This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Walking the High Line

NYC-8In New York City, there was a train track that once felt important. And rightly so, as it was needed. Proudly it stretched its shiny steel tracks from the West into town, carrying loads and loads of freight trains every day between the city and a growing industrial area. Being ready for any kind of transportation was its sole purpose. For sixty years it felt necessary, and cared for.

Then, one morning just like any other morning, there were no more trains. No more light signals and no more buzz at the end station. Nobody showed up. Nobody showed up for such a long time that the shiny steel began to rust. Then nobody showed up to care for the always-ready, hard-working track. There were roads, you see. Alternate routes. Changes in urban planning. The poor track was not needed anymore. Nobody even needed the steel or the ground for anything, so people just forgot about it in a New York minute (snap).

Weed started to push through between the ballast and the wooden sleepers. Just a few curious herbs at first – followed by a bunch of others. And then, slowly, a sapling tree found itself growing in the middle of New York City, in a sky garden above the ground.

What to do with all that green in the middle of NYC? With campaigning and some luck, some spirited people converted it into a protected park. In doing so they did not uproot the tough little weeds and plants and trees, but kept much of the original flora. For kids growing up in the City it is inspiring to know that when Nature manages to push through, these are the plants and flowers and trees that grab foothold. And the old train track is proudly stretching itself again, covered in lush greenery.

I walked the High Line in its entirety: over 2 km of urban garden. If greenery is not incorporated into the original urban plan (like it wasn’t in most of NYC), creative rescue solutions like the High Line are probably the best second alternative. And I was happy to walk on the old rails and know they had a purpose once again – and this time hopefully for longer than just sixty years.NYC-6(New York City, USA; May 2018)


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Ground Zero, ten years later

NYC-4I never saw the famous World Trade Center Twin Towers, except for in photos. They defined the lower Manhattan skyline – until the day they didn’t. I first visited Ground Zero in 2008. It was one big hole, part concrete and soil and part construction crews. Visitors were lead around on boardwalks and held back by ropes. There were only a few smartphones and certainly no selfies or selfie-sticks. The atmosphere was somber, even if the attack on the twin towers was seven years in the past.

Ten years later, the site is unrecognizable. Where the crumbled towers stood lie large square holes in the ground, with water flowing down around the rim and disappearing into a sinister, dark, bottomless pit. Two voids, just like the towers left a physical void in the city, and the terrorist attack left a mental and spiritual void in the people.

The USA is always stretching for extremes, and so it is befitting that the new main building of the World Trade Center  disappears into the clouds. Naturally, it is taller than its two predecessors. How could one otherwise symbolize perseverance and pride without fear?

Today, smartphones and selfie-sticks are everywhere on the Memorial Plaza. Perhaps it could be viewed as too light and ignoring the weight of the dramatic events. Or, just perhaps, our somewhat silly selfie-culture is an even better way to show perseverance and no fear? NYC-7(9/11 Memorial Plaza, New York City, USA; May 2018)


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What is the soul of a city?

NYC-1What are cities made of? What is the essence of a city? We humans are funnily egocentric: we like to anthropomorphize everything. We talk about the “beat” of a city or it’s “soul”. In a way we evoke a primeval streak of animism when we claim to sense the essence of a city as if it were inhabited by a spirit.

Well, here is a bold thought: concrete, steel, asphalt, dust, dirt, glass, electricity. This is what for example New York City is made of. Perhaps you adore it, disagree, and claim NYC is made of buzz, life, ambition, and hope for the future. That the soul of a city is the people and human life.

The problem is, human life is transient and ever-changing. Without it, New York City would be a big pile of rust, concrete, and rats (rats are life, too!). And water. Apparently there used to be over 40 streams of water running across Manhattan, and the original land colonialized by Europeans was to a large extent swampland (around a few hills).

I wandered around NYC in early May, imagining from time to time what the city would look like stripped from all neon lights, cars, electronic billboards, and human life. A few months later I was given a book to read which presents scientific conclusions on what would actually happen to it should we people all disappear. Since the City is actively fighting back water in its subway systems, flooding would be the first, immediate effect. At some point the city would combust and burn, probably several times, due to all the faulty electricity and fuel sources available. The rats would probably have a feast. Then, slowly, trout and other fish would return to the river; with great difficulty over the few first generations, owing to the leaking nuclear power plant nearby. But they would come. And so would other animals.

Nature is the entropy humanity tries to fight against. The moment we stop, Nature conquers us. It has no rush as it knows it will always win in the end. Eventually. My claim is that a city is nothing but a container, a vessel, for life. And so, would it not be fair to say that the city is actually soul-less and an anomaly in the order of things? That what we mistake as the “beat” or the “soul” of the city is, in fact, our primeval collective pulse as a human community – and the city has nothing to do with it?NYC-2(New York City, USA; May 2018)


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A modern monkey

canopy-2After browsing the free-time activities during a work retreat, I signed up for a canopy tour. I thought it would be like the canopy tours I did in the past: walking on planks and suspension bridges in trees. How wrong I was. Read the small print they say – but who ever does?

Instead we were whisked up on top of a mountain in a ski lift, trussed and clamped into a harness, and sent down the mountain on ziplines, toes skimming the treetops. Hanging from a wire, wind in my eyes, speeding towards a huge tree, I had to learn to brake with my glove on the wire before hitting it full speed. That’s what the helmets were for – or against.

canopy-1 As I stood under the apex of a lark tree, enjoying the sunlight and hum of the wind in the branches, squirrels scattered in all directions with angry complaints: humans don’t belong in the trees anymore. “Have not done so for quite a while so Go Away!”

Yet I could not help but think of John Muir’s tale about when he rode out a storm in the top of a douglas fir in Yosemite. And I thought of redwood arborists who spend days harnessed and hanging from trees, studying the animals and trees that grow from compost deposited on a redwood branch – and even sleeping suspended in the trees.

And I realized I just may have missed a second calling as an arborist, spending my days up in the trees, researching the microecosystem of a single tree branch. I may have missed a chance for happiness by reverting into a modern monkey.

canopy-3(Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA; October 2015)


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New Hampshire ruska

NH-forest Is it a 19th century landscape with oil on canvas? No, it is real: the backyard of our lovely hotel in Bretton Woods. Ruska is Finnish for fall foliage and this is ruska at its best. But what Scandinavia misses is the maple that, when it sucks back the life from its leaves, turns them a dark-blue-blood-red against its light gray trunk. The New England ruska is tinted by royal blood.

(Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA; October 2015)


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The haunted hotel

NH-hotel-1

Imagine a white, long, stately grand hotel. With miles of corridors, white doors, and old Persian rugs. With hidden rooms and the scent of old age, and a bar with an age-old bartender. With guest rooms in which good things have happened – and horrible things, too. With REDRUM spelled on the door.

Yes. REDRUM. The Shining. “Honey, I’m home!” Jack Nicholson’s character going into serial-killer-mode. Except for that the location was changed to another hotel in Colorado just before filming began. Yet sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The Omni Mount Washington resort in New Hampshire looks like the hotel from the movie. Only the haunted hedge maze is missing.

What a relief, then, that only room 314 is haunted. It is only at night when the hotel creaks and sighs. On a clear day you can see Mount Washington in the distance. And no REDRUM MURDER happened on our watch. 

NH-hotel-2(Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA; October 2015)


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Dazed and confused in Boston

Boston-1 There was a long flight, jetlagged people lost in a hotel, and a quick dash to Macy’s for proper winter-weight stockings. There was somebody who knew which direction to take, and finally a skyscraper and an elevator upward.

And suddenly there was a cocktail party on the top floor, and Boston at our feet. A gray day turned into a spectacular golden sunset. And after hours our jetlagged brains were exposed to the crazy show of the Blue Man Group. Best viewed when drunk or near-expired by exhaustion.

Boston, city of smart and innovative minds, today my dull mind was no match against the first glimpse you offered. Rematch another time?

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(The Charles River, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; October 2015)