Angels Unawares

FrangelicoFra Angelico (c 1395 – February 18, 1455)

 

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

-Paul’s letter to the Hebrews 13:2

 

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Study of a Tree

Georges Michel (French, 1763-1843)Georges Michel (1763-1843)

 

by Hope Jahren

A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. Neither the seed nor the old oak is growing; they are both just waiting.
What each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince the seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance–to take its one and only chance to grow.
. . . .
When you go into a forest … you probably don’t look down, where just beneath your single footprint sit hundreds of seeds, each one alive and waiting. They hope against hope for an opportunity that will probably never come. More than half of these seeds will die before they feel the trigger that they are waiting for, and during awful years every single one of them will die.
. . . When you are in the forest, for every tree that you see, there are at least a hundred more trees waiting in the soil, alive and fervently wishing to be.

A coconut is a seed as big as your head. It can float from the coast of Africa across the entire Atlantic Ocean and then take root and grow on a Caribbean island. In contrast, orchid seeds are tiny: one million of them put together add up to the weight of a paper clip. Big or small, most of every seed is actually just food to sustain a waiting embryo. The embryo is a collection of only a few hundred cells, but it is a working blueprint for a real plant with a shoot and a root already formed.
When the embryo within a seed starts to grow, it basically just stretches out of its doubled-over waiting posture, elongating into official ownership of the form that it assumed years ago.
. . . .
After scientists broke open the coat of a lotus seed and coddled the embryo into growth, they kept the empty husk. When they radiocarbon-dated this discarded outer shell, they discovered that their seedling had been waiting for them within a peat bog in China for no less than two thousand years. This tiny seed had stubbornly kept up hope of its own future while entire human civilizations rose and fell.


With gratitude to Nicolas Silver for presenting me with the book from which this incomplete excerpt is lifted.
“Lab Girl” is a 2016 memoir by American geochemist, geobiologist, and professor Hope Jahren.

See also:

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/in-our-hands-forests-sleep/

https://secretgardening.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/the-seed-shop/

 

Letters on the Natural History of the Insects Mentioned in Shakspeare’s Plays

mothOrder 3. Lepidoptera
William Bartram (1739 – 1823)

 

“Robert Patterson (1802-1872) was a remarkable naturalist you’ve probably never heard of. At the age of 19, he co-founded the Belfast Natural History Society. He also wrote a number of zoology texts and designed a series of zoological diagrams for use in schools. In 1857, he posted a ‘real Irish Rabbit’ across the Irish Sea to Charles Darwin, at Darwin’s request.”
Manu Saunders, https://ecologyisnotadirtyword.com/

Manu Saunders introduces Robert Patterson irresistably, and so caused me to seek his book online–where I found it!
But the introduction and table of contents were so charming: intermingling the science, the poetry, the observations of human as well as insect life, that I have yet to work my way through to the actual body of the book itself.
Here is some of what snared my attention, broken up, and sometimes re-punctuated, by me:

Letters on the Natural History of the Insects Mentioned in Shakspeare’s Plays.
With Incidental Notices of The Entomology of Ireland.
by Robert Patterson

Contents

LETTER I. INTRODUCTORY EPISTLE.

Ennui occasionally experienced while residing in the country.
Its cause. (Originates in a defective system of education.)
Proper meaning of the term Naturalist. The legitimate objects of his inquiry.
Periodical changes in the aspect of the external world.
Pleasures which the study of Nature affords; mental effects of such pursuits.
Poetry and Natural History might “each give to each a double charm.”
Inquiry proposed with regard to the knowledge of Natural Phenomena, exhibited by some of our most admired Poets.
Shakspeare “the Poet of Nature.”
Opinion of Dr. Johnson.
Remark of the late John Templeton, Esq.
Shakspeare, in accurate observation, superior to Milton.
Illustrative extracts from ” Lycidas” and the” Winter’s Tale.”
Number of the notices of natural objects in the Dramatic Works of Shakspeare.
Their investigation, why interesting . . . page 1

 

LETTER II. ENTOMOLOGY RECOMMENDED.

Solace which the study of Natural History affords to the man
of business. The benefits it confers on the man possessed of leisure.
The study of insects proposed. It should not be deemed frivolous, because the objects are diminu-tive. They are a portion of the works of God. Their diversity and beauty.
Peculiar advantage enjoyed by the Entomologist.
Numbers of insects.
Importance of a knowledge of their habits.
Their destructive powers. Benefits they confer . . . page 13

 

LETTER III. LARVAE AND PUPAE.

Advantages which may be anticipated from the proposed in-
quiry. Subject of the present Letter — Insects in their
early or imperfect states.
Expression used by Hamlet, “If the sun breed maggots in a dead dog.”
Distinction between the vertebrate animals and insects.
Destructive powers possessed by caterpillars; frequently mentioned by Shakspeare.
The pupa state. “There is a difference between a grub and a butterfly.”
“The smirch’d moth- eaten tapestry.”
“The worm i’ the bud ;” “the canker.”
Cocoon of the silk-worm; its value. “The worms were hallowed that did breed the silk.”
“An empty hazel nut.”
“The old grub.”
“Your worm is your only emperor for diet.”
Different meanings of the word “worm” in Shakspeare . . . 27


There is more–much more. I don’t want to overload anyone’s attention, but allow the words and ideas to stay lively as you take them with you.

I may not be able to resist sharing more at some other time.

 

The Kongouro from New Holland

kanga stubbs more blueGeorge Stubbs (1724 – 1806), Associate Member of the Royal Academy

 

The first depiction of an Australian animal in Western Art, this portrait was commissioned by Joseph Banks and said to be based on the inflated skin of an animal he had collected from the east coast of Australia in 1770 during Lieutenant James Cook’s first voyage of discovery
[It is, also, clearly a fleshed-out version of a sketch by Sydney Parkinson.]

 

The Coming of Spring

coming spring
The Coming of Spring: Constance Smedley, writer, suffragist, social activist, founder of the Lyceum Club 
by Maxwell Ashby Armfield  (1881 – 1972)

 

 

I Famish To Behold

kit utamaro
Kitagawa Utamaro (c. 1753 – 1806)

 

The most triumphant Bird I ever knew or met
Embarked upon a twig today
And till Dominion set
I famish to behold so eminent a sight
And sang for nothing scrutable
But intimate Delight.
Retired, and resumed his transitive Estate—
To what delicious Accident
Does finest Glory fit!


Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

 

 

with thanks to WordVerseUniverse https://wordverseuniverse.wordpress.com/

Published in: on April 8, 2018 at 11:48 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fish Emerge From the Ice

pineconeattrib. LWR Wenckebach (1860-1937)

 

In ancient times the Japanese divided their year into 24 periods based on classical Chinese sources. The natural world comes to life in the even more vividly named 72 subdivisions of the traditional Japanese calendar.
The 24 divisions are each split again into three, for a total of 72  that last around five days each. The original Chinese names did not always match up well with the local climate, so in Japan they were eventually rewritten, in 1685, by the court astronomer, Shibukawa Shunkai.

(The dates in the following table are approximate and may vary by one day depending on the year. [My own fear is that climate change will have distorted seasons everywhere, and so the dates may vary more widely. –s.g.]
There are no standard readings in Japanese for the kanji names of the 72 , so other sources may give different readings.)

 

Risshun (Beginning of spring)
February 4–8: East wind melts the ice
February 9–13: Bush warblers start singing in the mountains
February 14–18: Fish emerge from the ice

Usui (Rainwater)
February 19–23: Rain moistens the soil
February 24–28: Mist starts to linger
March 1–5: Grass sprouts, trees bud

Keichitsu (Insects awaken)
March 6–10: Hibernating insects surface
March 11–15: First peach blossoms
March 16–20: Caterpillars become butterflies

Shunbun (Spring equinox)
March 21–25: Sparrows start to nest
March 26–30: First cherry blossoms
March 31–April: Distant thunder

Seimei (Pure and clear)
April 5–9: Swallows return
April 10–14: Wild geese fly north
April 15–19: First rainbows

Kokuu (Grain rains)
April 20–24: First reeds sprout
April 25–29: Last frost, rice seedlings grow
April 30–May 4: Peonies bloom

Rikka (Beginning of summer)
May 5–9: Frogs start singing
May 10–14: Worms surface
May 15–20: Bamboo shoots sprout

Shōman (Lesser ripening)
May 21–25: Silkworms start feasting on mulberry leaves
May 26–30: Safflowers bloom
May 31–June 5: Wheat ripens and is harvested

Bōshu (Grain beards and seeds)
June 6–10: Praying mantises hatch
June 11–15: Rotten grass becomes fireflies
June 16–20: Plums turn yellow

Geshi (Summer solstice)
June 21–26: Self-heal withers
June 27–July 1: Irises bloom
July 2–6: Crow-dipper sprouts

Shōsho (Lesser heat)
July 7–11: Warm winds blow
July 12–16: First lotus blossoms
July 17–22: Hawks learn to fly

Taisho (Greater heat)
July 23–28: Paulownia trees produce seeds
July 29–August 2: Earth is damp, air is humid
August 3–7: Great rains sometimes fall

Risshū (Beginning of autumn)
August 8–12: Cool winds blow. The mountains begin to color.
August 13–17: Evening cicadas sing
August 18–22: Thick fog descends

Shosho (Manageable heat)
August 23–27: Cotton flowers bloom
August 28–September 1: Heat starts to die down
September 2–7: Rice ripens

Hakuro (White dew)
September 8–12: Dew glistens white on grass
September 13–17: Wagtails sing
September 18–22: Swallows leave

Shūbun (Autumn equinox)
September 23–27: Thunder ceases
September 28–October 2: Insects hole up underground
October 3–7: Farmers drain fields

Kanro (Cold dew)
October 8–12: Wild geese return
October 13–17: Chrysanthemums bloom
October 18–22: Crickets chirp around the door

Sōkō (Frost falls)
October 23–27: First frost
October 28–November 1: Light rains sometimes fall
November 2–6: Maple leaves and ivy turn yellow

Rittō (Beginning of winter)
November 7–11: Camellias bloom
November 12–16: Land starts to freeze
November 17–21: Daffodils bloom

Shōsetsu (Lesser snow)
November 22–26: Rainbows hide
November 27–December 1: North wind blows the leaves from the trees
December 2–6: Citrus tree leaves start to turn yellow

Taisetsu (Greater snow)
December 7–11: Cold sets in, winter begins
December 12–16: Bears start hibernating in their dens
December 17–21: Salmons gather and swim upstream

Tōji (Winter solstice)
December 22–26: Self-heal sprouts
December 27–31: Deer shed antlers
January 1–4: Wheat sprouts under snow

Shōkan (Lesser cold)
January 5–9: Parsley flourishes
January 10–14: Springs thaw
January 15–19: Pheasants start to call

Daikan (Greater cold)
January 20–24: Butterburs bud
January 25–29: Ice thickens on streams
January 30–February 3: Hens start laying eggs

 

https://www.nippon.com/en/features/h00124/

 

No One Hears

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591 – 1666),
best known as Guercino (Squinter)

 

Angels

They have little use. They are best as objects of torment.
No government cares what you do with them.

Like birds, and yet so human . . .
They mate by briefly looking at the other.
Their eggs are like white jellybeans.

Sometimes they have been said to inspire a man to do more with his life than he might have.
But what is there for a man to do with his life?

. . . They burn beautifully with a blue flame.

When they cry out it is like the screech of a tiny hinge; the cry of a bat. No one hears it . . .

 

Russell Edson (1935 – 2014)

 

Published in: on January 23, 2018 at 5:47 pm  Comments (3)  
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Weather


Joseph and Mary on the Way to Bethlehem,
Hugo van der Goes (1430 – 1482)

 

Account from the 1540s of weather between Christmas and the new year:

25th: ‘Christynmas was fayre & drye without anye sune shynyng’

26th: ‘St Steven’s daye fayre & drye without any sune shynyng: toward nyght the wynd dyd.’

27th: ‘St John’s daye was verye drye & sone shynyng.’

28th: ‘Innocente daye in the mornyng was a fayre whore froste, a fayre bryght sone shynyng, and drye daye.’

29th: ‘Saynt Thomas’s was dark, drye and after noon verye great wynde; about VI of the clocke it dyd for space of two owres and then the wynde dyd synke. It was drye.’

30th: ‘the 5 daye werys fayre and the sune dyd shyne very bryghtly.’

31st: ‘the 6 daye was dark, and rayne lyke, but at evenyng yt dyd rayne a little and was very wyndy – the nyght was much rayne’

 

Manuscript 62122 from The British Library, twelfth century book.

Thanks to Amy Jeffs, medievalist, Cambridge University

 

Pessimus Cattus

Nicolaes Maes (1634 – 1693 (buried))

 

Manuscript1420

“Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.”

 

English translation:

Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.

 

https://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/paws-pee-and-mice-cats-among-medieval-manuscripts/

 

— Grateful to Pádraig Belton for making me aware of this story.  I was defeated in my effort to disentangle the rest of the chain of provenance.