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December 29, 2003
December 28, 2003
December 27, 2003
December 26, 2003
December 25, 2003
December 22, 2003
Winter(In case you hadn’t noticed.)
November 27, 2003
November 25, 2003
The Garden of RejectionThe Fall is failing, heading into its naked final phase, on the way to Winter. It’s as if the fullness of Summer were too much; a thing to turn away from. We are wound in cycles, with no way to sustain the ripened moment. Always nurturing in expectation, or working vainly at preservation. Towards or away from, but rarely there… Who would not seek to hold on to the long days of growth and warmth?
One Lady, in a song I’m thinking of, would rather look to Winter.
The Gardener Child is the ballad, similar in form to the riddles and “topping” songs I’ve discussed, but with a strange, declining note. The Gardener propositions the Lady with an offer to clothe her in a gown of all the Summer’s flowers, but she rejects him, with a parallel promise to array him in all the discomforts of Winter’s weather.
And that’s all there is to it.
More often this form involves a series of exchanges, working to a positive resolution. Here it’s a simple one-to-one, solicitation and rejection, leading nowhere. Perhaps the song as it comes down to us is a fragment, but it may be more likely that it is lodged in a level of Mystery we customarily turn away from, preferring to invent our happy endings.
A cycle has no ending, happy or otherwise, without recourse to something outside itself. But if Summer and Winter are opposing statements, then Spring is a “yes” and Autumn a “no,” between them satisfying the barest definition of a dialogue; just enough to motivate the ongoing transformations of the Year.
We might prefer to tongue the dialogue of “yes” and “yes”, but that exchange belongs to eternity. From our oscillating vantage we cannot tell it from an argument: for us, even agreement is evidence of fracture; a requirement of separation, in imitation of true unity. To our ears it is as the gossip of heaven, which we can know only as a fitful ecstasy, beyond season or cycle.
Such ecstasy is surely the aim of the Gardener’s importuning: “Come kiss sweetheart and join and join, Come kiss sweetheart and join.” Do we not all wish to Join? Maybe there is an imbalance in his offer of a literal rose in exchange for the Lady’s more figurative “flower.” Her answer is in the same terms, for a gown of plants, however surreal, is something we can imagine, but to wear the wind and hail, or to ride upon the Winter as a horse, is reserved for the realm of metaphor.
Though his desire is “natural,” the male’s role as Gardener puts him outside of Nature, placing him in a position of control. He can train Nature to his will, making it an instrument of seduction. The Lady is not so compliant. Her invocation of the intemperate is the opposite of cultivation. Where the Gardener would manage the cycle, she turns it back upon him, denying “natural” desire (which would enforce the cycle through procreation) by her appeal to the unaccommodating side of Nature, which lies beyond the garden’s fences. Between the Summer’s flowers and the Winter showers, she speaks the “no” of Autumn. This is the voice of asceticism: a form of self-control that resists control imposed from without.
But even if the power of the Outside can be found Within, there also will be found loneliness, and though her “no” may echo through the Winter, maybe come Springtime this Lady will have something new to say.
November 11, 2003
Too Many, or Too Few?Veterans’ wars are in the past.
Time’s passage mellows all things, even the hurts of war. Would that we had more veterans today, rather than this host on active duty. How long will they stay? How many will we honor on a future Veteran’s Day? How many on Memorial Day?
Quickly we would wish to put the war away, making veterans out of soldiers, history out of horror. Did I say mellow? Rather, time wears down rough edges, blurs sharp distinctions, and ignores the obvious, allowing murder to adhere to glory, mingling death with duty, impaling the Other upon our best intent.
This Holiday is as much about forgetting as it is about remembrance.
Someone forgot the proper rigging of the flag that flies at the Blockhouse, the Park’s reminder of forgotten wars. The War of 1812; what was that about? Something to do with Britain fighting France; Napoleon and Wellington and those guys, and we no more than a tangent. But that was long ago, and now allegiances are reversed, under our dictate. To remember would only confound, and cause dissent. Perhaps that’s why the flag was flying upside down, the martial signal of distress.
If we do not come to our own rescue, no one will.
But can we be rescued from ourselves?
It is the muster of confusion: call out the troops, before we run short of veterans.
November 4, 2003
October 31, 2003
GhostwoodAt the edge of the wood the sunbeams break
Stippling patterns on the shade
Trail fading into dark…
At the edge of the wood, and the Tree is Birch
White bark peels back and shreds like years
Layer on layer
Year on year
Heartwood wound in a fraying shroud
The light slides over the darkness
As today wraps ‘round the past
The Tree unwinds; a spiral ghost
Revisiting what was
A seed unfolds
A sapling sways
A twig attains the sky
A root winds down
Heaven and earth entwine
But ruin and rot and lightning strike
Reap only blackened ground
And wicked winds will roots upheave
To twist through fallen boughs
At the edge of the wood a Tree is gone
The edge of a retreat
Too dark for evening to discern
The forest from its ghosts
October 13, 2003
Finding the WayColumbus had maps, of course; it’s just that his maps didn’t accurately depict the territory he was sailing into. He thought he’d reached the “Indian sea.” Which is to say, his preconceptions compromised his capacity for surprise. Discovery is what’s left once misinterpretation is sorted out.
The names of places are important. Calling America the Indies did not make it so, but tracing our winding path of misnomer, appropriation of native terms, nostalgic invocations of the Old World, and visionary evocation of a new one, may lead us to a better understanding of where we are and how we got here.
But to be really useful, a map must also show us how to get where we want to go. The rub is in the “want”; it’s harder to put a name upon desire than on a hill or stream, though the names we choose for the places in our lives may tell us much about our desires. A reasonably accurate depiction of the field, and thereby a display of possibility, is about as much as we can reasonably ask of any map.
Beyond the edges there may be dragons.
In taking the occasion of Columbus Day to present a map of the Park’s North End, I’m responding mostly to inquiries from the birding community. Reporting sightings from the less-familiar North End, my use of traditional nomenclature, (even more than idiosyncratic coinages,) has occasionally led to confusion as to just where I’m actually talking about. I’m used to being told I don’t know what I’m talking about, but where is another matter. I don’t mean to be willfully obscure, and in my defense I would say my concern is analogous to the effort made by Roger Tory Peterson and others in the mid-twentieth century to restore the traditional names of the American raptors. Just as I’d rather see a Kestrel than a “sparrow-hawk”, I’d prefer to see it perched on the Mount, rather than “at the dump” or “the compost”.
In fact, most of what I know about the Park’s nomenclature can be found on readily available maps. The Greensward Map is the best, including all the original names applied by designers Olmstead and Vaux, as well as providing elevations and historical features.
This map from New York Focus, with annotated links, is also useful.
My map is a bit simpler, but it does include some of the non-traditional names used by birders. These are ad hoc coinages, subject to the vagaries of usage, developed by various North End birders, or else just whims of mine. Many spots remain nameless; you may invent your own appelations. Invention aside, the map remains less fantastic than the one in The Lord of the Rings, though it may also be less sophisticated than the one in Winnie the Pooh. At least it is more accurate than what Columbus had. I only hope it has as much power as any of those to open up a space where imagination and actuality can intersect in an arena of unknown potential.
Map of Central Park north of 100th Street, with a few notes.