morning forest 2

Nature is a temple in which living pillars
Sometimes give voice to confused words;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which look at him with understanding eyes.

–Baudelaire, “Correspondences” (Willaim Aggeler translation)

walking stick

A forest is the metaphor for this site. Like a forest, rhetoric provides tremendous resources for many purposes. However, one can easily become lost in a large, complex habitat (whether it be one of wood or of wit). The organization of this central page and the hyperlinks within individual pages should provide a map, a discernible trail, to lay hold of the utility and beauty of this language discipline.
Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric

spider woods 1

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost.

–Dante, The Inferno (Robert Pinksy translation)

spider woods 2

In this I would imitate travelers who, finding themselves lost in a forest, ought not to wander this way and that, or what is worse, remain in one place, but ought always to walk as straight a line as they can in one direction and not change course for feeble reasons, even if at the outset it was perhaps only chance that made them choose it; for by this means, if they are not going where they wish, they will finally arrive at least somewhere where they will be better off than in the middle of a forest.
–Descartes, Discourse on Method (Donald A. Cress translation)

spider woods 3

I sank down on the bench, stupefied, stunned by this profusion of beings without origin: everywhere blossomings, hatchings out, my ears buzzed with existence, my very flesh throbbed and opened, abandoned itself to the universal burgeoning. It was repugnant. But why, I thought, why so many existences, since they all look alike? What good are so many duplicates of trees?
–Sartre, Nausea (Lloyd Alexander translation)

Frass Happens

The mind is the source of all confusion, and the body is the forest of all impure actions.
The Sutra on the Eight Great Realizations of Great Beings

Once again: Don’t forget to send in links for the Halloween edition of the Festival of the Trees by October 26.

And speaking of deadlines, next Monday — October 15 — is the deadline for submissions to the current qarrtsiluni theme, Making Sense (theme descriptiongeneral guidelines).

Disaster area

bark study 2

It starts innocently enough: just a small rift, a discontinuity in the otherwise seamless joinery of our days. The pulse quickens. We feel a bit more… alive. Yes.

birch roots

We were always told such frightening things about courting disaster. But what do the old people know? Surely they are just jealous of our youth and energy — they want to deny us the heady pleasures they themselves are too worn down to handle.

bark study 1

And the pleasures now are nothing if not heady. Bark turns to bite; bony dinosaur hide splits open and lifts into feathers. Welcome to evolution, baby!

girdled birch

But each new opening only retains its brightness for a little while before it, too, turns dull. The body is continually subverting the mind’s best efforts to fly free, and returning us to our cages of solid matter.

Wolf Rocks

Nothing matters: that is our chant as we look for new chasms to outgrow, new eyeholes to peer out of, new mouths with which to whisper in disaster’s ear: save us.

Wolf Rocks 2

And so we become like snakes, slipping our skins, going belly to belly with our parent rock. Our tongues taste the wind in stereo. We tap into the simple on-or-off reptile brain.

Wolf Rocks 3

With our fellow heads we talk, we dance, we howl. Disaster possesses us in turn. We paint our headstones.

All photos taken at or near Wolf Rocks, a popular teen hang-out spot in the Gallitzin State Forest of Pennsylvania.

For men may come and men may go…

autumn footbridge

Fans of 19th-century poetry in particular might enjoy my mother’s nature column from October 2004, October’s Bright Blue Weather.

Dad and I shared a love of the outdoors, of poetry, and also of operettas. As a teenager, I would sit up until midnight with him, watching the old Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy movies on television. One of our favorites was Sigmund Romberg’s Student Prince. As we drove that October day, I sang Romberg’s “Golden Days” — a song of remembering the “golden days, in the sunshine of our happy youth.” And, indeed, Dad reminisced about other Octobers as he “oohed” and “aahed” over the spectacular color. Now that he is gone, a golden October woods reminds me of that “Golden Days” afternoon with him when the sun backlit a shimmer of golden, scarlet, purple, and orange leaves. And every time I look at our stream, I remember Dad reciting Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Brook” whenever he drove up our road.


lost leaf

The birch leaf had gone flying, flying, and had lost its way. It got caught in the needles of a juniper tree beside the house and couldn’t get free. Up under the gable, an unilluminated spotlight kept watch over the garden from the end of its rusty eyestalk. It was the day in early October when the ant drones swarm up out of the ground, climb to the top of the nearest blade of grass or shrunken head of a weed, and take to the air on flimsy, disposable wings. A few of them would get to mate; most would not. All would die soon.

That night, high winds heralded the arrival of the cold. The leaf was ripped from the juniper’s prickly embrace and sent tumbling far out over the dark forest, where oaks creaked and rattled their branches and acorns thudded down like hailstones. It fell in a wide gyre through the crown of a chestnut oak, slipped through the outspread branches of the understorey gums and landed at the edge of a moss-covered clearing. The wind hissed in the dry, drought-curled foliage of the lowbush blueberries and rustled through the forest litter — the fallen leaves that had preceded the birch leaf in death. They lay dozens deep, whole leaves together with those that had been riddled by caterpillars or skeletonized by leaf miners, and let molds and bacteria begin the slow work of turning them into loam.

leaf skeleton

Another reminder to keep an eye out for spooky trees.


In a few words, explain what this blog is about.
–Wordpress Dashboard > Options > General > Tagline

These are my thoughts
Engaging in Conversation
A thing about other things
Just another weblog

Where the hell is Poeville?
Joann’s little corner =)
You know you want it.
A source of relevant information.

Crunchy on the inside.
Just ticking along
The long road to literary success
Just another weblog

Capturing the Film World One Frame at a Time
I don’t wanna miss a thing
About me and my thoughts
But texas loves me anyway

Welcome to my mid-life crisis
Where I Open My Brain And Pour It Out On A Metal Slab. Poke If You Must.
More people fail from a lack of encouragement than anything else!
Just another weblog

One man’s gripes against… well, everything…
Unlock the treasures within!
Tacos. Palabras. Espanol. English. Love. Life. Food. Movies. Poetry. Photos. Chicano. Alma.
Spiritual caffeine for advancing the Kingdom.

Life In The Age Of Promise
Pursuing datameaningfulness, online and off
Much study is a wariness of the flash.
Just another weblog

All lines are actual blog taglines, found by surfing blogs. The refrain is the default tagline, which a surprising number of bloggers elect to keep.

Bad neighbor

Yesterday evening, about an hour before dark, I decided to listen to some music — something I rarely do any more, aside from the occasional YouTube music video — while enjoying a cold beverage out on my front porch. The living room, being currently carpetless and devoid of furniture, is a great echo chamber, so I carried in my old boombox, set it on the floor, and put in an R. L. Burnside tape. It sounded good.

About five minutes later, I was startled out of my reverie by something banging out from underneath the porch. I went over to the rail and looked down: it was the porcupine. As I watched, he waddled across the yard and began climbing the elm tree, which was killed by Dutch elm disease two years ago. “Hey, you moron!” I called. “That tree’s DEAD!”

The porcupine ignored me and continued climbing. His purpose became clear when he reached the first big crotch and promptly stretched out and went to sleep. I was chagrined. You might think I have it made, living out here in the woods — that I never have to worry about bothering anybody. But it’s not really any different than living in town. I can’t even play my music loud after supper without disturbing the neighbors in the crawl space under the house, most of whom probably work the night shift.

Potted Tree

Bought a tree in a pot,
took it back to the flat to occupy a nook
where sunlight guttered from a lack of air.

A tree in a pot is an odd thing to see.
Roots are not meant to resemble a club foot,
a wrist without a hand, an unthinking fist.
Grotesque the feelers with no way to grow
but endless recursion, open, shut —
a dead brain in a body automatically fed.

Branches without birds look out at birds without branches.
Only the cat on the windowsill seems lonely
for whatever all of us once were living for.

Written for the special Halloween edition of the Festival of the Trees (deadline October 26 – submit here).

For lots of more cheerful tree-related links, visit the latest edition of the festival at trees, if you please.

Insect Fare

meal worm tamales

The mealworm tamales at Penn State’s Great Insect Fair this past Saturday were, indeed, a meal. The capsaicin hit about thirty seconds after the last bite, as a hot tamale should, and I found myself going back for seconds, and then thirds. There’s always something special about food that needs to be unwrapped, and if it contains the larvae of that most poetically named of all beetles — the tenebrionid or darkling beetle — well, that’s gravy. Of course, it helped that I’m not in the habit of examining my food too closely before popping it in my mouth.

Consuming mealworm larvae can amount to a kind of poetic justice, too, if they’ve managed to infest one’s grain supply. I’ll admit I’ve cooked up rice with flour moth larvae in it (though I’ve never served it to guests — don’t panic, y’all). It’s a way of making lemonade from lemons, and the results are usually much more nutritious than the unadulterated grain would’ve been. I’ve been told that the kinds of locusts that devastate crops are actually a culinary blessing in disguise.

insect food booth

They didn’t have any locusts on Saturday, but they did have two additional Mexican insect dishes at the food booth, and surprisingly, it was one of the few spots at the entire fair where I didn’t have to stand in line. My cousin Morgan graciously stepped to the side when I wanted to have a closer look at the wax moth bean dip.

wax moth bean dip

This time, the insect ingredient was a little harder to ignore. But isn’t that the most succulent larva you’ve ever seen? Beekeepers, take note: when the wax moths start eating your hives, you can can simply turn the tables on them.

wax moth guacamole

Then there was the guacamole. All three dishes were free, and very tasty.

It’s funny the prejudice we have against consuming terrestrial invertebrates, especially considering how much we prize certain aquatic invertebrates — shrimp, oysters, lobsters, clams, squid. But I guess that’s the point of the Great Insect Fair: to get people — especially kids — thinking about insects in a more objective light. It’s become a hugely popular annual event, packing the Ag Arena right across from Beaver Stadium, home of the Nittany Lions.

Greatest Show on Earth

It felt a little odd to attend a free event at the Penn State University Park campus. The fair did have its share of vendors, though. My mother couldn’t attend due to a back attack, so as a consolation gift I bought her a t-shirt with a picture of a caterpillar taking a crap and the message, “FRASS HAPPENS.”

Morgan wanted to buy a pair of live Madagascar hissing cockroaches in the worst way, but her mean old parents nixed the idea. She found plenty of kid-friendly activities to console herself with, though: making a paper butterfly out of a coffee filter, for example, and fishing for crawdads with a flyswatter (see the video in yesterday’s post).

mosquito table

In general, any display with live invertebrates drew a crowd. The mosquito guys were great, wielding a scary handpuppet of the World’s Deadliest Insect, and pointing out the differences between male and female mosquitos in the jars in front of them, which tempted visitors to crouch down and wait for one of the swarming larvae to complete its course and graduate to the upper chamber. A stuffed crow served as a reminder of the real victims of West Nile Virus, which tends to be downplayed in the local media because, after all, it rarely kills people.

hornet on the window of the Ag Arena

The turnout itself was the thing that impressed me the most. Who’d have thought going to the cockroach races would be a bigger draw than sitting at home and watching the Penn State-Illinois game? Next weekend, the fields across the road will once again be packed with tailgate parties, and the empty Ag Arena will echo with the roars of 100,000 football fans, but for one day, at least, insects reigned supreme.

In response to a prompt at Creek Running North.

September wrap-up

Other bloggers do monthly digest posts; I thought I’d try something similar here. Gather round!

The aquatic invertebrate pool at Penn State’s Great Insect Fair

First, let’s look back to September 2006. What were some of the stand-out posts last year at this time?

  • Coats
  • By the end of the night, a dozen foxes, several hundred ermines, and well over three thousand minks have passed through the arms of the coat-check man. His hands glow like a swimmer’s, fresh from navigating a cold river of furs. All over his body, the small hairs stand up from the static charge.

  • How the anthropologist learned to tell stories
  • The natives are getting restless at the poor quality of the anthropologist’s stories. In all his years of schooling, he never stopped to consider how difficult the informant’s job might be: anthropologist and informant were two very different things, he’d thought. But in Imbonggu society, one listens in order to learn how to embroider. And if he wants to hear their stories, he has to tell some of his own. That’s how it works.

  • Out back at the all-night diner
  • Chilly out.
    I’m getting goose pimples,
    says the baker. The rolls harden
    in their metal beds. Dawn settles
    over everything like fine flour.

  • If I were you
  • What if the soft cubicle walls reminded you of albumen, and the clicking of keyboards sounded like the tapping of beaks against shells, under the florescent lights of an enormous incubator?

  • The Sycamore
  • The young veteran — a double
    amputee — is still learning how
    to pilot a wheelchair. He stops
    a few feet from the concrete lip
    of the pond, gazing across at
    a sycamore shining in the sun.

I’ll leave it to you to repeat the exercise with 2005 and 2004, if you feel so inclined.

The past month at Via Negativa began with the International Rock-Flipping Day reports, which I managed to get four posts out of. I was surprised and gratified by the response to this impromptu event, which was sparked by a comment at a VN post in late August. I linked to all the other IRFD participants I could find at the end of my second post. I was also pleased to see some dissenting voices — bloggers who preferred to leave under-rock denizens undisturbed.

In a sign of growing senility, I had two posts with the same title less than ten days apart, Making Sense and Making Sense, both pimping for the new qarrtsiluni theme, Making Sense (for which submissions remain open until October 15, by the way). I also had two different posts whose titles ripped off Rambo: First Blood, which is especially strange since I’ve never actually seen the movie.

So it’s safe to say I plumbed the depths of uninspiration this month. I published probably the fewest total posts of any month since I started blogging. On the other hand, I did manage to find five new posts to add to the Best of 2007 page, so I guess the month wasn’t a total wash-up:

Via Negativa posts were graced with some fun comments this month. Blog virgin Simon described the path that brought him here and his reactions to the site. Printmakers Marja-Leena Rathje and Linda Dubin Garfield both responded positively to my post on Richard Serra. Butuki shared a more realistic interpretation of “going to ground,” while Rebecca Clayton put a new spin on the phrase “confusing fall warblers.” The Rockin’ post prompted several amusing responses, including a poem from Joan, “Petrophilia.” And comments and pingbacks continued to trickle in to my inexplicably popular August 29 post, Should poetry be open source?

I wrote two short posts for the Plummer’s Hollow blog this month, Barred owl and Monarchs on the move.

Smorgasblog had a pretty good month, though I fell an entire week behind at one point. I added six more blogs to the folder in my feed reader from which I draw the digest: Walking the Berkshires, G. Willow Wilson’s blog, molly arden says so, and the brand-new blogs Talisman, Clouded Drab and Eye in a Bell. This may sound like a lot, but an equal number of blogs folded or went quiet in the last couple of months, so the overall number of blog posts I read every day hasn’t changed much.