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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Visiting Brookside Gardens and thinking about Capability Brown

Looking over the rolling landscape created at Brookside, I thought about an article I recently read about Capability Brown, 18th century British landscape architect. Throughout Britain, he created gardens that appeared natural but actually were thoroughly artificial, and his style influenced landscape architecture since. Prior to Brown, the wealthy landowners favored for their country estates formal gardens with geometrically straight lines, a style popular in France and Italy. Brown replaced these with pastoral fields, ponds, and woodlands. This style of landscaping is now common in the U.S. and can be seen in Central Park in New York City as well as most golf courses.

After walking around the park, I checked out the indoor exhibit where another visitor called by attention to the angel trumpet plants:

Monday, December 19, 2016

Goose population today

If anything, I think yesterday's estimate of 120-130 is conservative. Couldn't get an angle to get all of them in the picture.

Existentialism and personal identity

Just over two years ago I wrote about my thoughts concerning a character in a Richard Ford novel and his concept of a "default self", that a person's identity is defined by what they do. This concept came back to me this semester in college during a philosophy course where among the readings was a selection from Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness.

Ford's character's default self is very similar to Sartre's idea of "facticity", a person's essential nature. Sartre believed humans could transcend their essential nature by their own decisions about their actions. An example would be a shy person who chose to become a public speaker. Choices such as this give humans what Sartre calls "radical freedom." I suspect Ford was familiar with these ideas because he stresses that the default self is a person's own creation. His character's musings seem a slightly different slant on Sartre's concept of transcending facticity. I remember Sartre's plays, novels, and writings on existentialism as popular when I reached my early teens. I read a little Sartre, but I think I was too young to fully understand what he was saying. Being a little older, Ford may have gotten it better.

Both Sartre and Ford were looking at personal identity, a subject of interest to me especially when I look back to when I was younger. The philosophy instructor is a young man who recalled that when he first left home for college people advised him to "be yourself, Andrew", but he didn't know what they meant. I understand his confusion. Many young people resolve their questions of personal identity by joining a group which gives them an identity and sense of belonging. Jock, nerds, sorority girls are all groups which provide roles and identities. The large identity group when I was young were the hippies, although we more commonly referred to ourselves as freaks, and everyone else was the straight world. After college when I began working jobs which required wearing suits and ties I felt a clash with my established identity.

By the late 1970's, some college-educated people I knew began referring to themselves as professionals which seemed to have a broader definition than the traditional one of doctor or lawyer, and young, urban, professional became "yuppie". I suspected this group self identity served to set them apart from those who were not college-educated.

I never completely understood the "hipster" identity of my children's generation, but I believe it's some combination of hippie and yuppie although maybe I'm wrong about that. I'm often wrong or fail to completely understand things about young people now that I'm old.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Current goose population

Counted 120-130 the last two days, yesterday in the fields and today on the pond. It will be interesting to see how many remain after the winter.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Still icy in the afternoon

The waters:

The Woods:

Icy Morning

 Out the front window:
From the deck looking down:

On the deck:

Monday, December 12, 2016

Terps now 11-1

So far, I've seen four games this season. College basketball is great.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Maryland against Howard

I think this is the third basketball game I've gone to this year, and Maryland has won them all.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Seaton Street NW, Washington, DC

Walked around the Dupont Circle area while Pam was getting her hair done and thought this street was colorful:

Words and images

A course I took a few years ago entitled "Why Poetry Matters" made me think about how much poetry surrounds us in the way of song lyrics. Most of it is bad poetry, I would admit, but it's poetry nevertheless. In addition to song lyrics, we are bombarded with words constantly from radio and TV in addition to from people in our work and personal lives. Regarding written communication, the internet has added a huge amount on top of traditional newspapers, magazines, and books.

In a similar fashion, the art history course I'm currently taking makes me muse about how many images modern humans see daily. Movies, television, publications and, once again, the internet give our eyes a constant stream of images. With a few keyboard strokes, people can view images of the paintings of the great masters that once were available only to the select few owners and their friends.

I have read that it's been estimated that about 80 billion humans have lived on earth. That estimate depends on, among other factors, the length of time Homo Sapiens have existed, but I believe the current generally accepted figure is 250,000 years. What is certain is that for most of those years the amount of words and images available to humans was infinitely smaller than what it is today. The images drawn on the walls of caves in Lascaux 17,000 years ago and in Chauvet 30,000 years ago must have been regarded as precious to those who saw them. The number of animals in the Lascaux paintings have been speculated to represent either past hunting experiences or rituals to bring about the success of future hunts. Words were scarce as well since it's been just a few thousand years that they have been stored in writing. Oral story-telling was valued, and I envision extended families huddling around a fire at night listening to a practiced speaker recounting old tales of valor. This is how the Homeric epics were handed down.

So now we're comparatively wealthy in words and images, but maybe that abundance has cheapened the product. Here, I'm thinking of the internet again. Anyone with a computer can throw words out there, and a great deal of that content is simply false while much of the rest is cruel, crude or both. (I'm not oblivious that I'm adding to the total.) Images flood us as well, both still and motion, but the value of certain iconic images gets diminished in that flood. A few weeks ago in the art history class, we were analyzing Di Vinci's "Mona Lisa", and I realized the masterpiece has been reproduced and parodied so often in my lifetime that studying it as a painting was difficult for me.

Being provided with so many words and images makes us not spend time on any one of them. Often I hear complaints that people don't fully read e-mails and miss important points. The average museum visitor spends about 17 seconds on each work of art they view. We feel we have to hurry through all these words and images, so we have trouble adjusting to the ones that deserve plenty of time. The professor of the poetry class recommended letting a poem "flow over you" without getting too hung up on trying to figure out the meaning of each line and then going back for analysis. The art history professor had us study an established six step process: look, observe, see, describe, analyze, and interpret, with each of those steps explained.

Maybe the rule should be to devote the time to taking in an image or a written or oral statement as appropriate to how much time was expended in the creation.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rainy Autumn Day

Today during my walk in the park.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Son and daughter, Thanksgiving 2016

Greg and Rebecca photographed by Pam. The kitchen is in Dave and Jane Powell's house where we traditionally have Thanksgiving dinner.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ornamental grasses changing color

This plant was across the street in the park, probably less than 60 feet from our yard, and  almost certainly it came from one of our plants. Nature doesn't recognize property boundaries.

The bottom picture is a nearby plant seated closely to a maple tree in our yard. It may or may not have been the parent.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fourty-seven years ago this past Tuesday

Saturday morning I got off the DC Metro train at the Archives Station and walked the few blocks down 7th Street to the National Gallery of Art. Noting that I was early for the designated time for my art history class, I walked around to the Mall entrance, just as a change from the closer side and back entrances I usually use. As soon as I reached the steps, I had a strong memory flash to a November day much like this one but many years ago. This is where we gathered for the March on Washington to protest the Viet Nam War in 1969.

The weather was remarkably similar that day, sunny with a bright blue sky and air temperatures in the 60's. I remember being comfortable in the light wool shirt jacket I wore that day and still own, I believe. I also remember the small 35mm camera I used to photograph the event but have no idea what happened to the slides.

The actual March I have little specific memories of. We proceeded, I believe, to the Washington Monument grounds, 500,000 strong, to listen to speakers and music. Crowds sometimes bring about a sense of claustrophobia in me, so I tend to skirt the edges rather than immerse myself in the middle. I'm like that now, and I was that was then. Staying on the move gave me more photo opportunities, and although the pictures are gone some of the images remain in my head.

When those memories came rushing back to me Saturday, I wondered if the date was the actual anniversary of the March. Later I checked and it was close because the anniversary was November 15th which was Tuesday. It was the largest of Viet Nam protests, but the war dragged on for, how many years? Three? Four? Five? How many more deaths? In the thousands, certainly. I sometimes wonder if we did any good.

Monday, November 14, 2016

This caught my eye today...

The light autumn leaves against the dark green background was the most visually interesting sight on my walk today.


Pam took this shot. Clarence likes to bury himself under quilts.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

This afternoon at the Upper Patuxent


Election night jazz

Rather than watch the coverage of the election results on TV Tuesday night, I decided to attend the chamber jazz concert at the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Maryland.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Autumn in Patuxent State Park

Yesterday was a beautiful day in the woods, however, with temperatures a very unseasonable 80 degrees I wished I'd had more water and fewer clothes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Deep Autumn in the Park

Many years ago I decided that the foliage change "peak" was on Halloween here. Often when that day approaches I start second-guessing and wonder if it may be coming late or that it may be a year with less impressive colors. I usually end up deciding that both those possibilities are subjective and highly dependent on where you're looking.

On a chilly and cloudy afternoon, this was the scene which most caught my attention while walking around the pond. It's typical of this time of year there.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Yesterday afternoon from our deck

It was an unseasonably warm, beautiful Sunday. In anticipation I mowed the lawn, front and back and I hope for the last time this year, and did other yard work on Saturday, so I could goof off without guilt yesterday.

I admired the gardens from a number of vantage points and visited the park a couple of times. Knowing that there will be few days remaining when a person can relax outside in the sun makes days like this even more precious. From the deck I was contemplating the foliage change and periodically checking the movements of the clouds from the strong northerly winds when I noticed these cloud patterns which I found satisfying.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A. James Clark Engineering Building

New construction has been common at the University of Maryland, and three days a week I check out the progress of a 184,000 square foot building named for an alumnus and built by the company he founded, Clark Construction.

 Having been involved in much more modest construction projects during my working years, I marvel at the scope of this one.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Migratory geese are here

During the past few weeks, I've sometimes seen as many as 25 geese on the pond and wondered if they were migratory or residents visiting from a nearby home area. Seeing 65 today leaves me little doubt they are migratory. Some of them are pictured here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Speaking, singing, and praying to rivers

A few days ago the newspaper ran a story about a group of Native Americans who were traveling the 405 mile length of the Potomac River to spiritually thank the river and to wish for the health and recovery from the ills brought upon the waters by humans. The ritual involves songs, speech, and prayers and carrying a container of water from the relatively clean section at the headwaters and pouring the water into the more troubled lower part to "give the river a taste of itself."

I have spent time on all sections of the Potomac but have never thought to speak to it. While near some small streams which ultimately empty into the river, I've sometimes felt they were speaking to me, the often described "babbling brooks", but I've never been able to understand any words. The river has given a lot to me, wonderful hours of fishing, boating, and kayaking, and maybe it would be a good idea to thank the waters myself and hope that it understands. Maybe the river communicates best with the Native Americans in their language. I certainly wish them the best in their river ritual because the Potomac can use any help it can get, spiritual as well as scientific.

The Potomac is one of the rivers I know best. The other two are the Patuxent and the Patapsco, and I spent yesterday afternoon fishing for trout on the Patapsco. The trout were unwilling but the bluegill were receptive so I had an enjoyable day, and next time I'll try to remember to give thanks.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bob Dylan: Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

Hearing the announcement a few days ago put a smile on my face for the rest of the week. When I was young it was common to hear that rock music was a trivial fad, and those of us who thought there was lasting worth were on the defensive about the sound and words we loved. Maybe I have continued to be haunted by this defensiveness because I finally feel vindicated by Dylan's official recognition in being awarded the Nobel.

Dylan's lyrics had an effect upon my life. I never questioned the segregationist environment of my youth until the civil rights revolution of the 1960's crashed into my suburban life, and Dylan's music was part of that soundtrack. "How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see" not only called attention to racial injustice but also redefined manhood. There must have been millions of other teenage boys who, like me, suddenly had an alternate measurement of what it was to be a man, a measurement more noble than physical toughness or sexual prowess.

Dylan's words also inspired and expanded our imaginations. I've been listening to this song for over half a century and the imagery never fails to grab me:

"Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy bench
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow..."

For those of us for whom Bob Dylan has been our Mr. Tambourine Man for most of our lives, we somehow feel that the Nobel Prize award was for us too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Pond: late afternoon

It's perfect weather for taking a walk and stopping occasionally to soak in the sun, especially while knowing that the days when it's comfortable to sit outside are growing fewer.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Unusual wetlands

If I didn't know where the above photo was taken, I might guess it was along a Maryland tidal river. Actually the scene is within the University of Maryland campus in College Park.

It's clear to me that the site has been landscaped as very little of the 1,250 acres of the campus is in an untouched natural state. I've previously featured the various gardens created throughout the grounds of the University, but I keep encountering hidden gems like these wetlands.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Awakened by an owl's hooting

We don't often sleep with the windows open because it's usually either uncomfortably cold or hot, but there are periods in the spring and fall when we can. Recently an owl's hoots woke me in the middle of the night. We've heard owls here before, sometimes as we were just getting to bed, and it's always a nice sound with a distinctive rhythm. From what I just heard on YouTube, I'd say it was a great horned owl.

The next few nights I've hoped for a repeat performance and have been a little disappointed not to hear it. Maybe tonight.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Back Yard, Early Autumn 2016

The new bedding area where the tree was uprooted last year is filling in nicely.

These annuals were planted a previous year but came back:

Status of the park geese

The resident geese population has been 40-50 for the past few years, a number that the park authorities decided was excessive. Park management were likely influenced by people who complained about the large amount of goose excrement on the walkways and on the baseball fields, and a few months ago an attempt was made the eliminate the geese. The attempt seemed to be successful although lately we began seeing small numbers of the birds.

It's too early for these to be migratory, so I'm assuming these were resident geese who had made their home area elsewhere until recently.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Old Folks Boogie

When the band Little Feat first recorded this song Pam and I had just turned 30, and being "old folks" seemed a long way off. We saw them live at about that time, and I doubt that we considered the possibility we would be attending a Little Feat concert again almost 40 years in the future. But there we were at the Warner Theater Monday night with our friend Stan.

Entering the theater and passing by the busy bar downstairs, we noted that most of the crowd seemed in our age bracket. When the band came on stage and ripped into the opening song, "Rocket in my Pocket", all us old folks cheered and whistled and absorbed the power of the music for the next two hours. Many of the songs brought the audience to its feet dancing to the band's infectious rhythms. The crowd was enthusiastic, bordering on rowdy (fueled possibly by that busy bar), and that's the right atmosphere for rock and roll. I was proud of my peers for retaining that spirit.

I recently read a book review of a biography of rock pioneer Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records which was the first to record Elvis Presley. Although it sounds like an interesting book, I was most struck by reviewer Louis Menand's description of the early days of rock and roll and his grasp of the music's appeal:  "Rock and roll feels uninhibited, spontaneous, and fun. There's no show-biz fakery coming between you and the music." What he says about the early days still strikes me as essentially true even though beginning in the sixties there became exceptions: "Rock and roll did not have a message, unless it was: 'Let's party (and if you can't find a partner, use a wooden chair)'."

That concert certainly was uninhabited fun, and it's power has stayed with me even two days later. Although death has taken some of the group's founders and some current members have troubling medical conditions, Little Feat remains a great live band.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Art in the afternoon, baseball in the evening

Yesterday, Pam dropped me off to take the Metro to Dupont Circle to join my art history class at the Phillips Collection which featured an exhibit by the American impressionist painter William Merritt Chase. Not surprisingly, the painting which most attracted my attention was titled "The Lone Fisherman".

For a painter classified as an impressionist, many of Chase's works show sharp detail in spots, such as the rocks in the foreground here. In the distance the single human appears small and isolated. I noticed that Chase's outdoor scenes invariably contained man-made items such as the breakwater jetty which dominates this picture.

After leaving the art museum, I got back on the Metro to travel to Nationals' Park to meet my neighbor Jim for a baseball game.

Harper homered in the bottom of the eighth to give the Nats a 3-0 win over the Phillies. Although very hot, it was a good day and certainly a full day.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Algae on the pond

The modest waves of the pond cause the surface algae to form patterns.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Football Season

Maryland season opener against Howard University today.

At the second half kick-off, Maryland was already ahead 35-0. Tropical storm was heading up the coast to the East, but other than a stiff breeze we were unaffected.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Beach Week

 Typical day. Weather was pretty much perfect all week.

Sean, Rebecca, and Pam. All great company for the week.

 Pam and I.

Moon rise over the Atlantic.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

County Fair time

Volunteered to work the Izaak Walton League's booth this year at the annual Montgomery County Fair in Gaithersburg.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The joy of rock and roll

Last Saturday Pam and I went to hear live music in Gaithersburg where a band headed by a friend was playing. The band, 2nd Sole, is a classic bar band that plays covers of tunes by the Rolling Stones, Steely Dan, Van Morrison, and many others. The turn-out was good and the crowd enthusiastic. Generally speaking, women like to dance more than men which is why they often dance with each other, but Pam and I are the exception because I like dancing more than she does. She's a good sport, however, so she and I danced to a few songs, both slow ones and fast ones.

When we sat out numbers, I enjoyed watching other people who varied in age from  the 20's and 30's to those in our bracket and everything in between. Many danced and others who didn't kept time to the rhythms of the music with their hands or feet as they stood or sat. Many were heavy or otherwise not classically good-looking, but despite what you see on TV commercials it's not just the beautiful people who have a good time. You could see the good times in peoples' smiles.

It was during a Bruce Springsteen song "Pink Cadillac", a party song more about sex than cars, that the thought occurred to me of the joy that rock music brings to people. This joy has proved to be enduring and spans generations because many of the songs go back before the births of some of the men and women enjoying the band that night. The history of rock and roll now goes back about sixty years, and based what I hear and see it will continue for many more. It's a great gift America has given to the rest of the world.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Cole Field House gets gutted

Yesterday, Bill, Stan, and I checked out the remodeling of this building which holds memories for all of us. We attended many University of Maryland basketball games there, and I just learned that the 61 year-old building still holds the record as the site of the most upsets of number one ranked teams. The screams of the thousands of Maryland basketball fans which may have continued to echo in the most obscure corners of the old building have now been released into the College Park atmosphere with the opening of one end:

For me, Cole was the site of many events beyond basketball. My high school graduation took place there in 1965. I attended musical and comedy performances in Cole going back to its first decade on campus. As an undergrad, I took final exams there, and in retirement when I returned as a special student I would walk the concourse on days when the weather was too unpleasant outdoors. Signs at either end told me that five laps added up to one mile.
The building is being converted to a sports training and sports medicine facility at a cost of many millions. From the front it looks much the same as it always did, but the inside will be barely recognizable.
I hope those massive curved steel beams will still be visible when the remodeling is finished. They would remind me that the history remains despite the changes.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Body, Mind, and Spirit one week later

My favorite fishing, using my kayak to get to my favorite wading spots for smallmouth bass in the Upper Potomac River is, unfortunately, physically demanding, and I wonder how long I'll continue to be able to do it. I try to listen to my body, and for a few days following my last such trip a week ago my body seems to be saying to ease up. That day I fished for less than two hours while ten or even five years ago I would have kept going for five or six hours at least. Even so, the following days I tired easily, and a soreness in my neck that probably resulted from loading or unloading the kayak from the car is just now going away.

Fortunately, my mind and spirit from that fishing day are healthy. After each such trip I check over the rod and reel and clean the fly line, and these chores seem to prolong the experience. Since then, my mind occasionally wanders back to recalling the feel of the river current on my legs as I cast and the sensation of the tugs of the fish on my line. It was a good day fishing, and these memories will remain stored in my memory to be recalled on a cold winter day or a time when I'm physically unable to make such a trip.

Our yard in High Summer