Monday 20 May 2024

Never Touch A Book By Any Author Who Had Not Been Dead At Least 30 Years

Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood, translated by Jay Rubin (London: Vintage, 2003; 1987), p.38; p.39:

   "This man says he has read The Great Gatsby three times," he said as if to himself.
"Well, any friend of Gatsby is a friend of mine."
   And so we became friends. This happened in October.
   The better I got to know Nagasawa, the stranger he seemed. I had met a lot of weird people in my day, but none as strange as Nagasawa. He was a far more voracious reader than me, but he made it a rule never to touch a book by any author who had not been dead at least 30 years. "That's the only kind of book I can trust," he said.
   "It's not that I don't believe in contemporary literature," he added, "but I don't want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short."
   "That's why I read them. If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That's the world of hicks and slobs. Real people would be ashamed of themselves doing that. Haven't you noticed, Watanabe? You and I are the only real ones in this dorm. The other guys are crap."

Female Platycnemis Phyllopoda

Female Platycnemis phyllopoda (叶足扇蟌).

The female of the species is decided less 'leaf-footed' than the male, though she is more striking with her black and pinkish yellow colouring.

Female Platycnemis Phyllopoda in Changsha


Sunday 19 May 2024


'Whitsun' by Sylvia Plath

This is not what I meant:
Stucco arches, the banked rocks sunning in rows,
Bald eyes or petrified eggs,
Grownups coffined in stockings and jackets,
Lard-pale, sipping the thin
Air like a medicine.
The stopped horse on his chromium pole
Stares through us; his hooves chew the breeze.
Your shirt of crisp linen
Bloats like a spinnaker. Hat brims
Deflect the watery dazzle; the people idle
As if in hospital.
I can smell the salt, all right.
At our feet, the weed-mustachioed sea
Exhibits its glaucous silks,
Bowing and truckling like an old-school oriental.
You're no happier than I about it.
A policeman points out a vacant cliff
Green as a pool table, where cabbage butterflies
Peel off to sea as gulls do,
And we picnic in the death-stench of a hawthorn.
The waves pulse like hearts.
Beached under the spumy blooms, we lie
Sea-sick and fever-dry.

Male Platycnemis Phyllopoda

Male Platycnemis phyllopoda (叶足扇蟌).

My favourite local damselfly: the 'leaf-footed' or 'phyllopoda', a Greek word that also denotes an (unrelated) group of crustaceans. In flight its leafy white feet flutter like tiny paper wind spinners.

Platycnemis phyllopoda in Changsha

Saturday 18 May 2024


Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), p. 479:

The less amiable sides of Lindemann’s character were shielded at Chartwell, but were often on full display in Oxford. His professorial fellowship was in Wadham, but he thought that Christ Church was more suitable to his status, and contrived to live there for nearly forty years. He was a notable but cantankerous member of the common room. When he stood as an independent Conservative candidate (his views on issues other than the menace of Nazism were well to the right of Churchill’s) at a 1937 bye-election for one of the University seats he was heavily defeated. He was taken into Whitehall by Churchill in 1939, and was made a peer by him in 1941, assuming the grandly riparian name of Cherwell. This led to a mocking piece of Oxford satirical verse, circa 1945, which started: ‘Long, long ago when first the war began, Lord Cherwell was just plain Professor Lindemann’.

Female Oriental Magpie-Robin

Female Oriental Magpie-Robin (Copsychus saularis, 鹊鸲).

A mating pair has been a frequent and chatty presence near my office. Compared to the male birds, the females are always noticeable greyer above and have greyish white feathers below, as one can see here with a not-quite-improper glance.

Female Oriental Magpie-Robin at Yuelu Mountain


Friday 17 May 2024

Cystidia Couaggaria

Cystidia couaggaria (小蜻蜓尺蛾).

All of a sudden, there appeared hundreds of these moths in the bushes and reeds by the Xiang river. Their larva vigorously defoliate the various species of prunus that are popular in Chinese parks, but these adults are less destructive, except, I suppose, by progeneration.

Cystidia couaggaria by the Xiang River

Francesco Filelfo

Francesco Filelfo (1398-1481)
‘Ad Gasparum Mercatum Valentiae Comitem.’

Non venio, Gaspar, nam sudant inguina multo
   aestu, quo testes tres mihi bella movent.

I am not coming, Gaspar, for my groins sweat with so much
   heat that my three testicles make wars against me.

Carlo de’ Rosmini, Vita di Francesco Filelfo da Tolentino, 3 vols (Milan: Presso Luigi Mussi, 1808) I, p. 113. My translation. Filelfo had adopted the Greek nickname ‘τριόρχις’ (‘three testicles’).

Thursday 16 May 2024

Lucidina Vitalisi

Lucidina vitalisi (南华锯角萤).

To me, nothing calls to mind sweat-smelling summer nights like fireflies, though growing up on Vancouver Island I knew them only from books and Calvin and Hobbes comics. They are wonderful creatures and are sadly disappearing from the world.

Lucidina vitalisi on Yuelu Mountain

Vergil and Nature

 Everything that is printed and bound in a book contains some echo at least of the best that is in literature. Indeed, the best books have a use, like sticks and stones, which is above or beside their design, not anticipated in the preface, nor concluded in the appendix. Even Virgil's poetry serves a very different use to me to-day from what it did to his contemporaries. It has often an acquired and accidental value merely, proving that man is still man in the world. It is pleasant to meet with such still lines as,

    “Jam laeto turgent in palmite gemmae;”
     Now the buds swell on the joyful stem.
    “Strata jacent passim sua quaeque sub arbore poma.”
     The apples lie scattered everywhere, each under its tree.

In an ancient and dead language, any recognition of living nature attracts us. These are such sentences as were written while grass grew and water ran. It is no small recommendation when a book will stand the test of mere unobstructed sunshine and daylight.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings (New York: Bantam, 2004), p. 66 [A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, 1849].

Nam tantus philosophus, et Platonis, in quo summa eloquentia summae sapientiae coniuncta est, optimus imitator, P. Vergilii eloquentiam naturae omnium rerum optimae parenti similem esse docet. Nam ut terram hic frugibus arboribusque laetam videmus, ibi pratis floribusque omnia ridere, aliam regionem fontibus irrigari, aliam omnino arescere, esse et loca quae in campos porrigantur, esse et alia quae in montes rupesque consurgant, eosdemque alibi horrendis sylvis vestiri, alibi nudo saxo inhorrescere; sic P. Vergilius stilum suum ad omnes vitae mores integrum traducit, ut nunc brevis nunc copiosus sit, nunc siccum nunc floridum sese ostendat, est praeterea ubi levi fluat agmine, est et cum veluti per confragosa torrens rapidusque praecipitetur.

For that great philosopher [Macrobius], in whom the greatest eloquence is combined with wisdom, is the best imitator of Plato; he teaches that the eloquence of Virgil is akin to the greatest parent of everything of nature. For we see in one place the earth fertile with crops and trees, and in another place, everything rejoices in meadows and flowers. We see another region watered by springs, and another region dried up. We see lands where fields stretch wide, and lands where with rising cliffs and mountains. Elsewhere, we see countries clothed in bristling forests, and countries trembling on barren rock. Though these scenes, Virgil conveys with his vigorous style each manner of life, so that it is now scare, now plentiful; he himself shows what is now desert, and what is now blooming with life, where there is a river flowing in a gentle stream, and where it rushes down over the rough landscape, roaring and rapid.
Cristoforo Landino (1424-1498), Scritti critici e teorici, ed. by Roberto Cardini, 2 vols (Rome: Bulzone, 1974), I, p. 215 [Proemio al commento Virgiliano, 1488]. My translation.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Happiness Can Be Defined All Kinds of Ways

Beauty meant that you were good. And being good meant being happy. Happiness can be defined all kinds of ways, but human beings, consciously or unconsciously, are always pulling for their own version of happiness. Even people who want to die see death as a kind of solace, and view ending their lives as the only way to make it there. Happiness is the base unit of consciousness, our single greatest motivator. Saying “I just want to be happy” trumps any other explanation. But who knows. Maybe Makiko had a more specific reason, not just some vague idea of how to make herself happy.
Mieko Kawakami, Breasts and Eggs: A Novel (2020), p. 43.

Black-Striped Orchard Spider

Black-Striped Orchard Spider (Leucauge celebesiana, 西里银鳞蛛).

Several of these spiders have built their angled webs over a small stream on Yuelu Mountain. Their white abdomens, with their green-tinged black stripes make them look like little melons.

Black-Striped Orchard Spider on Yuelu Mountain

Black-Striped Orchard Spider on Yuelu Mountain

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Memory is not What the Heart Desires

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Rings (London: HarperCollins, 2007; 1954), p. 493:

Memory is not what the heart desires. That is only a mirror, be it clear as Kheled-zâram.

Common Vervain

Common Vervain (Verbena officinalis).

Here seen growing along the Xiang River. A component in folk medicine around the world. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used to treat malaria, joint pain, bruises and other ailments. In medieval and early modern Europe it was associated with magic and fortune-telling.

Common Vervain by the Xiang River

Monday 13 May 2024

Bird After Bird

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Signet Classics, 2006; 1916), pp. 230-231:

What birds were they? He stood on the steps of the library to look at them, leaning wearily on his ashplant. They flew round and round the jutting shoulder of a house in Molesworth Street. The air of the late March evening made clear their flight, their dark quivering bodies flying clearly against the sky as against a limp hung cloth of smoky tenuous blue.
   He watched their flight; bird after bird: a dark flash, a swerve, a flutter of wings. He tried to count them before all their darting quivering bodies passed: Six, ten, eleven: and wondered were they odd or even in number. Twelve, thirteen: for two came wheeling down from the upper sky. They were flying high and low but ever round and round in straight and curving lines and ever flying from left to right, circling about a temple of air.
   He listened to the cries: like the squeak of mice behind the wainscot: a shrill twofold note. But the notes were long and shrill and whirring, unlike the cry of vermin, falling a third or a fourth and trilled as the flying beaks clove the air. Their cry was shrill and clear and fine and falling like threads of silken light unwound from whirring spools.
   The inhuman clamour soothed his ears in which his mother's sobs and reproaches murmured insistently and the dark frail quivering bodies wheeling and fluttering and swerving round an airy temple of the tenuous sky soothed his eyes which still saw the image of his mother's face.
   Why was he gazing upwards from the steps of the porch, hearing their shrill twofold cry, watching their flight? For an augury of good or evil? A phrase of Cornelius Agrippa flew through his mind and then there flew hither and thither shapeless thoughts from Swedenborg on the correspondence of birds to things of the intellect and of how the creatures of the air have their knowledge and know their times and seasons because they, unlike man, are in the order of their life and have not perverted that order by reason.
   And for ages men had gazed upward as he was gazing at birds in flight. The colonnade above him made him think vaguely of an ancient temple and the ashplant on which he leaned wearily of the curved stick of an augur. A sense of fear of the unknown moved in the heart of his weariness, a fear of symbols and portents, of the hawklike man whose name he bore soaring out of his captivity on osierwoven wings, of Thoth, the god of writers, writing with a reed upon a tablet and bearing on his narrow ibis head the cusped moon.

Broad-winged Thistle

Broad-winged Thistle (Carduus acanthoides, 节毛飞廉).

In my opinion it is a beautiful tall thistle, not less so on account of it being common throughout the grasslands and roadsides of Asia and Europe. A few plants find their way into edges of the mudflats of the Xiang River every Spring: they rise conspicuously from one to two meters in height, towering over the other weeds and brambles.

Broad-winged Thistle by the Xiang River

Sunday 12 May 2024


“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 2007; 1813), p. 43.

Humility does not consist in having a worse opinion of ourselves than we deserve, or in abasing ourselves lower than we really are, but as all virtue is founded in truth, so humility is founded in a true and just sense of our weakness, misery and sin. He who rightly feels and lives in this sense of his condition, lives in humility.
William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (London: J.M. Dent, 1951; 1729), p. 209.

Stachys Geobombycis

Stachys geobombycis (地蚕).

A hedgenettle, now in bloom on Yuelu Mountain. Dozens of plants, clustered together, have appeared by the edges of trails and in shady but uncrowded regions of forest.

Stachys geobombycis on Yuelu Mountain

Saturday 11 May 2024

Bulbose Stonecrop

Bulbose Stonecrop (Sedum bulbiferum, 珠芽景天).

Another plant in bloom on Yuelu Mountain: far from ubiquitous, clusters of its yellow flowers and succulent leaves have been colouring a few shady inclines.

Bulbose Stonecrop on Yuelu Mountain

The More You Try to Control The World

Geoff Dyer, See/Saw: Looking at Photographs: Essay 2010-2020 (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2021), p.40:

Larry Sultan said he ‘always thought of a great photograph as if some creature walked into my room; it’s like, how did you get here? . . . The more you try to control the world, the less magic you get.’

Friday 10 May 2024

Common Gardenia

Common Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides, 栀子花).

The common gardenias on Yuelu Mountain are finally in bloom: I often find them in the wilder and overgrown parts of the forests. I prefer wild ones to their tame garden-dwelling cousins.

Common Gardenia in Changsha

Speaking French

Percival Everett, James: A Novel (New York: Doubleday, 2024), p. 101:

“You don’t sound French. Kin you even speak French?” “I’m not one fer showin’ off, boy. I wouldn’t want to set a bad example. Besides, French is a very complicated language. Hearing it might cause yer ear a consternation from which you might never recover. So, I employ the language sparingly.”

Thursday 9 May 2024

Japanese House Centipede

Japanese House Centipede (Thereuonema tuberculata, 花蚰蜒).

A common species on Yuelu Mountain (and in many rural as well as urban spaces) but they usually run away when disturbed or exposed to light. This one was content to be gently observed while it rested on a piece of old bark.

Japanese House Centipede on Yuelu Mountain

Familiar Tunes

Riku Onda, Honeybees and Distant Thunder, Translated by Philip Gabriel (New York: Pegasus Books, 2023; 2019), p. 184:

People no longer wanted musicians to improvise. Instead, audiences went to hear the famous tunes they were already familiar with. They were less keen on challenging or new work, and idiosyncrasy was avoided. The growth of the CD market only speeded up this trend. CDs, as was commonly known, excluded the highest and lowest registers, sounds on the edge of audibility. And so the kind of indigenous, European nuances of performance that had for so long been a tradition, were eroded.

Wednesday 8 May 2024

Journey to Fairyland

 . . . I am looking over the sea and endeavouring to reckon up the estate I have to offer you. As far as I can make out my equipment for starting on a journey to fairyland consists of the following items.

1st. A Straw Hat. The oldest part of this admirable relic shows traces of pure Norman work. The vandalism of Cromwell’s soldiers has left us little of the original hat-band.

2nd. A Walking Stick, very knobby and heavy: admirably fitted to break the head of any denizen of Suffolk who denies that you are the noblest of ladies, but of no other manifest use.

3rd. A copy of Walt Whitman’s poems, once nearly given to Salter, but quite forgotten. It has his name in it still with an affectionate inscription from his sincere friend Gilbert Chesterton. I wonder if he will ever have it.

4th. A number of letters from a young lady, containing everything good and generous and loyal and holy and wise that isn’t in Walt Whitman's poems.

5th. An unwieldy sort of a pocket knife, the blades mostly having an edge of a more varied and picturesque outline than is provided by the prosaic cutter. The chief element however is a thing ‘to take stones out of a horse’s hoof.’ What a beautiful sensation of security it gives one to reflect that if one should ever have money enough to buy a horse and should happen to buy one and the horse should happen to have a stone in his hoof--that one is ready; one stands prepared, with a defiant smile!

6th. Passing from the last miracle of practical foresight, we come to a box of matches. Every now and then I strike one of these, because fire is beautiful and burns your fingers. Some people think this waste of matches: the same people who object to the building of Cathedrals.

7th. About three pounds in gold and silver, the remains of one of Mr. Unwin’s bursts of affection: those explosions of spontaneous love for myself, which, such is the perfect order and harmony of his mind, occur at startlingly exact intervals of time.

8th. A book of Children’s Rhymes, in manuscript, called the ‘Weather Book’ about ¾ finished, and destined for Mr. Nutt. I have been working at it fairly steadily, which I think jolly creditable under the circumstances. One can’t put anything interesting in it. They’ll understand those things when they grow up.

9th. A tennis racket—nay, start not. It is a part of the new regime, and the only new and neat-looking thing in the Museum. We’ll soon mellow it—like the straw hat. My brother and I are teaching each other lawn tennis.

10th. A soul, hitherto idle and omnivorous but now happy enough to be ashamed of itself.

11th. A body, equally idle and quite equally omnivorous, absorbing tea, coffee, claret, sea-water and oxygen to its own perfect satisfaction. It is happiest swimming, I think, the sea being about a convenient size.

12th. A Heart—mislaid somewhere. And that is about all the property of which an inventory can be made at present. After all, my tastes are stoically simple. A straw hat, a stick, a box of matches and some of his own poetry. What more does man require? . . .
Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1943), pp. 94-96 [From a letter from Chesterton’s to his fiancée Frances Blogg].

Lance-leaved Coreopsis

Lance-leaved Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata, 剑叶金鸡菊).

Another beautiful but invasive flower. I have not seen many along the Xiang River but occasionally there is a patch of them growing, provided there is space for their to enjoy full sunlight, usually near overgrown margins.

Lance-leaved Coreopsis by the Xiang River

Tuesday 7 May 2024

Modern Hermits

Twentieth-century hermits do not live in cells or caves; they do not live in the wilderness or in a hut in the forest. And so we imagine that there are no hermits left in the modern civilized world. Really, however, there are a great many of them, more than in the days when Christians were being martyred. Their cells are disguised; they are located in modern cities, in communal apartments, on the streets of Moscow and Kiev.
Vasily Grossman, An Armenian Sketchbook, Translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler (New York: The New York Review of Books, 2013; 1964) p.78.

Moss Verbena

Moss Verbena (Glandularia aristigera, 苔藓马鞭草).

Originally a South American flower, sometimes it grows wild along the Xiang river: perhaps having spread from the gardens in the Yanghu Wetland Park.

Moss Verbena by the Xiang River

Monday 6 May 2024

Oriental Turtle-Dove

Oriental Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia orientalis, 山斑鸠).

One of the two most common birds in Changsha (the other is the light-vented bulbul), which could be said for many other urban spaces in China. They are sometimes a bit finicky about being observed and liable to fly away if a camera is raised towards them. In the city and the woods one can often hear their soft 'heer-heer-ooo-ooo' call.

This one was relaxing outside my office window this morning.

Oriental Turtle-Dove by my Office

An Apt Translation

Mary Shelton gives a little gasp, and flushes as if some gallant had pinched her. Jane Rochford drawls, ‘Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare.’ She translates for Mary: ‘Apt.’
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (London: 4th Estate, 2019; 2009), p. 299.

Sunday 5 May 2024

Vocabulary and Success

A man whose brain devotes its hinterland to making odd phrases and nicknames out of ill-conceived words, whose conception of life is a lump of auriferous rock to which all the value is given by rare veins of unbusinesslike joy, who reads Boccaccio and Rabelais and Shakespeare with gusto, and uses “Stertoraneous Shover” and “Smart Junior” as terms of bitterest opprobrium, is not likely to make a great success under modern business conditions.
H.G. Wells, The History of Mr. Polly (London and Glasgow: Collins, 1969), pp. 54-55.

Lema Diversa

Lema diversa (鸭跖草负泥虫).

One can easily lose oneself in the world of leaf beetles and the lema genus alone contains over 1300 species. This small but beautiful red-brown beetle came out of hiding close to sunset in the Taohualing Scenic Area, near the top of one of the parks many forested hills.

Lema diversa in Changsha

Saturday 4 May 2024

Japanese False Bindweed

Japanese False Bindweed (Calystegia hederacea, 打碗花)

Its flowers are more common in Autumn but this bindweed does sometimes bloom in Spring. Usually the petals are more pinkish than this one, but the coloration is variable.

Japanese False Bindweed in Changsha

The Company I Want

Irish Murdoch, Under the Net (London: Vintage, 2008; 1954), p. 34:

The company which I need is the company which a pub or a café will provide. I have never wanted a communion of souls.

Friday 3 May 2024

Dense-flowered Loosestrife

Dense-flowered Loosestrife (Lysimachia congestiflora, 临时救).

An easy flower to find in May in Changsha on the edges of forests and the fringes of mountains. Its yellow flowers are brighter than buttercups.

Dense-flowered Loosestrife in Changsha

The Evolution of Grievances

An age was occupied in proving a grievance, and philosophical researches were printed in folio pages, which it took a life to write, and an eternity to read. We get on now with a lighter step, and quicker: ridicule is found to be more convincing than argument, imaginary agonies touch more than true sorrows, and monthly novels convince, when learned quartos fail to do so. If the world is to be set right, the work will be done by shilling numbers.
Anthony Trollope, The Warden (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008; 1855), p. 105-6.

Thursday 2 May 2024

Iris by the Xiang River

Every Spring hundreds of irises bloom in the mudflats by the Xiang River approximately one kilometre south of Taozi lake. Every year I look forward to seeing them in bloom. Yellow irises (iris pseudacorus) are fairly common and there are a pinks and whites ones that so far are a taxonomic mystery to m, but by far the most common are these vibrant purple irises: they have been described to me as some member of the subgenus limniris or as 'Louisiana irises'; whatever they are they are delightful.

Iris by the Xiang River

Literature is the Sum of its Discoveries

V.S. Naipaul, Literary Occasions: Essays (New York: Vintage Books, 2003), p. 39:
Literature is the sum of its discoveries. What is derivative can be impressive and intelligent. It can give pleasure and it will have its season, short or long. But we will always want to go back to the originators. What matters in the end in literature, what is always there, is the truly good.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

European White Waterlily

European White Waterlily (Nymphaea alba, 白睡莲).

'European' is an unfortunate epithet for a flower than is equally Asian and North African. They are finally in bloom at Taozi Lake and already popular with damselflies and swarms of smaller insects.

European White Waterlily at Taozi Lake

The Pleasures of Bees

It is my bees, however, which afford me the most pleasing and extensive themes; let me look at them when I will, their government, their industry, their quarrels, their passions, always present me with something new; for which reason, when weary with labour, my common place of rest is under my locust-tree, close by my bee-house. By their movements I can predict the weather, and can tell the day of their swarming; but the most difficult point is, when on the wing, to know whether they want to go to the woods or not. If they have previously pitched in some hollow trees, it is not the allurements of salt and water, of fennel, hickory leaves, etc., nor the finest box, that can induce them to stay; they will prefer those rude, rough habitations to the best polished mahogany hive. When that is the case with mine, I seldom thwart their inclinations; it is in freedom that they work: were I to confine them, they would dwindle away and quit their labour. In such excursions we only part for a while; I am generally sure to find them again the following fall. This elopement of theirs only adds to my recreations; I know how to deceive even their superlative instinct; nor do I fear losing them, though eighteen miles from my house, and lodged in the most lofty trees, in the most impervious of our forests. I once took you along with me in one of these rambles, and yet you insist on my repeating the detail of our operations: it brings back into my mind many of the useful and entertaining reflections with which you so happily beguiled our tedious hours.
J. H Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer

Tuesday 30 April 2024

Phanerothyris sinearia

Phanerothyris sinearia (中阈尺蛾).

The last geometer moth of the month, it was resting on the reeds by the Xiang River. I believe they can be found in Northern and Central China, as well as Japan.

Phanerothyris sinearia by Xiang River

Uglier Traits of Human Nature

There are few uglier traits of human nature than this tendency—which I now witnessed in men no worse than their neighbours—to grow cruel, merely because they possessed the power of inflicting harm.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (New York: The Modern Library, 2000; 1850), p. 37.

Monday 29 April 2024

Timandra Stueningi

Timandra stueningi (史氏褐线尺蛾).

It has been a bumper week for moths. Like many others, this one was hiding in the new growth on Yuelu Mountain. They are named after Timandra the mythological daughter of Tyndareus and Leda, and sister of Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. Like her more famous sisters, Timandra was an unfaithful wife, but now she has a genus of moths named after her, so things worked out.

Timandra stueningi on Yuelu Mountain


“Ja, das sagst du wohl, Effi. Aber was sollen wir denn singen?”
“Irgendwas; es ist ganz gleich, es muß nur einen Reim auf ‘u’ haben; ‘u’ ist immer Trauervokal. Also singen wir:
                    Flut, Flut,
                    Mach alles wieder gut ...”

“Yes, Effi, so you say easily enough. But what shall we sing?”
“Anything; it doesn’t matter, only it must have a rhyme in ‘u’; ‘u’ is always a sorrowful vowel. Let’s sing:
                    Flood, flood,
                    Make it all good ...”

Theodor Fontane, Effi Briest (Berlin: Ullstein, 1994; 1896), p. 15. My translation.

Sunday 28 April 2024

Idaea Ptyonopoda

Idaea ptyonopoda (赤腰姬尺蛾).

A geometer moth with a fairly wide range over southern Asia. This one was on a leaf in Wangling Park exposed to the sun: it will be lucky if it avoids the beak of laughingthrush before sun set.

Idaea ptyonopoda in Wangling Park

To Renounce the Fumcigar

   “To renounce the fumcigar,” says Pott, from the sawmill (fumo means “tobacco” in Portuguese), “is possible, but difficult, difficult. And one might fare like Matteus, up in the Camp district.”
   “What happened to him?” I asked politely.
   “He just smoked too much, day and night. And then a friend tells him, ‘You,’ he says, ‘if you put all that money that goes into smoke into the bank, you would be a rich man at the end of the year!’ ‘Right you are,’ says Matteus, throws charutos and cachimbos [cigars and pipes] away, and stops smoking. And sure enough, at the end of the year he has a lot of money. The second year more. Times were different then. The milreis was on the gold standard and worth as much each month as the month before. Before very long - may I fall dead if it isn't true - the man buys a papelão factory!”
   “Papelão? What's that?”
   “The stiff paper you make boxes of! They make it from wood.”
   “Yes, papelão. A nice factory. He left his colonia to the weeds and earned contos and contos [1 conto=1,000 cruzeiros]. Well, um dia de noite, one day in the evening, a friend invites him to a birthday party. And while they’re sitting there, eating and drinking and eating again, a rider gallops up shouting, ‘Hurry up! Your factory is afire!’ He jumps into his cart and speeds off at a breakneck pace! And when he gets there, what does he see? Just ashes and embers, and smoke - smoke everywhere. And there, on a still smoldering beam, he lit his cigar again. ‘The money was destined to go up in smoke,’ he said. And he went back to his colonia and capeened and smoked his fumcigar as long as he lived.”
Alexander Lenard, Valley of the Latin Bear (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1965), p. 115-16.

Saturday 27 April 2024


It is true. At the moment of vision the eyes see nothing.
William Golding, The Spire (London: Faber and Faber, 1983), p. 24.

Bradina Admixtalis

Bradina admixtalis (稻暗水螟).

A pallid brown grass moth. I noticed it by a construction site when I was walking to the park: they are long accustomed to dwelling alongside humans, and range from South Africa, across Asia down to Australia. Its long and slender abdomen is a noticeable feature.

Bradina admixtalis in Changsha

Friday 26 April 2024

Trypanophora Semihyalina

Trypanophora semihyalina (网锦斑蛾).

This moth was active in the afternoon, carefully exploring several tree trucks in Wangling Park, either looking for food or a place to avoid being disturbed. This is the first time I have noticed one in Changsha though I don't believe they are in fact uncommon here.

Trypanophora semihyalina in Wangling Park

Homer Instead of Hygiene

 Scene, a club in a Canadian city; persons, a professor, a doctor, a business man, and a traveller (myself). Wine, cigars, anecdotes; and suddenly, popping up, like a Jack-in the-box absurdly crowned with ivy, the intolerable subject of education. I do not remember how it began; but I know there came a point at which, before I knew where I was, I found myself being assailed on the subject of Oxford and Cambridge. Not, however, in the way you may anticipate. Those ancient seats of learning were not denounced as fossilised, effete, and corrupt. On the contrary, I was pressed, urged, implored, almost with tears in the eye—to reform them? No! to let them alone!
   “For heaven’ sake, keep them as they are! You don’t know what you've got, and what you might lose! We know! We’ve had to do without it! And we know that without it everything else is of no avail. We bluster and brag about education on this side of the Atlantic. But in our heart of hearts we know that we have missed the one thing needful, and that you, over in England, have got it.”
   “And that one thing?”
   “Is Culture! Yes, in spite of Matthew Arnold, Culture, and Culture, and always Culture!”
   “Meaning by Culture?”
   “Meaning Aristotle instead of Agriculture, Homer instead of Hygiene, Shakspere instead of the Stock Exchange, Bacon instead of Banking, Plato instead of Pædagogics! Meaning intellect before intelligence, thought before dexterity, discovery before invention! Meaning the only thing that is really practical, ideas; and the only thing that is really human, the Humanities!”
   Rather apologetically, I began to explain. At Oxford, I said, no doubt the Humanities still hold the first place. But at Cambridge they have long been relegated to the second or the third. There we have schools of Natural Science, of Economics, of Engineering, of Agriculture. We have even a Training College in Pædagogics. Their faces fell, and they renewed their passionate appeal.
G. Lowes Dickinson, Appearances: Notes of Travel, East and West (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page & company, 1915), pp. 192-93.

Thursday 25 April 2024

Tongeia Filicaudis

Tongeia filicaudis (点玄灰蝶).

Another local typical blue butterfly. Over the past two weeks I have seen several on the lower reaches of Yuelu Mountain, either on resting on ramie plants or feeding on the various wild flowers or Japanese cheese plants.
Tongeia filicaudis on Yuelu Mountain


So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.
Philip K. Dick, ‘Introduction: How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later’, in I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon (London: Grafton Books, 1988), pp. 7-34 (p. 11).

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Agenocimbex Maculatus Larva

Agenocimbex maculatus (朴童锤角叶蜂).

For the past week I have been watching this clubhorn sawfly larva resting under leaves that it must be vigorously feeding upon during the night. It is lazy and slow to move but did exert itself enough to spit yellow juice on my hand as I gently overturned this leaf.

Past Events

Shirley Hazzard, The Bay of Noon (New York: Picador, 2011; 1970), p.2:
When I was a child I used to be filled with envy when adults recalled events of twelve or fifteen years before. I would think it must be marvellous, to issue those proclamations of experience – ‘It was at least ten years ago’, or ‘I hadn’t seen him for twenty years’. But chronological prestige is tenacious: once attained, it can’t be shed; it increases moment by moment, day by day, pressing its honours on you until you are lavishly, overly endowed with them. Until you literally sink under them. A centenarian has told me that memory protects one from this burden of experience. Whole segments of time dropped out, she said: ‘Of five or six years, say, around the turn of the century, all I can remember is the dress that someone wore, or the colour of a curtain.’ And I would be pleased, rather than otherwise, at the prospect of remembering Naples in similar terms – a lilac dress Gioconda wore one morning driving to Caserta, or the Siena-coloured curtains of the apartment in San Biagio dei Librai. But memory, at an interval of only fifteen years, is less economical and less poetic, still clouded with effects and what seemed to be their causes. The search is still under way in unlikely places – too assiduous, too attenuated; too far from home.

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Eurostus Validus Nymph

Eurostus validus (硕蝽).

The last-instar nymph of this beautiful bug: the face is brimming with blueness and personality. It was sitting on a fallen branch on Yuelu Mountain, evidently enjoying the sun as much as I was.

Last-instar nymph of Eurostus Validus on Yuelu Mountain

Art Incarnate

Art is holistic and incarnate—simultaneously addressing the intellect, emotions, imagination, physical senses, and memory without dividing them. Two songs may make identical statements in conceptual terms, but one of them pierces your soul with its beauty while the other bores you into catalepsy. In art, good intentions matter not at all. Both the impact and the meaning of art are embodied in the execution. Beauty is either incarnate, or it remains an intangible abstraction.
Dana Gioia, ‘The Catholic Writer Today: Encouraging Catholic writers to renovate and reoccupy their own tradition’, First Things, Dec 2013.

Monday 22 April 2024

Wrinkly Stinkhorn

Wrinkly Stinkhorn (Phallus rugulosus, 细皱鬼笔).

A fungus with a somewhat cosmopolitan distribution: this is the first time I have seen on Yuelu Mountain, standing erect in a mix of various new growths and ramie plants. The Latin name means 'wrinkled penis'.

Wrinkly Stinkhorn on Yuelu Mountain

Psychology Lectures

Clive James, Unreliable Memoirs (London: Picador, 1981), p. 134:

Psychology was taught by a faculty composed exclusively of mechanists, behaviourists and logical positivists. They would have made Pavlov sound like a mystic had he been foolish enough to show up. He must have heard about how boring they were, since he never appeared, but it was not for want of having his name invoked. The whole faculty salivated en masse at the mere mention of him. As so often happens, dogmatic contempt for the very idea of the human soul was accompanied by limitless belief in the quantifiability of human personality. On the one hand we were informed that there was no ghost in the machine. On the other we were taught how to administer tests which would measure whether children were well adjusted. But quite a lot of solid information was embedded in the pulp. Since there was nothing I did not write down and memorise, the real information was still there years later when all the theoretical blubber surrounding it had rotted away. A synapse, after all, remains a synapse, even after some clod was tried to convince you that Michelangelo’s talent can be explained in terms of the number and intensity of electrical impulses travelling across it. Or do I mean a ganglion?

Sunday 21 April 2024

Chestnut Bulbul

Chestnut Bulbul (Hemixos castanonotus, 栗背短脚鹎).

These bulbuls are easiest to find in the forests, especially over the Winter and into the Spring, but they are more obscure in the Summer and I rarely see them in Autumn. This one has been happily singing every morning and evening by a rivulet near the bottom of Yuelu Mountain; I am fortunate enough to often hear it.

Chestnut Bulbul Singing on Yuelu Mountain
Chestnut Bulbul Singing on Yuelu Mountain

Green in Nature and Literature

Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature
and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together
and they tear each other to pieces.
Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography (London: Wordsworth Classics, 2003; 1928), p. 7.

Saturday 20 April 2024

The Intoxicated Undergraduate

It is an undeniable fact that undergraduates occasionally get drunk. Moreover, as I have before observed, when they get drunk they do it with a will. But, as in other classes of society, intoxication is rapidly becoming rarer and less respectable. I can remember orgies, which would not now be tolerated, which rose to the pitch of hurling tumblers at each other's heads: one noisy gentleman was temporarily squelched by a friend, who used a large bowl-full of milk-punch in the guise of a helmet, pressing it well down over his head and shoulders ; and they (I will not say we) finished by hunting the soberest man of the party with wild shrieks over the college grounds with the expressed intention of putting him safely to bed. He obstinately declined the proffered assistance.


The intoxicated undergraduate is generally beset by this shadowy idea, that he either has insulted, or immediately ought to insult, the college authorities. It was beautifully illustrated by a pupil of his whom my friend Brown discovered clinging desperately to a tree and trying to drive a corkscrew into the bark. "What on earth are you about?" he inquired. "I'm screwing up that old fool, Brown, into his room," was the touching reply.
Leslie Stephen, Sketches from Cambridge by A Don (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009; 1865), p.77; p.79.

Anise-scented Sage

Anise-scented Sage (Salvia guaranitica, 深蓝鼠尾草).

At certain times of year, the Yanghu Wetland Park displays substantial flower gardens, but I tend to prefer the half-wild flowers that appear in the less developed parts of the park. This colourful South American sage was minding its own business by one of the many waterways among the native weeds.

Anise-scented Sage at Yanghu Wetland Park
Anise-scented Sage at Yanghu Wetland Park

Friday 19 April 2024

Juvenile Black-throated Tit

Juvenile Black-throated Tit (Aegithalos concinnus,  红头长尾山雀).

One of my favourite local birds. For whatever quirk of nature, this young bushtit lacked its parents orange plumage. It was shy but still aggressively and successfully hunting spiders by Taozi lake.
Juvenile Black-throated Tit at Taozi Lake

On Unsolicited Gifts of Books

Pietro Odi da Montopoli (1425-1463)
Corrige quos misi versus et fuste domato;
   Corrigat et stultos cornea virga pedes.

Correct those who send you their verses and beat them with a stick:
    Correct their foolish feet with a cornel switch.
Maria Teresa Graziosi Acquaro, ‘Petri Odi Montopolitani. Carmina nunc primum e libris manu scriptis edita’, Humanistica Lovaniensia, XIX (1970), 7-113, (p. 54). My translation.

The verb corrigere can mean 'chastise' as well as 'correct' or 'improve', there is a playful ambiguity concerning whom is being set right: the solicitous  poets or their verses.

Thursday 18 April 2024

Ear Fungus

Ear Fungus (Auricularia cornea, 角质木耳).

I often order this fungus as a side in local restaurants but it is also delightful to encounter it in the wild: here is was nice to see something delicious and good coming out of the falling of a tree.

Ear Fungus at Taozi Lake

The Golden Age of Modern Literature

 “I have brought you a book for evening solace,” and he laid on the table a new publication—a poem: one of those genuine productions so often vouchsafed to the fortunate public of those days—the golden age of modern literature. Alas! the readers of our era are less favoured. But courage! I will not pause either to accuse or repine. I know poetry is not dead, nor genius lost; nor has Mammon gained power over either, to bind or slay: they will both assert their existence, their presence, their liberty and strength again one day. Powerful angels, safe in heaven! they smile when sordid souls triumph, and feeble ones weep over their destruction. Poetry destroyed? Genius banished? No! Mediocrity, no: do not let envy prompt you to the thought. No; they not only live, but reign and redeem: and without their divine influence spread everywhere, you would be in hell—the hell of your own meanness.
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (London: Everyman's Library, 1991; 1847), II, p. 174/

Wednesday 17 April 2024


Everywhere in Fairy Land forests are the places where one may most certainly expect adventures.
George MacDonald, Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1858), p. 275.

Large White Cockchafer

Large White Cockchafer (Cyphochilus apicalis, 尖歪鳃金龟).

Today, after the morning rain, there were at least a dozen of these June beetles on top of the south hill in Wangling Park, climbing in the trees and crawling along in the mulch below. They are so white they pop out of the verdant background, wherever they are. The usually strong whiteness of their scales has inspired material engineers to imitate its construction: art imitating nature.

Large White Cockchafer in Wangling Park
Large White Cockchafer in Wangling Park

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Notions of Happiness

"Were I but a king," said a country boy, " I would eat my fill of fat bacon, and swing upon a gate all day long."
J. O. Halliwell-P hillipps & A.J. Storey, Cambridge Jokes: From the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009; 1842), p. 51.

Moulting Dragonflies

I have been wondering recently when the dragonflies would emerge this Spring. So far I have seen only a few but yesterday at Taozi lake there were dozens of dragonfly exuviae on the leaves of lilacs and reeds growing near the shore. So the previous day, the nymphs must have emerged from the water and transformed into our first wave of mosquito-hunting ariel acrobats. Hopefully more are soon to come.

Dragonfly exuvia at Taozi Lake

Monday 15 April 2024

Marmalade Hover Fly

Marmalade Hover Fly (Episyrphus balteatus, 黑带食蚜蝇).

Wherever one finds ramie growing, either by the edges of the forests or the river, one can find dozens of flying and crawling creatures. The sun and humidity today brought out hordes of beetles and mating leaf-footed bugs. There were also various species of flies, including the marmalade hover fly, which is very populous all over Europe and Asia.

Marmalade Hover Fly in Wangling Park

Marmalade Hover Fly by the Xiang River

First Job

 I got my first job by accident. A sycamore tree landed on the roof of my predecessor’s 4 x 4 during a thunderstorm. He spent six months in a neck brace.
   ‘He shouldn’t have been in the car,’ said the boss, Gerald, during my interview. ‘We work in all weather.’
Brian Kimberling, Snapper (London: Tinder Press, 2013), p. 1.

Sunday 14 April 2024

Spring Common Mormon Swallowtail

The landscape has been inundated with the spring brood of common mormon swallowtails (papilio polytes, 玉带凤蝶). I have been seeing them everywhere. This one was resting in the grotto by the Catholic Church.

Common Mormon Swallowtail in Changsha

Human Beings

Show me any motor or electrical machine. I can tell you about the behaviour of this machine. An induction motor is an induction motor. It doesn’t matter where it comes from. I can tell you about it completely. When I get two babies, each baby has its own individual behaviour. You cannot treat them like machines. Human beings are always enigmatic to me, always interesting.
V.S. Naipaul, Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (London: Abacus, 2001; 1998), p. 18.

Saturday 13 April 2024

Japanese Buttercup

Japanese Buttercup (Ranunculus japonicus, 毛茛).

Another species of buttercup has appeared by the Xiang river. It is often taller than its cousins,the stems can rise over 60 cm and the flowers are large and appropriately buttery in colour and texture.

Japanese Buttercup by the Xiang River

A Modern View of Art

    But if this be a true way of regarding the matter, we should expect to find that art and beauty had, for the Greeks, a very wide and complex significance. There is a view of art, and it is one that appears to be prevalent in our own time, which sets it altogether outside the general trend of national life and ideas; which asserts that it has no connection with ethics, religion, politics, or any of the general conceptions which regulate action and thought; that its end is in itself, and is simply beauty; and that in beauty there is no distinction of high or low, no preference of one kind above another. Art thus conceived is, in the first place, purely subjective in character; the artist alone is the standard, and any phase or mood of his, however exceptional, personal and transitory, is competent to produce a work of art as satisfying and as great as one whose inspiration was drawn from a nation’s life, reflecting its highest moments, and its most universal aspirations and ideals; so that, for example, a butterfly drawn by Mr. Whistler would rank as high, say, as the Parthenon. And in the second place, in this view of art, the subject is a matter of absolute indifference. The standards of ordinary life, ethical or other, do not apply; there is no better or worse, but only a more or less beautiful; and the representation of a music-hall stage or a public-house bar may be as great and perfect a work of art as the Venus of Milo or the Madonna of
   This theory, which arises naturally and perhaps inevitably in an age where national life has degenerated into materialism and squalor, and the artist feels himself a stranger in a world of Philistines, we need not here pause to examine and criticize. It has been mentioned merely to illustrate by contrast the Greek view, which was diametrically opposed to this, and valued art in proportion as it represented in perfect form the highest and most comprehensive aspects of the national ideal. To say this, is not, of course, to say that the Greek conception of art was didactic; for the word didactic, when applied to art, has usually the implication that the excellence of the moral is the only point to be considered, and that if that is good the work itself must be good. 
G. Lowes Dickinson, The Greek View of Life (London: Methuen, 1922; 1896), pp. 199-200.

Friday 12 April 2024

Plebeian Sage

Plebeian Sage (Salvia plebeia, 荔枝草).

A herbal plant I find scattered around Changsha though more often in places closest to the hills or up on them. The flowers appear in a range of colours: most often shades of blue or purple but sometimes they take a reddish tinge from the opposite side of the rainbow and sometimes they are white. It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to clear heat and detoxify the body.

Plebeian Sage in Wangling Park

The Doctrine of Progress

 Yet this doctrine of progress in the form in which it was originally announced is already, I think, ceasing to hold the field. For this there are various reasons. Partly, I suppose, we see how little support it finds in known facts; how short is the period and how small the area over which even what we call progress has prevailed; insomuch that we can hardly deny the dictum of Sir Henry Maine that progress, so far as our positive knowledge goes, must be regarded rather as an exception than as the rule. Partly, we see how doubtful is even such progress as we think we can recognize; how gains are counterbalanced by losses; and how hard it is to sum up the total result. If, for instance, we have gained in scientific knowledge and practical capacity, have we not lost in imagination, in nobility and spiritual force? Such considerations undoubtedly have damped our belief in progress. They affect however rather the fact than the conception, and it is with the latter that we are at present concerned. Is the conception of progress, in the form in which it has become popularized, sufficient to bear the weight of Western optimism? I doubt it; and for this reason. Progress has been commonly conceived as progress not of the individual but of the race. The individual has been thrust into the background, under the influence of biology; and the world-process has come to be regarded as a movement towards the perfection not of All, but of some remote generation. The progress of humanity has extruded that of the individual, who has thus been reduced to a mere means towards an end in which he has no participation.
G. Lowes Dickinson, Religion and Immortality (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1911), pp. 39-40.

Thursday 11 April 2024

Facundus Ulixes

Non formosus erat, sed erat facundus Ulixes

Odysseus was not handsome but he was a smooth talker

Ovid, Ars Amatoria, 123. My translation.

Jean Alfred Marioton - Ulysses and Nausicaa (1888)
Jean Alfred Marioton - Ulysses and Nausicaa (1888)

Chinese Pond Heron

Chinese Pond Heron (Ardeola bacchus, 池鹭).

A very colourful bird. It is very noticeable against blue skies and clear waters, but among the reeds and lily-pads it is surprisingly efficient at camouflage. From the perspective of a fish or crustacean they probably nearly undetectable amidst the rocks, plants and glare of the sun.

Chinese Pond Heron in Changsha

Chinese Pond Heron in Changsha