Corrupting the youth

I have four bird feeders in my small urban yard (tube, thistle, platform, hummingbird) but can’t see any of them from my second-story study window, which is veiled by a maple tree far taller than the house. So I fixed a suction-cup window feeder to the upper pane. Earlier in the spring I didn’t get many takers, and those who came grabbed a quick morsel and retreated to the safety of the tree. But the past couple of weeks have seen a constant stream of fledglings: young male cardinals, scruffy and mottled, whom I’ve watched gradually redden and swell; a slender mockingbird who tried out his new repertoire in a nearby branch; a song sparrow who takes his peanut to the stone ledge of the window to peck it to bits; a juvenile house finch who, rather than perching on the feeder’s edge, stands in the pile of seed, hunts for the one he wants, then thoughtfully (as it appears to me) hulls and consumes it while watching me with (what, again, appears to me) casual curiosity three feet away behind glass. The finch is content to occupy the feeder for several minutes at a time while other birds wait in the tree like adolescents in line for the bathroom. Hurry up in there!

8. Friday afternoon

For a Friday afternoon and what feels like freedom. The river of an icy week runs curbside and disappears beneath the street. The setting sun casts colors of ripe peaches on the undersides of eastern clouds. The air smells sweetly of motor oil and french fries, the grease of the day and the grease of the evening. Cars blur and flash in the windows of shops. A girl in turquoise pants walks somewhere fast, hands thrust deep in the pockets of her hoodie. A woman shifts a baby uncomfortably on her hip, gazing into the distance, waiting. A man wags his beard to a silent song, his eyes creases in a creased face. A breeze slips aimless through the alley, cooling quickly in the shadows. A notion of no consequence casts loose from a wall and drifts upon the sidewalk, dragging its staple behind it. Everyone looks forward. Friday afternoon and what feels like freedom. The day will end soon. Another will follow.


The placeless country

Via io9 this week, a collection of 1920s posters advertising the London Underground. The images are worth a browse; they’re all entertaining in their own way, but I was drawn, of course, to the few promoting access to the delights of the country.

I will admit that despite my suspicion of everything institutional I love the posters of that era — the World War I propaganda, the gleefully innocent embrace of modernity, the WPA style of the 1930s. The best of them were so stylized as to evoke a kind of magical reality divorced from the real one: lovely to behold, useful in advertising, dangerous in the real world. In this collection the Underground promises access to the wonders of the city. There’s a five senses series about seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting the riches of London; there are invitations to go shopping and a pair of dreamy images of summer days and summer nights.

Others make clear not all is well within the city limits. Here the Underground is “the open gate that leads from work to play,” a passage away from a blocky, smoky, smoggy city to a sweeping dance of playful children:


The children are nearly faceless, cloud-white with golden outlines as one might draw angels. A vision of heaven, perhaps, in a park.

Go further and the city disappears.


Walking in the hospitality of the earth

My wife bought me these shoes for my birthday:


They are minimalist running shoes from SoftStar,1 made for running trails and cross country, with simple leather uppers and flat two-millimeter soles. You can get them in colors that make them look like running shoes — black with lime green, say, or or orange suede with turquoise, or solid metallic gold if you’re planning to challenge Usain Bolt in 2016 — but this pair looks, I think, like what if wingtips hooked up with ballet slippers in a bar and had a love child, which means that even though they are essentially laced-up moccasins, I can wear them to work and nobody notices that I am not wearing real shoes. And so I frequently do, because after a couple of weeks of wearing these around my beloved boots are apt to feel like little tarsal iron maidens. In these, by contrast, ankles rotate freely, arches flex, toes can stretch and wiggle, just as with no shoes at all.

  1. SoftStar claims that they are made by elves. I can’t confirm this, but I suppose anything is possible.