Monday, February 28, 2022

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Ice falls


Yesterday I told you about how while trudging through the snow, on the blank, freezing wilderness expanse at the heart of a major metropolitan area, I found...

The Falls.

If you haven't read what I wrote, don't worry. 

Don't look back. 

Start here.

I have been to these falls before. They are barely any kind of a waterfall in the Spring and Summer. They are more of a heavy seep in the rare stone bluffs along the Mississippi River. They are a trickle. They are a series of drips, and pools, and rivulets. 

But water runs, ice gathers.

And the ice had gathered here.

I could see that the falls were beautiful in this late part of Winter, colorful and strange, but I wouldn't be able to photograph them properly without climbing through the snow and ice and, especially, through the tangled trees below them. And I was shy to do that. I was shy to climb. I was scared of slipping, alone, in the cold and the snow. 

So I took a picture, the best I could, from down below.

I am not complaining about this picture. I even kind of love this picture. When I took the picture I even kind of knew I loved it. But I also knew that there would be way more pictures if I would only climb the falls a little.

So I did. Very carefully.

And I made it to a good spot.

Saturday, February 26, 2022



I don't know where to start.

And I don't know what picture to use.

How about if I talk for a bit, and then I ask a small favor?

This has been a long Winter. It has been so long a Winter that I'm pretty sure I've already written several times about what a long Winter it is. And then the Winter just kept going on!

 I know it will end, but I've had a hard time this Winter. There is no grand theme to this hard time, and it is not the main subject for me today to try and explain. But if you'd like to know about it in detail, simply go back through the last three months of posts and

read between the lines.

And so, in this long Winter, when I step out to photograph, and it's one degree out, and the skies are flat gray, and the snow is both fresh and ancient and interspersed with layers of ice, I don't really believe there will be anything for me to photograph. 

I keep my camera tucked in my coat, like a pet mouse.

I don't believe there will be anything to photograph, but I am also sure there will be something to photograph. I can't explain that. Usually there is some point in my walk where I dig out my camera and say "I will photograph this... thing, even though it is ridiculous and won't be a good picture at all."

And it isn't a good picture at all. But as soon as I take a picture of it a flock of unicorns, or something like that, goes running by to my left.

"That's probably worth taking some pictures of." I say. 

And it is.

Today I went to the river. 

Exactly as I described I had no hope and a surety at the same time.

I can't explain it. Look into your heart. You will know the very thing I mean. That is life.

Here is my favor to ask:

The "Unicorns" I saw today was a waterfall of ice.

I'd like to show you pictures of it, but I just want to show you one picture of it so you know what it is.

If I show you one picture, can you pretend it is the only picture of it. And when you're done looking at the only picture I have of it, I will show you some more?

Thank you.

Here then, is the fall:

Friday, February 25, 2022

Things about things about things


I have become very fond of the video essay format, and watch a lot of them. They are usually somewhat personal in their presentation, but nevertheless primarily about their thoughtful subject matter, whether that be in science, or politics, or philosophy, or travel, or, perhaps most of all, in the arts. I learn a lot from these essays. I learn so much from them that my brain is just bursting with knowledge. It's so packed in there now that if I try and share any of it it usually comes out too hard, being under all that pressure, and invariably puts out someone's eye.

So usually I try to keep it all to myself and exude wisdom in an enigmatic sort of way.

"Gosh, that guy sure seems like he knows a lot!"

I do! But I dare not share it with anyone!

I currently found a video essayist called "Story Street". He does long, affectionate analysis of movies and video games. Right now I am watching his three part series about The Planet of the Apes trilogy of movies from the early twenty-tens.

These are fantastic movies!

In addition to their groundbreaking use of motion capture, their Shakespearean storytelling, and their profound attention to character and emotion, they are simply beautiful. They tell the story of an ape named Cesar (played magnificently by Andy Serkis), an ape who was part of an experiment in augmenting intelligence, who bonds with a human father who, ultimately, fails him. We pass through his heartbreaks, his journey from self hatred to self acceptance, his rebellion, and his embrace and leadership of his own kind. We see his failures, tragedies, and triumphs.

I could talk about these wonderful movies for hours, except I would simply be saying all the stuff I heard in these marvelously put together "Story Street" essays.

Although one day I may watch these movies and have something to add of my own.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Van Gogh Drawing


Once my wife and I went to the local museum library to look at some original drawings. It's still amazing to me that one can do such a thing. We sat at a large, wooden table, and the nice museum librarian brought out some original drawings, some framed, some not, for us to look at. One of these was a drawing by Van Gogh, who, like many painters, was equally good at drawing as he was at painting, which is saying a lot because there has never been a better painter than him.

With such enormous regard for Van Gogh's drawing one may wonder why I would desecrate one of his drawings as I have below.

I could say that I am not desecrating it. I am merely bringing it to a wider audience. 

But that wider audience is three people (hi everybody!), so that might not be it. Also you all are, I'm pretty sure, clear on the work of Van Gogh.

I could say it's because I'm jealous. 



Jealous of Van Gogh! One might as well be jealous of the stars in the sky!

I am a little jealous of the stars in the sky. 

But I don't think that's it either.

The real reason is:

Van Gogh would want me to do it!

Just kidding. I'm sure Van Gogh has bigger potatoes on his plate that this kind of thing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Vagaries of snow


It is snowing like mad out, swirling and so full of flakes out my window that in one moment it looks as if it is snowing up and in another it looks as if the city will be simply buried to its neck in a few minutes. The jury is still out on what's actually happening on the ground. The snow is maybe starting to pile up, but unevenly, in shifting drifts. 

Total accumulation: minus one inches all the way up to a full foot of snow, depending on any random spot outside.

I called in to work. I can't work today. I have to watch it snow.

They'll be fine. 

Maybe I will too. 

It depends on where you're standing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Monday, February 21, 2022

For finest performance in a Romantic Comedy the award goes to...

I'm not going to pick a greatest performance by an actor in a Romantic Comedy. 

As I so constantly have to remind myself:

It's not a contest!

It's art.

Nevertheless if the subject comes up a couple names are going to leap to my mind. Obviously there's Nicholas Cage's astonishing performance in Moonstruck. Kevin Kline in French Kiss is pretty great as well. But because last night I watched Notting Hill for the 35th time I'm going talk today a little bit about Hugh Grant's understated and wonderful performance there. 

Actually, let's talk about Kevin Kline first. 

There is a moment in French Kiss where he is on a train with Meg Ryan, trying to get at a stolen necklace that has ended up in her purse. They've been through a great deal together already, and in her sleep she dreamily kisses him, taking him for someone else.

In the immediate aftermath of this kiss you literally watch him fall in love with her. It's the quiet, dazzling center of the movie. It happens without dialogue or action, through the expression on his face and by the quality of his posture. You see him fall in love with her, and it is counter to everything he has set his life up to be and threatens to change everything he believed or told himself about himself, which you can also see in his face. He has no way to deal with it. He is floored (literally, he is sitting on the floor). 

It's a magical piece of acting.

There is something similar in Notting Hill. There is a point Hugh Grant, having moped for months about things not working out with Julia Roberts, tells his friends that he is over it, and that hence forth he will be happy.

But his face tells us that he will never be happy again. He will never recover and all he can do now is lie to himself forever. 

There are a lot of wonderful ways to play a Romantic Comedy, and male leads often work with a lot more outward, forceful charm. Whether it be the operatic fight for true love that we see with Nicholas Cage's character, or the antagonistic sparring of Kevin Kline with Meg Ryan. But Hugh Grant has, in Notting Hill, only to work with the character of a nice man hopelessly in love. He plays a character besotted with someone who should be impossible for him to be with. And yet he plays through that simple line something so endearing, and charming, and human that it all seems effortless and full of life. He plays at the heart of the very contrast of prospect of true love; that he will be either saved or destroyed by how it goes. He is in almost every moment of the movie glum and delightful, broken and a sweepstakes winner, an idiot and effortlessly clever. 

He plays virtually a whole movie as that look on Kevin Kline's face.

It's a joy to watch and a brilliant piece of work.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Short stories


It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But I have seen "words" and am eager to say:

It really does depend upon the words in question.

As regularly happens over the course of a month of photography I am left with an assortment of pictures that I am pleased with, but that don't fit with any narrative I have to share with you. I cannot, for instance, bear to carry on talking yet again about copses, nevertheless I still have one or two more copse pictures burning a hole in my pocket. 

Are these copse pictures worth a thousand words?

Maybe not the first thousand words on the subject of copses, but probably the third or fourth thousand words?

And so it is with another picture or two or three or four of Winter ice, another of a stream, another of a creek dried out in Winter, one of a local nuclear explosion, and all the assortment otherwise I herewith present to you.

Which is to say:

Surely each of them are worth a thousand words,

But I will not say which thousand words.

Saturday, February 19, 2022



As we drift around the bitter wastelands of snow,

Looking for ice that lets the light in,

And copses,

We think:

This one will be beautiful,

And it isn't.

We have bothered to uncover our camera,

Our finger doesn't sting with cold yet,

And though there's little to see,

We waste a few pictures,

That cost us nothing.

Nothing costs us anything anymore,

Now that we have grown careful and wise.

And we do the greatest things we have ever done,

Knowing how small they are.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Sad Olympics


Once more:

"This scandal is a dramatic cut to her young and promising career and I sincerely hope that enough people are by her side and protect her so that she doesn't break," Two-time Olympic Figure Skating Gold Medalist Katarina Witt said. "Kamila has learned her quadruple jumps with infinite diligence and courage. No doping would have helped her to land these! And especially not with their artistic radiation! If anything, the adults responsible should be locked up for sports forever!"

I will try to keep my cool and not say this ruined the Olympics for me. There is something to the Olympics I love, and this doesn't have to touch, well, Curling, for instance. But I would like to once again present Katarina Witt's elegant quote above and add that the blame, to a level possibly even of criminality, for the situation regarding the figure skating scandal, is so great and deep for everyone from Thomas Bach, the head of the I.O.C., down to Eteri Tutberidze, the reviled coach, that even if you could twist your way to contrive some responsibility in the matter to an unreasonably accomplished 15 year old girl, there couldn't be even a single gram left over from these powerful figures to lay on her plate.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

It's Murphy's Laws all the way down


When I am working on the automated check in machine, the degree to which I am hungry determines how many cookbooks are returned.

If I am hungry enough the machine will even refuse to check these books in so that I have to handle them over and over. I am, in fact, so hungry right now that I have run the same book through the check in machine probably thirty times, on each occasion longing after the simple but wonderful pasta cut of pie so beautifully photographed on its cover. 

And, alas, I am now too weak with hunger to even check the book in on a computer and throw it in its appropriate bin, and finally end my fruitless cycle of pain.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Olympic Agenda


Sometimes here on Clerkmanifesto secret plans are hatched in my head. They're secret from me too! And so when I started writing about the Winter Olympics a secret plan was hatched that I didn't know about. I would discourse upon the vast array of Olympic Events, providing so insightful and refreshing a view into the Olympic Games that my posts would be shared across the vast panoply of Social Media. This would spread so widely that Sports Illustrated would contact me and hire me to be their Olympic Correspondent.

Things were running along beautifully, but then I bogged down talking endlessly about how great curling is and how they ruined Ski Jumping by using style points and "scores".

Did you know that a few decades ago, more or less, the key to getting good style points in ski jumping was keeping one's skis perfectly parallel while in the air. Then someone clever figured out that making a "V" of one's skis created more lift, like unto an airplane wing, and it allowed the ski jumper to go farther. So a few lesser jumpers started doing the "V" thing and they went farther down the hill than they ever had. But these skiers got marked down for bad style, what with their ungainly "V" technique! But eventually the advantage of going farther was enough that it caused more and more skiers to adopt the "V" method. And with that the judging started to decide that the "V" formation was the very thing that was actually stylish.

Which just goes to show how silly style points are in ski jumping. 

Which I have now written three essays about.

Sports Illustrated will not be calling.

And finally, may I just add almost parenthetically: I literally cannot understand if every TV in the entire World is not tuned Thursday to the Women's Curling match between Switzerland and Japan.

This is your Olympic Correspondent, signing out from Beijing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022



Judging can be a bitter pill to swallow for a sports fan like myself. The idea that the best athlete wins is put under more stress in direct correlation to the amount of judging there is. Perhaps this is why I go into Winter Olympics with all kinds of ideas about what my favorite sports might be but end up watching a freakish amount of Curling. I don't believe there have been any controversies in curling so far, and I have yet to see any brilliant shots awarded mysteriously few points, or withdrawn due to complicated fouls. Curling happens without subjective judgement of any kind, which one might think to be more common in sport than it is.

Of course some beautiful Olympic sports are clearly impossibe without a great deal of judging; freestyle skiing, most of the snowboarding, and perhaps, above all of them, figure skating, which even, alas, needs layer upon layer of judging on the consequences of the illegal use of drugs. (And I must interject here to say that I have read a great deal of opinions on the subject of Kamila Valieva's positive drug test, but feel only that the great German Figure Skating two-time Gold Medalist Katarina Witt has the correct take: "This scandal is a dramatic cut to her young and promising career and I sincerely hope that enough people are by her side and protect her so that she doesn't break," she said. "Kamila has learned her quadruple jumps with infinite diligence and courage. No doping would have helped her to land these! And especially not with their artistic radiation! If anything, the adults responsible should be locked up for sports forever!").

An interesting tension expressing this split between the purity of competition and the more adjudicated events in the Olympics is the one on the seemingly narrow divide between Speed Skating and Short Track Speed Skating. There is a bit more thrilling tension to short track speed skating, where multiple skaters race around a tight track in a strategic race that regularly involves wipeouts and official apportioning of blame and disqualifications. It's exciting, but not necessarily always reliably fair or satisfying. Traditional speed skating suffers no such impurities. There is strategy in the one-on-one racing against the clock, but the fastest skater is irrefutably the winner in traditional speed skating.

Indeed, one could even go possibly too far, and say that one kind of sport lends itself to the purity of justice in sport; That we can set immutable laws that reliably and fairly determine a winner as a virtue of their finer performance and greater talent. Whereas the other kind of sport can be as much about accepting fate and destiny itself as the main law in determining the greater performer. We are just here to accept and live by the result, even if it is, occasionally, wrong.

I favor, theoretically, the purity of sport, but acknowledge some of the fascination and excitement that can only come from sports containing elements that have to be judged to be fair or even meaningful, whether that be regarding a foul in Hockey, or the beauty of a quadruple flip.

But I will say this: Judging should always be the barely tolerated guest of sport. Yes, sometimes necessary, but always reduced to the places of absolute necessity. There is some ornate part of me that says: "Shouldn't an amazing series of passes between three hockey players to cleverly weave the puck into the goal be worth more than a hopelessly errant slapshot that freakishly bounces off a defender's shin guard to go in?"

The answer to that is simply "No." Such an idea always starts out exalting beauty, but ends in bad decisions and twisted play. And so when someone says "Shouldn't a ski jump that is gorgeous and graceful, but a meter or two shorter than a rougher jump with a sloppy landing, be worth more?"  the answer should again be an emphatic "No." Let them jump farther. The most beautiful jump is the most effective jump. Such judging on style is clearly not necessary enough to the sport.

But for some bizarre reason this extra judging is nevertheless there in Ski Jumping. Imagine the High Jump, or The Downhill being partly evaluated on the grace of the athletes!

 Which is why I watch more Curling than Ski Jumping. 

No one has ever docked a point in curling because someone's sweeping looked funny.

Although I guess if that were the case everyone would be docked a point.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Who lives in our house


"And that I love...
Is by thee only, whom I love alone."

Sunday, February 13, 2022



I have been thinking about the word "Copse".

Did I start thinking of it because I have been listening to the audio version of "Fellowship of the Ring", where a word like "Copse" is so perfectly at home that it could reasonably have been invented there?

Did I start thinking of it because I have been walking by so many delightfully evocative little groupings of bare, Winter trees?

Or did the word simply pop in my mind one morning from out of nowhere, as if to say:

"I have something to tell you."

And if it was this third reason it then follows that I would be mysteriously compelled to read "Fellowship of the Ring" for the thirtieth time. It stands to reason that I would start seeing little groups of trees that I have walked by a thousand times before, barely noticing them, and now find myself completely taken by them.

But I don't know which reason it was.

I don't know how the world works, 

though sometimes I like to cosplay it.

But I do know that lately I have been muttering "Copse" under my breath like a lunatic (but the nice kind of lunatic, like from a diverting comic English novel from the early twentieth century). And I have been stumbling into three foot snow drifts and heedlessly crossing icy roads to take pictures of fascinating little groups of trees. 

"Why, what is this perfectly charming little stand of trees?" I ask myself.

And I am elated to answer:

"It is a copse."

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Old men like my hats


Most days working at the library I wear a hat. Nearly always it is some kind of stocking cap of cotton, linen, or, least often, wool, that is long enough to cover my entire head if I wanted to, and so, since I don't, it has a lot of floppy extra fabric left at the top, flopping around.

It's a little hard to picture and can look quite different at different times. I don't know what it looks like now even though my head is extremely close to me. Indeed it's right on my neck as we speak!

Old men like my hats.

One peculiar regular who likes to tell me inscrutable stories having to do with Viet Nam and the CIA has lately taken to greeting me in French, loudly, and extolling my chapeau. I don't understand half the French of it, but I do get the chapeau part, and the general air of excitement.

Of course, a more simple "Nice hat." is the most common kind of comment I get, and it's nearly as enjoyable. It comes exclusively from men 65 and older. 

I get compliments on my wedding rings frequently as well, a gold band surrounded by silver Celtic ones. Those compliments aren't age or gender specific. My t-shirts probably come in third for the number of compliments I get. Those skew younger, though it tends to depend upon the shirt. For instance, no seven-year-old has ever complimented my "Albert Camus: The Plague" t-shirt, but they regularly do for my "Totoro in all seasons" t-shirt.

There are many other stray compliments I have received over the years, but I shan't list them here as I wouldn't want you to think I put too much store of them.

Nevertheless, I have every last one of them memorized.