Mark & Harriet & Clark & Us: Sibling Adventures

My brother has a knack for gardening, and I have a knack for letting plants die, and we found ourselves among flowers and history several times this summer so far.

Clark Botanic Gardens is small, yet easy to get lost in. Several times my brother mentioned how the map is not to scale. I did look at the map quite a bit, thinking maybe this would be the day I could understand spatial relationships, and then I gave up when I noticed something gross on my hand and used the map to wipe it off while doing what any normal adult would do—shouting, Ewww, grosssss, get it offffff.

Also gross was a dead bird we found on a pathway that my brother thought had been killed in a sacrificial ritual because it looked like it had no head. I suggested that animals could have eaten it, and he suggested that animals would not be so precise. Neither one of us got a real good look at it, so let’s call this debate a draw.

Other than gross, the gardens were pretty. There was an apiary (but I didn’t see any honey for purchase, which was a bummer). There was a gazebo. Then paths wound around paths, and we saw art and flowers. A man with a camera and a large beard who referred to himself as Santa Claus ran into us several times, and each time he pointed out the turtles. One time he shouted at us across a pond about the turtles. Sure enough, there were turtles we would have missed otherwise. We also saw a rabbit and monarch butterflies. We started to see the same plants over and again, we realized we made our way around several times, just in different ways. There was also art, and we all know how I love public art.

You know where else there are gardens? Connecticut. We drove out to the Mark Twain House where there is also the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, and Stowe kept pristine gardens.

Let’s take a side note here about how I have misconceptions about history while my brother is a history teacher. You may all recall the There Are Two Hoovers incident, which garnered a full on facepalm. This time around, I kind of eased my way into the misconception: I know that Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe are two people, but sometimes I think of Harriet Tubman when I hear Uncle Tom’s Cabin, even though Stowe wrote it, and also, Stowe was a white lady, and sometimes in my mind (like always up until I saw the Stowe house) she’s black.

Perhaps my brother is now beyond facepalming at my historical inaccuracies because there was no shout or self-flagellation that occurred. A bit of a head shake. Perhaps because I was already shaking my head in my own shame already.

Anyway, we started with Twain. There’s a building that serves as a museum to show a Ken Burns film and a panel exhibit of Twain. Something I re-learned: Samuel Clemens named himself after a nautical measurement. Something I learned for the first time: Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, was terrible at inventing things. He tried a printing press and a memory game among other things, and they were both not good and sent him into debt. It’s a good thing the world loved him because he went on a talking tour to earn money to support his family.

His house is large. He had several children, but still, large. It’s also very ornate, each room with wood carvings and stenciled wallpaper. He had fancy fireplaces installed throughout the house, too. He clearly built the house he dreamed of owning when he’d had very little growing up.

The tour guide knew a lot. We heard so many dates and facts. When someone asked a question, she always had an answer. That means, on top of knowing the script for the tour, she has additional knowledge rolling around in her Twain synapses. It’s impressive. It’s one thing to memorize a script, but to be able to also offer answers to questions you don’t know are coming is super neat.

Once we got back to the museum part, we finished watching the Ken Burns film we’d seen only part of and then headed to the Harriet Beecher Stowe House across the yard. It’s literally a few feet away. Once that tour started, we quickly learned that the Stowe family lived there first. Twain build that monstrous house in her backyard. They were all friendly, so it wasn’t a big deal, but still—that massive thing going up behind such a regular-sized house had to be a bit of a headache at times. Stowe was happy to have this smaller house; she, too, at one time had a massive house and decided it was too much.

Her house has many of her own paintings. It also has plants. It also has her paintings of plants. She was really talented. During this tour, a family of four joined us, and one of the daughters had completed a school project on Stowe, so she knew a bunch of stuff. The tour guide was very attentive towards her because of this, which was nice because it made the tour simple and a bit slower than that face-paced-facts-in-yo-face of Twain. Something I re-learned is that Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Something I learned for the first time—well, we already know but I’ll say it again—Stowe was a white lady.

Another side note: I mentioned this to my mom, and she said, You know what? I think I thought she was black, too. So there. We’re all not on top of our history at all times. Why do so many women have to be named Harriet? And by so many, I mean two. These two in particular. It’s very confusing.

One room that makes you go, Oh my, is the one with all the memorabilia about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. While the book was meant to rail against slavery and racism, it inspired plays and movies and adaptations and toys and knickknacks that were very racist. It reminded me of when we went to a museum that had a sign that there would be racist images in a particular exhibit, and we were like halfway through and were like, there’s no racist stuff her, and then we turned a corner and saw a huge propaganda poster that used the word Jappy, and we were like, oh, yes, there it is. What we’re learning is that a lot of history is racist. And also, the Hoover incident occurred during the same adventure.

At the end of this tour, we went into the small museum gift shop and wrote a note on a community paper about the experience. I wrote that it was inspiring. Stowe lived a long life of writing and art, so of course, that’s inspiring. Also inspiring are her gardens. The flowers are so vibrant, and they made me almost want to plant some of my own. Almost, but not quite. I’ll leave the pretty plants to my brother.

Right Trains Go To Much Needed Places

Remember Leap Day 2020? I do. It was the day of my most glorious date with myself, trouncing from gallery to gallery, across the highline, getting lost, and then finding myself at The Rubin to measure my existence. It was the last time I was in the city. A pandemic floated in, much in that freaky way the yellow smoke licks at buildings in that T. S. Eliot poem.

With a lot of trepidation and a lot of hope and excitement, I ventured out onto a train and into a city and found myself again at The Rubin, this time with my yoga gal pal, and it was glorious!

I’m pretty good with trains and subways. When the gals used to go to Shecky’s, I’d be the one they followed to get from Penn to the Puck building and back again. (However, D was better with streets—she taught me 1, 2, 3, Little Pigs Make 5 meaning 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Lex, Park, Madison, 5th, , which works only when you remember it and not when you’re standing on a street corner shouting, Pigs! There are pigs! They go to the market!).

Anyway, trains. I was nervous, standing on the platform with my mask on and a magazine in my face. Trains pulled in and out. Then when it was time for my train to arrive, a train pulled in, and I got on. Phew! I got on! It was super clean. I sat. It was super empty. I waited and then listened to the announcements that had been going on since I stepped on the train. Clearly, this announcement was just for me because it sounded exasperated as it explained this was the last stop and the train was headed to the yard. I got off the train.

Then the real train arrived. I got on the train. I used my phone with my electronic ticket app thing. My ten trip I’d bought pre-pandemic had expired and the “good” folks at the MTA did not let me extend it even though they said only essential workers should be using the trains at the beginning of quarantine, which was when my trips were to expire. So I was following rules, and they were being jerks. I bought a new ticket for this one round trip, not knowing if I’d be able to use another ten trip, not knowing if this trip to the city would be a success.

After the train pulled into Penn and I made my way to the sidewalk, I realized I’d done so without touching anything. You can get a whole lot accomplished without touching things with your hands! The first think I touched was the door to the Rubin, and that’s where I found B waiting for me. We were a bit early, but since the museum was empty, they let us in.
First up—origami! I’d followed their instructional video to make an origami lotus and sent it in. On the first floor, there’s a large basin of lotuses, many very advanced and crafty. Hanging from the top floor ceiling all the way down to the lobby are more lotuses. Brilliant!

Then we went all the way to the top to spiral our way down. We followed the arrows on the floor. We saw some exhibits and some remnants of exhibits that had been there but were interactive and so are no longer allowed. Like, the writing desk with all the envelopes was now roped off (last time, I wrote a letter). Like, the photograph of the pile of candy that had looked like a shiny rug (last time, I took a piece of candy). Still, we were in a museum! We were in the city!

The shrine room is still open. They limit it two at a time, which again, was not a big issue because it was pretty empty. We meditated a bit and then headed out to see more of the art. We talked crystals. We talked mudras. We talked how to make the intricate metal statues. We talked awe. We talked yoga. We went to the museum store and talked all things intriguing and interesting.

Then we were done with the museum and up for lunch. We walked to Chelsea Market. The streets are not crowded. This is how S had described it when she was talking me off the anxiety ledge. There are people out. There are no tourists. That makes a major difference.

Side note: When my brother and I completed our Walk To End Alz, we were walking behind some guy in Massapequa Preserve when I was explaining how I had a plan to go into the city. The guy turned around and warned me to be super careful because just last week, a man in midtown was wielding a machete. Oh, ok, thank you giant man who looks susupiciously like a man who would stand in Times Square and wield a machete. My brother told me not to worry about machetes. I figured that I couldn’t let it hold me back since that could basically happen any time in NYC, not just during the pandemic. Remember the slashings of 2016? Yeah, that was terrible. Also terrible: urban machete attacks.

We got to Chelsea Market without encountering pointy objects. We ate Thai. We ordered ice teas that the server warned several times about their being sweet. Omigosh, sweet is an understatement! I got an ice tea with lychee, and it was heaven on a sugar high. The food was delicious. The only drawback was the occasional large truck that rushed by the barrier inches away from where we were sitting, but that also reminded me of yoga in Times Square, lying on the ground with traffic a few feet away (that’s how B and I met, btw, so it all was very serendipitous).

After lunch, we grabbed coffee at a cute shop and walked in circles for a few blocks here and there, finally circling in on the garage where she’d parked. Then I walked back to Penn, again with no pointy objects in sight, and boarded the correct train the first time. I panicked when the doors closed because I couldn’t access my ticket, but then I realized that I had to sign into the app to actually get my ticket to work. Usually, I’m good with technology, but under the circumstances, my lapse is understandable.

Then I got home. I washed my hands for the hundredth time. I changed my clothes. I sighed with happiness and relief and such joy and gratitude. I’d felt so nervous and also so wanting, full of anxiety and full of need. Then I did my best to keep myself and the people around me safe, and I experienced life the way it could be again. That gives me great hope.

Storm King For The Win

Y’all, I completed my Summer Wish List! I am so grateful to all my friends and the fam who helped make it happen!

The final item was visit Storm King. Originally, I had two reasons. The first was to make new memories because the last time I was there, the wasband was also there. We had a great time, for sure, but new memories would be nice, too. The second was because a guy I was recently seeing suggested that we go there, and then he suggested we not date anymore, so I went with both suggestions, changing the first to singular: I go there, not we.

Then the reason changed. I really like public art, and I hadn’t seen SD and BS in a while, and with the semester closing in, this would be a really nice way to catch up before the nonsense begins.

Tickets kept selling out. Finally snagged some for a week out, and we hoped for no rain. The day came, and not only was there no rain, but the weather lady called it a gem of a day. It truly was. Perfect outdoor art weather.

I left my house a bit on the early side to make sure I got there on time, so I was able to stop along the way when I passed by two places.

The first is a bookstore pit stop for NYS. It was closed, but I bumped into an old friend.

Walt Whitman is everywhere, yo.

The second was Fort Montgomery, where I was a few years back for a Sibling Adventure day. I pulled over because I couldn’t not gawk at how pretty Bear Mountain Bridge was. Seriously, a gem of a day.

I did get to Storm King a bit early. They let me into the parking lot. They scan tickets through the window, so when the woman pointed in a direction for me to go, I wasn’t sure what she meant, so we wound up miming and pointing a few more times. Really, there was only one way to go, but my directionally challenged brain wouldn’t allow it to be easy.

We all met up after parking, put our masks on, and off we went to see the art. It was large art. There were pieces that puzzled us. There were sections where we asked, Is that art? Later on, in the vending machines, we found a book called Is It Art? So I suppose we aren’t the only ones who ask that.

The grounds are sprawling. We ventured up and down hills. We checked maps and couldn’t figure out where exactly to go. We became very focused on finding the North Woods. We did go into them a bit but not on purpose. Every place we went was pretty much accidental.

While I couldn’t find the man coming out of the ground that I saw the other time I was there, we did see a plethora of sculptures. We decided some were put together with pulleys, some with glue, and some with magic.

I’m holding it up with magic and invisible pulleys.
Nosy

What a way to end a summer. What a way to complete a wish.