Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

A few thoughts about H is for Hawk

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

H is for HawkI recently finished the audiobook of H is for Hawk, written and read by Helen Macdonald, and immediately wanted to write about it on my blog, to share this extraordinary book with the world. Then I discovered that it was an international bestseller, winner of numerous awards, and apparently everyone already did know about it, deservedly so.

I was actually surprised to learn it was a bestseller, not because it isn’t good, but because it’s so unique, so personal, so specific. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, it is a memoir about the author’s efforts to train a goshawk after her own father’s death, weaving in a biographical account of T.H. White and his less-successful attempts to train a goshawk while dealing with his own life issues.

What inspired me most about the book was that it combined such obscure and personal narratives into something universal. Most of us know very little about hawk training, much less about T.H. White. Yet these things were meaningful to the author, and brought out larger narrative themes that everyone can relate to, like love and loss, and primal instincts that have no name.

Some have argued that it isn’t really a nature book, because nature is something wild and untamed, while the main focus of this book is a tame and captive hawk, which does most of its hunting in suburbs and college campuses. But I think there is still a wildness to this hawk, and this book, which explores powerful themes of nature and what it means to be animal or human. Nature may be at its most elemental far from civilization, but sometimes a thing has to be pulled out of context in order to study it and see it in a new light. So while the book straddles the worlds of humans and animals, the themes of wildness and nature are still very much present.

So, what exactly constitutes “nature writing”? It depends on who you ask, and the topic has received much debate lately, but I will save that for another post. For now, you can read an interview with Helen Macdonald here, and also here.

And here’s a video interview from the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

 

Strength in nature – the art of Natasha Newton

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
The Pattern of the Earth 4, © by Natasha Newton

The Pattern of the Earth 4, © by Natasha Newton

Natasha Newton is an artist and illustrator from Suffolk, England, whose work is inspired by the natural world. Birds, trees, stars and mountains all feature prominently in her work, which highlights the elegant patterns and shapes found in nature. There is a strength and beauty to these primal shapes, as they peel back the surface to reveal the essence of the world around us.

Besides her watercolors and acrylic paintings on canvas, she also does beautiful paintings on stones, which seem the perfect fusion of art and nature.  She has also created many abstract works inspired by nature.

Rainstorm © by Natasha Newton

Rainstorm © by Natasha Newton

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

Her blog is a window into her process and her struggles, and she writes with openness and honesty about her life and work. I was particularly inspired by her post about being brave enough to do your own thing. She writes how it’s tempting to do art that is safe, rather than what you really want to do:

“If you set out with the goal of painting something just because you think it will be popular, you’ll probably find the opposite will happen. But if you make unique work that comes from the heart, there will be someone else out there who loves it as much as you do. At the very least, your authenticity will shine through. And as an artist, that’s probably more important than anything.”

Her abstract art, sold in her Minimal Nature shop, is one example of how she experiments to keep her creativity flowing. She also draws inspiration from her own life. Her recent series of paintings “Birds of Hope” and “Birds of Strength” came out of an ongoing personal crisis that she has written about on her blog, and she created them as a visual reminder to stay hopeful and strong.

You can learn more about Natasha Newton and find links to all her artwork at her website.

Bird of Strength 1

Bird of Strength 1 © by Natasha Newton

 

Magic Sea 1 © by Natasha Newton

Magic Sea 1 © by Natasha Newton

 

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

Painted Stones © by Natasha Newton

 

Mountain Over the Moon © by Natasha Newton

Moon Over The Mountains © by Natasha Newton

 

We're Almost Home © by Natasha Newton

We’re Almost Home © by Natasha Newton

 

Bird of Hope 3 © by Natasha Newton

Bird of Hope 3 © by Natasha Newton

 

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Zebra finches rock the house

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

Springtime is often heralded by the music of birds, but not usually playing electric guitars.

Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, has an exhibit through April 13th called from here to ear, that brings art and nature together quite literally. French artist and musician Céleste Boursier-Mougenot has created an environmental soundscape in which 70 zebra finches interact with electric guitars set up throughout the room. Visitors walk through the big open space and become part of the ever-changing environment.

Here is a peek behind the scenes at this fascinating exhibit:

The point is not only to create evocative musical sounds, but to make the visitor think about the ways in which we perceive sound, how we interact with nature, and how nature reacts to our own fabricated world. Below is an interview with the artist, who has made creative sound exhibits all over the world.

The exhibit requires tickets on weekends (which are sold out) but not on weekdays. More information at the Peabody Essex Museum website.

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A Celebration of Flight

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

A Celebration of Flight

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing a performance of A Celebration of Flight by IBEX Puppetry, directed by Heather Henson. Featuring a blend of puppetry, movement and music, it was an inspiring spectacle that beautifully depicted the natural world through the life-cycle of a crane.

The performance followed the young bird as it hatched from an egg, discovered the world, and learned to fly, while meeting various other creatures along the way (fish, dragonflies, turtles, birds.) The ending featured a gigantic white crane that flew majestically across the stage. A thundering percussive soundtrack and soaring vocal performance added to the magic.

The setting for this visual and musical feast was an outdoor amphitheater on the gorgeous campus of Swarthmore College, as part of the Puppeteers of America national festival. Surrounded by towering trees and lush greenery, with the audience seated on the ground, the connection with nature was even more profound. I even saw a real hawk soaring high overhead, as though joining in the spectacle.

At various points in the performance, children in the audience were invited to participate by waving their own paper birds and fish in the air. At the end they were all invited down to the stage to join the performance in a joyous finale that brought tears to my eyes. It was a celebration like no other – a true blending of art and nature, reaching towards a deeper understanding of both.

A Celebration of Flight

Majestic crane puppet flies over the audience

A Celebration of Flight

A Celebration of Flight

Photographs don’t do justice to the puppets, because their movement was what made them so magical. Below is a video trailer of the show performed indoors, which will give you a better sense of the overall production.

Learn more about IBEX Puppetry at their website or Facebook page.

I dreaded that first Robin

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Emily Dickinson

Today I’d like to share a poem by Emily Dickinson, one of her many works inspired by nature. Despite the pleasant imagery of birds and daffodils, it’s really a melancholy poem, describing how even the most beautiful things can be painful when you’re feeling sad. And the more beloved they are (the poet clearly loves the garden in springtime) the more piercing it is to look upon them.

Like all great poems, this one has been interpreted many different ways by different people. What do you think it means?

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I dreaded that first Robin, so,
But He is mastered, now,
I’m some accustomed to Him grown,
He hurts a little, though —

I thought if I could only live
Till that first Shout got by —
Not all Pianos in the Woods
Had power to mangle me —

I dared not meet the Daffodils —
For fear their Yellow Gown
Would pierce me with a fashion
So foreign to my own —

I wished the Grass would hurry —
So — when ’twas time to see —
He’d be too tall, the tallest one
Could stretch — to look at me —

I could not bear the Bees should come,
I wished they’d stay away
In those dim countries where they go,
What word had they, for me?

They’re here, though; not a creature failed —
No Blossom stayed away
In gentle deference to me —
The Queen of Calvary —

Each one salutes me, as he goes,
And I, my childish Plumes,
Lift, in bereaved acknowledgment
Of their unthinking Drums —

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Happy Spring!

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

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Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi

Spring is sprung, even though the weather is still a bit uncooperative. To celebrate the new season, here is a creative interpretation of Vivaldi’s “Spring” violin concerto. The ensemble is called Red Priest, named after Antonio Vivaldi himself, who was nicknamed “The Red Priest” because of his flaming red hair (and he was also a priest.) I’m sure you’ve heard Vivaldi’s Four Seasons before, but probably not like this.

Originally written for string ensemble, Vivaldi intentionally wrote the parts to sound like birds, streams, and rainstorms. He based the concertos on a series of sonnets, which are believed to be written by Vivaldi himself. Below is the section that describes the movement played in the video above, translated from the Italian:

Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more

You can hear all of these things in Vivaldi’s music, especially in this lively and inventive performance by Red Priest ensemble, consisting of violin, recorder, cello and harpsichord. (The next time your child doesn’t want to practice the recorder, show them what the amazing Piers Adams can do with the instrument!)

Hope you enjoy this stormy, sunny, chilly, unpredictable spring!

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Music inspired by nature

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Brazilian composer Jarbas Agnelli was reading the newspaper one day, and saw a photo of birds on electrical wires. Inspired by the similarity to musical notes, he cut out the photo and began composing a song based on the positions of the birds. He recorded the song and sent it to the photographer, who loved it. Soon there was a newspaper article about it, and the song became a worldwide sensation. Below is a music video he made of the song, using the photograph.

Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

Also, here is a link to a TED talk where the composer talks about the composition and performs it live. He says the lesson he learned from all this is that it is “possible to see poetry anywhere, depending on the way we look at things.” He’s absolutely right.

Thanks to Jessica Morrison and Ian MacKenzie for pointing me to this great video.