Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Thought I Saw A …

Quote maven Terri Guillemets says her “favorite weather is bird-chirping weather.” I’m with her there.

We’ve been a little lean on bird-chirping lately. Largely because the temperatures and humidity have been too high, but also because there’s no cover for winged guests near our building.

Thankfully, temperatures have dipped this morning to something below 80 degrees and a handful of sparrows have returned to our feeder for nourishment. As I was searching for art to post on Lull just now, an unusual movement darted into my peripheral vision. I turned toward the window and caught a blurred look at a hummingbird hovering above our window-box flowers.

Unfortunately, my glasses were in another room so I couldn’t decipher colors or species to share with you. But still … a hummingbird!

My day has started with a tiny burst of joy. I can’t ask for more.

I hope your version of joy calls on you soon.

[Art by studiobeerhorst.]

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Blogger Who’s A Breed Apart

Before renting Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, I knew what I was in for. At least, I thought I did.

But instead of getting drawn in by the unwavering loyalty of a pooch, I couldn’t get past the irresponsible characters (based on real people from 1920s Japan). I went to the Web to see if anyone else had the same reaction.

I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I ended up on a dog blog unfamiliar to me. It appears to be an anti-Pit Bull proselytizer. In one post, it compares the lack of press given to a tortured, mixed-breed dog named Star while Patrick the Pit Bull tugged at a nation’s heartstrings. The blogger’s theory is that Pit Bulls get an undue amount of positive publicity thanks to Pit Bull advocates who can’t see past the pedestals on which they keep these ferocious beasts.

It was a wacky rant that I thought needed an injection of rational perspective. I started writing a comment. Certainly the mixed-breed Star had suffered unconscionable acts, but the blogger seemed to be making the story of abuse into a contest of breed-based oneupmanship. I started to explain that responsible Pit Bull advocates anticipate a day when they’ll no longer have to sway public opinion about the Bully breeds, a day when “Breedism” will fade away.

The more I wrote, the more I realized that to really make my case, I needed to know more about this blogger and his/her readers. I noticed that the other comments were written by bloggers who were listed both on the Blogroll and as Followers of this anti-Pit Bull blog.

Turns out, one person is behind it ALL—different names, same individual. The blogger is his/her own followers, readers, and favorites. Whew! That’s a lot of personalities all wrapped up into one! I wrote Lull under a pseudonym when I first started, but had to drop it because I couldn’t keep track of who I was. (I know: I’m not spy material.)

Probably needless to say, I didn’t bother finishing my comments. I doubted the sanity of my captive audience and thought it unfair to rile “them.”

[Pics from Bad Rap and The Sula Foundation.]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rail-Ridin’ Pooch Debuts Today

Just a heads-up—especially for Lull readers owned by terroriers—about the newest U.S. stamp. It’s a tribute to Owney, the railway mascot of the 1880s postal service.

The stamp has been in the works for years, along with an e-book and an interactive game for children. Owney travelled the globe—spending time on ships as well as trains—so he’s chockfull of geography and history lessons for youngsters. You can visit his display at Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. If you have an Owney lookalike at home, enter the contest to get your pooch’s pic into the Smithsonian!

Warning: The stamp doesn’t compare to the original photos of Owney.

Scouting for Good Reads

You may have noticed the recent flurry of activity on my book lists. Attribute it to: 1) My intermittent panic that I’m failing to make a dent in my reading wish list—never mind the ongoing short-listed award books cranked out month after month, and 2) My last trip to the library—when I meant only to pick up a book my husband had on-hold, but also came away with a handful of titles I noticed in passing. I’m like the freelancer who takes every job because there’s no guarantee another will come along. I scooped up the books before someone else did or before the library decommissioned them (the more likely scenario).

Which is to say that I’ve been reading on a schedule. But now that I’ve finished the library books, I can return to my own inventory and read at leisure.

Last night, I started a book that held little appeal for me during its prepublishing blitz: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Even after it started winning accolades and awards, it didn’t make it onto my Top 10 list. (Confession: I tend to avoid books and films about injustice. They upset me too much. I know … I’m a wuss.)

Then last year I read a short memoir* by Rebecca Skloot in an anthology of dog tales. I admired her sensibilities and her writing style and was eager to read more of her work, so I took to Googling. It didn’t take long to make the connection as to why I thought I knew her name: Her debut book, Immortal Life, was the one I’d been avoiding. Immortal Life rocketed to my Top 10 list—I couldn’t not read it now.

This is how my reading wish list has evolved of late. Rather than getting recommendations from others or following the bestseller and awards lists, I sample short stories in anthologies and journals. If an author impresses me, I’ll scout out more of his/her writing.

This method is not foolproof. Some authors write better in short form than in long form; some are better at fiction than nonfiction. The theme of the anthology also influences my choices. (The essays of two of my favorite writers in one anthology were duds. Had I not already been familiar with them, I might not have discovered their better works based on that particular anthology.) However, in the long run, the method is a scavenger hunt of my own making that has no downside. All discoveries are serendipitous. There’s no shame or guilt in disliking the book recommended by a friend or reviewer.

As for Immortal Life, I simply had to wait for it to become available at my local library. Soon after I added it to my wish list, though, it arrived at my door; a friend had mailed it to me. How’s that for serendipity? It felt like Christmas. And now a little surge of that feeling will hit me each time I pick up that book.

To good friends and good reads, my abiding gratitude.

* The short memoir was about Skloot’s dog, Bonny, who was viciously attacked by a pack of wild dogs in New York City. If you’re on Facebook (which I’m not), you should be able to read the entire drama there, taken from Skloot’s blog. (If you find it, can you copy it into a file and send it to me?) If the Facebook series is anything like the short piece I read, it will provoke your ideas and convictions on legislation, dog training, and the value of any life. Note for dogsters: You may also enjoy reading Skloot’s article on memorializing her other dog, Sereno.

[Pics are HeLa cells, all originating from Henrietta Lacks.]

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Boost Your Ego Today: Analyze Your Writing

I finally got around to visiting the I Write Like Web site—the analysis program that tells you which celebrated author your writing most resembles.

I tested two different Lull posts, a few grafs from a eulogy, and a story I started last year. The results? The eulogy came up as Cory Doctorow, the Lull posts as Anne Rice and H. P. Lovecraft, and the story as David Foster Wallace.


I thought, perhaps, there was a set loop of writers the program used for every sample, so I tried to trick it. I entered my “Anne Rice” write-alike again, but got the same answer.

To be clear, I read a couple of Anne Rice’s novels about 20 years ago; I’ve never read any Lovecraft or Doctorow, though I’d heard of them, and I’ve read more about David Foster Wallace than I’ve read his work. So how could I imitate their style without studying it? I was a little perplexed as to how the I Write Like algorithm worked.

I Googled for info and discovered that Margaret Atwood had tried her hand at the analysis, too, only to find that she writes like Stephen King! Who knew? Certainly not Atwood fans, I’d bet.

I found another algorithm online—one that purports to be blatantly truthful and accurate—and tried it with the same samples, but the results were no ego boost. Twice I was told I write like a “daily mail journalist” and the other two samples were tagged as being written by “someone about to go on a killing spree.”

Well, forget about the ego boost. But give both Web sites a spin just for kicks. The results might make you smile.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Seeing Past My World

I’ve kept my life small lately so to be free of want and envy and comparisons and heartache.

Yet sometimes I drink in the world-at-large—the face of famine, the debris of bombings, the oil-spill carnage, the conflicts of power, the current trends in popular everything. It adds context to my too-small life, gives me perspective.

This morning I randomly opened a Paula Fox book and this jumped out from its pages:

“You can hold back from the suffering of the world, you have free permission to do so, and it is in accordance with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided.”
—Franz Kafka

It’s a call to action, isn’t it? I’ve been hearing it for a while now—a whisper from a distance—but Kafka pushes it close and turns up the volume.

It’s time to change my life. Again. I’m just not yet sure how.

[Art by Caspar David Friedrich.]

Friday, July 22, 2011

What Do Alexander Calder and Lull Have in Common?


I am a longtime fan of Calder’s work, and we share a milestone today: It’s Calder’s 113th birthday and Lull’s 500th post.

[Note for puppetry aficionados: Please check out Calder’s circus performance on YouTube.]

I created a little Lull word jumble for you to play today. It has 39—a random number, really; or you can think of it as Jack Benny’s favorite number (more randomness, I know)—surnames of people who have been quoted on Lull this year.

TO PLAY: Click-and-drag the jumble to your desktop and print it out (or open the JPG first to enlarge the puzzle). Then circle or color the names you see. The words may be read left-to-right, right-to-left, up, down, up diagonally, and down diagonally. If you need any hints, you can select “quotes” from Lull’s topic list (at the right of the screen), which will bring up all the quotes and the people who said or wrote them. To check your work, come back to this post for the link (below) to the answer key.

Click “answer key” to see or download it.

Oh! And don’t forget to grab some pie to celebrate.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Resentment: The Poison You Take While Waiting for the Other Person to Die

In the (so far) delightful Walking Ollie, novelist Stephen Foster admits: “I thrive on having something to resent.”

I don’t. That’s not to say that I easily let go of resentments, but I believe it’s futile and harmful to foster them. Whenever a resentment resists my attempt to fling it away, I reread this poem by humorist Robert Crane. You may find it instructional as well.

a pocket full of resentments
from Cranelegs Pond the Blook

i used to collect resentments like loose change in my front, right, pants pocket.

i’d never tell a soul either, especially the object of my discontent.
nope, i’d just accumulate them—little secret silent scars.
it’s what i did, very well!
yeah, in my front, right pocket.
and what a great place to store them.
i could wash my pants a thousand times, and they’d still be right there for me to pluck out and commiserate with whenever i was feeling taken for granted or put upon.

that is, until i met keaton.

i inadvertently did a wise thing.
i told her about this little fetish.
and then she advertently did a wiser thing.
i don’t know how or when, but she cut tiny holes in all my pockets.
you know, small enough for resentments to fall through, but not pocket change or my prized chapstick.
i can’t even find the holes, but i know they’re there somewhere, because now when i reach in to grab one or two resentments, they’re gone, leaving me empty handed in the bad energy department.
it’s refreshing really.
almost minty.

my only regret, i wish i had said something about this habit sooner rather than later.
hmm ... regrets.
now maybe that’s something i could collect?
i’d have a basement full in no time flat, that’s for sure.

Wishing you a resentment-free Thursday …

[Art by Anne Taintor.]

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stuck in an UN-Mindful State

For the past week I have fretted more than usual about my future, the future of those in war- and weather-torn countries, and all the other question marks that can overwhelm our lives from time to time. Living “mindfully” had become an alien ideology instead of a daily practice.

Then, last night, I read the first poem in Mary Oliver’s Thirst, and these lines scooted and squeezed me back into a better perspective of my place in the world:

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me

keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be


“Stand still. Be astonished.” Not a bad mantra, is it?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dear Bibliobibuli Anonymous: I Fell Off the Wagon Again

Yes, I bought a stack of books on Friday. BUT I intend to read them and pass them on. They will not become permanent fixtures in my too-tiny home.

What’s more, the purchase was for a good cause—the International Book Project. The IBP promotes literacy by sending books to schools in developing nations and leads a pen-pal program to build cultural awareness between U.S. schoolchildren and their counterparts abroad.

Going to the IBP sale was a spontaneous thing to do on an otherwise lazy afternoon and my husband and I got to see a section of town we’d never been in. We came away with 11 books for under $10—staying budget-conscious while simultaneously donating to a fine charity. All good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Count Down (Up?) to 500: Lull Hits Another Milestone

ull started two years ago with a whisper into the void—and has spluttered and splurched forward until this week, when I’ll be writing the 500th post.

Five hundred is not a hugely impressive number—it’s not infinite like pi and doesn’t come close to our national debt. But it’s substantial enough that I believe something special should occur alongside the 500th entry of Lull.

Maybe we should all eat pie. Mmmmm…

[Here are my top 10 favorite pies: pecan, lemon, coconut cream, chocolate, strawberry-rhubarb, rhubarb cream, blueberry, peach, pumpkin, custard.]

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Golden Reunion with My Inner Child

Once upon a time, when I was but a wee girl, I lived in a town that *gasp* had no book shop. But thanks to publishing mastermind George Duplaix and the Western Printing and Lithographing Company, our neighborhood grocer sold a single line of children’s books. With top-notch illustrations by award-winning artists and an affordable price tag, these Little Golden Books became the first I could call my own.

Some of the Golden Books were traditional folk-/fairytales; others introduced new characters—like Tootle (the train) and the Poky Little Puppy—that would become legendary for future generations of children.

It was the latter, of course, for whom I had great affection (more for the illustration, I think, than the plot and moral). So when I learned that my local library was kicking off its exhibit of original Little Golden Books artwork with a special appearance by none other than the Poky Little Puppy, I had to go.

I don’t seek out celebrities, don’t recognize them half the time when I do see them on the street, and would never think to ask for their autographs. But something about my attachment to that slow, spotted puppy suddenly turned me into a celebrity hound. I would take my vintage copy of The Poky Little Puppy to the library and have the pooch sign it.

Naturally, I couldn’t find my vintage copy of The Poky Little Puppy—only my vintage copy of Little Cottontail. After recovering from that first disappointment, upon arriving at the event, I could clearly see I was the OLDEST person there. (I had wrongly assumed this would be a trip down Memory Lane for most of the attendees.) Plus a librarian announced that all the artwork was original EXCEPT for The Poky Little Puppy: It was TOO OLD, hence they were exhibiting digital reproductions of it. As if that didn’t deflate my enthusiasm, the Poky Little Puppy was nowhere in sight.

The crowd was small, yet I realized that the Little Golden Books—in spite of the tremendous number of books that are now published for and accessible to children—remained popular. As a librarian read the story of the wayward canine to the crowd, a young boy sat at her feet and mouthed every word. Sometimes the librarian stopped the tale and threw a question out to the audience. Every kid was eager to be the first to answer. Her final question was, “Would you like to meet the Poky Little Puppy?” And to the buzz of the crowd, the honored guest entered the room.

I was smitten. (How much had my favorite Little Golden Book influenced my future penchant for spotted dogs?) The Poky Little Puppy posed for a pic with each child (and one OLD person!), played a round of “Hokey Pokey” with everyone, and generated smiles all around.

I may not have the autograph I wanted, but I came away with a delightful memory—one that I hope to cherish for many years to come.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Poor Service—Served with a Smile

Periodically I encounter glitches while trying to publish posts on Lull. Usually this means I curse at Google, curse at myself, and sometimes step away from it all hoping time will heal whatever is broken.
Recently, Google stepped up its game by displaying this window (pictured above) when calamity starts to prevail. Look at it closely. Note that it merely states the obvious: Something’s wrong, they don’t know what or why, and that’s ALL they know.

But you know what? That’s okay. I’m grateful they bothered recognizing the problem at all. I don’t feel so alone in my misery, and the message curtails my stream of expletives. PLUS—and this is critical—that little broken-down robot makes me smile. His/her “cute” factor offsets all the frustration and anger I experience when errors occur.

Thank you, Google.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Weather Watch

“Don’t knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change once in a while.”
—Kin Hubbard

Frankly, I don’t mind the silence. But I know half the world is pleading for a shift right now—from brutally hot to less hot, from deadly dry to watered. May you get what you need wherever you are.

[Art courtesy of Jules Bastien-Lepage.]

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Curse of the Proofreader

Contrary to what you might think about proofreaders and editors, we don’t LOOK for mistakes when we’re not working. Mistakes seem to gravitate toward us.

A moment ago the word priviege spoiled my morning reading of a deftly written essay. A week ago there was a typo in my fortune cookie. (Does that render the prophecy null and void?) Ten pages into Stanley Fish’s How to Write A Sentence is a word that should have been singular but made its way into print as a plural. A job application asked if I was persuing a degree.

Oh, I could spend days listing the typos I’ve read this year alone—on menus, signs, press releases, news reports, television graphics, ads—but I’d prefer to forget them. I cringe when I see them, though there are a few of my ilk who delight in the mistakes of others—enjoy playing a game of “Gotcha!” with all printed materials. I’m more forgiving and feel bad for both the writer and the proofreader/editor when typos pop out. Do you understand how disruptive typos are to me? How they mar my pleasure and interest when reading?

There’s one exception. The other day, I was at my computer when an ad cried out for my attention. Typically, I ignore online ads, but this one made me laugh (after I recovered from my initial shock). In big, bold, uppercase letters it read:

INTROUDING the Must-Grab Flavors
Mock-Tail Season
New _______ Mocktails

In addition to the butchered first word of the teaser, the company couldn’t decide* how to spell mocktail for their new product. (New products generally mean newly coined words and require corporate editors to create new rules for their style guides. Marketing campaigns that bypass the editor are often strewn with inconsistencies like mock-tail and mocktail.) Or maybe the joke’s on me and I’m just not fluent in Mock English (or mock English, or mock-English, or Mock-English).

When I’m working, I stalk typos. When I’m not, they stalk me. This is the curse of my profession. Oh woh iz mee.

* Arguably, perhaps the editor chose to hyphenate the word when used as an adjective and close it when used as a noun. However, that’s an odd choice in this era of dehyphenation.

[Photo from I Can Has Cheezburger; proofreader’s marks by Eve Corbel.]

Monday, July 11, 2011

Up with People?

Today is World Population Day, and this is the year Earth’s humans will number 7 billion.

To get a sense of how rapidly this increase is occurring, visit the 7 Billion Actions site and watch the counter at the top of the screen. It doesn’t change by single numerals; it changes in twos and threes and fours.

Now start imagining each number as an infant in your living room…

[Art by Juliette Aristides.]

Sunday, July 10, 2011

When It Comes to Shameless Marketing Schemes, Even God Needs Them

The two churches up the hill from us have been promoting their Vacation Bible Schools (or “VBS” as one denomination refers to it) on banners.

“Pandamania! God Is Wild About You!”

That’s the headline on one, though the attention-getting factor on both banners is an illustration of a panda bear—one in cool shades, the other midst bamboo.

Influencing people to change or do something—switch brands, save the environment, patronize museums, pay higher taxes—requires marketing on some level. And the language of influence must appeal to the target audience.

Even animal shelters rely on experts like Seth Godin to help them “move product.” Godin once suggested that shelter dogs would be adopted more readily if they were labeled “Golden Retriever [the über family companion] Mix” or a “____________ Blend” (fill in the blank with whatever the breed du jour is). No matter that the pooch has a chocolate-hued Staffordshire Bull Terrier face. Well, probably especially if the pooch has a chocolate-hued Staffordshire Bull Terrier face. (I’ll address this kind of truth-bending in a future post.)

When I saw the banners, my first thought was the heavily advertised film Kung Fu Panda. What? God uses cinema tie-ins to entice youngsters into the fold? I guess it’s no different than a shelter full of Golden Retriever Mixes. Ideas for silly headlines started popping into my head: Panda-ing to Children, for instance.

However, on the banner touting “God Is Wild About You!” Psalm 139 was cited as the source of the “excerpt.” I don’t know what Bible edition this is from, but it’s a far cry from the old King James I had as a child. The quotation made me wonder about the choice of visuals on the banners—maybe it wasn’t a movie tie-in after all. Why was a panda used? Because children these days are naturally drawn to the look and cuddliness of wild pandas? Because children are concerned about conservation of the wild—which the panda represents?

I conducted a quick Web search on my phone for some answers. First I checked to see how many films involved pandas (thinking this was a trend I was clueless about), but horror of horrors! Google gave me panda movies, all right, but the first page of results was all porn. I didn’t look further. And I’m not going to.

Perhaps you can enlighten me about why porn flicks are panda movies and why pandas fascinate children and which Bible translation includes “God is wild about you.” Until then, I’m content to stay under this rock that’s apparently shielded me from recent culture shifts.

[Top pic from Animals Gallery; bottom pic by Bernard de Wetter for World Wildlife Fund.]

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Flash Mob: Words Await Organizer

“One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.”

—from “Permanently,” by Kenneth Koch

[Photo by Max. I saw one of these lovely cats in my ’hood yesterday—in red.]

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Development Without Destruction

“There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.”
—Robert Lynd

A worthwhile thought for architects and developers. Too bad the property owners in my ’hood aren’t birds!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Taming Nature: Idiots 5, Flora and Fauna 0

I stepped outside last night, as I often do, around 8. This is Magic Time: The temperature cools, a choreography of color and light make a spectacle of the sky, and a Surround Sound of birds orchestrate the moment.

But not last night. Last night, birds could be heard though not in Surround Sound. Same goes for this morning.

It’s not that the birds aren’t singing. They’re simply not here. Or there, for that matter.

I started to write about this yesterday as events unfolded, except I was too angry. Today I’m still angry, but also mournful.

Stranger In A Strange Land – No. 19
Lawns could have been the subject of my very first Stranger In A Strange Land installment, yet I held off thinking I was being too judgmental. Now I know better. If the “Angry Birds” game replaced the pigs with landlords and Lexingtonians*, I’d probably play.

As a gardener in the Windy City who long battled tall buildings and their consequent shade, who had to settle for blossoms of white rather than the riotous color potential of sun-drenched spaces, I had really looked forward to being in a new hardiness zone where birds and butterflies would be plentiful.

However, upon arrival to the Horse Capital of the World, I was disappointed by the ratio of sun to flowers. The city seemed to me nothing but yard upon yard of monotonous yard punctuated by boxwood. Folks here prefer grass to all other flora. Any semblance of a garden is generally the very ordered and formal kind. In a region blessed with ample amounts of rain and sun, grass is the predominant plant.

Arguably, carpets of grass provide jobs: This city has an untold number of lawn-care services (my favorite name is Miss Mow It All). On the other hand, carpets of grass also provide environmental nightmares: Up to 5 percent of America’s air pollution each year stems from lawn mowers that use 800 million gallons of gas.** (I’ve considered getting a couple of sheep and starting my own lawn-care business.) Factor in the chemicals that are harmful to animals and children and the ridiculous amount of water needed to maintain those lush green lawns and it starts adding up to disaster.

Perfect lawns can’t sustain the kinds of complex ecosystems that trees and bushes and flowers sustain. They give no shade, no cover from weather, no protection from predators, little food, and they don’t play a role in pollination or supporting the migratory paths of birds and butterflies.

When pioneers first crossed the mountains into the region now known as Kentucky, they called it “God’s country.” It was fertile and rich in woodlands; it was heavenly. So why divest it of everything but grass?

“A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule.”
—Michael Pollan

Frankly, I believe it has something to do with maintenance. If all you have is a straight shot of grass, it’s easy to take care of—a few back-and-forths on the old lawn mower and you’re done. Bushes require pruning and shaping, flowers require cutting and separating, trees have to be monitored for dead branches and disease.

In fact, I’ve noticed a trend here this summer. The folks who have bushes in need of trimming have simply cut the bushes down to the ground or removed them altogether. This is exactly what happened yesterday.

I kept hearing power tools all day, but couldn’t figure out why until I stepped out our back door. The owner of the apartment building next to us was having all the bushes and trees cut down from the back of his/her property. This is where I’d been watching and listening to scores of birds from our backyard (as I’ve written previously, our landlord already stripped this property of its only tree and the bushes in the back). The devastation made me sick. And disgusted. (Now we can clearly see the hideous apartment building behind us.) Then it got worse.

Two bushes at the end of our front walk had become so overgrown that you could no longer walk between them or use the sidewalk; you had to go around them. With one set of manual clippers, I could have fixed the situation. But NO! The landlord ordered the yard guys to REMOVE the bushes. What’s more, our “neighbor” on the other side cut down all but one of his property’s stand of mature trees we had enjoyed seeing from our apartment.

I realize this may not seem so bad to you. Three properties, several trees, a bunch of bushes—not a big deal in the grander scheme of things. Yet there’s an IMMEDIATE difference in birdsong, which means there will be a difference in bird population here . There’s no more cover for the baby birds I’ve been watching—from finches to crows—as they received life lessons from their mothers. There’s no perch for flying passersby. There are no flowering plants for bees and butterflies—no honeysuckle or trumpet vines or lilacs or holly. All gone.

I doubt any of this crossed the minds of the property owners. I doubt it even matters to them. So this goes beyond a mere difference in aesthetics, which is easy enough to acclimate to. It’s a difference in mindset and sense of stewardship. It’s an uncomfortable difference that changes how I feel about these people and this place, that separates me further from any notion of fitting in. I just have to decide what’s next.

* Thankfully, the few people I’ve befriended since moving here share my gardening aesthetics and concerns.
** Stats are from the EPA.

This is part of an ongoing series regarding my transition from the Land of Lincoln to the Bluegrass State. For a list of previous articles in the series, just select Stranger in a Strange Land from the right of Lull, under “Choose a topic that interests you.”

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Crisscrossing America, from Tree to Shining Tree

Traveling exhausts me.

This past week I’ve been to New York, Illinois, Alabama, Georgia, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Vermont, Pennsylvania, California, Tennessee, and Massachusetts. Sometimes twice. Never in any practical order.

I’m visiting the homes and trees of literary and cultural icons with author Richard Horan. This morning we swam in Walden’s Pond and took Frost’s Road Less Traveled. Yesterday we communed with Flannery O’Connor, Willa Cather, and Pearl Buck. Before that it was John Muir, L. Frank Baum, Henry Miller, and Edith Wharton.

It’s a mad-dash tour that’s only halfway completed, yet we have to wrap it up by this coming Saturday—the day our “vehicle” must be returned to the library.

“The secret God-grin is in the trees.”
—Jack Kerouac

For nearly any place you want to go, there’s a book that will take you there. However, when said tome belongs to a library, your timetable isn’t your own. That’s my frustration with reading Horan’s Seeds: One Man’s Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees that Inspired Famous American Writers. If the book belonged to me, I’d take more time to savor it. Ideally, I’d read a work by each writer mentioned and use the Web to explore the towns, trees, terrain, and architecture that colored the thoughts of those writers. The trip could continue for months.

But this trip has to be over this Saturday. So if you don’t hear from me, I’m likely in Tuscumbia, Yazoo City, Appomattox, Saratoga Springs, or Monticello—or somewhere in between.

Happy trails …

[Trees pictured are the now uncommon American Chestnut: top photo from the USDA Forest Service and bottom photo from The American Chestnut Foundation.]

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Finding Acceptance in a New Neighborhood

Stranger In A Strange Land – No. 18


I was in the yard, just about focused for a great photograph of a bird, when something pinched my arm.

“What?” I could almost hear it say—“it” being the tiniest and roundest of hard-shelled bugs digging into my skin.

Actually, I was grateful the bug had alerted me to his intentions. That hasn’t been the case with most of the other bites scattered across my body. The bugs of the Bluegrass love me and I sorely (literally) resent their Welcome Committees.

Granted, one may safely assume that my move from an urban area to a smaller city would mean a proportionate increase in mosquitoes. However, I didn’t anticipate the range of their biting brethren lying in wait for me. And each new bite revives the itch and ooze of every older bite.

Yes, yes, yes. I’m applying Cortizone cream, refraining from scratching, wearing clothes that don’t aggravate the situation. All the same, I have angry welts of varying sizes all over me and I’m not happy about it.

My dear husband, on the other hand, has been bitten only once, but it caused such a frightening reaction on him that I guess the bug community decided to leave him alone thereafter. His elbow swelled and hardened and reddened and hurt for months. That said, I should probably be thankful I have just a hundred small bites and no signs of swollen limbs. But this is slim consolation.

I suppose that by sacrificing my skin to insects I’m truly living in harmony with them. However, if you know of a histamine-less way to be a good neighbor, please let me know. SOON.

[Art by Balthasar van der Ast.]

This is part of an ongoing series regarding my transition from the Land of Lincoln to the Bluegrass State. For a list of previous articles in the series, select Stranger in a Strange Land from the right of Lull, under “Choose a topic that interests you.”

Friday, July 1, 2011

Art Becomes Life

This definition of surrealism from illustrator Brad Holland caught my attention some time ago and I thought I’d share it with you today.

“An archaic term. Formerly an art movement. No longer distinguishable from everyday life.”

Yup. Aptly describes my existence. How about yours?

[The illustration is Brad Holland’s. I think it’s how some writers envision editors.]
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