Saturday, May 14, 2022

Turtle Diary

Two days, two eastern box turtles. This mostly terrestrial chelonian, considered a "species of special concern," is widespread in our area but probably not all that common numerically. I see maybe one a year, often in more or less the same spots. The empty shell above may be the remains of one I saw on two occasions a few years ago. It appears to have succumbed to a predator strong enough to pierce its armor. No such grim fate as yet for the red-eyed male below, which I observed when he was, improbably, in the process of climbing over a stone wall. I kept my distance and he held his ground.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Nobody's business

That the Supreme Court is poised to overturn settled law and reverse the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade should surprise no one, given the steady rightward drift of the court, but it should appall anyone who cares about fundamental human rights.

I'll state my bias: human beings don't procreate spiritually, we procreate as bodies. We are no different in this regard from other animals, and anyone who thinks differently has a lot of special pleading to do. There is, therefore, no more basic level of individual rights than that which pertains to the body and to reproduction. The recognition of those rights, in the face of determined opposition, has been one of the most important advances of modern society. It is, paradoxically, the defense of the fundamental dignity of the physical, of our nature as animals, that defines us as modern human beings.

To deny a woman the right to control her reproduction is as outrageous an affront to human dignity as can be imagined. We pride ourselves — rightly — on the declared principles of freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion, but what is more intrusive, forcing others to keep their thoughts and beliefs to themselves, or telling a woman that even her own body is not hers to control? Defenders of abortion rights often point out — rightly — that it would be unthinkable and cruel to force a rape victim to carry her rapist's child to term, but that argument, legitimate as it is, is ultimately superfluous. It is for women to decide under what circumstances they are willing to bear a child. And it's no one else's business.

Roe v. Wade established a reasoned balance, informed by medical science, between the interests of society and a woman's rights. That balance has been steadily undermined by legislation and previous court decisions, but the essential principle underlying it has been preserved — until now. There is little short-term prospect, given the nature and dire condition of or political system, that the overturning of Roe can itself be undone. The damage will be profound, both to women and to American democracy.

It has to be understood that those who would deny a women's right to decide when or whether to have a child, and who more generally reject the whole idea of a right to privacy, don't really believe that human beings have inherent, independent rights at all. They recognize only power and its privilege to compel those who are subject to it. The fact that the right to abortion has long been acknowledged and supported by a majority of Americans will count for little. I have no doubt that reversal will be robustly cheered in the states that will be lining up to enact restricive legislation and competing to see how extreme that legislation can be made.

This country has been morally problematic from its inception, but it's hard to see how it will survive in any real sense. Even before this decision, we have come as close to fascism as we have ever been, and the danger has in no way receded.

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Owl report

A few years ago I had a good run of luck with owl sightings, but last year there were none at all and I hadn't seen any this year until now. Two days ago when I was walking the dog I heard the telltale whistle-hiss of a barred owl in an area where I'd seem them many times in the past. I couldn't get a definite visual on it and didn't have my camera with me, but I made note of the place so I could return. Yesterday it rained but this morning I headed for the same spot, with camera this time but sans dog.

On my way out I thought I heard the same hissing sound but it was too faint for me to be sure; on the way back, though, there was no mistaking it. I walked off the trail a few yards in that direction until I located the owl high up in a very tall tulip poplar. I wasn't close enough to see it well, but since I didn't want to spook it I let my camera zoom in and do the looking. After a few minutes I moved to a slightly different angle, then started to walk away. A single distinct "hoot" from nearby stopped me in my tracks. I looked up: a large adult owl was perched, by itself, in another large tree about fifty yards from the first, keeping a wary eye on me. I took some pictures and headed home.

I thought there might have been a second owl in the first tree, but couldn't tell for sure. It was only when I downloaded the images that I realized that there were no less than four, probably all juveniles. (One is largely concealed behind a limb in the shot below.) Had I known they were there, I would have made a better job of getting them all in the frame.
The Norway maple and tulip poplar leaves are coming out this week; the other trees are a bit behind. I'll give the owls a week's worth of privacy before I check in on them again, but by then I suspect they'll be harder to spot. Still, it's good to know that this family is thriving.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Non-buyer's remorse

When you really should have bought the book: the Taschen edition of the Augsburg Book of Miracles, published in 2014, is now out of print and available in the second-hand market only at prices starting at $250 (and increasing steeply from there). Oh well.

Earlier post: Signs and Wonders. The Marginalian has a selection of the illustrations.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Night haul

The tackle creaks as the net is pulled in. On the lantern-lit deck the crew plant their feet and strain at the rope.

Spilled out on the boards, the finned and tentacled creatures blink and gape, but even as the men gather around them their irridescence fades and their jewel-like colors dim. Outlines blur. The seething multitude becomes still, then melts away into brine and breeze.

They cast the net out again and sail on, dragging the dead dark sea towards morning.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Honest Things

Eleanor Clark, on the Oysterman's Cooperative building in Brittany, where "there is just about everything there you could ever need in oystering, from women's dark blue canvas pants and the beautiful fishermen's blouses up to the heaviest cable":
A lovely store, in which nothing has been advertised, nothing is packaged, no patronage is solicited, no brainwashing is done, no profit is to be made and therefore it is most unlikely that anything bought will break or otherwise go to pieces the first time it is used. Oh, the long-lost delight of this decency! For the general American public there is nothing left that begins to approach it but the small-town hardware store, where a nail is still a nail and had better be a good one, and there is apt to be a good deal of junk and vanity even there. Besides, in this place with its crude heavy counters and air of a warehouse, the aura of the single trade, of the beau métier with all its sea-depths and adventure, hangs around every item, for not a bolt or rope or pair of gloves there is meant for any other purpose, and it is remarkable what beauty it casts over everything. Beauty depends after all on what you come from, what you are being cleansed and relieved of, and in the pass we are in nowadays an American lady of the buying type might be tempted to come away from this place with a batch of pulleys, the way her grandmother acquired a little replica of the Venus de Milo.

But no, that wouldn't do, would it? The beauty of all these honest things, aside from their fine conjunction of textures, is in their being together and being there, not somewhere else, in the above-mentioned association, in the simple appropriateness of it all. It is not to be bought; the poor lady will have to go back to the square, with its tasteless souvenirs.
Clark was writing in the early 1960s, and no doubt many things are different now. Except for The Oysters of Locmariaquer and Rome and a Villa, her books seem to have gone out of print. She moved in Trotskyite circles for a time and apparently knew the man himself, if briefly, in his Mexican years; later she married Robert Penn Warren. The Vassar Encyclopedia has what seems to be the best summary of her life and work.

Monday, March 14, 2022

"This is my city"

Sergio Borschevsky, the translator of Borges, Cortázar, Neruda, García Márquez, and other writers into Ukrainian, is staying put in Kiev with his wife. From an interview with the Argentinian news website Infobae:
Why should we have to leave? This is my city. It doesn't belong to Putin or to his general staff or to the Russian Ministry of Defense... This is my city and my apartment. I live here. When I was a boy I saw all this destroyed by German Nazis. I saw it, because I was born in 1946 and I saw Kiev in ruins, I was born a year after the war. And now when I see these images of cities destroyed by the Russian Army, I remember my childhood. And I can tell you that I'm not thinking of leaving. I will die in this city. Now or later? I don't know, but in this city.
The full interview (in Spanish) is available here.

Update: A version in English, though imperfect, can be read here.