Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Birding, &c.


Yesterday the annual jaunt to Point Pelee (whose point withdraws perceptibly every year—result, apparently, of breakwaters construct’d in front of Lake Erie condominiums interrupting the wave action that used to shift sand to the point). A good day of some sixty or so species. Black-bellied plovers and a ruddy turnstone in the black muck of the onion fields. A rusty blackbird turning leaves in the swampy woods. (A raccoon there, too, unconcernedly grubbing out one hole after another.) Warblers: Nashville, Blackburnian, bay-breasted, chestnut-sided, yellow, magnolia, Cape May, black-throated green, palm, black-and-white, redstart. One attends to (accounts for) what’s “coming through” (think of a migratory poetics). One remarks differences (compared to other years): higher numbers of orchard orioles, of Nashville warblers. Miss’d the Black-throated blue. Miss’d the scarlet tanager, the rose-breasted grosbeak. Slight sunburn. Back, a longish wait at U.S. Custons. Two thuggish-looking “homeland” grunts (shaved heads, sunglasses, knee pads, arsenals of unspecify’d black weaponry strapped to belts) walk’d with the insouciant grace of the bully up and down the rows of vehicles waiting to go through: devotees, obviously, of random intimidation. (They’d suddenly choose a vehicle to interrogate and search, fling open doors and trunks, resume implacable pacing.) One traverses the Ambassador Bridge into a monstrous sandy pit of construction. A dozen or so cranes, innumerable bulldozed two-track service roads, flung about concrete barriers, insufficient (moronic) signage.

Return’d, read nearly to the end of The Disinherited. A (jobless, “I hear they’re hirin’ about one out of every fifty thousand that asts fer a job”) character’s quoting of a couple lines of Vachel Lindsay made me look it up:

Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed.

Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly;
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap;
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve;
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.
I love that. That, and the story the immigrant (and Marx-reading) Hans tells about wasp-hollow’d pears:
When I was a boy in Germany . . . there was a nobleman’s estate close to our cottage. He had a splendid orchard, and we boys were always hungering for the fruit we never had at home. We used to steal over the high stone wall when the gardeners were busy elsewhere to eat our fill of the fruit and even fill our blouses to take home with us. We liked the pears best. They were huge and sweet as sugar. Sometimes we’d start to grasp one in a hurry and it would crumble between our fingers. Wasps had entered it through a tiny hole near the stem, a hole not evident to a casual eye, and eaten all away but the rind and seeds. Things that seem as solid as a rock may be fragile enough to collapse at a pinch. But you’ve got to pinch first.
Thinking that the detail of the pear tree is intend’d to remind one of Saint Augustine’s different (Christianly-complicated and apologist—“Even a rich thief will not tolerate a poor thief who is driven to theft by want”) story of thieving pears in Book II of The Confessions:
I had a desire to commit robbery, and did so, compelled to it by neither hunger nor poverty, but through a contempt for well-doing and a strong impulse to iniquity. For I pilfered something which I already had in sufficient measure, and of much better quality. I did not desire to enjoy what I stole, but only the theft and the sin itself.

There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its color or for its flavor. Late one night—having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was—a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. . . . It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error—not that for which I erred but the error itself.
I do recall reading all that and thinking What a dweeb (though in Latin of course). All the self-lacerating hardly worthy the inconsiderable erring (and the “cauldron of lust” that ’s Carthage hardly register’d—seem’d second-hand braggart hogwash boys tell one another to prop themselves “up”).

To redeem Geoffrey Hill (for myself), the final (and perfectly uncivil) piece in A Treatise of Civil Power:

Somehow, with a near-helpless cry, I sháll
wrench out of this. I don’t much have
the patience, now, of the artificer
that so enthralls itself, impels
mass, energy, deep, the stubborn line,
the line that is that quickens to delay.

                             —Urge to unmake
all wrought finalities, become a babbler
in the crowd’s face—
A cantankerous unviable naysayer after all! Reveller in the idiot bave and mess! Against the fine sterling industrious makers!

Blackburnian Warbler