Good-bye to a Tree

“Every part of nature teaches that the passing away of one life is the making room for another. The oak dies down to the ground, leaving within its rind a rich virgin mould, which will impart a vigorous life to an infant forest. The pine leaves a sandy and sterile soil, the harder woods a strong and fruitful mould. So this constant abrasion and decay makes the soil of my future growth. As I live now so shall I reap.”
—From the Journal of Henry David Thoreau, October 24, 1837

***

March, 2014

***

A year or two ago, I came across a passage, its source now slipped through the holes in my memory, in which the writer was talking about his grandfather who had received a terminal medical diagnosis and was forced to leave his home. The grandfather had been on the land his whole life, I think in Italy, with all that such long, deep immersion implies...

Read More

Mourning for Democracy in Wisconsin: A Short Howl of Outrage

There is more than a little bit of irony on this day of mourning for an ex-president widely reputed for his decency and placing love of country above party and partisanship, when in Wisconsin and Michigan, just as occurred in North Carolina in 2016, those values are being systematically trashed by the very party he led.

A news item from PBS:

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Republicans moved quickly Monday with a rare lame-duck session that would change the 2020 presidential primary date and make sweeping changes to the duties of the governor and attorney general’s offices.

The changes being sought would shift power to the GOP-controlled Legislature and allow outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker to make one last major mark on the state’s political landscape after he lost re-election in November.

Republicans forged ahead despite threats of lawsuits, claims by Democratic Gov...

Read More

The Solace of Rainbows

Don’t know about you, but I feel myself wearying of being in the dark thrall of a mad man. (Making that two words was intentional—he’s just angry, and thus engenders none of the empathy and understanding due someone who may be mentally ill.)

Knocked off balance by such brazen amorality and conniving, I have joined millions of others in groping toward a prudent response, but no amount or vehemence of thought or critique seems to suffice. Resist, yes, a solemn duty, but ultimately, it will likely be less outsiders’ resistance and more his self-immolation that will be the defining moment of this—and his—time.

Once again, Icarus flying high in his own fathomless self-regard, too close to the sun. It is a story as old as the first storytellers told.

***

Meanwhile, what other stories might we access in this time of trial? How might we break free, toward brighter lights and better angels within and am...

Read More

Brilliant Songs #5: Brandy Clark’s “What’ll Keep Me Out Of Heaven”

Ran into Brandy Clark last night. Well, not on the sidewalk or at the grocery, but on the Internet, as I was thinking and listening hard to a bunch of songs by Loretta Lynn. Then something or other happened in that way the world of links works, and suddenly, here was this youngish (43) singer-songwriter hailing from rural Washington, saying hello via the dozen songs from her 2013 debut album, “12 Stories.”

Talk about an unbidden fall harvest. These are tales of flesh-and-blood people, mostly working-class, often plain beyond imagining, but no less engaged in the struggle to get some type of lasso around their world and bring it to heel. What complicates things is that the lasso is often frayed, as are their reflexes and nerves.

I found myself considering half a dozen or more songs that could have worked for inclusion in this “Brilliant Songs” series...

Read More

Mid-Term Musing: The Coarsening of the American Mind

Thirty-one years ago, the late political philosopher and cultural critic Allan Bloom wrote a book that his publishers expected would sell a paltry few copies to university types. Instead, it went on, in an improbable pre-Internet version of “going viral,” to occupy a high perch on best-seller lists for four months. (And generate heated discussion among the intelligentsia for years after that.)

Its title: “The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students.”

In it, Bloom, a classicist who was admitted to the University of Chicago at age 15 and graduated three years later, excoriated what he saw as the flabbiness of thought, discourse and morality among ‘60s-influenced students and faculty...

Read More