Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Minute Meditation

The white blossoms of pear trees and the slashes of red earth in the grasses, the brown rivers high and roiling.  The sky is the very blue of serenity, and the horizons are so far away as to exceed the reach of vision.  But here, just here, is a small bird hopping.

-- N. Scott Momaday --
from Again the Far Morning:  New and Selected Poems

This quotation is from the section of the book titled "Notebook."   There are a number of entries in the section, some of which I recognize as related to poems in this book, but I don't recognize this one.  However, it is one of those statements that cause me to read and pause and reread and reread again, but I am never sure why. 

Is the bird simply a distraction or is Momaday making a point here,  one which I'm missing?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

John Muir: life in the mountains

The following is an excerpt from John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir.

"These beautiful days must enrich all my  life.  They do not exist as mere pictures--maps hung upon the walls of memory to  brighten at times when touched by association or will, only to sink again like a landscape in the dark;  but they saturate themselves into every part of the body and live always."

-- John Muir --
from John Muir: In His Own Words

It's the same when I listen to my favorite musical works, the ones that I don't just hear,  but I can feel in my bones

Monday, November 21, 2016

P. D. James: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories

P. D. James
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories
Intro by Val McDermid
Preface by P. D. James

P. D. James is my favorite mystery writer.   The only works of hers that I haven't read are a true-crime work in collaboration with T. A. Critchley and her autobiography.   Consequently I was overjoyed to discover that there was now a collection of several of her short stories in print.  I hadn't even been aware that she had written any shorter works, so I immediately searched the public library for a copy.  I'm now thinking about getting my own

The first two stories are flashback tales, the third is a cold case mystery, and the fourth is a contemporary crime.  The third and fourth are a joy to read because I thought that there would be no more Adam Dalgliesh stories. 

"The Mistletoe Murder"

The anonymous 1st person narrator is a "bestselling crime novelist" who explains her part in a murder that happen many years ago.  The others are dead now, so it's safe to finally tell what happened.

It happened during WWII.  Her husband was an RAF  pilot who was killed two weeks after they were married.   That Christmas she received an invitation from her grandmother to spend the holidays with her.  There would be only one person there besides them, a first cousin, Paul, whom she had never met because of a family feud.

When she arrived, she found that her grandmother had misled her:  there was another person there.  He was Rowland Maybrick, a distant family relation and an antique dealer who specialized in old coins.  Her grandmother had invited him to evaluate a coin collection and possibly locate buyers.  The narrator found him obnoxious.

On the evening of  Christmas Day, Maybrick decides to evaluate the coins, for he has to leave the following morning.  The next day, Maybrick does not appear for breakfast, and he hasn't slept in his bed.  A search begins, and his body is found in the library (where else in a stately isolated mansion?), his head bashed in.  The local constabulary is called in, and he decides he must have been killed by an intruder.

So the matter rests until the narrator, the young woman who will become a "bestselling crime novelist" begins her own investigation.

"A Very Commonplace Murder"

Many years ago, a married woman was found stabbed to death in an apartment.  She had left a note for her friend, who had given her the key,  in which she explains that she was going to end the affair for her husband was getting suspicious.   Various witnesses placed him in the vicinity of the apartment on the evening she was murdered.  In spite of the circumstantial evidence against him, the young lover insisted he was innocent.  He had been there, but she never let him in.   It's all very ordinary, commonplace as the title suggests.  However, it is not quite so commonplace as believed..

She gave the old man the key to the apartment, but she'd been in real estate long enough to know he wasn't a serious inquirer.  Why he wanted to look around, she didn't know, but it wasn't any of her business.  She was  right, though; Ernest Gabriel did have his reasons. 

Gabriel had evidence in support of the young lover's story.  There was, however, a slight problem.  First, he would have to explain what he was doing in a place that he had no right to be in at that time.   Secondly, he would have had to explain why he was there, and that would have been even more embarrassing.   To sum up his problem: if he told the police what he know, he would most likely lose his job and be blacklisted by his former employer.  In addition, he would become an object of ridicule, such that the few people who knew him would laugh and sneer at him.  On the one hand, his job and reputation would be at risk; on the other hand, an innocent man's life was at risk.

The young lover is arrested, and Gabriel decides to wait, for the police may find more evidence and free the young man.  Then, Gabriel's sacrifice would have been in vain.  Best to wait until the lover is actually charged.  Then he would speak.  The young man is charged with the crime . . .

This is less of a mystery and more of a psychological study of a man caught in a trap of his own devising.  It wouldn't have occurred if he hadn't been where he shouldn't have been and doing what he knew he shouldn't be doing.

"The Boxdale Inheritance"

This, in a sense,  is a cold case mystery, one of my favorite types.  It's a bit unusual for, as best as I can remember, it's the only cold case that the Met's  Adam Dalgliesh has been involved in.  In addition, it's not a formal investigation, for Dalgliesh is doing this on his own time for his godfather, Canon Hubert Boxdale.

Great Aunt Allie had just left Canon Boxdale the tidy sum of fifty thousand pounds. His wife has serious medical problems, and the unexpected inheritance seems almost miraculous.  This, however, posed a problem for the Canon, and he wished Inspector Dalgliesh would look into it.   Ir was a matter of conscience.  Some sixty-seven years ago Great Aunt Allie, as a very young woman, married a rich older man.  The man's family was upset, for she was a few months younger than the old man's granddaughter, and he had made a new will that left her everything. You may decide for yourself which was the most distressing.

Several months later he died, and an autopsy revealed that he had been poisoned.  Great Aunt Allie was charged, tried, and found Not Guilty.  Now, some sixty-seven years later she dies and leaves Canon Boxdale fifty thousand pounds.  The Canon is worried that the money may be tainted in that she murdered her husband to get it.  He asks Dalgliesh to investigate and decide whether he can honestly and without any doubt accept the verdict of Not Guilty.

Chief Inspector Dalgliesh investigates with his usual thoroughness and does come to a conclusion, but not without undergoing a matter of conscience of his own.

"The Twelve Clues of Christmas"

The title, of course, is a play on the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  And, there are twelve clues.  Unfortunately I didn't take the title seriously, so I wasn't really counting the clues as they appeared.  I did pick up a few though.

Sgt. Adam Dalgliesh is on his way to spend Christmas with his Aunt Jane, when occurs that cliched opening to an adventure.  He is driving down a lonely road, not far from his Aunt Jane's place, when a man "leaps from the side of the road in the darkness of a winter afternoon, frantically waving down the approaching motorist . . ."

Dalgliesh stops and Helmut Harkerville excitedly asks Dalgliesh to take him to a telephone.  He must call the police for his uncle has just committed suicide.  That task accomplished, Dalgliesh then takes him back to Harkerville Hall.  (These isolated mansions in the countryside keep popping up everywhere).   Dalgliesh unofficially looks around and then turns it over to the local constabulary.

Unfortunately, he's still involved.  He has just begun to relax at Aunt Jane's when Inspector Peck arrives.  Peck has called the Met and discovered that Dalgliesh is a bit of a fair-haired boy there and requests his help.  Dalgliesh sighs;  there goes that quiet evening in conversation with Aunt Jane in front of a fireplace with a drink in hand. (In an interview, James had said that her favorite author was Jane Austen.  The aunt's name is a coincidence, I'm sure),

He returns with Inspector Peck, and they conduct a thorough search of the place.  Afterwords, Inspector Peck asks, "So what stuck you particularly about this little charade?"

Sgt. Dalgliesh responds, "A number of oddities, Sir.  If this were a detective story, you could call it 'The Twelve Clues of Christmas.'"

(James is having some fun with us--doing a little post-modern stuff here.)

Dalgliesh continues:  "'It's taken a little mental agility to get the number to twelve, but I thought it appropriate.'

"'Cut out the cleverness, laddie, and get to the facts.'"

And, so Sgt.  Dalgliesh gets to the facts, the twelve clues.

As for the type of a story this is, Sgt Dalgliesh says it best in the last words of the tale: "My dear Aunt Jane, I don't think I'll ever have another case like it.  It was pure Agatha Christie."

These are four enjoyable tales, and they are pure P. D. James.  The only problem is that there are only four.  Now that I know that P. D., James has written some short stories, I will conduct a little investigation of my own: are there more?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Colin Dexter: The Last Bus to Woodstock

Colin Dexter
The Last Bus to Woodstock
Police Procedural
Oxford, UK
Detective:  Inspector Morse

This is the first in the highly acclaimed series featuring Inspector Morse.  I first encountered Morse in the BBC/WGBH TV adaptations on Mystery Theatre.  I think they produced most of the novels and then went on to televise another 20 or more shows based on the characters created by Colin Dexter.  The TV shows introduced me to Inspector Morse and Sgt. Lewis just as they introduced me to a several other mystery series, including P. D. James' Commander Adam Dalgleish.

In this novel, Morse and Lewis work together for the first time and establish their professional and personal relationships that will extend through another twelve novels.  In addition, the basic themes that permeate the series appear here.  Most prominent are, of course, his drinking and his irascibility.  In addition, he falls in love with one of the suspects,  a very questionable act in a murder investigation.  He also has a great love for classical music and is usually shown listening to some work while at home. 

Moreover, he works his way through several theories about the identity of the murderer, each of which he is absolutely convinced is the only possible solution.  This results in  the ongoing conflict between Morse and Sgt. Lewis, who is far more cautious and reluctant to settle on one theory when he sees other possibilities.  And, as usual, Sgt. Lewis does most of the tedious and tiresome research which ultimately produces the clues Morse jumps on to solve the case.

My major problem with this novel is the character of the killer.  I don't find it believable.  At the end of the novel, I was reminded of another mystery I had read in which I also found the identity of the killer hard to accept.  Something was wrong.

It so happened that I read that book for a mystery group, and the author attended the meeting.  Hoping to get some sort of discussion on the issue started, I asked the author if she plans out her novels in advance or begins with an incident or character and goes on from there. She said she had planned this one out, but when she got near the end, she felt it wasn't going to work with that character as the killer, so she changed and made another character the killer.  I think that was the problem, that there was inadequate preparation that tied the new character to the crime.

I wonder if something similar happened in Dexter's novel.  He had set it up so that one character would be the killer, but near the end, he changed his mind.

In any case, it was an enjoyable read.  He went on to write another 12 novels and short stories about the cases of Inspector Morse and Sgt. Lewis.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ray Bradbury: Long After Midnight, "One Timeless Spring"

Ray Bradbury
"One Timeless Spring"
Long After Midnight

"One Timeless Spring" is the second story in the collection, Long After Midnight.  Just as the first story, "The Blue Bottle," could have been a part of  The Martian Chronicles, this story, at first glance, could have been included in Dandelion Wine (DW) .  It's the story of a young boy who lives in a small town. Moreover, his name is Doug, just as the young boy in DW is named Doug Spaulding.

One difference between this story and the others in DW  is that it is a flashback tale.  Doug is looking back at the events whereas the others are told in the present, if I remember correctly.  I think it would take a bit of revision to fit it in.  Perhaps another reason is the tone of the tale.  It doesn't seem to quite mesh with the overall tone of  DW.

For example, the story begins

That week, so many years ago, I thought my mother an father were poisoning me.  And now, twenty years later, I'm not so sure they didn't.  There's no way of telling.

He begins a journal.

"'I didn't know I was sick until this week,' I wrote.  'I've been sick for a long time.  Since I was ten.  I'm twelve now.'"

Doug then decides he doesn't want to grow up (the Peter Pan Principle?); he wishes to remain twelve.  Is he afraid of growing up, of joining that mysterious and possibly dangerous world of the adults?  He remains adamant about freezing at that age, and then he meets Clarisse.

Since I read this story, I heard about and eventually read Bradbury's sequel to Dandelion Wine, the title of which is Farewell Summer and have come to the conclusion that  "One Timeless Spring"  actually fits in better with Farewell Summer.  The overall theme is the same:  a fear of growing up.

Monday, November 14, 2016


                                                     November First

What I love best in autumn is the way that Nature takes her curtain, as the stage folk say.  The banner of the marshes furl, droop and fall.  The leaves descend in golden glory.  The ripe seeds drop and the fruit is cast aside. And so with slow chords in imperceptible fine modulations the great music draws to a close, and when the silence comes you can scarce distinguish it from the last far-off strains of the woodwinds and the horns.
-- Donald Culross Peattie --
from  Autumn:  A Spiritual Biography of the Season

A poetic description which ends with a musical motif.  My only quibble is that I don't think Nature has dropped the final curtain.  Nature is still around; it's just dropped the curtain for the end of  Act Three.  Act Four will be coming soon, and then, of course, it's not the end of the run.  Nature's Play is a long-running one and, while it may vary, it won't end (until the planet is no more). 

On a bitterly cold November night
The snow fell thick and fast---
First like hard grains of salt,
Then more like soft willow buds.
The flakes settled quietly on the bamboo
And piled up pleasingly on the pine branches.
Rather than turning to old texts, the darkness
Makes me feel like composing my own verse.
                                  -- Ryokan --
from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf
trans. John Stevens 

Interesting reaction; rejecting the past and turning to the future.   A wish for spring?

November Night

Listen . . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp'd \, break from the trees
And fall.

-- Adelaide Crapsey --
from  Art and Nature:  An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry

I remember those nights growing up in Chicago. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

John Haines: "If the Owl Calls Again"

I'm not sure why, but this poem struck a chord in me.  I know nothing about John Haines; I had never even heard of him until I read this poem in a collection.

If the Owl Calls Again

at dusk
from the island in the river,
and it's not too cold,

I'll wait for the moon
to rise,
then take wing and glide
to meet him.

We will not speak,
but hooded against the frost
soar above
the alder flats, searching
with tawny eyes.

And then we'll sit 
in the shadowy spruce and
pick the bones
of careless mice,

while the long moon drifts
toward Asia
and the river mutters
in its icy bed.

And when morning climbs
the limbs
we'll part without a sound,

fulfilled, floating
homeward as
the cold wold awakens.

-- John Haines --
from  Art and Nature: An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry 

A dream?   A vision?    A linking?    If this is a dream,  I would be sad for it was only a dream, but I also would be grateful for such  dreams.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Tomorrow, November 8, 2016,  is Election Day.  It is one of the most controversial and troubled elections we've ever had.  Predictions of doom emanate from each camp.  Inquiries from US citizens regarding immigration to Canada have dramatically increased.  But, the human race and the USA have suffered through worse situations in the past and survived.  Some have learned from the past and have written about what they have learned. 

Perhaps the following may help alleviate some of our concerns. 

No. 292

If we have a long-range view, then we realize that equilibrium comes in the course of nature's progression.  Nature does not achieve balance by keeping to one level.  Rather, elements and seasons alternate with one another in succession.  Balance, as defined by Tao, is not stasis but a dynamic process of many overlapping alternations; even if some phases seem wildly excessive, they are balanced by others.

Everything has its place.  Everything has its seasons.  As events turn, balance is to know what is here, what is coming, and how to be in perfect harmony with it.  Then one attains a state of sublimity that cannot be challenged.   

-- Deng Ming-Dao --
365 Tao:  Daily Meditations

Chapter 3

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes, 3:1-8.  KJV

     April's air stirs in
Willow-leaves--a butterfly
       Floats and balances
         -- Basho --
from A Little Treasury of Haiku 

Any thoughts?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Andrey Kurkov: Death and the Penguin, a novel

Andrey Kurkov
Death and the Penguin

A Militia major is driving along when he sees a militiaman standing with a penguin.

'Take him to the zoo,' he orders.

Some time later the same major is driving along when he sees the militiaman still with the penguin.

'What have you been doing?' he asks.  'I said take him to the zoo.'

'We've been to the zoo, Comrade Major,' says the militiaman, 'and the circus.  And now we're going to the pictures.'"

This quotation begins the novel by Andrey Kurkov, titled Death and the Penguin.  Kurkov is a Ukrainian writer born in 1961.  This novel was published in 1996,  after Ukraine gained its freedom from the USSR.

The penguin is real.  Its name is Misha.  The main character is Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov, a Ukrainian writer living in Kiev, Ukraine.  He's not very successful, unfortunately.    About a year before the story begins, his girlfriend had left him and he was lonely.  He heard that the local zoo was giving away animals because they couldn't afford to feed them.  He went to the zoo and came home with a king penguin.

Now, he has just been offered a job as an obituarist for a newspaper.  An obituarist is one who writes obituaries for living people.  At first he simply reads the papers and selects those who appear regularly in news articles and the gossip columns.  Shortly afterwords, his editor hands him a list of his next subjects, and soon he doesn't have time to select those he will write about.  But, it really makes no difference to him.

Then something strange happens.  Suddenly, his obituaries become needed shortly after he writes them.  His subjects are dying, unexpectedly, most violently.  Is there any connection? 

Well,  Viktor  seems to be involved in a way in some criminal activity, but it's in a very peripheral way.  He prefers to remain ignorant of what might be going on behind the lists he gets from his editor. He's just doing his job.   But the real world keeps impinging on his attempts to remain in the background.

The back cover blurb calls it  "A masterful tale set in post-Soviet Kiev that's both darkly funny and ominous."   I would add quirky to that description.

There is a sequel, Penguin Lost,  which picks up shortly after the events of Death and the Penguin. I will read that for the further adventures of Misha the Penguin.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXXVII

Quatrain LXXVII of the Second Edition refers back to the previous quatrain in the Second Edition:

Second Edition, Quatrain LXXVI
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on:  nor all your Piety nor Wit
      Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

The Moving Finger reference comes from the Bible, Book of Daniel, chapter 5, in which Daniel interprets the words written on Belshazzer's palace wall during a feastThe words predict Belshazzar's death and nothing can be done to change that.

 Second Edition:  Quatrain LXXVII

For let Philosopher and Doctor preach
Of what they will, and what they will not--each
      Is but one Link in an eternal Chain
That none can slip, nor break, nor overreach.  

This quatrain appeared first in the Second Edition and was then dropped from all following editions.  FitzGerald apparently had second thoughts about it.  One possible reason may be the theme.  The theme of the previous quatrain was the immutability of the past.  What has happened, has happened and can't be changed.  This quatrain goes beyond that and appears  to extend it into the future:  the philosophers and doctors are "but one Link in an eternal Chain."  This, to me anyway, hints at predestination, which is rejected by most Christians and Moslems, as far as I know.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Shakespeare's Farewell

The Tempest:  Act IV Scene 1

Prospero:  Be cheerful, sir:
Our revels now are ended.  These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.  We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

-- WS --

Note: The first mention of The Tempest is in the royal Account Books of the Revels Office: On Hallowmass night, November 1st 1611, a play called the "Tempest" was performed before that most cultured of kings, James 1.

line 8, inherit--occupy
line 10, rack--cloud

If and when I decide to end blogging, this will be my last post.