Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Late bloomers

There was the faintest touch of frost on the grass this morning, and the temperature was hovering right around the freezing point when I arose. Still, the garden survived intact and by midday the thermometer was showing a rise of a good thirty degrees. The cold will be coming on, though, and in the last few weeks new outcroppings of fungi have appeared, to get their spores airborne before a killing frost shuts everything down for the year.

I don't harvest wild mushrooms, but I do enjoy photographing them. The best are exuberantly photogenic, and unlike some potential subjects they don't flit off annoyingly just when I get within camera-range. The giant puffballs below — the largest is basketball-size — have been dined upon liberally by some foraging mammal. The rest of the specimens were found on or around stumps or fallen trees, and no doubt have been hard at work at their invisible labor of decomposition deep within.

Update: Needless to say, not everyone is fond of mushrooms. A day or two after I took the photo of the giant puffballs someone gathered them all up and flung them into the bushes.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Mark of Ubu

What's-his-name, in the role of the original sociopath. "His poltroonery is only surpassed by his invincible avarice" (Macmillan's Magazine, 1897).

Poster by Iida Lanki, from 2013.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

A Nursery of Pestilences

Thomas Hardy:
Up the sides of this depression grew sheaves of the common rush, and here and there a peculiar species of flag, the blades of which glistened in the emerging sun, like scythes. But the general aspect of the swamp was malignant. From its moist and poisonous coat seemed to be exhaled the essences of evil things in the earth, and in the waters under the earth. The fungi grew in all manner of positions from rotting leaves and tree stumps, some exhibiting to her listless gaze their clammy tops, others their oozing gills. Some were marked with great splotches, red as arterial blood, others were saffron yellow, and others tall and attenuated, with stems like macaroni. Some were leathery and of richest browns. The hollow seemed a nursery of pestilences small and great, in the immediate neighbourhood of comfort and health, and Bathsheba arose with a tremor at the thought of having passed the night on the brink of so dismal a place.
Far from the Madding Crowd

Friday, September 30, 2016


At first, it's a curious feeling of tautness in the palm of his left hand, no pain, just a sensation that the skin is being pulled towards the edges, pressured from below. He takes it for a muscle cramp, flexes his fingers a few times, goes back to his paperwork, but the sensation distracts him, slowly grows, until he surrenders, he stares at the open palm and begins rubbing it in circles with the fingers of his other hand. He probes the same spot, over and over, until the center seems to gain definition. There's something there, it seems, but what could be there? His fingers trace around and around it until he senses an edge, something hard and circular pushing the skin up bit by bit, urging itself towards the surface. He grasps around the rim of the disc, easing it upwards as it slowly releases its grip on the interior of his hand. The skin thins out, becoming translucent, and he makes out something dark beneath; his muscles relax and he lifts it out: a perfect carpet tack. There's no rust, hardly any blood, just a little red streak down the shaft. He twists it in his fingers and gazes at it in astonishment, then sets it down. He considers the blister in his palm, rubs it a few times, but already it's disappearing, there's just a bit of lingering tenderness where the hole had been. He picks up the tack again, gets up from his chair, paces the room, sits down. A few minutes later it begins again, a different spot now, closer to the thumb, a moment's work and a second tack emerges. Then there's a third, a fourth, seven or eight, he sets them down together on a window-ledge, identical, unblemished, drying in the air. Later he feels an ache in the back of his hand, he draws out a carpentry nail a good four inches long. The skin quickly closes. He sets the nail down with the rest, wondering if there will be more, but nothing happens. He stares out the window, under a grey sky autumn has arrived, a few brown leaves somersault over unmown grass.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Death and Doom

Herman Melville:
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

Joseph Mitchell:
Every now and then, seeking to rid my mind of thoughts of death and doom, I get up early and go down to Fulton Fish Market. I usually arrive around five-thirty, and take a walk through the two huge open-fronted market sheds, the Old Market and the New Market, whose fronts rest on South Street and whose backs rest on piles in the East River. At that time, a little while before the trading begins, the stands in the sheds are heaped high and spilling over with forty to sixty kinds of finfish and shellfish from the East Coast, the West Coast, the Gulf Coast, and half a dozen foreign countries. The smoky riverbank dawn, the racket the fishmongers make, the seaweedy smell, and the sight of this plentifulness always give me a feeling of well-being, and sometimes they elate me. I wander among the stands for an hour or so. Then I go into a cheerful market restaurant named Sloppy Louie's and eat a big, inexpensive, invigorating breakfast—a kippered herring and scrambled eggs, or a shad-roe omelet, or split sea scallops and bacon, or some other breakfast specialty of the place.
Up in the Old Hotel

(Images from the South Street Seaport archives.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016


These photographs were taken from one of my favorite spots on earth, a dam that holds back a local reservoir. A couple of days before, the tiny rock shown in the second photo, the surviving remnant of what was once a hill before the area was inundated, was crowded with scores of resting cormorants. Following signals known only to them, as the sun began to fall they rose in clusters of five or ten and passed close above my head, their wings beating audibly as they headed towards the setting sun. By nightfall the rock was bare.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Tourist advisory

This is why you should always keep a decent set of maps in your glove compartment: you're driving along, just hoping to get home by dark, but the road is looking more and more unfamiliar, was that a rice paddy you just passed?, and all of a sudden you're hurtling down the long hallway of an apartment building, there's laundry waving on lines above your head, you hit the brakes too late to stop the car from plummeting into the coal cellar. So you climb out your car door and look up at the woman who's leaning over the railing looking down at you, hands on hips and shouting "hey, here's another one," and soon you're running, running, but it does no good, they'll catch up with you sooner or later, and what's worse, your supper is cold.