Sunday, January 26, 2014


Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.

— Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, musician, Nobel laureate (1875-1965)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reflections on Experiencing a Failed Water Heater

One reason to wash the dinner dishes early in the evening is that, in the odd chance that the water heater has failed, one will learn that fact earlier than, say, midnight, after everyone else has already gone to bed.

If, when beginning to wash dishes late at night, the hot water isn’t hot enough, it is not prudent to stand there while the water runs and runs and gets colder and colder, thinking, WTF?

Friday, January 24, 2014

On Light

Most people think that shadows follow, precede, or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses and memories.
— Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate (b. 1928)

There are two kinds of light  the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.
— James Thurber, writer and cartoonist (1894-1961)

Shadow is the absence of light, merely the obstruction of the luminous rays by an opaque body. Shadow is of the nature of darkness. Light [on an object] is of the nature of a luminous body; one conceals and the other reveals. They are always associated and inseparable from all objects. But shadow is a more powerful agent than light, for it can impede and entirely deprive bodies of their light, while light can never entirely expel shadow from a body, that is from an opaque body.
— From the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (1565, page 119)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

“It is a truism”

“It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.” 

—Robert A. Heinlein, American author (1907-1988)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Robert of Lincoln

Robert of Lincoln
By William Cullen Bryant

Merrily swinging on brier and weed,
Near to the nest of his little dame,
Over the mountain-side or mead,
Robert of Lincoln is telling his name:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Snug and safe is that nest of ours,
Hidden among the summer flowers.
Chee, chee, chee.

[Here is a short video of the meadow at Topsmead  listen to the bobolinks singing!]

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Bedtime Snack

When I stepped out this morning to scatter seed under the hedgerow, I found the answer to a question I had had the night before.

Review: The Gravity of Color: An Appreciation

For the past several years, D and I have enjoyed visits to the New Britain Museum of American Art, a fine, medium-sized museum in our region. There’s much to love there, and we go often to see new exhibits and visit beloved individual works.

One of the museum’s better-known works is The Gravity of Color, a 2008 creation by Lisa Hoke (b. 1952), commissioned by the Museum for this space. 

I've seen this work many times, and have had a sort of grudging appreciation for it. 

But today, my understanding and appreciation for it was transformed.

Magna Est Veritas

Magna Est Veritas
by Coventry Patmore (English poet and critic, 1823-1896)

Here, in this little Bay,
Full of tumultuous life and great repose,
Where, twice a day,
The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes,
Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town,
I sit me down.
For want of me, the world’s course will not fail;
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot:
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.

Coventry Patmore (1823-1896) was an English poet and critic, widely recognized as a major poet. It’s interesting, then, that this poem strikes me as an unambiguously

Turning the page changes nothing

A few years back I wrote about the moments of nostalgia, anxiety, and release that I experience when I come to the end of the appointment book for the year just ending, discard it, and take up the new.

I am experiencing that odd admixture of emotions this afternoon as my beloved little book goes into the trash. Oh, each year I think about saving them just for savings’ sake, but the OCD part of me can’t allow that since I have not done it from the beginning of time, and the set would, necessarily and forever, be incomplete.

Nonetheless, as I flipped through the pages, much of the year’s big challenges and small pleasures were brought to mind, such as ...

Saturday, January 4, 2014

“Skim over it like a hawk”

“The cracks in the ice show a white cleavage. What is their law? Somewhat like foliage, but too rectangular, like the characters of some Oriental language. I feel as if I could get grammar and dictionary and go into it. They are of the form which a thin flake of ice takes in melting, somewhat rectangular with an irregular edge. The pond is covered,—dappled or sprinkled,—more than half covered, with flat drifts or patches of snow which has lodged, of graceful curving outlines. One would like to skim over it like a hawk, and detect their law.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), January 4, 1842.

Morning Shadows

Yesterday’s blizzard brought snow and extreme cold and still air. It was 1˚F when I went to bed early this morning, with no wind.

Today, the snow is pristine and very beautiful. 

What is the word for the marvelous translucent color in those shadows? Not grey, nor lavender, nor any color’s name we know. Perhaps twilight or sorrow or regret.

Friday, January 3, 2014


Lacy effects during a recent snow fall—

Evening Shadows

I’ve long been fascinated by light in nature: by the changes in the quality and quantity of light from season to season, and by the changes in the quality and color of light during a single day, and by the ways in which the changes in light affect the colors, textures, and clarity of what I can see, particular birds, foliage, and shadows.

Today the changes in the light were quite dramatic. At dawn, we were in the midst of a blizzard; the softly muted, grayish light infused my photos from earliertoday.

Now, at day’s end, with sunset less than an hour away, and with skies clear and dry, the light is bright and hard, rendering in crisp detail what had been softly blurred earlier.

As the evening shadows fell across the yard, I looked out to see what I could see:

Breakfast Club

After last night’s snow storm, the feeders are busy today. Here are just a few of the visitors:

Under the Bird Feeder

As I look out on the aftermath of last night’s snow storm, I recall a summer memory –

Looking for Birds

While running errands, I naturally stop here and there to look for birds. Inherent in looking for birds is close examination of the landscape, from soil to sky, and everything in between. Very often, I find myself taking deep pleasure from the simple beauty of color, texture, and line – the slope of a hill against the sky, the shapes of leaves, the alignment of tree trunks against a subtly beautiful background.

“A perfect winter flower”

“It is pleasant when one can relieve the grossness of the kitchen and the table by the simple beauty of his repast, so that there may be anything in it to attract the eye of the artist even. I have been popping corn tonight, which is only a more rapid blossoming of the seed under a greater than July heat. The popped corn is a perfect winter flower, hinting of anemones and houstonias. For this little grace man has, mixed in with the vulgarness of his repast, he may well thank his stars.”

—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), January 3, 1842.

Perhaps an appropriate sentiment during the period of regret following holiday indulgences. —Q

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hidden Beauty

This is one of my favorite vistas – what I call the “back meadow” – it’s public land, but hidden from all except those who seek it out. Most people don’t care about deep brown mud, golden grasses, some leafless trees, mown crops, an open sky … but here is the richness of habitat, the sweep of open sky, the delight of a fresh breeze. I come here again and again, marveling at the vast and subtle changes that take place as the seasons change. This photo was taken in late October.


Male cardinal in bittersweet vine, a few weeks ago.

“He that hath ears, let him hear”

This passage from Thoreau's diary rings true:


One evening early in November, K texted me that she and C were enjoying a beautiful sunset in their town, about 60 miles away. That inspired me to step outside to see what our sky looked like. We’d just had a rain shower, and the air was fresh and clear.

A Peaceful Pleasure

The other day I stopped at a favorite spot to look for birds. It’s at the end of a dead-end road, where one can look down on a small river winding through woodland, near a residential neighborhood. Good spot for Rusty Blackbirds and the occasional Red-shouldered Hawk. On one autumn morning, I watched a ten-point buck come through the area, shouldering aside the undergrowth and making himself Important.

On this day, though, a smaller fellow caught my eye.

Parsley-Baked Potatoes

These stunning potatoes are a delight to the eye and palate.  Three minutes' prep time, half an hour in the oven. 

Here's how:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Up Close and Personal

Among all birds, I particularly enjoy raptors, as I’ve written about earlierTheir flight, their wildness, their imperious grandeur – all these speak to me in some deep-seated primal manner.

Once in a while I’m lucky enough to get quite close to the birds of prey I love.

Up on the Rooftop

As I’ve discussed earlier, I’m not the sort of birder who keeps lists, nor am I the sort of birder who hops in the car to travel miles and miles in hopes of seeing a bird that someone else spotted and reported. It just doesn’t seem good for the birds, does it, to use a lot of fossil fuels to chase them down?

Ienjoy being a “patch” birder, getting to know the birds in my neighborhood and enjoying the few rarities that show up now and then.

Still, I like seeing rare and interesting birds as much as the next birder. If my usual route takes me within reasonable distance of where some interesting bird has been sighted, or if the sighting is within, say, 15 miles of home or office, then yes, I’ll sally forth.

Such was the case a few days ago, when

Take-out Lunch

On the way home the other day, my route took me through the meadows, where I love to linger to look for, and look at, the wonderful variety of birds that can be seen there.

On this cold day, a quick glance around showed little action across the landscape: all I could see was the usual flock of feral Rock Doves and a few crows winging their way toward the woods that bordered the meadow.

Nonetheless, I scanned the area with binoculars, hoping against hope that I might spy one of the Snowy Owls that have irrupted into our area in spectacular fashion this winter. Or perhaps I might find a Northern Harrier to delight me with its swooping flight. Scan, scan, scan…nothing.

But wait, what was that? Feathers floating on the wind? A fresh kill by …