Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Body Politic

9/16/21

I didn’t realize how much I was concerned about California’s recent recall campaign for Gavin Newsom until it was over. We breathed a big sigh of relief when he won. His speech after the election was quite good stating that the voters of California had taken a No vote on the recall and turned it into a Yes for a whole list of progressive policies.

As we left San Francisco, we listened to the news analysis of the election. After Gavin won big, my worries about the voters of California began to shift to pride about living in such a wonderful place. I have always felt that California’s famous progressive politics are a mile wide and an inch deep. I’ve lived and voted here my whole life and I’ve seen our state launch the careers of Nixon, Regan and Proposition 13. It is true that the last Republican to hold state-wide office here was fifteen years ago. And that this recall was a desperate Republican end run around the normal political process. California Republicans are so far out of touch with the voters here that dirty tricks like this are the only way they could hope to gain any power in the state.

As I buried my thoughts in Californianess, I played Beethoven’s wonderful 7th Symphony on our car’s speakers. This is one of my favorites and my mind drifted between this uplifting music and the election. As we drove on through the slim waist of California’s body politic the music began to rise in tone. As the music ascended, so did we through the tawny foothills of the Sierras. As we drove through the town of Auburn, I spotted a scary looking billboard for a survivalist store showing some mean looking dude wearing full body armor and mask carrying a big ‘ol machine gun. Even a few Larry Elder signs popped up out of the weeds. As we drove higher, we noticed how smoky the air became. The Sierra’s famous blue skies were replaced by a somber dull brown gray.

My gloomy thoughts about our troubled state were interrupted by the ongoing brilliance of Beethoven. His music was built on the optimism and struggles of the Enlightenment and the Romantic era. The music of the 7th contained the battles of his time in the shadows of the minor and major chords. One never knows the outcome while listening to this masterpiece, but the general trend is towards something better, climbing towards order, rationality, and light. Like Beethoven, our recent election gives me renewed faith in the future. We can get through these troubled times by believing in the rationality of science, medicine and enlightened practical public policy. Like the measured tones of this marvelous music, a civil civic discourse can start to help tamp down the steady drum beat of rising authoritarianism. Beethoven lived in difficult times, and so do we. But this election, and this music give me hope. As we crested the Sierras, I looked forward to the future.

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The 2021 Library Road Trip takes off!

9/14/21

Our fires in California are still raging. Our governor recall campaign is still raging. Resistance to getting the Covid-19 vaccination is still raging and sadly, so is the virus. What better time to take off on a cross-country Library Road Trip? After several delays, Ellen and I will be packing up the Prius and heading out tomorrow on the open road to Vermont. We will make a beeline east mostly taking Highway 80 on a northernly route to New England. We will spend about four weeks at our cabin in Vermont making a few day trips to Boston to show our Public Library album and to visit friends and family.

The return trip starting in mid-October is more problematic. We have appointments to show the album to curators at the Smithsonian in DC, Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, and Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ. As I mentioned earlier, we also hope to photograph places connected to African American history and segregated libraries. In addition, we hope to visit places representing Native American history, libraries, and education. The big question is the state of the Covid pandemic, especially in the South. We have already altered the return trip to avoid Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas which have sadly experienced bad Covid spikes and terrible hurricanes. We will be following the news closely and skip any new spikes and hurricanes.

I’ll keep you posted as the trip unfolds. It will be great to get back on the road. As always, feel free to send any comments, suggestions, or insights as we go off to search for America. I have attached information about our Public Library album. Onward…

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A Change in Plans

We voted today against the recall of our Governor Gavin Newsom. It is sad to see California Republicans using the recall to try to win an election that they would not be able to win otherwise. It is also sad to see Republican governors of other states trying to prevent their citizens from protecting themselves from the Covid pandemic by wearing masks or getting vaccinated. We have both followed the recent news about Covid carefully and have decided to postpone our departure a few weeks to see how this awful situation plays out. We are not so worried about the situation here in the Bay Area or at our destination in Vermont. People in these places seem to follow the rules and follow the science. It is some of the in-between places that we hoped to visit on our upcoming Library Road Trip that we are worried about. Please wear masks and get vaccinated. It’s the only way to crush this pandemic!

We hope to leave in a few weeks but right now it makes sense to stay put. I’ll let you know our travel plans as soon as possible.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes. We celebrated a double birthday last night with our friends Dan Geiger and Julie Blankenship. Thanks for the photo, Julie!

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The Return of the Library Road Trip, Cautiously

The Return of the Library Road Trip, Cautiously

The world has dramatically changed since our last Library Road Trip post in October 2019. Fortunately, Trump is gone. Unfortunately, Covid is not. We feel that there are still many miles to go before we put this project to sleep. We are returning to the road to drive across country to our little cabin in the woods in Vermont for the month of September. While we are on the way and on the return, we will explore two themes that emerged from our last LRT in 2019. We will photograph the complicated interaction of race and segregation on libraries throughout the country. The first place we will photograph will be the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, OK. This formally thriving African American neighborhood was mostly burned to the ground by a white mob in 1921. This destruction included the segregated public library in Greenwood which is still an empty lot. We will photograph other libraries in the South that were significant in the heroic struggle to desegregate these important parts of our national civic commons.

My research has benefitted by reading two books: The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South by Wayne and Shirley Wiegand and also Freedom Libraries The Untold Story of Libraries for African Americans in the South by Mike Selby. Freedom Libraries were established during the Civil Rights struggle in the South in the 1960s when the main libraries initially refused to desegregate. We will be visiting several of these during our drive through the South. It is hard to understand today how people were thrown in jail and sometimes savagely beaten for wanting to check out a book from a public library.

Police officers in Albany, Georgia carry a demonstrator down the steps of the Albany Carnegie Library during a civil rights protest.

Our second area of interest that came out of our 2019 LRT was the forced removal of Indigenous children from their homes into “Indian Schools”. We saw examples of this in our drive across Canada and have been reading more about this recently with the discovery of unmarked graves of children in some of these former schools. As much as we have championed education for all poor children as a way out of poverty, this form of education was closer to cultural genocide. We will be visiting one of the first, largest and most famous of these schools in the US called the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Ironically, it now houses the US Army War College.

Canadian Indian Residential Schools (grid)
Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Starting August 20th, we will be on the road for approximately two months. We will cautiously made our way through the parts of the country that are experiencing the recent spike with the Covid virus’ Delta variant. We are vaccinated and we will be wearing masks and keeping our heads down everywhere. And being very cautious!

I will be writing occasional posts from the road as a record of our journey. We would love to hear your feedback along the way. As always, feel free to opt out of receiving these posts if you wish.

Onward…

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Traveling West on Old Route 66

Traveling West on Old Route 66

10/13/19

Driving from Birmingham to Little Rock, AR we encountered a warm, green landscape of forests and rolling hills called the Boston Mountains. I had forgotten how beautiful the South was and this area really impressed me. We drove from northern Alabama to northeastern Mississippi through the beautifully named town of Tupelo. This was part of the South that neither of us had seen and it was fascinating. As we drove through Memphis I waved in the direction of Graceland and vowed to come back and spend more time. At Little Rock we finally got on Interstate 40 which was the old Route 66. Besides the song and the TV show, Route 66 was the road West for many of the Dust Bowl migrants in the 1930s. The fictional Joad family in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath followed this road all the way to the Promised Land of California and so will we.

10/14/19

The next day we followed this Mother Road through the drier rolling hills of the many Indian Nations of eastern Oklahoma. This area describes itself as Native America for a reason. In the early 19th century our country had a process of forcibly removing the Native Americans from their land in the South and sending them to eastern Oklahoma. This eventually led to the infamous Trail of Tears that is now recognized as a crime against the humanity of the Native People. Many of their descendants still live here, even after the State of Oklahoma was opened up to white settlement in the latter part of the 19th century. The Indigenous people were continuing the process of reclaiming their heritage and identity and we saw many Native American license plates on the cars of different tribes of this area. I remember seeing the struggles of the Indigenous people in Canada and realized that this will be a long process of healing.

We pulled into Oklahoma City in a beautiful late afternoon light and headed straight to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. Here was the site of the famous Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 by two white nationalist, nut-jobs Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. One hundred and sixty-eight people died here and six hundred and eighty were injured. It remains the deadliest incident of domestic terrorism in the US. On one side of the Memorial was a field of symbolic bronze and stone chairs – one for each person lost. The chairs represent the empty chairs at the dinner tables of the victims’ families. A chain link fence which had surrounded the site of the blast had attracted over 800,000 personal items of commemoration. Part of the fence was still on display. Like the memorials we saw in Alabama, these symbols against hate were effective, gut-wrenching and important.

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Oklahoma City National Memorial, Oklahoma City, OK

10/15/19

Today we drove through western Oklahoma and the Panhandle of Texas arriving nine hours later in Santa Fe, NM. Compared with the eastern part of the state, Western Oklahoma was flatter, drier and whiter. It still contained some of the rolling hills of the East, but we finally felt like we had entered the American West. The austerity and aridity of this land is so different from the Eastern US. After two months on the road we felt, in some ways, that we had come back home.

Podcasts and CDs were our constant companions. The news about our President was so bad that the intervals of music brought us great joy. But each time we went back to the news, things only seem to get worse. It is ironic to be traveling through a part of the country that so solidly supports Trump. When will they finally abandon him?

After another long-haul drive we arrived at the house of our old, dear friends Meridel and Jerry. She is a well-known and wonderful photographer who taught for many years in Singapore. She is currently working on a long-term environmental photographic project in Iraq. Jerry comes from an old New Mexican ranching family and is a brilliant painter. He has worked most of his life as a contractor.

They used to be married but are still good friends and live next to each other. Meridel’s partner Ben has been an Oscar-winning documentary film maker and is about to start teaching for one year at a university in Sweden.

This was the rich mix of accomplished people that we were staying with for one full day. We greatly enjoyed just staying still in the glorious desert. We were like wide-eyed, shell-shocked children as we wandered through a near-by arroyo secco.

We also enjoyed watching the three-hour Democratic over Vietnamese take-out. We all spent the evening trying to figure out who among the twelve people on stage will be our next President.

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10/16/19

Santa Fe to Flagstaff, AZ was another back-aching, bun-busting long drive. Fortunately, the wide-open spaces were awe inspiring. It even seemed appropriate to hear a Terry Gross interview on singing cowboys. Peanut butter and hot sauce was was our essential road food.

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A massive forest fire obliterated the famously blue skies as we approached Flagstaff. We had read about the recent disastrous fires in this region and in Southern California. It is another sickening result of climate change inaction by the Republican climate change deniers in Washington. Smoke clung to the air as we entered the forests of Flagstaff. As the American West was again burning, we saw one more reason why the next election is so crucial.

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10/17/19

Our second-to-last day of this epic journey took us from Flagstaff to Bakersfield, CA. The beautiful Arizona forests turned into a drier, hotter desert as we descended to the Colorado River.

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We crossed into California at the small town of Needles. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for the Dust Bowl refugees of the 1930s as they entered what they believed to be the Promised Land.

We zip through the great, dry desert and we rise up to a high plateau on the southern edge of the Mojave National Preserve. I know and love this area well having taught workshops in the Park for over ten years at a great little place called Zzyzx. Halfway between Barstow and the desert town of Mojave was a small intersection called Kramer’s Junction. We stopped to get gas and found ourselves in the middle of a giant sandstorm. The force of nature was both frightening and awe-inspiring.

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Crossing over the Tehachapi Mountains we were struck by the ethereal light of the clouds and sky and also the vastness entering the San Joaquin Valley.

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I have spent so much time working on projects in this area that I felt I was entering home. Bakersfield is a tragic, poetic and fascinating place. It has some of the worst air-quality in the country and yet has also produced some great writers and a unique form of country western music called the Bakersfield Sound. I always think of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens when I drive through here. I was amazed to hear on the local public radio station some guy who had organized a pro-Trump rally here complaining about all the people driving by flipping him off. With what has been going on, what was he expecting even here in conservative Bakersfield?

10/18/19

We discovered an oil-derrick themed hipster coffee shop in downtown Bakersfield. It was excellent and gave me hope for the revival of the downtown.

The five-hour drive to San Francisco gave us time to think and talk about the big take-aways from our two-moth journey around the edges of our country. Three new ideas emerged from this journey. The first was the relationship between the Indigenous people of Canada and education. Sadly, we found that some of those efforts were misguided. I had always felt that education could be a great tool to help lift people out of poverty and elevate their lives. We found, in some cases, education could also become a form of cultural genocide for the Native people.

The second big take-away occurred in Québec. We saw many churches in the province that had gradually lost their parishioners and had been abandoned. Ironically, several of these churches had become public libraries. Why the loss of faith? What caused the people of Québec to abandon their once dominant religion? Why were secular public libraries occupying what was once a religious space? What does all this say about the sacred and the secular in contemporary French-Canadian society?

Finally, the last take-away occurred in the South. Here we traced the epic struggle for Civil Rights, especially in Alabama. I was fascinated by the role that libraries played in that struggle. I was encouraged to see that libraries continued their role not only as community centers but, for some communities, as a place to heal a broken civic space. This idea deserves a lot more research and I will be coming back to explore this more in the future.

It was with great joy that we finally came to a stop at our home in San Francisco. We had traveled almost 11,000 miles circumnavigating the country. We will now stay still for a while and absorb the many lessons we have learned. Thanks for coming along for the ride! Between this trip and the Fulbright Fellowship, we have been on the road for eight out of the last fourteen months. Time for a break and I will be back in touch.

Until then…

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Through the Cradle of the Civil War and Civil Rights

Through the Cradle of the Civil War and Civil Rights 

10/10/19

After spending most of September in Vermont, we headed south at the beginning of October. While staying with Ellen’s sister Martha we visited the wonderful Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum in Boston.

We stayed with our friends Dave and Claudia in Salisbury Mills, NY in the Hudson River Valley.

We spent one day taking the train to New York City to see a retrospective show of Vija Celmins at the Met Breuer Museum and have dinner with our friends Lynn and Stanley in Brooklyn.

The next day we drove to Washington, DC to stay with our friends Jeff and Susie.

Jeff used to work at the Smithsonian and he took us to see the new and astonishing National Museum of African-American Art and Culture. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this Museum set us up for the rest of our trip through the South.

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As we drove south from Washington, I felt like we had entered the South. Being born and raised in California, I have always been fascinated by this part of the country. My father and I used to have big arguments about civil rights when much of the history of that movement was being played out here in the 1960s. As we drove through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia I noted my first impressions: red dirt, kudzu, Southern pines, anti-abortion ads, friendliness, Civil War memories, peaches, William Christenberry’s photographs, Civil War battlefield sites, Lewis Hine photographs, Walker Evans and the 1930’s Farm Security Administration’s photographs and listening to the Blues.

After the end of a long drive and listening to lots of podcasts about the insanity with our President, we arrived at the small but very pleasant town of Eclectic, Alabama. It was founded  in 1907 by a practitioner of eclectic medicine, hence the name. I had spent 18 years photographing libraries throughout the United States but, unfortunately, didn’t photograph any libraries in Alabama or Hawaii. I was here in Alabama to make amends and help complete the project. The Eclectic Library was housed in the old red-brick jail. Behind it was a very large water tower. Inside, the librarians were very enthusiastic about our project and took me on a grand tour of their tiny library. In the half an hour tour I learned much about this place including that Jessie Owens, Hank Williams, Willie Mays and Condoleezza Rice all came from Alabama. We later pulled into the capitol city of Montgomery after dark. I was exhausted after the long drive but happy to have finally photographed a library in Alabama. Impressions of this state included cotton, aerospace billboards, lots of churches, high school football, “Jesus Saves”, and vast tree farms.

Eclectic Public Library, Eclectic, AL

10/11/19

Ellen’s sister Martha had recently told us about a new museum in Montgomery dedicated to the civil rights struggle called the Legacy Museum. A few days ago, we had visited the National Museum of African-American Arts and Culture in Washington, DC. That museum was a great celebration of the accomplishments of African-Americans as well as some of the dark history of slavery and segregation. The Legacy Museum focused on the grim reality of slavery and segregation and the heroic fight of the Civil Rights Movement.

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Of course, Montgomery was one of the largest centers of the nineteenth-century slave trade, was one of the capitols of the Confederacy and was the scene of the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott which was an early battle for civil rights. As a result, there was great resonance in standing in the place of so much human suffering and conflict.

One of the great turning points in the Civil Rights struggle was the march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery in 1965. We drove the 54-mile National Historic Trail in reverse arriving in the depressed town of Selma around mid-day. As we drove over the historic Edmund Pettus bridge, we came upon the scene of the Bloody Sunday police riot. Here, State Troopers beat the marchers with night clubs, then donned gas masks and released tear gas to further terrorize the marchers. The demonstrators began running back, stumbling over each other and trying to ward off blows. The troopers and posse continued to use nightsticks, whips and rubber tubes to drive the marchers through the streets of Selma. Standing on these same streets I felt it made these awful events more real by physically being in the place of such historic consequence.

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The one place in Selma that offered some release from the surrounding poverty and grim history was the Selma Public Library. The exterior and landscaping seemed like an oasis. The interior contained an extraordinary quilt that was produced by the community churches. It addressed Selma’s painful past and was an attempt to continue the community’s struggle to heal. There was no better place for this than the Selma Public Library which had literally witnessed such horrors on its front steps 54 years ago.

Public Library, Selma, AL

Public Library, Selma, AL

We drove west from Selma and as we turned off on to Alabama State Highway 61 (not to be confused with Mississippi’s Highway 61 that Bob Dylan made famous) we entered the very rural Alabama Black Belt. This name refers to the incredibly rich soils that stretch all the way to Georgia and the Carolinas. It was also the heart of the plantation cotton and slave empires of the antebellum South. Cotton was still grown here but the crops have been diversified. This was beautiful country, especially in the warm, Fall afternoon light.

We arrived in the fascinating restored town of Newbern, AL. It was very small with a population of 186 and a per capital income of $9,476. The Rural Studio of Auburn University was based in Newbern. Its architecture students work under the supervision of faculty designing and building affordable housing and similar projects to support the population of rural areas of Alabama. One of the projects the Rural Studio built was the Newbern Public Library. It was housed in a former bank and the building was donated by a local family to become a social center and the first public internet point in the community. It was designed to be a resource-rich social center, but also to preserve the town’s history, heritage and memories. Newbern and its library gave me some hope for the future.

Newbern Library, Newbern, Hale Co., ALNewbern Library, Newbern, Hale Co., AL

Newbern Library, Newbern, Hale Co., ALNewbern Library, Newbern, Hale Co., AL

Newbern is located in Hale County, Alabama. Walker Evans photographed the area in 1936 with writer James Agee. They looked at a group of dirt-poor, white tenant farmers in one of the poorest parts of the rural South. They produced their famous book from this project called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941. Photographer William Christenberry also worked here for many years. In 2019, the film “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” by artist RaMeil Ross was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, poetically addressing the region’s shift in demographers and the power of intra-community cooperation.

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The second library we photographed in Hale County was in the town of Greensboro, the Catfish Capitol of Alabama. This area was also central to the cotton/slave empires and was part of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King hid from Klu Klux Klan members here in what is now operated as The Safe House Black Historic Museum. The beautiful Hale County Library dates back to 1925. Additions to the Library have maintained the original style. The very smart, literate and gracious librarian was kind enough to let us stay a half an hour after closing time while she filled in Ellen with the local history and I scrambled around the small library with my camera.

Hale County Library, Greensboro, AL

Hale County Library, Greensboro, ALHale County Library, Greensboro, AL

We then drove into the night in a white-knuckle downpour. Listening to podcasts about the crazy stuff coming out of the White House was the only thing that distracted us from the sheets of rain and lighting all around us. We finally landed in Birmingham, AL, exhausted.

10/12/19

In our hotel there was a large room with a big screen TV showing Trump blathering on at one of his rallies. I was encouraged to see that no one was watching the story and everyone had turned their backs to the screen and the President. I was also happy to see a car in the parking lot from Mississippi with a “Republicans Against Trump” sticker on the bumper.

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Walker had urged us to have a meal at SAW’s BBQ in Birmingham. It was absolutely a highlight and my shrimp and grits meal was incredible.

Our first stop was the famous Birmingham Public Library which had been the scene of a sit-in in 1963 to force the desegregation of this Jim Crow era library. We weren’t able to photograph the beautiful Reading Room where that sit-in took place. But I did photograph the exteriors of the both the old and new libraries. This library made me think that I should think about starting a new project on libraries that were important in the Civil Rights struggle including ones today such as the library in Ferguson, MO. More on that later as this idea develops…

The next stop was the site of the death of four little girls on Birmingham Sunday. The lyrics of that famous Richard Fariña song were in my mind as I gazed at the reconstructed 16th Street Baptist Church. In 1963 members of the Ku Klux Klan blew up the church in a terrorist attack killing the four girls and injuring 22 others. No prosecutions were conducted until 1977 when one of the killers was convicted. The others were convicted in 2001. The bombing marked a turning point in the Civil Rights movement and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

IMG_354316th St. Baptist Church and Park, Birmingham, AL

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Martin Luther King described Birmingham in 1963 as “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States”. It was nicknamed “Bombingham” because of the large number of bombings of black properties and churches that occurred during the eight years before 1963. We walked through a park near the church that was a rallying point during the protests. Here, peaceful protestors were knocked to the ground by powerful water cannons. Police dogs attacked women, men and children. Several hundred protestors filled the city’s jails including many children. The park was filled with sad memorials to all of this and more.

16th St. Baptist Church and Park, Birmingham, AL16th St. Baptist Church and Park, Birmingham, AL

I was deeply moved and my heart was crying as I stood in the park remembering the words “On Birmingham Sunday/ the noise shook the ground/ and people all over the world turned around/ no one recalled a more cowardly sound/ and the choir kept singing of freedom.” Amen.

This seems like an appropriate place to end this post. From Birmingham we will drive to Little Rock, AR; Oklahoma City, OK; Santa Fe, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Bakersfield, CA and finally home. I’ll do one more post at the end. Until then…

 

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Back in Vermont and a Short Trip Up North to Québec City

Two Turtles on a Duck: Paying Attention to Small Things in Rural Vermont

9/3-9/14/19

After two weeks on the road, we now spent two weeks visiting friends and family and just chilling out in rural Vermont. One of the big benefits of staying in one place is slowing down and noticing the small things that get lost when moving fast. Like watching the two resident turtles climb on the back of an old, wooden decoy duck in our pond and spend the rest of the day blissfully floating in the sun. Here is a sampling of what we saw while paying attention to the details.

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RD at the Farm, VT

Five Libraries That Were Churches, One A Former Prison and One on the Border With an Opera House 

9/15/19

Our Library Road Trip continued with a four-day journey to the French speaking Canadian province of Québec. We traveled through agricultural lands and a large mining district around the town of Thetford Mines. As we drove through this area, we saw the raw, rugged landscape of industrial mining. In the twilight, this place was both beautiful and horrible at the same time.

We arrived at beautiful Québec City after dark. We drove on to where we were staying at the pastoral and enchanting Ile d’Orléans. This island is located 15 km from Québec City in the middle of the St. Lawrence River with gorgeous views of downtown and the surrounding farmland. We were here many years ago with our son Walker and we were curious to see how it had changed. Because it was so late and no restaurants were still open on the island we dined on crackers, some good Gouda cheese, apples from our place in Vermont and some excellent local beer. Delicious!

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9/16/19

One of the important things we learned on this part of the trip was that Québec has experienced a large drop in people attending church. In 2014, 434 churches in the province were unable to support their religious functions and were awaiting transformation into something else. That was up from 270 churches in 2012. Thirty-one churches have been converted into cultural purposes such as concert spaces and libraries. I am not sure why there is such a change in faith. It does seem that the people here are less religious than their conservative Catholic ancestors. In the past, the church was a major force in banning books that were considered not pious enough. Ironically, some of these same churches have now become public libraries.

The first place we visited was the elegant Library Monique-Corriveau housed in this former church since 2013. The church was built in 1964 and was considered a prime example of Québec’s modern architectural heritage. It was named after a local author who wrote a children’s book for each of her ten children. This modern structure had a distinctive steeple sweeping up from the front of this large building. Inside, the active library retained some of the references to religious architecture. The big, vaulted room still felt a little like a place where prayer was expected. I was surprised to find a piece of public art in the form of a dress made out of discarded pop-tops. This library does much work to help new immigrants including help with job searches, CV writing, internships, citizenship help, housing, health, schools, cultural codes, etc. Of course, everyone spoke French and the patrons seemed to represent a diverse background. I imagined that some of them were immigrants from French-speaking countries.

Library Monique-Corriveau, Québec City, QC

Library Monique-Corriveau, Québec City, QC

In the central Québec City neighborhood of Saint Jean-Baptiste, we discovered the amazing Library Claire-Martin. ­­It was named after a famous Québec author who lived to be 100 years old and was still publishing new books at 94. The Library is located in the former St. Matthew’s Anglican Church and is next to a cemetery dating from 1772 to 1860 where many famous people from the history of Québec’s English-speaking community are buried. After a great fire, the church was rebuilt in 1848 in a Neo-Gothic style and was later rebuilt again in the early 20th century. This library feels much more like a church than the last one and even retains a small alter and baptismal. It was breathtaking to see the transformation. We were impressed by the vision to take an old church and make it into a vital and active contemporary library. I envy the librarians that work here.

Library Claire-Martin, Québec, QC

Library Claire-Martin, Québec, QC

Library Claire-Martin, Québec, QC

Library Claire-Martin, Québec, QC

After spending much time photographing the extraordinary interior I wandered towards the outside to the back of the library. There, next to the ancient cemetery, I discovered a wonderful reading sculpture. Over the years, I have photographed many sculptures like this outside libraries. This one depicted a young woman reading a book. On the book someone had placed a photograph of a young boy. It was incredible to see and photograph it and I left with more questions than answers.

Library Claire-Martin, Québec, QC

Library Claire-Martin, Québec, QC

Library Claire-Martin, Québec, QC

Library Claire-Martin, Québec, QC

We were happy to have visited these two remarkable libraries but at this point we needed to get some exercise. The Plains of Abraham were the site of one of the most important battles in 18th century North America. The British besieged the French here in Québec City and eventually won control of all French dominated Canada with profound repercussions for many centuries afterwards. The Citadel is the largest fort in North America. The walk along the high cliffs and the old Citadel were amazing in the sunset light. Later in the walk, we are inspired by the famous Hotel Frontenac in the Old City and depressed by the views of a cruise ship half the size of Québec City. Otherwise, the views were spectacular, the weather crisp but nice and the tourist crowds were minimal at this time of the year. We ended the evening at a hockey-themed creperie watching the Canadians destroy the American team while enjoying our delicious crepes and great local beer.

 

9/17/19

We got up early the next morning and headed back to the Old City. We went to the Morrin Center Library which use to be a prison in the early days. It later served as the home of Morrin CoIlege which was Québec City’s first English-language institute of higher education. It later became home to the Literary and Historical Society of Québec and is now the oldest subscription library in Canada and has become a center for English language and culture in Québec. Although only 4% of people in Québec are English-only speakers, many people come here to learn English. It had a famous statue of the British General Wolfe who defeated the French and wrested control of Canada for the British in 1759. This was not popular in this city of Québécois loyalty and in the 1970s a young Argentinian man threw a Molotov cocktail and burned part of the statue and library. Fortunately, the library survived and today it is an extraordinary place.

Morrin Center Library, Québec City, QC

by was the equally extraordinary library called the House of Literature (Maison de la littérature). It was in the former Methodist Wesley Temple in a large Gothic revival church constructed in 1848 that now contained a library, exhibition space, concert/lecture hall and a bistro. Next door was a new annex that was a center for literary creation. The library still contained the church’s tall leaded windows showing the vault at every level of the building. The interior was entirely white to magnify the natural light.

House of Literature, Québec City, QCHouse of Literature, Québec City, QC

After a great lunch at the hipster restaurant called Maelstrom, we went to the impressive Musée de la Civilization. This museum was funded, in part, by the power company Hydro-Québec and I wondered if it may have been an effort in green-washing. But inside the museum the section on the Native people of Québec seemed honest, hard-hitting and gut-wrenching. We were impressed by this display and, at the same time, aware of the controversial funding that made it possible.

We headed back to our place on the idyllic Ile d’Orléans in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. We stopped at a cider place overlooking the river and pondered the beauty of the place and the experiences of the day while sipping hard cider as the sun set.

 

9/18/19

Before we left Québec City, we made one last foyer into hipsterland by having a great coffee at Cantcook.

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We then drove three hours to the town of Asbestos, QC. By its name, you can tell what they used to mine here. This area is in a vast mining area and is also in the heart of conservative-voting Québec as seen by the election signs everywhere. As we had seen before, the library used to be a church. Although the building was smaller than the Library Monique-Corriveau in Québec City, this one had a similar grandiose, sweeping steeple with a cross still on top. So much for the separation of church and state.

Our next stop was 1 ½ hours southwest in the fairly large Canadian city of Magog. The Library Memphrémagog was in a former church made out of high, gray stones with two massive steeples. This must have been an impressive church and it was now a very large, impressive library. There were few references inside to the religious origins except for the spectacular stain-glass windows and a small chapel off the children’s library.

The last library we visited was one that I had photographed before in 2005 for my American Public Library project. An image of the library is in my book The Public Library: A Photographic Essay. It is called the Haskell Free Library and Opera House and, incredibaly, it straddles the Canadian/American border in the little towns of Stanstead, QC and Derby Line, VT. I only had photographed the library exterior (which was closed at the time) on our earlier visit and I was curious to see the borderline that runs through the library. I asked the Border Patrol agent parked in his SUV in front of the library how do we enter the library since we were coming from Canada and the library’s front door was on the US side of the border. He said as long as we stayed on the sidewalk, we could enter the library. But he warned us not to cross the street or that would be an illegal border crossing and he would have to arrest us. Needless to say, we stayed on the sidewalk!

Haskell Free Library and Opera House, Stanstead, OC/ Derby Line, VT

Although I included this library as part of my earlier study of American public libraries, Ellen and I both felt this one was appropriate to include in our study of Canadian and even global libraries. The Haskell family built this library on the border as an early 20th century expression of international respect and cooperation. That seems quaint today in our era of tightened borders. I imagined that the Border Patrol found this place problematic. But I hope in the future, libraries could be placed upon political boundaries around the world as a way of building cooperation and promoting peace. What would a library look like on the border, say, between Palestine and Israel? Or Ukraine and Russia? Or even Mexico and the United States? I think that the Haskell’s were on to something that still resonates today.

After 18 years of photographing libraries throughout the US, I came away feeling that libraries are one of the things that help unite our currently divided United States. And I think that libraries can help do the same thing globally.

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Now that we are back in Vermont, I will keep you updated on the rest of our journey. Until then…

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Toronto, Ottawa and Back in the USA

Toronto, Ottawa and Back in the USA 

8/31/19

Toronto is the most multiculturally diverse city in the world: over 140 languages are spoken here and over half of the city’s residents were born outside of Canada. Last night we celebrated this by going to a Mexican restaurant staffed by recent migrants from Mexico. This morning we went to the wonderful Pow Wow restaurant serving Native-American fusion food. Amazing food!

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Getting back to work, our first stop was the superb Toronto Reference Library. It was pretty snazzy when built in the 1970s and it is still great today. Its giant atrium provides good views of all parts of the library and reminds me of a similar style of a library in Stuttgart, Germany that I photographed in 2016.

Toronto Public Library - Toronto Reference Library, Toronto

Toronto Public Library - Toronto Reference Library, Toronto

Toronto Public Library - Toronto Reference Library, Toronto

Toronto Public Library - Toronto Reference Library, TorontoToronto Public Library - Toronto Reference Library, Toronto

The Bloor-Gladstone branch library was located in a very diverse neighborhood that is trending towards hipster. The traditional Carnegie style library had wonderfully incorporated a new addition that was filled with afternoon light and people on computers. Like most libraries it was packed with people and the librarians have to gently kick everyone out at closing time.

Toronto Public Library - Bloor/Gladstone Branch, TorontoToronto Public Library - Bloor/Gladstone Branch, Toronto

Our last library was the Scarborough Civic Centre Library in a nearby suburb of Toronto. Our timing was good as the light was great on the library and the sparkling surrounding high-rise apartments. A group of African-Canadians dressed for a party were having a great time outside the closed library. It seemed that the diversity of this city really works as most everyone seems to get along.

Toronto Public Library - Scarborough Civic Centre Branch, Scarborough, ON

We ended our day at the Bluffs Park on Lake Ontario watching the glow of the sunset over a lake that looks like the sea. Literally everyone here was from South Asia or Africa. The easy-going vibe, the different styles of clothing and music people are dancing to helps me understand why this city is considered so attractive to migrants from all over the world. Diversity seems to work here.

9/1/19

Today was an easy-going drive of only five hours. I photographed an interesting looking library in upscale Perth, ON. It had a fascinating tower and canal outside the library.

But the main goal of today was the Library of Parliament in the capitol city of Ottawa. This building was undergoing a massive renovation and it was surrounded by fences and construction material. It was situated on a bluff next to the Canadian Parliament and looked over the confluence of two rivers. The soft sunset light and the harsh construction lights made for a rather striking scene. I spent some time in the one spot that I could try to capture it all. As we walked back to our car we go by the other side of Parliament and saw hundreds of people watching a massive light show on the front of this impressive structure.

Library of Parliament, Ottowa, ONLibrary of Parliament, Ottowa, ON

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9/2/19

Our last day of driving took us from Ottawa to Montreal and then on to our little cabin in the woods in Vermont. As we were driving into Montreal, we got a text from our son Walker that we would be driving right by the French market called Marche Atwater which we had visited years ago when we got the best croissants ever. Of course, we screeched in amidst the construction, downpour and traffic and found a parking spot right in front. The croissants were still the best and it brightened up what could have been a long, slow slog-of-a-day. Thank You Walker!

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Crossing back into the USA was quick and uneventful. Because it was Labor Day, we knew it might be hard to find a place for dinner. But our old favorite Sandy’s happened to be open and their classic veggie burgers were sublime. We stumbled through the dark to our cabin down a dirt road off a dirt road. It was very remote and we were astonished to find the family name on the dirt driveway to the cabin listed on our Prius navigation system. After driving 4,960 miles it was good to have a place to lay our heads down for more than one or two nights.

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More later. Until then…

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Entering the Woods: Outback Ontario

Entering the Woods: Outback Ontario 

8/28/19

We continued our drive east. As we crossed the border of Ontario we entered the vast Boreal Forest of the Canadian Shield. Here the forest is huge, but the soil is thin, a result of the last glaciers that scraped the land clean. Approximately 50% of Ontario’s area is part of the Boreal Forest. It is sometimes called the Amazon of the North and, like the real Amazon, it is beginning to burn because of climate change. It is the world’s largest storehouse of carbon after Brazil. We stopped at a small pond and have a much-appreciated picnic of peanut butter sandwich with a side cup of coffee. I picked up a small piece of birch bark and marvel at its delicate beauty in the weird northern Canadian light.

We pulled into Thunder Bay, ON after another long drive. Just as we get to the edge of the city we spotted a library in a shopping mall. The light was beautiful and a security guard was just closing the doors to the mall. The pedestrians outside were a real mix of the city including bored shoppers with fidgety kids, a Muslim woman wearing a scarf and several desperate Indigenous people begging near the entrance. We later learned that there are several Native Reserves nearby and sometimes the relations between them and the city are tense.

We stayed at a renovated hotel which used to be City Hall. Our room had a spectacular view overlooking Thunder Bay and Lake Superior. We went to a nice restaurant near the yacht harbor and we talked about how different our perception of this area is from our son Walker’s view from a Greyhound bus two years ago.

8/29/19

Today is the first day since August 19th that I don’t photograph a library. We have another very long drive which takes us along the spectacular, wild northern shore of Lake Superior. The 9 ½ hour drive is slow going with heavy rains at times, two lanes and lots of trucks and construction. Music and podcasts continue to be our entertaining traveling companions. The literary highlight of the day was arriving at the tiny village of White River, ON. It contained a monument to Winnie the Pooh. The real Winnie came from here and was named after the city of Winnipeg. The young orphan bear was purchased from a trapper here by a Canadian solider on his way to Europe and WWI. The bear was later donated to the London Zoo where it became something of a celebrity. The real Christopher Robbins fell in love with the bear and his father, A.A. Milnes, wrote the famous tale about his son and the bear that became a classic of children’s literature.

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We arrived exhausted after the day’s drive to the city of Sault Ste. Marie. The French name means the “Falls of St. Mary” but the falls are buried under a series of locks that connect Lakes Superior to Huron. We can see the US on the other side of the Canal but we aren’t ready to return just yet. When we get out of the car I am struck by a toxic, acrid smell from a nearby steel plant. Even an ensuing downpour doesn’t eliminate it but the smell gradually disappeared. I felt sorry for the residents of this industrial city and wondered about the condition of their lungs.

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8/30/19

The next day we took an emotional road trip. Although I photographed the very nice library in Blind River, ON our real purpose was to make a pilgrimage to the place of the lyric of the Neil Young song “Long May You Run”. We watched the Blind River run as we listened to the song from our CD player.

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We then headed to the city of Sudbury, ON which we had last visited on our honeymoon thirty-six years ago. We went there then because we were interested in the effects of mining on the landscape and Sudbury was the largest nickel producer in the world. Since the 1920s, it had been a toxic industrial wasteland of bleak black soil. So barren was the surrounding terrain that NASA came here to train in the 1960s. We continued our honeymoon beyond Sudbury to visit toxic waste sites throughout the American West. It was very romantic and we are still happily married. We re-visited the statue of the Big Nickel which is a giant stainless-steel replica of a 1951 Canadian nickel coin.

We photographed one rather nice-looking modern branch library on the edge of Sudbury. After another long drive, we arrived in the magical city of Toronto.

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The Canadian Prairie: Crossing That Awesome Space to Winnipeg, Manitoba

The Canadian Prairie: Crossing That Awesome Space to Winnipeg, Manitoba 

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An unexpected surprise was meeting our friends Gregor and Maria from Poland. He is a performer for Cirque de Soilé and she is a librarian and scholar. They were traveling with Cirque throughout North America and they happened to be in Calgary now. We fell in love with their two adorable children Benedict and Maria while we had coffee in the library.

As we drive east, we really feel like we have entered the vast sea of grass and big skies of the Canadian prairies. The scale is humbling and hard to comprehend. But somehow it feels familiar and comforting after growing up in the vastness of the Sacramento Valley Today we stopped and photographed the libraries in the small towns of Brooks, Swift Current and Moose Jaw. The library in Brooks, Alberta works with a large Somali population that came here to work in the huge meat-packing plant on the edge of town. The library has many foreign-language books and the small town has many Africans walking the streets, some in their beautiful native clothing.

We are happy to enter the new province of Saskatchewan. There we photographed the Chinook Regional Library in Swift Current. The town is exceptional in its austerity and its library shows that in its beautiful but severe architecture. Moose Jaw has an exceptional name and is a welcome island in a prairie sea. The gangster Al Capone used this as a haven for his whiskey smuggling operation into the United States during Prohibition. During this time, the town approached Andrew Carnegie for a $50,000 grant to build their library. He didn’t believe their town population numbers and refused the request. The city then raised its own money and built their beautiful library for $100,000. Take that, Mr. Carnegie!

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Our new Prius is working well but we realize that there are many things we need to learn about our new computer-with-wheels. One surprise was a sign that popped up on the dash that said I should get a cup of coffee because I was swerving too much. The whole trip we have been trying to live in the Eco-Zone!

Fortunately, we pulled into Regina, Saskatchewan after a long day’s drive before the car could take over and tell us to go to bed.

8/25/19

Today we follow our son Walker’s orders and drive 4 ½ hours north of Regina to the tiny, mostly Native community of Duck Lake, SK. We drive through several cells of torrential downpours into brilliant but sometimes cloudy skies.

Duck Lake is the site of a great 19th century battle between Metis (mixed race Native-White) people and Canadian militias. It was the start of the uprising called the Northwest Rebellion. The old Victoria school is now the Wapiti Public Library. On the side is a great mural to the Native man called Almighty Voice. Through a series of tragic events he was eventually killed by government troops for killing a cow. Duck Lake is also the site of one of the last government schools for Indigenous children that only closed in 1996. These schools were one of the darker chapters of Canadian westward expansion. Native children were taken away from their parents and were forced to abandon their Native culture. They were forbidden to speak their own language and were forced to learn how to read and write in English. They were often shunned or disowned by their families when they eventually returned. This tragedy was played out in the US as well with terrible consequences. It also brings up uncomfortable questions for our project where we have always championed education. In Duck Lake the school probably had good intentions. But here education and literacy became a form of cultural genocide rather than a source of hope and a way out to a better future. Lots to learn from the Native people of Canada!

We spent the night in the northern city of Saskatoon, SK. I fell in love with the tidy small bungalows and tree-lined streets of this city. However, our motel seemed seedy (and cheap!) and I think the immediate surrounding area was run by Vietnamese mafia. The restaurant where we had dinner was delightful and our waitress identifies herself as a modern Mennonite. There are plenty of traditional Mennonites living here and in Manitoba. They are part of the vast web of religious diversity in this country.

8/26/19

We visited two libraries today. The first was in a strip mall in the tiny town of Lanigan, SK. It was not pretty or historically interesting but was pretty typical of small-town Canadian libraries. The other was in the larger town of Yorkton. The architecture was brutalist and didn’t even have windows. As sad as the building was, I was still glad that there was a library in this remote prairie town. As was true of most Canadian libraries that we visited, this one was filled with people.

But most of today was spent enjoying the beautiful Canadian landscape. In between the cloud bursts and brilliant sunshine, we saw several dazzling banded rainbows. We are driving through an area settled by many Ukrainian people. As we come to the crest of a hill near the small village of Insinger, we see the beautiful spires of a tiny Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It reminds us of our 2016 trip to Ukraine and I admired the strength and courage of the people that made that long and difficult journey from there to here.

We are also inspired by the music of some great Canadian musicians including Neil Young, the McGarrigle Sisters and especially Leonard Cohen. Poetry, prairies, podcasts and pounding rain accompany us throughout the day. After a very long day we arrived in the capitol of Manitoba – Winnipeg. It has a violent reputation and is called the murder capital of Canada. Parts of it are pretty dicey but not the neighborhood where we spend two nights called the Forks.

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8/27/19

The Millennium Centennial Library of Winnipeg is located in the City Center. It is both beautiful and a well- run library. It has two social workers on staff to deal with people experiencing hard times. It had an Indigenous People’s Center, an Idea Mill (Maker Space) and is the hometown library of Winnie the Pooh.

We visited St. John’s Branch Library which is located in the most dangerous part of Winnipeg. The building was an old Carnegie Library had a really nice new addition. This seemed to be the kind of library that would really make a difference in this difficult place. One librarian was Ukrainian and had worked as a librarian there. In the basement was an amazing exhibit on the tragic Indian Residential Schools of Canada.

We also visited the incredible the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It told a big story throughout the world but we we only had time to focus on the Canadian Indigenous People and the Residential Schools.

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