Showing posts from September, 2008

Unwritten Novels, Volume I

Editor's Note: Here on my hard drive, I have a whole folder bursting with files that contain the beginnings of novels and stories that were never written. Every now and then, I'll open a file, like an antique perfume bottle, and attempt to inhale the scent of long-evaporated inspiration. What does one do with all of this aborted fiction? Here's all that was ever written of a novel narrated by a boy who discovers that he's a fairy. At an unnamed Midwestern liberal arts college in the early 1980s, the boy joins a student organization for fairies...

The four of us—Mona, Siobhan, Natalie, and I—gathered every Saturday morning in one of the meeting rooms in the student union. There were chairs pushed up against the blue-gray walls, but we preferred to sit on cushions on the floor. Outside the door was a hand-written sign that said COLLEGE FAIRY CIRCLE SATURDAY 9:00 AM.

“We’re not really a circle,” Natalie said. “We’re more of a trapezoid.”

“How many fairies does it take…

SPCO, with Guest Soloist the Union Pacific Railroad

We recently received ticket offers in the mail from both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. The Minnesota Orchestra excitedly announced a special limited time ticket price of $49. Meanwhile, the SPCO quietly offered tickets starting at just $11.

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra isn't just an incredible bargain: it's one of the best and most exciting groups of classical musicians in the world. Their playing is brilliant, passionate, and quite often edge-of-your-seat exciting. Their concert programming is adventurous, challenging, sometimes perplexing, and always revelatory. Their concerts over the past year have given me a new appreciation of the music of Igor Stravinsky, have exposed me to unfamiliar and thought-provoking new music, and have shown me new sides of familiar favorites.

Last night, at Carleton's Skinner Chapel, the SPCO performed Stravinsky's Concerto for Strings in D, Mozart's Fifth Violin Concerto ("Turkish"), a…

Banned Books Week 2008

Today is the first day of Banned Books Week 2008, brought to you by the American Library Association. Here's a link to help get the celebration started:

The Onion: "Nation's Teens Disappointed By Banned Books" (2000). "Desensitized to sex and violence from an early age, today's teens simply expect more out of their banned books than previous generations..."
I can confirm that my seventeen-year old son was "disappointed" by Mark Twain's frequently-challenged Huckleberry Finn, not because it was shockingly immoral, but because of its loose narrative structure.

One of my favorite banned books—one of my favorite books, period—is Kate O'Brien's The Land of Spices, which faced censorship by the Irish Censorship Board in 1941 because of a brief mention of homosexuality. The novel is a remarkable and moving story of a Catholic woman's journey from cold spiritual pride to graceful understanding. She comes to the understanding that &q…


A fortuitous comment on an old post reminded me that I had never posted my photographs of the shipwreck up in Michigan. The shipwreck is off the shore of Birch Island, and here's what the owner of Birch Island has to say about the wreck:
It is known to be a canal schooner, and is nameless. When the original indian family in our area, the Osogwins, arrived in 1850 the schooner was already sunk. No one knows for sure when it happened. It was full of lumber and caught fire as it left Hessel. It went down where it rests now.Clara has been spending summers on the island her entire life, and never knew about the shipwreck until about ten years ago, when it suddenly became a popular calm morning excursion by canoe to see the wreck. The wreck may be more visible now than in the past because of lower water levels and clearer water due to filtration by zebra mussels. It was difficult to take photographs in a drifting canoe, but this is what I came up with. The photographs don't give a…

Northfield Invitational 2008

Connor and Peter
in the Boys' JV 5k

Will in the eccentric green shorts
in the Boys' JV 5k

Location: St. Olaf College

Learning in the Company of Friends

At 9:30 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, I start to feel a little nervous. I pack up my books and walk from my office in the LDC (Language and Dining Center) to Goodsell Observatory, passing the prairie plantings and the bur oaks outside and the display case full of meteorite fragments inside. Down in the basement classroom, H. and J. are already there, arranging the chair desks into a circle, making sure there's a left-handed chair desk for M. My nerves relax as the other students arrive and complete the circle, and we sit down together to translate Sophocles. The students ask hard and important questions, make interesting comments, and frequently laugh. The president of the college, Rob Oden, likes to talk about a college education, particularly a Carleton education, as "learning in the company of friends." When I'm in class with my eight Greek students, I understand what he means.

As I was reading over the assignment before class yesterday, I came ac…

The Last Day of Summer

This morning, Clara and I walked in the Lower Arboretum, where the prairie is flecked with the autumnal purple and white of the asters. In the afternoon, I spent an hour in the Concert Hall at Carleton, listening to Hector Valdivia (violin) and Kathryn Ananda Owens (piano) in stirring performances of Mozart's Sonata in F, Bartók's Sonata no. 2, and Manuel de Falla's Seven Spanish Folksongs. Then I came home, ate a Zestar apple from Fireside Orchard, mowed the lawn for the first time since early July, and had a equinoctial supper of grilled burgers and late season sweet corn from the Bridgewater Produce Farm stand.

Big Woods State Park, Penultimate Day of Summer

Hidden Falls Trail

Hidden Falls
at the end of a dry summer

Debbie and Clara and the beginning of the fall colors

Goodsell Observatory, Part II

Meteorite (from Meteor Canyon, Arizona) in Goodsell Observatory.

When you enter Goodsell Observatory, the first thing you see is a large, drum-shaped wood and glass display case containing the Carleton meteorite collection. The core of the collection came to the college in the years 1942-1946, when Dr. Harvey H. Nininger (1887-1986) gave them to the college in lieu of his daughter Margaret's tuition. Imagine paying for your child's college tuition with rocks! But meteorites are not ordinary rocks—they're iron-rich extraterrestrial rocks, and they're valuable. For example, in 1958, Dr. Nininger sold 21% of his collection —1,200 specimens—to the British Museum for a total of $140,000. That's just under a million dollars in 2007 inflation-adjusted dollars.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Dr. Nininger amassed the nation's largest collections of meteorites, and wrote several books on the subject. His first book on meteorites was Our Stone-Pelted Planet (1933). During th…

Goodsell Observatory

From 9:50 until 11:00 this morning, I'll be in the basement classroom in this building, Carleton College's Goodsell Observatory, reading Sophocles with my class of eight wonderful students. It's a rewarding way to spend seventy minutes, and I find myself enjoying every moment spent in the classroom with Carleton students.

Goodsell Observatory is one of the oldest buildings on the Carleton College campus, and one of the most historically important. When it was built in 1887, Goodsell was equipped with a piece of German-made equipment known as a meridian circle, which was used for calculating sidereal time—that is, it enabled observers to calculate when certain stars would be visible in the night sky. But this time-keeping capability had an even more practical application. In the late nineteenth century, Goodsell Observatory became the official time-keeper for over 12,000 miles of railroad in the western United States. Time calculations made in Goodsell were wired to ra…

Back to School

Today was the first day of classes at Carleton College. I taught my first Greek class since 1992 this morning. I started to prepare for Wednesday's class. I went to the college's opening convocation, featuring a terrific address by Deborah Bial, the president and founder of the Posse Foundation. Then I stuffed myself and drank beer at the president's reception. I'm too exhausted now to drive down to Faribault for Rep. Mindy Greiling's public hearing on the house education bill. It's been a full day.

Jazz Oboe

Jean-Luc Fillon, Oboa. Deuz Z/Nocturne 2003. Import available from Caiman.

In fifth grade, Will confidently and somewhat eccentrically announced that he wanted to play the oboe. Fifth grade is when children in Northfield start band in school, and while most of his friends were taking up saxophones and drums, Will stuck with the oboe. Throughout middle school, he sat in the band and doubled the flute part. The oboe is primarily a classical instrument, not traditionally associated with band music, and it wasn't until his teacher in England handed him a baroque oboe sonata that he realized what his instrument was made for. Soon he was beginning to explore the classical oboe repertoire, which includes a Bach concerto for violin and oboe, concertos by Cimarrosa and Mozart, and (one of my favorite pieces of chamber music) Robert Schumann's Three Romances for oboe and piano. When we returned to America last year, Will was recruited to play the oboe solo in a high school orchestra…

Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori chicken, cucumbers with ginger and soy sauce, coconut ginger basmati rice, chutney

Step 1 (jalapeño-ginger paste). In a food processor, chop 5 jalapeños, a 2-inch piece of ginger root (peeled), and 6 cloves of garlic into a coarse paste. Can be stored frozen and used for sheekh kabobs.

Step 2. Mix together 2 tablespoons of jalapeño-ginger paste, salt, pepper, 3 tablespoons of tandoori masala,* one small finely chopped onion, and 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt. Marinate chicken (I used one package of skinless/boneless chicken thighs) in yogurt mixture overnight.

Step 3. Grill chicken and serve with rice and chutney.

Thanks again to Jhumku Kohtz for the fabulous recipe!

*I used Kissan Tandoori Masala, which is available online.

Big Buzziness

Britain is facing an agricultural crisis this year as an unusually wet summer has contributed to a nearly catastrophic collapse of honeybee populations. The story was reported this morning on the program Broadcasting House on BBC Radio 4. As the Guardian newspaper reported in August, the nearly 30% of all British hives have been lost in 2008, due in part to bad weather conditions and to increased susceptibility to disease caused by environmental stress. This means not only a shortage of honey in the market—according the the Guardian report, market shelves will be bare of honey by Christmas—but also a crisis for fruit and vegetable farmers who rely on bees to pollinate their crops.

In 2006, a similar collapse struck the United States, which lost a quarter of its hives to what was called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). A variety of culprits—from global warming to genetically modified crops to increased cellphone use—were blamed for the collapse. In 2007, honey prices in the United S…

Atonality at the Ordway

Peter's first assignment in ninth grade art class was to copy Picasso's portrait of Igor Stravinsky. The catch was that it had to be copied upside down, and only an inch at a time. I thought of this last night as I listened to the opening piece on the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra program, Stravinsky's Movements for Piano and Orchestra (1959), one of the composer's late forays into twelve-tone serialism. Serialism tosses out many of the traditional features of classical music—tonality, melodic motifs, development of themes—and builds upon the basic unit of the chromatic scale: a series of twelve notes, including both the white and black keys on the piano. Within this series, or row, a note cannot be repeated until each of the other notes in the series has been played. Instead of being related to a hierarchy of pitch based on the tonic (the first note in a scale), the notes are related only to each other. The music is drawn an inch at a time, unrelated to a continuous…

Small World

Peter asked for clay.
All summer he built himself
little chairs, tables,
a drawbridge for his fort
in the backwoods, dreaming
of a bigger world
where he could build houses
big enough to live in,
big enough for everyone.
Happiness was a hammer
in his hand, saw and nails,
everything fitting together
snug and square. His
seven years had given him
strength and skill enough
to piece this much together.
He asked for clay,
and made himself a model
of the twin towers,
somewhere he has never been.
He made them, he said,
for remembering:
things small enough to hold,
like the small white pawns
taken from a board, the toy-sized
city of ghosts left standing
at the foot of his bed
while he sleeps,
while he sometimes dreams
of picking up his hammer,
and of what he would build.

Originally published in Black Bear Review 34 Spring 2002. Honorable Mention, 2001 Annual Poetry Competition. Copyright © 2002 by Rob Hardy.

Memo to the McCain Campaign

Nothing is so mistaken as the supposition, that a person is to extricate himself from a difficulty, by intrigue, by chicanery, by dissimulation, by trimming, by an untruth, by an injustice. This increases the difficulties ten fold; and those who pursue these methods, get themselves so involved at length, that they can turn no way but their infamy becomes more exposed. It is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.
Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr (September 19, 1785)

Obama on Education

Cross-posted at Rob Hardy for School Board
Yesterday, Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech on education in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton and Canton have seen both candidates often during this campaign; the two cities in Ohio are among the nation's fastest declining cities, as the economy stagnates and industrial jobs are shipped overseas. The candidates go to Dayton and Canton to talk about the economy, and although Obama's speech was billed as an education speech, it was really about the economy. Here's a sample of the speech:But it’s not just that a world-class education is essential for workers to compete and win, it’s that an educated workforce is essential for America to compete and win. Without a workforce trained in math, science, and technology and the other skills of the 21st century, our companies will innovate less, our economy will grow less, and our nation will be less competitive. If we want to outcompete the world tomorrow, we must out-educate …

Guest Blogger: "Heads in the Sand"

Matthew Yglesias, Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats. Wiley 2008. 272 pp. Available at River City Books.

Reviewed by Clara Shaw Hardy

I bought Heads in the Sand—or HITS as we in the bloggy world call it—because I read Matt Yglesias' blog regularly and like it. He used to blog at the Atlantic, but has since moved over to Think Progress; he's a sensible voice, interesting on foreign policy but also on urban planning, transit, media analysis and much else of interest. His spelling is really lousy—I considered volunteering to proofread for him when I first started reading his blog—but remarkably I've been able to get past that (hopefully none of my students are reading this). I also thought my mother, a liberal internationalist if there ever was one, might like the book, and I was looking for a birthday present for her.

The subtitle of the book is How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Pol…

Margaret Evans Huntington Club

In the year of the infamous Bank Raid (1876), Carleton's dean of women, Margaret Evans, gathered a group of female faculty and townswomen in her apartment in Gridley Hall (the old women's dormitory) for the the inaugural meeting of the Monday Club. The Monday Club was a women's literary (or "self-culture") club that began to meet regularly on Monday afternoons. An annual program of study was developed, and members took turns delivering papers to the group.

In the 1890s, for example, the Monday Club decided to spend four years reading Greek tragedy. Each month, the Northfield News included a report of the meeting. Here's an excerpt from the report from Saturday, February 20, 1897:
Mrs. Cooper's paper on Iphigenia as the typical Greek maiden was beautifully written and read. She represented Iphigenia as speaking, telling her own story as we learn it from the drama. Each paper was followed by informal discussion of the topics treated.At the end of four y…

The Defeat of Jesse James Days 2008

No, it's not a gang of delegates to Republican National Convention hightailing it out of Minnesota; it's the 2008 Defeat of Jesse James Days parade. During Defeat of Jesse James Days, this modern James Gang stages reenactments of the unsuccessful raid on Northfield's First National Bank that took place 132 years ago today.

The Northfield High School Band
Peter's in front (right about the EL in NORTHFIELD on the banner) on trombone; Will is further back, temporarily trading in his oboe for a triangle.

Link: A journalist covering the RNC stops in Northfield to blog the Defeat of Jesse James Days.

Fauré's Requiem

This recent disc, recorded live in concert at London's Barbican Hall, brings together an unlikely pairing: Mozart's Vesperae solennes de confessore (K.339), composed in 1780, and Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, composed around 1887. A hundred years separate the two choral works, and they seem to come from two entirely different worlds. Mozart's piece perfectly evokes the gilded Baroque splendor of Salzburg Cathedral, for which it was written. It's full of pomp and ornamentation. Fauré's work, on the other hand, is delicate, intimate, meditative, impressionistic. But the pairing works brilliantly. The Mozart ends with a rousing Magnificat in the key of C Major that comes to rest on a solid C chord. After a moment of silence, the Fauré begins with a sustained D chord in the orchestra—the music has moved one full step up the scale, and from the bright key of C Major to the meditative key of D minor. The transition is lovely, and beautifully bridges the gap betwee…

Early September Prairie

Cream Gentian (Gentiana alba)

Monarch and Blazing Star (Liatris)

Faribault Invitational 2008

Peter (in the maroon, gold and white) running in the boys' C race at the Faribault Invitational, at Alexander Park in Faribault.

The weather for the Faribault Invitational is traditionally sunny and hot. There's usually an ambulance on hand to treat runners who have collapsed from sunstroke or dehydration. Yesterday, the spectators were putting on fleeces and raising umbrellas as the temperature hovered in the low 60s and heavy gray clouds overspread the area and spattered rain on the JV runners who brought up the end of the meet. Highly ranked teams from Stillwater and White Bear Lake were on hand at the front end of every race, with Northfield's runners in a convivial pack somewhere in the middle. In the C race, Peter finished the 2 miles in 13:02, coming in 71st out of 171. Will ran in the last race of the afternoon, the boys' JV 5K, and was too wet and hungry at the end of the day to stay for the results.

The boys' JV 5K
along the Cannon River in Faribault


Reading Journal: "Daphne"

Justine Picardie, Daphne. Bloomsbury 2008. 399 pp. Available at River City Books.

In the author photograph on the back of her 1969 novel, The House on the Strand, Daphne du Maurier sits at a desk, her face turned toward the camera but her eyes shifted to the left, avoiding the camera's direct gaze, looking at something hidden to the rest of us. Her mouth seems pinched and hard, as if she's holding back either anger or tears. On the desk, at her left elbow, is another of her books, Vanishing Cornwall.

Daphne du Maurier, 1969. Photograph by Tom Blau. From the dust jacket of The House on the Strand.

The House on the Strand has an odd premise: the protagonist, living on the Cornish coast with his family, experiments with hallucinogenic drugs that allow him to travel back in time to 14th century Cornwall. As the novel progresses, his medieval life becomes more real to him than his life in the present. The presence of the past—the way in which the present sometimes seems to we…

Kabobs, Take Two

Last night, I overcame my fear of cooking meatballs on the grill—I imagined them disintegrating and falling through the grill into the fire, accompanied by much profanity—and made real sheekh kabobs instead of Indian-spiced meat patties. Everything worked out just fine. Served with basmati rice, chutney, cucumber sauce, and a green salad.

A Gene for Monogamy

Breaking science news from the Washington Post (9/2/08): "Men are more likely to be devoted and loyal husbands when they lack a particular variant of a gene that influences brain activity, researchers announced yesterday -- the first time that science has shown a direct link between a man's genes and his aptitude for monogamy." Read more.

Abstinence Only

One of the main lessons of Mean Genes (reviewed below) is that human beings have primal urges that are not easily controlled by willpower alone. One of the most primal urges is the urge to have sex. That's what our genes want above all else: to be passed along. It's not surprising that, beginning in the teenage years, humans feel a powerful urge to copulate. Think about this: between the Neolithic Age (beginning about 10,000 years ago) and the end of the 18th century, the average life expectancy for humans was between 20 and 40 years (source). A sixteen-year old was already in middle age when she reached puberty (the average age of puberty was later in earlier centuries). So the phenomenon of teen pregnancy shouldn't be all that surprising. For our Neolithic ancestors, with a life expectancy of twenty, it was an urgent matter. And we still carry the genes of those precocious Stone Age parents.

In modern society, however, teenagers are, for the most part, not ready to…