Saturday Morning at Theler

We’ve had one sunny day in two weeks, and most of the day it was so foggy that there was no chance of getting decent photographs of birds or flowers. By the time it did clear up, it was too late do bird anywhere but locally. Unfortunately, the outburst of people seem to have chased most of the birds away, as I didn’t end up with a single picture worth sharing.

Luckily, it still wasn’t raining when we got up Saturday morning, so we went to Belfair even though it was no longer sunny, and we spend most of the morning dodging showers. After two weeks of solid rain, though, pictures seemed less important than a long walk, but I still took my camera.

Despite the continual rain, it’s clear that it’s Spring here in the Pacific Northwest, proudly trumpeted by the sudden proliferation of Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

and Trillium.


If those didn’t convince me, the large influx of song birds making territorial claims, like this Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

or simply trying to attract the perfect mate like this White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

certainly would have.

I’m Starting Lord Jim

Despite all indications to the contrary, I haven’t given up on blogging. The problem is that I’ve temporarily turned to novels again, and I don’t feel comfortable blogging about a novel until I’ve finished it. Old habits die young, I guess, and I would never have started talking about a novel in class until I’d read it once or twice. At this stage of my life, I’m probably never going to read a novel twice, but I still feel more comfortable discussing the ideas after I’ve seen how the novel ends.

Reading The Heart of Darkness inspired me to read another of Conrad’s works, and it just seemed right to read Lord Jim, probably his most famous work. I’m almost half way through it, and I’m finding it nearly as fascinating as Heart of Darkness. Like it or not, I still find it difficult to read more than a couple hours a day, so it will take me nearly a week to finish it — hopefully by the end of the weekend.

I was amazed how close of Conrad’s themes are to Crane’s themes in The Red Badge of Courage, a work that appeared a few years before. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article notes that “his circle of friends included talented authors such as Stephen Crane and Henry James.” I read The Red Badge of Courage after my Vietnam experience and found much that I agreed with. I was quite surprised to learn that Crane had never experienced combat, that he was too young to serve in the Civil War.

Of course, if the weather had been better I would have gotten out to take pictures, but it’s been miserable so far this week, despite predictions it would improve by the end of the week. We actually had snow showers in the middle of today’s rain storm. I’m not even going to try to get bird photos in this kind of weather, much less take pictures of flowers.

Gilbert’s “Moreover”

I’ve finished Jack Gilbert’s Refusing Heaven and have noted several poems I liked, but few truly stand out, and I’m still struggling to figure out why. This poem seems representative of poems I like but doubt I’ll remember very long:


We are given the trees so we can know
what God looks like. And rivers
so we might understand Him. We are allowed
women so we can get into bed with the Lord,
however partial and momentary that is.
The passion, and then we are single again
while the dark goes on. He lived
in the Massachusetts woods for two years.
Went out naked among the summer pines
at midnight when the moon would allow it.
He watched the aspens when the afternoon breeze
was at them. And listened to rain
on the butternut tree near his window.
But when he finally left, they did not care.
The difficult garden he was midwife to
was indifferent. The eight wild birds
he fed through both winters, when the snow
was starving them, forgot him immediately.
And the three women he ate of and entered
utterly then and before, who were his New World
as immensity and landfall, are now only friends
or dead. What we are given is taken away,
but we manage to keep it secretly.
We lose everything, but make harvest
of the consequence it was to us. Memory
builds this kingdom from the fragments
and approximation. We are gleaners who fill
the barn for the winter that comes on.

Gilbert’s ideas certainly resonate with me. The opening lines are what initially grabbed me, and I can almost imagine myself walking around naked, or, nearly naked, in the woods to watch the moon — though I would have been out camping in the wilderness when I did that. I sometimes think I actually admire the birds because they seem unaware it’s me that’s feeding them. And, at my age, it’s hard not to agree that “Memory/ builds this kingdom from the fragments/ and approximation. We are gleaners who fill/ the barn for the winter that comes on.” As hard as I try not to, at times I seem to be living my life in the past. In other words, Gilbert ties together a lot of the elements in my life better than I’ve ever been able to do.

It’s easier for me to identify what I like about the poem than to identify why it doesn’t make a stronger impression on me. I suppose one complaint, and it may well be a personal one, is that the poem seems to rely too much on conversation rather than imagery, and the photographer in me responds stronger to concrete imagery than to ideas. I prefer the immediacy of imagery to phrases like “we are given” or “we are allowed.” I want to experience what the poet knows, not be told about it. Of course, I’d have to be an idiot not to realize it’s nearly impossible to talk about the importance of memories in the present tense.

Maybe what I’m objecting to is the very idea that I live too much of my life in the past, or in my mind, rather than in experiencing the moment. That certainly has to be one of the dilemmas that any artist or writer faces when they spend more time trying to capture a moment than they actually did experiencing that moment.

Perhaps Gilbert’s greatest strength is simply that he makes me think. There are very few poems that I just skim without coming back to and thinking over again. He engages me, and that’s the most important reason to read, isn’t it?