March. Temperatures remain winter-cold. On walks I notice a few changes: some forsythia, daffodils are blooming. They have been hurt by the freezing temperatures at night. Earliest leaves are light green on my neighbor’s weeping willow tree. Grasses in the yards are beginning to grow. Soon I’ll go out and rake around and see what I can see. Days are longer, and soon we’ll change the time to make them seem even longer. There is more bird song in the air. Grackles are back. A flock of fifty-six (quickly counted) descended on my yard and feeders at 3:40 one afternoon. They fed for ten minutes. Two grackles of the flock perched, one on each feeder, and raked its contents onto the ground. I could have made two pies of four-and-twenty blackbirds, if I knew how to trap them. If I knew how to dress them. If I knew how to bake them into pies.
Church Youth Food Drive. The youth group at our church does an excellent job collecting food and money to buy food for the poor. To encourage cash contributions, they have made a competition in which people can contribute money by marking their contributions by college name. (Think: basketball) Each Sunday during the drive, they tell in worship service how much money has been contributed in the name of Duke, Carolina, State, or several other colleges. My adult Sunday School class has been interrputed each Sunday by their arrival, asking for donations. Two boys and two girls arrived last Sunday carrying sacks with college names. I said, “Let’s see. I can contribute money for food in the name of Duke, in the name of Carolina, in the name of NC State. Where is a bag to which I contribute in the name of Jesus Christ?” They all stood there, stunned by the question. Their teacher, standing in the hallway by the open classroom door asked them, “What is the answer?” They continued standing there silent until a good half-minute passed, when one of the girls said, “They all are.” I asked if they would announce that in church. They said they would. They didn’t. During the church service following Sunday School, they menioned only the names of schools when they announced the totals of the money in the competition.
Opera. Last Saturday I drove to Greensboro to a movie theater to view Metropolitan Opera High Definition Broadcast of Parsifal. The work held my rapt attention for the entire six hours. Particularly effective was the communion service at the end of Act I, in which the knights shared the blessings of the Grail with one another. Movements were stylized and slow and underscored by Wagner’s magnificent music. It was a moving celebration. One need not be spiritual or Christian to be moved by this opera of quest, suffering, devotion, redemption, grace. I understand that next season the Met will similarly record 10 of the 26 operas they perform. I will try to view as many as possible.
Nonfiction. Bailey White, Sleeping at the Starlite Motel. I generally alternate reading of fiction and nonfiction. When I turned to my stack of nonfiction to read, I saw that I had none. I went to the shelves of nonfiction that I love and re-read White’s excellent book of short essays. Many are short narratives of adventures. Others are sketches of interesting people. I enjoyed again the narratives of having tea while visiting a childhood friend now living in Paris, enjoying the “native air” of home, visiting state parks, bathing in a hot spring, visiting an operating one-room school house in Vermont, visiting a fish camp in Florida, going to weddings, taking the yearly trip to an island off the coast of Georgia, visiting for the last time the family doctor and anticipating experiences with the new doctor, going spelunking, skipping computer classes and going to dog races with a colleague, seeing horror movies made by her father in Hollywood. I especially like the lyrical “Sleeping at the Starlite Motel,” a tribute to cleanliness and simplicity and comfort. I met again interesting characters: an eccentric aunt remembering plumbing disasters, family members at a reunion of those who own chairs from a set, a rat exterminator, a woman lost in the past, living in the summer in which she was the Rose Queen, a typewriter repairman, an aunt who gives healing rocks to sick people, rural folk artists inspired by God, an old hippy who runs a fruit tree nursery, a man who cares for Tennessee Walking horses, a religious man who runs a produce stand, hoping to meet someone from Idaho, a woman content to live in a rapidly deteriorating house.
Nonfiction. Kenneth C. Davis, Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents. This book is a brief summary of the lives of the Presidents and of the political and historic events in their terms of office. It presents and evaluates the accomplishments of each and then assigns and defends an over-all grade of performance. I started reading with the Presidents of my lifetime. Here they are, with their grades: Truman (A); Eisenhower (A); Kennedy (B); Johnson (B); Nixon (D); Ford (C); Carter (D); Reagan (A); George Bush (C); Clinton (B); W. Bush (F); Obama (I). The book is entertaining and superficial. I’m not sure I’ll know much more about the American Presidents than I had known before. There is for each President a short bigliography for continued and more complex reading, should the reader be so inclined.
A Blessing. I longed to learn something by Bach. As I read through the “Allemande” of the Second French Suite, I knew again the power and presence of controlled and measured music. It was a pleasure to the hands, the ear, the soul. I played the three voices together, and then separately, and then cross-handed, and the sounds opened to me a world I had long missed.
Another Blessing. “Lord, bless those hands, the harvesters. Bless / the travlers who gather our food, and those / who grow it, clean it, cook it, who bring it to our tables– Bless the laborers whose faces we do not see–” Natasha Trethewey, from “Invocation, 1926” in The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food & Drink, edited by Kevin Young.
Thank you for reading. Be in touch, if you’d like.