The Casual Blog

Tag: Yates Mill Pond

Thinking about animals: puffins and other wild things

Yates Mill Pond

Last week I was notified that I had a spot on a nature photography trip to Lubec, Maine, after waiting for some months on the wait list.  The trip, sponsored by the Georgia Nature Photographers Association, has as a prime objective shooting Atlantic puffins, which nest on nearby Machias Seal Island. They’re comically beautiful little birds. With only a week to get organized, I joined the GNPA, booked a room,  bought a plane ticket, arranged for a rental car, and started cramming on Maine and puffins.  

On Saturday, Sally did a hike at Yates Mill Pond park, and saw a family of 5 red-headed woodpeckers.  I took my equipment there on Sunday, and couldn’t spot the woodpeckers, although I’m pretty sure I heard them.  With our hardwood trees now fully leafed in, it’s hard to see birds, but there were plenty singing there on Sunday.  I’ve been refreshing on my bird song ID skills, and recognized perhaps a dozen familiar songs and calls. There were perhaps a dozen more that I couldn’t identify, so I’ve got a lot to learn.  I also took some pictures there of a great blue heron.

A great blue heron

Also last week, I went out to Anderson Point park east of Raleigh on the Neuse River.  It had been a long time since my last visit. The place used to be one of the best places to hear and see birds in Raleigh.  But, as I discovered, the park is now completely gone, replaced by single family homes. It made me very sad to think of the wild creatures that used to thrive there which lost their habitat and their lives.  

Humans are extremely dangerous to non-human animals.  Even when we’re not killing them to eat or just for the fun of it, we hardly give a thought to eradicating them by taking their territory.  This is bad for humans, inasmuch as it makes our world less varied and beautiful, but, obviously, worse for the victims.   

We’re taught from an early age to regard humans as inherently superior to other beings, and as somehow having an unlimited right to exploit and murder those beings.  But the support for this position is dubious.  We tolerate this situation because we’ve been deeply conditioned  to avoid and ignore it.  But it doesn’t take a moral genius to see there’s something not right here.  Once you see it, it’s hard to unsee, and also hard to know how to address it. 

Christine Korsgaard has a go at it in her recent book, Fellow Creatures:  Our Obligations to the Other Animals, which I’ve been working my way through.  Korsgaard, an eminent philosophy professor at Harvard, comes out of the Kantian tradition, but disagrees with Kant’s view that non-human animals are not entitled to moral recognition.  After a multi-stage analysis, she concludes that there is no principled justification for treating the lives of non-human animals as having less value than homo sapiens’ lives. The great Thomas Nagel gives a good summary and endorsement of Korsgaard’s book in The New York Review of Books (subscription required).  

Our new leaves, art, and white supremacy

 

In the last couple of weeks, the trees around Raleigh (“the city of oaks”) have leafed in, and the new leaves are really bright.  It’s a dazzling moment, and passes quickly. I took these pictures at Yates Mill Pond and Blue Jay Point.

I also got in some golfing with Gabe.  He’s been working hard on his game, and making amazing progress.  His tee shots are sailing high and long, and his short game is showing judgment and maturity.  He’s starting to look like a real golfer. It makes me want to play better, too!

Sally and I are so happy that he just started a promising new job got at Kalisher, which provides art and design services for hotels and restaurants (think Hiltons, Marriotts, Four Seasons, and Hyatts, as well as less established establishments) all around the world.  They have a lot of artists, and he’s the senior graphic designer.

Speaking of art, we bought a new Meural Canvas, which is basically a slim, high-resolution monitor with a matte and a simple wood frame.  Meural offers a huge library of old masters and contemporary art to go in it, which is easy to access with a tablet device, and easy to change, with a wave of the hand.  The images look really good, and it’s fun to sample new art.

Yates Mill Pond

We’ve been talking recently about the white supremacy art near us, including monuments on the Capitol grounds to “our Confederate dead.”  I had a closer look at them this week, and determined they were put up in 1895, 1912, and 1914 — one or two generations after the “War Between the States” (as it’s called on the largest monument).  These were probably not designed to help remember heroes, but to reinforce white supremacism and remind black people of their place.

 Last week I heard an interview on WUNC with Maya Little, a UNC grad student who protested Silent Sam, a Jim Crow statue at the University.    She poured some of her own blood and red paint on Sam, and is facing jail time for her protest.  That’s activist art. Maya Little’s got courage.

I learned this week about another subgenre of white supremacy art — picture postcards of lynchings.  On Fresh Air, the wonderful NPR show, Terry Gross interviewed James Allen about his book about the postcards, which were popular souvenirs.   I’d thought lynchings were relatively rare, and done relatively quickly and secretly, but that’s wrong.  In some cases they were advertised in advance in local newspapers, with hundreds or thousands of white people watching for hours as black victims got tortured, then killed, and their bodies were mutilated.  Local law enforcement did nothing to intervene. Starting after the Civil War, there were more than 4,000 documented lynchings. About 100 of those were in my beloved state of North Carolina.

It would be nice to think that we’ve put white supremacist violence behind us.  But we hear every week or so about another police shooting of an unarmed young black man.  Chris Rock, in his recent comedy special, manages to cause both a laugh and a stab of pain when he suggests that we could use some equality here, by having the police shoot more white teenagers.  

The NC Historical Commission recently had a public hearing on whether our Confederate memorial statues should be moved.  Most of the people who showed up and spoke were in favor of leaving them in place, which is disheartening.  With avowed white supremacists getting praise and encouragement from our highest government official, things may get worse before they get better.  Those of us who oppose racism and bigotry (still the majority, I think) have some work to do.

By Yates Mill Pond, and some quartets and symphonies

Yates Mill Pond, March 24, 2018

On Saturday, the forecast was for rain, but it was dry when I went out early to Yates Mill Pond, though chilly.  It seemed like winter left last month, and then came back. There were few other humans, but lots of birds, including honking Canada geese, trilling Carolina wrens, and a quiet pair of hooded merganser ducks.

On Saturday night, we went over to Durham for the sixth concert of the Duke Chamber Music series, where we heard the Jerusalem Quartet.  I’m aware that many people think of string quartet music as per se boring, which is too bad. At its best, a string quartet is an extraordinary being: a four-person virtuoso, an entity with the sensitivity of one and the knowledge of many.  And some of the greatest music in the western classical tradition is written for this ensemble.

The Jerusalem Quartet was amazing.  These four serious-looking young men were absolute masters of their instruments, and 100 percent committed. They took a questing, energized approach to the music, and convinced me that the Beethoven op. 95 should be considered a late, rather than a middle, quartet.  Their Debussy was a sonic marvel.

I wasn’t familiar with the Shostakovich second quartet, and liked it less than other Shostakovich quartets, but it was worth hearing. Composed near the end of WWII in Stalin’s Soviet Union, it raises the question of the role of music in a world of bloody war in a society led by a murderous psychopath.    The answer seemed to be — a tenuous, strained, painful beauty.

For the last few weeks we’ve been getting to know the seven symphonies of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957).  These symphonies are essentially romantic, but full of moods and questions, restless and heroic. There are numerous excellent versions available for free or almost on Spotify.   Our favorites are number two and number five, but all seven have wonderful moments.

Missing dragonflies, and welcoming motorcycles, new ballets, and Wagner

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I didn’t have any luck finding dragonflies this weekend. I tried Lake Benson, Lake Wheeler, and Yates Mill Pond, but it looks like we’ve about come to the end of another dragonfly season. I did see some butterflies and wildflowers, though, and enjoyed walking beside the calm and calming lakes. It was quiet, except for periodic thunderous roars from passing motorcycle groups.
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It was the 12th annual Capital City Bikefest in Raleigh this weekend, and on Saturday evening we walked downtown to have a look at the hundreds of bikes parked on Fayetteville Street. The bikes were mostly enormous Harleys, but with endless gleaming customizations, objects of pride and passion. Lacking tattoos and denim, we may have stood out a bit, but we didn’t notice any negative energy directed our way.
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We ate at Living Kitchen, the new vegan restaurant, where the clientele did not include any obvious biker types. I had the lunasagna, which was cool and tangy, and Sally enjoyed the living burrito, a collard green wrap. Our server, Rebecca, was friendly and efficient.
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Afterwards, we strolled over to Fletcher Hall for the first Carolina Ballet program of the season. Zalman Raffael’s new work, La Mer was a “non-linear” story ballet involving family dynamics and natural forces. We liked it a lot. I was particularly taken with Amanda Babayan’s character, the daughter with the troubles of adolescence.
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Robert Weiss’s first new piece was titled Stravinsky Pas de Deux, with highly dissonant music and angular gestures, danced with wonderful electricity by newcomers Lily Wills and Miles Sollars-White. Weiss’s The Double featured Alicia Fabry and Lindsay Purrington in startlingly close, tense unison. The final work was Weiss’s new Beethoven Piano Concerto # 5, which was very joyous and musical, with great leaps, spins, and lifts. I especially enjoyed Ashley Hathaway’s graceful solo in the second movement, and Alyssa Pilger imperial command in the finale.

Finally, I need to give a shout out to the N.C. Opera for its outstanding production last weekend of Wagner’s Das Rheingold. This little company somehow assembled a cast of world-class Wagnerians for two performances of this complex and thrilling work. Conductor Timothy Myers was masterful, and the singing was superb. Todd Thomas as Alberich managed to touch some unsettling psychological depths as he drove to his famous curse. I got goose bumps.
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My three-hundredth post

Yates Mill Pond, October 11, 2014

Yates Mill Pond, October 11, 2014

Early Wednesday morning I saw the lunar eclipse. On Thursday I reinstituted my meditation practice after a long sabbatical. On Friday evening I attended an inspiring recital by the great pianist Richard Goode, and reconnected with several of my good piano friends. On Saturday, for the first (and possibly last) time, I finished first in my spin class at Flywheel, and happily read the front page headline of the first gay couples in North Carolina to experience legal wedded bliss. These would ordinarily be potential subjects for this week’s post. But this week is special, inasmuch as it’s the 300th edition of the Casual Blog.

Many moons ago, I set myself the goal of writing one post a week on my non-professional activities and thoughts, and that’s pretty much what I’ve done. I’ve been trying to think what to say about this milestone, and it occurred to me to explain why I create the Casual Blog, or what I get out of it. But if I’m honest, which I try to be, I must admit I’m still not completely sure.

I enjoy finishing a post, but starting one always involves a degree of existential dread. Once a week, I ask myself, do I have anything else worth saying/sharing, and I always worry that the answer is no, I’ve run dry. And so it was this week. But I’ve already succeeded in writing three paragraphs!

I generally dislike writing about writing, and now I’ve gone and done it. But onward! There’s some odd part of me that enjoys the exertion of forcing the buzzing blooming flood of experience into the narrow channel of language. Writing about an experience usually shows me something about the experience I hadn’t known before. And there is at times a joy in language that has less to do with the meaning than with pure sound.
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Then there’s always the struggle for understanding, for meaning. Things happen. Events flow out of other events, sometimes cohering in an orderly way, with pleasing patterns, and other times cracking and scattering. What does it all mean? Blogging will likely not yield an ultimate answer, but it creates a platform, a workbench for reviewing experience that yields new perspectives.

As with Heisenberg’s famous uncertainty principle, we can’t observe and record our lives without changing them. That is, writing about one’s life changes the life. The imperative to make a post non-boring could lead to inauthenticity, but not necessarily. It could also inspire curiosity and get you out of your shell. The blogging commitment could lead to adventure!

Most important, there’s also the complicated sensation of communicating with another human. For the writer, the reader is ever-present as an as idea and concern, but almost never physically present. Without the reader, the writer would never write, but the connection is always tenuous. Who is the reader? Open or closed? Friend or foe? Can we connect? The writer in the act of writing is never certain.

And whenever we reach out to another human, trying to be honest, showing something about ourselves that’s real, there’s an element of risk. There’s a chance we’ll make total fools of ourselves. This gets the juices going. It’s kind of exciting. Actually, it is exciting!
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But it is also difficult. Whatever words are chosen means other words are not chosen. So many possible words, and possible choices, but whatever the choices, however good they are, others just as good will be excluded, sacrified. You know this when you start. But something still causes you to reach out, to explore, to experiment. There are satisfying little discoveries, and sometimes there’s evidence that you got through, made a connection.

So, you ask, what lies ahead for the Casual Blog? I really don’t know. Part of what I like about it is it’s voluntary, unnecessary, and contingent. It doesn’t have to be any particular thing, and could cease at any time. As I said, I’m always aware of the possibility of running dry, and I would stop posting if it stopped being fun. Or if my readers disappeared.

But part of me feels that I’m just getting well started, and I’m still enjoying experimenting and learning. If there were somehow more hours in the day, I could imagine writing a number of more specialized blogs, in addition to my professional writing. It would be fun to tend blogs on scuba diving, playing the piano, travel, global warming, opera, golfing, animal rights, ballet, political corruption, vegetarian restaurants, exercise, neuroscience, nuclear weapons, nature photography, poetry, artificial intelligence, the surveillance state, migratory birds, history, books I’m reading, etc. We shall see.

A monarch in downtown Raleigh, October 8, 2014

A monarch in downtown Raleigh, October 8, 2014

A new Firebird, and a great egret

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Whew! We finally made it to the start of the new Carolina Ballet season. After a long summer without any dance, I was particularly looking forward to the CB’s first program, with The Firebird as the featured work. And I was particularly excited to see Alyssa Pilger make her debut in the role of Firebird.

Full disclosure: based on a donation to the company, we were invited to be the pointe shoe sponsor of a dancer, and we picked Alyssa. She was then in her second season with the company, and struck us as especially talented. It’s been fun getting to know her. The Firebird is a big, difficult part, and not usually (maybe never) danced by such a junior member of the company. I went over to see her first performance of the role at yesterday’s Saturday matinee, and felt a few butterflies, like an anxious parent.
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Fortunately, she was fabulous! I’ve seen Weiss’s ballet to the great Stravinsky score at least twice before, and always enjoyed the solos for the magical sparkling red bird. The creature flits, darts and dashes, with sudden quickness and sudden stillness. Alyssa’s creation was a firebird of elegant exoticism and power. Out at the end of her long arms, her hands seemed almost like individual creatures, sending their own strange messages. With some of the extreme stretches and twists, it was easy to believe she was part bird. I found her performance completely transporting. It gave me goosebumps.
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I also really enjoyed Zalman Raffael’s new ballet, Brahms’ Violin Sonata No 3. I’m a Brahms man from way back, and know this great piece very well, but it never occurred to me that it could be a ballet. If it had occurred to me, I wouldn’t have guessed that a young choreographer would grasp and know what to do with its complex romantic pleasures. Indeed, I don’t know many people who care much for this music, which sometimes makes me wistful.
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Raffael, however, left no doubt of his grasp of Brahms. I found the ballet faithful to the spirit of the music, while managing to push against it and find new aspects. Jan Burkhard’s pas de deux with Yevgeny Shlapko showed tremendous emotional range. She was lovely and languid in the slow movement, as well as fiery in the finale. Jan has always had a lot of vivacious charm, but she seems to have extended her range into the darker modes in recent seasons. Yevgeny also looked great (he must have spent some time in the gym this summer).
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The other piece on the program was a new ballet by Robert Weiss called Les Saltimbanques. The music, Stravinsky’s Symphony in C, was Weiss’s primary inspiration. The piece, which I was not familiar with, is not as tuneful and romantic as The Firebird, but instead is more polytonal with irregular accents. Here too, I thought the choreography was faithful to and illuminating of the music. The organizing idea of the ballet is street performers (acrobats, clowns, and the like) filtered through a Picasso-esque vision. I found it bright and involving, and look forward to seeing it again next week.

These pictures were taken this morning (September 14, 2014) at Yates Mill Pond in Raleigh. The great egret is a bird we don’t see every day around here. I watched this one hunting for a half hour or so, and was enraptured.
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