Free Expression



                  Free Expression

DSC_2465To satirize, or not to satirize: that is the question:

Whether ’tis noblest in the mind

to proffer opinions unto vexation’s peak,

to sketch sentiments conforming to a menacing decree,


to splinter our pencils and sprinkle unenlightened charcoal atop unreflective, withering leaves—

Who decides?

(What would Shakespeare do?)


California Condor


The bird swooped into range  as I walked across the Navajo Bridge.
 I set my camera on it and started shooting. I had no idea what it was. Just that it was huge and I was mesmerized.


I began clicking, rapid firing, following the bird wherever it went–high above me, below the bridge to the Colorado River, around and around, close to the canyon walls. The bird soared, dipped, and circled.


I heard my husband behind me.

“Go, Jo,” he yelled. “It’s a condor.”


I ignored his cheerleading and focused on the bird. I’d never seen a condor and I wasn’t sure that the creature now in my sights fit that definition. I knew only that I was invigorated, that it was beautiful, and that I had to capture it.

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I don’t know how long the bird stayed with me. Seemed a long time. It vanished as suddenly as it appeared. It wasn’t until I after I researched the introduction of California condors into the Grand Canyon and checked my photos with a credible birder that I realized the rarity of this sighting.

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The California condor (Tag #LO) in these photos is a young female. Raised at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey she was released into the wild in 2012.

And three years later, we met. What a gift!

Autumn in the Southern Adirondacks

Forests aglow in orange, red, and yellow.

Rivers and lakes run deep blue.

And nature’s showcased brilliance thrills.

Prospect Mt.

Prospect Mt.2


Hudson River in Lake George Forest Preserve



Photos 1 & 2:      Views from the top of Prospect Mountain over looking Lake George in New York

Photos 3, 4, & 5   Views along New York’s Hudson River inside the Lake George Wild ForestHudson River Forest Preserve

[All photos by Joann Pensabene.

Camera: Nikon 7100.

Lens: VR18-105mmf/3.5-5.6G lens.]

The Last Hummingbird

Taking Aim Taking Aim

Hummingbirds guest at my home each spring and summer. Extraordinary beings. They announce themselves with a “bzzzz” produced by their flapping wings. They’re always hungry and I am a serious host: I lay them a fine table with some of their favorite foods. Hanging baskets of red, white and orange impatiens grace my front porch. Pots of purple and lavender flowering mallows stand in front of my house , and my back deck offers begonia, coleus, basil, and peppermint flowers for their pleasure.

Getting Closer Getting Closer

The birds visit several times a day, every day. They feed from the flowers and pollenate the plants and they don’t mind sharing an outdoor presence with me and my family and friends. Indeed, we and the hummers enjoy life together. The birds offer us wonder, serenity, and pleasure and we offer the hummers safety, calm, and quiet as they feed. It’s a remarkable relationship, one I haven’t experienced with any other wildlife. The birds show no anxiety around people, though they’re anti-social among their own species and tend toward territoriality. Thus it’s a fair guess that I see the same birds here each day. And that makes the experience personal and intimate.

Feeding at the Flowers Feeding at the Flowers

They arrive at my home, usually one at at time. They flutter around the plants and hover in midair as they devour the nectar inside each of the flowers. The birds don’t dally. As soon as they finish, they fly off in search of nourishment elsewhere, and in the case of the females, to feed their young.

Feasting on Nectar Feasting on Nectar

The bird feeding on the coleus flowers in these pictures is a female, ruby-throated hummingbird. Her neck and underbelly are white and her back is greenish. Her male counterpart is a more colorful, showier individual with an actual ruby-colored throat.  This lady is my last visitor for this season, I think. I haven’t seen her or any other hummers for days. So I’m honored that she allowed me to get within five feet of her to take these pictures.

Leaving the Scene Leaving the Scene

It’s migration time and as autumn closes in, plants that were nutritious and lush with leaves and flowers all summer are now spindly and withering.  The birds head to Mexico and Central America where they’ll feast at tropical  smorgasbords. They”ll be gone by the end of this month and I’ll start preparing for my own northeastern winter. As spring approaches, however, I’ll plan another floral table for the hummers return complete with all their favorites and perhaps, a few surprises.

Not Guilty: Some Thoughts, A Correction

In my Friday, July 26, 2013 piece, “Not Guilty: Some Thoughts,” I stated that George Zimmerman’s gun was returned to him in the courtroom after he was found not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter charges.

That statement is false and I apologize for the error.

George Zimmerman’s gun, along with other evidence in the case, is in the hands of the U.S. Department of Justice which has resumed its investigation of Zimmerman into the death of Trayvon Martin.

Not Guilty: Some Thoughts

Not guilty.

A wasp’s sting. I’d hoped for a conviction but I did not fully expect the primarily white, female jury to acquit George Zimmerman. I had little confidence that the prosecution would prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Their charges were stiff, the burden of proof, high. Evidence was not collected at the crime scene or from Zimmerman that would have strengthened the state’s case. Indeed, Zimmerman was arrested only because of a national outcry demanding an investigation into the shooting. Now, due process complete and after weeks of a show trial, the public received a burning dose of social and legal reality.

Not guilty.

Something was very wrong here. I wanted justice for Trayvon Martin not a Zimmerman exoneration.

I thought about the jury. As a former juror who served on a criminal case in New York years ago I well understood the deliberation process–hours of sifting through evidence, determining the credibility of witnesses, weighing the prosecutor’s case, searching for reasonable doubt. Jurors are expected to be impartial in their deliberations but no one can be totally objective. Jurors do interpret what they see and hear in the courtroom through the filter of their own life experiences. Why was there only one black juror on this case. Why were others who could have added minority perspectives to this case not included?

I blamed Florida law and the prosecutors. Six jurors in a second degree murder case did not seem enough to tease out the truth. I know verdicts should be derived from the perceptions of the group based on evidence presented within the context of the law as explained by the judge, but I wondered if deliberation arguments and the outcome would have been different had there been twelve multicultural jurors on this interracial case.

Not guilty.

The verdict did not represent Trayvon’s perspective, how he experienced Zimmerman’s stalking. Was he fearful? Perhaps he should have called the police. But did he have any  expectation that the police would help him, a black teenager? We can’t know for certain. The seventeen year old is dead.  His voice, unheard. His killer, acquitted.

The jury spoke. The state’s case is finished.

Is there any recourse? Of course, the U.S. Justice Department would resume their case against Zimmerman, but could they charge him with a hate crime? How would they prove intent? Another high, judicial bar. I didn’t place much hope here.

My heart broke for Trayvon’s parents. Their ordeal had to be agonizing. I admired their grace, dignity, and strength. I wondered how they sat in court, day after day, and listened to defense lawyers blame their son for his own death. The loss of a child is a nightmare. Chilling.  As a mother, I have never had to deal with such horror. My own children grew to adulthood. Their child never would.

I knew Trayvon’s parents have the right to file wrongful death charges in civil court against Zimmerman, the right to seek a monetary settlement from him. It would not carry the same weight as a guilty verdict in a criminal case, but it would hold Zimmerman accountable for his actions. If he testified and if they won their case.

But how does one place a monetary value on one’s child’s life? A child who had a right to be where he was, a right to walk to his father’s home unmolested? How does one place a monetary value on any of our children? More importantly, why should we have to? All children, regardless of race, have the right to adult protection in our communities. This clearly did not happen in the Sanford, Florida neighborhood that Zimmerman claimed he watched.

Not guilty.

I wondered about George Zimmerman. His gun was returned to him in the courtroom. He walked out of there a free man. How does a free, adult man live with the fact that he shot an unarmed, innocent boy to death.? At point blank range. In the heart. I had not heard about any expression of remorse from Zimmerman. I could only surmise he believed the jury added a sense of righteousness to his actions. Now he was armed and back on the street. I wondered how he celebrated his acquittal?

Not guilty.

I blamed the Florida laws that allow people to carry concealed weapons and stand their ground. I believe that carrying a gun inflates one’s confidence with misguided power. One feels that one has life and death control over any situation. Carrying a gun reduces the chance of  responsible discernment in questionable circumstances.  The danger is that verbal communication can be replaced by lethality arising in the heat of the moment. I also believe that standing one’s ground should not allow for provoking a confrontation. Neither should it give one the right to claim self-defense for acts committed as a result of such provocation. Especially when the provocateur is told by a 911 operator to stand down and wait for the police to arrive.

George Zimmerman, by his own admission, did not wait for the police to arrive. Instead, he stalked  Trayvon Martin. In so doing, he set up the circumstance that allowed for a confrontation. When he felt he was losing the altercation, he pulled his gun and killed the teenager. In essence, George Zimmerman chose to take matters into his own hands. Tragically, they were matters of his own making. Had he exercised adult responsibility at the time, the seventeen year old would still be alive.

Perhaps if Zimmerman, as a neighborhood watch volunteer, had not profiled Trayvon as a criminal but asked the boy where he was going and inquired if he needed help, he’d have seen Trayvon’s bottle of iced tea and his bag of candy, and realized he had nothing to fear from the boy. Had he talked with Trayvon, he may have realized that Trayvon, like himself,  belonged in that neighborhood.  Instead, he acted on an untrue premise that ended in horrible fatality. And he walked away from it without consequence.

Not guilty.

It does not mean innocent.

Always Room for Improvement

Nikon camera and Sunpak Tripod taken with iPhone 5 by Joann Pensabene

Nikon camera and Sunpak Tripod taken with iPhone 5 by Joann Pensabene

Photography class at the Adirondack Folk School in Lake Luzerne tomorrow. And yes, I’m excited.

I’ve spent the past couple of months updating my photography equipment, reading the camera manual, and clicking practice shots here and there. Most in the auto focus mode.

I’m an amateur photographer and I hope to improve my skills. Nature is my subject. Tomorrow I’ll learn how best to apply camera to the outdoors and take photos that I’ll really be able to write about.

So, here’s my formulaic goal:

Writing + Photos + Positive Creative Energy = Quality Blog Posts

(at least as compared to what they’ve been since I started.)

Hey, I used to take x-rays for a living. I can do this.


American Independence Day


celebrate our investment in our right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,”

aspire to our “American Dream,” a home, suitable work, and a good education,

hope that each generation prospers better than the one preceding it,

pledge our commitment to “liberty and justice for all,”

strengthen our proclaimation that our  government is

“of the people, by the people, and for the people,”


when the barbeques, baseball games, and fireworks are over,

we remember how our country paid for it’s freedom,

review the reasons we call it home,

and reaffirm that

“we the people” have an obligation to come together as “one nation,”


participate in our political process

by keeping ourselves informed,

by debating our goals and principles,

and by striving toward “the will of the people.”

We Americans have been around for 237 years–not a long history within the context of measuring civilizations, but long enough to look back and review and accept who we are, what we’re really about, and how we arrived at our present place. Then, perhaps, we can ask where we want to go from here and plan politically, socially, and culturally inclusive ways to get there.

Crossword Contemplation

Scrabble, word searches, acrostics. I’ve played them all. Magnetism exists in letter boards and spaces, clues and calibrated game points. They beckon and I’m compelled to fill in blanks, circle words, rearrange letters, or discover phrases.

Word puzzles stimulate my brain. They cause me to seek existential abstracts and their corresponding resolutions, or they flummox me by taking me to places where nothing makes sense. The games lead me to the edge of leisure’s uppermost atmosphere where all combinations of letters, phrasings, and associations coalesce.

But it’s the crossword puzzle that propels me past all that and into the Valhalla of locution.

So what is about crossword puzzles? What happens when my eye meets the empty grid of black and white squares and the clue list beside it?

Working a crossword puzzle is a solitary endeavor. I work them in the quiet of my home. Or I carve out an inner sanctuary in places filled with other people– airports, waiting rooms, lobbies. This tendency to remove myself from social influence may be construed as anti-social. Perhaps so. It’s difficult to explain why I can sit for hours caught up in filling out little boxes with letters.

Solving crossword puzzles is a mystical experience, an interactive mind-body-paper-pencil meditation that reduces stress in my life. As I begin, I sense the endorphins in my brain releasing their calm. My body relaxes. My mood changes. My breathing slows as I peer across the page. I scan the clues. I concentrate. I start the puzzle.


1. Fred Astaire’s first dancing partner

8. Riga’s country


2. He wrote the Maltese Falcon


I continue. Seventy clues across, sixty-four down. I don’t know all the answers but I’ll take my time and link letters together until it’s done. Or until I finish as much of it as I can with the knowledge I have.

In essence, there are times I need diversion and ways to cope with the pressures that bog me down and impede the fulfillment of my goals and responsibilities.

Simple concept:

Let go of what stresses me for a bit.

Switch focus.

Engage in an enjoyable or challenging activity for a while.

Emerge refreshed.

Return to original task–job, kids, travel, peace negotiations, national security, etc.

The process is contemplative. I find I can broaden or change my perspectives in ways that are simple, enjoyable, and knowledgeable anytime, anywhere. Puzzle answers are not always obvious. Sometimes I’m forced to think outside the little squares. Is a BMT a Subway sandwich or an old New York City subway line?

Find the correct context and the answer becomes obvious.

Context within a crossword puzzle is the overlapping of letters in two or more words. Thus, in reference to the clues above the answers appear:









And so it goes.

My love of crossword puzzles is a commitment. I go nowhere without a puzzle handy. I’ve been known to peruse the puzzle sections of bookstores for the perfect ones. There’s need over preference here. Too easy puzzles bore. Too hard, they erode confidence or cause me to chea– (ahem) learn.

I need puzzles that challenge my cognitive skills, memory, and knowledge all at the same time. And I have an allegiance to specific publications, (e.g., The New York Times) and puzzle masters (e.g., Will Shortz.) This allows me a level of comfort and expectation. Puzzles are not equal in size, scope, situation, or setting.

Puzzles tend to reflect specific locales. I once attempted to solve one in a London newspaper. Disaster. I was unfamiliar with the nuances of the Queen’s English. Perhaps in time I’ll develop a cozier relationship with British vernacular and culture. Good objective for future crossword ventures. International crossword puzzle solver. Sounds pretty cool.

As a crossword puzzler, I admit to sometimes viewing myself as an information reservoir. My intellect is a cistern that catches bits and pieces of details and stores them like rainwater. And when I need it, the information flows –items, issues, descriptions, customs, literary and movie trivia, culture, traditions, colors, shapes.

Free-floating concepts transform into interconnected words, one letter at a time, one space at a time.

Most challenging “cerebrations.”