Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lets have some Pun.

A man was charged with stealing ducks from a local pond in a small English village.
When in court, the judge asked how he pleaded. He replied 'Not guilty Mallard'.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Touched by Thoreau – II

This was going to be a comment on Aasheesh’s beautiful post on Thoreau but my responses came in fractured slivers and turned out longish, so I thought they had better be put into a post.

Have you been touched by Thoreau? he had asked.
When I first read of Thoreau in school, his life in Walden, his eccentricities, his individual spirit, he felt like a kindred soul. Everybody has Guardian Angels and he seemed like he could be mine.

Many years later, I was stuck in a job and in a life I disliked, feeling trapped and very unhappy. I had wandered into that situation and had no idea how I must extricate myself, whether I must and indeed, if I could. Then:
I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
I had only Henry David’s word for it. I had been having altogether too many ‘common hours’ but then I thought, he must know. With that one sentence drumming in my mind, I escaped the life I had so dreaded and since have indeed met with success I could not hope for then.


Talk of Thoreau inevitably calls up another memory. I must’ve encountered Enid Blyton’s Tammylan around the same time I met Thoreau and to my young mind, they frequently meshed.

Siblings Rory, Sheila, Benjy and Penny go to live in the country in Blyton’s The Children of the Cherry Tree Farm where they encounter wild man Tammylan. As they become friends, Tammylan introduces the children to the inhabitants of the English countryside: rabbits, hares, badgers, otters, foxes, voles and squirrels. It is one of my most-loved books, but most of all, I fell in love with Tammylan’s homes, both of them. One, a cave for the colder months and a tree house for the summer that I would have given anything to live in.
It was by a backwater of the river – a quiet peaceful place, where moor-hens bobbed about and fishes jumped for flies. “A Tammylanny sort of place,” Benjy thought to himself…
It was a most extraordinary house. Tammylan had planted quick-growing willows close to one another, and used their trunks for walls. He had trained the top of these branches across for a roof! Between the trunks of the willows he had woven long, pliable willow twigs, and had stuffed up all the cracks with heather and moss. It was the cosiest house imaginable.
To me, Thoreau's cabin at Walden has always seemed like that tree house. Very one's own.


In Wildness is the preservation of the World.

‘Wildness’ (with the extra whump) reminds me of this book I enjoyed recently and a small aside in the story that captured my imagination even as it saddened me. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan is a fantasy for young people, in which contemporary USA meets the Greek Pantheon. Racy and very entertaining.

But the aside that interests us comes from Grover, a satyr in the tale who is, like many satyrs before him, desperately seeking a Searcher’s License. The search is on for Pan, the God of Wild Places. Even as they speak, our hero Perseus feels a change in the air.
A strange breeze rustled through the clearing, temporarily overpowering the stink of trash and muck. It brought the smell of berries and wildflowers and clean rainwater, things that might’ve once been in these woods. Suddenly, I was nostalgic for something I’d never known.
In Greek mythology, Pan is the only god who is supposed to have died. However, the news was dubious, though certainly Pan seemed to have disappeared. Grover explains his quest:
When humans heard the news, they believed it. They’ve been pillaging Pan’s kingdom ever since. But for the satyrs, Pan was our lord and master. He protected us and the wild places of the earth. We refuse to believe that he died. In every generation, the bravest satyrs pledge their lives to finding Pan. They search the earth, exploring all the wildest places, hoping to find where he is hidden and wake him up from his sleep.
All those years ago, Thoreau was right: the preservation of our world does depend on how well we protect Pan’s domain. Wake up, Pan-God, reclaim your kingdom. Before it is too late.


Not one mention of a bird here, or birding, and this a blog about birding! But I plead your indulgence and quote in my defence CLR James who said: ‘What do they know of cricket who only of cricket know?’ So it is with birders – our interests scatter wide and how do you stop a ripple?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Touched by Thoreau

"In Wildness is the preservation of the World."
Those words cleaved their way forcefully into my being in 1983, the first time I read the great sage of the woods. I had bought a copy of his 'works' at a book sale in Bharatpur, yes, my first visit to that avian shrine, and on returning to Hyderabad, spent numberless hours, blissfully sipping such verbal novelties, such novel ideas, written with a pen that seemed to spring from my very heart, that I trembled unabashedly in the passion and ardor of the author. I feel that the lodestone of his philosophy is encapsulated in this immortal phrase.

Notice, the great man used the word "Wildness", with a capital 'W' and not 'wilderness' as he is often misquoted to have done. That word, 'Wildness' has that extra whump to it, which transcends it into a meaning that is completely different from 'wilderness'.

I have read him whenever my fancy yearned for it or when my beliefs tottered in this material world, between the here-and-now of unfettered consumerism and the purity, the virginity and strength of Thoreau's Wildness, I found myself standing penitent in front of the bookshelf, tilting the masterwork into by palm, reading the tome from the page that fell open, instantly mesmerised, purified, calmed by the clarity and simplicity of his language.

"I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock spruce or arbor-vitae in our tea."

"Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him."

"Here is this vast, savage, howling mother of ours, Nature, lying all around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children, as the leopard; and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man, -- a sort of breeding in and in, which produces at most a merely English nobility, a civilization destined to have a speedy limit."

American nature writers are a class in themselves and Thoreau their godfather.