Terror Stalks the Retirement Home
I thought I had posted this picture before, but if so I can't find it.
Happy All Hallows' Eve and All Saints' Day.
I thought I had posted this picture before, but if so I can't find it.
Happy All Hallows' Eve and All Saints' Day.
It has never been one of my favorite colors, but in recent years has become so. I think the change may have something to do with age. At any rate it now gives me great joy.
Many years ago, thirty-five or so, my father somehow or other obtained a little banana tree, which he planted in a wooden tub maybe two feet in diameter. This was in north Alabama, where the winter temperatures drop below freezing quite often, so he couldn't leave it outside or plant it permanently. So every fall he would drag the tub, which was quite heavy, into the basement, and in the spring drag it out again. It never grew more than a few feet tall, but it survived.
About twenty years ago my wife brought a shoot from that plant down to our home 350 miles further south, where freezing temperatures are much less frequent. She planted it (maybe I helped, but I hesitate to claim that.) It has survived and to some degree thrived; it's now a clump of half a dozen or so trunks which by the end of the summer are ten feet tall. Most winters have at least one hard freeze that kills them back to the ground, but they always come back. Last year we really didn't have a serious freeze. Now for the first time it's bearing real fruit. We've had a few little ones before but they never got this big.
A reed shaken by the wind?
For the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. I've always loved that line. (Luke 7:24)
I've been wanting to read Romano Guardini's The Lord for some time. This past Christmas I received it as a gift but had not so much as opened it, so I decided to make it my Lenten reading. If I had looked first and seen that it's 625 pages long I might not have chosen it. Sure, to average fifteen pages or so a day doesn't sound like it would be a problem, but it's probably not especially quick reading, and I know from experience how missing just a few days can completely wreck projects like this. Well, I'll proceed. I read twenty pages today and am greatly impressed.
After noting the failures and crimes of various figures mentioned in the genealogies of Jesus, Guardini says:
He entered fully into everything that humanity stands for--and the names in the ancient genealogies suggest what it means to enter into human history with its burden of fate and sin. Jesus of Nazareth spared himself nothing.
In the long quiet years in Nazareth, he may well have pondered these names. Deeply he must have felt what history is, the greatness of it, the power, confusion, wretchedness, darkness, and evil underlying even his own existence and pressing him from all sides to receive it into his heart that he might answer for it at the feet of god.
I'll probably be posting less during Lent, though "less" may mean shorter posts, not fewer. We'll see. Either way I'm going to make a big effort to stay away from current events, politics, and so forth, and to concentrate on the permanent things. But before I drop that stuff:
For at least ten years I've been writing that secular liberalism or progressivism or whatever you want to call it is a species of religion, and that the so-called culture war is essentially a conflict between two religions. Other people may have been saying the same thing then, but if so I didn't come across their writings, and I thought I was saying something that was not the conventional wisdom. Now suddenly I'm seeing it everywhere--for instance in this piece by David French. It has become in fact a pretty conventional observation. Although it's pleasing to be vindicated, I'm not entirely happy about this development, as the idea is central to the book for which I'm now trying to find a publisher, and which now has that much less to be said for it. Oh well.
I'm also thinking I may sometimes post pictures without words, partly in an effort to quiet my always-chattering mind a little, and to encourage silent contemplation, on my part and yours. But also I like posting pictures, and haven't been doing it for a while. They're pretty conventional, I know, and very limited in range. Most are taken within a hundred yards of my house. But I am continually amazed by the world.
I'm a little shocked that spring has come around again. The cypresses have been leafing out for a couple of weeks now. They're one of my favorite spring colors.
This was a notable Ash Wednesday. I went to Mass at the cathedral in Mobile, and for the first time in many years I did not hear "Ashes." Griping about it had become an annual custom for me, and I'm glad not to have to work on stifling that irritation, though I guess rejoicing that I didn't hear it is almost the same thing as griping about it. I had been working on treating it as a penance, with not much success. Anyway, as my wife said, the great thing about it is that you don't have to actually hear it--all you have to do is think about it to get it stuck in your head.
At that Mass Fr. Michael Farmer delivered the best Ash Wednesday homily I've ever heard. This is something close to an accurate transcription of it in its entirety:
Today we enter a period of deeper devotion, a time of fasting, prayer, and penance. Start doing it.
(This post is mostly photos and may be slow to load. I hope it's worth it.)
I mentioned last week that I was traveling. Where I was traveling to was Belfast. Why I was there is a longish story. It was a family get-together, and I have this odd reticence about saying anything very specific on the public web about my children and their children, so never mind the details. Suffice to say that my wife and I were hosted by a native couple, were treated royally, and had a great time. The weather was beautiful, and apparently atypical: it was either sunny or partly cloudy, and I heard people use the term "heat wave," which meant temperatures that almost touched 80F. Really.
And I took some pictures. It's an idiosyncratic travelogue, featuring not necessarily what was best or most important, but what I happened to have the inclination and opportunity to take a snapshot of.
This is a view from the front porch (I think--and I doubt that's the right word) of Castle Ward. I'm not sure how far the domain extends--at minimum to the water's edge, behind and below the trees. I think that promontory in the left middle distance is also part of it.
We got there too late to tour the house itself. I would not have called it a castle, at least not the main house, which was built in the 18th century, and looks it. But the estate as a whole includes structures, too many and too large to be adequately described as outbuildings, which look medieval. Some of these are used as sets for Game of Thrones (which I have not seen). Surely the Clock Tower is one of them.
If you deduce that I did not take this picture, you're correct.
Walking down to the water from the house I saw this very impressive and perhaps just a bit creepy old tree. Does anybody know what kind it is? I don't recognize the leaves at all, and have never seen such a gnarled trunk. I think it was a good four feet in diameter.
White Park Bay is on the northern coast, maybe 40 miles or so north of Belfast. It's at the foot of a hill which I'm going to guess is 150 feet high. That is just a guess, though. This is a view from the top of the path leading down to the beach.
Not too far away is the famous Giant's Causeway, with its strange basalt columns.
You can walk out on a sort of promontory comprised of these columns. (Actually I think the formation goes on for a mile or more along the shoreline--we only saw one part of it.) This is a view from the tip of that promontory looking back toward the mainland. There's something kind of intriguingly ominous about this image.
I suppose it happens at least once a week or so on a certain Belfast street that a car stops abruptly and a tourist jumps out to take a picture like this. I am leaving the finger in as indicative of the excitement of the moment.
For many years when I listened to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks I thought he was singing about "Cypress Avenue," and never noticed that the title of the song is actually "Cyprus Avenue." It was fairly recently that I discovered this ("fairly recently" for me meaning "in the last ten or fifteen years"), and I was disappointed. Cypress Avenue sounds like a beautiful place; Cyprus Avenue does not. But actually it looks like a lovely place.
And speaking of Van, I spotted this mural on the side of a building:
That's him in the upper left, of course. Below him is Garry Moore, who is not all that well known in the U.S. I'm guessing that the soccer ("football") player in the upper right is George Best, for whom the airport is named. I don't recognize anyone else, though no doubt I would recognize the name of the guitarist at the bottom.
One day we drove south from Belfast along Strangford Lough ("Loch"), crossed its southern end at Portaferry, and drove back up the northeastern coast. Those little coastal farms and towns are about as close to an idyllic and ideal landscape as I can imagine. Unfortunately I didn't take any good photos on that drive. What I found especially captivating (and my wife felt the same) was the way the farmlands run right down almost to the water's edge.
And yet: no place on earth is idyllic, really. The shadow of the Troubles still falls on Belfast and the little towns round about. One of the beautiful little towns we drove through on our northward outing was Ballymoney. Leafing through a newspaper on Sunday morning, I read a story about the current doings of a man who had been involved in the incendiary bombing of a home there which took the lives of three little boys. You don't have to look very hard for signs that tensions still simmer, in spite of the peace agreement of 1998. We left on the morning of July 12, not realizing when we planned the trip that "The Twelfth" is a very significant day and a frequent occasion of violence. That night there was some--burning of cars and the like--though happily it was relatively minor.
Being the alarmist and pessimist that I am, I couldn't help thinking about the relevance of Northern Ireland's conflict to the current one in the U.S. I hear more and more talk about the possibility of civil war here, of the culture war turning into actual war, or of an attempt to divide the country, which could certainly lead to violence. It's not serious, in that no one except for perhaps a very very few fanatics is really preparing for violence. And our antagonisms don't have the historical causes and intensity of Ireland's. But it would be foolish to deny that it's possible. After all, as some '60s radical said, violence is as American as apple pie. It's not as if we haven't already demonstrated that we're capable of civil war.
The possibility is sometimes dismissed because the opposing sides in our culture war are not clearly separable by geography, as in the War Between the States, or easily identifiable by ethnicity. But the Troubles demonstrate that those are not necessary. All you need is a pair of enemies and the belief on each side that the other is a serious threat to its welfare and perhaps to its existence. There are still "peace walls" separating Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods in parts of Belfast. (It's always seemed to me that it's misleading to think of this as a religious conflict: religion serves as a differentiating mark, certainly, but it's not about religion; they aren't fighting about doctrine.) We ought to be uneasy when we hear our fellow citizens declare that they don't want their political opponents as neighbors. We ought to be downright frightened at the level of political and cultural hate that is so frequently on display. If you think this kind of fury can go on indefinitely without expressing itself in deeds you don't know much about mankind.
Ok, enough of that. There is a place on the northern coast called Corrymeela which is an ecumenical Christian community devoted to peace and reconciliation. These peaceful waters are seen from there.
Sometimes I forget that the group of people who read this blog and the group who see what I put on Facebook overlap but are not identical. I posted this on Facebook one day last week, so some of you have seen it. Here it is for those who have not.
I was sitting in my portable chair working by the bay one day a couple of weeks ago when this heron landed nearby. That's a bit unusual, so I took out my phone and started recording, mainly for the benefit of my local grandsons, who have seen these birds but not so close. I wish I had zoomed in before the bird caught the first fish. Probably someone who knows something about video could bring out more detail in the bird, which is mostly in shadow. But I decided not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
For several weeks now I've established a routine of going down to the bay every morning with a folding chair, a cup of coffee, and my notebook, and writing for a couple of hours. I also take my phone with me, partly because someone might need to contact me, and partly so that I can set a timer to keep myself from sitting for too long at a stretch (back problems). That obviously presents a great danger of distraction, but so far I've managed to keep it mostly under control.
What did begin to distract me, though, after the first few days, was my surroundings. There is the constant activity of gulls, pelicans, herons, ducks, geese, kingfishers, and the occasional osprey over and around the water. There is the water itself, the changing light and textures. And a bit to my surprise, the sky, with its constant movement of clouds--not surprise that it is beautiful and changing, but that I find myself paying so much attention to it. Of course that may have something to do with the desire to avoid work. And sometimes I can't resist picking up the phone and taking a picture.
I think this is not only a leaf but some part of the flower apparatus, as the other leaves don't have this purple stalk. The flowers are purple.
Church sign in Birmingham (Alabama). Their message seems perhaps truer than they may hav realized or intended. You may need to click on the image to see what I mean.
This has nothing at all to do with the season, but I was retrieving these photos from my phone and thought I'd post a couple of them. Last weekend I was visiting in the Silicon Valley area and we went to Santa Cruz one day. It's the sort of place that you immediately wish you could move to. The first picture is looking southward toward the high rocky point which is seen from much closer in the second picture. On the other side of that point there were real surfers, surfing. People surf in the Gulf of Mexico here but it's pretty mild, almost funny, stuff, unless there's a hurricane coming. These were way out from shore--somewhere between a quarter and a half mile, I'd guess. And the waves were several feet taller than they were. It looks scary, but it also looks like a whole lot of fun.
That little black smudge on the point is a person, which gives you an idea of how high the rocks are. Sometimes the waves would send spray almost to the top.
There are several sets of photos similar to this one that I've seen here and there on the net, color photos taken at a time when color photography was almost unknown. I think they're fascinating, and very valuable, because early photography, in ironic contradiction of what was thought to be its startling realism, has given us a very distorted mental image of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even now, I suspect too many people think that everything in the 1950s looked like a faded Kodacolor print. At any rate a lot of movie-makers seem to think it's appropriate to use those tones for that period. Anyway: 1913: Christina in Red.
When I got this off the camera I thought it was more purple than it should be. Still pretty, though. I remember as a child with a coloring book and crayons coloring something dark green and dark purple, and someone telling me those colors didn't go together. Every now and then over the years I've seen that combination and thought "Yes they do."
I often think about how photography conditions and limits our imagination of times after it was invented but earlier than we can personally remember. I think it's difficult for most of us to see events of roughly 1860 to 1950 in color, real color, exactly as we see it now. Or at least we have to make a bit of an effort to do so. And we tend to see the 1950s and '60s in color that's somewhat washed out, faded in the way that color photographs fade. This sometimes even works on me, and I have perfectly clear memories of the 1950s.
Movies often reinforce this, even contemporary ones, by filming earlier times in black and white, or in color that's tweaked to have a sepia tone, to suggest the early 20th century, or touched with greenish-brown to suggest the 1940s, or faded and slightly blurry to suggest the 1950s. I always silently congratulate filmmakers who resist that urge. And how hard is it to get out of one's mind the notion that in the 1910s and '20s not only was everything monochrome, but all movement was unnaturally quick and jerky?
In the last few years a number of early color photos have been published on the web, and for me they do a lot to break that monochrome spell, especially for times when I didn't even realize color photography existed. There's a new book out, The First World War in Colour, which, on the basis of the samples at that link, is almost startling.
And perhaps you've already seen this set from the 1930s, which appeared online a few years ago. There's lots more out there, if you look for it. Somewhere there is even a batch from, if I remember correctly, rural Russia in the late 19th or very early 20th century.
Seen on my way home from work. I've mentioned this church sign before.
St. James would not have been pleased with the internet.
I've posted these before, but it's been awhile. I don't have any new ones. We went to a couple of parades this year, but got no really good pictures. Mardi Gras is essentially over for me, though it's only Tuesday afternoon. I do hope to have some really self-indulgent meal this evening--maybe fried chicken. My wife and I are planning to try for the first time to do without meat for the whole of Lent.
She took these two pictures in 2005.
I really like this one, the clock emblem of one of the "mystic" societies, with the blurred hands capturing the sense of time fleeting. And I note with a little dismay that it was taken nine years ago.
From a rainy night in 2009:
Also from 2009, a standard Mardi Gras feature: a booth that sells very unhealthy food like corn dogs, sausages, and funnel cakes. A funnel cake is a sort of mutant doughnut, strands of fried dough covered with powdered sugar: delicious, and I haven't had one for a long time.
Happy Mardi Gras, and I hope you have a blessed and spiritually productive Lent. I've about decided to take a vacation day tomorrow, and never mind the fact that people will probably think I'm recuperating from a bender. It really gets Lent off to a bad start for me if Ash Wednesday is just an ordinary hectic work day. What shall I read this year? I think maybe Augustine's Confession, which I've started twice and never finished.
I know this is nothing by the standards of any part of the country north of Tennessee or so, but it's hard to communicate just how freakish it is here. Normally the most severe wintry weather we get is a few days here and there slightly below freezing. Once, ca. 1996, there was enough snow in Mobile to cover the ground and stick for most of a day, and against the stern instructions of the authorities, I drove several of my children over to see it. Now and then we get a bit of sleet or freezing rain. But I've been living in this area for 23 years and haven't seen anything remotely like this.
This was the view out the front door this morning. That looks like snow, but it's actually mostly sleet. It fell along with a little rain, so it was a bit slushy, and then it all froze hard overnight. Footprints don't show on it. The stepping stones are clear because I swept the sleet off last night while it was still falling, before it had a chance to harden. I did the same on the steps, and my wife found a box of ice cream salt which worked wonderfully for keeping the steps clear.
But the big news, and the sad news, in this picture is the dead leaves on that tree overhanging the front steps. That is our lemon tree. It should be green even in winter. The damage you see is from the similar cold snap of a couple of weeks ago, which involved no precipitation. We'll know in six weeks or so how bad the damage really is. But I think there are going to be no lemons this year. This is how it looked only six weeks or so ago.
The beach is covered with ice, too.
On a slight slope, I could take a couple of running steps and have a nice slide, which was not very smart for a guy with a bad back, but fun.
I looked for ice along the edges of the water, because I wanted very much to be able to say that Mobile Bay is beginning to freeze over. But apart from a bit of frozen foam there really wasn't any. There was, however, some fresh frozen mullet.
We watched the weather report on one of the local TV stations last night, which we rarely do, and it was very funny. Roving correspondents all over the area, trying to think of variations on "Look at the ice on that highway. Gosh, there's a lot of ice! Ice is slippery, don't drive on it. Look at all that ice!" And there was a funny scene of kids from quite young to college age "sledding" on plastic storage-bin lids and anything else they could find that was flat and big enough to sit on.
Oh, and my wife and I, like almost everyone else in the area, got an unexpected two days off work, which is why I have time to do this.
Just a mother taking pictures of her children, as so many others do. But...wow. She's Russian, and her name is Elena Shumilova. She says she "processes" the photos at night, and I really wonder what she does and what tools she uses, because I doubt that they come out of the camera looking quite this good. See the entire gallery here.