Friday, March 20, 2015

the open window by Saki

    "My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel," said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; "in the meantime you must try and put up with me."

     Framton Nuttel endeavoured to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed to be undergoing.

     "I know how it will be," his sister had said when he was preparing to migrate to this rural retreat; "you will bury yourself down there and not speak to a living soul, and your nerves will be worse than ever from moping. I shall just give you letters of introduction to all the people I know there. Some of them, as far as I can remember, were quite nice."

     Framton wondered whether Mrs. Sappleton, the lady to whom he was presenting one of the letters of introduction came into the nice division.

     "Do you know many of the people round here?" asked the niece, when she judged that they had had sufficient silent communion.

     "Hardly a soul," said Framton. "My sister was staying here, at the rectory, you know, some four years ago, and she gave me letters of introduction to some of the people here."

     He made the last statement in a tone of distinct regret.

     "Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?" pursued the self-possessed young lady.

     "Only her name and address," admitted the caller. He was wondering whether Mrs. Sappleton was in the married or widowed state. An undefinable something about the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation.

     "Her great tragedy happened just three years ago," said the child; "that would be since your sister's time."

     "Her tragedy?" asked Framton; somehow in this restful country spot tragedies seemed out of place.

     "You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon," said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened on to a lawn.

     "It is quite warm for the time of the year," said Framton; "but has that window got anything to do with the tragedy?"

     "Out through that window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two young brothers went off for their day's shooting. They never came back. In crossing the moor to their favourite snipe-shooting ground they were all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that were safe in other years gave way suddenly without warning. Their bodies were never recovered. That was the dreadful part of it." Here the child's voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human. "Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back someday, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do. That is why the window is kept open every evening till it is quite dusk. Poor dear aunt, she has often told me how they went out, her husband with his white waterproof coat over his arm, and Ronnie, her youngest brother, singing 'Bertie, why do you bound?' as he always did to tease her, because she said it got on her nerves. Do you know, sometimes on still, quiet evenings like this, I almost get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through that window - "

     She broke off with a little shudder. It was a relief to Framton when the aunt bustled into the room with a whirl of apologies for being late in making her appearance.

     "I hope Vera has been amusing you?" she said.

     "She has been very interesting," said Framton.

     "I hope you don't mind the open window," said Mrs. Sappleton briskly; "my husband and brothers will be home directly from shooting, and they always come in this way. They've been out for snipe in the marshes today, so they'll make a fine mess over my poor carpets. So like you menfolk, isn't it?"

     She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible. He made a desperate but only partially successful effort to turn the talk on to a less ghastly topic, he was conscious that his hostess was giving him only a fragment of her attention, and her eyes were constantly straying past him to the open window and the lawn beyond. It was certainly an unfortunate coincidence that he should have paid his visit on this tragic anniversary.

     "The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise," announced Framton, who laboured under the tolerably widespread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one's ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure. "On the matter of diet they are not so much in agreement," he continued.

     "No?" said Mrs. Sappleton, in a voice which only replaced a yawn at the last moment. Then she suddenly brightened into alert attention - but not to what Framton was saying.

     "Here they are at last!" she cried. "Just in time for tea, and don't they look as if they were muddy up to the eyes!"

     Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open window with a dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat and looked in the same direction.

     In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards the window, they all carried guns under their arms, and one of them was additionally burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels. Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse young voice chanted out of the dusk: "I said, Bertie, why do you bound?"

     Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall door, the gravel drive, and the front gate were dimly noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid imminent collision.

     "Here we are, my dear," said the bearer of the white mackintosh, coming in through the window, "fairly muddy, but most of it's dry. Who was that who bolted out as we came up?"

     "A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel," said Mrs. Sappleton; "could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of goodby or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost."

     "I expect it was the spaniel," said the niece calmly; "he told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve."

     Romance at short notice was her speciality.

I hadn't read any Saki stories in a long time before I happened upon them in this handy collection. I drew the picture because I couldn't resist.

Monday, March 16, 2015

for every step forward..

First there was this one

that turned into the next one -
the final result as it seems.

Although I've drawn a few pictures as well as attempting several paintings this past month and more I haven't finished any to my satisfaction. The inability to go for long relaxing walks may account for part of the problem, but more than anything else has been an absolute addiction to O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin books. I read the news every morning with increasing dismay and soon thereafter find myself longing for a return to sea in the early 19th century. I'm currently half way through number 19 (of 20 and ½ books) so it won't be long now before the return to life as usual - whatever that may be.

The weekend brought another very heavy snowfall to these parts adding a fair covering of white to the enormous filthy ice banks that jut high overhead. I told a friend (who lives in New Mexico) that the street we live on called Tower Road turned into Tower Lane and is now Tower Alley. The good news is that our forecast says there'll be only one more week of continuing below freezing temperatures.

That means Crow should be returning soon with his news of the outside world. Having managed to find a bottle of perch polish, I'm off to do a little buffing. I hope he doesn't notice I've helped myself to his bottle of 1879 Remy Martin. It was an emergency. Honest.

Friday, March 6, 2015

pedestrian tribulations

It hasn't been the snow, or the cold, that's been getting the people of Halifax down this winter, but the ice. Ice all over every sidewalk in town is something that can definitely get you down - and fast too as I can attest by experience. While some few (very few) people have cleaned the footpaths in front of their properties, it's no longer the law here that they must do so. Last winter the city council enacted a new ordinance that stated the municipality would be responsible for sidewalk (slidewalks as they're now known) snow and ice clearance rather than individual property owners. The program hasn't exactly been a triumph of city planning.

A few days ago I watched a local news video that showed several hundred people protesting outside city hall about the street and sidewalk cleanup - or rather, the lack of it. Noticing just how many of the protestors were on crutches I couldn't help but wonder how many of them had been recently injured. If you didn't begin the winter with a mobility issue chances are you have one now.

An exchange of comments in the local news:

    bien etre

Its call WINTER, get over it. Is there anything the maritimes do not whine about?

    Russell Gragg

@bien etre I know, right? I can't believe these overprivileged disabled people in crutches or in wheelchairs demanding the right to leave their houses to buy groceries or go to work.

The clocks moving forward this weekend mean that spring will soon arrive. In the meanwhile we find ourselves stopping to wonder just how deep the puddle in front of us might be, whether there is ice underneath that water, and might it not be better to climb another snowbank and walk on the street once more. Sometimes it really is safer to walk in traffic.

I promise to say no more about winter - at least not this year :)

Oops! I forgot something: You'll note that in several of these pictures there's a nice wide expanse between snowbanks made by small plows called Bobcats that remove the top layer of snow and compact what's left under their tracks. In most snowy cities this works pretty well, but the difference in Halifax is that our constant freeze-thaw cycles made thick icy paths when the previously easy to remove snow wasn't cleared to the pavement.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

an observation

When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a tortoise balanced on top, that's a post tortoise.

Are you still puzzled?

Okay, here are the reasons:

You know he didn't get up there by himself.
He doesn't belong up there.
He doesn't know what to do while he's up there.
He's elevated beyond his ability to function,
and you have to wonder what kind of idiot
put him up there to begin with.

:)    :)

Happy Almost March.
May you have a spring in your step and a song
in your heart as winter loses its grip
(hopefully, before I lose mine).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

cold weather chronicles

What is a reasonably sensible person to do when a great armada of snowstorms parade through one's city making long outdoor excursions difficult, if not intolerably unpleasant? Sensible or not, this particular person has ensconced herself with the twenty and one half novels about Captain Jack Aubrey, RN and his close friend Dr. Stephen Maturin that take place during the Napoleonic Wars.

Aubrey is a career naval officer much respected for his talents as a tactician and leader at sea but somewhat prone to misadventure on land. Maturin is a talented physician and accompanies Aubrey on many of his voyages as ship's surgeon. In contrast to Aubrey, he is classically educated and a respected naturalist who also serves, unbeknownst to his comrades, as a volunteer agent for Britain's naval intelligence service.

If Patrick O'Brian's tales were nothing more than well-told, highly accurate accounts of life at sea and historical naval actions of a certain time, that alone might be enough to recommend them. But his novels go much further by exploring the emotional and situational aspects of friendship, romance, family, war, politics, and career in a way that's both compelling and relevant. O'Brian's main characters of both sexes, while undeniably heroic in their own ways, always remain essentially human. Their particular foibles and frailties, from Aubrey's ingenuous trust of land-borne sharks of all types to Maturin's hopeless addiction to opium, form an essential part of the novels.

Here's a hint - or it may be a reminder if you've read them yourself:

“The weather had freshened almost to coldness, for the wind was coming more easterly, from the chilly currents between Tristan and the Cape; the sloth was amazed by the change; it shunned the deck and spent its time below. Jack was in his cabin, pricking the chart with less satisfaction than he could have wished: progress, slow, serious trouble with the mainmast-- unaccountable headwinds by night-- and sipping a glass of grog; Stephen was in the mizentop, teaching Bonden to write and scanning the sea for his first albatross. The sloth sneezed, and looking up, Jack caught its gaze fixed upon him; its inverted face had an expression of anxiety and concern. 'Try a piece of this, old cock,' he said, dipping his cake in the grog and proffering the sop. 'It might put a little heart into you.' The sloth sighed, closed its eyes, but gently absorbed the piece, and sighed again.

Some minutes later he felt a touch upon his knee: the sloth had silently climbed down and it was standing there, its beady eyes looking up into his face, bright with expectation. More cake, more grog: growing confidence and esteem. After this, as soon as the drum had beat the retreat, the sloth would meet him, hurrying toward the door on its uneven legs: it was given its own bowl, and it would grip it with its claws, lowering its round face into it and pursing its lips to drink (its tongue was too short to lap). Sometimes it went to sleep in this position, bowed over the emptiness.

'In this bucket,' said Stephen, walking into the cabin, 'in this small half-bucket, now, I have the population of Dublin, London, and Paris combined: these animalculae-- what is the matter with the sloth?' It was curled on Jack's knee, breathing heavily: its bowl and Jack's glass stood empty on the table. Stephen picked it up, peered into its affable bleary face, shook it, and hung it upon its rope. It seized hold with one fore and one hind foot, letting the others dangle limp, and went to sleep.

Stephen looked sharply round, saw the decanter, smelt to the sloth, and cried, 'Jack, you have debauched my sloth.”

I have nothing more to say about our winter weather than this:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

another Spring with Crow

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

As you may remember, Crow has flown to warmer climes away from our frozen northern winter. While ensconced in his library a few days ago I came across this illustration drawn by a now anonymous artist made during the early years of the 19th century when Crow accompanied William Wordsworth on his walks around the Lake District. As he's mentioned often, times were only simpler then because humans hadn't yet mastered technologies they still haven't learned to use wisely. Perhaps that was never possible. Our current conditions, both good and bad, most definitely arose with the discovery of the energy inherent in fossil fuels. Now we look back to see those centuries as innocent.

I'm looking forward to Spring and Crow's return. Once its safe to walk out on our sidewalks again I must replenish his brandy supply. This hasn't been a month to give up drinking. 

ps: I colored this and drew Crow - the rest is from an old woodblock print.

pps: Crow wrote to say the one thing that makes him and his friends laugh harder than anything else is when people say they worry the sun will become a red giant in 5 billion years.

Friday, February 6, 2015

a gritty letter from Crow

Crow was supposed to be posing for a beach scene but what with the cold and snowy weather we've been having lately, he decided he was more interested in Copacabana rather than the one at our local park. I can't say I blame him. In the meantime, I drew this one instead that, hopefully, in a week or so, may become a painting.

On his way to Brazil, Crow made a few stopovers and sent a letter (airmail, of course):

My dear susan,

When people think of beaches the first thing that comes to mind is being able to place one's beach umbrella, blanket, and picnic basket on a broad sandy surface. While this is still the case in many parts of the world it's no longer true everywhere. Sand has by now become the most widely consumed natural resource on the planet after fresh water (UN 2014 study). The annual world consumption of sand is estimated to be 15 billion tons, with a respective trade volume of 70 billion dollars.

Most of your houses, skyscrapers and bridges are made with ferro-concrete which is two-thirds sand (plus cement, water and gravel). 200 tons of sand are needed to build a medium-sized house, 1km of highway requires 30k tons of sand. Especially in Asia and the Arab states the hunger of the construction industry is ever-growing - cement demand by China has increased exponentially by 437.5% in 20 years, while use in the rest of the world increased by 59.8%.

Sand mafias control large parts of the building industry through bribery and also don't hesitate to apply more brutal methods like murdering activists. Not surprisingly, illegal business ties extend to the highest levels of police and government. Illegal sand mining activities are particularly threatening to the water supplies of local communities since river sand is a natural aquifer and its depletion also affects recharging of groundwater.

The depletion of sand sources also leads to bizarre scenes in other parts of the world: in Morocco and India, groups know as 'sand-mafia', turn up at beaches with hundreds of people and take away entire beaches - the sand is then used to build huge hotel complexes for tourists who come to Morocco to visit (what else?) these same beaches.

Sand from deserts can't be used for most purposes, as wind erosion over time forms round grains that do not bind well. For most industrial uses, edged sand grains with a rough surface are needed. Desert sands, however, are usually fine grained and of low shear strength - it's not even suitable for the creation of artificial islands. Dubai, for example, used up all its satisfactory marine sand supplies for an artificial set of sand islands and, after these were exhausted, now has to import sand from Australia for continuing its building madness.

Most of the sand is now being extracted from the ocean floor by thousands of large boats sucking up huge quantities of the stuff from the ocean floor in coastal areas. The potential for damage to marine life I'll leave to your imagination (I know you have a good one). In some extreme cases, the mining of marine aggregates has changed international boundaries, ie, the disappearance of entire islands in Indonesia - since 2005 at least 24 small islands have disappeared as a result of erosion caused by illegal sand mining. Most of this sand is going to Singapore, which has expanded its surface area by 22% since the 1960s.

As I saw on my way south, even Florida has to resupply its famous beaches with sand because of the losses caused by offshore sand dredging. Are you surprised?

My condor friends are making ready for their flight back to the Andes. While we sojourn together over the lofty peaks my thoughts will often turn to you and my other human friends who show more perception than others of your species.

Fond regards and salutations to all,

ps: I expect to find my fruitcake and brandy stocks replenished on my return.

Who would have guessed?

Now I'm hoping Crystal Crescent Beach is still there come summertime.

with thanks to spiegal