to our history. What struck me is that the overarching issue of slavery is never mentioned or portrayed and those issues did not end with the war.

Taking time to visit the camps ,I admired patchwork quilts and garments hanging in the tents. A good number of children , also dressed in period garb, tended to chores around campsites. I tried to determine how their parents had convinced them to forgo digital devices for several days, let alone to dress in period clothing rather than jeans and tee shirts.

The juxtaposition of time periods clashed in lines at fast food vendors and throughout the camp.Hoop skirted women shopped next to those in cut-offs.On the battlefield itself, lawn chairs and coolers arranged in areas surrounded by caution tape added a sense of surrealism to the event.People handed out ear plugs to temper the cannon noise.

Before the starting time of 1:30, I wandered the battlefield shooting photos and trying to avoid getting trampled by Grant’s steed.I shot photos of children as drummers and cannon minders. Several battlefield photographers carried what looked like box cameras until I realized they were wooden boxes disguising digital cameras.I was disappointed.

As the battle began, I noticed women dressed as soldiers.I was surprised to learn of the controversy this choice causes in some reenactment circles. There documented research is that there are a number of women (stated as near to 400) who fought on both sides of the war as male soldiers. Most of the research is based on diary excerpts and reports.Still a number of groups don’t accept women outside of the standard roles of nurse, laundresses, and vivandieres. The National Park Service has ruled that women cannot be prohibited from events based on their sex , yet some continue to face discrimination or the epithet Farby Barbie.

Farby is a term that used to describe items in reenactment that are not true to the period. One site attributed the word to the comment “Far be it from me to tell you….” Barbie is self-explanatory.The issue raises interesting questions. The only women  documented are those who were discovered or those who admitted it later. Women who were truly successful in their participation as soldiers could never be counted accurately.If reenactment is meant to be historically accurate , then I would think women soldiers should be included . Obviously, those that were so easy to identify could not have kept their identities secret for long.

This was one of many issues that came to mind during the day. Re-enactments during the Sesquicentennial are major contributors to tourism. Tennessee is home to the second largest number of Civil War battlefields, and the Tennessee vacations website offer many resources on the events and touring of battlefield sites.Virginia, Maryland, and of course Pennsylvania have theirs. Next year is the Battle of Gettysburg‘s sesquicentennial, the big event, and many people at Shiloh discussed plans to participate or attend. Three days of activity and reenactment are planned for those first days of July 2013, the bloodiest of the war, a battle that was unplanned and began with the Confederate soldiers‘ need for shoes.

At the end of our day , sunburned, thirsty and hot, we drove home to air-conditioning and dinner. The 100,00 soldiers and more than 20,000 casualties at Shiloh could not.

“Not yet!” Words that Limit your Creativity

“Why always not yet? Do flowers in spring say not yet?” Norman Douglas

      Standing and admiring the tulips, the beauty and serenity on that afternoon at the Botanic Garden made me grateful.When I came across this quote, it suited the photograph perfectly but it also resonated with me.”Not yet” – my overused code words for I’m afraid to try, It’s not perfect, or no one will like this. Two words – an easy way out , a simple way to postpone life.

Without the tulips, a photograph of the mulch, ( unless you could discern a famous face or answers to life’s important questions in it) by itself wouldn’t have been effective.

Now when I’m tempted to say “not yet” I substitute “think flowers”. This is my new code phrase for “get over yourself and take a chance!”

I hope you find your personal code words, but while you’re searching, you can always borrow these. Our world needs more flowers!

A Gift on the Side of the Road – Double Cola Barn

Looking for abandoned buildings while driving on backroads just outside of Nashville, the view of this barn caused a u-turn.  Double Cola! When we pulled off the road,jumped out of the car and started shooting, our focus was the barn. By taking a breath and exploring the area, we came to see the water and reflection which made all the difference. Not being glued to one spot and following my best friend’s instincts was an effective lesson.

Lady Slippers or Grandma’s Dancing Shoes

Lady Slippers

BJ Silberman

Wrapped in tissue paper memories

Grandma’s dancing shoes

Napped on the top shelf of her closet.

The silk slippers with pearl buttons,

Remnants of another life,

No longer fit her knobbed feet

and twisted toes.

On laundry days,

Grandma’s aprons,

like kites

Trapped in mid-flight with their tails dangling,

Competed with the zinnias for attention.

While her house dresses,

gay paper lanterns fluttering in the breeze,

made the garden ready for a party.

When the washing was hung,

Grandma danced barefoot

on the grass.

Keep on Dancin’

You can hear the music! It’s time to dance!

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