"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Not the Husband, Not the Father

Salida, Colorado ~ known in Kent Haruf's fiction as Holt
I took this photo on 23 September 2017
at the Kent Haruf Literary Celebration,
where I presented the following paper:

"They were not the husband . . . they were not the father":
Nativity Play in the Novels of Kent Haruf

My first reading of Plainsong and Eventide happened to be during the Christmas season, a coincidence of timing that has indelibly informed my understanding of the connections shared by Victoria Roubideaux, a pregnant teenage girl with nowhere to stay, and the noble McPheron brothers -- Harold and Raymond, who, to everyone's surprise, including their own, take her in on their farm. The community at large find the relationship difficult to comprehend. As the post - delivery nurse In Plainsong points out ". . . they were not the husband, were they, they were not the father . . . " (289); and as Victoria has to explain with some exasperation to her curious apartment manager in Eventide, the McPherons are neither grandfathers nor uncles nor preachers: "But they did save me . . . when I needed help so badly (7 - 8).

In their generosity, Harold and Raymond step up to meet whatever needs they can for this young expectant stranger. No matter how confused and uncertain Victoria may be, the kindly elderly brothers radiate calm and stability. If you like to think, as I do, that the true message of Christmas is ~ "Be nice to pregnant women, no matter who the father of the baby is and regardless of their legal marital status; and to babies no matter who their parents are; and don't ask questions that are none of your business" ~ then the McPherons are the embodiment of the Spirit of Christmas. As Raymond says a few years later, looking back on the early days of Victoria's pregnancy: "I didn't much care for it myself. The way people talked. I couldn't see how it was much of anybody else's business" (Eventide, 247).

Moving from Holt County to long - ago Bethlehem, the McPherons are Wisemen, Shepherds, and Innkeepers, all rolled into one, doing the best they can to care for the pregnant virgin. When they first agree to take Victoria in, Harold confides in Raymond, "This ain't going to be no goddamn Sunday school picnic," and Raymond responds, "No, it ain't . . . But I don't recall you ever attending Sunday school either" (Plainsong, 113). In this paper, instead of a Sunday school picnic, it's going to be a Nativity play (or perhaps a medieval pageant, 69)! An annunciation of sorts takes place when Maggie Jones arrives at the McPheron farm to inform Harold and Raymond that "I want something improbable" (109). Remember what the Angel Gabriel says to Mary: "For with God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37). The stage is set for a miracle play.

Standing at the center of this living nativity are three dramatic figures, Victoria, naive and apprehensive, and the two gruff farmers, somewhat careworn but well - intentioned. Imagine Harold and Raymond as creche figures, standing in the manger scene. When Maggie first drives out to request their assistance, "They . . . approached her slowly, calmly, as deliberately as church deacons" (106); and when Maggie brings Victoria out to meet them for the first time: "They came out of the house at once onto the little screened porch and stood waiting . . . like two lifelike statues of minor saints" (125). Now imagine Victoria as a stand - in for the Virgin Mary, troubled and vulnerable. Her morning sickness notwithstanding, she still appears virginal, wearing a white sleeping shirt by night and a white tee shirt by day (whereas her harsh unyielding mother wears a "stained blue satin robe" 8 - 10).

As the day begins, Victoria's mother, Betty, who has been broken by the world and has her own problems, displays a heart - breaking lack of compassion. Even when Victoria pleads: “Help me, Mama. I need you to help me” (10), Betty Roubideaux (not to be confused with Betty June Wallace in Eventide) remains unmoved. To Victoria's credit, she possesses an understated determination that carries her through the unfolding crisis. After the early morning altercation with her mother, she pulls herself together and "walked to school in a kind of dream . . . past the display windows of the stores, watching her reflection, how she walked and carried her body, and as yet she could see no change. There was nothing she could discern outwardly" (10 - 11). The pregnancy is still a secret that she carries within herself, as she seems to float, dreamily down the street. She makes it through the day, attending classes, warding off unwelcome advances from an older boy, working hard at her after - school job, and finally drifting home in the early autumn night: " . . . the air was turning sharp, with a fall feeling of loneliness coming. Something unaccountable pending in the air " (31).

Sadly, the day ends, as it began, in conflict. Victoria is once again at odds with Betty, who has hardened her heart and locked her daughter out of the house. Victoria implores in vain: “Mama. Let me in now. Do you hear me? . . . I'm sorry, Mama. Please. Can't you hear me?” But the inside lights go out. Now what? In a scene right out of "The Little Match Girl," Victoria sits waif - like on the front step: "She seemed to fade away, to drift and wander in a kind of daze of sorrow and disbelief. She sobbed a little. She stared out at the silent trees and the dark street and the houses across the street where people were moving about reasonably in the bright rooms beyond the windows . . . She sat staring out, not moving. Later she came out of that" (31 - 32).

This is Victoria, just like Mary, pondering her condition in her heart and deciding what to do next. Yes, she feels abandoned and betrayed, but she will soon be a mother and must come up with a plan. Seeing the more "reasonable" family over the road has given her an idea. Just as the newly pregnant young Virgin Mary struck out on her own to visit her older Cousin Elisabeth, so the temporarily homeless Victoria sets out alone, through the chilly night, following the streets of Holt to the house of her teacher Maggie Jones. Though not with child herself, Maggie's role is similar to that of the biblical Elizabeth who is pregnant with John the Baptist when Mary learns of her own pregnancy: "And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth."

Maggie has the benefit of life experience to share with Victoria, who arrives on foot at bedtime to confide in a trusted adult. Victoria appears on Maggie’s doorstep, with nowhere else to go, the pregnant virgin in search of a safe place to rest. Maggie's first gesture is to offer comfort and adorn her unexpected visitor as one might a nativity statuette: she "took up a throw blanket from the couch and draped it around the girl’s shoulders. . . .The girl looked tired and sad, the blanket wrapped about her shoulders as though she were some survivor of a train wreck or flood." Maggie is very gentle with Victoria but also direct: “For God’s sake. Did you not know any better . . . did you not use any protection at all?” Victoria, in return, answers frankly about her romantic encounters with the boy who told her that her "beautiful eyes . . . were like black diamonds lit up on a starry night" (33, 35, 36).

The conception of her baby was not immaculate, but it may as well have been, for all that Victoria reveals about the father. When Maggie asks, "But who was he?" Victoria answers, "A boy. . . . I don't want to say . . . He won't claim it. . . . He's not the fathering kind. . . . I don't think you would know him" (34). She keeps his name a secret; and his whereabouts are a mystery: "He's from another town . . . he doesn't live here. He lives somewhere else." Harold refers to the absent boyfriend as if he were a breeding animal, asking Maggie, "What about the sire . . . Where does he come into this?" Maggie is thrown off at first by the breeding lingo, but suddenly realizes, "Who? . . . Oh. You mean the baby's father" (109).

In dealing with the situation, Maggie reveals an intuitive wisdom similar to that of the Virgin Mary's cousin Elisabeth: "And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. . . . And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord" (Luke 1: 39 - 42, 45). As Elisabeth prophesies, so does Maggie, providing a latter day Magnificat of cynicism and challenge. First, to Victoria, Maggie predicts: “Oh, honey . . . I do feel sorry for you. You’re going to have such a hard time. You just don’t know it yet” (37). Second, to the McPherons, as she persuades them to take Victoria in, Maggie points out: “You’re going to die some day without ever having had enough trouble in your life. Not of the right kind anyway. This is your chance” (110).

The McPheron's are tempted, as we all are, to buy their way into the Kingdom of Heaven, if possible. Is Maggie asking for a donation of money for Victoria? They would gladly contribute, but "No. She needs a lot more than that." After listening to Maggie's proposal, Harold says, "Hell, Maggie . . . Let's go back to the money part. Money'd be a lot easier." However, after some consideration, both Harold and Raymond are willing to do this huge favor for Maggie and Victoria, to alter their life-long routines and embrace the unknown possibilities of the good deed at hand. Victoria has already been rejected by her mother, turned away from her own home, locked out of the house. Maggie’s place serves for a time but does not prove to be a safe haven, as Maggie is dealing also with her unwell elderly father. Truly there has been no room at the inn for Victoria, but with her introduction to Harold and Raymond McPheron, that is about to change. The way they see it, the unexpected pregnancy needn't be a negative turn of events for this solitary mother - to - be, bereft of friends and relatives.

As Innkeepers, they open their home to Victoria. They tidy up, carefully attempting to see each room through the eyes of a girl. They anticipate Victoria's need not only for physical shelter but for emotional comfort and privacy as well. Their domestic skills include a sense of tradition, as they search out old treasures from their own mother's household effects and personal collections. On Maggie's first night at the farm, Harold checks on her before bedtime and sees what might easily be taken for a portrait of the Madonna, complete with heavenly halo: Victoria “was sitting up in bed in a square – necked winter nightgown with a sweater pulled over her shoulders, a schoolbook and a blue notepad propped up in her lap, while the lamp beside the bed cast yellow light onto her clear face and her shining hair” (132).

As Wisemen, Raymond and Harold can read the stars in the sky at night. There are so many beautiful examples to choose from, but perhaps the most mystical occurs in Eventide when Raymond observes ". . . the sky overhead clear of any cloud, the stars as clean and bright as if they were no more distant than the next barbed - wire fence post . . . everything all around him distinct and unhidden. He loved how it all looked, except he would never have said it that way. He might have said that this was just how it was supposed to look, out on the high plains at the end of winter, on a clear fresh night" (Eventide, 206). This is the mystical Colorado sky as Raymond reads it, as Haruf shares it with us through every feast and season.

Furthermore, like the Wisemen of yore, Harold and Raymond come bearing gifts! Surely there is no scene more delightful than the excursion to the department store, in search of nursery furniture. This is a new venue for the brothers, but they are equal to the task of choosing the best baby crib available, and all of the accessories. When they call Maggie for advice about buying a crib, she teases them, "I'm to understand that you don't mean a corn crib." Victoria is overcome with emotion at their generosity. Like the Virgin Mary, she would be only too pleased with a humble manger. But the way Harold and Raymond see it, nothing is too good for this first - time mother and her coming child, plus they are enjoying the shopping trip: "We're having us some fun here. . . . It's all right . . . It is. You'll just have to believe that" (Plainsong, 176, 182).

As Shepherds, their understanding of fertility and birth on the farm enables them to help Victoria at this crucial and vulnerable time. Raymond scolds Harold for comparing Victoria's pre-natal habits to those of a young heifer. "She's not a cow!" Raymond insists. " She's not a heifer!" But Harold persists in his analogy, drawing on familiar knowledge to improve his understanding of the unfamiliar: "Both of them is young. Both of them's out in the country with only us here to watch out for em. Both is carrying a baby for the first time. Just think about it" (174).

They take admirable care of their "flock" -- the many head of cattle who depend upon them for a good, safe existence. When the birthing season begins and the first heifer goes into labor, Harold and Raymond carry a lantern out to the calf shed, just as we might envision the biblical shepherds on their way to Bethlehem to witness the birth. It is a hard delivery -- a struggle for heifer, calf, and ranchers -- but successful in the end. As the heifer settles in to clean and feed her newborn calf, the brothers return to the house in a reverie drawn from a Christmas carol: "By now it was after midnight. It was cold and bleak outside the shed and utterly quiet. Overhead, the stars in the unclouded sky looked as cold and arctic as ice" (Plainsong, 204).

No, they are not the husband, father, grandfather, uncle, or preacher. Maybe deacons, saints, innkeepers, wisemen, or shepherds. Cattle farmers certainly. Guardians of youth and innocence. Realistic to a fault, romantic in spite of themselves. Friends indeed. Most importantly they rise to the occasion of befriending Victoria, never judging, always advocating on her behalf, bringing the light of Christmas to the community of Holt.

Thanks to the Kent Haruf ~ Literary Celebration

Previously on FN

Christmas Star at the Palace Hotel

Stairs Going Up

Stairs Going Down

Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, December 28

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ "Haruf (Rhymes with Sheriff)"
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST ~ "Everything by Kent Haruf"
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cyber Monday

Gorgeous hand - crafted card from
my multi - talented sister - in - law Tina

A week ago, I had one of those life - affirming Monday - morning coincidences. You know. The kind that makes you believe in the whole Universe at once . . . that amazes and surprises and suggests a pattern. I was looking at my pre - Thanksgiving "to do" list and decided that even more importantly than grocery shopping and housecleaning, I should finally look up the poem that had been recommended to me several months ago when I was having lunch with a few friends. I googled what I had scribbled on a post - it and discovered this truly transporting poem:

What To Remember When Waking
~by David Whyte (Dec 30, 2013)

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

At first, I was feeling bad that it had taken me over three months to finally follow - up on this reading suggestion; but then, when I thought about what a perfect poem it was for a Monday morning, and what a perfect poem for Thanksgiving week, it seemed that the delay was meant to be and the poem had come into my life at exactly the right moment.

I knew I should write a note that instant to thank all my lunch companions -- since I couldn't remember which one had recommended the poem back in August. But first I went to run some errands -- and who should I run into but one of those very friends, in the greeting card aisle at CVS! I told her the whole story about the poem, but she was unfamiliar with the author and said she couldn't take credit for the suggestion but would, of course, love to see it. So, as soon as I got home, I sent an email of thanksgiving, including the poem, to the entire group.

As an added bonus coincidence, another friend wrote a week later (yesterday, to be exact) with the perfect message to conclude this anecdote:
"For some reason I’m only seeing this tonight. This is a lovely poem to choose as my Cyber Monday gift for those special to me this season. No deep discounts; just deep gratitude for all my loved ones."
What a beautiful sentiment! And yet another timely coincidence that her viewing was delayed -- as mine had been -- until the very day that she needed to discover this poem!

I particularly love this line for Thanksgiving:

"You are not a troubled guest on this earth . . .
you were invited . . . "

Whyte writes similarly, in his Letter From the House: Autumn/Winter 2017 - 2018:
We are invited into the great sense of the now to understand that we are a living conversation between what we thought was the past and what we could only imagine as the future. We are creatures made to live in all three tenses at once, to hold past, present and future together . . ."
And how about this line for any morning, such as the Monday before Thanksgiving or the Monday after Thanksgiving, when you wake up with a "to - do" list that is already out of control before you even open your eyes:

" . . . there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live. . . . "

Thankfully, Whyte reminds us that relinquishing all -- or at least some -- of our big plans might allow us to intuit the even bigger and better plan that the world has in store for us on any given day.

" . . . a small opening into the new day . . . "

Previously from Tina

My friend Katie also recommended John O'Donohue's interview, "The Inner Landscape of Beauty." Some favorite passages:

Well, I think it makes a huge difference, when you wake in the morning and come out of your house, whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out into a landscape that is just as much, if not more, alive as you, but in a totally different form, and if you go towards it with an open heart and a real, watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you.

But I do think, though, that it’s not just a matter of the outer presence of the landscape. I mean the dawn goes up, and the twilight comes, even in the most roughest inner-city place. And I think that connecting to the elemental can be a way of coming into rhythm with the universe. And I do think that there is a way in which the outer presence, even through memory or imagination, can be brought inward as a sustaining thing.

. . . the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach. And that’s the mystery of poetry. Poetry tries to draw alongside the mystery as it’s emerging and somehow bring it into presence and into birth.

. . . everyone is involved, whether they like it or not, in the construction of their world. So it’s never as given as it actually looks. You are always shaping it and building it. And I feel that from that perspective, that each of us is an artist.

. . . every night when we sleep, we dream. And a dream is a sophisticated, imaginative text full of figures and drama that we send to ourselves.

. . . there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there is still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you.

And the trouble is, though, for so many of us, is that we have to be in trouble before we remember what’s essential.

. . . there is an evacuation of interiority going on in our times . . . there is very little time or attention given to what you could almost call learning the art of inwardness, or a pedagogy of interiority.

[See also "The Wire Brush of Doubt"]

Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, December 14

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Water in Every Wine

Hey Trump, clean up your trash!

You might notice in this photograph that I have cropped out the flag flying above the White House, so you don't have to put your hand over your heart or anything. Just go ahead and take the knee in mourning for the grievous plight of our federal government.

I guess if I'd been feeling more ennobled that day, I could have been a pro - active citizen and picked up the litter myself. Heaven knows I did it plenty of times in Philadelphia, as my family can well attest. But right there in front of the White House, it seemed symbolic, so I just left it lay.

For me, "taking the knee" is a metaphor, a gesture of lament for the deplorable state of our federal government -- not just for professional athletes in the public eye but for all citizens at any time in the privacy of their hearts. I can hardly think of a gesture more respectful than taking the knee -- as in prayer. And not just when the National Anthem plays, but at anytime when things don't seem to be as they should -- such as seeing a pile of nasty litter in front of the White House, or realizing that our elected officials have sold their souls and are not representing our interests.

Maybe we don't even need the anthem at sports games -- we might call them national events, but they're not. The players are paid professionals who work for private clubs. But I digress, my post is not about the NFL. It's about the disgust and sadness that have washed over our country in the Aftermath of last year's Election.

I believe it when my brother Bruce asserts -- much as he did last year -- that "this man has ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE what it means to be president." A president, for example, does not declare: "I'm the only one that matters." As Bruce suggests, "Someone needs to explain our Constitution to the man, explain how divided branches of government work, explain the difference between a president and a despot. Listening to him makes me physically ill. I am ashamed and embarrassed every time I think about him, dishonoring and disgracing the office of the presidency."

I concur.

It has been a year of high blood pressure, attributed by many, including my friend Olynn, to Trump's incivility, cruelty, and inhumanity. It has been a year of daily lies and serious scholars asserting with straight faces that "The right wing’s disregard for facts and reasoning is not a matter of stupidity or lack of education."

Hmmmm. How can this be, unless we are recalibrating what we mean by "stupidity"? Personally, I still consider a "disregard for facts" to be a kind of stupidity. Is that no longer part of the standard definition? Author and psychologist John Ehrenreich insists that he is not condoning "alternative facts," but it sure sounds like he is, leading some of his less astute readers to such inane conclusions as "after all, what is a fact?" or "how do we verify facts?" Verifiable facts may elude the grasp of some, but contrary to popular opinion, they do exist; and to suggest otherwise is just plain embarrassing.


Some Words to the Wise
for these Troubled Times
1. As Oscar, from "The Office" warns us: "It's a very dangerous time. The coalition for reason is extremely weak."

2. As Samuel Beckett observes in his novel Watt: "Times are hard, water in every wine" (27).

3. As Woody Allen cautions: "Mankind is facing a crossroad -- one road leads to despair and utter hopelessness and the other to total extinction -- I sincerely hope you graduates choose the right road."

4. As the school principal tells Billy Madison: "what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

5. As poet Philip Booth reminds us:

As long as you
know you don't know,
not knowing's not
what hurts,

;it's what

you don't know you
don't know that
finally gets
to you, right
in the old
solar plexis.

First Lesson
Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

I fear it might be true that listening to the political discourse of the current administration has indeed made us all stupider. Thanks to Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and their deplorable retinue, reason is extremely weak in our country now; there is water in every wine; despair, hopelessness, and -- yes -- even extinction are daily concerns. A punch in the gut, a cramp in the heart -- I hope the poet is correct that the sea will hold us up, that we will survive.


One of the Best Antidotes So Far

Also from Philip Booth:
“I think survival is at stake for all of us all the time. . . .
Every poem, every work of art, everything that is well done, well
made, well said, generously given, adds to our chances of survival.”

Which is precisely what this blog strives to provide,
in accordance with Goethe's admonishment:

"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem,
see a fine picture and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words."


In this picture,
later that same day,
our Nation's capital looks as pretty as Paris!

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, November 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Dogwood, Spring and Fall



The dogwood tree next door to us:
above ~ April 2016, looking south;
below ~ October 2017, looking north.

At Auntie Jan's House
in the South of England ~ October 2016

The following autumnal "Elegy" from Linda Pastan
(thanks Katie Field & Writer's Almanac),
echoes a letter we received recently
from Gerry's 86 - year old Auntie Margaret,
over in Reading, England. Bracing for the first
frost, she writes, nearly sonnet - like:

18 October 2017 ~ "The weather is still quite mild
but I get depressed as the days shorten
and one after another I do the jobs
that need doing to get plants through the winter."

Auntie Margaret, the poet feels your pain!


Our final dogwood leans
over the forest floor

offering berries
to the birds, the squirrels.

It’s a relic
of the days when dogwoods

flourished—creamy lace in April,
spilled milk in May—

their beauty delicate
but commonplace.

When I took for granted
that the world would remain

as it was, and I
would remain with it.

by Linda Pastan, American Poet (b 1932)
from Insomnia [see previous posts]


Gerry, in the Fall with Auntie Margaret (above) ~ October 2016
and in the Spring with Auntie Jan (below) ~ April 2017


a page from my scrapbook
45 - year - old dogwood leaf

May 1972 ~ Lindenwood College Campus
St. Charles, Missouri

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, October 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ More "Spring & Fall"
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Look at these beautiful greeting cards
that I just ordered for the holidays!
Dogwood Berries by Sari Sauls

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bright Blue October

See the black walnuts up there in the blue October sky, pacing themselves -- as Frost suggests the leaves should do -- to fall on my driveway in Indiana: a bushel one day, a peck the next; on another day maybe just a couple dozen, then an infinity nestled in the flowerbeds along the drive. I only pick them up as an offering to the recycling gods on yard - waste day; however, as wise Robert Frost observes in another poem, a crop's a crop!

In this beguiling invocation to October, he reminds us how enchanting October can be and helps us prepare our hearts for the season:


O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.

Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

by Robert Frost (American, 1874 - 1963)
Don't believe what they tell you about
the sun never shining in the British Isles:
October Sky in Crosby, England!
Frost depicts the grape harvest and the autumnal tones of amethyst. And of course there are the many colors that always come to mind at the mention of falling leaves: brown, orange, red, yellow; or, more poetically, russet, bittersweet, scarlet, and goldenrod. Yet even though we are mid - way through October, looking out at my yard today, I see mostly green and blue. The leaves have not yet heard the call to change, and the sky is precisely as described in this lovely poem by Helen Hunt Jackson:

October’s Bright Blue Weather
O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumblebee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And goldenrod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When gentians roll their fingers tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October’s bright blue weather.

O sun and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather.

by Helen Hunt Jackson (American, 1830-1885)
Hunt's charming conclusion is shared by Ada,
who struggles with the same favortism in Cold Mountain :

"Ada had tried to love all the year equally . . .
Nevertheless, she could not get over loving autumn best . . . "

Charles Frazier (American novelist, b. 1950)

What else can I say? Neither can I!

Bright Blue and Green October

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, October 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Bamboo Trees in the South of England

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Smart Beautiful City

All photos in this post ~ Astana, Kazakhstan ~ August 2017

Earlier this week, I spent two days at Purdue University's Dawn or Doom Conference, an annual event that takes a close look at both the rewards and risks of emerging technology. The theme for Dawn or Doom '17 was inspired by Professor Michael Bess's insightful, disturbing book about biomedically enhanced humans: Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in the Bioengineered Society of the Near Future. Topics ranged from Designing Humans (think Gattaca) to Designing Food (think Monsanto) to Designing Information (think fake news) to Designing the Workforce (think Brave New World) to Designing Cities:

"Whether it was Uruk,* the first ever human city, or Sumerians throwing up ziggurats like they were temporary housing, or the social engineering dreams of the 19th century utopians or the Puritans' visions of a godly “city on a hill,” humans have always seen cities as a way to solve humanity’s hardest problems.

"Of course, reality is a different beast. Cities are notoriously hard places to manage, among other things because of the amount of information required to allow them to run at all, let alone perfectly. But that doesn't mean people don't try to build perfection. And the latest incarnation of these utopian cities are known as “smart cities” their deep and embedded technology."
~ Gerry McCartney

*Uruk, was in Sumer but is regarded as pre-Sumerian.
Ur was up the road about 300 miles.

We then listened to two speakers who explained how these new “smart cities” are going to enable us to build the technological advanced “city on a hill” of the 21st Century: Mike Langellier from Techpoint and Paul Singh from Results Junkies.

Gerry's thought - provoking introduction to "Smart Cities" brought to mind a few connections worth sharing:

1. from Song of Myself, Part 42 ~ Walt Whitman

"A call in the midst of the crowd,
My own voice, orotund sweeping and final. . . .

This is the city and I am one of the citizens,
Whatever interests the rest interests me, politics, wars, markets,
newspapers, schools,
The mayor and councils, banks, tariffs, steamships, factories,
stocks, stores, real estate and personal estate . . .

the fathomless human brain . . . "

[See also Ferry Connections & House With a Past]

2. from the novel Benediction ~ Kent Haruf

"What if we said to our enemies [or at the national level, what if we said to our citizens]: We are the most powerful nation on earth. We can destroy you. We can kill your children. We can make ruins of your cities and villages and when we're finished you won't even know how to look for the places where they used to be. We have the power to take away your water and to scorch your earth, to rob you of the very fundamentals of life. We can change the actual day into actual night. We can do these things to you. And more.

"But what if we say, Listen: Instead of any of these, we are going to give willingly and generously to you. We are going to spend the great American national treasure and the will and the human lives that we would have spent on destruction, and instead we are going to turn them all toward creation. We'll mend your roads and highways, expand your schools, modernize your wells and water supplies, save your ancient artifacts and art and culture, preserve your temples and mosques. In fact, we are going to love you.

3. from the musical Godspell ~ Stephen Schwartz

Beautiful City

sung in the movie adaptation,
featuring Victor Garber, Lynne Thigpen, et. al.

Come sing me sweet rejoicing
Come sing me love
We're not afraid of voicing
All the things
We're dreaming of
Oh, high and low,
And everywhere we go

We can build
A beautiful city
Yes we can
Oh yes we can
We can build
A beautiful city
Call it out
And call it the city of man [and woman]

We don't need alabaster
We don't need chrome
We've got our special plaster
Take my hand
I'll take you home
We see nations rise
In each other's eyes

We can build
A beautiful city
Yes we can
Oh yes we can
We can build
A beautiful city
Call it out
And call it the city of man [and woman]

Come sing me sweet rejoicing
Come sing me love
We're not afraid of voicing
All the things
We're dreaming of
Oh, high and low,
And everywhere we go

We can build
A beautiful city
Yes we can
Oh yes we can
We can build
A beautiful city
Call it out
And call it the city of man [and woman]

**A simple suggestion, as Schwartz is
not exactly known for inclusive gender.

In closing, I'm charmed by these contrasting thoughts about the men and women who populate the cities. Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892) offers an expansive view, complete with quaintly agrarian metaphor:

"In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

from Song of Myself, Part 20)

For others, the human density not only of a large smart city but even of a beautiful college town can be overwhelming. A hundred years before Whitman, English poet Thomas Gray (1716 - 1771) wrote:

"Cambridge is a delight of a place now, there is nobody in it.
I do believe you would like it, if you knew what it was without inhabitants.
It is they, I assure you, that get it an ill name and spoil all.

from the Works of Thomas Gray

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