Encounter a White Landscape . . . “Seen” by Pēteris Vasks

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a snow-covered winter scene showing a row of leafless trees growing at the boundary of an agricultural field that stretches all the way to the horizonIn his evocative 1969 meditation on winter titled simply “Confirmation” (Apliecinājums), Latvian writer and translator Māris Čaklais said,

How good it is that once again we believe in the snow,
which is like the dawn of dawn.

As you know, snow comes in only one color: white, and dawn brings only one thing: light (and as that light builds, day). So what is it that’s getting confirmed here? Read more

French Cantatas for Winter Winds: Discover Boismortier’s Four Seasons

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The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler's cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).
The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler’s cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).

People frequently declare our time the Social Era. You’ve heard that term before, haven’t you? We won’t find naming winter storms among Nilofer Merchant’s new Rules for the Social Era, but lately our human tendency to personify everything inanimate has been applied in yet another way.

We’re far from the only culture with this tendency to look at the world around us and create characters. Every culture has! If we look back in time, the wind and weather provide good examples. (Pssst! Would you like to add a word to your vocabulary? There’s a term for making characters of wind and weather. Doing this is called physitheism.)

I hope that crazy word didn’t blow you away! It is pretty abstract, and might leave you groping for examples. So what were some of these breezy, gusty epithets, and how far back in history do they go? Read more

Are You Excited About Beets?

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a photograph showing several beets on a cutting boardBeets are closely related to the fodder beet, sugar beet, and Swiss chard, all in the Amaranth family, Amaranthaceae. The National Garden Bureau has named beets the Vegetable of 2018, which means at least some of us will be planting and eating more of them.

Having trouble with your enthusiasm? Read more

Recognize Earth Day with the Breathtaking and Epic Nature Symphony by Siegmund von Hausegger

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a dramatically-lit image of the Earth from outer space showing the sun just beginning to rise over a crisp blue arc of the atmosphere against a black starry skyNature has inspired humanity for as long as stars have shone in the night sky and the orbit of the earth has caused the seasons. Long before Linnaeus assigned official names and categories to all the living things, many other people gave organisms names and wondered about their relatedness. Millennia before we understood the structure and implications of DNA or first saw our own planet from space, people pondered the vastness of a universe they could only imagine and the complexity of life they undoubtedly knew they could only begin to grasp.

Although nature can be daunting, erratic, and bogglingly complex to analyze, this same recondite, awesome nature has inspired portrayals in many forms of art. One of those, written by Goethe, would enable Siegmund von Hausegger a century later to complete this symphony harnessing the power of the imagination to envision and to escape. Read more

The Unforgettable Mass Murder at Columbine High School and Its Inaccurate Cultural Mythology

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blue and white columbine flowers against a sunlit sky

Truly powerful people are not concerned about their power, but about being in a position of being able to empower.

Nadja Swarovski

In our culture and many others, flowers often commemorate people and events. Since April 20, 1999 a common wildflower has taken on an additional meaning no American should forget. That indelible association refers to Columbine High School just outside Denver, Colorado. The community where it’s located took its name from the state flower. The blue sepals symbolize the sky, its white petals represent snow, and the bright yellow center reminds us of the gold that helped establish the state. Read more

Sound of the Season: Gary Schocker’s Cherry Blossoms

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a photograph looking at a blue sky through the branches of an ornamental cherry tree in bloom; this pale pink variety is called 'Akebono', which means "dawn"
This is a variety called ‘Akebono’ which means ‘Daybreak’ or ‘Dawn’.

“A simple phrase can say a thousand words that a thousand notes cannot. This is my attraction to Gary’s music. I have always identified with his music; his beautiful, elegant melodies and corresponding harmonies free of excess. It’s my legacy to share his music with the harp world.”

harpist Emily Mitchell,
check out an interview here

Over the past three decades, American flutist-composer Gary Schocker has written well over 100 pieces for harp. Only a small percentage of that abundance has been recorded, but it includes a septet called Cherry Blossoms. Written in 2006 for flute, clarinet, harp, and string quartet, Cherry Blossoms may recall the instrumentation of another piece now a century old. In case the unusual instrumentation seems familiar, that’s because Read more

Flowers of the Forest by Jean Elliot

a woodland scene with bluebells carpeting the forest floor

There’s always a time appropriate for these verses, given the events in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the unchanging human condition. It is safe to predict the forests of humanity will always produce such flowers.

The best introduction to these timeless “flowers” comes from about 1,000 years ago: Read more

Sound of the Season: Johan Wagenaar’s Power of Spring

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“Spring arrived – a beautiful, kind-hearted spring, without spring’s usual promises and deceptions, and one of those rare springs which plants, animals, and people rejoice in together.”

Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

berries of leatherleaf Mahonia, commonly known as grape hollySince spring is a season associated with planting more than harvest, I thought these berries of grape holly–that just developed–could remind us what a rich source of inspiration this season has been to artists over the centuries and that we can (nearly always) enjoy that harvest whenever we want.

On the other hand, however, we should realize that this plant is invasive and we reap what we sow, so Mahonia bealei is best removed rather than admired wherever it grows in North America. The perpetual cycle of growth and renewal can represent problems as well as positive things that bring us joy, can’t it? Read more

The Surprising History Behind, Well, April Showers and Wet Places

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an oil painting shows scene of clouds in a green valley called April Showers, Napa Valley by Jules Tavernier, made around 1880
April Showers, Napa Valley (around 1880)
Jules Tavernier

As children we learn April showers bring May flowers. For all I know children today still learn it. Among young adults and young-at-heart there is one group dedicated to helping spread the moisture, primarily with silly merchandise such as stickers and shirts: MoistMyTown.

The basis for calling a place “moist” appears to have nothing to do with weather

Read more