The Distance That Bounds the Ordinary Range of Vision

I note the presence of what I call #DailyRaptor on Twitter with as much frequency as I spot raptors out the windows, which is actually quite a lot. Tweets are usually off-the-cuff, and so recently I wrote that a Cooper’s “came into the ken,” followed by one of the local American Kestrel pair, who then proceeded to escort the much bigger hawk off stage.

Afterwards I’d wondered if I was using the word “ken” correctly. I remembered that I remembered it from Chapman’s Homer. Not Chapman’s actual translation of Homer, which I’m unfamiliar with, but Keat’s celebration of it. You may remember the potent lines:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken

Besides rhyming with “men” two lines down, why “ken”? A quick trip to the OED reveals that ken as a noun is based on the verb ken, which means to “make known, declare; impart the knowledge of.” The verb version is now only really used in Scotland, as far as I can tell. Ken the noun’s first definition is “the distance that bounds the range of ordinary vision, esp. at sea.” Other definitions include “the range of knowledge or mental perception.”
Moss up close.

The marine measure of ken, the OED continues, is about 20 miles or 32 kilometers. On a clear day you can not see forever, but you knew that. You can, however, still see a lot, especially from a good vantage, and/or an accustoming of your senses to different scales, different views.
Wee tiny fly on crocus petal.

For ten years now, I have been blogging here at Backyard and Beyond. I think my ken has expanded quite a bit since then.

In that time blogs have come and gone and maybe come back again. Here is my first post. Could that Painted Turtle I found on Nantucket still be around now, ten years on? I hope so. It’s possible. I mean, that’s a heron’s snack right there, and you’re kind of rooting for the heron, too.

Here’s a more elaborate explanation of my project at that time.
We are all lichens, now, apparently.

Today is “Super Tuesday.” Voting in fourteen states, and not just Democratic Presidential primaries; lots of down-ballot stuff, too. Special elections, primaries for state legislatures and Congressional races, these are all vital to the defense of democracy, especially when the Republicans are now the party of authoritarianism and voter suppression, alienation, and criminalization.

I guess it should be obvious who I support. Here’s historian Michael Kazin in the New Yorker talking about the FDR-revivalism/democratic socialism/left-wing populism of Bernie Sanders. We’ve moved so far to the right some people now consider him radical.

3 Responses to “The Distance That Bounds the Ordinary Range of Vision”


  1. 1 alaspooryorick March 3, 2020 at 7:40 am

    John Peel (1776? – 13 November 1854) was an English huntsman who is the subject of the nineteenth century song “D’ye ken John Peel” – “ken” meaning ‘to be aware of’ or ‘to know’ in some dialects of the North of England and Scotland.
    My mother used to sing this song to me when I was a child, so the word “ken” is instantly familiar.

  2. 3 Paul Lamb March 4, 2020 at 5:01 am

    I used “ken” in its infinitive form in a story recently. It was to make a character sound “exotic.” Also, I live in a state that doesn’t have a primary.


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