Attack of Colorado’s Vampire Mosquitos

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It felt like a plague of biblical proportions. The frogs and hail weren’t a problem but hot damn, the clouds of mosquitoes were lifted directly from that miserable list of Passover plagues.

Starting off the hike, we knew the park had received more precipitation than usual and mosquitos might be bad in the backcountry, but when the swarms started blotting out the sun (darkness, figuratively), our sanity took a back seat to the need to preserve our valuable stocks of blood.

At 235,214 acres, Flat Top Wilderness Area is the 2nd largest wilderness area in Colorado and a quick drive from Denver. The park’s elevation varies a bit but much of its terrain rises above 11,000 feet and at times resembles a plateau framed by mountains. A few days of acclimation are a good idea for visitors but we hardy mountain men skipped these “pleasantries” and hiked right in.

The park is usually dotted with lakes and ponds and creeks. This year, the landscape was covered not only with the usual small bodies of water, but patches of snow, muddy, waterlogged fields and many, many small pools of standing water. These features make hiking a bit of a slog and are the perfect staging (read breeding) ground for pint size vampires.

If only we realized they were that bad before we were days away from civilization.

We thought it was slightly odd that few hikers passed us on the trail. A couple on horseback, some day hikers fly-fishing at a lake but that was it. Did we miss the memo: stay the hell away?

We must have because by day three, we threw up our arms and our determination to make it the full seven days.

This is what always happens when my buddy Jon and I go for a hike. We plan for seven days in the backcountry. Seven days of glorious wilderness, no phones, no e-mail, no real comforts, just the sublime appreciation and reconnection with nature.

Usually by day 3 (sometimes 4) the grumbling starts: my back, my legs, my thighs. Maybe we’re getting older and less willing to put up with camping’s discomfort, or maybe the world’s just becoming a more inhospitable place. Either way, by day 3 with the mosquitos attacking every exposed and covered inch of our bodies we decided it was time to head out. (At one point, I had on 2 pairs of socks and the mosquitos still managed to leave behind an anklet of swollen, itchy bites.)

But extrication from the backcountry isn’t as simple as just walking back to the car. We were 2 days from the trailhead, which mean 2 more days of torment.

Despite the condition’s challenges it’s still possible to appreciate the beauty, albeit with a buzz in your ear and murderously swatting mosquitos.

I will leave you with a pretty (or not so) picture and this might be TMI. Wilderness areas don’t have bathrooms. You find a private place to do your business and dig a hole in the ground. On a normal camping trip, it’s pretty straightforward. The mosquitos aren’t ubiquitously ravenous. Now imagine – I do not exaggerate – 50 mosquitos swarming while you squat – your ass exposed – over a 6-inch hole trying to take care of business.  Not a pretty sight…luckily the below photos are.

 

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Golten’s Greasy Past Says Goodby

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Hopefully you had a moment to read the article I wrote for the Red Hook Star Revue about Goltens Marine closing shop after so many years.

Naturally only a small portion of the photos can be printed.

So, below are outtakes I shot in the space.

At one point, while shooting I leaned on the ground to take a photo, totally forgetting the entire place is covered in a layer of grease.

Needless to say, a spot of grease the size of a tennis ball covered my knee and when i got home and looked in the mirror, my clothes were covered in gritty black grease as were my face, elbows and arms.

Totally worth it to capture the story.

Is it a sad one?

You be the judge.

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A Red Hook Monument Goes Silent

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For 60 years, the ruckus of machines and tools rang though Golten Marine’s machine shop at 160 Van Brunt.

A hive of mechanics and workers toiled for long hours as they rebuilt engines and drive systems of ships and tankers stranded throughout the world.

Even when it was quiet, an air compressor’s hiss rang through the workshop.

On July 3, Goltens went silent, the building sold to LIVWRK, a developer with plans to convert the industrial space into office and creative spaces.

For the employees of Goltens – many of whom spent their careers covered in the building’s grease and grime – the closing hurts. Not because on April 4th, they lost their jobs. Not because they lost their income. Because they lost their family.

Since then, the same guys who spent years mending and repairing damaged ship parts have been dismantling their second home.

Continue reading the article and for more photos click here: Red Hook Star Revue.

 

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Juan Cadabel, a Goltens employee of 14 years on his 2nd to last day of work.

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Getting High In an Icelandic Church

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There’s nothing like getting high in a church.

In Reykjavik’s 244-foot tall Hallgrimskirkja Church, guests pay 700 krona (around $7) for a lift up the steeple into the church’s clock tower with 360-degree city views, the surrounding mountainous landscape and a glimpse of art.

Each church clock faces a compass point (north, south, west, east) and have been covered with artist Jo Yarrington’s transparent photographs.

One of Iceland’s big tourist attractions is to drive the Ring Road, a 2-lane highway that traces the country’s coast and where all of Yarrington’s photos were taken.

The second set of photos are a birds eye view of Reykjavik from the bell tower on a cloudy, snowy winter day.

 

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Shattered NYC Skyline Part 2

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Another night of storms swirled through New York City tonight - an ominous omen of the hurricane headed up the east coast and might barrel though the city.

I caught these photos from our apartment window as thunder and lighting tore up the sky and spat beads of rain at 45 degree angles.

 

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New York’s Lightning Shattered Sky

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Bolts of lightning shattered the New York City sky tonight as the heavens exploded in streaks of light.

The show started early as a riot of buttery yellows and tangerine oranges traced the fading sun to bed and ushered in nature’s electric performance.

By dark, lightning bolts – some singular and thick, others spindly like a shattered pane of glass - filled the sky and illuminated the mass of clouds hovering over New York City’s skyline in a bleached, bone white broth.

The Freedom Tower’s 408-foot spire and its 288 LED lights serve as a beacon of light and seducer of nature’s raging power and I captured their grace from my roof.

Tell me what you think of the view.

PS: I’m lucky to have the consummate assistant/wife who held the umbrella and made sure the camera stayed dry and the photos possible. So as promised: muchas gracias.

 

 

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Portraits of Homelessness Overcome

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A few weeks ago while shooting portraits for Homefirst, an organization in Plainsfield, NJ that works to keep families from becoming homeless and help homeless families find homes, I felt amazed and humbled at the kid’s perseverance.

Homefirst transformed the lives of each of the 3 teenagers photographed. The first is a basketball star that has ambition (and talent) to go pro. The second will be joining the military to pursue a career in medicine. The third is studying to become a nurse, has a fashion line and a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

The photos will be used as part of a promotional video to spread awareness of Homefirst’s good work: they own buildings and apartments that provide affordable housing, the organization offers English classes, job resources and a litany of other initiatives to help at-risk and post-risk families.

You might recall I shot documentary photos for the organization last year (that are viewable here) and I hope to shoot another round for the organization later this summer.

It’s great to do something you love, in my case take photos (and write).

It’s even greater to do something you love while making a difference in the lives of others.

Sound idealistic?

It is.

And it’s up to us to make idealism a reality.

 

 

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An Icelandic Public Service Announcement (You Actually Want to Hear These Ones)

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Humor, irony and public service announcements fill the streets of Reykjavik. From dating advice to junk food warnings to words of wisdom, Icelandic street art provides a guide for life.

Maybe it’s a bit hokey to talk it up like that but when Iceland’s Slurpees are called “Krap” and graffiti talks truth (as opposed to tagging one’s territory like an unsnipped mutt – there’s still lots of that) it makes me think this small country has built something better than big houses and piles of cash during its thousand year history.

Don’t get me wrong. They stumbled hard during the great financial collapse in the 2000s and the economy tanked. But even then, I think the country learned an important lesson.

While making money and having a full belly and safe place to sleep are important –  even imperative parts of life – they’re only a means to an end.

And that, my friends is happiness.

Everybody complains about his or her troubles and stresses but nobody gripes about about a happy ending.

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Iceland’s Creative Muse

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Inspiration, regardless of its source is a powerful agent of creativity. For much of western history, the church and more specifically Christ, has served as a creative muse to artists and writers and poets.

In Iceland, a country dominated by the Christian Lutheran denomination, the country’s largest church, Hallgrimskirkja blends Christian beliefs with its ruggedly beautiful landscape.

Standing 244 feet tall, Hallgrimskirkja took 38 years to complete and draws architectural inspiration from the Iceland’s basalt lava flows.

Its name traces to the Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674) known for writing the Passion Hymns, a poetic exploration of the final events in the life of Jesus Christ, or Jesus Kristur, in Icelandic.

Complementing the site’s religious narrative is a statue of the Norse explorer Leif Erikson, a gift from the United States government in 1930. Erikson converted to Christianity in 999 and was the first European to discover North America; nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

Inside the church, the nave’s towering ceilings didn’t fill me with religious inspiration but a deep appreciation for religion’s influence on our actions. Humanity has a messy history of justifying their motives through religious doctrine, but in Hallgrimskirkja, those actions caused little harm but left behind a symbol of man’s greatest gift: faith.

 

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Iceland’s Desolation Row

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Barren, desolate, lunar with a smidgen of Christ is how I’d describe eastern Iceland.

Tiny towns and villages line Highway 1, the main artery that runs through the region and each of these towns, comprised of a few houses, barns, and livestock all seemed to have a church.

Christianity arrived to Iceland around 795 CE but didn’t last very long. Early Christian settlers were from British and Irish stock and quickly assimilated. Within a few generations their descendants worshipped Norse gods.

Around 1000 CE, with an increase of missionaries and a desire to keep good relations with Norway, the country’s largest trading benefactor whose Christian king threatened to ban Iceland’s pagan merchants, Iceland’s leaders adopted Christianity which trickled throughout society forming the Christian Iceland we know today.

Most of the churches are simple, sparse affairs save for the country’s main church in central Reykjavik (photos of that later).

All of the churches seem to have an austerity to them – a blend of sterile lines and a windswept setting.

In other places, lonesome homes quietly break the mountainous horizon.

Check out the below photos from Iceland and as always click on the image to view full-size.

 

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