Saturday, June 30, 2018

Blueberries and Blue Haze

Blueberries always slow my pace a bit...

pretty red fungus

So, I chose the cooler day of the weekend for a hike, and decided to take a relatively steep, short, and shaded route (Washburn up and over Bull Hill, to Nelsonville and down Main Street) rather than doing the long walk I longed for.  To avoid the worst of the heat, I set out for Grand Central just before 6 am, and arrived  in Cold Spring at 8:15 am.  It was OK, and I had plenty of water, but I still was wishing I'd left an hour earlier.  By the time I got back to Cold Spring, it was already 86 degrees.  

It was nice by the water, though, where I ate some lunch while awaiting the train.

Apparently, Cold Spring is having their big Independence Day celebration today, with a concert and fireworks.  So they're expecting mobs -- just not on the trails.  

Nelsonville has gotten some trail maintenance...

It actually took me a while to realize why so many shops and homes were displaying patriotic bunting.  It's so fixed in my mind that Independence Day is this coming Wednesday, a day for picnicking and the Cyclones, that it didn't occur to me that many celebrations would actually take place on the preceding weekend. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

a few strands

The weird sisters, hand in hand,
Posters of the sea and land,
Thus do go about, about:
Thrice to thine and thrice to mine
And thrice again, to make up nine.
Peace! the charm's wound up.
--Macbeth I.iii (just before the entrance of Macbeth and Banquo)
There had come into her life with the mystery of the Tarots a new sense of delighted amazement; the Tarots themselves were not more marvellous than the ordinary people she had so long unintelligently known. By the slightest vibration of the light in which she saw the world she saw it all differently; holy and beautiful, if sometimes perplexing and bewildering, went the figures of her knowledge. They were all "posters of the sea and land", and she too, in a dance that was happy if it was frightening. Nothing was certain, but everything was safe–that was part of the mystery of Love. She was upon a mission, but whether she succeeded or not didn't matter. Nothering mattered beyond the full moment in which she could live to her utmost in the power and according to the laws of the dance.
--Charles Williams, The Greater Trumps, ch. 14 (first published 1932)
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
--C.S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory" (first published 1941)

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy. "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
--C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (first published 1950)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

There and Back Again V

This year's theme didn't resonate with me as much as last year's (it's hard to beat Invoking Wonder), but I had a lovely time.  

I did have to take my Old Norse final over the weekend, but luckily the three hours could be apportioned any way we chose (not necessarily done in one fell swoop), so it didn't get too much in the way.  And I missed one of the keynote speeches because I was fielding urgent calls from work.  But I'd anticipated the need for this, since we'd just barely finished our last big meeting of the year when I sprinted out to head down to Virginia.

There were many good talks, but probably the program highlights for me were at the start and end of the conference (or did the principles of primacy and recency make them stand out?):
  • John Garth on the origins of Tolkien's creation myth - he's pieced together a nifty argument about when and why Tolkien started writing it, but for me, the greatest thrill was learning about the possible connections to a Babylonian creation myth, "The Revolt in Heaven," as woefully mistranslated by H. Fox Talbot.  
  • Kate Niggle on metanoia in LotR - she noted three who successfully turn: Gimli (called by Galadriel), Theoden (by Gandalf), Eowyn (by Faramir).  And of course there are others who have a chance -- even many chances -- and sometimes come ever so close...
The Prancing Pony podcasters were very fun as well; they've probably gotten a lot more followers and fans after the conference (half the attendees had never listened to them before).  And of course Tom Shippey and Tom Hillman were delightful as always.  TH adapted a recent blog post on lameness in The Children of Húrin, throwing in (among other things) a quick but accessible explanation of a bit of characteristic Greek meter ("shave-and-a-haircut") that gets disrupted by lameness in the Iliad.

Luke Shelton had us do a fun exercise in diamond-ranking our "favorite" members of the Fellowship. This of course led to lively debate.  The loudest and most insistent members of the group placed Sam as #1 and Legolas as #9.  But even once that was settled, the rest of the ranking remained hotly in contention.  At 10:49 am, it was Aragorn > Gandalf > Frodo > Boromir > Gimli > Pippin > Merry.  By 10:51, Aragorn had dropped two levels (coming in below Frodo), while Merry had risen two levels (coming in above Gimli).  

I think many will be eternally grateful to Doug Anderson for introducing us to the Fire Swans: 

As always, there were creative costumes for the masquerade - Corey and his wife as "Jonathan and Mina Harker" was the sentimental favorite for me.  "Melkor on vacation" was a hoot (and with stunning papier-mâché accessories).  Karita and Lance were lovely as something like the Universe and Star Fleet (she was wearing a solar system dress possibly from ThinkGeek, and he was wearing some kind of Star Trek shirt).  

It was a qualitatively different experience, actually, to travel down with someone and then be looking out for each other throughout the weekend.  Didn't quite expect that.

And utterly delightful to see Dr Flieger and Charlie on the way back home.  I found myself wishing we could send Tolkien folks to visit her every week.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Greater Trumps (Williams)

Williams can be much funnier than I'd given him credit for; Chapter 8, for example, has some rather scathing descriptions of church-goers.
A door opened; the congregation stirred; a voice from the vestry said: "Hymn 61.  'Christians, awake,' Hymn 61."  Everyone awoke, found the place, and stood up.  (107)
We have entered the church with the Coningsby family on Christmas Day: the patriarch Lothair, his sister Sybil and his daughter Nancy.  We already know something of their characters: from the first page of the novel, Sybil shows extraordinary spiritual fruit in her unshakable everyday love, patience, and joy; Lothair is small-minded and mean-spirited; and Nancy is infatuated with her fiancé Henry Lee.
Mr Coningsby held strongly that going to church, if and when he did go, ought to be as much a part of normal life as possible, and ought not to demand any peculiar demonstration of energy on the part of the church-goer. (104)
Coningsby attends church sporadically, and has clearly not allowed the gospel to make any inroads on his actions and attitudes, let alone his spirit.  The hypocrisy underlying his spotty church attendance is shown slyly and indirectly by contrast with his sister Sybil: "He wasn't very clear whether she usually went to church or not; if she did, she said nothing much aboout it, and was always back in time for meals." (id., emphasis added).

Still strangely moved by a recent mystical experience foisted upon her by her conniving fiancé, Nancy is oddly vulnerable to spiritual "attack" (my word) even in the all-too-familiar Christmas service which she attends with her father merely as an annual custom.
"The mystery of love."  But what else was in her heart?  The Christmas associations of the verse had fallen away; there was the direct detached cry, bidding her do precisely and only what she was burning to do.  "Rise to adore the mystery of love."  What on earth were they doing, singing about the mystery of love in church?  They couldn't possibly be meaning it.  Or were they meaning it and had she misunderstood the whole thing?  (108)
By the end of the service, "her respect for her aunt had become someting much more like awe" (110), and her scorn for her father has been replaced by a sense of humility and an awareness that she owes him "something which she had not troubled to give" (111) -- presumably the filial devotion or respect suggested in the Fifth Commandment.  This is all the more fascinating because we, as readers, are well aware that her prior view of him as an "absurd, slightly despicable, affected and pompous and irritating elderly man" (id.) is fully justified and accurate.  Indeed, she does not exactly disbelieve it, but realizes it is entirely "unimportant" (id.) and understands her own moral responsibility for setting her heart against him.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Cold Spring to Beacon

Washburn (white) to Notch (blue) to Breakneck (white) to Casino (red).   They've cleaned up most of the fallen trees on the Notch trail, leaving just one with moderately splayed branches to climb over and through.

The walk was a bit more grueling than I'd anticipated, since I haven't done much hiking recently.  There were two points on Notch where I had to face my intense reluctance to go on.  Both points came after the turn-off for Brook, once Notch takes a sharp left turn and begins a steep-ish ascent.  I stopped at a rock early in the ascent and ate my sandwich while reconsidering my life choices -- as I did once before when I ultimately renounced the endeavor.  I saw a group I'd passed earlier on Washburn, who were cheerful enough.  But I had enough water, and I need to train, so finally I pushed on regardless.  The second point was just before a sharp right turn and "final" ascent to join Breakneck.  Here, I decided on a bathroom break and made probably the worst possible decision about the location -- I picked out a particularly steep slope to descend and spent an inordinately long time climbing down there and back up again.  During most of this process, there were no other hikers in the vicinity.  But just as I was within sight of the trail and was noticing how slipppery the dirt was, a large group (maybe 12-20) of twenty-somethings started negotiating the curve I was nearing.  None of them spoke to me, which is fine - I didn't feel particularly sociable at that moment.

Once I was on the Breakneck trail, however, it was basically fine.  I'd forgotten how nice it was -- and how satisfyingly steep some of the scrambles are.  Bits are familiar to me (some are even associated with an audiobook I was listening to the the first time I did this).  

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

New Text

I'm going to try my hand at this sample text from

Óláfr gefr Svarti hatt, kníf ok hest góðan. Hann segir, "Far þú nú, Svartr, ok finn bauginn er dvergarnir Fjalarr ok Gandálfr hafa." Svartr svarar, "En Óláfr, hví gefr þú mér eigi mat? Ek em svangr ok vil mat eta."Óláfr gefr hánum ost, graut, ok fisk ok segir, "Hér hefir þú mat. Far nú ok finn bauginn."

Svartr etr matinn er Óláfr gefr hánum. Hann segir, "grautrinn er þú gefr mér er góðr, Óláfr. Þú ert góðr konungr."

Svartr ferr nú ok finnr dvergana er hafa bauginn. Hann segir, "Dvergar, gefið mér bauginn. Óláfr konungr vill hann." Dvergarnir svara, "Vit viljum eigi gefa Óláfi konungi bauginn. Hann er illr konungr." Svartr er reiðr ok segir, "Gefið mér bauginn eða ek veg ykkr!" Dvergarnir eru eigi hræddir. Þeir hlæja ok Fjalarr segir, "Þú ert ragr maðr, Svartr. Þú vegr okkr Gandálf eigi. Vit gefum ykkr Óláfi eigi bauginn, ok far þú nú!" Svartr hefir eigi brand. Hann hefir kníf, en knífrinn er eigi stórr. Hann vegr eigi dvergana ok foerir Óláfi eigi bauginn.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Auden's Age of Anxiety - some Initial thoughts

This poem was a bit of a slog, though the alliteration was impressive.  I think I'll have to re-read it a few times before making any meaningful comment.

It's divided into six parts, and looks a lot like a play with four characters; most of the poetry is the characters' thoughts and dialogue.  But there is also narration and some more casual background poetry (e.g. from a jukebox in the bar where we begin).

The curtain opens on four named characters in a bar on the night of All Souls:
  • QUANT, a "tired old widower who would never be more now than a clerk in a shipping office near the Battery."  His "private mental life," however, was apparently shaped as a young man "when unempoyed during a depression, he had spent many hours one winter in the Public Library reading for the most part – he could not have told you why – books on Mythology" (257).
  • MALIN is a Medical Intelligence Officer on leave for a few days from the Canadian Air Force.
  • ROSETTA is a very successful buyer for a big department store, who apparently had once been poor.  She loves English detective stories, which apparently fuel her imagination.  "[T]hough she was not as young as she looked, there were plenty of men who either were deceived or preferred a girl who might be experienced – which indeed she was" (id.).
  • EMBLE is a young man in the Navy who is "fully conscious of the attraction of his uniform to both sexes," although the ease of his sexual conquests perversely fuels his lack of confidence (id.).  As he looks around the bar, he is "slightly contemptuous when he caught an admiring glance, and slightly piqued when he did not" (258).

* * *

QUANT says:

                               The wall is fallen
That Balbus built, and back they come
The Dark Ones to dwell in the statues,
Manias in marble, messengers from
The Nothing who nothings.  Night descends;
Through thickening darkness thin uneases,
Ravenous unreals, perambulate
Our paths and pickles.
(p. 328)

Apparently the reference to Balbus is less a historically important Roman wall than a cultural reference to a (I presume British) Latin workbook dating from 1880 or so.

The reference to "[t]he Nothing who nothings" seems to reflect the idea (perhaps made famous by Aquinas??) that evil/sin is very nearly nothing; to turn away from God, it is necessary to turn in on oneself.  As MacDonald says to the narrator in The Great Divorce:  “For a damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself.”  And yet, capitalizing the first "Nothing" almost seems to undercut this insight by conferring a title or prominence to the nothing.

I find that last sentence strange to parse.  It seems to make sense, at first, considering each of the bold words as verbs:
Night descends; through thickening darkness thin uneases, ravenous unreals, ...
But then you get to the word "perambulate."  This could be a verb for a plural noun, but there is no antecedent (or at least the comma after "unreals" initially seems to cut off this possibility).  It could theoretically be an adjective, but only at the cost of parallelism. 

So I think we need to see "uneases" and "unreals" as plural nouns, and the "ravenous unreals" is essentially a parenthetical re-formulation or amplification of "thin uneases."  That means we could more or less read it as:
Night descends; through thickening darkness thin uneases perambulate our paths and pickles.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Cold Spring in the Cool Spring

Just the usual 6.7 mile loop up and around Bull Hill on a cool, overcast day.  There were lots of trees and branches blocking the path, once I got on to the Notch trail (blue).  Had to climb over, under, and through - and even once had to go down into a sort of gulley to get around the tree.  

The good news is the trail was not at all crowded!  To begin with the end in mind, I enjoyed a BALT from the Foundry Cafe afterward:

The Reward

The highlight of the walk was probably this little turtle, right on the Washburn trail.  At first I wondered if it might be a child's toy:

But soon it started moving: 

bookin' it


And the log that's usually festooned to excess with purely decorative cairns has now been nicely curated: