Showing posts from April, 2008

Meme Virgin No More

Things You May or May Not Know About Me
Tagged by Shan

5 Things Found in Your Bag
1. Olympus binoculars
2. small notebook
3. Uni-ball pen
4. Kodak digital camera
5. Field Guide to the Birds of North America

5 Favorite Things in Your Room
1. bookcases full of books
2. iBook G4
3. rocks from the shore of Lake Huron
4. an 1816 copy of the New England Primer
5. a photograph of my Swedish great-grandfather, a blacksmith, pretending to shoe a little boy's hobby horse

5 Things You Have Always Wanted to Do
1. publish a book
2. have a daughter
3. play a bluegrass instrument (preferably the dobro)
4. be happy
5. visit England

5 Things You Are Currently Into
1. 20th century British women novelists (Virago Modern Classics)
2. my family and friends
3. female vocalists
4. the coming of spring
5. walking in the Arb

If you want to participate in this meme, consider yourself tagged.

Stork Forest

From "Arb Notes" for February 28, 2008, in Carleton's Shrinking Footprints blog (written by Carleton student Arb Naturalists):

For many of our wildflowers, we have Professor Harvey Stork to thank. Pivotal in the creation of the arboretum back in the 1920s, Professor Stork, along with Superintendent of Grounds D. Blake Stewart, had the insight to include wildflowers in the first Arb Restoration, that of Stork Forest (on the far side of Bell Field, the location of Buckthorn Menace). At the birth of Stork Forest, restoration ecology was a novel field and Stork and “Stewsie” are considered to have been some of the first in the field. An example of the thoughtfulness of their restoration was their inclusion of all components (not just the native tree species) of the Upland Forest ecosystem. Keep an eye on the floor of Stork Forest this spring for the amazing ground display!
Stork Forest

Trillium leaves opening like an umbrella in Stork Forest

Budding Trillium

Spring Wildflowers in the Arb

The Cannon River passing through the Lower Arboretum, with oak savanna along the right (east) bank.

Of course, once I started walking in the Lower Arboretum, I had no wish to be anywhere else. It was a beautiful afternoon. The river was running high and fast, and the trees were full of yellow-rumped warblers. Hawks circled overhead—what species, I don't know, since my feeble powers of bird identification don't extend to the underside of hawks. Twice I scared up a great blue heron on the bank of the river as I passed. Song sparrows chorused from the reeds around Kettle Hole Marsh. And everywhere, there were wildflowers blooming.

The stonecutter got it wrong: it was Harvey E. Stork.

In some parts of the Lower Arboretum, the wildflowers are growing wild where they must have grown a century and a half ago. In the Upper Arboretum, in the woods behind Bell Field, both the woods and the wildflowers where transplanted there in the 1920s by Prof. Harvey Stork and D. Blake Stewart (…


Tour de Marze Brie and organic cranberry sauce on a New French Bakery ciabatta roll; an organic Abate Fetel pear. All ingredients from Just Food Co-op.

Jane Monheit singing "I'm Through With Love"

Frustrated with my sustained lack of creativity. I haven't written a poem since October. I haven't written an essay in about two years. Is it because I'm shooting my wad every day on this blog? Or is it time to give up pretending to be a writer and get a real job? Or is this just a prolonged fallow period?

If I Could Be Anywhere in the World Right Now, I'd Be...
In London. Having eaten my brie and cranberry ciabatta and pear on a bench in St. James Park, I would walk to the Queen's Gallery, one of the art museums I failed to visit on my previous visits to London. As I write this, there is heavy rain in London, but in my alternate reality it is a quintessential English day of clouds and sun, with periods of rain to keep me from feeling guilty…

Reading Journal: "Ordinary Families"

This was one of those books that it was difficult to read entirely to myself. There were passages so delightful that I wanted to read them out loud. The book is full of marvelously comic set pieces. Uproarious sailing adventures along the east coast of England and encounters with eccentric neighbors alternate with beautifully lyrical descriptions of nature and reflective observations about the lives and characters of the people who surround the novel's remarkable narrator, Lalage ("Lallie") Rush. I fell completely in love with this observant, passionate, humorous young woman who wants to be honest and kind in a boisterous family and a social world that demands small daily acts of dishonesty and unkindness. Her family is loving and high-spirited, but Lallie realizes that, in order to live together, even good people betray their true selves. Lallie, for example, hides her love of birds and bird-watching from her family because she knows they will make a joke out of i…

Humphrey Lyttelton (1921-2008)

One of the great things about England is BBC Radio 4. Clara still listens to podcasts of the Sunday news programme Broadcasting House, as well as several of the comedy and quiz programmes that run in rotation on Radio 4, such as The News Quiz (with Clara's favourite presenter, Sandy Toksvig), The Now Show, Just a Minute, and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. This last programme was chaired by the one-of-a-kind Humphrey Lyttelton, who died on Friday, two days after his 87th birthday. He was a great voice on the radio, and he told the raunchiest jokes in the most charming way, but he was first of all a jazz trumpeter. For the one or two jazz fans who read this blog, here he is introducing and playing the "Tin Roof Blues" with the Harlem Ramblers (who are from Z├╝rich, in case you're wondering). Recorded in 1978. This is my favourite kind of jazz.

If God Were a Sixteen-Year Old English Girl

Navvies at work, in a painting by Ford Maddox Brown.

During our year in England, I spent many happy hours walking along the Grand Union Canal between Hatton and Warwick, or along the Stratford Canal between Wilmcote and Stratford. In the nineteenth century, when these canals were being built to connect the major flashpoints of the Industrial Revolution, they were sometimes called "navigations," and the laborers who built them—with pick, shovel, and wheelbarrow—were referred to as "navvies." In E. Arnot Robertson's novel Ordinary Families, the narrator is remembering herself as a sixteen-year old—at a time when she had lost a belief in God and gained an appreciation of the physical appearance of the opposite sex. These two things come together in a wonderful scene in which she watches navvies walking down the road after a hard day's work: "They stacked their picks and came swinging down the road past us; lovely men, bare-armed and earthy. Fancy anyon…

Pussy Willows

The pussy willows are bursting forth around Sibley Marsh, like little half-popped kernels of popcorn on a stick. For a better photograph than I could show you, check out Canadian Chris's weekly Wordless post. And for a journey back to my freshman year of college (1982), here's a classic video of Jethro Tull's "Pussy Willow" (with Phil Collins on drums). Should I grow out my beard like Ian Anderson's?

Festival of Pasques

Pasqueflowers, with a small pollinator, in McKnight Prairie.

The pasqueflowers (anemone patens) are throwing a party on the ridges of McKnight Prairie. According to tradition, pasques bloom during the week before Easter, and in my experience this has often been the case. This year, Easter was early and spring was slow to arrive, but I'm happy to report that the pasqueflowers are blooming in time for Greek Orthodox Easter this coming Sunday. Pasques always seem festive to me. In his Journal of a Prairie Year (1985), the late Paul Gruchow wrote: "Pasqueflowers bloom at an inhospitable time in a quirky season. They carry the impression of wit and grace. If a pasqueflower were a person, one would want to have it come to dinner at the first opportunity. Surely, that would be the occasion for much laughter and bright conversation." In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold had a different impression of the personality of pasqueflowers; he wrote that they "endure snows…


200th post

We should probably buy some carbon offsets for this past weekend. We did a lot of driving this weekend in pursuit of musical experiences. Last night it was Ben Folds, an hour away in St. Peter, and this afternoon it was the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra at the Ted Mann Concert Hall on the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. This afternoon's concert featured one of my favorite 20th century works, the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings by Benjamin Britten, beautifully performed by tenor James Taylor and the orchestra's new principal horn, Bernhard Scully (formerly of the Canadian Brass). The Ted Mann is beautifully situated on a bluff above the Mississippi River, with a great view of Frank Gerhry's odd but compelling Weisman Art Museum across the river. Of course, because we would be inside at a concert all afternoon, the day turned beautiful and spring-like after a cool, damp morning.

The day started with a misty walk along the bl…

"Awesomeness in Geek Form"

The piano in our living room (click to enlarge and catch a glimpse of the music Will is teaching himself to play).

A little boy, six or seven years old, starts playing piano. After a couple of years, his practicing slacks off considerably, and he tells his parents he wants to stop taking piano lessons. His parents say, "When you're older, you'll wish we'd made you keep taking lessons." But what does a ten-year old care about when you're older? Fast forward six years, and the little boy has become a teenager. He spends hours every day trying to teach himself to play the piano like Ben Folds. He says to his parents, "Why didn't you make me keep taking piano lessons?" Last night, after months of anticipation, Will came face to face with the reason he wishes he'd kept taking piano lessons. We drove over to St. Peter and joined 3,100 other fans in Lund Arena for Ben Folds in concert. For ninety minutes, Will was in a state of piano-rock-indu…


Ce n'est pas une pipe, c'est une trompe de Fallope.

So, yeah, Clara and I finally saw Juno last night. We were, like, the last people in the whole frickin' state to see it, but it was worth the wait. Most definitely. I was totally cool with its portrayal of teen pregnancy and stuff because, like, it was a frickin' movie. It was supposed to be entertaining, which it so totally was. The only part I didn't like was when Juno called Katrina De Voort "Soupy Sales," because, like, what sixteen-year old girl knows who Soupy Sales is? Other than that, I was cool with the whole thing. Because, okay, first of all, Ellen Page was brilliant. Of course, she's Canadian, right? Like Anna Paquin, who was also totally precocious Oscar bait, plus also being in the X-Men series. But this is weird. In X-2, Kitty Pryde was played by a different Canadian actress (Katie Stuart). What's up with that? But, anyway, Ellen Page so deserved an Oscar nomination. A…

Great Minds, Part II

Great Minds

Christopher Tassava recently created a new photoblog with a friend from Chicago, Urb/Exurb, featuring excellent photos of urban and exurban life. Christopher's most recent contribution is a photograph of the Northfield water tower in the southeastern part of town. Coincidentally, I took a picture of the same water tower this past Saturday.

Springsteen Endorses Obama

You better listen to me baby:
Talk about a dream; try to make it real.
—Bruce Springsteen, "Badlands" (from Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978)

For sanity's sake, I'm trying to steer clear of political news. I'm getting sick and tired of long-time Washington insiders like McCain and Clinton, with their personal millions and their Keating and Whitewater pasts, accusing Obama of being an elitist. I'm tired of pundits and spin doctors telling us we should be outraged over the word "bitter" when, in fact, the last eight years have made me pretty damn bitter. I'm ready to tune it all out until November, when I hope my little vote will help to put Barack Obama into the White House. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put on Born to Run and celebrate Bruce Springsteen's endorsement of Obama.

In other Obama news: in the May 1 issue of the New York Review of Books, Gary Wills compares Obama's great speech on race to Abraham Lincoln'…

Great Moments in Reading, Part I

Summer 1992: The "Little Walter" Scene from Jane Austen's Persuasion

I remember that summer before Willie turned one as a season of idyllic days and long, hellish nights. During the day, I could set Willie down on the floor of the three-season porch to entertain himself with a paper cup. Willie would push the paper cup on its side and it would roll parabolically across the floor, and Willie would scoot after it on his belly. This seemed to fascinate him. Meanwhile, I could sit and read the novels of Jane Austen.

Persuasion had been assigned for a British Romanticism class that I took in college, but it was a novel that, at eighteen or nineteen, I was unprepared to appreciate. I had found the whole thing rather cool and dry compared with the heated effusions of Keats and Wordsworth that filled me with a dizzy recognition of adolescent longing. Returning to Persuasion nearly a decade later, I found it entirely transformed. One scene in particular seemed especially lum…

More Signs of Spring

This morning, I hung laundry out on the line to dry for the first time since last October. In today's strong wind, the clothes are drying fast. Meanwhile, the woods of the Upper Arboretum are beginning to get a little spring color. When in full bloom, these little flowers (Scilla siberica) are the closest we come in Northfield to the spectacular display of bluebells in the English woods.

Tree Swallows

We walked through the muddy Lower Arboretum on this lovely spring afternoon. The tree swallows, who routinely commandeer the bluebird nesting boxes in the prairies, danced around our heads like birds in a Disney cartoon. Here's one of them, sitting on his roof. A little further along, we passed Kettle Hole Marsh, which was filled with the amazing racket of spring peepers.

A Virago Anniversary

My shelf of Virago Modern Classics in both their black and green incarnations.

Stella, the magazine of Britain's Sunday Telegraph, this morning features an article by novelist (and blogger) Justine Picardie about the thirtieth anniversary of the Virago Modern Classics. It's a lovely tribute to Virago founder Carmen Callil and to an independent publishing venture that rescued so many wonderful women novelists from oblivion. On Friday, Clara attended the weekly convocation at Carleton. The speaker was novelist (and Carleton alumna) Jane Hamilton. She spoke, in part, about the decline in readership for literary novels. Clara happened to be sitting next to the author of Getting Your Book Published for Dummies, who told her that of approximately 60,000 books published each year in the United States, only 1,800 are novels. And according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll published last summer, 25% of Americans read no books at all in the preceding year. Perhaps unsurprisingly…

Puddles of Memory

Clara and I finally walked down to the pond near Superior Drive this afternoon and took turns looking through my binoculars at mated pairs of red-breasted mergansers, blue-winged teal, and buffleheads. No photographs, I'm afraid, but we talked about the Olympus E-410 as a twentieth anniversary present to each other next June.

The narrator of the novel I'm currently reading, E. Arnot Robertson's Ordinary Families, is an avid birdwatcher who loves to watch the birds, both on shore and at sea, along the stretch of the Suffolk coast where her family lives. Her name is Lalage, which is Greek for "chatterbox": an ironic name, since Lallie prefers to keep her thoughts to herself; she says little and observes much. When the novel opens, she's remembering the events that took place when she was ten years old, and she describes beautifully the peculiar awkwardness and grace of a heron, and the precision water landing of a trio of shelducks. Looking back, she feels e…

Reading Journal: Travel Light

I'll let you read about the life of author Naomi Mitchison on Wikipedia. One salient fact that I will mention is that she was a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and one of the proofreaders of The Lord of the Rings. Her own short novel Travel Light (1952) is a fantasy, straddling the magical world of Norse mythology and the corrupt and fallen world of Christian Byzantium. The heroine, Halla, is a princess, but she is raised first by a female bear and then by a male dragon, and brought up with a healthy dragonish distaste for meddlesome heroes. Along the way, she is befriended by a Valkyrie named Steinvor, as well as by various horses and rats; she, in turn, befriends three men on a mission to seek justice for their troubled homeland from the Purple-born, the Byzantine Emperor. It would be easy to pass it off as Tolkien for feminists, but it's more than that. For one thing, Mitchison has a sense of humor. Steinvor the Valkyrie is almost Whedonesque in her flippant humor and the m…

Touch 'Em All, Tom Swift

Griff has posted a few photographs from Tom Swift's reading last night at Monkey See, Monkey Read. If you click the first photo, you'll see the back of my curly red head, sitting next to local poet Karen Herseth Wee. Tom's been getting in a few innings lately, promoting his book at venues ranging from the local bookstores to the concourse of the Metrodome. His presentation last night—part reading, part informal lecture, part Q&A—was very well done. He read interesting and illustrative short excerpts from the book, and talked engagingly about the life of Charles Bender in a way that whetted the audience's appetite to read the book. And there were excellent bars to eat. It sounds like the book will appeal not only to baseball fans, but also to general readers who want a great story about a remarkable man who achieved greatness despite the constant burden of racial prejudice. It sounds like a great American story. The review in Booklist says: "In Swift’s …

Reader's Block

Every year at this time, my mother quoted Robert Frost.

It's strange how certain insignificant puddles of memory are left behind after the flood of experience has passed. It was with an almost physical shock of recognition that, on my walk this morning, I slid into the memory of an early spring drive with my mother along Route 89 from Ithaca to Trumansburg, New York—the scenic route above the western shore of Cayuga Lake. I remember my mother looking out at the woods above the lake and saying, "Nature's first green is gold." I thought of that this morning as I walked through the Lower Arboretum and saw the little ash trees all golden among the iron grays of winter.

Unfortunately, the ducks who have been so plentiful lately seem to have heard the weather forecast and gone for cover. I heard only the creaky bedspring call of a heron, and saw only the wintery black-and-white tail feathers of juncos, like an old television test pattern. Penelopedia has a good series o…

1995, Part II: Roll to Me

Editor's note: I'm in a melancholy mood this evening, so to avoid wallowing, I will post this light-weight footnote to my earlier post on the music of 1995.

David Soul, "Don't Give Up On Us" (1976). I think I actually bought this one.

I remember, as a teenager, going to the record store at Pyramid Mall outside of Ithaca, New York, and buying singles. I would bring them home, set the record player to 45 rpm, and set the needle on the smooth vinyl edge of the latest hit single. I remember buying Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" as a single and nearly wearing it out. Ditto the Eagles' "Hotel California" and the Manfred Mann's Earth Band version of Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light" (even stranger, the B-side was a Manfred Mann version of Stravinsky's The Firebird). In the late 1970s, if you heard a song on the radio that you liked, you could almost certainly find the single at the record store. But in 1995, 45…

Partisan Cake

The stolen election of 2000 was only the latest in a series of controversial Presidential elections in American history. In 1800, the Presidency shifted from one political party to the other for the first time in American history, from the Federalists to the Democratic-Republicans. The vain and irascible incumbent, John Adams, came in behind Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, who were tied in the electoral vote. The election was thrown to the House of Representatives, and Jefferson emerged from the smoke-filled rooms victorious. Burr, meanwhile, blamed Alexander Hamilton for his defeat, and went on to kill him in a duel. (We often hear that today's politicians are pygmies compared with the Founders, but keep in mind that Al Gore went on to win an Oscar and a Nobel Prize, when he could have followed Burr's precedent and murdered Sandra Day O'Connor.) The election of 1800 is the subject of a fascinating book by historian John Ferling, Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous …

The First of April

After I got home from delivering Meals on Wheels this afternoon, I pulled on my English wellies and went out for a walk in the Upper Arboretum. The sun was making short work of the four inches or so of fresh snow we received on Monday. The sun was blinding on the white snow, and I was glad to have my wellies for wading through the slush at the curbs on the way to the Arb.

In the arboretum, there was a steady crack and patter of ice breaking off of the trees and falling to the ground. On the Hill of Three Oaks, the bur oaks were beautiful against the white snow and blue sky. There were fresh ski tracks laid down along the trail, but they were already in places melted down to the pavement beneath. On Evans Hill, several young children taking advantage of what I hope will be the last day of sledding for the season. There was a two-hour late start for the schools this morning; this afternoon it again feels like spring.

Another sign of spring was this bucket collecting sap from a maple…