Late and getting later

[An issue of my newsletter, Leaflet]

Come phone-bank with me on Halloween, at 3pm California time / 6pm New York time! The phone-banking will be under the auspices of Auk the Vote, a Democratic-leaning birders’ get-out-the-vote campaign organized by my friend (and fellow birder) David Robinson, but no birding experience is required. The calls are to Western states where the aim is to flip Senate seats. If, like me, you’ve never phone-banked before, there are training sessions you can take. Alternatively, if DIY is your learning style, there are FAQs, scripts, and how-to videos. I’ll be giving away some paperbacks of Overthrowto participants. Please sign up! Hope to see you there!

In a brilliant short essay about the mood of this election year, Elaine Blair taps a creepy Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale for the idea that sometimes an awful moment turns out to be, in retrospect, relatively speaking much better than what follows. “Remember worrying about the prospect of climate destruction?” she asks. Which reminds me of a climate scientist whom the New York Times quoted in September: “Don’t think of it as the warmest month of August in California in the last century. Think of it as one of the coolest months of August in California in the next century.”

Scarlatti’s sonata Kk. 213, “The Lover,” shares six notes with the theme song to the HBO show Succession, but they happen to be the most important six notes in both pieces of music. (In the Scarlatti, the notes are audible at 1’40”.)

“Bathed in the Lake from the boat. It was brilliantly fine. R—— dipped her paddles in occasionally just to keep the boat from grounding. Then I clambered over the bows and stood up to dry myself in the sun like one of Mr. Tuke’s young men.” —W. N. P. Barbellion, The Journal of a Disappointed Man

One wants to feel that one’s country is a force for good, and that when it hurts people unjustly, it’s an exceptional case. But as I was reading this devastating story by Laura Secor about an Iranian materials scientist (New Yorker), against whom the FBI ginned up fake charges in order to try to pressure him to become a spy, and who fought the fake charges in an American court and won—only to be tossed into ICE moments after his name was cleared, and to nearly die of COVID during his inexplicable seven-month further detention, I realized that I’m not at all sure America is a force for good right now. If I believed that a forceful, deeply reported journalistic account like Secor’s would prompt the government to mend its ways, that would be one thing. But I don’t have any confidence that it will, and arbitrary, indefinite detention of the innocent in sadistic, squalid concentration camps is just not something a good country does.

James Pogue went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, a few months before Jacob Blake was shot there, and found the remnants of the working-class, union-fortified culture that the Democratic Party once championed (Harper’s).

For years, John Jeremiah Sullivan has collected early photos of Black life and music, and now he has donated a group of them to MoMA, and written a lovely essay about them (MoMA): “One has tried to imagine this scene so many times without ever really expecting to see it. Then someone hands you a telescope and says, ‘Here.’” (My guess, fwiw, is that the two women in the second picture are dancing. Note the feet of the woman on the right—heels together, toes out, up on the balls of her feet—and the hands of the woman on the left, which look to me to be in the position that hands fall into after you’ve just snapped your fingers.)

“It’s not that she doesn’t know him well, it’s that anyone who has followed him with a mild interest already knows him too well to be surprised by revelations of kind or of degree”: Anne Diebel on Trump family dynamics (NYRB).

“We disagree about who had the idea for the next stage, but deep down we both know it was one of us”: Rafil Kroll-Zaidi on couplehood and storage units (Harper’s).

“The idea of Ferrante’s books overflowing or exploding with anger belies the calm of her narrators as they describe earlier selves overtaken by rage”: Elaine Blair on Elena Ferrante (NYRB).

“Inextricable from the malfeasance that has made the United States uniquely vulnerable to Covid-19 is a widespread failure to imagine one’s own mortality—and a tendency to project it onto others, whose deaths are deemed unfortunate inevitabilities”: Julian Lucas on Hervé Guibert (New Yorker).

“Unlike most recent Democrat and Republican nominees for president he isn’t a meritocrat (Dukakis, the Clintons, Obama) or an aristocrat (the Bushes, Gore, Kerry), or the son of a powerful father (McCain, Romney, Trump)”: Christian Lorentzen on Joe Biden (LRB).

“Anxiety about the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests have done more for gun sales than the 9/11 attacks, and even more than the election of Barack Obama and the Sandy Hook shootings, when Americans thought that guns were about to become illegal and that they needed to stock up”: Deborah Friedell on the NRA (LRB).

Meanwhile, it’s fall migration season, and very close to the end thereof, and on my blog, I’ve gone a little overboard with the nature photographs, such as, for instance, of cedar waxwings, blackpoll warblers, morning fog, golden-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers, black-throated blue warblers, pine siskins, and chipmunks.

Questing, New Marlborough, Mass., 10/20/2020

Hiking path, Questing, New Marlborough, Mass.

This afternoon I hiked a small nature preserve in New Marlborough, Massachusetts, called Questing.

There’s a meadow full of wildflowers, said to attract butterflies and dragonflies, but this isn’t their season. In their place were waves and waves of dried goldenrod.

Goldenrod, Questing, New Marlborough, Mass.

It seems that birds who aren’t in New York City parks don’t feel obliged to let me get as close to them as I’m used to. Nonetheless, I saw a golden-crowned kinglet, if from a distance.

Golden-crowned kinglet, Questing, New Marlborough, Mass.

And a white-breasted nuthatch.

White-breasted nuthatch, New Marlborough, Mass.

While photographing the kinglet, I noticed that the chipmunks around me vigilantly accelerated their alarm chirps the longer I stood in one place, and fell silent as soon as I took a step. Their theory seems to be that any forest creature worth its salt will be aware of me while I’m blundering forward in heavy boots, crinkling fall leaves, my binoculars clunking against my camera, and it’s when I’m standing still, holding my breath, and hoping a bird will fly my way that I’m dangerous and need to be encircled and screed at.

Except this guy.

Chipmunk, Questing, New Marlborough, Mass.

He poked out from between the stones of an old farmer’s wall as I walked past, and since he was just a few feet away when he froze, I took his picture. Which made his ears perk up. He emitted a little chonk, almost as if responding to the shutter release sound, so I took another picture, to make the sound again. He chonked again; I clicked again. He chonked twice, I clicked twice. He ran inside the wall and almost immediately returned to resume playing. By the end he was leaning out of the wall, toward me, as you see, and I had two dozen close-ups of a single chipmunk.

Chipmunk, Questing, New Marlborough, Mass.