Monday, January 31, 2005

The Wood

by Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855)

But two miles more, and then we rest!
Well, there is still an hour of day,
And long the brightness of the West
Will light us on our devious way;
Sit then, awhile, here in this wood--
So total is the solitude,
We safely may delay.

These massive roots afford a seat,
Which seems for weary travellers made.
There rest. The air is soft and sweet
In this sequestered forest glade,
And there are scents of flowers around,
The evening dew draws from the ground;
How soothingly they spread!

Yes; I was tired, but not at heart;
No--that beats full of sweet content,
For now I have my natural part
Of action with adventure blent;
Cast forth on the wide world with thee,
And all my once waste energy
To weighty purpose bent.

Yet--sayst thou, spies around us roam,
Our aims are termed conspiracy?
Haply, no more our English home
An anchorage for us may be?
That there is risk our mutual blood
May redden in some lonely wood
The knife of treachery?

Sayst thou, that where we lodge each night,
In each lone farm, or lonelier hall
Of Norman Peer--ere morning light
Suspicion must as duly fall,
As day returns--such vigilance
Presides and watches over France,
Such rigour governs all?

I fear not, William; dost thou fear?
So that the knife does not divide,
It may be ever hovering near:
I could not tremble at thy side,
And strenuous love--like mine for thee--
Is buckler strong 'gainst treachery,
And turns its stab aside.

I am resolved that thou shalt learn
To trust my strength as I trust thine;
I am resolved our souls shall burn
With equal, steady, mingling shine;
Part of the field is conquered now,
Our lives in the same channel flow,
Along the self-same line;

And while no groaning storm is heard,
Thou seem'st content it should be so,
But soon as comes a warning word
Of danger--straight thine anxious brow
Bends over me a mournful shade,
As doubting if my powers are made
To ford the floods of woe.

Know, then it is my spirit swells,
And drinks, with eager joy, the air
Of freedom--where at last it dwells,
Chartered, a common task to share
With thee, and then it stirs alert,
And pants to learn what menaced hurt
Demands for thee its care.

Remember, I have crossed the deep,
And stood with thee on deck, to gaze
On waves that rose in threatening heap,
While stagnant lay a heavy haze,
Dimly confusing sea with sky,
And baffling, even, the pilot's eye,
Intent to thread the maze--

Of rocks, on Bretagne's dangerous coast,
And find a way to steer our band
To the one point obscure, which lost,
Flung us, as victims, on the strand;--
All, elsewhere, gleamed the Gallic sword,
And not a wherry could be moored
Along the guarded land.

I feared not then--I fear not now;
The interest of each stirring scene
Wakes a new sense, a welcome glow,
In every nerve and bounding vein ;
Alike on turbid Channel sea,
Or in still wood of Normandy,
I feel as born again.

The rain descended that wild morn
When, anchoring in the cove at last,
Our band, all weary and forlorn
Ashore, like wave-worn sailors, cast--
Sought for a sheltering roof in vain,
And scarce could scanty food obtain
To break their morning fast.

Thou didst thy crust with me divide,
Thou didst thy cloak around me fold;
And, sitting silent by thy side,
I ate the bread in peace untold:
Given kindly from thy hand, 'twas sweet
As costly fare or princely treat
On royal plate of gold.

Sharp blew the sleet upon my face,
And, rising wild, the gusty wind
Drove on those thundering waves apace,
Our crew so late had left behind;
But, spite of frozen shower and storm,
So close to thee, my heart beat warm,
And tranquil slept my mind.

So now--nor foot-sore nor opprest
With walking all this August day,
I taste a heaven in this brief rest,
This gipsy-halt beside the way.
England's wild flowers are fair to view,
Like balm is England's summer dew
Like gold her sunset ray.

But the white violets, growing here,
Are sweeter than I yet have seen,
And ne'er did dew so pure and clear
Distil on forest mosses green,
As now, called forth by summer heat,
Perfumes our cool and fresh retreat--
These fragrant limes between.

That sunset! Look beneath the boughs,
Over the copse--beyond the hills;
How soft, yet deep and warm it glows,
And heaven with rich suffusion fills;
With hues where still the opal's tint,
Its gleam of prisoned fire is blent,
Where flame through azure thrills!

Depart we now--for fast will fade
That solemn splendour of decline,
And deep must be the after-shade
As stars alone to-night will shine;
No moon is destined--pale--to gaze
On such a day's vast Phoenix blaze,
A day in fires decayed!

There--hand-in-hand we tread again
The mazes of this varying wood,
And soon, amid a cultured plain,
Girt in with fertile solitude,
We shall our resting-place descry,
Marked by one roof-tree, towering high
Above a farmstead rude.

Refreshed, erelong, with rustic fare,
We'll seek a couch of dreamless ease;
Courage will guard thy heart from fear,
And Love give mine divinest peace:
To-morrow brings more dangerous toil,
And through its conflict and turmoil
We'll pass, as God shall please.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Beard Board

Ken is currently growing out his beard, and the process is absolutely fascinating to me. I have serious beard-envy. I'm not saying I want a big bushy face-forest (although I'd probably try for one eventually, if I could, out of sheer curiosity), but a little face-foliage, to shape and comb and wax into points, to keep you warm in winter, with that great scratchy-soft texture and lots of colors and natural waves... I could make it into a goatee or a soul patch or a handle-bar moustache, pointy sideburns or mutton chops or any of million combinations, and change it all the time, 'cause it just keeps growing. Oh yes, I'm envious.

But I have to admit, it probably looks better on him than it would on me. And I get to live vicariously through his experiments and artistic efforts. And I get to kiss a guy with a beard, which is probably more fun than just kissing, with a beard.

Anyway, like I said, I'm fascinated by this process. And when Ken goes to the Beard Board I read eagerly over his shoulder, and look at all the pictures. It's not a very active forum. People don't post all that frequently. So the other day we explored some of the links to related sites -- and it was a gold mine.

Probably the best discovery was the Handlebar Club check out the FAQs - "What is a snood, and where can I acquire one?" - and be sure to follow the link for moustache mugs (Ken wants one.) But that's just the set-up. The gallery is the payoff.

Unfortunately, Ken is not eligible to join the club right now, since he has a full beard rather than just a handlebar moustache. But that's okay, because he can still join the "Official Gentlemen's Facial Hair Club" or the "OGFHC". This site provides lots of services for the hirsuite community, such as examples of Facial Hair Stereotypes in Popular Media. But perhaps the most relevant section of the site for me, as an unbearded-American, is the "she would look better..." page. I'll let you imagine what that is, or click on the link for yourself. Some of them really do look better.

There's a lot more links at the bottom of the Beard Board page, under the "beard affiliates" drop down menu (like rate my goatee, an inevitable mutation of the "hot or not?" meme), but Ken drew the line after we visited The Chest Hair Site. I was willing to stop there too.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

This is Grand

This is Grand is the name of a blog which features stories from Chicago's El, and is also what the recorded voice announces inaudibly over the tunnel noise, when the train is about to stop at Grand.

The blog had a photo contest, and the twelve winners are posted here. I share the Chicagoist's weakness for scenes that include people, and I don't think these photos are really lying... I think there is something sublime about mass transit.

As further evidence, I'm going to link to these gorgeous 1920s posters for Chicago rapid transit. I've actually linked to them before, but even I had trouble finding where.
One of them
is my desktop wallpaper. Another one inspired me to visit the lighthouse just north of campus. Well worth the trip.

Seems like my blogging's been a lot less Chicago-centric lately. It's a shame. But what with the weather and all, it's so much easier to stay in and rent Buffy DVDs (although now that Blockbuster has decided to let everybody keep movies for a month before charging them for the disk, it's going to be harder to find them) than to go down town and explore the city.

We did go down before Christmas. We took the Christmas Train to see the window displays at Marshall Field's and the Daley Plaza Tree and Christkindlmarket (the tree was so much bigger than I expected from the pictures. Ornaments the size of beach balls looked the same size as normal ornaments, in comparison to it) and The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. That was a great night.

But now that the holidays are over, most of the city is hibernating anyway. There aren't many events to draw me out of my own cave. I guess I'll just have to make do with photoblogs until spring comes again. Cubs tickets on sale soon...

Thursday, January 06, 2005

What Do You Believe is True, Even Though You Cannot Prove It?

Back in high school I read this book called The Third Culture which was edited by John Brockman. I picked it up because I'd just read C.P. Snow's book The Two Cultures with which I've been obsessed ever since.

Now I don't believe that the people who wrote essays for Brockman's book represent anything like a third culture. They're science types. They're writing about questions which might be considered philosophy, but scientists have always done that. He edited another one, more recently, called The New Humanists which was exactly the same sort of thing. (I have to admit I didn't finish that one, because I lost it before I'd read all the essays. Andy, I think you've forgotten, but I owe you a book...)

Some time ago I heard that he'd started a web page called "Edge." And now, thanks to Peter Woit's reminder, I'm taking a look at it.

It has a feature in which Brockman asks lots of his famous, science type correspondents, the same provocative question. "What do you believe is true, even though you cannot prove it?"

That's the kind of question that takes a lot of nerve to ask. And it takes serious cajones to answer it honestly, for a scientist.

Richard Dawkins admits that he cannot prove that "All life, all intelligence, all creativity and all 'design' anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe."

Physicist Freeman Dyson takes the cowardly route, and goes with an unprovable mathematical conjecture. (I'd be tempted by this sort of answer too, only I'd pick some geometric axioms.)

Biologist Jared Diamond, author of the scientific explanation of human history called Guns, Germs, and Steel, takes the opportunity to explain a hypothesis he says he can't yet prove, and so does Lynn Margulis, the biologist who came up with the currently accepted theory of the origin of eukaryotic life, and so does Daniel Dennett, author of Consciousness Explained.

Gregory Benford, physicist and science fiction writer, ducks the question, and asks one of his own: why should there be laws of nature? I guess we can take it that he believes, but cannot prove, that these laws are universally true. Clifford Pickover, computer scientist and creator of Clifford A. Pickover's homepage (try his ESP experiment) also tries to dodge, by phrasing his answer with "ifs". "If we believe that consciousness is the result of patterns of neurons in the brain, our thoughts, emotions, and memories could be replicated in moving assemblies of Tinkertoys." Be a man, Cliff. Do you believe Tinkertoy brains could think, or not?

The physicists in general do better at acknowledging how little we can actually prove Leonard Susskind, states the assumption that underlies quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics: "If I were to flip a coin a million times I'd be damn sure I wasn't going to get all heads. I'm not a betting man but I'd be so sure that I'd bet my life or my soul. I'd even go the whole way and bet a year's salary. I'm absolutely certain the laws of large numbers—probability theory—will work and protect me. All of science is based on it. But, I can't prove it and I don't really know why it works." (This reminds me of a story I read in the anthology "Fantasia Mathematica" in which someone gets really upset when a collection of monkeys at typewriters actually do start reproducing the works of Shakespeare -- word perfect, from their first keystroke.)

Lee Smolin is "convinced that quantum mechanics is not a final theory. I believe this because I have never encountered an interpretation of the present formulation of quantum mechanics that makes sense to me."

And Leon Lederman (former director of Fermilab, author of The God Particle and a nice guy, who answered a fan e-mail I sent him a long time ago) says: " To believe without knowing it cannot be proved (yet) is the essence of physics. Guys like Einstein, Dirac, Poincaré, etc. extolled the beauty of concepts, in a bizarre sense, placing truth at a lower level of importance."

There are a hundred and twenty contributors, all told, but the responses are short. Browse through them, and see who has the most guts.