Esteemed thinker: John Burroughs

robin close up For those who live in a hemisphere that awards the four seasons, it is winter that challenges us to be creative in ways that the other seasons do not. And though we often find ourselves cursing the cold temperatures, there are some who are most fortunate enough to be able to turn discomfort into pleasure… There are some lucky folks that can defrost frosty sentiments by a warm fireplace. In these homes cold hands are reminders to make a mug of hot chocolate, while icy feet walk themselves into a pair of woolly slippers.

And though many would prefer to remain indoors so as not to be bitten by its harsh winds; if you take a look from your window, winter has invited into its world some very enchanting visitors, birds. Look closely among the leafless branches, under the holly bushes, or flitting to and fro, and you may find quite a variety of winged guests, which makes you wonder how it is that they are not cold.

Against the whiteness of snow one notices the scarlet head crest of the cardinal, the black caps and bibs of the chickadees, the iridescent green and purple flossed head of the starlings, and hidden in the house eves are the rust colored sparrows. The birds of winter are like pieces of a rainbow that have broken off and flutter from snow crest to crest; they delight our world from our safe warm place in the winter.

John BurroughsToday’s post introduces the literary naturalist of the ninetieth century,
the esteemed thinker: John Burroughs (1837-1921). Born in Roxbury, N.Y., he is credited as an essayist, environmentalist, and the man who revolutionized the “conservation movement” in the United States. Burroughs quest to become a writer turned favorable when he befriended the poet Walt Whitman, who encouraged him to continue the path he loved. His writings and studies regarding nature later granted him the title of, “The Grand Old Man of Nature.” Best known for his observations of birds, flowers, and rural America, it is his quote that exemplifies his true feelings; “I seldom go into a natural history museum without feeling as if I were attending a funeral.”

From his book titled, Birds, and Bees Sharp Eyes and Other Papers, I have prepared a brief reading. Find a quiet moment to take in the sights revealed by our essayist and champion of nature, Mr. Burroughs….

“…These sparrows are becoming about the most noticeable of my winter neighbors, and a troop of them every morning watch me put out the hens’ feed, and soon claim their share. I rather encouraged them in their neighborliness, till one day I discovered the snow under a favorite plum-tree where they most frequently perched covered with the scales of the fruit-buds. On investigating I found that the tree had been nearly stripped of its buds—a very unneighborly act on the part of the sparrows, considering, too, all the cracked corn I had scattered for them …

… The bird that seems to consider he has the best right to the bone both upon the tree and upon the sill is the downy woodpecker, my favorite neighbor among the winter birds His retreat is but a few paces from my own, in the decayed limb of an apple-tree which he excavated several autumns ago. I say “he” because the red plume on the top of his head proclaims the sex. It seems not to be generally known to our writers upon ornithology that certain of our woodpeckers—probably all the winter residents—each fall excavate a limb or the trunk of a tree in which to pass the winter, and that the cavity is abandoned in the spring, probably for a new one in which nidification takes place. So far as I have observed, these cavities are drilled out only by the males. Where the females take up their quarters I am not so well informed, though I suspect that they use the abandoned holes of the males of the previous year…”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the self

self portrait The language we use, the language we hear and read, the language we have become accustomed to is constantly being remodeled. And as this remodeling reshapes our day to day jargon, there are those who embrace it and others who look upon it with trepidation. Words that we once used in conversation before have either died out for lack of use, such as ‘thou”, while other words have been altered, such as ‘television’ is now simply ‘tv’. Quickly finding its way into our vernacular is a whole range of creative words mostly due to new technologies and ideas. Selfie, a more recent addition in English, was retailored from “self” to give rise to its meaning….the ability to instantly snap a picture of one’s self. And with this technological advancement, for surely it would be rather cumbersome to take a selfie if we had to prepare a tripod every time we had a whim, along with this adapted self-portraiture, comes the instantaneous ability to declare its arrival to the world.

The concept of self portraiture is not new for as long as there have been artists there have always been portrait painters. However, what is different in the twenty-first century is technology and its dominant place in all societies. Regardless of which hemisphere you live in, we have accrued a most powerful set of tools. Powerful in the sense that some may believe it has transformed much of society into being quite self-indulgent; self-absorbed, self-centered, and perhaps narcissist.

Harsh words… well perhaps, though words that should not be directed only towards the present for humanity has always taken a liking to itself. Perhaps the “selfie” today is yesterday’s “mirror”. Perhaps our inventive technology has been able to just magnify what we already suspected about society, perhaps technology is presenting us with a faster and closer look at what was always there; perhaps we are getting the same images of mankind and womankind now as ‘close-ups’ rather than ‘landscape’.

After all, are we so much more different than our ancestors? I suppose there is something to that old adage… “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…”

mlk Today’s blog brings back a very great individual, the esteemed thinker: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968); a man widely regarded as America’s paramount advocate of nonviolence. Through his use of the words and acts of nonviolent resistance he was able to achieve seemingly-impossible goals. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and social activist who led the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. In 1964 King received the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest person ever to receive this high honor. At the young age of 39, he was tragically assassinated, leaving behind a forever grieving nation.

I now offer to you a moment of time to read the words of a most honored man. From his Sermon Delivered in 1957 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, “Conquering Self-Centeredness”…I present to you Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“…An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. And this is one of the big problems of life, that so many people never quite get to the point of rising above self. And so they end up the tragic victims of self-centeredness. They end up the victims of distorted and disrupted personality.

Life has its beginning and its maturity comes into being when an individual rises above self to something greater. Few individuals learn this, and so they go through life merely existing and never living. … They start out, the minute you talk with them, talking about what they can do, what they have done. They’re the people who will tell you, before you talk with them five minutes, where they have been and who they know. They’re the people who can tell you in a few seconds, how many degrees they have and where they went to school and how much money they have. We meet these people every day. And so this is not a foreign subject. It is not something far off. It is a problem that meets us in everyday life. We meet it in ourselves, we meet in other selves: the problem of self-centeredness…

And the way to solve this problem is not to drown out the ego but to find your sense of importance in something outside of the self. And you are then able to live because you have given your life to something outside and something that is meaningful, objectified. You rise above this self-absorption to something outside… This is the way to go through life with a balance, with the proper perspective because you’ve given yourself to something greater than self…”

First image: A.K. Kuznetsov, standing inside greenhouse with a tripod-mounted camera, as seen through his reflected image in a mirrored sphere, ca. 1885.

An interlude with nature

Nature wears no watch yet she conveys to us changes that we measure as time. From cycle to cycle, season to season, there is no evidence of her work being complete for as soon as one bloom opens, another may fall…and happily, we receive more. But sometimes we stray too close to her seemingly endless bounty and like breaking the shapely hour glass; we allow the sand to run out.

Today’s blog invites you to step back for a moment and ponder my image; it is a simple photo with a crude reminder of what can happen if we slip too far between, if we step over our boundaries during an interlude with nature…

tree picture.5

Joseph Conrad and authors

book store poster When we are young we were taught that humans are equipped with five senses: sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing. A gift that we take for granted each day. There are some who believe that they are more sensitive or partial to one of the senses, whereupon we may say that a person is more visual, or more auditory, kinesthetic, etc.

And then there are places where one of our senses are deliberately heightened; the symphony beckons our sense of hearing, the baker attacks our olfactory, and the museum seduces our visual, the ballet virtually gets us up off our feet. Those who are creators of music, culinary delights, the visuals, the movements, all such artists are invested in the production of simulating specific senses.

But then there is the lonely author, the person who seems to be much like the outlier in a mathematical problem. This is the one among the artists who is requested by the reader to stimulate all the senses; for as a recipient of their work don’t we challenge them to show us the location of the story, demand entry into the emotions of the characters, hear their voices, taste their meals, feel the path beneath their feet as they walk, and journey in a manner that although we are sitting in a chair we are at the same time traveling across an ocean…. It is a most daunting task succinctly all packaged in what we know as a book.

And this is what the author must abide to for like an adult leads a child; the writer must lead the reader so that he or she is left satisfied in a way that it wishes to return for more…

Joseph-Conrad_new_image Today’s blog invites back the esteemed author: Joseph Conrad (1857-1924). His work was often characterized as adventurous and darkly pessimistic, with traditional qualities of commitment and courage. His young adult life as a merchant seaman took him around the world, whereby he later fictionalized his early in his novels such as Heart of Darkness. Conrad was not a stranger to other literary greats and was friendly with Henry James, H.G. Wells, Ford Madox Ford.

From his book, Notes on Life and Letters, Mr. Conrad will now take us into the very private world of the writer, a novelist to be more precise… I present him to you now in hopes that you will take a few moments out of your harried day.

“… The art of the novelist is simple. At the same time it is the most elusive of all creative arts, the most liable to be obscured by the scruples of its servants and votaries, the one pre-eminently destined to bring trouble to the mind and the heart of the artist. After all, the creation of a world is not a small undertaking except perhaps to the divinely gifted. In truth every novelist must begin by creating for himself a world, great or little, in which he can honestly believe. This world cannot be made otherwise than in his own image: it is fated to remain individual and a little mysterious, and yet it must resemble something already familiar to the experience, the thoughts and the sensations of his readers. At the heart of fiction, even the least worthy of the name, some sort of truth can be found—if only the truth of a childish theatrical ardour in the game of life, as in the novels of Dumas the father. But the fair truth of human delicacy can be found in Mr. Henry James’s novels; and the comical, appalling truth of human rapacity let loose amongst the spoils of existence lives in the monstrous world created by Balzac.

The pursuit of happiness by means lawful and unlawful, through resignation or revolt, by the clever manipulation of conventions or by solemn hanging on to the skirts of the latest scientific theory, is the only theme that can be legitimately developed by the novelist who is the chronicler of the adventures of mankind amongst the dangers of the kingdom of the earth. And the kingdom of this earth itself, the ground upon which his individualities stand, stumble, or die, must enter into his scheme of faithful record. To encompass all this in one harmonious conception is a great feat; and even to attempt it deliberately with serious intention, not from the senseless prompting of an ignorant heart, is an honourable ambition. For it requires some courage to step in calmly where fools may be eager to rush. As a distinguished and successful French novelist once observed of fiction, “C’est un art trop difficile…”

First image:a poster The Bookman-artist: Flagg, James Montgomery, 1877-1960, Date Created: New York:1896

Thoughts as a guest blogger

Thank you to Steve at Life in Russia for giving me an opportunity to share some thoughts.

Life in Russia

When I started blogging I understood how important it was to find great bloggers which I would enjoy following. We all know how hard this process is in the beginning, but I was greatly rewarded when I found today’s guest blogger. I could tell right away she wasn’t following other bloggers but setting her own path. A very distinct path that followed esteemed thinkers to which I greatly admired. She is an original that has brought a lot of insight into my world. You can find her at  Blogging Einstein.

Thoughts from a guest blogger

beach and birds small

The blogosphere, if I may coin a phrase, is much like wading along the ocean’s shore where we find ourselves stopping every now and again to enjoy the surroundings, and then we move on. I have been one of the fortunate “waders” to have found a most lovely spot to frequent, whereupon I am never…

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Esteemed thinker: Joseph Conrad

airplanes There are many things that fill the mind as we contemplate growing older. And upon doing so we have the capacity to reduce history by simply skipping back through the years; not only in a nostalgic way, but also in a manner that we find ourselves making comparisons from the present to the past; as if skimming through the pages of “Life Magazine”. What was once easy to find, ordinary things that were part of our lives, are now just ‘not’. Take for example: eating out at a diner is now fast food, composing work on a typewriter is now on a computer, making a call on a rotary dialed telephone is on a cell phone. Even the ordinary light bulb will be phased out marking another notch in the belt of technological advancements.

Exemplified by the growth of progress that many have witnessed are the revolutionary changes in travel, well deserving to receive its own column in the list of accolades. For some may remember John Glenn’s ride into space that mesmerized us on our black and white TV’s, and decades later this space capsule was replaced by the space shuttle, a fantastic and almost unbelievable way of travel that if one did not see it with their own eyes could only deem it came out of the imagination of Jules Verne. Yet with all the advancements made, becoming an astronaut is no longer the dreams of most children and the International Space Station news has been relegated to page two of the newspaper…

If we sneak back into time, flying in a plane was once as extraordinary as space travel for it was not common place, and if you were so lucky, the seat next to the window was second best to being in the cockpit. The shear thrill of rising off the ground and watching earth slowly fade away was as fictional as a storybook adventure, yet today it is not more exciting than a bus ride.

Brimming with memories we move forward, charging ahead with our technology and curiosity, but knowing that whenever we wish we can always take an unstructured look back to what once was.

Joseph conrad Today’s blog brings to you the great novelist, short story writer and esteemed thinker: Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) born in Berdyczow, located in a Ukranian province of Poland. His given name was Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski. From a very early beginning his life was difficult and harsh, at three his father was imprisoned in Warsaw for alleged revolutionary political affiliations and at eight his mother died of tuberculosis. The orphaned boy was taken in by his uncle. Conrad’s early adult life was spent at as a merchant seaman and traveling abroad where his experiences would later influence his writing. His short stories and novels like Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness and The Secret Agent, gained him easy fame and recognition as an influential writer. Although Conrad wrote in English and in 1886 was granted English nationality, he always considered himself Polish.

From his book Notes on Life and Letters we will now take a quick journey into his piece titled “Flight -1917”. I invite you to sneak a few moments out from your busy day to get a “bird’s eye view” from Mr. Conrad’s vantage point…where we will join him aboard an airplane. In his own words…..

“…The machine on its carriage seemed as big as a cottage, and much more imposing. My young pilot went up like a bird. There was an idle, able-bodied ladder loafing against a shed within fifteen feet of me, but as nobody seemed to notice it, I recommended myself mentally to Heaven and started climbing after the pilot. The close view of the real fragility of that rigid structure startled me considerably, while Commander O. discomposed me still more by shouting repeatedly: “Don’t put your foot there!” I didn’t know where to put my foot. There was a slight crack; I heard some swear-words below me, and then with a supreme effort I rolled in and dropped into a basket-chair, absolutely winded. A small crowd of mechanics and officers were looking up at me from the ground, and while I gasped visibly I thought to myself that they would be sure to put it down to sheer nervousness…

As to my feelings in the air, those who will read these lines will know their own, which are so much nearer the mind and the heart than any writings of an unprofessional can be. At first all my faculties were absorbed and as if neutralised by the sheer novelty of the situation. The first to emerge was the sense of security so much more perfect than in any small boat I’ve ever been in; the, as it were, material, stillness, and immobility (though it was a bumpy day). I very soon ceased to hear the roar of the wind and engines—unless, indeed, some cylinders missed, when I became acutely aware of that. Within the rigid spread of the powerful planes, so strangely motionless I had sometimes the illusion of sitting as if by enchantment in a block of suspended marble. Even while looking over at the aeroplane’s shadow running prettily over land and sea, I had the impression of extreme slowness. I imagine that had she suddenly nose-dived out of control, I would have gone to the final smash without a single additional heartbeat. I am sure I would not have known. It is doubtless otherwise with the man in control…”

First Image : N.Y. : Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, Puck Building, 1911 August 23