Category Archives: Arts

Bluebird Birthday

By Corinne H. Smith

I eased through a birthday last week. I say it this way because I didn’t celebrate the occasion. This year didn’t carry a momentous number ending in 0 or 5. And once you hit the half-century mark, you have no need for fanfare. No reason to get dressed up and have a party with school friends, with a big birthday cake and candles and a rousing game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, like we did way back when I turned seven. It’s now just a day like any other. I was determined not to play it up.

Then again, I allowed Facebook to out me. The quick online greetings started early. I ignored them as best as I could and logged off to go to my job at a used bookstore. One of my co-workers came in later with a strange expression on her face.

“Did Facebook lie to me this morning, or is today your birthday?” she asked.

I nodded. “Today is my birthday,” I admitted.

“Then I have a small birthday present for you,” she said. She handed me a candy bar. It was the exact brand and size that she has seen me nibble on every workday for a year and a half. It was the perfect present. I thanked her for this considerable generosity.

Truth be told, I had already gotten quiet birthday wishes at work the previous day. They came as I was cataloging a book. I opened the front cover and a card fell out. I’m used to this happening. People leave all sorts of items behind in donated or abandoned books: bookmarks, receipts, subway tickets, postcards and such. This greeting card had on its cover a painting of a bluebird in front of a forsythia bush. The scene was bright and almost too colorful and Spring-like for this all-brown November day. “Especially for You On Your Birthday,” it read. Coming into my hands within 24 hours of my own anniversary, this card seemed to be meant for me. Inside was written the name of the previous owner (who is now deceased, I know) as well as the signature of the friend who had sent him this card. I couldn’t return it to its original receiver. I didn’t know who the sender was. I felt only slight remorse at commandeering the card. I slipped it into my bottom drawer so that I could take it home.

At the end of the day, when I walked into my kitchen, I put the card on the table next to my two others. I had gotten these through the mail from long-distance friends. One was funny, and the other one was nice and heartfelt. Both reflected well the people who had sent them. They made me smile.

bcards2014

I looked at this third card and wondered if I should have just dropped it into a recycling bin. It was pretty enough. But it was too flowery for my style and too much like an old-person’s card. I am not an old person. I wouldn’t have given this card to anyone. And I would have shrugged it off as a mistake if one of my actual friends had seen fit to send me one like this.

To keep, or not to keep? I opened the card again. This time I saw a small paragraph on the bottom left that I had missed seeing earlier. It defined the picture on the cover. “Eastern Bluebird. The bluebird ‘carries the sky on its back,’ wrote Henry David Thoreau.” Now I laughed out loud. I didn’t have to read the rest of the description. I knew that this card had come directly to me from Henry. What other explanation could there be? It’s a keeper. Thanks, Henry.

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Filed under Arts, General, Henry David Thoreau, Living Deliberately, News and Events, The Roost

@ le Bois (de Boulogne)

I begin this post at the edge of the woods…and with some trepidation. It’s not the trees that cause pause; rather, it’s writing about the Frank Gerhy-designed arts center that appears to have landed beside the Bois de Boulogne just outside the city limits of Paris. In short, I am writing a long way from the 10’ X 15’ house that contained Thoreau’s examined sense of necessity and architecture pond side at Walden. And, as if to double the danger, I’ll be writing about La Fondation Louis Vuitton named for the maven of a focus on and sense of fashion that would surely not find its way to approval in Henryland.

Still, there seems to be more than a fragile link between the ways in which Henry Thoreau and Frank Gehry imagined space. So.

Upon approach I see a ship – of the air? washed in from the sea? – apparently at rest. Its curved, glassy sides look as if they have been opened for airing after a long voyage; it looks also like approaching the nose of a huge and complicated blimp that is powered by sails.

 

Upon Approach

Upon Approach

As is often true when you go to see sensation, we join the queue that straggles back beyond the sign that promises a 30-minute wait. Still, on this transparent day with temps in the 50s, our queue-mates are in good moods, and a number of languages rises companionably above the line. I toy with a usual fantasy – is this the crew selected for lift off? Are these the ones with whom I’ll leave this world for whatever’s beyond it? I’m sure the ship-like image of the building and our line’s position right beneath one of its exfoliated, glass sides nudge my mind in that direction. I am, in many senses, a long way from home. And I am nearing the head of the line.

Waiting to Board

Waiting to Board

Thoreau too liked to inhabit houses of the mind, creative spaces whose “rooms” often soared. There is the famous “big house,” imagined over pages in Walden (see quotation below). And there is the Spaulding Farm in his essay Walking. Both of these conjured structures featured big space for Thoreau’s large dreams and ideas. Sometimes, I’ve felt that Walden itself is a big house that the reader is asked to leave on his last morning of reading.

I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house, standing in a golden age, of enduring materials, and without gingerbread work, which shall still consist of only one room, a vast, rude, substantial, primitive hall, without ceiling or plastering, with bare rafters and purlins supporting a sort of lower heaven over one’s head…A house whose inside is as open and manifest as a bird’s nest… Walden

But back to the Bois: As noted earlier, the Vuitton Center looks like a landed ship – from the air or the sea. It’s glassy surfaces seem so many fins or wings partially deployed and at rest…temporarily; it seems immense – it is. We pay our Euros and make our way into a soaring lobby that features a thirty-foot tall rose. It’s not often (never?) that I have walked out into a building, but that’s the feeling I have now: I feel as if I am leaving this world for another, perhaps only to see this world more clearly when I get out there.

Okay, I think, prepare for an outsized experience. And now, once in the “ship,” even though approach has been to strangeness, I feel good, embarked on adventure. The building/ship has a core and a purpose – its 11 galleries display art in various forms and narratives and, somehow they are never crowded – height has something to do with this. But for me, the deepest pleasure lies in walking up various stairwells and corridors and ramps with openings and sky always happening or materializing around a corner. I feel lifted off, transported.

Up the Stairs to the Sky

Up the Stairs to the Sky

Architecture doesn’t affect me in this fashion often, but this “ship” does. I want to return when it’s storming to see how it sheds water and furrows on into the sky.

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Filed under Arts, Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, News and Events, The Roost, Thoreau Quote, Walden

Season of Sight Season of Heart

For me November has always brought the advent of sight’s season, especially in the woods; often, what has been hidden by leaves – a burl, a nest, an old sign – comes clear. And the long-boned outlines of the land also appear. Then, there is the thin transparency of November’s light; on a cloudless day, it is the clearest glass. Yes, the span of daylight is short, but vision’s length and depth more than compensate for that.

The other day, I was poking around in Thoreau’s November Journal writings, figuring that he too might have found revelation in the month’s light, when I came upon this:

Day before yesterday to the Cliffs in the rain, misty rain. As I approached their edge, I saw the woods beneath, Fair Haven Pond, and the hills across the river, — which, owing to the mist, was as far as I could see, and seemed much further in consequence. I saw these between the converging boughs of two white pines a rod or two from me on the edge of the rock; and I thought that there was no frame to a landscape equal to this, — to see, between two near pine boughs, whose lichens are distinct, a distant forest and lake, the one frame, the other picture. In November a man will eat his heart, if in any month. Journal, 11/1/52.

A different sort of November day, to be sure, but no less lovely in its grays and greens and browns. Here too was Thoreau in the museum of his vision, finding “frames” for the “pictures” hung liberally there. He walked his woods with no less reverence than the slow, heel-clicking strides of museum-goers as they cross polished stone floors and contemplate painters’ visions.

Tree-framed November Light at Walden

Tree-framed November Light at Walden

But what stopped me was the final sentence in this passage – what does it mean to eat your heart? And what in November might incline one that way?

It’s common enough to say “Eat your heart out,” when we think we have something others want. Well, okay, but envy seems unrelated or a small reading of Thoreau’s sentence. Somehow, I thought, it is the unequaled nature of the “frame” that triggers his observation. And the image of Thoreau stopped near the edge of the Fairhaven Cliffs, looking at this loved landscape came clear to me. There he was, and here I was, looking through his eyes at a landscape hung just so; here, contained by the lichened boughs, was the best world, a world to swell your heart.

Tree-framed Cardigan Mountain - heartland

Tree-framed Cardigan Mountain – heartland

For a while I could live on that expansive vision, in that framed, chosen world. Perhaps feeling such affectionate surplus is what it means to eat one’s heart.

But you may see through other eyes, see it otherwise. If so, let us know.

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Filed under Arts, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Nature, The Roost, Thoreau Quote