Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Big Bird

In case you miss me while I'm away, here is a photo of a large flightless bird. This is my mother's photograph, which I have shamelessly poached for your viewing pleasure.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Going With Sloth

So there's this little snippet of dialogue from Serenity that I'd like to borrow (Serenity, the film based on the wonderful show Firefly, that my friend Ramon recently introduced me to):

Scary bad guy with sword: Do you know what your sin is?
Mal, the hero: Hell, I'm a fan of all seven but today I'll have to go with wrath!

And I'll have to go with sloth.
Sloth is the sort of word you can just curl up in and go to sleep. Not a deep sleep, but that sort of restless dreaming that goes on when you know you should be up and active but are hiding out instead. Huddled up in the warm lair of sloth.

But I have conquered that sleepy sin for now and as of three o'clock tomorrow, will have written and submitted three essays, and earned a holiday in the Hebrides.

Happy me. I will return in two weeks' time with stories and pictures of birds.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

the world filled with birds

I took the long way to the university this morning so I could walk along Blackett Avenue. For some birds are mad about this avenue. I am new to this matter of birding. My father knew the secret long before I did. I still remember the day I first realized that his vision was different then mine.

I was home from boarding school in Kenya, only we weren’t home, rather we were living in tents in Loita Hills with a host of new missionaries to whom my parents were attempting to teach the ropes of living in the bush. Early one morning he led a walk for birds, and I went along.

Awake before the sun, screeching and singing,
The birds tussled over fruit in the trees.
Moving in the gray light like sleepwalkers,
we straggled behind my father,
bored by the multitudes:
crowds of birds clustered in the trees,
fluttering through the brush at our approach.
Blearily I watched my father
his darting glances,
nods, whispers,
Then the field glasses were pressed into my hands.
I raised them to my eyes;
the indistinguishable grey masses faded.
My eyes ignited—
explosions of color,
crests, feathers, rills, beaks, gleaming wings
filled my vision.

And I understood—my father sees the world filled with birds.
And now I do too. Praise be.

Friday, 20 April 2007

bones of saints

Today is not a good day. It's mid-afternoon and I have accomplished little today. I am trying to write about the commodification of the body. I feel sure that material on medieval relics (the bones of saints), rumors of body-snatching, the global organ trade, and the free market where all the world's for sale all fits together somehow in a brilliant essay. I just don't know that I'm the woman to write it.

It's spring and there are orchids and otters and birds waiting for me on the Western Isles, puffins and others with evocative names like divers and guillemots and shearwaters and snow buntings.

So let me go back to Easter Sunday. I had a good Easter. I didn't work at all. My lovely Scottish Episcopal church was all yellow and green and full of leaves. We were all herded into the back hallway and then we followed women with spices, like the women who went to anoint Christ's body that long ago day, and walked into sunlight and glory. We've had this huge crown of thorns hanging above the altar in the middle of the room all through Lent, twisted reeds with barbed wire wrapped round it, and that morn it was wreathed with branches and flowers like a May Day crown. Satin streamers stretched from it to all the corners of the room over our heads, Christ and spring and resurrection all mingled--fragrant, intertwined and alive.

And we had an Easter ceilidh that night, a kind of Scottish dancing that gave birth to square dancing in America. All generations danced together, and a wee girl I'll call Anna, who has a language comprehension condition and normally only speaks to her family and never to me, despite my longstanding attempts to win her over, came up to me and my two companions and sat on our laps and chattered and played with little pipe-cleaner Easter chicks. It was somewhat violent play, which I blame entirely on the child--we made them jump the plank and fight like roosters and flattened them with our fists and made them eat shortbread until they burst. And then she danced the Virginia Reel with me and I think that was about as much resurrection as anyone can ask for.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Welcome, but you have been warned

I have wanted to keep a web-journal for a while. I wanted it to be a paean to birding and how it has revived my spirituality. But I haven't been birding much lately, and I still have some spirituality, and I suspect the birding-communing with God connection might be a wee bit esoteric for many, even those who know and love me.

I am still planning to say rather a lot about birds. You have been warned. But I also wanted a place to also post new and old thoughts and musings and poemish things about God and liturgy and Christian spirituality. Feel free to copy down and use any of them however you wish. And I'm going to be irreverent at times as well, and angry and sad and occasionally downright despairing. Again, you have been warned. And occasionally I might tell strange and riotous stories, like those from my first year of college, a keen young missionary's child fresh out of East Africa--running through the woods with a squirrel collar while a reluctant crowd of American college students tracked me, that sort of thing.

I make no promises to write every day, every week—but I will write when there’s time enough and things to say. And when I get a chance I will post a host of poems and musing from the manuscript of prayers I have.

By the way, in case you don't know, I am in Scotland, in Edinburgh, living at the foot of Arthur's Seat and studying on a cobbled street in George Square. This is my life this year:

flannel sheets curry from the back of the Mosque woolly sweaters bedroom slippers magpies double-decker buses berries libraries goat’s milk yogurt the tracery of branches on leafless trees distracted sheep slate seas old stone houses long red hair

And the question of the day, nay, the year, is this:
Why am I in grad school when I could be pretending to save the world?

The answer, improbably, lies somewhere near these words of Michel Foucault:

There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all.

[That's probably illegal. Is it illegal to quote people on the Internet? I need a former student, wise in the ways of the world, to inform me...]

At any rate, I am back in school after a long time out of it. And I have sunk beneath the weight of too many words, my eyes grown worse—words used in argument, as means to an end, with little attention to their own peculiar aesthetic or to their power to move more than the mind…

So just in case
Your lives, like mine,
Through necessity or bare neglect,
Give short shrift
Of late
To poetry:

a few words from T.S. Eliot:

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And to know the place for the first time.

[Again with the need for a wise student.]

Be well on your various explorations!