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

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Yellow Deer Mushroom

Yellow Deer Mushroom (Pluteus chrysophlebius, 金褐光柄菇).

A beautiful cluster of young iridescent fungi growing on a pile of rotting wood left by the Xiang River. The older mushrooms become yellow-brown and the gills age from white to pallid yellow to pinkish brown. They have no veil, a yellow stipe and the tallest two reached 5 cm in height with caps 2 to 3.5 cm wide. They smell faintly of bleach and the spore print is brownish pink.

Yellow Deer Mushroom by the Xiang River

Good and Evil

James Branch Cabell, Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice (New York: Dover Publications, 2011; 1919) , p. 39:
“Good and evil keep very exact accounts,” replied the Centaur, “and the face of every man is their ledger.”

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Painted Lady

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui, 小紅蛺蝶).

The world's most widespread butterfly. This one was feeding near the Xiang River, perhaps part of a Spring migration to northern Asia.

Painted Lady by the Xiang River

Inscriptions in Books

Helene Hanff, 84, Charing Cross Road (New York: Moyer Bell Limited, 1991; 1970), p. 20:

I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.)

Monday 8 April 2024

Normal Unhappiness

 There is a sense in which men may be made normally happy; but there is another sense in which we may truly say, without undue paradox, that what they want is to get back to their normal unhappiness. At present they are suffering from an utterly abnormal unhappiness. They have got all the tragic elements essential to the human lot to contend with; time and death and bereavement and unrequited affection and dissatisfaction with themselves. But they have not got the elements of consolation and encouragement that ought normally to renew their hopes or restore their self-respect. They have not got vision or conviction, or the mastery of their work, or the loyalty of their household, or any form of human dignity. Even the latest Utopians, the last lingering representatives of that fated and unfortunate race, do not really promise the modern man that he shall do anything, or own anything, or in any effectual fashion be anything. They only promise that, if he keeps his eyes open, he will see something; he will see the Universal Trust or the World State or Lord Melchett coming in the clouds in glory. But the modern man cannot even keep his eyes open. He is too weary with toil and a long succession of unsuccessful Utopias. He has fallen asleep.
Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1943), p. 624 [From G.K.’s Weekly, October 20, 1928].

Common Five-Ring

Common Five-Ring (Ypthima baldus, 矍眼蝶).

The mudflats by the river are flooded more so that usual so insects are either submerged, hiding in the tree tops or pressed closer to urban spaces. This is not a butterfly I see very often in Changsha, though there were three of them bustling around the reeds by the river. There were also many people about: mostly fishermen and foragers, but these butterflies hardly seemed to care.

Common Five-Ring by the Xiang River

Sunday 7 April 2024

Make Time for Leisure

John Milton, Sonnet 21

Cyriack, whose grandsire on the royal bench
      Of British Themis, with no mean applause,
      Pronounced, and in his volumes taught, our laws,
      Which others at their bar so often wrench,
Today deep thoughts resolve with me to drench
      In mirth that after no repenting draws;
      Let Euclid rest, and Archimedes pause,
      And what the Swede intend, and what the French.
To measure life learn thou betimes, and know
      Toward solid good what leads the nearest way;
      For other things mild Heaven a time ordains,
And disapproves that care, though wise in show,
      That with superfluous burden loads the day,
      And, when God sends a cheerful hour, refrains.

Decumbent Bugle

Decumbent Bugle (Ajuga decumbens, 金疮小草).

Most of the flowers on Yuelu Mountain in this wet weather are admixtures of white and purple. I wonder why that is? Decumbent bugle has started to bloom and its flowers will likely be in bloom until some time in June, especially where the tree cover is not too dense for it.

Decumbent Bugle on Yuelu Mountain

Saturday 6 April 2024

Powers of Conversation

Their powers of conversation were considerable. They could describe an entertainment with accuracy, relate an anecdote with humour, and laugh at their acquaintance with spirit.
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 2007; 1813), p. 48.


Skullcap (Scutellaria indica, 韩信草).

Gloomy weather and rain has resulting in fewer flowers in the past few days, but in the forest on Yuelu Mountain there are still plenty. In many spots, both out in the open and under the shade of the tree canopy,  this species of skullcup has been in full bloom.

Skullcap on Yuelu Mountain.

Friday 5 April 2024

Male Yellow Tip

Yellow Tip (Anthocharis scolymus, 黄尖襟粉蝶).

Only the males have the yellow tips on the apical part of the forewings, which provide the English name. I do not see these butterflies very often in Changsha but have seen a few among the buttercups and other wild flowers in Wangling Park over the past week.
Yellow Tip in Wangling Park

Pierced Rock Slope

Pierced Rock Slope (穿石坡).

It was here during the Western Jin Dynasty, after the Duke of Changsha Tao Kan (妖蟒 259-334) shot the Python Demon (妖蟒) with an arrow, that he met the White Crane Maiden (白鹤姑娘) and pledged to meet her again 50 years later, according to her dying wish. Tao Kan was long delayed with government affairs so that he missed his appointment. Late in coming, Tao waited for 81 days at the appointed place before he saw her at last. To prevent the White Crane Girl from longing for earthly attachments, a Bodhisattva requested Tao depart from her though a stone door. Tao forced his way through but when he looked back  he saw only this stone wall in front of him. Hence it is called ‘Chuanshipo’ or ‘Pierced Rock Slope’.

It is found along a mountain stream on
Yuelu Mountain, below a lake which is also named 'Chuanshipo'.

Pierced Rock Slope on Yuelu Mountain

Thursday 4 April 2024

The Love of Birds

I came late to the love of birds. For years I saw them only as a tremor at the edge of vision. They know suffering and joy in simple states not possible for us. Their lives quicken and warm to a pulse our hearts can never reach. They race to oblivion. They are old before we have finished growing.
J.A. Baker, The Peregrine (New York: New York Review Books, 2005; 1967), p. 10.

Chinese Milkvetch

Chinese Milkvetch (Astragalus sinicus, 紫云英).

I recall it flowering earlier last year, but new patches of it now seem to be appearing each day. It is very popular with honey bees and flies, and moderately so with butterflies, making it an useful plant for observing insects.

Wednesday 3 April 2024


Lege, perlege, volve, revolve, si vacat, si placet, otiumque sit; invenies (audebo dicere expertus enim loquor) tui similem φιλόβιβλον, φιλακαδήμικον, φιλόσπουδαιον, φιλόσοφον.

If you have a  free moment, if it pleases you, if there is time for leisure: read, read through to the end, mull over, and mull over again; you will discover [in this book] (I dare to say, for I speak as one with experience), a book-lover, an academics-lover, a study-lover, and a wisdom-lover like yourself.
From the letter of Thomas James, editor of Richard de Bury’s Philobiblon, dated 1599 and inscribed in the copy of that work formerly belonging to Lord Lumley and now held in the British Museum Library.

Philobiblon Society: Bibliographical and Historical Miscellanies, 1 (1854), pp. 1-5 (p. 4). My translation.

Spring Amur Stonechat

Female Amur Stonechat (Saxicola stejnegeri, 东亚石䳭).

Rather, it in all probability an Amur stonechat though it could also be a Siberian stonechat which is less common in Hunan but almost identical in appearance. I see stonechats in Fall, and Spring by the river: om cool days they are rotund with ruffled feathers while warm weather makes them much sleeker in appearance.

Amur Stonechat by the Xiang River

Tuesday 2 April 2024

Female Kogane Spider

Kogane Spider (Argiope amoena, 悦目金蛛). Juvenile Female.

This colourful spider was enjoying an afternoon meal in the garden in Wangling Park. They are usually very timid but this one did not mind my close examination.
Small Cross Spider in Wangling Park

A Great Impersonal Order

 Edwin Muir, An Autobiography (London: Methuen, 1964; 1940), p. 53:
The animal world is a great impersonal order, without pathos in its suffering. Man is bound to it by necessity and guilt, and by the closer bond of life, for he breathes the same breath. But when man is swallowed up in nature nature is corrupted and man is corrupted. The sense of corruption in King Lear comes from the fact that Goneril, Regan and Cornwall are merely animals furnished with human faculties as with weapons which they can take up or lay down at will, faculties which they have stolen, not inherited. Words are their teeth and claws, and thought the technique of the deadly spring. They are so unnatural in belonging completely to nature that Gloucester can explain them only by "these late eclipses in the sun and moon." In King Lear nature is monstrous because man has been swallowed up in it:

A serving-man, proud in heart and mind; that curled my hair; wore gloves in my cap; served the lust of my mistress' heart and did the act of darkness with her; swore as many oaths as I spake words and broke them in the sweet face of heaven: one that slept in the contriving of lust and waked to do it: wine loved I deeply, dice dearly, and in woman out-paramoured the Turk: false of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand; hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey.

That is a picture of an animal with human faculties, made corrupt and legendary by the proudly curled hair. The conflict in Lear is a conflict between the sacred tradition of human society, which is old, and nature, which is always new, for it has no background. As I sat in that tramcar in Glasgow I was in an unhistorical world; I was outside time without being in eternity; in the small, sensual, momentary world of a beast.

Monday 1 April 2024

Spreading Violet

Spreading Violet (Viola diffusa, 七星莲).

It is that time in Spring when spreading violets, with their heart-shaped leaves and tiny butterfly-like flowers are everywhere; sometimes there are dozens of flowers clustered together in the shade, sometimes one flower rises above the weeds. The young leaves can be used for salads and, I am told, for tea.

Spreading Violet in Changsha

Quality of Writing

Tales versus facio, quale vinum bibo

The poetry I write is only as great as the wine I drink

Archipoeta, IV.50. My translation