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August 29, 2004


I've actually passed through Cheesequake, NJ on the way to the Navy's firefighting school in Earle. As I recall, you also had to pass through Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ.

More Signs the Apocalypse is upon Us

Cheesequake is the only one of the towns I've actually been to. A friend of mine who's a doctor did stints quite near both Eek and Meddybemps, though :)

Truth or Consequences, NM is one of my faves.

More of mine: there is one small area of Kentucky that contains the following towns: Rowdy, Dwarf, Mousie, Fisty, Happy, Typo, Hardshell, Softshell, Vortex, Quicksand, Shoulderblade, Dice, Spider, Viper, and, best of all, Whoopflarea?

There's a town in Alabama called Intercourse.

Here's a favorite poem by John Hollander.

Adam’s Task

And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field …—-Gen.2:20

Thou, paw-paw-paw; thou, glurd; thou, spotted
Glurd; thou, whitestap, lurching through
The high-grown brush; thou, pliant-footed,
Implex; thou, awagabu.

Every burrower, each flier
Came for the name he had to give:
Gay, first work, ever to be prior,
Not yet sunk to primitive.

Thou, verdle; thou, McFleery’s pomma;
Thou; thou; thou–three types of grawl;
Thou, flisket; thou, kabasch; thou, comma-
Eared mashawk; thou, all; thou, all.

Were, in a fire of becoming,
Laboring to be burned away,
Then work, half-measuring, half-humming,
Would be as serious as play.

Thou, pambler; thou, rivarn; thou, greater
Wherret, and thou, lesser one;
Thou, sproal; thou, zant; thou, lily-eater,
Naming’s over. Day is done.

rilkefan -- if that doesn't heal all wounds, then I give up.

-- Now that I think of it, there are also the joys of dreadful writing. CS Lewis claims somewhere to have found an long poem, in Miltonic blank verse, about eggs, part of which goes (from memory, so might be a bit off):

"Some e'en that slimy nutrient despise
That, in the shell, the sleeping embryo rears"

(Which Lewis translates as: some people don't like the yolks.) The idea that someone, somewhere, actually went to the trouble of writing this poem, on purpose, makes me happy; as does the existence of the poem "Ode to a Ten Ton Cheese", which I once found in one of those collections of bad poetry.

And one of my students once wrote a paper including the statement: "Descartes divides the truths into three groups: true, false, and on slim grounds", which is really kind of wonderful in its multilayered wrongness -- much more fun than some more normal error, like "For Kant, all our perceptions are subject to the bias of space and time."

Apropos birds (e.g., the least bittern) and bad poems, here's one of mine:

A Riddle

What's the best way? To capture a bird,
start from an egg, paint or simulate it?
The best way to know is by becoming. The sky
beckons like a steady gaze returned.

Start from an egg, paint or simulate it.
Clouds are too irregular, stars too distant
beckons. Like a steady gaze returned,
the sun defeats us, unbearable as desire.

Clouds are, too. Irregular stars, too distant
to terrify, glide more hugely over head,
the sun. Defeat us, unbearable as desire,
starlings and chickadees. Teach us not to soar,

to terrify. Glide more hugely overhead,
penguins, kiwis, ostriches, as we sleep.
Starlings and chickadees teach us not to soar,
but to hop, to sketch coffee cups and oranges, not

penguins, kiwis, ostriches. As we sleep
we become ready for hummingbirds and flamingos.
But to hop, to sketch coffee cups and oranges, not
much to say, that's for morning - before

we become ready. For hummingbirds and flamingos,
await afternoon. Dawn - crosses - the sea - so
much to say - that's for morning, before
brides move in small waves like wingbeats.

Await. After noon, dawn crosses the seas. Oh -
a flock of boats, sails halved by the horizon.
Brides move in small waves like wingbeats
to the altar, kneel, look heavenwards.

A flock of boats, sails halved by the horizon,
quiet as swooping owls, gentle as down.
To the altar. Kneel. Look heavenwards.
The warm air that still uplifts the condor,

quiet as swooping owls, gentle as down,
swells the soprano's breast.
The warm air that still uplifts the condor,
the breath that was the bass's prohibition

swells the soprano's breast,
shoves the Condor into the tarmac.
The breath that was the bass's prohibition
circles around the pole, evolving,

shoves the Condor into the tarmac.
The lesser black-backed gull becomes the herring gull -
circles around the pole, evolving,
a ring. Flying fish, toad, hippo, dolphin.

The lesser black-backed gull becomes the herring gull.
The least bittern hides, the gold in its eye
a ring. Flying fish, toad, hippo, dolphin.
Weathervanes, we turn our backs to the wind.

The least bittern hides the gold in its eye.
Our old wounds and bad knees augur worse
weather. Vain, we turn our backs to the wind.
The kettle, a fat hen on the stove, screams.

Our old wounds and bad knees augur worse.
Ballons grow quickening, decelerate into the sky.
The kettle, a fat hen on the stove, screams
like a tiny jet. Black marble? We will craft our cities from

balloons. Grow quickening, decelerate into the sky.
What perfection can limit what we will become,
like a tiny jet-black marble? We will craft our cities from
solar cells - clean lines glittering.

What perfection can limit what we will become
below? We'll soar between the planets on
solar sails - clean lines glittering -
leap, see the blue water above, the far blue

below. We'll soar between the planets. On
your feet. They're not for grasping branches now.
Leap, see the blue water above, the far blue.
It's hard to know what to start with. What,

your feet? They're not for grasping branches. Now,
what's the best way to capture a bird?
(It's hard to know what to start with, what
the best way to know is.) By becoming the sky.

The subject of birds and poems reminded me of this Hardy poem with an unintentional double entendre:

True a woman was found the day ensuing,
And some at times averred
The grave to be her false one's,
who when wooing
Gave her the bird.
-- Thomas Hardy, "Within a Churchyard"

I'm at a loss to provide really bad poetry that can equal what's above but I have a few cities.

I mentioned one in another thread already:
Blue Ball (there is one in Ohio and one in PA.)

The other is a favorite that always makes me smile: Rabbit Hash, Kentucky.

Well, as a fanatic birder, I loved this post! My favorite has always been the Paltry Tyrannulet -- which also happens to be my secret name for Bush (can't see that here in AZ, but you can see the Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet).

Town names: Why, AZ and Boring, MD.

rilkefan -- that's really wonderful. Do you publish your work?

Mad AZ monk: another fanatic birder! Yay! If in fact you do live in AZ, I'm jealous -- I spent a year in Tucson pre-birding, and the thought of what I could have seen if I had only been paying attention makes me crazy. (As does the thought that I lived for a while in the Middle East without paying attention to the birds -- and in that case, there are places I went where I could never now go as a tourist, at least not without taking my life in my hands.)

hilzoy--click on my name and check my blog, nothing but Hot Bird on Bird Action (and not even in the British sense!). We're going ape cuz a Long-tailed Jaeger just dropped into a lake east of Flagstaff. Like, the 10th state record ever.

Did you know Jimmy and Roslyn Carter are birders?

The only good town names I can think of that haven't been mentioned are Accident, MD and Toad Suck, OK (both of which I've driven through).

rilkefan, wow. Just... wow.

Hmm, just in Death Valley alone you get both Badwater and Furnace Creek (appropos both, I assure you). In other parts of the park they don't even bother with a name. Teakettles (old ones) mark one junction and Crankshafts (broken) another.

Mad AZ Monk: cool. But it just amazed me (living as I do in MD) that anyone fanatic enough to design a bird website would only now be seeing his first Sanderling... No doubt birders all over Central Asia are similarly perplexed by our reaction to the Red-Footed Falcon :)

hilzoy:"rilkefan -- that's really wonderful. Do you publish your work?"

Hey, thanks. I haven't made a real effort to publish yet. Waiting to meet a patron...

I was thinking I should whip up a poem using the bird (or town) names in this thread but really I couldn't improve on just a list (I think Robert Pinsky is the reigning call-a-list-a-poem poet if you've got his email address). What's the other kind of go-away?

hilzoy--Believe it or not, I started birding in Maryland (Poolesville, to be exact) but never got to the shore. I'm kind of a fan of the provincial approach, working local patches through the seasons. But, as you know, it's a progressive disease and the distances I'll travel for good birds has lengthened considerably. A trip to southern France this May blew my mind. 62 lifers.

Do you keep state lists? Cuz the hot lick, of course, is that I saw the Sanderling in Arizona. I've lived here less than four years and already have 318 for the state.

Did you go up for the falcon?

I didn't go up for the falcon, mostly because I had to have surgery at just around that time. But we here in Maryland are keeping an eye out for it: it's left Martha's Vineyard and is expected to go south, so we figure it might put in an appearance on Assateague, if we're really lucky.

I also like the "bird your own patch" approach, though I will at times travel for birds. I just went to New Zealand, and while the main reason was that I had been asked to give a paper at a conference there, I spent the two weeks I tagged onto the trip birding, mostly. (99 new species; alas, no Kiwis, but five species of albatross, most at less than 20 feet.)

Yes, I was impressed about the Sanderling being in AZ. (What on earth was it thinking?) (For non-birders: it's a shorebird, and obviously shores are not AZ's long suit.) It's just that they are so common here. But then, in NZ Kelp Gulls are everywhere, and people found the fact that here in MD we are all thrilled about our one resident Kelp Gull similarly amusing.

Here in Seattle, we're just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the lovely town of Humptulips.

There is (or at least was) a sign on I-5 in Oregon for Lebanon Sweet Home (two towns).

rilkefan -- the other one is the White-Bellied Go-away-bird (the Bare-Faced ishere.) While I'm linking to pictures, check out the Marvelous Spatuletail, which really does live up to its name.

hilzoy - wow, the spatuletail rocks. Thanks a lot for the links.

That 5-1 ratio sounds bad from what evolutionary reading I've done.

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