A Special Day

I spent my birthday today at Northwest Trek with my son, daughter and their families. The snow made the day seem even more special than usual, particularly for the young folks who couldn’t resist a romp in the snow.

We also saw more animals than usual, perhaps because the keepers spread food closer to the road during the winter so the animals were much easier to see than the previous times I’ve been there.

I still haven’t had time to go through all the pictures, but at first glance this shot of a young Bighorn Ram is my favorite.

I was also pleasantly surprised to return home and find the book Holy Tango of Literature awaiting me, a gift from Robyn, an occasional visitor to my site.

Stern’s “Hanging Scroll”

I’m probably going to be tied up with Christmas activities until next week, but I did find time to read another hundred pages in Stern’s This Time while I was at Leavenworth, so I thought I’d post my favorite poem from this section of the book.

I’ll have to admit that I was a little disappointed with many of the poems in this section as they were too “literary” for my taste, with references to classical composers, writers, and, mainly, famous poets.

Even though this poem contains the same key literary reference, it does so in a way that I can identify with, particularly with my recent fondness of Chinese and Japanese literature, not to mention a long attraction to Zen paintings:


I have come back to Princeton three days in a row
to look at the brown sparrow in the apple branch.
That way I can get back in touch with the Chinese
after thirty years of silence and paranoid reproach.
It was painted seven hundred years ago by a Southerner
who was struggling to combine imitation and expression,
but nowhere is there a sense that calligraphy
has won the day, or anything lifeless or abstract.
I carry it around with me on a postcard,
the bird in the center, the giant green leaves
surrounding the bird, the apples almost invisible,
their color and position chosen for obscurity-
somehow the sizes all out of whack, the leaves
too large, the bird too small, too rigid,
too enshrined for such a natural setting,
although this only comes slowly to mind
after many hours of concentration.

On my tree there are six starlings sitting and watching
with their heads in the air and their short tails under the twigs.
They are just faint shapes against a background of fog,
moving in and out of my small windows
as endless versions of the state of darkness.
The tree they are in is practically dead,
making it difficult for me to make plans
for my own seven hundred years
as far as critical position, or permanence.
-If the hanging scroll signifies a state
of balance, a state almost of tension
between a man and nature or a man and his dream,
then my starlings signify the tremendous
delicacy of life and the tenuousness of attachment.
This may sound too literary-too German-

but, for me, everything hangs in the balance
in the movement of those birds,
just as, in my painter,
his life may have been hanging from the invisible apple
or the stiff tail feathers or the minuscule feet.
I don’t mean to say that my survival
depends upon the artistic rendering;
I mean that my one chance for happiness
depends on wind and strange loyalty and a little bark,
which I think about and watch and agonize over
day and night,
like a worried spirit
waiting for love.

Though I’m actually rather fond of scrolls where “calligraphy/ has won the day” I also identify with his appreciation of the bird’s “realism,” even though he later discovers it’s not that realistic.

Like Stern, for me art is most valuable not for itself, but, rather, because it makes me see the real world more clearly. An artist who captures a particular pose of a Heron, for instance, tends to make me more aware of that pose when I actually see it live.

The greatest artists are those who make us see life itself in a new way, make us see our relationship to life itself. To realize “a state/ of balance, a state almost of tension/ between a man and nature or a man and his dream.” Our very happiness may depend on such ephemeral moments.


We’ve been in Leavenworth the last three days, and though I’m further behind than ever in trying to get ready for Christmas, it’s tough not to get into the Christmas Spirit after mixing with hundreds of people celebrating the season.

I added to the spirited economy by buying a Ukrainian Santa to add to my Santa collection and a beautiful kaleidoscope to the two others I already have.

I suspect I also added some unneeded weight with all the good food around, despite a snowshoeing expedition with Leslie and Ted.

Almost Birding

I spent much of the day repairing the section of the fence that was blown down in Friday night’s wind storm.

It wasn’t as painful as replacing roof shingles because I didn’t have to bend over nearly as much, but, like most repairs, it was full of its own small frustrations.

I discovered that it was nearly impossible to dig up the concrete that encased the downed post because I’d managed to build an extensive raised bed over part of the concrete. That necessitated offsetting the post a good six inches, which, in turn, meant that the eight foot long stringer I’d just purchased were six inches too short, thus requiring another trip across town to buy to ten foot stringers that needed to be chopped down to eight feet, six inches long.

It didn’t help much that it was only about 37 degrees at its warmest, making it difficult to pick up the innumerable nails I had to first remove, and, then replace with wood screws when I reassembled the fence. Still, the work went as fast as could be expected, and the fence is secure enough I can leave the doggy-door open during the day when we go to Leavenworth next week.

Of course, a thorough inspection of the fence revealed that the back section was also considerably damaged, though not enough to flatten it. Tomorrow I will reinforce it, and after everyone has left after Christmas vacation I will set to work fixing that section, too.

The day wasn’t an entire waste, though, as it turned out to be one of the best birding days in months, probably because I didn’t have a camera with me. First, I was visited by three beautiful blue jays in full dress blues. Shortly afterwards, I was visited by a pair of Red-Shafted Flickers.

The day was capped by another visit from our Sharp-Shinned Hawk, which despite my attempts to chase it off refused to leave the yard after it chased a black-capped chickadee into the bamboo shrubs. I was surprised it didn’t leave until I got within two feet of it. Then it flew off a short distance and sat glaring down at me from the telephone line until I went back to work. It was nearly ten minutes later when I saw it swooping down after the chickadee flew out of its shelter. I didn’t see it if it actually caught its prey, but I had to admire its persistence.