Oliver Sacks– 1933 – 2015; RIP

Tom McIntyre just let me know that Oliver Sacks has died at 82, from a recurrence of his melanoma. I wrote back, instantly:

“A great man; a Martian, as he characterized his friend Temple Grandin, but a GREAT Martian, and great writer- scientist. I have read nearly all his books, picking up the autobiography when he announced his impending death in the NYRB, and his reaction:” I must write another book!”*

“In it, I learned that he was a power lifter who could jerk 375 pounds (something i know a bit about personally); a biker, when that culture merged into gay culture in pre-  AIDS California; gay, but celibate 30 or more years,  for private reasons; and a sometime speed freak. He handled all this with grace and a gentle sense of amusement. Could he have had a touch of Asperger’s? He was “face blind”, but loved music. He swam like a  porpoise…

“Given friends like Jonathan Miller and Tom Stoppard, I expect he was edge of conservative in TODAY’s politics— old Establishment Jewish liberal was probably what he would prefer. As you said, not an ideologue…

“I have found many other fans lately— my neurologist AND her Bronx- bred resident for instance; Tom Quinn’s wfe Jeri, and more remarkably Tom, who tends to disapprove of gay people. The Bronx gal now thinks I am civilized again- I had lost points when Sarah (neuro) told her my implant had to go in my LEFT shoulder because “… he shoots so much!”

“It’s not particularly apropos but I have taken to using this quote whenever someone I consider grand and irreplaceable dies; Kipling, in the person of Mowgli, from “Red Dog”: “Howl, dogs! A WOLF has died tonight!”

“Them’s my thoughts…”

* ANOTHER great book by a dying person: Clive James’ last views on everything, an unlikely celebration: Latest Readings


I went and traded for two American Classics the other day at Ron’s, two old favorites, LC Smiths. “Elsies” have certain inherent problems– their sidelocks, insufficiently supported by bearing surfaces, have a tendency to crack their wood under pressure- but I LIKE them for reasons not entirely rational (but what reasons for passions like guns are at base reasonable?) One is that they LOCK up so well, like vaults; the first I knew, which Cap’n Rick Rozen got for 75 dollars and a roll of carpet back in ’71- and as far as I know, he still has it- was such a joy to snap shut that I probably overdid it. Later, I got a 20 bore as my first “Yankee” gun, and I am not sure it is not still in Professor Arthur Kinney’s attic in Amherst–!

I got these as Project Guns, ones that I could work on with John Besse’s help, and deliberately turned down a “too good” specimen, a field grade 16 featherweight with perfect wood and case colors, for a featherweight 12 at 6 1/4 pounds and 28 inch barrels, with no color to speak of and cracked stocks, and a fancy Damascus 16, an early grade 1, with engraving and fancy wood.Though a 16, it was a heavy duck gun at 7 pounds 2 ounces, full and fuller- only thing that was not up to grade in it was badly fixed dent down the front of the right barrel. They made a nice “set”.

The 12 went first. John prepared two sticks to go through the action and bear on the rear of the lockplates– intricate work…

He also re- peened several screws in this jig, and made a new one. Ready for stock refinish!

The Hounds

The book is done, at 44,000- plus words– I like it, very much, and hope not to have to rewrite it. As it is a very personal book it may seem quirky to some, but I hope the editors can use their judgment and let it stand, more or less as is, with its melancholy and occasional obsessiveness…

My first page has a frontispeiece, of mad Riss and silly Tavi and stout old Ghaddi dancing, and an epigram– THE epigram- from Federico Calboli, which somehow sets the mood for the whole book, for me. Other photos will simply have a separate folder, but I thought that the mysterious hounds, dancing in black and white, deserved a special place of their own. Let us see if I can reproduce the effect here…


Tina Garfield captured this shot of one of our powerful summer storms last week:

Going in for “programming” tomorrow, after which I expect my life will improve A LOT. Hope so, anyway… and all reports are good…

I always thought it was “Read at WILL”

“The critic said that once a year he read Kim; and he read Kim, it was plain, at whim: not to teach, not to criticize, just for love—he read it, as Kipling wrote it, just because he liked to, wanted to, couldn’t help himself. To him it wasn’t a means to a lecture or article, it was an end; he read it not for anything he could get out of it, but for itself. And isn’t this what the work of art demands of us? The work of art, Rilke said, says to us always: You must change your life. It demands of us that we too see things as ends, not as means—that we too know them and love them for their own sake. This change is beyond us, perhaps, during the active, greedy, and powerful hours of our lives; but duringthe contemplative and sympathetic hours of our reading, our listening, our looking, it is surely within our power, if we choose to make it so, if we choose to let one part of our nature follow its natural desires. So I say to you, for a closing sentence, Read at whim! read at whim!”
― Randall Jarrell



“What scaled and feathered fetish shakes awake our loamy sleep 
in these sealed vaults where dust and sand enrobe our golden masks 
that hover over dreaming faces drowned in tinted musk? 
Here where the spider curls and chitters in the crystal locket. 
Here as time’s mouth leeches blood and brain and bids 
the leather skin to tighten in on the empty, staring socket, 
and bind the breath that fading far once laughed within the dusk?”

 Here is your thin tin trowel,
And here your sable brush,
For prying loose these mitered stones,
And sweeping off the dust
That sifts between these shaded souls
 Like paling ebony snow,
As you squat above the site
Where you worshiped once below.
Come thrust your torch
 Through these shattered walls,
And map the stains on stone,
And explicate these distant deaths
From strewn patterns of bone.

 The distance that such deaths define
Is measured by that ageless path
That winds up from the sea’s last limb
Meandering to the blood’s demands,
And, rolling over shells’ sharp rims,
Finally finds its well-trod way
To midnight’s flaming brands
Where vacant, lusting faces grin
 Within masks of whitened clay. 

This path slopes through the stunted woods
Where the mantis ruts and broods,
Then spirals down to the sacred caves
Where men in twitching files repeat
The witless chants of wind and waves.

 “Thick curds of rancid smoke performed our genuflections. 
Our flayed limbs writhed, then steamed in screams of light. 
Our lidless eyes became one daring crow’s confections. 
Our shriveled nerves shrank back from the chittering coal’s delight. 
Our marrow melted fast as flames licked up our blackened bones. 
Our gaping mouths spewed rancid smoke as if they would relate 
the secret magic flint and steel on tethered flesh create.”

 Here is your iron pick,
And here your crested spoon.
Not silver, true, but still
The emblem of your art,
Which is, to wit,
To lay these bodies bare;
Explain their ritual agonies,
 Deduce their sorry fate,
Describe their diet, sex,
The colors of their hair,
And tell how long
Their ashen lair
Has lain beneath
Our present pleasant State.

 – Gerard Van der Leun

Rescuing Wildlife is Futile, and Necessary

One of the benefits of Helen’s success with H is for Hawk has been that she got a gig writing a monthly nature column for New York Times Magazine. Her latest effort, with the title of this post, appeared today. Her column, which began in March, is titled On Nature, and if you scroll down near the bottom of today’s piece you will see links to her five previous columns if you haven’t read them.

My favorite sentence from today’s column:

“Airborne swifts are renowned for their speed and grace, but the birds in front of me resemble a cross between subway mice and a pile of unexpectedly animate kindling.”

Home at last…

I am home, the op was a success, and I am fine. Many thanks for every good thought and prayer. The battery goes in a week from tomorrow, and the programming a week after that. Only physical effect was a lingering headache where AIR got into my brain… really. The grinding when they drilled into the bone was disconcerting, as was the momentary turning up of my brain current to a high level, which made my face twitch. Luckily, most of the procedure (a word I have learned to use) went smoothly and was completely engrossing to the main…subject?.. who remained awake the whole time, over 4 hours. (Actually Sarah shook me awake  a few times, believe it or not. Anything can be boring if you don’t read…*)

On a more humorous note, it was a hard road for someone vain about his hair to lose it all, so I made a study, feedback encouraged (I think)…

My usual slghtly sardonic self, making fun of what I know will happen…
The holes in my head

The hair, which they SAVED.

My usual Resistol

New Akubra

Best humor, albeit black: our friend “Miranda”, a  blogger and radiation oncologist whose patients are  often dying: “I tell them ‘at least it isn’t brain surgery!’ “

*Reading: when the critic Clive James found out he was dying of leukemia, he thought that with an indefinite “sentence”, he might as well spend the time reading (and writing about it).

And Annie Dillard said that one can speak of an afternoon wasted reading, but no one ever thinks of a LIFE wasted reading…

Steve’s Condition

I just received an email from Jackson, and he says Libby told him Steve came through his procedure earlier today with flying colors. Apparently he is already back looking at his computer and may post something himself before long. I just wanted to get the good news out as soon as possible.