Saturday 30 March 2024

Mostly Unnoticed

The Life of a Day

Like people or dogs, each day is unique and has
its own personality quirks which can easily be seen
if you look closely. But there are so few days as
compared to people, not to mention dogs, that it
would be surprising if a day were not a hundred
times more interesting than most people. But
usually they just pass, mostly unnoticed, unless
they are wildly nice, like autumn ones full of red
maple trees and hazy sunlight, or if they are grimly
awful ones in a winter blizzard that kills the lost
traveler and bunches of cattle. For some reason

14 March 2024
we like to see days pass, even though most of us
claim we don’t want to reach our last one for a
long time. We examine each day before us with
barely a glance and say, no, this isn’t one I’ve been
looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for
the next, when, we are convinced, our lives will
start for real. Meanwhile, this day is going by per-
fectly well-adjusted, as some days are, with the
right amounts of sunlight and shade, and a light
breeze scented with a perfume made from the
mixture of fallen apples, corn stubble, dry oak
leaves, and the faint odor of last night’s meander-
ing skunk.

—Tom Hennen, source; read in Good Poems, edited by Garrison Keillor (New York, 2003), p. 32.

Friday 29 March 2024

We need feet. And shoes.

My Goals for 2024 include participating in three reading challenges: books in translation, epistolary fiction, and historical fiction, with the aim of writing two posts about what I read. Here is my first post!

It took two tries for me to finish The Snail on the Slope by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. My aborted first effort ended when I had to return the book before I finished it, as a consequence of moving to the Netherlands. My new public library was able to purchase a copy and I started again from the beginning and finished it in late February.

[Digression: some advice for users of the public library system in Utrecht. If you are very impatient to get your hands on a book, and it is available at other public libraries in the Netherlands, and you are able to afford a surcharge, consider paying 5€ to order it by interlibrary loan. Purchase suggestions have the advantage of being free but might take five or six months to arrive.]

My interest in the Strugatskys began six or seven years ago when an acquaintance raved about Alexsei German's 2013 film Hard to be a God. To illustrate his point, he showed a clip in which the main character, Don Rumata, sits in a filthy medieval hall among the ruins of a feast and plays the blues on a makeshift clarinet. I was deeply intrigued but never got around to watching the film.

A few years later, I realised that the film was based on a book, and stumbled on a copy of Hard to Be a God the book at the library. It was one of my favourite books I read in 2021, and remains among my favourite works of science fiction. It's absorbing and violent and weird and beautiful and haunting, and asks unanswerable questions about suffering and empathy, scholarly neutrality, and human capacity for change. I read the translation by Olena Bormashenko, published by Gollancz in their SciFi masterworks series. Weirdly, Gollancz does not list Bormashenko's name anywhere on their website--if you search for her there, there are no results. The websites of all the major book retailers follow suit. I was only able to check this detail by getting my copy off my shelf and looking at the title page.,1000_QL80_.jpg
The Snail on the Slope by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

I stress this point because, while I am 99.9% sure that I did in fact read Olena Bormashenko's translation of The Snail on the Slope, the book page on the Gollancz's website does not mention her, and hence neither do webpages anywhere else. I returned the book to the library so I can't actually check the title page. In the United States, Bormashenko's translation was published by Chicago Review Press, and her name is on the front cover, and included where this book is sold or listed in catalogues. So it is perfectly possible! I really dislike that U.K. edition hides the translator's name, especially since Bormashenko has such interesting things to say about the importance of the Strugatskys, their place in the science fiction genre, and the process of translating their work.

I don't read Russian, so here end my attempts to comment on the fact that this book is a translation. On to the book itself!

Whoever wrote the back cover did an excellent job of introducing the book, so I will quote this in full:


Peretz spends his days navigating the bureaucracy of the Administration, the institute tasked with governing the Forest below. Except no one ever seems to go there, and his attempts only trap him further within the workings of this strange organisation.


Candide cannot remember how he got to the Forest, and he is certain he belongs somewhere else. Determined to escape, he finds that all paths lead him round strange bends and into encounters with bizarre creatures.


This classic SF novel sees Boris and Arkady Strugatsky meditate on how little man can understand of the wider world, and in doing so produce one of the great literary works to come out of Soviet Russia.

Do not read this book if you are in the mood for something that makes sense. Do not read this book if you are in the mood for certainties. Do not read this book if you want to be convinced that people are basically good at heart.

Do read this book if you feel like indulging in a wild, trippy, fever dream of a book. Do read this book if you have ever dealt with an insane, arcane, contradictory bureaucracy that seems to invent new tasks and rules and paperwork faster than you can keep with the old ones and it would comfort you to watch fictional characters deal with something similar. People who work in higher education may want to read this book as a form of catharsis. Do read this book if you enjoy stories where "nothing really happens". (Not strictly true of this book at all, but the story-shape of The Snail on the Slope is definitely more of a spiral or a labyrinth than a straight line.) Do read this book if you are the sort of person who enjoys Tolstoy's digressions about the nature of history or Victor Hugo exhaustively detailing the Paris sewer system.

One thing I noticed reading English translations of Andrzej Sapkowski, and that I've found similar in reading the Strugatskys so far, is that the pace of the narrative feels much more meditative and expansive than Anglophone sci-fi and fantasy writing--even though the stories contain a similar level of eventfulness. Things keep coming and they don't stop coming, but the way events are introduced, and the way that characters ruminate on and respond to them, feels gorgeously and expansively slow. 

One of my favourite passages of this nature occurs fairly early in the book when Peretz contemplates books on a bookshelf.

Don't just stand there, he told the books. Slackers! Is that what you were written for? Go on, report to me--how's the sowing progressing, how much have you sown? How much that's good, kind, eternal? And what are the prospects for the harvest? And most important, what has already sprouted? You're quiet...Take you, what do I call you, yes you, the two-volume tome! How many people have read you? And how many have understood you? I really love you, old thing, you're a kind and honest friend. You've never yelled, never bragged, never beat your chest. Yes, you're kind and honest. And those who read you also become kind and honest. Even if only for a time. Even if only with themselves...

But you know, some people believe that we don't particularly need kindness and honesty to move forward. We need feet. And shoes. And even unwashed feet and unpolished shoes will do...Progress may turn out to be completely indifferent to the notions of kindness and honesty, just like it has been indifferent to them thus far. ~ The Snail on the Slope, Arkady and Boris Strugasky, translated by Olena Bormashenko (London, 2019), p. 51

I couldn't get this passage out of my head after I first read it. "We need feet. And shoes." is well on its way to becoming a phrase I quote to myself when faced with particular views of what the Strugatskys call progress. Structurally and thematically, there is a lot about this book I know I missed: I haven't even mentioned the novel's female characters, or anything at all about the other viewpoint character, Candide. This is a book I know I will reread at some point. I wonder what I will notice then?

A treat of the Gollancz edition is the afterword by Boris Strugatsky, which explains the genesis of the novel and its complicated road to publication. Glancing at other reviews, it seems that some people recommend reading the afterword first to prepare for what lies ahead. I don't think it's necessary, but it's fun, when you've finished the book and are sitting there, shaking your head and swearing softly, to get a peek behind the magicians' curtain. 

Further Reading

In searching for information about the translator of Snail on the Slope, I discovered a brilliant book chapter by sociolingustics professor and sci-fi writer R.B. Lemberg, which explores the nuances of translating gender and gendered language from Russian into English. Highly, highly recommended.
Lemberg, R.B. (2021). Ungendering the English Translation of the Strugatskys’ The Snail on the Slope. In: Campbell, I. (eds) Science Fiction in Translation. Studies in Global Science Fiction. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. . This is behind a paywall but Lemberg published an open-access article about masculinities in the Snail on the Slope which can be read here.
Lemberg's website says that they are working on a book about--let me quote to get this right--"translating gender in the works of the brothers Strugatsky and Ursula K. Le Guin". Making a note here to keep an eye out for this book when it comes out--it sounds great!

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Learning New Words with Lymond: A is for Azulejos

In December I began rereading the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett. This series of six novels follows the career and (mis)adventures of their eponymous character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, a sixteenth century Scottish nobleman "of crooked felicities and murderous talents, possessed of a scholar's erudition and a tongue as wicked as rapier. In The Game of Kings, this extraordinary antihero returns to the country that has outlawed him--to redeem his reputation at risk of his life," as the back cover of my copy has it. (I own used copies of the 1997 American reprint for Vintage Books.),1000_QL80_.jpg
The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

I love these books. I love these books so deeply I can hardly bear to write about them, because whatever I say will inevitably fail to convey everything I love about the experience of reading them: the dense layers of historical and mythological and literary allusion; the sheer baroque opulence of their use of language; the intricacy of the plots; the deepest imperial purple of their melodrama; the depth and variety of the characters; their wicked, subtle humor; and the way they make me feel. Putting it this way, if "when bad things happen to good characters" is your idea of laissez les bons temps roule as a reader--and it often is mine--you may enjoy Dunnett. I feel absolutely evangelical about these books--I want them to reach everyone who would love them and I want them to be loved by everyone they reach.

Welcome to Learning New Words with Lymond, a series of posts in which I will blog about re-reading the Lymond Chronicles focusing on Dunnett's language and vocabulary. In my reread of the Game of Kings, I made a note of words or references I wanted to look up in the dictionary or encyclopedia and put them in alphabetical order. I hope these posts will function as my own personal Dunnett Dictionary, a way to more deeply appreciate her writing through an in-depth look at the language she uses.

We begin with words beginning with the letter 'a'...


It's a sad world, and the candle is going, so unless like Al-Mokanna you can cause moons to issue from our well, we are destined to sorry together in the dark. (The Game of Kings, p. 352)

Al-Mokanna is a variant spelling of al-Muqannaʿ (“the veiled one”), an eighth-century messianic prophet in Sogdia. He was the leader of syncretic religious movement that blended Islam with other religious traditions including perhaps Buddhism. He and his followers, the Mubayyiḍah, resisted the Abassid caliphate for fourteen years. In the eyes of his followers, he had the power to perform miracles, including making a moon rise and set at his command; Islamic sources attributed this to an illusion involving quicksilver and a well, or an illusion crafted with mirrors, lights, and water. How Lymond (and his author) knew this story, I cannot say. 

Incidentally, the use of the word sorry here--"to sorry together"--is not a typo, but a use of the word sorry as a verb meaning "to sorrow" that comes from Old English.

Further Reading

Here are two open access resources if the above has piqued your interest.

Adam Ali, "Al-Muqanna‘: The Veiled Prophet of Transoxiana",, 2022 available at

Crone, Patricia “Moqanna," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at 


Plump clouds like amoretti hung in a blue sky; shining rooks cawed among shining leaves and an otter with a half-eaten fish shivered the bog orchis with his shoulder as he passed. (The Game of Kings, p. 360

Not cookies, but a very old word for cupids. (OED). 


And here's his father, worried yellow in case the poor creature scandalizes the nation and promotes an international incident anent the Buccleuch family. (The Game of Kings, p. 165)

A preposition, coming from Old English and used in Scottish, Irish, and regional English dialects (especially northern). Has an amazing variety of meanings, but the one that makes the most sense here is "with reference to, in relation to; regarding, concerning, about", used in Scottish legal writing from the fourteenth century onwards. OED


No appointment with Apollyon. (The Game of Kings, p. 539)

This one went on my list because, although I've seen it before, I wanted to look up its meaning and origins. Apollyon comes to English from Latin via the Greek word ἀπολλύων ("destroying"); to quote the dictionary, "The destroyer, a name given to the Devil." OED See also Revelation 9:11. I would swear "an appointment with apollyon" is an idiom, but none of the free dictionaries of sayings on the internet yield results.


The Dowager reached Ballaggan on the first of August, carying the date in her breast like an aposteme. (The Game of Kings, p. 484)

This is a medieval and early modern word for a large and severe abscess. OED. Dunnet may have conciously or unconciously recalled a line from a poem "Of the Progress of the Soul: The Second Anniversary" by John Donne ("a dangerous Apostem in thy brest").


Other than apologizing for not being Asmodeus, what can I do? (The Game of Kings, p. 339)

Again, I was vaguely familiar with this name, but wanted the pleasure of looking up exactly what it means. Asmodeus is a character from the Book of Tobit, a wicked angel who kept murdering the husbands of a woman named Sara until the prophet Tobit exorcised him and drove him into Egypt. See Elspeth Morrison, The Dorothy Dunnett Companion (New York, 2001), p. 28.


It made him feel uneasy, the prey of dark and atavistic caprice. (The Game of Kings, p. 459)

I've seen this used as an adjective modifying the word greed, but wanted to look up what it means. The dictionary helpfully says, "Of or pertaining to atavism; atavic"; the latter word means "of or pertaining to a remote ancestor." OED

In other words, atavistic is used as a fancy synonym for primal.


"My pretty atous," he said, and admired them, his broad fingers spread across the painted backs. (The Game of Kings, p. 534)

Surprisingly, no joy from the OED, and it was singularly hard to convince the Google algorithm that I was in fact searching for a real word and not misspelling the word autos. Pulling together the French Wikipedia entry on tarot français; this phenomenal post on the Tarot History Forum attempting to trace the etymology of the word tarot; and the board game manuals wiki on "Tarot, tarock and tarocchi games", this is either simply the French word for tarot cards (and the game of tarot as whole); or, as seems more likely, a set of twenty one numbered cards in the total deck; their numbers correspond to their value, with one being weakest and twenty-one being strongest. If I think too hard about how much research went into writing the scenes where Will Scott and Thomas Palmer play tarocco, I might need to lie down on the floor for awhile.


I have licked you like the cow Audhumbla from the salt of your atrocious upbringing and am watching the outcome with fearful joy. (The Game of Kings, p. 350)

No joy from Oxford Reference or the OED, but there is a Wikipedia entry. Auðumbla is a character from Norse mythology, mentioned in the Prose Edda. She is the primordial cow who fed the frost giant Ymir with her milk and licked away salt from the rocks to reveal Búri, grandfather of Odin and other gods.  Auðumbla is a deeply obscure character--she only appears in the Prose Edda, of which only seven manuscripts survive today. I wonder how Lymond knows of her, let alone thinks of this simile.


No rushes covered the floors: these were set with Spanish azulejos and covered with rugs from Turkey and the Levant. (The Game of Kings, p. 124)

Mirabile dictu, the (online) Oxford English dictionary has an error. The OED entry for azulejos reads "a kind of Dutch glazed tile painted in colours" and cites a book from 1845 as the earliest use of the word. But in the Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance we read,

"Azulejo, The Spanish and Portuguese name (from Arabic al-zulayj, ‘the tile’) for a glazed polychrome tile used in Moorish architecture for exterior and interior walls and for floors. The tiles were typically about 15 centimetres (6 inches) square and brightly coloured, sometimes with geometrical patterns. The reflective surface of azulejos caught the sun, and in Spanish gardens and Portuguese gardens they were used to reflect water. After the reconquista the manufacturing of azulejos continued, often in mudéjar designs." (Campbell, G, "Azulejo," The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance (Oxford, 2003), Available from

Hey, I'd have those in my house, they sound gorgeous. The fact that the character, Dame Catherine Hunter, who owns the house being described, has azulejos installed and then piles luxury carpets on top of them, tell us something about who she is and who she wants to be.

A Note on Links

Through my university, I'm incredibly lucky to have access to the Oxford English Dictionary, and indeed the entire Oxford Reference series of dictionaries and encyclopedias. It is a principle of this blog to try to use and link to sources that anyone can access, but the OED has features--like the ability to explore the etymology, frequency, history of use, and meanings of words, that free online dictionaries simply don't have. My plan is to quote relevant bits of entries, and to include open access links wherever possible, so that  anyone who wants to do so can geek out with me, paywalls be damned.

Thursday 21 March 2024

New Recipes of Shorter Days

It's so good to have the longer days coming back again! Happy Spring to all in this hemisphere.

Here are the new-to-me recipes that I've tried over the course of the winter. Soup and Christmas cookies seem to be a noticeable theme. Of the recipes below, the one I tried to recreate from memory a few months later was Ali Slagle warm dinner salad of broccoli with cheddar and dates. (For a substantial and delicious vegetarian lunch or dinner salad, I'm also a huge fan of Erin French's Fried Potato and Warm Lentil Salad.) And I can see myself making the Pork and Sauerkraut with Barley every few years from here on out; it was delicious and very, very easy in the slow cooker, and made for tasty and long-lasting leftovers.

I'm looking forward to discovering and experiencing the spring and summer food cultures of the Netherlands. I learned today from colleagues that the city of Utrecht is surrounded by fruit farms, where you can buy or pick delicious strawberries, so that will be fun to discover as the season turns!


  • Simple black bean chili, from Smitten Kitchen Keepers by Deb Perlman
  • Pasta and Lentil Soup from 12 Months of Monastery Soups by Brother Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette
  • Spicy, Saucy Sichuan mushroom chow men, from Stir Crazy by Ching-He Huang
  • Dutch Pea Soup from Cooking from Quilt Country by Marcia Adams
  • Risotto with Spinach, Raisins, and Pine Nuts from World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey


  • Murghi ka keema (ground turkey with green beans), Madhur Jaffrey’s quick and easy Indian cooking
  • Haselnuß Kipferl, Advent by Anja Dunk
  • Technicolor Cookies, Samantha Seneviratne, New York Times
  • Neapolitan Cookies, Sue Li, New York Times
  • Ideal sweet potatoes with buttered nuts, I dream of dinner by Ali Slage
  • Broccoli bits with cheddar and dates, from I dream of dinner by Ali Slagle


  • Banana oat cakes from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham
  • Paprikasoep verspakket Albert Hein 
  • Pav Bhaji from Masala by Malika Basu
  • Spiced vegetable soup from Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour 


  • Ginger Scallion Hokkien Noodles from the Woks of Life
  • Chicken Chili from Smitten Kitchen
  • Methodist Macaroni and Cheese, from Heartland by Marcia Adams  
  • Dumplings from Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown


  • Estonian Pork and Sauerkraut with Barley from Heartland by Marcia Adams
  • Fried Potato and Warm Lentil Salad from The Lost Kitchen by Erin French

Saturday 17 February 2024

Utrecht Bucket List

When I left my previous job, one of my leaving gifts was a guidebook, Utrecht: Sights and Secrets of Holland's Smartest City by Annika Redhed. It's a wonderful book, written by a local, which offers a wry a delightful overview of some of the best sights and experiences of the city. I highly recommend buying or borrowing a copy to anyone who is planning a visit here.
When I started reading my copy, I added a page flag every time I found something I would like to experience or explore. Four months later, when I finished, my copy bristled with colourful slips of paper! Here is my list of all the things I flagged. Many thanks to my lovely University of Lincoln library colleagues for their marvelous gift. 

An excellent guidebook
Anything in bold is something I have explored in my first five months here and would personally recommend to tourists or visitors.

Breweries, Cafes, and Restaurants


  • Domtoren (and all its souveniers, including candles and cake molds). 
  • Domkirk. Especially recommended on a Saturday afternoon, when there are lovely free concerts. The Night of Light is also incredibly beautiful.
  • Sint Willibrordkerk (because it's a fancy nineteenth century church, and they can be fun to see)


  • fresh stroopwafels


  • city tours in English, Saturdays and Sundays at noon, starting underneath the Domtoren
  • ice skating rink in De Neude, which appears before Christmas (p. 98)
  • Open tuinen dag--will be Saturday, 29 June 2024. A day when a day pass gets access to private gardens in the city centre.
  • Sint Maarten--events include a market the weekend before the saint's festival (11 November), a parade, and singing
  • Singelloop, a 10k run. Took place on 1 October in 2023
  • Trajectum Lumen, a tour of all the light art in Utrecht, taking place on Saturday evenings; seems to end in March of this year; there is also an app for self-guided tours
  • Utrecht Marathon, 19 May 2024


  •  Lapjesmarkt, for fabric, buttons, and sewing stuff; Breedstraat (Saturday mornings)
  • Vredenburg Square, for food (Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday)


  • Hoge Woerd, an archaeological museum, including a rebuilt Roman fortress with a very old boat on display
    Museum Catharijneconvent, and its collection of medieval and religious art
  • Museum Speelkok, the museum of music boxes and self-playing instruments

Parks and Gardens

  • Botanic Gardens, Uithof, The branch near the University is lovely and easily reachable by bus or bike. It has a wonderful cafe that is a lovely place to sit on a sunny day. Its city-centre branch near the University Museum sounds lovely too, but I haven't been there yet.
  • City Garden, which can be entered via a blue gate on Springstraat (pp. 102-3)
  • Landgoed Amelisweerd en Rhijnauwen, Finding lovely spaces to be outside is important in a city, and this one looks lovely
  • Maarseveense, another park that sounds very lovely
  • Máximapark, a large and beautiful park in the outer city, easily accessible from the centre by bus. This where the Utrecht parkrun takes place every Saturday morning.


  • Achter Sint Pieter, where there is a seventeenth century house with a doorbell in the shape of a pretzel, built by Everard Meyster
  • Bakkerbrug, a bridge with decorated street lanterns and flower stalls
  • Bartholomeus Gasthuis, a medieval foundation which became a home for the elderly; guided tours are offered on Sunday mornings (p. 103)
  • Molen de Ster, a rebuilt historic wind-powered sawmill
  • Paushuize, the palatial house of the only Dutch pope, who never got to live in it (some of the rooms are, according to the guidebook, open for tours on Saturdays, pp. 86-7)

To Stay

Further Reading

  • Secrets of Utrecht Facebook page (seems to have stopped updating regularly in 2020)
  • The back of the book contains useful Dutch vocabulary for tourists. Ik heb en kikker ingeslikt somehow slipped into the vocabulary list, which is excellent, and reminds me of the fact that the first Spanish phrase one of my postgrad housemates taught us was how to say "my hovercraft is full of eels". You never know when you'll need to prepare absurdities to meet the absurd?

Saturday 3 February 2024

Who I'm Rooting for at the US Olympic Team Trials Marathon

Today is a very special day for fans of American distance running--3 February is the day of the US Olympic Team Trials Marathon, a race which earns the top three finishers in the women's category and (probably) the top three finishers in the men's category a place on Team USA. To be in the race at all, women had to run a 2:37 marathon or a 1:12 half marathon; men needed a 2:18 marathon or a 1:03 half marathon.

Even though the ability to run these times is far, far, far out of my own experience or capacity, I draw a lot of inspiration from athletes who demonstrate persistence and longevity in the sport. While I wish everyone on the start line good health and good luck, here are some of the people I am particularly hoping have great races in Orlando!

Abdihakim 'Abdi' Abdirahman

There is a nonzero chance that this legendary runner will beat people who weren't able to walk in the year 2000, which was when he made his first appearance at the Olympic Games. He has made five (5!) straight Olympic Teams, in the 10,000 metres and marathon, and it is incredible to see him contending for a sixth.

Aliphine Tuliamuk 

Winner of the 2020 US Olympic Team Trials marathon, expert crocheter, mother of a three-year-old, and seemingly all-around good egg. Media coverage of her Trials victory was pretty bad and I really admire the grace and articulateness with which Tuliamuk has spoken up about the need for coverage to get better. Also, if you listen to running podcasts, her interviews are always really fun.

Ari Hendrix-Roach

Stories of people who dramatically lower their marathon times are always inspiring to me; the emphasis and care Ari Hendrix-Roach places on representing African-American and queer runners makes me admire her even more. Plus, she's a twin and she has a dog named Casanova.

Betsy Saina

While I haven't been following her career for very long, I loved listening to the interview she did on the Keeping Track podcast back at the beginning 2023. Saina has one of the fastest personal records of all the athletes in the women's field, and even though I don't have kids myself, seeing parents, especially parents of young children, excel at running is really inspiring to me.

Des Linden

She lives up to the motto "Keep Showing Up", she has one of the best pro runner Instagrams out there, and her podcast with Kara Goucher is hilarious. Oh, and she's qualified for four Olympic trials in the marathon, made the team twice, and been alternate once. I love following Des Linden's running career and I hope she has a splendid race today.

Emilio de la Torre and English Tomlinson

Aside from runners who display persistence and longevity in the sport, and parents (especially mothers) who are runners, you will always find me cheering for fast teachers, in honour of my twin sister, who teachers seventh grade and somehow has the courage and stamina to train for marathons, too. Hoping Emilio and English have races they're proud of and a movie day planned for Monday.

Molly Huddle

I first started listening to running podcasts in late 2019, which is when Huddle--with her co-hosts, Olympians Alysia Montano and Roisin McGettigan, started Keeping Track, a podcast about women's sports. I deeply admire her consistent advocacy for more and better coverage of women's sports and the length and success of her running career. Also, she's the parent of a young child, and lives and trains part-time in my home state of Rhode Island.

Nathan Martin 

The fastest Black marathoner born in the United States and someone who just seems to get better and better at running marathons. Also, he works as a substitute teacher and high school cross country coach, putting him on my list of fast educators to root for.

Noah Droddy 

Paradoxically, while I admire athletes like Abdi Abdirahman or Molly Huddle, whose careers demonstrate both longevity and success, the pro runners who I love following most are the ones who persist when things don't go well. Noah Droddy seems to have had pretty large helping of ups and downs in the sport, particularly in terms of injuries and struggles to get sponsorship. I admire the way he keeps going and going for it.

Rosa Moriello

The "not all heroes wear capes" award of the Trials should surely go to Rosa Moriello, who has raised over $8,000 for the Orlando Youth Alliance and used her Instagram to educate people about LGTBQ+ issues in Florida during her marathon build.

Stephanie Bruce

One of the challenges for pro runners these days seems to be the extent to which they are expected to balance the work of running with the need to have an A-plus, authentic, genuine, personal (but not too personal) social media presence. One of the many reasons I would not want to be in their line of work! Yesterday, I was reading John Scalzi's excellent reflections on selling out in creative industries, and it strikes me that a lot of what he says about "personal brand" applies to runners, especially those who make podcasts and videos or do a lot on social media. Steph Bruce seems to be a runner with a really solid handle on her personal brand--I mean that as a genuine compliment. Bruce seems to have found a way to do social media that works for her, builds a community, and inspires other people. She also seems, like John Scalzi, to have a really solid grasp on the business side of her profession and those skills, coupled with her incredible persistence, make me root for her.

Sunday 7 January 2024

A Triptych of Poems About Winter

"Stopping by the Woods on A Snowy Evening" might be one of the most famous English-language poems about winter. It's certainly one of the best known poems by Robert Frost (1874-1963). Reading Frost's complete poems over the holiday break, I was delighted to encounter poems about winter which were new to me. In honor of the snowstorm predicted for New England, here is a triptych of poems about winter.

Sunrise, 7 January 2023

Looking for a Sunset Bird in Winter

The west was getting out of gold,
The breath of air had died of cold,
When shoeing home across the white,
I thought I saw a bird alight.
In summer when I passed the place
I had to stop and lift my face;
A bird with an angelic gift
Was singing in it sweet and swift.
No bird was singing in it now.
A single leaf was on a bough,
And that was all there was to see
In going twice around the tree.
From my advantage on a hill
I judged that such a crystal chill
Was only adding frost to snow
As gilt to gold that wouldn’t show.
A brush had left a crooked stroke
Of what was either cloud or smoke
From north to south across the blue;
A piercing little star was through.

Male Golden-crowned Kinglet (Steve Burt, Flickr)

Wilful Homing

It is getting dark and time he drew to a house,
But the blizzard blinds him to any house ahead.
The storm gets down his neck in an icy souse
That sucks his breath like a wicked cat in bed.
The snow blows on him and off him, exerting force
Downward to make him sit astride a drift,
Imprint a saddle and calmly consider a course.
He peers out shrewdly into the thick and swift.
Since he means to come to a door he will come to a door,
Although so compromised of aim and rate
He may fumble wide of the knob a yard or more,
And to those concerned he may seem a little late.

Text from
Sunset, 20 December 2021

A Patch of Old Snow

There's a patch of old snow in a corner
    That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
    Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
     Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I’ve forgotten—
     If I ever read it.

Text from