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Archive for September, 2011

September 11, 2001. Colbyville, Vermont.  333 miles north of Manhattan.

“Something awful has happened! An airplane hit one of the Trade Towers!” yelled a friend through the darkroom door. I was making prints for a book on Vermont farm women

I rushed upstairs and watched the Trade Tower burning. Then I saw the other plane hit the second tower. I could feel the terror in the airline passengers and the people in the tower, watching, perhaps not believing, what was happening. A spurt of flame blew through the tower. Fire, smoke and then the Towers crumbled, as if they were sand castles built too high. I didn’t say a word and watched the television for the rest of the day.

As a journalist and photographer, I should have rushed down to Ground Zero to photograph the tragedy. I didn’t. I couldn’t go down to document this loss; to take heroic photographs of tragedy, for the destruction of the towers and the death of so many people lay too monstrous in my soul, torturing my psyche. I crawled into myself.

For seven years, from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s, I lived in Manhattan and photographed the Twin Towers­—Winter, summer, spring, fall,  at dawn and at dusk. From the plaza below the Trade Towers, looking straight up, from the top looking down at Manhattan glowing with hustle, the north to the Empire State and to the south the harbor, blue and serene at dusk. I photographed the Towers from the Statue of Liberty, from Brooklyn, from the Empire State Building, and in New Jersey from Liberty State Park, the World War II ammunition loading pier in Bayonne, and from the Colgate building, then a hangout for winos and druggies  (I carried a pistol in my camera bag). . . from Steven’s Point and Weehawken, where Burr killed Hamilton in a duel. From that vantage the two towers blended into one.  My photo agency, The Image Bank, sold these photographs all over the world.

My favorite spot was at the end of the ammunition pier in Bayonne that extended over a mile into the harbor, and you could line up the Statue of Liberty between the Trade Towers. I went out there at dawn and watched the sun rise over Manhattan, light changing from grey to blue to pink. Once I stood behind my camera from dawn until midmorning on an August day that would turn humid-hot and I watched the light change, until a haze of heat whitened the towers. Helicopters, halfway below the towers’ summit, buzzed back and forth and nearer to me seagulls glided. The scene was diaphanous, gossamer delicate.

I would return to the pier on afternoons when a northwest front moved into Manhattan, bringing with it a clarity that sparkled, a deep blue sky and puffy clouds. The first day would be pristine, the second day lost a bit of that freshness, the third day turned hazy. I would drive through the Holland Tunnel to Bayonne, hike with a camera pack and tripod to the end of the pier, and set up the camera and wait, and every so often take photographs as the sun slipped overhead to western New Jersey, changing the light and color of lower Manhattan every fifteen minutes. After sunset I would wait until that magical moment when the sky turned a mystical blue and the Towers lit up, blocks of light and form against a backdrop fading from blue to black. Sometimes the full moon would rise over the Brooklyn Bridge and arc over the Towers. It was thrilling to watch the floors light up until the Towers became living, pulsing beings. To me they were vibrant structures of life. They represented what New York stood for—a jolt of wired energy, a tangible power with an intangible force.

The Trade Towers anchored the New York skyline and replaced the Empire State Building as the city’s prima donna. At the summer solstice, the sun was far enough north so that, when it set, and  if you were standing on the pier in Hoboken, it reflected directly off the Towers, turning them into golden, shimmering mirrors. The Empire State could never do that. The Trade Towers had a beauty that surged through my camera lens, to my eye, my brain, my soul, living within me. It was my sort of high.

For a while I lived at the corner of Spring and Broadway in Soho and bicycled throughout the city. The towers were my geographical index. I would bike serendipitously, looking for photo locations.

I returned to Vermont in the mid-1980s. In Manhattan the yuppies had moved in and buildings were being converted into coops and I, always subleasing, was kicked from apartment to apartment. Finally the rents climbed so high I said the hell with it. I kept my bicycle in New York, and would drive down, bike the city, a risk sport to me, and continue to visit those secret stashes where I would photograph the Manhattan skyline, and my Trade Towers. No matter how many times I went to a particular vantage point to take photographs, the light on the Towers was always different.

Linespace

Something shriveled in me on Wednesday, September 11, 2001.  I couldn’t do anything for the rest of the week. I moped in my home. On the weekend I dragged myself out, and with my Airstream in tow, drove to Benson, Vermont, where I photographed Jeanne Bartholomew, a farmwoman. It was a subdued day. The interview I had, and the photographs I took, seemed to be a relief for Jeanne and me. Neither of us had much to say about the Towers, and when we did, we didn’t look at each other.

I parked my camper in one of their hayfields that had just been mowed. On Saturday night, at dusk, I sat in a chair and watched four deer feeding on the upper edge of the field in front of the forest kept at bay by a stone wall. Night overpowered dusk, obliterating the deer. Then the stars came out, brilliant sparks on a cool black night

Morning fog evaporated into a brilliant Sunday canopied by a  deep blue sky. It was the same weather pattern they had in New York when the planes struck, the type of day I would say to myself, when I lived there, and looked at the Towers standing tall above the buildings in Soho,          “What a great day to be alive!”

It was so quiet in that Vermont field on this particular Sunday morning. No commercial or private aircraft were flying in the United States. Not even a wisp of a contrail. The morning sun was bright and dried the dew quickly. A couple of grasshoppers fluttered and whirred. The silence that was in the sky subsumed my soul and a dark void filled me. In midmorning, it was broken by the noise of a jet engine—a National Guard fighter from Burlington, patrolling the perimeter.

I cannot look at any photographs of the Trade Towers destruction, nor can I read about the pain of the rescuers or the survivors. I avert my eyes to these photographs and videos. I think of the people ground to ashes. The symbol of New York is crumbled.  I think of the beauty in my soul, molded by those photographs of the Towers, now devastated

For three years I would not go to New York. I read the stories behind the victims printed in the New York Times, but I never could read more than three before I was crushed by the hope and vibrancy killed on that day.

Something died within me. A friend suggested I seek counsel, but I can care for it in my way. I will go back to Manhattan and try to rid myself of this angst. I will visit Ground Zero, and walk along the bay to Liberty State Park and visit the ammunition pier, which I hear has been broken in two, and I will go to Hoboken and to Weekhawken and to Brooklyn, where I will watch the sun set and where the Brooklyn Bridge and the Trade Towers were silhouetted against the setting sun, only this time there will be a hole in what I see, and in my soul.

What has happened? Is it desecration? Is it a loss of humanity and innocence, of an era in New York when America and I were supremely happy . . . and naive? Or is it a loss of beauty? I don’t know. I’ll go to New York sometime, but not soon, and try to put this death to rest.

………..

When I returned to New York, I looked down at  the hole at Ground Zero.  I stared at the wounded bronze globe from the Towers Plaza, now in the Battery. I took a boat taxi to New Jersey and walked along the bay to Liberty State Park. The ghost marina, the old factory buildings in Hoboken, the winos and druggies,  even the Colgate clock, have vanished. The shoreline is pristine, gentrified, clean, perfect and it does not feel right. I walked half way down to the Park , stopped, turned around and looked at  southern tip of Manhattan,  where the Trade Towers rose, surrounded by water. Now it appears as a flat shoreline.

“God,” I said to myself. “It looks like a cemetery.”

 

 

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Waterbury, Vermont. September 1

I knew souhern Vermont was going to be hit when I saw the forecast of rain. Here seemed tranquil. On Sunday, the day the hurricane arrived, there was a wind of about 20 to 30 mph and rain was constant, although never pelting. I placed a bucket on the porch and measured the rainfall in it the next day– 4 inches. My talk at Frog Hollow in Burlington for Sunday afternoon was cancelled. Rob of Frog Hollow called and said the street was deserted and most stores were closed but there was just a rainstorm. It was the weekend when the parents brought their kids up to UVM for the start of the semester. Rob figured he lost $6000 in sales over the weekend, including what I would have earned. He believed the parents dropped off their kids and rushed home to secure their properties.

Monday morning I was up early for my 7 AM acupuncture appointment in Stowe.. Beautiful morning; the fields and roads looked scrubbed. The only problem I saw was about 50 yards of the road leading into Moscow was flooded during the night but no damage and the water receded.

The acupuncturist blamed my headaches on my neck and the way I was holding my body after the rotocuff injury. She relieved it and gave me some pressure points in my hand to relieve headache, which I still have but not so bad. My shoulder is functioning better but the ct scan will tell the story. Comcast failed again and my landphone was not workin

The backyard mess at the Cider House the day after Irene hit the restaurant on Route 2.

g for five days!

On the way back from the needle lady I listened to WDEV, which is very good about reporting local emergencies. I was shocked. Waterbury Village, so close, was flooded. The main street was under swirling water. It flooded in the night, the Winooski attacking like a Delta force, and disappeared in the morning, leaving chaos. The water surged in houses on both sides of the street. 51 mental patients were evacutated from the hospital and all the other mental patients (state employees) had the day off. The cellar in the state building was flooded including the bank offices for the Vermont Credit Union. Water filled the basements and tunnels leading from the building to outlying houses.

Peter Holm’s new office building is on Main Streett. An apartment in the back was trashed with slimy mud, from the refrigerator on down. No flood insurance for the inhabitants of course. The water then went into Peter’s office and stopped just two inches below his Mac Quadras! All his books and old proofs wete in the dumpster. Very symbolic–it represented the old publishing way of proofs, books, binding and all that Peter and I grew up with, and it was all in the trash. Peter did not lose any current work and he has a habit of backing up every day. He had help from his friends and the others who owned the building with him and he will be in shape soon.

The Northfield Bank was also flooded and set up a temporary bank in a trailer in the parking lot. The Alchemist brewery had their offices and brewerey equipment downstairs. They say they are going to reopen but….they do have a new brewery and canning facility next to my home in Colbyville. There goes the neighborhood–down the hatch! Maybe they will participate in Colbyville Pig Day this fall.

In the morning I called my assistant Kyle and asked him, as I usually do, to come in. He did, a couple of hours later. He said the power was off (and was all day in Waterbury, but not at my house), the road was flooded and a bunch of houses were trashed with cresting currents. The commando team at work again. The worst was what happened to the Cider House, where Kyle works in the kitchen at night. Mud buried the restaurant, water and electricity was lacking. The owners took a look, told Kyle to take the food, and disappeared. The Cider House is famous for good southern cooking and ribs and cornbread and po boys and alligator sandwiches, gumbo, boiled shrimp, corn bread, key lime pie and other southern goodies. They also had on tap wonderful pear and blueberry cider made in Vermont.

Slimy mud covered everything. We piled our cars full of food and it is now in my freezer and refrigerator and Kyle’s mother has a bunch. If I eat that stuff I will become round as a pumpkin.

I drove the back road on the other side of the Winooski and saw where the water had crested, about 7 feet above the road and at least 15 feet about the river. A cornfield was smashed and I have no doubt the big cornfields south of Richmond are under, as are other cornfields planted in the rich soil bordering the Winooski. Some Turkish vegetable farmers on the other side of the Winooski, just beginning the harvest, lost everything.

Waitsifled and Moretown were particularly hard hit and isolated as roads and bridges were flooded or destroyed.

I saw other houses in a poorer section of town devastated. The owners were moving out their goods as others watched, eating pizza.

I was astounded that all this damage was just a mile away from my house, protected by the idiosyncracies of weather and elevation. Other people who drove to work from the north and didn’t listen to WDEV were shocked at what had happened but of course the water receded and it didn’t look that bad until the residents dumped out the destroyed furniture and detritus of their lives.

However, this is nothing compared to what happened in southern Vermont.

Volunteers are helping to clean up today and for the rest of the week. I’ll go down to the Cider House and help clean up.

Last night Kyle came over and cooked a meal, from the Cider House, of chicken, hamburger, steak. Also horseradish potato salad and key lime pie. Good grief.

There are still towns in Vermont that are stranded because of wiped out roads. Nearby Moretown, heavily hit by the rivers in town, mentioned on the radio this morning that they found the crest of the flood was three inches higher than the flood of 1927, the highest ever recorded until this flood, at least in Moretown. Downtown Waitsfield is a sea of muck yet Darrad’s office, our Mac repairman, house is there, a couple of feet higher, and he had no damage.

I mentioned how the cornfield in town was crumpled by the flood. Thinking of a good picture of flattened cornfield, I drove to Richmond where very large cornfields border the Winooski. They were flooded, but the water obviously flooded at an even pace and the corn stalks were not knocked down, and it receded leaving cornfields as they were, just the stalks and leaves bronzed with the muddy water. They should be easily harvested when the ground firms up. What I saw in Waterbury was obviously a vicious, strong surge of water that blasted into the cornfield, knocking it, bending it and in places flattening it, just like a huge fist. I am surprised there is so little loss of life. Only four so far. One covered bridge was swept away.

I took my generator and a fan down to the Cider House yesterday so they could at least start drying out before mold sets in. Today we go down and clean out muck. One weather forecaster made an interesting point. Climate change has caused the spring flood and this flood in Vermont and last year we had mountain roads wiped out in heavy rain storms. This never happened before. One problem is that the culverts are too small to funnel the water now coming off the mountains after storms like these. The metal pipes in these culverts probably should be at least double the size. One cost of global warming.

During the storm Waterbury lost power and the state emergency communication center moved to Burlington. WDEV stayed on for 24 hours, used a generator for power and acted as the clearing center for news about the storm and what areas were hard hit and where stranded people needed help. They should have an award.

A Cider House employee lived in a trailer near Montpelier. During the storm he saw the water raise near his trailer four inches so he moved his car to higher ground. When he came back it was up to his knees and rising fast. He grabbed his dog and with his girl friend had to swim away from the trailer. Shortly after he rescued three people, two trapped in their car and one in a trailer.

Had to go to Epoch Gallery in Manchester thursday morning and couldn’t get there from here unless I went on a devious routes. On one section of Route 11 near Chester the road was about 30 feet above a brook that roared and took out half the road. Down below beside the stream has a log house on its side.

On the way back from Manchester to Waterbury I thought of taking a shortcut near Danby and inquired from a local about the road condition. “What road?”, he replied. “There

Between Springfield and Chester on Route 11 is this flood plain appraised at $48,000 (not $50,000 as the sign says). The landowner has made her point!

is no more road.”

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