Ice World

DSCN2643Ice covered the leaves. Each blade of grass had its own blanket of stunning crystals, each tiny leaf its necklace of diamonds.

In some places the ice stuck out in stiff spikes, like tiny crystals of armor against footsteps. In others it covered the whole surface, branching out and joining together like crocheted lace.

If you walk outside you’ll see the diamond walkway before you. The weak sun sparkles on the grass, warning that soon it will rise to its whole height and warm the air, ending the reign of frosty magic.DSCN2645

I found a leaf on the grass that had fallen there from my potted poinsettia. Ice had covered every vein and panel, making a screen over the textured face. The beauty of the ice makes my frozen fingers worthwhile.

Ice is rare in south Texas. It’s usually dry in the winters, or raining because it’s much too warm for snow. I’ve only seen icicles a few times since we’ve been here, and none of them have been any longer than four inches. But frost is rather common, especially on cold, quiet mornings where the sun has yet to cross the sky and the air is bitterly frigid. During the night the dew turns to frost, and the frost to ice.

My camera has suddenly discovered how to blur and focus on different things depending on distance. Sometimes that’s annoying (birthday parties come to mind here) but other times it’s a blessing. Capturing the frozen morning takes practice. The light is so faded when the ice is out, but it’s so beautiful as it hits the diamond-hued ground. Even though you have to get up early and freeze, it’s worth it.

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Higgins in Houston: How to Beat Tom

Dear Hodgkins,

My neighborhood has been invaded by a bully.  I think his name is Tom. Whilst making my routine patrols around my home, as I have done for years, I am sometimes attacked by this feline troglodyte nearly twice my size. I have taken a few beatings after defending the honor of Miss Prissy and Miss Kitty, even though I have my doubts about the latter.  What can I do?

Higgins from Houston

 

Insurrectionist Swine

Even I, the Emperor, have dealt with rebels and traitors.

Higgins,

Even I, the Emperor, have dealt with rebels and traitors. Thus I can recommend offensive, defensive, and preventative measures that you must take in order to defeat Tom: first, make sure he knows you’re no one to be trifled with; second, learn where all of the neighborhood dogs are; and third, enlist the help of your humans.

To send a clear message to Tom about your power and status, acquire an elegant collar with a real jingle bell. Its intimidating effect is enough to keep most riff-raff away altogether. Furthermore, the bell’s jingling stops feline criminals in their tracks just as surely as a shotgun’s cycling stops their human counterparts. Just make sure that you get the correct type of collar—i.e., not a purple one, because purple indicate royalty. Only I am royalty. Please remember this.

If Tom is bold enough to disregard your message, proceed to intensive defensive measures. Whenever Tom pursues you or infringes on your territory, lead him into the real enemy lines: right into a canine’s gaping, drooling, uncoordinated jaws. My neighborhood offers a variety of suitable canines (my favorite locations for leading insurrectionists are the Schnauzer Pit, the Lab Experiment, and the Poodle Death Camp). Perhaps a more merciful method, although one of less certain success, is to learn of automatic sprinkler systems and/or bodies of water in your territory; you’re a clever fellow and I’m sure you can logically infer what I insinuate.

As a last resort, enlist the help of your human. Humans are useful as guards and are typically willing to eliminate threats that are within their power to destroy. My point here is to schedule your duels with Tom at a time when your human can see. They’ll stuff Tom in the Box of Abominations and cart him off to who-knows-where; he may or may not ever come back.

My point with all of these tips is that you don’t have to take a beating. It’s highly unnecessary—especially since, well, Miss Kitty is of doubtful reputation.

I love me too,

Hodgkins

Supreme Emperor of the Universe;

Chief Executive Lizard-Slayer at Lizard Warrior Service;

Recipient of the Snowbell Peace Prize;

Coolest Monarch of the Century (Irrational Geographic);

Expert Tree-Conqueror;

The Mahler Universe

The title page of an 1808 edition of Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

The title page of an 1808 edition of Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Gustav Mahler is one of my favorite composers. His music is imaginative. Glorious. Intense. Unprecedentedly large-scale. Sometimes dark, and other times angelic—always reminiscent of a vague adventure described in bits and pieces over an entire lifetime of creativity. In this regard Mahler’s music resembles a collection of folk tales or fairy stories—which were, not surprisingly, his greatest source of inspiration.

Seen from a broader perspective, though, his works are more than an assortment of thematically linked old lieder: it would be better explained as a story, in music, that takes place in a continuous universe.

Marvel and DC’s universes are two decent illustrations of this analogy. Both of these fictional settings in question are worlds similar to our own, featuring a regular cast of distinctive characters. Marvel has well-known figures like Captain America, the Fantastic Four, and Daredevil, for instance; DC has Batman, Superman, and the Joker. In many ways, though, Mahler’s musical universe is like the Pixar universe formulated and explained in fan theories: through a series of works, most connected and a few not, a thread can be traced. Familiar themes can be detected from piece to piece. And there’s a fascinating reason for it.

Mahler’s universe is based on the romanticized, dark, sometimes grotesque early Germany of the real world—the Germany of a generation or two before he was born. Instead of mutant superheroes and mastermind villains, his music features the familiar characters, ideas, and themes found in Des Knaben Wunderhorn (the Young Boy’s Magic Horn), a collection of German lieder and poetry from a colorful, centuries-old culture.

While it would be presumptuous to say that the man’s music solely reflected Wunderhorn poetry, all of his symphonies were in some way or another influenced by the collection. His life experiences, his philosophies, and his feelings for individuals around him were woven directly into his music; but one might say that Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano’s 1805 poetry collection was his music.

Many 19th century Germans and Austrians would have been familiar with the book. Perhaps as a result of its widespread popularity, several composers, including Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, and Schoenberg, wrote works based on selections. None of them impacted the musical scene quite as deeply as Mahler’s, the near entirety of whose creative output was set in the musical universe he created from (and for) Des Knaben Wunderhorn. 

The term “musical universe” is imperfect for a number of reasons, one of them being that it obscures the difference between actual storytelling and actual characters in poems set to music and the recurring musical themes, cadences, and instrumentations that Mahler uses again and again in his symphonies and songs. However, the term’s ambiguity is simultaneously useful—thanks to the intriguing connections between his song sets, symphonies, and Wunderhorn.

The Mahler universe began with his early Songs of a Wayfarer and Lieder and Gesänge, his first settings of Wunderhorn verse and Wunderhorn-inspired poetry; in 1892, he began the best-known set of Wunderhorn songs. From these sets of songs emerged, directly and indirectly, nine symphonies. His First Symphony blatantly references Songs of a Wayfarer; in the Resurrection Symphony, he quotes “Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt” almost measure for measure for a great deal of the second movement—and the fourth movement of the same symphony is a Wunderhorn setting in its entirety, the poignant “Urlicht”. “Ablösung im Sommer” and “Es sungen drei Engel” similarly found their way into the Third Symphony. My favorite of all, the Fourth Symphony, features the beautiful “Das Himmlische Leben”.

With the last chord of the Fourth Symphony ends the Wunderhorn influence, or so it is said. But I disagree: the first motif of Mahler’s Fifth, the famed trumpet call, is a quote from the Fourth. Although it has not been concluded (and it has rarely been discussed) whether or not the quote was intentional, the fact remains that Wunderhorn’s impact was scarcely over. For instance, in the Fifth he hints at two Wunderhorn songs he was working on at the time, “Der Tamboursg’sell” and “Revelge,” two militaristic pieces with dark subjects. Mahler continued to quote and imitate his earlier works until the end.

Mahler’s works are placed into categories: Early, Wunderhorn, Middle, and Late. But  I would argue that “the Wunderhorn years” never properly ended—just as Pixar fans argue that Cars, Toy Story, and Monsters Inc. exist in the same chronology. The connection may be harder to trace, but it persists—and you can find it simply by listening to Mahler’s universe.

Insanity, Part 1

This year my favorite Radio Station suddenly decided to drop what they had been doing and begin a whole new set of music. I wrote them an e-mail to ask why they had made the change. They said that they made the change to Praise and Worship so that they would minister to the majority of their listeners. While talking to Mom about this, somehow I lost track of the conversation and began to talk about something completely different: our inability to change.

I’m not sure how we got on that track. Maybe it’s because the e-mail didn’t show any signs of changing direction. I understand. We can’t expect a radio station to simply change course because one person doesn’t like what they’re doing. That’s to be expected. Now if everyone listening suddenly decided they didn’t like the new music and protested, and the station still wouldn’t change, that would be a problem. Why, that station would be just like Americans today!

We have a problem in our day and age with making our minors absolutes and our absolutes minors. We stand firm on our nothings while making concessions for our everythings. How is it that we can be so protective of our preferences, but so lenient with our laws? We pass laws protecting our interests but let people strip away our rights.

We need to wake up, people. This is getting pretty insane.

I’m not saying that stubbornness is good or bad, because it is both. When my brother stubbornly keeps his little brother from pulling away from him and running into the road, his stubbornness is invaluable. When little brother just as stubbornly insists on his way, his stubbornness is sinful. The difference between young adult and young child couldn’t be more clear. The child was being stubborn with something he could afford to lose, that is, his right to run into the road. The young man was being stubborn with something he could not afford to lose, that is, his little brother’s life.

There seem to be many more toddlers than young men in this world when it comes to decisions. Both boys were just as determined to win, and neither of them were going to give in. The younger one insisted that his brother let go of his hand. He wanted to run into the road! The older brother insisted that he would hold on to the hand until all the cars had gone down the street. So while the younger brother could have afforded to make concessions, the older one couldn’t. You can’t have a partially ran-over brother and still come out on top in the negotiations. Younger brother didn’t care much about the cars and the older brother’s convictions, but he was vehement about his right to play in the road.

There are many things that we can give in on. We can let other people have the last piece of pie, or our place in line, or the best job. We can also let go of arguments over, say, what C.S. Lewis was thinking in the Last Battle, or whether Rich Mullins wrote a certain song for a certain person. If we don’t have the actual written answer, these things are just speculation and shouldn’t be argued over. These are the places where we should be peacemakers. We can be meek and let others win arguments over silly things, like (don’t get angry at me here) having candles in a church service or baptism. These kinds of conflicts don’t really achieve anything or improve the relationship between the people involved. There’s no moral issue in question.

However, when something that is true, like the existence of God or the value of human life, is questioned or attacked, we cannot sit back and allow other people to spread lies about the laws of God. In my example of the two brothers, my teenage brother was acting under the orders from his parents (the law-givers) that running out into the road was wrong, and that there would be serious consequences for them if they did so. My younger brother knew of the law, but he didn’t care, and my older brother had to restrain him for his good and for the good of the family. In the same way, sometimes we must take action to restrain bad judgment and bad laws, especially if those bad laws will hurt the nation and the people involved.

Our world is steadily streaming towards a fall. Our country has made bad choice after bad choice, and many people have not tried to stop it. Lawmakers get away with insanity because the good people are bickering and the bad people don’t care. Our culture is decaying, and we can’t get over our parking space.

God gave us free will to use for the good of ourselves and others, not to be used in a muscle match to try and bully the person disagreeing with us. We need to use the stubbornness given us to proclaim the truth, and to defend it. We need to find our backbone and not be afraid when people disagree! Our earthly enemies don’t seem to mind the “shame-on-yous” we use to try and change them, and we might want to take their advice. If you believe in something strongly, you should fight for it, but if it’s something that’s a preference, try and make peace. When we forget the true priority of life, we get into really sticky messes, like the one we’re in now.

Emmanuel!

Isn’t it interesting that we can become so callous to the wonderful?

That’s a bizarre thing to say, I realize, but by this time you’re probably used to my style. People who read me often probably skipped right over that statement, inadvertently proving it. We’re constantly bombarded by people who are trying to shock us. After some time we simply wander through life.

Christmas is a pretty good example of this. We hear Christmas music all the time and grow tired of it. We hear words and names and acknowledge them as part of the season, too busy to care about their meanings. One word that seems to have been stripped of its meaning is the word “Emmanuel”

Spelled with either an E or an I, the word Emmanuel means “God with us”. In a culture obsessed with people, it’s hard to understand the significance of such a bold and glorious promise. God had not dwelt with his people since before the time of the judges. God had been far off. He had given them his promise to be with them, but had also promised to hide his face if they turned away, which they did over and over. He gave his children second chances, and they spit in his face. For hundreds of years, God was silent.

But there were those who stayed faithful, and who studied the scriptures hoping for a sign of the coming Messiah, who would rescue them from their sin and misery. Imagine their joy as they read these words: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

Immanuel; God with Us! The messiah was coming one day, and he would dwell with them on earth! He would be able to interact with them in a way that had not been seen since the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve walked with God each day. Can you imagine the eagerness that possessed those who believed in this word? Can you taste their breathless joy?

Just because these verses are quoted around Christmastime doesn’t mean that they are exclusively Christmas property. Have a wonderful New Year, everyone! May you use the year to do wonderful and amazing things for God’s glory! But through it all, remember that God is With Us Forever! That is a reason to rejoice. Though my verse is clumsy, I hope that it brings you joy.

God with us! He promised
to never forsake.
God with us! His mercies
our hard hearts awake.
God with us! He’s coming!
Lift your praises high!
God with us! Forever!
He who came to die!

God with us! His praises
shall never now end.
God with us! He calls us,
our savior and friend.
God with us! He’s coming!
God here on earth!
God with us! Forever!
Rejoice at Christ’s birth!

God with us! He’s coming
to bring us all peace.
God with us! His kingdom
shall never, ever cease.
God with us! He’s here now!
From heaven’s high throne
God with us! O, Praise him!
He’ll soon bring us home!