Brazos Country Rambles and Notions 4

Readers with a taste for central Texas landscapes and curious quotations may enjoy my fourth video montage.  The format is the same as the three videos I made last summer, although here I essay a slightly longer introduction to the elfin art of landscape appreciation.

8 thoughts on “Brazos Country Rambles and Notions 4

  1. Thank you for another installment of your country adventures. I am glad to see Smetana make a few appearances, though I was disappointed that you didn’t pay homage to the don with “elven” instead of “elfin.” I wasn’t familiar with the word “slough” and had to look up its pronunciation. My favorite image was the pebble scene — quite beautiful, and there was a lot of competition. I also found the “complaining brooks” quite charming. One last note — the collapsed shed looks uncannily like large “urban art” sculptures that cities have placed in skyscraper-bordered plazas throughout the land. It should be moved to a block in Chi-town.

    • I’m glad you liked it. In addition to being quite beautiful, those high gravel deposits are interesting to think about. The pebbles are obviously river washed gravel that was polished an it rolled down the bed of the ancient Brazos. But they are now found on hilltops two hundred feet over today’s river, which means the ancestral river bed was higher than the highest points in todays landscape. Most of the pebbles are chert nodules removed when the great limestone beds west of Fort Worth were eroded in the early Eocene, but one occasionally finds pebbles of quartz. These started their journey in New Mexico more than six million years ago, when the headwaters of the Brazos were in the Rocky Mountains. I find it restful to think about such stones.

      Slough is an interesting word that denotes somewhat different features in different parts of the country. Where I was born in the upper Midwest, a slough is a hollow in the glaciated landscape that has no outlet, and therefore fills with water in wet weather. Here in the South, a slough is the abandoned channel of a meandering river. Like their northern counterparts, these rise and dwindle with the rain, and are often just bogs or mud holes. That’s the meaning of slough in Bunyan’s famous “Slough of Despondency.”

      I agree with your assessment of modern urban art, which Thomas Wolfe called “the turd in the plaza.” Like so much in this world of ours, it seems to be the product of people who are paid to say something but have nothing to say.

  2. Pingback: Brazos Country Rambles and Notions 4 | Reaction Times

  3. “Humans are not made to sit at computer terminals or travel by aeroplane; destiny intended something different for us. For too long now we have been estranged from the essential, which is the nomadic life: travelling on foot. A distinction must be made between hiking and travelling on foot. In today’s society – though it would be ridiculous to advocate travelling on foot for everyone to every possible destination – I personally would rather do the existentially essential things in my life on foot. If you live in England and your girlfriend is in Sicily, and it is clear that you want to marry her, then you should walk to Sicily to propose. For these things travel by car or aeroplane is not the right thing. The volume and depth and intensity of the world is something that only those on foot will ever experience.”

    Werner Herzog

    • That is a good quote. I know they tell us there is no escaping the cyborg future. Perhaps they are right. But those who choose to can play truant.

  4. Yes — they are not to be despised, but received with delight and astonishment — but the mighty landscapes and the night skies are not the sine qua non of wonder.

    “And it is utterly true that he who cannot find wonder, mystery, awe, the sense of a new world and an undiscovered realm in the places by the Gray’s Inn Road will never find those secrets elsewhere, not in the heart of Africa, not in the fabled hidden cities of Tibet. ‘The matter of our work is everywhere present,’ wrote the old alchemists, and that is the truth. All the wonders lie within a stone’s throw of King’s Cross Station.” — Arthur Machen, Things Near and Far.

    “No Man would find an abiding strangeness on the Moon unless he were the sort of man who could find it in his own back garden. ‘He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.'” — C. S. Lewis, “On Stories,” quoting Dr. Johnson quoting a Spanish proverb.

    “I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador any greater wildness than in some recess of Concord, i.e. than I import into it.” — Thoreau’s Journal 30 Aug. 1856

    • I think this relates to your earlier comment in that spectacular sights are necessary to capture the attention of a man hurtling through space at one hundred miles an hour. But then it is also true, as Dr. Johnson says, that the perception of beauty and wonder depends partly on the subject.

  5. Dear Prof. Smith,

    I finally got the chance to sit down and watch this latest edition of your series in this vein start-to-finish a little while ago. Allow me to express my appreciation for your work by way of quoting from a chapter of a book titled, The Life and Times of Matthew Fontaine Maury, Pathfinder of the Seas:

    The interest that, for the first time in the history of the world, men felt with regard to the advancement of knowledge of the Physical Geography of the Sea, was due in no small part to Maury’s own enthusiasm for the subject. His colleagues at the Depot of Charts and Instruments had witnessed it as he poured through the old ship’s logs back in 1842, and would soon catch the infection themselves. The great advancements gained on the subject between that year and publication of the first edition of Physical Geography of the Sea and its Meteorology was its own force upon the minds of seafaring men of the time, but it was lieutenant Maury’s infectious enthusiasm for the subject so evident in his paragraphs that would inspire men of the sea to, for perhaps the first time in their lives, truly appreciate the beauty of God’s creation all about them.

    Perhaps no better illustration of the profound impact Maury’s work would have on such men may be found than in a letter inscribed to him by one Captain Phinney of the American ship Gertrude. Captain Phinney had recently completed two passes over Maury’s southern routes, and had just arrived at port at Callao. From there he was to proceed to the Chincha Islands, where he would remain three months. After which he was to return to the United States, at which time he would be required to turn over his abstract logs of his voyages to lieutenant Maury at the Observatory. However, Captain Phinney knew that of all the sea routes sailors then traversed, the southern routes from which he had just arrived in Callao were the ones least traveled, and therefore those for which lieutenant Maury was receiving the least information. Given that Phinney would not arrive back in the United States for perhaps six months or longer, he thought it best to “avail myself of the present opportunity to forward to you abstracts of my two passages over your southern routes.” The logs were indeed forwarded by way of another ship bound to the United States, along with a thoughtful letter addressed to lieutenant Maury. Capt. Phinney writes,:

    I am happy to contribute my mite towards furnishing you with material to work out still farther toward perfection your great and glorious task, not only of pointing out the most speedy routes for ships to follow over the ocean, but also of teaching us sailors to look about us, and see by what wonderful manifestations of the wisdom and goodness of the great God we are continually surrounded.

    One is struck in these opening sentences of Captain Phinney’s letter by his own enthusiasm for the new science, and the “mite” of his own labor he was able to contribute to it. It is evident in these short passages that Captain Phinney considered the requirement for collecting and transmitting to Washington data for such an important work an honor and a privilege, and not a task to be dreaded or to be accomplished with an attitude of indifference. And in spite of the fact that ship’s captains such as Captain Phinney were only required to turn in their abstract logs upon return to the U.S., many of them would include thoughtful letters such as that of Captain Phinney’s, containing similar sentiments. Phinney’s letter continues:

    For myself I am free to confess that for many years I commanded a ship, and, although never insensible of the beauties of nature upon the sea or land, I yet feel that, until I took up your work, I had been traversing the ocean blindfolded. I did not think; I did not know the amazing and beautiful combination of all the works of Him whom you so beautifully term ‘the Great First Thought.

    Captain Finney’s confession is more or less typical of most men and women, who walk about “blindfolded” in their day-to-day lives. Never completely insensible to the natural world around them, of course, but barely taking time to observe the natural world, and really begin to understand how it all works together in all its parts and conditions, to the benefit of all. And this, indeed, was the desire of lieutenant Maury; that through his works and writings upon the subject, men would be inspired to make a closer inspection of the world around them, and to see in more vivid detail the sublime masterpiece of God’s creation. Captain Finney was one such man whose blindfold was removed by reading of Maury’s work. His letter continues, demonstrating the realization of an important goal of Maury’s work:

    I feel that aside from any pecuniary profit to myself from your labors, you have done me good as a man. You have taught me to look above, around, and beneath me, and recognize God’s hand in every element by which I am surrounded. I am grateful for this personal benefit. Your remarks on this subject, so frequently made in your work, cause in me a feeling of the greatest admiration, although my capacity to understand your beautiful theory is very limited.

    “Sentiments like these,” Maury wrote, “can not fail to meet with a hearty response from all good men, whether ashore or afloat.” Maury believed that the effects were reciprocal; that the sentiments contained in Capt. Finney’s letter had the effect of inspiring Maury himself to continue his great and glorious work and to see it to its conclusion.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.