Category Archives: history

St. James’s Park and Green Park, London

On my last day in England I spent the morning at the Temple Church, ate a luxurious lunch at The Wolesley, and then spent the rest of the day laying in the grass, painting, and soaking in the warm sun and all that is beautiful about summer in two of London’s royal parks – St. James’s Park and Green Park. In the late 19th century these parks inspired Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture, to design public spaces and park systems throughout the U.S. and in turn his work has inspired me. He crafted landscapes by teasing out their essence, and it is the essence of place that I’m on the trail to find. (Turn on your sound to get the full effect of this beautiful day and place)

The Cotswolds

As a landscape historian I’m intrigued by what communicates the sense of place. Earlier this year I spent three weeks traveling through England and Scotland researching, experiencing and trying to capture base layers of each place’s essence. The Cotswolds was one of the landscapes that resonated the most. I recorded its landscapes, sounds, colors and objects – historic and contemporary, sacred and profane. Here are some impressions from that study. (Make sure your sound is turned on to get the full effect.)

memories of place

IMG_1523 IMG_1537IMG_1527

This past fall I took advantage of a trip to the south to explore the home of distant ancestors who lived in South Carolina and North Carolina during and immediately following the American Revolution. What I discovered there was both enthralling and disturbing.

About a year previous I had turned the focus of my research skills, which I use for my work as a landscape historian, from learning about other people’s histories to my own. Though I spent a great deal of time with my great-grandmother Pearl before she died in 1995, I realized I knew very little about her parents and their parents before them. I thought I’d find a few interesting morsels of information and that the process would take a weekend or two at most. I figured I’d find more dead ends than real information, such is the way of historic research. Countless hours, weeks and now more than a year since I started I have traced my lineage to some incredibly interesting places and periods of time. As I stood next to the graves of my 5th great-grandparents in a small family cemetery in northwestern South Carolina on a crisp sunny October day I couldn’t believe the twists that had led me there.

Henry and Christina Jane Hauser’s stone house still stands on National Park Service property within the bounds of Kings Mountain National Military Park that commemorates one of the battles between the patriots and the British army in the waning days of the war. Henry bought the property after the American Revolution and married Christina Jane Heafner, whose family lived just across the border in North Carolina. Because the house is stone it has persisted since the late 18th century and because it was located within a national park it has been preserved since it was abandoned in the early 20th century. The landscape, once a sprawling farm with many outbuildings, fields, orchards and woodlots, is but a shadow of itself.

There are many holes in the research about the Hausers and their property, but ironically enough the National Park Service is working on a cultural landscape report (one of the primary projects I work on as a landscape historian) for the property, building on previous surveys of the house and landscape.

What I do know is that Henry was a man of means and property and in reading his will and reviewing census information I discovered that he was also a slave owner. Perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising to me (given the era and the place), but it was and it still hurts when I think about it. It was likely their handful of slaves that built the stone house which still stands, farmed the fields that have since disappeared, and were then bought by other members of the family once he died. I walked through their house and stood next to their graves and tried to envision their lives in this place. Trying to understand who they were and why they owned slaves, but was also retracing the research journey that had led me there and realizing there were circumstances that had conspired to make this happen. Small bits of fate that pushed me to have this experience.

A few days later I was at a historic preservation conference in Savannah, the reason I was in the area in the first place, and had the honor of speaking to two women. They were descendants of slaves from a plantation outside Charleston, South Carolina some 200 miles away from my ancestor’s property. The experience couldn’t have been more welcome. The feelings I’d been trying to grapple with since learning about my ancestors were coming full circle. Descendants from both sides of this haunting history talking about place and memory and how to move forward. It was an experience I will never forget. And it has pushed me to keep researching and keep looking for opportunities to travel to places with deep connections.

Happy Anniversary

This weekend marks six years for my blog. Six years since I moved back to Portland from Boston. Six years of writing about my obsessions: travel, design, sports and history. Six years of photographing the amazing places I’m fortunate to live in and visit. Six years baby, it really doesn’t feel like that long.

Though I’ve been neglecting this space (for a while I know) I plan to inject it with more energy during the next several weeks as I prepare for a month-long trip to Europe. And of course plan to document my travels through London, England, Paris and Spain this fall. Stay tuned…

i remember

IMG_0888

I remember listening to the radio and not understanding what they meant when the towers fell. I couldn’t fathom that two of the tallest buildings in the world could disintegrate like that.

I remember the calming presence my friend Anne had upon me.

I remember how empty the roads were when all the people who usually commuted out of NYC weren’t there along side me. I never wanted to be stuck in traffic so badly.

I remember how quiet the skies were for what seemed like forever. Silence never sounded so ominous.

I remember the first time I went to Ground Zero and how I couldn’t move once I entered St. Paul’s Chapel.

I remember how everyone in the country came together.

I remember.

9/11 and 5/1

Disbelief. Shock. Sadness. Heartbreak. Elation. Pride. I ran through a mosaic of emotions in the days, weeks and months after 9/11. Since hearing of Osama Bin Laden’s death I’ve felt them all over again.

I know I’m not the only one. As I hear from others who lived in and around New York City on that day I hear them echoing my own thoughts. One woman who lost her brother said it best, “I understand it’s a good day for America and the families that lost loved ones. In the beginning I was crying and I didn’t understand why, because you think after ten years that the tears will stop coming, but they don’t.”

I don’t feel the same level of anxiety I felt immediately after 9/11, but I still feel tinges of it every year on the anniversary. Time and distance have muted its effects, or at least that’s what I thought. I honestly never considered how I’d feel when the day came that Osama bin Laden was dead, no longer able to harm anyone else, but it feels like 9/11 all over again. Only this time I’m not surrounded by people who understand what it was like.

I’ve realized over the years that all of our lives changed in America that day, but that the closer you were to New York City or Washington DC the more affected you are. Perhaps that’s a no-brainer, but I still struggle to describe what that day was like. I’m often greeted with blank stares when I describe how thousands of people went into work that morning, me included, and how few of them came home. How full I-95 and the trains were going into Manhattan and how empty they were coming out. How a bustling metropolitan area that was constantly covered in sound erupting from planes overhead to cars on the ground to people walking around, was suddenly silent. And how the first time I made my way to the wreckage of the World Trade Center I stood in St. Paul’s Chapel at Vesey Street and couldn’t move for what seemed like hours.

Here is an excerpt from a previous entry I wrote on an anniversary of 9/11. It does help to remember. And it helps to reach out. I get in touch my friend Anne every year on 9/11 and couldn’t help but reach out yesterday after hearing of Osama bin Laden’s death. I don’t have to explain how important it was that we were together on that day.

Nearly ten years ago I woke up to a stunningly beautiful September morning in Connecticut. It was sunny, clear and crisp and fall was in the air. It was one of those days where you realize how gorgeous it’s going to be and you can hardly wait for the day to begin. Summer was trying to hang on, and I was looking forward to the day since Anne and I would have the office to ourselves. Our colleagues were on the road in Washington, DC and Pennsylvania, and I’d be spending the day getting ready to join them in the capitol the next day. Just a couple hours later the whole day changed, and the whole world changed with it.

Living in densely populated Fairfield County I was surrounded by people who worked in the city. My typical evening commute was characterized by driving bumper to bumper on I-95 or being crammed like a sardine on the outbound New Haven commuter train. But that afternoon, the afternoon of September 11th, the interstate was empty. The trains weren’t running. The emptiness combined with complete silence stemming from no flights overhead was eerie and surreal.

My heart continued to break with each passing moment as the reality of the events sunk in. As Anne and I listened to coverage on the radio (phones and the nascent internet were unreliable at best) and helped our colleagues find a way to get back home we just couldn’t visualize the destruction the terrorists had left in their wake. I really didn’t understand what the reporters meant when they said the towers had collapsed. Only that night as I sat in my living room in tears watching coverage of the day’s events, did I start to realize the hole that had been carved out of our country.

I hope all those who were lost on that day can now rest in peace. I hope all those who lost loved ones can find additional closure. And I hope that all of us remember to be compassionate towards those who were affected that day – September 11, 2001.

May 1st

On this day in history…

2011 | Osama Bin Laden is killed by American Special Forces.

2003 | George W. Bush infamously announces “Mission Accomplished” declaring major operations in Iraq are over.

1945 | Hitler’s suicide is announced to the world.

1931 | The Empire State Building is dedicated.