The flip side of ignorance

Image captured last week at the Conservatory at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Since my last post, I’ve read:

■ Macbeth (William Shakespeare; 1606. Drama.)
In advance of watching Joel Coen’s film. Related story/review here

■ Six Characters in Search of an Author (Luigi Pirandello (Trans. Edward Storer; 1921. Drama.)
Cannot recall the precise path that led me to Scallydandling about the books, but I can say that I enjoy poking about in her video lists. Six Characters was her January drama selection.

■ Late Migrations: A Memoir of Love and Loss (Margaret Renkl; 2019. Non-fiction.)
For the commonplace book:

p. 7
But the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love’s twin.

p.17
Holding a useless camera, I suddenly realize that something extraordinary is happening right before me, a great serpent slowly on the move and all the songbirds aware of its presence and calling to each other and telling each other to beware. The miracle isn’t happening in the sky at all. It’s happening in the damp weeds of an ordinary backyard, among last year’s moldering leaves and the fragrant soil turned up by moles.

p. 73
[…B]ut the flip side of ignorance is astonishment, and I am good at astonishment.

p. 155
When I didn’t die, however, and then didn’t die some more, I came one day to understand: I wasn’t dying; I was grieving. I wasn’t dying. Not yet.

p. 186
Human beings are creatures made for joy. Against all evidence, we tell ourselves that grief and loneliness and despair are tragedies, unwelcome variations from the pleasure and calm and safety that in the right way of the world would form the firm ground of our being. In the fairy tale we tell ourselves, darkness holds nothing resembling a gift.

What we feel always contains its own truth, but it is not the only truth, and darkness almost always harbors some bit of goodness tucked out of sight, waiting for an unexpected light to shine, to reveal it in its deepest hiding place.

With the month closing and only nine books on my list, I’d say this year has begun at a far more leisurely pace than last year (twenty-five books). That said, I’m reading quite a bit. With 100 Days of Dante, I’ve nearly climbed Mount Purgatory. With book groups, I’m reading Anna Karenina, Moby-Dick, and Debt (see sidebar). I’ve just begun A Clockwork Orange, the February Cardiff BookTalk selection. And my husband and I have embarked on a read-the-bible-in-a-year schedule. (It pains me to confess that I haven’t read the complete bible. Do you have a recommendation for a “bible as literature” resource? We’ll take it.)

I began listening to State of Terror (Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton) on the drive to and from  Michigan last week — not Chief Inspector Gamache but certainly entertaining. While away, I also tried to finish Noah Hawley’s latest novel, Anthem (review here), but no luck. Unlike S. Kirk Walsh, I’m finding it a bit… tedious.

Before heading out on my mini-vacation, I gave a Zoom* performance for an audience of one, playing the Rondeau, Polonaise, and Badinerie from Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067. Was it flawless? Nope. But while I was away, my teacher wrote, in part, “Really, really excellent work on the Bach! So pleased and proud that you put your all into it and did such a great job.” Yes, I’m still grinning. My new solo piece is Howard Ferguson’s Three Sketches for Flute and Piano. I’m also working on the ninth of 18 Studies for Flute by Joachim Anderson, Op. 41, in Robert Cavally’s Melodious and Progressive Studies from Andersen, Gariboldi, Koehler, and Terschak for Flute, Book 1, and “From Duetto No. IV” (W.F. Bach) in Selected Duets for Flute, Volume II (Advanced). My practice schedule remains much as it was in the fall.

Our walking schedule, however, does not: The snow and ice (to say nothing of the extreme cold of days like yesterday) make early morning walks in the neighborhood untenable, so we’ve been using workouts on DVDs, after which, I hop on the exercise bike while my husband gets ready for work. We have the equipment needed to walk the conservation district paths, though, so we head there on the weekends during which the weather cooperates.

* Given the continuing uncertainty surrounding the virus, I requested that we return to the virtual format until at least February.

“Bird of the Year”

1976AB9B-BCC9-40A6-B1B2-4A31CF60CBF4

Image taken in 2008.
Entry adapted from previously published posts.

In her paean to birding, Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, Lyanda Lynn Haupt writes:

There is a game birders play on New Year’s Day called “Bird of the Year.” The very first bird you see on the first day of the new year is your theme bird for the next 365 days. It might seem a curious custom, but people who watch birds regularly are always contriving ways to keep themselves interested. This is one of those ways. You are given the possibility of creating something extraordinary — a Year of the Osprey, Year of the Pileated Woodpecker, Year of the Trumpeter Swan. This game is an inspiration to place yourself in natural circumstances that will yield a heavenly bird, blessing your year, your perspective, your imagination, your spirit. New year, new bird.

After her breathless anticipation, Haupt espies… a European Starling, or “sky-rat.” The Year of the European Starling. Inauspicious, yes, but not without its charms, according to Haupt… and my daughter, for whom the much maligned starling was 2020’s bird of the year. (In 2021, we both saw goldfinches first.)

Tonight I will ensure that all of the feeders are topped off and that corn and nuts are scattered for the squirrels. (There are, of course, no squirrel-proof feeders, but I have learned that feed scattered away from the feeders will (mostly) keep those furry nuisances away from the birds and the more expensive seed.) What bird will 2022 bring me?

What will your bird of the year be?

Late autumn, walking and reading

Image captured at the conservation area this weekend.

In May, I noted that we were averaging about three miles daily on our morning walks. By mid-October, we had nudged that average to 3.5 miles with a four-plus-mile walk or two on the weekend. Just a month later, we had settled into a 4.1-mile daily average, and that seems to be about the right commitment for the time and light available to us before my husband begins work. The benefits are many, including a clear head, quality sleep, and an improved mood, even as the light continues to wane. Our neighborhood is wonderfully walkable, but at least once a week (usually on the weekend), we head to one of the conservation areas or state parks, something for which our feet and knees thank us. From Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study:

In my belief, there are two and only two occupations for Saturday [or Sunday] afternoon or forenoon […]. One is to be out-of-doors and the other is to lie in bed, and the first is best. Out in this, God’s beautiful world, there is everything waiting to heal lacerated nerves, to strengthen tired muscles, to please and content the soul that is torn to shreds with duty and care.

Arguably, I walk (and ride the exercise bike, do some weight work, and stretch) to ensure I can curl up and read (sans guilt and remorse) for long spells. Since my last annotated list, I finished, among other things, Linda Lear’s excellent biography of Beatrix Potter, which satisfied one of my reading challenges. As I wrote in August, my 2021 reading plan is to read no fewer than 100 books from my personal library (i.e., books acquired before the end of 2020), including 24 or more non-fiction titles and at least one book from each of the following categories: Shakespeare (by, about, retold, etc.), poetry, NYRB, Kurt Vonnegut (by or about), Joyce Carol Oates, philosophy, art, and children’s / YA. At this writing, I’ve read 196 books, 118 of which were read from my shelves (RFS). Twenty-three of those RFS were non-fiction titles, so I must read at least one more non-fiction work from my shelves, a challenge that will likely be met with either Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, which I began reading in advance of attending The Guardian Live event last month, or Joseph Luzzi’s In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love, which complements my participation in 100 Days of Dante. (By the way, we are only six cantos into Purgatorio, so it’s not too late to join the project.)

Here is how I met the other RFS category challenges:

Shakespeare (by, about, retold, etc.):
With The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and King Lear, I finished rereading all the plays last month. Earlier this year, I also read Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet and Matthew Haig’s The Dead Fathers Club, but, as I mentioned in last year’s summary, this year’s challenge is only satisfied if I have read at least one of the many non-fiction works I’ve collected. I’ve read three:

■ Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics (Stephen Greenblatt; 2018.)
■ How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education (Scott Newstok; 2020.)
Falstaff: Give Me Life (Harold Bloom; 1992.) 

Poetry:
War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad (Christopher Logue; 2015.)
Stag’s Leap (Sharon Olds; 2012.)
Chicago Poems (Carl Sandburg; 1916. Poetry.)
The Inferno of Dante (Dante Alighieri; 1320. (Trans. Robert Pinsky; 1995.))
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Unknown; 14th century. (Trans. J.R.R. Tolkien; 1975.) Poetry.)

NYRB:
The Goshawk (T.H. White; 1951. Non-fiction.)

Kurt Vonnegut (by or about):
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (Kurt Vonnegut; 1965. Fiction.)

Joyce Carol Oates:
Pursuit (Joyce Carol Oates; 2019. Fiction.)
The Collector of Hearts (Joyce Carol Oates; 1998. Fiction.)

Philosophy:
Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life (Zina Hitz; 2020. Non-fiction.)
Meditations (Marcus Aurelius; 180 A.D. (Trans. Gregory Hays.) Non-fiction.)
The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers (Stephen Mitchell; 1993. Non-fiction.)

Art:
Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature (Linda Lear; 2007. Non-fiction.)
The Complete Tales (Beatrix Potter; 2002 edition. Fiction.)

Children’s / YA:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie; 2007. Fiction.)
The Mouse and His Child (Russell Hoban; 1967. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling; 2001. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling; 1999. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling; 2000. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling; 2003. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling; 2005. Fiction.)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling; 2007. Fiction.)

In more recent reading news… Tolstoy Together 2021 concludes tomorrow, but, for a number of reasons, I decided to read the two epilogues of War and Peace and finish Yiyun Li’s companion volume late last week. As I noted in my October 7 tweet, the short readings coupled with the reflections in Tolstoy Together: 85 Days of War and Peace became a sort of secular daily devotional for me. What will I do on December 9? Well, 100 Days of Dante continues, and tomorrow is another Cardiff BookTalk, for which I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 

Yesterday I read the fifteenth book in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series, and late last month I finished reading Akwaeke Emezi’s 2020 novel, The Death of Vivek Oji, which was heart-breaking. (Reviews here and here.)

Autumn

Image captured on Saturday’s walk at a conservation district.

The juncos have returned, and when my husband and I depart each weekday morning, only streetlights illuminate the sidewalks for the first mile of our walk. Autumn has arrived — as has rain, which, so sorely needed all summer, has greened the lawn for dormancy and duped the dying begonias into rebirth, even as the oaks bury everything in yellow and brown leaves.

Punctuated by long nights and scented by benign smoke and wet leaves, the period between first frost and December is my favorite part of the year. The furnace is pressed into service by 5 a.m., and I, now be-sweatered and -socked from rising until bedtime, begin yawning before 6:45 p.m., but the rest is a sort of everyday magic, from the perfect circles bored into the pumpkins by what I imagine to be a stout but agreeable-enough nocturnal animal to the prehistoric trumpeting of the sandhill cranes as they gather in ever-widening circles over our home before beginning their journey away from the prairie; from the slant of the afternoon sun on the living room floor to the color of the sky when I collect the mail; from best-of booklists to seasonal menus… I adore autumn.

What is your favorite season? Why?

Tuesday morning

I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turned radiant at once, that word “good” so profoundly affirmed my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.

— from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead

This view. Our reward for rising at five, finishing the daily chores, and donning our walking shoes before 6 a.m.