Richard Jefferies and six legged friends

picnic For those of us who are on the fringes of warm weather, we are now compelled to open the windows and usher in the new day with gentle breezes. And as we welcome the longer days of sunshine we also may find that the beauty of spring comes with a small price. For some, the mornings may welcome the chirping of birds or there are those who may turn over and wish them away for though the term, “getting up with the birds” may look good on paper, it is not always something we wish for ourselves.

The quiet of winter is replaced with a more noisy spring for along with the lovely carpet-like lawns comes the droning noise of the mowers. And from under the ground that was formerly dormant and hidden has awakened with the budding of flowers, leaving us once again sharing our homes and gardens with insects and other small critters. Try as we may to keep them at bay, the little devils are with us again, bringing havoc to the most civilized of picnics.

So, open your hearts and oil your bicycle chains, warm weather is here with all its glory and all its pesky six legged friends. And just think… summer sunburns are just around the corner!

Richard Jefferies 2 Today’s post brings back English writer, Richard Jefferies, (1848-1887). An author who was noted as being a compassionate man that found and wrote about the esthetics of nature. His popularity as an author has gone in and out of vogue; however those who are drawn to the writings of rural life will surely find his work appealing.

I now bid you to take a bit of time out from your hectic day to walk among the flowers with Mr. Jefferies. From his essay, “Some April Insects” we are invited to share with him his observations about “the bee”.

“…Any one delicate would do well to have a few such flowers in spring under observation, and to go out of doors or stop in according to their indications. I think there were four species of wild bee at these early flowers, including the great bombus and the small prosopis with orange-yellow head. It is difficult to scientifically identify small insects hastily flitting without capturing them, which I object to doing, for I dislike to interfere with their harmless liberty. They have all been named and classified, and I consider it a great cruelty to destroy them again without special purpose. The pleasure is to see them alive and busy with their works, and not to keep them in a cabinet. These wild bees, particularly the smaller ones, greatly resented my watching them, just the same as birds do. If I walked by they took no heed; if I stopped or stooped to get a better view they were off instantly. Without doubt they see you, and have some idea of the meaning of your various motions. The wild bees are a constant source of interest, much more so than the hive bee, which is so extremely regular in its ways. With an explosion almost like a little bomb shot out of a flower; with an immense hum, almost startling, boom! the great bombus hurls himself up in the air from under foot; well named—boom—bombus…”

First image: F. Graetz, 1884. India ink over pencil on bristol board

Esteemed thinker: Richard Jefferies

nest Leftovers are usually thought of as food that we will eat later’; sometimes because we want to and other times because we feel guilty. In restaurants there is even a word for the container we put our uneaten food at the end of our meal. This is the ‘doggy bag’ however, one has to wonder if the dog ever really sees this food. And then, does this mean that if we do not have a dog we are taking the food under false pretences?

The term leftover seems to be a human word, used for things we will relegate and save for later. However, is it possible that the idea of leftovers can also be in the animal kingdoms? For example; when taking a walk in winter and early spring, right when the tress are leafless or just before the buds open, up in the highest boughs one can observe nests; large and small nests that were constructed quite eloquently, for they are nestled securely for a bird family, and probably quite comfortable. But during these times of years, when we can see them quite clearly , they are empty…as we would say…no one is home. Which gets us thinking, are these habitats leftovers? If another bird came along would its vacancy give it “squatter’s rights”?

Richard Jeffries Today’s blog invites you to learn about a bit about the esteemed thinker: Richard Jefferies (1848-1847). English born author, Jeffries wrote during the latter portion of Victorian England, whose affinity for nature and rural life is evidenced in his work. Unknown today by most readers, his influence on other greats such as W.H. Hudson, Edward Thomas, Henry Willaimson, and John Fowles has been noted. In his early career he was a reporter for the North Wilts Herald, a Tory newspaper based in Swindon. In 1878 in the Pall Mall Gazette a series of 24 articles under the title “The Gamekeeper at Home”, based on memories. As time went on he took his pen to fiction, where he became established as the foremost natural history and country writer of his day.

And so in keeping with his reputation as a naturalist, I bring to you a bit of rural life among the “birds”. Here is a snippet from Richard Jeffries essay, Bird’s Nest. And next time you are out, look up and you may see those architectural wonders built by our two legged friends, the birds.

“…The nest requires a structure round it like a cage, so that the fledglings might be prevented from leaving it till better able to save themselves. Those who go to South Kensington to look at the bird’s-nest collection there should think of this if they hear any one discoursing on infallible instinct on the one hand, or evolution on the other. These two theories, the infallible instinct and that of evolution, practically represent the great opposing lines of thought—the traditional and the scientific. An examination of birds’ nests, if conducted free of prejudice, will convince any independent person neither that the one nor the other explains these common hedge difficulties. Infallible instinct has not supplied protection for the young birds, nor has the experience of hundreds of years of nest-building taught the chaffinch or the missel-thrush to give its offspring a fair start in the famous ‘struggle for existence.’ Boys who want linnets or goldfinches watch till the young are almost ready to bubble over, and then place them in a cage where the old birds come and feed them. There is, then, no reason why the nest itself should not be designed for the safety of the fledgling as well as of the egg. Birds that nest in holes are frequently very prolific, notably the starling, which rears its brood by thousands in the hollow trees of forests. Though not altogether, in part their vast numbers appear due to the fact that their fledglings escape decimation…

…To understand birds you must try and see things as they see them, not as you see them. They are quite oblivious of your sentiments or ideas, and their actions have no relation to yours. … They look at the matter from the very opposite point of view. The more thoroughly the artificial system of natural history ethics is dismissed from the mind the more interesting wild creatures will be found, because while it is adhered to a veil is held before the eyes, and nothing useful can ever be discovered. “

First Image: 1879 lithograph
Second Image: Richard Jeffries; from the bust by Miss Margaret Thomas, in Salisbury Cathedral.

Esteemed thinker: David Hume

mic With each generation there comes change and with each generation there are those who look back at their elders as being rather antiquated. Changes within the generations are often parallel with technological advancements, relegating the elders into the unintentional but often considered outdated group. As change has ambushed the populations of the world so have many of the once heralded skills that have now been relegated as something one either does not partake in or “picks up” as they go along…such is the art of “eloquence”. Ahhh, a term that presently has been modified to mean something other than its original connotation, “a skillful way with words.”

There was once a time when the fine art of speaking, oration, was eloquence; when writing was eloquence, and those who attributed their time and learning to “eloquence” were looked upon with great regard. Yet rarely do we hear speakers of such finesse that we would call he or she an orator, and rarely in our day’s occurrences do we read anything which could be identified with such a title as eloquence, for with its meaning too has its execution been diminished.

So, for those who yearn for eloquence they will have to look back in time for certainly in the sound bites of today’s world, your “eloquent writing” would be snipped before you even got started …for after all… 140 characters is all you are allocated in a “tweet”!

David Hume Today’s blog takes us into the 1700s with the esteemed thinker: David Hume (1711-1776)born in Edinburgh, he was a Scottish philosopher , historian, economist, and recognized by contemporary philosophers as precursor to cognitive science. He was considered a skeptic regarding philosophy and relentless critic of religion and metaphysics. Although best known for his Treatise of Human Nature (1740) and six volumes on The History of England (1754 -1762), Hume made two other major lasting contributions to economics. One is his idea that economic freedom is necessary condition for political freedom. The second is his assertion that “you cannot deduce ought from is”—that is, value judgments cannot be made purely on the basis of facts.

I now bring you the words of Mr. Hume who will expound further about “eloquence” and which was eloquently snipped from his essay, so aptly titled “Eloquence” (1742).

“…in many respects, of an opposite character to the ancient; and that, if we be superior in philosophy, we are still, notwithstanding all our refinements, much inferior in eloquence…In enumerating the great men, who have done honour to our country, we exult in our poets and philosophers; but what orators are ever mentioned? Or where are the monuments of their genius to be met with? There are found, indeed, in our histories, the names of several, who directed the resolutions of our parliament: But neither themselves nor others have taken the pains to preserve their speeches; and the authority, which they possessed, seems to have been owing to their experience, wisdom, or power, more than to their talents for oratory. At present, there are above half a dozen speakers in the two houses, who, in the judgment of the public, have reached very near the same pitch of eloquence; and no man pretends to give any one the preference above the rest. This seems to me a certain proof, that none of them have attained much beyond a mediocrity in their art, and that the species of eloquence, which they aspire to, gives no exercise to the sublimer faculties of the mind, but may be reached by ordinary talents and a slight application….

One is somewhat at a loss to what cause we may ascribe so sensible a decline of eloquence in later ages. The genius of mankind, at all times, is, perhaps, equal: The moderns have applied themselves, with great industry and success, to all the other arts and sciences: And a learned nation possesses a popular government; a circumstance which seems requisite for the full display of these noble talents: But notwithstanding all these advantages, our progress in eloquence is very inconsiderable, in comparison of the advances, which we have made in all other parts of learning…”

Second image: Oil portrait of Hume by David Ramsay (1776)

Christopher D. Morley and languages

languages We reside in a world that is large enough to host so many languages that it is quite possible that if all were listed on a sheet of paper, most of us would not recognize to what country they belong. For example in Ethiopia the people speak Tigrinya, Oromo, Gurage, Somali, Arabic, 80 other local languages, and English, while in Bahrain, Arabic (Arabiyya) English, Farsi, Urdu are spoken.

If we were to dig deeper and look inward into a smaller realm, we will encounter sub-languages that consist of terms and words used only with those who are familiar within the a specific specialty. How often do we find ourselves confronted with a legal document that although it may be written in our own “tongue” we still need to take it to a lawyer to translate in lay terms what it means. If we were to read text with regards to computer programming, many would look to a person versed in technology just to translate its content for us.

And so it is the same for those confronted with the sport fishing section of the local newspaper. For here is a sample of an article written for those interested in taking day off with an angler; “Troll small hair jigs, 1-inch tube jigs, or grubs tipped with minnows along the bottom, or fish trout magnets, popeye flies, and small tube jigs tight to brush early in the morning, or later if the water is heavily stained.”…So it appears that a translator is also required to get the full gist!

christopher_morley(1) For today’s post I bring back to the esteemed thinker: Christopher D. Morley (1890-1957 ) an American author that has graced the pages of fiction and non-fiction with much of his humor although to our chagrin he has fallen into the world of the more obscure. Best known for his journalism, Morley was also a witty poet, where I have selected a work that further brings testimony to the unforgiving ways that language likes to toy with us. From his book, Mince Pie I bring you a clever piece.

THE UNFORGIVABLE SYNTAX

A certain young man never knew
Just when to say whom and when who;
“The question of choosing,”
He said, “is confusing;
I wonder if which wouldn’t do?”

Nothing is so illegitimate
As a noun when his verbs do not fit him; it
Makes him disturbed
If not properly verbed—
If he asks for the plural, why git him it!

Lie and lay offer slips to the pen
That have bothered most excellent men:
You can say that you lay
In bed—yesterday;
If you do it to-day, you’re a hen!

A person we met at a play
Was cruel to pronouns all day:
She would frequently cry
“Between you and I,
If only us girls had our way—!”

First image: 1941

Esteemed thinker: Christopher D. Morley

cherry flowers changing The earth is most ingenious; for her ability to transform herself is akin to our flipping over the days on the calendar. For example, it was only a week or so ago that she celebrated the spring equinox (although somewhat arbitrary depending upon which side of the hemisphere you live) This is an occasion, when put into scientific terms, marks that special moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator going from south to north. At the equinox, Earth’s two hemispheres are receiving the sun’s rays equally…day and nights are approximately equal in length. Hence we get the word equinox from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).

But for earth… this is really just a wardrobe crisis; much like hanging up one’s suit of clothes and exchanging it for another. Here the winter apparel has been put into storage and out comes the spring attire, which to our delight is much more colorful and often rather bold. For like those designers that dictate to us what colors are now “in”, so does Mother Nature play couturier with the seasons, choosing which blooms will festoon the trees and shrubs.

So, now the sun rises earlier, the flowers are sprouting, and the days are getting longer. So it seems that we have more time, an illusion created to fool us into believing that the 24 hours allocated are now more!

Christopher Darlington Morley_ Today’s blog introduces the esteemed thinker: Christopher D. Morley (1890-1957), a clever and prolific American journalist, novelist, playwright, and poet. Born in Haverford, PA, he was a Harvard Graduate. Morley wrote for the New York Evening Post (1920-1923) and the Saturday Review of Literature (1924-1941), which he helped found. Out of his keenness for the Sherlock Holmes stories, Morley helped found a group of Holmes enthusiasts, the Baker Street Irregulars. His 1939 novel Kitty Foyle, was made into an Academy Award-winning movie.

Here to brighten your day with a bit of wit and reminder of the vernal equinox and spring; from his book Mince Pie, I bring you the words of Christopher Morley.

“ Once a year, about the approach of the vernal equinox or the seedsman’s catalogue, we wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning. This is an immediate warning and apprisement that something is adrift. Three hundred and sixty-four days in the year we wake, placidly enough, at seven-ten, ten minutes after the alarm clock has jangled. But on this particular day, whether it be the end of February or the middle of March, we wake with the old recognizable nostalgia. It is the last polyp or vestige of our anthropomorphic and primal self, trailing its pathetic little wisp of glory for the one day of the whole calendar. All the rest of the year we are the plodding percheron of commerce, patiently tugging our wain; but on that morning there wambles back, for the nonce, the pang of Eden. We wake at 6 o’clock; it is a blue and golden morning and we feel it imperative to get outdoors as quickly as possible. Not for an instant do we feel the customary respectable and sanctioned desire to kiss the sheets yet an hour or so. The traipsing, trolloping humor of spring is in our veins; we feel that we must be about felling an aurochs or a narwhal for breakfast. We leap into our clothes and hurry downstairs and out of the front door and skirmish round the house to see and smell and feel.

It is spring. It is unmistakably spring, because the pewit bushes are budding and on yonder aspen we can hear a forsythia bursting into song. It is spring, when the feet of the floorwalker pain him and smoking-car windows have to be pried open with chisels. We skip lightheartedly round the house to see if those bobolink bulbs we planted are showing any signs yet, and discover the whisk brush that fell out of the window last November. And then the newsboy comes along the street and sees us prancing about and we feel sheepish and ashamed and hurry indoors again…”

Humor: a most personal taste

Where one gets their sense of humor is a question that can be deliberated; for some it may be inherited such as one inherits their blue eyes, or it might have been nurtured beginning with the way we may have reacted to situations and then how this reaction was perceived by others thus forming our ‘own’ sense of humor.

Humor can be something subtle or it can be found in a story that takes time to read. And then humor can take on different modes such as when we hear a joke, see a show, or find a situation that is ironic, not outwardly funny but rather it is understated. And then sometimes what we consider funny may not seem humorous to others.

But regardless of origin or style… humor is a human characteristic that can take us away from the most unpleasant day and send us happily into a different mood, even if it is for just a moment.
Today’s blog is my way of bringing perhaps a bit of humor to your day… by taking the liberty of sharing one of my pieces that I think is…well…kind of funny!

eeeks a mouse_compressed_avery

Arthur Schopenhauer and the quest for happiness

Happiness posterThere is rarely a time during the day that we are not reminded of things that we do not have, must have, or should aspire to. And though this is surely not unique to the 21st century, what has become more prominent in comparison to decades and centuries ago is the manner and multitude of times these reminders are triggered. Reminders of how we should be younger, drive a better car, obtain faster technology service, and even create smarter children, but left alone many of these ideas may not have ever entered our need list to what has now become to many as an obsession.

With all these prompts comes a subliminal reminder that without these things we are missing out on being truly happy. And so it seems that the goal throughout one’s life is to meet up with standards that perhaps we may not really have generated ourselves, but has been energized by a new quest by what I will call “artificial cultural needs” or a need to acquire.

Obtaining a better and healthy life for one’s self and family is surely an essential need; however, if we were to stand back and evaluate the messages, both verbal and visual, that we see and hear each day, we may realize that sometimes, just perhaps, we are being corralled like cattle to the feeding trough. Are we really so hungry that we need to stop and get off the highway before we get home, are we really so bald that we need to implant more hair, are we really that old that we need to have injections to make us appear younger for only a brief period of time?

What is true happiness? That is the question that has been put forth to the ages for all to ponder and if someone had the answer, they probably wouldn’t tell us…for that would be like so many other promises, something we would have to buy!

-Arthur_Schopenhauer-1845 Today blog invites back the esteemed thinker: Arthur Schopenhauer, (1788-1860), 19th century German philosopher. Schopenhauer was the first Western philosopher to have access to translations of philosophical material from India, both Vedic and Buddhist, by which he was greatly affected. Although he was a rather pessimistic man, aesthetics and beauty were a central theme throughout his thoughts. “Schopenhauer emphasized that in the face of a world filled with endless strife, we ought to minimize our natural desires for the sake of achieving a more tranquil frame of mind and a disposition towards universal beneficence.” He is noted for his works, On the Will in Nature (1836), The Freedom of the Will (1841), and The Foundations of Morality (1841).

I now bring you a bit of his words about happiness taken from his book of essays titled, The Wisdom of Life. Perhaps he may unravel fro you some of the mysteries shrouding our quest for happiness…

“… So it is with man; the measure of the happiness he can attain is determined beforehand by his individuality. More especially is this the case with the mental powers, which fix once for all his capacity for the higher kinds of pleasure. If these powers are small, no efforts from without, nothing that his fellowmen or that fortune can do for him, will suffice to raise him above the ordinary degree of human happiness and pleasure … For the highest, most varied and lasting pleasures are those of the mind, however much our youth may deceive us on this point; and the pleasures of the mind turn chiefly on the powers of the mind. It is clear, then, that our happiness depends in a great degree upon what we are, upon our individuality, whilst lot or destiny is generally taken to mean only what we have, or our reputation….

…The only thing that stands in our power to achieve, is to make the most advantageous use possible of the personal qualities we possess, and accordingly to follow such pursuits only as will call them into play, to strive after the kind of perfection of which they admit and to avoid every other; consequently, to choose the position, occupation and manner of life which are most suitable for their development…”

First image: 1936: Poster for Federal Theatre Project presentation of “The pursuit of happiness” at the Waterloo Theater