Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

I just finished reading “The Crying Tree,” and I have a few words to say

January 13, 2010

Actually, I’m reconsidering this as I write. What I was thinking about saying sounds a little mean, even to me, so I think I’ll just say this: It’s a first novel and it got finished and published, two pluses right there. It’s a decent read. I would probably consider reading another of Rakha’s books when she publishes one.

It’s unfortunate (for comparison purposes) that I just finished Prince of Players, a rather extraordinary biography of Edwin Booth. Ben’s been going through some old books, and he came down with this one in his hands. “I know you like Shakespeare,” he said (this is somewhat typical of his perception of my engagement with literature), “so you might find this interesting.”

Booth was the older brother of John Wilkes B., whom every Anerican older than 35 has heard of (somewhere in there they quit teaching American history, or at least the unexpurgated version of it). But few outside the realms of literature or drama have heard of Edwin. Yet in his day he was the premier American man of the classical theater. He had a career that spanned decades, and even in his waning days could draw crowds who brought their grandchildren to see the “great man before he died.”

This book was fabulously engaging. I’m sure it’s many years out of print (one of the advantages to hanging on to a lot of old books is that you never know when something will tweak your fancy, or tweak someone else’s), but if you can find it somewhere, I give it five stars.

But I’m afraid The Crying Tree suffered a bit by comparison. Dang it, I said I wasn’t going to be mean, but Rakha dragged out a lot of cliches to assemble into a plot. If you didn’t know very early in the book that the son was gay but nobody else seemed to know it, you just weren’t paying attention. She also relied very heavily on physical description of her characters, which I didn’t care for at all. That may be a personal prejudice, but I find myself often not caring what someone looks like (unless there is some gross deformity that has an impact on the action), and all those print dresses and ravishing locks really slow the action down. A man making a joke about his thinning hair tells me a lot more about the man than someone pointing out that the man’s hair is thinning.

But it was a noble effort, and I’m willing to give her another chance. She’s very young and can only get better, unless the success of this book convinces her that she’s already cracked the code. Which, IMNHO, she hasn’t.

On a lighter note (well maybe not lighter but more cheerful), I talked with an old friend last night, an Army buddy of Ben’s. We haven’t spoken for months and months, but we had a terrific visit. He said he went this year to a 101st Airborne reunion and took my book of poetry with him. When he got his five minutes in the spotlight, he read the assembled three of the Vietnam poems in the book. He said a 93-year-old man cried because “someone got it.” Made my night. . .

And I got a note from a professor at Marylhurst noting that the bookstore was down to one copy of my book and I should get them some more. I will do so.

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Dell, redeemed

January 4, 2010

Redemption is a wonderful thing, in literature as in life. Despite my rather bitchy post last evening, today Dell, or more specifically a rather great technician, redeemed the company, so I feel obligated to make note here.

It took an hour or so on the phone with India, but my new wireless printer is up and running. Thank you Amit. I asked them to give you a bonus. . .

I thought I had waited long enough to not be hanging on the bleeding edge of technology, but alas, I was mistaken. However, all is right in the world now. I’m gradually shedding cords and assorted paraphenalia. My desk is a little more orderly, me new computer is still most excellent, and my printer works. It is unfortunately not a candidate for the 12-volt conversion that lets me run my DSL modem/router without the generator, but that’s OK. I don’t print that often anyway.

The stew is simmering on the stove, and the first of two loaves of our favorite bread is on its second rise, so dinner’s not far off.

This bread recipe (as I’ve adapted it, at least) is seriously simple and fabulously superb. I don’t know if it would cook as nicely without the serious heat generated by a wood oven, but by golly it works for me. There’s something soothing abaout eating bread still warm from baking with a lot of melted butter dripping from it, and we’re doing so almost every day right now. You know the expression “make hay while the sun shines”? Well in this house, it’s “make bread while the sun isn’t shining and let the other fire go out so the house stays below 85 degrees.”

I’m committing what some would probably consider the ultimate sin tonight. I cut up most of a piece of superb round cut as thick London broil to make the stew. I found a little local farm that sells pasture-raised beef, so we’re trying some. The hamburger is flavorful, virtually no shrinkage, less than 7% fat. When I cut into this steak, I just stared. I haven’t seen beef that color in a butcher shop in years. My mouth is watering just thinking of it. I saved a little to make minestrone later this week with some home-canned tomato sauce, but most of it we’ll just inhale tonight.

OK, enough, I’m out of practice at this. Ciao.

Return to the green place

June 27, 2008

I’m home. Everything changed while I was gone, and the differences are breathtaking. Being gone only 8 days and having the landscape so different really gives me an appreciation of how fast the seasons pass.

Of course, we didn’t really get a spring this year, just several months of really crappy weather. So it’s like the last few weeks of spring and the first few weeks of summer compressed in on each other. We’re eating lettuce, radishes, spinach, and chard from the garden. But most of the hot weather plants look like they’ve gone south, so we’re planting some backup tomatoes and corn. The fruit trees look great, most of them loaded. But the brassicas (cabbage and the like generally planted very early) are depressing. Some of the cabbage and all of the broccoli just got to about 8 inches high and bolted. Total loss. The berries are at least a month late.

But the Japanese irises and foxglove are blooming like crazy, the grass is that soft spring green and smells fresh, and the trees are fully leafed out so that the light filters through them in that wonderful summer way.

The convention was fun. I got 5 top-ten finishes in the 39 categories of poem that I entered, so I’m happy. If that doesn’t sound too impressive, you should know that most categories had from 200 to 300 poems entered.

Now I truly must go move some sprinklers. No deep thoughts today, just gratitude for a return to the NW. Much as I enjoyed the convention and the different landscape, there’s no place like home.

The World’s Fastest Indian

June 16, 2008

It’s not often that I recommend films and the like, but I feel obligated to push this one out there. A couple of weeks ago, a friend recommended “The World’s Fastest Indian,” a movie about Burt Munro, a slightly eccentric codger from New Zealand who set the land speed record for streamlined vehicles with engines under 1000 ccs. His last record at Bonneville has stood for more than 40 years. Anthony Hopkins plays Munro. I think this is my favorite of all his performances.

I’ve spent a very large share of my life around amateur car racers, and the first word that somes to mind to describe this film is “authentic.” It’s incredibly well done, very real, and I’ll probably watch it again. Soon.

It’s been a lovely Father’s Day. The Sunday morning free-write at Carla’s went well, and I think I got two potentially strong poems from it. The sun is shining and the garden is finally growing. Tonight we ate fresh (from local waters) halibut with a shrimp (ditto) salad with a spicy homemade louis dressing, and sourdough bread. The lettuce was from the garden and the dill on the halibut was dried from last year’s garden. The wine was Barefoot’s Pinot Grigio, highly rated by the Wall Street Journal a week or two ago but a little sweet for my taste. Very drinkable, though, and at $5 or so a bottle at Freddy’s, a pretty good buy.

Inger called to give her dad a long-distance hug.

All in all, a very satisfying day.

Powerless on the Big Elk

June 7, 2008

Today has been one of those days. Monsoon-style rain has been falling most of the week. We’ve had two inches or more in the last three days. In mid-winter that’s normal. But when you’re trying to get the garden in, it’s very frustrating.

It’s supposed to clear for half a day tomorrow.

At least the potatoes don’t need watering. . .But I guess it’s going to be one of those green-tomato summers.

So I decided to do some things inside today. I got some mailings together to go out with the post tomorrow. Then I decided to take a few pictures of the hummingbirds. Batteries on both the Nikon and the Sony Mavica were dead, ready to be buried. Then I remembered that my laptop was nearly defunct on not one but both batteries and that the flashlight I changed the battery on last night ended up at something less than full power.

So I started the generator and plugged in four different chargers. Then I got Ben to set up the 12-volt charger for the main house system. That hasn’t been charged in awhile either. Tonight is our independent power plant night, I guess.

It’s a good thing that we built a big kitchen. Originally it wasn’t just the kitchen, it was the whole living area. That was before we added on 1300 square feet. But is has two stoves–one gas, one wood–acres of counters, two tables, and nine wooden chairs.

Normally it has only one refrigerator, but tonight it has two. Our fridge has been acting up. It’s nearly 10 years old, so this is not unexpected. But summer is coming, and with gas going up at ten cents a gallon a day, I’m sure as heck not going to drive to town every two days to get ice. So we bought a replacement.

I ordered it on Monday, estimated delivery time a week to ten days. On Tuesday they called to say it was here. Ralph and Brenda drove to Mollala on Wednesday to pick it up.

Like many projects around here, however, this is one of those that’s not getting rushed into. So the refrigerator has made it to the end of the big kitchen table, where it stands like a monolith and reigns over our meals. But the old one hasn’t totally quit, so the new one is just sitting there until the guys feel like wrestling it into place and hooking it up.

Over the years I have developed a sense of humor (and inevitablility) about these things, so I’m staying remarkably calm. After all, we have cold milk and ice cubes for our drinks, so what’s the urgency?

Ben says: “Whoever heard of a refrigerator taking the week off?”

Good question. It was totally unreliable for a week, except that the freezer worked better than ever. Now it seems to have recovered (probably because we bought a new one), but it’s still flaky occasionally. We’re going to keep the old one, turn it upside down for a week to see if we can shake loose whatever is crazy in the cooling system, then stash it away to run on a spare propane tank when we have lots of company and need a mega-supply of ice cubes or potato salad.

Now it’s time to go check the assorted chargers (everything upstairs is done, so what’s on the porch is all that remains), put away the rest of the black bean soup (cooling on the porch), and head off to dreamland. May tomorrow be sunnier.

 

I am an anachronism

June 6, 2008

The truth can now be revealed, and it isn’t pretty. I’ve suspected this for some time, but I couldn’t really confirm it.

However, the new ( July/August 2008 ) Atlantic (formerly Atlantic Monthly—hmmm, July/August (?), maybe there’s a reason for the name change) arrived today. The cover article, by Nicholas Carr, is: “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” It’s a fascinating read.

Carr explores the ways in which extensive use of the Web is changing the ways we read and think. It’s frankly, for someone like me at least, a little scary.

I’m not a Luddite. I actually enjoy being able to search for things on the Web from the comfort of my home office. I’ve had enough experience to know at least some of the ways you can validate (or invalidate) what you find there.

But I also really enjoy a good book or magazine that requires me to digest pages of material, mull it over, and then try to integrate what I’ve read with what I knew before. I like to think deep AND wide, and I take great pleasure in synergy, especially in apparently unrelated topics.

That’s what makes me an anachronism.

Notable quote from the article: “In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.”

I would agree with much of that last sentence, but not at the costs that the article points to. These changes do not come in a vacuum.

Carr doesn’t demonize Google. He rather attempts to reflect on the changes in thinking and brain function that are being observed as a byproduct of extensive use of the Web.

It’s well worth your time to browse this piece. You may be able to find it online at www.theatlantic.com. I don’t know. I haven’t checked. I have the hard copy, you see.

And I’ve found another reason to be very happy that I bought the second edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, all 20 volumes and four feet of books. It may not be available too much longer.

Surge: The war continues

June 5, 2008

If you’re expecting to read a rant about the tragedy of Iraq or George W. or Rummy or one of those things, you probably should just go read another blog tonight.

This is about a much closer to home, much more personal war.

That’s not to minimize the pain and agony we as a nation have inflicted on another country, however well intentioned our efforts. But I can’t influence that one, let alone have any kind of meaningful impact on the outcome, so I’m writing about something else.

We live on approximately 100 acres. A few of them are taken up by a river bed (not navigable year-round, so we own it), a lot more of them by some very steep hills plated in a variety of tree species, and 8-10 acres of relatively flat land.

We share this land with an assortment of wildlife–bears, cougars, coyotes, rabbits, weasels, bobcats, dozens of species of birds, several species of salmon and steelhead and trout, and a WHOLE bunch of rodents.

The rodents range from our chipmunks (cute but sometimes problematic) and gray-digger squirrels (highly destructive) to boomers (mountain beavers–incredibly destructive to new forest growth) and moles, voles, and gophers.

After reading the introduction to Derrick Jensen’s A Language Older Than Words, I have actually come to peace with several of these. I have persuaded the chipmunk not to eat my violets. I know this sounds nutso (that’s what I thought when I read Jensen’s coyote/chicken story), but I just ask the chipmunk not to eat them. And he quit. They are thriving.

And I asked the birds not to eat my blueberries (a problem every year), and guess what? They’re not eating them. I’m awestruck.

But the moles and voles and gophers in the garden are another story. I think maybe I just don’t know how to communicate with this particular group of rodents. Of course, it doesn’t help that I rarely see them. The talking approach seems to work best face-to-face.

I don’t want to destroy all the rodents. With this much land, there is plenty of room for all of us. I just want them to stay out of my garden.

We’ve tried a variety of approaches, but I think I’ve found one that actually works. I have my fingers crossed.

I found a couple of little devices (brand name “P3”–there seem to be several types on the market) called “Molechasers.” They’re little tubes that you bury in the ground. They emit a rather obnoxious sound, but it can hardly be heard above ground unless you’re standing right next to it. A second, more sophisticated device (the “surge” in the title of this post) emits a harsh buzz and vibrates the grounds around it.

According to the manufacturer, all the stupid underground rodents hate the noise and the vibration. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I do know that they seem to work.

The sound-only ones work best on the moles. The sound/vibration ones seem to do a better job on the gophers and voles. So I’m probably going to add a couple of vibrating windmills to the mix.

But whichever type, they are non-poisonous, non-lethal, and don’t pollute the environment. So I’m very pleased.

I hope this year to have unnibbled potatoes, beans, and carrots, armfuls of sunflowers, ripe tomatoes, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Cross your fingers for me.

The trouble with lawyers

June 4, 2008

Now I’m not one that thinks the solution is in killing all of the lawyers, but I’ve had it to the nth with Hillary R. Clinton.

First of all, my apologies to my international friends who probably couldn’t give a rip about the current U.S. political campaigns. But what is going on here is almost as big a nuisance as modern packaging (a rant very much worth its own post).

The last couple of weeks of the Clinton campaign have demonstrated beyond doubt (Q. E. D., is, I believe, the correct phrase) exactly why I would never vote for Hillary Clinton in any capacity. If the rules don’t favor you, figure out how to get around them.

Now Bill, at least, is angling for a VP spot for Hillary. Dear Barack, this is the one choice that would ensure I could never vote for you. I hope you have the good sense to put a foot squarely where it belongs. Besides, selecting a VP who keeps pointing out the advantages to be realized if you were to be assassinated seems a self- defeating choice.

Here would be an interesting set of ticket choices:

  • John McCain with Condoleeza Rice as VP (and I say this hesitatingly because her voice is impossible, but she is young, female, black, and experienced in foreign policy), vs.
  • Barack Obama with Madeleine Albright as VP (she’s older and experienced and female–besides all of that, she has a wonderful sense of humor).

Obama needs a woman on the ticket just to get rid of the taint of “sexism” (although in my never humble opinion sexism has virtually nothing to do with the growing antipathy toward HRC). The sad truth of the matter is that women with experience in high-level international policy are few and far between, and if Obama has a serious weakness it’s in international experience.

Ben and I were kicking this around tonight, and it’s really fascinating that so much of the tone of this November’s ticket will depend on the VP selections. But I think it will.

On another front, the hummingbirds are making me crazy. We have 12-13 of them at any peak time (on a 6-flower feeder). They are like a swarm of angry insects. Some of them would rather fight than eat (hmmm, I thought I was through writing about politics tonight but maybe not). Tonight I probably created a monster. The feeder was getting low, and I didn’t want to have to get up at 5 a.m. to refill it, so I put some semi-warm nectar in it. The excitement level was so high I had to leave the porch to get away from the noise. But if these nutty birds think they’re getting warm food from now on, sorry. . .

I just got interrupted by a rather protracted phone call. I’ve lost my train of thought totally, so now I’m off to bed. Ciao, more tomorrow.

I can hardly wait to hear Hilary’s latest excuse.

A shining. . .

June 2, 2008

There are some evenings that simply glow, and this is one of them.

I have been absent from this space for awhile, and I apologize. I had many things that I thought of writing about, but when I sat down in front of the screen, they didn’t happen.

I don’t know if it was a delayed response to my brother’s death or some other form of malfeasance of the spirit, but I just didn’t want to write.

But tonight I am full of joy. It’s Ben’s birthday, and our daughter Inger has come to visit. She brought with her an electric bass guitar and a 12-string acoustic that she rescued from oblivion. For the last hour or so I’ve ducked out and listened from the sidelines to Ben (one of the finer guitar players I’ve ever known) showing her little tips and tricks.

Ben and I play the guitar. Ben is proficient, I am competent. Inger does not play, has never played, but something caused this leap of faith that she could play. And I suspect she will. I hope she finds the same magic in it that I have.

I worried when she was young because she did not sing. I grew up singing, and I thought everyone did. Now she is seemingly discovering her music, and that makes me very happy.

My daughter has given me so much joy in life. It pleases me immensely to watch her finding her own joy.

I think there’s an allegory happening on my back deck

April 22, 2008

We seem to have only four summer-resident hummingbirds this year. A much larger flock flew in early, but they moved on after feeding. However, these four little birds are providing a real sideshow.

If you think all hummingbirds look and act alike, you’re not paying attention. Each has distinct personality and characteristics. And perhaps it’s just overload with all the election-year hype, but it’s hard not to see in them a reflection of a greater drama playing out.

So I have given them nicknames, referred to here with acronyms. I’ll tell you about them.

They are all of the rufus species, although two are male and two are female. I didn’t think the different sexes hung out together, but that seems to be the case this year.

The first to arrive was GWB. I remember him from last year, because he makes such weird noises I thought he was ill and was very surprised to see him back. His chitter has an odd sound, and when he flies he makes a distinct metallic noise that is very different from the others.

He flies around most of the time with his bright orange gorget exposed, daring the others.

In the manner of rufus birds, because he arrived first at the feeder he claimed he owned it.

However, the second to arrive was the largest of the birds, a female I call HRC. She is testy and irritable, and she quickly disabused GWB of his ownership status. She chases all the other birds away when she can, although sometimes they gang up on her. She scolds them constantly, feeds without alighting, generally buzzing and making a lot of racket. She thinks she owns the race. (I can’t believe I wrote “race.” I meant “feeder.”)

The other female is BHO, although personally I refer to her as the philosopher. On a number of occasions I’ve seen BHO sitting quietly on a branch trying to reason with HRC, explaining, I’m sure, that the feeder has six flowers, plenty for everyone, and that the complacent voter sitting there on the deck will keep filling it up.

She talks in a gentle assertive voice. HRC pays no attention whatsoever, squawking and scolding and attacking. Then she tries to chase BHO off.

The fourth I call JMC. He is in some ways the most furtive and interesting. He does his best to avoid the other birds, although when he’s surprised, out pops the gorget and he does battle. But he prefers to wait until things are quiet, then sneak in and feed furtively until he’s full, and fly off. His preference is for lack of confrontation, but he definitely has a temper.

It’s fun to watch these four jockeying for position of “top bird” and finding ways to feed that suit their individual styles. Of course, the season is less than half over, so things may calm down.

But probably not. Rufus birds are just plain territorial and contentious. And it would be awfully boring if they all just got along.