A Small Price to Pay

It’s been a beautiful week so far here in the Pacific Northwest, though we’re being hit by our coldest spell of the winter, down in the 20’s at night with highs in the 30’s for the next few days. Perhaps the weather’s trying to prepare me for next week’s trip to Colorado, where it’s even colder than it is here.

If that’s the price for some sunshine, I’m more than ready to pay it, though I’m not sure the ducks that spend nights outside would agree.

Wednesday was a great day to get out and take bird pictures, even if all of the ducks I saw were all ones I see regularly.

This male Common Goldeneye seemed more than willing to show off for the camera:

I spent nearly a half hour observing this female Red-Breasted Merganser dive again and again near the shore looking for small fish:

My favorite picture was taken on a small lake near the Sound. It’s the first time I’ve seen a male and female Hooded Merganser together. Although not nearly as shy as the Bufflehead that have frustrated me on the same lake for most of the last four months, it was still extremely difficult to get a good picture of the two of them together, particularly a picture that showed off their beautiful hoods.

Of course, it would‘ve been a great day if I hadn’t gotten a single picture, but then I wouldn’t have anything to show you just how beautiful of a day it was.

The Final Lesson of All

I’ve finished David Wagoner’s The House of Song, and, though it’s not my favorite of his many books I own, it contains a number of very good poems that illustrate various phases of his career.

I originally thought I would end my discussion of the book by quoting one of the many native American-inspired poems that seem to dominate the second half of this volume because there were several that I liked.

Instead, I decided that this was my favorite and showed Wagoner’s ironic sense of humor quite well. I suspect it’s not entirely irrelevant that the poem is about a “professor of comparative literature,? not a poetry teacher:

Symposium

The professor of comparative literature
is lying in the hallway this afternoon
Between the stairwell and a locked glass-case,
Not quite blocking the entrance to the mail room.
Though his hair is still combed neatly, his houndstooth
Appears to have grown too small for his upper torso,
And his dark slacks have shortened above his ankles,
Exposing inappropriate blue socks
With brown suede shoes. A stack of bound term papers
Lies next to him in their original order.

A quiet, attentive group of graduate students
And faculty has gathered loosely around him
While a campus policeman kneels and turns him over.
Behind the lenses of his wire-rimmed glasses
His eyes are firmly closed. His mouth is a slit.
His large square face has brightened
To the inexpressive ruddiness of greasepaint.

He wears a mask of mucus from nose to chin.
The policeman covers it with plastic film,
But before he’s mouth-to-mouth, the professor’s lips
Sink inward with the raw irregular snore
Of Cheyne-Stokes respiration, a farewell rattle.

His dignity has seldom been so apparent:
His Power to cause reflection, to persuade,
To influence and enrich the lives of others,
To deepen their understanding, to arouse
An empathetic tremor in his listeners
Who begin discussing the mordant implications
Of his presentation the likely interconnections
With other disciplines, and his shades of meaning.

But now the collapsible gurney is lifting him
Out of context, is rolling him out the door
And down the walkway into the ambulance
And driving him beyond their frames of reference.

I’m sure those of us who spend most of our lives talking about literature take our ideas much too seriously, sure we are teaching vital life lessons — though that might not be what most students think we‘re teaching.

At least I’ve been spared the indignity of dying in the classroom fallen under the weight of an armful of ungraded research papers. At the end, no one will be able to make fun of me because of my pocket protector full of red, blue, and green pens. No, now days while I’m out walking I can seldom even find a pen to scribble my web site’s address or even my name.

I’m glad when I finally fall it will be under my own weight, not under the weight of academic expectations.

I’m even happier that now I can live my life beyond everyone students’ frame of reference, free to be just me.

Strange Partners, Indeed

Those of you who visit here very regularly have surely noticed I’m not very sentimental, particularly about over-commercialized holidays and seldom post holiday-appropriate entries.

Still, it’s hard to forget Valentine’s Day, particularly since I’ve volunteered to read Valentine cards for students at Gavin’s kindergarten.

Though this poem isn’t my favorite in the second half of Wagoner’s House of Songs, it seemed strangely appropriate to the holiday as I sat in the doctor’s office today waiting to get some medicine to cure the mild case of bronchitis I contracted from last week’s cold. and it does give some indication of Wagoner’s diversity, something you might not have noticed since I tend to favor his nature poems:

BY THE SEA, BY THE SEA

In the seaside restaurant, they’re cracking crabs:
He’s in his thirties, she’s eighteen at most.
She’s still in her receptionist’s uniform
With a scarf over the name-tag. The candle
Burning between them is guttering
Lavender driblets, and both are chewing
Pieces of firm white flesh, while their busy fingers
Are cracking claws and dipping more in butter.
She says she’s known all along
It would end like this, with him going back to his wife.
Just like her mother’s boyfriend. He says he’s sorry
But she has to understand. She has to be
A matter-of-fact adult, and there’s no reason
They shouldn’t enjoy themselves on their last evening.
They should both be happy they recognized the fact
Of life in time to get up and go on being
Responsible. She’ll see an affair
Can be just as beautiful as love
If you stop in time, and now she’s going to stop
Crying and take her doggy bag
And blackberry cobbler and walk on out of here
As if she’d enjoyed herself. They both stand up
And slowly go down the aisle toward the cashier
To earn their way outside into the night
Where I follow them (having paid the price
Of my appetite this evening) and watch them
To the end of the parking lot and separate cars,
Not kissing good-bye or waving, not even looking.
Meanwhile, beyond the buttress of driftwood logs
Where the owners have arranged to keep the sea
And the sand from coming too far ashore, the crabs
Are facing each other in the rippling shallows
At low tide, performing mirror dances
the tips of the inedible parts of their claws,
Some maybe not quite sure
Whether they’re mating or fighting
they face strange partners almost as insane
With longing as they are. They go on dancing
There in the cold salt.