Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Don't be a shrew--The Quote of the Week

This from a wonderful book called The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature by a biologist named David George Haskell. The book is filled with scientific/poetic details on the marvels and interconnectedness to be found in a patch of old growth Tennessee forest.

But nature has its nasty bits as well, and they can make for some pretty riveting reading. Catching a glimpse of a shrew on an early spring morning, Haskell tells us a bit about the little mammal that Shakespeare made famous:

"Shrews live short, violent lives. Only one on ten survives longer than a year; the rest get burned out by their furious metabolism. Shrews breathe so frantically that they cannot survive long aboveground. Their outrageously rapid breathing would dessicate and kill them in the dry air.

Shrews feed by snapping at prey then chewing poisonous saliva into their victims, sometimes killing the animal they have caught, sometimes paralyzing it for storage in a dungeon of horrors, a larder of living but incapacitated prey...

The soil's food web reaches its zenith in the shrew. Only owls will eat shrews; everything else gives them a wide berth, fearing their vicious teeth or the acrid taste of their scent glands.

There is kinship with humans here. The first mammals were shrew-like creatures terrorizing the snails and centipedes of the Mesozoic. Our ancestors were shrill and vicious, leading a caffeinated existence in dark corridors. An analogy with our current state of being is tempting. Thankfully we've lost the poison fangs and pungent glands."

And people think vampires are scary?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Quote of the Week

"The difference between the Parthenon and the World Trade Center, between a French wine glass and a German beer mug, between Bach and John Philip Sousa, between Sophocles and Shakespeare, between a bicycle and a horse, though explicable by historical moment, necessity, and destiny, is before all else a difference of imagination."

"The imagination is like a drunk man who has lost his watch, and must get drunk to find it. It is an intimate as speech and custom, and to trace its ways we need to re-educate our eyes."

--From The Guy Davenport Reader, one of Wander's current staff picks.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Quote for Snow

"A few light taps on the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark, mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

--the final paragraph of James Joyce's short story "The Dead," which is the final story in his 1914 collection, Dubliners.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Quote of the Week

"I love the predictions of a man right before his first child is born," Flowers said. "They're like little snowflakes. Right before the sun comes blazing out the clouds and melts those happy dreams away."

"Living in a dreamland," Bankwell suggested.

"Indeed," said Flowers. "But the rent is coming due."


"...Late afternoon in late August, the sky limited only by the hills and the imminent wall of night. Palm tree, sycamore trees, soaked in shadow. Slouch-hat bungalows blazing sunshine at their crowns. Archy (the soon to be a father guy above) took it all in with the ardor of a doomed man. Not that he believed himself to be in any danger or was dying in any but the slowest and most conventional of ways. The clarity and sweetness of the evening, the light and the way it made his chest ache, were only the effects of mild panic, panic both moral and practical.

When he got out of his car, the evening laid its cool palm against his weary brow as if feeling for a temperature. He stood on the sidewalk in front of his house. The El Camino's engine sighed and muttered to itself, settling. A toddler archeologist searched the sandbox with a red shovel...."

From pages 210 and 211 in Michael Chabon's latest novel, Telegraph Avenue.