Saturday, January 31, 2009

Feast of St. John Bosco

Image found at:

"Every virtue in your soul is a precious ornament which makes you dear to God and to man. But holy purity, the queen of virtues, the angelic virtue, is a jewel so precious that those who possess it become like the angels of God in Heaven, even though clothed in mortal flesh." --St. John Bosco (from Catholic Fire)

Film thoughts

I was watching Kevin Reynold's The Count of Monte Cristo last night, and it occurred to me that if Alfred Hitchcock were alive today and making films, he would have snatched up Jim Caviezel and used him in more than one of his films. He plays an excellent innocent wrongly accused. And more than that, he has the film actor's ability of making his face hold up well for the camera; that almost stolid state of facial expression that seems about to take on any number of emotions.

I don't know much about acting, but I've seen enough films to know there is quite a difference between the film actor and the actor on stage. There has to be a kinship between the actor's face and the camera and both must go into serving a pinnacle point, like two bottom points of a triangle: the pinnacle point is the invisible but very real character of the scene itself. The scene runs into all the other scenes to form the running time of the film; and this running time is an unveiling; the most real aspect of the film.

Hence Hitchcock said infamously, "Actors are cattle to be herded". A rather harsh and cynical statement, but one that points to a truth nonetheless. The film actor must be able to attain to this doughy, stolid state; this state which Sir Alec Guinness was a master of. Guinness said that in preparing for a role, he focused on what his legs were going to do - nothing else, at that moment. Once he knew what his legs were doing, everything else fell into place. I wonder if the same could be said for the film actor's eyes. If the film actor does not know what to do with his eyes he is lost.

Anyhow, I got to wondering also about Caviezel's film career leading up to The Passion of the Christ; especially watching the scenes in The Count of Monte Cristo where Edmond Dantes gets annually flogged at the prison Chateau d'if. Then I thought about his role as Private Witt in The Thin Red Line; a sort of far-seeing and serene Christ-type figure. Is it possible that God was preparing Caviezel through these roles for his role as Jesus?

I think it more than possible. I find it amazing how God, the Holy Spirit, works in all aspects of the Culture.

Slugs, seeds and sunlight

The blue of the sky is from east to west, and yesterday's grey smothering clouds are replaced with those white and dispersed. The seedlings in the greenhouse are starting to think its spring. I saw this year's first slug in the greenhouse. Killed him, then put out slug bait. A good deal of it in the greenhouse.

Aside from a damping-off preventer I have sometimes used for indoor seed beds, slug bait is the one synthetic thing I don't mind using around plants. Chemical fertilizers and insecticides are a no go, but experience with slugs eating seedlings is painful enough to be grateful for slug bait. I know, I know, there's probably a million methods to kill slugs. I'll clinch on a natural method sooner or later I'm sure, but for now convenience wins out. Anyways, it's a flaky substance; not the kind of thing to get everywhere and poison things.

The Japanese Cobra Lily seeds (Arisaema sikokianum) that I had in their baggie doing a warm startification sprouted, twelve of them, around two or three weeks in. And without their cold stratification. That's what I like. Growing it from seed though, it will be years before I get to see the likes of this.

All eleven of those mystery seeds (picture below) have sprouted.

To which I've revised the riddle (I know, how lame):

Never in my lifetime will you prune me.
I take care of my shape well enough;
besides, though thornless, my leaves are so tough
and lance-like, that I'm sure you will agree,
the merest eyesight will inform the most dumb:
one foot at closest, round my parameter,
is an excellent rule of thumb.

The Desert Fathers


XIV. Said the abbot Hyperichius, "The treasure house of the monk is voluntary poverty. Wherefore, my brother, lay up thy treasure in heaven: for there abide the ages of quiet without end."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Today's Batch

Whiskey and Winter Pears

This is what I've been working on the past few days. The majority of the work was done through one Friday night and into the wee hours of Saturday morning. The pears are getting on their way out. The bottle, glass and cloth are basically what I'm working on now.

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

God is therefore the cause of everything's action because he gives to everything its power to act, preserves it in existence, and puts it into action, and because by his power every other power acts. And if we add to this that God is his own power and that he is present in all things not as part of their essence but to maintain them in existence, we shall conclude that he acts immediately within every agent, while not eliminating the action of the will and of the nature. --From: On the Power of God, q.3, a.7

If God can produce all natural effects through himself, it is yet not superfluous for him to produce them through certain causes, inasmuch as this is not owing to the insufficiency of his power but to the immensity of his goodness, which made him will to communicate his likeness to things not only in respect to their being but also in respect to their being causes of other things; for in these two ways all creatures have in common the divine likeness given to them...Likewise in this way the beauty of order appears in creatures.

It is also evident that the same effect is attributed to a natural cause and to God, not so that one part is caused by God and another part by the natural agent, but the whole effect comes from each, yet differently, just as the whole of the one same effect is attributed to the instrument and likewise attributed to the principal agent. --Summa of Christian Teaching III, 70

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Desert Fathers

Book VII


I. When the holy abbot Antony was living in the desert, his soul fell into a weariness and confusion of thought, and he began saying to God, "Lord, I would be made whole and my thoughts will not suffer me. What shall I do in this tribulation, how shall I be whole?" And in a little while, rising up, he began to walk in the open, and he saw someone, as it might be himself, sitting and working: and then rising from his work and praying: and again sitting down and making a plait of palm leaves, and then rising once again to prayer. Now it was an angel of the Lord sent to the reproof and warning of Antony. And he heard the voice of the angel, saying, "This do, and thou shalt be whole." And hearing it, he took great joy of it and courage. And in so doing, he found the deliverance that he sought.

Almost as silent

How soft and dumb is the reticence of animals,
as with two llamas, in mahogany wool,
plodding slowly over frozen ground
on a sunny winter morning, taking
what half-thawed grass they can, when the land's bellies
and dips, all stilled, have ceased for months their
breathing forth of wind-catch grass, grain-crowned;
land which now, its crusted over internment
yearning spring's resuscitation, is, like llamas -
though not quite - almost as silent.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Look into Google's eyes

You want this. Now repeat it again: you want this. You do not see your hardware as hardware anymore. You see it as an open-ended medium by which you access information, and by which your life will be miraculously simplified. Repeat after me: you want this. You will lift up your hardware information into The Cloud so that it will no longer be susceptible to your earth-bound computer crashes. You will see in this nothing but benefit and convenience. After all, you have nothing to hide. Repeat after me: you have nothing to hide. You want this. You must have this. You like streamline; you like the Singularity.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Only conversion will lead to unity

The Conversion of St. Paul -- Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto

"There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds, from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way" --Pope John Paul II

Pope Benedict XVI in his homily at vespers for the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, today, Jan. 25:

Conversion implies two dimensions. In the first step we recognize our faults in the light of Christ, and this recognition becomes sorrow and repentance, desire for a new beginning. In the second step we recognize that this new road cannot come from us. It consists in letting ourselves be conquered by Christ. As St. Paul says: "I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been conquered by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12).

Conversion demands our yes, my "pursuit"; it is not ultimately my activity, but a gift, a letting ourselves be formed by Christ; it is death and resurrection. This is why St. Paul does not say: "I converted" but rather "I died" (Galatians 2:19), I am a new creature. In reality, St. Paul's conversion was not a passage from immorality to morality, from a mistaken faith to a right faith, but it was a being conquered by Christ: the renunciation of his own perfection; it was the humility of one who puts himself without reserve in the service of Christ for the brethren. And only in this renunciation of ourselves, in this conforming to Christ are we also united among ourselves; we become "one" in Christ. It is communion with the risen Christ that gives us unity.

We can observe an interesting analogy with the dynamic of St. Paul's conversion also in meditating on the biblical text of the prophet Ezekiel (37:15-28), which was chosen as a basis for our prayer this year. In it, in fact, the symbolic gesture is presented of two sticks being joined into one in the prophet's hand, who represents God's future action with this gesture. It is the second part of Chapter 37, which in the first part contains the celebrated vision of the dry bones and the resurrection of Israel, worked by the Spirit of God.

How can we not see that the prophetic sign of the reunification of the people of Israel is placed after the great symbol of the dry bones brought to life by the Spirit? There follows from this a theological pattern analogous to that of St. Paul's conversion: God's power is first and he works the resurrection as a new creation by his Spirit. This God, who is the Creator and is able to resurrect the dead, is also able to bring a people divided in two back to unity.

Paul -- like Ezekiel but more than Ezekiel -- becomes the chosen instrument of the preaching of the unity won by Christ through his cross and resurrection: the unity between the Jews and the pagans, to form one new people. Christ's resurrection extends the boundary of unity: not only the unity of the tribes of Israel, but the unity of the Jews and the pagans (cf. Ephesians 2; John 10:16); the unification of humanity dispersed by sin and still more the unity of all who believe in Christ.

Unity is not just an after effect of personal repentance and conversion; it is the continued operation of God's hand through the works of His children who commit themselves always into His hands: this "renunciating our own perfection". It is only the objective body of Christ wherein our unity is found. To repeat what the Pope says: "...conforming to Christ are we also united among ourselves; we become "one" in Christ. It is communion with the risen Christ that gives us unity."

We are not talking about a horizontal axis of us Christians as the body of Christ, as some kind of subjective realization that then leads to unity; but first conforming to the vertical axis of repentance and conversion, through which Christ Himself then operates to bring about real unity. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit...

The Pope concluded his homily:

The horizon of full unity remains open before us. It is an arduous task, but it is exciting for those Christians who want to live in harmony with the prayer of the Lord: "that all be one so that the world believes" (John 17:21). The Second Vatican Council explained to us "that human powers and capacities cannot achieve this holy objective -- the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ" ("Unitatis redintegratio," 24).

Trusting in the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, and encouraged by the significant steps made by the ecumenical movement, with faith we invoke the Holy Spirit that he continue to illumine our path. May the Apostle Paul, who worked so hard and suffered for the unity of the mystical body of Christ, spur us on from heaven; and may the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the unity of the Church, accompany and sustain us.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thank you Lord for the beautiful day

The concrete end of Canada's Human Rights Commission is, strictly and unwaveringly, the placating and rewarding of grievance-mongers. Not people who are in a real and objective sense having their rights taken away; but people who deliberately look to silence their social opponents and make good on their own grievances; grievances that they hunt for in the open public realm like pigs sniff out truffles. They first imagine what these grievances shall look like; they then go out and place themselves in any sort of scenario amongst their fellow men and produce those aggrieved feelings within themselves, adjusting here and there to fit the particular scenario. Next step, the CHRC. If you're not a Christian white male, chances are your case will get heard; and if your case gets heard, it will win. It will win because the actual proceeding "trial" is nothing but sheer bunkum; it's just for show - and especially to make those who work for the CHRC look professional.

This should come as no surprise. It is an industry that deals out punishment that is totally partisan; nothing more. It is maddeningly unjust, from the bottom up. It is the persecution of the free exercise of religion or even religiously derived sentiments; the persecution of political affiliations that freely adhere to those religious exercises and the resulting moral virtues and their espousal in the public realm; the persecution of any questioning or criticizing of the Muslim religion. And it is the persecution of certain folk who dare say anything negative about the human rights commissions.

The common thread through it all is, broadly, the suppression of free speech - down to the lowest common denominator.

Take the very recent case in Cornwall, Ontario. At the Canada Post Office in Cornwall there has been a sort of unwritten tradition - or just call it normal human interaction and fellowship - whereby mail carriers, just before departing for their routes, would say to their fellow workers, "Merci Seigneur pour la belle journee". The other workers would respond with the same blessing. Translated the phrase runs, "Thank you Lord for the beautiful day".

A wonderful and cheering thing to say before one leaves for his mail route; something that humanizes the workplace atmosphere. And something that turns humorous on rainy days. The mail carriers have been saying it there for more than 25 years.

Enter Grievance-Monger. An employee whose name is not being released filed an internal human rights complaint this past December. Voila: employees are told the next month that to say the above-mentioned words was "injecting religion into the workplace". If any carrier at that office says them, they'll face suspension.

Basically, the men in the top, the top officials of the local Canadian Union of Postal Workers supported the Grievance-Monger. The majority of the actual carriers, the ones who do the mail carrying, basically thought the union's decision horse shit.

"Canada Post area manager Cavelle Lane confirmed that the phrase ban was implemented about one month ago, but noted there was more to the decision than meets the eye, citing human rights issues she could not discuss without a breach of privacy.

After checking with supervisors, another Canada Post spokesperson, Martine Lepine, said the matter was handled internally and Canada Post wouldn't comment on the details of the decision.

"An investigation was conducted, and a decision was made, which involves management and the union," Lepine said, adding that the decision is not a Canada Post-wide policy.

Murphy Jr. said the reason for the phrase ban stems from management using "kid gloves" with an employee who has a personality conflict with others in the office.
"The office walks on egg shells around him," he said. "Management is afraid of him and their jobs are on the line.""
From this article.

Management is afraid of him? What? The Grievance-Monger has a "personality conflict" with others? You mean he's got issues; you mean that you can legitimately say to this man: if you don't straighten up and stop making a pig sty of the workplace we will fire you, and cite your hazardous nature to other workers and poisoning of the workplace as a just reason.

Oh, but there's more here than meets the eye. What is that supposed to mean? It means: stop prodding and investigating and shedding light on this unjust subject for you will expose our fraudulent and corrupt behaviour and cowardice, and to this end we cite the word, "privacy".

What sorts of people are these who think that, as answers for the actions they have taken, we are to accept those answers as real objective reasons? The only thing real and objective here is the officials on top saying to the workers below that they must no longer say what they've been saying casually for more than 25 years or else they will get suspended. And to that end the carriers are supposed to accept some prattle about walking on egg shells as a viable reason?

Are these people possessed?

H/T for article: Spirit Daily

Friday, January 23, 2009

Western Redcedar

Thuja plicata donn. In ball-point pen. This one's in the parking lot of Redwood Park. It is much larger than it looks here. On the other side of it are large down-sweeping branches that almost touch the ground, so large and sturdy, and with a curving grace, that you can recline in them - like a Hobbit. Western Redcedar is the official tree of British Columbia. It's a tree that, either alone or in groves, I wish to expend a lot of paint on. A beauty of a tree.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My next icon (beginning stages)

Random thoughts and observations

KFC is perhaps the only - no, it is for sure - the only fast food that tastes better after it has been in the fridge. Like ten times better.


In the wake of national catastrophes - natural, social, political, economic - when great cities are desolate of their human activity; leftover testaments to pillage and riot, and many neighborhoods are ghettoes, the one place I'd definitely not want to be, not even for one night with a little campfire, would be Disneyland. Can you imagine how horrifying a place it would be, with the spreads of multi-level parkades, rising completely silent and empty on a fallow night; or Mickey's Toontown, with not even a rat stirring in the moon spots, and the kind of padded density that it doesn’t even give back to you your own echo? It would be the kind of ironical weird that would make the bare-bones metal of an underground bomb shelter feel genuinely cozy.


Where I was helping my boss to build his back deck, on the freezing north side of his house, there is a pasture of goats to one side of the yard; there are also two llamas. The lady who tends to them was there inside the goat's shelter. Boss said to me she told him that an hour ago one mother goat gave birth to one baby goat. And then, just now, fourteen came out.


My understanding is that Americans love doughnuts - to such a degree that the pride and place and devotion that Canada gives to its own doughnut/coffee temple, Tim Horton's, looks positively effete and limp-wristed in comparison. That's saying something.


The notion that the faster you go, the less fast it seems you can get, is true to a capital T. Look at drivers on the road. They are completely insane in their mindless intent upon filling in the space of road's stretch ahead of them instantly, which is what they perceive to be normal speed. Ever hear of horse and carriage? That's regular pace. Even if you're going 30 in your car, you are still getting ahead.


One time I was working at a lawn and garden equipment store and there was a man working there by the name of Jack. He was a Brit, with the full-fledged accent. And something of the sharp, biting attitude. I was in the back shop assembling something. There were two mechanics working there. Jack worked mostly in the front. He would come into the back with papers in his hands and his face looking down at the papers as he walked, with the kind of stress that finds its outlet in a sort of supra-organization and the blocking out of all distractions with tunnel vision, asking one of the two mechanics where so-and-so's lawn mower was, and if it was ready, because they were coming to pick it up shortly. So, I was there assembling one time, and he comes into the back with the papers in his hands and looking at them as he walked. They had a stereo system that played music in the front of the store and in the back. Presently there was a Shania Twain song playing, one in which she's singing about how she's "thinking 'bout Elvis". Jack comes into back just at the moment when Shania's singing, "…I'm thinking 'bout EEElviis". Jack stops in his tracks. Looks sharply up from his sucking whirlpool of papers and says to no one in particular: "Elvis? Elvis? Who gives a shit about Elvis? Danny, you got that lawn mower ready yet, the man's coming in half an hour…"


Never was there a time when I caught a fish, and upon reeling it out of the water, wasn't shocked, rather somewhat scared by what I caught.


Fog is my least favourite kind of weather. It goes against my instinct for seeking clarity - especially the clarity to be found concentrated in leaves and puddles on darkest rainy days.


Have you ever looked and looked at a tree until it became a naked message about glorying God, on several levels, so that its fruits, even its leaves, were mere byproducts in its ascent - and not the tree's ends?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Some Quotes

"It [painting] absorbs the whole man, body and soul..." --Max Beckmann

"...every figurative painting, but especially the 'painting of light' from life, is intrinsically a positive counter-move to this anti-cultural ideology [Modernism]. It combines the whole mind and body of a person into producing a thing of excellence, immersing the human in a higher contemplation of the tangible world." --James Gillick, from Painting in Light, StAR Jan./Feb. 2009

"The important thing is first of all to have a real love for the visible world that lies outside ourselves as well as to know the deep secret of what goes on within ourselves." --Max Beckmann

"Open thine ears to the voices of nature, and thou shalt hear them in concert inviting thee to the love of God." --Ven. Louis of Granada (From Father Anthony Ho)

Monday, January 19, 2009

A favourite

The Quality of Sprawl
By Les Murray

Sprawl is the quality
of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce
into a farm utility truck, and sprawl
is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts
to buy the vehicle back and repair its image.

Sprawl is doing your farm work by aeroplane, roughly,
or driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home.
It is the rococo of being your own still centre.
It is never lighting cigars with ten dollar notes:
that's idiot ostentation and murder of starving people.
Nor can it be bought with the ash of million dollar deeds.

Sprawl lengthens the legs; it trains greyhounds on liver and beer.
Sprawl almost never says, Why not?, with palms comically raised
nor can it be dressed for, not even in running shoes worn
with mink and a nose ring. That is Society. That's Style.
Sprawl is more like the thirteenth banana in a dozen
or anyway the fourteenth.

Sprawl is Hank Stamper in Never Give an Inch
bisecting an obstructive official's desk with a chain saw.
Not harming the official. Sprawl is never brutal,
though it's often intransigent. Sprawl is never Simon de Montfort
at a town-storming: Kill them all! God will know His own.
Knowing the man's name this was said to might be sprawl.

Sprawl occurs in art. The fifteenth to twenty-first
lines in a sonnet, for example. And in certain paintings.
I have sprawl enough to have forgotten which paintings.
Turner's glorious Burning of the Houses of Parliament
comes to mind, a doubling bannered triumph of sprawl -
except he didn't fire them.

Sprawl gets up the noses of many kinds of people
(every kind that comes in kinds) whose futures don't include it.
Some decry it as criminal presumption, silken-robed Pope Alexander
dividing the new world between Spain and Portugal.
If he smiled in petto afterwards, perhaps the thing did have sprawl.

Sprawl is really classless, though. It is John Christopher Frederick Murray
asleep in his neighbours' best bed in spurs and oilskins,
but not having thrown up:
sprawl is never Calum, who, in the loud hallway of our house
reinvented the Festoon. Rather
it's Beatrice Miles going twelve hundred ditto in a taxi,
No Lewd Advances, no Hitting Animals, no Speeding,
on the proceeds of her two-bob-a-sonnet Shakespeare readings.
An image of my country. And would that it were more so.

No, sprawl is full gloss murals on a council-house wall.
Sprawl leans on things. It is loose-limbed in its mind.
Reprimanded and dismissed,
it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail
of possibility. It may have to leave the Earth.
Being roughly Christian, it scratches the other cheek
And thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl.

All Starry

Latest StAR (Jan./Feb. 2009) hit the mailbox today. Beauty is Truth: Faith and Aesthetics is just the kind of title to pique my interest.

Haven't gotten into it yet, but here's a list of some of the pieces:

Art, Aesthetics, and Culture: The Responsibility of the Artist in Society, Samuel Peliska

To the Truly Passionate: A Vision of the Temple, Ryan Hannigan

The Truth of Beauty: Educating the Moral Imagination, Benjamin G. Lockerd, Jr.

The Body as Sacrament of the Soul: The Nude in Art and John Paul II's Theology of the Body, Lawrence Feingold

The Art of the Spheres: Discovering Mathematical Ideals in Christian Art, David Clayton

Christianity and the pursuit of Liesure Leisure: The Basis of Culture (Joseph Pieper) Reviewed by Matthew M. Anger

Painting Light, James Gillick

The Theology of Food, Mitchell Kalpakgian

Chesterton and the Jews, Dale Ahlquist Interviews Robert Asch

Beauty and the Beast: Towards an Aesthetic of Film, Fr. Dwight Longenecker

and on and on and on...I know, I know; just a trashy gossip rag that rots the mind.

Consider a subscription, here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Evening Jig

The firefly within, zinging in your dark,
soundless is the stirring praise; and stilled
as an ember is the prayer, when dark assumes
a presence. All your larger selves are sins.

God will make you mute; it will be mercy.
God will make you speak; it will be lightning
from the lucid dark: an instant tree of truth.
A dance is in the inner upper room;

jig of them that tie with streamer lights a knot.
Jig of faithful servants sketching Heaven's dance
onto the slate of dark. Our prayers and praise
though just a little glowing fly, appear

to Him in all accord, in the setting of His eve.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Lady Vanishes

I hadn't figured Alfred Hitchcock - widely known to be attentive to detail - was one of those who didn't put stock into how many bullets a single handgun held. As one of the cricket-obsessed English characters on the halted train shoots the gun out the window at the enemies, "suspension of laws" takes on buffoonish proportions, report after report after report after report, like a kid blowing off his cap gun with unceasing relish, having discovered the chamber to be miraculously endless. This is not diminished by the fact the gun he is shooting belonged to one of the enemies, and therefore has no further bullets lying around. But then you realize something: Hitchcock surely was aware of it; he simply didn’t care. And then you realize something else: neither, come to think of it, do you care.

And not because the movie makes you indifferent. Not only do you want to see how the movie ends, how the plot resolves itself, and what happens to the characters, but you have to watch the movie because it is more than watchable; it is effortless. The bullets are like the details of plot. You don't care that they are implausible if they become passable under the film's own interior reality. This interior reality, this internal logic, gravitates towards you and pulls you in, not with the "realistic realism" of a news report, but with the asymmetrical displacing of a promised story arch with a continuing concrete, "small" veering direction; with the shot of a certain face we thought we knew; of yet another door being opened onto another train car; of an old cheery English woman asking the waiter for tea, then giving him a package of tea from her purse because she only drinks that kind; of two men trying to choke and throttle each other in the lonely caboose.

Hitchcock, with his writers, got through the details of the plots of his films very much like that kid firing off his miraculous cap gun. Motivation? Schmotivation.

Bang, bang, bang. The two previously indifferent English blokes are now all into it, but with the same ruled corking of affection of their breed. Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang. Then, just when the plot demands it, the Englishman with the bottomless gun declares: "There's only one bullet left", forcing the scene to its necessary next stage - while prompting a kind of double incredulity in the viewer; once, for the gun being bottomless; twice, for the bottomless gun suddenly having only one bullet left.

The Lady Vanishes was the U.K.'s biggest grossing film up to that point in time, which was 1938. It was Hitchcock's second-to-last film before leaving for the U.S. to make movies there. It was a popular, greatly acclaimed film that came after two lesser Hitchcock films. It is the most comedy-filled of his thrillers, at times literally slapstick. It is one of the most thriller-filled of his thrillers. It is one of the great "next-to-no-budget" movies that make magical, invisible use of its limited resources.

It is also a display, as intimated above, of Hitchcock gripping you with a certain quiet but growing suspense, an inexplicable mystery, while at the same time seeing how much silliness he can cram (with the Englishman's understated dryness) in your face.

Case in point: the two men in the caboose caught in a grapple fight. The heroine of the story is there too, and she tries, ineffectually, to do something to help the hero. All featherweight kicks and hits, horribly limp, she moves energetically about. The hero who has asked her for some help, in between gasps and starts and the bad guy's hands going for his throat with the mechanical persistence of Gollum, says in the most nonchalant manner, "Anytime now would be nice".

There are animals in the caboose, and they look on, sometimes ducking, such as the rabbits that go back into their basket one at a time. The shots of the animals looking on, as the two men fight, make the scene so light and airy, and so rather creeping and disquieting. The bad guy fighting in the caboose, who by the way is not the main villain, is a pudgy-faced Italian with eyes that linger on yours too long when he's smiling at you. At one point the heroine uses some weighty cylinder to bang his head with while the hero is trying to find some evidence, thus knocking him out for short periods, from which he rises, only to be conked out again by the frightened heroine. It is comedic; the timing is so fluid and goofy, yet every time he comes back-too it is menacing.

This kind of grace fills the entire movie. The "small veering direction" of the film has as its keystone, of course, the MacGuffin. It has a beginning that, in itself, is also a kind of displaced veering. The film starts with the array of characters flooding some small foreign inn because their train has been caught in a landslide. We don't see the train or any outside, aside from some street musician playing outside one lady's window; just the world inside the inn. This beginning takes up close to twenty minutes. The characters assorted throughout the inn…the man making too much noise upstairs, the two Englishmen trying to find some food, the three bright young things, the hotel manager whose accent veers between Hungarian, German and Italian…and then - the next day, we're off, on the train, even to the complete removal of characters we thought were going to be part of the film: and the movie seems to be beginning. And here I thought it was going to be some kind of Fawlty Towers film.

Hitchcock's thrillers were never of the bent of, say, Tom Clancy. They always took up some secondary story, over and behind which there was some larger unseen story going on; and the one intimate piece in the film that connected to that larger unseen story was the MacGuffin. And we never get past the MacGuffin; and it makes the world of the characters who encounter it scarily real.

I don't feel any hesitancy to say that Alfred Hitchcock, in his thrillers and other films, employed a principle of Distributism: smaller is better. And I regard it as significant that Hitchcock was an avid reader of Chesterton's Father Brown stories. I'm not saying his films are veiled sponsoring of Distributism; that would be ridiculous. I just point out some good things.

Most of Hitchcock's films employ the MacGuffin, but in The Lady Vanishes, just when the MacGuffin is about to cease to be a MacGuffin - that is, just when we are about to be inundated with "realistic" details of government conspiracy and espionage and so forth, key to the plot of the film - a train coming in the opposite direction blares over the lady's revelatory words to the heroine; just as in North by Northwest the unraveling of the MacGuffin by the government agent to Cary Grant is plastered over by the running propellers of a landed airplane as the two men walk past it.

What is Hitchcock's intent in employing the MacGuffin? Is he merely being an obfuscator? Hitchcock's mysteries are never merely confusing; his mysteries are as enthralling as their unraveling. And his use of the MacGuffin points to something more in his artistic approach.

It is an intention of divestment. He is divesting himself of the indignity of gracelessly concerning himself with extracurricular details of plot, as if giving them attention would make the film better. It is a concern with elevation: the film, while intimately concerned with the details of the mundane (the "secondary story of the image"), is above plodding plot detail, just as a silent film is above sound.

The one word "MacGuffin" is the better explanation though. Because it is a name. And if a name exists, there must be a person to the name - a character.

Somebody, somewhere.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum)

Giant Redwood seeds are easier to deal with than these ones. By comparison, they are a walk in the park. Literally, you walk in the park to get them, filling up the pockets of your large overcoat.

These were particularly wet when collected, so you put a fan on them to dry them. If you let them sit without air circulation, they'll go mouldy.

Dried out:

I use one of my pallet knives to loosen the seeds in the cones, then use the handle to tap, tap, tap it. Some will rain out lots of seeds, others not so much. It is rare to get one that has no seeds in it. If you do get one with no seeds, which would be never, it would be because it is old and they have already fallen out.

They have a good germination rate. But you get inevitable die-offs, no matter what you do. Then you get others that make up for the die-offs - really happy-to-grow ones. The seeds will be soaked in water overnight, then stratified (put into some moist sterile soil in a sealable baggie and put in the fridge until spring).

Day of Fog

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Photo Allegory

Hardened shell of habitual sin.
Puffed-up, hurtful pride.
Tender green of humility.


The bane of the blogger: himself. Reading through his own posts sometime later he happens on such words as,

"Your will decides what your love is; not because it is omniscient, but because it is yours alone. Not all the demons of hell can decide it for you. Not all the choirs of angels in Heaven. Not God"

and, after Prufrock, half sighs, half mutters in exasperation to himself:

“That is not it at all,/That is not what I meant, at all.”

Monday, January 12, 2009

In season and out: keep His word

I've always both hated and been stoked by 'the end' of the Christmas season. On the calendar next to me the box marked January 11th. says, The Baptism of the Lord. The adjoining box says, 1st. Week in Ordinary Time.

Only the Catholic Church would bother to call ordinary time Ordinary Time. (It's one of the many reasons why I love the Catholic Church.)

I'm not sure I've felt so full of faults and indifference to those faults as now, and a sometime feeling of being adrift; and yet I sense some sort of beacon beneath, like a singular blip, blip, blip, very faint, saying: Enter into the foray on the enemy's ground! Take peace with you and do battle! Reborn, initiated, consecrated and empowered, fare forward into Ordinary Time and bear witness to the Truth.

Jesus, in His three year ministry, apportioned His time into something...liturgical. I note it in the solemn doom that is portended when Jesus overthrows the tables of the money-changers, and which finally seems to crack the air when scripture says, "...and from that day on no one dared to ask him another question..."

Jesus proclaims the truth and He Himself is the truth.

And He Who is the Truth said:

"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me." John 14:23-24

Doesn't that free you up? Your will decides what your love is; not because it is omniscient, but because it is yours alone. Not all the demons of hell can decide it for you. Not all the choirs of angels in Heaven. Not God.

Of course there is much to be said here how God and the choirs of angels and the saints operate to give your will sufficient grace and so forth; but the deciding factor is our willingness to keep God's words and, keeping them, act on them.

And your acts (and non-acts) testify to your will. So, what better time to get on with this stuff than Ordinary Time?

By the way, it's one of the reasons why I don't attend those reconciliation services during Advent and Lent, and instead just go during regular confession times during those seasons. I prefer the "ordinary" for such things; sort of "off-the-cuff", not entirely, but something like it. To put it in the worst sort of way, I "perform" badly when it's a "special service". Thank God for the ordinary.


Oh yes, and my blog header needs something. After the holly that was thrown up there, the 'thorn crowns' feel so...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sweet Seeds! part 2

This one's an impatient little bugger. Recalling this post, entitled 'Sweet Seeds!' I planted these ones Dec. 20th. I only discovered this one sprouted yesterday, and by the length of the root so far, I would roughly estimate it sprouted January 1st.

Of course, that could be me just being fanciful; having the tree sprout on New Year's Day. Nonetheless, whatever day it sprouted, it was quick. I remember waiting last year up to months before getting one of these kinds to sprout. I'm thinking these are fresher seeds. They are from a more local source, on Vancouver Island.

Oh yeah, I had to take seven of the seeds out of their pots and re-plant them into new soil; this time putting them in one large container, and I will just pull each one out as it sprouts and plant it in a larger individual pot, for which 2 litre plastic pop bottles will be used, with some of the narrow top portion cut off.

The reason I had to re-plant them was because of mould. Mould is the seed grower's Dark Enemy. Period. Of course, so is the seed grower's own stupidity.

When you have seeded pots indoors with plastic covers on, you have to leave the covers off at least for a day immediately after watering. Or else...

Oh, and the riddle still stands:

Just don't get yourself too riddled over it. Doesn't a Thesaurus sound like a dinosaur from the Jurassic period?

Both the sentences are part of the riddle.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Les Murray and Silence

I first read of Les Murray, the Australian poet, in an article by Adele Ward in StAR Magazine.

It was the Sep./Oct. 2007 issue:

The title of Joseph Pearce's editorial, Whatever Happened to the Catholic Literary Revival? gives you an idea of the issue's theme. It explores the writing of Pavel Chichikov, Michael O' Brien, Ron Hansen, Alice Thomas Ellis, Paul Thigpen and of course Les Murray:

The title of the article refers to this poem by Murray, entitled Poetry and Religion:

Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture

into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing's said till it's dreamed out in words
and nothing's true that figures in words only.

A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier's one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.

Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?

You can't pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can't poe one either. It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,

fixed centrally, we call it a religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror

that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There'll always be religion around while there is poetry

or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds - crested pigeon, rosella parrot -
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.


Murray has also said somewhere else:

"Religions are big slow poems, while most poems are short, fast religions."

Of his books, I've read Conscious and Verbal, Poems the Size of Photographs, and Learning Human. There are, so far, two poems of his that can securely be counted as two of my all-time favourite poems. One is the Quality of Sprawl, which I will post in its entirety in another post, except for the delicious beginning:

Sprawl is the quality
of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce
into a farm utility truck,

The other is Noonday Axeman. Every time I read it I'm astonished at its perfection; of its oneness of sound and 'meaning' and image. Such a line as:

made what amounts to a human breach in the silence,

hits you with its own inner force so at one with the words that the silence the poem speaks of takes on this epic scale, in which you the reader are also a partaker; either one of those whose habits have been formed around the avoiding of this stillness and silence, fleeing " the cities, maddened by this stillness?" or one of those "...who could live in the presence of silence." This silence is like Tolkien's "long defeat of history". It's the same silence encountered by your great, great Grandfather, and by his great, great Grandfather. The same silence encountered by all figures of history, from Roman emperors to Napoleon Bonaparte to Queen Victoria to the unrecorded nameless orphan slaving in the din of a silence-hating factory.

Coincidentally, the poem has the words, into great silence at the end of one of its stanzas:

then died in their turn, each, after his own fashion,
resigned or agonized, from silence into great silence.

This was written way before the film of course. Interesting. I still haven't seen the documentary yet.

But here's the poem:

Noonday Axeman
By Les Murray

Axe-fall, echo and silence. Noonday silence.
Two miles from here, it is the twentieth century:
cars on the bitumen, powerlines vaulting the farms.
Here, with my axe, I am chopping into the stillness.

Axe-fall, echo and silence. I pause, roll tobacco,
twist a cigarette, lick it. All is still.
I lean on my axe. A cloud of fragrant leaves
hangs over me moveless, pierced everywhere by sky.

Here, I remember all of a hundred years:
candleflame, still night, frost and cattle bells,
the draywheels' silence final in our ears,
and the first red cattle spreading through the hills

and my great-great-grandfather here with his first sons,
who would grow old, still speaking with his Scots accent,
having never seen those highlands that they sang of.
A hundred years. I stand and smoke in the silence.

A hundred years of clearing, splitting, sawing,
a hundred years of timbermen, ringbarkers, fencers
and women in kitchens, stoking loud iron stoves
year in, year out, and singing old songs to their children

have made this silence human and familiar
no farther than where the farms rise into foothills,
and, in that time, how many have sought their graves
or fled to the cities, maddened by this stillness?

Things are so wordless. These two opposing scarves
I have cut in my red-gum squeeze out jewels of sap
and stare. And soon, with a few more axe-strokes,
the tree will grow troubled, tremble, shift its crown

and, leaning slowly, gather speed and colossally
crash down and lie between the standing trunks.
And then, I know, of the knowledge that led my forebears
to drink and black rage and wordlessness, there will be silence.

After the tree falls, there will reign the same silence
as stuns and spurns us, enraptures and defeats us,
as seems to some a challenge, and seems to others
to be waiting here for something beyond imagining.

Axe-fall, echo and silence. Unhuman silence.
A stone cracks in the heat. Through the still twigs, radiance
stings at my eyes. I rub a damp brow with a handkerchief
and chop on into the stillness. Axe-fall and echo.

The great mast murmurs now. The scarves in its trunk
crackle and squeak now, crack and increase as the hushing
weight of the high branches heels outward, and commences
tearing and falling, and the collapse is tremendous.

Twigs fly, leaves puff and subside. The severed trunk
slips off its stump and drops along its shadow.
And then there is no more. The stillness is there
as ever. And I fall to lopping branches.

Axe-fall, echo and silence. It will be centuries
before many men are truly at home in this country,
and yet, there have always been some, in each generation,
there have always been some who could live in the presence of silence.

And some, I have known them, men with gentle broad hands,
who would die if removed from these unpeopled places,
some again I have seen, bemused and shy in the cities,
you have built against silence, dumbly trudging through noise

past the railway stations, looking up through the traffic
at the smoky halls, dreaming of journeys, of stepping
down from the train at some upland stop to recover
the crush of dry grass underfoot, the silence of trees.

Axe-fall, echo and silence. Dreaming silence.
Though I myself run to the cities, I will forever
be coming back here to walk, knee-deep in ferns,
up and away from this metropolitan century,

to remember my ancestors, axemen, dairymen, horse-breakers,
now coffined in silence, down with their beards and dreams,
who, unwilling or rapt, despairing or very patient,
made what amounts to a human breach in the silence,

made of their lives the rough foundation of legends-
men must have legends, else they will die of strangeness-
then died in their turn, each, after his own fashion,
resigned or agonized, from silence into great silence.

Axe-fall, echo and axe-fall. Noonday silence.
Though I go to the cities, turning my back on these hills,
for the talk and dazzle of cities, for the sake of belonging
for months and years at a time to the twentieth century,

the city will never quite hold me. I will be always
coming back here on the up-train, peering, leaning
out of the window to see, on far-off ridges,
the sky between the trees, and over the racket
of the rails to hear the echo and the silence.

I shoulder my axe and set off home through the stillness.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

We've had a lot of Chopin in these parts. Time for Mozart.

Morning Rushhhhh from Patryk on Vimeo.

Father Richard Neuhaus, RIP

Father Neuhaus was one of the lucid, intelligent, witty voices of the faith for whom, among many other people who read him and listened to him, I had an affinity; a sense, on reading his words, of a close camaraderie in Christ (the truth of Christ awakened in the public square). At once a comrade with us, yet, and above that, a great priest-leader.

Let us pray:

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon him.

May he rest in peace.

May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

From Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things:

Our great, good friend is gone.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus slipped away today, January 8, shortly before 10 o’clock, at the age of seventy-two. He never recovered from the weakness that sent him to the hospital the day after Christmas, caused by a series of side effects from the cancer he was suffering. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening after a collapse in his heart rate, and soon after, in the company of friends, he died.

My tears are not for him—for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

I weep, rather for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.

Funeral arrangements are still being planned; information about the funeral will be made public shortly. Please accept our thanks for all your prayers and good wishes.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Peach pit carving: rose and tree and owl

For Christmas the family picks names from a hat to see who will gift whom. There's too many of us for everyone to buy for everyone. This year the older siblings wanted everyone to do hand-made gifts. That was met with complaints, so they said, okay, just no gift certificates. That too went down the drain. Anyhow, I did some peach pit carvings to gift to one of my younger sisters whose name I drew, and to my mom. I've done peach pit carvings before, as can be viewed in this post.

Carving peach pits dates far back, especially in Asian cultures. In America it has a sort of folk tradition, if I'm not mistaken.

I find carving peach pits really fun and challenging. I think it would be great practise for those wood carvers or sculptors who normally do bigger projects. I'm not one of those to "discern" some shape inherent in the peach pit, and then bring it out. I'm more of the I-have-an-idea-before-hand-and-I'm-going-to-make-it-work kind of guy. Of course, this goes without saying, you do indeed have to start with a peach pit that is sympathetic to your idea or vision.

You have to consider every cranny and curve and every piece of negative space, and incorporate it all into the final carving. I find the best of way of dealing with the sometimes frustrating negative spaces is simply to enlarge them. Paradoxical: you get rid of them by enlarging them. What negative spaces are left and noticeable I find goes into the charm of the pit carving.

I used this knife to carve these peach pits:

It is the kind of X-acto knife with the screw in blade on top. You go through a number of the blades (they come in little packs of five or so) but I find this knife indispensable. The pointed end is especially important. It is the knife that kissed my finger bones, giving me seven stitches and a four hour wait in emergency. Yes, if you decide to carve peach pits, I cannot emphasize enough: picture yourself cutting yourself and waiting in that emergency room every time you carve. Also picture yourself having to explain to everyone you meet for the following week what you did to your hand.

"What did you do to your hand?"

"I cut it carving peach pits."

"Carving what?"

Have a solid foundation to place the pit on while holding it with your hand; try not to do "free-air" carving.

The following peach pits also went through sanding and staining. I just use sand paper, no electrical tools; just a knife and sand paper. You cheat otherwise. The stain I used for these was a cherry stain. You need at least a week for the stain to fully dry.

This rose which I gave to my mom, is intended as a broach/brooch. We need to find a jeweller who can fix a pin piece on the back of it. I used the two split halves of one peach pit for the leaves. I carved at one end of each leaf a little arm so it could go into the notches made at the side of the rose peach pit. They were fixed in with wood glue. (I'm sorry, I don't know why some of the pictures will enlarge and others will not. Just try them all, and find out.)

I used the pointy end of the blade and turned it as a hand-drill to make holes in either side of the raised center on the back, so that a metal fixture can go in:

The two owls and tree I gave to my sister. The tree and its base together is made from three peach pits. I carved it so either one of the owls can sit on top. I used a super glue for the tree. The pit halves used for the base of the tree I tried carving to look like old tree roots. I should have spent more time on that part. It's fun carving all the pieces the best you can to get them to match up. As with the rose, notches and 'arms' are carved to fit into each other on all pieces that connect. You never do flat on flat connecting.