Thursday, August 25, 2016

I Dreamed of Hibiscus

In Biblical times, dreams were apparently taken far more seriously than we take them today. They were considered revelatory and even prophetic; to act on the basis of a perceived message or warning in a dream was not considered foolish, but wise. I've heard stories of many modern people, most of them quite rational, who also believe that some vital information or answer to a problem came to them in a dream, and I have no trouble believing it. I've sometimes been surprised at a dream that seemed to reveal knowledge I had about a person or situation that I wasn't at all conscious of at the time I had the dream. "How did I know that?" is no longer a question I ask. Wisdom comes to us through a variety of experiences that we file away but don't entirely forget.

I had a very vivid and colorful dream this morning, and I'm sharing it because I think it encapsulates what I think of as the spirit of the times, at least as I see them. I'm not the Oracle of Delphi--I think the same information is available to all of us, but maybe I have more training in dealing with my intuitive side than many people do. I'm not afraid of it, as I think some who value logic and pure reasoning above all else sometimes are. Our society tends be weighted more towards thinkers than feelers, as I understand it. I don't think of the type of intelligence represented by dreams and intuition as irrational but rather as just another type of knowledge, another source of information to take account of. In fact, at its core, intuition is probably rational knowledge based on sources of information you weren't entirely aware of when you picked them up, simple as that.

The order of events in the dream is a little confused in my mind, but I'll start with the part in which a friend suddenly appeared outside the door of my building. I was quite surprised to see her, and she told me she thought I had moved. Apparently, there had been a letter that I hadn't answered, and she had told me about her intention to visit. The joy at seeing a friend was tempered by a sense that there was some confusion or misapprehension on her part about what I had been doing with myself.

We went inside, and there was a restaurant on the first floor, where we spent some time placing an order at the counter. Up a steep flight of steps, there was a room with a large bed in it. My friend, who had a couple of people with her, one of whom may have been her husband, got into the bed and sat there chatting with me as I sat at the side, partially covered by a blanket. I believe there was also someone standing next to me. I wondered whether I should go to bed, too, but instead, I got up and started pointing out the features of the room, the color of the walls, which were a soft peach, the beautiful, gleaming hardwood floors, which had evidently received a recent coat of varnish (prompting some laughter when I pointed it out), and some rays of sunlight that touched the floor in a couple of places.

The room was pleasant but rather empty. I looked out the window and saw the yard outside, and after that, I seemed to be by myself for a short interval, floating above a canopy of tropical flowers and foliage, as if there were a conservatory on an upper floor and I was hovering over it. There were a number of red flowers similar to hibiscus, and I saw a large spider walk over one of them before climbing down a wall to the floor. As I floated down the aisle, I saw that there were quite a few of these large spiders walking on the foliage.

After that, I confronted my friend and told her that I didn't believe we were where she said we were at all. I didn't entirely blame her for the confusion, but I felt it was important to clear it up as a sort of Matrix type of fluidity of space and time was occurring that was very disorienting. At that point, we were outside, standing on a street with some commercial buildings nearby, as if we were in the outskirts of a town. A few other people were standing about, as if some public event were taking place, and though the scene looked more like suburban Louisville than anything else, I told my friend very firmly that she was wrong: we weren't at my apartment building, we were in Texas.

There were other parts of this dream in which I was in a hair salon (hair salons and appointments to get my hair cut are a recurring theme in recent dreams), but that's basically the gist of it. The overriding tenor of the dream was an awareness of multiple versions of reality being presented at a rapid-fire pace and a reluctance to accept someone else's version over my own.

If you're wondering why I said this dream is an emblem of the times, you must not be paying much attention to the news, for, of course, in an election year, one does hear multiple claims of truth-telling, the problem being that they mostly conflict with one another. I often get the sense when perusing the news that various viewpoints are actually screaming for my attention; I just consider what makes sense and refrain from rushing to judgment. I consider that some of what I read is true but not all of it, which is but stating the obvious. This is no doubt the way it is all the time, but this year the process seems to be in overdrive, with two major party candidates anathemic to large portions of the public having risen to the top.

There is also a sense in which this dream is personal, of course, and I don't consider that any less important than the collective aspect of it. Personal and collective seemed to very intertwined in this dream, but I won't bore you with any analysis of what my dream means to me personally. That's a story for another day. If you insist on a summation of what message there might be in this dream that's of any help to anyone, it might be, "Well, enjoy the flowers, but don't overlook the spiders. And actually, don't make too many assumptions about the relative merits of flowers and spiders. They could both be iffy."

OK, the anti-oracle has spoken. Now back to our regular programming.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Rabbit's Life

This week, from the Re-Visiting Books From a Long Time Ago department: Watership Down. If memory serves, I first read the book 35 years ago this summer, which is an amazingly long time ago when you think about it. The only thing I remembered was that it concerned a group of rabbits who were displaced from their burrow by a construction project and had to find a new home. I'd forgotten everything else, except that it had seemed a novel concept for a book-length work of adult fiction. (I just learned that some people consider it children's literature--if it is, it's an extraordinarily nuanced and sophisticated example of the genre.)

Once more, I find that the passage of time seems to have turned a work into something completely different than I remember, so different that it's hard to believe this is the same book I read all those years ago. It's almost as if, as Shakespeare puts it, it has undergone "a sea-change." Of course, I know that isn't right, because the words on the page haven't altered--it's the reader who is different. Back then, I found the book moderately diverting, but this time, I was struck at every turn by the sheer humanity of the author, if that doesn't sound like an odd thing to say about a novel about rabbits. My own imaginative powers seem to have expanded enough that I can now take in the great feat Richard Adams accomplished by entering so sensitively into the lives of non-human protagonists.

The book almost made me want to be a rabbit--in spite of the inherent hazards of the lifestyle (and the fact that you have to live underground). Humans do not come off particularly well in most of the book, and while the rabbits have their faults, it would almost be worth giving up the advantages of being human for such companions as Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Holly, and their friends. Their resourcefulness, courage, ingenuity, and loyalty to one another put the rest of us to shame, I'm afraid. I was so engrossed in the story that I had a hard time putting the book down, and I cried at the end, which rarely happens. I was hoping against hope, every time the rabbits faced seemingly impossible odds--trying to cross a river, escaping from foxes, stoats, and cats, escaping a snare, battling a formidable enemy--that their wits would carry them through just one more time. It's a spirited adventure story, well told.

It may be that the first time I read Watership Down, I objected to what I saw as anthropomorphizing. I'm glad I got over that, because I think the novel's presentation of a fully realized animal world--the rabbits have their own stories and mythology, their own games, diversions, worries, and dreams--gives us, in a totally non-preachy way, a richer, more penetrating view of our own world. It's hard to think the same way about a new housing development when you consider it from the point of view of the creatures who suffer because of it and have no say in what happens to them. Seeing the world from the perspective of a rabbit might be enough to give you pause, for a little while, at least, on the whole "might makes right" philosophy. In any case, it's a pleasant antidote to human presumption.

Besides being entertained by the spirit and humor of the rabbits' mythology and storytelling, I was struck by something else that I suspect went over my head the first time. The novel is firmly planted in the sensate world, in all the sights, sounds, tastes and scents of the Hampshire countryside. Every blade of grass, every individual leaf, has character, and the rabbits' keen senses, especially their hearing and sense of smell, pick up so much more information than I could gather at my most observant. The novel luxuriates in descriptions of wildflowers, weeds, and grasses and a multitude of other objects a rabbit would recognize instantly; I would walk through the same scene and experience it much more monochromatically.

So, who is smarter, humans or rabbits? I think it depends on what you mean by smart. There is certainly something to admire in the simplicity and economy of the rabbits' lifestyle and in the way they live their lives as part of the whole. And in the book, at least, they seem to know a thing or two about humans that most of the humans have failed to notice about themselves. (Who knows, this could be true in real life as well.) I believe these particular characters are also meant to show us how we ourselves are at our best. It's perhaps a gentle reminder that human nature is also animal nature, however evolved we may have become.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Through a Glass, Darkly

I happened to read the other day that the public schools here were starting fall classes this week, and in fact, they began on Wednesday. It seems to me that the date of school opening has inched much closer to the beginning of August than it was when I was a student. It's not that I have any stake in it, but it goes against my grain to think of going back to school while summer is still in full flower. It seems a little cruel and unusual, but don't tell any school administrators I said so. It's just my personal opinion, which means little.

I tend to think that school should start, at the earliest, at the very end of August, or better yet, right after Labor Day. The Christmas holiday should be two weeks long, and there should be a full week of spring break or Easter recess, whichever you prefer to call it. Summer vacation should be three months long, and it should begin either right before Memorial Day or immediately after. Of course, my first elementary school experience was in Florida, where snow days never wreaked havoc with the school calendar, and a schedule like this was actually possible.

As much as I liked summer vacations as a child, I was usually a bit excited about going back to school in those early years. There would be new clothes, a new lunch box, and that wonderful smell of new composition books, pencils, and ink cartridges. When I was in school, I didn't mind it most of the time and sometimes quite enjoyed being there. It's just that vacations and the freedom that came with them were so much more fun, and sitting in a classroom all day is difficult even for a good student. In many ways, it was a more innocent time, though I know it's a truism to say so.

I reminded myself when out and about this week to be on the lookout for school buses and have, indeed, seen several. Yes, everything seems a bit muddled when school buses appear only a week and a half into August, but as muddled as the state of the world is generally, an anomaly like this is only a drop in the bucket. I pulled into the parking lot of a local Catholic Church the other day, purely on impulse, because I wondered if it might be open (it has wonderful light, which is great for meditation). In the parking lot was an expensive-looking SUV with dark tinted windows and the engine running, a slightly ominous sight that I'm pretty sure would have given me pause even as a child.

I went to Catholic schools where the church was next door to the school building and seemed a fairly benign place, even if you didn't exactly believe everything they told you. Church was a place where they had bingo and spaghetti dinners, not weird-looking SUVs that kept their windows rolled up and engines running for fifteen minutes at a time. I considered whether this was any of my business or not, as all kinds of strange things seem to happen these days without anyone taking notice, but in the end I decided to report it to the church. The woman I talked to seemed to take it in stride, though she did say they had noticed an uptick in the number of people pulling into their lot to check their cell phones.

OK, well, I'm old-fashioned, I believe in no school till Labor Day, watching out for school buses, and reporting suspicious activity--so I did my part. I hope someone would think it a little stranger if this happened in a school parking lot with kids around, but it does seem to take a lot to get people's attention these days, so I don't really know. I guess the truth is that I just don't like tinted windows.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Chasing Kings at Tintagel

There was a news item last night about excavations now taking place at Tintagel, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur on the Cornish coast. The ruins of a castle belonging to Richard, Earl of Cornwall, that still stand on the site are from the 13th century, too late for Arthur, who is usually placed in the sixth century or so. Archaeologists are now hard at work uncovering the walls of a palatial Dark Age structure, part of a larger complex of buildings yet to be excavated. The evidence of glass, pottery shards, and other artifacts at the site tells the story of wealthy inhabitants who must have had extensive commerce with the Mediterranean world and possibly with the Roman empire itself, which still existed in diminished form after the Romans withdrew from Britain.

The articles were fascinating and the videos and pictures equally captivating. The Cornish coast is very beautiful, and a more dramatic spot for a palace could hardly be imagined. I've always wanted to visit the West Country, and this news certainly does nothing to diminish that feeling. Although the presence of a Dark Age palace doesn't prove that Arthur lived there, the findings are provocative; no doubt many additional details will emerge as the work continues over the next five years. What an opportunity for an archaeologist--Indiana Jones has nothing on the Cornwall Archaeological Unit. It goes without saying that interest in this project, in which history intersects with British legend and myth, must be very keen.

As I looked at the photos, I naturally thought about my Grail story, which I published on this site last summer after being inspired by some readings in Arthurian children's fiction and Grail literature. Arthur's birthplace has never been synonymous with the Grail castle, but the Tintagel site, from my viewing of the photographs, is similar to what I imagined for Corbenic, even down to the detail of existing on an island. Although it is not as far out at sea as I placed my castle (my Grail knight had to ride over a causeway in a storm to reach it), the Tintagel headland, currently reached by a land bridge, will one day be connected to the mainland by a daring new structure soaring high above the old one, which should offer stunning views as well as an unforgettable approach to the site.

All of this is very exciting and has the potential to add much to the current understanding of the history and culture of the period, even if King Arthur himself remains elusive, as mythic figures often do. I was struck by the presence of a recently installed sculpture of a royal figure on the site, an eight-foot bronze by artist Rubin Eynon called Gallos (Cornish for "power"). Although it is up to the viewer to decide whether this kingly figure is Arthur or not, the sculpture itself is very commanding, though somewhat wraithlike in spite of the bronze. The face is partly hooded, and the kingly robe flows into panels that expose a somewhat slenderer figure than one would expect. The effect is startling; I don't know what the artist intended, but the figure speaks to me of the fragility of power, of the gap that lies between the role of ruler and the human dimensions of the individual who steps into the role.

I understand that many people are concerned that Cornish history be portrayed accurately at Tintagel, and I think it's good that this figure makes no claim to be Arthur but rather remains undefined and open to interpretation. That not only avoids historical inaccuracies but also provides, by virtue of anonymity, a more powerful meditation on leadership and power than it would be if tied to a particular personality. An official at the site remarked on what the experience of coming upon this figure in the mist would be like, and I agree: I'm guessing it's a bit of an unnerving experience, like coming across an archetype striding out there on the cliffs instead of a human being. It's not often that legends come to life like that, even if the name isn't Arthur.

Friday, July 29, 2016

When Light Summer Reading Gets Away From You

We've definitely had dog days of summer here this week. The heat index was 114 on Sunday, and I had to change my clothes immediately on coming in from an evening walk. Thunderstorms today eased things off a bit, but it's late July, so the air is still heavy even though it's a lot cooler now.

My reading habits have been as unsettled as the weather. I revisited my shelves the other day to find something I was in the mood for and picked up Jack Finney's Time and Again. I read this rather unusual time travel story some years ago and thought it might serve for some light summer reading this week. If you haven't read it, it's the story of a young ad agency artist who gets recruited for a secret government project that involves going back in time.

Yikes! The first time I read it, I enjoyed the suspense and build-up at the beginning of the story as the main character gradually learns what the project entails and what's being asked of him. This time, I confess that it struck me in a completely different way, namely, that I was horrorstruck at the deal that's offered to Si, who's only told that he's being given a rare opportunity to participate in the adventure of a lifetime. The catch is that he has to agree to participate and be sworn to secrecy before he learns what he's agreeing to. Sounds like something you'd just jump at, right? Drop everything, tell your family and friends you're going away for an undetermined period of time, and place yourself in the hands of government agents you'd never met the day before yesterday--yes? In the story, Si's handlers lament how few candidates actually make the grade and pass all the screening. To me, it's a wonder they find any, given the conditions.

Nonetheless, I kept reading, and found that I really enjoyed the passage in which Si and his friend Kate manage to go back together for a couple of hours to 1880s New York. Kate is not actually part of the project and has no business being there, so I liked the way she and Si decided to subvert the rules and jump in together. Their goal was just to observe and not do anything to bring attention to their presence, so this passage is basically a description of what it's like to stroll through Central Park and take a trolley ride late in the afternoon of a winter day in 1882. It's a charming sequence.

I've certainly wondered what it would be like to be able to go back in time just for a few minutes to see what my street looked like 200 years ago, say, or what the Great Plains looked like when buffalo still roamed there. Si and Kate get a chance to see what New York was like before the advent of skyscrapers, and to observe the dress and appearance of its inhabitants in the age of top hats and bustles. I was fascinated by Kate's observation that the people's faces were somehow different from those of modern New Yorkers in some indefinable way. Personally, a quick there and back like this ride down Fifth Avenue would probably have been enough for me, but for Si, the first subject to actually succeed in time travel, it's only the beginning.

I started to lose interest in the story when Si went back again, this time without Kate, and took up residence in a boarding house, where he started involving himself in the lives of the other residents and beginning a flirtation with the landlady's niece. I'm not actually that fond of time travel stories, and I kept thinking of what a mess things would likely end up being if such a scenario were actually played out. Far from the "We only want to try this to see if it can be done" attitude of Si's government employers, I can only imagine chaos ensuing if, for example, our government (or anyone else's) somehow managed to send an agent back in time. Undoubtedly, the real purpose would end up being to manipulate events to come out in somebody's favor, which would of course unleash a whole host of other consequences, with everything spiraling out of control before you could say "jackrabbit."

Mr. Finney's story was published in 1970, which may, perhaps, have been a more receptive time for this kind of thing. I'm thinking of the state of the world today and how much less faith many people have in the good intentions of government and in the ability of humans to bend nature to their will without making a mess of it. Also, I suppose I have a greater appreciation now for the law of unintended consequences. I know, I know . . . you're supposed to suspend disbelief to get into the spirit of an adventure like this, but somehow or another, the book kept seeming to mutate from an adventure into a horror story, so I put it back on the shelf and found something else. So much for a little light summer reading.

Whatever time we find ourselves in is going to have advantages and disadvantages. I might be more amenable to the idea of time travel if we seemed to be making more of a success of our own era, but I'm afraid the jury's still out on that one. It's a little bit like the way I feel about traveling to other planets: not a bad idea, but could we please do a better job of managing life on our own turf before packing our bags and hurtling out into the galaxy? Sounds like a plan.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Drawing Room Marlowe

The other day I started reading Raymond Chandler when I couldn't find the book I had been looking for (an adventure-romance, and not at all noirish). Here's the thing about Chandler's Marlowe stories: when you read one, you enter a universe that seems not only amoral but also tawdry and cheap, albeit in a glamorous, Old Hollywood sort of way. Gangsters, thugs, cops on the make, spoiled rich kids, ruthless millionaires, shysters, confidence men--the first time I read Mr. Chandler, I was simultaneously impressed by his witty style and appalled at his characters.

That was more than 10 years ago. Today, I'm still rather horrified by the meanness and lack of honor one encounters in his pages, but I'm no longer able to view his world as a fiction I can leave behind simply by closing the book, because . . . well, don't some of these people seem oddly familiar? One of the many things growing up does for you is to remove some of the misapprehensions you may have entertained in your youth. While this is not altogether a cause for despair, it's certainly an eye-opener. Your first realization that you might have more in common with some of Shakespeare's characters than you ever dreamed of as a high school freshman is one thing; to realize that the world you know is not so very different from the gritty, hard-bitten L.A. underworld as seen by Philip Marlowe is quite another.

I remember being fooled by the first Chandler story I read into thinking initially that the Marlowe universe had no moral center. This is wrong, of course: Marlowe is the moral center. Because he himself has no illusions and blends so successfully into the jungle with his tough talk and willingness to play hard and fast, I mistook his coloration for something else. A similar thing happened the first time I saw Fargo; I thought the film was ridiculing not only the villains but also the police officer played by Frances McDormand. It was only on a second viewing that I realized how heroic, if unglamorous, McDormand's Marge Gunderson actually is. Likewise, in Marlowe's case, I had to learn to distinguish the manner from the man. Once I did that, it became easier to find my way through the story, as if I had suddenly found the thread in the maze.

If I asked you to stop right now and think of what legendary or mythological character Philip Marlowe reminds you of, what would you say? My breakthrough moment 10 years ago came when I realized that he is really the noir equivalent of a knight in armor, a Galahad, or, more likely, a Lancelot, operating under his own moral code rather than a knightly one. His chivalry might take very unusual forms, and his failings are much more apparent than those of a saint like Perceval, but like a knight errant wandering in the forest he is motivated, underneath it all, by ideals. If he loses his way, he always finds it again, though he may get little thanks for it.

The dispiriting thing about Chandler's world at first glance is that Marlowe's character appears to be operating in a vacuum. There is no Grail, no apparent center to the maze, and no apparent meaning to the struggle other than the will to survive. If you scratch a little deeper, though, it becomes apparent that there is something more, a determination Marlowe has made to live life on his own terms. If there's no justification for the brutal world he finds himself in, fine, he'll be his own justification. Like Childe Roland in Robert Browning's poem, he goes off to meet his adversaries in a bleak and somewhat joyless landscape with an attitude of defiance and a touch of style that really makes all the difference.

It's certainly possible to rail against one's fate and to feel that one would rather be living in a different book. I might picture myself more easily in, say, Jane Austen's world, where people are polite, conversation sparkles, there are plenty of picnics and dances, and behavior is constrained by certain expectations and mores. That's the upside. The downside, of course, is that after a while, all of that dancing and drawing room conversation is bound to get a little old and some of those societal expectations a little confining. Don't you imagine that, if you had been sitting around the fire with your needlework for years and spent one too many evenings making polite conversation with the vicar that you might welcome the sudden appearance of a Philip Marlowe, cynical, unapologetic, and unreconstituted, in your social circle? Certainly, I would.

The main difference between a Marlowe and a Galahad is that, as a postmodern hero, Marlowe navigates without a map. Galahad and Perceval operate under a Christian worldview that gives their universe meaning and supplies the moral compass that guides their actions, even when they are far from Arthur's court. The spirituality underpinning their quests lends a certain ethereal beauty to their landscape that is lacking in Marlowe's, but perhaps that makes his heroism all the more striking.

The difference between a Mr. Darcy and a Philip Marlowe? Well, obviously Mr. Darcy has more polish, and Mr. Marlowe has more swagger, but who knows? In an Austen universe, without all those layabouts to keep in line, maybe Marlowe would relax his cynicism and Darcy would learn to make coffee and scrambled eggs. One thing's for sure: those evenings in the drawing room would never be the same. Maybe the vicar wouldn't welcome the change, but I suspect everyone else would.

Friday, July 15, 2016

City Pastoral

There was a popular book in the 70s called The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, which I still have on my bookshelf. It consisted of nature notes taken from the journal of Edith Holden, an Englishwoman in Warwickshire who incorporated her observations of weather, seasonal changes, and plant and animal life into her writing. It was nothing earth-shattering, just closely observed details of such occurrences as the finding of a bird's nest, the first wildflowers of spring, or a walk on a blustery day. I sometimes feel I might be turning into Miss Holden, though I don't have her talent as an illustrator (she included paintings with her notes).

She would likely have found a walk in our local arboretum a little tame, given as she was to striking off on foot across the countryside in defiance (or actual absence) of roads, but for us city dwellers it's nice to have a park to roam in with plenty of divergent paths if the main track gets too crowded. There are certain things you're unlikely to see, such as bears or wolves, but there are plenty of birds and small mammals. Unlike Miss Holden, I don't know the names of all the birds, trees, and flowers I see, but I sometimes look them up. Once in the spring, I was so amazed at the beauty of a flowering tree in the garden that I asked one of the horticulturists what it was (it's a Japanese Kwanzan, and it looks like a tree you'd see in paradise).

With the recent re-landscaping of the field next to the arboretum and the introduction of a widened and re-contoured watercourse, I've noticed some new wildlife. If we were on the edge of town instead of in the center, there would probably be deer, but as it is there are some new species of birds. The smallish, quick birds with the piping calls might be terns; I've also noticed a pair of hawks or falcons that seem to have a nest in the vicinity. They land on the tops of light posts, looking magisterial, and call to one another; the other day I saw a smaller bird darting out of the way, as swiftly as I've ever see a bird move, as one of these larger creatures flew over its path to a lamp post. The smaller bird moved as if it had the fear of God in it, which it probably did.

That might have been the same day I came across a rabbit sitting bolt upright near the woods. I often see rabbits nosing around in the grass, but I've never seen one in such a watchful pose; he didn't even seem to mind me very much, and I was curious as to what had made him so alert. I felt for a moment that I was living in Watership Down and the rabbit was about to turn around and announce some momentous change affecting the neighborhood. That same day, or maybe a different day, there was a cat on the other side of the arboretum, intent on something I couldn't see in the bushes. I would have liked to know what it was, though I'm sure it was only a drama involving field mice or chipmunks, or perhaps groundhogs, which I have also seen.

One sees butterflies of course, and bees, and fireflies at twilight. Last year, there were large numbers of June bugs in the park, scattered throughout the grass and covering the walkways, though I have yet to see one this season. There are always robins and cardinals, and I sometimes see bluejays flashing showily through the trees. I had always assumed that the cooing sound I commonly hear is pigeons, but when I started hearing it in the evening, I wondered if it might be an owl instead. When it starts getting dark, I sometimes see a bat or two flitting overhead. Most magical of all, a bird landed on a fence near me the other evening, of a type I don't think I've ever encountered before, with an unusually melodious and liquid song. I thought of a nightingale, though I don't know if we even have them here. If it hadn't been dusk, I would have gotten a better look at it.

Two nights ago, I was sitting on a bench under a tree in a quiet spot, watching the fireflies as they rose twinkling out of the grass. It's a quintessential Kentucky activity to watch fireflies on summer evenings, and I was making the most of it when I realized I could hear the piping of some of those shore birds coming from a little distance. It was a bit incongruous but not unpleasantly so, a noticeably new voice in a land-locked pastoral of woods and fields.

Tonight's highlight: I came across a beetle of some sort that had gotten turned over at the edge of the sidewalk, unable to right itself. I know it's better not to intervene in nature, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for this little insect, which was waving its legs in the air for all it was worth. I put my shoe next to it, and it instantly seized the opportunity to grab hold and turn itself over. I hope I'm not in too much trouble with naturalists for doing that, but I really feel that I was just helping him to help himself. I watched him for a while as he made his way through the grass, apparently well on his way to wherever he had been trying to go, though he looked a little stunned.

If I were Miss Holden, I would have pulled out my drawing materials and made a sketch, so you could have seen the beetle as I saw it--ungainly, but determined--but I only have words, so that will have to do. The park was crowded tonight, and I went off the path a few times myself for a little extra room, but the evening was pleasant, and there was a pretty pink sunset. I saw one of the hawks floating over the parking lot as I was on my way home, and he peeled off to the right as I watched, followed half a minute later by the second one. I wouldn't mind knowing what they're saying to one another (they're very vocal), but there's no reason I can think of why they should tell me.