Thursday, June 08, 2023

Monarch Butterly Reserve in Michoacán

Monarch butterflies from Canada, the Great Lakes and eastern U.S. migrate some 3,000 miles south each fall to mountaintops in Michoacán, central Mexico, to hibernate. It´s considered one of the world´s great animal migrations.

We hiked from the village of El Rosario up to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve, a cool fir and pine forest at about 10,000 feet. Until 1975, scientists who study the butterfly were unaware of this hibernation site. Now it´s supposedly protected, but it´s surrounded by villages of poor folks who are unemployed and need money. Logging is a source of income.

The Wall Street Journal just did an article on the efforts to protect the Reserve. The World Wildlife Fund chronicles activities to encourage preservation and recovery of forest illegally harvested in the reserve.

It´s estimated that some 100 million to 200 million monarchs winter here. This photo by Cindy shows how they huddle together on branches for warmth. The day we were there was sunny, so a few were moving around to get water. They live off fat reserves stored up during their migration to tide them over to February, when they become active again, and migrate north to Texas and Oklahoma where they mate and lay eggs.

In a kind of relay, the monarchs produce several generations as they migrate north, reproduce and die off. It is only the generation that hatches in late summer that migrates south and lives for eight or nine months. has more information on the migration here.

This is part of the El Rosario community, which charges admission to the site and maintains the surrounding areas. They operate dozens of little souvenir and food stands along the route up to the reserve.

We stayed in Zitácuaro the night before going up to the reserve. It´s a very busy provincial town, not very attractive, but the hotel, the Maria Fernanda, was excellent and cheap.

And of course there is an article on Wikipedia.

Tlalpujahua, with mines of silver and gold
After visiting the reserve we stayed in Tlalpujahua, which bills itself as the Magic Pueblo, and it truly is a lovely small place with lots of interesting buildings.

The town´s wealth came from silver and gold mines, which explains how a little place like this could have such a magnificent church.

The town´s cobbled streets and well preserved colonial architecture captured Cindy´s eye.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Pittsburgh: Sculpture, Macedonian wedding music, outsider art, and baseball

Cindy and I spent whirlwind weekend in Pittsburgh with our son, Patrick, and his wife, Jamie Agnello, both of whom have embedded themselves in the city's rich art scene. He in music, she in theater, voice work, and more.

After they finished up work on their day jobs on Friday, we went to hear Patrick's quartet play at the Con Alma jazz venue

The next night we went to the workshop of James Simon, a well known Pittsburgh sculptor, who hosted an unusual musical event in the courtyard next to his workshop, which is filled with finished and somewhat finished works.

The music was by Bombici Akustic, which performed festive tunes from the Balkan region (description here and here). It featured Ben Opie on the soprano saxophone, Rich Randall on tapan (a Macedonian outdoor drum), Andrew Hook on sousaphone, Colter Harper on guitar, and Patrick Breiner on the C melody saxophone. 

The music has complex time signatures in measures of 7, 9, and 11 rather than our more familiar 2/4 or 3/4. 

Both Colter and Rich are ethnomusicologists. Colter taught at the University of Pittsburgh and now at the University at Buffalo, while Rich teaches at Carnegie Mellon.


On Sunday we took in a Pirates-Mets game at PNC park. It was pretty hot. The game went four hours. I've seen the Pirates play at the old Forbes Field in the 1960s, Three Rivers Stadium in the 1970s, and now the new PNC Park.

PNC Park. A fan who remembers one of the Pirates greats.

On the way to the ballpark, we walked through Randyland, a quirky art museum, and had a chance to have a bit of a conversation with the unique Randy Gilson, who has created an outdoor museum of found objects and has transformed many of them into colorful shapes. 

Randy is all about collecting the objects we manufacture through mass production and then throw away. He puts them into a context that makes you notice these objects and their potential for artistic expression. The museum itself is one of those old things (a building) in the old part of town that might have been torn down and thrown away.

Randy has restored this house in his own unique style. The outdoor museum is in the lot alongside.

This video captures a lot of the flavor of the museum.

We also visited the Frick Museum. Great stuff by Rubens, Fragonard, and others. They had a display with the history of women's fashions for sports. 

I also liked their Car and Carriages Collection

Pittsburgh is a pretty cool town.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The year I spent in the darkroom

My darkroom experiences came back to me recently in a dream filled with anxiety. Not bad enough to be a nightmare. Just bad enough to recall an uncomfortable feeling of things not going quite right. And I felt like it was all my fault. 

In my dream it seemed as though I was trying to develop a roll of film in my homemade darkroom, and failing. All the workarounds and all the cheapo rube-goldbergian improvisations I had devised made me feel ashamed. Why had I created this half-assed darkroom. Why had I settled for this. This isn't a sordid tale. Just a small mystery.

I woke with that uncomfortable feeling of some unfinished business. Actually, I had improvised that crude darkroom in the unused shower stall in the basement of our house in 1966. And I really hadn't given it much of a thought for more than 50 years. In the dream world, one image conjures up another. People and events merge and divide. And the memories we create are for stories we tell ourselves. They may not have much to do with reality.

What led me to outfit a darkroom? It began when a sophomore classmate told me about the photography club at St. Ignatius High School. The school had a darkroom on the top floor of the old classroom building. A biology teacher, Mr. Flynn, was showing students how to develop film, just like private detectives did in the movies. With only a red light to work by, they would put a blank piece of paper in a tray of liquid, swish it around, and an image would appear. Cool. Could I learn to do this?

At 15, I was impatient and impulsive. The first skill we had to learn under the tutelage of Mr. Flynn was how to thread a roll of undeveloped film onto a stainless steel spool.

He had us practice with rolls that had already been developed. We tried it first in the light and then in total darkness. Any light would mar the images preserved on the film. You had to squeeze the edges of the film and guide it into the spool so the edges fit into the slots. The flat surface could not touch itself at any point or it would spoil the development of the negatives. I couldn't get the hang of it. This short video shows how you had to do it. We didn't have YouTube. I eventually took the easy way out and bought a plastic spool whose hubs rotated in opposition to each other so that the film advanced onto the spool via friction with the outside edges. But that was later.

Monday, August 10, 2020

In the mountains of Austria with Bridget, Phillip, and Will


Cindy likes water falling over rocks. We saw a lot of that on our hikes around the ski resort town of Mittelberg, Austria. We were having a reunion with our daughter, Bridget, her husband, Phillip Ens, and their son, William (Will). Phillip was having a reunion with his old opera-singing pal, Heinz, whose wife's family owns the Leitner Hotel, a fabulous place for hikers and bikers in summer and skiers in winter.  
Mighty new timbers strengthen this old covered bridge. 

William and his dad.
William and his Dad. They had fun throwing stones into the mountain stream.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

We're mostly on the same side, but there is money to be made by driving us apart

It is heartbreaking to watch people I know and respect and love tearing each other apart. There have always been at least two sides to every argument, but now it seems there are only two extreme arguments. Anyone who is not 100% in agreement with our position is assumed to be ignorant or immoral.

What happened to moderate opinions? Where is the middle ground? Actually, the middle ground still exists, but not in the world of social networks and much of online media. Why? There is a lot of money to be made by polarizing people on the internet. This tendency fuels Cancel Culture, but we'll get to that in a minute.

The middle finger
In social media, people seem to revert to the most primitive forms of behavior. It is as though we are in our car with the windows rolled up and find something annoying about another driver. We shout, we curse, we honk, and we even give the other driver the finger. This is behavior we would rarely if ever use in a face-to-face conversation. But social media insulates from us the other person. The other person becomes the Other.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Public drinking and parties drive new coronavirus outbreaks, but sports give us some relief

Local boy Miguel Indurain celebrates his 5th Tour de France win 25 years ago
The virus has come roaring back in our province because of parties. New rules this week in our province of Navarra after big outbreaks of the virus among young people:
- Bars and discos have to close at 2 a.m. rather than 6 a.m.
- No public drinking of alcohol is allowed on the streets between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Which must mean that in the past it WAS permitted to drink alcohol on the streets between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
- From these new rules I conclude that after 6 a.m. you CAN drink alcohol on the streets. Is this a great country or what?

I'm part of the Dawn Patrol at the local cafe, which opens at 6:30 a.m. during the week and 7:30 a.m. on the weekends and has both daily newspapers. Having a coffee and reading the paper in the cafe is a ritual. I wear a mask between sips and maintain social distance. 
Up all night
The only time that young people show up that early is if they've been out all night. In Spain, among teens and young 20s, it has always been a thing to stay out all night with your friends. You come home at dawn. Parents expect it. We of the Dawn Patrol see young people only when they are staggering and talking loudly with extravagant hand gestures. They're not dangerous because in this country, not everyone is carrying a gun.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

We visit the home of the vultures and the eagles

Eagles, vultures, and hawks build their nests in niches of the rock faces.

The bridge spans an old rail line, now a bike path.
It takes only about a half hour to get to the town of Irurtzun and the hiking trail known as "the vultures' overlook" el balcón de los buitres.

The trail itself is only about three miles in a loop, but it rises about 900 feet (a map of the trail is here).

The first third of the trail is quite steep and challenging before rising above the town and valley.

The Sunday we were there we heard the pipes and drums of a traditional Basque band playing 
below us in the town.