Friday, September 26, 2014

A Little More about Purple Emperors

So, in my mini-essay in MR. BAGGINS on the butterflies of Mirkwood, I noted that Tolkien does not just mention generic butterflies (as he does with Medwed's bees) but identifies the specific type of butterfly Bilbo sees above the oak-canopy of the forest: the Purple Emperor -- a large, beautiful butterfly that was once widespread in southern and central England but is now all but extinct there.

Unexpectedly, while recently reading Goulson's A STING IN THE TALE: MY ADVENTURES WITH BUMBLEBEES [2013], I came across some slightly sinister associations with their habits.
Here's the passage, coming in a footnote at the bottom of page 203 of Goulson's book:

"These spectacular insects normally hang around the tops
 of oak trees, and so are seldom seen. One old-fashioned 
technique that was used by butterfly collectors was to place
 a well-rotted dead rat on a wood-land ride. Beautiful though
 the butterflies are, they have a macabre taste for the juices that 
leak from such a corpse and are often lured down."

I admit to being curious as to whether Tolkien, a keen observer of nature, was aware of the purple emperor's taste for corpse-juices, and if so whether this contributed to his decision to include them into his description of Mirkwood. I assume not, since the scene of Bilbo and the butterflies has no overt sinister overtones in the book, but the ghoulish habits of their real-world counterparts is interesting, to say the least.

--John R.
current reading: THE LATHE OF HEAVEN by Le Guin [1971]
currently watcing : THE LATHE OF HEAVEN [1980]

MHQ Tolkien

So, sometimes I forget it's a new world we live in. I default back to the days when Tolkien was considered a fringe figure: inexplicably popular but typecast as a fad whose day would soon pass. * Now that he's now well-established as a major twentieth century writer, he's become so much a part of our culture that his name constantly shows up in what would once have been surprising places.

Cast in point: I picked up the latest issue of MHQ: THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF MILITARY HISTORY (Autumn 2014), attracted by its cover article, which claims that T. E. Lawrence's "Arab Revolt" was of negligible military value, mainly a propaganda stunt that eventually bought into its own publicity, with unfortunate results. He similarly dismisses the 'French Resistence' as largely mythical, a face-saving exercise. All this and more (sabotage in Burma, struggles against Rommel) leads up to his main point, where he attributes the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu as due to their belief that they could defeat the Viet Mihn on the cheap, recruiting locals to form guerrilla groups as a counter-insurgency. It's an interesting piece, and all too relevant, whose argument I'll have to mull over -- food for thought.

In any case, having been intrigued by one piece in a journal I wouldn't otherwise have picked up, I thought I might as well skim the rest of the contents to see if anything else interesting showed up. Which is when I came across the photo of J. R. R. Tolkien (p. 15), heading up a short (two-page) article "Men of Letters, Men of War", with a paragraph each highlighting the military experience and literary accomplishments of nine authors who served** in World War I: C. S. Lewis, JRRT, Ernest Hemingway, Rbt Graves, Wilfred Owen (the greatest of the WWI poets, and the only other among these figures whose photo is included), Siegfried Sassoon, Erich Marie Remarque (for his classic ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT), Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (whose war record I didn't know about), and Winston Churchill (whom it claims spent a few months in Flanders following the Gallipoli disaster he'd masterminded).

What really made me marvel when I read this was the thought: Since when does Hemingway come THIRD in a list of famous modern authors who served in the War? Back when I was in grad school, he would have automatically come in first on any such list (probably closely followed by a mention of Orwell's volunteering in the Spanish Civil War). Has Tolkien's, and Lewis's, fame really grown so great that it eclipses a figure like Hemingway, universally considered one of the three or four major American twentieth century novelists? That's hard for me to get my mind around: as I said, if true, it'd be a whole new world.

And now to read on, though I really doubt there'll be any more surprises herein to match that one.

--John R.

*Which over time evolved into Soon-ish. Then Eventually. And finally Surely Any Day Now. It's a narrative that goes back more than fifty years now, and to which former Deconstructionist Harold Bloom still clings

**I originally wrote 'fought', but Hemingway of course famously served as an ambulance driver, arguably a higher calling.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


So, I've always vaguely wondered why three of the four seasons have a single simple name ("Spring" "Summer" "Winter") while the fourth has two, both "Fall" and "Autumn".

Checking the dictionary, I didn't find the answer. But I did learn that 'autumn' is Etruscan (though we got it from the French, who got it from the Romans), and means autumn.

I suspect that makes it pretty much the only Etruscan word in common usage in modern English

Live and learn.

--John R.

current reading: THIS PROGRESS by Bernard Acworth (still)

The Cat Report (W. Sept 24th)

Amazed at the five-cat adoption over a two or three day period: The Little Sisters (LITTLE FEET and LITTLE PANTS), tripod lad LEGO, always-gets-overlooked TAWNY, and even special needs PHOENIX. The last is particularly satisfying, given how long she had to wait for her happy ending (since May I think). Can't remember ever having so many adopted in so short a time. 

With  Little Miss Smith (PERRY) back at the clinic (hope she'll soon be better and back with us again), that leaves us with just THREE CATS -- the fewest I ever remember being there. With so few cats, I was able to give them a nice relaxed morning.

We started out with walks: Mollini, then Buxter, then Maebe. Mollini did well with a combination walk and carry. She likes to go up to people but then just sits there, not trying to get their attention by mewing or rubbing against them.  Buxter shows signs of developing into a champion walker: she even stood up to a dog, holding her ground until it retreated. She went all over the store, and explored here and there. Think the part she liked best was going belly-up on the tiles. Never thought I'd be giving her tummy rubs: it was like she was doing her best Moreo impersonation (though about ten pounds lighter). Maebe, by contrast, was no sooner out than she lifted up her voice in lamentations, which grew in volume and frequency until I hastened to take her back inside the cat-room, where she immediately quieted down and relaxed. 

Speaking of mews, Mollini did something strange for her. A large dog (looked something like a black St. Bernard's) briefly came up to the cat-room, looked inside, and then went on off. As soon as she saw it, Mollini mewed and went up to the spot of the glass where it was. Think she was tying to get its attention. I'd just assumed she didn't like dogs, but maybe not?

Plenty of room this morning with only three cats: 

Buxter took up her post in her favorite spot, atop the cat-stand by the cabinet. She was pleased to be petted from time to time, but mostly just wanted to be out of the cage, in a safe comfy spot, and snooze.

Maebe went up to the cagetops, where she climbed inside the unused litter-box with the blanket in it, which she decided was the Best Thing Ever, settling in with great satisfaction and doing her paws up and down. 

Mollini was the one who really blossomed. She started out near the door, both to enjoy the breeze and to play some games. Then as the morning went on began to explore, going back into the corner where the used laundry goes. She was briefly in the basket on the bench but spent most of her time out and about. She and I finally worked out a good way to get her back in her cage at the end of shift: I put the other two back, whereupon she came and sat in front of her cage. I then put the wicker basket in front of her cage and patted it: she jumped from the floor to the basket then from the basket into the cage, and seemed quite pleased with herself.

The only other event of note was that I brought in some catnip bubbles to see how the cats liked it. Maebe was deeply interested, stalking over and standing over them, staring at them until they burst. Mollini was also interested, popping one or two but mostly just tracking them with her cat-radar. Buxter decided they might be Up To No Good and so moved down a level on her cat-stand for better shelter against The Cat-Bubble Menace. I left the bottle in case the new cats on the way might also enjoy them.

Speaking of the new cats, looking forward to meeting Sylvester and Tweety, the new kittens, who I hear arrived Wednesday afternoon after I'd left.

health concerns: everyone seemed fine, but Buxter made a deposit outside her box again. However, she also used her box, so this may not have been a protest so much as distress over a smelly dirt-box. I went ahead and emptied and cleaned out the box so she had all-new litter, thinking this might help. Suggest we make special efforts to keep her box as clean as we can to see if this resolves the problem.

--John R.

P.S.: Wonderful to see two pictures of Tawny, very much at home in her new home, sitting on the arm of the couch and keeping company with her human. That's one contented cat.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Just a Thought

It's just a thought, but what if those guys who've recently been caught trying to get into the White House are repo men here to do a rendition on behalf of the Noble Committee:

They'd like their Peace Prize back.

--John R.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Scots Vote No

So, after an impressively large turnout of just about all eligible voters, the majority of Scots have concluded that eight hundred years of being colonized by the English isn't enough, and can they please have some more.

Be interesting now to see whether the promises made in the final days of the campaign, to give Scotland much more autonomy, are followed up on or quietly forgotten.

--John R.
great, great, great grandson of a Scots emigrant (whence the Presbyterianism).

Mount Adams out my window

So, yesterday I saw a bluebird -- not an indigo bunting (wh. we have in Arkansas) nor a jay, but an actual bluebird.

Today we went for a long walk with two big dogs, wh. is a v. different dynamic from walking cats. Though in both cases it puts the local wildlife to flight.

We saw three natural bridges, as well as the rubble from what clearly had once been a fourth such bridge. These had all clearly once been part of a lava tube, the roof of which had collapsed at all but a few places. The gorge between them was perhaps some fifty feel deep, so it must have been quite a cave in its day.

After that, we went and saw an ice cave (descending into it until I cd stand on and touch the ice--which ominously cracked under my feet), the opening of Cheese Cave (which I descended once years ago but cdn't bring myself to this time, what with the acrophobia, though Janice did), and Butter Cave (which was new to me; I liked it v. much), and Christmas Tree Cave (the stairs going down were all rotten, but we managed to scramble down on the rocks -- you cd get a good idea of a big chamber that must have collapsed, exposing the side-tunnels and alcoves around the edges, but I really cdn't tell which was the main passage).

Then it was back to base, and later a pleasant walk with just the two of us along the Little White Salmon River, which was milky-green from snowmelt and v. cold. Then a quiet evening, dinner, and an early evening -- while I read a little Le Guin (seems appropriate, since today I got a good look at Mt. Hood), some more of the increasingly eccentric Bernard Ackworth, and gave a close skim to one of my pieces that's about to come out soon ("The Missing Women: Tolkien's Lifelong Support for Women's Higher Education")

And tomorrow, more hiking, more visiting, more enjoying being in a Tall House with friends.
And for the cats back home, it's day two of the World Domination Plan.

--John R.