The mirthful canopies of spring

My friend was at the front door at half past 9. Joan yelled down, “Who is it?” I was already sitting near the door and admiring the spring morning when the doorbell sounded.

“Who is it?” she tries again.

“A friend, Joan, it’s a friend,” I yell up.

“Huh? Who is it?”

“Don’t worry, it’s for me. It’s my friend.”

I let my friend in, I run upstairs, and Joan goes back to bed.


My friend has brought oil of Arnica, a homemade pear and basil pastry, my copy of Seneca’s letters. I hand her my Marcus and my Hadot. We sit in the back garden, the patio cool to our bums, watching three feisty sparrows get into a row. They butt heads and she eats her orange. The pinks and violets, the oranges and yellows are ludic, mirthful, all redolent of a midsummer night’s dream.

Another friend brought me grapefruit marmalade made by hippies in New Jersey. The product tag is written in dippy cursive by a company called Eat This. Under the ingredients, a line reads “gotta love it!”

Another friend sent me dates, three, telling me that she was “assembling the Seder plate, thinking of symbolic foods, you, Catlin.”


I walked along the mountain path, in mind to see Wise Elder. I said to him, “Come now, Wise Elder, do not hold back but tell me what a good life is and how I might live it.”

Wise Elder simply pointed to my hand–for I was still carrying the pastry, the marmalade, the dates–and said nothing.

Ramble re: rest

Auto-reply on: March 18 to March 19.

Subject Line: Ramble

I’m spending the day upstate. Rousseau would call this a reverie. Attending to the natural world seems to me a necessary feature of leading a philosophical life.

I should be back in town by the evening; I’ll reply by Tuesday at the latest.




Yesterday was a reverie. First my friend and I stood outside Grand Central Station while passersby stooped toward work, stomping and stooping. We looked up at the statue of Mercury and smelled beeswax and lavender. The building to the right was carved in sunlit wood.

Before we met, I stood near the Clock Tower, reading David’s Convergence with Nature, the light then crossing the window pane, gracing all heads and shoulders and striding figures in gold. A modern temple. The movement was slow, ethereal, change amid stillness.

Later, my friend and I spoke of the appropriate speed of train travel, about its being neither too fast nor too slow. Going slowly, you feel immersed more in the world than you would had you been driving, you sense more of the human scale–the buildings and pastures and trees–than you would had you been perched aloft a plane. After we arrived in Beacon, we strolled to the Dia, a contemporary art museum located in a former Nabisco box-printing factory. (Haha, a Dia trip.) We ate lunch, cashews and Kombucha, and watched a cardinal flit, heard the train whistle and blow by, rested our words during the surging rumble, observed the flies playing a frenzied game of tag.

Dia’s floors are made of wood, the modest kind that meets your heels with giving. Designed by Robert Irwin, the interior space is wide open, well-lit by exterior light (here we spoke of “basking,” there of “being cozy”), large, and inviting. And what mood are you in, we asked each other, as we walked by the geometric paintings painted in bright greens and yellows and oranges. Mine, it turned out, was a light pink.

We came to Richard Serra’s work. One in particular, an installation which reminds one of a leaning arc, drew us nearer, the artwork all smoothness, all gently sloping parabolic and elliptical lines, the surface burnished and brown and pleasantly rusted. A leaning, unwound nautilus? We walked around it, once or twice, seeing whether we could walk side by side along the narrowing passageway. We could, yes.

Venice, I thought.


Drawn to the cherry blossoms, the pinks outside clearly visible from afar, from the midst of the vastly white space, we opened the door onto the west garden. We stood close to the cherry blossom tree, listening to the sounds the concerted bees were making, observing them, attending to their sweetnesses, their legs and heads and motions. I thought of my friend David’s thoughts on reverie:

The world of experience in which reverie freely moves is a limitless web from which nothing is left out, including those beings–ourselves–who attend to it. Almost anything may prompt and guide a particular route through this web: half-remembered lines of poetry, a recently read book on botany, recollections of some episode in one’s life, images of people and animals who mattered to one, a sense of a place’s beauty, a philosophical thought, an insistent tune in one’s head. For example, Bachelard describes a reverie which starts with attention to a bird’s nest. This reverie has no cut-off point or terminus. Looking at this “precarious” nest leads to thoughts of other fragile objects, then to images of security (of home and household), then to the idea of the well-being of one’s own and other people’s children, then to larger speculation on confidence in the regular workings of nature, then to… (Convergence with Nature, p. 92).

She said their heads were shaped like hearts. They were: that was true. She said their legs were dressed in knee pads and that was also true. There they were, buzzing all together now, with their heart-shaped heads and yellow and black turtleneck vernal sweaters, with their finely painted backs and their bright yellow knee pads. There they were, well-dressed to play and suck. And we could get so close to these bees, a mere nose breath’s away, because, my friend pointed out, they were dancing, feasting, rambling.

I pointed to the left where there were no bees and no concerted activity. This cherry blossom tree was flowerless except for a few remaining flowers, the rest having fallen to the ground, lying there. It was beautiful, this slim tree of death, this tree of few flowers: ashes, ashes, we all fall–.

Andrew, she said, pointing straight ahead to the gates closing off the garden. They’re wearing underwear. Sure enough, large pink ones, faintly pink, possibly unintended, one pink panty next to the other. Pantymates. I thought of a title: Virtue Rewarded.

We turned around to face the museum, my friend’s eyes having fallen on a stink bug trapped within, trapped and affixed to the glass door. What did she say of him, this blanch-backed friend, this skull-enclosed rambler? I don’t remember. I pointed to his knocking knees meeting each other at right angles. We followed him as he traversed the silver borders, knocking knees, clearly wanting out. I had a free cherry blossom in my left hand and a vacant finger on my right, the former of which he rejected, the latter cheerily accepted. My friend tried to blow him off my finger into the air, but no such luck: he clung happily, regally to my finger. (It’s not a bad finger, as fingers go.) I put him on the railing that overlooked the garden. He opened up his back, revealing a red undercoat, and was lifted skyward by the air.

Near the museum door lay a dead stink bug, looking, as my friend rightly said, like a fossil set in stone.


I checked my email later last night. I saw that one friend had written, “P.S. Thought you might like the subject line created by your auto-reply: Ramble Re: Rest.”

Another Meditation on Nature

Andrew Taggart, “‘There is More Beauty than Our Eyes can Bear…'”

‘What makes a place beautiful is the humanity that dwells there’

For Confucius human intercourse is the life element. “The superior man does not neglect his neighbors.” But in our association with men, we encounter both good and bad. “Have no friend who is not your equal,” says Confucius, but rejects the maxim: “Associate with those who are worthy of it; as for those who are unworthy, keep them at a distance.” Instead he declares: “The superior man honors the worthy and tolerates all men.” But in his dealings with others the superior man keeps his wits about him: “He may let others lie to him but not make a fool of him. The superior man encourages what is beautiful in men; the inferior man, what is unbeautiful.” Thus the spirit of men living together develops in one direction or the other. “What makes a place beautiful is the humanity that dwells there. He who is able to choose and does not settle among humane people is not wise.”

–Karl Jaspers, Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus: The Paradigmatic Individuals, New York: Harcourt, 1962, p. 46.

Further Reading on Friendship

Andrew Taggart, “On Lovers and Libraries”

—. “Ivan Illich on Friendship as Conspiracy”

—. “On Epicurus’s Philosophy of Life”