A Quiet Postscript

A Tribute to Stan Kirby

Stan (June 2022, on a brief vacation in Utah)

Three short weeks ago, Mark and I spent a lovely four days (June 1-5) with his cousin Stan and his wife Kathy near Boulder, Colorado, which are included in the road trip blog. Of course Mark has known his cousin (who was, like Mark himself, the youngest of three brothers) all of Stan’s life–and Kathy since she and Stan met in college, at UNL, back in the 1980s. Since I waltzed into Mark’s life rather late, I only met them a very few years ago, at a family function the purpose of which I have long forgotten, but they became instant friends. We immediately had so much to talk about. We later visited them multiple times in Colorado, including on our 2014 and 2017 road trips. Kai got to meet them when a teenager and absolutely adored Stan (a novelist! with ANIME figurines in his office!), and in the mid-2010s, after his second novel launched, Stan came to Hastings College for a mini writers’ conference that a colleague from the English department and I organized.

It was a matter of course that they hosted us on our road trip this year, as they had before. They took us on that glorious hike on the Sleeping Lion Trail near Lyons and drove us to the mountain village where they got married. We walked their neighborhood trails both together with them and without them, we had yummy meals together, and talked about life, the universe, and everything: about local bird and plant species they knew everything about (and if not, looked things up immediately, just like we do), about traveling adventures and mishaps, about vivid family memories and future plans. In the mornings, Stan would go off to his computer and write; he was working on a young adult novel, the first time he was trying his hand on this genre; his two published novels are science fiction (Iapetus) and crime (Vienna). It always impressed me that he was undeterred when it came to writing, even though he had completely lost faith in the publishing industry, and of course, I completely connect to to the urge to write daily (and to try out new genres and styles) because that is the way we both think, process, make sense of the world (even if the world doesn’t make sense).

Ever since I first met them, Stan and Kathy have been huge role models for making the choice to live your best life and doing what you love and think is important, in spite of major health setbacks, and doing so as a loving and caring couple: in their case, with Stan writing fiction and Kathy doing important environmental science work (from which she had recently retired), traveling the world together to hike, bike, and explore, and spending time with friends. I am so very grateful we had this time together in early June, although thinking about it now is gut-wrenchingly sad.

Last Wednesday morning (on Jun 22, 2022), Stan was killed in a bicycling accident when he lost control of his bike on gravel. A full life cut short in a split second, an incredible loss to all of us: to Kathy (after spending 36 years with the love of her life), his family, his friends, his readers known and unknown. I am so grateful for each and every time we met, and for everything I have learned from his approach to life–to his vocation as a writer, his loving devotion to Kathy from the time they met in college, and his whole outlook on life. I loved his sense humor and his ability to spot the positive even at times when things were hard, and his determination to savor life to the fullest. We are all so much better off for having known Stan.

Quiet “seasoned couple” moment (with aging cat, Butch).

2022 Road Trip, Day 17 / June 4: Around Lyons, CO

We had a fun day with Stan and Kathy today! It’s always amazing to go exploring with friends who know an area as well as they do this part of the Rockies, which they have hiked, biked, snowshoed, cross-country skied and who knows what else! We took off at about 8 am and drove to a hiking area called Button Rock, where there is a reservoir (serving the city of Longmont) that has some very well-developed hiking trails. We took one called Sleeping Lion Trail that went up and then back down across a ridge, with some beautiful views from the top, and then also up to the top of the reservoir dam, around by the reservoir’s emergency spillway and back around to the trailhead. The reservoir was quite a ways down (Stan estimated 30 feet) because it has been so dry; there was a clear “bathtub ring.” That seems especially mindboggling because this dam was only saved during the heavy flooding in 2013 by the use of that spillway, so that most of the town of Lyons was flooded and cut off (I remember the images of helicopter rescues). We all remembered that dramatic flood, and yet, now there is a moderate drought here (with a severe drought just east of the area around Lyons). At the very end of our hike, we stopped to watch a group of four female rock climbers who were very impressive to watch, although I would totally not ever try this at home… not even if I were 26 and not 56! Our total hike was just 5.6 miles, but with lots of ups and downs at around 6,000 feet, and it was just a blast.

At the very top of Sleeping Lion Trail
The St. Vrain River at the reservoir’s release point
Wildflowers being useful
Rock Climbing at Button Rock (we only watched!)

Then we drove to the teeny town of Lyons and had a lovely light Mexican lunch at a place called Mojo’s and drove along the peak-to-peak highway (72) for some more views and a quick look around Brainard Lake, which is still closed to vehicles, but there were plenty of hikers and bikers around. We didn’t walk down the 2 miles to the lake and back, but we poked around a little bit and Stan and Kathy came up with some new ideas for future hikes. There was still quite a lot of (rather dirty) snow around, even though it was balmy and 65 as we were walking around. We drove through Ward and along the edge of Boulder back to Louisville, and they showed us where the Marshall fire had raged back in January, when over 1,000 homes were destroyed in a matter of hours (they live only about a hundred yards from where the evacuation route began).

We all rested for a bit and baked a couple of Murphy’s pizzas for dinner; later, Kathy took us over to the “Sweet Cow” ice cream shop in the teeny downtown of Louisville (we’d been there before, 4 years ago, and it was pretty much just as crowded). As we walked past a pavilion in the city center, I suddenly heard someone call my name–it was Benjamin, who was in Louisville for a musical rehearsal and was having his dinner while waiting for his bus back home. What a surprise! On the way home, we picked up some fruit for breakfast with Jacquie tomorrow, and I am pretty much going to call it a day now.


2022 Road Trip, Day 15, June 2: Louisville and Boulder, CO

Today was a slow day filled with many shorter walks, watching birds, bunnies, and people, and with sitting and talking. The first walk, we took with Kathy just around this neighborhood, where there are several trails around lakes, with some good birdwatching. At first, we didn’t see much, because this year’s drought has meant that the lakes are only partially filled, but then we did see some red-winged blackbirds, a cormorant, and most thrillingly, an osprey circling overhead that we identified with the help of Kathy’s bird book after we got home.

Osprey from below!

After that, Mark and I took off for Boulder (less than half an hour from here) and walked up and down Pearl Street (like we always do once in Boulder). We had some excellent Nepalese dumplings from a food truck for a very light lunch, so that we could also sample some (equally excellent) gelato. The Pearl St. stores do not hold much interest for us, so we didn’t go into any, but we did listen to a few musicians and watched kids playing in various play spaces along the route. Then we made our way to one of our favorite Boulder spots, the Eben G. Fine Park just before the canyon begins, where we walked along Boulder Creek and enjoyed the noise and the power of the water, drowning out most conversations and the joyful screams of kids playing with foam swords.

My aunt Karin and my uncle Peter showing me the garden

Around 1:30 pm, we went to see my aunt and uncle at their house–another must-do in Boulder whenever we go. They came here from Germany in the mid-60s, and have lived in the same beautiful mid-size Victorian home with a huge vegetable garden, which they still tend themselves (with their grandkid Benjamin’s help). Nothing ever changes in the house, and it still has the bakelite phone that I’m sure they had since they moved in (although I can only attest to its presence since 1990, when I first visited them). My aunt is in her 90s, my uncle in his late 80s, and we chatted about family, the garden, everyone’s health, and politics for a couple of hours. It was so very nice to see them.

My aunt and uncle’s phone where it has always been–presumably since 1965

We left about 4 pm and drove up to the top of Flagstaff Mountain, a short but winding road up from Boulder, to scramble around a little bit and again look for birds and other creatures. As we were driving up, I was looking down into a culvert on the roadside that was cordoned off with metal barriers, and spotted a black kit fox! I had a hard time convincing myself and Mark that I hadn’t just hallucinated, because of course we couldn’t capture it on a photo, but later, Kathy found a posting by a local who had spotted a red and a black fox kit and their mom in that spot earlier in the week. We also saw a hummingbird (they have only just arrived here in the mountain), and a nuthatch let us get pretty close.

Nut Hatch at Flagstaff Mountain

We drove back home to Louisville at about 5:30 and basically had the same dinner as last night, but I was still twitchy, and so we went for one more nature walk, into the open fields and wetlands that lie in the other direction from our morning walk. We saw many bunnies and, more surprisingly, members of a small colony of prairie dogs, some red-winged blackbirds really hamming it up, and–again too quickly to capture photographically–a white bird lifting up from a ditch that Kathy helped us identify as a black-crowned night heron. We really had a good birding day for us amateurs!

Prairie Dog in the ‘burbs
Red-Winged Blackbird in Action

2022 Roadtrip, Day 14, June 1: Manitou Springs to Louisville, CO

It was pretty chilly and rather gray in the morning when we woke up in our old-fashioned (and slightly stuffy) motel room, and we took it slow packing up and catching up on some of our usual morning routines. But by 9 am, we were ready to check out and drove through the Garden of the Gods, getting out at the center of the park and walking around for a little bit. It didn’t amount to a hike–I am still not quite up for that with my tailbone, and it was also quite chilly (in the 40s after the 80s and 90s!), but it was still really stunning. Mark and I had both been to the Garden of the Gods before, but neither of us remembered the formations being so big! They are beautiful and the geology is amazing. Of course, we had to take photos at Balance Rock, but unlike the other tourists milling around, looking somewhat chilly but determined to get their turn, we didn’t take one where we held up or pushed the boulder. At about 11:15, we left the Garden and went to “Adams Mountain Café” nearby (in fact, only two minutes down the road from the motel where we had stayed), to meet with our friend Steve, who took time over his lunch to catch up with us. He’s a former colleague from Hastings, who now works here in Colorado Springs, and we restaged a spontaneous lunch we had with him and his wife Karrie when we came through here 5 years ago on our last road trip that also took us to Colorado Springs somewhat at the last minute. This time around, only Steve could join us, but it was great to catch up over vegetarian lunch/breakfast (I had an omelet and stole almost half of Mark’s orange-almond French toast). Around 1 pm, we said our goodbyes and set off for the Boulder area.

Garden of the Gods, Take 1
Garden of the God, Take 2
Balanced Rock at the Garden of the Gods
Conquering the Gods

We had decided to forego the short route to Denver (and thereby avoid the always-horrible traffic in the entire Denver area) and take the scenic way through the easternmost roads North through the mountains (again with the help of Google Maps), and we ended up having a wonderful and varied drive. We started out in damp, gray, low-hanging clouds (i.e. light fog) driving up to about 8,000 feet, but just past Woodland Park, the clouds ripped open and we drove for about an hour through the most glorious sun-flooded mountain landscape, with huge boulders and rock faces, and creeks flowing through beautiful green meadows, the taller mountains or the plains to the east occasionally visible in the background at a scenic turn of the road. We got out a couple of times, and enjoyed the sun and the balmy 65 degrees.

Sun-Drenched Scenic Overview North of Woodland Park
Winter Wonderland just before Evergreen, CO

And then, a few miles on, by the time we got to a little hamlet called Marshdale, it was foggy again, at 42 degrees, and a belated winter wonderland–there was a blanket of snow over the green grass, with the tender green leaves of the new aspens looking absurdly out of place. It was just a stunning contrast.

Once we were past Golden, CO, and within half an hour of our destination at a much lower altitude, the weather settled into an evenly overcast and a little chilly late-spring day, and we drove back into the plains by Boulder, to what is basically the “suburbia town” of Louisville. For people who are not familiar with Boulder (which we have visited regularly for decades), it has a broad green belt where nothing can be built, but inside that green belt, space for private residences has become so sparse and so expensive, that former “nothing towns” in the area, like Louisville, Lafayette, or Marshall, became enormous new developments with their own elaborate infrastructure. This is where Mark’s cousin and his wife live, and where we are going to stay for the next few days. We stopped at a big grocery store a few minutes from them and picked up some dinner ingredients, so that when we showed up on their doorstep around 5 pm, we didn’t come empty-handed. I made a big charcuterie board (I had found some really good cheese) and a salad, and we had that and then some angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream for dinner. It was delightful, but even more delightful was the great conversation with Stan and Kathy, whom we hadn’t seen in a long time–last time we were here, they were on vacation, and we were basically housesitting rather than hanging out with them. But tonight, we got to talk about old family photos and stories, and had a really good and relaxing time–and I even got our accumulated laundry done!


2022 Road Trip, Day 12, May 30: White Sands and Three Rivers Petroglyphs

Memorial Day–but if it hadn’t been for a stream of reminders from Facebook, we would have never noticed! The places we went today did not really show any signs of there being a holiday–there were not many reminders beyond the flags that one would expect at national monuments and parks, nor was there a whole lot of traffic. Our day had three parts:

First, early in the morning, we drove to White Sands National Monument, which is about 45 minutes from our digs, through the Organ Mountains and into the Tularosa Basin. The White Sands area is famous for two things, but we did not get a glimpse of one of them: First, it has notorious missile testing sites–and sometimes the National Park portion closes because of current missile testing. Of course, these are no longer atomic bombs, but in the 50s, they were tested here at the Trinity site (Mark: “Shoot, I didn’t bring my Geiger counter”). Second, it is a spectacular and unusual hiking area, because these dunes, which otherwise do look like very fine sand dunes, with lots of drifts and sparse vegetation, are really and truly blindingly white. The dust blowing across the blue sky is also white (instead of the yellowish tint we have seen in the air a lot because of wildfires and little dust devils everywhere). The White Sands are a gigantic gypsum deposit–the world’s largest, and big enough to be visible from space. The geology is fascinating, and the dunes, both with and without vegetation in the snowy white, are gorgeous. We got to the site at about 8 am, and really had a wonderful time there. We took an abbreviated version of a 5-mile hike (which would have taken 3 hours, because going up a sand dune is serious work); our shortcut (from one visible trail marker to another, so not risky) cut it down to under 3 miles and only two hours. It was still early and not hot (upper 70s, lower 80s) and there was a bit of a breeze, so the sand was still cool, and some of it has recrystallized just a little bit, part of it feels like walking on drywall (which is made of gypsum, normally) rather than on sand. But some of the dunes were soft enough going down that we sank in to our calves and then left basically no trace as we went downhill along with the fine, glittery sand. A lot of people bring their kids and circular sleds, because it is really even better than sledding on snow–certainly in terms of temperatures!

Antje and the White Whiteness
Sliding down a white dune
The White Sands Trail
Soft and hard gypsum (not tire tracks, all wind-blown!)

For this hike, we were smarter–we took a ton of water and also a couple of granola bars, and there were bandaids in the car, too. Walking sticks would not have done anything. We also walked two leisurely smaller trails, one on sand and one on a boardwalk (less than .5 miles in and out), with some interesting information about the dunes and the plants and animals that live in this arid environment. The gypsum actually preserves moistures just a few inches below the surface, so plants with elaborate root systems, including some cottonwood trees, but mostly smaller bushes and yucca plants (in full bloom here as well, but also already visible as empty seed pods), and there is a kind of mouse here, the Apache Pocket mouse, that actually doesn’t drink, but takes seeds in its cheek pouches to little damp storage spaces, where they soak up the moisture, and that’s how the mouse gets its liquid. We did see some of the mouse tracks, and we also spotted a couple of lizards. There is nothing quite as adorable as seeing a white lizard that’s no longer than 3 inches/6 cm with the tail included (the Bleached Earless Lizard, which apparently is neither bleached nor earless, but sure looks like it) “threaten” us by pumping up and down on its little legs. But it is hard to photograph. Mark was luckier with a bigger lizard later on.

Blooming Yucca in the White Sands
Mouse tracks (we think)
The Bleached Earless Lizard tries to scare us (tough when you are only 3 inches /6 cm long)
Mr. Desert Lizard thought we couldn’t see him.
“Dancing Tree” — with extended roots above the sand
Picnic! My favorite road trip food

Part Two of the day came after a picnic at the White Sands visitor center on the way out–sandwiches with ham and cheese and the potato/green bean/asparagus salad from last night that Randy and Laurie had sent with us–delicious! It involved another 45-minute drive and a much shorter hike with amazing art we did not expect to be so plentiful: We went to the Three Rivers Petroglyph site, run by the Bureau of Land Management and almost completely deserted. It features a 1-mile walk up some rocky terrain–but in that terrain, there are over 21,000 petroglyphs carved into dark volcanic rock! From the winding paths, you can see dozens and dozens of them, and Mark got some amazing photos of some of the most interesting shapes–animals, faces, dotted circles, bird tracks. Amazing once we figured out what to look for–and our walk was not even that hot, since we had a cooling breeze and it was “only” 86 rather than in the 90s yesterday. Very little is known about the meaning of these, or the particular group of people who lived here, the Jornada Mogollon, sometime between 200 AD and 1450 AD (there is a nearby village that has been partly excavated, but we had no energy left to explore it).

Petroglyph at Three Rivers, face with earrings

We were so glad we went–even though I fell on my butt when I stepped back and ended up on a wobbly rock, so that my tailbone is a bit sore and I had to sit on an ice pack during dinner at Laurie and Randy’s. That was the third and last part of the day was to drive the 1.5 hours back to Las Cruces (again, very little traffic), stop for some groceries at a local Albertsons, and have dinner with Randy and Laurie again. I made a salad, and Randy made a pizza with delicious toppings and lots of mozzarella and asiago, and we talked about food memories and interesting people and places, and had a wonderful time. We brought a little tiny cheesecake, just enough for the four of us, so there was even dessert. But we left about 8 pm, just after the sun set, and went back to the Calle del Arroyo to do some basic packing and take showers, so that we can get a quick start tomorrow. I was very tired by the end of the day, even more so than Mark, I think!


2022 Road Trip, Day 10, May 28: Marfa, TX, to Las Cruces, NM

We took off very early this morning from Marfa, when it was still blissfully cool (just as the 95 yesterday had not felt quite that hot, with the breeze, the 61 this morning felt warmer than that, too, and very pleasant), and drove a bit more than 3 hours to Las Cruces. We stopped a couple of times to take pictures of the mountains that surrounded the plain that we were driving through, and which look so interesting and alien–like huge rounded sand piles that seem like they could just drift off or flatten themselves like beach sand, until the Interstate goes through a cutout and it is clear that they are made of pink and gray-blue granite, while the sandstone that is all around is what has already eroded. Otherwise, there wasn’t much to the drive–I napped for quite a while; the only major city on the way from Marfa to Las Cruces is El Paso / Ciudad Juarez, where we could see the border in the distance from the I-10 at several points. It must have been so different here when people were just going back and forth with ease. Shortly after that, we crossed into New Mexico, and arrived at about 10:30 mountain time in Las Cruces.

“Sandpile Mountains,” on the US-90, at a “Scenic Overlook”

Our friend Randy, who lives in Las Cruces, had given us some great tips about trying to do a few things today that we would otherwise have missed: the market in the downtown area (which used to be pedestrian, but had car access reintroduced in the early 2000s), and, in the same area, the three main city museums (the Museum of Art, the Museum of Science, and the Branigan Cultural Center), which are not open Sundays or Mondays. So we started with the long stretch of farmers’ market, which was 80% tchotchkes and snacks and 20% produce and meats (including large bundles of dried hot peppers–people hang them on the walls everywhere, we discovered). It was already swelteringly hot, so after we had wandered up and down and had a mediocre breakfast burrito from a food truck in a shaded area on the main plaza, we checked out the three museums, which are very small, but AIR-CONDITIONED. The science museum had an interesting permanent exhibit about the nearby fossil tracks (with replicas of the tracks), the art museums has changing traveling exhibits and was showing American impressionists–the kind that are minor enough that even I, with my decent grasp of American art, had not encountered most of the names. But there was an interesting semi-impressionist John Sloan piece included, as well as a Robert Henri portrait of a little girl, and I did like a true “impression” of the ocean in Monterey Bay that I had not encountered before. The Branigan Center, formerly the public library, had a couple of small exhibits on New Mexico aviation and on the Japanese internment camps in this area, and a little bit of contemporary local art (quilts and paintings by a Native two-spirit painter). But it did not take us long to go through all three, and after a little bit more milling around and having a Mexican-style lemonade (hibiscus for me and pineapple-coconut for Mark), we decided to find the historic area near our Airbnb and explore that.

Chili Peppers at the Las Cruces Farmers’ Market
John Sloan (American, 1871-1951), Gully at Low Tide, ca. 1914-1918, oil on canvas

So we drove about ten minutes to historic Mesilla, the town that was across the Rio Grande from Las Cruces in the 19th century, and almost exclusively built and inhabited by descendants of Mexicans that had lived here before the area became part of the US, in the classic adobe style. But later the area became fully absorbed into Las Cruces (as the Rio Grande also shifted its course, presumably by human intervention, so it was no longer physically separate), even as it retained a distinctive Mexican style. Today, the little market square with the village church (San Albino) is a tourist attraction, and the surrounding mini city blocks are full of boutiques and bars and restaurants, intermixed with small, one-story residences and a few run-down deserted adobe structures that are falling apart and haven’t been gentrified yet. The forerunner to the Wells Fargo Pony Express, the Butterfield, had a stage stop here at Mesilla, and the stagecoach inn is now one of the more popular restaurants, La Posta. We wandered around the main square, since it was still way too early to go to our lodgings (2:30 pm was our check-in time, and it was only about 1 pm), but it was unpleasantly hot and windy. (“Bread oven,” my friend Randy says.) So we eventually fled into a gelato-and-wine store that I had spotted (wine-tasting is apparently a must here wherever you go), and got tips from the woman who ran it about places to see while tasting the gelato and sorbet, which is made by the culinary arts division of the New Mexico State University, which has its main campus here). Yum.

Finally, it was time to check in and we settled into our lovely little “casita”–which is really just one room with a bathroom built onto a garage, but a) very nicely set up, so that there is a little kitchen “kiosk” with plates and glasses and a microwave + fridge that includes a freezer, and b) very very new and clean. We were very happy with it and spent the next hour or so just resting and recovering from the heat; we both took a little nap. Around 4 pm, our friends Randy and Laurie came by and brought us an adorable and wonderfully practical welcome package: some fresh bread that Randy had baked, some local cheese, honey, and pecans, and some lemon marmelade and apple butter that Laurie had canned. We were set for a charcuterie dinner, and very happy! We chatted for an hour (even as there was just barely enough room for all of us) and got lots of additional tips for where to go and what to do in our two days here (and at what time of day).

Inaugural charcuterie meal in our “casita”

When they left, we had our fantastic “Abendbrot” with everything they brought us, including these fabulous little cinnamon cookies called biscoches (or biscochitos) that are a local specialty, as a dessert. We then went for another walk around the neighborhood, now that it was cooler and we could truly enjoy it. From some spots a little further down the avenida de Mesilla, we could see the mountains really well, as well as some of the fantastic cacti and enormous yucca plants in some of the front yards; when we returned to the town plaza, the live music from a bar provided background sound as we just sat and enjoyed the evening air. It was pretty quiet (partly because this is the weekend of the wine festival, which draws everyone to the fairgrounds) but we enjoyed it, as well as our return to the cozy casita where we’ll be for a few days.

Cactus blossom # 1
Cactus blossom # 2
Ginormous yucca plant
And the mountains in the distance

W&P Week 6: One/Two/8

For 2/23/2021 * OUP Edition to p. 159

Chapter 24

At dinner that night, Andrei and his father talk about Napoleon (“a great general,” says Andrei) and about the impending campaign; the women get short shrift after Andrei’s father loses interest in conversing with Liza when she gets emotional. The estate’s architect, Mikhail Ivanovich, has been invited to join the dinner even as he is not of the right social class.

Chapter 25

Andrei is packing for his impending departure, and has a conversation with his sister Marya about Liza’s; she feels sorry about her being left behind in the country like this shortly before the birth of her child. He does admit the marriage is not happy, but cannot say why (115). Marya asks him to wear an icon on a silver chain, and he agrees to do so. There is an odd encounter with Marya’s companion, M’elle Bourienne, in the hallway; she is “ecstatic,” he is contemptuous–is the implication that they had an affair / relationship in the past? (115). Andrei and his father have manly goodbyes, including talking again about the inevitability of marriages being unhappy (117) and about the possibility that Andrei could die. Andrei asks his father to let a potential male heir grow up with him, not Liza. He then says good-bye to the women (Liza faints, greatly annoying her father in law.

Book 1, Part 2


Chapter 1

It is October 1805 and the Russian army is in little villages in Austria near Braunau. The particular regiment the story tracks is supposed to be on parade for the commander-in-chief, Kutuzov, even though the men have just marched hundreds of miles. Their regimental commander sees to it that the men get spiffed up, and specifically rakes Dolokhov over the coals, because he is wearing his officer’s coat although he has been demoted to enlisted man.

Chapter 2

It turns out that Kutuzov actually wanted to see the regiment in bad shape (to make a point to his Austrian allies), but too late–they are all in order. In the company of Andrei, who has become Kutuzov’s adjutant, and other staff, he is inspecting the men, and also singles out Dolokhov for a reprimand of past behavior–but also makes clear to the regimental commander (somehow) that Dolokhov will regain officer status after the next time they see action. He himself is determined not to drink or gample until he has been reinstated. As they march on, the simple soldiers talk about their commander and Napoleon (in a diction I assume is supposed to signal dialect? Or lack of education? 127) and sing as they march.

Chapter 3

Kutuzov is talking to his officers. Andrei is tasked with writing summary of the current battle news from the Austrians; he is happy and competent and in his element (131), but as he leaves the room to do so, he encounters the Austrian commander, Mack, who has just lost an important battle against Napoleon. He berates his friends Nesvitsky and Zherkov, who are laughing about this pathetic man, instead of taking the bad war news seriously.


Chapter 4

We are now with the hussar squadron that includes Nikolai Rostov in a village nearby. His commander and roommate, Denisov, is a dissolute man who only has women on his mind (he cannot pronounce his “r”s–what is the point about that?). After a brief conversation, Denisov is called away to see the quartermaster, and tells Nikolai to put his purse/wallet under his pillow. An officer named Telyanin, whom Nikolai dislikes, comes in and hangs out for a while; when Denisov comes back, he cannot find his purse. Nikolai realizes that Telyanin took it and confronts him directly. Telyanin bursts into tears and returns the purse.

Chapter 5

In the aftermath, Nikolai’s fellow officers think that Nikolai committed a great mistake by telling people publicly about Telyanin’s theft and has been called a liar by his regimental commander, a vindictive man named Bogdanich, and now refuses to back down, risking a duel with the commander. His friends try to convey to him that the colonel had no choice except to call him a liar to preserve the honor of the regiment. But then news comes of Mack’s surrender and the fact that they are about to go into battle, and all shifts to action mode.

Chapter 6

Complicated military history for October 23 (see OUP footnote on 1325), but the upshot is that there is a bridge in a town named Enns (OUP apparatus map: pretty useless, but included) that the Russian troops need to cross, and that bridge plays a key part in the action of that day. A group of officers are watching the troop movement from a hill and dream of ransacking a nearby convent (a guy named Nesvitsky seems to be especially obsessed with the nun fantasy); then the first grenade comes flying by. Everyone is very excited and “joyous” (147; gross!).

Chapter 7

Nesvitsky and Denisov are both watching masses of troops and some civilians crossing the bridge and are trying to figure out how to get across themselves. There is tension between infantry and cavalry (the hussars presumably being part of that).

Chapter 8

The Russian infantry crosses the bridge, the hussars follow last, under Denisov. The French army is only 700 yards away and the idea is that they need to destroy/burn the bridge but not engage in fighting–even though Nikolai Rostov, in his first action ever, and Denisov etc. really want to. There is cannon fire but their colonel, Bogdanich (part German, indicated by the weird word order in his speeches?), gets them across and there is considerable hesitation before the bridge is set on fire while the French are close enough to fire grape shot. Nikolai is in the middle of it, but useless (without burning straw) and suddenly very scared. He feels very cowardly but then realizes no one else really cares, since they know what it’s like to be a cadet and see action for the first time. Two of the hussars are wounded and one “knocked out” (meaning–?)

This was a little more useful, but still doesn’t have a good map: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Amstetten


Poem # 2 (Week of March 22)

One Art

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Note for Kai: We talked about villanelles on the phone last week, because Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is one of your favorites (I post his poem below, for good measure). I mentioned this poem by Bishop, an American poet, as another famous villanelle that I love and that, like Thomas’s, deals with really tough things: Thomas struggling with the impending death of his father; Bishop’s speaker (also probably a stand-in for herself) struggling with losing a lover. I hope you’ll have time to read it aloud several times to figure out how you would read across the line breaks to capture and contain the emotions. (Needless to say, every poem needs to be read aloud. They are made for that and do not come fully alive without it.)

The rules for villanelles are strict (and I quote a dictionary definition: “a nineteen-line poem with two rhymes throughout, consisting of five tercets and a quatrain, with the first and third lines of the opening tercet recurring alternately at the end of the other tercets and with both repeated at the close of the concluding quatrain”). Thomas abides by them exactly–he makes the entire first and third line repeat–but Bishop riffs on the form and changes some words around when she comes back around to the first and third line of the first stanza in the following stanzas.

But I still think that what we said the other day still holds true: because the strict form of the villanelle is an especially tight box, formally speaking, it can be used to hold in things that are so painful that they can almost not be said. This is how I read both of these poems, and I cannot read either one without choking up (reading them out loud is especially difficult). They feel like emotional truth bombs that would explode, that would be too much if they were not kept in such a small box. I always notice it especially in Bishop’s last line, because that is where she breaks out of the form and tells us that the formal frame of the poem is bursting, even with the typography “(Write it!)”

If we make art (words, music, images) to process the world and to help others (who read, hear, see that art) to process it, maybe that kind of small, tight box is necessary to process it when the world is especially emotional and painful: when there is death, breaking up, loss, nothingness to contemplate. I can’t really explain why that thought, and the form of the villanelle that exemplifies it so powerfully, is comforting to me. But I think it’s because I do believe in catharsis; art like this makes me go on an emotional journey from which I emerge feeling better, feeling reassured that when beauty emerges from pain and suffering, that is a good thing (for the artist, for us as readers, listeners, viewers) and not just some cheesy feel-good mechanism that prettifies and trivializes sad and evil things.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.