Thursday, January 15, 2015

Causing offense to garden-lovers, dog-lovers, baby-lovers, and Burns-lovers

My current book is Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols. I'm in the midst of a chapter in which he compares gardens to the works of great composers (almost every day is Chopin) and in which, in explaining why he doesn't like hybrid tea roses, he "presumably forfeits the sympathy of millions of garden-lovers, dog-lovers, baby-lovers and Burns-lovers all over the world." I think this is the ninth gardening book of Mr. Nichols that I've read and while I do truly enjoy his rhapsodies about his gardens, it's when he gets a good rant going that I find him particularly irresistible.  So I share the following excerpt:

...There are psychological reasons behind this aversion; these roses were the background to the gardens of my childhood, if a period of such violent storm and stress can be called a 'childhood' at all. (I have often wondered, with genuine curiosity, how it must feel for a child who can actually walk into his home without a feeling of terror, almost of panic, at he thought of what may be awaiting him inside.)
     But this psychological complex is only the half of it; the aesthetic aversion is equally strong, and it is obviously so uncommon, and so unpopular, that I shall need a page or two to explain it. For to whisper a word against roses, in England or America, is simply not 'done.' When one suggests that we can have too many of them and that the role they are able to play in the  garden is limited, one's remarks are received with the same sort of horrified incredulity as if one had observed, en passant, that all dogs were not necessarily the noblest creatures in the animal kingdom nor all babies the most beautiful examples of God's handiwork. This is the established legend among 'decent' people, and one cannot fight the establishment, even though a moment's honest reflection must reveal the fact that many dogs are not noticeably noble, and that most babies, to the impartial eye, are of considerable hideousness, with bald pates and lunatic expressions. Though obviously to be treated with kindness, they should be removed from the view of all but their parents for the first few months of their lives and kept, if possible, behind screens.
      To the vast majority of the public, roses are above criticism. We are besotted by roses. We can no longer see them straight because of all the mist of sentimental tradition that has gathered round them. The rose has become a sort of moral status symbol. 'My love is like a red, red rose,' sang Burns, and for all the 100,000 members of the Rose Society this fits in very nicely with their personal predilections, evoking, as it does, a picture of a full-bosomed young lady with parted lips waiting to be wooed--but one hopes not too painfully scratched--against a background of Dorothy Perkins. If your adoration of roses is even slightly qualified there must be something morally wrong with you. For that matter, if your adoration of Burns is not whole-hearted you are equally suspect. Well, I never have much cared for that greatly overrated poet and since reading the luridly scabrous verse which he scribbled for his private delectation I have cared even less.
      Are there any other large groups of the public whom we can outrage, while we are about it? In the past few sentences we have presumably forfeited the sympathy of millions of garden-lovers, dog-lovers, baby-lovers and Burns-lovers all over the world. Perhaps that is enough to be going on with, for the moment.

--from pages 154-155 of Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols

Need I add that I'm loving this book?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The lark that is pursuing new birds

Despite the less than fabulous weather this afternoon, Scott and I set out in pursuit of the surfbird (who knew there was actually a species of bird called a surfbird?) said to have been seen near Alki recently. "Less than fabulous" means it was coolish, with a light rain. We dressed appropriately and endeavored to keep the camera and the binoculars relatively dry. It was a pleasant walk during which we took some streets we haven't been on before. Having just calculated the miles I find that we went just shy of 6.5 miles in a couple of hours which I'm calling pretty impressive for an impromptu outing.

 For those who just can't wait for the suspense to end, I post the following photo of, I believe, a surfbird:

The joke, for there must be a joke, is that for the longest time we looked at the bird below, convinced that it was the rare surfbird, hiding out amid a flock of black turnstones:

This bird, you see, was smaller with an all-white belly and pink-orange leg whereas the other larger, more numerous birds were more speckly, with yellow legs, and different eyes. The more numerous birds we knew to be black turnstones, for that is how I recorded them after our walk on New Years Day.

 So we came home and checked the bird books to learn that our surfbird was, in fact, a young black turnstone while our flock of ho-hum turnstones were, in fact, the surfbirds in which we had gone in pursuit. Scott had suggested early on on our walk that I could claim "intermediate" status in the birding world, having successfully defended two "rare" sightings recently. I'm pretty sure the whole getting my birds entirely backwards here cements my rank beginner status.

At least I realized this was a lovely quartet even when they were "just turnstones."

 But I continue on, nothing daunted. We also saw both common and red-breasted mergansers, both common and Barrow's goldeneyes, some buffleheads and western grebes, and, I am saying, a pelagic cormorant.

What I'm calling a pelagic cormorant until convinced otherwise.

 All in all a fine outing, even if the roof of my mouth is *still* damaged from the would-be restorative hot chocolate purchased at the Marination Ma Kai.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

If you think it's mushrooms, but it's not . . .

I wimped out on the polar bear swim though conditions were perfect--cold but very sunny and zero wind--so Scott and I went for a long walk this afternoon to make up for it. We saw other, very serious, swimmers (not plungers) at Alki, getting their mile or more in, in the frigid water. We also saw a great many birds, including a common murre that some nice people allowed me to look at through their scope. I thought it was a new bird for me until Scott reminded me that we'd seen thousands of murres off Yaquina Head a few years back. It's always nice, however, to share the excitement of other bird-types, and the woman with the scope told me that there were some sanderlings down the way. I thanked her somewhat perfunctorily since I was pretty sure we'd seen a pair of sanderlings on Alki earlier but when we actually saw the birds to which she referred, well, I had to go back and thank her for the tip because we wouldn't have looked that way otherwise and would have missed this:

Who knew shorebirds could look so much like mushrooms? There were also a couple of killdeer hanging out nearby, with one of the few wakeful sanderlings on this part of the beach.

For a livelier view of a sanderling, see here (one of the pair that was hopping about on Alki Proper):

Pleased am I at so fine a start to the new year.