Albert wrote a poem about a finch swooping into a red tree, and told a story in a very few lines. It was written so well that I had only read it two or three times before I knew certainly that it was my finch and my tree, that I saw with my own eyes… my own heart.
Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried than before – more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.
Those who aren’t severely affected by wildfires to the point of being evacuated temporarily or permanently from their homes, and who continue to go about their usual work, might still be vaguely or acutely affected by smoke. Some of my family in northern California and southern Oregon have had weeks of smoke that keeps them indoors, makes the sky dark and the air muggy. Even here, my eyes are scratchy. It all has a distracting and depressing effect, though one is not always fully conscious of it.
But this morning my daughter Pippin exclaimed, “Today, the sky is blue!” and sent a photo to prove it. I had recently joined in one blog draft a photo she took in England and a poem, which I’m publishing in celebration of blue skies. They are currently a welcome background for sheep or clouds or what have you.
When I came forth this morn I saw
Quite twenty cloudlets in the air;
And then I saw a flock of sheep,
Which told me how these clouds came there.
That flock of sheep, on that green grass,
Well might it lie so still and proud!
Its likeness had been drawn in heaven,
On a blue sky, in silvery cloud.
I gazed me up, I gazed me down,
And swore, though good the likeness was,
‘Twas a long way from justice done
To such white wool, such sparkling grass.
“Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit, and I suppose that this is neither innocent nor praiseworthy. Of that lamentable company am I. Conversation after a time bores me, games tire me and my own thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resource of a sensible man, have a tendency to run dry. Then I fly to my book as the opium-smoker to his pipe. I would sooner read the catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores or Bradshaw’s Guide than nothing at all, and indeed I have spent many delightful hours over both these works. At one time I never went out without a second-hand bookseller’s list in my pocket. I know no reading more fruity.
“Of course to read in this way is as reprehensible as doping, and I never cease to wonder at the impertinence of great readers who, because they are such, look down on the illiterate. From the standpoint of what eternity is it better to have read a thousand books than to have ploughed a million furrows? Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug that we cannot do without—who of this band does not know the restlessness that attacks him when he has been severed from reading too long, the apprehension and irritability, and the sigh of relief which the sight of a printed page extracts from him?—and so let us be no more vainglorious than the poor slaves of the hypodermic needle or the pint-pot.
“And like the dope-fiend who cannot move from place to place without taking with him a plentiful supply of his deadly balm I never venture far without a sufficiency of reading matter.”
-W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), “The Book-Bag,” Collected Short Stories, Vol. IV