Marquette University Campus, 1995

During a marathon digitization of my old photos, I came across a set taken in the Spring of 1995 when I was a Sophomore at Marquette University and living on the top floor at Tower Hall, a building so tall you can’t even see the top of it here.

These were likely shot with a Nikon camera on loan for the Photography course I took that semester, though not for the course per se (we shot only in black-and-white); I thought I’d take advantage of using something other than my own cheapo Kodak while I had the chance. Above is Marquette Hall, noteworthy for its Gothic bell tower.

Next to it is Gesu Church, perhaps the campus’ most striking classic landmark. More notable to me now, however, is the dank-colored building in the right foreground which housed the University Store (where I often got a Snapple or a Cleary Canadian between classes) and, around the corner, Grebe’s Bakery, fine purveyors of danishes, crullers and other sweet doughy treats. Within a year of this photo, the entire building would be razed for “green space”; Zilber Hall (built in 2009) currently sits there.

Here, the old-school architecture of Gesu and Marquette Hall are flanked by what was then a shiny, brand new complex.

Cudahy Hall, completed in 1994, was most notable for housing MU’s computer labs. It was the first place I ever sent an email or surfed the internet; I will never forget the countless hours I spent there sitting at a monitor, scrolling through green type on a relatively tiny black screen.

When exploring the information superhighway got to be a bit much, I’d take refuge at the Haggerty Museum of Art.

I frequented the Haggerty often; my Freshman year, I couldn’t believe how cool it was that there was an art museum right on campus! I’d also often have lunch or study at one of the picnic tables next to the building.

Not far from the Haggerty, Lalumiere Language Hall is easily MU’s most unique-looking structure, one whose modern, brutalist design (those windows!) I’d spot all the way from I-94 as a child. Opened in 1970, it seemed a little rundown by its 25th anniversary (note the missing letters), but it still stands today.

The most beautiful part of the campus might’ve been the West Mall: green space with benches and paths that were particularly inviting in the spring and summer months.

The West Mall was also adjacent to Memorial Library, where I’d spend hours studying, reading, browsing and relaxing—probably more time there than any other place on campus, apart from my dorm and Johnson Hall, where I had all my Journalism classes.

However, my favorite spot in the West Mall was the St. Joan of Arc Chapel. Built in 1420 France, it passed through a few hands before it was gifted to Marquette in the 1960s. Shipped to Milwaukee and re-assembled stone by stone, it’s a lovely, intimate structure. Pictured here is the back of it; a view from the front and a more detailed history can be found here.

While spending many hours near the Chapel, I saw my share of squirrels—at the time, I noticed they were among the fattest I’d ever witnessed due to all the scraps they received from students and faculty. When I think back to this time and place, these little critters are as essential a part of it as getting a between-class donut at Grebe’s or free Friday night films at the Varsity Theatre or the time we all silently watched Madonna’s banned “Justify My Love” video in my Media Law class. Renovations abound, new buildings sprout up and technology moves forward, but I bet those fat squirrels are still there in abundance.

The Great Lake

The Milwaukee neighborhood I’m originally from is roughly three miles from Lake Michigan.

Growing up, it was easy to take the Lake for granted–it was just always there, providing the city’s Easternmost boundary. Like any ocean, it was impenetrable, for you couldn’t possibly see across it to the other side.

Alternately a backdrop for picnics, walks, beach days, fireworks displays, arts festivals, afternoon cruises, fishing and swimming, the Lake stretched on for miles–even within Milwaukee County, there were parts I never visited until my early 20s in the mid-90s, like Atwater Park in Shorewood.

As a Marquette University undergrad, I often walked down from campus to the Lake, usually reaching it via this long-gone pedestrian bridge that crossed over Lincoln Memorial Drive pre-Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Once at the Lake, I’d walk North along the footpath, occasionally stopping to sit on a bench and take in the birdsong, the often cool breeze and the not-unpleasant smells of the shore.

The footpath stretched on to Veterans Park, a large swath of green space that was usually empty except for special occasions and festivals like Maritime Days every Labor Day weekend.

My last night in town before moving to Boston in 1997, a friend and I went for an evening stroll through South Shore Park in Bay View, providing one more time to take in the Downtown skyline as seen across the Lake and industrial Jones Island.

Although my parents moved to Iowa the following year, we’d all meet up in our hometown from time to time. Here’s a snapshot taken from roughly the same vantage point at South Shore Park nearly six years later.

On this particular visit (July 2003), we attended Festa Italiana at Maier Festival Park; above are the white jagged rocks along Lakeshore State Park Inlet.

For more unadorned views of the Lake, travel North past Downtown over to Bradford Beach, which above appears suspiciously empty for a mid-Summer afternoon (perhaps it was unseasonably chilly, or “cooler by the Lake” as the expression goes.)

The most convenient way to experience the Lake (if only by sight and maybe smell) is to cruise along Lincoln Memorial Drive–my favorite Milwaukee road (and probably most others as well.)

Returning for a visit in August 2006, I was excited to see a new and improved Oak Leaf Trail Footbridge connecting the end of Brady Street to McKinley Park over Lincoln Memorial Drive.

The rocks along this part of the shore brought back so many memories, including that time a decade before I had snuck down there with a few friends one late Summer night.

The rocky shore seems less mysterious in daylight, although one can still feel like they’re standing at an edge of the world as they feed or just watch the mass of gulls circling around.

I concluded that same trip with a walk along the shore of Grant Park in South Milwaukee.

Because it’s further away from Downtown, the Lake along Grant Park tends to be less patronized than other coastal parks and beaches–it’s often an ideal spot for serenity, meditation and quiet.

Again, the Lake just seems to go on forever. No tides coming in or out like you’d see at an ocean, just waves lapping against the shore, usually gently depending on which way the wind blows.

For over two decades, I’ve lived close enough to the Atlantic Ocean to be able to visit it whenever I wish; I’d like to think growing up so close to Lake Michigan conditioned me for that–the need for proximity to a large, seemingly endless body of water. I only make it back to Milwaukee every few years or so; no visit is complete without spending some time close to the Lake.

Charles River Esplanade, 1998

For my 23rd birthday, I received a new point-and-shoot film camera. Having moved to Boston without a camera six months before, I headed out the following Sunday to make good use of my gift.

I walked all over central Boston: Back Bay, Beacon Hill, The North End and Government Center; I spent the most time going up and down the Charles River Esplanade, most famously home to the Hatch Memorial Shell, a concert venue.

From there, I crossed the Longfellow Bridge from Boston to Cambridge, the Red Line T rushing by in the middle of it.

It was chilly crossing the bridge, but worth it for the stunning views of the Back Bay skyline, then and now flanked by the tall, gleaming John Hancock Tower and the slightly shorter Prudential Center.

On the Cambridge side of the Charles, I passed MIT and took a short detour to see the campus’ renowned Great Dome up close.

I crossed the Charles back into Boston along the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge; I’ve walked it from one side to the other in either direction many times since then.

As I made my way back to my Allston apartment, I walked past the George Sherman Union at Boston University…

…and also along one of the footbridges over Storrow Drive that connects the Esplanade with the rest of the city.

Camera in tow, I returned to the Esplanade on Easter Sunday some six weeks later.

Spring was in bloom, but the air was still cool. The park wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t exactly crowded, either.

I took so many walks that first year in Boston, getting to know the lay of the land mostly by foot.

I made some friends through school, but I had to learn to be on my own. I thrived most doing so when I was not confined to my small apartment but out in the world.

I was lonely, but it was an important experience to have. In time, I understood what it meant to be independent, that I didn’t always have to rely on others to feel valued or whole.

In the years to come, I’d often forget that feeling, reverting back to a fear of being alone, equating it with a lack of fulfillment.  However, I eventually grew to appreciate having that time to myself, whether via a long walk from the Public Garden all the way down to the Waterfront or a simple stroll in my own neighborhood. With smartphones, I rarely carry a camera with me anymore, except on special excursions where I bring my Sony DSLR. Still, even with my phone, I often take pictures of the simplest and occasionally most profound things I’ll spot while walking around my city.

Ten Tropical Trips

2011 – St. John

Ten years ago this month, I took my first trip to the Caribbean. Steve, whom I would marry in 2013, suggested it for a winter vacation. I’d never been outside continental North America at that point; the Virgin Islands (and in particular, St. John) were a revelation.

2012 – Curaçao

The following year, we went further south to Curaçao, in the Lesser Antilles, 65 km north of Venezuela. The snorkeling and beaches weren’t as fine as St. John’s, but being in the Dutch Caribbean felt even more exotic than the US Virgin Islands.

2013 – Key West

Seven months before our wedding, we stayed within the continental US, but just barely, driving from the Miami airport all the way to the edge of the Florida Keys.

2014 – Naples, Florida

Having honeymooned in Santa Fe, we resumed our annual winter vacation in the more affordable locale of Sanibel Island, Florida, with day trips to nearby Naples and Fort Myers.

2015 – Turks and Caicos, Chalk Sound

However, we longed to return to the Caribbean, so the following year brought us to Turks and Caicos, where we spent a week on the island of Providenciales, featuring the otherworldly hues of Chalk Sound.

2016 – Cozumel, Mexico

We’d been wanting to check out Mexico for some time; the week we spent in Playa Del Carmen was crowded, noisy and burnt by the sun, but the afternoon boat ride to Cozumel Island was pretty chill.

2017 – Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Always seeking out new locales to explore in the Caribbean, we made it to the Dominican Republic a week after the 2017 Presidential Inauguration–dark times temporarily alleviated by Punta Cana’s beaches.

2018 – Aruba

We went to another of the Lesser Antilles, Aruba, in 2018. Steve had gone there with his folks a few times as a child; it was pretty (particularly the beaches and the trade winds soaring through them) but a little overdeveloped for our tastes.

2019 – Turks and Caicos, Iguana Island

We had such a great time in Turks and Caicos that we returned four years later; this second trip’s highlight was a snorkeling expedition to Iguana Island (which indeed did have quite a few of its namesake, though not in this pic.)

2020 – Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Last year, before the pandemic shut everything down, we went back to Punta Cana, this time to Bavaro Beach. Obviously, we are staying put in frozen New England this January. Although I long for another tropical excursion, I feel lucky I’ve been able to have ten of ’em so far. In the meantime, I can always turn up the heat at home, craft a few frozen cocktails and dream.

Autumn Color

Autumn is my favorite time of year, mostly for the changing leaves and a brief respite of coziness and relative warmth before it gets too cold to do much outdoors except for getting from one place to another.

The foliage isn’t as robust as in past years, thanks to an ongoing lack of rain over the warmer months.

Fortunately, that does not mean no color at all.

The park near my house in early October is not without at least one burst of red.

Those three trees in the background never fail to transform at least one small section of the park’s landscape every Autumn.

However, for the most part, a burnt, somewhat dingy orange predominates this year.

Granted, this hue is more or less the norm for the tall trees at the edge of my backyard.

On one of my periodic, two-to-three mile neighborhood walks, I spotted this brilliant yellow, made even more striking by the blue of the house next to it.

To see ample colors in one place, however, I had to visit Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

On the third Sunday in October, I spent an afternoon there, seeking out as many seasonal shades I could find.

Walking around Mt. Auburn, I was not disappointed. Robust reds, bright oranges, sparkling yellows were all around.

I’m not a religious man, but parks, cemeteries, woods–any kind of green space is the sort of place my soul thrives in.

I remember driving out to Kettle Moraine North in Wisconsin with my parents when I was four or five, collecting pretty fallen leaves to place into a construction paper album.

I held onto that album for most of my childhood, no matter how brown and crinkly the leaves turned.

For those few bright red maple trees I see around Boston, I think fondly of the street I grew up on, which was lined with them. There was a particularly big one in front of our house–I can recall the impossibly massive piles of leaves my dad would rake from everything that fell onto the front yard, the sidewalk, even the street.

Within weeks, the trees will once again be bare. However, I’m genuinely optimistic for the first time in four years. The trees will bud again come April or May, hopefully stronger than ever before as we begin to heal and nourish our collective soul.

This Year’s Garden

When I moved into my current home four years ago, the best thing the former residents left behind was a garden box in the backyard. Overgrown with weeds and spaghetti-like remnants of long-forgotten plants, I thought to myself, “It’s too late in the season, but next year, I can do something with this.”

May 27

Since then, I’ve cultivated a garden each summer. Growing up, I used to love helping my mom out with her garden–basically two narrow strips, one alongside the house (where we always planted tomatoes); the other next to the garage (chives, radishes and a catnip plant we could never fully exhume.)

June 28

Figuring out what works here has been a matter of trial-and-error. I knew I wanted tomatoes, and put in three plants the first year. Since I’m the only one here who eats them, I went down to two plants last year and only one (a cherry tomato) this year. Marigolds tend to always be bountiful; for 2020, I also put in two of each of the following: blue lobelias, red salvias and multicolored lantanas (the latter were the only real duds.)

July 4

I also tried out a six-pack of multicolored zinnias, which I did not expect to get so tall.

July 16

The zinnia’s flowers, however, were worth their domineering overgrowth.

July 24

I was concerned about the cherry tomato at first; it was a brash Home Depot purchase at the height of quarantine and took awhile to get going. Fortunately, it came through as the zinnias bloomed.

August 30

By August 30, the garden was at its peak. When I planted it back in May, it was by far the most therapeutic activity I had partaken in since quarantine commenced, reminding me why I liked to garden and what serenity and spiritual refreshment I got out of it.

A red zinnia up close.

Fresh cherry tomatoes, a side dish fit for almost every occasion.

Jalapeños–I also planted another type of chili pepper this year (can’t remember the exact name) that, left unpicked turns nearly candy apple red, becoming *extremely* spicy.

September 20

After Labor Day, I began taking out the zinnias one by one as the flowers lost their petals and brilliant colors. Close to the Autumn Equinox, I replaced them with three gelosias (red, purple and orange) and a hearty pink-and-green coleus. Somewhat late in the season, but I appreciated what they added to the tableaux.

October 17

As of this weekend, the garden is in its last throes. The cherry tomato is mostly dead, though I refuse to remove it until it stops bearing fruit. Marigolds and peppers are still plentiful; the coleus turned out to be not so hearty after all. Considering potting the rosemary (in the rear left) for the winter.

July 20

I’d rather remember this year’s garden for its summer brilliance–particularly that one early evening when it attracted a bluebird.

York Harbor and Wiggly Bridge

A few weeks ago, prior to a socially-distanced dinner with friends in Kittery, Maine, we made a pitstop in nearby York Harbor.

Slotted in between York Village and York Beach, York Harbor neither has much of a charming Main Street (the former) nor gift shops, restaurants and sandy beaches beholden to tourists (the latter.)  It’s mostly residential and thus much quieter.

We actually met up with my parents for a mini-vacation near here a dozen years ago this month, but haven’t been back since. We must have explored this marina then, although I barely remembered it.

Boaters will know exactly what this doohickey’s for; I just admire the contrast of its colors and textures against the deep blue sky.

For me, it’s not a trip to coastal Southern Maine if I haven’t taken at least one photo of a hanging buoy.

On that mini-vacation I might’ve made a joke about this directed towards my Mom, but in all seriousness, I wasn’t aware crabbing was a thing here; I mostly associate Maine with lobsters and oysters.

I enjoy taking pictures of little dinghies–the junkier, the better.

Early Autumn in Maine can be quite lovely.

This is along the North Basin of York River.

Glance to the West and you’ll see this bridge, Route 103.

Looking West on Route 103 before the bridge…

…and on the bridge, where one can spot another, decidedly tinier bridge in the distance:

The Wiggly Bridge is famous enough to have its own Atlas Obscura entry. This I remember from that mini-vacation.

Looking straight-ahead across Wiggly Bridge back towards Route 103.

To the right of Wiggly Bridge, it’s Barrells Millpond.

About 45 minutes before sunset.

Above and below: a narrow path from Wiggly Bridge back to Route 103.

So long, you can barely make out Wiggly Bridge in the distance.

And, if you walk past Wiggly Bridge in the other direction, you’ll find this serene beauty.

Toronto, 2005

In normal times, I’d be in Toronto for TIFF. I am currently attending the modified “virtual edition” of it, but it’s not the same as being there in person. My last TIFF was in 2014 (see here and here) and I’m overdue for a return (just not this year, naturally.)

I’m thinking a lot about my first TIFF, 15 years ago. Earlier this summer, going through a slew of CD-Rs full of photos from the Oughts, I found one disc I didn’t know I had from that trip. I believe this was right before I acquired my first digital camera, so these pix are among the last I ever took with my old, trusty point-and-shoot (before it unceremoniously died.) Above is McCaul Street and the ever-distinct OCAD University building.

I’m certain I saw more films at the Paramount (now ScotiaBank) Theatre than any other venue that year, thus spending much time around this nearby stretch of Queen Street West. Club Monaco and Steve’s Music (not pictured) are still there, but I’m guessing not much else is.

My first TIFF was also my first time in Toronto (and Canada, for that matter). Although I managed to see 16 films in five days, I also made time for sightseeing. Here’s Spadina Avenue in Chinatown…

…and nearby Kensington Market. Above is a stretch of Kensington Avenue; I don’t seem to have a shot of Augusta Avenue, where I just had to seek out the building used for exterior shots in the cult sitcom Twitch City.

Back in 2005, I found Toronto City Hall fairly ugly; now, I appreciate its mid-century modern splendor. It’s sleeker than Boston’s Government Center, anyway.

University Avenue. I retain fond memories of getting iced coffee from Second Cup along this stretch and being puzzled that the straws available for use had no paper on them (particularly shocking in 2020.)

Further up University Ave: Queen’s Park, and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

I was lucky enough to visit Sam The Record Man on Yonge Street before it closed.

I stayed at a bed and breakfast over on Jarvis Street, across from Allan Gardens, pictured here. (Please ignore the (incorrect) time stamp.)

I was amused to see a bar/restaurant named after my hometown in Toronto at 220 Adelaide Street West. It’s long gone (as of 2007, according to Google Maps.)

I don’t recall if I went up the CN Tower back then (I know I did in 2009.) Anyway, here’s a bit of Old (the smokestack), New (the glassy high-rises) and Mid-Century Toronto (along with a seabird.) I look forward to seeing it all again, maybe in 2021.

Sunday At The Cranberry Bog

Looking for a new COVID-safe activity (preferably one outdoors), we checked out a cranberry bog last week.

The Ocean Spray Cranberry Bog, as a matter of fact–located at Patriot Place in Foxboro, of all places, directly behind the Bass Pro Shop.

It consists of a half-mile trail that takes one through some woods…

…and voilà! A cranberry bog. Though mid-July is decidedly not cranberry season.

However, it was the kind of pastoral, sparsely-attended space we were looking for, along with less than a dozen other mostly socially distanced attendees (including multiple dog-walkers.)

Someone even left behind a rosary.

A river runs through this hidden, lovely space.

I enjoyed the numerous textures on display. Particularly all the lily pads:

We’ll be back to the bog in Autumn for the foliage and presumably, some cranberries.

Short Sands Sunrise

Fourteen years ago today, I watched the sunrise in York Beach, Maine.

My parents had flown out from Iowa and we had driven up from Boston for a few days to celebrate the 4th of July.

It was my mother’s idea to awaken so painfully early to witness a sunrise. The previous morning was our first attempt, where we ended up at the Long Sands Beach. Unfortunately, we faced the wrong direction.

Thus, the next day, with great strain (I’m not much of a “morning person”), we tried it again, this time at the Short Sands Beach near the center of town. Bingo.

If you ever have the chance and gumption to watch a sunrise, I recommend it. I haven’t seen such brilliant hues in the sky before or since.

I’ll attempt another sunrise someday, when I’m in the right place and frame of mind. For now, I’ll always remember and treasure this one.