Summer is becoming tired. For a couple of weeks, the dogwood leaves have been dusty looking, turned inward. The crepe myrtles have finished blazing. Some tress have no blossoms left. My pink crepe myrtle is loaded with buds, and time may bring late blooming yet. The leaves of a large sycamore at the north end of the street are coloring yellow. There are still lightning bugs. The marigold plant just started blooming last Sunday. Change time yes. This Saturday (22nd) is autumn. Old Farmer’s Almanac says that this is the earliest autumn since 1896.
A week of cooler and drier weather was a blessing. Sleeping with opened window, fresh air throughout the house. The grass did not need weekly mowing for the first time since April. Yesterday was a day of rain and wind and overcast and tornado watches. Mowing will be in order as soon as the grass dries out. And then other yard work to help autumn keep things slower.
Walking in the Veterans’ Garden early one evening, I greeted a couple with a happy and big dog. Much of the garden is being renovated. In one area everything is blooming. There are tall plants blooming red and small plants blooming purple. The small plants were emitting a muted cloying smell, like the perfume of a great-grandmother. Who planted them?
The rocker on my porch is large and old. It is made of wicker, and it has a comfortable cushion. In Denver it was in my bedroom, but now in the South it looks appropriate on my porch. On the cooler, drier days I sit and rock and look. After school, children have scooters, skateboards, basketballs, baseballs. Since a storm took the pear tree on June 1, there is a big opening of western sky, which is beautiful to see, especially at sunset. I missed the tree for the shade all summer, but it will be glorious to see that expanse of sky this fall and winter, especially when the neighbor across the street isn’t burning his spotlights. A few nights ago I sat there until I saw one star. Before I left, I noticed that a spider was building a web at the top corner of the porch. Happy hunting, and good evening, spider.
Fiction of the week. (1) Thomas McGuane, “The Casserole,” the story in the Sept. 10 issue of The New Yorker. It’s a story that lends itself well to discussion. The point of view: how aware of the situation of the imminent ending of the marriage is the narrator? What is the significance of crossing from place to place on a ferry? What is the ironic use of the casserole as an image of ending, beginning a life in a place? For a couple of years in Denver, the school bought for two of my senior English classes a subscription to The New Yorker and each week we read and discussed the story and sometimes the poetry. Students did various projects on other pieces in the magazine according to their interests. When I come across a story like this, I miss teaching perhaps the most. (2) Wiley Cash, A Land More Kind Than Home. The multiple point of view adds complexity to narration and characterization. It is expertly used. The harrowing message is that evil sometimes is expunged by violence, leaving hope for new life. Evil is also overcome by reconciliation. The action is narrated directly, enhanced by the flashbacks. The use of images reflecting the violence, or potential violence, of situations adds to the forboding atmospheres: the bully child, the painful splinter, the dark barn, the threatening thunder cloouds. A first-rate novel set in the mountains of North Carolina.
Nonfiction of the week. (1) “Rooms” by Garry Somers. It’s the opening piece in The Blotter Magazine, October 2012. The Blotter Magazine is “The South’s unique, free, international literature and arts magazine.” Go where such things are to pick up free and read “Rooms.” My saying more, as you will see, is not needed. (2) The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. On the first page of this New York Times Best Seller, this unabashed hubris: “How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearer of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” (Quest for knowledge is not the same as quest for wisdom. Do these writers know the difference?) Philosophy is dead? Is that right? The Bulletin of Wake Forest University, 2012, announces that the university’s undergraduate school has thirteen philosophy teachers and forty-seven courses. Let’s let teachers and students in Philosophy 377, Metaphysics; Philosophy 378, Philosophy of Space and Time; Philsophy 376, Epistemology; and Philsophy 373, Philosophy of Science read and evaluate the book and see how dead philosophy is.
That said, thebook is an entertaining and clearly written treatment of advances in physics. It begins with an overview of achievement in the sciences from ancient Greece to the twentieth century. Because certain concepts developed later in the book require a reader to understand Feynman’s view of “quantam reality,” the authors give a thorough explanation of Feynman’s ideas. Helpful color plates help the reader understand difficult concepts. The glossary is useful. I found myself reading through it before reading the next segment of the book. I particularly enjoyed the theory that the universe created itself. I found myself understanding many of the concepts, though not all. I read slowly and carefully, but I did not re-read for complete understanding. The search for these writers is “That abstract consideration of logic lead to a unique theory that predicts and describes a vast universe full of the amazing variety that we see.” The finding will be the grand design of the title. The book is a good, interesting reading in the context of arrogance that I’d like to see countered, evaluated, or confirmed by teachers and students of philosophy.
I am alternating viewing DVD’s from Netflix: Ken Burns’s “Civil War” and Cesar Milan’s “The Dog Whisperer.” I hope the Burns documentary will include mention of the war poems of Melville and Whitman. Yes, Melville had concerns besides that white whale, and I’ll re-read Whitman’s “Drum-Taps” and “Memories of President Lincoln,” all sublime poems.
Thank you for reading. I hope you will have a good week.