I am starting two new challenges: to cover the segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin and to read fifty classic books over the next five years.
North Country National Scenic Trail
I’m not sure I’ll be able to complete this challenge given my age and the state of my health. I intend to have fun trying. I used the verb “cover” in the first paragraph above because some of the trail follows roads so I’ll be able to drive. The rest I’ll have to hike – definitely a challenge since I can manage only a mile or two at a time.
The North Country Trail Association describes the trail as “the longest in the National Trails System, stretching 4,600 miles over 7 states from the middle of North Dakota to the Vermont border of New York. The stretch in Wisconsin is 207 miles and runs from the Minnesota – Wisconsin border near Superior, Wisconsin to where the Wisconsin – Michigan border meets Lake Superior.
I don’t know the names of any of these mushrooms. My friend and bartender Nick assures me that the best book for learning how to identify mushrooms is Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora. I’ve ordered the book, so maybe in the future I’ll be able to add captions to such photos.
The day before yesterday I finished “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, the scary thriller by Ruth Ware*. Yesterday I unexpectedly found myself in a dark wood.
My hike took longer than expected, and I forgot that daylight savings time ended recently. It gets dark very early these days.
So I’m trudging through a dark wood. There is absolutely no wind, and no creatures are stirring, not even a mouse. They have all gone south or into hibernation for the winter or have bedded down for the evening. I can hear a jet far up in the sky but nothing else. It’s actually a beautiful evening. More than once I stop to enjoy the quiet and the beauty of the color left behind by the setting sun, color that shows brightly in the crisp, clear evening air.
I was in the Dunnville Bottoms in the floodplain of the Chippewa River in Western Wisconsin. Here are some scenes from the dark, dark woods in the bottoms, mostly oak forests with many old, gnarly, spooky oaks.
I thought the book was neither scary nor thrilling, just an average, somewhat entertaining who-done-it.
Who wants to age gracefully? Not me. Old folks just wanna’ have fun.
I sure do, but my doctor suggests that I have morning depression.* That means I feel wretched in the morning, but if I’m lucky I’ll perk up later in the day. By the time bedtime rolls around, just like a toddler I don’t want to go to bed; I want to stay up late.
When I woke up this morning, I “was stiff and sore and grumpy. It felt as though rigor mortis was getting an early start on me. Sleeping for eight hours is enough to make anything go numb. Anything that still had feeling to begin with. Worse yet, there was not a drop of Diet Coke to be found anywhere. I needed to pee again. I’m old and have a bladder the size of a lima bean. Don’t get old. If Peter Pan shows up, just go.”**
So what do I do in the morning? I’m not sure I remember. I know I eat breakfast and check the latest news on the internet. (Tip for morning depressives: Never read the latest news in the morning. You will end up with absolutely no hope. I of course always read the news in the morning.)
My doctor prescribed light therapy. I got a light box a few days ago, but it still sits unopened in the box it came in. I’m too depressed in the morning to open the box much less set up the light. I’ll do it some night when I am more energetic and haven’t drunk too much beer.
I’ll finish this wretched post by quoting two of my heroes who I’ve quoted before and will likely quote again.
What? Me worry. – Alfred E. Newman
Keep on truckin’ – R. Crumb
* In case you were wondering, morning depression (not to be confused with morning sickness or associated with pregnancy, something I’m not likely to experience, being sixty-nine years old and the wrong gender ) is also known as diurnal depression, diurnal variation of depressive symptoms or diurnal mood variation. I’ll stick with morning depression.
** All quotes are by Sheldon Horowitz, the eighty-two year old protagonist of the novel Norwegian By Night. I’ve slightly altered the quote to be in first-person and the appropriate tense.
Thomas Friedman’s recent book, Thank You For Being Late, is in the Globalization/Political Economy genre according the the ISBN code sticker on the back of the book. One usually doesn’t look in such books for suggestions about creativity, but that is what I found in the first chapter, also titled Thank You For Being Late.
Creativity involves having ideas and then doing something with them whether you turn those ideas into – in Friedman’s case, a column in the New York Times, or in my case a photograph. Friedman says
. . . a column idea [or an idea for a photograph] can spring from anywhere: a newspaper headline that strikes you as odd, a simple gesture by a stranger, the moving speech of a leader, the naive question of a child, the cruelty of a school shooter, the wrenching tale of a refugee. Everything and anything is raw fodder for creating heat or light.
How can one nurture the ability to recognize ideas when they appear?
. . . you have to be constantly reporting and learning – more so today that ever. Anyone who falls back on tried-and-true formulae or dogmatisms in a world changing this fast is asking for trouble. Indeed, as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen your aperture and to synthesize more perspectives.
Friedman paraphrases and then quotes Lin Wells of the National Defense University.
. . . it is fanciful to suppose that you can opine about or explain this world by clinging to the inside or outside of any one rigid explanatory box or any single disciplinary silo. Wells describes three ways of thinking about a problem: “inside the box”, “outside the box,”, and “where there is no box.” The only sustainable approach to thinking today about problems, he argues, “is thinking without a box”.
. . . it means having no limits on your curiosity or the different disciplines you might draw on to appreciate how [the world] works. [A person needs to be] radically inclusive.
As a photographer, thinking without a box means not being constrained by accepted norms of beauty or of what makes a compelling photograph. It means not being constrained by the rules that are trotted out by the experts who then tell us to freely ignore them. It means not being overly influenced by the latest hot stuff on Instagram or what is winning contests on ViewBug. It means shooting from the heart. As Friedman says, “What doesn’t come from the heart will never enter someone else’s heart.
For me it means walking down an alley behind the stores that present their trendy, polished facades to the main street. In the alley is where you find the unexpected and serendipitous examples of unexpected beauty. Below are recent examples of beauty I found in alleys.
Sometimes, good words are found in unexpected places. Yesterday, I twice and unexpectedly heard (saw) life lessons. The first time was while watching Series 1, Episode 2 of Endeavour, the BBC program about a young Inspector Morse. At the end of the episode, Detective Inspector Thursday offers Detective Constable Morse advice about music.
Go home. Put your best record on loud as it will play, and with every note you remember that’s something that the darkness couldn’t take from you.
Later that day I walked past Valley Bookseller here in Stillwater. A bright yellow poster in the window advised me to
I enjoy photographing botanical subjects that are past their prime. Flowers, leaves, other things that are starting to show their age; wrinkles, discolorations, blemishes; such things can add character to beauty. Perhaps I have this penchant because I am (this is hard to admit) beyond my prime and have wrinkles and age spots aplenty. At this time of the year in my neck of the woods, everything outside is past its prime. Everything is dead.* This morning I bought primroses at the grocery store. Some of the flowers are starting to wilt. I thought the wilt spots add interesting new color and texture to the already beautiful flowers.
* A paraphrase of Charles Dickens from David Copperfield:
I looked at her earnestly.
‘When you came away from home at the end of the vacation,’ said Mrs. Creakle, after a pause, ‘were they all well?’ After another pause, ‘Was your mama well?’
I trembled without distinctly knowing why, and still looked at her earnestly, making no attempt to answer.
‘Because,’ said she, ‘I grieve to tell you that I hear this morning your mama is very ill.’
A mist rose between Mrs. Creakle and me, and her figure seemed to move in it for an instant. Then I felt the burning tears run down my face, and it was steady again.
Even after a winter of discontent, everything is still possible., My winter of discontent has been trivial in comparison to the first winter of the siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) as described in The Siege. People in the book starve to death, thousands of them. People freeze to death. I’m over-weight and never have to worry about heating my apartment. What do I have to be depressed about? What, me worry? The following, from one of the last pages of the book, takes place during the spring after the first, terrible winter of the siege.
The sun shines. Everything’s possible now that the sun is here, warming flesh and drawing dandelions and nettles out of wasteground. As long as you can still walk, no matter how slowly, and pause from time to time to hold up your face to the sun and let a haze of glowing red soak through your eyelids, everything is still possible.
I’ve recently read or watched two items that involve the punk scene (or should I say punk-rock scene? I’m not sure.) in New York City in the mid-1970s: The book City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg and Spike Lee’s movie Summer Of Sam.
City On Fire is a long book, almost 1000 dense pages. The nexus of the plot is the murder of a young woman in a New York park on New Year’s Eve 1977. The book describes in great detail the lives and relationships of the people who were involved in one way or another with the murdered woman. It jumps back and forth in time from the early sixties to the start of the 21st Century while also jumping back and forth between characters. Many of the characters are punks participating in the New York City scene that apparently started in the mid-1970s. I cannot speak from experience about any aspect of punk. During that time period I was moving in the opposite direction; exploring bluegrass, country, and mountain music. So while the punks in this novel were moving away from the musical (pop) mainstream and finding punk, I was moving away from the mainstream and finding bluegrass. Given what I learned from the book and movie, I’m glad I moved in that direction.
City On Fire also covers the massive and complete blackout in New York City in the summer of 1977. Some of the book’s climactic events happen during the night of the blackout.
The movie Summer of Sam uses the background of the Son Of Sam serial killings to depict life in New York when David Berkowitz was on his killing spree. It focuses on the punk scene and on life in the city’s Italian neighborhoods. City On Fire presents more of a political and artistic picture of punk as a search for a sort of anarchistic freedom. Summer Of Sam, in contrast, focuses a lot on the sexual goings-on within the punk and club scenes.
I’m not sure I would recommend watching the movie or reading the book. I was often irritated at the book’s author for jumping around so much. I kept wanting him to stick to the plot line in which I was engrossed. Eventually, I just wanted him to wrap things up and tell me what happened to all the characters whom except, I think, for one, were strung out on drugs or alcohol. They were all drinking excessively, strung out, shooting heroin, dropping pills, sometimes doing it all in one day. I did not think it was possible for a person to use as many drugs and as much alcohol as some of the characters.
Watching the movie left me feeling like I had besmirched my soul.
Teju Cole in the essay Double Negative from his book of essays Known and Strange Things, says that
Photography is a fast art now, except for those who are too old-fashioned to shoot digital. But for most of the art’s history – until about fifteen years ago – most photographers had no choice but to be slow. . . . A certain meticulousness was necessary for photographs, a certain irreducible calmness of temperament.
Creating a good photograph is not fast, especially if the photograph is in the genre called “fine art”. (Who decides whether or not a photograph is fine art?) The only time shortened by digital photography is development time, what I consider feedback time, the time between clicking the shutter and seeing the photograph. Whereas in the film era, I dropped my film off at the camera store and came back a couple days later, I can now see the digital photo within seconds of activating the shutter. A good digital photographer takes no more or no less time before clicking the shutter than a good film photographer. A good digital photographer then often takes considerably more time with some sort of processing software to complete a photograph. A good photographer is just as meticulous – if not more – in the digital world of today – then when shooting film.
Photography has always been a fast art; that is one of the reasons I’m attracted to it. I used to draw. I found drawing too much of a slow art.
I finished another Elizabeth George novel today, one in her series of mystery novels. I’m stuck in the series. I ‘ve often been stuck in such series and have churned my way through many of them. I like best the ones wherein the novels in the series are sequential and characters change and develop from book to book. One of the best such series going today is the Easy Rawlins series of mysteries by Walter Moseley. I’ve also liked some series that are not sequential and in which the protagonist(s) are the same in every book – they just do their thing and don’t change from book to book. One such is the Lew Archer mysteries by Ross McDonald. Coincidently, both the Archer and the Rawlins mysteries take place in southern California in the mid-twentieth century.
Other than mysteries, I’ve been engrossed in series with military themes, the most notable of which take place during the Napoleonic Wars and have British heroes:
The Aubrey–Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian, about the British navy in the age of sail
The Hornblower series, also about the British navy in the age of sail, by C. S. Forester
The Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. Sharpe is a rifleman in Wellington’s armies in India, Spain, and eventually at Waterloo.
I could list lots of others, series by A. Conan Doyle, Martha Grimes, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, E.E. “Doc” Smith (science fiction that my brother and I were plowing through at the same time), John D. MacDonald with his Travis McGee series, Rex Stout with Nero Wolfe, and on, and on, and on. I know I’ve read others, but you can’t expect me to remember them all although I did just remember some from my high-school days; the adventure yarns of Alistair MacLean and Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. If I go back a bit further I would have to throw in series for young readers like the Tom Swift books and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan books.
I have to stop writing. I keep remembering other series. I’ll never finish this post unless I just come to a full, abrupt stop.
I’d like the share more from Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music. Yesterday I shared some of Levitin’s thoughts on the chasm between performers and listeners. What I quote today shares that theme.
. . . in every society of which we’re aware, music and dance are inseparable.
But it is only in the last five hundred years that music has become a spectator activity – the thought of a musical concert in which a class of “experts” performed for an appreciative audience was virtually unknown throughout our history as a species. And it has only been in the last hundred years or so that the ties between musical sound and human movement have been minimized. . . . The polite listening response, in which music has become an entirely cerebral experience . . . is counter to our evolutionary history. Children often show the reaction that is true to our nature: Even at classical music concerts they sway and shout and generally participate when they feel like it. We have to train them to behave “civilized.”
In jazz, “Bebop developed as the younger generation of jazz musicians aimed to counter the popular, dance-oriented swing style with a new, non-danceable music that was more of a “musician’s music” that demanded close listening.” ∗
And as Levitin describes,
Classical music as most of us think of it . . . has diverged into two streams. Some of the best music in that tradition is being written for films . . . and is only infrequently the object of directed listening, as in a concert hall. The second stream is twentieth-century art music, much of it challenging and difficult for the average listener . . . . Contemporary “classical” music is practiced mostly in universities; it is regrettable listened to by almost no one compared to popular music; much of it deconstructs harmony, melody, and rhythm, rendering them all but unrecognizable; in its least accessible form it is a purely intellectual exercise, and save the rare avant-garde ballet company, no one dances to it either.
Daniel Levitin, in This Is Your Brain On Music, asks “why is it that of the millions of people who take music lessons as children, relatively few continue to play music as adults?” He answers the question by describing the many people who say to him that
their music lessons “didn’t take.” I think they’re being too hard on themselves. The chasm between musical experts and everyday musicians that has grown so wide in our culture makes people feel discouraged, and for some reason this is uniquely so with music. Even though most of us can’t play basketball like Shaquille O’Neal, or cook like Julia Child, we can still enjoy a friendly backyard game of hoops, or cooking a holiday meal for our friends and family. This performance chasm does seem to be cultural, specific to contemporary Western society. And although many people say that music lessons didn’t take, cognitive neuroscientists have found otherwise in their laboratories. Even just a small exposure to music lessons as a child creates neural circuits for music processing that are enhanced and more efficient than for those who lack training. Music lessons teach us to listen better, and they accelerate our ability to discern structure and form in music, making it easier to us to tell what music we like and what we don’t like.
I’m glad to know that the many years of piano and cello lessons I had, and the excruciating (for me) experiences of annual piano recitals were not wasted. And I have come to realize that I can sing, just not very well, but good enough to benefit from the emotional value of music. Levitin writes that “music increases the production of dopamine . . . [and] is clearly a means for improving people’s moods.”
Yesterday while at Brueggers, I read 4 Ways To Make Space In Your Brain To Create by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West. The first of the four is daily Morning Pages. The Morning Pages technique was described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way: “[Morning Pages] are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.” I have found that for me, using an online journaling website (Penzu) is better for stream-of-consciousness writing. My longhand writing is so bad and tedious that it gets in the way of my stream-of-consciousness.
Another of the four is from Ray Bradbury’s Zen In the Art Of Writing. It is to
Buy a book of poetry and a selection of essays (perhaps some from a previous decade). Read a few every day to help your mind foster a state of creativity.
I will never turn down an excuse to visit my local, indie bookstore and buy a book or two. So I bought Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems and a small book of essays by Michael Kinsley, Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide. This morning I added reading an essay and some poetry to my morning routine.
Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide is targeted at Baby Boomers of which I am one. I read the foreword by Michael Lewis and the introduction by Kinsley; no essay yet. The introduction ends with
If you want to be remembered as a good person, then be a good person. Who knows? It just might work. But start now, because if you’re a boomer, time is running out.
The other day I told a friend that I was going to start singing. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to sing on pitch unless I was sitting right next to a good singer.
A few days later, I decided I was going to try the guitar again. Unfortunately, all the many years I tried to play the guitar, I was always practicing. I never reached the point where I was just playing. Also unfortunately, tendonitis in my hands and thumbs forced me to quit guitar.
I’ve decided I’m going to ignore all the “unfortunately”s and proceed with singing and guitar picking. I’ve gone so far as to buy a new guitar. I’ve also found a protocol for dealing with guitarist’s’ tendonitis (it involves lots of ice baths). Wish me luck.
I should perhaps get over the notion that I have to always be on pitch or play like Doc Watson. I can sing for my own enjoyment. So what if I hit a few bad notes. I’ve already learned Zip a Dee Doo Dah. (I find a lot of Disney songs from my misspent youth popping into memory) Granted, it’s a very simple song but a fun one that can make for a better day. When your down and out, sing Zip a Dee Doo Dah – better than a pill.
I think I’ve been sent some kind of mystical message. I found a book at the Guitar Center. It seemed out of place – misfiled – among the instructional books. The clerk who checked me out had never seen it before and didn’t know that they sold books of that nature (trade paperback format; all text). It was as if the book was waiting for me. The book has reminded me that I need to learn to play. I use “play” to mean both making music and having fun. Over all the years I played guitar, I never played. All I ever did was practice. Maybe the book will help me learn to play and have fun.
I went to the Chisago Loop of the Riverview Trail yesterday, a trail that goes through the Osceola Bedrock Glades State Natural Area. The trail loops around a knob that is an outcrop of Canadian Shield basalt bedrock. The top of the knob is relatively flat. The bedrock crops out in many places and there are loose slabs and boulders some that look like stones from a small Stonehenge. Between the rocks is shallow soil with sparse grass and a lot of mosses and lichens. There are scattered, straggly trees mostly jack pines.
I went to the knob planning to take a photo to satisfy The Daily Post‘s challenge Dinnertime. I finished the photo but wasn’t as careful as I should have been because the gnats were ferocious and drove me out. Look closely at my self-portrait and you can see the gnats hovering around my head. (Hovering? They were attacking.) I even poured out a half-bottle of beer because I was so desperate to get away from them (OK, maybe just anxious.) Once I got the first acceptable photo, I left as fast as possible. That wasn’t very fast because I had to be careful making my way down off the knob and through the treacherous footing in the loose chunks of basalt.
On my walk to the knob, I photographed a rare, prairie-fame flower (Talinum rugospermum). The flower and the dinnertime photo are the only shots I got. By the time I reached my car I felt like I was in a mild version of anaphylactic shock. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the gnats had certainly spoiled my outing. This was the second time I’ve been driven out of the area by insects. The first time it was mosquitoes. Other than the bugs, this is one of my favorite spots. The one time there weren’t bugs, I spent my time reclining on a large rock soaking up the sun like a lizard.
I took a break after drafting the above and read a bit from Beryl Markham’s memoir West With the Wind. What I read gave me some perspective on being bothered by a few gnats. Beryl Markham writes about her life in east Africa when roads were mostly non-existent. She was one of the first pilots in the region. She writes about elephant hunting:
Scouting [for elephant] by plane eliminates a good deal of the preliminary work, but when as upon occasion I did spot a herd not more than thirty or forty miles from camp, it still meant that those forty miles had to be walked, crawled, or wriggled by the hunters – and that by the time this body and nerve-raking manoeuvre had been achieved, the elephant had pushed on another twenty miles or so into the bush. A man, it ought to be remembered, has to take several steps to each stride of an elephant, and, moreover, the man is somewhat less than resistant to thicket, thorn trees, and heat. Also he is vulnerable as a peeled egg to all things that sting – anopheles mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, and tsetse files. The essence of elephant-hunting is discomfort in such lavish proportions that only the wealthy can afford it.
All I was doing was eating a sandwich and drinking a beer on a hill in civilized, western Wisconsin, and I complain. Markham quotes Baron Von Blixen saying “Life is life and fun is fun, but it’s all so quiet when the goldfish die.”
By the way, I highly recommend the book. A good friend and my favorite bartender recommended it.
I recently wrote about Jay Maisel’s book Light,Gesture, & Color in which he writes
All year long I walk around shooting as minimally as I can. One camera, a zoom lens, and that’s it.
I’m now reading On Being a Photographer. David Hurn advises photographers to
. . . take on a project that is containable, and can be completed in a reasonable period of time. . . . just wandering around looking for pictures, hoping that something will pop up and announce itself, does not work.
I think both approaches can work and have worked for me. It’s true that having some sort of focus, whether it’s a project or a weekly challenge published on the internet, will improve one’s photography. I have fun just rambling about with camera ready. Sometimes things do pop up. I went on a road trip yesterday to work on my project to photograph the St. Croix River from source to mouth. I also kept my eyes open for pop-up opportunities. Of the three best photos from yesterday, one was of the St. Croix, the other two were things I spotted while driving on back roads in Wisconsin. Here are the three:
I like this book. I like the way Jay Maisel thinks, probably because I think many of the same things. I do the same thing as he writes about:
All year long I walk around shooting as minimally as I can. One camera, a zoom lens, and that’s it.
One night a year [Halloween] I add an on-line flash.
I do this with great trepidation, as I really don’t know how to use the damn thing.
I try to sneak out of the house before my wife can see me and howl, “Oh my God, you have no idea what you’re doing.”
It’s a top-of-the-line Nikon flash. It has too many numbers and letters. It doesn’t just intimidate me, it eludes me completely.
I have never used the flash that came with my Olympus OMD.
The book contains a short introduction of seven pages. The rest of the book contains two-page spreads with a photo on one page and a short, pithy description on the other page. As you can see by the quote above, a number of the spreads have Maisel’s self-deprecating humor, as in the following:
I love to photography my daughter asleep. There is none of the clenched look that some people have when asleep. She looks angelic and peaceful. That’s what I’m trying to get.
Never mind that when she awakens and sees me, she starts bellowing out, “Do you have any idea how creepy it is to wake up and find you’re being photographed?”
“Yes, dear. Now relax and go back to sleep.”
Other spreads have Maisel’s advice.
You have to be ready to shoot at all times.
Don’t over think things in front of you. If it moves you, shoot it. If it’s fun, shoot it. If you’ve never seen it before, shoot it.
. . . There was no sun. There was just a pissed off, disappointed photographer who had been thwarted in his attempt.
Petulant, unhappy, and frustrated, I started throwing all my tripods, cameras, and miscellaneous crap into the car.
I was there with my ex-wife, who looked at the spectacle I was making of myself and simply said, “Turn around, stupid.” I looked and was amazed to see that the sky had turned blood red and the building were reflecting the red afterglow.
Had I not been told to look, I would have quit, ignorant of what was really there, because I had “made plans” and was wearing visual and emotional blinders that limited my perceptions and my vision.
It’s important to realize that the images are everywhere, not just where you want or expect them to be.
You can’t just turn on when something happens, you have to be turned on all the time. Then things happen.
There are no rules.
The thing I’m aiming at is to remind you that the more generic your image is, the less surprising, challenging, or specific it will be.
Try not for the symbol, the familiar, the iconic. Try, instead, to make your pictures a new look, a very personal, insightful type of gesture you’ve not seen in pictures again and again over the years.
So we all miss most of the best shots. Don’t despair, keep working on it. You are not alone.
Light can be instantaneous. You must be ready, and you must have the damn camera with you.
I ordered Light, Gesture, and Color on-line. When I first looked at it I was disappointed because there was so little text. I tend to like dense books with a lot of content. This book was exactly the opposite. There is not much content, but the content is concise, witty, and useful. There is very little about the technical aspects of photography. The book will not tell you how to operate your camera. It will tell you how to see better. Isn’t that what we are all ultimately striving for?
I spent some time at Rose Floral in Stillwater today. Rose Floral has a huge greenhouse filled with plants and flowers. A greenhouse is an excellent place for photography. Good, even, natural light and lots of wonderful subjects. Here are some of my photos from today.
There is not much color left in the woods; lots of grays, browns, and tans. The leaves are off the trees. There are no wild flowers left. There is, however, some surprising color in some of the smaller bits of the forest: fungi, lichens, mosses, and some remaining small, green plants. Among the green plants, the most vivid are those growing in or close to water.
The slide show below is of some of the color I saw over the last two days on the Osceola Loop of Ridgeview Trail north of Osceola, Wisconsin.
Under the slide show are some words about toadstools and mushrooms from Colin Tudge’s book The Tree.
Fungi in general consist of a great mass of threads (known as “hyphae” which collectively form a “mycelium”) and a fruiting body that typically appears only transiently, and often manifests as mushroom or toadstool. Many of the toadstools that are such a delight in autumn, and are avidly collected by gourmet peasants in France and Italy and elsewhere, are the fruiting bodies of fungi, which, below ground, are locked into mycorrhizal associations with the roots of trees and help them grow. Thus the fungi are even more valuable that they seem. The wild mushrooms and toadstools are often only a tiny part of the whole fungus. The whole subterranean mycelium, including the mycorrhizae, sometimes covers many acres and weighs many tons. Forest fungi, mostly hidden from view, include some of the largest organisms on earth [emphasis is mine].
My sister and niece are horse people. I’ve recently been teasing them about horses, horse people, campgrounds for horse people, and horse trails. I even went so far as to post a horse joke on Facebook. Maybe I went too far. To make amends, I’ll write about two interesting relationships between human and horse that I’ve read about recently, in the novel Doc by Mary Doria Russell and in Malcolm Brooks’ novel Painted Horses.
Both books are westerns. Doc‘s story – especially the mythical version – is familiar; the Earp brothers, especially Wyatt, team up with the gambler and dentist John Henry (Doc) Holliday. They would later become infamous through their part in The Gunfight At the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. Doc takes place in Dodge City, Kansas. Russell’s sequel novel, Epitaph, covers events after the Earps and Holliday leave Dodge City for Tombstone. Painted Horses is about a young archaeologist, Catherine Lemay, hired to explore for prehistoric artifacts in a Montana canyon scheduled to be flooded by a hydroelectric dam. This was in the 1950s when rivers in the West were being damned willy-nilly with not a lot of concern about what was being flooded. Not surprisingly, those with financial interests in the dam don’t want Catherine to find anything significant enough to slow down or stop work on the dam.
The two humans in the horse – human relationships are Wyatt Earp and another of the main characters in Painted Horses who coincidently has the same initials as Doc Holliday. He is referred to in the book only as John H.. Both men had difficult childhoods. Both left home early to escape. Both headed west. Both rescued their horses and formed strong bonds with them. Wyatt rescued an unprepossessing, black horse from an abusive owner. The black horse, strangely named Dick Naylor, blossoms under Wyatt’s care and becomes one of the region’s top quarter horses. John H. steals his horse from a group of mustangers who drove their captured horses
along with shouts and pops from the stock whips. The mustangs were a motley bunch, mean eyed and hammerheaded, every roaned and ticked and parti-colored combination imaginable, begrimed with dried mud and dried blood and tangled mats of mane and tail.
One young grulla [a horse with tan-gray or mouse-colored hairs on the body, often with shoulder and dorsal stripes and black barring on the lower legs] horse stood out. A better head and straighter back than the rest. John H. watched this horse drift in and around the others, watched it shy away from the drovers when they rode too close. He watched until the steady speed of the train [that he is on] left the horses behind.
The grulla mare under John H’s care becomes a smart and reliable mount and plays an heroic part in the book.
There is a lot more than horses in both books. They are solid, readable historical novels. I have placed Doc on my list of Best Westerns (books, not the motels) that now contains three books:
Lonesome Dove (undoubtedly my number-one western)
Monte Walsh (there is a great horse – human relationship in this book also)
I feel a bit uneasy about including Painted Horses in this list. Can a book actually be considered a western if it takes place in the 1950s and has a big chunk of plot that happens in Europe? It has guns, horses, cowboys, Indians, good guys, and bad guys, but also trucks, cars, machine guns, and tanks. It’s a good book, but not quite good enough for this list since I can’t even decide if it is a western.
One reason why I rate Doc so highly is that I like the well-wrought characters, not as literary creations but as good people who I’d like to know. Here is an excerpt about what happens when Doc Holliday and Morgan, Wyatt’s younger brother, surprise Wyatt with a wonderful gift.
It sounded like he was making fun, but Doc had that look on his face again: pleasure and satisfaction, all mixed. And Morgan himself felt just about as fine as he had ever felt in a lifetime of feeling pretty good about things. He was proud of his older brother’s [Wyatt’s] earnest, boneheaded, mulish honesty; tickled that he and Doc had surprised Wyatt so completely; grateful to Doc for seeing to it that Wyatt got his dream back, even after his money had gone to build a library full of books Wyatt couldn’t read if he gave each one a whole damn year.
Suddenly jubilant, Morgan couldn’t keep still any longer. Giggling like a six-year-old, he did a little dance, and threw an arm around John Holliday’s shoulders, and pulled him close. “Hot damn! We got him good, Doc! Look at that, will you? He’s . . . Yes! Here it comes! A smile! Wyatt Earp is smiling!
Read the book if you want to find out what the wonderful gift was.
One more great quote before I stop writing. Another Earp brother, James, and his wife Bessie own and operate a brothel in Dodge City. Bessie’s mother used to say
politicians and judges and coppers are money-grubbing thieves. They’ll screw you, and rob you, and win elections for doing it, but there’s no way around them. Smile and pay the sonsabitches off.
Chinua Achebe died about two years ago. Shortly after, I read Anthills Of the Savannah, the first book by Achebe I had read. I wanted to read Things Fall Apart, his most famous book, but Common Good Books, my favorite book store, ran out of it the day after his death. Instead, I bought and read Anthills, a fine book. I wish I had read Achebe earlier. Here are some favorite lines from the book:
Contradictions if well understood and managed can spark off the fire of invention.
Orthodoxy whether of the right or of the left is the graveyard of creativity.
Those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots, and party-liners.
. . . we may accept a limitation on our actions but never, under no circumstances, must we accept restrictions on our thinking.
Anthills leads a person to think about the basic nature of humanity and society, about struggle and repression, about action and ideas, about one’s role in the world. It is a book with splendid writing. I usually think that a well-written book is one in which the writing itself – as opposed to the plot, the ideas, the characterizations – should be invisible. If that is not the case, then the reader should be struck by the beauty of the writing as I was with Achebe’s.
Anthills has an absorbing plot and characters to admire. Shortly after reading Anthills, I heard on the radio – probably public radio – the idea that good literature leads to the development or nurturing of empathy. I agree. I also feel that it presents the reader with role models. It has done that for me my entire life. If asked to list role models one of the first that springs to mind is Mr. Pickwick, not to mention Sam Weller. Another is Richard Swiveler from The Old Curiosity Shop. Many other good role models appear in Dickens, even Barkis. Gus from Lonesome Dove. Frodo and Bilbo. Tom and Huck. From Anthills, Chris, Ikem, Beatrice, and others are characters to admire and emulate.
I am once again going to be quoting extensively from Dog-Whistle Politics. This is a book to read if you want information to counter the cant and hypocrisy spewed forth by today’s conservatives and Tea Partiers.
Something that came as a surprise to me is “that ‘illegal’ is a misnomer: crossing into or remaining in the United States without proper authorization is not a crime, but rather a civil matter.” A Supreme Court ruling stated that “as a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.”
Lopez goes on to write:
On the more fundamental question of assimilation, scholars recognize that today’s immigrants from Latin America (and also Asia), no different from the generations of European immigrants before them, are “being successfully incorporated into American society”; indeed, studies find “great continuities between the experiences of earlier European immigrants and current, predominantly non-European immigrants.” Moreover, the notion that crossing the border without authorization generates a pervasive disdain for the law is demonstrably false. Research shows that undocumented immigrants from Latin America commit far fewer [emphasis mine] depredations, not far more, than citizens. Evidence shows too that undocumented immigrants are far less likely than others to use expensive social services, including hospital emergency rooms. Indeed, unauthorized immigrants pay considerable more in taxes – typically through payroll withholding – than they receive in social services.
If illegal immigration is actually not a big problem (or not a problem at all), why all the furor stirred up by the right?
. . . the “illegal alien” rhetoric is highly popular with racial demagogues. Stressing illegality provides a way to seed racial fears without directly referencing race. . . . By constantly drumming on the crises posed by “illegals”, the right fuels a racial frenzy but can deny its intention to do any such thing.
This illegal-alien demagoguery started back as least as early as the time of (guess who?) the god-king Ronald Reagan.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan had warned that migrant workers from Mexico, as well as war refugees from Central America, constituted a potentially traitorous group in the nation’s midst [did Reagan actually believe this?] To many this suggestions seemed farcical.
Get the book and read it. We progressives and liberals need to fight back.
I am in the midst of reading Dog Whistle Politics. I usually don’t write about a book until I’ve finished it. I’m making an exception because the statistics I’m going to state are so disturbing. If you want to know more I suggest The New Jim Crow, a must read, in addition to Dog Whistle Politics. What I quote is from pages 50 – 53 of Dog Whistle Politics.
In 1970, about 200,000 people were serving at least one year behind bars, or one out of every 1,000 Americans.
In 2014. about 2,319,258 people were being bars. This is more than one out of every 100 Americans.
America’s incarceration rate in the highest in the world and exceeds the highest rate in the European democracies by 500 percent.
The United States has 5 percent of the world’s populations but holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
This system of excessive incarceration is closely tied to race. In 2008, among white men aged 18 years or older, 1 in 106 were behind bars. The comparable number for Latino men was 1 in 36; for black men, it was 1 in 15. For black men between the ages of 20 and 34, a sickening 1 in 9 were locked up in 2008.
As of 2008, more African-American men were imprisoned, on parole or probation than were enslaved in 1850.
Poor youth of color . . . are less likely to commit crimes than poor white youth
Young men of color are far, far more likely to be swept into the maw of the American crime control system, even when taking into account youth and poverty.
I have been aware of the large number of extinctions that we’re causing. What I haven’t been aware of is the idea of ecosystem extinction. “It is likely that [coral] reefs will become the first major ecosystem in the modern era to become ecologically extinct.” Very frightening because “it is estimated that at least half a million and possibly as many as nine million species spend at least part of their lives on coral reefs.”
There have been five mass extinctions, The Big Five, in the earth’s history plus a number of lesser extinctions. We are in the midst of the sixth biggie.
Amphibians enjoy the dubious distinction of being the world’s most endangered class of animals; it’s been calculated that the group’s extinction rate could be as much as forty-five thousand times higher than the background [extinction] rate. . . . one third of all reef building corals, a third of all freshwater mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.
We are driving this latest mass extinction by these geological-scale changes:
Human activity has transformed between a third and a half of the planet’s surface.
Most of the world’s major rivers have been damned or diverted.
Fertilizer plants produce more nitrogen than is fixed naturally by all terrestrial ecosystems.
Fisheries remove more than a third of the primary production of the ocean’s coastal waters.
Humans use more than half the world’s readily accessible fresh-water runoff.
People have altered the composition of the atmosphere [and the oceans]. Owing to a combination of fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air has risen by forty percent over the last two centuries, while the concentration of methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas, has more than doubled.
What, in the midst of this sixth, mass extinction, is going to happen to us, to homo sapiens?
One possibility is that we too will eventually be undone by our “transformation of the ecological landscape.” The logic behind this way of thinking runs as follows: having freed ourselves from the constraints of evolution, humans nevertheless remain dependent on the earth’s biological and geochemical systems. By disrupting these systems – cutting down tropical rainforests, altering the composition of the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans – we’re putting our own survival in danger. Among the many lessons that emerge from the geological record, perhaps the most sobering is that in life, as in mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future results. When a mass extinction event occurs, it takes out the weak and also lays low the strong.
Another possibility – considered by some to be more upbeat – is that human ingenuity will outrun any disaster human ingenuity sets in motion. [No logic presented for this possibility.]
I have little hope than mankind can think or invent our way out of the dilemma we have gotten ourselves into. I fear that those who believe that human ingenuity will ride to our rescue are the same one who will not take the threat seriously.
What, me worry? The scientists will think of something.
I’ve been listening to Carlos Vives’s Clasicos De La Provincia, a new discovery for me. I ran across a music critic – Carlos Quintana – who had contributed a video on Yabla Espanol. I followed his trail to the web site where he writes about Latin music. I read his article on the best-ever latin albums and ended up buying two. One by Carlos Vives who specializes in Vallenato.
Colombia’s vallenato started as a type of romantic cowboy music that provided a commentary on the lives of ranchers and campesinos cut off from the urban centers. It was played primarily in the countryside until it received radio commercialization in the 1940’s. Since both vallenato and cumbia [another type of Columbian music] use similar instruments, the easiest way to distinguish vallenato is by the use of the accordion. . . . Vallenato has recently seen an explosion in its popularity with the music of one-time soap opera star, Carlos Vives. Vives assembled a group of older folkloric players with some of the best coastal musicians around his home town of Bogota, creating a rock/vallenato style that has made the form popular with younger Colombians as well as bringing this music into Latin music’s mainstream.
Quintana also recommended Cachao’s Master Sessions, Volume 1. This is Cuban jazz with touches of many types of Cuban music such as Son, Danzon, Mamba, Rumba. I couldn’t help but like this album considering that Cuban Son in one of my favorite types of Music. [I’ve turned up the volume twice since I started writing.]
A few years ago I started to learn more about Latin music and to listen more. Since then I’ve been rewarded with some wonderful listening. The variety and depth of Latin music I find endlessly rewarding. At the start of my exploration of Latin music I read Caribbean Currents. As the book describes, the roots of Latin music differ from island to island or country to country. They differ according to what country colonized the area (England, Spain, France) and to what extent the area had a plantation economy or more of a European-settler economy. Areas with plantation economies used African slaves extensively, and the plantations were often owned by absentee landlords with hired managers, thus there was relatively little European musical influence. Haiti is an example of an area where African influences are strong, European influences weak. Cuba was more of a settler economy so European influences are stronger. Haitian music is French. There are other French-speaking areas in the Caribbean that with Haiti produce the music called zouk. Cuban is Spanish and has many different types of music some with stong European influences; others with stronger African influences. Jamaica was last controlled by the British Empire and thus the language is an English patois and the music is ska, reggae, rock steady, etc.
I thought that today, it being Martin Luther King’s day, I would write a bit about Sam Cooke. I hadn’t planned on it, but then I decided to listen to Sam’s album of the blues while cleaning the kitchen (mundane chores go much better with good music). My first brainstorm was to write about the album because it’s so fine and I think it has been somewhat forgotten. Next step: I realized it was Martin Luther King day and Sam composed and recorded what has become one of the anthems of the Civil Rights Movement.
The song is A Change Is Gonna Come and was actually the B side of a 45-rpm recording. Sam wrote the song after being refused lodging at a whites only motel in Louisiana. Sam and his band mates protested vigorously and were subsequently arrested for disturbing the peace. Sam also had heard Bob Dylan’s Blowin In the Wind and was chagrined that a white boy – and not himself – had written such a song.
Sam Cooke was without a doubt one of the finest singers and composers in the fifties and sixties. He remains an inspiration and an influence. His music remains fresh. Even on the more frivolous of his songs, the quality of his voice is unmistakable. If you want to explore his music I would start with one of the many greatest-hits albums and the one I’m listening to as I write – Night Beat from 1963. Peter Guralnick devotes a chapter to Sam in Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom. A great book for learning more about a great style of music, music with soul.
Finally, here a link to a fun, good-feeling video using one of Sam’s great hits: Chain Gang.