Monday, May 27, 2019

Spring Advances Toward Summer

On this week's walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park it became very apparent that Summer isn't very far away. For one thing, the mosquitoes are back. Ugh! But aside from that annoyance, there are also certain floral evidences of advancing Summer - Yellow Flag growing in the marshes, and Blackberries and Multiflora Roses blooming along the nature trail. And of course along with the Multiflora Roses comes their heavenly aroma. Ahhhh! And the grass up on the meadow is up to my chest; I'm guessing Wade will start haying soon. Here's some of what I saw on my walk today.

Looks like there'll be plenty of Blackberries this year!
This young Eastern Cottontail was lunching along the Dykeman Walking Trail
Multiflora Roses were scenting the air throughout the park
The butterflies are out and about as well. Here's a Spring Azure
Yellow Flag, in the Iris family, grows in the marshy areas hereabouts
A Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly in the wetland
Three families of Canada Geese were out on the north duck pond
A Painted Lady butterfly up on the meadow
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Memorial Day 2019

[Note: I wrote this piece last year for Memorial Day, and I like it so much I decided to reprint it this year.]

Today in the US we memorialize those who have been claimed by war. It's usually celebrated as a great patriotic event, with martial songs and chest-thumping nationalism, all about the glory of dying for your country. What egregious nonsense! As any battle-scarred veteran can tell you, war isn't glorious; it's a gory, bloody, loud hell of a meat-grinder, and the meat being ground is the young of the nation, fed into it by old men who hold grudges or who see a profit to be made, win or lose. I've always said that if the fat old men who declared wars actually had to fight in them, we'd have world peace overnight.

Here are some potent quotes about the reality of war:
"And I can't help but wonder, now Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you 'The Cause'?
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain.
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again."
– Eric Bogle, "No Man's Land" 
"Either war is finished, or we are."
– Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance 
"War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children."
– Jimmy Carter, Nobel Lecture, December 10, 2002 
"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity."
– Dwight D. Eisenhower, speech, January 10, 1946 
"If civilization has an opposite, it is war. Of these two things, you have either one, or the other. Not both."
– Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
Probably the greatest antiwar poem ever written is "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen, an Oxford scholar and poet who enlisted at the beginning of WWI, and who was killed just one week before the armistice which ended it. During the war he wrote his poems in the letters he sent home, and as the conflict continued he used these poems to vent his anger and cynicism at the futility, the barbarity, and the stupidity of it all. "Dulce et Decorum Est" could just as well have been titled "The Lie", the lie in question being the quote from the Roman poet Horace that is fed to soldiers in time of war: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori"; the English translation is "It is sweet and proper to die for one's country". Obviously Owen disagreed, and I'm with him.
Dulce et Decorum Est - Wilfred Owen 
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And toward our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind. 
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obsceneas cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
Today we lament the deaths of young people killed by adherence to an anachronism, and pledge to end the scourge that killed them. Here are two songs that lament the deaths of soldiers - Eric Bogle's "No Man's Land" and Mark Knopfler's "Brothers In Arms".

Photo © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sunday Bach - Fifth Sunday After Easter

Yellow Wood Sorrel
Today is the fifth Sunday after Easter. Bach wrote two small, intimate cantatas for this Sunday, and I chose the first of them, BWV 86, Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage euch (Truly, truly I say to you), from 1724. The theme is still from the 16th chapter of John, where Jesus speaks to the disciples, preparing them for his final departure. Here's what the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had to say about this beautiful little gem of a cantata:
Cantata 86 is a product of Bach’s first Leipzig cantata cycle. It focuses on a passage from Jesus’ extensive farewell to his disciples in the Book of John. The key lines are “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you,” and “the time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in parables.” 
The first movement is equivalent to a five-voice choral motet, the bass soloist, representing Jesus, sharing musical materials with four string parts. This is followed by an unusual aria for alto, in which the violin part has little thematic activity, but is instead given over to frenetic figuration. The listener can decide if this refers to the thorns, risked in the breaking of the rose, or a vision of shining assurance, the reward of belief. 
A driving version, for soprano and two oboes d'amore, of a verse from the chorale ‘Come to me, says the Son of God,’ leads to a tenor recitative and aria, which makes use of a metaphor: a very spare, reiterative statement, “God will surely help,” is buttressed by fugal, compact musical ideas. 
Even the closing chorale is unusually economical in its range of harmonic color, lending further support to the cantata’s emphasis on trust, and simplicity of spirit. 
For today's Sunday Bach I chose a lovely performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy!

Photo © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, May 20, 2019

Looking at the World with the Lens of Love

That phrase in the title comes from an essay I found on the Humanistic Paganism website by author Mark Green (you can read it here). It reiterates something that I and other followers of an Earth-based spirituality have always known - everything is sacred, everything is holy, and the fact that it's all here and we're alive as a part of it is an ongoing miracle. The Universe is an ongoing act of magic that all of us have the opportunity to take part in, if only we'd open our eyes and actively participate in its evolution. This is what motivates me when I go out my door every day, and what informs my eye when I look through the viewfinder of my camera. In the Bible, when Moses approaches the burning bush on Mt. Sinai God tells him, "Take off your shoes, you stand on holy ground." Well, it's ALL holy ground; we should all be walking barefoot through every day!

Black Locust blossoms along the Dykeman Walking Trail
A tiny snail nestled in Skunk Cabbage in the Dykeman Spring wetland
Multiflora Roses in the wetland
Yellow Wood Sorrel in the wetland
Daisy Fleabane by the north duck pond
Peter Mayer has the perfect song for this subject; his Holy Now looks at both the sacredness and the miraculous nature of our world and our lives. Enjoy!


© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sunday Bach - Fourth Sunday After Easter

Buckeye butterfly
Today is the fourth Sunday after Easter, and the Gospel reading is the passage in John (16:5 - 15) where Jesus tells the disciples that he has to go away  so that the Comforter can come. Bach wrote two cantatas for this Sunday, both of them small, intimate works. I've chosen BWV 166, Wo gehest du hin? (Where are you going?) The late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music had this to say about the cantata:
After Easter, Bach’s first cantata cycle included several large masterpieces such as last week’s Cantata BWV 104. In addition there are several exquisite smaller-scale works, including today’s cantata BWV 166. The strangeness and ambiguity of all of the readings from the Gospel of John after Easter come to a climax with Jesus’ speech to the disciples about his going away. Jesus announces that they would all be stuck if he were not to leave them and that the “Advocate” were not to replace him. It becomes clear by Pentecost that the advocate is the Church. The superb text for today’s cantata begins with Christ’s question to the disciples. The gentle questioning music for oboe and strings manages to be both ambiguous and deeply profound. The sweet expressive melismas for the voice of Christ are laid across the caressing and gentle strings and oboe. The piece rightly ends with a question mark. The profound tenor aria lays out the choices – Heaven or Hell, to go or to stay. The piece is in the form of an elegant sonata à 4. The violin part is lost but has been reconstructed by Alfred Dürr from a version of the piece as a violin trio sonata. The Chorale “Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut” appears in an arrangement with all the strings playing a wide-reaching and melancholy line against the tune in the sopranos. The alto aria manages to smile and yet contain the undertow of the last judgment that is implicit in its text. A rich harmonization of “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten” ends the cantata.
For this week's Sunday Bach I've chosen this beautiful performance by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman. Enjoy! 


Photo © 2016 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, May 13, 2019

Water, Water Everywhere

It's been raining lately. A lot. Last year was one of the wettest on record, and according to the meteorologists this year is starting out to be even wetter. It rained through this past weekend, especially yesterday. And today is no different - it started out raining, then slacked off to drizzle, and then went back to a steady, moderate rain. And since this is my weekend and I absolutely had to hit the grocery store today, I did my weekly walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park in that steady rain. So I donned my Kamik© waterproof boots and headed off to shoot the park in the rain. The following are the shots that worked the best.

The creek in the park as it runs between the ball fields, with lots of raindrops
Entering the park on a very wet boardwalk
One of the streams deep in the wetland
The north duck pond in the rain
And of course, me being who I am, I just had to tack this old chestnut onto the end of a post about a park in the rain. Heh, heh!

Photos © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sunday Bach - Third Sunday After Easter

Bach wrote three cantatas for the third Sunday after Easter, and this year I chose the earliest, written in 1714 in Weimar - BWV 12, Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (Crying, Complaining, Worrying, Fearing, Weimar 1714). This was the first time Bach used poet Salomo Franck as his librettist; it was the start of a collaboration that would lead to the creation of some of Bach's most memorable works. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this remarkable cantata:
Bach Cantata BWV 12 is his first setting of a Salomo Franck text. Franck was the greatest librettist that Bach ever worked with, and this cantata has a marvelous sense of discovery about it. It opens with a poignant sinfonia for oboe and strings, setting the mood and character for the moving opening chorus. The extreme expressivity of the choral parts is counteracted by the rigor of the chaconne bass. Thirty years after the composition of this cantata Bach remembered this chorus and arranged it as the Crucifixus in the Mass in B Minor.

The only recitative in this cantata is not free verse but a quote from the bible reading for Jublilate Sunday. It is set for alto and strings. The great aria that follows for oboe and alto solo is Bach’s first extended oboe solo and thus the beginning of a remarkable body of work. The text for the bass aria uses the metaphor of “following” to color the whole structure. The two solo violins dutifully follow both the bass and each other. The tenor aria, a mournful and expressive plaint, is accompanied by the chorale melody, “Jesu meine Freude” on the oboe. “Was Gott tut, daß ist wohlgetan” ends the cantata in a harmonization with the oboe above the sopranos providing a fifth voice.

© Craig Smith
Today's performance is from the 1996 recording by The Bach Ensemble under the direction of Joshua Rifkin. Enjoy!

Photo © 2014 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Standing Quietly

“I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes. Our everyday lives obscure a truth about existence - that at the heart of everything there lies a stillness and a light.”
Lynn Thomson 

As I mentioned yesterday, there were lots of birds in the park yesterday, but they were staying out of sight and I didn't have time to stop and wait for them to come out. So I went back today to take some time and see who might want to pose for a portrait. There was plenty of birdsong - Cardinals, Orioles, Red-winged Blackbirds, Goldfinches, Yellow Warblers, Phoebes, Catbirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Flickers, and on my way out at the end I heard a Wood Thrush. But like yesterday, everybody was staying out of sight. Part of the problem is that the foliage is so thick and lush that there's an abundance of hiding places. And the light green color verging on yellow gives the Goldfinches and the Yellow and other small Warblers perfect camouflage.

In any case, I settled on my favorite bench at the north end of the north duck pond and enjoyed the beautiful day, with the light breeze and the sound of the creek adding extra joy to the day. I may only have gotten two usable bird shots, but I had the privilege of throughly enjoying Mama Gaia's gift of a beautiful setting and a perfect day.

Orioles like to stay way up in the canopy of the woods, and this one was no different
A  view from my favorite pond-side bench, my "pew in church"
This Catbird was waaaayyyy back in the underbrush; I'm surprised this shot turned out so well
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Monday, May 06, 2019

Blame It on the Rain

What struck me most in my walk in the Dykeman Spring Nature Park this morning is how very lush and green everything is. Of course, it probably helps that lately it's been raining 4 or 5 days out of the week, every week this Spring. Plus our very wet Winter, and the fact that last year was also one of the wettest on record. And on the days when the sun does come out it gets pretty warm. So growing conditions are at the optimum, and green has become the dominant color here of late.

Aside from the abundant foliage and flowers, there were lots of birds out and about, all singing up a storm. But they were avoiding my camera, and I was on my way through on errands so I didn't stop and wait for them to come out of hiding. So I think I'll go back tomorrow and just sit still. There are a bunch of Orioles in the park, and I'm bound and determined to get some shots of them. Meanwhile, here are some pictures of the abundance of Spring in the park that I managed to get today.

Dame's Rocket along the Dykeman Walking Trail
Swamp Buttercups in the wetland woods
Lush reflections on the north duck pond
Bench and reflection by the north duck pond
Mama Gaia's Lace - looking up through the Kentucky Coffee Tree
Looking north from the top of the meadow
A view of the rolling hills of the meadow
© 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Sunday Bach - Second Sunday After Easter

The second Sunday after Easter has traditionally been called the Good Shepherd Sunday because of the Gospel reading for the day, John 10: 12 - 16, where Jesus calls himself the good shepherd. Bach responded to that theme with three cantatas of the most pastoral feeling of all his works. The one I've chosen for this year is BWV 104, Du Hirte Israel, höre (Hear, thou shepherd of Israel, Leipzig 1724). This is a magnificent and beautiful cantata, and it's no wonder that the young Felix Mendelssohn was inspired by it to start what became the rediscovery and revival of Bach's music in the early 1800s. Here's the late Craig Smith of Emmanuel Music on this most beautiful and influential of Bach's cantatas:
The pastoral ideal is a significant and common occurrence in music of the Baroque. The twin concepts of the secular Arcadia and the sacred Eden not only stimulate the composer’s imagination but create a sort of nostalgic world that was a favorite of opera composers for the 17th and 18th centuries. This bucolic world doesn’t fit very well with the austere “Weltanschaung” of Lutheran Saxony. Yet several readings in the yearly lectionary summon up this important style. Obviously one is about the shepherds at Christmastime. The other spot in the church year is the so-called “Good Shepherd” Sunday. One of the most gorgeously and purely pastoral pieces is one written for that Sunday, BWV 104. This is a work that was known even before most of the cantatas were published. In the early 1800s a volume of six cantatas later to be numbered 101 through 106 appeared in Germany. These six pieces became significant in the Bach revival culminating in the 1829 performance of the St Matthew Passion by the young Felix Mendelssohn. Our cantata, BWV 104, was particularly influential upon Mendelssohn. The opening chorus is the obvious model for the chorus “He watching over Israel” in that composer’s “Elijah.” The Bach chorus is a marvel. Permeated with a beautiful and easy counterpoint, the spinning out of the fugue themes is both masterful and irresistible. Each of the three subsequent fugues is more ecstatic and passionate. 
The tenor aria continues in a pastoral vein but is darker and more colored. The chromaticism is so easy and elegant that it slips in almost unnoticed. Compound triple meter, a common characteristic of all baroque pastoral music, reappears in the lyrical bass aria. There is something more personal and dark about this aria that throws it in relief of the opening chorus. A rich harmonization of “Allein Gott in der Höh” ends the cantata. 
© Craig Smith
This week's performance is the benchmark recording of this cantata, the 1973 recording by the Munich Bach Chorus and Orchestra under the direction of Karl Richter, and featuring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, one of the most sublime bass voices in the repertoire. Enjoy!

Photo © 2019 by A. Roy Hilbinger