Sunday, October 31, 2010

Samhain: When the Summer Goes

My Beautiful House Ghost Constance Chauncey
Previously Incarnated as
Victorine of 814 and Priscilla of Pine

In The Book of the Year: A Brief History of our Seasonal Holidays, author and anthropologist Athony Aveni writes that "Halloween is the modern day version of Celtic Samhain, literally when the summer goes" (127). What a lovely translation! -- "When the summer goes." How perfectly those words capture the tone of All Hallows, All Saints, All Souls, and all the time-honored festive customs that have become our collective psyche's way of tuning into the cosmos, turning with the sun, bidding farewell to the summer, and greeting the Wiccan New Year (called Samhain, pronounced "sow - en).

Just last week, in connection with the ginkgo light (click or scroll down), I was quoting from one of the best children's Halloween books ever -- The Witch Family -- a clever little story of two clever little girls, Amy and Clarissa, whose drawings can shape the reality of their choosing. If they want the Halloween sky to look a certain way, well, then, they just draw it that way! If they want to befriend Little Witch Girl and fly wildly through the sky with Old Witch on Halloween night, they just insert themselves into that picture, and away they go!

Here are a couple more favorite Halloween passages from The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes:

"Amy sat back and thought, 'Yes,' she said. 'It has to be dark, very dark. And the sky must be the Halloween sky. And the moon must be the Halloween moon. And the clouds, the Halloween clouds. Everything will be scary and spooky and windy "' (137).

"Halloween shadows played upon the walls of the houses. In the sky the Halloween moon raced in and out of clouds. The Halloween wind was blowing, not a blasting of wind but a right-sized swelling, falling, and gushing of wind. It was a lovely and exciting night, exactly the kind of night Halloween should be. Amy's rapture was complete. She looked up at the sky" (144).

"What a Halloween it had been! How could she wait a whole year for the next one?" (177).

Or, as Barry Manilow sings:

"Oh how I hate to see October go . . .
It doesn't matter much
How old I grow
I hate to see October go"

(nice slide show).

Also by Anthony Aveni, Stairways to the Stars: Skywatching in Three Great Ancient Cultures [Stonehenge, Mayas, Incas], recommended by a tour guide on one of the bus trips I took on the Yucatan Peninsula a few years ago.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Isabella and the Pot of Basil




Isabella and the Pot of Basil, 1846
by English Pre-Raphaelite, William Holman Hunt (1827 - 1910)

"Isabella, or the Pot of Basil" is a long narrative poem by John Keats, adapted from a tale in Boccaccio's Decameron about a young woman whose family plans for her to marry a local wealthy landowner. Isabella, however, is in love with Lorenzo, who works as a clerk for her family. When her two controlling brothers learn of Isabella's inappropriate love interest, they murder Lorenzo in the woods. Isabella is at a loss until Lorenzo's ghost appears in a dream to inform her of his whereabouts. She proceeds to exhume the body, bury the head in a pot of basil, and go a little crazy.

Keats' poem was popular with the nostalgic sentimental Pre-Raphaelite painters, who illustrated it from several perspectives. First came William Holman Hunt's version (above) which in turn influenced several later artists:

Lorenzo and Isabella, 1849
by English Pre-Raphaelite, John Everett Millais (1829 - 1896)
Isabella and the Pot of Basil, 1879
by English Pre-Raphaelite, John Melhuish Strudwick (1849 - 1937)

Isabella and the Pot of Basil, 1907
by English Pre-Raphaelite, John William Waterhouse (1849 - 1917)

In contrast to these lush Pre-Raphaelite renditions, an additional painting, by John White Alexander, conveys a portrait-like figure of Isabella in neutral tones:

Isabella and the Pot of Basil, 1897
by American Painter and Illustrator, John White Alexander
(1856 – 1915)


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Capturing the Ginkgo Light



Inside Looking Out

Outside Looking In

Not long ago I mentioned an old childhood classic, The Witch Family on my book blog. This little novel ~~ also an October favorite for Halloween ~~ contains the following descriptive ginkgo passage, which I can appreciate even more, now that I have lived in a tall brick city house, just like Amy's:

"Amy's house was a high red brick one. In front of it there was a tall and graceful ginkgo tree whose roots made the worn red bricks of the sidewalk bulge and whose branches fanned the sky. The ginkgo tree has little leaves shaped like fans that Amy and Clarissa liked to press and give to their dolls. The fruit of this tree is orange, but it is not good for eating. It has an odd fragrance that grownups do not like but that children do not mind, for it makes them think of fall and Halloween" (14, The Witch Family, Eleanor Estes).
City House / Urban Tree
Ginkgos During Soccer Season, 1995


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sometimes We Try Too Hard

Think in ways you've never thought before
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time, or that it's
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

by Robert Bly, (b. 1926)
American poet & activist
[When I was an undergraduate, I was lucky enough
to hear Bly give a poetry reading and play the dulcimer.]

The Full Hunters' Moon . . . . . . photographed from my front porch

Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there's
a tree, or a wood,
a garden,
or a magic city.

Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog's rummaging,
maybe you'll see a face,
or an eye,
or a picture
of a picture.

Go and open the door.
If there's a fog
it will clear.

Go and open the door.
Even if there's only
the darkness ticking,
even if there's only
the hollow wind,
even if
is there,
go and open the door.

At least
there'll be
a draught.

by Miroslav Holub (1923 - 98)
Czech poet and immunologist
[Translated by George Theiner; in Holub's collection,
Intensive Care: Selected and New Poems ]

At least you'll see the moon . . .

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Book of Autumn

"Is not this the true romantic feeling --
not to desire to escape life,
but to prevent life from escaping you?"

Thomas Wolfe (1900 - 38)
great American novelist
gone too soon

Wolfe has described exactly how I feel about the full moon!
How can I stop it from escaping me?

One day, when I gather all of my favorite
fall poems and pictures into a collection,
I shall entitle it The Book of Autumn
and include the following introspective and
near - prophetic poem:

Listening in October

In the quiet house
a lamp is burning
where the book of autumn
lies open on a table.

There is tea with milk
in heavy mugs,
brown raisin cake, and thoughts
that stir the heart
with the promises of death.

We sit without words,
gazing past the limit
of fire, into the towering

There are silences so deep
you can hear
the journeys of the soul,
enormous footsteps
downward in a freezing earth.

(ellipses in original; emphasis added)

by John Haines (b. 1924)
American poet and professor
Poet Laureate of Alaska, 1969 - 1973

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don't Goat Me!

Lily, Lucy & Lacey

I have always been intrigued and amused by the way that every family accumulates its own legendary phraseology over the years. My friend Jill (whose daughter Lacey took the above photo) and I often compare notes on this topic, and we seem to have an endless supply of humorous mis-understood or mis-pronounced or mis-remembered words and phrases, such as "Kitten Caboodle" and "Plutonic Love."

If you're a fan of The Office, you'll know that Michael is famous for this kind of Malaprop. I am continually jotting down irresistible examples from his repertoire and plan to write a blog post about them one day soon, e.g., "Home is where the hardest" and "She cut off her nose to spider face.

Believe it or not, two of the mixed up phrases in my own family revolve around goats. Yes, GOATS! We owe them both to my older son Ben, from back when he was about five years old or so. The first occurred when he heard me say, "Don't goad me." Well he'd never heard the word goad, so he just translated it into a word that he did know: "Don't GOAT me." To this day, we still say that and probably always will.

The second example came into our vernacular when he heard me say, "That really gets my goat." I guess he'd heard me say plenty of times: "That really gets on my nerves." So he just used the syntax that sounded normal to his ear: "That really gets ON my goat."

It almost sounds better that way, doesn't it? Ha! But true! Have you ever noticed how often it seems that the mis-spoken word or phrase actually makes more sense than the original? A case in point is my little friend who liked to sing the song from Grease: not "Hopelessly" but "SUPPOSED TO BE devoted to you."

I think that just about captures it perfectly!

P.S. In the above photo Lucy the Goat is standing by, waiting for a fresh snack after Jill pulls weeds. To me it looks like the Garden of Eden or some kind of mystic vision!

Beautiful photograph, Lacey! Thanks!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fun Fall Food!

For the Tailgate Party

We found this clever stadium-shaped Nordic Ware Bundt Pan at one of our favorite shopping spots, Kitchen Art, where you can find everything from Le Creuset to tea cosies to novelty potato scrubbers.

My older son bought the stadium pan as a birthday present for my younger son; and, of course, part of the present was actually baking him a chocolate stadium birthday cakes, complete with hand-made goal post candles:
Happy Birthday to Sam!

P.S. Also works well as a Jello mold!

Buche de l'Automne!

As the holidays approach, you will no doubt see plenty of festive Yule Log Cakes pictured in the holiday magazines and gourmet catalogues. The seasonal cake you see here is my new autumnal variation on the time-honored wintry presentations. I am calling it The Hallow Log (as in All Hallows) and, much better than a hollow log, this one is filled with cream cheese icing. Yum!

Interestingly enough, these miniature cakes are now better known than either the gigantic originals that they represent or the historical tradition of Bringing in the Yule Log. In her fascinating study of the miniature and the gigantic, folklore scholar Susan Stewart has written of the human impulse to transform nature and quaint rural customs into art. The resulting souvenirs and miniatures become the objects of our desire for "an elusive and purer, yet diminished, past."

I can't help thinking of the old - time Yule Logs (meant for burning on the hearth) and the contemporary Yule Log Cake or Buche de Noel (intended for eating) when Stewart says that the antiquarian's "search is primarily an aesthetic one, an attempt to erase the actual past in order to create an imagined past which is available for consumption" (emphasis added, 143; On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, by Susan Stewart).

In this case, not just metaphorical consumption! But actual consumption, as in "Hey, who's ready for a piece of cake?"

If you'd like to make one of these Pumpkin Cake Rolls for yourself, check out the recipe below (in "Comments") from my sister Peg's friend Beth.

If you enjoy food blogs, check out bEATS by my friend Beatrice and see some absolutely luscious photographs.

And, finally, if you'd like to read more about the "Miniature & the Gigantic," see my previous post on this blog: September 9, 2010

and my book: Created in Our Image:
The Miniature Body of the Doll as Subject and Object

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Golden Paintings by Leonard Orr

" . . . golden and green
leaves litter the lawn today that yesterday
had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light."
~~ Howard Nemerov ~~

Golden paintings, here and above, by Leonard Orr

Artist Leonard Orr says:
"None of my paintings are titled;
most can also be hung in any orientation
(there is no top or bottom, left or right;
I paint turning the painting again and again,
holding it up in the air and tilting the canvases
to let the wet paint flow in different directions;
I have ruined many clothes!)."

Looking at these paintings, I sense the ethereal light of the delicately ribbed, fan-like ginkgo leaf, that changes so suddenly from green to gold. Not only are the colors perfectly autumnal (as in "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness"), but the background textures, so much like a palimpsest, remind me of ancient Chinese calligraphy, fitting right in with the Oriental heritage and folklore of the ginkgo tree.

SEE: "Capturing the Ginkgo Light"

SEE: "End of Summer Sounds"
(previously on this blog: September 5, 2010)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Leaf Collection

I have long been an admirer of the Ginkgo biloba [i.e., bi-lobed], this unique species of tree with no living relatives and leaves like no other. Way back in the Spring of 1972, I pasted ginkgo leaves (found on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles, Missouri) into the pages of my 9th grade leaf collection.

a page from my scrapbook
38 - year - old ginkgo leaf

page from Goethe's scrapbook
195 - year - old ginkgo leaf

The great Goethe also admired the ginkgo, and preserved yet today in the Goethe Museum in Düsseldorf are the above leaves that he himself dried and attached to his love poem "Ginkgo biloba" in 1815. Of the unusual bi - lobed leaves, Goethe has written:

This leaf from a tree in the East . . .

Does it represent One living creature
Which has divided itself?
Or are these Two, which have decided,
That they should be as One?

Wolfgang Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)
Prolific German writer, poet, scientist, botanist, and philosopher

Archived posts for further reading:
29 November 2009: Ginkgo Biloba
3 December 2009: Willow and Ginkgo


Thursday, October 14th
"Capturing the Ginkgo Light" (Eleanor Estes, Eve Merriam, Leonard Orr, Arthur Sze)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Scarred But Standing

One of Our Black Walnut Trees
Scarred by Lightning A Few Summer's Ago


"Scars" (George Eliot, Henri Nouwen, E. L. Konigsburg, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Brian Andreas, The Fantasticks)

In connection with this blog post, my brother Bruce wrote back to say, "I know it's just a corny, cliched, country song, but there is a lot of wisdom in these Garth Brooks lyrics":

I could have missed the pain,
But I'd have had to miss the dance.

Bruce has a blog of own, as yet unnamed, dealing with politics and economics, with some theology and baseball thrown in for good measure.

Remember in that silly (but ya gotta love it) movie Billy Madison, when the quiz bowl coach tells Billy that not only was Billy’s answer stupid, but in fact everyone in the room is now stupider for having heard what Billy had to say?

Well, after reading what my brother has to say, I am always smarter! So take a look and see what you think about
Bruce Carriker's Unnamed Blog.


Thursday, October 14th

"Capturing the Ginkgo Light" (Eleanor Estes, Eve Merriam, Leonard Orr, Arthur Sze)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Grown Up

That was then [1975]: Cyndee, Kitti, Cheryl, Etta
This is now [2010]: Etta, Kitti Cheryl, Cyndee

Everybody knows
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It's so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We're still fighting it, we're still fighting it . . .

It was pain
Sunny days and rain
I knew you'd feel the same things . . .

Everybody knows
It hurts to grow up . . .

lyrics from "Still Fighting It"
by Ben Folds (b. 1966), American singer - songwriter

Friends Forever: Etta, Joni, Cheryl, Kitti, Cyndee,

As we go on, we remember
All the times we had together
And as our lives change
Come whatever,
We will still be friends forever . . .

lyrics from "Graduation (Friends Forever)"
by Vitamin C (Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick)

Memorial Table at the
Francis Howell High School Reunion

There are places I'll remember
all my life, though some have changed.
Some forever, not for better;
some have gone and some remain.
All these places had their moments
with lovers and friends I still can recall.
Some are dead and some are living,
In my life I've loved them all . . .

I know I'll never lose affection
for people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them . . .

lyrics from "In My Life"
by John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Cat Jeoffry

Me and

my cat


in 1984

(Don't we
look alike?)

"For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry"
(excerpt from The Jubilate Agno)
by Christopher Smart

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.
Christopher Smart, English Poet (1722 - 71)

Sadly, Christopher "Kit" Smart was confined to an insane asylum from 1757 - 63; however, he was allowed to have his cat Jeoffry with him, and during these years he accomplished some of his greatest writing, including the above poem.

This spatial rendering of the poem (here and above)
appeared on the cover of Books & Religion, Winter 1990
(click on images to enlarge for reading)


Jeoff as a Baby, 1983

Jeoff Hanging Out, 1986

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Love Me Love My Cats

Beautiful Beaumont (atop the table)
and Queenly Pine (under the table)
(named for the streets on which we lived in Philadelphia)

Why I Write About Them

I like how the black one sits on our dining room table
with her forearms straight out in front of her, like a sphinx.
I like how the lids of her green eyes
grow heavy when I compliment her,
and how her brother, who is corpulent,
sways from side to side as he walks
with an elephant's slow grace.

Sometimes when he is sleeping in his basket,
warm belly rising like a croissant,
mere purring cannot express his bliss
and he begins to hum.
And the female, who misleads
with her queenly profile,
moans loud with contentment at night--
long, irritating moans, like Keith Jarrett*
making love to his piano keys at a jazz concert --
that sink into growls
when she is nudged awake.

I like how their own sneezes
astonish them: how they shake their heads afterwards
with the shock of cartoon characters.
How they lean forward politely, nostrils quivering,
to smell a bare finger,
are lions suddenly when they yawn.

(I like how each yawn ends with an elegant smack,
as if a slim compact were being snapped shut.)

They ignore my bad habits.
They endure my wild kisses.
They are not metaphors for anything.

~Francine Marie Tolf, Contemporary American Poet

I came across this enchanting poem in the Fall 2007 edition of my favorite poetry magazine, Plainsongs, published out of Hastings College, Nebraska.

If you've ever loved a cat or two, you'll know right away that Tolf has captured their proud and lazy essence with feline perfection. I've been bestowing wild kisses upon cats since I was nine years old and my father warned me that kissing the kittens would give me a furball in my stomach. Haha! Funny Daddy!

*Listen to Keith Jarrett
play "Autumn Leaves"

Monday, October 4, 2010

Scar Tissue is Tough

"Childhood has no forebodings; but then,
it is soothed by no memories of outlived sorrow

quotation from The Mill on the Floss, by English novelist
George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans, 1819 - 1880)

[click to enlarge collage from my clip-art phase, 1977]

"When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.”

(from the late writer and priest, Henri Nouwen, 1932 - 96)


"Viewed one way, scars are an ugly reminder of what has happened in our past. But, seen through different eyes, scars are our reassurance that healing has occurred."

(attributed merely to Unknown; if anyone knows, please write in)


"Maybe it was just that we had quarreled and made up, and scar tissue is tough."

(144, Up From Jericho Tel by E. L. Konigsburg)



see BUTTERFLY COLLECTION (on my Fortnightly Blog)
and BEEHOLD! BEEGIN! BEE STILL! (on my Book List)
and POEM SLIPS & WEATHERGRAMS (on QK ~ 1 November 2016

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Secret Garden

Our Urban Back Yard: Philadelphia, 2 October 2003

Though we had not a blade of grass in sight, Gerry still managed to create this delightful hidden retreat behind our urban row house in downtown Philadelphia. My favorite feature was the year - round white icicle lights twinkling against the white brick. This photograph looks summery, but in fact it was taken well after the official beginning of autumn, seven (7) years ago this very day, 2 October 2003. So late in the season, yet look at those full-bodied impatiens!

The flower bed, the robust bean vine, the trailing philodendron -- all perfectly capture the sentiment expressed by Elizabeth Jennings in her poem (posted earlier this week, scroll down or click), "Song at the Beginning of Autumn" :

. . . All looks like summer still;
Colours are quite unchanged, the air
On green and white serenely thrives.
Heavy the trees with growth and full
The fields. Flowers flourish everywhere.

. . . [yet] autumn gropes for us.

I can't say for sure how far beyond this early fall day the brilliant impatiens continued to flourish. Perhaps autumn was groping for them, but certainly at the moment of this photograph, they had never been happier.

As Roger McGough points out in his poem (posted last week, scroll down or click), "Trees Cannot Name the Seasons":

Nor flowers tell the time.
But when the sun shines
. . . they are charged with light . . .

They feel no need
To divide and itemize.
Nature has never needed reasons
For flowers to tell the time
Or trees put a name to the seasons.

~ a view of the back wall before Gerry restored the brick ~

For another view of the back garden,
see last October's post: "St. Peter's School - A Celebration,"
featuring my son Sam and his 4th grade teacher.