Thursday, May 23, 2013

the common yellowthroat

This morning I watched a common yellowthroat pick insect eggs out of the maple leaves and then perch out of the maze of leaves as if to give this novice a clear view. He didn't mind me being close. It was a kind of communion. I can see why some forsake everything and go to the woods and never return.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

antithesis of my house

Driving my 99 VW one-door (the result of a collision with a semi) cabrio that also has what I call a cannon ball wound (a rust hole of such a size) down my street I come to a Caldwell Banker OPEN HOUSE sign. This is in front of the mansion on the street. Granted I live on a street with not a few luxurious water-front homes. But this one is the definition of extravagance. It was quite the street stopper not three years ago before they (whoever it is that lives here) had top name contractors, plumbers, landscape designers, chimney specialists, stone-work masons, state of the art gardeners, etc there to refurbish the place. Well...Thus it was I pulled my not quite yet a car that would qualify as a rust bucket but with just a little more salt spray from the Atlantic it could deserve such an appellation. I was careful not to pull such a car into the driveway of such a fortress of wealth. I would park descreetly up the street and walk in. It was a chance to visit this place that I would have to say is the antithesis of my 430 square foot cottage of old books, second hand wooden furniture, scuffed up wooden floors, and more old books.

I walked past the latest BMW and the sparkling black Lexus SUV (do they still call them SUV's when it is a Lexus?), past the Japanese cutleaf maple, past the dandelion free manicured lawn, by the carefully spaced holly, onto the exquisite stone walkway up to the door. Yes, the sign out front: "OPEN HOUSE" so really no need to knock. I opened the made to look old and worn door---much like high-end dungarees are nowadays---and walked boldly into the hall. I could have been inside the MFA---not because of the magnificent works of art on the walls---there was none---they were bare and white and clean---but because of the space. I don't remember now as I write but I would be willing to bet that I treaded upon a marble floor. Not because I particularly noticed the floor---but it was the all around marble feel of the place. Where my little cottage is wooden, this place was marble. Where my place was cramped with books, this place was spacious as a marble purgatory. Now, why did I just use that word? I suppose it was because it did feel like a purgatory in a sense. Especially when I turned the corner and came to two people in the vestibule at the other entrance (my house is a one entrance house). They looked at me as I 'ahemmed' and spoke actual words: "I imagine the open house is still going on?" The man with the kind face and the suit smiled and laughed good naturedly: "Ah, I'm so sorry, but the open house is over. It was just one for brokers." He shook his head and continued never losing the good nature that put me at some ease. "I just forgot to take in the sign. Sorry about that." The woman had a tight face and crow's feet at the corners of her eyes and her eyebrows were lined in thin italics emphasizing the fright and anger in her eyes. To her it seemed my innocent mistake was likened to a home invasion. I walked by them to the 'front door' (the other one could just as easily been accorded this privilege as well) and as I passed them the woman watched me as if I might have had been Jean Beljean and had some of the bishop's candlesticks and silver in my pockets. "I realize I freaked you out," I said to the woman's intensity that still watched me. I hoped that such an admission would at least lessen her irritation. It didn't seem to do so but might have even increased it.

Once outside I walked on the exquisite stonework, by the carefully spaced holly, by the japanese cutleaf maple, past the dandelion-free manicured lawn, through the Lexus-width opening in the stone wall, and over to my one-door cabrio with the cannon ball wound on the passenger side parked discreetly up the street, turned the key, and went around the block and parked and then entered my little cottage (some may call cramped) with the old books, second-hand furniture, scuffed up wooden floors, and more old books feeling a renewed appreciation for my space which even at 430 square feet feels to me at times like this as large as a universe.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Answering one who argues that the Church must keep up with the times...

Matthew, don't you realize that in seeking to get the Church to change on these issues which are in current vogue you are asking her to lose her identity? She does not make these things up on her own. They are prescribed by a Higher Authority which the Church is submissive to. What makes the Church beautiful is not that she obeys the fashion of the culture she is in, but in that she takes her cues from the Creator Himself. This is when she is truly beautiful and unique. We already have plenty of institutions that comply with the culture. We don't need another.

Monday, May 20, 2013

a certain kind of indellible image of what 'beautiful' means

On walking through the Mall I saw a little girl gaze at the floor to ceiling image of your typical Victoria Secrets exposure. I felt so sorry for this little girl who no doubt now has a certain kind of indellible image of what 'beautiful' means. It evidently means, 'give the public just the right exposure of skin and limbs, just the subtlest amount of cruelty and coldness in the assertive mouth, just enough to get the viewer to imagine the slow exhale of an abandoned sexuality on the panting lips...' While we pay much attention to the pollution of air and water and land do we ever give a thought to the pollution of a little girl's purity of spirit?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Uncle John

Yesterday was my uncle's birthday. He was so much fun to be with. This gentle man could tell a joke and begin laughing before it was told and that was part of the infection of it. I don't know what it was: timing, or just some innate sense of humor that made whatever joke he told (always a wholesome one) just about the funniest thing you ever heard. None of the comedian celebrities could even come close to him. And music...he could play the piano (always in F sharp) by ear---and his timing was just the same for the humor and the delicate play of notes. I tried keeping up on the fiddle having to tune down from G a half step. That is a memory I'm glad I have. Resquesciat in pace, Uncle John.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

house wren

Of all the birds sighted this morning the most musical for me was the house wren. Perched on some bare branches among an apple bough with blossoms knotting it all along, Mr. Wren sang a solo of musical trills repeating them again and again as if in oncore. Just one should have brought Mozart, Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Brahms out to listen and hear this tiny bird utter what must be praise. The scientifically minded would perhaps say that the song is simply mating music---but I think there is more to it---perhaps thanksgiving and praise going on underneath the feathers. Thanksgiving and praise for wings, for the sun, for apple blossom nectar, for the delight of notes that dance, and yes, for a thorax that enchants another of the same species to join in the nuptuals of an ornithological marriage.

Once it was said that Bach was a good enough reason to believe in a Maker of beauty. I would submit also the little house wren. Such finer notes I have not heard.

morning at the bird sanctuary

Morning at the bird sanctuary...a black and white warbler, myrtle warbler (yellow-rump), magnolia warbler, parula warbler, yellowthroat, blue-headed vireo, baltimore oriole (female), catbird, red-bellied woodpecker (which I heard a few times before finally seeing), red-winged blackbird, downy woodpecker, and house wren. Most of these were new sightings I will add to my life-list (this a list birders keep as they check off sightings of various species). Most of my sightings still are new and exotic. I hope that the common red-wing blackbird or the black and white warbler (common I am told) thrill me always and that I can appreciate the lovely song of the house wren no matter how much of an everyday occurance it is. May familiarity, instead of breeding contempt,provide a breeding ground for never tiring thanksgivings.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

advice on finding which book a Chesterton quote is from

I would recommend you pick up a book at random and just read and if you come to the end without finding it, then pick up another at random and do the same and on and on. Hopefully it will get you to read the entire corpus of Chesterton's work. And then we will allow you in our book group.

the seventh game...

To my Boston compatriots: But tell me when it was even 2-1, let alone a whopping 4-1, did you really believe that this team so jinxed in the goal scoring department would ever make a collosal comeback in the final ten minutes (then two minutes) of the game with such a goal scoring flurry? Given the history of the recent drought I was in no way prepared for the coming monsoon. I must confess I was merely hoping for a single drop of rain.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Beauty of Bach

This is a given. But I state it because I live in an era where much of what we once viewed as beautiful has become, if not ugly, at least unfashionable; and what was once viewed as ugly has become quite trendy. Therefore one mustn't assume anymore that people, ipso facto, hear the beauty of Bach. No, I think it is now only a few that live in quiet enough habitats to hear him. Just as it is only a few can stay a minute with quiet souls in a cathedral without busily taking pictures and hurrying out. Cathedrals, like Bach's cantatas, are made for us to rest in, pointing to the otherworldly, make one think that there was a place in which Beauty itself did indeed dwell, without taint, virginal in all its unblemished splendor. Don't we hunger for such a place? No styrofoam cups, no piles of bald tires, no polluted punctuation among the paragraphs and paragraphs of trees one reads on a hike, no plastic bags caught up in rose bushes, no canisters of aerosol bobbing in the still water of a bog, otherwise pristine in ferns and moss.

Yes, Bach possesses that purity that makes us wonder if our ears were indeed made for leaf blowers, gasoline powered lawn mowers, the roar of traffic on all the asphalt that cuts swaths through the amber grain of America the Beautiful, the heavy metal screeching out of amps in our own spirits---the arguments that occur in the lonely netherworld, the thump of hiphop pulsating in the rythmn meant to mimic an act at one time held to be sacred and the domain of unconditional love witnessed to God. Yes, Bach brings us back to give us an auditory taste of notes good for our souls. It pleads for us to pause, to wonder at what other things we spend our limited hearing on. It gives us yet a hint of sound, a single note to a symphony that yet awaits our reconciled and expectant hearing.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Sensucht of Birthdays

Birthdays. Is it not just one more year in which you are closer to your eventual and guarrenteed demise? Or looked at in another way, a gift that you are being reminded of on a particular day, the day that you entered fearful yet curious into a gigantic museum in which hung paintings you found beautiful and some you found hideous, sculptures you wished to embrace and those you recoiled from, galleries that thrilled you with landscapes you wished to enter, and those of tedium you wished to escape. But in all the gift was a free pass unbidden to this place where you became drawn toward the true Artist who painted all those things that you desired more than anything else. You found in them that Sensucht or 'inconsolable longing' that would eventually be satisfied and this thing you call a birthday was just yet one more museum sign that pointed you to the most beautiful of the galleries where not only the greatest paintings resided in all their brilliant form and color, but most profoundly the great Artist Himself to which all of it---you see now---pointed.

birthday and fame

It's great to get email birthday wishes from so many friends. But what I find interesting and quite unexpected is how many organizations have me on their list. I've gotten 'happy birthday' messages from conservative think tanks (I can't blame the liberal organizations for leaving me off their list), religious orders, advocates for amnesty for unknown poets, catalog companies, automobile insurance agencies, dating sites that I do not use, and so on. You get the awfully mistaken notion that you must have become famous overnight.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Danny Boy

Walking by the Barnacle on the way to my music night at the Willard's. A few people having a smoke outside asked if I would play them a song and so I got the fiddle out and played for them a bit. Then they asked me in and after a few tunes a girl asked for an elderly lady from Ireland who was sitting quietly at a table if I knew "Danny Boy". It was a long time since I've played it but it thankfully came back. I noticed how sadly the old woman smiled and that her eyes watered. I was glad that a simple song could help her perhaps recall a boy of her own that she was now without.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

a plea for scythes

It was just after the rain that I left my house and found to my great dismay the beheaded body of a snake on the sidewalk. Commonly called brown snakes they are really copper colored with markings one might find on only the most delicately detailed oriental rugs. I got to know this family of snakes---I say 'family' for I would often find the offspring in my garden when we were well into April. The newborn were no bigger than my little finger and would stay in your hand for as long as you had the time. I am very conscious of these reptilian friends and I wish I could communicate to them that as long as they stay in my garden no harm will come to them. But they often go to the neighbor's yard who has a lawn to keep. The internal combustion engine is not like a scythe that has a meditative rhythmn that encourages patience. Rather the modern machines encourage efficiency. On finding my reptilian friend I am even more confirmed in my plea for scythes and my distaste for the modern machine that cannot discern either the tufts of flowers or the slumbering snake while it races over its labor, sparing nothing in its path.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Wholesome Tongue

A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit. (Prov. 15:4)

We have forgotten the beauty that is in our speech. May we forsake the speech given us by hollywood, hiphop, hell and instead have speech seasoned by the Holy Spirit. May it be the speech that has been saturated with the Bible. May ours be a tongue that has tasted, really tasted the bread, the wine. May ours be words that have a countercultural wholeness, a speech that is the lingua franca of heaven.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Love for the Familiar

At the Bird Sanctuary this late afternoon: a tufted titmouse, an eastern towhee, a cardinal. A woman was also sighted coming down the path and when she got in asking range asked me what I saw. I told her. At the moment there was a cardinal not twenty feet away feeding. He was adorned in his red regal splendor. I alerted her to it. She said: "I have one in my backyard." The tone and her unwillingness to even cast a crumb of a look its way, seemed to say: It is a common enough bird and I am frankly dulled to death by its very presence. Do you wish to provoke a yawn from which I might never recover?

Yes, I suppose Shakespeare is right: familiarity breeds contempt. But I will fight for the love of the familiar and cultivate joy for the familiar dandelion as well as the exotic orchid, the common pigeon as well as the hooded warbler. For indeed they were all made exquisitely by an artist that takes great care in his work. May nothing ever grow so common that I lose an appreciation for its startling magnificence.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Color: and the aqua marine contacts

Color is large part of aesthetics, and identifying someone. I remember when my mother tried aqua marine contacts. I hardly knew her. For I had never known her eyes to be other than the the color of coffee with a good dosage of cream, or pennies newly minted, or the copper leaves of the beech in autumn, or the last pastels when the sun has retreated behind the hills. And though each analogy was still quite impoverished, one thing was certain: an aqua-marine sea they were not. And it was disconcerting because the woman that looked upon me at that moment was a stranger, even though her voice, her height, her facial structure, her cheekbones, her generous smile were all the same. But all of it under the strange light of this new color made---not just her irises--but her whole being---unrecognizable. For me the eyes are the most influential features of the face and when they had changed so had my ability to retrieve her. Yes, there is purpose to the individual colors, especially of the eyes; for the old adage rings a truth when it says of them that they are the windows of the soul.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


At the Public Gardens today. It is rightly called this with beds and beds of flowers. Predominantly now are the tulips which come in many of the colors of the spectrum: yellow, pink and white, red and yellow, scarlet. A few beds have a combination of purple and red. The beauty is so intense it stimulates that Sensucht, that inconsolable longing, that irrepressible desire that one realizes cannot be satisfied in this life. So I reach for my camera and ah! "Low Battery" beeps onto the screen. Alas! I open my journal and scribble away. The words seem weak---they always do when confronting such beauty as is before me here. What can I do? I must at least try. I must try to put down in these little ciphers a beauty that transcends. It must point to Something or Someone other. It has to, doesn't it? And such color and form also makes me wonder: Why? Why does the world have color and why do we recognize it? and recognize it to the extent that we distinguish even the finest differences in shade? What a wonder the Artist decides against black and white and gives to the world, color: the orange of orioles, the purple of grapes, the green of forests, the gray of granite, the black of coffee, the hazel of a girl's kind eyes.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

On Taking No for an Answer and the Bombings

There was a time when I would often hear both my mother and father say: "Take 'no' for an answer." They didn't have to go through a lot of psychology or sociology or to comply and be obedient themselves to their little totalitaritan tot's wishes. No, they just took this stock response (fathers and mothers in those days had this phrase down)and asserted itself with all the authority of authoritarian rule. Another phrase that made the circuits was: "Over my dead body"---which incidentally had certain precarious implications---which most children---even the dullest---could understand. Yes, a kid growing up had to come to grips with parents who didn't read the latest Parenting Magazine or peruse the latest psychological journals, but were allowed to declare a discipline that didn't need a sanction from the State or a court ruling to be valid. Consequences other than the dreaded 'time-out' were possible.

I hadn't thought of these phrases for some time. Not until I heard of priests at the tragedy of the Marathon bombings being barred from going to the victims to give last rites. How I hope in the future should such occasions again occur that we all have these phrases ready on our tongues and act on them regardless of the force wishing to keep us from this higher duty.

Really the Most Dangerous Place in the World: the Liberated Womb

We can't lose sight of the fact that the 'legal' and 'sanitary' places are just as much places of horror for the child as are the Kermit Gosnell clinics.

The Most Dangerous Place in the World

I just returned from what is for me the most dangerous place in the world: a library book sale.

A library is worse still with a box or bag being the same price as a single book. I will have to start a card catalogue at my house and start indexing all these lovely bindings. I can't neglect the reality any longer: I will just have to get my house zoned for library status.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Dangerous Question

Why is beauty beautiful? Have we ever bothered to ask this obvious question? We often ask the safe questions: Do you have the time? When are you having lunch? Will it rain today? Perhaps we are afraid to ask anything dangerous like: "Why is beauty beautiful?"

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hooded Warbler

Great day out in the bird sanctuary. Made a couple of friends who were also 'birding'. Got to see many but the highlight was the rare hooded warbler. Two elderly women, Ida and Molly, stayed with their fold out chairs and high powered binoculars. They were going to spend all day if need be. I wonder if this winged singer knew he was such a sought-after celebrity.

Yes, Silby's Bird book shows the hooded warbler to be rare. I hope to see him again soon. The markings were astonishing. How can one not imagine a great Painter when you see such designed living color?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On the FDA's approval of Plan B to those who are adolescents...

I heard this today and was not surprised for this is the direction we've been going for a long time. Originally there was no age limit. But then the demonic powers (and they are demonic) realized this was too outrageous so they came up with the age of 15 (as if this is not any more outrageous). I hope we denounce this from the depths of our diaphragms from every pulpit in the land. And to think: parental consent for an aspirin and not for this! Perhaps a boycott of all pharmacies is in order.