high weir

September 11, 2008

On Commemoration

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 6:15 pm


Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child’s death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London’s daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

Dylan Thomas


September 3, 2008

Sine qua non*

Filed under: about — jstreed1476 @ 12:38 am

By way of Sean, a challenge to come up with 10 things you absolutely must know about me, to know me.

1. I’ve always lived in the eastern half of Iowa (except for my first 10 months, when I lived in Spain), and I expect to remain here for the rest of my life.

2. Technically, Waterloo is my new hometown, i.e I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else, and my kids are growing up here. But I’m very nostalgic for the Iowa City of my high-school years.

3. I experience buyer’s-remorse over things like the variety of rice I purchase. Getting a new car last year was, and continues to be, a source of agony.

4. I don’t own a cellphone or an iPod. The students who work for me do not believe me when I say this.

5. My co-workers are more likely to think I’m a data-driven, analytical thinker than that I was educated in the humanities department. I almost never talk about bookish things with people.

6. The poles of my imagination are Borges and Tolkien. Both makers of worlds, but very different in degree of elaboration.

7. I miss my mom, who died over 10 years ago, and I wish my dad and brother would move here.

8. Faithwise, what I know in my bones (Christ’s path the right path) and what I live in my life (American self-reliance) seem constantly at odds.

9. I have a hard time remembering that the things that drive me crazy about Clayton are his similarities to me at a given age. But it’s easy to remember that he’s delightful in his differences.

10. Candy is my better half.

*Bonus: I know Latin phrases, but not the language.

September 1, 2008

Too Close For Comfort

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 6:44 am

By way of Plep–still one of my favorite blogs–I came across this collection of Japanese “Ghost Scrolls.”

All of them are creepy in the extreme. Exhibit A.

My favorite/least favorite scary things are those that are almost, or formerly, or made to seem, human. Creatures in which we recognize a kind of near-humanity. A strange likeness is more frightening than the utterly alien. (See Nazgul, zombies, etc.)

August 31, 2008

The Schreuderspitze Plan

Filed under: Readings — jstreed1476 @ 1:54 am

Like Sean, I would really like to drop a little weight and add a little muscle. Unlike Sean, I have nothing like the discipline required to follow the 100 Pushups Plan.

The Plan reminds me of one of my favorite short stories, “The Schreuderspitze” by Mark Helprin. It is beautiful.

Herr Wallich, a Munich photographer, retreats to the mountains after a terrible loss. There he plans, as an ordeal or test, an alpine ascent. (One of Helprin’s novels is titled Refiner’s Fire.) He has never climbed a mountain before—his life has been free of rigor, and he is afraid of heights.

He knows he is physically weak, so he undertakes a “concentrated maniacal pursuit of physical strength”:

He had started with five each, every waking hour, of pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, toe-touches, and leg raises. The pull-ups were deadly—he did one every twelve minutes. The thumping a bumping [that got him evicted from his apartment] came from five minutes of running in place. At the end of the first day, the pain in his chest was so intense that he was certain he was not long for the world. The second day was worse. And so it went, until after ten days there was no pain at all.

After long isolation in a remote Alpine village, he is much changed:

No one would have mistaken him for what he had been. In five months he had become lean and strong. He did two hundred and fifty sequential pushups at least four times a day. For the sheer pleasure of it, he would do a hundred and fifty pushups on his fingertips. Every day he did a hundred pull-ups in a row. His midnight run, sometimes in snow which had accumulated up to his knees, was four hours long.

There are many passages of great beauty in this tale, and Herr Wallich’s ordeal is awesome in unexpected ways. There is also a very welcome vein of humor running through the story. Here’s how it begins:

In Munich are many men who look like weasels. Whether by genetic accident, meticulous crossbreeding, an early and puzzling migration, coincidence, or a reason that we do not know, they exist in great numbers. Remarkably, they accentuate this tendency by wearing mustaches, Alpine hats, and tweed. A man who resembles a rodent should never wear tweed.

April 2, 2008

Five Answers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — jstreed1476 @ 7:33 pm

Some time ago, Jaq asked some questions of me by way of his blog. My answers have been sitting in draft form for months. In case anyone is interested:

1. What will it take to get you blogging regularly? I mean, really regularly?

I wish I knew. If I ever manage, even for a month, to match your output, Jaq, I will be amazed.

2. I haven’t been there in years, so are there good bookstores in Cedar Falls/Waterloo now?

Bought Again Books is a decent used bookstore. Last I knew, it was still being managed by a retired philosophy prof whose class was once described to me as “Mister Toad’s Wild Ride.” There’s a Barnes & Noble in Waterloo, now. I don’t know if you consider it a good book store. My favorite thing about it is that my son calls it “Barns and Nobles,” which conjures up a fun image.

3. How do you respond to people who say that poetry is dead?

Amen. Just kidding! I always wonder whether they mean all poetry, or just contemporary poetry. For my part, I don’t read very much contemporary poetry, so I don’t know if there’s anything being written that will matter in 10 years, or a hundred. I’m sure there are poems that could matter. Poetry will always find readers, I think. The “long tail” model suggests lots of cultural artifacts will survive on the strength of the web’s ability to connect them with their ideal audience. Maybe that’s how poetry will survive.

4. Am I deluded in thinking that at least some of the poetry in Lord of the Rings is good stuff?

In a way, I think the proper measure is how it works in its own world. I accept it on those terms. But I have to admit that even when I was immersed in my first truly fanatical reading, I often dreaded plowing through the verse passages. (Sort of like reading the Quidditch parts in Harry Potter.) I wish I liked them more. Tolkien’s best poetry is his prose in The Silmarillion, I think.

5. Where are the most physically beautiful parts of Iowa?

You and Sean may hate this, but the territory around Decorah (home of Luther College) is probably the most striking. The northeast counties as a whole are what I would call modestly pretty. But I also like the more severe landscapes some of the western counties–huge, made of long, low hills. At dawn in winter, it can look like the end of the world . . . a beautiful end.

The Return of the Kingfisher

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 7:11 pm

Once, I kept a blog whose title alluded to one of Hopkins’s birds. I took it down, for reasons I cannot quite remember. I don’t regret those words’ loss, any more than I regret tilling under the little square of poorly-tended garden next to our house. Some fruit had come of it, but it wasn’t really a part of how I lived.

 Neither is high weir, but I haven’t taken it down yet–for reasons I cannot quite articulate.

Here’s another of Hopkins’s birds:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
    As tumbled over rim and roundy wells
    Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
    Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
    Selves- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
   Keeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is–
   Chríst. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
   To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

I can’t imagine what my actions speak or spell to the Redactor’s eye.

February 9, 2007

Pre-Pandemic Planning

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 4:23 am

Now here is something interesting to the son of an epidemiologist: the CDC’s new guide to pandemic mitigation. I saw it linked in Slate’s Survivalist column, which criticizes the CDC for measures that are either too mild or on the wrong track.

The CDC focuses on community-based, non-pharmacological ways to slow the spread of a pandemic. In dinner-table conversations on infection control that I’ve overheard since childhood, my dad has always stressed the challenge of integrating institutional, social, and pharmacological responses to disease. The CDC seems to put a great deal of emphasis on getting individuals to accept new roles within their workplaces, schools, communities, and even faith-based organizations. In this sense, their report, from my layperson’s perspective, appears to be a good start. David Shenk, the Slate columnist, is probably right in saying that without clear answers to the vaccine supply question, the CDC’s recommendations are less robust than is ideal. But as a citizen-level call to action, their preparations do seem worthy, especially given the fading memory of how disruptive things like polio were.

And oddly enough, I ran across all this stuff just one day before my employer, a community college, began circulating questionnaires about department-level responses to pandemics. Something’s in the wind, anyhow . . .

February 1, 2007

small beer

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 6:39 pm

Just a couple of notes:
+ Ken Jennings kindly reciprocated with a link to my post about his apparatus/asparagus puzzler. Thanks, Ken!
+ My sources tell me a sporting event of some significance will take place this weekend. I don’t know if I’ll be able to catch it, though: Mediacom (the local cable company) and Sinclair Communications are in a tussle of what’s gotta be pocket change to Sinclair. The upshot is CBS has been dropped from our cable system. People all over northeast Iowa are dusting off rabbit ears (or plotting an evening at a sports bar). Not sure what I’ll do . . .
+ My job takes me all over northeast Iowa to visit high schools, and lots of them are in very small towns. I often arrive in town with a little time to kill before my visit, so rather than hang out in my car in the parking lot–which might attract the wrong kind of notice in a rural community–I set up a makeshift, traveling office at the town library. I love small town libraries. The librarian is always friendly, they have a regular crowd talking like it’s a coffee shop, and there’s often an idiosyncratic cast to the collection, as though its accessions are guided by just a few personalities. The library is often a kind of showcase building for a town losing population by the year. That’s both heartening and little sad–they’re proud of their library, but it sometimes feels like the last thing they’ll raise together.

January 30, 2007

A Wish for Mr Biswas

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 11:03 pm

I’m in the middle of a re-reading of Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas, and the title character is driving me nuts, again. In almost every situation, he makes the worst possible decision. Sometimes he does something stupid when he should do nothing at all. Sometimes he does nothing when it would be so simple to do something good.

 The strange thing is that I keep wanting better things for him. I keep hoping he’ll rise above his frustrating, rather wretched little world. Naipaul says Biswas entered the world “unwanted and unaccomodated.” He senses that what little he’s given is offered grudgingly, and he struggles to respond well to anything, even small victories.

 I love this book. It’s strange and familiar, all at once. The story takes place a world away, in another age, but its characters are instantly recognizable. Naipaul’s prose is beautiful–rich, but not overly elababorate, with a clarity few other novelists achieve. It’s one of the few books I’m truly glad to have read.

January 29, 2007


Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 9:43 pm

From Ken Jennings’s excellent blog:

By substituting two letters, you can turn GROWTH into GROTTO or GROUCH. What’s the only English word you can produce by changing two letters in the word APPARATUS? (Note to nerds: Harry Potter is not real and “apparated” isn’t a word.)

Easy: Asparagus.

This puzzle brings up an odd memory. Every time I hear the word asparagus, I’m reminded of the B Kliban cartoon below. I think I saw it in the middle Eighties.

Talk about coincidences . . .

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