Saturday, September 27, 2014

“How Little Can I Realize”

“From Smith’s Hill I looked toward the mountain line. Who can believe that the mountain peak which he beholds fifty miles off in the horizon, rising far and faintly blue above an intermediate range, while he stands on his trivial native hills or in the dusty highway, can be the same with which he looked up at once near at hand from a gorge in the midst of primitive woods? For a part of two days I traveled across lots once, loitering by the way, through primitive wood and swamps over the highest peak of the Peterboro Hills to Monadnock, by ways from which all landlords and stage-drivers endeavored to dissuade us. It was not a month ago. But now that I look across the globe in an instant to the dim Monadnock peak, and these familiar fields and copsewoods appear to occupy the greater part of the interval, I cannot realize that Joe Eavely’s house still stands there at the base of the mountain, and all that long tramp through wild woods with invigorating scents before I got to it. I cannot realize that on the tops of those cool blue ridges are in abundance berries still, bluer than themselves, as if they borrowed their blueness from their locality. From the mountains we do not discern our native hills; but from our native hills we look out easily to the far blue mountains, which seem to preside over them. As I look northwestward to that summit from a Concord cornfield, how little can I realize all the life that is passing between me and it,—the retired up-country farmhouses, the lonely mills, wooded vales, wild rocky pastures, and new clearings on stark mountain-sides, and rivers murmuring through primitive woods! All these, and how much more, I overlook. I see the very peak,—there can be no mistake,—but how much I do not see, that is between me and it! How much I overlook! In this way we see stars. What is it but a faint blue cloud, a mist that may vanish? But what is it, on the other hand, to one who has traveled to it day after day, has threaded the forest and climbed the hills that are between this and that, has tasted the raspberries or the blueberries that grow on it, and the springs that gush from it, has been wearied with climbing its rocky sides, felt the coolness of its summit, and been lost in the clouds there?

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), September 27, 1852.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

“Willing to pass for a fool”

“I am interested in an indistinct prospect, a distant view, a mere suggestion often, revealing an almost wholly new world to me. I rejoice to get, and am apt to present, a new view. But I find it impossible to present my view to most people. In effect, it would seem that they do not wish to take a new view in any case. Heat lightning flashes, which reveal a distant horizon to our twilight eyes. But my fellows simply assert that it is not broad day, which everybody knows, and fail to perceive the phenomenon at all. I am willing to pass for a fool in my own desperate, perhaps foolish, efforts to persuade them to lift the veil from off the possible and future, which they hold down with both their hands, before their eyes. The most valuable communication or news consists of hints and suggestions. When a truth comes to be known and accepted, it begins to be bad taste to repeat it. Every individual constitution is a probe employed in a new direction, and a wise man will attend to each one’s report.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), July 29, 1857.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A symphony that “broke like a sea upon the silent shores”

Beethoven’s astonishing Ninth Symphony had its premiere on this date, May 7, in 1824, in Vienna. Much has been written about that memorable night, and it’s easy to find accounts in many sources, online and off.

I’ve had the pleasure of performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony several times, a luxury that I treasure in memory. To sing this music is an intense physical and psychological experience, as I’ve written about often.

Perhaps the most moving account I have ever read about a person’s experience with the Ninth is a letter from Helen Keller – yes, Helen Keller – to the New York Symphony Orchestra after having “heard” that ensemble’s broadcast of the Ninth over the radio on February 1, 1924. Here it is in its entirety 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

“This alone is to be alive”

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. This alone is to be alive to the extremities. It is a pity that this divine creature should ever suffer from cold feet; a still greater pity that the coldness so often reaches to his heart. I look over the report of the doings of a scientific association and am surprised that there is so little life to be reported; I am put off with a parcel of dry technical terms. Anything living is easily and naturally expressed in popular language. I cannot help suspecting that the life of these learned professors has been almost as inhuman and wooden as a rain-gauge or self-registering magnetic machine. They communicate no fact which rises to the temperature of blood-heat. It doesn?t amount to one rhyme
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), May 6, 1854.


Well, I don’t altogether agree with Thoreau here. Oh yes, to sing is to live! That is my life. But Thoreau’s perspective is so limited …. What constitutes a song?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

“Ready to leap”

Up and down the town, men and boys that are under subjection are polishing their shoes and brushing their go-to-meeting clothes. I, a descendant of Northmen who worshipped Thor, spend my time worshipping neither Thor nor Christ; a descendant of Northmen who sacrificed men and horses, sacrifice neither men nor horses. I care not for Thor nor for the Jews. I sympathize not to-day with those who go to church in newest clothes and sit quietly in straight-backed pews. I sympathize rather with the boy who has none to look after him, who borrows a boat and a paddle and in common clothes sets out to explore these temporary vernal lakes. I meet such a boy paddling along under a sunny bank, with bare feet and his pants rolled up to his knees, ready to leap into the water at a moment’s warning. Better for him to read “Robinson Crusoe” than Baxter’s “Saints’ Rest.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), May 3, 1857.

“Chosen to be a poet”

“You choose to be a novelist, but you're chosen to be a poet. This is a gift and it's a tremendous responsibility. You have to be willing to give something terribly intimate and secret of yourself to the world and not care, because you have to believe that what you have to say is important enough.”

— Belgian-American poet May Sarton, born May 3, 1912.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Childhood Bible

Today (April 27) is the birthday of Roger Tory Peterson, the American artist who created the first field guide for easy identification of living birds in the field (as opposed to shooting first and examining at leisure, as had been previously done). He utterly transformed how people perceived birds and was a catalyst in making birdwatching popular, a factor that helped us understand our environment and take steps toward better protection and stewardship. The Peterson Field Guides also helped people learn about trees, flowers, and all sorts of living creatures in addition to birds. My mother’s old battered copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds was my childhood bible. My own copy, now superseded by newer field guides, nonetheless retains its place as the first of my many field guides.

With Peterson, art was his means of perceiving, understanding, and analyzing birds and bird behaviour, AND his means of communicating his understanding to the world. His life story, particularly his early years is very interesting, and is just one example of how and why the arts need not, nor should not, be partitioned from other fields of study or endeavors.

The Peterson bird guides include pages of silhouettes, a useful aid for those learning to ID birds at a distance. Currently at the New Britain (CT) Museum of American Art is Wondrous Strange, an exhibit of works by James Prosek in which the artist includes Peterson-style silhouettes as part of his commentary on how we perceive nature. From the museum website:
James Prosek’s work takes its inspiration from the long tradition of natural history painting; from animal depictions on cave walls to the works of Albrecht Dürer, William Blake, and John James Audubon. His contemporary influences are wide-ranging, from Lee Bontecou and Mark Dion to Martin Puryear and Eero Saarinen. In particular, Prosek’s work is conceptually focused on how we name and order nature, including the limitations of language in describing biological diversity. His art challenges us to reflect on how our culture, our priorities, and our values are manifested in systems we use to classify and harness nature. The paintings, monumental watercolors, and sculptures in the exhibition range from realistic to fanciful, though all are rendered with meticulous precision and detail. Many are the result of extensive travel, collecting trips and biological expeditions to places as distant and diverse as Suriname and Kyrgyzstan. Ultimately, it’s the realms that science cannot quantify or solve and the power of personal experience that are Prosek’s fertile ground.
It’s a very interesting exhibit, provocative and beautiful at the same time. Well worth a vist. The exhibit closes June 8.

Monday, April 21, 2014

“Every genuine thing retains this tone”

“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.


Images © Quodlibet All Rights Reserved.


More about birds and birding at this blog:

Bird Behavior

Birding (about the activity of birding)

Birds in Literature and Art

Birds in Migration

Birds in My Backyard

Birds Out and About [my "patch" around town, outside my backyard]

To Refresh and Strengthen

Northern Cardinals are known to mate for life, and to stay together throughout the year. During the non-breeding months, though they remain together, they are more like siblings and less like spouses.

In late winter and early spring, the pairs engage in ritual feeding to refresh and strengthen their pair bond prior to their mating, egg-laying, and caring for their young.

Usually these feeding rituals last for just a few seconds; I’ve felt lucky to have been able to capture a few of these fleeting moments, such as this photo:

At present, we have two pairs of Cardinals coming to the feeders, and they are clearly two mated pairs.

A few days ago, one of the mated pairs (I think it’s an older pair) stayed on one of the feeders for several minutes, long enough for me to capture their tender-seeming behavior on video:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

“What’s that? A bird? A bat?”

I was chatting with my friends T and R on Sunday morning on the sidewalk in the very center of New Britain. T pointed to the street next to the curb and exclaimed, “What’s that? A bird? A bat?” A closer look revealed this unexpected sight:

Leonardo: Ginevra de’ Benci

To mark the birth anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci, born Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, in Vinci, Italy, on this day in 1452, here are my photos of one of his lovely paintings, his portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Life’s Persistent Questions

Most of the questions that bother me originate, I suppose, in my adult impatience with inefficiency and irrationality, and my annoyance with people who get in the way. Questions such as:

“A fine view of a blue heron”

 “…We had a fine view of a blue heron, standing erect and open to view on a meadow island, by the great swamp south of the bridge, looking as broad as a boy on the side, and then some sheldrakes sailing in the smooth water beyond. These soon sailed behind points of meadow. … When the heron takes to flight, what a change in size and appearance! It is presto change! There go two great undulating wings pinned together, but the body and neck must have been left behind somewhere.”
— Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Journal, April 15, 1855.

I saw a scene very much like the one Thoreau described, on a wet day in November at a small park in my area. I had driven into the area to see what ducks might be there, but my attention was completely drawn to the large Great Blue Heron that stood like a sentinel on the grassy edge:

Peale: A Dessert

I really enjoy the “still life” genre, and seek out examples on our museum visits. Here’s a gem from the National Gallery:

A Dessert (1814), oil on wood
Raphaelle Peale (American, 1774-1825)
National Gallery, Washington DC
Image ©2014 Quodlibet. All rights reserved.

Flickers and Flashes of Gold

A flash of gold caught my eye outside the kitchen window... By the time I looked out, I saw nothing… until I looked more closely and found a female Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker. Here it is:

Can you spot it?

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Word for All You YECs


Young Earth Creationists.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

—Galileo Galilei, physicist and astronomer (1564-1642)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Barnacle Goose: “An impossible thing to be”

The recent sighting of a Barnacle Goose in Massachusetts reminded me of the silly origin of the name of this handsome European goose. And since Christians are now deep into the Lenten season, this “information” is especially relevant.

During Lent, it has been traditional for Christians to give up luxuries, including foods considered to be luxurious, such as meat, sweets, etc. The Church carefully defined what was permitted for consumption on fast days, enumerating detailed rules and prohibitions. For example, “meat,” defined as the flesh of quadrupeds or birds, was forbidden on fast days; however, eggs, dairy products, and fish (including crustaceans) were allowed.

So what does all this have to do with the Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis), which is clearly a bird? Well, Barnacle Geese were once believed to be crustaceans, and therefore they were considered suitable for consumption during Lent.

What? Yes. Here’s the story:

Monday, April 7, 2014

I could use one of these!

More of my essays on the life of a chorister, and more about choral rehearsals and choral music, may be found here:

Friday, April 4, 2014

Discouraging and disappointing

I prepare concert program notes for classical choral ensembles. I invest a great deal of time, thought, and care in researching and preparing good notes that will enlighten, entertain, and engage members of a concert audience.

I’ve given up trying to generate any revenue through my program notes; most choral ensembles simply do not have money to engage a professional annotator. As part of my volunteer service to ensembles in which I sing, I often provide program notes gratis to those ensembles. Occasionally my notes will garner notice, and I receive an inquiry from a prospective client someone who also wants them for free.

A few months back, I received an inquiry from the Artistic Director of an amateur choral ensemble who had been in the audience for a performance by one of the groups in which I sing, a concert for which I had prepared the program notes. What should have been a pleasant opportunity to support a fellow artist turned into a discouraging and disappointing situation.

Here is the actual correspondence between that Artistic Director (AD) and me (Q), edited to remove identifying information.

Can you see why I come away from this experience discouraged, disappointed, and feeling slightly used?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

“Like little celandines”

Melbury perhaps was an unlucky man in having the sentiment which could make him wander out in the night to regard the imprint of a daughter’s footstep. Nature does not carry on her government with a view to such feelings; and when advancing years render the opened hearts of those that possess them less dexterous than formerly in shutting against the blast, they must inevitably, like little celandines, suffer 'buffering at will by rain and storm'.
 ―Thomas Hardy (British author, 1840-1928), The Woodlanders

A celandine is a delicate wild flower, a member of the poppy family, easily bruised.

“That thin stratum”

“The last two Tribunes I have not looked at. I have no time to read newspapers. If you chance to live and move and have your being in that thin stratum in which the events which make the news transpire,—thinner than the paper on which it is printed,—then these things will fill the world for you; but if you soar above or dive below that plane, you cannot remember nor be reminded of them.”
— Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Journal, April 3, 1853.


Well, I agree with Thoreau up to a point.

Manship: Flight of Night

On recent visits to the Wadsworth Athenaeum (Hartford, CT) and the New Britain (CT) Museum of American Art, I enjoyed looking at two different castings of Flight of Night (1916) by American sculptor Paul Howard Manship (1885-1966): 

Old Friend

As I’ve written earlier, it’s possible to identify and become familiar with individual birds, both in the field and in the backyard. Maintaining bird feeders makes this easier of course, especially when one watches the feeders carefully on a daily basis.

This is a tribute to an old friend, now gone

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Purple Grackles at my feeder.

Common? Oh, yes.

Uncommonly beautiful? Oh, yes.

More photos:

May Require Careful Handling

The first thing to do on arriving at a symphony concert is to express the wish that the orchestra will play Beethoven’s Fifth. If your companion then says “Fifth what?” you are safe with him for the rest of the evening; no metal can touch you. If, however, he says “So do I”—­this is a danger signal and he may require careful handling.

—Donald Ogden Stewart, “Revolutions” (Chapter 1) from Perfect Behavior (1922)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Near the end of January, on my way home from points north, I detoured through a favorite stretch of agricultural fields. The light was waning, and a hint of color began to develop in the mostly-cloudy twi-lit sky:

I hurried on to my meadow, where I watched in wonder as this spectacular scene unfolded before my eyes:

Scarlet Eye and Rakish Crest

This Cooper’s Hawk stopped briefly near our deck in January. This is the gorgeous adult female that hung around for most of the winter. Look at her brilliant scarlet eye and rakish crest!

Meadow Mist: No Ghost, But Geese

The other day when I was “out and about” (read: birding) I ventured into my meadow—it was a gloriously misty day, and I was hoping to see the Grey Ghost in there, silver wings against the silver mist.

No luck with the Harrier, but there was a nice flock of Canada Geese moving about, their cries mysteriously disembodied in the mist. And their silvery-dun-black-white bodies (actually very similar in palette to the Harrier) suited my frame of my mind.

“So surprised by the fact”

I am surprised that my affirmations or utterances come to me ready-made,—not fore-thought,—so that I occasionally awake in the night simply to let fall ripe a statement which I had never consciously considered before, and as surprising and novel and agreeable to me as anything can be. As if we only thought by sympathy with the universal mind, which thought while we were asleep. There is such a necessity to make a definite statement that our minds at length do it without our consciousness, just as we carry our food to our mouths. This occurred to me last night, but I was so surprised by the fact which I have just endeavored to report that I have entirely forgotten what the particular observation was.
— Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Journal, April 1, 1860.


Oh, that’s just too funny. Yes, the human mind is an amazing thing. 

Listen to the Mockingbird

The other day I was “out and about” – that is, looking at birds – on my way home from a meeting. I stopped in at a local cemetery that has a good variety of habitat, everything from lawns and shrubbery to riparian and wooded areas. It being a warm and pleasant day, I had the car window down, and was delighted to hear one of my favorite songsters:

“More durable than the eternal hills”

In the Adirondacks, September 2012
Image © 2014 Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Words are the only things that last forever; they are more durable than the eternal hills.
— William Hazlitt, 
English humanist and essayist

Van Gogh: Green Wheat Fields, Auvers

Here’s a belated birthday recognition for Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, born on March 30, 1853 (he died in 1890, just 37 years old).

On a recent visit to the National Gallery in Washington, DC, we had the opportunity to see a new acquistion, a lovely painting by Van Gogh, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, painted in 1890:

One must be

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.

—Abraham Maslow, psychologist (1908-1970)

Something more earnest and significant

Methinks I would share every creature’s suffering for the sake of its experience and joy. The song sparrow and the transient fox-colored sparrow,—have they brought me no message this year? Do they go to lead heroic lives in Rupert’s Land? They are so small, I think their destinies must be large. Have I heard what this tiny passenger has to say, while it flits thus from tree to tree? Is not the coming of the fox-colored sparrow something more earnest and significant than I have dreamed of? Can I forgive myself if I let it go to Rupert’s Land before I have appreciated it? God did not make this world in jest; no, nor in indifference. These migrating sparrows all bear messages that concern my life. I do not pluck the fruits in their season. I love the birds and beasts because they are mythologically in earnest. I see that the sparrow cheeps and flits and sings adequately to the great design of the universe; that man does not communicate with it, understand its language, because he is not one with nature. I reproach myself because I have regarded with indifference the passage of the birds; I have thought them no better than I.

— Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Journal, March 31, 1852.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Strange Sleep

This morning I was woken by a migraine. Not the cluster headaches that sometimes waken me, but a “regular” migraine, on the right side.

I got up, had some strong tea and two Advil, and fought off the nausea. I considered whether I’d be able to manage getting up and out on time to sing in the church choir; an early call this morning meant that I’d have to hurry. Waves of pain and more nausea made the decision for me. I was able to send off a text to the substitute choir director, then fell back to bed as the usual migraine-induced sleepiness crept over me.

Then the oddest thing happened.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Poetry and Music

Here's another treasure discovered at the  National Gallery of Art:

Amid the stubble

Horned Lark (male)
Image ©2014 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.
Several weeks ago, I wrote about a flock Horned Larks that I found in a large agricultural field near where I live.  In that post, I included Henry David Thoreau’s observations on Horned Larks. Like Thoreau, I was frustrated that day by not being able to get close enough to these skittish birds to observe them closely. But yesterday I had an opportunity for very close looks.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fragonard: The Return of the Drove

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. 

On a recent visit to the Worcester Art Museum, I was delighted to find a work by one of my favorite artists, French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806). This painting, The Return of the Drove, inspires all sorts of memories of my farm childhood, but beyond that, it is a work full of stories.  Take a closer look:

This just took my breath away

“Write while the heat is in you”

“Write while the heat is in you. When the farmer burns a hole in his yoke he carries the hot iron quickly from the fire to the wood for every moment it is less effectual to penetrate pierce it. It must be used instantly or it is useless The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), February 10, 1852.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

An Unexpected Treat

A few weeks ago on the way home from somewhere or other, I stopped by a little dead-end street that looks out over a section of a small river. It’s a good place to see ducks and other birds. I saw a ten-point buck here once.

On this day, as I pulled into the little parking area, I could see movement down on the water… ducks! And oh, it was a pair of my favorite ducks:

“A more practical and vital science”

“We read the English poets; we study botany and zoology and geology, lean and dry as they are; and it is rare that we get a new suggestion. It is ebb-tide with the scientific reports, Professor ______ in the chair. We would fain know something more about these animals and stones and trees around us. We are ready to skin the animals alive to come at them. Our scientific names convey a very partial information only; they suggest certain thoughts only. It does not occur to me that there are other names for most of these objects, given by a people who stood between me and them, who had better senses than our race. How little I know of that arbor-vitae when I have learned only what science can tell me! It is but a word. It is not a tree of life. But there are twenty words for the tree and its different parts which the Indian gave, which are not in our botanies, which imply a more practical and vital science. He used it every day. He was well acquainted with its wood, and its bark, and its leaves. No science does more than arrange what knowledge we have of any class of objects. But, generally speaking, how much more conversant was the Indian with any wild animal or plant than we are, and in his language is implied all that intimacy, as much as ours is expressed in our language. How many words in his language about a moose, or birch bark, and the like!”
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), March 5, 1858.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Morning After

This little essay is going to sound like a rant, and to some extent, it is. But more than that, it’s a question: Why?

OK, two questions.

Am I the only one?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Up Close and Personal

A few weeks ago as I worked in my office, I stretched and took a look out the office window into the back yard. Here’s what I saw:

Elusive Grey Ghost

Several weeks ago, while scanning for Horned Larks and Snow Buntings in my meadow, I spotted what I thought was a Grey Ghost – a male Northern Harrier – away in the back of the meadow, where brush and grasses have been left standing, off to the left of this photo: 

Way back here:

I had caught the startling flash of white underwing from a bird that dipped and wheeled low over the russet remains of meadowsweet, asters, and goldenrod. On several return trips, I again saw the white wings, rising and falling, but never near enough to see entire, and no path allowed me closer access.

More recently, as I was studying the lights and contrasts of frost and foliage during a particularly cold period, the white wings rose again and brought the bird close enough for me to see it easily …. Yes, there it was, a Grey Ghost, a male Northern Harrier.

Who Was Here?

How I See Winter

In my meadow:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

“To put my world in order”

“I would feel dead if I didn't have the ability periodically to put my world in order with a poem. I think to be inarticulate is a great suffering, and is especially so to anyone who has a certain knack for poetry.”
—American poet Richard Wilbur (b. 1921).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

“The world knows not”

Wind from the Sea
Andrew Wyeth, American , 1917-2009
Tempera on hardboard, 1947
National Gallery, Washington DC
Image ©2014 Quodlibet All rights reserved
Every man has his secret sorrows, which the world knows not; and oftentimes we call a man cold when he is only sad.

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet (1807-1882)

More images of this evocative painting by Andrew Wyeth:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

“What we call wildness”

Red-tailed Hawk (juvenile)
© Quodlibet. All rights reserved
“What we call wildness is a civilization other than our own. The hen-hawk shuns the farmer, but it seeks the friendly shelter and support of the pine. It will not consent to walk in the barn-yard, but it loves to soar above the clouds. It has its own way and is beautiful, when we would fain subject it to our will. So any surpassing work of art is strange and wild to the mass of men, as genius itself. No hawk that soars and steals our poultry is wilder than genius, and none is more persecuted or above persecution. It can never be poet laureate, to say ‘Pretty Poll’ and ‘Polly want a cracker’.”
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), February 16, 1859.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


From an old Ann Landers column:

Dear Ann: I'm a 16 year old teenager who is a nervous wreck from getting yelled at. All I hear from morning to night is; stop being mean to your brother, get off the phone, hang up your clothes, do your homework, and clean your room! What can I do to get them off my case??”

Ann Landers: Stop being mean to your brother, get off the phone, hang up your clothes, do your homework, and clean your room!

“Who Killed Cock Robin?”

Who Killed Cock Robin?

This is an anonymous English poem, dating perhaps to the 15th century or earlier. I include it here solely for its ornithological references and interesting language. Read it aloud, noting how one must adjust modern pronunciations (“thrush”) to older forms (“throosh”) to render the rhymes.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Chihuly: Blue and Beyond Blue

Blue and Beyond Blue
Dale Chilhuly (American, b. 1941)
New Britain Museum of American Art

Image ©2014 Quodlibet All rights reserved
This interesting piece, Blue and Beyond Blue, by American artist Dale Chihuly (b.1941) was installed at the New Britain Museum of American Art several years ago. The piece actually hangs on the vertical; I took this photo at an angle so as to avoid any peripheral objects. Well, I like it better  this way.

It's about time I recorded my impressions of this impressive piece.

“The blue livery of winter’s band”

Blue Jay in my yard this morning. It was 3˚F.
“To make a perfect winter day like this, you must have a clear, sparkling air, with a sheen from the snow, sufficient cold, little or no wind; and the warmth must come directly from the sun. It must not be a thawing warmth. The tension of nature must not be relaxed. The earth must be resonant if bare, and you hear the lisping tinkle of chickadees from time to time and the unrelenting cold-steel scream of a jay, unmelted, that never flows into a song, a sort of wintry trumpet, screaming cold; hard, tense, frozen music, like the winter sky itself; in the blue livery of winter’s band. It is like a flourish of trumpets to the winter sky. There is no hint of incubation in the jay’s scream. Like the creak of a cart-wheel. There is no cushion for sounds now.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), February 12, 1854.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

“The crow, the goose, the eagle carry my quill”

“My Journal is that of me which else would spill over and run to waste, gleanings from the field which in action I reap. I must not live for it, but in it for the gods. They are my correspondent, to whom daily I send off this sheet postpaid. I am clerk in their counting-room, and at evening transfer the account from my day-book to ledger. It is as a leaf which hangs over my head in the path. I bend the twig and write my prayers on it; then letting it go, the bough springs up and shows the scrawl to heaven. As if it were not kept shut in my desk, but were as public a leaf as any in nature. It is papyrus by the riverside; it is vellum in the pastures; it is parchment on the hills. I find it everywhere as free as the leaves which troop along the lanes in autumn. The crow, the goose, the eagle carry my quill, and the wind blows the leaves as far as I go. Or, if my imagination does not soar, but gropes in slime and mud, then I write with a reed.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), February 8, 1841.

“I must be taken as I have been made”

I never got around to posting my usual small commemoration yesterday, February 7, the anniversary of Dickens’ birth. But because the concept of success and failure has been much on my mind these past two days, I offer this, from Great Expectations:

“So, I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me.”

―Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Great Expectations

Friday, February 7, 2014

How I Keep My Head Together

Today was one of those fractured days. I woke up with a stunning headache, which lingered until 9am. Circumstances over which I had no control required that I compose and send an important message several weeks earlier than I had intended to; that took fully an hour and a half. The “arrival window” when the person was expected to arrive to repair the cooktop was shifted unexpectedly by three hours (earlier!), and I had to scramble to rearrange the rest of my day’s schedule and clean up the place where he had to work. Unexpected communications from colleagues required that I spend time to resolve problems A, B, and C and try to head off problems D, E, and F. Another hour or more. More time gone while the repair person was here and tried to explain away the mistakes he made last time. The results of the stove repair have created problem G that I will need to address in the near future. 

And of course on days like these, I am more apt to trip, spill things, crack my knee on the corbel under the counter, break a fingernail, and step on the cat. All of which happened.

Now, it’s approaching 4pm and I have accomplished nothing except the most rudimentary tasks. 

Fortunately, as I blundered through the day, I found little pieces of beauty and interest to keep my head from exploding:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

“Shall not the scholar sit up late?”

Scholar with his Books.
Oil on canvas (1671) by
Gerbrand van den Eekhout (1621-1674).
“If the woodchopper rises early, shall not the scholar sit up late?”
 —From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), February 6, 1842.

“Music's most serene dominions”

To a Singer
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

My soul is an enchanted boat,
Which, like a sleeping swan, doth float
Upon the silver waves of thy sweet singing;
And thine doth like an angel sit
Beside a helm conducting it,
Whilst all the winds with melody are ringing.
It seems to float ever, forever,
Upon that many-winding river,
Between mountains, woods, abysses,
A paradise of wildernesses!
Till, like one in slumber bound,
Borne to the ocean, I float down, around,
Into a sea profound, of ever-spreading sound.

Meanwhile thy spirit lifts its pinions
In music's most serene dominions;
Catching the winds that fan that happy heaven.
And we sail on, away, afar,
Without a course, without a star,
But by the instinct of sweet music driven;
Till through Elysian garden islets
By thee, most beautiful of pilots,
Where never mortal pinnace glided,

The boat of my desire is guided;
Realms where the air we breathe is love,
Which in the winds on the waves doth move,
Harmonizing this earth with what we feel above.

In the Choir (Organist at the Gloucester Cathedral). Oil on canvas (1901) by Edwin Austin Abbey (1852- 1911), American painter working in England. New Britain Museum of American Art. Photographs ©2013 by Quodlibet. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

“To Music, To Becalm His Fever”

To Music, To Becalm His Fever
Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Angel with Lute (Detail, fresco, ca.1480)
da Forlì (c. 1438-1494)
Charm me asleep, and melt me so
  With thy delicious numbers,
That, being ravish’d, hence I go
  Away in easy slumbers.
      Ease my sick head,
      And make my bed,
  Thou power that canst sever
      From me this ill,
      And quickly still,
      Though thou not kill
        My fever.

Thou sweetly canst convert the same
  From a consuming fire
Into a gentle licking flame,
  And make it thus expire.
      Then make me weep
      My pains asleep;
And give me such reposes
      That I, poor I,
      May think thereby
      I live and die
        ‘Mongst roses.

Fall on me like the silent dew,
  Or like those maiden showers
Which, by the peep of day, do strew
  A baptism o’er the flowers.
      Melt, melt my pains
      With thy soft strains;
That, having ease me given,
      With full delight
      I leave this light,
      And take my flight
        For Heaven.

It Snowed Today

An eerie sense of cautious quiet

On a recent (unexpected) trip to Amherst-Hadley, I stopped in at the Honeypot, a great birding area with wide open fields, river, wooded edges, and plenty of habitat for winter birds. It’s a beautiful place:

“Almost impossible to discover”

“Returning about 5 P. M. across the Depot Field, I scare up from the ground a flock of about twenty birds, which fly low, making a short circuit to another part of the field.”

That’s Henry David Thoreau, writing in his journal on March 24, 1858. But I could have written the same passage a few days ago, changing just a few words:

“Returning about 1 P. M. across the South Meadow, I noted a flock of about twenty birds, which fly low, making a short circuit to another part of the field.”

What were they, Thoreau wondered? I recognized them the moment I saw them. I stopped in the little dirt lot next to the farm stand (closed for the winter), and positioned the truck so I could get some short cell-phone videos: