50 Favorite Places: Smith-9th St station

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50 Favorite Places #1

With this post, I’m starting a new project for 2020. The plan is to highlight 50 overlooked or off-the-beaten path places that I happen to like. It’s part of a general refocusing of this blog on travel, both within Brooklyn and New York City and farther afield. (If you follow this blog for running, birds or food, don’t worry – those things are a big part of how and why I travel, and will continue to feature prominently. And if you are unaccountably fond of my long-form pieces, I plan to continue dropping in a few of those from time to time as well.)

I should make clear from the outset that there’s no rank order to the “50 favorites” list. In fact, at the moment, there is no list. I’ll write about places as I revisit them, discover them, or generally get around to them.

Here it goes, then . . . favorite place #1: Continue reading

2019 in birds

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Varied Thrushes (January’s bird of the month)

I saw lots of birds last year. Seriously, lots. To be precise, I observed 470 species worldwide (which, last year, meant the U.S., Mexico and Spain), and 380 in the U.S. alone. Rattling off these numbers makes me feel a little sheepish. I know that listing is silly, even a bit tacky. It’s much cooler to ignore those totals that eBird makes so easy to track, and simply enjoy the birds you’re lucky enough to see.

On the other hand, reviewing my list provides a mini-review of my year.  This is the second time I’ve done a “year in birds” post, and both times I’ve been surprised by the intensity of the memories the exercise provoked. Continue reading

Lonestar Brooklyn

img_7580-e1576850953203.jpgOn the one hand, it’s become a cliche of lazy travel writing to describe this or that city or neighborhood as “the Brooklyn of (fill in the blank).” You could even say it’s become a cliche of lazy travel writing to describe Brooklyn – sprawling and variegated home to more than 2.5 million people, not all of them youthful or rich or white or especially hip – as “Brooklyn.”

On the other hand, when a resident of Park Slope passes a sweater-wearing tree in Coyoacán, or a co-working space in Sevilla or just about anywhere in Portland, Maine, it’s hard to avoid a sensation of familiarity – appealing, boring, comforting and a little ridiculous, all at once – followed by an urge to walk faster, even flee, guilty by association. I wonder if the quality of “Brooklyn-ness” hasn’t become a planet-devouring blob, no less imperialist for its good intentions, no less homogenizing for its quirkiness. This decade’s Golden Arches, packed with probiotics and infused with CBD.

It was this on-the-one/on-the-other handedness that had kept me from visiting Austin until recently. Continue reading

My biggest week

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Trumpeter Swans at sunrise, Maumee Bay State Park

The Biggest Week in American Birding takes place each year in the flat, marshy expanses of northwest Ohio. That’s where I grew up, where I fell hard for a singing house wren, and where millions of birds and I return each May – the birds as a quick stop on the way to their summer breeding grounds, me for Mother’s Day.

Until very recently, I was unaware that the Biggest Week in American Birding was going on during those May visits. I’d bird from the back deck of my parents’ house, which was gradually falling apart around them, or in nearby parks. Occasionally I’d meet warbler aficionados who’d traveled long distances to look at birds in the Toledo area. That surprised me a little; it surprised my parents even more. “They must have meant Oregon, Ohio,” my mother stated decisively of the Oregon couple I’d met at Sidecut Metropark and was describing to her. “Not the state of Oregon. Why would anyone come here from there?” Continue reading

From BKLYN to CDMX

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Just like Brooklyn!

Mexico City is sprawling and intimate. It smells of exhaust fumes and sewage and eucalyptus and cinnamon and masa and sizzling meat. It awakens to birdsong, sells itself in sing-song chants, and talks and shouts and eats and drinks and honks its horn late into the night. Oh, and the weather is perfect year-round.

I loved it.

What follow are some general impressions, beginning with this blog’s principal obsessions – food, birds and running, looking at stuff (often while birding and running) – and then offering some broader thoughts on the city. While I don’t pretend to know or understand it, I was struck by the way it manages, however improbably – built as it is on sinking ground, its population swollen to 20 million – to work. The contrasts between politics, national mythology and historical memory here and there provided plenty of food for thought. Continue reading

Dispatches from New Mexico

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Time to hit the open road and find some western birds

The top line results of my birding trip: 42 new birds, bringing my 2018 total to 399 species . . . meaning that unless I saw a burrowing owl on my way to the ABQ “Sunport” (I did not), bird number 400 would be in Brooklyn.

Which was as it should be.

I’ll have more to say about New Mexico birding, but there’s more I need to say about New Mexico first. Why do I love that state so much? There are the birds, of course, but also the light – blinding at midday, painting the landscape with color and shadow morning and evening, dazzling always. There’s the painful, complicated history as New Mexico passed from one empire to another, a history that includes conquest, the Inquisition, hidden Jews, indigenous revolts, revolutions, invading Texans, shifting borders, mushroom clouds. There’s the fascinating, syncretic culture this history created. There are the chiles.

And there’s the general weirdness of the place, always a plus in my book. Continue reading