What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Is it the children’s Christmas play? The choir concert at your church? Caroling with your neighbors? All of these activities are close to the top of my list, but my #1 choice this year was visiting Rockefeller Center in the heart of New York City.
The “gi-normous” (gigantic and enormous both) tree covered with tiny colored lights towering above the gold statue of Prometheus and the busy outdoor ice rink are iconic for me — larger than life, and understandably the scene draws a solid crowd. I was able to take a long exposure of the tree and ice rink by sitting my Nikon D800 on the stone pedestal and using “live view” to frame the shot and focus. I propped the lens on my eyeglass case (gotta use what you have on you!) The one-second exposure allowed the skaters to blur for a more artistic effect.
The pedestrian corridor leading from Fifth Avenue to the ice rink is adorned with lacy angel sculptures, and the facade of Saks Fifth Avenue (just across Fifth Ave.) sets the stage for a clever holiday light show. This shot was handheld, but I edited the image in Photoshop to de-emphasize the crowd and make the overcast afternoon at 3pm look more like dusk.
I consider myself blessed that my three daughters have settled in New York City. There are so many fun and fascinating things to do there. This year, the balmy weather made our weekend too good to be true. We walked, we Ubered, we ate very well and spent our money. See you next time!
Sunsets, and especially sunsets over the water, give us a rich feeling of satisfaction. You may have witnessed the sun sinking into the lake in front of your summer cabin or the sun sinking into the ocean from the west coast of just about any island or continent around the Globe. But why, have you wondered, do you cherish those opportunities to witness this daily event whenever you can? I can think of so many reasons — so many threads that weave a complex and rich tapestry in our minds.
First, you may notice the complimentary colors of orange and blue dominating the image. These colors are very pleasing to the human eye. Here, the sun sets at a great distance — as far as the eye can see on the distant horizon. As humans, we feel a great sense of freedom and safety when we can see a long distance and see that the way is clear and without threats. Without thinking about it, we know the sun as an enormous source of energy, warmth and life. Without thinking of it, we know that water is life giving, always in motion and often signifies the journey we make through life. Without actually thinking about it, we see the clouds in motion, sometimes obscuring our view, in other places offering a window for us to see more light and more color.
We are passive observers. We cannot make this happen. We do not make this happen. Nature is powerful, very powerful. We are not so powerful. I am one person of billions on Earth, very small and rather fragile. As we quietly watch the sun set, we don’t have to act. We can just experience the sunset. For a few quiet minutes, we can just enjoy it. We have a few minutes to pause our busy day and reflect. This day is ending. In endings, we see beginnings. We believe the sun will rise again, and continue natural its cycle. We think about Time. Each moment is unique. Before our eyes, the view changes every moment. We can see it: each moment is fleeting and won’t be repeated. Time marches on. For how long?
Yesterday around 5 p.m. in Pennsylvania, I watched the a super sun (the larger than usual orange ball) sink into the horizon, which was fringed with the lacework of bare treetops. Alas, it was time to leave the dog park before darkness descended. I thought about how short the day was, and that we are approaching the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, December 21.
For my daughter, who is has been living in New Zealand for the past year, the opposite is true. December 21 marks the longest day of the year. Last December, I visited Erin in New Zealand and enjoyed those long days and late sunsets. In Milford Sound, watching the sunset means watching the clouds and snowcapped mountains reflect the setting sun. Waiting alone at the water’s edge with my camera and tripod until 10p.m., I was rewarded with my first ever glimpse of alpenglow.
Including a sunstar in your photo is a cool way to punctuate a photo, when you get the irresistible urge to shoot directly at the sun. Of course, it’s usually not a good idea to look directly at the sun or to point your camera there either. When the sun is peaking through the trees or around the edge of something like the Eiffel Tower, it’s hard to resist. (I do have a favorite black and white print of a sunstar beside the Eiffel Tower.)
While hiking the Milford Track on the South Island of New Zealand in September, I noticed the sun peaking at me through the mossy trees. I knew that if I manually set my lens to f/22, I could defract the light and punctuate the image with this sunstar.
A day hike in Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand is a scenic treasure as long as you can stifle your fear of missing the boat and becoming stranded in the bush. I’m pretty much a city girl, accustomed to instantaneous car, taxi and subway travel, so I’ve got to admit this fear did enter my mind, especially since I was traveling alone.
Abel Tasman is a vast area of untouched wilderness on the northern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. The nearest city with an airport, accommodations and shops is Nelson, although the airport is so modest that one claims one’s bag by lifting it directly from the luggage cart. Nelson is also convenient to many lovely vineyards, and visitors can keep busy wine tasting as well. (Stay tuned for details on that!)
A great way to enter Abel Tasman is to catch the water taxi at Kaiteriteri, about an hour’s drive north from Nelson. You can examine the schedule and buy your tickets online, and pack your picnic as well as your camera. On the boat, you can ride about 30 minutes to Anchorage/Torrent Bay where you can take a lovely hike, and then watch for the boat to return for a quick pickup two hours later. On the summer day that I made the journey, the surf was choppy and passengers on deck got quite wet. The drop off point is a deserted beach where there are toilets near the Department of Conservation shelter, but no food or drink, so you don’t want to miss that boat when it returns. It’s the only way to get home, and I didn’t have the food or camping equipment to make an overnight stay comfortable.
Here are a few of the wonderful views from the hike to the point. I was nervous about getting back on time, not being familiar with the hike and the time it would take me with stops for photography. My anxiety apparently clouded my mood, and I doubted that the hike would be very scenic. Two days before, I was in Milford Sound — which is so beautiful that it just blows your mind. For that reason as well, I was prepared to be disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed. See for yourself.
Lastly, I caught the water taxi, two hours later. I even got back to Kaiteriteri in time to drive to the Rimi Vineyard before it closed at 4:30 and taste their heavenly Chardonnay.
Every culture has its important symbols, and I am intrigued when I find ties between different cultures. Greece and Turkey have the Greek Key, named after the Meander River near Ephesus, which winds all over the place and seems to go on forever. The Greek Key carries the meaning: going on forever or “infinity.” Therefore is a popular design on antique vases and in both antique and contemporary jewelry.
You will find the same design in Chichin Itza, the Mayan ruins in Mexico where the we presume the design carries similar meaning. I thought of this iconic design that developed separately for the Mayans and Greeks when I encountered the spiral shaped “koru” design of the Maori people, native to New Zealand. I wondered, “Could this mean infinity too?”
I posed this question to a Kiwi who explained that it means “new beginning.” Later, I fully understood why the koru connotes new beginning, more than “infinite” or “without end” when I observed the koru in nature. You see this shape in the very early stage of a fern leaf. Ferns in their seemingly infinite variety are quintessential New Zealand.
Here are two images of the koru, as I observed an early fern leaf’s development along the Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s wonderful hiking tracks.
I would also like to share this image of a sculpture on top of Queenstown Hill, which adapts the koru design to the beginning as well as the end.
The Koru has poignant meaning for Christchurch, New Zealand today as the people there struggle to recover from two devastating earthquakes that occured in 2011 and 2012. There is extensive demolition, repair work and rebuilding going on there — work expected to take another ten to fifteen years. Engineers and construction workers are as ubiquitous as the orange cones and metal fences. My daughter Erin Kelly is one of those engineers, working on the Rebuild. Perhaps never before has the koru meant so much.
By the end of my New Zealand trip, I realized that I should have committed myself at the beginning to taking photos of unusual signs. Foreign signs can be humorous reminders that you are outside your culture. In sharing this collection, I hope I will inspire you to do the same as you travel.
My favorite was near Queenstown where my apparently fearless daughter Erin decided that bungy jumping would be a good Sunday activity. We did not stop at the “Liquid Courage” Bar, but we did use the rest room.
Even better was the sign for the specially equipped rest room for people with disabilities.
I’ll close with a G-rated handwritten sign that broke my heart, in a good way. This sign listed the categories for a low-key neighborhood dog show near Nelson, NZ. The event was like a tiny county fair with a little petting zoo, some rides, lots of good junk food, a horse show and a dog show. Clearly, the dog show was designed for the children to enjoy, giving every kind of dog a chance to win.