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:

Handsome Fellow

We had a significant snowfall last night (at least eight inches), and today the birds are up close to the feeders. A handsome White-throated Sparrow was just outside the window; I can’t resist posting his portrait, with variations:

Monday, February 3, 2014

“The russet dress of nature”

This afternoon, when I was supposed to be working, instead I was browsing through Thoreau on Birds, a lovely collection of excerpts about from Thoreau’s Journals, arranged taxonomically and enhanced by snippets of information and commentary by Helen Cruickshank, who compiled the excerpts. (McGraw-Hill, ©1964)

I delighted in this excerpt about meadowlarks:

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Honeypot Harrier

In December I traveled to Amherst-Hadley on family business, and, as I always do when I’m there during daylight, I made time to do a little birding in the beautifully preserved and managed agricultural areas in the region. My favorite fields offer fabulous raptor shows (Gyrfalcon!!) sparrow stravaganzas, and more.

Today I was lucky enough to get prime views of a juvenile Northern Harrier on the hunt. First the video, then a few stills and words of appreciation:

“Away goes the great wheeling, rambling flock”

“I see a large flock of snow buntings on the railroad causeway. Their wings are white above next the body, but black or dark beyond and on the back. This produces that regular black and white effect when they fly past you.”
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), February 1, 1857.

Thoreau wrote about snow buntings elsewhere in his Journal; see excerpts below. His descriptions of their colors and  flight (offered below) are exactly correct, as you can see in these photos and videos, which I made several days ago in my meadow.