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

Portrait of Audubon by John Syme.

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 … Read more

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

Portrait of Audubon by John Syme.

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 … Read more

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Spring Flowers: Bloodroot, a Native Knockout

Feature photo for Bloodroot post.

When I’m outside in early spring, I find myself not so much longing for the sight of something green as lusting after the color yellow. The rich yellow on a Meadowlark’s breast, the goldshine of Dutch Master daffodils, the chalky yellow of Forsythia flowers—these slake something so strong that it feels like a physical need, … Read more

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Green Is the Color of Hope: Stalking the Black-legged Meadow Katydid

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I.              The photo This all started at the end of September 2019, when a friend emailed me a photo she’d taken of a Black-legged Meadow Katydid. My friend and I are birders, and we share a subsidiary interest in butterflies and dragonflies. But katydids? I’d never seen one, so had never felt the urge to … Read more

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One Woodpecker: A Photo Essay

Feature photo for Woodpecker post.

Most birders I know have a weakness for woodpeckers. It’s partly the drumming that seduces us: that monotone hammering woodpeckers make every spring to claim a territory and find a mate. But it’s also their shape and color. Shape because every part of a woodpecker’s anatomy—bill, skull, ribcage, tail feathers, and feet—has been adapted to … Read more

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Two Owls: A Photo Essay

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With the approach of winter, the owls have returned to Toronto. Every year at this time, they come down from the boreal forest and northern tundra looking for food. They like to hang out in forested areas near the Toronto lakeshore, where they find a plentiful supply of rabbits, squirrels, meadow voles, field mice, and … Read more

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Ten Influential Albums: Numbers 6-10

This is the featured image for thepost on Ten Influential Albums: Numbers 6-10.

Here is the second instalment of the list I drew up in May for the so-called Ten Album Challenge. In revising the text for these last five albums, I discovered a rather pressing urge to say something more about Billie Holiday and Captain Beefheart in particular. The first because her far-reaching shadow seemed to touch, … Read more

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Ten Influential Albums: Numbers 1-5

Album cover for Blues the Common Ground by Kenny Burrell.

Just as the Coronavirus settled in for its brutal, interminable visit, just as the remnants of life-as-we’ve-always-known-it shattered and collapsed around my ears, a friend nominated me for the Ten Album Challenge. In accepting this challenge, I agreed to post—on Facebook—the covers of ten albums that have influenced or inspired me in some meaningful way. … Read more

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Winter Birding: A photo essay from Algonquin Park

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Algonquin Provincial Park is one of the finest places in North America to see winter birds, those boreal species that rarely come down to more southerly locations. Situated in central Ontario, the park is a three-hour drive north of Toronto and about the same distance west from Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. I spent two days … Read more

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Cold-weather Camouflage: How do birds conceal themselves in winter?

A Purple Sandpiper on a rocky shoreline.

To put it as simply as possible: birds display two types of camouflage: color and shape. Both of these techniques help them to perform the magical act of disappearing, of blending into their surroundings, sometimes to the point of invisibility. In the spring, birds put themselves on display in hopes of finding a mate. During … Read more

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