Tag Archives: nature

of the sounds of birds

Last week was my 360-minute residency at Freshkills Park (a hidden gem!!) and my blog post about my time there is up on the Holes in the Wall Collective’s website here.

My text is below but go to the link for photos and accompanying text from Julia and Dhira!

Coming here to Freshkills, there’s a lot to take in. The transformation of the park from landfill to nature preserve, the resiliency of nature (the deer that swim across the river, the volunteer trees on the mounds, planted by seeds dropped by birds and other animals), the effect on the local economy, the understanding that this is a project that takes years and years and years. In the here and now, so much has returned—there’s fish in the creeks and osprey in the trees, and a quiet that signifies space to breathe and to think.

Because there are so many birds in my story and here in Freshkills Park, I’m thinking a lot about sound and how to capture it on paper. The mechanical whirr and twang of the red-winged blackbird, the strident calls of gulls signaling a bird of prey overhead. The soft chirps of sparrows and the familiar warbling song of the robin. Killdeer, nothing as imposing as its name suggests, call with their high-pitched cries—what I’d thought somewhat like a gull’s, and the sound they’re named after. A high chipping call of another bird I cannot identify and a high-pitched whistle like the intake of a breath. How to bring sound into a story: here, the wind rustling new leaves, the hum of an airplane overhead, those various birdcalls that are both familiar and unfamiliar. Just a part of the landscape but such an important part: how do you describe what you expect to always be there? What happens once it’s gone?  

Gorgeous space, tons of birds, and creative, interesting people meant I got a lot of thinking and writing and observing done. Thank you to Dhira and Julia for accepting me and setting it all up, and Mariel for hosting me at the site!

Advertisements

and later this week…

I’ll be doing another mini-residency this Wednesday as part of Holes in the Wall Collective’s 360 One Turn Residency! It’s a 360-minute (6-hour) residency where, once accepted, they pair you with a location to spend your 6 hours. I’ve been lucky enough to be paired with Freshkills Park in Staten Island, which I already know and love after having kayaked there and watched osprey and turkey vultures, since I’ll be working on my bird-centered, mythology-influenced short story. It’s a really nontraditional way of holding a residency but I think it’ll be a lot of fun! Expect some words/images about it this week :]

Far Rockaway II

My second day in the Rockaways dawned clear, with bright blue skies scattered with clouds. Taking a bus to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, we found tree swallows in the dozens swooping around in the wind. The views were across marsh and water, and we learned the odd creaking song made by the red-winged blackbird. Below, my list of the birds I saw here:

There were a few tourists from out of the country, which I found interesting, but it was a gorgeous day to be out. At the visitors center, a woman imitated a bird call for help from a staff member on identifying it. As she sang, his eyes caught mine, a slight grin on his face. He, of course, could not identify the bird she was imitating. What poor voices we humans have. Later, lunch at The Restaurant, a local diner, and a gorgeous sunset across from JFK, where a few locals were fishing. The texture of the beaches there, with skeins of dried saltmarsh cordgrass lining the sand; they’ll sink just a little beneath your feet.

The next day, it began to rain again but I still made my way down to the beach where a number of surfers were battling the swells. In even larger numbers were sanderlings–I love the motion of them, the push and pull of their movements with the waves. Their marks like the sketch of labryinths in the sand. There, there were also a few piping plovers whose tan feathers blended in with the beach, and a few American oystercatchers with their high-pitched calls and thin, bright orange beaks.

I’m calling the photo above “The American Dream.” 😉

It was an amazing, relaxing retreat at beach64 that I sorely needed. I’m rethinking the story I’m working on, the focus of the narrator and the nature of what she’s battling; the role of the birds will probably play an even larger role, as well as the mythic underpinnings of the story. Reading I’ve been inspired by lately are Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and Jon Young’s What the Robin Knows, as well as Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread.  I only wish I could’ve stayed longer!

Far Rockaway

Since January, there’s been a lot to catch up on, the biggest of which was that I went to Sri Lanka for vacation. Photos will eventually go up but right now, I’m in Far Rockaway in Queens at the Beach64retreat, thanks to the invite of talented artist Wojciech Gilewicz and his husband, Bartek. I arrived late, after several delays with the MTA, and fell asleep to the sounds of wind and rain.

Heavy rain in the morning but by noon, it had stopped. The clouds are so heavy and thick that I can hear but not see the airplanes that pass overhead. So many more birds here than where I live in Manhattan–the squawking of gulls, the singing of mockingbirds and robins. I ventured out to the small wildlife sanctuaries nearby; there were no real paths but I glimpsed a loon among a fleet of dark-headed ducks, and several laughing gulls with their dark heads and gray and white bodies. On the way back to the apartment, a bright red cardinal sang on top of a TV antennae. Since the story I’m working on a bird-centered narrative and I’m currently reading all about bird language, I’m really glad to be here. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is only a short bus ride away; I’m looking forward to going when it’s sunnier tomorrow! I only wish the skies would clear so I could try to get a view of the Lyrid meteor shower…

Privy

I’ve got a microfiction piece called “Privy” up at The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. Check it out here!

Stayed up for the lunar eclipse last weekend—truly a cool sight despite the wind. Actually, because the wind was blowing so hard, the scuttering of the clouds made it look as though the moon were rapidly traveling across the sky. It was so bright before the start of the eclipse, I could see the dark shadows across the face of the moon. I was also not in the city, so the light pollution didn’t prevent me from seeing Orion and some of the other constellations. One of my goals this year is to go somewhere where I can see the Milky Way. I’ve only seen it once, out in the desert of Gansu many years ago.

My reading at Erewhon Books with Elsa Sjunneson-Henry was so much fun! It’s such a low-key yet intimate venue, and all the people there were super friendly and welcoming, and gave me plenty of advice on a work in progress flash fiction piece that I read. Special shout-out to Liz Gorinsky, who invited me to read and welcomed everyone into her publishing company’s space. It’s really a wonderful community (even though I am not even close to well-versed in most of the fandoms that others there were) and I definitely plan on going to more of their salons.

This month has also brought me back into contact with folks I knew while I was in grad school and before—it’s always fun to catch up with other writers that you admire and hear about all the cool things they’ve been up to. It’s also a reminder for me to carve out more time for my writing this year. Maybe I should set myself a weekly quota…

Oh, and for those who’d like a reminder now that nominations are open, I have a couple of stories eligible for the Hugo and Nebula awards (my post about it is here). Also, I’m on Twitter for those who want to follow my very occasional posts (but more than what I have here!)

Hiking season

In Taipei, I measure time by particular seasons. It was strawberry season not too long ago, tiny strawberries in cartons that were halfway filled with padding to protect the delicate fruit. Right now, it’s the season for golden-hued pineapples straight out of ads and giant watermelons the length of one’s arm, sometimes sold out of the same open fruit truck (you know the kind I mean, all open sides to display the fruit.) The first pineapple I bought was from one of those trucks, the young guy selling them surrounded by women. One even took photos of him as he removed the outer layers of her pineapple expertly. His pineapple cost me 120 ntd but the taste was incredibly sweet and floral, no sourness at all.

It’s also the season for giant snails with pointed shells on the mountain trails of Xianjiyan, and barn swallows in little nests above storefronts. I saw a nest with six swallows inside recently, their heads all poking out and watching me. The weather is changeable but mostly it’s hot, hovering around 30 degrees Celsius lately. My teacher says the rainy season is starting and when I asked about typhoon season, she said that it was separate from the rainy season and started in summer.

On nicer days, I try to make it to some of the mountains nearby. Once to Pingxi crags where three mountain peaks sit close together but rise alone so you have to climb up then down then all the way up again. The ones ijl and I climbed had bare rock on top, and one rose so steeply it required a ladder attached to the rock. I like the hiking here—there are the typical stone steps but also occasionally more natural dirt paths (sometimes not well-maintained though) and then you get the adventure hiking which involve rope to help steady you (and you definitely need them!) and sometimes actual climbing. Sometimes you see older men hiking in bare feet, as though it were typical. One of the mountains there, we managed to climb twice, not realizing the path we took down looped around and up the mountain again but it was a more adventurous one so it was fun anyway. There are signs there that tell you to beware, accidents have happened and you proceed at your own risk. And along the way, there were birds whose calls sounded like the whistle of a rocket, and a glimpse of a ferret-badger through the brush, as well as the remains of sky lanterns that we picked up. 

Another hike was from Daxi on the east coast. We took the slow train there, paying with our easycards. The day started out hot so it was brutal going up. Spiders hung on webs above us so if you looked up, you’d see spider after spider seemingly floating in the air. Occasionally, you’d catch a glimpse of ocean. The path led to Taoyuan Valley which was completely different. We climbed the ridge there; on one side, a steep dropoff with shrubs that grew close to the ground due to wind unlike the forests we had been hiking in and on the other side, gently sloping meadowland with water buffalo leisurely eating the grass. On the path were “obstacles” that were the opposite of an animal crossing, to prevent the water buffalo from wandering too far into the mountains. But continuing on the path led us to heavy mist on the ridge and because I was getting tired, we took an unofficial path down with just a cardboard sign that read Dali train station written in marker. This path was very steep, just a dirt and rock path in between wild grass almost as tall as I was, and with the wind blowing something fierce. The shortcut may have been shorter but probably tougher.

Recently, I decided to go alone to Jiandaoshi (Scissor Rock) one day after class but this path turned out to be different from many others. There, retired old men hike it every day and chat with you or hike along with you if you’re new. I was put with two Taiwanese girls and we were shepherded up, an older man with his dog giving us advice all the while about the rough sandstone rock that we were scrambling over. On the way down, another old man identified a passionfruit flower, the trail we should take down, and played us an old song on a type of flute he had (he practices on the mountain, just a hobby he picked up). And on the way to the street, past a flower garden, we were given fresh-cut lilies that were going to be discarded anyway, after we admired them. The friendliest hike I’ve been on.

It’s not all hiking, though. I write essays on Taiwanese superstitious behavior, read essays on the sharing economy, and wonder why there are always worms on the broccoli and cauliflower. I randomly hopped aboard a shuttle for a free trip out to a little town called Xinpu known for its Hakka ancestral homes/shrines and sweet potato dye. I marvel at fresh baby corn and the glimmer of their leaves; they are sweeter than canned. I wait for repairmen to fix the cracks in my ceiling, just in case it’s a danger for the next earthquake, and then ask them random questions that help me with my powerpoint presentations. Sometimes your Japanese classmate tries to teach your class Japanese in Chinese. I live on roasted sweet potatoes because the old man who sells them is adorable even if he never seems to be around when I’ve got a craving—they’re so sweet it’s like eating a healthy dessert and only 50 ntd a bag. Sometimes black-crested serpent eagles circle your neighborhood, crying out all afternoon. I’ll post about southern Taiwan later. I’m missing a good friend’s wedding. With this new teacher, I can’t seem to keep anything in my head, words just slip away as soon as I see them. What skill it takes to be a good language teacher; I hadn’t realized quite how important it was until a mediocre teacher came along.

In writing news, the anthology Endless Apocalypse is out where you can read “Away They Go or Hurricane Season” along with other stories both contemporary and classic. I joined twitter (@suyeelin) but who knows how long that will last? Follow me while you can 😉

Wonderland in Day One

Firstly, my story Wonderland is in the last issue of Day One! It was inspired by a trip to an abandoned amusement park on the outskirts of Beijing that I went to one fateful Thanksgiving several years ago. You can read it here.

Right before the new year began, right after taking my midterms, I took a quick jaunt down to Taroko Gorge on the eastern side of Taiwan with ijl. I’d actually been before, about 5 years ago. Beautiful, of course, with its marble gorges and that clear blue water, but I’d forgotten how short the hikes were and how they peter out. This time the Baiyang trail was closed but the Shakadang trail was fully open–we dipped our hands in the water and watched tadpoles swim in a shallow pool on top of one of the giant boulders. We used our easycards to board the 302 bus which was much less crowded than the Taroko Gorge shuttle and cheaper too. We stayed near the national park itself, in Xincheng, which doesn’t have too much going for it, but we did end up stopping by the beach just to see the Pacific Ocean from this side.

We watched the fireworks from Taipei 101 from my roof. It didn’t last long so it was nice not to have to brave the crowds for a view. In the alley below, one of the small shop owners shot up some fireworks, their whistles screeching into the air, the colors blooming directly overhead.

I didn’t read enough in 2017 but there were some gems. I just recommended Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing to my Chinese teacher actually! Here’s my list:

1. A Thread of Sky- Deanna Fei
2. Sweetbitter- Stephanie Danzer
3. The Girls- Emma Cline
4. When Watched- Leopoldine Core
5. A Chemical Wedding- Christian Rosencreutz (Small Beer Press & John Crowley’s version)
6. The Vegetarian- Han Kang
7. Do Not Say We Have Nothing- Madeleine Thien
8. Soft Split- Szilvia Molnar
9. Four Books- Yan Lianke
10. Lincoln in the Bardo- George Saunders
11. Notes from a Small Island- Bill Bryson (NF)
12. In A Sunburned Country- Bill Bryson (NF)
13. The Wangs Vs. The World- Jade Chang
14. The Blue Sword- Robin McKinley (re-read)
15. The Paper Menagerie- Ken Liu
16. Monkey Business, issue 4
17. Upright Beasts- Lincoln Michel
18. The Refugees- Viet Thanh Nguyen
19. Isadora- Amelia Gray
20. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia- Mohsin Hamid
21. The Great Passage- Shion Miura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
22. Goodbye, Vitamin- Rachel Khong
23. In the Country- Mia Alvar
24. POC Take Over Fantastic Stories of the Imagination- edited by Nisi Shawl
25. Journey to the Centre of the Earth- Jules Verne
26. Butterflies in November- Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
27. The Leavers- Lisa Ko
28. Dreaming in Chinese- Debra Fallow (NF)
29. Alternative Remedies for Loss- Joanna Cantor
30. Fast Food Fiction Delivery- edited by Noelle Q. de Jesus & Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta
31. Chemistry- Weike Wang
32. Pachinko- Min Jin Lee
33. Asia’s Reckoning: China, Japan, and the fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century- Richard McGregor (NF)
34. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate- Peter Wohlleben (NF)

Happy 2018!

Last of Seoul

A few last images to remember Seoul by:

1) At the dried seafood market

2) Bulgogi ssam with a playwright friend

3) Temple with flower clothing for all the animal decorations

4) A truck full of metal shavings

5) The view from the city wall with N.

6) A pre-flight tuna kimbap

Currently in Taipei now where it started out hot and humid but has been raining practically nonstop for a week. But it’s so different here from Seoul and China; I’m still getting used to it all.

A Flock, a Siege, A Murmuration in Bennington Review!

Bennington Review’s 3rd issue: Threats is out now but you can read my story “A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration” online on their website! I’m really happy the way this story turned out; it was inspired by the bird flu outbreak in China in 2013.

Also, who knew Governor’s Island was as nice as this?

PANO_20170624_171211

Red-spotted blackbirds, dragonflies hovering over lavender, urban vegetable gardens, chickens, biking for hours, hidden hammocks, hills, awesome playgrounds, perfect breezy weather, and a lovely view—what more could you ask for?

(Okay, the food selection could be better…!)

Europe Part III: Lyon & Barcelona

Lyon
P1130282

Traboules, I was told, were what we should look at. So, we’d see a sign, an open door or a lion’s head, and we’d walk through, peer at the courtyard around us. We’d cross the bridge over to Presqu’île for dinner, with its narrow alleys and stair-ed walkways bringing you higher and higher above the rest of the city. We bicycled around the city and one evening, went to the best restaurant called Le Comptoir du Vin where we feasted on a salad that was not called a salad but came with beautifully crisp roasted potatoes, blue cheese, and prosciutto draped on top as well as pork in a crème sauce. We wandered through Parc Tete D’Or by foot and by bicycle—their zoo was delightful, with a leopard crashing about in the undergrowth of his lair and deer that wanted to befriend us. At the Velodrome, there was a race happening and we also ran into an outdoor concert of xylophones (or were they glockenspiels?) and stayed for their last song.

P1130276There were Roman ruins galore and free admission for some reason at the museum by the ruins in Fourvière. The basilica there was beautiful, full of shining colored mosaics on the walls.We rode to the Confluence, where the Rhône and the Saône meet, past buildings that looked as though they belonged to the future, past a tributary of the river on which some contestants seemed to be battling it out with inflatable rafts and obstacles, to the little spit of land that led straight into the water. Then we slid down this structure by the museum there that all the kids were sliding down, including young mothers with small babies. It left your pants and hands white. There were croissants every day and in the end, we were sad to leave. P1130279 P1130286

Barcelona
P1130315

Gaudi and even more Gaudi.
Sagrada Familia, of course, with a trip up the tower to see the Glory facade but there wasn’t much of a view from the top. A shame that there was graffiti inside the narrow circular stairwell, so that certain windowed areas had to be encased in glass. There was Park Güell and Casa Vicens, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. For the last few, we rode bicycles through the neighborhoods around the houses, down one-way alleys that opened up to little hidden squares where the community gathered with kids playing and the occasional market.
IMG_20150926_181814 IMG_20150926_181421

The first few days, we were unimpressed by Barcelona’s architecture—we’d stayed in El Pablenou, very near Parc de la Ciutadella, which was dominated by rather dreary high-rises although Born and El Raval had more interesting buildings. The restaurants around the area reminded me of Mexico and Costa Rica, dingy little storefronts with a host of tables outside on the sidewalk. A menu mostly of sandwiches and platters with eggs or french fries. We went to the beach our first day—the water was cool but we got acclimated to it enough to swim for a bit before we walked down the boardwalk and watched a bunch of shiny tanned men working out on the public pull-up bars. Fascinating to see a whole routine being done on the beach. A vegetable paella for dinner with a surprisingly delicious pasta bolognese as a starter (yes, a rather weird combination but it was all tasty!) Another day, we went to Mercado de La Boqueria with its huge assortment of vendors—fresh juices (although a bit watered down, I thought!) and fruits, cones of  jamon Iberico, tons of seafood, spices…I realized after the fact that I didn’t take a single photo of the market but it’s a crowded one. At least I have one photo of my jamon!P1130297P1130321IMG_20150926_112702

The Mercé Festival was also happening during the time we were in Barcelona. We tried to see the human pyramid event but the alleyways all around the square were mostly all blocked and the crowds just kept carrying us away from the square—we weren’t the only ones who A) were very confused about the correct direction and B) just didn’t make it. What was a bit frustrating though were the amount of strollers. When going down a narrow, crowded alley, it’s hard not to get a bit annoyed with those tourists who had brought strollers to try to see the event. We did get to see the closing fireworks show at Plaça d’Espanya which was quite fun with the magic fountain, the music, and the fireworks. We’d actually gone to Montjuïc during the day, up to the castle and found ourselves watching the Catalan Folk Festival featuring performers from Estonia, Romania, Colombia, and elsewhere while eating freshly fried churros. The castle was more of a fort but did have a lovely view over the shipping container yards and the ocean and a soundtrack of some very chatty seagulls. We decided to walk down rather than take the funicular and found ourselves in the gardens, meandering down little paths that showed us musical steps and fountains. IMG_20150923_181436 IMG_20150923_173937

Another day, we took the train out to Montserrat and then the cable car up for about 20 euros combined. These are very different mountains from Chamonix, bulbous and finger shaped, but seemed quite great for the climbers we saw everywhere since the rock was so rough and had so many nooks and crannies. We took the long route starting from the monastery to Sant Miquel to Sant Joan then eventually to Sant Jeroni. Most of the trek was very pleasant and fairly easy with large, well-marked paths and then steps up the exposed mountainside to Sant Jeroni although the path back from Sant Jeroni back to Montserrat was mostly steep and narrow stairs (which is probably why the map indicated that it was one way! But there were a few people coming the wrong way up, maybe because they didn’t want to trek all the way to Sant Joan first.) IMG_20150925_131850 IMG_20150925_132421