Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Frost's Sunset

This evening, I went out to the cabin at which Robert Frost spent at least forty summers and took a brief look around (it's tiny) with some other folks, after which we sat on the grass out front as the sun set and read or recited Frost's poems, some of which were written on the spot.

It's fun to imagine that somehow Frost's writing place is imbued with his magic, that by some osmotic process, I might absorb a little genius.

Or I might just have accrued some no-see-um bites. I'll let you know how the genius part works out.

If you've never seen Robert Frost's kitchen, well, there it is on the left. According to the caretakers, those are the same dishes he left behind when he died. Not pictured: Frost's muffin tin. No kidding.

Right is Frost's bathroom. What weighty contemplation took place in this space, I wonder?

At this point, I'm feeling voyeuristic. That hasn't stopped me, but it was worth mentioning. Again, these items are said to be Frost's very own.

This painting hangs in the hallway. It's surely a reference to "Birches."

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the line of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.

So was I once myself a swinger of birches;
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Perhaps Frost's poetry might be a better thing to include than his toothpaste.

"Nothing Gold Can Stay"

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

I suppose it's a sunrise poem in some ways, but I think it's apropos to a sunset too, right?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Toads About and Moths Redeemed

Warning, toads on the porch may seem larger than they appear. This handsome, warty fellow is the plain old Eastern American Toad (Bufo americanus americanus), apparently in his "red" phase. Very patriotic fellow, both in name and color. And the stripe, frankly.

Here he adopts an attack posture. OK, OK, so he sat there while I took a dozen pictures, and only moved when I got up after I was done. Damn vain amphibians.

All my slanderous, libelous comments about moths must be retracted. During the last week, we've been sent some of Vermont's finest, most beautiful Heterocerids. The fact that this Harnessed Tiger Moth (Apantesis phalerata) appears to be trying to get into the house will be ignored in light of its pattern. Looks like a toy, almost.

I want to know how two moths of the same kind find each other. There must be dozens and dozens of species flitting about the lamp each night or hiding from the rain in the awning. How do they know which other moth in the melee is compatible? I tell you, finding a match is hard enough when you can talk; you still learn to hold on really tight. I am thankful we do not have to find each other in a storm of colors and smells and bats quite like moths do.

I was absolutely struck by this tiny guy hiding from the rain as I was reaching for the door handle the other day. I didn't know moths did beautiful colors, and I still don't understand what purpose they serve.

This guy is a Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda). I had already given the file the name "rosymoth.jpg" before I even identified him. Johan Christian Fabricius identified this guy in 1793 (well, probably not this particular moth), and he clearly has good taste in moth names.

Thanks to my dad for identifying these guys for me, and for helping to retroactively identify some of the moths from earlier journal entries.

Last night, David Huddle, my "Contemporary American Short Stories" professor read some of his poems to a rather large, rather rapt audience in the Barn. When it let out, we headed over to the Treman house porch for a little bit of libation and conversation, and I decided to photograph the last glimmer of the setting sun, rather than the pink and gold symphony that had gone on a few minutes before. I know the camera failed, but don't they always fail? I thought, though, it captured just enough of the color and the sense that it was all fading away, and that was certainly what was important about the moment.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Woodland Creatures and the Coming Apocalypse

Talk about cute. Though I'm not sure exactly what he came down the tree to pick up and eat (and my imagination, as it turns out, has a sick mind), he certainly was adorable, nibbling away at whatever it was.

After my moth diatribe the other day, I'm unsure where to classify this one. I got very invested in the idea that these moths were sick creatures spawned from the fall of heaven's brightest angel, but now I'm not so sure, since this one inspires rosier thoughts.

My dad helped identify this guy as a One-eyed Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus cerisyi).

Well, rosy thoughts aside, this evening's weather clearly makes them harbingers of the apocalypse.

As the sun was setting, a series of thunderstorms was gathering across the state. At the time of the pictures, they were building to the east of us (pictured here), and to the north.

It's quite a bit of fun to stand outside and watch tall cumulus clouds pile into one another, especially when the sun is setting behind you and coloring the building clouds orange while leaving the ones above you gray.

I'm not sure which stormcloud to our north looks worse, the darker one or the suspiciously tall one.

This is yet another opportune moment to point out that I'm studying concepts of the sublime in Romantic Poetry. Most of the writers we're studying see sublimity as related to the awesome powers of nature as well as at moments of danger or fear. Thus, the thunderstorm becomes the perfect image.

I, however, was doing laundry.

I'm not sure if it was the storm or simply the falling evening, but these spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) were calling so loudly that I almost couldn't find this little guy. First of all, the sound is pretty hard to triangulate, but when you get within a few feet, it becomes near impossible, as the sound rings painfully in both ears.

The scientific name is really fascinating. "Pseudacris" frogs are the chorus or singing frogs. The name comes from the greek for "false locust," presumably since they sound something like crickets. The "crucifer" comes from the cross-like camouflage on their backs (not clear in either of the pictures).

For those of you tempted to tell me this is a wood frog because of the dark markings around the eyes, trust me, this isn't the first time I've had my exposed skin shredded by mosquitos as I carefully identified an amphibian.

Oddly enough, it really isn't.

Sorry that the flash gave the frogs devil eyes. I tried to use the red-eye tool on them, and then I tried to reconstruct the eyes in Photoshop, but I only got far more terrifying frog-demons.

Time to cower inside as the sky grumbles like an irate diner patron. If tornadoes and meteors ravage western Vermont tonight, know that I love you and frogs too.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Creatures of the Night, Brought to Light

Step right up folks. This is Vermont, where wingèd creatures of fear roam the empty plains as the harrowing winds strip all but darkness from the soul. The eerie cries of lost spirits echo in the lonely reaches, and beasts spawned by the hatred of evil for all that is good and pure leap steaming and smoking from the cracks of doom.

This beast staked out the entrance to my house, unmoving for two days straight, calling out taunts like "Nevermore!" and "Catch up on your reading!" each time I entered.

By the time it left, there was a large pile of gnawed chipmunk bones beneath its cursèd perch.

If Pandas were evil moths of darkness instead of large, gassy ursids, this is what they'd look like.

I think it was chewing its way into the building so it could feed on the blood of the sleepy innocents within. Or else it was trying to take the whole damn house back with it to the smelly darkness from whence it came.

Really hard to identify this crazy critter. My best guess is that it's a Twin-spotted Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus jamaicensis). Objections are welcome.

On Friday afternoon, I attended a barbecue at Gus and Cameron's amazing new home in eastern Vermont. On the way home, around dusk, I found this young moose on the roadside.

Though my first instinct was to befriend him as St. Francis would have, he was clearly unnerved by the fact that I got out of the car. His nervousness, however, did not cause him to retreat. Instead, he blew aggressively out of his nose and gave me the hairy eyeball, which he's doing here.

Now, I don't speak moose as fluently as some folks, but I understand that one.

Here's an even worse picture. Nothing like darkness, a tiny camera, and a running car for a tripod.

Obeying the second law of thermodynamics, the clearest picture was also the worst pose.

In my closest and clearest shot, however, you can see that this creature was no moose at all. He was, instead, a diabolical yeti masquerading as a moose, periodically holding up his grisly trophy of real moose antlers. This technique would fool anybody lacking the sufficient derring-do to get out of his car and approach a huffing, uncomfortable bull moose.

The photo and diagrams, I think, are unobjectionably clear in proving the species of the animal in question.

Perhaps you've heard that Vermont is for lovers. I hope you now realize it is chock full of diabolical, creeping creatures of violence and despair. Tune in next week when I catch the yetis and the moths on film, battling for ultimate supremacy of this shadowy wasteland.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


I don't usually take the time to involve myself in any kind of political commentary in any of my journals, private or otherwise, but the day does invite the occasion to think about the country and what it ought to be.

I'll admit that I've never liked the president and never voted for him. I'm certainly far enough away from him politically, and I've always been worried that there's some truth to the sense of corruption, cronyism, and profiteering in Washington these days.

Well, now that the president has commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby, the fears that I've always hoped against hope were untrue are spectacularly confirmed. I am dismayed, disappointed, and wholly outraged that all the things I was taught about the nobility of democracy, of checks and balances are apparently untrue.

Maybe there's hope, somehow. I have to believe that a country so beautiful and founded on such noble ideals could resist being run into ground by a group of tyrants.

This is the view from the back of the Bread Loaf Inn, the main building around here, and the one I'm usually in when I post these updates (it's only one of three buildings that have wireless internet). The sun is setting over my left shoulder, and it lit up the rising hills and mountains in colors that the camera does a good job at failing to capture.

It's amazing when the clouds turn pink in a blue sky and the trees go red-gold.

Frankly, I haven't learned the names of all the buildings yet, so I can't tell you what this one is called. I'm sure I'll learn at some point, but I can't be bothered to look it up right now.

Did you think you were going to get away without any bird pictures? Hardly. The American Robin abounds on the Bread Loaf lawns. I think this is an immature fellow.

The robins may be commonplace, but they intrigue me. This is a gorgeous bird, but hardly notable. What is it about its abundance that robs it of the ability to excite and inform? This is hardly economics folks: robin supply shouldn't have a meaningful effect on demand.