Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Red Herrings Don't Nest in Trees...

I didn't think that wild turkeys built nests in trees, but something that looks like them does; and they do so right in the very middle of Tennessee. The trees were along a large creek at this spot, where the new TN route 840 crosses it, a few miles east of I-65. It's a tad south of Nashville.

We were driving up from Huntsville, AL on our way to the Cedars of Lebanon State Park. My wife had signed herself up to run a half marathon there and it turned out to be a good choice. I don't generally think of cedar trees as making a good woodland -- they're a bit small and ragged, but with a bunch of old and younger ones mixed with a few hardwoods they can make a remarkably lovely woods. My daughter and I discovered this for ourselves, and we learned that Dixon Lanier Merritt already knew it. (I didn't know about him, either, or didn't know I knew, he was a poet, a journalist and a naturalist and you know his work, too. He taught us all that a pelican's beak can hold more than its bellican.) We saw split cedar rail fences made with nothing but the rails and a bit of wire and we found some fresh and some not so fresh woodpecker holes in living cedars. It was just cool enough that we appreciated the burning fireplace and the hot chocolate in the lodge while we waited for the runners. We didn't have all that long after our short walk. My wife finished first in her age group and I think was the second Master female overall.

After the race we checked into the Sleep Inn and took a dip in the indoor pool, ate a pleasant dinner at Painturo's Pizza and Italian restaurant and did a little shopping before heading back toward Alabama, and back past those mysterious nests.

When we drove up on Saturday it was mid morning, 9-ish. The large hardwood trees are along the creek bed and beside a cleared field, probably a crop field in the growing season. 4 or 5 trees contain 15 or 20 total nests: big, messy nests. I'd guess a couple feet in diameter. Some of the nests had large dark birds sitting or standing on them. I tried to make them look white -- snowy egrets would be about the right size and I know they are somewhat communal, although this would be a bit far north for them. Great blue herons were another possibility but I almost always see them alone and think of them as solitary birds. Whatever these were on their nests Saturday morning were just far enough away and just dark enough not to be identified as we drove by at 65 mph.

I was determined to get a better look on Sunday afternoon. When at last we approached the spot, we saw the nests in the trees clear enough -- the light was better somehow and we were ready. But now they were clearly empty. No roosting birds. We were disappointed, but then we spotted something on the ground in the adjacent field. Pretty definitely a flock of wild turkeys, a dozen or more. Too big and fat for vultures, they were black with a bit of metallic bronze reflecting the hazy sunshine. They were only a couple hundred yards from the nest trees. So they were turkey nests? I thought it must be so until I checked the internet -- of course turkeys nest on the ground. Turkey vultures mostly do, too, and even black vultures prefer rocky outcroppings or cliffs but will settle for trees in a pinch. But I did find a photo online that looks much like what we saw: a great blue heron rookery.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Some Days Are Like Others

Some days just feel like other times and places. Like today feels like yesterday, which was raining and cool toward cold, not quite freezing, but with a premature promise of Spring lurking somewhere ahead of us on our journey toward tomorrow. And today's yesterday feels like hanging outdoors in hooded sweatshirts around the picnic table between Johnson Hall and O'Connor Hall dormitories in Dickinson at Binghamton University in 1982. We were cold, enough to be uncomfortable, but it was warmer than the prior week, a bunch warmer, and nobody wanted to go in, to our own rooms, lest we might miss a happening moment, there with our fellow students, with people we were closer to than we would become conscious of until years later; but our unconscious knew, and we stayed, and chilled.

And it feels, in a connected yet completely different way, like considering taking a lunch break from work in 2000, in twenty double naught, from the pressure of the Internet start-up business, out to one of the fast food places down McKnight Road, in the North Hills, north of Pittsburgh; maybe the McDonald's, before they tore it down, razed it all the way to the asphalt, and rebuilt it with white brick that looked all wrong for a McDonald's. But on that day it was still the traditional McD's I had mostly grown up with, those with the integrated arches, not the big out front arches from the 60's, and the red brick. Was it red? It certainly wasn't white. And the food on such a day was fresh but somehow damp, like the air, but not in an oppressive way, just in a suspending way. A way that makes you wait; the green is under there, and the moisture will hasten the departure of the dormancy and the green will be arriving, in all it's vibrancy, but not now, not today. Wait. Go back to work. The sap will flow again, have patience.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008

John Sayles into Alabama, Honeydripping

Friday night I attended, along with about 300 of the more eclectic denizens of Huntsville and its surrounds, the Huntsville Premiere and Party for John Sayles' new film, Honeydripper. Filmed in small towns in Alabama like Greenville, Georgiana and Midway they didn't need to do a lot to make these towns fit into the 1950's movie: clear some modern cars off the streets and swap out some of the merchandise in the store front windows. Standing around in the theater lobby with some of us before the showing, Maggie Renzi, the producer, told us that they are organizing a number of these film co-op parties around the country because they just don't have the 20 million dollars to mount a commercial marketing campaign.

John Sayles was also mingling before the show and at the party afterwards at the new location of the Flying Monkey Arts Center. He is very personable and loves to talk about his craft. I was introduced to Sayles' filmmaking in the early 80's at college by my housemates who were taking film classes. We saw The Brother from Another Planet (1984) and Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980). Maggie Renzi is in both these earlier films. Sayles has Writer and song writing credits to go with his directing credit on Honeydripper.

And this film is really about the music, although we have to build to it through some great dialog and a bit of slow moving slice-of-tough-life drama. None of the big star actors came to our premiere (not Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Vondie Curtis-Hall, etc.). But a couple of the musicians came to the party and sat in with Microwave Dave and the Nukes. Henderson Huggins only plays Danny Glovers' hands at the piano in the film, but he can sing and go to town on the keyboard. Eddie Shaw is the other cast member who sat in. I'm not a sax nut but this transported you to the best of another era and culture. After an hour or so I started to feel bad for Microwave Dave's regular saxist who was standing around the edges of the audience with his instrument dangling at his side, just in case Shaw got tired. That wasn't happening.

It was a powerful evening and a worthy film. Mr. Sayles asked us to ask our friends to see it. Simple enough. Go. Enjoy.

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Caralynetry Critique

First you should read the poem, (if you click the title it should come up in a new browser window for easy reference): " (Twelve Lines Minimum)".

At first blush this poem with its parenthetical title and the varying line lengths seems a bit ragged. And is there a rhyming scheme here or not? But with an opener mind (or "a more open mind", if you want to be grammatically correct, but you may re-think that in just a moment here...) the more freeform rhyme and meter scheme better reflects the uncongealed mind of a blossoming child. Or put more simply: in the end, it works.

What I really like about this piece, though, is the pacing. The way it really accelerates in the last two lines, up until you have to put the brakes on at "plead" since the "p - p" alliteration ("power plead") is tough even on a mental tongue. But the pacing magic starts earlier, right from the first couplet. It feels like it's going to be nursery rhyme sing song-y:

"Patience is an important skill.
La-dee-da, jack and jill."

Instead we get the commanding word "attention," with a pausing comma, before the first rhyme ever kicks in. (I can't help but hit the syllables of "attention" hard, like Chrissie Hynde sang it for The Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket" back in 1979.) And, by the way, it's not a first couplet, but an (unexpected) triplet!

Then here comes "torture". What kind of child's poem is this? Well, I already know that it's a punishment poem, an extra assignment that must be a minimum of twelve lines long; and is in fact exactly twelve lines long, the shortest of which is just the one 3 letter word "you". But it needed to be its own line -- it wasn't put by itself only as an "Up yours!" to the assigner, but the dig is delivered all the same.

It's a line by itself because the forced rhyme using the made-up-but-fitting word "scorcher" precedes it. ("Don't let it scorcher you;" as in don't let them burn your butt -- another sentiment along the lines of "Question Authority" or "Illegitimi non Carborundum"). That one word line, "you." forms a bridge to the second half of the poem, like the instrumental interlude of a 1960's pop song. One more quick verse, again with the twist away from the nursery rhyme couplet, to a strong rhyme of "very rude" and "altitude" with a nice metaphor rising ("Lower your altitude"), rather than the would've-been-trite "Adjust your attitude." Then we build steam like the little-engine-that-could: "I can try, I can succeed. Just let your will power plead" That is, it's gonna take some fortitude, but it's in you, if you'll only listen to yourself.

(Okay so I'm a little biased as the father and privy to extra insights, but hey.)
(Also, in writing this I learned that "Illegitimi non Carborundum" is not really Latin, but an example of what has been termed a "mock-Latin aphorism". And me with two semesters of Latin at University. Oh well. Carpe diem!)

Monday, February 04, 2008


In the spirit of Dave Winer's I'm a California Voter for Obama, I'm an Alabama Voter for Obama.
I stopped by the Huntsville Obama Headquarters at lunch and picked up a couple bumper stickers. There was a lot of buzz a-happening there this afternoon. Tomorrow should be a banner day.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

D'You Know Juno? And the Sound of August Rush?

I don't remember buying a "soundtrack album" since Pretty in Pink, until recently that is, and I've bought two in the last couple months. The music opens up Juno and I caught myself thinking thinking that it's going to be a loooonnng movie if we have to listen to this low rent folk for 2 hours, but even that first tune (All I Want Is You by Barry Louis Polisar) quickly grows on you as you realize that it gloves the movie.

Back to the first soundtrack, which was August Rush, I got it for my wife for Christmas. (I wrote about the film here.) Van Morrison's "Moondance" is the classic here but it's the interplay of the music and the world and the world of the film that makes this one special. It's rich and symphonic and Irish rock and experimental; ethereal then cathartic.

Juno's got The Kinks, Mott the Hoople and The Velvet Underground providing classics (and Sonic Youth's cover of The Carpenters' "Superstar" which I hadn't heard before and it's pretty devo). But it's The Moldy Peaches and Kimya Dawson that rule the film and set the tone. The simple arrangements and acoustics sucked me in to the characters. Not that I identify with Juno herself much, at least not with her predicament (Uh, teen, pregnant). I didn't feel any parallels with Bleeker either (Hmm. What'd'ya think, Cindy?). Maybe high school was just too long ago. I did empathize with Juno's dad (J.K. Simmons); and with the Would-Be-Adoptive-Father-Wishes-He-Still-Rock-n-Rolled (Jason Bateman).

And the Juno soundtrack has Liner Notes! They're written by the Director, Jason Reitman and provide nice insights, just like Liner Notes of old!

Come to think of it, my son did buy the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? when it was fresh (2000) and these are in that same vein.

(I only see one soundtrack album on David Rawson's top album lists (1996's Trainspotting came it at #72 and he usually only takes the top 40), but there are more individual songs scattered among his top 100 songs lists so maybe there's something here to his liking....)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Dem's L.A. Love Fest

I caught a few minutes of the Democratic “debate” last night, and some of the analysis on NPR this morning on my drive to work. I was glad to see that the candidates refused to take any serious snipes at each other. I suspect that what precipitated that is that McCain is now the presumptive nominee for the Republicans. He is the strongest opponent, precisely because I’m not alone in thinking that among the Republican candidates, he is the one I would prefer if we had to have another Republican President next. That is, a lot of moderate Republicans and Independents won’t cross away from him the way they would from Romney, Giuliani, or Huckabee. (We don’t, by the way. Have to have another Republican next in the White House, that is.)

So Obama and Clinton cooled the hostilities, and even didn’t dismiss a ticket pairing the two of them as P and VP.

McCain won’t energize the evangelical Christians, so that will cost the Rep’s some votes, unless Hillary is at the top of the Dem ticket, then they’ll come out just to vote against her. I suppose it’s also possible that a third party far right Christian could appear and split some vote off from McCain, but they may be too savvy at this point for that (unlike the liberals, where Nader would still like to jump in).

If Obama is on the Dem. ticket at all I think he will energize a lot of young people and a lot of African Americans – both groups with a lot of folks who might not vote at all otherwise, so it is just a net gain, not a double gain where the votes are actually pulled away from the other party. To do that he needs to be at the top of the ticket, then the Religious Right may stay home on Election Day. That combination could swing some of the southern “red” states to the Dems, enough to counter the loss of a big swing state like Ohio or Florida should that happen, and it could if McCain picks up a bunch of independent middle-aged and older white male votes.

Hopefully Edwards will continue to pull energy into the Democratic electorate. He still needs a job, and while he isn’t exactly Bobby Kennedy, I’ve already heard speculation of his being appointed Attorney General.