Saturday, November 30, 2013


What are you doing, Simon? Here's a man dying in misery and you take fright and pass him by? Have you grown rich, maybe? Do you fear they'll steal your treasures?
Leo Tolstoy, What Men Live By

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Happy Thanksgiving and Hanukkah all


--it was a feast indeed. For once on a holiday, not one of the family circle over-indulged. Usually our Italian neighbors are so neighborly that they offer our weaker brethren hospitality in the way of wine and grappa and the result is maudlin sentimentality if not pugnacity on their part and wrath on mine. But this day was indeed a day of cheer...

Dorothy Day, Thanksgiving Dinner and Other Things

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

CLXXXIV: a railroad car

Romero got married on the fifth of July
In our Lady of Immaculate Dawn
Could have got married in the revival man's tent
But there ain't no reviving what's gone
Slipped like a shadow from the family he made
In a little white house by the woods
Dropped the kids at the mission, with a rose for the virgin
She knew he was gone for good

It's a long way to Heaven, it's closer to Harrisburg
And that's still a long way from the place where we are
And if evil exists, it's a pair of train tracks
And the devil is a railroad car

Could have stayed somewhere but the train tracks kept going
And it seems like they always left soon
And the wolves that he ran with moaned low and painful
Sang sad miseries to the moon

It's a long way to Heaven, it's closer to Harrisburg
And that's still a long way from the place where we are
And if evil exists, it's a pair of train tracks
And the devil is a railroad car

Rose at the altar withered and wilted
Romero sank into a dream
He didn't make Heaven, he didn't make Harrisburg
He died in a hole in between
Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
Me I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train

Josh Ritter, Harrisburg

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


 I hate quotes without a citation, but I was reading an artist interview quoting it, and it stuck with me today. Definitely says something similar in On Fairy Tales, Google fails to yield immediate wisdom...

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?. . . If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can.
J.R.R. Tolkien.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Such is our way of thinking—we find beauty not in the in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, the one thing against another creates. 
Jun’ichirĊ Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Management has Spoken

After last weeks reinforced concrete Marian apparition I was surprised to see myself in the church bulletin today:

The shrine had been cleared out, and honestly looks much more subdued and fall appropriate in the way I envisioned it. Still, the plastic flowers and one handed Mary showed someone else cared. (I checked, one handed Mary is safe and sound in the back.) It made me think of a piece I'd written about the shrine, musing about artistic intention and its collision with real life. Since as far as I know it was never used for the intended purpose no reason not to recycle it.

About a year ago I completed a religious commission, a blessed mother outside a church in New Jersey. I built a raw wood shrine housing a life size figure of Mary carved from a dead pine tree that stood on the spot. I’d approached it with a rustic, eco art influenced aesthetic.  It was my own parish, and I thought I understood the context pretty well.  Instead, the emergence of this outdoor shrine, outside the direct control of the priests, provided an outlet for traditions of devotion I am familiar with, but had never seen in my own home parish. I've been disconcerted to find this very intentionally earthy statue constantly festooned with various plastic debris. Metallic tinted Christmas bells, tinsel, plastic rosaries, fake flowers in various unearthly hues have all taken up residence. It would be hard to imagine something further from my original intention.  I’m still constantly adapting the piece, rearranging these offerings, (removing items only on rare occasions) adjusting landscaping (and battling with grounds people with weed whackers).  This works because I’m not an outside consultant, but someone with an ongoing relationship with the space. Maybe more importantly, though it is not my aesthetic, I have some understanding of this form of devotion, powerfully associated for me with childhood memories of Italy and cemetery visits with my grandparents to the graves of my great grandparents and uncle, faded plastic flowers and cracked marble crypts. Experience allows me to respect even what I would rather not have around.  I don’t think any generic virtue whether of talent or open mindedness can replace that kind of experience...


Quite agree, quite agree, too silly, far too silly...
Monty Python, Dead Parrot Skit

Saturday, November 23, 2013

CLXXX: Where to?

You'll have to trust me there is a tree stump back there...

And shall I not be safe from men-folk there,
Thou cruel King, when she is guarding me,
The mighty maid from whom the shepherds flee,
When in the gathering dusk 'twixt day and night,
The dead leaves tell them of her footsteps light,
Because they mind how dear Actaeon bought
The lovely sight for which he never sought,
Diana naked in the water wan.
William Morris, The Earthly Paradise

Friday, November 22, 2013


If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Now, I am a backstreet driver from America
I am not at the wheel of control
I am guilty, I am war I am the root of all evil
Lord, and I can't drive on the left side of the road.
Nanci Griffith, It's a Hard Life Wherever You Go

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CLXXVII: words to live by

Be brave at the trial! Blame everything on me alone! And whatever the judge will ask you, say one thing: I was drunk, I don't remember anything.  Michail Bulgakov, Bliss

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

CLXXVI: preparation

I stopped by Teaneck Creek this morning to tag the likely spot for the county to deposit the remains of the Cedar lane tree. The smaller branches are going to a sawmill for future use, the big pieces are still up in the air, but I'll feel better with them someplace I can get at...

and at last we saw some people... 
at last we saw some people...
at last we saw some people huddled up against
the rain that was descending like railroad spikes and hammers
they were headed for the border—walking and then running
and then they were gone into the fog but Anne said underneath their jackets she saw wings
Josh Ritter, Wings

Friday, November 15, 2013


If I were asked to say what is at once the most important production of Art and the thing most to be longed for; I should answer; A beautiful House; and if I were further asked to name the production next in importance and the thing next to be longed for; I should answer; A beautiful Book. To enjoy good houses and good books in self-respect and decent comfort, seems to me to be the pleasurable end towards which all societies of human beings ought now to struggle.  William Morris

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Life without industry is guilt, and industry without art is brutality. John Ruskin, Lectures on Art

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


The farmhouse lingers, though averse to square
With the new city street it has to wear
A number in. But what about the brook
That held the house as in an elbow-crook?
I ask as one who knew the brook, its strength
And impulse, having dipped a finger length
And made it leap my knuckle, having tossed
A flower to try its currents where they crossed.
The meadow grass could be cemented down
From growing under pavements of a town;
The apple trees be sent to hearth-stone flame.
Is water wood to serve a brook the same?
How else dispose of an immortal force
No longer needed? Staunch it at its source
With cinder loads dumped down? The brook was thrown
Deep in a sewer dungeon under stone
In fetid darkness still to live and run --
And all for nothing it had ever done
Except forget to go in fear perhaps.
No one would know except for ancient maps
That such a brook ran water. But I wonder
If from its being kept forever under,
The thoughts may not have risen that so keep
This new-built city from both work and sleep.

Robert Frost, A Brook In The City

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


When asked by Robert Coles how she wished to be remembered, Dorothy Day talked about herself as a member of a particular Christian community, as an ardent seeker after God who, with some devotion, had followed His example "after a few false starts."  Coles relates that "after pausing to look out the window, after a retreat into silence, she said slowly, quoting the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Suhard, 'To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda or even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist.' "    

Monday, November 11, 2013


You talk of the scythe of Time, and the tooth of Time: I tell you, Time is scytheless and toothless; it is we who gnaw like the worm — we who smite like the scythe. It is ourselves who abolish — ourselves who consume: we are the mildew, and the flame.
John Ruskin, A Joy for Ever

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Temporarily Assembled Turkey

I put some time in this weekend on the carvings at Teaneck Creek, remounted the turtle, and fit the tail on the turkey. I also did some refinement on both the wolf and turkey. I  didn't actually manage to get the tail mounted due to drill problems, but it's getting there.

CLXVII: A Reed Bruise

There’s a blind man on the road saying,
Allah, Allah. Sheikh Nuri runs to him,
‘What do you know of Allah? And if you know,
why do you stay alive?’ The sheikh keeps on,
beside himself with ecstatic questions.
Then he runs into a low place, where
a reed bed has recently been cut down.

He falls and gets up, falls again,
floundering on the sharp reed-ends.
People come and find him dead, the ground
wet with blood and written on every reed-tip,
the word Allah. This is the way one must
listen to the reed flute. Be killed
in it and lie down in the blood.

Fariduddin Atta (c. 1145 – 1221) translation by Coleman Barks

I called it a day early in my carving efforts at Teaneck Creek, on account of drizzle and cold. I was taken by the urge to wander off the trail and into the marsh. I spent almost an hour listening to the sound of breaking phragmites, worrying if anyone has ever fatally impaled themselves on phrag. From time to time I'd come upon surreal little fairy clearings ringed with bush that seemed to be trying to convey a message I could not grasp. I walked through them as in a dream. I then came out on the opposite side of the circle trail in a spot I've been a  hundred times. 
So thin is the veil. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

CLXVII: On the Condition

For when we are interested in the beauty of a thing, the oftener we can see it the better; but when we are interested only by the story of a thing, we get tired of hearing the same tale told over and over again, and stopping always at the same point — we want a new story presently, a newer and better one — and the picture of the day, and novel of the day, become as ephemeral as the coiffure or the bonnet of the day. Now this spirit is wholly adverse to the existence of any lovely art. If you mean to throw it aside to-morrow, you can never have it to-day.
John Ruskin, On the Condition of Modern Art

I've never seen the pond at Teaneck Creek dry before...

Blogger seems to have decided to clumsily equalize the levels on this...

Forgive us.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


We are communities in time and in a place, I know, but we are communities in faith as well — and sometimes time can stop shadowing us. Our lives are touched by those who lived centuries ago, and we hope that our lives will mean something to people who won’t be alive until centuries from now. It’s a great ‘chain of being,’ someone once told me, and I think our job is to do the best we can to hold up our small segment of the chain. That’s one kind of localism, I guess, and one kind of politics — doing your utmost to keep that chain connected, unbroken. Our arms are linked — we try to be neighbors of His, and to speak up for his principles. That’s a lifetime’s job.

Dorothy Day

Monday, November 4, 2013


Once more he felt a boy again;
As though beneath the harvest wain
He was asleep, by that old stream,
And all these things were but a dream—
The King, the squire, the hurrying ride
Unto the lonely quagmire side;
The sudden pain, the deadly swoon,
The feverish life from noon to noon;
The tending of the kind old man,
The black and white Dominican,
The hour before the abbot's throne,
The poring o’er old books alone,
In summer morn; the King again,
The envious greetings of strange men,
This mighty horse and rich array,
This journey on an unknown way.
   Surely he thought to wake from it,
And once more by the waggon sit,
Blinking upon the sunny mill.
   But not for either good or ill
Shall he see one of all those days;

William Morris The Earthly Paradise