Thursday, May 26, 2016

other people's work 0.000001

As a child I was the proud owner of a special silver crucifix. What was peculiar about it was that in the centre there was a small glass circle that, when holding the cross up to the light and peeking inside, revealed the Lord's Prayer written on a mustard seed. It was a frequent source of amazement to me that anyone could write anything at all in such tiny script, never mind the Lord's Prayer which, as you may recall, is lengthy enough that writing it on a post-it note would take up the entire space. The crucifix disappeared long ago - I think eventually the centrepiece fell out and after that it was just a cross with a hole in the middle.

The reason I mentioned this is that a while back I came across an article about a man who makes the world's tiniest sculptures and when I say tiny I mean unbelievably, microscopically small. Willard Wigan makes his sculptures out of dust particles, sugar crystals, grains of sand etc. and then positions them inside the eyes of needles or on the heads of pins. Spending months meticulously carving his materials into micro-figures like the ones displayed above Wigan is a 'micro-miniaturist', an artist known for creating some of the world's smallest sculptures.

From his website:

“It began when I was five years old,” says Willard. “I started making houses for ants because I thought they needed somewhere to live. Then I made them shoes and hats. It was a fantasy world I escaped to. That’s how my career as a micro-sculptor began.”

Willard’s micro-sculptures are now so minute that they are only visible through a microscope. Each piece commonly sits within the eye of a needle, or on a pin head. The personal sacrifices involved in creating such wondrous, yet scarcely believable pieces are inconceivable to most. Willard enters a meditative state in which his heartbeat is slowed, allowing him to reduce hand tremors and sculpt between pulse beats. Even the reverberation caused by outside traffic can affect Willard’s work. Consequently, he often works through the night when there is minimal disruption.

I've seen pictures of Willard Wigan's studio setup and have seen him interviewed, but after searching the internets looking to find how these sculptures could be made and what tools could possibly be used I'm still at a loss. It's either magic or something so close to magic it makes no real difference. I still wonder about the Lord's Prayer on a mustard seed too, but I know it was real because it was mine for a time.

I believe in magic.
How about you?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Crow hill

Almost every day I read the news because I want to stay informed about what is seemingly going on in the world outside my house and neighborhood. These days this is an unpleasant experience. The more I read the more worried I get. Things do not seem to be going well. The news about what is going on out there and what's going on inside myself seem mutually to freeze one another into place and a desperate kind of negative reinforcement takes place.

But when I put the computer aside to read a book, listen to music, paint or go for a walk I begin to thaw out. The frightening aspects of the world disappear and my body and mind relax into a state that may be the opposite of distraction. Art and direct contact with the world of the senses saves me from freezing. I wonder if people naturally tend toward ice (or stasis) as we crave a fixed sense of things and reliable truths we can depend on. It seems to me we love young children and the idea of childhood because through them we can re-experience a time before the self freezing, necessary for gaining discernment, took hold.

Imagination soothes the body, warms the soul in a reality wider, deeper, and more mysterious than we can directly sense or rationally know. Imagination sees into and through the apparent world to another world, luminous and significant. 

from: Talks with Crow

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

room for all

From what I've read it appears the terrible fires are still raging around Fort McMurray in Alberta. It's a sad thing and sadder too to think just how stuck so many of us are in the current economic paradigm. We don't like what burning fossil fuels is doing to the environment but at the same time people need jobs. It's just the same for every other unpleasant business or practice we might condemn.

I did find out one thing that happened during the major evacuation that I'd worried might have been forgotten. People weren’t the only ones who needed to escape, hundreds of pets needed to evacuate too. While airlines typically restrict how many animals can be on board, for a number of pilots, the choice was simple: no matter what the rules are, those pets wouldn’t be left behind.

Pilot Keith Mann, Suncor Energy’s manager of flight operations, is the owner of a “four-month-old golden retriever” and empathized with those trying to save their furry friends. He said, “the terminal was quite a sight. Just full of animals. We did everything we could to keep pets with their owners, and insure that the flights were safe. That’s the Canadian way. We wanted to help.”

For about 50 hours, his planes saved cats, dogs, bunnies, frogs, hedgehogs, and even a chinchilla from the inferno. At times, there were close to 40 animals on board one flight, yet Mann reported that the trips were mostly peaceful.

See? A nice story. Hopefully it won't be long before Canada, among many other countries, gets behind diversifying its economy. I'm sure that would make many more people and animals feel safer again.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

high weirdness

I couldn't think of anything to write that would match this new picture so I went instead to look for a story I read about a few months ago. It's an old tale anyway so I don't suppose you'll mind me having waited a while to tell it.

Unexpected teleportation must come as a shock. Consider the case of Gil Pérez:
Señor Pérez, a soldier in the Filipino Guardia Civil mysteriously vanished from his sentry post in Manila, on October 23rd, 1593 and reappeared in the Plaza Mayor of Mexico City on October 24th, 1593.  At the time of his appearance in Mexico, Pérez was dressed in the resplendent costume of the Palacio del Gobernador in the Philippines, and immediately reported that moments before his bizarre transport to Mexico City, Governor of the Philippines, Gomez Perez Dasmariñas has been axed to death by Chinese pirates.

Since instantaneous travel from Manila to Mexico City is largely unheard of even today (given the state of air transport, somewhere along the line a flight would be cancelled), Spanish officials in Mexico were understandably dubious in 1593, and jailed poor Pérez on the assumption that he was a Spanish Army deserter.  He was also questioned unproductively by the local office of the Inquisition (which no one expected). 

Two months after his sudden arrival, a Spanish galleon arrived from Manila with (1) news that Gomez Perez Dasmariñas had indeed been axed to death by the Chinese on October 23rd, (2) that Gil Pérez had been seen in Manila on the same day and was positively identified by a witness on the newly arrived galleon, and (3) weirdness was clearly afoot. 

Pérez was then released; returning to the Philippines to resume his previous posting, and nothing important was heard about him after.  Considering that in the late 16th Century Pérez managed to travel 8900 miles in less than a day and deliver accurate information, with no understanding of where he was or explanation, I would say the absolute silence regarding his later life manifests an overwhelming degree of modesty. 

If subatomic particles can be in two places at once, why not members of the Filipino Guardia Civil?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

arbor day with another friend of Crow

"They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the 'Wood Wide Web' – and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots."

According to a New York Times article these are just a few of the secrets that Peter Wohlleben, a German forest ranger and best-selling author, has learned about trees. Upon coming across a pair of soaring beeches in the forest, Wohlleben, the author of the runaway hit book “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries From a Secret World,” observes:

“These trees are friends. You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light. Sometimes," he adds, "pairs like this are so interconnected at the roots that when one tree dies, the other one dies, too.”

Wohlleben’s work could be changing the way any people think about trees. Putting the German forest back in the spotlight, he is making the case for a popular reimagination of trees - which the modern world seems to think of as 'organic robots', designed for little more than to supply us humans with oxygen and wood. With a mix of scientific research and his own observations - the 51-year old Wohlleben studied forestry and has worked in the forest since 1987 - the man who speaks for the trees does so in decidedly anthropomorphic terms. Which has irritated some German biologists who question his use of language to describe life in the forest. But Wohlleben says this is exactly the point. “I use a very human language. Scientific language removes all the emotion, and people don’t understand it anymore. When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.”

After years working for the state forestry administration in Rhineland-Palatinate and then as a forester managing 3,000 acres of woods near Cologne, he began to understand that contemporary practices were not serving the trees, or those who depend on them, very well. “By artificially spacing out trees, the plantation forests that make up most of Germany’s woods ensure that trees get more sunlight and grow faster, but creating too much space between trees can disconnect them from their networks, damaging some of their inborn resilience mechanisms.”

Now this I really liked and I'm sure you'll understand why when I tell you that after researching alternative approaches to forestry he began implementing some revolutionary concepts - replacing heavy machinery with horses, stopping the use of  insecticides and allowing the woods to become wilder. The forest went from loss to profit in two years.

"I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”
~ Dr. Seuss

Now trees have found another articulate spokesperson working in the German forest. Crow says he hopes this may be the beginning of the return of the Great Forests of earlier times. They would be a vast improvement.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

canine companions

A few days ago we'd stopped at one of our stations in the park where a family of crows meet us for lunch (their lunch, that is) when I noticed someone shouting and waving from higher up on a cross path. Since a group of people were passing with their dogs I assumed he was greeting friends and we continued on our way. A few minutes later the young man and his girlfriend caught up with us and, gesturing at the big brown dog they had on a leash, asked if she was ours. Our answer was no, but we patted her and talked to them for a few minutes. They'd found her wandering lost wearing just a collar with no tags. When I asked about the leash he told me it was his belt. I wonder how many young guys wear belts these days? After a few minutes they went off in the opposite direction with the plan of putting a note online before taking her to a shelter. We were kind of sad about the sweet natured beast who appeared to have been abandoned.

Later on our walk we decided to take a different path from one of our usual ones. About ten minutes along it I recognized the big brown dog walking behind a different young couple. As they passed I stopped them briefly to ask how they'd found her and heard, 'She'll go off with anybody'. I should have mentioned she needed some identification but they'd kept on walking and the chance was gone. We were glad to see she'd been reunited with her owners and still just a little bit sad because her owners were idiots. She deserved better ones.

Dharma by Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her dog house
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Ghandi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

a public service rant by Crow

New York City, 1927

Have you ever heard a Crow chortle? It's a little disturbing.

A few evenings ago while I was tidying up one of his albums, Crow relaxed on his antique perch by the fire reading the news. After the chortle I heard a distinct snicker. Since by then he'd caught my attention I had to ask what was causing him such amusement:

It appears no matter how long I share the world with your species I will never understand the logic of humankind. Listen to this:

"America’s infrastructure is so bad the self-driving cars can’t even find the lanes on the road.

Shoddy infrastructure has become a roadblock to the development of self-driving cars, vexing engineers and adding time and cost. An estimated 65 percent of U.S. roads are in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the transportation infrastructure system rated 12th in the World Economic Forum’s 2014-2015 global competitiveness report.

Tesla, Volvo, Mercedes, Audi and others are fielding vehicles that can drive on highways, change lanes and park without human help. But they are easily flummoxed by faded lane markers, damaged  signs or lights, and the many quirks of a roadway infrastructure managed by thousands of state and local bureaucracies."

I love stories like this, in which a robot can’t even manage with great difficulty to do what any human being or crow can with ease. The proposed solution is always “transform the world to suit the needs of the robot” and not to recognize the limitations of technology. Why can't the genius entrepreneurs of Silicon valley grasp the fact that in the real world “faded lane markers, damaged signs or lights” are normal, and part of the reason for that is the systematic withdrawal of funding for public infrastructure that has been supported by them.

Only projects that make use of computer software have any interest for those people. While they ignore the many serious concerns (like how to increase public transport, save creatures from going extinct, or finding a cure for cancer etc.) they waste time, money and resources on inappropriate technological solutions to non-existent problems. Do you remember the big story a week or so ago when the Google data center beat a human Go master three out of four games? What was hardly mentioned at the time was that the machine used 50,000 times the wattage of the human player.. and all it can do is play Go.

The cars are flummoxed? So are the humans! You don’t need artificial intelligence. You need some real intelligence - coupled with a set of ethics. Hmpff.

It was obviously time for us both to calm down so I poured us both a snifter of Remy and we nibbled on fruitcake while we watched Michael Grab work his magic:

Quote of the week:

Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.
Read more at:
 “Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe. ”
Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe. Alan Watts
Read more at:
~ Alan Watts

Thursday, March 24, 2016

liberating creatures

An old monk liked to sit in meditation on a large flat rock next to a placid pool. Yet every time he began his devotions in earnest, just as soon as he had crossed his legs and settled down, he would spot an insect struggling helplessly in the water. Time after time, he would lift up his creaky old body and deliver the tiny creature to safety, before settling down again on his rocky seat. So his contemplations went, day after day..

His brother monks, dedicated meditators who also went off daily to sit alone in the rocky ravines and caves of that desolate region, eventually became aware that the old lama hardly ever managed to sit still but actually spent most of his meditation sessions plucking insects out of the tiny pool. Although it certainly seemed fitting to save the life of a helpless sentient being of any kind, large or small, some of the wondered if the old monk's meditations might not be greatly furthered if he sat undisturbed elsewhere. away from such distractions. One day they finally mentioned their concerns to him.

"Wouldn't it be more beneficial to sit elsewhere and meditate deeply, undisturbed all day? That way you could more swiftly gain perfect enlightenment, and then you could free all living beings from the ocean of conditioned existence?" one asked the old man.

"Perhaps you could just meditate by the pool with your eyes closed," another brother suggested.

"How can you develop tranquility and deep, diamondlike concentration if you keep getting up and sitting down a hundred times in each meditation session?" a young scholarly monk demanded, emboldened by the more tactful queries of his senior brethren... And thus it went on.

The venerable old lama listened attentively, saying nothing. When all had had their say, he bowed gratefully and said, "I'm sure my meditations would be more fruitful if I sat unmoved all day, brothers, as you say. But how can an old worthless one like myself, who has vowed again and again to give this lifetime (and all his lives) to serving and liberating others, just sit with closed eyes and hardened heart, praying and intoning the altruistic mantra of Great Compassion, while right before me helpless creatures are drowning?"

To that simple, humble question, none of the assembled monks could find a reply.


I haven't posted a Tibetan Buddhist story in quite some time, but when this one appeared in front of me again a few days ago I decided to paint a quick picture.

Happy Springtime

Saturday, March 19, 2016

other people's work #57 - Inga Moore

Sometimes when I think I want to draw I'll find myself doing  absolutely everything I can think of to put off the moment of starting to work.

I make another cup of tea.

I find a telephone call that must be made, a letter or an email that must be answered.

I sharpen pencils.

I look at the plant on the windowsill and decide that this is just the time to water it, or fertilize it, or prune it.

Maybe it's even time to repot it.

So I hunt for the houseplant book or search online where it says severely that this kind of plant enjoys being pot-bound and should never be repotted.

Then I might turn to the jars of brushes and pens on my drawing table, and find that some of the pens are drying out, so of course those must be sorted out..

Far too often I find a book to read until it's time to do some other practical task - like making dinner.

The drawing has been put off to another day, days that have added up to weeks this winter.

A week or so ago I came across the relatively recent illustrations Inga Moore made for 'The Wind in the Willows'. Her work isn't too easy to find online since she has no web page and tends to be reclusive. I did find a very well written article about her here. According to reviews I've read of it the book has been seriously abridged but I'm thinking of buying a copy for the 100+ illustrations. I can always read the unabridged book we have here while I look at her pictures.

I may just give up sharpening my pencils for good.. or maybe not. The reward of art is in being able to spend time in that world apart from the world we know.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

springtime with Crow

Spring is generally known as Mud Season here in Halifax. While people on the opposite coast have already welcomed snowdrops and crocuses and are currently spending their mornings dancing through fields of daffodils, we're hauling on our Wellingtons before heading to the park. Guess where Crow has gone? Must be nice to have wings and an open schedule. Goodness knows, he might even be in England in 1903 for all I can tell from this postcard he sent.

Before I climb into my rubber overshoes, I thought I'd mention something about blogs you may or may not already know. Earlier in the week all the content disappeared from a co-blogger's site. Eventually I heard from him that his blog had been hacked and all the posts deleted by some awful person. It wasn't until then I remembered I hadn't backed up my own blog in about two years. Losing everything we've written over the course of years can be a scary prospect and it's not just hackers we need to be concerned with.

Remember that Google owns Blogger and all its content. Occasionally blogs disappear for no reason Google can explain or fix. There have also been situations where Google decided to block a blog for policy violations the blogger may not have made. 

Anyway, here's how I backed up Phantsythat and Adventure's Ink to my computer. Now I should mention that I have an Apple mac

Open Blogger
Open 'Settings'
Open 'Other'
You'll see 'Import & back up' at the top
Click on 'Back up content'
Click on 'Save to your computer'
The content backup including all posts, pages and comments (but not pictures) can be saved as an XML file (that appears on Text Edit on my computer).

Okay, if you open the XML file you've created you'll see gibberish (at least I do). What you do next is to highlight the file on your desktop and go to 'open with' in 'finder' (file). In my case I'm offered the choices of opening the XML file in Safari or Opera (it might be different for you depending on the browsers you run) since XML can only be opened online. I opened 'blog-03-13-2016-1.xml' in Safari. It still looks like gibberish but if you keep scrolling down you'll see the text of your blog posts appear. You can save the XML/text edit file in your documents and replace/update as you prefer.

This is simply what I know how to do with a Blogger blog and the instructions about that are standard, but if you use a different service, have a PC, or need clearer information you can always do a search for how to back up your own blog. Considering XML was designed for Windows you might even see a pristine copy of your blog reproduced outside Blogger. While I can't be sure of any of that what I am sure of is that it's good to have a backup copy of all the text I've written over the years and the comments made by my friends.

Crow promised to return when the Spring flowers bloom here - that usually happens some time in May. Perhaps I'll be lucky this year and he'll come home early; I'll keep the fruitcake and the Remy stocked up just in case.  He's always full of surprises.

Quote of the week:
“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process”
– Vincent Van Gogh