Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When Wikipedia won't work!

A new technology, the Kindle, has taken me to some old novels, as I have said, and Hamlin Garland's Preface to his Son of the Middle Border had taken me to his friend and mentor William Dean Howells, 15 books for 99¢.  Now I've begun "The Rise of Silas Lapham" (1885).  First was "Indian Summer" (1886), which was first in the Kindle set, published the year of my grandfather Phillips' birth.  I became very eager to see whether "Indian Summer" got anyone married by the end of the book; with Howells, it is by no means obvious.  But I was brought up short when his characters, near the opening of Silas Lapham, riding behind a fine horse, took turns looking around the dashboard to observe the horse's gait.  Dashboard?  I know what that is on my Toyota Echo and what it was on a Model T Ford, for that matter, whence it is the name of that handy Utility in the Dock of my Macs and in turn an option at the top of my blogspot New Post page and the name of the page that gathers all my blogging stuff conveniently so that I can see, e.g., my latest stats and wonder why my Opera Nobilia (only a few months old) has had nearly 800 hits and this Essays not quite 400.  I'm always surprised that there are so many for either, but quite happy about it.
Anyhow, Wikipedia won't tell me what a dashboard was in 1885 or when the word was introduced.  I went through three pages of hits.  It did tell me everything about its use in software!  I went to my "Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles" (in two volumes, 1973), a 'gift' that made buying five books in one year from Book of the Month Club not too onerous.  It is a wonderful dictionary.  The word dates from 1859, and I visualized it pretty well: 'a board or leathern apron in the front of a vehicle, to catch the mud thrown up by the hooves of the horses...' (whence for motor vehicles, as we know it, but on the very early ones, for which you had to wear dusters, very much as for the hooves, except that it was for the tire-treads).  I'd have to go to the whole OED for an explanation of why 'dash', unless it's that the word in architecture, dashing roof waste and water away from the wall, was adopted, if that is the older usage.  An interesting word that I'd never wondered about before.   As when Hamlin Garland forced me to consider what the Golden Gate looked like viewed from the hills before there was a bright red-orange bridge (1936).  And that paint: is it the kind of paint that in his novel Howells made Silas Lapham develop and make his fortune from?  My impulse anyway was right: reading literary fiction between the administrations of Lincoln and Wilson is most rewarding.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just one month later.

23 March 2011.  No more tulip magnolias; the tree will be green until late autumn.  And I lost my wager that the rose would bloom by the equinox (it does have plenty of buds).

Having begun documenting the blooming sequence at this latitude (about 31° N.) and on the Gulf of Mexico (well, just where the continental shelf ends and from here south is alluvial), I thought I might post a couple of snapshots, since the light was very good.  My English friends are better art photographers of nature than I am, but if you live in North Dakota you can take these as a promise of Spring to come.
23 March 2011.  The young orange tree is next door.  It has several oranges still (the rest having been picked)  and if you know where to look at lower left you can see a bee collecting nectar.  Anyway, here are the kind of buds and blossoms that, made by hand, are used on brides' veils.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Postscript to Hamlin Garland

Green Forest is in the north of Arkansas.  She was a teacher.
I have now finished reading A Son of the Middle Border, and I am in no way disappointed.  The section we were assigned to read in class in the late 1940s was from his boyhood; the book takes us through the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.  I'll see if I can find some more of his work, but that this book is a classic, and not only for midwesterners and not only for Americans, there can be, I think, no doubt.
For right now, tomorrow I need to get back to the essays on coins in my Opera Nobilia blog, but I have also downloaded a famous American I have, until now, only read about, William Dean Howells (1837-1920), who was a role model and a friend to Hamlin Garland (and to many others): 15 books for $3.99 for the Kindle.  Older than Garland, who was born in 1860.  These authors who fall between, say, Hawthorne and Henry James, are the ones I've never read.
What attracts me personally, beyond Garland's literary value, is his interest in how America scattered families far and wide in the space of a generation and his keen observation of everything.
I used to have a snapshot of one maternal great grandmother, Sarah Frances Trewblood, who was born in 1856, but it is lost now.  The earliest one I have is from the year that my paternal grandparents, Franklin Lafayette Lawrence and Mary Ferguson, were married, and I have posted it at the top of this.
Here they are in 1935 with myself, probably in Oxnard, CA

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hamlin Garland and Grant Wood

 I used to teach Art Appreciation from time to time; I had some studio arts background (some art historians haven't) and I didn't mind at all helping Freshmen fulfill a requirement.  But I insisted on teaching medium by medium and based on works of all kinds and eras and cultures, from the point of view of the artists choosing media and showing how they served the media and the media the artist.  I loved using works that did NOT appear in the textbooks, especially when they served a number of purposes.  And, so far as I could, I preferred using things that artists like and that freshman students like, too.  One artist I liked to use was Grant Wood (the inevitable American Gothic was in the textbook, so I did the others that I like, especially those lithographs, some of them WPA funded, which show rural Iowa, the horses with winter coats facing a blizzard, and a farm boy pouring over his head a bucket full of water from the trough, with the title "Sultry Night").  I do not regard it as homoerotic, nor did the WPA, nor did my students.  But it is evocative of the end of a hard day's work in the fields, and it is (as they all are) beautifully composed and executed, and it also shows the lithograph as at once fine art and popular art.  I had a hard time finding it on line, and this link to "Sultry Night" is not a good reproduction, but it must serve.  The vultures who want to make capital of its nudity and the folks (unlike those of Depression America) who think all nudity dirty make this print hard to find on line.
My own blog posting last month, on whether Americans really do read according to gender, had made me remember the big, thick Reader that we had for English class in Grade 8 (yes, there still are graded readers, or there were when I taught at St. Hilda's in the 1970s, just as there had been in the late 1940s, issued by California State Textbooks).  That reader contained part of Hamlin Garland's A Son of the Middle Border.  I never had read the whole book and, suspecting that it might really be as good as the textbook editors thought, I went on line and chose to buy it for Kindle at 99¢ (you can get it Free, but I thought that "improved" for eBook was worth a dollar).
I now am halfway through the book, and I find it to be the masterpiece that it is supposed to be.  How good his fiction or verse or essays are, I do not know.  But Garland in this memoir or autobiography has such great literary and personal integrity, such real reticence where called for, such honesty—everything you can ask for in a writer—that I thought I'd do everyone under 60 years of age, probably, a favor by recommending it without reserve.  I mean, no one that I know has mentioned it to me recently, and perhaps there is a tendency to toss it in with, say, Fennimore Cooper.  It really isn't like what an outline description of it might make you think.  You might neglect to go back and read it, as I had done.  How useful it is, repeatedly, to be writing a blog; doing so makes me think of so many things that often I don't know what to choose and (as you have seen) procrastinate by posting flowers.
As for Grant Wood, many people who talk about him have no idea how excellent he is, purely as an artist.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Officially an invasive pest

Lygodium japonicum, climbing fern, imported in the 1930s, now an invasive weed, which no semi-tropical winter can kill.  What you see it did overnight, and even the hardy crêpe myrtle suffers from it.
When I came here I called the stuff bind weed and noticed that it was murder also to the siding on houses.  But the University of Florida knows what it is.  It is sort of pretty, but so is "Queen Anne's Lace".
It is currently 76°F. (or 24°C.) and, with a very few camellias still on the top of their tree, everything else is burgeoning.  Bulbs are coming up.  Weeds, needless to say, abound (but I don't mind clover and its kin).  I wouldn't even mind lygodium, if it weren't so rampant.
I will make a bet: by the equinox instead of timid little buds (and the red growth just unfurled this morning) there will be whole branches of white roses.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Following the seasons still

My friends' blogs put my 50 X 100-foot plot to shame, but force me to look hard at what is there.  Keeping a blog is like that: it has made me re-read books, read new books, and re-watch old films.  When it had rained, and one friend's blog gave me a lesson in mosses, I had to go and look harder at my muddy plot.  And I remembered that another was familiar with Kew Gardens.  Actually, almost everyone I know is a better amateur botanist than I am.  Also, they tend to take better outdoor pictures.  So I took the trouble to unscrew the Nikon D80 DSLR with its Macro lens and take it outdoors.  That lens hasn't much depth of field, but it's good otherwise.  The images added today to the Louisiana Seasons album are a dozen of them, and I'll inquire now about the mosses at the head and about a semi-tropical (I think) tree at the bottom.  The moss is what I'd call Just Plain Moss, but you may know its name.  All winter the trees, which were wind-borne accidents that arrived a few months before Hurricane Andrew (which blew them over, causing the kinks at the bottom), are naked but in the Spring they grow very fast, needing to reach sunlight, evidently, above the great oak tree.  For obvious reasons I think of them as "stovepipe trees", but I can't Google that!  Someone said that they cost money, if you buy them, but, had I bought mine, I'd know what they are.  In a few weeks they'll have leaves a foot or more in diameter.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hardy plants on 50' X 100' lot

23 Feb 2011 Rambling rose, white with shell-pink center, in terrible shape this winter, about to be cut back, is indomitably doing its best to bloom.
Well, I agree, plants needn't be in Kew to be interesting (I tell myself, being past much hiking) and every Spring I wait to see what will have survived.  While I wrestle with one of those art historical inquiries into numismatics, I'll resort to semi-tropical hardy perennials on my little lot.  I just noticed that the azaleas that were pruned a bit later than they ought to be, and by the yardman's gasoline-powered shears, have just made a lot of buds, still tiny; they will take some weeks.  Meanwhile, if I look daily, I may succeed in seeing the wild iris, if they come up (other bulbs will be later, unless you count wild onions), and I can assure you that very soon the rambling rose, which a student brought to me in a pot about five years ago, and which I thought might be a goner with its nearly leafless long branches every which way (it sort of went wild when the painters cut it back almost to the ground a couple of years ago), quite surely is coming back and equally surely will bloom, perhaps before the azaleas do if the days remain above 60°F.  Yesterday, we broke a record at 86°F, though overnight it dipped to 44°F.  SEMI-tropical! Yesterday the rambler got new growth all over the place.  The only question is whether the white roses will have shell-pink centers anymore.  Fig tree (immortal) is still dormant.