- journal + blog

gnarl's journal, for the month of September, 2002, which is crawling with bugs caught on the web, ink coming to life, grannies sharing candy, and prowling lions.

++ september 1, 2002

the Toad and Slug

No, not a pub a few villages over, but just a few of the visitors in our garden.

Above left, a toad, and a very brave one at that. We think this could be the same one kitsune chased around the sitting room a few weeks ago. This time, we were weeding and de-scruffing the lawn out in front of the dining room, and lo and behold, this fat guy just appeared out of nowhere at my feet. I'd been looking at a clump of dirt where some weeds had been yanked out and the clump turned into a hopping toad, causing me to cry out. He hung out a little while for a photo session, then hopped under the heating oil tank, to be stalked by kitsune (who was chased by kate with a trowel) now and then. Later, as we were watering a parched clematis, he showed up again on the gravel by our back patio, so I snapped the above pic.

Above right, the ravages of slug or snail on a nasturtium leaf. I keep finding long huge slugs in the kitchen when I pop down late at night for some reason or another. I take great pleasure in salting them. Two nights ago, we had the extreme pleasure of another visitor that rustled in the falling leaves in the back tree. I'd been calling the cats in long after sunset. zot always comes bounding in from frog and fish watch by the pond, kitsune takes a bit more time, but eventually I hear the ringing of his collar. The rustling under the tree made me first think it was him up it, but when he showed up from the chinese food shop next door, I had to nab a flashlight and take a look. It was a cute hedgehog! Hedgehogs, apparently, eat slugs, and also eat wet cat food, a half-plate of which we left out. The cat food was snubbed, but hopefully this welcome visitor will stick around and feast on our many slugs. The only worry is the amount of fleas that usually come with them, and could hop a ride on the cats.

Other visitors: starlings and sparrows and wrens and maybe a linnet, a friend from the states (who diverted his trip home from germany last wednesday to have a few hours with us!), and the return of the ladybirds.

++ september 5, 2002

Fingersnail and Thumbsnail

Been garden tending... mostly the lawn, clipping down some long grass and mowing shorter bits, then raking. I'm going to have to start up a "lawn blog" next year. Keep track of changes in height of grass and ways of reducing such height, various weeds left and removed, how much water given, where the sun shines most, the best shadows, when and how to reseed, aerating ceremonies, divining omens from dropped twigs, identification of various grasses, any four-leaf clovers discovered or daisies chained, interaction with surrounding plants and trees, numbers of bags of green yellow and brown stuff redistributed, expressions of pain from thistle tingles, shapes of famous faces by fallen leaves.

The chinese poplar is slowly shedding leaves. I'm trying to figure if it would be a good or bad thing if it dropped them as fast as it gained them. One day in early April, heyoka and i sat on the bench on the back patio, reading newspapers and books and watching the leaves come out. They were encased in these sticky pods, that shelled off with an audible tick and the leaves unfurled, a green and silvery glistening wonder. Never experienced anything like it, like those timelapse nature films, with a trance soundtrack. The pod shells got everywhere -- in kitsune's fur, tracked in by shoes, caught in my hair, stuck to sweaters and socks -- and the oil emmitted a sweet, resinous smell. Now, if the leaves all fell at the same pace as they came in, I wouldn't have to rake the lawn and pebble paths and patio over and over again. Then again, it would be pretty frightening for a tree to whump off leaves in a day or so: furry one day, naked the next... it's the end of the world!

Another idea for lawnblog: guess the number of leaves on tree, or a tracker of leaves fallen.

- - - -

During a break in raking, while eating purple grapes from the greenhouse and reading vestiges of weekend papers, I found a hitchhiking snail, no bigger than my thumbnail -- a very active little guy, and may it feed well in our multitudinous foliage.

Another bird was caught by the Rampaging Beast Known As Kitsune. This time a sparrow. I can always tell when a bird is caught, as there is an increase in thumping around in the hall or sitting room, and kitsune gives a good feral growl while zot tries to get into the fun. The cat had the bird's head held in his mouth, once dropping and then recatching. I picked kitsune up, thinking to be clever and hold him out the window and let the bird out that way. He dropped the bird before I could get there, and the damn thing whirled back into the sitting room, whapping into windows. I pulled windowscreens down, but it hopped either behind the bookcase or under the woodstove. Took a half hour and heyoka's herding to get it back out, dipping in flight away.

The birds have been delighted by the ripening figs. One day as heyoka was sitting out reading, a young blackbird plucked a huge ripe one off, flew a few feet with it, exclaiming their find so they dropped it. Started feeding on it, pausing only to squawk and do a smug hopping dance, "Whoa! Check out this fig! I got a fig! Get away! It's my fig!"

I swear you can understand them. A bunch of sparrows last night were on the roof by the fig tree and pecking away and in between pecks saying "oh, yes! This is damn good! Oh my yes yes!" We had a blue tit in the spring that for ages sat on the chimneys exclaiming, "Hi! I'm cute! Don't you want me, chicks? Here I am! Hi!" And of course there's the two pigeons in the poplar, being rather openly saucy with each other "Ooo, care for another one, love?" "Gerroff, ya daft git!"

One of the delights of this garden tidying, is the birdsong, and other sound effects: brief goldfish splashes in the pond, rustling poplar leaves, the tchuktchuk of food preparation at the takeaway next door, a few cricket chirrups, the brush of grasses against my jeans, and a contented purr of a sunbathing cat.

Taking candy from a grandmother

Received an additional matchbox use from hanne that sparked a few thoughts. She wrote:

Matchboxes are the perfect size to hold one or a few unwrapped
cough sweets, so that you can take the matchbox out in a theatre
and slide open the drawer and take out a cough sweet without
having to do that tiresome rattling and crinkling of cough sweet-
cellophane that drives your fellow theatre-goers 'round the bend.

My granny always keeps a matchbox with a few cough sweets
(unwrapped) in her purse.

First off was that grandmothers do have that thing about candies to give out in quiet places. I never really got cough sweets, I guess because I didn't really cough, but in church or movies as a young lad i would get Smarties (the American sugary pill kind) and Life Savers (often thw Wild Cherry flavour) and jellies and grape-flavored hard sweets and Sour Apple Jolly Ranchers and these square mints with that blue sparky/sparkly stuff filling the whole in the center. Some of them I'd have to open really slowly to avoid that crinkly sound. Or the grandmother would hand them to me from the package. If I was with my brothers and sisters, I'd have to pass one down.

The other thing was hanne's gran's brilliant idea about keeping the noise down in a theatre. I'm one of those movie watchers that goes insane over wrapper noise. Especially in a quiet-like movie. Of course, sometimes I get manic over the sound of popcorn eating, but that's usually after some other trigger, like a wave of pungent hot dog smell, or a crisp bag rustlerustlerustlerustle. Or if I have a fever. I was watching Coppola's Dracula with a 100 plus degree fever, and there was a while when I thought the rats were coming out of the walls... and instead it was the collective popcorn crunching of the audience. Best ways to watch a bad movie: fevered or drunk.

Watching a big stupid movie with big explody bits and vroom vroom music, I don't care how noisy the crowd is. A new blockbuster with a sold-out show is one of the big appeals to it: the laughs and screams and collective fidgeting and whispers is all part of the atmosphere. There's always the feeling that the crowd might at one point turn into a mob and tear the place apart. (Watching the first showing of Sid and Nancy that happened: the punks got so pissed off at Nancy's whining they threw seats at the screen.) I want to be able to laugh my guts out, or shout out how stupid some character is being walking back into the haunted house. I want to spill popcorn and spew out coke from my nose at anticipated surprises.

Importing food into a movie is another great pleasure. If I get into a screening for free, of course I'll buy something there, but normally the offence of the high price of a ticket means I've got to fight back. Food smuggled in: bottles of soda, bottles of wine, bags of M&Ms or Smarties (the UK chocolaty ones), pints of Haagen-Daas (half raspberry sorbet, half belgian chocolate), bags of crisps (opened during the commercials), sushi, oranges and apples, dried cranberries, japanese rice crackers, twiglets, dry roasted peanuts, and once with the help of a group of friends, an entire pizza (which wouldn't fit in a matchbox).

++ september 6, 2002

All creatures small and smaller

That snail from the other day, with a sweatshirt background. A bit blank-faced. S/he would stop now and then and look up, and seem to sniff the air before moving along. Took a few dozen tries from both heyoka and I to get a non-blurry pic on the digicam. Either too shaky, or the snail was moving too fast(!). Our first cam was brilliant at extreme closeups, but it's taking a bit of trickery to get similar results with this one, a bit too smart for its own good.

Bees have been a welcome delight. They crawl all over the flowers, large and small. The one above was taken in early August. Pretty much all I had to do was wait and snap, they were buzzing all over. Even got one in midflight. Viewing the pics again yesterday, I found one of them to be a wasp. The wasps have mostly been enjoying our apples and pears. We have a few too extra pear trees, piled with the pairs of fruit.

Yesterday, newly excited by these pictures, heyoka popped out and snapped bees getting drunk on the sedum. I grabbed a few too, and a mosquitoish bug caught in a web, still anguishing in its stunned death throes. Elsewhere, the skittish spider curled up in a corner, waiting for me to leave. When it finally moved out onto the web, I snapped a few clear pictures. Viewing them soon after, I could see in detail how it pulled a strand of web, loosening it enough to move along.

Want to see all the bugs?

- - - -

I suppose it's natural to be so interested in the details of small things, with my nearsightedness. This is what I see when i take my glasses off and peer in closely. The whorls of fingerprints, flecks of flaking paint, minerals in flint, veins of leaves, feather channels, spots on a ladybird, lions rampant on doors and gates, drops of water on flora, frozen in mid-melt snow covered branch, the sunflower petals around the iris of heyoka's eye, reflections on insect wings, ember of a cigarette, dustmotes' moire whirl in a sunbeam. It's the little things that matter.

++ september 24, 2002

To Revive Ink, Keep Writing

Instructions on a coppery ink pen I like to write with.

Makes a lot of sense, unless one takes it seriously, er, literally I mean. You keep writing and the ink on the page sits up and yawns, stretching its t's and blinking its i's, demanding tea and biscuits. Starts yammering on and on about that cat you were writing about last wednesday and wasn't sinuous such an obvious word to use, and can't you write a bit clearer because all the smudginess and illegible scrawls is what's keeping it so lethargic in the first place. And why don't you write these things larger, it's going to be hard enough reading with those eyes of yours in a few years, might as well anticipate that sort of thing. And another thing while we're on it, there's not much point referring to emotions and feelings so obliquely, just spit it out! Write what's going on with you, instead of avoiding it all by diversions, metaphor and fancies. Think we like being folded up in a notebook, shoved in a corner of a bookcase or at the bottom of a knapsack for eons and only let out to air for you to squint over and shake your head and then doodle a bit and start again with just a rehash of the same old garbage you've been going over time after time?

So, it's just as well to drop the pen, and potter off somewhere, let the ink dry, fade out, settle down and slumber.

Anyway, a new well-worn pledge to revive ink by Keep Writing (At Orford Castle Baron Big-nose and Sir Superknight will be battling it out this weekend). Talk about putting lead in my pencil. Or, er, not talk about it.

- - - -

There is something about reviving the ink, getting the juices flowing. I have a bad habit of letting memories come over me when writing about something that's happening presently. Wishful thinking for the old days, or trying to let regrets finally lie down by putting them to paper. The good thing about it is approaching an old memory from a fresh aspect, applying wisdoms learned since to it. The other is an exercise in storytelling, what new details spring to mind in comparison with others.

The bad thing is ruminating over the same old garbage, instead of celebrating what's new. Is this what getting older is all about? Everything reminding you of something else, instead of being just what it is? It's also an avoidance of my present feelings. Taking the trip down memory lane instead of cruising down my Emotion Street. Remembering happy times when sad, remembering how things went all wrong when things are going well, remembering mistakes and how easy I make them.

And I worry that I just don't have it any more, an ability to capture a moment, a fascination, a scene. That I've run out of curiousity in people, that my eyes and ears are just taking it in and laying it down. That I keep forgetting my dreams, when I could remember them in absolute detail. That the stories are crumbling dust, the scenes are passing shadows, and the thoughts will always be half-formed.

Sometimes, though, sitting with a notebook, the blank page fills with more than just grasping metaphor and doodles. Something forms, becomes its own, and sets itself free.

And this makes all the worries and nailbiting and crumpled up pages have some meaning.

the queen of sheba

On saturday I went down to London, with the excuse of meeting up with people I know online, but really to get my fix from one of the museums I used to be able to visit any time I felt like it when we used to live in Soho. There were three immense pleasures to living there. First, sharing this new life, new world to explore with heyoka. Second, easy access to the shops and parks of the area. and Third, the art galleries and museums within walking distance, or a short bus ride.

The two closest realms were the National Gallery and the British Museum, both ten minute walks in opposite compass points from our flat. Every time I go to London now, I visit to one or the other for at least a half hour to review a few favorite works of art or antiquity. It was the British Museum I headed immediately to this time, on a sunny warm afternoon after a morning of chilly drizzle.

The place is huge, and always changing as long as I've lived in England, so I know that no matter when I go, there will always be something I haven't seen before, whether a new exhibit, or rooms that just weren't accessible (or I didn't know was there) appearing. The first time I went there, heyoka pulled me to the Reading Rooms, from the halls of books, to the famous circular one. They were already in the process of moving books to the new Library by King's Cross, and over the next few years, I watched them empty, becoming even more echoish, seeming even more dusty, and the secret doors to stacks appearing, being the only bits with books still in them. Then the Great Court was built around the Reading Room, a curlicue of glass panes, that revealed the grand sky above leaving geometric shadows across the walls and floor.

One of my favourite exhibits is the Assyrian Lion hunt, a frieze carved in limestone of a king hunting lions. There are rows upon rows of them, read left to right then right to left in picture story. I walked around them again, looking at the veined paws of speared beasts. The set-up is a little labyrinth, and, turning a corner, I saw some stairs heading down which had always been roped off before. At the head of the stairs, hunters carried a somber-faced male lion carcass. The hunt is meant to be a record of glory, but instead I'm always saddened and reminded of how animals are brought to extinction, and imagine a desert crossing, and meeting the grave ghosts of these grand beasts.

Down the stairs were more long tales of Assyrians warring with tribes. A few panals had some men on camels, something i hadn't seen upstairs. There were more rooms roped off, with bricked arches like the vaults in Crusader castles. Due to budget shortfalls, about a quarter of the rooms are closed at any time in the Museum. There's that feeling of being in a platform video game, with secret bits behind doors and requiring to have reached one level to be able to go back and explore more of an earlier section. Blocking off one set of rooms was a display of handdrawn maps of Petra, a paltry array that hinted at something greater beyond.

- - - -

The Queen of Sheba exhibit, which arced around the first floor of the round Reading Room, also hinted at much more than what was offered.

It begins with examples of the Queen in European art, mostly of her hooking up with Solomon. Sir Edward John Poynter's The Queen of Sheba's Visit to King Solomon was on display, or rather, a reproduction of the original in a museum in Sydney, Australia, and a smaller watercolor he did next to it. Seeing it, I had a strange feeling, for I had last seen it reproduced in a Bible as a child, and remembered the excitement of looking at this grand palace, with lion-bordered stairs and peacock-fan wielding servants, wiggling my head with picturing the Bible story. Little did I know that I would be in the Middle East later, looking at the ruins of similar wonders nearby. Poynter would visit the British Museum and study recent archeologic discoveries from Iraq as a basis for the scene of his portrait.

The exhibit continued with 'treasures' of Yemen, where Sheba or Saba was. The Sabaean script is like an elegant Art Deco Roman alphabet that had an aesthetic appeal to me. I really like looking at old laguage codes, from the pock-marked cuneiform to the Nabatean curves to the riddly Egyptian hieroglyphics. In idle daydreaming, I think of learning one of them and spending the rest of my days translating tablets.

The script on pylons and tablets made the exhibit for me. There was a small bronze right hand with script on it, and back of statues offering greetings of peace and servitude on both text and by hand gestures. There were also a few excellent lions, including a metal roaring lion head almost resembling a Chinese New Year dancing dragon face. The Queen of Sheba bit was just an excuse to show the Yemen work. The curators didn't really appear to know that much about her, and the exhibit ends with a picture of the Necropolis in Palmyra, where she is rumoured to have buried.

This surprised me, as in all my reading on Palmyra I hadn't heard of it. The famous woman of Palmyra is Zenobia, who brought the city to triumph and left it to ruin. We explored some bits of the necropolis on our visit last year, and it was, as the rest of our journey, an amazing and humourous adventure. In fact, it just could be that I desecrated the bones of the Queen of Sheba!