(1) Listening, from The Definitive Chet Baker (Verve, Blue Note)
“Born To Be Blue” (Robert Wells-Mel Torme) Bobby Scott, piano, arranger; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Chet Baker, vocal; Recorded November 14, 1964 in New York City
I realize, after listening several times, that good performances are effortless, the music simply being, unfolding in ease and perfection, as it is meant to be.
(2) A noise.
Before leaving the house at eight o’clock one evening for a walk, I heard a loud, obnoxious sound that was familiar, but I could not tell what it was. I am accustomed in summer to hear the sounds of lawn mowers and weed eaters. Three blocks away, I encountered a heavy set man using a leaf blower, blowing grass clippings. I was glad when he stopped so that I could hear birds going to roost and summer insects of the night.
The Inland Island by Josephine W. Johnson, Illustrations by Mel Klaphotz, Simon and Schuster, 1969.
I first read this book the year it was published, forty-four years ago. I was a senior at Wake Forest. I don’t remember how I found the book , but it made a good impression on me. I have kept it and re-read it only this week.
It is an account of Nature on a farm in Ohio. The twelve chapters are entitled by the names of the months of a year. Each chapter is an observation of what is happening in nature that month. Interspersed in these observations are philosophic comments about nature and about the Vietnam War.
Sometimes there are catalogues of things that Johnson sees on walks or as she sits quietly. I have made a list of plants and birds that I don’t know and want to find out about. My favorite catalogue is a list of things that are blue.
There are extended observations of an opossum, sounds of owls, a mockingbird establishing territory, cardinals in courtship, ladybird beetles, aphids, and a tense time when she stared down a fox. “I was afraid. Her eyes were cold and amber . . . . The sound in her throat went on and on and I thought of moving backwards, then did not move at all, and only returned her chilly stare. . . . The silent confrontation without communion came finally to an end. The growling ceased, the fox simply turned away and trotted off into the snakeroot and was gone. . . . She had decided I was not a dangerous thing. . . . I was dismissed and felt very grateful and somewhat shaken. There had not been much distance between me and that delicate sharp muzzle. I did not really feel I had outstared her. She had decided when the meeting should be done.”
Johnson’s descriptions are often memorable: “The robin is a large, refreshing bird. A sturdy bird. An oak tree of the bird world.” And sometimes she has fun: “Man has few friends anywhere in the insect world. Among the winged and studded, the bristling, spiked, armored, cusped and corniculated, the hairy and waxy, the creeping and crawling, warty and needled, the forceped and mandibled, piercing, humping, stabbing, the glabrous, oily, hair and downy, among the whole blind and bright-eyed stubborn, swarming, instinct-driven hordes that inhabit the earth and every green living plant thereon, we can count only a small, half-hearted little band of bugs as allies. We had better treasure this little palace guard, for the enemies’ name is legion.”
Her views of the Vietnam War are definite, defiant, and often bitter. “We think of children in this Christmas season. There should be services in all the churches for the children. For the children blinded and homeless in Vietnam, for the children robbed of childhood and turned into thieves and prostitutes, orphaned and mutilated. . . . There should be services in the churches for the children of the poor here at home, who have been robbed of their education, robbed of their heritage, to pay for this vast, mindless sinning. Childhood and manhood wiped out by war. . . . We think of the thousands of young men dead in the war as of this hour. The young men wounded, burned, blinded, paralyzed in the strange perversion of this child’s teaching.”
The year was a cross-roads for me. It was the year the draft lottery was instated, and the number drawn for my birthday would determine whether I be drafted into the armed services or begin teaching. I was moved by both themes of this book.
I found my annotations from 1969 interesting. Several referred to novels of William Styron, which I had recent read for a research paper. I did not remember the references. And I realized that I must re-read the book soon. I do not have another forty-four years to wait to read it again.
Thank you for reading. I hope your week will be good.