Where have I just Landed?

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Sea Ranch Marine Preserve at high tide Sea Ranch Marine Preserve: long exposure Sea Ranch Marine Preserve...is anybody out there? Sea Ranch Marine Preserve at high tide-30 second exposure

Sometimes an image, or group of images can transform a familiar place to a very unfamiliar place, maybe even a place other-worldly in appearance.  It was a cloudy day with intermittent fog along the coast and I wanted to see what kind of mood I could create given the landscape, the weather, and the high tide over a long, flat rocky tidal shelf.  The resulting images remind me of some old 1950’s sci-fi movie of some distant and uninhabited planet.   Is there life out there?  What do you think?

Equipment: Nikon D810; Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8 lens; B&W 10-stop ND filter; Oben Tripod.

Process:  For those who are interested, I shot these images at 17mm for 30 sec. at either f18 or f16 using a 10 stop ND filter.  Raw images were processed through Photoshop CC, and Tonal Mapped through Photomatix Pro 5.  Black and white conversion was done through Nik’s Silver Efex Pro.  The images were taken just north of the Sea Ranch Marine Preserve.

Posted in Beach, Black and White, Geologic Formations, Sea Ranch, Sea Ranch Photography, Seascapes | Tagged | 2 Comments


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We had a foggy day here at the Ranch a few days ago, so I decided to head out to one of my favorite spots that Barbara and I call “The Precipice.”   We often go there during winter storms to let the wild surf throw wave-splash at us from crashing on the rocks below.  The spot is just north of Smuggler’s Cove.  When I left home with my camera, I had already mounted my large 70-200mmm lens on the camera hoping to catch a little of the fog along the broader coastline.   By the time I arrived at the Precipice, the fog was gone and the sun was bright and the water was clear and blue.

The Precipice is also a great vantage point to observe the interaction of the incoming surf and rock crevices below.   As I peeked through the eyepiece of my camera at the surf below, I immediately saw my theme for the day…” Turbulence.”

Turbulence 1 Turbulence 2 Turbulence 3 Turbulence 4 Turbulence 5 Turbulence 6 Turbulence 7

The seven images above show the intense turbulence as the incoming surf forces its way through the narrow passages between the rock outcrops.  Also visible in the images are the ever-present sea palms (Postelsia palmaeformis, a type of kelp) as they are pummeled wave by wave, day after day while still holding fast to the rocks below.

Turbulence 8 Turbulence 9 Turbulence 10

The remaining three images also show how the incoming waves force themselves around the sea weed-laden rock outcrops.  But to me, however, these images also remind me of pictures taken from space of our blue planet.   What do you think?

In any event, it was a fun way to spend an afternoon.  Sometimes just focusing a little closer on the immediate landscape can bring to mind the beauty of our larger planet as whole.  It’s also amazing to think that it’s the turbulence as seen in these images that slowly transforms our coastline in seemingly imperceptible ways, wave by wave, day by day, year by year….


Equipment:  Nikon D810: Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8mm lens; Oben Tripod; Kirk Ball Head

Posted in Beach, Geologic Formations, Marine life, Sea Ranch, Sea Ranch Photography, Seascapes | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Sometimes a Specimen Just Comes to you: The Sphynx Moth

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Sphynx Moth Sphynx Moth Front View

This rather large moth is commonly known as a White-lined Sphynx Moth (Hyles lineata), and had somehow found its way into my garage where he succumbed to some unknown malady.  His natural coloring is more in the drab olive brown range, but because it was deceased I thought I would display him more artfully in B&W.   He’s about 2.5 inches long and quite robust.

Just showing a snapshot of a dead moth in its true coloration seemed rather ordinary; just documenting its natural form and color seemed like a waste of time as anyone can just look up a picture of a Sphynx Moth in any field guide.  My interest here was in showing the essence of this large moth, in the finest detail possible.  Somehow I think the structure and function of this moth is far more evident stripped to its barest essentials.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy my expose’ of this particular moth.


Equipment: Nikon D810; Nikkor 105mm F2.8 Macro lens; Cam Ranger;  Nikon SB 800 and SB 910 Speedlights; Oben Tripod.

PROCESS:  For those of you who might be interested in how I shot this specimen, I first mounted the moth to a black surface.  I used a 105mm f2.8 macro lens and a Cam Ranger synched to my Nikon D810 camera.  I then took upwards of 10 separate images at different focal lengths (a process called Focal Stacking) in order to keep the entirety of the moth in sharp focal detail, front to back or top to bottom.  The images were then merged in Photoshop to produce a single image in full focal detail from front to back.  The final images were then converted to B&W using Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro.

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An Afternoon South of Sea Ranch

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Rocky Outcrop South of Stewart's Point Small Cove between Salt Point and Stewart's Point Somewhere between Stewart's Point and Salt Point

The coast between Stewart’s Point and Salt Point is mostly private land and isn’t really accessible, at least not without trespassing.  I’m always intrigued by this stretch of coast just south of Sea Ranch as we drive past it on our many trips “over the hill.”  It seems more desolate, more isolated than most.  So I spent a little time a few weeks ago during a rather overcast afternoon to try and capture the “mood” of this piece of coastline.  It was a perfect day to reveal the quiet solitude of this area as I saw it in my mind’s eye.  The subtle colors, muted by the overcast sky felt right to me.  Even the profuse monkey flower shrub in the second image couldn’t quite break the overall mood of the day.  But a day, any day, along this coast is a beautiful day, at least it is to me.

P.S.  I shot these images from the road’s shoulder, and didn’t trespass:  not a big fan of the trespass.  Neither are the local ranchers.

Equipment:  Nikon D810; Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens; Oben Tripod: B&W 10 stop filter; Kirk Ball Head

Posted in Beach, Coastal meadows, Landscapes, Seascapes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Arch Rock Cove

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Arch Rock Cove

A couple of weeks ago I spent a little time along the bluff at Arch Rock Cove here on Sea Ranch.  These rock towers, once a part of the coastline here in the distant past, have always captivated me.  I shot this image from a fairly direct front-on angle which presents these towers essentially stacked up one behind the other.  Even though this is a long exposure (15 sec) you can still make out several cormorants on the outer rock towers.   I’m blessed to live within walking distance to this scenic spot.   These sentinels are massive, and have stood the test of time, remaining as a small remnant of the land mass that once extended out from the present-day coastline.   It’s also a reminder that nothing remains static along the coast; the forces of nature are constantly at work shaping and reshaping our coastline over time.

Equipment: Nikon D810: Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens; B&W 10-stop ND filter; Oben Tripod


Posted in Black and White, Geologic Formations, Sea Ranch, Sea Ranch Photography, Seascapes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Pebble Beach: the Yin and the Yang

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Pebble Beach at Sea Ranch Pebble Beach "Fireworks"

Yesterday I went down to Pebble Beach here at Sea Ranch to try and capture some long-exposures with my ultra-wide angle lens.  I was using some new gear that allowed me to attach some Black Glass to this lens, which is a favorite of mine because of its tack-sharpness.  Some experiments go well, as this one did, while others not so well (you never hear about those.)

I called this the “Yin and Yang” because taken together, these two images capture the full range of the ocean’s energy, from its serene quite beauty to its full explosive power.

The first image is a long exposure (13 seconds) and reflects a more subdued mood.  The second image (1/2 sec) on the other hand is all about the explosive power of the ocean; kind of an “Oooh, aah” moment like that from a 4th of July fireworks show.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these little snippets from Pebble Beach on a quiet afternoon with some rather unexpected “fireworks”.


Equipment: Nikon D810; Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens; Lee “Big Stopper” 10 stop ND Filter; Oben Tripod



Posted in Beach, Black and White, Sea Ranch, Seascapes, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Walk On Beach on a Sunny Afternoon

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North End of Walk On Beach Barnacles at Walk On Beach Low Tide at Walk On Beach Surf on the outer reef at Walk On Beach

It’s been a little while since I hiked along the sands of Walk-On Beach here at Sea Ranch.   The tide was low enough that I could approach some of the intertidal rock formations and include them, and their many residents, in my images.   I also haven’t used my ultra-wide angle lens in a while and I like the perspective it gives in bringing in the foreground into the broader scene.  Getting the camera and tripod setup close enough to the foreground rocks is always a little tricky without getting wet from incoming waves.  As usual, I was unsuccessful at staying dry, but I did manage to keep the camera dry.

Prevalent in the foreground rock outcrops are the ever-present barnacle clusters and many small sea anemones.  It was late in the afternoon and the day was perfect for walk along the beach.  I chose B&W because, well I like it as an art form, but also because the day was gray enough where the colors were bit too muted for my liking.   So thanks for sharing my stroll along Walk-On Beach.  I hope you enjoyed this peak into an ordinary day at the beach here along the Sonoma Coast.


Equipment: Nikon D810: Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens; Oben Tripod; Kirk ball head.

Posted in Beach, Black and White, Geologic Formations, Sea Ranch, Sea Ranch Photography, Seascapes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Reflections Along the Mendocino Coast

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Cottonwoods along Mendocino Coast

And now for a little change of pace, and season.  I shot this image a few years ago while driving back to Sea Ranch from a day in Mendocino.  It’s somewhere along the Mendocino Coast between Point Arena and Elk.  I’ve played with this image on and off since I shot it and finally settled on this version.  I think it best captures the tension between the lighted and inverted background vs. the shadowed foreground.  And yes I tried it in B&W and it gave me a headache.  I saw this scene as I was driving on Highway 1 and the light on the creek caught my eye.  It took a bit of hiking to get to the spot where I ultimately captured the image.   Anyway, I thought it might be a nice image to get folks thinking a little early about the colors of Autumn.



Equipment: Nikon D3s; Nikkor 24-70 mm f2.8 lens.

Posted in Fall, Forest, Landscapes, Mendocino County, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What the Eye can’t See: “Gray-scapes” at Smuggler’s Cove


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Overcast Day at Smuggler's Cove Smuggler's Cove, Sea Ranch "Smokey" Surf at Smuggler's Cove

We had a pretty overcast day a couple of days ago and I decided to head out to a rocky area just north of Smuggler’s Cove here on Sea Ranch.  I like this spot because the rocky bluff is not as high off the ocean, and with many small inlets and crevices there is a closer connection between the ocean and the rocks.  The heavy clouds are also a good natural filter in the late afternoon light so extended exposures would produce some interesting results.

I shot these images at 17mm using 15 and 25 second exposures with a 10-stop “Black Glass” filter.  One of the amazing and blind luck features of two of these images is the capture of a seagull in mid frame.  I often catch cormorants frozen like this but seagulls don’t often hang around while I’m shooting, and certainly don’t often stand still for that long while I’m taking their picture.  Anyway, see if you can spot them.

I’ve only recently started to focus on B&W as one medium for my images.  I’ve gotten a very good response to my efforts from friends and family, but also many questions about why B&W, and not the beautiful colors that are so prevalent here on the Sonoma Coast.   There are many reasons actually, but as I thought about it more I realized that I’m drawn more to what the eye can’t see, and what can only be produced with the technology of a modern digital camera.  Like the Milky Way pictures I shot not long ago.  The naked eye could not have seen that without the ability of my camera’s sensor to accumulate light in a way that the human eye just can’t.  The human eye doesn’t see in grey tones, nor can it see in anything approximating a long exposure.  It’s just a different way to see the world and to present it in an alternative and more abstract way.  I’m not recording history with these images, but hopefully creating something evocative and thoughtful about the world right in front of us.  A world that the eye can’t see without a little help from me and my camera.  I hope you enjoy my journey of visual exploration.


Equipment:  Nikon D810; Nikkor 17-35 f2.8 lens; Oben Tripod; B&W 10-stop ND filter

Posted in Beach, Birds, Black and White, Geologic Formations, Sea Ranch, Sea Ranch Photography, Seascapes | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Late Night with the Milky Way

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Milky Way

This is a good time of year for viewing the Milky Way at a decent time of night from my vantage point, namely off my back deck.  I use an app on my iPad called “Sky Guide” to locate the Milky Way’s position in the sky.  There are many apps that will do this but this one seems especially easy to use.  I also wanted to try out a new toy called a “Cam Ranger” which connects as a wireless Wi-Fi controller to your camera and transfers control of the camera functions to your iPad.  The advantage of this is that you can use the much bigger screen of the iPad to assess focus and overall picture quality thereby making adjustments on the fly a little easier.  The other advantage is that I can sit in the comfort of my living room window seat and control the camera in the back yard.

I shot this image using my older D3s because of its ultra-low noise characteristics, especially at long exposures.  The image was shot at 30 seconds, at 14mm, f2.8 and the ISO was set at 6400 with a preset white balance of 3600.  As you might have noticed, I also got lucky with the addition of a meteorite passing through on the lower right.  The really bright “star” right of center is actually Mars.  The light at the lower left edge of the horizon is from the moon which would have risen in about another hour.

So, all in all this was a fun experiment, and I hope to get out to some other more interesting locations to view the Milky Way.  For more information on photographing the Milky Way and the night sky in general, you can read “Photography: Night Sky,  A Field Guide for Shooting After Dark” by Jennifer Wu and  James Martin.


Equipment:  Nikon D3s; Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens; Oben Tripod; Cam Ranger


Posted in Landscapes, Sea Ranch, Sea Ranch Photography | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Revisiting the People of Sakha

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Back in June, 2014 I posted a story about the people of Sakha who visited our area for a couple of weeks as part of a larger celebration of the Russian heritage of this area and that of Fort Ross.  These Master Carvers from Yakutsk, the capital city of the Sakha Republic in Siberia, were carving ceremonial hitching posts, called a Serge (pronounced sayr-gay), which were ultimately installed in the Gualala County Park.  These folks are descendants of the of the Sakha people who first came to the North Coast of Sonoma to work the settlement in Fort Ross during the Russians brief occupation there from1812-1842.

I spent an afternoon with these visitors, with their permission, and enjoyed an intimate look at their process of carving these beautiful structures.  I wanted to revisit some of my images through the lens of B&W because I think it captures a different perspective of these people and how they worked together, and as individuals.  They spoke little or no English so I pretty much stayed out of their way and used my 70-200mm lens to capture the action from a bit of a distance.  I was able to communicate through head nods where I was OK to be and they seemed quite willing to just do their work and ignore my presence.

Sakha Carver working on the Serge

Carving the Serge

The first two images (above) captures one of the younger men carving the intricate scroll work on the main Serge post.  After he lays out the scroll pattern free-hand on the post (which is no small task if you think about it…it all has to come together evenly on all sides of the post), he uses a “V” chisel to impart the scroll grooves up and down the pole.

Sakha Elder

Working on a Saddle

Consulting the Elder

A meeting of the Minds

The next image is one of the elders who, at least for the time I was there pretty much floated from work station to work station making himself available for consultation.  He never interrupted, and always listened quite intently as he was consulted.  In fact, he is present in the next three images as well.  His presence always seemed welcome and he was consulted often.  He also seemed calm and quite sure that all was going as planned, even though they were under a pretty tight timeline.  This guy did not seem the easily rattled type.


Young Sakha Woman sampling our local grains

There were women in this group as well.  This young Sakha woman appeared to be gathering some of the native grasses growing around the work area at the Park where the Serges were being made.  She was actually tasting some of the grains as I shot this picture.  Everyone seemed to have a part to play.

Carved Horses

The Serges Installed

The last two images show some of the close-up carvings of the ornamental pieces that also became part of the Serge.  The prominent horse heads can also be seen in the last image of the installed Serges.  Horses also figured prominently in their culture.  You can also see some of the saddle work in the 4th image above.  These folks were master carvers and master saddle/metal workers as well.

So I hope you enjoyed this revisit.  The Serges are still a prominent feature as you enter the Gualala Park entrance, and seem to keep vigil over our estuary.  I hope they come back again in the near future.


Equipment:  Nikon D3s; Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 lens.


Posted in Black and White, Coastal meadows, History, Landscapes, Sea Ranch, Sea Ranch Photography | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A Day at the Fair with Pop: a Father’s Day Remembrance

I wrote this story in 2002 and I thought it might be a nice time to reprise it today as a remembrance to my grandfather, Harry Werner, on Father’s day.  I hope you enjoy it.

A Day at the Fair with Pop

My Grandparents Kathryn and Harry Werner circa 1950

My Grandparents Kathryn and Harry Werner circa 1950

His name was Harry Werner, and he was my Grandfather.   My brother Chris and I called him Pop Pop, a name that would carry through into our adulthood.  At some point in time, in our mid-twenties, we shortened it to Pop, but it never really felt quite right.   Probably because we shortened it so our friends wouldn’t think we’re still little kids.  When it was just family, it was always “Pop Pop.”  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Pop Pop was a staunch man of German decent, with a slight remnant German accent.  He projected an apparent gruffness that was quite intimidating.  An unlikely character to take two small boys under his wing, or anywhere for that matter.

It was the 1950’s and Chris and I had just survived the separation of our parents.  Chris was ten, two years older than I was.   But neither of us was really old enough to know what just happened, other than that dad moved out, and would be visiting on weekends, or whenever.   This wasn’t really all that different than it always had been, as dad was a police detective, and seemed to never be home anyway.  But by the reaction of all around me, I could tell that this was definitely a big deal, and for some reason my life was about to change.

And change it did.   Mom had to go back to work, which meant that Chris and I would have to spend considerably more time with Nana and Pop Pop.   We all lived on the south shore of rural Long Island about 30 miles from New York City in a small town called Wantagh, an old Indian name.   Nana and Pop Pop lived about six blocks from us, which turned out to be very convenient for our newfound situation.  Instead of going right home after school, Chris and I would stay on the school bus about two more stops and get off in front of Nana and Pop Pop’s.   Mom would then come there after work from her new job as a Secretary at Doubleday Publishing in Garden City.   We would all usually eat dinner at Nana and Pop Pop’s, homework would already have been done, and then we would go home and do it all again the next day.

aaChris and Phil at Empire SB NYC

My Brother Chris (right) and I circa 1955

The whole transition seemed pretty seamless to me, although the changes were big.   But looking back I can only imagine what an upheaval it must have been for my mother and grandparents.   Two small boys, a young mother having to go back to work, and a society not yet capable of coping with the reality of a “Broken home”.   I remember at the time not at all being worried about how my family would take care of me, but more fearful of how some entity, like an orphanage or somebody, would come and separate Chris and me and put us up for adoption.  Naturally this was ludicrous, but not beyond the overactive imagination of a slightly traumatized eight-year-old.

In time, Chris and I seemed to settle nicely into the routine of the schedule, and it became our natural regime.   Up until the separation, however, my grandparents were just these old people who we would visit from time to time.   They kind of smelled funny, like old people, and they lived in a pretty old farm-style house.  Now we were all a much bigger part of each other’s lives, all part of a new little lifeboat that had become our new lives.

Nana was a smallish woman, an Irish-Catholic immigrant with a sweet sparkle in her eye.  But she also seemed to have a rather pessimistic view of life and was always trying to scale back my expectations, and those of all around her.  But she loved us dearly, and took great care of Chris and me.   She rarely went out, choosing instead to devote her time to cooking and generally taking care of the home and our needs.  When she did venture out for a ride in the car with someone, or only to Sunday mass, she would always have her trusty rosary beads in her hand nervously rushing through each bead’s prayer as though her life, or her very soul, depended on it.   Unfortunately, Nana did not pray silently, but raced through each prayer in a barely audible tone that seemed to keep rhythm with the pace of the car.  She was not fun on a long trip – a long trip for her consisting of anything longer than three or four sections of beads.   By the end of a five-bead trip, we were all ready for it to be over.

Pop Pop wasn’t really a fun guy either.   He was a pretty serious, strict fellow, with a no-nonsense approach to things.   He was a house painter by trade, and a very good one, a craftsman.   He was short, with a stocky build, and always had a cigar or pipe in his mouth.  He also raised and bred prized show dogs, Boxers.  He loved animals, and also raised rabbits.  He loved gardening, vegetables for consumption mostly, including grapes from which he made an annual offering to the gods.  He was a man of the Earth.

While he was a bit gruff, and not particularly comfortable around children, I was intrigued by him and often followed him around, albeit at a distance.  I loved to watch him work on a “project”, as I called them.  It could be anything from fixing an old roof panel on the barn, or watching him paint.  He was very meticulous, and caring in how he approached his work.  He was also amazingly adept at handling his animals.  They seemed to read him and react positively to him.   Perhaps I could see this and it helped draw me to him.  He was an enigma; a gruff, staunch German, yet a man of great compassion and sensitivity.

My friends and I also seemed to take the change in stride together.  They also got to know my grand parents as well, especially in the summer when we would spend all day at Nana and Pop Pop’s.   Chris and I would get up with Mom, have breakfast together, and then walk down to Nana’s.  Sometimes we would just get up and walk to Nana’s and have breakfast there.  She always had a good warm breakfast with lots of toast and bacon and all good things.

I would also love to get there early enough to watch Pop Pop prepare the dogs’ meal.  At any one time he might have a dozen or so dogs under his care.  He had a huge bag of dry kibble, which he would mix with water by hand and mush it all together.  He had long nimble fingers and strong hands, but they were very smooth for a man who made a living with his hands.  For some reason I just loved watching him mash all this together.  It also had a sound that was very interesting, especially to a young boy who loved mushy, mud-pie consistency stuff.   Sometimes he would let me help: this was a great event for me.   My hands and fingers were very small, so it would take me twice as long, but I loved every minute of it.   It was also gratifying to then watch the dogs devour my concoction, and I would revel in their enjoyment of what I had provided.

And so it went in our first summer together.   I grew more interested in the daily tasks of my grandfather, gradually asking to be involved in more “projects.”  On one occasion he finally succumbed to my relentless pestering to be included.   He was going to replace some roofing paper on the backside of the barn.   Wow, I thought, being on the roof, hammering lots of nails (one of my favorite things to do), and working side by side with Pop Pop.   And as intriguing as all that sounded to me, I was still a bit apprehensive about being so close to him for such a long period of time.  As it turned out, he was very patient with me, and showed me what I needed to know and then let me at it, correcting me only when absolutely necessary.   I can remember him giving me one of his own hammers to use, as mine was a child’s hammer from my little kid’s tool set, and definitely not up to the task at hand.  This hammer was big, and I wanted to use it like I saw Pop using his, with his hand around the base.  But the head was just too heavy for me, so he just said to choke up on the handle like it was a baseball bat.  I could relate to that and I managed to find a spot on the hammer handle that felt OK for my hand to hold.   He also helped to place my hand with his own hands and showed me how to grip it tightly, and hammer a nail in steady and true.  The big surprise for me was that he actually seemed to enjoy my company, or maybe it was just having a little help.  In any event, there were many “Projects” to follow; only these were at his request.   I think he actually liked our little projects, as he had also come to call them.  Every once in a while I’d hear, “Hey sonny, you want to help with a new project?”  I was right there, hammer in hand.

Life was now moving along in the hot steamy days of the Long Island summer, and the dynamics of our small universe was slowly taking over and evolving into a comfortable life.   Pop and I had our projects, the routine was starting to gel, and all seemed normal.  Chris and I were more focused on just enjoying our summer vacation than we were on any serious aspects of our new “situation”.   On occasion, Pop would also ask us to do some chores.   This I did somewhat reluctantly, knowing that it seemed fair, at least from his perspective.  But I also felt imposed upon for having to do chores at Pop’s house, and my own.   Of course what eight-year-old likes chores at any time, much less on summer vacation?   But as I said, we reluctantly complied.

Other than the projects I shared with Pop Pop I still had no real sense of him being in tune with the day to day lives of Chris and me.  But looking back I can see that the chores were probably more about adding some structure and discipline to our lives, than fulfilling any real need to complete these menial tasks.  In some sense, whether intended or not, I think that engaging in these little chores somehow helped to bond us to our grandparent’s home and the lives they lived as well.  It made their home more our home too.  We were no longer just visitors, but full-fledged family members, and integrally part of their lives.  Of course, all of this pop-psychology was probably lost on my grandfather; he probably just needed some work done around the place.  In any event, I suspect the effect was still the same.

When Chris and I were not doing chores, we spent our summer days playing with our respective friends.   Our two-year age difference was significant at that age in determining friend cohorts.  But even though Chris and I each had our own circle of friends, with some degree of overlap, he and I had a bond that was special, and very close.  Occasionally he and I would go fishing together or for a daylong hike in the plentiful woods around Pop’s house.   While we may have fought often, as brothers often do, we also seemed to understand each other in a way no one else did.  We were a good team at whatever we did.

Pop, on the other hand, was still a tough read.   Perhaps it was his gruff demeanor, but even with the many projects he and I shared, he still remained somewhat aloof and distinctly apart from our day to day lives.   Looking back, I suspect he wanted to reaffirm his protective fatherly role for his daughter, whose heart had just been deeply broken.   But I don’t think he was on very firm footing as to what role to play with Chris and me.  So I think he just defaulted to being our grandfather, at least for the moment.

It was on a very sweaty August afternoon that Pop’s and our lives were to converge in a very new and different way.   Chris and I were cutting the lawn and doing some other chores when Pop uncharacteristically, and looking somewhat uncomfortable, came over and gathered us together.  He said that the Long Island Fair was in town, over in Farmingdale, and he wondered if we would like to go… tomorrow!  We were speechless.  He said they have lots of animals and rides and games and things.   Somehow the image of Pop and rides and games and cotton candy just didn’t all seem to go together.  I couldn’t even imagine that he knew about those kinds of things.  After all Pop was a million years old.   But we were eager and quite excited at the possibility, and quickly agreed.   And in any event, a parent type person was just a ticket in anyway.  Once inside we would be gone, off on our own to explore and experience all the wonders that such an event could provide.  Or so we thought.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night.  Going to the Fair was any kid’s dream, and I was no different.  Rides, games, animals…it would all be right there to envelop me to my imagination’s content.   Looking back, however, I can only imagine how near panicked Pop must have been.  After all, he was pretty much out of his element.  I don’t think he ever spent more than an hour or two alone with the two of us at any one time, much less a whole day doing something seemingly so foreign to him.   I just couldn’t imagine that he had ever been a regular at the LI Fair, or any Fair for that matter.  I could even sense a bit of apprehension from my mom about the prospects of success here.  But she seemed to think we would have a good time in any event, and encouraged us to enjoy the day.

The next morning Chris and I were up early and already had our breakfast and were ready for a full-on assault of the Fair.   I went out on the front porch to begin my vigil for Pop to come and pick us up.  He lumbered into our long winding driveway with his ’54 Pontiac Firechief.  He loved this car, and treated it with kid gloves.   (He would ultimately keep this car for another 20 years.)  The morning was muggy and the locusts were already in full symphony, a harbinger of the hot and humid LI day that lay ahead.  Pop gathered his small flock, and without much ceremony we were all off for the 30-minute ride out to Farmingdale.

Pop was a very deliberate driver, cautious almost to a fault, and painfully s…l…o…w.   This was torture for an eight-year-old on the way to the Fair, but I managed to maintain some degree of composure, especially in front of Pop.  His demeanor just seemed to promote that kind of behavior from both Chris and me.   (For example, there was not any of the usual fighting over who would sit in which seat as Chris and I were getting into Pop’s car.)  After what seemed like an eternity, we finally approached the site of the Fair.  We could see the top of the Ferris wheel glistening in the bright sunshine, and several other tall rides, whirling and spinning as if to beckon us even more.  It seemed like the tip of an extremely exciting iceberg.  My heart started to race at the distant site of all this.

As we band of three approached the main gate, with its crowds converging magically from chaos into well formed but seemingly endless lines, I could tell that Chris and I were both rethinking our plan to ditch Pop once inside.  It seemed like a good idea when we first dreamed it up the day before.  Now it seemed like it wasn’t quite as doable, Pop not being someone that you can just ignore, much less strand and the Fair after he so graciously offered to bring us there.   Chris and I looked at each other as to say…let’s just play this by ear and see what happens.   And in we went.

Once inside something quite ironic and totally unforeseen happened.   Pop gathered us up and handed us a bunch of quarters and dimes.   He said that we should be careful how we spend our money, as many of the games may look easy, but are not what they appear.  He continued by saying that some are even rigged, so be careful.  Chris and I were dumfounded.  He was ditching us!  Well, not exactly “ditching” us, but turning us loose to experience the Fair for ourselves.  He told Chris to watch out for me on some of the rides, and make sure I stay with him at all times.  If we got lost, we would meet at the Ferris wheel at noon.   In the interim, he wanted to look at the animals and see what else the Fair had to offer.   Then he said we should all meet at the Ferris wheel at noon anyway, so we could all have some lunch together.

The odd part of this weird turn of events was that all of a sudden I was kind of interested in what Pop was going to be doing.  I could see that same thought on Chris’s face as well.  So initially we told Pop we would shadow him for a while.   He seemed pleased and welcomed the idea.   I remember going to see several different pens of animals, like goats, sheep, and pigs.   Pop really loved the animals, and was interested in their breeding techniques.  This was a whole different side of the Fair that I never really knew existed.  Pop seemed to know some of the men there with the animals, and they seemed to know him also, not well, but certainly they had made each other’s acquaintance before.   I remember thinking that it was kind of cool that Pop knew these men, and they knew him.  It was like knowing someone in the circus.   Anyway, we hung out with Pop for a while longer, just to see what other neat things we might see.

After cruising through rows of different animal pens we came upon a whole “Midway” of various game booths.   Pop said let’s go on over and toss some dimes.   This was one of those seemingly simple looking games that was clearly designed to separate as many dimes from a small boy as he had in his pocket.  But it looked so simple: just toss a dime and make it land, and stay, on a plate.  There were hundreds of plates.  It looked so easy, I should be able to do it blindfolded.  Pop said to just try three or four dimes and see how I do.   I was out thirty cents in about four seconds.   It took Chris a little longer, but with similar results.  This was clearly a lesson that was meant to be learned the hard way.  I could see that Pop was quite pleased with himself, that his little object lesson had its desired effect.  We were both now thirty cents poorer and a whole lot wiser.   Pop said that there were other game booths that were perhaps more fun and in which we actually had a chance of winning something.  So off we went…together.

For the next hour or so we visited several more interesting games of chance, including the riffle shoot.  Both Chris and I did very well here, as our dad during his brief stay with the family, managed to teach us to shoot a BB gun fairly well.  I think even Pop was a little impressed at our skill in this area.   Pop actually seemed to enjoy the journey so far, seeming to feel more comfortable with the day’s events thus far.

It started to approach lunchtime and we were all getting a little hungry.  Pop suggested some good old-fashioned hot dogs and “kraut”.   This was perhaps my favorite food group of all times so it was an easy sell.  Unfortunately, my idea of a hot dog was grilled or pan fried, but definitely not boiled, as these were.   But I figured with enough kraut and mustard I could tolerate it.  I proceeded to devour two of the little mutts.  The aroma from the vendor’s booth seemed only to enhance the flavor and so I managed to survive the ordeal.  I just couldn’t bring myself to tell Pop that I didn’t like boiled hot dogs.   He always seemed to not be very interested in the sensitive tastes of children.  At home, if it made it to our plate, it was eaten…period.  But as I said, I survived, and perhaps even enjoyed the whole thing.   And for the piece de resistance, cotton candy.   This was a major surprise to both Chris and myself.  Pop didn’t have any, but he was the one who suggested that we might like some.   Who was this man?  Hot-dogs, cotton candy…what’s next?

Well next was the RIDES.   Pop was really starting to get into the whole theme here, and said he wanted to see us try some of the rides.  Chris, of course, was a major ride fanatic.  I on the other hand, was a little more apprehensive and skittish about some of the rides.   I tended to get a little motion sick, and was a bit fearful of getting hurt or killed on these things.   I was also deathly afraid of heights.  Rides that just spun around horizontally, and close to the ground were OK for me.  Ferris wheels and other vertically spinning rides, like the Cyclone, were to be admired from the distance, but not actually to be experienced first hand.

I was getting a little worried about not being able to keep up with Chris, and not be able to go on all the rides.  Pop at least had the cover of age on his side.  At least in my mind, anyway.  No one would expect him to go on any rides.  But I was a kid and all kids are supposed to live rides.   All rides.   Chris and I started off slowly, choosing one of the spinning type rides that I liked, or at least tolerated.   It was fun, like spinning on a giant turntable with a fence around the edge to keep us all from being spun off into oblivion.   But it lasted a bit too long for me.  We continued to do a few more rides like that and I was holding up reasonably well, if a little wobbly in the legs.  After these spinners, we tried the small semblance of a roller coaster they had there.  It was actually sized just about right for my liking, and I really enjoyed it.

Sensing that I was getting a bit more confident and comfortable with all the rides Chris suggested we try the Ferris wheel next.  This was not good, but he convinced me that it was safe and that he would sit right next to me.   As we approached the base of the Ferris wheel, I thought it looked a lot more appealing from the parking lot.   This thing was huge, taller than any of the trees around the Fair area, and I was small.  But I was determined to do this.  As we climbed into the seat, I felt like this would be doable and that I would survive.  I could see that Chris was pumped.  I looked over at Pop and he was smiling and waved us off.   The view from the top of the wheel was breathtaking, literally.  I was OK as long as the thing kept moving.   But after a while it stopped, and we were just about half way to the top.  I freaked!  Chris said it was just the end of the ride and that they need to do this to let people off.  I never thought this through all the way before I got on the ride, because if I had, I never would have bought into this stopping business.  Once the wheel stops, and it stops very abruptly, the chairs swing back and forth in quite an arc.  On the back swing, you are basically facing straight down, and the only thing apparently keeping you from falling straight to your death was a flimsy little strap around my puny waist and some bar across the front of the chair that I could easily slip under.  Some idiots, including my brother, actually take this opportunity to rock back and forth even harder in an attempt to “enhance” the experience.   Chris started doing this, and I grabbed his hand and told him to stop instantly, or I would kill him where he sat.  He reluctantly obliged.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally made it back to the ground.  I felt glad to be on firm footing, and while I was still a bit dazed and a little weak kneed from the fear and excitement, I felt OK, and maybe even a little cocky that I managed to survive intact.  I needed a break so I suggested some caramel apples on a stick as a reward.  Fairs seem to be the center point in the universe for all manner of foods on a stick.  All thought that was a good idea, and so we sat and devoured our candied apples.

With our stomachs full, we assumed our wanderings through the maze of booths and rides and various other venues.  Then we happened upon this new, ominous looking ride.  It was kind of a Ferris wheel, but with only one large vertical shaft, with a rocket looking thing attached at each end.  I watched this beast for a while, and as it spun the two rockets like on a Ferris wheel, each rocket would also rotate as it spun vertically.  There was a long line of hapless victims waiting to board this thing.   Naturally Chris grabbed me and said we’ve got to ride this thing.   Initially I just said “No way!”  Chris said it’s only two people per Rocket and they really strap you in good.  I could feel my legs begin to tremble at the thought of this monster, and told him that I think I was done for the day.   He was persistent, and I could see that he would hound me until I caved.  Pop said that maybe we should call it a day, but Chris was crazy for these things, so I said I’d go, but that he needed to make sure I was strapped in good.  We stood in line for what seemed like an eternity.  As each group of four left the ride, they were a mix of totally exuberant smiles and pasty gray faces.  I already knew in which group I would be.

I think that this was just one of Chris’s little ways of torturing me, which he was prone to do.  After all, that’s what big brothers do to little brothers.  As it was our time to get strapped into one of these rockets, I felt like I was being prepared for a launch into space.  I looked into the cage inside the rocket and it looked kind of flimsy.  I looked at the operator of this experiment and he was a teenager, covered in grease, and smoking intensely on a cigarette: not a particularly confidence-inspiring site at all.  But I was already resigned to be the next to lift off in this contraption.  After being strapped in, Chris checked the restraint “system”, and deemed it OK.  Big deal!

As the ride started it began rotating me upward, and then started spinning me around in a circle at the same time.  I thought to myself, who could like this?  It was like being in a washing machine strapped onto a Ferris wheel.  But unlike the Ferris wheel, I couldn’t even see anything in terms of any kind of a view, as everything was spinning too fast.   Chris was laughing his head off as I was telling him how much I hated this thing.  I was really beginning to get scarred and started yelling for them to stop it, now!  Chris started to laugh even louder at my demanding that they stop the ride.   All of a sudden, I began to feel really nauseous, as everything continued to spin.  And then it happened.  I just couldn’t hold it in any longer, and began vomiting profusely, everywhere.  The spinning kept me from even trying to cover my mouth with my hands, so I just let loose.  Chris began to yell, as he was getting covered with the two hot dogs, cotton candy, a caramel apple, and God knows what else I had put in me earlier.   Well the ride finally came to an end, but obviously not soon enough for me, or anyone else who managed to get caught in my vomitus wake.

With the ride finally over, I could now survey the damage.  Chris, the entire inside of the rocket, and apparently some outside folks, including our dingy operator, were pretty well covered in puke.  But as I looked down at myself, I noticed a rather curious thing.  I had very little mess on me anywhere.  This was an excellent lesson in the scientific principle of centrifugal force.  After all, I was at the center of the vomit stream, the point of origin, around which all revolved.  A virtual “Eye” in the vomit storm.

As I exited the freshly redecorated rocket, I was even too sick to be embarrassed at what I had done.  Chris was furious, being the main recipient of my offering.  I looked up to see Pop, kind of smirking and kind of looking concerned.  As we approached, he asked if I was OK.  I said I was feeling much better now.  He said that was probably not a good ride for young kids and they shouldn’t have let me on the ride in the first place.   He asked me again to make sure that I was indeed all right.  He then walked over to the operator who was busy trying to clean himself of my lunch, and Pop told him he should have known this could happen with little kids.  Pop continued to read him the riot act, unmoved by the fact that he was pretty well covered in my lunch.  Pop was definitely not happy about this and clearly saw me as a victim.  When Pop got done with this guy, we all began leaving the area.  Pop then turned his attention to Chris, and said to him, “And what the hell’s the matter with you.  You should have known better than to bring him on a ride like that.  Maybe that little shower you got will make you think twice next time.”  Chris got the message.

I think with that we all felt like it was time to go home.  A little battle weary, but no worse for wear; we headed for the exit.   As we went past one of the last food venues, Pop asked if anybody wanted some cotton candy.  We all had a good laugh.  Both Chris and I thanked Pop for taking us to the Fair, and for giving us a great day.  Pop said he had a great time himself, and that we’ll all have to come back next year.



(Two Hands on the Hammer)

            Well, since that hot muggy day in August, many summers have blossomed, and withered into autumn.  Pop passed away in 1976 of natural causes at the age of 88.   Several years after our day at the Fair Nana and Pop Pop moved in with us, and lived the rest of their lives in our home in Wantagh.  Pop saw me finish college and graduate school, get married, and start my life as a marine biologist.  He was immensely proud of me.

Growing up with Pop I had come to know him as a father figure, and as a sensitive and caring man.  He was always direct, and spoke his mind.  He was also extremely protective of us all.   There was an entire generation gap between us, but somehow it didn’t hinder his ability to influence and profoundly affect my life, and my view of the world.  He taught me practical things, like painting and how to use tools to build and repair.   And it was through those practical lessons that he was able to instill within me a greater lesson, that of how to approach life with a sense of honesty and pride in my work.   He made me see that the things I do, and how I do them, reflect on me as a person.

Long after the numerous projects Pop and I shared, his memory still lives on in the many projects I have taken on around the houses in which I have lived as an adult.  I have even taught my wife Barbara how to paint, and I have told her that this was the way Harry Werner taught me how to paint.   So now whenever there’s any painting to do she does it, and always asks if Harry Werner would be proud of her work.  There is no doubt that he would be proud.  And this is as it should be; lessons such as these should be passed on, and people like him need to be appreciated by others, whether they actually knew him or not.

Neither Pop nor I could have ever foreseen the evolution that would take place in the nature of the “Projects” that I would eventually undertake.  About fifteen years after Pop passed, I started to get interested in woodworking.  My interest quickly grew and developed into a full-fledged passion for designing and making fine furniture.   I started with simple pieces, then moved on to reproductions of some Arts & Crafts and Shaker pieces and then evolved into my own hybrid designs.  Barbara has also taken a great interest in my woodworking, as many of the pieces I build end up in our home.   She is very proud of my work, and often remarks at how meticulous I am, and how driven I am to do it right.   When she tells me this I often reflect on Pop, and the many hours we spent together, hammers in hand.  His voice still resonates in my head every time I begin a project, and I can hear his patient tone and quiet guidance.  And every time I pick up a hammer, I can still feel his hand right there with mine, guiding it and holding it steady as he did so many years ago.



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