All Kinds of Michigan Critters

According to the radio, not only are cicadas on the way (though so far the hype has exceeded the reality), but gypsy moths, European chafers, Asian longhorn beetles, Japanese beetles, mosquitoes, and of course the pervasive emerald ash bore are also about to make their presence known. (According to the Michigan State University Extension entomologist they interviewed, the gypsy moth caterpillar is something that “most people are allergic to.” Great.)

I’ve seen wasps, bumblebees, carpenter ants, and a lot of oddly-shaped beetles crawling and/or flying around the house. (Forget about the spiders; they’re around all the time.) The massive infestation of Harmonia axyridis that happened when the temps first started warming up a couple of months ago appears to have largely dissipated, though.

Nature Report

Still no cicadas to speak of. Steve says it’s not been consistently warm enough for them to want to come out.

I have, however, seen lots of birds, including a number I can’t identify (I’m waiting for a field guide on hold at the University library to help with that). One of them I’ve seen twice in the yard this week, pecking at the ground looking for food. It’s a large-ish bird for the type of bird it is—about 7 or 8 inches long, with a long black beak. It’s mainly brown in color, with spots on the tail feathers, but it has a striking black band across its chest and an even more striking stripe of bright red across its nape. I’m really curious to find out what this bird is.

Two Untimely Departures

Tony Randall passed on Monday, followed yesterday by Elvin Jones, probably the greatest drummer (never mind greatest “jazz drummer”) who ever lived.

Jones was born in Pontiac and got his start in the Detroit jazz scene in 1949. He played on some of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded, including Charles Mingus’s Pithecanthropus Erectus, Sonny Rollins’s A Night at the Village Vanguard, Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain, and Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. He also played on what some consider the greatest jazz album bar none, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (he appeared on most of Coltrane’s recordings from 1960-1966). Jones also recorded many classic albums as leader of his own combos.

But no mention of Jones in the local papers. Go figure.

Trivial Unanswerable Question of the Day

No titillating “overheards” from Ambrosia today; just a bunch of employees meeting over cheesecake and listening to their benefits person yack about how awesome Blue Shield of Michigan’s health coverage is.

Why this company’s HR meeting was being held in a sidewalk cafe I don’t think I want to know.

UM Museum of Art

Before the dandelion adventure, we paid a brief visit to the University of Michigan Museum of Art. (We were thinking of doing part of the 16-site Wander Washtenaw event sponsored by the Washtenaw County Historical Consortium this weekend, but I didn’t get my act together enough to realize that it went on all day yesterday but only three hours today, which wouldn’t have been enough time to do much.) I have passed by the museum almost every day on my way to class or work for the past nine months and today was the first time I’d been inside (pretty pathetic, I know).

They had a fantastic exhibition called “The Changing Garden: Four Centuries of European and American Art” (it goes on through next Sunday), with fantastic engravings, paintings, lithographs, and photos of places like Vauxhall and Versailles, including a fantastic seventeenth-century allegorical drawing depicting the sense of smell, with a couple of French nobles descending an estate staircase with flowers held up to their nostrils and their hounds beating a path in front of them, plus some unexpected stuff: a photograph of the San Gabriel Sanatorium, a place I hadn’t known existed; a photograph of San Francisco’s own Crissy Field; and a photograph of the gardens at the Huntington Library, a treasure in the backyard of my hometown which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been to.

Apart from the exhibition, there were some astoundingly beautiful pieces of art, including Dirck Baburen’s “Christ on the Mount of Olives” (1620), Bertholet Flémalle’s “The Illness and Cure of Hezekiah” (1614-1675), Daniel Huntington’s “In the Mountain Fastness” (1850), Charles Wimar’s “The Attack on an Emigrant Train” (1856), Eastman Johnson’s “Boyhood of Lincoln” (1868), Christian Adolf Schreyer’s “The Retreat” (1860-1899), and John Stanley’s “Mount Hood from the Dalles” (1871). The only slightly annoying aspect of the collection are the patronizing curatorial descriptions affixed near some of the paintings to alert you to their horrifying political incorrectness.

Reading (Only) What Inspires You

I had this conversation with a friend not too long ago: If you have a ton of books to choose from to read, what’s your strategy? I am myself addicted to having way more books around than I’ll possibly have time to read. This entails choices. Some books you’ll never get to. Some you can weed out by reading reviews, flipping through and gauging whether you really think you’re going to read the book cover to cover, or starting and seeing how you feel once you’ve gotten through a chapter or two.

But what if the book is okay, but not great? Something you feel as though you should finish because you’ve already committed time to it, but are not feeling compelled enough to complete? I used to be of the mind that I had to finish everything I started, but no more.

Elizabeth George, author of the recent Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life [HarperCollins 2004], had a great way of putting it on BBC Radio:

I always tell my students to read up. Always read people whose work you admire. And if you start reading a book and you realize that it’s not good enough and not something that you would aspire to, then just don’t finish the book.

Bookstores

We went to the downtown area today and did some window shopping. West Side Book Shop was one of our stops. I’d never been there, and it’s a cozy, well-stocked store, if a little crowded and tilted more to the antique side than to the standard used-book trade. (There were some fantastic rare books on hand.) We also dropped in at Books in General, which I could spend hours browsing at. There are all kinds of finds there, including a wide selection of rare books that I think might be better than the selection at West Side. This store has a small but thoughtfully gathered British history section, including an amazingly exhaustive (and very Anglo-typical in its compulsiveness) chronology of British historical figures that was unfortunately priced beyond my reach, along with two copies (?) of The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes. I also saw a reproduction of the original 1726 edition of Gulliver’s Travels (which I am currently obsessed with; Jonathan Swift is working some sort of spell on me). We played a while with the owner’s dog, a rambunctious and friendly 3-year-old Lab/Chesapeake mix named Lucas who seemed absolutely convinced that my arm was a chew toy (I haven’t been gnawed on like that since I lived with another Lab named Rudy Doogle), and the owner convinced me to buy a used (2004, but not “new”) copy of The Almanac of American Politics [National Journal Group, annually], which no political junkie can (or should) be without.

No to New Library Building in Indiana

Meanwhile, 140 miles away, in Kendallville, IN, a petition is being circulated to stop a proposed $7.9 million library building. Once the opposing signatures are submitted, the library will have 30 days to gather competing signatures. Whoever gets the most signatures wins. The new building is being opposed for the usual reasons. [Story courtesy LISNews.]

The Neighborhood Park

On Tuesday night, Frisinger Park was jam-packed with cars and trucks and a girls’ softball team and their parents and boosters. Passing through the park, which I normally do on my way home as a shortcut, was inadvisable. Wednesday night was less of a zoo, although there were a handful of boys and their dads engaged in softball practice. Last night, the park was deserted, except for a few starlings and sparrows and robins poking in the grass, along with the odd squirrel. The park is full of dandelions in full bloom. When you walk or drive past and there’s a wind, a blizzard of seed-bearing dandelion pods explodes all around you. Fortunately, the dandelion is probably one of the few flora I’m not allergic to.