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.