Monthly Archives: August 2010

Animal, Vegetable, Weed

When my husband saw the sizable box of books I had packed for this trip to my daughter’s house, he wondered why I would need so many. My answer, “Because my brain is so tired right now, I can’t imagine wanting to read any of them, so I can’t know what my appetite will be when it returns, and I want to be prepared.”

I came prepared for the journey, too, with The Message Bible on CD, My Antonia, Miles Gone By, and the latest Mars Hill Audio Journal on CD’s to choose from. I started out with the Mars Hill disk, because it’s usually very relaxing for me to stretch my brain, gentle as the exercise is when one is only eavesdropping on other people’s conversations.

This edition had a lot of discussions on the topic of beauty, the host said in the introduction, and in a small panic, I hit the button to eject. No, I wasn’t up for that–it sounded too difficult to even follow along with. What would be easier? How about, Tell Me a Story, and one I am already familiar with. My Antonia was a good choice, as it turned out, very soul-nourishing in the story and the lovely writing. And it was Beauty–not discussed, but the reality.

The last few days I’ve been living in the reality of beauty and a lot of other things that people, including me, like to theorize and philosophize about. I haven’t picked up any of those books that I thought I might read or think about or write thoughtful reviews of. I’ve been chasing around a ten-month-old who is a major explorer of his world, and maybe it is in two ways keeping me in the Grammar phase of my stunted version of classical education. You know, where you learn the facts and language and data that you will work with later.

It’s always a blessing to have little children around who are discovering everything for the first time, as it makes me notice the details of my surroundings freshly. Today I gave this guy, whom I will nickname Scout, a piece of used waxed paper that wasn’t really dirty, and after he fiddled with it a minute or two it tore in two. He had been looking at one piece of paper, and suddenly there were two pieces, and he was obviously surprised to see the smaller piece move in his hand far away from the original.

Babies aren’t wondering philosophers. They are scientists without even a theory, in the research stage, gathering information. I’ve been able to do some of that kind of mental work this week, as in learning the names of oak trees. I also took a picture in the forest of a bush with pink flowers, and when I went looking for oaks in the shrub and tree guide there was a picture of it, and I have now memorized it–well, at least for this week–Douglas spiraea.

Douglas spiraea

When Scout was exploring the back yard he came upon a weed (spurge) that I knew I should know the name of, so I looked it up in Weeds of the West, a marvelous tome that I am very pleased is now in Pippin’s collection. It’s a book several of us in the family had our eye on for a long time before someone actually took the plunge to invest in such an unappealing title.

I looked quickly through the whole book yesterday, and learned quite a few facts that have no relevance to any philosophical book review I might write, but they were so pleasing to me! My objective was to make a list of all the weeds that I already knew by sight, which surprised me by how long it was. A whole series of Weeds blogposts could be written on the links to childhood memories and events.

Then I was surprised to find in the weed book a flower that is also always in the mountain wildflower guides I’ve been consulting for years, Corn Lily or False Hellebore. It was about then I suspect I was moving into the Logic Stage, making connections and comparing one word with another, drawing conclusions using my data.

This plant is deadly and noxious, for a fact (Here’s a historical bit about that from Wikipedia: “The plant was used by some [Native American] tribes to elect a new leader. All the candidates would eat the root, and the last to start vomiting would become the new leader.”), but some of the things I thought I knew about it aren’t true, and in the middle of writing this blog I am realizing that I still don’t have the facts straight enough to tell any more about it.

About other weeds, I learned that what I thought was Black Mustard was actually Radish; these are cousins someone got mixed up and taught me wrong. Nutsedge is a cute name for an ugly weed in my own garden. I’ll be content to study the most broad Grammar of Plants for the rest of my stay here on earth.

Which brings me to the second reason hanging out with children keeps me at their level: time. When I am scurrying about during naptimes to do little pieces of chores, just keeping up with the physical bare necessities, my mind is flitting about and not in the mood for a certain kind of thinking, which I hesitate to call “higher.”

I don’t seem to be able to settle in, under deadlines, and tackle a question of theology or philosophy in such a way that I can write about it. I’m using all my mental resources doing philosophy and theology on a fundamental level that is more in keeping with my stage in life, when my body demands more sleep, and my brain loses thoughts instead of holding them. When I wake up from a nap, or when Scout goes down for a nap, the names of the flowers are still there in the nature guide, the trees and clouds are still handy for contemplating right outside the door.

Play–what Scout does–is when you do things with no immediate goal in mind. I can’t have an agenda or a syllabus when I am minding Scout while he experiments. So I try to look around and pay attention at least as well as he is doing. I’m glad I’ve arrived at a place in life where the order and complexity of the universe are certainties to me, and every flower and rock is a gift from the Creator with the potential to draw me to Himself. It might even be an advantage to have a tired brain when enjoying that kind of Beauty.

War and Architecture – Part 2

My recent posting about how cities memorialize their history in the buildings they renovate or build from scratch generated comments that added a great deal to the discussion going on in my own mind.

Emily at Back Bay View is “suspicious of postmodernists like Libeskind who want to make their patrons uncomfortable and to force them to think. Granted, trying to recreate the past too precisely sometimes results in a sentimental/themepark like effect. But, on the other hand, for how many years can you exist in/with a building that is a criticism of the human person? At some point, I would think, the discomfort will fade and the intended self-conscious effect won’t take place.

“Wouldn’t it be more healing to build structures that promote healing, rather than criticism? Couldn’t you say that the old building doesn’t represent a severe authoritarian past, so much as an orderly past, a past that preceded the Nazis by centuries, and an attempt to restore order is an act of hope? Whereas the architect who intends to break self-delusions promotes a discomfort with the self that leads not to hope but to melancholy?”

Frances informed me that Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-5 is about the bombing of Dresden, and also shared her experience of living and traveling in Germany: “I’ll always remember Freiburg, which was heavily bombed during WWII. When they rebuilt it, they used the original, medieval plans, so that it was exactly the same as before.”

Emily’s comments sent me back to the review I wrote of Architecture of Happiness, and I figured out that one basic reason I couldn’t like the new military museum was its failure to abide by the first principle of good architecture laid down in that philosophical book:
“Order. But not over-simplified. We like to see complex elements arranged in a regular pattern. What the author calls the ‘perverse dogma’ from the Romantic Period, that all edifices must be of original design, led to chaos in the landscape. ‘Architecture should have the confidence and the kindness to be a little boring.’

“I was wondering if perhaps a museum might get away with such a brash statement, where being made to think isn’t a bad thing, but you are probably right, the statement will lose its effect. (I hope in the meantime it squelches those Neo-Nazis a bit)…and yes, the jarring buildings fail to offer hope or show harmony. But without reference to or undergirding by the Christian gospel, an artist is unlikely to find those elements, and will drift from melancholy right on to nihilism.”

We have to ask, as Jody did, “If you were to rebuild Dresden and not look back, but forward, how would you go about it? I agree that “onward and forward” is the best, but would there not be little bits of the past that one would want to honor, I wonder? (not the ugly, of course)”

Emily also “…went to the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, VA, which has a very similar slanted pyramid design which is supposed to recall the photo of marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima. (and a statue is right in front of the museum so that reference isn’t missed). But in the case of the MCM, the glass pyramid doesn’t interrupt another building like Libeskind’s design, since it’s located outside the city and rises above the treeline and catches the sunshine. So a very similar design in a different context has a completely different effect.

“Likewise, I couldn’t help thinking of another glass pyramid, the one designed by IM Pei as an additional entrance to the Louvre. I don’t know the philosophy behind it, but it just strikes me as out of context and so a little silly, like a non sequitur comment. Maybe there is some reason for its being, but it was lost on me, your average tourist.”

Kari hopes that “we can find a way to heal the past without forgetting, and to go forward in peace, love, harmony. The Holocaust brings us face to face with forgiveness and with how to forgive in the face of the unforgivable.”

I wanted to share this discussion with anyone who might have been interested in the topic but who didn’t get in on the ensuing and improving thoughts. Since I wrote the original post we had the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, which got me thinking about further aspects.The Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse page now has an article on the subject, wherein the author points out links to the whole Allied strategy. Consequentialism is a word that was new to me, discussed here on the Witherspoon page and on Touchstone’s Mere Comments. The Ochlophobist questions our utilitarian mindset that can’t tolerate the absolute moral principle.

I’m in over my head as usual, but it’s obvious that some of my readers are good at this kind of swimming. I hope I am learning something from them as I flail about.

Wooded and Worded Wonderland

I’m back up at Pippin’s place as of last night, and this morning took Baby Scout for a walk in his jogger. It was an hour’s walk, but that doesn’t translate to much exercise when you figure in all the stops for gawking and picture-taking. On my drive up I listened to most of My Ántonia and was struck by the evocative descriptions of the prairie; here the meadows are in their late summer glory of gold tones, with runnels of pale green. My photos don’t serve nearly as well as Willa Cather’s prose in conveying a scene.

In this case there were jays scraping the air with their calls, and smells of drying grass and a dozen trees coming at me in the breeze. Scout hummed as we bumped along. The air was crisp at first, but the little currents of warm spread out to fill the morning so that it soon felt like an August day.

I couldn’t precisely identify any of those aromas; it made me envy the animals with their good noses –but when I do get to know a plant, I can also have the word for it, and that makes me happy. Fact is, I don’t know the word for very many of the thousands of lovely things around me. Like this tiny flower that I spied on the roadside, and a while later in Pippin’s tomato garden, volunteering along with mullein and ferns.





In the meadow I saw a place where the grass was all mashed down. Maybe the deer had rested there, maybe even the one I saw munching on tree branches by the side of the road. She gave me one look, and then refused to pay any more attention to me, even though I kept asking her to look at the camera.

I slept through the woodland noise last night, of Mama Bear tearing down bird feeders to spread the seed on the patio for her two cubs. It’s the second time this week, which pretty much means the end of watching birds close by the kitchen window. That’s about the only way I can seem to notice them, as I did last May when I took this picture. Birds are more fun to watch than bears, for many reasons, one being that you don’t have to be wakened at midnight in order to see them.

Certainly one of the warm smells on our walk was of oak trees. Oak was likely one of my first nature words, as I lived most of my childhood under a giant oak in the Central Valley. I think it was a Valley Oak. There are only nineteen Quercus native to California, I just this minute read in a tree guide, so perhaps it wouldn’t be impossible, as I have previously thought, for me to learn which are which. This one I photographed today is certainly not a Scrub, Live, Leather, Muller or Blue Oak…perhaps it is a California Black Oak. Hello, Mr. Oak; I hope to get to know you better.

The Wedding

Soldier Son has married his true love, Joy. I am still too tired to think of anything philosophical or deep to write, except for Thank You, Lord! My son was a gift to us his parents when he came into the world, and he himself was gifted with a heart towards God, and many other graces.

His Heavenly Father has given him a woman for whom the word pure is fitting, and as a consequence our whole family, and indeed the world, is the richer for their coming together in the fear of God and under many prayers. I’m very aware at the moment that life, and His Life, is all a gift.


The setting was amazing, on a hill five miles from the Pacific, surrounded by beautiful and rustic plantings and with a long view of layered valleys and slopes.

A week before the wedding we visited the site and I took pictures of the flowers close up, but that day was too foggy for me to get views like the one above, which gives an idea of the looks of the place.

The weather is often drizzly and cool so close to the North Coast, but the sun was shining for the ceremony and during the reception, which featured not cake but — ta da! — homemade pie! Pearl and I even collaborated the day before and managed to contribute two berry pies from our family.

It was a joy to have all our children in one place, something that hasn’t happened in perhaps five years, and a bunch of us stayed up late after the wedding, sitting around the table enjoying our time together, doing nothing.

Just being thankful family. And now we are increased, glory to His Name, and feeling His love shed even more broadly in our hearts.