Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Day Trip Diary: Snug Harbor Cultural Center

"We both know what memories can bring. They bring diamonds and rust." - Joan Baez, Diamonds and Rust

The year 2014 has been about the diamonds that shine in my memory bank, carving out happy times with our daughter Grace who arrived in February. Yes, there is rust too. We've had personal challenges along the way with her and like every human life will continue to have them, but this is about the diamonds as another year closes like a flower today, not the rust.

A moment of diamonds at the Chinese Scholar Garden in Staten Island.

Tori Amos reflected on a companion DVD to her Scarlet's Walk album,

"People come in and out of your life, sometimes for a day, sometimes for longer, and all of them make you what you are. You can't separate these people out of you. They form who you are even the ones that you kind of say, well I don't know if I want to be formed by them anymore. But you are in some way, you are. That's why maybe you don't have to look at them so harshly, because they have affected you.
At the end though it's us as individuals with our love for the land, for something intangible, that when soul mates come and go you're never alone even when you're just standing you and your shoes because you carry them with you."
I agree the people that enter our lives briefly or even for lifelong bonds form who we are, and I'll add that places do too. I was in the American Southwest for less than two weeks time in the autumn of 2011, a journey I documented here on my blog. It's as if I was there just yesterday. I think about that trip so often. The same goes for walking along Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park in June of 2013. Steve and I have such strong imprints of that day. We were there for just a few hours.
Photographs bring back floods of memories when the images made by the mind start to fade. I shoot with a Sony cybershot camera, and with our digital age of photographs, we have the capacity to take so many images. Perhaps you are like me, struggling to find a balance when you are visiting a place that you know you may likely only visit once in your lifetime of wanting to capture scenery so you may revisit the place again in a non-physical way - through memory - but also trying to be present in the moment and take it in.

Ultimately, I'm glad for digital photography. Tori Amos said,

"You can walk into can enter hundreds of years ago, yesterday. You can smell the flowers that were on the table that you brought your mother that day for Mother's Day if you're looking at that photograph. You can be within a glance of a frame. You can be another person, another you. So [the song] "Gold Dust" is very much about being other people and feeling how they feel and feeling how you felt at another time when you've been in another place and it really isn't your past because somehow these frames are written on your body and they've made you what you are. Nothing is gone. I think it's on your body map.

You have imprints when you're little without knowing but you take in information. Smells: honeysuckle...fresh mown grass. Sounds: The Potomac River. That's been there for ages and ages."
I'm wondering what Grace's imprints are now, and what they'll continue to be. And like people and places that shape our life's destinies, Mother Nature and her gifts mold our path too.

I'm leaving you with cherished memories of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island. I particularly longed to see the Chinese Scholar Garden after reading about it in a list of day trips offered by a community school. Just an hour's drive away, it felt like we traveled oceans instead of highways. Here too we spent just a few moments but have memories that last a lifetime.

Snug Harbor's Heritage Farm broke ground in 2011, and grows squash, radishes, chard, kale, collards, onions, cabbage, basil and eggplant on its two acre site, with some local food pantries benefiting. At its peak in the 1890s Snug Harbor had a working farm on this site. Farms and gardens are such a large part of my path in life.

Diamonds found in the Tuscan Garden.


And gold was to be had in the Chinese Scholar Garden. This was the week of my birthday in November, and I considered it a gift from the universe we had a moment of just the three of us in this grand place of wonder I dreamed of and still do.

Man set the stage here, but Mother Nature did the painting.


One of my favorite photographs of Steve and Grace is from the Chinese Scholar Garden. It is of him carrying her over his shoulder, her arms around him, and she's looking up. I try and learn from Grace to look up and around often. We live in an age where so many are looking down at a device and missing the wonder of it all. I do not post personal photos of us because there's hardly anything private today in our world of documenting so much online. I want those memories, just for our family.
Michael Stipe, the lead singer of my favorite rock band R.E.M., said his grandmother told him R.E.M. meant to her "Remember every moment." Looking ahead to the new year with eager anticipation, but also looking back and remembering.
We were off to the Tibetan art museum after. The volunteer tour guide said we're getting Grace off to the right start by taking her to museums. Her curiosity is infectious, as is her cheerful attitude when she sees her car seat as if to say, "Hey, where are we going? Let's go see it!"
No photography was allowed indoors. In spite of my love of photography, in museums I don't mind this policy. I recall leaving here thinking a lot about shedding material possessions and about prayer. 
Time in nature is my religious experience of communing with a higher power. A last minute holiday gift guide on the Today Show included a Buddha board from Barnes and Noble where you could write words or thoughts and they'd evaporate. "Mediation is going to be huge in 2015!" the gift guide advisor urged us. As if meditation should just be a passing fancy, and of course consumerism had to be attached to it. When I meditate it won't be about a possession but about quieting the mind, something I crave in our fast-paced, ever-changing world. Surely I will often visit these breathtaking places.
I thought of the Buddha in the garden of the Tibetan art museum, and want to whisper my prayers, which I hope the wind will carry away into the universe. Prayers for good health, peace, and happy times ahead for our family and friends for 2015, and I'm wishing you, dear readers who visit this blog, that as well. 

"How did it go so fast, you'll say as we are looking back, and then we'll understand we held gold dust our hands." Tori Amos - Gold Dust


  1. I didn't know about the Chinese Scholar Garden in Staten Island and it looks so amazing. I wonder who keeps it up so well? Thank you for the beautiful photos and descriptions here. Wishing you a peaceful New Year!

  2. The entrance fee was so reasonable too, just $5. The Tibetan art museum had a small garden that was so serene. We were losing light fast and most of my photos of it came out too dark or blurry. Hidden gems to be found everywhere. Thank you and peace to you in the New Year too.