Posts Tagged ‘birds’
December 2, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Here’s a scene from Barbara Pym’s 1952 novel Excellent Women, in which the protagonist, Mildred Lathbury, meets Everard Bone’s eccentric mother.
I thought I had better revive the conversation which had lapsed, so I commented on the animals’ heads in the hall, saying what fine specimens they were.
“My husband shot them in India and Africa,” said Mrs. Bone, “but however many you shoot there still seem to be more.”
“Oh, yes, it would be a terrible thing if they became extinct,” I said. “I suppose they keep the rarer animals in game reserves now.”
“It’s not the animals so much as the birds,” said Mrs. Bone fiercely. “You will hardly believe this, but I was sitting in the window this afternoon and as it was a fine day I had it open at the bottom, when I felt something drop into my lap. And do you know what it was?” She turned and peered at me intently.
I said that I had no idea.
“Unpleasantness,” she said, almost triumphantly. Then lowering her voice she explained, “From a bird, you see. It had done something when I was actually sitting in my own drawing room.”
“How annoying,” I said, feeling mesmerized and unable even to laugh.
I draw this to your attention because unpleasantness is a term that is sadly underused. I think of it often, usually in the context of that disgusting, grinning coil-of-feces emoji. (I will not dignify it by using its infantile moniker, as I was discouraged from babyish scatological terminology at an early age and cannot break the habit.) I mean, I don’t sit around being furious, or think about it at unrelated times, but people text with that thing all the time. Indeed, in a recent feature in a fashion magazine, I saw no fewer than two celebrities list this as their favorite, and most frequently used, emoji. (Even I will grudgingly concede that it is versatile, in its inscrutable, repulsive way.)
To me, this is the unpleasantness emoji. This also applies to its animated iteration, which features circling flies. I know its history is an interesting window into tech development (read about it here, if you don’t find the juxtaposition with oral too off-putting) and I’m sure there are far more damning indications of the coarsening fiber of modern society. But it is a small, bad thing. And if I’m being completely honest, I’ve never really understood what it means.
May 30, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Here’s a weekend recommendation for you—think of it as an extended Staff Pick, if you like.
Bill and Coo was made in 1948 to showcase “Burton’s Birds,” a troupe of trained lovebirds managed by former silent-movie actor George Burton. And does it ever! The tiny, Trucolor-hued town of Chirpendale is filled with bird characters of all kinds, doing all sorts of remarkable things: working in barber shops, wearing dunce caps, performing in circuses. In this idyll, we are told, “love, happiness and contentment blend together in harmony.” That is, until the Black Menace—a crow—descends and wreaks havoc. There’s romance (the eponymous Bill and Coo), adventure, song and dance. The film won a special Oscar. A New York Times critic deemed it “by conservative estimate, the God-damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.”
I adored Bill and Coo as a kid—we had a bootleg Betamax video of it—but I worried it wouldn’t hold up, or that as an adult I’d see signs of avian exploitation. (For the record, I’ve detected no indication of that, although maybe there’s an untold story that bears serious investigation.) I need not have—it is as weird, and as entertaining, as can be. A novelty, yes—but a wonderfully watchable one.
April 3, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
George Edwards, born today in 1694, is known as “the father of British ornithology”—as fine a paternal legacy as a guy can hope for. Today, his reputation as a naturalist endures in no small part because of his excellent drawings, which introduced English readers to scores of exotic creatures: first and foremost, birds. His greatest work is the four-volume Natural History of Uncommon Birds, whose full august title deserves to be seen in toto: A Natural History of Uncommon Birds: And of Some Other Rare and Undescribed Animals, Quadrupeds, Fishes, Reptiles, Insects, &c., Exhibited in Two Hundred and Ten Copper-plates, from Designs Copied Immediately from Nature, and Curiously Coloured After Life, with a Full and Accurate Description of Each Figure, to which is Added A Brief and General Idea of Drawing and Painting in Water-colours; with Instructions for Etching on Copper with Aqua Fortis; Likewise Some Thoughts on the Passage of Birds; and Additions to Many Subjects Described in this Work.
These drawings are taken from that work, which you can read here. Of particular note is his illustration of the dodo, which was, even then, extraordinarily rare and facing extinction.
As for the man: According to The Aurelian Legacy: British Butterflies and Their Collectors, a contemporary of Edwards’s “described him as of medium stature, inclined to plumpness and of a cheerful, kindly nature ‘associated with a charming diffidence.’”
July 11, 2012 | by Eli Mandel
Sometimes in life you get yelled at. No matter your moral fiber, it can’t be avoided all the time. It happens in Marine Corps boot camp; it happens in rush-hour subway cars; it happens if your mother catches you reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover at an impressionable young age. But one place you don’t expect to get harangued, one place where the lid’s supposed to stay on the pot, is poetry.
So cracking open D. H. Lawrence’s seemingly innocuous Birds, Beasts, Flowers is a bit of a shock. Lawrence is, of course, better known for his novels and short stories; verse can unleash in him an irritating Whitmanesque mania, an exhibitionist verbal autoeroticism. But that’s not the case here. You flip past the title page and the index to the first poem, “Pomegranate,” and before your eyes can adjust to the typeface, you’re in trouble. Big trouble:
May 4, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
Here is a lovely story: a book finding a well-deserved audience 125 years after the author self-published it. The book is Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, and the author a twenty-nine-year-old naturalist and illustrator named Genevieve Jones. To quote the Princeton Architectural Press,
Inspired by viewing Audubon’s lithographs at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia … Genevieve Jones began working on a companion volume to The Birds of America, illustrating the nests and eggs that Audubon omitted. Her brother collected the nests and eggs, her father paid for the publishing, and Genevieve learned lithography and began illustrating the specimens. When Genevieve died suddenly of typhoid fever, her family labored for seven years to finish the project in her memory. The original book, sold by subscription in twenty-three parts, included Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Theodore Roosevelt among its subscribers. Only ninety copies of the original book were published in 1886, and fewer than twenty-five copies now remain in institutions and private hands.
In PAP’s America's Other Audubon, author Joy Kiser reproduces all sixty-eight of Jones’s color lithographs, as well original text, photographs, field notes, and a key to eggs and birds. It’s a boon for those with an interest in natural history or ornithology, of course, but we are as engaged by the personal story as the beauty of the book itself. An enduring memento indeed.