Sunday, July 31, 2011

A cardinal, a lily, the sky -- July

I'm reminded of the Peter Pan song "I won't grow up," in which the eternal child laments that adults still wear "a serious expression -- in the middle of July!"

He has a point. This is July.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pink and green ...

... and morning ...

... and evening. The star of these photos is my Queen of the Prairie plant, the tall pink frothy thing, which is the pride and joy of my Pathetic Little Garden. It has had a rough time this year, having been nearly choked by another plant which I hoped would be pretty, but which I finally uprooted because it was ruining the Queen.

A hummingbird actually hollered at me the other day. Granted, his red feeder full of sugar water was in need of refreshment, but I think it wasn't that stale. Anyway, while I sat relaxing on the porch, I heard an odd little chip-chirp in the air beside me. I looked, and not three feet away hovered a hummingbird, swinging back and forth, looking rather stern and chip-chipping at me as if I were not quite bright. So I heaved a sigh, got up, went in the house, dutifully mixed his one part sugar and four parts water, stirred and stirred, brought the pitcher out to the yard, took down his feeder, emptied it, rinsed it out, and filled it carefully and hung it on the shepherd's hook again. Then I trudged back into the house and fetched a cup of clean water, which I took out to the yard and then, just as carefully, emptied over the outside of the feeder, rinsing off any excess sugar water which might attract ants.

Then I went back to the porch and sat down again. I saw no more of the hummingbird that evening so I assume he ate, was satisfied, and went home to bed. "Ah, we are all martyrs to our servants," Lucia sighs in Mapp and Lucia. It's another thing entirely, however, to be a martyr to a hummingbird.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Springfield -- Lincoln's tomb

The little "Field trip! Springfield" seems to have been, in hindsight, a sort of severance package for the end of a marriage. He wanted a room with a relaxing Jacuzzi. A month later, he wanted to leave. As we say in the vernacular, who knew?

Lincoln's tomb: note the young boys' faces, present in all the sculpture groups around the monument. We still sometimes call soldiers "boys," but in the Civil War, many of them really were children, and serving in the thick of it. Lincoln's face, too, is sculpted differently here at his gravesite from the way it is made now in the many representations of him all over Springfield. In majestic nineteenth-century bronze, he is leonine, heavy-featured, fearsome, all black. In the new depictions of him -- including wax, or whatever dioramas are made of -- his face is thinner, blander, and of course happier.

And speaking of new ways of looking. I had forgotten to note that, in the Lincoln Museum in downtown Springfield, the tourist is guided through a series of floodlit dioramas showcasing lifesize wax figures of scenes from the President's life. In one, a slave couple are shown in the act of being forcibly separated and sold away from each other at a slave market in New Orleans. "This is something the young Lincoln might have seen on his first trip to New Orleans," the plaque beside it says. We are naturally invited to think how it might have affected him.

Ah, but what did happen to him on his first trip south in 1828? David Herbert Donald quotes him.
" 'One night,' as Lincoln remembered, 'they were attacked by seven negroes with intent to kill and rob them. They were hurt some in the melee, but succeeded in driving the negroes from the boat, and then cut cable, weighed anchor, and left.' " (See Lincoln, p. 34.)
But that story is not to be thought of when making dioramas nowadays. Political correctness is so much more useful in them than the truth.   

Looking at this massive monument, at the entrance to an otherwise obscure nineteenth-century cemetery in an Illinois town that would have been completely obscure were it not for Lincoln's own presence here, one gets a sense of the emotions, the shock and disbelief people must have felt at provisions having to be made for President Lincoln -- Lincoln -- to be buried here within days of Union victory in the Civil War. Every place where his body rested before final interment in the great crypt is noted: below, the small house-shaped structure cut into the hill is the public vault where anyone's body could be placed temporarily. Once it happened to be used for him, in May of 1865, it seems rarely to have been used again.

Inside this quiet barred cell, there are dignified, nineteenth-century curlicues of stone and metal gracing the plain metal doors of the vaults, now forever empty. Ladies in black hoop skirts and gentlemen in stovepipe hats looked at them and were comforted, perhaps, not just in May of 1865 but in earlier seasons when mourning other dead. Last year's leaves nestle in the corners, as no doubt they do every year. Farther up the hill to the left, a mute stone marker stands where Lincoln's body was moved again (in December 1865), from the public vault to a second resting place before the real, giant's tomb was finished. Construction on that took nine years. For nine years he lay simply in the side of the hill.   

When at last the tomb was finished and dedicated, it must have been a point of great pride and honor, as the years went by, for other Springfield veterans to be buried one by one in Oak Ridge, almost at the feet of the Emancipator. Below, veterans' headstones lie in concentric circles around a monument made of (ersatz?) cannon balls, the circles rippling out, the death dates of old men falling later and later. The 1880s, 1890s, and so on into the 1900s.

Here we are looking up at the back of the tomb from behind its hill, the obelisk framed in a graceful tree. Behind us in turn, on a warm if barren-looking April morning, the rest of Oak Ridge rolls and stretches, in softly shaded, quiet wooded hills, into an oblivion of unvisited Victorian American graves. 

And then, the trip home. Why need there be so many very 21st-century-looking windmills outside Odell, Illinois?

They whirl and spin, and the trees turn green, and life goes on. It's blazing hot summer there now.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Field trip -- the beach

A rather lowering day at Indiana Dunes State Park, all high hazy clouds and cool, damp winds. The soft sunlight on the pebbles made them gleam as if they were in moonlight -- I suppose. I've never seen the beach at night.

Below, a native plant up on the dunes. Milkweed, I think. I have the same in my garden.

And below, the dunes. The lake's waters reached this far -- and much farther -- in previous aeons.

The beach was not as empty of people as these photos suggest. We chose to picnic in an area where there were no lifeguards and therefore no swimming allowed, and therefore fewer would-be swimmers. Besides, one can always grab the camera, get up from the beach towel, and keep on walking toward still more isolated spots. 

Come to think of it, why do masses of people obey two teen lifeguards who drive around the beach in a dune buggy, mournfully telling their fellow citizens that they mustn't swim here, but may swim over there where lifeguards are posted -- and where it's correspondingly crowded? One angry lady raised a sensible point. "Why on earth," she yelled, "is it any safer to cram hundreds of people into one area of the beach, so you can watch them there? We've got this whole beautiful beach -- you are not going to be able to save anybody in trouble. You won't be able to see them." And the teen had to explain, in age-old fashion, that he was just following orders.

There was nothing for the erstwhile swimmers to do except either leave the water -- which they did -- or leave and go swim where the rules allowed it. Or rise up, French Revolution style, and hurry the teen lifeguards à la lanterne, or (and this would be better) simply ignore them. But people don't ignore authority. It's a pity, but it seems the bureaucratic, Leviathan nanny state has ground all of us down in this way. When we are faced with a silly command from people who deserve to be ignored and who are embarrassed at giving orders anyway, still our minds work forward and anticipate the sanctions. If we don't obey, eventually the kid will fetch a higher authority, not because the issue is so important, but because it's as much as his job is worth not to enforce rules he's been told to enforce. The higher authority will then be able to impose real sanctions -- at minimum a "scene," at maximum physical removal from the park plus probably a fine. Meanwhile, the day of fun would be ruined, when all we need do to go on having fun is obey the orders of the nanny state which can claim it is only looking out for our safety anyway. Doctor Johnson would never have tolerated this. The Duke of Wellington would never have tolerated this. Our ancestors of a hundred years ago would not have tolerated it. Maybe the liberals are right. Maybe human nature can be changed.    

Although, to be fair, nothing prevented anyone from wandering off and swimming far away from other people, teen guards, the nanny state, and all. And there were plenty of dogs on the beach, despite the signs warning "no pets." Maybe the teen guards had long since decided to pick their battles.

And finally, I am puzzled to know why anyone should have decided that a stock image of a bewigged eighteenth-century French couple in a bosky glade adequately represents the experience of going to Indiana Dunes State Park. I found this plate at a local thrift shop a long time ago, and bought it as a curiosity. We didn't bother stopping in any gift shops this day, so I have no idea what sort of souvenirs are sold on behalf of the park now. Perhaps, years ago when this plate was made, some foreman at a Chinese factory simply glanced at the wrong order form and gave the nod to the wrong assembly line. And there we are.