Bird Bouquet

On a recent spring-like day, I went into the back yard and was stunned by a change in our hackberry tree.  It was like a bouquet of birds in the wind.  They lit on branches singly and in clusters and only momentarily. They flitted and soared and whirled, fluttered, hopped here and there and away.  I believed it was a vision or hallucination. I began crying, not from fear, but from the startle and beauty of it—and joy.  It seemed real. I wanted to preserve it as long as possible, and without my phone camera had only my memory.  I tried to memorize the kinds of birds, but I’m not a birder and recognized by type only a few.  Robins galore, with different shades of breast color, from pale pink  to dark red; robin-like birds with white patches; doves (only two) , starlings, finch, brown sparrows, tiny birds with at least three colors—red,  green, and yellow—and very tiny birds with bright yellow bellies and dark green or brown tops.  All moving in and out and up and around and down.  Impossible to count. I finally inched back to the door, sped into the house, grabbed my phone, and, at the door again, inched out.  All but a few had gone. I should have stood still until I couldn’t bear it.  I should have kept the sight as long as possible instead of wanting a photo.  Now, writing about the event, I know my prose can’t capture it. Likely a photo couldn’t either. Maybe not even a video.  The sound was wind-swept bird song, bird talk,  tree rustle and sway, and a vast silence everywhere else.

Leafless, the tree’s twigs held thousands of hackberries.  They were a delight for the birds and the birds were more than that for me.  I was exceedingly happy those few moments, and I feel a bit of that happiness every time I think of them.


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Tiny and Powerful: Stephen King’s Elevation

This is a very welcome message from a creative mind and good heart.  Scott, the main character, models making a difference where you are, and accepting the part of life you can’t understand with hope and bravery.  We all share, or will, this coming to the end, and have a personal vision of it.  The vision in  Elevation, a novelette, isn’t obscured by heavy plot or angst or horror or even length.  And it’s actually not a surprise coming from Stephen King. In his works,  people join together to fight evil.  They care for one another and are stronger for it.  That’s central to Elevation.  Even the small size seems part of the message—tiny and powerful.  It’s a very good read.

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Grasshopper Doings on Grover Street

When I parked in our driveway yesterday, a huge grasshopper lighted on the car hood, then hopped-flew to the top façade of the garage door. If there was a spider web there, I couldn’t see it, and it had to be fairly flat against the surface of the wall. In the second after the grasshopper landed, a spider ran from a white metal trim to the grasshopper, hit him or bit him, and darted back into the pipe. The grassphopper began struggling against either toxins or web—I think toxins. In a about 30 seconds, the spider zipped again, hit again, and hid again. The grasshopper, who had all my sympathy now, still struggled but more slowly, a whole body shifting, no real leg movement. He was parallel with the horizonal edge of the garage-door opening. A couple minor shifts and he rolled off the edge, his wings opened, and he flew away. He escaped. I thought he was dead for certain but he knew what to do—or his body reacted in the right way. I believe he’s still alive. I hope so.

Today, I saw a different (I’m sure) grasshopper on the deck railing. He was holding and eating a piece of cat food. (Our female cat, Pearly, likes to eat her first breakfast in the house, on the dryer, and then have a snack on the railing.) I happened to have my phone with me and got a video of this grasshopper but I can’t post a video here. I have a fairly good photo.

This may not be an unusual incident to many people, but it is rare to me, and so I’m sharing.


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Thoughts on Reading

I recall reading in Percy Lubbock’s The Craft of Fiction that we retain only a general sense of a book unless we read it more than once. That memory was sparked again by Joseph Epstein’s “The Pleasures of Reading” in which he shares a response to some works:

What I consciously take away from many of the books I read are scenes, oddments, bit and pieces. I am somehow less interested in the final meaning of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” than I am in the fact that so many of the phrases from that poem have stuck in my mind for more than forty years. From an Isaac Bashevis Singer story, I recall the earlock of a yeshiva student, flapping in the wind; I remember the little finger of Father Sergius in Tolstoy’s story of that name, twirling in the air after he has chopped it off….

It’s reassuring to know that the fleeting hold I have on some books is a common response, as are the selective details that may, surely do, reflect my personal reading.

Usually I remember my feeling about a book (a no-no in scholarly writing).  Sometimes it’s affection, sometimes resistance, maybe a shudder. But if the book moved me, I’ll remember vividly some image or line or a choice, something specific. I think they’re telling details, important to a particular theme or issue, but they’re access points to memory.  Here are a few of the many that have lasted: The choice of endings in The French Lieutenant’s Woman—the slight dismay I felt discovering that the ending I wanted wasn’t merited by the strength of the character; the “planting hands” of Elisa in Steinbeck’s “Chrysanthemums” and the “speck” of flower in the road; the casting away, in Cather’s My Antonia, of Mrs. Shimerda’s gift of mushrooms, the only food she has; the mute love of Singer in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; the bit of lard in Sula and the miserable choice of using it as food or lubricant; the Faulkner lady fallen from high station and allowing herself to take from her neighbor’s garden only what she can reach through the fence.

Morrison’s Sula was a hard book—so much suffering, but much life, too, bold and vivid, something precious always at risk. I was afraid to come to the end of the novel. I didn’t see how anything positive could rise from such betrayal and loss. But one line turned my near despair to a kind of joy—tearful, admittedly. An I’ll-be-damned moment. Morrison changed my perception of the character. I loved the end. I celebrated Sula.

A recent read is still very close: Where the Crawdad’s Sing. It’s a kind of delicate book, satisfies at so many levels. The situation tests belief but becomes increasing believable. This young girl—Kya, Catherine, the Marsh Girl—is a survivor. She grasps opportunities and works unflaggingly. She loves the world and people, even if she’s wary. She’s practical but filled with wonder. There’s a murder mystery all along, and the resolution of that is an of-course one. Of course. This is an honest author, no tricks. But what hooked me most and makes me think on the book again and again, are the poems pieced here and there. Tidbits. The resolution to that authorship mystery is perfect, about art and realism, and thought and touch. It’s a full circle book. One thinks (I think) of the character, the author, women and the Word. I suspect that years from now, even if I forget the murder, and the love, and the lyrics themselves, I’ll remember that I loved the presence of the poems and what they meant.

Epstein, Joseph. “The Pleasures of Reading.” Narcissus Leaves the Pool. Houghton-Miffline Harcourt, 1999: 207-209.

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Stone, Cold, Sober, Thought

A friend, very bright and keen about language rules, recently advised me that “stone” is a noun and can’t be an adjective.  The reason: there’s no comparative form, such as stoner, stonest, more stone, most stone.  The proper designation for the word is either noun adjunct or adjectival.  I checked my oldest and newest dictionaries at home—neither identified stone as an adjective. On-line sources were divided but seemed to favor only noun and verb as functions. My own sensibilities told me that noun adjunct was a better—more accurate—term: stone statue, stone foundation, stone jar. The noun in these phrases wouldn’t be complete without the added word. My friend was, is, right.

I enjoyed a brief search trying to establish “stone” as an adjective, but eventually I just reviewed  types, proper order, and rules for punctuating a series of adjectives.  Can one insert the word “and” between each? If so, the adjectives are coordinate, and a comma separates each except the one before the noun. If cumulative, then one adjective may belong with another and thus no comma separates the two.   In the preferred order of adjectives, shape and color precede material.

I couldn’t resist a test. Only the last one is correct. (Maybe)

One doesn’t see a stone, blue, round, jar.
One doesn’t see a stone, blue, round jar.
One doesn’t see a round, stone, blue, jar.
One doesn’t see a round, stone, blue jar.
One doesn’t see a blue, stone, round, jar.
One doesn’t see a blue, stone, round jar.
One doesn’t see a round, blue, stone, jar.
One doesn’t see a round, blue, stone jar.
One doesn’t see a round, blue stone jar.

I very much value clarity and rules that lead to it. There’s a pleasure in deviation, too, experimenting, or just searching for that special feel or sight, or speaking from the heart. Rules must be held lightly then, if at all. That’s an old rule, too.  Here’s an “introductory hint” found in  Reed & Kellogg ‘s 1895 English Grammar and Composition. “Arrangement—Transposed Order.”

The common and natural order, spoken of in the preceding Lesson, is not the only order admissible in an English sentence; on the contrary, great freedom in the placing of words and phrases is sometimes allowable.  Let the relation of the words be kept obvious and, consequently, the thought clear, and in poetry, in impassioned oratory, in excited speech of any kind, one may deviate widely from this order. (94))

Yes, such deviation from the natural order gave us and will continue to give us schemes and tropes and phrases we could never form by the rules. “Lend me your ears.” “I will fight no more forever.” “Every goodbye ain’t gone.”

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That Turtle Dove

Turtle doves are in the neighborhood for the fourth year in a row.  One is huge and slow, the other dainty and somewhat quicker.  Sometimes they’re side by side on the power line and sometimes stepping around on the parking area next door, almost invisible against the gravel. I keep my camera handy for a closer shot, one not blurred by a wire fence. Often the big one, which I assume is the male, sits on the high wire above our rear gate, and the smaller female finds seeds inside our yard. Sparrows hop around and she ignores them, but some movement or sound will startle her up to her mate. Always I’m hoping to see the two of them, because I know they mate for life and I don’t want that life to be short.

I’ve heard that their call can be loud and harsh, but that’s not borne out by my experience.  It’s a sweet sound, distant and yet intimate, soft and hollow. It can be sad.  One line about the “mourning” dove is so common that its call must have touched the hearts of many people.  This line, for example, appears in myriad folksongs: “Yonder sits that pretty turtle dove, it flies from pine to pine, mourning for its own true love, as I once did for mine.”  Today, trying to find the original source of that line, I found Ralph Vaughan Williams’ lyrics for “The Turtle Dove,” his arrangement of “Fare Thee Well,” a much older ballad.  Here’s the pertinent verse:

O yonder doth sit that little turtle dove

He doth sit on yonder high tree

A making a moan for the loss of his love

As I will do for thee

“A making a moan.”  Now that sounds mournful.  But when I hear doves in my neighborhood, especially in my own yard, I don’t hear moans, just a gentle greeting. I feel a good nostalgia and a fondness–for the doves and their traits and what they symbolize.


Source for lyrics by Ralph Vaughan Williams:,p01145936


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A Kind View in Ryan’sThe Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

At first, I didn’t quite believe Jennifer Ryan’s The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir (set in 1940 England), mostly because of the epistolary form It seemed unlikely that people could or would quote lengthy dialog exchanges verbatim. Also, the father was too villainous, the mid-wife’s crime too easily effected, and the happy ending unrealistically inclusive.

And yet, I like happy endings and I applaud authors who love humans and credit them with good reasons for their actions (or forgive them) and grant women the power they actually wield, even in some horrendous circumstances. Romance, mystery, history, danger, high values (loyalty, sacrifice, bravery, tolerance, kindness) made it overall a pleasant and upbeat read. So did music. The ladies sing beautifully and gain some recognition.

One passage is particularly worth noting, because the sentiment it reveals underlies the whole book.  Mrs. Tillman observes privately  that though one partner in a then illegal intimate relation had died, “fragile kindness in their love survived this poisonous war.”  It’s a wonderful line, positing that kindness is a part of love, is itself fragile. That a trait of love is a real fact, perceivable by an outsider, present at least in one person, and perhaps in tone and atmosphere for the rest of the world, or those willing to see it.

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