AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

31 December 2015

Observe.

Wyeth, Bonfire, 1992


Amidst the worldly comings and goings, observe how endings become beginnings.

Lao Tzu

Strauss, Die Fledermaus

Placido Domingo conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus, featuring Kiri Te Kanawa (with the sauce on the side, please) ...

Glad.


Song of Quietness

Drink deep, drink deep of quietness,
    And on the margins of the sea
Remember not thine old distress
    Nor all the miseries to be.
Calmer than mists, and cold
As they, that fold on fold
Up the dim valley are rolled,
    Learn thou to be.

The Past—it was a feverish dream,
    A drunken slumber full of tears.
The Future—O what wild wings gleam,
    Wheeled in the van of desperate years!
Thou lovedst the evening: dawn
Glimmers; the night is gone:—
What dangers lure thee on,
    What dreams more fierce?

But meanwhile, now the east is gray,
    The hour is pale, the cocks yet dumb,
Be glad before the birth of day,
    Take thy brief rest ere morning come:
Here in the beautiful woods
All night the sea-mist floods,—
Thy last of solitudes,
    Thy yearlong home.

Robinson Jeffers

George Harrison, "All Things Must Pass"

Incredible.

This companion documentary to HBO's acclaimed World War II miniseries, Band of Brothers, tells the story of Easy Company, the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Dividision.  Through recent interviews with some of the actual veterans. Combined with the words and memories of the former soldiers is rare and archival film footage and photos that bring to vivid life their incredible achievements.

30 December 2015

Kick.


Nothing good is peaceful.  Remember that.  If you've got too much peace, God help you! You have to have a kick in the tail once in awhile.

Andrew Wyeth

Silently.

 ┼╗ukowski, Nocturne, 1931


The day is done, and the darkness
      Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
      From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
      Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
      That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing,
      That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
      As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
      Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
      And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
      Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
      Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
      Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
      And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet,
      Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
      Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
      And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
      Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
      The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
      That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
      The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
      The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music,
      And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
      And as silently steal away.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Beneath.

Wyeth, Ice Pool, 1969


I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show. 

Andrew Wyeth

Teachings.

Beatty, The Evening Cloud of the Northland, 1928


Mindful 

Every Day
   I see or hear
      something
         that more or less

kills me
   with delight,
      that leaves me
         like a needle

in the haystack
   of light.
      It is what I was born for—
         to look, to listen,

to lose myself
   inside this soft world—
      to instruct myself
         over and over

in joy,
   and acclamation.
      Nor am I talking
         about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
   the very extravagant—
      but of the ordinary,
         the common, the very drab

the daily presentations.
   Oh, good scholar,
      I say to myself,
         how can you help

but grow wise
   with such teachings
      as these—
         the untrimmable light


of the world,
   the ocean's shine,
      the prayers that are made
         out of grass?

Mary Oliver

Haydn, Piano Sonata No. 59 in E flat, Hob. XVI:49

Alfred Brendel performs ...

Happy birthday, Kipling.


Rudyard Kipling was born on this day in 1865.

Gunga Din

You may talk o’ gin and beer   
When you’re quartered safe out ’ere,   
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter   
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.   
Now in Injia’s sunny clime,   
Where I used to spend my time   
A-servin’ of ’Er Majesty the Queen,   
Of all them blackfaced crew   
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din,   
      He was ‘Din! Din! Din!
   ‘You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!
      ‘Hi! Slippy hitherao
      ‘Water, get it! Panee lao,
   ‘You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.’

The uniform ’e wore
Was nothin’ much before,
An’ rather less than ’arf o’ that be’ind,
For a piece o’ twisty rag   
An’ a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field-equipment ’e could find.
When the sweatin’ troop-train lay
In a sidin’ through the day,
Where the ’eat would make your bloomin’ eyebrows crawl,
We shouted ‘Harry By!’
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped ’im ’cause ’e couldn’t serve us all.
      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!
   ‘You ’eathen, where the mischief ’ave you been?   
      ‘You put some juldee in it
      ‘Or I’ll marrow you this minute
   ‘If you don’t fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!’

’E would dot an’ carry one
Till the longest day was done;
An’ ’e didn’t seem to know the use o’ fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin’ nut,
’E’d be waitin’ fifty paces right flank rear.   
With ’is mussick on ’is back,
’E would skip with our attack,
An’ watch us till the bugles made 'Retire,’   
An’ for all ’is dirty ’ide
’E was white, clear white, inside
When ’e went to tend the wounded under fire!   
      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!’
   With the bullets kickin’ dust-spots on the green.   
      When the cartridges ran out,
      You could hear the front-ranks shout,   
   ‘Hi! ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!’

I shan’t forgit the night
When I dropped be’ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should ’a’ been.   
I was chokin’ mad with thirst,
An’ the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din.   
’E lifted up my ’ead,
An’ he plugged me where I bled,
An’ ’e guv me ’arf-a-pint o’ water green.
It was crawlin’ and it stunk,
But of all the drinks I’ve drunk,
I’m gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.
      It was 'Din! Din! Din!
   ‘’Ere’s a beggar with a bullet through ’is spleen;   
   ‘’E's chawin’ up the ground,
      ‘An’ ’e’s kickin’ all around:
   ‘For Gawd’s sake git the water, Gunga Din!’

’E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.   
’E put me safe inside,
An’ just before ’e died,
'I ’ope you liked your drink,’ sez Gunga Din.   
So I’ll meet ’im later on
At the place where ’e is gone—
Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.   
’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,
An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!   
      Yes, Din! Din! Din!
   You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!   
   Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,   
      By the livin’ Gawd that made you,

   You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Rudyard Kipling

29 December 2015

Bold.


It is my experience that bold decisions give the best promise of success. But one must differentiate between [strategic] and tactical boldness and a military gamble. A bold operation is one in which success is not a certainty but which in case of failure leaves one with sufficient forces in hand to cope with whatever situation may arise. A gamble, on the other hand, is an operation which can lead either to victory or to the complete destruction of one's force. Situations can arise where even gamble may be justified - as, for instance, when in the normal course of events defeat is merely a matter of time, when the gaining of time is therefore pointless and the only chance lies in an operation of great risk.

Erwin Rommel

Enabled.


Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and ... stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to 'walk about' into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?

Wassily Kandinsky

Happy birthday, Casals.

Pablo Casals was born on this day in 1876.

Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.

Pablo Casals

Casals teaches a class on Haydn's Cello Concerto in D Major ...

23 December 2015

Idle.

mermish:

John Bauer.

I have often wondered whether especially those days when we are forced to remain idle are not precisely the days spent in the most profound activity. Whether our actions themselves, even if they do not take place until later, are nothing more than the last reverberations of a vast movement that occurs within us during idle days.

In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot.

Rainer Maria Rilke

21 December 2015

Gold.

Unknown, Bringing in the Yule Log, 1854


In the Green Wood

(Making the fire)

Oak-logs will warm you well,
That are old and dry;
Logs of pine will sweetly smell
But the sparks will fly.
Birch-logs will burn too fast,
Chestnut scarce at all;
Hawthorn-logs are good to last -
Catch them in the fall.
Holly-logs will burn like wax,
You may burn them green;
Elm-logs like to smoldering flax,
No flame to be seen.
Beech-logs for winter time,
Yew-logs as well;
Green elder-logs it is a crime
For any man to sell.
Pear-logs and apple-logs,
They will scent your room,
Cherry-logs across the dogs
Smell like flower of the broom.
Ash-logs, smooth and grey,
Burn them green or old,
Buy up all that come your way -
Worth their weight in gold.

Mother Goose

Saturnalia.


Winter solstice celebrations predate Christmas, and trace back into antiquity. Saturnalia was one of these ancient traditions, and it was very different from the celebration we recognize as Christmas today.

News.

Munthe, Winter Twilight, 1891


I Have News for You

I have news for you:
The stag bells, winter snows, summer has gone
Wind high and cold, the sun low, short its course
The sea running high.
Deep red the bracken; its shape is lost;
The wild goose has raised its accustomed cry,
cold has seized the birds' wings;
season of ice, this is my news

Old Irish Poem

Jethro Tull, "Ring Out Solstice Bells"

20 December 2015

Again.

Returning.


In the course of a December tour in Yorkshire, I rode for a long distance in one of the public coaches, on the day preceding Christmas. The coach was crowded, both inside and out, with passengers, who, by their talk, seemed principally bound to the mansions of relations or friends to eat the Christmas dinner. It was loaded also with hampers of game, and baskets and boxes of delicacies; and hares hung dangling their long ears about the coachman's box,—presents from distant friends for the impending feast. I had three fine rosy-cheeked schoolboys for my fellow-passengers inside, full of the buxom health and manly spirit which I have observed in the children of this country. They were returning home for the holidays in high glee, and promising themselves a world of enjoyment. It was delightful to hear the gigantic plans of pleasure of the little rogues, and the impracticable feats they were to perform during their six weeks' emancipation from the abhorred thraldom of book, birch, and pedagogue. 

Buckminster Fuller, "Thinking Out Loud"

Storm-driven.

The legendary two-headed bear that roams Northern Michigan is said to be as ferocious as the roiling, storm-driven Great Lakes in a November gale, and yet as gentle as powdery snow draped on a fence line during a sunny winter afternoon ...


Winston.

The story of Winston Fly Rods, featuring Tom McGuane and Russell Chatham ...

Dreamcatchers.



How did dreamcatchers transform from Native American religious object to revered totem of New Age culture? The story is complicated, and the answers point to the workings of the consumer marketplace, the forces of cultural appropriation, and late-20th-century Native solidarity movements. 

19 December 2015

Happy Holidays from Frank & Bing.

A little toddy for the body might just take the chill off ...

Happy birthday, Poor Richard.

Poor Richard's Almanac was first published on this date in 1732.

"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."


18 December 2015

Seems.

Chatham, Twilight in the Badlands, 1999


We are not great connoisseurs of the two twilights. We miss the dawning, exclusably enough, by sleeping through it, and are as much strangers to the shadowless welling-up of day as to the hesitant return of consciousness in our slowly waking selves. But our obliviousness to evening twilight is less understandable. Why do we almost daily ignore a spectacle (and I do not mean sunset but rather the hour, more or less, afterward) that has a thousand tonalities, that alters and extends reality, that offers, more beautifully than anything man-made, a visual metaphor or peace? To say that it catches us at busy or tired moments won't do; for in temperate latitudes it varies by hours from solstice to solstice. Instead I suspect that we shun twilight because if offers two things which, as insecurely rational beings, we would rather not appreciate: the vision of irrevocable cosmic change (indeed, change into darkness), and a sense of deep ambiguity—of objects seeming to be more, less, other than we think them to be. We are noontime and midnight people, and such devoted camp-followers of certainly that we cannot endure seeing it mocked and undermined by nature.

There is a brief period of twilight of which I am especially fond, little more than a moment, when I see what seems to be color without light, followed by another brief period of light without color. The earlier period, like a dawn of night, calls up such sights as at all other times are hidden, wistful half-formless presences neither of day nor night, that draw up with them similar presences in the mind.

Robert Grudin

Happy birthday, Keith.

Keith Richards was born on this day in 1943.

Gold rings on ya.

Ssssssssstones, "Happy" ...



Happy Friday!

Cathedral-like.


The word "cistern" conjures a rather humble image: toilet tank. But to residents of Victorian England, the term had another, much more majestic definition: a cathedral-like subterranean reservoir built to store rainwater.

Unlike the Basilica Cisterns of Istanbul, the disused cisterns beneath London and Leicestershire, located in the English Midlands, are not open to the public. But armed with a camera and caving lamps, Matt Emmett, the urban explorer behind Forgotten Heritage Photography, found a way in to three of these 19th-century reservoirs. These photographs reveal what he saw, but location details are scant in order to prevent a stream of visitors from following in his footsteps.


Forgotten Heritage Photography, here.

Happy birthday, Cobb.


Ty Cobb was born on this day in 1886.

I have observed that baseball is not unlike a war, and when you come right down to it, we batters are the heavy artillery.

Ty Cobb

Crosby, (Stills), & Nash, "Lee Shore"

Wheel gull spin and glide
You've got no place to hide
'Cause you don't need one

All along the lee shore
Shells lie scattered in the sand
Winking up like shining eyes, at me
From the sea

Here is one like sunrise
It's older than you know
It's still lying there where
Some careless wave
Forgot it long ago

When I awoke this morning
I dove beneath my floating home
Down below her graceful side
In the turning tide
To watch the sea fish roam

There I heard a story
From the sailors of the Sandra Marie
There's another island a
Day's run away from here
And it's empty and free

From here to Venezuela
There's nothing more to see
Than a hundred thousand islands
Flung like jewels upon the sea
For you and me


Sunset smells of dinner
Women are calling at me to end my tales
But perhaps I'll see you,
The next quiet place
I furl my sails

David Crosby

1970



1973



1989

Food.


Most kids have a special stuffed animal, ratty blanket or dog-eared book they take to sleep with them – and a lot of kids, lacking this talisman, go berserk and scream themselves to sleep. Bill Bob had no one special talisman: Bill Bob had dreefees. None of us ever quite figured out the etymology of that word, but when I asked him years later Bill Bob thought it might be an amalgamation of ‘dream’ and ‘feed’ – food for dreams you might say.

David James Duncan, from The River Why

Footsteps.

The Complete Angler is a film by James Prosek (artist/writer), Fritz Mitchell (producer/editor) and Peter Franchella (cinematographer). It documents Prosek's travels as he walks in the footsteps of the 17th century English writer, Izaak Walton—"research" for his senior thesis at Yale.


Habit.

Sargent, Thistles, 1883



To learn to see -- to accustom the eye to calmness, to patience, and to allow things to come up to it; to defer judgment, and to acquire the habit of approaching and grasping an individual case from all sides. This is the first preparatory schooling of intellectuality. One must not respond immediately to a stimulus; one must acquire a command of the obstructing and isolating instincts.

Friedrich Nietzsche 

Hope.


You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.

Thomas Merton

16 December 2015

Reminded.


In practical terms, what does it mean to begin again? I was afraid you’d ask. The truth is, I’m clueless, which may prove, mirable dictu, that I’m actually practicing beginner’s mind. If I’d waited for an answer, I wouldn’t have written this little piece — and writing it may help me get unstuck as a person, as a writer, as a citizen of the world. Simply pecking away at it over the past few days has already taken me to a place that feels less stagnant and more alive. At very least, I’ve been reminded that such a place exists.

Typography.

Beethoven.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt rehearsing the Beethoven symphonies ...

Quiet.


.... study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.

1 Thessalonians 4:10-12

Grades.


The more we want our children to be (1) lifelong learners, genuinely excited about words and numbers and ideas, (2) avoid sticking with what’s easy and safe, and (3) become sophisticated thinkers, the more we should do everything possible to help them forget about grades.

Alfie Kohn