Thursday, December 12, 2013

Munch: Girls on a Bridge

Today is the birth anniversary of Norwegian painter and print-maker Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Now, when you read “Edvard Munch,” you probably think of his best-known work, The Scream. But how about this idyllic scene?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

To perceive freshly

When some rare northern bird like the pine grosbeak is seen thus far south in the winter, he does not suggest poverty, but dazzles us with his beauty. There is in them a warmth akin to the warmth that melts the icicle. Think of these brilliant, warm-colored, and richly warbling birds, birds of paradise, dainty-footed, downy-clad, in the midst of a New England, a Canadian winter. The woods and fields, now somewhat solitary, being deserted by their more tender summer residents, are now frequented by these rich but delicately tinted and hardy northern immigrants of the air. Here is no imperfection to be suggested. The winter, with its snow and ice, is not an evil to be corrected. It is as it was designed and made to be, for the artist has had leisure to add beauty to use. My acquaintances, angels from the north. I had a vision thus prospectively of these birds as I stood in the swamps. I saw this familiar—too familiar—fact at a different angle, and I was charmed and haunted by it. But I could only attain to be thrilled and enchanted, as by the sound of a strain of music dying away. I had seen into paradisaic regions, with the air and sky, and I was no longer wholly or merely a denizen of this vulgar earth. Yet had I hardly a foothold there. I was only sure that I was charmed, and no mistake. It was only necessary to behold thus the least fact or phenomenon, however familiar, from a hair’s breadth aside from our habitual path or routine, to be overcome, enchanted by its beauty and significance. Only what we have touched and worn is trivial,—our scurf, repetition, tradition, conformity. To perceive freshly, with fresh senses, is to be inspired. Great winter itself looked like a precious gem, reflecting rainbow colors from one angle.

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), December 11, 1855.

A Bloody Stain

My response to an editorial in the New York Times on the perceived utility of guns in our society:

The bloody stain of our obsession with guns, and our passionate belief that guns are necessary tools in our everyday lives, seeps beyond human society. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Snow Birds

Today’s snow brought the birds in to the feeders. These were all present within the space of about a half hour this afternoon:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Handy Guide to Holiday Greetings

Just in case you really, really don't know how to respond when someone wishes you well.


Zucchini and Ricotta Galette

Looking for an elegant appetizer or a tasty item for a small luncheon or summer supper? Something to impress your enemies, or delight your friends? 

This Zucchina and Ricotta Galette is worth every minute of preparation: Inside the buttery, flaky crust is a perfect balance of savory cheeses, vegetables, and flavor.

And of course, the presentation is stunning even when it doesn't come out perfectly round, such as the one I made, shown at left.

I found the recipe at my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, and made some modifications to suit my own kitchen and my own tastes, such as adding tomatoes over the top. 

Though this original zucchini version is delicious, I also like the spinach variation I devised, described at the end of the post.

Here's how to make the galette, step by step. The complete recipe is given at the end of the post.

Do try it! It's not difficult, and you will enjoy the result.

Chill a bottle of your favorite Pinot Grigio, and get started.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Visit to Topsmead

A visit to Topsmead State Forest in Connecticut, with D.

Many photos: 

To console

“Art is to console those who are broken by life.”

— Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch painter

Via K

Roses by Vincent Van Gogh. Oil on canvas, 1890. National Gallery, Washington DC. Photos by Quodlibet ©2012

[click to view]

At Twilight

This is a White-throated Sparrow, foraging a last meal before darkness falls.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Rehearsing with Monteverdi

On November 21, 1615, Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi sent the score of a new choral work to a friend at the court of the Duke of Mantua, hoping that the friend would perform the music and that Duke would be inspired to commission more – and larger – works. In a letter that accompanied the score, Monteverdi gave detailed instructions as to the positioning of the vocal and instrumental musicians, and added, “If you could let the singers and players see it for an hour before His Highness hears it, it would be a very good thing indeed.” 

“The discomfort of thought”

“Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
—John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Still Life

This really existed in my kitchen.

Photo by Quodlibet © 2013
23 October 2013

All rights reserved

Bare ruined choirs

Sonnet 73: That Time of Year Thou Mayst in Me Behold
By William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dupré: The Haymakers

D and I have been enjoying explorations of the many fine art museums in our area. I enjoy taking photos (only where permitted) to document my experience with certain works of art that move and delight me. The photo series also show how I tend to experience art, starting with a wide perspective, then focusing in on layers and details. I always read the museum placards, and photograph them, too.

Since I have a fine collection of these photo essays, I'll post some of them here. The accompanying texts are copied from my photos of the placards. 

Several weeks ago, we visited the Worcester Art Museum for the first time; it's a lovely building with a very good collection. Recommended. 

This painting by Julien Dupré really captured my imagination:

Creature Comforts

For the past several weeks, I’ve been using a heating pad wherever I sit at home, in an effort to keep my sore back from seizing up. It helps.

I sewed a large piece of elastic onto the pad, so I can secure it to whatever chair I need to use. This keeps it in place right where I need it.

The other day I was working in the kitchen, heating pad in place. I got up for one minute to pour some tea, and when I turned back, there was Ron, all snuggled in and ready for a nap.

Stepping Out

These days I am so overwhelmed with work that I’ve hardly had a moment to step away from my desk. But the other day I did step out for just a moment; I heard the blue jays screaming, and that usually means that there’s a raptor in the neighborhood. Sure enough, when I stepped out and looked up, there was our resident Red-tailed Hawk gliding away over the tree-tops. While I was looking up, I noticed the last golden needles on our larch (tamarack), touched by the morning sun:

I scattered some seed under the hedgerow for the birds, and took a moment to admire the bittersweet.

Glad I stepped out, even for a moment.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Spelling Lessons


In describing her delighted response to the [supposed] “cuteness” of the trailer, the author wrote:

I heard myself emitting such high-pitched screeching noises that it was as if I were two 16-year-old girls, meeting each other after an absence of three hours. Imagine it in the key of E sharp: “Oh, my God, it’s perfect. And nobody has slept in it yet? Oh, who cares if there’s no plumbing? It’s so cuuuute!”

When I read “E-sharp,” it made perfect sense to me. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that in the comments appended to the article, many readers questioned the author’s use of “E-sharp” rather than “F-natural” or “F major.” One commenter said, “E Sharp is the same as F natural. So are the keys.”

Naturally, I couldn’t resist responding thus (edited slightly from my original posting, both for clarity and to add a link):

“The era of wild apples”

“The era of wild apples will soon be over. I wander through old orchards of great extent, now all gone to decay, all of native fruit which for the most part went to the cider-mill. But since the temperance reform and the general introduction of grafted fruit, no wild apples, such as I see everywhere in deserted pastures, and where the woods have grown up among them, are set out. I fear that he who walks over these hills a century hence will not know the pleasure of knocking off wild apples. Ah, poor man! there are many pleasures which he will be debarred from.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), November 16, 1850.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English?


This list is described as “The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English.” Well, they are lovely words, and many of them are my favorites, but the negative connotations of some of them detract from their loveliness. I’ve highlighted in italics my favorites.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Michelangelo: Capella Sistina

[Due to technical difficulties, I was not able to post this on November 1 as planned.]

From The Writer’s Almanac:

Today is All Saints' Day, and Pope Julius II chose this day in 1512 to display Michelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

“I could live without music’s sound”

“I could live without music’s sound (heard silently, it needs no confirmation). But without books?”

— Ned Rorem, American composer

Thursday, October 17, 2013

“Music is so revolutionary”

“The trainees are out with their band of music, and I find my account in it, though I have not subscribed for it. I am walking with a hill between me and the soldiers. I think, perhaps, it will be worth the while to keep within hearing of these strains this afternoon. Yet I hesitate. I am wont to find music unprofitable; it is a luxury. It is surprising, however, that so few habitually intoxicate themselves with music, so many with alcohol. I think, perchance, I may risk it, it will whet my senses so; it will reveal a glory where none was seen before. It is remarkable that men too must dress in bright colors and march to music once in the year. Nature, too, assumes her bright hues now, and think you a subtile music may not be heard amid the hills? No doubt these strains do sometimes suggest to Abner, walking behind in his red-streaked pants, an ideal which he had lost sight of, or never perceived. It is remarkable that our institutions can stand before music, it is so revolutionary.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), October 17, 1857.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

“Autumn Daybreak”

Autumn Daybreak
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

Cold wind of autumn, blowing loud
At dawn, a fortnight overdue,
Jostling the doors, and tearing through
My bedroom to rejoin the cloud,
I know—for I can hear the hiss
And scrape of leaves along the floor—
How may boughs, lashed bare by this,
Will rake the cluttered sky once more.
Tardy, and somewhat south of east,
The sun will rise at length, made known
More by the meagre light increased
Than by a disk in splendour shown;
When, having but to turn my head,
Through the stripped maple I shall see,
Bleak and remembered, patched with red,
The hill all summer hid from me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

No one blames the cat

No one blames the cat
in the dark of the closet,
alone and asleep.

© Quodlibet 2013
Dissemination, re-use, or duplication prohibited except by express permission of the author. I pay attention and I will find you if you use my work without attribution.

“It has come to this”

“It has come to this,—that the lover of art is one, and the lover of nature another, though true art is but the expression of our love of nature. It is monstrous when one cares but little about trees but much about Corinthian columns, and yet this is exceedingly common.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), October 9, 1857.

Monday, September 23, 2013

“An awful and fateful music”

The telegraph harp sounds strongly to-day, in the midst of the rain. I put my ears to the trees and I hear it working terribly within, and anon it swells into a clear tone, which seems to concentrate in the core of the tree, for all the sound seems to proceed from the wood. It is as if you had entered some world-famous cathedral, resounding to some vast organ. The fibres of all things have their tension, and are strained like the strings of a lyre. I feel the very ground tremble under my feet as I stand near the post. The wire vibrates with great power, as if it would strain and rend the wood. What an awful and fateful music it must be to the worms in the wood! No better vermifuge were needed. No danger that worms will attack this wood; such vibrating music would thrill them to death. I scare up large flocks of sparrows in the garden.

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), September 23, 1851.

Monday, August 26, 2013

“Ten thousand brazen voices”

And if you would receive an impression from the old city which the modern one can never give you, climb, some holiday morning, say at sunrise on Easter or Whitsunday, —climb to some high point whence you overlook the whole town, and listen to the call of the chimes.

See, at a signal from the sky, — for it is the sun that gives it, —those countless churches quiver simultaneously. At first a scattered tolling passes from church to church, as when musicians give notice that they are about to begin. Then, all at once, see, —for at certain moments it seems as if the ear had also its vision, —see as it were a column of sound, a vapour of harmony rise at one and the same moment from every tower. At first the vibrations of each bell ascend straight, pure, and as it were apart from the rest, into the clear morning sky ; then, little by little, as they increase, they melt into one another, are blended, united, and combined into one magnificent harmony. It ceases to be anything but a mass of sonorous vibrations incessantly set loose from countless spires, floating, undulating, bounding, whirling over the city, and prolonging the deafening circle of its oscillations far beyond the horizon.

Yet that sea of harmonies is not a chaos. Deep and wide as it may be, it has not lost its transparency ; you may see each group of notes, as it escapes from the several chimes of bells, take its own meandering course. You may follow the dialogue, by turns solemn and shrill, between the small bell and the big bell ; you may see the octaves bound from spire to spire ; you watch them spring winged, light, and sibilant from the silver bell, fall maimed and halting from the wooden bell ; you admire in their midst the rich gamut perpetually running up and down the seven bells of Saint-Eustache ; you behold quick, clear notes dart through the whole in three or four luminous zig-zags, and then vanish like lightning flashes. Yonder is the Abbey of Saint-Martin, shrill and cracked of voice ; here is the surly, ominous voice of the Bastille ; at the other end the great tower of the Louvre, with its counter- tenor. The royal peal of the Palace flings resplendent trills on every hand, without a pause ; and upon them fall at regular intervals dull strokes from the belfry of Notre-Dame, which strike sparks from them as the hammer from the anvil. At intervals you see passing tones of every form, coming from the triple peal of Saint-Germain des Pres. Then again, from time to time this mass of sublime sounds half opens and makes way for the stretto of the Ave-Maria, which twinkles and flashes like a starry plume. Below, in the very heart of the harmony, you vaguely catch the inner music of the churches as it escapes through the vibrating pores of their vaulted roofs. Certainly, this is an opera worth hearing.

Usually, the noise which rises up from Paris by day is the talking of the city ; by night, it is the breathing of the city ; but this, this is the singing of the city. Hearken then to this tutti of the steeples ; over all diffuse the murmur of half a million men, the never-ending murmur of the river, the endless sighing of the wind, the grave and distant quartet of the four forests ranged upon the hills in the horizon like huge organ- cases ; drown, as in a demi-tint, all that would otherwise be too harsh and shrill in the central chime, —and then say if you know of anything on earth richer, more joyous, more mellow, more enchanting than this tumult of bells and chimes ; than this furnace of music ; than these ten thousand brazen voices singing together through stone flutes three hundred feet in length ; than this city which is but an orchestra ; than this symphony which roars like a tempest

—Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame de Paris, 1831

Monday, August 19, 2013

“A Sentiment … to Keep Dark About”

Last evening one of our neighbors, who has just completed a costly house and front yard, the most showy in the village, illuminated in honor of the Atlantic telegraph. I read in great letters before the house the sentence “Glory to God in the highest.” But it seemed to me that that was not a sentiment to be illuminated, but to keep dark about. A simple and genuine sentiment of reverence would not emblazon these words as on a signboard in the streets. They were exploding countless crackers beneath it, and gay company, passing in and out, made it a kind of housewarming. I felt a kind of shame for [it], and was inclined to pass quickly by, the ideas of indecent exposure and cant being suggested. What is religion? That which is never spoken.

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), August 18, 1858.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

“Vestal fire”

“May I love and revere myself above all the gods that men have ever invented. May I never let the vestal fire go out in my recesses.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), August 15, 1851.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Atomics for the Millions

In a recent article in the New York Times about Maurice Sendak’s art, there was mention of his first illustrated work, “Atomics for the Millions,” which he created at the age of 18. The story is here, along with a few illustrations:

Here’s a link to the New York Times item:

If you search “atomics for the millions” in google images, you will see many more images from the book – they are delightful. They are probably protected by copyright, so I won’t include any here, but do go and look at them.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Cotton Candy

This essay in today’s New York Times caught my eye:

It’s the latest essay in a series from an anthropologist who writes about religion. As I read, I became increasingly irritated. I posted this comment:

As a writer interested in matters of religion and culture, I’ve read each essay in this series hoping for objective discussion from an informed academic perspective, but time after time the author presents an apologia for religion, with an underlying assumption that religious belief is a rational and constructive condition.

The essays themselves are bits of fluff, without substance. In today's essay, for example, we have an anecdote, which prompts the author to recall another anecdote, followed by speculation and assumption, which is propped up by a comparison to someone else’s tangentially-related research, followed by another assumption. She balances her weighty thesis on two uneven anecdotes.

The title promises a thoughtful essay about addiction. But the concept of “addiction” is mentioned only twice, and anecdotally, at that. In the first case, the author merely observes that “people…engrossed with prayer …seemed almost addicted.” The second instance is from an anecdote, wherein a woman says, “It’s like we’re addicted.” The author does not introduce findings of any research -- by herself or by others -- to show why or how "seems" "almost" and "like" might be representative of a larger trend.

If I subscribed to the print edition of the New York Times rather than the digital edition, I’d be tempted to write a letter to the editor pleading that valuable space not be wasted on this series. Instead, I suggest that the series would benefit from more rigorous editorial review.
Though writers are responsible for their own writing, the editorial staff bears responsibility for what is published. A good editor would have questioned the author: “What’s your point? Can you offer more than two anecdotes and your own assumptions? What will your readers take away from this essay, other than annoyance that they wasted three minutes of their time?”

This essay was like cotton candy: Fluffly, sickly sweet, and without nutrititive value, and sure to leave you feeling regret that you consumed it.

Postscript August 5: I'm glad I cross-posted this comment here, since the NYT chose not to publish it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

“I must cultivate privacy”

“I feel the necessity of deepening the stream of my life; I must cultivate privacy. It is very dissipating to be with people too much. As C. says, it takes the edge off a man’s thoughts to have been too much in society. I cannot spare my moonlight and my mountains for the best of man I am likely to get in exchange.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), August 2, 1854.

Monday, July 1, 2013


When life is hectic
when I'm pressed for time
nothing soothes like
tonic and lime—
with gin.

When I'm feeling blue
and catatonic
nothing hits the spot
like lime and tonic—
with gin.

When I'm all tired out
and all done in
nothing rejuvenates
like tonic and gin—
(and oh, for a rhyme)
with lime.

© Quodlibet 2013
Dissemination, re-use, or duplication prohibited except by express permission of the author. I pay attention and I will find you if you use my work without attribution.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

“Am tempted to turn many pages”

 “Something like the woodland sounds will be heard to echo through the leaves of a good book. Sometimes I hear the fresh emphatic note of the oven-bird, and am tempted to turn many pages; sometimes the hurried chuckling sound of the squirrel when he dives into the wall.”
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), June 20, 1840.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

“A rare and beautiful bird”

“What was that rare and beautiful bird in the dark woods under the Cliffs, with black above and white spots and bars, a large triangular blood-red spot on breast, and sides of breast and beneath white?

Monday, June 10, 2013

“An exceedingly rich border”

I amused myself yesterday afternoon with looking from my window, through a spyglass, at the tops of the woods in the horizon.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

“We get our idea of angels from the birds”

“We get our idea of angels from the birds, and they are masters of direction not by accident but because they have a high perspective. The world is less confusing when seen from above, and at the great speed at which they fly and turn, gravity and magnetism are exaggerated. Birds can feel the inertia of direction.”

“How do you know about birds?” …

Monday, May 13, 2013

Places I've Been

Where I’ve been lately—

Out on a Limb

Backyard birding affords an excellent opportunity to make close observation of the behavior and habits of individual birds. Yes, it’s sometimes possible to distinguish individual birds, tell them apart from others of the same species, as I’ve written here:

One of the things I like to observe is how the birds use the trees and other natural features, in particular a certain dead elm next to our deck. Our suet feeders are on the elm stub, and the few remaining branches (left there at my request) stretch toward the seed feeders. The bare branches are useful to the birds as places to alight prior to going to the feeders, and one or two at a time, they often perch there for a few moments until a place opens up on a feeder, providing me with good opportunities to catch quick photos. It's such a privilege to see these beautiful creatures up close:

Friday, May 10, 2013

“In societies where nature is held sacred, rape occurs only rarely”

…As far as human societies are concerned, anthropologists have long documented differences in the extent of sexual coercion in different human societies.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Martin Creed: Work No. 1367


Martin Creed — Work No. 1367 (2012) — Watercolor on paper

Via And Set My Teeth in the Silver of the Moon


Monday, May 6, 2013

“All that a man has to do”

All that a man has to say or do that can possibly concern mankind, is in some shape or other to tell the story of his love,—to sing; and, if he is fortunate and keeps alive, he will be forever in love.
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), May 6, 1854.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

“To see at last what held the darkness up”

How rare it is to find an artistic expression — poem, painting, or play — that expresses one's own perspective, one's own longings, one's own sadnesses.

“Spring, the sweet spring”

Spring, the sweet spring

Thomas Nashe 1567–1601

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-wit, ta-woo!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

On today’s date in 1859, Charles Dickens published the first serial issue of what would become one of his most popular novels, A Tale of Two Cities.

Here’s that remarkable opening paragraph, which surely is the best-ever opening to any novel in the English language:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. ―Charles Dickens (1812-1870), A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
If you haven't read it...why not?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Herald of Spring

This is a male a Red-winged Blackbird, whose song I enjoyed during a recent outing to a favorite swampy marshy woodsy place:

“I never for a day gave up listening to the songs of our birds”

“I never for a day gave up listening to the songs of our birds, or watching their peculiar habits, or delineating them in the best way I could.”

“All I know”

“The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.”

— Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), who was born on this date in Vienna.

“Let us worship in groves”

A great part of our troubles are literally domestic or originate in the houses and from living indoors. I could write an essay to be entitled “Out of Doors,”—undertake a crusade against houses. What a different thing Christianity preached to the house-bred and to a party who lived out of doors! … Let [us] tread gently through nature. Let us religiously burn stumps and worship in groves, while Christian vandals lay waste the forest temples to build miles of meeting-houses and horse-sheds and feed their box stoves.
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), April 26, 1857.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Where there’s a Will, there’s a way

In recognition of Shakespeares death anniversary (April 23) and the supposed date of his christening (April 26).

Where there’s a Will, there’s a way

Wise women and men e’er do say,
Where there’s a will, there’s a way;
And thanks to Will, born on this day,
We’ve parts and lines to will our way
About this stage on which we play.

Monday, April 22, 2013

“The contrast between sunshine and storm”

It is the contrast between sunshine and storm that is most pleasing; the gleams of sunshine in the midst of the storm are most memorable. —From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), April 22, 1852.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

It’s All a Matter of Perspective

On this day in 1852, Henry David Thoreau recorded an interesting observation in his journal:
“The birds are singing in the rain about the small pond in front, the inquisitive chickadee that has flown at once to the alders to reconnoiter us, the blackbirds, the song sparrow, telling of expanding buds. But above all the robin sings here too, I know not at what distance in the wood. ‘Did he sing thus in Indian days?’ I ask myself; for I have always associated this sound with the village and the clearing, but now I do detect the aboriginal wildness in his strain, and can imagine him a woodland bird, and that he sang thus when there was no civilized ear to hear him, a pure forest melody even like the wood thrush. Every genuine thing retains this tone, which no true culture displaces. I heard him even as he might have sounded to the Indian, singing at evening upon the elm above his wigwam, with which was associated in the red man’s mind the events of an Indian’s life, his childhood. Formerly I had heard in it only those strains which tell of the white man’s village life; now I heard those strains which remembered the red man’s life, when these arrowheads, which the rain has made shine so on the lean stubble-field, were fastened to their shaft.”
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), April 21, 1852.
How anthropocentric we tend to be, even in our simplest observations of nature.

I noticed this yesterday too,

Saturday, April 20, 2013

“Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote”

Last night’s heavy rain shower reminded me of the famous opening lines of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour…

In looking for an online edition from which I could copy those famous lines to post here (being sure that the copyright has expired*), I was reminded of this anonymous painting, dating from around 1415, of Chaucer (c1343-1400) reciting his poetry (said to be Troilus and Cressida) to the court of Richard II:

Tiny But Fierce

Of all birds, I love raptors best, and of all raptors, I have a special admiration and affection for falcons. Of course, the Peregrine is my talisman, but the colorful and charismatic American Kestrel has a special place in my heart. The Kestrels are just now returning to northern climates after their winter sojourn to regions to our south, all the way to the southernmost reaches of South America.

Modern Auguries

An editorial in the April 21 issue of New York Times will give pleasure to birders everywhere, especially those who also appreciate history, language, and science. Especially history and language. Worth reading.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tale of a Tail

Mourning Doves visit our feeders every day, all year round. They are elegant birds, with sleek dove-grey plumage (what else?), long pointed wings, and a long tail, like this individual that came to feed on our deck this morning:

But its mate was a very different-looking bird:

They sang together

When their hearts were breaking, they sang together.


“The bird wishes it were a cloud”

“The bird wishes it were a cloud. The cloud wishes it were a bird.”
— Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali polymath (1861-1941). Number “35” from Stray Birds (The Macmillan Co., 1916).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Change of Scene

On my way home from a meeting today, I stopped at a favorite spot just to sit quietly for a few moments and let my head clear. Here’s the view I enjoyed:

As I noted the colors of emerging spring, I remembered that I had taken a photo of the same spot in frozen February:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

If you pass by pansies today


If you pass by pansies today

“There is no escape”

“There is no escape. You can’t be a vagabond and an artist and still be a solid citizen, a wholesome, upstanding man.

Monday, April 15, 2013

While My Back Was Turned…

…Spring came to my yard. When I stepped out to fill one of the bird feeders, I noticed...

Quodlibet Comment Policy

April 2016: Comments have been disabled for the entire blog, for personal reasons. 

Look! A Squirrel!

Here’s a longer version of a comment I posted today to an article in the New York Times about Congress’ inability to think clearly on gun control:

The Change That Dare Not Speak Its Name

This is a comment I posted recently to an op-ed in the New York Times, in response to a reader who opined that "The country is demanding common sense reforms [to gun control laws]. No one thinks the NRA is important besides out pathetic representatives in Washington."   

Here is my response (slightly edited to correct a few typos and clarify a few points):

Take a Second Look

Yes, take a second look.

And a third.

And a fourth.

Take time to look again at familiar scenes or vistas. Even if you just frame a view differently ― whether you do this with a camera of some sort, or just in your imagination ― you will be rewarded.

Northern Shovelers


I finally got out today for a few hours. I explored waterways, ponds, and lakes in my “patch,” looking mostly for waterfowl.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

“My spring has been even more backward than nature’s”


“…I hear the sound of the piano below as I write this, and feel as if the winter in me were at length beginning to thaw, for my spring has been even more backward than nature’s. For a month past life has been a thing incredible to me. None but the kind gods can make me sane. If only they will let their south winds blow on me! I ask to be melted. You can only ask of the metals that they tender to the fire that melts them. To naught else can they be tender.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862),
April 11, 1852.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The winter has not broken up in me

"Though the frost is nearly out of the ground, the winter has not broken up in me. Perhaps we grow older and older till we no longer sympathize with the revolution of the seasons, and our winters never break up."
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862),
March 30, 1852.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Awake from their winter slumber

For the past two years, we’ve seen black bears in our yard. What a thrill to see these beautiful creatures up close, from the safety of my kitchen window.

Strixine References in Shakespeare

Speaking of owls, here is a list of strixine references in Shakespeare. This was posted to CT-BIRDS this evening.

Her young ones in her nest, against the owl (Macbeth)
I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry (Macbeth)
Then nightly sings the staring owl, to whit (Love's Labor Lost)
The time when screech-owls cry and ban-dogs howl, (King Henry VI)
The night to the owl and morn to the lark (Cymbeline)
Whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud, (A MidsummerNight's Dream)
We talk with goblins, owls and sprites (The Comedy of Errors)
Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd. (Macbeth)
Unless the nightly owl or fatal raven (Titus Andronicus)
To be a comrade with the wolf and owl,(King Lear)
Thou ominous and fearful owl of death, (King Henry)
The clamorous owl that nightly hoots and wonders (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Rouse the night-owl in a catch that will draw three (Twelfth Night)
Out on you, owls! nothing but songs of death? (King Richard)
Our soldiers', like the night-owl's lazy flight,(King Henry)
Let him that will a screech-owlaye be call'd, (Troilus and Cressida)
Go home to bed, and like the owl by day, (King Henry VI)
Bring forth that fatal screech-owl to our house, (King Henry)
And boding screech-owls make the concert full! (King Henry VI)

Little owl high in the tree

How I envy the little owl that has taken up residence in our yard.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Another Red Herring

In today’s New York Times, Joe Nocera continues his series of essays on gun violence:

This sort of discussion infuriates me. Here’s the comment I posted (slightly edited):

Friday, March 22, 2013

If this doesn’t move you

Read this news story, about something that happened earlier today in Georgia:

Go and read it, then come back. I’ll wait.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Review Redux: A Picture is Worth a Thousand GOOD Words

Yesterday I posted a review of a recent visit to the New Britain Museum of American Art. I later remembered that I had written a similar review in September 2009, in which I expressed some of the same concerns. Here it is, retrieved from the archives:

Review: The Hartford Symphony Orchestra celebrates “The Genius of Mozart”

On Saturday night, D and I enjoyed an all-Mozart concert given by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. HSO Concertmaster Leonid Sigal was violin soloist and conductor. 

The program included pairs of works drawn from the earliest and latest periods of Mozart’s career: the first and the last symphonies (No.1, K16, E-flat Major, 1764; and No.41, K551, C Major, 1788), and early and late concerti (Violin Concerto No.3, G Major, K216, 1775; and the Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K622, 1791). This nicely-balanced program afforded an opportunity to appreciate Mozart’s early talent and marvel at his mature works.

Here’s my review of the evening's performance.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: New Britain Museum of American Art

We love the New Britain Museum of American Art. We enjoy it so much that we have become members, and we visit there about once a month, sometimes more often. The collection is diverse, and is kept fresh and interesting with rotating exhibits, new acquisitions, and interesting special exhibits. The building itself, particularly the new addition, is a work of art in itself. It’s convenient, parking is easy, and we enjoy the jazz-infused First Friday events, sometimes with friends.


(You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?)

Friday, March 15, 2013

I wish I could get out today

I wish I could get out today. The sun is bright in the air— The birds are in constant motion in the hedgerow— The light has changed from a wintry silver to the gold of spring—

(You do notice the change in the color of the light, do you not?)

I wish I could get out today. If I could, I might feel as Thoreau did, when he stepped out on this date in 1852:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

“The wind begins to play”

As I drove home from a meeting yesterday, of course I took a slightly scenic route, checking all the ponds and wet areas for migrating waterfowl. (I found a few, but nothing of note yet, except for two Common Loons on the big reservoir. I no longer have time or means to bird as much as I would like, and I’m sure I’m missing a lot.)

As winter melts into spring, I never fail to experience a frisson of anticipation at the sight of the ice “going out” from the ponds and lakes.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Scales and Arpeggios

Scales and arpeggios are a critical part of my vocal warm-up routine, which I suspect is unusual among singers. Perhaps it's a remnant of my initial training as an instrumentalist. I do have a reputation as a singer with a very flexible voice, and I'm good with roulades, arpeggios, and trills. Other singers have asked me, “How do you do that?” and I answer “Practice! Every day!” It's too bad that singers generally do not receive this sort of training, which is so basic to instrumental musicians.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

“Indomitable spirit”

I love this quote about one of my favorite birds, the chickadee:

Pope Opera

Frank Bruni’s column in today’s New York Times (The Papal Conclave's Fixed Ways) generated some interesting comments, including this one: “Why is the choosing of a new pope at the top of the news on all our media?”

I posted this comment in reply (edited slightly):

Monday, March 11, 2013

“Any time not spent on love …”

“Any time not spent on love ...

“Intellectual luxuries”

On this date in 1856, Henry David Thoreau recorded an interesting thought in his journal:

“I fear the dissipation that traveling, going into society, even the best, the enjoyment of intellectual luxuries, imply. If Paris is much in your mind, if it is more and more to you, Concord is less and less, and yet it would be a wretched bargain to accept the proudest Paris in exchange for my native village. At best, Paris could only be a school in which to learn to live here, a stepping-stone to Concord, as school in which to fit for this university. I wish so to live ever as to derive my satisfactions and inspirations from the commonest events, every-day phenomena, so that my senses hourly perceive, my daily walk, the conversation of my neighbors, may inspire me, and I may dream of no heaven but that which lies about me. A man may acquire a taste for wine or brandy, and so lose his love for water, but should we not pity him?”
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau, March 11, 1856.

  What a sad, limited outlook! Of course, one can travel and appreciate other cities, and people, and ways of life, without losing love for one’s native place. I love traveling as much as possible, seeing new places and perspectives. But it doesn’t change the way I feel about my own town, and yard, and home, and my friends and activities in my little corner of the world.

Does Thoreau’s entry reek of sour grapes?