Spring in George Bush Park

Houston was only relatively recently wrenched from the Texas swamps (founded 1836). The city is now mainly a man-made environment where nature clings on where it can. There are some areas that are in a relatively natural state. George Bush Park is one of these, because it lies behind Barker Dam, which protects much of residential and downtown Houston from flooding after heavy rainfall events. So the park is regularly flooded in varying degrees.

We recently managed a lovely spring walk through a seemingly remote part of the park, actually just a few minutes from Interstate I10. The featured image shows one of the patches of swamp vegetation, which were probably typical of the area before Houston came along.

Much of the land is scrub interspersed with lakes. This new grass was growing just at the edge of a lake as the water receded. The grass was only a few inches high; getting the camera down to near ground level was essential here.

bush grasses

Highlight of the walk was the number of wildflowers in evidence. The spring sunshine had really brought them out. Bees and other insects were in evidence, not so persecuted here as in other parts of Houston. Here’s a selection.

Animal tracks in the mud showed signs of grazers and predators of varying sizes, but they keep well away from people, with good reason.

Footnotes

The park is named after President George HW Bush, who we saw was very popular in Houston in his later years.

The park is not virgin land; it was a ranch before being taken over for use as a reservoir.

Barker Dam leapt to worldwide attention during the dramatic events of Hurricane Harvey 2½ years ago, when the dam was tested to its limits.

 

 

Great Blue Heron

The great blue heron is a very large bird, the biggest heron in North America. We seem to come across the odd solitary bird fairly frequently when in Houston, in typical expectant pose waiting for signs of fish. These examples were in Archbishop Joseph A Fiorenza Park and beneath the bridge taking the I10 freeway over Buffalo Bayou. Amazing that this bird happily fishes while hundreds of cars and lorries thunder overhead.

The Audubon site gives good information on the vulnerability of this and other birds to climate change. Assuming that food sources hold up, they should still be around Houston for future generations.

Finding ourselves

With UK and many countries now isolating or socially distancing many people, maybe we should focus on the opportunities this presents.

This poem from Steve Taylor‘s recent newsletter is along similar lines to the Rumi quotes in my last post.

It’s time to drop our masks and roles
so we can rediscover our true selves.

It’s time to stop accumulating
so we can appreciate what we already have.

It’s time to let go of future plans and goals
so we can embrace the present.

It’s time to turn down the noise
so we can hear the soothing voice of silence.

It’s time to stop losing ourselves in activity
so we can find ourselves again, in stillness.

And once we’ve let go of everything, we’ll realise
that we already have enough

Rumi’s way of the heart

In these frightening and changing times I was called to the words of the 13C poet/scholar/mystic Rumi. Wisdom is not a prerogative of our times; indeed we are much in need of it.

Love

“Love is the bridge between you and everything.”

“Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction.”

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

Soul

“What you seek is seeking you.”

“When you do things from the soul,
you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

Self

“Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise so I am changing myself.”

“It’s your road, and yours alone,
others may walk it with you,
but no one can walk it for you.”

Gratitude

“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.”

Fear

“Ignore those that make you fearful and sad.”

“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.”

Letting go

“Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”

“Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.”

“When you let go of who you are,
you become who you might be.”

Travelling home as things close down

“I imagine you are both enjoying seeing the grandchildren grow up,” said a friend by email, while we were out in Houston with the family. We were, but this was soon curtailed by the developing coronavirus panic on both sides of the pond.

We were due to fly back to Manchester 7th April, but it was becoming clear that we’d have to do so sooner. President Trump stopped people flying in from Europe from Friday 13th March. Maybe we should bring our departure forward by a couple of weeks to Tuesday 24th?Read More »

Tagore Grove

Where The Mind Is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Rabindranath Tagore

tagore ray millerRay Miller Park is a smallish urban park just by the busy Eldridge Parkway in Houston. In a quiet corner of the park it is a delight to come across Tagore Grove, established in memory of the Indian polymath Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). A calming space on the midst of all that busyness.

The featured image shows a panel containing the words of Tagore’s poem, shown in full above – a call across the ages, so relevant to these times.

Chickens coming home

It has long been apparent that free market capitalism, as currently practised, is running into the buffers of climate breakdown, species extinction, pollution and gross inequality. A system that favours profit maximization at the expense of all else, including nature, cannot expect to go on and on without consequence.

Similarly, globalisation of finance, tourism and product supply with consequent massive movement of people, products and living beings around the world is foundering on the sands of the coronavirus panic and the apparent inability of the system to withstand shocks, and the human fears that follow.

Further, the overemphasis on sovereignty of nation states, with the related rise of populism, and with a weak United Nations, means that collective attempts to resolve these problems is easily nullified by powerful actors.

The chickens are indeed coming home to roost. Yet this process seems to be necessary before humanity can build up the collective will to make the necessary changes.

Change there will be, but only when the consequences have effectively forced it. Human nature seems to work that way.

Taking Appearance Seriously

The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought

by Henri Bortoft

taking appearance seriouslyThis challenging book explains where Western thinking went wrong, and points the way towards the revolution in thinking that is needed to get back on track.

I read it on Kindle some time ago, probably not wise for such an erudite work, but it did make it easy to recall a lot of key points by downloading my highlights.

Almost by definition, this is difficult reading, because it does not ‘come from’ the place where Western thinking habitually does these days.

Henri Bortoft has a good shot at making this understandable to such as myself, with an interest in philosophy but no great training or professional expertise. It is of course inspired by the thinking of Goethe, one of the giants of our intellectual history.

I’ve included my edited notes in the following, which may help to give an appreciation of the staggering scope of this book and of Goethe’s thinking. But there is no escape from the effort of reading the book itself if you want to understand its quite revolutionary message.Read More »

The coronavirus outbreak – the economic impact

This fascinating post by Matthew Wright explains why the world financial system is so vulnerable to shocks to the system like COVID-19. The world economy is indeed a reflection of the collective psyche. Collective confidence and fear play very real roles in the direction of the economy. And this is without further considering the increasing effects of climate breakdown.

Matthew Wright

What worries me about the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak isn’t so much the virus itself. It’s the economic effects of the way people – and societies – have been reacting to it since the outbreak began. Because of the way western economics has gone in the past forty-odd years, what economists call a ‘shock’ can have real-world effects that run far beyond the scale and nature of whatever that ‘shock’ might be.

In economic terms, a ‘shock’ refers to an unexpected shift, usually to do with pricing associated with a commodity. The classic western example is the 1973 oil shock, which sent oil availability plummeting and prices skyrocketing. The resulting economic impact was significantly greater than the scale of the oil embargo that provoked it.

These days, world economies are far more fragile. It’s not just the fact that the ‘General Financial Crisis’ of 2008-10 wasn’t actually resolved. It’s the fact…

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Ambition Unbridled

lustrumRobert Harris writes very engaging novels based on historical events. Lustrum tells the tale of the great Roman orator Cicero, from the period when he was seen a saviour of the Roman Republic, to the time just a few years later when he was exiled from Rome by populist forces. The story is written from the perspective of Cicero’s secretary Tiro.

The story articulates well the threat to the Republic coming from the influx of money and veterans from the victorious generals Pompey in the East and Julius Caesar in the West. The hapless senators of the home Republic are increasingly subject to the machinations of these men, making Rome increasingly ungovernable.

One figure stands out in this story – the ambitious, ruthless, implacable Julius Caesar, clearly destined for power and apparently unwilling to share it with anyone else. Cicero recognised the threat, but was in the end unable to do anything about it.

I also read Dictator, the third volume of Harris’s Cicero trilogy, but found it a bit of an anticlimax as it tries to make sense of the complex events that followed, from Cicero’s exile from Rome to his death 15 years later – as Rome subsided from rule by the triumvirate of Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus into civil war, leading of course to the dictatorship of Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire.

Featured image is 16C bust of Julius Caesar by Andrea di Pietro di Marco Ferrucci.

 

End of an Empire

fate of romeWhy did the Roman Empire collapse? Kyle Harper’s very readable book The Fate of Rome makes a persuasive case that this was much to do with climate change and epidemic disease, both of which were consequences of the process of Empire itself.

It is salutary to reflect that such a political system is a process that has consequences on its environment and its citizens and their well-being. The parallels with today’s climate change and threatening global pandemic are obvious.

We could see this fatalistically in cataclysmic terms, or we can see it optimistically as being a story in need of constant renewal and redirection. It’s our choice.

My notes below outline the Empire’s story.Read More »

When the dog looks

The dog who shares our lives has a hobby. He sits in the garden and looks, just looks. Why would he do that?

Waiting for cats, birds squirrels to appear, to be chased? Maybe. But I think there’s another reason. He’s just assessing the situation, awaiting the inspiration for action.

Take the time he became obsessed with the cat at the back. The vegetation, fencing and screening between the two gardens had deterred two dog generations from venturing into the back neighbour’s garden. But this dog was different. He sat and looked. One day he disappeared, until the back neighbour called and handed him back. He’d bitten a hole in the previously impregnable defences.

More defences were erected. The dog looked. Another day he disappeared, and was handed back again. This became a regular contest, and there was only one clear winner – the dog.

After a summit discussion, a new wooden fence was erected. That would spike his guns! The dog looked, for a long time. Then one day we heard him barking at the cat through a window – in the neighbour’s garden. He’d tunnelled under the fence. Bricks, logs and concrete variously deterred further digging.

The dog looked again. Another day he was barking in the neighbour’s garden again. He’d managed to squeeze through the gap at the end of the fence, which had surely been too narrow for a dog!

The gap was barricaded. The dog looked for a long time. Then went off to look at another fence, which was by now more promising. But that’s another story.

What really struck me about this episode is that the dog’s ‘looking’ is very similar to my own approach to gardening. I have a sort of overall picture of what sort of plants should go where, and when they need feeding or pruning, but the actual decision on what is ripe to do next is done by looking. As I look, it becomes clear what is to be done next.

So really, what’s so different about dog- and human- consciousness? Have we become confused into thinking that language plays a major part in our decision making and our rationality, so we must be so much cleverer than the animals? Maybe we are not so different from them after all.

Reed Bunting

This reed bunting was an unusual visitor to our garden today. In summer, these birds are more brightly coloured, the male has black head and bib, and they frequent reed beds and marsh grasses. In winter they can’t afford to be so choosy and are often seen on farmland and gardens.

reed bunting 1reed bunting 2

These birds are similar to sparrows, which we never see here these days (although they are around elsewhere in Knutsford). The notched tail, dark head and bib and white collar and underside confirm the rapid identification by my resident expert.

Quality of the photos is not wonderful. We spotted the bird through upstairs windows, and it was preferable to grab quick zoom shots through the panes, rather than open a window, which would almost certainly scare the bird off.