To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

Blake, "Auguries of Innocence"

Take a second look …

The yellow eyes of the Saw-whet Owl are so startling, their gaze so steady, that we tend to ignore everything else. It’s easy to miss the trace of blood just below the owl’s bill, a smear of something that changes the way we look at the bird, that deepens our understanding of it. What discoveries might we make if we took that second look more often, if we trained ourselves to see?

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A Word to My Readers

When I started this blog three-and-a-half years ago, my goal was simple and not terribly ambitious. I wanted to contribute a new entry once a month, every month. It didn’t matter to me whether the entries were long or short; it didn’t even matter whether their quality was first-rate or simply mediocre. I thought the discipline involved with writing about something new every month was the main thing. Over time, if I kept to this schedule, the quality would even out, and I’d find myself participating in a certain process of discovery. That is, I’d figure out what mattered enough … Read more

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Portrait of Audubon by John Syme.

Audubon Draws a Nude: A Commission He Couldn’t Refuse, Part Two

I spent a year at the University of Toronto reading the epic poem Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon. The prof for that class was Laurence K. Shook, a Basilian priest who had a special interest in the riddles contained in an Old English manuscript called the Exeter Book. These riddles all take the form of short poems in alliterative verse, and none of them comes with a solution. Shook believed several of the riddles referred to birds that were common in England during Anglo-Saxon times. One evening when Father Shook was talking about the riddles, one of my classmates snickered. … Read more

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Portrait of Audubon by John Syme.

Audubon Draws a Nude: A Commission He Couldn’t Refuse, Part One

When she stops him on the Rue Royale, she’s wearing a dark veil that makes it impossible to see her face. Even so, he can tell she is “a femelle of a fine form.” She speaks to him in French because she knows it’s his native tongue. Is he the man who draws the birds in black chalk? In fact, she knows quite a bit about him—she’s had him followed for days—and he knows nothing of her. Yes, he admits to working in that medium. Well in that case, she says, come to such-and-such an address in thirty minutes. Then … Read more

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