Found Poetry

I happened upon a tiny (3 1/4″ x 5 1/2″) bird guide from 1906 titled, Land Birds East of the Rockies, from Parrots to Bluebirds, by one Chester A. Reed. It was published by Doubleday and presented in an illustrated cardboard slipcase.

Birds-titmouseThe “216 Illustrations in Color,” also by the author, charmed me. So did the language, which reads like poetry and is somehow flowery and Zen-like at the same time. Mr. Reed’s writing is direct and succint, but laced with diction and turns of phrase that sound quaint to today’s ears (“a trifle of orange on the forehead,” “dashing after insects,” “They are said to be fond of orange juice,” “the ruffians of the family,” and so on.

After reading some of these beautiful descriptions aloud to David, I decided to reformat some of them as verse, altering them with only minor tweaks of punctuation and careful omissions (forgive me, Mr. Reed). Et voila! Found poetry. Here is one:

Tufted Titmouse
Baelophus bicolor.    6 inches

Head crested,
forehead black,

They swing from the ends of twigs
in all manner of positions
and creep about trunks,
peering in crevices of the bark
for insects.

Their eggs are laid
in soft nests
of down and feathers
in hollow stumps.

Their notes
are loud, clear whistles.


Father-son interview

Sometimes it pays to be a pack rat.

Last weekend I started weeding through some of my personal papers as I get my house ready to sell. There is so much stuff that one can easily sink into paralysis, but spring is approaching; I know it’s time to buckle down. Going through every single thing, one at a time, is not easy, but I can’t let anything go without touching it.

Among the mountains of file folders and photographs, recipe clippings and random notes, I came upon some of the kids’ old homework papers. One of my son’s assignments, dated Sept. 10, 1998, was titled “Interview with Robert Lavelle.” The fledgling 8th graders had been asked to interview a parent about his job and how he made use of math in his work. It began:

Mischa: Robert, what’s your job?

Robert: I’m the director of publishing, education and new media for a documentary production company.

Mischa: Do you use mathematics in your job? If so, in what capacity?

Robert: I use math regularly in my job. I use it when doing budgets to decide on the feasibility of a project, to keep track of the expenses, and to project the revenue for my department.

The interview continues, with Mischa asking Bob what math courses he took in school, and whether he wished he’d taken more. Bob says he wishes he had.

Mischa’s final question: What advice would you give to a student today?

Bob’s answer: Think for yourself, be an individual, and remember that struggling for success and trying to enjoy life are not the same thing. Sometimes you have to choose between the two, and when you do, always choose to enjoy life.

The teacher’s comment, in red ink: “Good advice.”

My friend Donna is thinking about starting a gardening design and maintenance business. She should totally do it, because she’s loaded with talent. I’m toying around with logo ideas for her. This one was quick and dirty. Not so bad, though.

It can be scary to take the leap into unknown territory, even when you really, really love something. How to market yourself? How drum up business? I’m hoping I can help her with some of the collateral material so she can focus on doing what she does best–designing and planting gardens.

June 20, 2011

George Washington, the father of our country.I say no. Let me explain.

Suppose you have a venerable old maple tree in your back yard. The tree dies. It is dead. You call a tree removal company, and they come to chop down your dead tree. They remove all the wood and grind out the stump. Now the tree is gone. You would not call it dead, because it no longer exists. Something that does not exist cannot be dead.

The same applies to George Washington and the rest of the great majority. When a person dies, he is dead, and he remains so as long as his body persists. But once he is cremated, or turns to dust in the ground, he can no longer be called dead. He no longer exists.

George Washington is not alive, but neither is he dead. He is gone.

Lily of the valleyMy mother had a collection of cobalt blue glass. This hand-painted  vase was always one of my favorites. Every spring my mother filled the vase with lilies-of-the-valley from her garden. Now I do the same. The scent is beyond sublime, almost too intense for human mortals.

These flowers thrive in the shade. In the valley. In the shadows of mountains.

Along the highway

Along the highway
in early spring
naked branches ensnare
tattered bags
that masquerade as owls.