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

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most links are independent, but some help support this web site.

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

Admire a Crystal Forest with William Sharp

a close view of a twig covered by ice with other branches in the background

“Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure . . . But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry; . . . My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts . . . If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

Charles Darwin

A Crystal Forest (1913)
by William Sharp Read more

Observe Thomas Jefferson’s Legacy by Spending Some Time in Nature

The front of a $2 bill showing Thomas Jefferson's portrait.
Since Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, today is an apt occasion to consider his legacy and follow his example.

White boards, cell phones, tablets, and computers are not the only things that assist and enable creativity. So does taking a break, particularly one outdoors!

Activity where we do something without needing to think about it very much actually shifts us into a different state of consciousness. Now there’s a term for this state of mind: “transient hypofrontality.” Long before this term was invented, however, the greatest minds of society had already figured it out.

When Thomas Jefferson wasn’t running the country or visiting France, he was usually working in his yard. When Beethoven wasn’t writing music or playing the piano, he often took walks in nature. When Emily Dickinson wasn’t baking or writing poems, she was often working in the garden or tending potted plants in the greenhouse. When Monet wasn’t painting . . . you get the idea. 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

Experience Nature’s Radiant Beauty Through An April Sonnet

white anemones blooming in a woodland setting, with leaves just starting to come out on the trees and shrubsNo days such honored days as these! While yet
Fair Aphrodite reigned, men seeking wide
For some fair thing which should forever bide
On earth, her beauteous memory to set
In fitting frame that no age could forget,
Her name in lovely April’s name did hide,
And leave it there, eternally allied
To all the fairest flowers Spring did beget. Read more

In a Persian Garden by Liza Lehmann

Note: the timing of this post is meant to tie in with both Women’s History Month and the Persian New Year known as Nowruz or Norooz.

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a 17th Century Persian panel of tiles in shades of blue and yellow showing people enjoying themselves outside in a setting of blooming plants and trees
Fritware wall panel now in the Louvre, 1500s-1600s, showing entertainment in a garden
(similar to this one at the Victoria and Albert Museum)

The word “paradise” comes from an old Persian word that means “a walled garden.” The intent of that walled garden, however, was indeed to create an earthly paradise. At the beginning of the Old Testament, Genesis 2 mentions four rivers in the Garden of Eden, so these spaces were traditionally divided into quadrants, known as chahar bagh. In addition, so was the country.

oil painting showing inner courtyard and garden at the Palacio del Generalife and Patio de la Acequia near the Alhambra in Granada, Spain painted in 1848 by Wilhelm MeyerThat design sounds formal, and often these areas were courtyards with pavilions and elaborate tile work. You might wonder: what did Persians plant there? Most had rows of trees such as cypresses, sycamores, or date palms, possibly low boxwood hedges, and perhaps sycamores, beeches, lindens, palms, or other trees such as mimosa or redbud at intersecting points or just planted around for shade. But despite its formal tendencies, Read more

Sound of the Season: Claude Debussy’s Enchanting Music for Spring

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painting The River Epte by Claude Monet (1885)
The River Epte (1885)
by Claude Monet

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.

George Santayana

a portrait of Claude Debussy by Marcel Baschet (1884)
portrait of Claude Debussy by Marcel Baschet (1884)

As a young adult, when the French pianist-composer Claude Debussy was living in Rome as a laureate of the Rome Prize, he was expected to send works back to Paris indicating his artistic progress. One of them was supposed to be a symphony or a piece of similar scope for orchestra. In fact, he hardly completed anything because he was trying to write music “that is supple and concentrated enough to adapt itself to the lyrical movements of the soul and the whims of reverie.” It also helps to acknowledge he was a meticulous craftsman and re-writer who held himself to an exceedingly high standard and an innovator who wasn’t content to write music the way it had been before.

One of the few things he did complete and send was a piano duet called Spring, and he added that the full score for orchestra, piano, and chorus had been lost Read more