Rabu, 30 April 2008


It's the last day of April and the last day of National Poetry Month. I'm glad poetry has a month of official recognition and tribute, but I sometimes sense that only endangered vocations are awarded such months (or days). There is no need, I suppose, to give the NFL a particular month. I don't actually believe that poetry is endangered, but I think it is true to say that it is often thought of as an odd, unambitious sort of pursuit.

Edward Hirsch wrote a thoughtful column about poetry and walking in The Washington Post. Walking helps him enter into that drifting state of mind that he needs when he writes. Walking does this for me too. Running, actually, does not. I come back from running with too many endorphins swirling in me, which is a great feeling but not necessarily a good preparation for poetry. Poetry requires a certain stillness, and running stirs up the silt. So walking works well, and so does sitting quietly. It might appear as indolence, but it's not. It's a way of emptying myself so I have space for poems. It's a way of preparing.

You can read that Hirsch column here:


Senin, 28 April 2008

Bleeding Heart

What a name. Why aren't more 2nd grade boys walking around with Peterson's Field Guide shoved in their back pocket? These flowers were meant for 2nd grade boys: Hairy Beardtongue, Mad-Dog Skullcap, Motherwort, Swollen Bladderwort. How could a Daffodil ever compete?


I visited my grandpa this afternoon. His Daffodils are blooming near the grader shed. Ours look spent. It's interesting to compare bloom cycles and realize how much warmth a city can hold. All of our bulbs pop earlier than his.

Jumat, 25 April 2008

Carl Hiaasen

Last night I drove down to Albion College with a friend to hear Carl Hiaasen talk. Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald and has written some hilarious and scathing books about Florida and about the problematic intersection of greed and wilderness. His books are full of buffoons, which could get tiresome except that there are always a few immensely likable characters -- a marine biologist, a good cop, a social recluse who loves bone fishing, some capable,unpretentious woman -- and it is so absolutely delightful to watch Hiaasen skewer the greedy land developers and corrupt politicians. When my dad picked up a Hiaasen book last summer, he found it "relentlessly humorous" and did not finish it. It's true, Hiaasen is nearly non-stop funny, but I'm loathe to label him a comedian. I would not call Garrison Keillor a comedian, though he is a very funny man. There is something slightly pathetic and irritating in many comedians, like the court jester in a Shakespearian comedy -- a "fool" or a "clown." There is none of that in Hiaasen: he's a great satirist and he delivered an utterly engaging talk. It was a fun night. I told my dad I was driving down there and he thought maybe he'd give Hiaasen another shot someday. I hope he does.

Minggu, 20 April 2008

Scratch & Sniff

Someday there will be a computer screen with this technology, but until then you'll just have to shake your monitor in front of your nose until a bit of the hyacinth's sweetness wafts your way.

Rabu, 16 April 2008

Roadside Attractions

The scilla is up and the snowdrops are retreating. Our aconite occupies a fairly small patch during its bloom time...maybe 2' x 2'. That sounds awfully square for a naturalized bed of bulbs, so make that a ragged estimate. The snowdrops bloom into a great swath of white, and when the scilla come up after them we have a blue sea. It's impressive. Some people drive to Holland for Tulip Festival. Some people drive to Vermont for fall color. I think they should drive to East Lansing for a glance at these little blossoms.

Minggu, 13 April 2008

After Spring Break

I ran a lot of errands today and saw a lot of people who are reentering their lives in Michigan after vacations in southern places. They were tan and relaxed and slightly smug, but they were also cold. These people come back weakened -- as sensitive as basil. But I've stayed in zone 5 all winter and am as tough as a pansy. Pansies thrive in cool weather. In the heat, not so much. But in a late April flurry of snow? They are tougher than lantana. Tougher than gomphrena. But nobody calls anybody else a lantana. Nobody says, "He's a gomphrena." This should be regional. A "pansy" should be a northener. A "lantana" should be a southener. And what of the gardeners who plant both? Peacemakers. All gardeners are peacemakers.

Jumat, 11 April 2008

Warm Rain

Does it sound different than cold rain? (See "Cold Rain," posted April 10.) I think we process it differently, so we hear it differently. But I think there is more science involved, or at least I would like to involve more science (maybe we should ignore that distinction for now). If you toss a slice of red pepper into a cold frying pan, what do you hear? Plop. If you toss a slice of red pepper into a really hot frying pan, what do you hear? Sizzle. Is it possible that something more subtle is going on with cold rain and warm rain? Does cold rain meeting cold soil have sufficiently different characteristics than warm rain meeting warm soil? Are those differences enough to alter the audible qualities of rain? Could the human ear, working together with the human brain, discern those differences? Is it fair, or possible, to isolate the human heart from all of this?

Let me get more specific. If you keep location, soil content, and moisture content of the soil consistent and only change the temperature of the rain and the temperature of the soil, are those changes enough to affect the sound? There is a lot to ponder. Does soil temperature affect soil structure? Does soil structure affect how water is absorbed? Does the process of absorption begin with impact? Is it the impact of rain on soil that I'm talking about when I talk about how the rain sounds? Can one correlate sound with impact? Does varying impact produce varying sound? I made up these questions, so I can make up my answers. They are all Yes. Except for the question about the human heart, which should seldom be isolated from anything, especially warm rain.

I wouldn't want my reputation for clear thinking staked on any of this. I just want to know how else, why else, could rain sound different on April 11 than it did on April 10?

Kamis, 10 April 2008

The Danish Poet, Part Two

Here is part two of The Danish Poet, directed by Torill Kove and narrated by Liv Ullmann. I hope you're enjoying it! I didn't post these in the right order. I posted this LAST because it is the SECOND part, but of course it was put on top (most recent). It's like Hebrew, only instead of reading from right to left I should post the last first. I can't actually read Hebrew, but sentences like that make it sound like I've tried. Anyway, please go to PART ONE first (below). I"m sorry to post in two parts...I had to go change the film reel and stop for more popcorn.

The Danish Poet, Part One

I discovered this film, The Danish Poet, last year when it was shown at the East Lansing Children's Film Festival.  I think I'm going to have to post it in two parts.  Hopefully this one will appear on top.  I'm new at this.  The film is not quite as short as some animated shorts, so save it for when you have 15-20 minutes to spare.  It's simple and funny and sad and sweet.

Cold Rain

It's all about temperature.  If I had titled this entry "Summer Rain," your head would be somewhere else right now.  Either outside or inside, but somewhere else:  running barefoot through an orchard or stretched out on a cottage porch with a book.  But it's a cold rain, so there is more gloom. Why is that? It's fluid, not frozen, and that should still feel (or sound) like a novelty.  People buy recordings of "nature sounds" (including rain), so why aren't more people saying, "Oh, this sounds so good!" I haven't heard anybody say that today.  But this particular rain is, by turns, percussive and gentle, and the splats and taps on my kitchen window are mostly friendly, even if the fingers are cold.  

Incidentally,  I don't actually agree with the mass proliferation of "nature recordings."  I want to save those sounds for when they really come so my ears don't get worn out and hard to impress.  

Senin, 07 April 2008


Our snowdrops (Galanthus) are up too.  It's a wonder I've slept much, knowing I posted that picture of the aconite without even mentioning the snowdrops. They are the first to bloom, and they demonstrate such genuine nonchalance when things get cold.  The Scilla will soon usurp them, so I'm squeezing this picture in just in time.  I'm going to sleep better tonight.

Minggu, 06 April 2008


Mosquitos or mosquitoes?  You can't go wrong either way.  What a generous, forgiving language we employ.  

I just got an email from my cousin.  She is studying at the London School of Economics and writing a paper about anti-malaria campaigns in Uganda and Tanzania.  Our lives are really overlapping here, though she might argue otherwise.  I just got a book (in theory for Tommy, but I'm busy reading it and he hasn't even seen it yet) about insects.  It's very glossy and basic, but the pictures are cool (and gross) and there are some interesting passages.  For instance, I now know (now and know are interesting words to write right next to each other.  Write and right are interesting words....) that there are 70 species of mosquito that can transmit malaria. Whether this is actually accurate or not, I don't know (now).  DDT was a disastrous experiment. What else are they trying?  My glossy, basic book (Buzz, by Josie Glausiusz.  Photographs by Volker Steger) mentions that scientists modified an Indian species of the mosquito so it could no longer transmit malaria. The idea was to release this mosquito into the wild and hope it replaced the more deadly variety. What? Wouldn't this just create more mosquitoes (I'm giving both spellings equal time here) in the world?  This is what comes of reading glossy, basic books published in 2004.  I have fours years of research and field work I've missed.  Maybe my cousin will let me read her paper.  I'll stay here in Michigan and put jewel weed on my bites.

Sabtu, 05 April 2008


Today was a special day.  My aunt and uncle and cousin and Tommy and I went to Homer with my grandpa.  My grandpa, who is 102, was born in Homer and lived there until he was 11.  It was my cousin's idea to go, and we all appreciated it.  My grandpa shared stories most of the way, and when we pulled into Homer he pointed to storefronts and described what they once held:  his dad's grocery store, a feed store, a butcher shop, the telephone company, a furniture store, the undertaker, the blacksmith, the fire hall, the tin shop.  He remembers so much, and has so many associated memories with each place ("The undertaker was a really fine bass singer...the man who ran the wood shop south of town had a son who was the organist for the First Presbyterian Church.  Some of us were privledged to pump the organ.  One boy went to sleep and the organist had to wake him up....") 

My grandpa lived on Adams Street, just off of Hillsdale Street.  His aunt and uncle lived next door, and his grandma and grandpa lived two doors down.  His grandpa owned the (then) empty lot between my grandpa's boyhood home and Hillsdale Street, and he kept it vacant so my grandpa had a place to dig.  We drove around and looked at houses and my grandpa recalled who had lived in most of them.  On one street (Everett), he said, "Oh! See that horse block there?"  We hadn't noticed it, but we slowed down and backed up, and there it was.  "I wrecked my sleigh there one winter!" We parked beside the horse block and he shared the story:  "You know, there weren't any curbs along here then. We had a big snow. I was driving the pony, and I was on the sleigh.  I must have veered off the road a bit, and all of a sudden the right runner hit that horse block and stopped!  The pony kept going. He had the thills and half of the bar to which the thills were fastened.  The other half of the bar was still on the front of the runners. The runners stayed put, and I somersaulted off the top.  The pony went down the road, and I walked home.  Somebody brought the pony back, and it wasn't too hard to fix the sleigh.  It must have disturbed my mother quite a lot.  She was afraid owning this pony would be too dangerous, and she wanted to sell him and get me a new bike.  But my dad sided with me."

What a strange and beautiful thing, to return to a place nearly a century later and find the horse block that got in the way of your sleigh.

Kamis, 03 April 2008


If you see me driving too fast today, don't worry.  I think I'm covered. We got Chinese food Sunday night.  I love Chinese food on Sunday nights.  For some odd (or maybe purposeful) reason, we got piles of fortune cookies.  I have been eating them all week, consuming promises of health, love, friendship, and prosperity -- fortified with lucky numbers.  They are better than vitamins.  How many lucky numbers can a person have before they become blase?  (I don't know how to get the accent above the "e" in this program.) And how is luck regulated in a world where so many people eat Chinese food?  Is regulated luck an oxymoron?  Tommy had wonton soup.  I just found out in the February issue of Saveur that "wonton" comes from the Chinese phrase swallowing clouds.  Who needs luck when there is cloud soup? 

Rabu, 02 April 2008

Music of the Earth

The Lansing Symphony's final MasterWorks concert of the season, "Music of the Earth," will be on Saturday, May 17 at 8.p.m. in the Wharton Center.  On the program:  Maslanka's In Lonely Fields, Grieg's Incidental Music to "Peer Gynt," and Symphony No. 2, by Sibelius.  Last fall, I discovered a painting -- "Solo," by Philip C. Curtis -- and knew I wanted to use it in posters and postcards for this concert.  The painting is in the collection of Albion College.  I received permission to use it from the Philip C. Curtis Trust for the Encouragement of Art, Philip J. Curtis and Janie Ellis, Trustees.

Selasa, 01 April 2008

Aconite, Persephone, and Words

Our Aconite is blooming, and it's so cheerful and triumphant, especially on this gray, gusty day.  Each March it emerges like Persephone from the underworld.  Of course, it also shrivels and retreats each year, just as Persephone returned, annually, to Hades. But if mythology is any consolation, there is always the promise that it will come back.   That is the joy of spring.  Is it spring? Tommy and I were thinking about this last night.  I thought this time between March and April should be called, "Sprinter."  But that puts spring before winter, so we decided maybe it should be called "Wring."  "Sprinter" has the advantage of suggesting that something (spring?) is going to come fast.  But there is a certain amount of implied distress and frustration in "Wring," and those of us here in Michigan sense that it is a word meant for us. It is about twisting and wrenching and squeezing, which is, after all, what we want to do to the sky.   We understand this vocabulary, just as we understand sleet and suffering.  It is our language. We must remember it, and we must also remember to look down.  In March, that is where we'll find sunshine, poking its yellow head through the leaves of last November.