Archive for the 'Art Culture Politics' Category

Good Fences?

fenceAn immovable object meets a growing force. The city is full of such cases, of fences and street signs being absorbed by growing trees.

I think here of the dialectic in Frost’s “Mending Wall.” One voice says “something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and the other, the more-often quoted, says “good fences make good neighbors.” I gravitate towards that something, the earth, heaving and shivering through the seasons, throwing the wall to pieces, as it will all our works. Not that we should stop making things, necessarily, however Sisyphean the task. Or should we? Fencing in trees, for instance, is a folly best abandoned.

Who doesn’t feel like that traveller from an antique land when walking in the northeastern woodlands and coming across an old stone fence, so laboriously made long ago and now forgotten, moss-covered, the home today of snakes and chipmunks?

The Plains Indians:

Artists of Earth and Sky at the Met until May 10 is not to be missed. It is amazing and immensely sad. WacochachiDrawing of artist’s world. Attributed to Wacochachi (act. ca 1820-1850), Meskwaki, Iowa. Ca. 1830. Ink and sealing wax on paper.ArikaraShield with guardian sporty. Arikara artist, North Dakota, ca. 1850. Buffalo rawhide, native-tanned leather, pigment.GhostGhost Dance drum. George Beaver (act. late 19th century) Pawnee, Oklahoma. Ca.1891-92. Wood, rawhide, pigment.


Late afternoon Moon
rising over Brooklyn Heights
~ I forget the Sun

Homeward-bound at end of day
Night will never be that dark.

I have been reading Bashō’s travel sketches, culminating in his famous “Narrow Road to the Deep North.” I’m moved by the Japanese tradition of making an event of the contemplation of natural phenomena, like the full Moon, the cherry blossoms. Lately, I’ve been trying to look at the flowers and buds of spring this way.SalixI think also that my Listening Tours (birds, insects, frogs) have some flavor of this contemplation, with special attention to the sounds of the world. (The noisy, crowded, and costume-kitsch-ridden variation at the Brooklyn Wedding Venue’s Sakura Matsuri is not, I think, what tradition had in mind.)Nymphalis antiopaThis week, we watched a Mourning Cloak butterfly feed on birch sap. It drank deeply and so did we.

Jane’s Walk: A Man, A Plan, Stranahan!

StranahanTop-hatted, I’ll be participating in the Jane’s Walk weekend, leading a walk through Prospect Park and into Green-Wood Cemetery on May 3rd. We’ll walk from the James S. T. Stranahan statue at Grand Army Plaza — who, what, where? PRECISELY! — to the Stranahan gravesite in Green-Wood in celebration of the forgotten man behind the park. Jane’s Walks are free; just show up at 11 a.m.

Turtle Underground

turtleThe great turtle or tortoise holding up the world is an ancient story from China and India — and the New World, whose original inhabitants came from Asia.

Less well known is the race of giant tortoises who hold up New York City. Your engineer, the very definition of quotidian, will insist on schist — Manhattan, for instance, is said to be “gneiss but full of schist” — as the foundation of all that challenges the sky, but those of us in the know, know better. It is upon their mighty backs, their rock-like carapaces, that all of this Oz rests.

The trouble with these stout, bold, strong creatures, doing the heavy lifting of our metropolis, is that they are rarely seen. They shun the limelight, they have no interest in celebrity, or even, it may be said, humanity, at all. turtleWell, you know how I like keep my eyes peeled like a grape for evidence of the world rushing in, so when I was in SoHo recently — an aberration on my part, but the tarts are delicious — I happened to catch one of these secretive animals passing below the sidewalk grating. Zounds! The shell is a full yard long! The creature was of course lumbering in that deliberate time-is-different-for-us way. Judging from the shiny baubles around its bullish neck, I’d say it was either returning from a bender, if not N’Orleans, or an anointing by a cult of Kurma-worshippers. March on, noble Testudinidae!


Long-time readers may know of my interest in the Two-spotted Ladybugs of Brooklyn Bridge Park. I wrote about them for Humans and Nature this week. I hope you’ll visit and read this and other interesting takes on the intersection of humans and nature.

Some of my recent JSTOR Daily work may be of interest to you.

In the field:

And as of yesterday, there was one spot left on my April 4 spring Listening Tour with Brooklyn Brainery. We go in search of Brooklyn’s spring peepers and American Woodcocks’ mating “display” — which is most aural since it takes place after sunset.

I’ll be doing a Jane’s Walk in celebration of the urban vision of James S.T. Stranahan on May 3rd. Whenever I meet people for a walk or project in Prospect Park, I say “let’s meet at the Stranahan statue” and damned if anybody knows what I’m talking about. I’d like to make the statue, and the man, better known. Without him, Brooklyn would probably look very different. Extra bonus here: I’ll be wearing a top hat.

I’m also doing a Listening Tour for NYC Wildflower Week on May 9th at 6am (pencil this one in; final schedule isn’t published yet).

Of note also: the genius behind Wildflower Week, Marielle Anzelone, is fundraising for a forest in Times Square and getting plenty of attention for it. But funds are better than attention, so consider contributing to the project here.Turdus migratorius


Home_ground-cov-210Kame, karst, kettle, key, kill, kipuka, kiss tank, knob, knoll, krummholz, kudzu. These are all the entries under the letter K in Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, put together by a team of 45 writers and with an introduction by Barry Lopez. What a treasure trove! Sometimes, I’m down on the ol’ species H. wish-it-were-more sapiens, the home team no less, but we’re awful fine with language.

Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, just published in the UK, is something similar for those islands across the sea. In this article, which has the flavor of being a variation on the book’s introduction, Macfarlane notes that a recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary culled a passel of nature words, namely “acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow.” (Doesn’t it seems as if the heart of the British landscape has been obliterated from the dictionary? The backlash to this b.s. was vigorous.) He also cites two writerly heroes of mine, for whom he was written introductions in the NYRB Classics editions: J.A. Baker, whose The Peregrine is one of the great immaginative works of nature writing, and Tim Robinson, who has taken the geography of place to new levels in the two volume Stones of Aran.A book he mentions that I don’t know, Nan Sheperd’s The Living Mountain, seems most worthy of searching out.

What word-hoards about planet Earth are you reading lately?


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