A few weeks ago, having heard that there was a Northern saw-whet owl in Prospect Park, I went looking for it. Since owls sleep during the day, it’s against etiquette to post their locations online, to prevent a crowd from gathering and waking them up, so I had to guess where it might be. I didn’t guess altogether wrong, as it later turned out, but after looking for two hours, I gave up. It was getting dark, and the owl, wherever it was, would soon be flying off for his nightly hunting. But then, on my way home, I ran into a birder I knew, who was looking up into a tree. He let me in on the secret.

I took a number of photos that day, although the ones I’m posting here were taken on return visits. All were taken with a very long lens, while standing on the pavement of a much-trafficked thoroughfare, and I’ve delayed posting them. Yesterday I was unable to find the owl at its old location, and another birder told me this morning that it has moved on to a new location—which, at my request, he did not tell me, so that I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone who might read this and want to ask. So I feel that I’m in the clear to share the photos—enjoy! Note in the photo above that in its talons the owl is holding a snack, whose tail and rear paw are just visible—probably the reason the owl’s eyes were open during this one visit.





Prospect Park, Jan. 20 and 26, and February 1, 2023


“To see a painting or a statue, he thought, and then to look out of the window, is to see how fresh and richer life itself is. He had read this a few weeks before in the volume of a German philosopher, and because Ezekiel had always felt so, the sentence had significance.” —Charles Reznikoff, By the Waters of Manhattan

Does anyone know which German philosopher Reznikoff’s hero was reading? I had the impression that the idea in question was originated by Muriel Spark, but Reznikoff’s novel was published in 1930, so this can’t be Spark in German drag. I bought (from Better Read than Dead) and read By the Waters of Manhattan because, shallow person that I am, I thought the cover of the paperback, by Amy Drevenstedt, was gorgeous, and as usual, my superficiality was rewarded. It’s a solid page-turner. The first two-thirds is about a Jewish woman growing up in eastern Europe in a family full of idealistic and often hapless men. The second is about her son starting a bookstore on the Lower East Side and venturing into a somewhat amoral romance with one of his customers.

A book cover, with the title and author's name hand-lettered, and an illustration of New York's Lower East Side with the Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop

“Haven’t smoked for three days. Busy night and day not smoking. Already I can climb stairs better but that’s not much of a life. With smoking one has a life while dying. How did the Greeks ever run a whole culture without it? Maybe that’s why there was so much homosexuality.” —Russell Hoban, Turtle Diary

“Car horns serve the same purpose as birdsong—to warn away rivals, or to express annoyance.” —Sparrow, The Princeton Diary

This isn’t quite the case, of course, or anyway not exclusively—birds also use song for courtship, spooking prey, begging, and staying findable to mates and colleagues—but I lolled. I wrote a post about Sparrow’s previous novel, Abraham, a couple of years ago, and so far the new one is also very quotable (“Princeton is what New Jersey would be like without the mafia.”)

Years ago, soon after I landed my first real job, as a senior (sc. junior) editor at Lingua Franca, I bought a set of the old Houghton Mifflin / Riverside Press edition of Thoreau’s journals, which happened to have belonged to the late critic Alfred Kazin. I had read “in” Thoreau’s journals a fair amount in grad school, and I read “in” them some more when I did a Thoreau-related review soon after buying the set, but it was only last year that I sat down with the intention of reading them through. Having started birdwatching myself makes it more plausible, somehow. Sometimes I cross-check with the new Princeton edition, which I have many but not all volumes of, but I seem to prefer the old Riverside Press edition for actual reading, just as I seem to prefer the more-edited editions of John Clare. It turns out I’m not a purist and appreciate punctuation. Adding to the pleasure of the copy of Thoreau’s journal that I have are Kazin’s copious pencil annotations. I particularly liked this one, of Thoreau’s entry for October 14, 1851:

Alfred Kazin has written "Me" in pencil, beside this passage in Thoreau: "'Some men's lives are but an aspiration, a yearning toward a higher state, and they are wholly misapprehended, until they are referred to, or traced through, all their metamorphoses.'"
Me, too, by the way.

“She had no ambition to write a good book, but was painfully anxious to write a book that critics should say was good.” —Trollope, The Way We Live Now