high weir

July 29, 2006

Scourge of Bullheads Everywhere

Filed under: Fatherhood — jstreed1476 @ 3:33 am

Scourge of Bullheads Everywhere

July 26, 2006

“A mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels . . .”

Filed under: Fatherhood — jstreed1476 @ 2:08 am

I’ve always liked Sir Thomas Browne, but somehow I overlooked Thomas Traherne until just recently. They wander the same orchard, it seems, but pull down different fruit. Here’s a taste of his recollection of wonder as a child:

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which should never be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things. . . . Eternity was manifest in the light of the day, and something infinite behind everything appeared, which talked with my expectation and moved my desire.

A good part of his Centuries of Meditation describes how his simple, childish wonder at the world became “eclipsed . . . by the customs and manners of men, which like contrary winds blew it out.” As the father of boy of six, I can see the shadow of that eclipse advance and reduce to the merely ordinary things Clay would have found amazements only a season ago. How strange and foolish that, watching him held fast by a spectacle of swirling tadpoles, I can’t help thinking that this instant, here, now, is the last time he’ll be so moved by something so small and simple. I’m usually on guard against that kind of sentimentality, but it slips through sometimes.

Perhaps it’s not an entirely bad tendency. Or perhaps it can be given a bit of perspective by Annie Dillard’s wry observation:

Young children have no sense of wonder. They bewilder well, but few things surprise them. All of it is new to young children, after all, and equally gratuitous. Their parents pause at the unnecessary beauty of an ice storm coating the trees; the children look for something to throw. The children who tape colorful fall laves to the schoolroom windows and walls are humoring the teacher.

Or perhaps a parent’s imagination works upon a child’s engagement of the world as a remedy and a preventative.

July 17, 2006

Derailed

Filed under: Readings — jstreed1476 @ 4:19 am

My reading list for July has been derailed by chance encounters, as so often happens. The day I finished Housekeeping, I ran into neighbors bearing books. One gave me Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, which I’ve started. Another put The Great Influenza by John M. Barry in my hands, and I’m a good bit into that; as the son of an epidemiologist, I couldn’t resist that one. And then I found myself at Bought Again Books with a bit of birthday money in my pocket, and I wound up leaving with A.S. Byatt’s Possession, which I’ve enjoyed the first few chapters of.

In short, I’m enjoying a bunch of books I had no intention of reading. But that’s fine. Gilead isn’t going away–it’s just another pleasure deferred while I attend to things unlooked-for but welcome.

July 3, 2006

The Young Man and the Crick

Filed under: Fatherhood — jstreed1476 @ 1:56 am

Like a lot of 6-year olds, Clay sometimes promotes a fun activity from “mild interest” to “consuming passion” without warning. This summer, fishing has gotten the nod. He asks every day if we can go.

Sadly, I am not an outdoorsman by nature. Despite a rural childhood spent scouting and in summer camp, despite a father who loves hunting, I’m basically an indoorsman. I like hiking, especially in fall and winter, and I’ll sit still to watch animals and listen to the woods without complaint. But I don’t have much Field & Stream cred; excepting insects, I’ve killed very few animals on purpose, and I haven’t dressed, cooked, or eaten any of them. My idea of a bad time is a nice day spent getting spurned by fish and fowl. You get the idea.*

BUT, a guy should step up for his kid, right? So a fishing license is in my future, as are early mornings creekside, slapping mosquitos and watching bobbers. Also, Candy, who loves fishing, got her license at the first hint of interest from Clay, so I’m feeling a bit left out. I think I still have the skills–I’ve never had a problem baiting hooks or anything like that–so the main thing to remember is: I’m fishing because I love Clay, not because I love fishing. And watching him do anything he loves–casting a line, playing a sport, eating noodles, whatever–is just fantastic.

BTW: The Iowa DNR has a great page on tips for fishing with kids. My favorite: “Leave your fishing rod at home.” It’s kind of sad when the dad catches a bunch and his son doesn’t get a nibble.

* I love Hemingway’s story, “The Big Two-Hearted River,” but for me it’s like a peek into another world. I mean, I suppose I can imagine making buckwheat pancakes over an open fire and slathering them with apple butter and wrapping them in wax paper for lunch on the river, and knowing that you have to grab the trout with a wet hand so you don’t wipe away the mucus that keeps their scales safe from infection. But then I’d be someone else, I guess.

“Why does Cordelia die?”

Filed under: Readings — jstreed1476 @ 1:06 am

This question is from A.C. Bradley’s essay on Lear, which I have in a collection of his criticism that I promised to send to Sean and found tucked away on a shelf just today. I dipped into it a bit before packing it up for a little trip :-)

Here’s a little more of that piece:

I suppose no reader ever failed to ask that question, and to ask it with something more than pain–to ask it, if only for a moment, in bewilderment or dismay, and even perhaps in tones of protest. These feelings are probably evoked more strongly here than at the death of any other notable character in Shakespeare; and it may sound a willful paradox to assert that the slightest element of reconciliation is mingled with them or succeeds them. . . .

Now this destruction of the good through the evil of others is one of the tragic facts of life, and no one can object to the use of it, within certain limits, in tragic art. And, further, those who because of it declaim against the nature of things, declaim without thinking. It is obviously the other side of the fact that the effects of good spread far and wide beyond the doer of the good; and we should ask ourselves whether we really could wish (supposing it conceivable) to see this double-sided fact abolished.

Enter Lear with Cordelia in his arms is one of the really shattering stage directions. “This feather stirs, she lives!” is a terrible moment. More such follow:

Cordelia, Cordelia, stay a little. Ha!

What is’t thou say’st? Her voice was ever soft,

Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman.

I kill’d the slave that was a-hanging thee.

And, in the end, that strange, amazing turn where, as Bradley says, “bodily oppression ask[s] for bodily relief”:

. . . Thou’lt come no more,

Never, never, never, never, never.

Pray you undo this button. Thank you, sir.

Lear, the man.

July 1, 2006

Currently Reading: Housekeeping

Filed under: Readings — jstreed1476 @ 2:22 pm

For the second time in about three years, I’m reading Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. It’s an amazing book in all kinds of ways, and the best comment on it is Doris Lessing’s: “I found myself reading slowly, then more slowly–this is not a novel to be hurried through, for every sentence is a delight.” I grant that Robinson’s prose has a lyrical intensity that not every reader will enjoy–like much of Annie Dillard’s work (e.g. Holy the Firm), it doesn’t take a breather, so to speak. But to my eye, it’s beautiful.

One evening one summer she went out to the garden. The earth n the rows was light and soft as cinders, pale clay yellow, and the trees and plants were ripe, ordinary green and full of comfortable rustlings. And above the pale earth and bright trees the sky was the dark blue of ashes. As she knelt in the rows she heard the hollyhocks thump against the shed wall. She felt the hair lifted from her neck by a swift, watery wind, and she saw the trees fill with wind and heard their trunks creak like masts. She burrowed her hand under a potato plant and felt gingerly for the new potatoes in their dry net of roots, smooth as eggs. She put them in her apron and walked back to the house thinking, What have I seen, what have I seen. The earth and the sky and the garden, not as they always are. And she saw her daughters’ faces not as they always are, or as other people’s were, and she was quiet and aloof and watchful, not to startle the strangeness away. She had never taught them to be kind to her.

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