First frost

26 October 2013 § Leave a comment

26 October

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky . . .

(Yeats, from The Wild Swans at Coole, 1919)

It happened a few days ago during this halfweek of solitude.  My parents left again, my telephone was raptured,* and Cold, that wintry spectre, arrived.  My social activities for the week consisted of taking care of Molly, a little dog nearby involves driving through the mist-fog/veil of enchantment lying low over the mountains round seven each morning, when it is now dark, and the neighbourhood is quiet.  After breakfast and her insulin injection, we go into the garden and play, and the grass is faintly luminescent, gleaming in the late moonlight.  It’s just the same in the evening, dark again, but with a curling up rather than a stretching out feeling.

Driving over the river is different now, too; the mist lies low over the water, which is usually still and eerily glassy and reflects the thin clouds that loom so near; and on the windier days the choppiness calls to mind not a restless river but an oceanic disturbance.  Monday was so blustery that the wind howled and screamed; I was studying on the fourth floor of the science building and the ginkgo trees in the courtyard contorted themselves with rough grace.

Ginkgo biloba yellow

Yesterday, I took care of two little children who always make me laugh.  They had just gotten a puppy, a tiny kitten-sized wriggle of fluff who was very cute and did not bark once.  The girl chattered about how she would like to change her name to Elizabeth.

—[me]  Don’t you like your name?
—[fidgeting]  Can I call you Elizabeth?  Can I call you ice?  [continuing in the same manner]
—You can call me anything you’d like.
—[her two-year-old brother]  Ice . . . ice . . . baby . . .

The rest of the day, she called me Elizabeth, which her mother later found confusing.

It would be perhaps more fitting to post a Frost poem, but I have not been reading Frost lately.  Last night, I finished reading a volume of Yeats’s collected poems, a book whose jacket states that it includes all of the poems that Yeats authorised for his standard canon.  Of course the reader is left wondering which poems said canon excludes and where he can find these apocryphal verses.

Yeats Collected Poems

The editor does not (surprisingly) teach at Wake Forest, whose press turns out perhaps the finest editions of Irish poetry in North America.

Read it; you will find vast and varied musings on humanity and lives lived; looks rushy and long at the ways in which two people grow together and apart; and lush, yawning spinning of Irish folk and fairy tales.  (The last I found difficult to follow at times, indicating the necessity of studying such tales.)

You will learn of wisdom

And wisdom is a butterfly
And not a gloomy bird of prey

and of love,

And her hair was a folded flower
And the quiet of love in her feet

of youth

I too have rhymed my reveries, but youth
Is hot to show whatever it has found,
And till that’s done can neither work nor wait

and of age,

Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth

of time

Rose of all Roses, Rose of all the World!
You, too, have come where the dim tides are hurled
Upon the wharves of sorrow, and heard ring
The bell that calls us on; the sweet far thing.
Beauty grown sad with its eternity
Made you of us, and of the dim grey sea.
Our long ships loose thought-woven sails and wait,
For God has bid them share an equal fate;
And when at last, defeated in His wars,
They have gone down under the same white stars,
We shall no longer hear the little cry
Of our sad hearts, that may not live or die

and of mortality,

What’s dying but a second wind?

and read lines you know in their proper context:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams:
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

(He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, 1899)

Winter in Kenya (August 2012)

Winter in Kenya (August 2012, during the neversummer)

Here is another in its entirety:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book.
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

(When You are Old, 1893)

And of course The Second Coming, which has fascinated me since I began to study it a year ago.

*The screen suddenly turned white with streaks of darkness radiating from a corner, seemingly prompted by nothing.


Alliteration and potatoes

3 October 2013 § 1 Comment

3 October

In the process of purging my room of all superfluous documents and many fluous ones, I found a few treasures.

A page with the heading “New Year’s Resolutions” (from 2006, I think) is filled with a list of lifelong ambitions, including 1) study Italian grammar and 2) [the last on the list, presumably begrudgingly added] Be more positive about chemistry.

Clearly, I laboured/resolved under several delusions: that grammar governs or is even a significant part of Italian, and that my attitude towards chemistry would ever change.  It actually did; it just happened when mandatory study of it gave way to studying from whim rather than necessity.

Strangely, no one offers alchemy, so chemistry is just a placeholder.

My first choice was alchemy. Chemistry is just a placeholder. My loyalties remain with Robert Boyle.

This list is written on the back of an alliterative story entitled “Pilbert the Precocious Penguin from Poland (and his Problem)” that Katie and I must have written in the delirious stages of a school trip.  An excerpt:

Pilbert is a pretty penguin who likes to play poker with pieces of pine trees. . . . and, oh dear, there are bits about practising piano and a pretty pink guitar and pleasing prizes and prancing past pathetic parents and performing presumably for the populace of Poland.  Then come the passionate pity poured by the pint into puddles.  It’s preposterous, and it ends, finally, with “Points for Pilbert.”  And points for the waste basket.

Pilbert is but a sliver of heaps of alliterative compositions, many of which made their way into the school literary magazine and all of which should now be burned.

(The above was written in July.)



Do see this further exploration of tulips, this time more of the Lutheran variety.  Tim Keller has a more diluted sermon about predestination, but I cannot seem to find it, and I listened to it two years ago without taking notes.  That was during white nights when my roommate and I could not fall asleep.  Probably a Dean Wells sermon would have been slightly more soothing.

White nights: when the sun never sets and the roaming never ends . . . glorious.

White nights: when the sun never sets and the roaming never ends . . . glorious.

I am currently occupied with “Tuber or Tuber Not: Russia’s Hate-Love Relationship with the Potato,” an article posted on Russian Life . . . thirteen years ago.  This is probably the most exciting potato article since the one about Pizarro and the potatoes in South America from high school European history.

Well-fed, even in death.

A whimsical tribute.

In any mention of potatoes and their predominance and powers, one must never forget to mention Frederick the Great, whose grave at Schloss Sanssouci, that yellow marvel in Potsdam, still receives potatoes strewn over it by grateful pilgrims preserving the memory of their precious patron.

Ambling through the grounds of Sanssouci. Our guide was in the yellow pants and explained the special paint to me. Note that the tiny bookbag is already in use . . .

Ambling through the grounds of Sanssouci. Our guide was in the yellow pants and explained the special paint to me. Note the tiny bookbag already in use . . .

Potatoes plodded later into Russia with Peter the Great on his journey back from Europe.

Quite tall. Built city on swamp. Fond of ermine.

Quite tall. Built city on swamp. Fond of ermine.

Apparently he plucked some seeds from the Netherlands; yet there are murmurs that the potatoes also came from the easterly direction.  Perhaps one of Sarah Palin’s Aleutian ancestors tossed some sprouts across the water.  The Russians kept trying to eat the potato bush blossom rather than the part underground, though, and even after Catherine the Great issued a treatise on proper potato cultivation and consumption, the only people growing potatoes were Germans living in Russia, i.e., my actual ancestors.  I’m on a quest to find my fellow Russian-speaking distant cousins and hope there is at least a streak of Russian Orthodoxy in them.

I am about 2/3 certain that this is the book my grandmother has about our family's community.

I am 4/7 certain that this is the book my grandmother has about our family’s emigration club.

There are heaps of books about the Germans from Russia.  First on my list is Escape by Troika.  The Dark Abyss of Exile: A Story of Survival; 900 Miles from Nowhere; and Autumn Thoughts—Under Ruins and Snow also look promising.  I can only assume that Paradise on the Steppe is some sort of sardonic parody, so I’ll leave that behind, as tragedy is best taken straight or with subtle black humour.  (See also: the possibly nonexistent limits of parody.)  A book that would be fun to read (or research and write) would be a comparative study of German-in-Russia and Russian fairy tales.  What did the Germans make of Baba Yaga?

Yes, she is terrifying. Yes, she will eat you. Yes, her house is literally on chicken legs.

Yes, she is terrifying. Yes, she will eat you. Yes, her house is literally on chicken legs.

John Denver (Deutschendorf) was a German from Russia.  So was Catherine the Great.  And Lenin.

"I'm leaving on a jet plane . . . don't know when I'll be back again . . . probably never. Russia is just too cold."

“I’m leaving on a jet plane . . . don’t know when I’ll be back again . . . probably never.      Russia is just too cold.”

Nearly half a century later, in the early nineteenth century, Nicholas I put on his father cap and forced his people to eat their starch.  Like everywhere else, Russia really only adopted the potato on a large scale once a food crisis arose and then only by royal decree.  Amusingly, the potato was at first seen as a threat to Russian (food) identity, and the peasants feared that any governmental attempts to improve their lives would necessarily make them worse, so they burned entire potato fields.  Even the nobles, probably dining on the finest cream-soaked julienned potatoes, debated the issue from their peach-tinted plush chambers.  Government-mandated potato projects sparked widespread protests, most notably in places that are now essential potato-growing regions.  Naturally, prime offenders were either conscripted (a funny reversal of fate) or shipped off to serf camps.

A more recent potato protest. (Daily Mail; art installation by Peter Pink.)

A more recent potato protest. (Daily Mail; art installation by Peter Pink.)

The tumult died down, though, and soon enough, Russians were winning prizes for their potatoes at international competitions.  Mandatory potato service was pressed upon students, even after World War II.  Perhaps this could be a suitable American alternative for those who are conscientious objectors in wartime: they would have a nutritious and noble project to do, and we could diversify our crops so that we will not all die of corn poisoning and irrigation nightmares.  Those hoping for a reprieve from military service would welcome this change, but we should learn from Russian experience, which is vast, and avoid giving this job to students—apparently kartoshka-dodging became quite the sport.  If they had planted potatoes obediently, who would have become an astronaut?  As my professor in St Petersburg was fond of saying, triumphantly, “Feerst man in space—vass a Russian.  Feerst dog in space—Russian dog!”

St Yuri, patron saint of all three million space museums in St Petersburg.

“I kartoshka-dodged, and you can, too.”  St Yuri, patron saint of all three million space museums in St Petersburg.

Potato missions are no longer mandatory, which is a shame.  Everyone knows that it’s not real work unless you’re harvesting something.  Fret not, though; potatoes are still of political primacy and can be used for proper protest practices.  You can, for example, keep a stockpile of them in your bag in case any civil unrest arises.  No one else will be carrying potatoes, so you will win the skirmish.

October things

2 October 2013 § Leave a comment

1 October

After an initial period of tumult that resulted from scheduling classes during tea hour and subsequent privation, things have been (somewhat) righted, and today’s tea was a delight.  No one was home, so I invited my dolls, stuffed lambs, and various woodland friends.

The bees wanted to stay in Durham.

The bees wanted to stay in Durham. Location: the hidden hillock in the gardens.

Aside from tea time, here is a merry assortment of things to do this month:

1)  Soak up music (tonight I’m sad, my heart is lonesome) in the sweet sunlight that lingers a little longer and read good words.  There is even a clever five-tulip collection.

Best to read the Brothers K, too.

Best to read the Brothers K, too. Location: East campus.

2)  Read Peter Pan.  It may also behoove you to grow your wings a bit faster and to stock up on fairy dust.

Do come in the kennel.

Do come in the kennel. Location: East campus.

3)  If you ever find yourself bored (which would be pathetic), fear not.  Find something to do on this list.

Teach yourself abstract expressionism.  Even though I don't think Pushkin did. Mysterious beautiful location: St Pete

Teach yourself abstract expressionism. Even though I don’t think Pushkin did. Location:       St Petersburg.

4)  Make your Halloween costume and your trick or treating plans.  These things mustn’t be left to the last minute.

I went home for homecoming, and now I'm back at home.

I went home for homecoming, and now I’m back at home. Location: West campus from       the medical quad.

Where Am I?

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