Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Grant Wood, 1917, The Shaking Poplar (Populus tremuloides, aka quaking aspen. The state tree of Utah. Canada and the US west; Populus grandidentata is the aspen in the US upper midwest, lower Ontario and Quebec etc.) The counterchange on the trunk stands out, but oddly light against light & dark against dark.
Populus grandidentata, the bigtooth aspen or Canada aspen, shows up regularly in the paintings of the Canada 7. One aspen painting I especially like, by Franklin Charmichael, shows the tree hanging over a canyon. "October Gold", at the McMichael. None of the reproductions online or in books do the painting any kind of justice. Other that that, the white trunks of the bigtooth are usually used as a graphic element.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Lucia Mathews

The decorative work - painting and woodwork - of the Mathews are my favorite remembrances from the Museum of California in Oakland. Arthur F. Mathews (1860–1945) and his wife and fellow painter, Lucia Mathews are well represented there. She was a woodworker and made the carved frames that complemented their pictures, as well as other wood items. Here is one of her paintings, 'Pine Tree', watercolor on canvas paper:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Poem by Cuī Hào: The Yellow Crane Tower

Some years ago I bought a souvenir fan in Chinatown, printed with black characters on a white background. Accompanying the fan, tied to it with a bit of string, was a translation on a white card: (as written)
"The ancient fairy has flown away, riding on a yellow crane, all that is left is the empty tower of the crane. The crane has flown never to return, and now for hundreds and thousands of years therre will only be white cluds drifting.
"Under the sun in Han Yang, the trees are clearly discernable, even the fragrent and thick grass on Parrot Island are clearly visible.
"But as the day drifts towards evening dusk, one asks where one's home land is, the lingering and mystifying mists above the rivers adds to one's sadness."

I knew it was a poem but only yesterday rummaged out the original, by Tang Dynasty poet Cuī Hào.

Here is an unattributed translation that I've found on several travel websites:

The Yellow Crane Tower
Where long ago a yellow crane bore a sage to heaven,
Nothing is left now but the Yellow Crane Terrace.
The yellow crane never revisited earth,
And white clouds are flying without him for ever.

Every tree in Hanyang becomes clear in the water,
And Parrot Island is a nest of sweet grasses;
But I look toward home, and twilight grows dark
With a mist of grief on the river waves.

It's hard to tell from that translation, but the poem was considered so emblematic and was so influential that even the great Li Bai felt unable to write about the tower, though he eventually wrote his famous poem about watching from the Yellow Crane Tower as his friend sailed away to the west.

The tower, Huanghelou, (or rather the current version) is on a hill overlooking the Yangtze (Changjiang) River in Wuhan near the mouth of the Han River (Hanshui) in what is today Wuhan. It looks from the former town of Wuchang to the former town of Hanyang, both swallowed by the modern metropolis. I don't have a good map so I don't know where Parrot Island is/was, but the river was famous for its floods and probably that's something that changed.

Here's a literal translation (pinyin):

Past person already gone yellow crane away
Here only remain yellow crane tower
Yellow crane once gone not return
White cloud 1000 years sky leisuredly
Clear river clear Hanyang tree
Fragrant grass parrot islet
Day dusk homeland pass what place be
Mist water river on become person sorrow

The tower itself is what westerners think of as a pagoda, with multiple levels and turned up eaves. The first tower ("lou"="multistoried building"; a pagoda has something to do with Buddhism) was built in 223AD (Three Kingdoms Period,220-280AD); since it was wood it was burned and reconstructed many times. The current building dates from the 1950s, styled after the Qing Dynasty version. I wonder if there is a drawing anywhere of the original.

Over the centuries a legend grew up about a man who lived an austere life in or by the tower, and was taken up to heaven on the back of a yellow crane to become one of the immortals. Other legends say it was a fairy that was taken up from the tower. Another website relates this story:
"Long long ago, there was an aged man with gray hair and long beard who rode a yellow crane, flying slowly to fall down on the top of Mount Snake. All the farmers, old and young, chatting and playing on the hillside with rocky ground were surprised to look at the stranger. One of boys stepped forward to ask him who are you?swheresare you from? ?Listening carefully to the boy, touching his beard, the aged stranger answered: My name is Wang Zi-an [King's Son-safety], my hometown is over there..."he pointed out to the blue sky, and rode on the crane's back again to fly lightly to the heaven. The Yellow Crane was fluttering higher and higher, passing through the thin mist and thick cloud and vanishing in the remote dome of the sky. An old farmer said: there are only the cranes in white, in gray or the red-crowned cranes we have seen in our human world, but no crane in yellow. I'm sure the yellow must be a fairy crane. ?And then a mid-aged man said: what we have seen is a strange event, and we should build a pavilion to commemorate what happened to us."sure!"everyone agreed with him. Afterwards, the Yellow Crane Tower was established at the top of Mount Snake. That's the tower's origin."

The same website provides this translation:

  Long ago a man riding a yellow crane flew away,
  Leaving the Yellow Crane Tower empty till today.
  The yellow crane has never returned once again
  The 1000-year lonely clouds leisurely remain.
  The river is so clear to mirror the tree shadow,
  The grasses on the Parrot Islet luxuriantly grow.
  I'm not on way home as the sun behind the hill,
  My sorrow waves with the mist-veiled billow.

I'm still looking for other translations.

Note-here is someone taking a try at translating LI Bai: http://bystander.homestead.com/yellowcranetower.html. He explains some of the problems with translating the impressionistic written poem into English sentences.
Since I wrote this (in 2007) other sources have appeared online. There is a Wikipedia article, and Parrot Island did disappear long ago. The name is now attached to a bridge.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Abalone: delicious, dangerous, declining (Blog Action Day)

I remember when I was small, watching my mom in the kitchen as she pound-pound-pounded away at the abalone. She would pound it out with a special little hammer into a white circle, then cook it quickly. I don't recall any recipe, just that it was delicious, so good that even incipient vegetarian me would gobble it down. Guess I'm just a fake vegetarian... at least in some instances!

People near my folk's house on California's Mendocino Coast talked about how in the past, into the 1980s, they would just wade into the ocean and pick abalone right off the rocks. Most homes in the area had heaps of abalone shells moldering away in the yard (or at least until a few years ago, when a man came by offering a buck each for them.)

So I started wondering why they aren't just there on the rocks anymore. Too many people? Too many seals? A little research project got underway.

"Abalone are easily overfished." says the California Dept of Fish & Game. "They have slow growth, infrequent reproductive success, vulnerability to fishery-related injuries, high mortality of small animals, and need high densities for successful reproduction."

And it turns out there are lots of different kinds of abalone local to the Mendocino Coast: Haliotis rufescens (red abalone); H. cracherodii (black abalone); H. kamtschatkana (pinto or Northern Abalone); and sometimes H. walallensis (flat abalone.) The only one you are supposed to pick (abalone fishing is called "picking", actually they have to be pried off the rocks with a crowbar, not just "picked") is the red, which is found intertidal to 80 feet. This is the one we all know, with the irridescent inner shell and reddish outer shell and the delicious white "foot". It can actually live to be 40 years old, and the biggest recorded one was 12 5/16 inches long.

The black abalone was most likely the one people used to wade in and pick off the rocks--it lives in the high intertidal zone. Turns out the population of black abalone was being, like all abalone, over picked, but what almost did it completely in was a disease, abalone kidney coccidia or "withering syndrome" which killed off a large part of the population in the 1980s. It is now protected--and anyway, it is also reportedly the least desireable meat. The inside of its shell is very pale, and the outside is black.

The pinto is the tiny little one. It never gets very big, the record was about four inches long. It's also protected. Same with the flat, which is also little.

When out abalone-ing, the rules are that no scuba gear can be used, you may only have three at one time and no more than 24 in a year. Swimming in the ocean is dangerous and cold; that should be protection for the abalone. But poaching is a serious problem. Abalone is tasty and trendy, and worth a lot--really a lot--of money. It's just sitting out there in the ocean, unprotected. And the American tradition is to be bold and take what you want or need---

Not too long ago a poacher was caught with a huge catch of abalone (and they threw the book at him, too.) He was an immigrant, I'm sure he was just a poor man who came here for economic reasons, and was looking to, as Kaiser Cement trucks used to say on them, "Find a need and fill it." Abalone is sitting unprotected out in the ocean, a "thing", an economic opportunity. No need to worry about taking too many, because when it's wiped out, there will always be some other "thing" to make money on.

Up in BC, an area of ocean next to a prison with 24 hour armed guard patrols was studied and found to have more and larger abalone and better reproduction of abalone than in an allegedly protected reserve right next to the prison area. It's the same sad story, people want what they want and if there's a buck to be made, someone will find a way to make it. In his book "Collapse" Jared Diamond wonders what the man who cut the last tree down on Easter Island thought while he did it (with no wood, there were no boats and no escape from the island, let alone fishing or building materials or soil protection--to make a long story short if you don't know it all ready, there were terrible wars and starvation and everyone died and etc.)

I know what he thought: "If I don't get it, someone else will!"

Same with the abalone.

Back to the Dept. of Fish & Game: "These factors (slow growth, infrequent reproductive success, vulnerability to fishery-related injuries, high mortality of small animals, and need for high densities for successful reproduction) limit the ability of abalone to withstand a fishery...Red abalone in northern California are believed to grow slower and reproduce less frequently than those in the south...surveys have revealed few abalone in the 2-5 inch size range, an indication that significant reproduction has not occurred. At Van Damme State Park in the early 1990’s SCUBA surveys found that over 75% of the population was under the legal size compared to only 50% today. " (2005)

Moral: Don't poach (Hey! I never would do that!) Watch for poachers (But I'm not there 24 hours a day!) Don't buy black market abalone (I've never seen it for sale!)

Oh heck, I don't know. I've just written myself into a corner more depressing than the latest issues of "Audubon" and "Sierra" put together.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

'1491' - Getting a sense of the past

'1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus' by Charles Mann

Most of what you find written about pre-conquest "Indians" is broken apart along modern political boundaries. For example, it's hard to get a sense of a culture when part of the culture is written about only in books about Colorado and part of it only in books about Mexico. A great achievement of this book is the ignoring of modern political boundaries and looking at the great sweep of cultures that were here pre-Columbus, pre-smallpox.

This book is important because it talks about something most modern white Americans would rather not talk or think or even know about: Before our European ancestors arrived, the continent was full of people. People of many languages and cultures, as distinctive, complex, and advanced as any in the "old world." Cultures that are now utterly lost.

I still find books about "the Indians" that describe their idyllic, simple life, plucking the fruits of an Eden that only exists in European fantasies. The way our great-great-great grandparents imagined it, and we don't want to hear a different message. In correcting that view, "1491" may be a path back to sanity.

But the book is NOT one of those downer everything-is-doomed Sierra Club magazine books. It's not a bone dry academic book either. It is a fine, journalistic overview of an enormous topic, lively and fascinating reading. It's a big thick book, but I flew right through those pages.

Charles Mann is a journalist covering technology, commerce, and science. His website is at www.charlesmann.org.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Long Term Culture Shock

My Midwestern culture-shock was pretty intense for a while, but even when I think I've gotten used to local behavior, something comes along to amaze me all over again.

I've certainly been aware that one of the Midwestern core values is total irrationality. In the belief system of the locals, it's better to believe whatever you want about global warming or what causes cancer, since the most uninformed person's opinion is just as good as that of the most learned philosopher. More "educated" people, the doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, tend to have a "spiritual path" that also decries modern fantasies like, say, the germ theory of disease. Well, maybe not the doctors. But everyone seems to subscribe to the "thinking makes it so" attitude.

In yesterday's newspaper there is an article about a local eyesore, an old garage in a residential neighborhood. It has also been found to be a menace to public health and safety. The town has been going around with the owner, to get him to tear it down, for seven years. Finally they reached a resolution. But...

One commissioner said (despite seven years worth of evidence) that he "didn't believe" that there was a problem. Therefore, according to his belief system, there is no problem and anyone who says there is obviously is doing something Bad. Evidence is irrelevant. Seven years of work by other commissioners is irrelevant. So he fought having anything done about the property!

Maybe I could call this the "Reagan Effect."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Some old posts

The posts below are old reviews that I'm carrying over into my new blog.