Saturday, December 31, 2016

between maelstroms

May things stay the way they are
in the simplest place you know.

May the shuttered windows
keep the air as cool as bottled jasmine.
May you never forget to listen
to the crumpled whisper of sheets
that mould themselves to your sleeping form.
May the pillows always be silvered
with cat-down and the muted percussion
of a lover’s breath.
May the murmur of the wall clock
continue to decree that your providence
run ten minutes slow.

May nothing be disturbed
in the simplest place you know
for it is here in the foetal hush
that blueprints dissolve
and poems begin,
and faith spreads like the hum of crickets,
faith in a time
when maps shall fade,
nostalgia cease
and the vigil end.

~ Arundhathi Subramaniam



Saturday, December 24, 2016

santa Crow visits the rich (reprise)

Crow here. It's been nearly a year since the night I agreed to help the old fellow from the north with some deliveries on Christmas Eve. Quite frankly the dear gentleman was at his wits end, knowing as he did that so many poor children needed gifts and food that night and much more besides. He did what he could as he always does. My task was the much less arduous one (or so I thought) of taking presents to the children of the rich. As you well know there are far fewer of them, such a tiny number of good rich children, in fact, that I was quite confident of being home well before midnight.

At twilight several of his more experienced reindeer arrived pulling a spare Santa sled and off we tootled into winter's darkening sky. Our first stop at a gated community provided my first inkling that this job might not be quite the doddle I'd imagined it would be. As I slipped down the chimney I'd been happy to see the glint of festive lights in the the hall and the living room, but when I stepped across the grate I discovered they weren't holiday decorations at all but motion detectors. Suddenly sirens sounded, steel barriers dropped down to cover the windows and three snarling dogs rushed into the room where I'd just begun to open my sack. I barely made it back up the chimney with my trousers intact.

Having never been one to renege on an obligation I set off with a will to the next mansion on my list. The living room there was a grand space filled with art and fine furniture but once again, just as I set foot on the floor, before I could begin opening my bag, alarms sounded, a spotlight lit my person and a nasty smelling fog filled the room with blue smoke. Coughing and choking I scrambled back up that chimney too.

As I'd had no success at the gated community I decided instead that we'd try for a country house on the list. Knowing nothing about private security systems that employ infrared cameras that read thermal heat signatures, nor about radar detectors - both of which can detect anything larger than a mouse up to five miles away - the reindeer and I were surprised when portals in the roof opened and out popped a brace of cannons. Although we attempted to signal our good intentions by ringing sleigh bells and singing carols, we were forced to turn away when the heavy artillery opened fire.

We made our sad way back to Santa's workshop in dread of his disappointment. How surprised we were by his merry laughter as he commended us for our attempts and said, 'Don't worry boys, next year I'll let them fight it out with the Amazon drones'.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Originally posted three years ago I thought this would be neat to show again. Besides, as Crow remarked, drone delivery systems being closer to reality (horrors!) will bring a whole new crop of hunter gatherers to the fore. Humans are almost as adaptable as crows.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

lighting effects

In my ongoing effort to pretend winter doesn't exist and that it doesn't really get dark at 4:30, I've been mucking around with a lamp making project. Before everything outdoors got covered in several layers of ice and snow (about three weeks ago), I carried a pair of secateurs and a shopping bag along on a couple of park walks. Now this is the semi-wilderness park I'm talking about and not the outrageously well maintained Victorian Public Garden. Anyway, I collected some sticks in order to make an 'artistic rustic box lamp'.

The attached pictures will show you just how far I got with the stick lamp - not very as you'll notice. In the second shot the appearance that it's standing upright is deceptive, well actually an outright lie, since it's partly leaning on the black desk lamp behind. Otherwise, it folded into a parallelogram no matter how I tied the strings. I used to be good with geometry too. The idea was supposed to be that a card paper square shade (with cutouts for coloured acetate) would wrap the outside with the other open square tied on top to hold it together. Since it proved to be unstable I tried another plan which was to make the upper square smaller, figuring that would make it less likely to tip. Instead, it twisted. No pictures were necessary as I took the whole thing apart. If we had a fireplace the remains would have made a nice bit of kindling.

Never mind, at least now I can use my table for its regular duties as a drawing and painting space. Have you ever had projects fail that originally seemed to be really good ideas? At least I wasn't attempting to build a fountain in the living room.. this time.

The above is a picture done a couple of years ago called 'Eustace's Gift' (Eustace being the dragon).

Let's hope for an early spring.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

a turn on Crow Lane

"I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who has survived. I believe that all the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act wisely and well in the adult, but if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. And finally, I believe that one of most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties is the power of imagination: so that it is our pleasant duty, as librarians, or teachers, or parents, or writers, or simply as grownups, to encourage that faculty of imagination in our children, to encourage it to grow freely, to flourish like the green bay tree, by giving it the best, absolutely the the best and purest, nourishment that it can absorb. And never, under any circumstances, to squelch it, or sneer at it, or imply that it is childish, or unmanly, or untrue.

"For fantasy is true, of course. It isn't factual, but it's true. Children know that. Adults know it too and that's precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons because they are afraid of freedom.

"So I believe that we should trust our children. Normal children do not confuse reality and fantasy -- they confuse them much less often than we adults do (as a certain great fantasist pointed out in a story called 'The Emperor's New Clothes'). Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren't real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books. All too often, that's more than Mummy and Daddy know; for, in denying their childhood, the adults have denied half their knowledge, and are left with the sad, sterile little fact: 'Unicorns aren't real.' It is by such statements as, 'Once upon a time there was a dragon,' or 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit' -- it is by such beautiful non-facts that we fantastic human beings may arrive, in our peculiar fashion, at truth."

From The Language of the Night
by Ursula K. Le Guin

We too often forget that tale-telling is thousands of years old. Parents who read to their children or who make up stories are giving them the finest gift in the world.. next to letting them outdoors to play and dream their own stories.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Crow in space - reprise

"Apologies for the late arrival but the last time we dropped by this sector, perhaps a thousand years ago, things seemed to be going along swimmingly with your development and it would appear we put your planet a little further down the list for follow-up than would now appear to have been wise. Oh dear, you have dug quite a lot of holes down there, haven't you, and what's all that smoke and nasty colored stuff in the water? Didn't there used to be quite a lot of trees just over to the left and where are the tops that I'm sure were on those mountains last time?"

This, dear susan, was how the conversation began when I renewed my acquaintance with Bijou Son Dopazine Al'ka Quil (you can call me Dope) on his/her/its most recent visit to Earth. Dope, a freelance pan-galactic cryptozoologist by profession, has returned to Earth to see how you people are getting along and to invite any interested members of the planet's intelligent species to join his/her/its cosmic venture. This invitation isn't being offered to humans, by the way - at least not quite yet. Crows, whales and many more, however,  are busy packing their picnic baskets and breathing great sighs of relief.

I first met him/her/it centuries ago when I was on a grand tour of the the outer spiral arm. Dope doesn't actually come from a planet. His/her/its people gave up planetary living so long ago that none of them even remember  which part of the galaxy was once called home. Instead, they live on giant ships, by that I mean ships that could house the Death Star half a dozen times with room left over for several oceans and many forests. They find living on planets to be far too much of a constraint to their natural curiosity. 

Not to worry, I won't be going on this trip. Once our friends have been comfortably accommodated on the mother ship 'Seen Enough Yet?' (currently orbiting at L1 and safely outside missile range - haha, fireworks!), I'll be returning home. In the meantime Dope offered a suggestion for humanity that he/she/it hopes will be acted upon before their next visit in 500 years or so:

"Be nice to each other and look after this place. After all, even you should be able to see it's the only planet you've got since all the other decent ones are too far away for you to get to. Besides, they all have their own people anyway.

If you do that and don't accidentally kill yourselves we may be able to provide you with some assistance when we return. Most important is to stop digging all those holes!"

I'll be flying in tomorrow evening, my friend. Don't forget to warm up the Remy and chill the fruitcake.

I'm dedicating this post to another good friend I've never met, Iain M. Banks, whose books about the Culture describe life in a star-spanning "empire" organized along socialist/libertarian/anarchist principles, achieved through post-scarcity technology. The seven or eight humanoid species that founded the Culture along with the others which joined later live without want, and without the need to work; practically anything they can ask for, they can receive. This is largely because the organic Culturniks are under the benevolent de-facto dictatorship... ahem, guidance of the A.I. Minds that control the starships and space habitats the entire Culture lives on.

Could the future be like that for us? As Iain Banks once answered "Only if we're lucky". He is far more clever than me and the books are a treat. I'm hoping we get lucky.


The above was posted originally a couple of years ago but Crow and I like the picture, besides which, the message seems as appropriate now as it did then. Iain Banks died of pancreatic cancer a few months later. His books remain among my favorites.


"So, again no, we didn't discover aliens on Europa. This shouldn't come as a huge shock to anyone. We told you repeatedly that today's announcement wouldn't be about aliens. But every time we do one of these things with the press, inevitably you guys think it's going to be about aliens. So I'll let you in on a little secret. NASA will literally never hold a press conference announcing we have discovered aliens. Because we are never going to discover aliens. Aliens are going to discover us, and when they do it won't be pretty. You can take that to the bank. There certainly won't be enough time for a press conference about it. You probably won't even have time to blink. Just a hot white flash in the sky and then lights out. As far as the universe is concerned, relatively speaking, we're infants. Lord knows we act like it. I mean you guys see the same garbage we do, right? Would you tolerate any of this? If you were them? I know I sure as shit wouldn't. Not even for a second. We're basically infants and when the adults show up - and they will show up sooner or later - it's game over. Best case scenario, we wipe ourselves off the face of the planet before they get a crack at us. You want an announcement about aliens? Here it is: Be careful what you wish for. If you guys knew even a fraction of the shit we do, you'd never sleep again. I promise you that."

Paul Hertz, Director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA

Paul Hertz is real and this quote may be his but I'm guessing some wag made it up since scientists aren't known to be funny in front of reporters - except for Richard Feynman and, occasionally, my friend Andrew.


Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups... So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.

Philip K. Dick (1978)


Monday, November 21, 2016

memories with Crow

We all have worries, some common to everyone and others simply things that seem vaguely wrong about the way things are in our modern world. One subject Crow and I have talked about at length while sitting by his fireplace sipping Remy these cold and wet evenings of late autumn is the problem of storing what people have learned and made. Music, for one example in my lifetime, has been available in a number of formats over the years. I'm a bit too young (not by much) to remember wax discs but I do remember 78s, the flat discs made of a brittle material that broke all too easily. After them came 45s and albums made of longer lasting plastic. You needed a phonograph to play discs. Next came tapes which required the listener to have a special player. The next big innovation was the the cd, another disc but this one could only be interpreted by a laser disc machine. Now most of us have mp3 files that we access on our electronic devices - no discs, no tapes, no cds, in fact, theres nothing really to see or hold at all. It's pretty much the same for printed matter of all kinds. Now I know this isn't true for all of us, since books are still pretty common as are dvds, but it's largely true overall.

One can't help but wonder what next and, moreover, what if something happened that made all of our electronic information as inaccessible? A major solar flare, which apparently aren't all that uncommon, could destroy much of what's stored in the cloud. Besides music, movies and personal pictures almost all scientific documents are are written and saved on computers. Makes one think, doesn't it? Then, of course, there's just the general course of progress I already described where formats and the means of accessing them disappear.

I was very happy to discover that it hasn't just been Crow and I who have noticed these things. Not long ago on one of my voyages of discovery around the internet I found a website called 'The Memory of Mankind', a group that has dedicated itself to preserving much of our culture using a modern version of the clay tablet. The idea is that information deemed significant is being printed on ceramic microfilm and is being stored in an ancient saltmine in Austria. It's pretty interesting and most definitely a worthwhile project.


Once a king asked his wise men to give him something that would make him happy when he is sad, and sad when he is happy. The wise men spent days thinking about it in silence and watching the clouds go by. On the fourth day, they wrote on a piece of paper and handed it to the king. When the king read it, he thanked them. What did it say?

    “This, too, shall pass.”


Sunday, November 13, 2016

in memoriam - Leonard Cohen

"We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky."

"We are so lightly here. It is in love that we are made. In love we disappear."

"I've often said if I knew where the good songs came from, I'd go there more often."

"I greet you from the other side of sorrow and despair, with a love so vast and shattered it will reach you everywhere."

"There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."

"I wish I could say everything in one word. I hate all the things that can happen between the beginning of a sentence and the end."

"Prayer is translation. A man translates himself into a child asking for all there is in a language he has barely mastered."

"A woman watches her body uneasily, as though it were an unreliable ally in the battle for love."

"What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love."

"This is the most challenging activity that humans get into, which is love."


Saturday, October 29, 2016

coyote makes the seasons

in the beginning, there were no seasons, and the world was the same every day. one day, coyote grew tired of this, and he created summer and winter. as time passed, summer and winter grew to love each other. they wished to be with each other, but had no place to meet. they went to coyote and told him these things. and so coyote built them a lodge where they could be together. he built it in the most beautiful place he knew, far from everything else. then coyote told them what he’d done, and they were happy.

a few days later, coyote saw summer. “coyote, you must help me and winter,” said summer. “we have tried to find the lodge you have built for us, but it is so well hidden that we cannot find our way.” she told coyote “you must make us a path.” coyote said he would. he asked summer how the path should be. “it should be as winter’s way is,” summer answered. “it should be still, and warm, and golden, and full of deep thoughts and memories. such a path will remind me of winter, and i will not lose my way.” “i will do it,” said coyote, and he went and made such a path.

time passed. then one day, coyote saw winter. “coyote,” said winter, “you must help me. i have tried to follow the path you have made to the lodge, but i keep getting lost. you must change the path, and make it as summer’s way is. it must be fresh, and bright, and green, and carefree and full of laughter. a path like this will remind me of summer, and i will not get lost.” “very well, i will make the path this way,” said coyote.

when coyote was by himself, he thought “i cannot make just one path to the lodge that will please these two.” and so coyote made a new path as winter had described. these two paths were fall and spring. “now each has its own way to find the lodge and each other,” said coyote, and summer and winter were pleased.

- by numb
in appreciation of 'Giving Birth to Thunder: Sleeping With His Daughter'
Native American 'coyote' stories collected by Barry Lopez


Retyped from its dot-matrix original found in a pocket
of an old handbag of mine. It was so nice I just had to
illustrate its essence. Hope you like it too.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

going mobile

Something we saw when we were out recently. The guy was driving flat out (maybe 8mph). Only in Halifax..

We have arrived at the time of year when we see and feel some significant weather events. It rained a lot on theThanksgiving weekend (last of that hurricane) with what seemed like tree stripper winds. Then the next day showed the trees just about as full as they had been before. Better still, the frog pond at the park that had dried into a giant mud flat by summer's end had refilled and the ducks were back. Again today and yesterday we've had lots of very heavy rain and strong winds besides. Happily it all let up for a few hours, long enough for us to have a good walk in the park. The coolest part of that was when we rounded the point to the beach area to find huge waves coming out of the fog. The sound alone was absolutely mesmerizing but all the more wonderful was seeing the heave and curl of the waves as they broke far from shore and again as they burst on the rocky beach. We sat and watched for a long time.

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”
– Groucho Marx


Monday, September 12, 2016

the donor

A little girl was ill in hospital with a rare blood disorder and was badly in need of a blood donor but a match could not be found. As a last resort, her six year old brother was checked as a match and much to everyone's relief, he was.

Both his parents and doctor sat the little boy down and explained how they would like his blood to help his sister so she would not die. The little boy waited a few moments then asked if he could think about it. It wasn't the reaction the parents or doctor expected but they agreed.

The following day the little boy sat in front of the doctor with his father and mother and said he agreed to give his sister what she needed.

The hospital staff moved quickly for his sister was fading quite fast. So the little boy could understand what was happening, he was placed in a bed next to his sister and so the transfusion began. Quickly, the colour and life began flooding back into the little girl and every one was overjoyed.

The little boy turned to the doctor and quietly asked, "How long will it be before I die?"

Now we know why he took a little time to think about it.


I offer my apologies to those who think this one was a bit too sweet but it was a story that touched my heart.
Sometimes that's enough.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

A pessimist gets nothing but pleasant surprises..

I've spent a large part of my reading time these past few months re-reading the Nero Wolfe detective series written by Rex Stout. In case you're not familiar with them, as you very well may not be, the books (33 novels and 39 short stories were written between 1934 and 1975 when Rex Stout died at the age of 88) are mysteries that feature the weighty genius detective, Nero Wolfe. Brilliant, eccentric cynic Nero Wolfe makes his living as New York City's finest private detective. He charges outrageous fees, usually in the tens of thousands, to solve the highest-profile murders - because, quite frankly, he needs the money. After an adventurous youth in his native Montenegro, he's now fully engaged in the pursuit of self-indulgence, weighing in at "a seventh of a ton" ('to insulate my feelings,' he explains). He literally refuses to leave his home on business - or most anything else, for that matter - and has seen to it that there's little reason why he should.

Renowned Swiss chef Fritz Brenner caters to his gastronomic obsessions; botanist/put-upon plant nurseTheodore Horstmann helps care for the 10,000+ orchids in the rooftop greenhouse; and Archie Goodwin, our narrator, acts as his legman, secretary, bodyguard, occasional chauffeur and general sounding-board. A gifted investigator in his own right, Archie is the one who goes out and finds the suspects, collects the clues and romances the ladies, while Wolfe uses his keen intellect to piece it all together and collect the fee. (Although under some circumstances, usually touching pride - as when a woman was strangled in the office with Wolfe's own necktie - honour demands they solve a case regardless of client or funding.)

The enduring charm of the series lies in the meeting of their two worlds: 'a recurring miracle', as Wolfe once put it. Archie looks, fights and speaks fluent Philip Marlowe with a deft, self-aware touch all his own, and is actually much more likely to out-talk opponents than physically intimidate them ("by God, you'd clown at your own funeral!"). True to his Midwestern roots, he unwinds with a tall glass of milk and often shocks Wolfe by skipping a gourmet dinner for a deli sandwich while on a case. He refuses to be intimidated by anyone, let alone his formidable employer... which is understandable, given that his main duty is to irritate Wolfe out of his cushy routine and into taking cases in the first place.

Wolfe, on the other hand, represents the 'drawing-room' mystery taken to its logically ultimate level, right up to the climactic gathering of suspects to name the culprit. Within his plush, book-lined Manhattan brownstone he has evolved a lifestyle that has refined hedonism to the most exquisite routine - breakfast in bed, visits to the orchids from nine to eleven and four to six without fail, no talking business at meals, etc. etc. - and tolerates no interruptions, not even from the police. He is all intellect, quite openly misogynistic, seemingly immune to any human passion whatsoever... save perhaps in his trust in Archie, which is absolute.

The supporting cast includes freelance investigators Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather, often called in to work surveillance and other routine angles on a case; Archie's casual girlfriend, smarter-than-she-looks society girl Lily Rowan; and Lon Cohen, city editor of the Gazette, who trades inside info for scoops on the flashy murders that Wolfe solves. Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins provide the police presence, many steps up the competence ladder from Holmesian bobbies, and much more realistically resentful of a civilian wielding such power, but never quick enough to do anything about it.

Interestingly too, although somewhat strange as the years pass, is that while the central characters never age, and unlike the Sherlock Holmes stories that always happen in 1895, the Nero Wolfe books are always contemporary to their time. Of course when reading the later books it is kind of amusing to imagine Nero Wolfe as a ninety year old grump ordering the now seventy year old Archie to go out and charm the ladies.

We were first introduced to the books in 1978 when the three of us spent a week in NY with some old friends of Jer's. They'd got caught up in the series themselves and gave us a couple they'd already completed to read on the train on our way home. By the time we got back to Providence we were addicted enough to want to read the rest but soon discovered most of them were no longer in print - a fact that lead us to scouring second hand bookstores all over our southern New England neighbourhood even as far as Boston. Eventually we did collect all of them - and read them as we found them (as in not in order) - and left them behind with tons of other stuff when we moved to Portland. Last spring we decided to see if it would be possible to purchase them all again and read them from beginning to end - 'Fer de Lance' to 'A Family Affair'. The very good news was that Bantam reprinted them in the early and mid-90s and most of the ones we obtained are from that run. Of course, things are never quite so simple as all that, are they? - and the mid-90s are now twenty years ago. But from one place and another we tracked down all of them with the last arriving just last week (only once did we pay $10 and most were far less). It's been a delight indulging in so many one after the other - and a comfort knowing there are others waiting when I read something else.. like the news, for instance. Even though they are works of purist fantasy it's relaxing to spend some time in a place where the ending of one human life is worthy of a complex investigation.

“Every man alive is half idiot & half hero. Only heroes could survive in this maelstrom & only idiots would want to.”
  - Rex Stout

Yes, I did read a few other books in between, but more about them another time.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

good idea - bad execution

While it's always fun taking walks around our local oceanside park in summer there's one odd thing we've noticed about occasional visitors - namely, wedding parties. There are some very scenic spots in the park, grassy meadows near the water and a lovely old gazebo on a hill overlooking the harbor and out to sea. The problem is that private cars aren't allowed in the park and the best places for these romantic events are very far from the parking lots, bathrooms and fresh water.

I'm sure you can see the problem. It's all very well for the excited and healthy average bride and groom and their friends to get to these spots but not so easy for their more mature family members. It's sad to see a procession of elderly and often overweight wedding guests dressed in formal clothing walking a mile or two in inappropriate footwear along a gravelled path. A few days ago one lady 'of a certain age' was hobbling along barefoot and carrying her high heels.

It would be a fine thing if everyone could travel to the special scenic spot in a horse drawn carriage, or barring that, a rickshaw. Weddings are supposed to be reasonably relaxing occasions and not Bataan death marches for the friends and relatives of the happy couple. Don't people get married in churches or gardens anymore?

If anybody wanted my advice, I'd suggest holding the ceremony in a reasonable venue then sending the guests off to the reception where they could enjoy snacks and drinks while the wedding party went off to get the scenic view photographs. Heck, they could even get some exciting sky diving shots to remind them of their special day.

I'm guessing I'm not the only one to have wished things had been planned better. Meanwhile I'll have to keep looking away from the long suffering guests - never mind the bride with her tattered hems.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

back at the games with Crow

On his way home from visiting his condor clan buddies in the Andes Crow stopped off to see how preparations were coming along for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. Wishing all those people well, let’s just leave them to their events while I tell you a couple of the stories he’s shared with me about the Games that began in Ancient Greece more than 2700 years ago and were performed every four years for a millenium. The contemporary ones began in 1896.

One thing Crow insisted I understand is that Ancient Greece was considerably larger and more influential than the country as you know it today. Here’s a map so you can see just how much territory it covered. You’ll notice there are lots of cities, or city states as they were known then, nearly a thousand of them besides the ones whose names are familiar like Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, Syracuse, Aegina, Rhodes, Argos, Eretria, and Elis. Whereas the biggest was Sparta, Athens, Rhodes and Syracuse possessed large naval fleets which also allowed them to control wide areas of territory across the Aegean. People being not too different from what they are now the city states of Greece were often at war, a situation that made travel between them dangerous.

The Games were held in honour of Zeus, king of the gods, and were staged every four years at Olympia, a valley near a city called Elis. People from all over the Greek world came to watch and take part. As a religious festival the Games were more important than war so a ’sacred truce’ was enacted three months before the Games so the athletes and tens of thousands of fans could travel safely. Olympia was a pretty cool place with training facilities, pools and all the necessities to make the athletes ready:

 It is all hilly and shaded, and has many springs...The city is well provided with public buildings, gymnasia, stoas, temples, theatres, pictures, statues, and an agora which is excellently situated for all trading purposes.
 ~ 3rd century BCE description

But so much for history - you probably know all about it anyway. What was more fun for me was hearing Crow’s stories, a couple of which I’ll share with you. There are hundreds of events staged at the modern Summer Olympics but back then, and for the first fifty years or so, there was only one - a race from one end of the stadium to the other. Then everybody would pack up their tents and go home. Eventually, once the organizers came to understand it might be more amusing for everyone if the Games lasted a bit longer, more events were added to make four days of competitions. They included wrestling, boxing, long jump, throwing the javelin and discus, and chariot racing (no horse races because saddles hadn’t been invented yet).

Competing in the nude became the rule after a young wrestler whipped off his loin cloth before a match so he had more flexibility. This was before spandex was invented. A version of wrestling, the pankration, was probably the nastiest event because there were almost no rules. While biting and eye gouging was officially banned the decree wasn’t always enforced. I’m not even going to mention the fighter who won a match by breaking his opponents fingers at the beginning of the match. oops.. However, cheating was punished. Anyone caught cheating, trying to bribe an athlete for instance, was likely to be flogged and had to pay for a bronze statue of Zeus, as a punishment. There were many statues of Zeus at Olympia.

Women were not permitted to participate in or watch the events although young girls were allowed in the crowd, the sole exception to this rule was the priestess of Demeter who had a special viewing platform.

One of Crow’s favorite stories is about the woman who broke the rule against women at the Games (although I’m sure there were many cooking dinners back at the tents). Anyway, a lady named Mrs. Kallipateira was the racing trainer for her son Peisirodos, Pez and, naturally enough, wanted to see him perform. When he won his race Mrs. Kallipateira’s experienced a fashion emergency of such severity (prompted by all her jumping up and down) that made it apparent to all that she was indeed an adult female. In order to avoid such an occurrence in the future rules were established that all trainers also had to be naked.

Yes, we enjoyed more than one snifter of Remy as Crow reminisced about the past and offered his suggestions for the future. In 2004, the Summer Games were held in Athens, close enough to make us think fondly about returning them to Greece, if they are to continue at all. So far that hasn’t happened, the Games moved on at the direction of all of those who profit from the bribes and chicanery that goes along with membership in the I.O.C.

We found it very interesting to learn that a number of cities have cancelled their bids to host the next Winter Games:
Oslo because there was so little public support for it.
Stockholm withdrew for similar reasons.
Krakow after a referendum found almost 70% of residents opposed the bid..
Along with Munich, Davos, Barcelona and Quebec City.
Leaving them with two potential hosts: Almaty, in the dictatorship of Kazakhstan, and the other was Beijing. Beijing won.

The same thing seems to be happening with the Summer Games:
In 2015 Boston withdrew its bid for the 2024 Summer Games because of low public support.
Hamburg pulled out after the local government lost another referendum.
Toronto’s mooted bid was scrapped.
The four candidate cities left are Rome, Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris - and Italy and Hungary are dubious.

We shall see, or should I say we’ll wait upon Events? Best wishes to all the Athletes in competition now and in the future. The Summer Games began with one competition and few contenders, now there are about three hundred events and nearly thirteen thousand challengers. They could use a permanent home.


* The picture at the top was made when Crow attended the hero’s welcome of an Olympic winner on his return home.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

troll bridge

'There are no roads where we are going.'


and some thoughts from Richard Feynman as we negotiate our way:

“Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn't matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don't think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn't stop you from doing anything at all.”

"I have a friend who's an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don't agree with very well. He'll hold up a flower and say "look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. Then he says "I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing," and I think that he's kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is ... I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it's not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there's also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.”

“I... a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe.”

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

“I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.”

“The highest forms of understanding we can achieve are laughter and human compassion.”


Timeless wisdom always seems best when the outside world becomes incomprehensible. I hope you're enjoying the peace and tranquility of soft summer days.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

last best of

After two years of performing moderator duties on a specialty watercolorists gallery at Deviant Art, I'm retired from that post as of the last day of June. I should probably explain that since the group allows anyone who uses water based media to show their work there are big gaps in quality of the work accepted for general display. While we have no criteria regarding skill and professionalism some artists are far better than others.

Over the course of my term there I've been responsible every other month or so to choose ten favorites for our regular feature. As I just finished making the list and having written brief comments about each image (for the last time) I thought you might enjoy looking at the:

Best of June 2016 at dA Watercolorists!

Comic by Martidy
Proving the point that comics are a vibrant art form, we have this fine example of narrative art that needs no words to further its story. The layout is beautifully balanced and the colors and forms a visual delight.

Spices by jackfox2008
The white background of this elegant still life forces us to focus our  attention on the objects. Timeless and unattached to a specific location their subtle colors and shapes show us a meaning beyond the ordinary.

Between Dreams and Reality by beyondpat
 Free association unrestricted by reason can produce surprising, unexpected imagery. With a clever and whimsical disregard for tradition this artist has produced an imaginative and intriguing image.

Night owl by 0618623
 By envisioning the essence of a nighttime city, rather than its exact parameters, the artist has presented us with a dreamlike landscape of shadow and light. Whether it's a place in reality is left to our interpretation.

Wooden church from Kotan by GreeGW
 The strong colors of this watercolor entertain the viewer with a  wonderfully fresh, luminous style that transforms an otherwise ordinary scene into a unique surrounding full of deep meaning.

Another Wednesday Walk by Odditorium
Watercolor and fantasy have always been a good match. This fine illustration shows a the artist's skill and restraint in its elegant arrangement and subtle coloring as the open spaces pull our eyes toward the main figures. It'd definitely a painting that tells its own story.

Shire hills by SarkaSkorpikova
The graceful verdant hills of this beautiful and evocative vision of Tolkien's Middle Earth make it a magical landscape. While there are no hobbits, elves, dwarves, magicians or any other mythological characters in view, the picture is full of their presence.

Watercolor22 by Viktosa
This is a beauteous cat, a cat of character, a cat of determination, a cat with dignity, a cat whose tiny prominent teeth make me want to give him a home. The fine design and subdued palette almost make me forget my preference for dogs.

Red Squirrel Painting by EsthervanHulsen
I'm never quite sure where the boundary lies between realistic and photo-realistic but I do know painting realistic watercolors takes time.   This wonderfully detailed painting shows the spark of personality and character that makes even the smallest creature a unique being.

Rose garden by eiger3975
Using high contrast light and shadow, clear and uncompromising colors, and strong design, this artist is skilled at mixing contemporary images with an art deco style. This is just one example from his fine gallery of images.

I hope you enjoyed seeing them and the links if you felt like looking at more of their work. Now I'm no longer responsible for going there every day I may just get on with some of my own work. Maybe..

current events

I missed posting last week so I'll put up two today - this one because Matt Stoller described something in a series of Twitter posts I'd never heard of before. Come to think of it you could write a book about the things I never heard of (Crow agrees).

(1) The basic dynamic re: #Brexit and #TPP is that post-WWII we stretched multinationals around the globe to keep nation-states from warring.

(2) National industries and nationalism were seen as causal factors in two recent wars that killed tens of millions.

(3) Some, like George Ball, were explicit.

(4) "to fulfill its full potential the multinational corporation must be able to operate with little regard for national boundaries..."

(5) " - or, in other words, for restrictions imposed by individual national governments"." Ball helped create the post-war trade agenda.

(6) Ball was a huge proponent of the EU. Opposed Vietnam War, seen as very liberal. Supported multinationals over national sovereignty.

(7) By late 60s Nixon opposed free trade. Maurice Stans negotiated textile controls w/Japan/Taiwan/Hong Kong, was called racist for doing so

(8) The Ball generation sought to prevent war, understood the multinational as a responsible actor constrained by antitrust and regulation.

(9) Lifting of restrictions on multinationals in the 1980s/1990s led to monopolies, financial disasters, w/no sovereign capacity to govern.

(10) Sovereign state power to make war originally would be checked by corporate supply chains, free trade, orgs like IMF

(11) But the cure for nationalist warfare - multinationals - mutated. And multinationals unfettered do not meet human needs.

(12) So people are crying out for some sovereign aside from the corporation (which is a grant of sovereign power). And nationalism is back!

(13) But this is not a right-wing phenomenon. Many on the left, though not socialists, want localism. Nation-state is more local than IMF.

(14) But the old DNA of George Ball is still there. If you do not see the virtues of free trade and multinationals, then.. warmonger!

(15) For globalizing elites, it literally is unthinkable to stop stretching corporations around the world. They cannot imagine it...

(16) ... because they see it as restarting World War II. They think they are peaceniks.

(17) That is why Germany, France, etc want to punish UK or Greece for bucking them. Don't these people realize that WORLD WAR will come?!?!

Next is Professor Mark Blyth of Brown University regarding Brexit. This is quite entertaining.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

getting it right

One of the more frustrating things that can happen when attempting to get a true image of a painting is the result you see here. The tree trunks have almost no yellow when I look at the painting, but no matter what settings I used for the scanner or how I tried to manipulate the colors with my rudimentary PhotoShop program, I simply couldn't get it any closer to how the picture looks in reality. So this is it - pretty enough that I wanted to share it with you, but hardly satisfactory when it comes to a real translation of the image. If you've ever looked through Google images of famous paintings you'll see I'm not the only one to have had this kind of problem.

Recently,  I came across some words in languages other than English that describe things familiar to all of us. The more words we have about the natural world, in my opinion, the better.

Mangata (Swedish): The road-like reflection of the moon in the water.

Ammil (English, old Devon): The thin film of ice that lacquers the outdoors when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter.

Komorebi (Japanese): The sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees.

Gurfa (Arabic): The amount of water that can be held in one hand.

Poronkusema (Finnish): The distance a reindeer can comfortably travel before taking a break.

Eit (Gaelic): The practice of placing shiny stones in streams so that they sparkle in moonlight and attract salmon in the late summer and autumn.

Murr-ma (Wagiman): The act of searching for something in the water with only your feet.

Kalpa (Sanskrit): The passing of time on a grand cosmological scale.

Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods, an easy solitude and a connectedness to nature.

Kintsukuroi (Japan):  the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver joining the pieces and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

Quote of the week:
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

~ Bertrand Russell

Thursday, June 9, 2016

now and then

Although I didn't take this picture the lady slippers are in bloom in our favorite park again. I didn't know they were a kind of orchid until today. Aren't they pretty?

I've also been thinking about the future and how the ideas of experts have often been wrong:

'I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.'
~ Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and inventor of Ethernet, writing in 1995. In 1999, addressing the Sixth International WWW Conference, Metcalfe put a copy of his infamous column into a blender, pureed it, and drank it.

'There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.'
~ T.A.M. Craven, Federal Communications Commission commissioner in 1961. Needless to say, Mr. Craven is no longer the commissioner of the FCC.

'I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.'
~ Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM in 1943. Of course, Watson was referring to room-size mega-machines filled with vacuum tubes. But still..

'The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.'
~ Sir William Preece, chief engineer, British Post Office in 1876. Messenger boys?

'This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.'
~ Western Union internal memo in 1876. Western Union sent its last telegram in 2006.

'Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.'
~ Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox in 1946. He was right. Now we've moved on to aluminum and plastic televisions.

I kind of like this girl's idea about the future of robots. Only time will tell if she has the right idea:

'It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.'
~ Yogi Berra

Thursday, June 2, 2016

elephants and oliphaunts

I've not been having an easy time these past months actually finishing pictures. I'll get so far and then stop for some (or no) reason. The one above is a case in point. My first plan was to draw an old fashioned  circus parade with animals and people in all their finery gaily tramping along a modern street while a distracted child looked elsewhere - maybe at his hand held game machine. After several tries the background buildings looked boxy and boring and the kid made me sad.

Next, I drew an elephant that I liked just to see if that might inspire me to continue. He was okay but the adult riders just looked too strange, maybe I didn't draw them well enough. Then it occurred to me to place a howdah on the elephant's back with a little girl riding inside, the image you see here in it's initial stage. I liked the idea of her waving at someone and the little boy holding flowers appeared in a sketch - and what's a little boy without a dog? You can see I was venturing far along the path of childhood fantasies here.

Anyway, there I was with some main elements and preparing to draw in the background - probably an old village street or a cottage doorway, something bucolic. Then I came across some stories about how badly elephants are treated in Thailand and other countries in SE Asia where hundreds of them are rented out to carry and generally entertain tourists. In particular, I read that elephants can only safely carry 150 kilos (330lb) on their backs, and howdahs alone weigh 100 kilos. More than that can make them suffer debilitating back injuries. I read more awful things as well that I won't tell you but the end result was I didn't feel like working on this picture anymore.

It seems to me there are things that are fun to imagine that don't work out quite so well in the world as it is. We've all watched chase scenes in movies that have kept us so caught up with excitement we didn't allow ourselves to realize that if this had happened in the real world then we just watched passively as a whole bunch of people were maimed or killed. I'd like to think that somewhere a little girl can ride inside a howdah and wave to a little boy who has brought her flowers, or that people can ride on elephants without hurting them, or that somewhere lions are lying down with lambs. In the meantime I'll put that particular image on the back burner while I think of something even more fantastic.. and much less painful for any of our fellow creatures.

On a happier note, last month The Ringling Bros circus sent its performing elephant troupe into early retirement with their friends and relatives in Florida.

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.