Monday, December 21, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I understand how mothers set the table for their sons missing in action - for years. Its not just to keep hope alive, but to make sure one is NOT doing something that the cosmos would take as a sign that he could now die. The 'sighting' of Buddy was a tugging of the heart-strings, but I think, an illusion born of wanting it to be true. So yesterday I took delivery of Walker, a two year old Great Pyrenees. He came in a wire kennel, covered in canvas on the back of a pick-up. He has more or less lived with goats on a farm all his life, but probably in a pen. Yesterday and today I have unsuccessfully tried to introduce him to the goats, but they always run off when he approaches, and he gives up. I will soon be very fit, hunting for goats at the far ends of the property, chasing up and down hills. They keep melting away, keeping quiet. I am going to get bells for the leaders - if I can ever catch them. (I remember those cow bells in Austria.) Meanwhile, a problem. I can't leave the dog alone and loose - he might well just follow me home, or run away. So I have to shut him in the barn, which doesn't help with the goat bonding. I got lots of feedback on Facebook about a new name. Walker won't do. I am experimenting with Waldo (from JP). Worried it might get shortened to Wally.

Friday, October 9, 2009

K9 resurrection?

Yesterday, Bob announced that Buddy had been seen somewhere along Sunny Slope Rd, clipped of his long coat. Or a dog just like Buddy. Today I posted mail boxes along the road. Could it really be, that Buddy could return from the dead, after a commemorative ceremony? Missing PRESUMED dead! And just after I had lost the phone # for the people with the Great Pyrenees, that I would have picked up on Thursday, to replace him. Watch this space.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Feast of the Hunters Moon

A small but select gathering. Perhaps what brought on the rain was the announcement that we would play cricket. Rain is then traditional. But we did mass with umbrellas to commemorate the life of Buddy, a dear friend and protector of the bush goats. We planted a black walnut - the most valuable hard wood - near where the old house once was. And beneath the tree, we stuffed farewell notes. John Llewelyn, dog-lover extraordinaire, who had met Buddy, wrote: "Thank you for your continuing joyful presence in the thoughts of your master and of all those others of us lucky enough to have known you." We checked on the ducks - still swimming as a single flotilla. And we danced to Fleetwood Mac, and Eric Clapton. When people drifted home late it was still raining.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Like a duck to water

For Beth, ducks had become old news. Of the five left after Jesse died last week, many did not even have a name. There was Artemis, and then ... It was time they left. After we perfected the art of corralling and swooping with a big net, they were soon each inside a cardboard box, and being trucked off to YB. I lined up the boxes at the water's edge, opened the flaps, and Christina shot some pictures of ducks Celebrating Freedom, shooting off across the water, with big smiles on their beaks. This morning they were still sailing around the pond, in convoy, this time with grins. They are rising up to flash their wings, splash-washing in the water, and dipping for worms. They cannot believe their luck. But then they have not yet seen (or heard of) coyotes. I hope they start frequenting the Duck Hotel moored in the middle of the pond - the Blue Zone. I used to worry about them being snatched by snapping turtles, but I was assured that these would only take young ducklings. Then today I saw the shell of a monster turtle over 15 ins long, that had fallen into a sinkhole and died. If there are more like that... I also saw a long black water snake. And Kelly said that when he lifted the straw bale out of the water, lots of orange snakes swam off. Later this was modified to brown. What do we have in the water?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reclaiming the barn

Jay cleaned out the top floor of the red barn last week, making its lines sharper and the possibilities for 'remodeling' more visible. It is a cavernous space, some 40' square, on three different levels. The large central area could be used as a dance floor if the rough oak boards were sanded or covered. And a few steps down, there is a potential bunkhouse, about 40' x 10'. The pigeons that were roosting in the roof seem to have moved out, which is good news. Their guano line down the middle of the floor started eating into the wood. I now imagine that central space as a gallery cum seminar room, at least in clement weather. Currently it's open to the elements in various degrees, with the large loading bay in the front, and gaps between the vertical oak siding on the other walls. In the summer the gentle breeze keeps everything cool. The dutch barn design was ideal for loose hay. Now, as a barn it's obsolete. But as an architectural structure, it's pretty impressive.

But there is one problem. It still smells of goat. A little while back I fenced off most of the ground floor where they had enjoyed a free run. Today I raided unused fence-lines for 12' stock fencing, and sealed off their last gathering place. They still have the bull pen and the chicken coop for shelter. But now the barn can begin to sweeten up. One day I will clear out all the straw inside, and re-imagine the whole building. Then the dust would begin to recede too.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Welcoming the Other

I carefully planted hops and a grape vine to climb up poles from the earth onto the trellis covering the elevated front deck. The grape started climbing and then got stripped by caterpillars. One of the hops has reached about 10' and slowed down as if awaiting instructions. But something I did not plant has really taken off. It is coiling on the deck planning its takeover. Extensive googling turned up the name Cyprus Vine, and it is loved and hated because of its vigor. It has the softest fern-like leaves, and bright red five-pointed star flowers in profusion.

For Derrida true hospitality (if there is such a thing) happens when you even welcome the stranger who may destroy your house. Welcome Cyprus Vine! But I think I will keep a watch on it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Crows 'n corn

The garden was a modest success this first year. Drought was a problem in the absence of a watering system. And open sowing faced huge challenges from local 'weeds', i.e. the plants already there. I never had time to hoe, nor the material for loose mulching. Everywhere I used landscape fabric things worked quite well. But the soil still needs improving. And only a few giant sunflowers actually made it. Zinnias were a great success - sown in the cracks of soil after weedfabric was taken up. Lots of cut flowers. Amazing basil. Lotsa squashes.

The final challenge came from four crows who descended like umbrellas with teeth on my few corn plants. And then the heirloom tomatoes. I never realised quite what a formidable problem they must be for farmers. I thought of scarecrows, but wondered whether wily crows would be deceived for long. Cheekwood has an exhibition right now.

And here is Van Gogh.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The force of beauty

Sometimes I wake up and see the folly - not of all man's works but of mine. Yellow Bird is a fantasy that I cannot possibly realize, too off the beaten track, too hot in the summer, too much for one person etc etc. Jay has been bushhogging with my tractor recently, and doing quite a bit. But the weeds seem to be winning. And progress on building projects is next to zero. I say to myself that I am waiting for the pound to recover from its precipitous decline last year. So this morning I took a tour on the four wheeler to see what I could still get Tony Young to cut professionally with his 10' wide bushhog. And I glimpsed again the envisioned YB, the rolling grass, the place that could feed the dreams of others too. And with that vision back in place, everything changed. The YB dream is back on track. So what is happening here?
One sociobiological explanation of the appeal of landscape painting, and look-out points etc. is that when we were apes, we would climb trees both for safety from predators, and to get a better view of possible threats. Landscape vision represents security. There may be SOMETHING in this. Views of dense forests, or jungles seem less attractive, and that might be because we cannot see what might be hiding in there. Desertscapes, on the other hand, are attractive only when there are interesting dune formations, or wave patterns in the sand, or oases. And even then, there seems to be something lacking? This suggests that security is not enough. Yellow Bird grabbed me because there was a perfect mix of meadows and woods, cleared and dark spaces.If artistic values sublimate naturalistic ones, then one would expect analogs of the concern for both security and interest to re-appear. Total clarity would offer real control, but over nothing. At the naturalistic level, a landscape with no dark spaces would hide no predators, but also provide no cover for edible creatures (or plants). If sublimation moves us from considerations of diet and survival to ones of information - richness of input combined with a capacity for forming and shaping - would that account for landscape values? And for changes in our 'views' of landscape? (Think of the glories of wilderness, on the one hand, and the gardens of Versailles, on the other.) Somewhere in the middle, towards Versailles perhaps, Jencks' Garden of Cosmic Speculation. It would be an interesting theme for a YB photoshoot - the tame and the wild, and the battle/creative tension between them.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Commemorating Buddy - from John Llewelyn

Dear David,
I have just been walking in the gardens of Astley-Ainslie hospital along the end of our road. At the edge of one of the lawns, under a tree, are gravestones commemorating dogs that have, presumably, "belonged to" certain members of staff-though the one remembering Sambo makes me wonder whether Harry and Barbara Acton, who lived not far away, had their Welsh spaniel interred there. The earliest date is on the grave of Dum-Dum, who died on August 25 1900. The most recent date is on the grave of Pax, who died on July 27 2008. The stone is new and was probably put in position a few weeks ago on the anniversary of his or her death. I also walked today along the "donkey track" on Blackford Hill where someone has fixed to a section of exposed igneous rock a wee brass plate on which is written:

"In loving memory of Rex & Moss
& Polly & Cleo,
Fower dugs tae whom
This hill belanged a'
The days o' thir lives."

In the garden and on the hill I thought of the dogs named at these two sacred places, but I also thought of Buddy. And I thought of him too when I was back home in our own garden where the horse-chestnut leaves will soon be falling on the grave of our German Shepherd Dog Jacky. Margaret and I were granted the gift of burying him. If you are denied that with Buddy, you must invent something that will not only help you, as Margaret was helped by writing a book about our life with Jacky, the last chapter of which is also the last chapter of my attachment (blessed word). We are sending an extra donation to Compassion in World Farming in support of the campaign to ensure that male dairy calves have a life worth living. We are doing it in memory of Buddy. You, David, through your writings and other actions on behalf of
animals, have already put into practice Gavin Maxwell's maxim "Whatever joy she gave to you, give back to nature." But if you thought of a way of commemorating and celebrating the life of Buddy in particular (like planting a special tree?), your friends and his over there and over here would be grateful for the opportunity to contribute to whatever that might cost.

But I refuse to give up all hope yet that he will find his way back home. Meanwhile, for sending those lovely photographs of him and for him and his "owner" we are

Yours gratefully,

John and Margaret

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In memoriam Buddy boy

Before I left for England and Italy, I gave Buddy some worming liquid and a big hug. Two weeks later, Joe drove up to the house to say he had not seen Buddy for three days. He was about 10 years old. His mother had died at about 8. When I counted the goats they were down to 10, and I thought Buddy might have died in a valiant battle against coyotes. On recounting the goats there were 14, so no losses. If anything an extra one. I cannot find him, or his body. But there is a bad smell near his shed which I cannot pin down in the long grass. Could I have killed him with the worming liquid? It was just routine - I never saw worms. But he had not had it before. Was he just old? Did he have heartworm? I wish I had been here to help. Could I, or a vet, have made a difference? According to Joe, he just stopped showing up. Was he injured?Buddy had the perennial smile of a sheepdog, which comes from the line of the mouth. It's hard not to respond with trust and affection, which generates more trust. I had often imagined truly befriending him, taking him back to the house one day. I worried it would ruin his connection to the goats. I always thought there was more time. As with so many things, that's not true. Perhaps it's better to say: there never more time. There are only actions, events, decisions. But that's not true either.
Today I was up with the goats. Lots of serious braying - male/male standoffs - with huge horns. Some residual coyote protection from these guys. Goodbye Buddy. I want to find your body, for closure. And then again, dear friend, I don't.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Small writer's cabins: A COMPETITION [follow up from January]

Here are some images from the web.

I am in discussion with T.K.Davis (Nashville/UT Knoxville) about a Writers Cabin competition: building small retreats will be an immediate way of attracting to YB some creative people.

To expand a little.

1. Specifications
Imagine a single room, 8x10' with built in desk. Could be some reference to Michael Pollan, Heidegger's hut, other famous writing places (see January blog).Must be able to be built off site, and set onto blocks on site. Ideally I would like to specify some heating and cooling standard, such as solar fan, so well insulated it hardly needs heating, and solar powered lighting/electricity. But I do not want to totally stifle other forms of creativity. We do need to say something about what we are looking for. Originality, playfulness, eco-friendly, pleasure-to-work-in. I am interested in conceptual integrity/style/innovation etc. But trumping all such considerations these must be places/spaces that can themselves inspire focus and creativity in those using them - writers, songwriters, academics - an interesting challenge for a designer. Total insulation is great, but not in itself inspiring. And there are some fascinating looking spaces that would be very distracting to work in. Option to visit YB and check out possible sites.

TK says that UT Knoxville's architecture department has an inside 'construction platform' on which such a cabin could be built. This reinforces a certain intensification of the challenge being posed here: Given these parameters [8' x 10', plus x,y,z...] what is your IDEAL writing space? Constraints function like sonnet form in poetry - opening up creative freedom.

2. Stages/dates
I would LIKE to start now - give people the summer to make something. We need first to solicit some reasonably detailed designs (incl. materials budget) so we could select half a dozen (!!!) and give the budget to go ahead and actually build. (What budget would be reasonable?) I am hoping the terms of the competition could involve YB keeping the end products, while offering the builders/designers some numbers of free weeks accommodation in their own (or other people's) cabins over the coming years, and website exhibition. Installation sometime in the Fall. There could be various categories of winner: most green, most creative, cheapest!. All would be featured with pics etc on the website, offering a showcase/virtual gallery for the final product, ideally one which one could walk around.

3. Entrants/Publicity
In principle anyone could enter- architecture/design students, architects (& green builders) in Nashville/Knoxville and elsewhere - but practically they would need to be within reasonable trucking distance (on a standard 6x12’ trailer). Could publicity be done via email lists?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Interdependence Crunch Time

Chris left Tuesday, and (as a goodbye gift?), Berzerker presented us with a decapitated finch on the back doormat. What is the proper response to such a gift? I left it there until this morning when I shook the whole mat, feathers, corpse and all into nearby bushes, hoping I had measured gratitude appropriately. The mat was clean again. One hour later, in the same place, there is a chipmunk, seemingly sleeping. What to do? Can Berzerker and I ever really communicate? I like the IDEA of gifts, but ... And what is the sub-text? Is he complaining about the cat biscuits (not REAL food - THIS is real food!!). Or is he saying, "I don't actually NEED yr cat biscuits - don't insult me - look what I can find on my own!". Or, "Hey - just something I caught on the fly." Or "See. I'm keeping the place vermin-free, as per contract." So how long do I leave the chipmunk on the mat? If I leave it there, might it suggest I haven't seen/appreciated it? If I remove it, where to put it? In the bin, in far away bushes? Should Berzerker be able to work out what happened to it? If I move it too quickly, will B feel the need to replace it ASAP. What would each of these options mean to him? Help.


Update. Tamias Striatus was being visited by flies. This trumps all consideration of cat/man etiquette. I threw it far into the woods. In the course of doing this a whole new and deeply disconcerting dimension opened up. Mr. Chipmunk was already exhibiting rigor mortis. This suggests that he had not been killed immediately before being placed on the mat, but sometime before, and the BODY HAD BEEN MOVED. Could Mr. B have been waiting for me to move the finch before replacing it with the chipmunk. Could he have a store of such carcasses lined up under the porch? "Your move Woody!" What game is he playing? Help!!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Declaration of Interdependence

"Eleven score and eleven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that, in their elevation above Nature, and their struggle to master it, all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that proposition, or any such project, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a monument to those creatures who here and across the globe have been sacrificed to this tragic cause.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow-this ground. Countless speechless creatures, indeed species beyond number, whose like we will not see again, have consecrated it with their blood, far above our poor power to add or detract. The earth will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it must never forget the tragedy and the suffering to which we here bear witness. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to healing the harm that our predecessors, with the best will in the world, so confidently advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their lives - that we here highly resolve that these living beings, human and non-human, shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under Gaia, shall have a new, more embracing, more generous birth of freedom, and that the earth shall not perish by a myopic government of the human, by the human, for the human." [DCW/2008]

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Aeolian art

I am dreaming of:

1. An acoustic version of a Chris Drury cloud chamber. I found a Canadian guy, Greg Joly ( who makes harmonic sanctuaries - similar idea. It could actually overlay the camera obscura effect with integrated sound resonance. Could this be done without electronics by passing the light through water/oil that was being vibrated with sound? Extracts from Joly's wind harp CD @

2. An acoustic dimension (with drilled holes) to my solar spiral sculpture piece, a cross between Spiral Jetty and Lightning Field, being planned for New Mexico. The drilled tubes would 'echo' Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels!

For an example of these sounds, check out

There is a new sculpture based on these principles near Burnley in UK : Burnley's Panopticon, Singing Ringing Tree, in a stunning windswept location on Crown Point, designed by Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu

And I have discovered a wonderful wind artist in Holland, Robert Valkenburgh, one of whose works is imaged above. "The instrument ... has twelve bamboo organ pipes, 3mtr. long, with altogether 127 sound holes, positioned in a spiral around the tubes, so that no matter the direction of the wind, there are always a few notes to be heard." His website is

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Walking in the other man's shoes

I do not need to grow my own food to eat well. But if you try, you learn something. (And you can eat better!) After hours struggling with clay dirt, and intermittent heavy rain, trying to hold back weeds in favor of the squash, melon, corn, and tomatoes that we favor, snatching lunch and keeping working, so much becomes a whole lot clearer. I find myself sympathizing more than ever with the poor whites photographed during the dust bowl, and depression - gaunt, tired, anxious, and unkempt, often standing outside their wooden shacks, like like Steinbeck's Tom Joad whose family (in Grapes of Wrath) had to leave their farm and travel across country to find work. I made a whole series of choices - how deep to plant, whether or not to wait until the soil was drier etc etc. If I was wrong, I would have wasted some time, but I would not starve. But imagine depending on your crops actually succeeding. There is something to Hegel's sense that the slave has something over the master, perhaps an unmediated relation to nature. But if I were working for someone else, revolution would only be held at bay by fatigue. As things stand, while my capacity to walk a little bit in the other guy's shoes has been enhanced, I know I am cheating the real. But I am getting a REAL work-out, up and down, lifting, hauling, digging etc. so unlike the meaningless muscle exercises in the gym. And I am seeding the chance of some incredible, rare, not-in-the stores heritage vegetables for later in the summer. But WHO am I when I make this garden? I thought of Tom Joad, but only when the dirt was getting under my nails. Mostly I thought of my mother and her plant stand, and above all her father, Frank, who was a market gardener, and who grew the best tomatoes. Interestingly however, he was not a romantic. He grew Moneymaker because they were a reliable cropper. Whereas I am growing yellow, beefsteak, Kellog's Breakfast, and many many more varieties I have never heard of. For the taste and the look.

Google Earth meets Yellow Bird


From Barn to Gallery: Stage One

I just ruined the day for 13 goats, by evicting them from the barn they have come to call home. A 16' section of heavy duty stock fence now seals off their entrance. I tried to explain to Buddy what was happening, and he accompanied me to the bull pen behind the barn, and the old chicken coop which I opened up. I only hope he got the message, and can guide the goats into their new 'suggested' quarters. Next step - evict the pigeons. Dung, guano - it all has to go in the name of art!

But then I had two disturbing thoughts:

(1) That I am turning back art history in a big way. Surely dung is IN!! Look at this: "Painter Chris Ofili won England's 20,000-pound Turner Prize in 1998 for some paintings spruced up with elephant dung from the London Zoo. [...]Other folks aren't taking Ofili-style art so well either. In December 1998, Reuters reported that Ray Hutchins, a "professional illustrator, has shown the British art world what he thinks of the dried elephant dung-wielding painter who won Britain's top art prize," the aforementioned Turner Prize captured by Ofili. How did he show the world? The 66-year-old man dumped a wheelbarrow full of bovine scat on the steps of London's Tate Gallery, where Ofili was then displaying his award-winning "art." "

(2) Only yesterday I was sketching a five year plan for YB, in which each year would be dedicated to one sense. Smell will need some serious thought. Flowers, yes. And then I was thinking - goats! But now I seem to be into smell reduction!! Am I just a hypocrite? No the goat smell will be there, just in a different place.

Green Light Church

There are various ways forward in registering as a Non Profit Organization. It turns out that becoming a church is the least complicated path, if one could swallow it! The IRS is apparently pretty reluctant to question what kind of religion you profess, and it seems worshipping nature is just fine. I guess this springs from the First Amendment respecting Freedom of Religion. Trouble is it would really put off some of my friends, and, I expect, some potential donors. Nonetheless I did discover that one favorite name - the Green Light Church - is available as a .org website, which is (to me at least) astonishing. Green light has three crazily overlapping senses: (1) An eco church (cf. green fingers); (2) Aldo Leopold's reference to the green fire fading in the eyes of an old wolf he had just shot; (3) The green light in the sense of "the church that likes to say YES". But I think we would have to have regular worship sessions. Would collective gardening count?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yorkshire Sculpture Park comes to Yellow Bird

Some of those who gathered at YB on Sunday to chat with Peter Murray about Art in the Landscape. Guests included: T.K.Davis (Civic Design Center, Nashville @ Architecture, UT Knoxville), Hanjörg and Gisella Goritz (Architecture, UT Knoxville), Michael Baggarly (Sculpture, MTSU), Mark Scala (Frist), Joseph Mella (VU Fine Arts Gallery), Jochen Wierich (Cheekwood), Gregg Horowitz (VU, Philosophy), Jonathan Neufeld (VU, Philosophy), Joe Prince (Woodbury), Christine Haase (German Studies, UGA). Stephen Tepper (VU Curb Center) and Mel Zeigler (VU Art Department) caught up with Peter Murray at his public talk at the Frist on the Monday.

A year ago when I bought The Lodge, I knew it could function as a reception center, and all-weather space of welcome. And so it proved on Sunday when some 15 quests truned out to talk with Peter Murray about his Yorkshire Scilpture Park, and about public art more generally.Peter and Christine had arrived at lunch, having driven from Atlanta the previous day, spending the night in Chattanooga. T.K.Davis drove down from Knoxville, as well as Hansjörg and Gisella Goritz in their white 1972 Porsche. The weather was perfect. We walked the main tracks - Jay had bush-hogged them the previous day - though I was painfully aware how little of the estate people got to see. You can take a quick walk around in about an hour, but with all the trails now open, and bit of lingering here and there, the complete circuit would take 3-4 hours easily. The full experience would include the Peace Circle, the bamboo groves, the mossy rocks, Tree House Ridge, the South Field, the watercress waterfall, Look Out Ridge, the cedar field, the Kiss, and Spring Hollow.

We set up our 'seminar table' on the deck, and a slow fan, though it was only late April! After a while, Mark Scala, getting us down to business, asked me how I conceived of YB sculpture park, and I presented the big picture - cabins for writers and artists, summer residencies for sculptors, an annual 6 week fall show, and educational sessions for kids. There was general admiration for the barn, and enthusiasm for converting it into a gallery space. Clearly too the sauna must be finished, as that will be quite a draw, both for the sheer pleasure, and for its cobby architectural interest. TK pressed the idea of a competition to design and build 8x8 cabins to encourage student and underemployed local architects to come up with innovative designs. These could be built offsite, then hauled in on a trailer. Peter Murray was insistent on not acquiring permanent work one might regret. YSP does lots of temporary exhbitions; this looks like the way to go - perhaps keeping good pieces for a year.

It is easy to think of wood and stone as the obviously available local material, guiding the kind of art that will happen here. But as soon as one begins to think 'conceptually' things really open up. This place, as with many others, is layered with time and history (incl. geological) in so many ways that could be celebrated or explored artistically, with or without limiting oneself to local materials (we have a 'local' scrap yard).

Applying for 501(c)3 (nonprofit) status will help move us forward. All agreed on the next stage - defining the specific focus of YB, and putting in place the ingredients that will 'let it happen' - cabin, barn-gallery, and funding. Institutional ties (formal and informal) to Nashville Metro Arts (?), to Cannon County Arts Center, to Cheekwood, to Vanderbilt (Fine Arts Gallery, Art Department), to MTSU, and to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park will all help.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More on the rabbit trickster

[lifted from http://paganismwicca]

Western European Symbolism
Rabbit (Coinean) and Hare (Gèarr) are symbols of fertility, intuition, rebirth, promise, fulfillment, and balance. He is the Goddess’ creature and represents the Moon, night and dawn. is also associated with abundance, rebirth and release and is symbolic of the ‘tween times, dawn and dusk. Their motions were used for divination. They’re also associated with transformation, receiving esoteric knowledge and intuitive messages.

The Celts believed they brought luck and keeping a part of the animal, usually the foot, attracted good fortune. It was also believed that the foot protected people against evil. Rabbit is a symbol of Easter and Ostara.

Native American
Rabbit, like Coyote, Raven and Crow, is considered trickster by some Native American tribes. Nanabozho or Manabozho, Great Hare, is a powerful figure found in some stories. Nanabozho is a hero, creator of the earth, supporter of humans, bringer of fire and light, and teacher of the sacred rituals. In others he’s a clown, a thief, or a sly predator, an amoral animal dancing on the boundary between the positive and negative.

To some tribes he’s known as Fear Caller because he brings whatever he fears most to himself. He’ll see Coyote and will tell him to stay away because he’s afraid of him. When Coyote doesn’t hear, Rabbit calls louder and louder until coyote notices, then preys on him.

Other Cultures’ Folklore
* Western African American: Perhaps the best known is Br’er Rabbit, recorded by Joel Chandler Harris, narrated by fictional Uncle Remus. The slaves mixed their rabbit tales with those of local Native American tribes. Br’er got himself into all sorts of problems, but, being clever, he could talk his way of his troubles.
* West Africa: Many tribes, have lore about a Hare trickster who is equally rascal, clown, and hero. In one, Moon sends Hare, her messenger, to earth to give humans the gift of immortality. Hare gets things mixed up, giving them mortality instead.
* Cajuns: Had a trickster rabbit, Compare Lapin, who was akin to Br’er Rabbit.
* India: The Panchatantra fables portray Hare as a clever trickster whose adversaries were Elephant and Lion.
* Tibet: Trickster Hare outsmarts Tiger.
* Japan: Hare is sly, clownish, and mischievous.
* Chinese: A rabbit's foot is associated with prosperity, hope, fertility, abundance and good weather.

But while as a child I sided with Peter Rabbit, now I am increasingly sympathetic to the position of Mr McGregor.

Flying rabbits

I have almost completed the 7' deer fence around the garden. Today I looked out the window and saw three horses, five deer and one turkey grazing the big pasture, just the other side of the new fence. I think I can keep the deer out. But I had not thought about turkeys. And then there are rabbits. The top part of the fence is 2" mesh, but the main sturdy lower part is about 6". This should keep out the flying rabbits, but the traditional ground loving sort will saunter through. Can I really bring myself to hope that Berzerker will take them out as baby bunnies for breakfast? Can I spray coyote urine around the perimeter? Does the Coop sell coyote urine? Do I really want to resort to trickery and deception to keep out unwanted critters? Kant says we should not beat a dog because it would hurt its owner, or perhaps corrupt an onlooker. We might be encouraging a cruelty that might later be inflicted on humans. Could not the same be said of trickery? Indeed there are ads for pheromones that would make one irresistible to the opposite sex. Isn't that on a continuum with coyote urine? And is not perfume already playing this game? So what is the difference between allurement and deception? Is it like white lies and lies of a darker shade? And what IS a white lie - is it an untruth told in one's own interest? Or one that is insignificant? Is it better to deceive rabbits, or to use a narrow mesh fence buried in the ground? And all of this leaves aside the question of whether I should not be sharing my crop with Peter Rabbit, or Bambi, or any of the other wild creatures. Why is this not an occasion for Derrida's infinite hospitality? I suspect that sadly there is a small truth hidden inside contractarianism - that some sort of agreed reciprocity is possible with humans, but not with the other-than-human, and that this sets important frameworks for exchange. Infinite hospitality would prescribe generosity to the point of bankruptcy and the subsequent inability to be generous. 'Good fences make good neighbors' may all be about maintaining the conditions for generosity! In the case of my garden, while access to it might give local critters dietary variation, it would give them a lot less satisfaction than it would cause me suffering. Would they really enjoy the Amish heirloominess of those tomatoes?

Addendum. With all this talk of tricking rabbits by spraying coyote-pee, I had entirely forgotten how intimately rabbits are already associated (LIKE COYOTES!!!) with trickery (and probably fences are important too). For example, there is a book *Tio Conejo (Uncle Rabbit) and Other Latin American Trickster Tales*, by Olga Loya. Here is the blurb:
"In folktales, the trickster can be the wise one or the fool, the one who fools or the one who is fooled. That is why children of all ages enjoy hearing these tales. The psychology of childhood is pretty much the same everywhere, giving these enjoyable stories universal appeal. In these four tales, told in Spanish and English, the trickster takes animal form: a monkey, an opossum, a dog, and a rabbit."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

No Hunting! One Exception

Easter egg hunt: making memories

Sartre once said that there are no real adventures, that adventures are ways in which we (re)construct the past.* That’s a bit of an exaggeration. I have two memories of easter egg hunts – one at a vicarage garden party when I was a child, and the other as a grown-up on an estate in Scotland. I remember them both, but especially the first, as events, as adventures. They were exciting social events, with people swirling around, but they were also solitary quests, trying to anticipate what someone else would think a good hiding place, as experienced burglars do with house keys concealed in the garden.

The weather could not have been better. After deadly tornadoes nearby the previous weekend, and heavy rain, the skies cleared for us, and we had a bright sunny day. I had devised a combo egg scavenger hunt and treasure trail. The scavenger hunt would be for kids, and not stray too far from the house. There would be chocolate eggs, and plastic eggs filled with candy. And the treasure hunt would send teams of people two in two directions around a figure of eight trail, crossing in the airstream trailer in the middle with a bottle of wine and glasses laid out on the table. There would also be a shorter trail for late-comers, leading to a buried pot of gold. In all cases there were a series of clues (39 in all), and gifts scattered around the clue sites, in crevices in trees, handing from branches, loosely covered on the ground etc. But as Robbie Burns told us, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” I should not have told people in advance that they might meet in the Airstream because when they got lost, they headed there, generating something like a short-circuit, even carrying away the wine as a prize. And I had not anticipated that it would only be necessary for one team to row out to the floating Picasso-like yellow swan on the lake and read the clue. Others could simply tag along with those who had returned to shore. Of course the obsessive trail-designer wants people to follow each and every segment of the trail in the right order. So I was grateful to Zach for finding the pot of gold in the gulch at the very end. It was with mixed feelings that next day I discovered still lodged in a cedar tree a bottle of champagne, a small bottle of Chateau Yellow Bird Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 (“Bottled in the imagination”). I had won my very own prize, like a dog who discovers in the Spring a bone he had forgotten he had buried in the Fall. The next treasure hunt will be slightly different, based on the potluck principle, and the public cashing in of coupons hidden on the trail for (hopefully seriously interesting) items brought by the participants.

The pot-luck part of this event was the food. Somehow, and without planning, there was exactly the right amount, and balance. And it was delicious.

Easter is a time of resurrection. And it seems the ticks got resurrected too after a winter of inactivity. It is said that the best way of ridding a pond of leeches is to invite a class of young kids to swim in the pond, and they will walk away as leech-magnets. I did not intend such a strategy in this case, but I understand that many ticks did get a ride home with my 30 guests. We should have sprayed, but the ticks had successfully staged a surprise spring offensive. Catherine found six, and was still counting. Luckily they are more creepy than dangerous.

* (Re: Sartre, above) It’s true we may not know until later how things will turn out, and sometimes do not label as such what we will subsequently call an adventure, but uncertainty about how things will turn out is a lived experience.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Why I like Leonardo

What was renaissance man? A polymath perhaps? In Leonardo's case, we could say: artist, engineer, even natural historian. He painted, sketched, constructed siege engines, and filled dead lizards with wax so he could see the shape of their internal organs. But what is the value of being a polymath? Is it just being good at many things in parallel? No, it is rather the cross-pollination that arises from the crossing-over of one's various talents. But this could just happen horizontally, as it were, between different intellectual interests. Just as important, I believe, is the vertical interplay between what we think of as the theoretical and the practical. This is especially true of writing and thinking, where images and metaphors play such a vital role in shaping our work. When we sensuously (and attentively) work the world we viscerally reach down into the well-springs of poesis. Today I found myself repairing a broken chair with glue, and about eight clamps, each exerting pressure from a different angle. The chair was of no great value, and yet I had had it for decades, and it had become something of a friend. I had been using it to get extra height cleaning the roof of the truck, and then inadvertently backed up on it, crushing a leg. Wanting to mend it was overdetermined. I wanted to undo my own folly. But I also wanted to make a damaged thing whole. I react this way to almost anything that can be fixed, and with my workshop in place, I can now easily repair many ordinary sized objects. There is something fascinating about 'the broken', as Heidegger noted about a broken hammer. When a tool breaks (but equally when a living being is hurt), its taken-for-granted functionality is interrupted, and becomes visible, perhaps for the first time. There is an ontological"Aha!" experience. You appreciate things anew. But I still wonder what this desire to make things whole is all about, whether it is an instinct we all have some of (a gestalt tendency), and how it connects with Freud's eros and thanatos. Is it broadly what Freud meant by eros? And how is it connected with the desire to destroy, to kill? I know it is not what Freud meant, but there is clearly a synergistic version of these twin impulses - in which the destructive impulse is in the service of the creative. We want to destroy what impedes creativity - negativity, blockages, bad karma. But what then is the end of creativity - is it (in the case of mending the chair) just restoration of a static whole? That would be profoundly conservative. Wholes that are worth having do something. A machine works again. A mended chair stops wobbling, enabling one to concentrate on other things. A watered plant grows. Sometimes the 'doing' may be symbolic - demonstrating that (in the case of my chair) that damage can be undone, that time is not always irreversible. A non-conservative commitment to restoration would be to restore potential, possibility, openings onto a future, not some fixed essence. A true conservative might respond: but of course, what else? When the glue has set, I wonder if I should paint the chair red. Or stripes. Must order a WWLD? tee-shirt.

* Speaking of symbolic connections, the second image above is of The Broken Chair, a sculpture by Daniel Berset, which stands in front of the Palais des Nations (Geneva) and symbolises the campaign for a mine-free world. A hybrid of the broken tool and the hurt creature.

Blogging a dead horse

Henry died yesterday. Jay and Melissa had four horses here: Big Mama, Chance, and two white ones: Gracie and Henry. And now Henry is no more. He lay down in a rain puddle at the end of the pasture, and died. In the evening mist it was too late to deal with his body. We covered him with a blue tarp, and secured it against coyotes with wire pegs. There were lots of tears. Melissa had given him extra shots, vitamins, special food, and he had put on 50 pounds. Had we done enough? Could we not have done more? Measuring his girth, he weighed some 747 lb. With dirty, wet,straggled hair, and half-bared teeth, he looked very dead. The people they got him from late last summer said he was 17, maybe 20. But from his flattened teeth he was clearly much older - over 30. (Perhaps one should look a gift horse in the mouth!!) Had they lied to get rid of him? And if they had lied? Had Melissa not taken him, he would have had a quick bullet in the head and missed out on those good last months. Are we not all tempted, at times, especially as we get older but feel young, to lie about our age? Kant worried that the practice of truth-telling would break down. How is it that white lies do not destroy truth? The question now was what to do with the body. Priscilla told me a while back that the pit down near the bottom creek bed had once been used for dead animals. But after the downpour it was full of water; Henry would just float. I phoned Tom to see if he had a backhoe so we could make a hole, but he was out. I later checked on the web about horse disposal. Seems there are laws in some states about what one can do. Important to keep dead horses out of water courses, away from neighbors yards, and to avoid critters you don't want turning up. (Hey - I got to use the word 'critters' - not previously part of my vocabulary.) Last year, a tree of vultures greeted me on a dead-goat day. I would like to have exposed ol' Henry on the hillside. Those winged butchers would have stripped and carried him off in no time. Instead we strapped him to a sheet of plywood, and skidded him first with the 4x4, and then with the tractor, to the far end of the Peace Circle field, and covered him on the ground with cedar branches. The kids were not with us. Alexis (aged 8) had wept all night and she will want to visit the grave. Jay said they will take her to some other patch of disturbed ground. I don't want to lie to her, said Melissa, but ... (But Alexis would not want to see a half-rotten, worm-infested Henry?) Could an eight year old child understand ashes to ashes? Horse to worms? Don't those horribly graphic Roald Dahl children's books suggest kids delight in the gruesome? And is it really gruesome to think of nature's little helpers (worms, ants, bacteria, vultures, coyotes ...) welcoming Henry's substance back into the mix. The people who gave us Henry lied about his age to smooth things along, and now we will lie about his resting place. Nietzsche says we cannot take too much reality, and yet he wants to rub our nose in this truth. Sartre imagines a world of brutal honesty as a healthier place. Jay told sobbing Alexis that Henry was in a better place now. Should we say these things? Unlike animals, we say we understand the meaning of death, so why not come clean: Henry is history. While we were folding Henry onto his plywood gantry, Chance, Big Mama, and Gracie galloped over menacingly. Would they charge us? - they acted as if we were intruding on their grief-space. Instead, they kept back and watched us intently. And when we skidded Henry away from the field, they followed, as if part of the cortege. What were they thinking? Do horses have at least the whiff of the abyss? Do they perhaps at least catch the drift?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Winter Wonderland

It did not last long,
but the effect was dazzling.
Don't miss the deer!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Avian reflections

It is 6:25 am and getting light outside. There is a tapping on the window which opens my eyes. It is my friend the red cardinal - this time the RED cardinal, the boybird. Sometimes his more demure brown mate comes instead. There is a tall bush brushing up against the window on the outside. The cardinals do not nest there, but it offers a safe place to hang out, and they can often be found skittering among the leaves. The tapping stops, and I go back to sleep. As if playing snooze-button, the tapping begins again at 7am precisely, at another point on the window.

After my father died, my sister was sleeping in an upstairs room in the Lothersdale house. She was woken up by a black bird pecking at the window, 'trying to get in'. It's hard not to think of Hitchcock's adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's story 'The Birds', or of the folkloric associations of death and the raven. What was the bird really doing?

When my kids were small, I told them bedtime stories. At one point they shared bunk beds in a room in a Victorian house that had a blocked-off fireplace. With a small turn of the imagination, it looked like a tiny door, perhaps out of a Narnia story. I would tell M&C about the magical world that it opened onto; they were sceptical and yet entranced.

Lacan writes of a certain structural alienation that we each undergo as humans, the stage of psychological development he dubs the 'mirror stage'. As young children (6-18 months) we experience ourselves as an image in the mirror, and for the first time grasp ourselves as a whole. But the price for this integration is a certain alienation - we identify ourselves with an image.

It has been said that no other creature can do this. But this is increasingly disputed. "Animals that have passed the mirror test are all of the great apes (bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, and humans), bottlenose dolphins, orcas, elephants, and European magpies. Initially, it was thought that gorillas do not pass the test, but there are now several well-documented reports (such as one gorilla, Koko) of gorillas passing the test. In 1981, Epstein, Lanza and Skinner published a paper in the journal Science in which they argued that the pigeon also passes the mirror test. Pigeons though could only detect the spots on their own body after they had been trained to and untrained pigeons have never been able to pass the mirror test. Dogs, cats, and young human children all fail the mirror test." [Wikipedia]

What are my red cardinals up to? Perhaps at the back of their bush they have found a doorway onto another world. They have found a place at which, at a certain point in the day, perhaps quite a narrow time 'window', they encounter something quite uncanny - something we would call their reflection in the glass, but which must at first seem like a competitor. One can only imagine the conversations between boy and girl cardinal, and the confused jealousies: "There's another guy hanging around!". "Oh yeah - she looked like a pretty cool chick to me."

Parallel plate-glass windows on two sides of a house are known to be fatal for birds, not because they are frozen, petrified, by an encounter with their own image, but because they can see right through the glass and fly headlong into a broken neck, and a crumpled twitter. But at my window, there is perhaps not tragedy - more the stirrings of an avian uncanny. Heidegger writes about the way in which a great thinker can glimpse something but not truly recognize what they have glimpsed. Could a cardinal hop away from the window puzzled, having failed to see off the intruder?

We humans think we are safely perched in that higher category of beings that can see themselves in a mirror, opening up the possibility of reflection. And yet when the effects of what we are doing to the planet are reflected back to us in the shape of antarctic glaciers slipping into the sea, we seem unable to recognize our own hand at work. Might it not be that what we construct as the site of the red cardinal's puzzlement mirrors our own predicament? To 'see' what is in front of our nose, requires a Copernican shift of frame. As for the cardinals: the danger out there is not an alien intruder, it is us.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Harvesting solar reservoirs

There are many ways of hauling logs out of the woods, and many animals that been used before powered wheels turned up (see images). One-man harnesses, dogs, mules, horses, bullocks preceded tractors, skidders, 4x4s etc. The secret is always to reduce friction at the log (ice is perfect, or water, or air [using aerial cables?]) - or skids, and maximize traction at the power source. Then these logs, which have collected solar energy over years, sometimes centuries, can be used to build houses, variably resisting insect attack, protecting their inhabitants against the elements (not least the sun). The labyrinth of the capitalization of power! Not surprisingly, the largest trees at YB are growing in the least accessible places, protected by the difficulty of hauling out their carcasses.

Halfway to the spring, fallen trees had blocked the path, both rooted on my neighbor's side of the creek. I had to clear them, so I planned on hauling them away. One had been a live cedar, about 12" diameter, lots of red wood, and over 40' high. The other of unknown brand, similar girth, but lighter after years of standing dead, and on its way being firewood. It could however, work as a semi-structural vertical support in a house (see old Japanese buildings). But how to move these trees out of there? I took out the 4x4 and a chain. Whoever invented the chain-hook that couples back onto one of the links, and grips, while being as easy as pie to decouple later, deserves a medal. Alongside the guy who invented the chain. (Or was it a gal, making a daisy-chain for her sweetheart, by splitting stems, and passing the earlier stem through the split?) There is something about a chain, and the mixture of mobility and strength that is quite impressive. Even a man in chains might glimpse this. ... I tied one end around each log, and hauled away. Once the trees get going, they slither along quite nicely, with protruding limb stubs gouging out lines in the damp mud beneath last fall's leaves. But there was a point on the trail that blocked the 4x4's access to the last tree. I needed a second chain to reach through, and paced out a 25' shortfall. Joe was coming round, so I asked him if he had a long chain - about 25' - if he would bring it. After putting the phone down, I thought - typically chains are not that long. Could we perhaps do with 20' by squeezing the 4x4 forward? Had my measuring-by-strides been too generous? Would we cope? If we had a 5' gap, could I use rope to bridge it? Joe turned up with the chain. It's only 20', he announced. The last log was the lower section of the big cedar, itself over 20' long. There may be a 5' gap, I said. I have some yellow poly rope, but it's not thick enough. Joe took the rope, looped it into three strands, tied bowline knots at each end, with triple loops, and we had our extra five feet. And bowline knots unslip after great tension. We needed the rope. At first the log would not move - it was at too much of an angle to the path, and sloping down to the creek. Thirty years ago I was leaving a monastery in Athos for the day, and five ancient monks were already at work, moving huge rocks with wooden poles. I had also seen video reconstructions of Stonehenge rock-moving techniques, using logs as rollers, as it happened. Poles worked wonders with us too, allowing weak humans to move weights we could not otherwise contemplate shifting. We know even birds use sticks to poke insects out of holes. Do they ever use them as levers? We got the log nicely back to under the front deck, and then argued about how long it was, pacing out the length with our bodies. Over 20', yes. But we staked our respective reputations on more exact figures before measuring it. 22'9" said the metal tape. We both lost the bet with technology, but gained about 2' of actual log. I will try to adjust my stride. At 17 it was exactly 3'. Now I think I am stretching my pace a little. It's either metrification (one yard = approx 3'3") - nostalgia for Europe? Or my misguided attempt at compensation for no longer being 17.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Thinking better

I am at Tractor Outlet, buying galvanized wire to make a horizontal wire grape arbor over the front deck. The young man does not think they have the wire I want, but maybe it's outside. We find it, but it's not galvanized, he says. The label, however, says galvanized. It does not look like 374 ft in that $14.95 coil, but it is. "I live on a farm, he volunteered."
I select two 10lb coils.
"Strange," he said, "I thought galvanized was shiny. Where are you from?"
" Where are you from?" I ask.
"I was born right around here."
"I'm from England."
"I thought so, with that voice. What do you do?"
"I teach in Nashville."
"What do you teach?"
"Hey, I'm fixin' to take a philosophy course next year."
"That's good, it teaches you how to think."
"But I already know how to think."
"Well, it teaches you to think better."
"Is that right!"

Next stop: find a Muscadine grape vine to grow up the arbor.
And stand back.

Monday, February 2, 2009

'Tired' goat, tired horse

Some moons ago, Molly returned from Birdsong Hollow Farm, complete with progeny. She was accompanied by a triumphant ribboned wreath, as if being given the freedom of the city. On Saturday she was spotted trailing the rest of the herd and sporting ... a wreath on her stubby horns. How could this be? An unsuspected Saturnalia among the cloven-footed? A late-night party? How could Molly have found the wreath, and begun to wear it? Had she been made queen? What was going on? A couple of years ago, I discovered that the sliced sides of car tires would form an effective donut-shaped ring mulch around a newly planted tree. One such slice with a frizzy penumbra had been left lying around. And somehow Molly had got it tangled in her horns. She was not parading, she was in distress. But would she let me near her to sort things out? She ran off, with the weight of this encumbrance dragging on her head. Yesterday I went back to find her, hoping she was worn out, and I could catch her. I found the herd, and feared the worst. No Molly. I talked to Buddy with my best dog-whispering. In the movies, the dog understands what you are saying, and takes you off to find the goat just in time to save it. Buddy smiled, but seemed to understand nothing. The goats were in two parties. There was a nursery at the barn, with the two nannies, and their five kids (two black, three b/w) - only days/weeks old. Then the main herd, from which Molly had been missing. They were coming back to YB central. And somehow Molly was with them this time - looking very tired, but wreath-free. Had she had help? Those goats cooperate in pushing over my wiremesh tree protectors, exposing the now protruding leaves for each other. Did they have a wreath-removing clinic after tea? OK so she did not need me. The goat herd has lost a few old guys, and seems well-served by some strong rams. Perhaps that's how there are still five kids, despite coyotes.

After this, it was time to check on the horses, if only to be reminded of their gently different natures. Big Mama had a little limp - arthritis? Stone in foot? Melissa will check. But Chance was worrying. He was lying down - mid morning. And did not get up. He seemed to have mud caked in his hooves. Wasn't that heavy-breathing? Was he dying? He did not respond to the ordinary excited encouragement that would have got me to my feet. Then he lay his heavy head down on the ground. He must be terribly sick. I tried calling Jay on his cell w/o success. Would we be able to pick up the body on the front-end loader? Could we leave it deep in the woods for Nature's helpers to help themselves? When all seemed lost, Chance got up and walked off. As he did so, I noticed that the patch of ground on which he was lying was no longer quite as much in the sun as it had been when he first lay down.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

White mythology?

In a now famous essay from the 60s, Lynn White argues that Christianity is to be held responsible for the growing despoilation of the earth, and the environmental crisis. As Genesis records, man is raised above the world in domination, in contrast to the pagan world, for which man is part of nature. This pagan vision it set out to eradicate.

We may find speaking of elves, pixies and dryads hard to take seriously, but the implication - that we can and need to negotiate with the natural world - with the trees, rivers and mountains - rather than simply try to impose our will upon them, is a thoroughly sound idea. Could we not put up with some silly names for the sake of a sensible policy? This suggests something completely revolutionary - that we evaluate ontological claims (Is there a God, are there pixies?) entirely in terms of the kinds of relation believing in them, or talking like that, would support. This way, perhaps lies Derrida willingness to speak of ghosts, specters etc.

This is not so crazy. It just means that we need to check ourselves at a different point. We can talk any way we like, assert the 'existence' of all sorts of things, but we don't confuse the different ways they exist. Things don't have to exist physically to have power. We misunderstand spiritual existence as something very thin, or wispy. Much more plausibly, spiritual existence is a projected background for certain possibilities of relationality, and sociality. Those who say this projected background 'does not really exist', (as I am tempted to), need to ask themselves, do "I" (or America, or Yellow Bird) exist in that strong sense? Or are these unities not importantly constructed around the relational possibilities they enable?

Next week - we will start a magical map of YB. And celebrate an ontology that lets a thousand flowers bloom.