A Fragment: When, To Their Airy Hall

A poem by Lord Byron:

When, to their airy hall, my father’s voice
Shall call my spirit, joyful in their choice;
When, poised upon the gale, my form shall ride,
Or, dark in mist, descend the mountains side;
Oh! may my shade behold no sculptured urns,
To mark the spot where earth to earth returns!
No lengthen’d scroll, no praise-encumber’d stone;
My epitaph shall be my name alone:
If that with honour fail to crown my clay,
Oh! may no other fame my deeds repay!
That, only that, shall single out the spot;
By that remember’d, or with that forgot.

Lord Byron once wrote “Roll on, deep and dark blue ocean, roll. Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain. Man marks the earth with ruin, but his control stops with the shore.” I wonder what he would think about bottom trawling, the Deepwater Horizon spill, Fukushima radiation, the Pacific trash island, etc.

Hitchens on Byron: The Truant of His Age

But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousand, perhaps millions, think;
‘Tis strange, the shortest letter which man uses
Instead of speech, may form a lasting link
Of ages; to what straits old Time reduces
Frail man, when paper – even a rag like this,
Survives himself, his tomb, and all that’s his. 

According to the BBC bio: “Byron was the ideal of the Romantic poet, gaining notoriety for his scandalous private life and being described by one contemporary as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’.

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Thoughts on Being Outside During a Thunderstorm

There’s nothing worse than a blog post about not having time to write blog posts. But this past weekend I had an excuse for not writing about either the American Legislative Exchange Council or Nietzsche, as is my routine: I was camping from Friday until yesterday at Pedernales Falls State Park. If you haven’t seen the Pedernales River, I highly suggest making the excursion—if only because we may not have many rivers left in the near future.

Anyway, apart from seeing a roadrunner, a toad, many lizards and vultures, and an amazingly friendly scarab beetle, among other animals, the highlight of the trip had to be witnessing a powerful thunderstorm roll through the area at about three in the morning on the last night.

Earlier that evening, while watching the striated glowing waves of the campfire oscillate and wane in the dust below the cracking and squeaking wood, I had watched a thunderhead move along the tree-line, and I was captivated not by the flashes of lightning from cloud to cloud but at their silence.

The fact that this billowing tower, that I knew was inflicting violence from the sky on all sorts of plants and animals living just over the ridge, was, from my vantage point, completely quiet, made me feel insignificant—and not insignificant in a bad way, but in a way that absolved me from the stress of feeling in any way important, almost as one feels when they realize that the test they didn’t have time to study for was either suddenly canceled or won’t count for as much of their grade as they first thought. Or, it’s kind of like realizing in the middle of a dream that you’re dreaming, and so any decision made from that point on is just kind of a free pass.

This alien jellyfish in the sky, with tentacles of white light, crawled through the sky in the distance, and above it, set against a bowl of almost complete darkness, I watched Ursa Minor, the little bear, arc upwards and into clear view. I thought about the universe expanding and contracting and expanding again ad infinitum, and felt as one always does when laying on one’s back in the grass in the middle of the night: reverent.

And then it came: after all had gone to sleep—or at least had turned the flashlights out in their tents—first lightning, and then gusts of wind, and then rain, and more rain, and even more rain, and suddenly the pulsating monster I had watched a few hours earlier from a safe distance, the jellyfish with light-tentacles, was upon us.

The feeling you experience when realizing that you’re about to be at the mercy of a thunderstorm is hard to describe. It’s a combination of fear, panic, awe, curiosity, boredom (when it just keeps raining, and raining, making your tent rattle and spring back to shape as it attempts to reject the bombing droplets), and a whole host of other emotions boomeranging from terror to relief and then back again. “Will I be swept away in a flash flood?” is one question that pops into one’s mind, along with others that are far more pedestrian, such as “When will the rain stop so I can go to sleep?” and “I wonder what the people in the next tent over are doing?”.

Still other questions spring up, like “Before the Enlightenment and weather radar and such, what did people think was happening when this happened?”. Surely Native Americans sat in their shelters wondering just what the hell was happening when it suddenly became daytime in the night-time, intermittently. Did they peer out, as I did, from my little zippered and meshed window, hoping with a morbid fascination that a huge beam of light would descend from the sky and zap, say, in their case a pile of boulders, and in my case a nearby assortment of cars?

Needless to say, I did of course survive the event and woke up the next morning after about an hour of the most peaceful sleep I’ve ever had; imagine the relief of seeing a storm that has tormented and taunted you all evening/early morning moving off to the East, leaving the faint rhythm of mist and droplets ping-ponging down through branches above your tent, accompanied (and really harmonized by) the rejoicing of crickets, frogs, dragonflies, and other wind-swept creatures, with the cool moistness of Autumn fog almost (but not quite) illuminated by the newly visible hazy moon.

And we trade all of this—all of this life and nuance and music, natural music—for air conditioning and Subway sandwiches and Duck Dynasty. What a bad deal.

Death in the Suburbs

A poem by Adrian Henri:

the earth moves sudden tiny snowstorms of cherryblossom a black cat runs apprehensive flocks of starlings startle from bushes slow-growing crescendo of crashing picture-windows gardens uprooted blown        pinkandwhite        skyhigh frozen agonies of begonias held for a moment liike a blurred polaroid lawns flung like carpets golfclubs    potting sheds    wheeled shopping-baskets hurled into orbit

depfreezes burst open prepackaged meals spilling everywhere invitations to whist-drives    coffee mornings letters to long-haired sons at campus universities never to be delivered pinboards    posters of Che Guevara stereo systems continental quilts     rows of neat lettuces blameless chihuahas    au pair girls still wet from dreams of Italian waiters mothers in law    bullfight trophies    sensible sooden toys whirled helples in a vortex rockeries like asteroids blizzards of appleblossom against the April sunlight

villa after villa flickers off like television birdsounds blur into the silence heaps of white entrails nestling amid lilies-of the-vlley ripple like tarmac gravel chatters        the crazy dance of pavingstones whole avenues implode gantries and railway bridges quiet sidings engulfed by avalanches of privet and howthorn waves of chalk earth flecked with hemlock and nettle-roots burying commuter stations

far away the first distant ripples flutter dovecots disturb the pigeons roosting in oasthouses weekend cottages doff their thatch to the sky mountaintops tumble like cumuli gales of earth ravage through ryefields pylons tremble like seismographs cries of children circling like seagulls echo the distance

a solitary picnicker sitting on a breakwater above the red flint-strewn beach hears the distant thunder as clifftops crumble looks up from the light scumbling the silver water ro see the horizon catch fire showers of small stones smell of uprooted samphire the last slive of ham    a packet of biscuits    the small black notebook slip away unseen as the concrete rears vertical his ears’ last echo the cires of lost sea-birds one dirfting pink petal catches the dying sunlight

And speaking of surburbs, here’s something a lot of my friends agree with: increase density in high-density cities, while moving people from suburbia back into downtown, in order to lessen the overall environmental impact.

I’m not so sure I agree with the tactic, since cities by definition require resource extraction and transport, i.e. sucking the surrounding landscape dry. But it’s something to think about. In the meantime, here’s part of the reason that suburbia sucks. Let’s run down just the top of the list, shall we? Stormwater runoff, chemically treated deadzones—er, lawns, SUVs, obesity, boredom, Libertarianism… A lot of things are wrong in the suburbs these days.