Month: September 2015


“A conjoined hare was so formed as to exhibit a double set of limbs and heads. The fusion, according to the chronicler, had taken place along the dorsal plane in such a way that when one set of legs was resting on the ground, the second set was lifted toward the sky. This ‘Double Hare of Germany’ astounded its persecutors by being able to run for long distances without showing signs of fatigue. The reason, says the quaint account, was that through periodic rolling on the ground the ingenious hare managed to alternate the use of each set of limbs and was on each turn carried by limbs that had been previously resting.”

~ F. Gonzalez-Crussi, Notes of an Anatomist



“Do you not think, O wise man that you are, that our knowledge of anything whatsoever is imperfect if it is confined to the exact notion of that thing, if it is limited to the truth? …I certainly think, for my part, that reality, always infinitely more rich than the true, comprises, on every subject and in every matter, the quantity of misunderstandings, of myths, of childish stories and beliefs which the minds of men necessarily produce.…I have noticed that there is not a thing in the world that has not been adorned with dreams, held for a sign, explained by some miracle, and this all the more as the concern with knowing the origins and first circumstances is more naively potent. And that is doubtless why a philosopher whose name I have forgotten coined the maxim: IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE FABLE.”

~ Paul Valéry, The Dialogue of the Tree


“The unadmitted reason why traditional readers are hostile to e-books is that we still hold the superstitious idea that a book is like a soul, and that every soul should have its own body. The condensation of millions of books on a single device, or their evaporation in a data cloud, seems to presage what is destined to happen to our souls, to the coming end of selfhood, even of embodiment. If this sounds fanciful, imagine what a lover of hand-written codices might have thought in 1450 about the rise of print. Manuscripts, he would protest, were once rare, hard to create, dedicated to holy or venerable subjects; print would make them cheap, derivative, profane, and easily disposable. And didn’t exactly this happen to human beings in the age of print, which is the modern age?”

~ Adam Kirsch, Rocket and Lightship


“When the old Liberals removed the gags from all the heresies, their idea was that religious and philosophical discoveries might thus be made. Their view was that cosmic truth was so important that everyone ought to bear independent testimony. The modern idea is that cosmic truth is so unimportant that it cannot matter what anyone says. The former freed inquiry as men loose a noble hound; the latter free inquiry as men fling back into the sea a fish unfit for eating.”

~ G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

Home and the Woods

From the window of my home office I look onto the backyard and the patchy remnants of a lawn ravaged by an unusually hot summer. There is a dwarf Japanese maple, a slim pillaresque juniper, the leafy stump of a ginkgo tree that someone tried and failed to kill, a jasmine vine reaching for the beams of our covered patio, and a tree which I’ve been unable able to identify but which looks like it grew from a Dr. Seuss book. On one side of the house is a modest rhododendron and on the other a rose that’s gone feral in a gap between fence and garage, its branches reaching more than seven feet high.

The birds we see are familiar enough. There are evening robins and no end of crows; there are scrub jays and hummingbirds, chickadees and the tiny amiable bushtits that move in  groups through the trees like a softly peeping choir. One bird we rarely saw in the San Francisco Bay Area but see every day here in Portland is the northern flicker. The flicker is a woodpecker the size of a scrub jay with a spotted breast, a gray head, red wing and tail shafts, and bright red malars (in the male). In the spring mating season, flickers drumming on your home’s wooden siding will tell you if you have an insect infestation that needs addressing.

I have this idea that I ought to map it out and write up a natural history of our little territory, naming all the species of plant and animal that make themselves at home here, and those we see passing through. I’m curious to learn to what degree fall and spring species overlap, and to track our summer visitors against our winter visitors. My daughter got a jump on me and has already begun naming and describing the neighborhood cats in a little book of her own. There’s Carbonel, for example, a bony black tom that lives up the street; around the corner is Titus, a fat light-gray tabby patterned like a snow leopard.

Sometimes I think about the forest that grew here before Lewis and Clark paddled through and people like us began settling the area. Walking the neighborhood in the evening with my family, I imagine us passing down ghostly aisles of fir trees. But while the wolves and bears may be gone, replaced by dogs and cats, the forest itself isn’t really gone. It’s only changed. The trees are still standing in the form of 1920s bungalows like our own, built with beams of old-growth wood and shingled in pine and cedar. Like so many creatures of feather and claw before us, we’ve only made a temporary home in their branches.


“As long as a word remains unspoken, you are its master; once you utter it, you are its slave.”

~ Solomon Ibn Gabirol, The Choice of Pearls