March17, 2014

Lawrence Krauss had this to say about the BICEP2 findings in an email:

"This is hugely important, if true. It is an empirical window on the universe at almost the beginning of time. We will need to wait to see if it is confirmed of course, but if it is, it is the best hope of directly testing ideas about how the universe behaved 10^-35 sec after the big bang. As I have described before, these results are allowing us to not only address physical questions, but to turn previously metaphysical questions into scientific ones, such as 'Why is there something rather than nothing.' "

Just 13.8 billion years ago, my how time flies. If they can determine why there is something rather than nothing, I shall be impressed.

            Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy

According to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared in 708 to St. Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel's instruction until Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger. Those bishops never seem to pay attention to Michael.


                                                                           A scene from The Bayeux Tapestry (the Mont is at the center top)

In 1067, the monastery gave its support to Duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England.  He rewarded the support with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the south-western coast of Cornwall which became a Norman priory named St Michael's Mount of Penzance,  modeled after the Mount.


Victoria and I spent Christmas Eve 1987 on the Mount at the one hotel that was open, Le Mouton Blanc. Luckily, just up the street there was an open restaurant...the only one in town. The only diners were Vicky and I, plus the hotel owner and his companion. Later, we attended the midnight mass at the church, then everybody departed not only the church but the island. We were the only guests at the hotel.  The owner provided us with a key to the front door and departed after dinner. After the mass we went to bed but not to sleep. Although there was not a soul anywhere, the town fathers had left the street sound system on and there was a speaker just outside our window that blared Albinoni's Adigo in G Minor the rest of the this day when I hear that piece of music my skin crawls. A couple of years later we returned during tourist season, what a change. The Mont was transformed from deserted to wall to wall day-trippers. We stayed not on the Mont, but at the Hotel de la Digue at the head of the causeway.

My feelings about the place are mixed. From a distance one of the most beautiful places in France, but unfortunately, like Venice, it is overrun by tourist during mild weather. Better to go in the off season.

March 20, 2014

The first day of Spring. I shall repair to the tea house by the pond and raise the flag of Wales and fly it until the first day of Fall or maybe Summer as the custom is not established.


I have not roots in Wales...just like images of  dragons.

 Soon, time to plant corn. This year I shall plant red corn saved from last years' crop. At one time I grew blue corn and give it to a friend who ground it and sold it as a novelty item along with his regular yellow corn meal, we gave the proceeds to the church; but I think federal regulations may have stopped that, he has not inquired about blue corn in several years. Blue corn meal makes for strange looking cornbread.

This image from the Internet  was labeled "Happy in Outer Mongolia".

 For years Eastern Bluebirds made their nest in the boxes situated around the place. Then a yellow mackerel tabby cat moved in with us.  I placed rolls of barbed wire around the boxes, but the birds remain suspicious. They still nest in boxes down by the pond and at the back of the place.  There is one box, just off the front porch which we have been able to observe over a period of years. A pair of birds would nest there and raise three or four chicks each summer. Then in the winter the entire family would return to the box, their home, for visits. They will gather close by, then one by one light on the box, then look inside. Next, some seemed to reenact fledgling behavior: moving their wings without flying, as baby birds would do when begging for food. We might see four or five reenactments each fall.



Already this spring, brilliantly colored birds are visiting the box. We can only hope they will find the location to their liking and build another nest. Another thing, when the bluebird family (extended family?) returns for their fall visits, they are accompanied by several very small grey birds, not much larger then hummingbirds. They also check out the box, like real estate agents providing advice. The unidentified smaller birds never build in the box, just check it out -- one was there yesterday, along with a pair of Bluebirds. 

Also, speaking of birds:  Vicky took down the finch feeders two days ago and hung hummingbird feeders...the males usually arrive just after the first day of spring. The hummingbird migration map already has them this far north.  


March 26, 2014

Somewhere around 3 AM coyotes held a hootenanny down the driveway; then I heard a calf, born yesterday, calling for mama - if it managed to stay off the coyote breakfast menu, I shall be surprised.



I found the calf this morning asleep in a pine break by the far pond, so mark that off the worry list. Next I disposed of an armadillo. Yesterday I crawled under the front porch and located the hole under the foundation where the varmint was getting under the house. I filled the hole with gravel, placed a cement block over the gravel then set a trap. I opened the small door that provides access to the crawl space  and set the trap just outside. Sure enough,  during the night he made his exit through the doorway and into the trap. So, after the calf was located I placed the trap w/armadillo inside the trunk of the car and deposited the nuisance about two miles away down a dirt road. He ran to the woods and straight into an oak tree, armadillos don't see well.


The next animal concern is hummingbirds. We are well past their usual arrival date and no hummers. The migration map shows arrivals north of here, so I am concerned that our colony did not survive the winter in South America...perhaps natives with blow guns did  'em in for the decorative feathers.

-When I went to the gym this morning another elderly walker presented me with a sack of okra seeds. Seems they are special seeds from plants originally grown by his grandfather...extra tender, he said - the okra, not the grandfather. I use to date the okra seed giver's sister 60 years and there is nothing tender about that family. Folks up north find it odd that Southerners plant okra. I find folks up north odd: they live cheek to jowl and go bowling.

-This afternoon the weather is too cold to work outdoors so I have been listening and watching Riccardo Muti conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Verdi's Requiem, for Verdi's  200th birthday (October 10, 2013) celebration. Verdi wrote Messa da Requiem  in 1874, a work regarded as a masterpiece of the oratorio tradition, in honor of his compatriot Alessandro Manzoni (Italian poet and novelist). This may be my favorite version of the piece.

March 29, 2014 The local newspaper has a report about a scheduled dance: as part of the nationwide commemorative of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. The piece goes on to say:   "Local residents of Washington put on balls to help raise funds for the local hospitals....."..... now that is a sentence that causes the imagination of the reader to run rampant.

April 2, 2014


Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Peasant Dance (detail)
c. 1567, Vienna

The male humming birds have returned from their Yucatan winter spa, we spotted a Monarch butterfly yesterday, and the bullfrogs are tuning up in the pond below the cabin. Aphrodite has risen from the sea and the world is renewed, refreshed, and revitalized. The Florentine reported that a young male Spaniard had entered the Uffizi shed his clothes and was worshiping at Botticelli's Primivara. Spring has sprung.

tato  Even the Irish potatoes are up.

I just cut enough asparagus from the garden for supper tonight. Yum.

For several days I have been involved with a much under rated painting, The Visitation by Jacopo da Pontormo. A haunting masterpiece of such emotional intensity as to make your eyes bulge.  I disagree with Kenneth Clark who said the mannerist suffered from the spiritual exhaustion which comes at the close of a heroic age. That blanket statement certainly does not apply to the Visitation. Pontormo lived in a Florence threatened by both plague and the Hapsburg army, no wonder this painting reveals a bit of stress. What I find remarkable is the grace he exhibits while under such pressure.  The link to the essay is Here.