Posts Categorized: From the Bookshelf

Ghosts of trees, not ghosts in trees

We know Clare has helped lots of animals in her life. Even the ones that passed away come back to visit her as ghosts. But has she helped any trees along the way? If so, where are their ghosts? Are they ungrateful? Are tree ghosts even a thing?

According to this guy they are. He has twenty years of experience as a ghost hunter. He knows the hidden world of the vagrants, and the vagrants say that tree ghosts are not only real, they’re malevolent. If they could only, you know, move around, this might be very scary.

This is what the people of leisure might learn, if they visited the haunts I visit; and they might learn more beside. They might learn of another world, a spirit world, such as is never alluded to in the pulpits, with which people in the poorest parts—people who are too poor to pay for beds—are forced to live in contact. Nights in the parks and commons have taught these vagrants more, a thousand times more, than they ever learned in Sunday or County Council Schools. They have seen sights—spirits in the form of man and of beast, of both and of neither—that have revealed to them how closely the other world borders on this, and to what close supervision the inhabitants of the other world subject some of us. They have learned, I say, what no priest or preacher would, or could, teach them, namely, that the hell of spirit-land lies on this earth, and that the worst of all punishments is that of the poor phantasms of the dead, that glides in and out the trees nocturnally, never meeting those it knew and loved, but ever encountering the most terrifying of the spirits that are hostile to man.

Our vagrants know, too, the power of these neutrarians, they know they can adopt any shape, and tempt and goad man on to the committal of any crime, however heinous. They have, moreover, acquired a further knowledge—a knowledge denied and scoffed at by the ministry of all Christian denominations—namely that all forms of animal and vegetable life, all forms of flora and fauna, pass into the superphysical, and live again.

I myself first learned of a tree ghost from an old tramp, who came and sat by my side on a seat on Clapham Common.

“Do I ever see anything strange here at night?” he repeated in answer to my question. “Yes, I do, at times, but what gives me the worst fright is a tree that I sometimes see close to the spot where that man was murdered some ten or twelve years ago. I never saw it before the murder, but a few nights afterwards, as I was passing the spot, I saw a peculiar glimmer of white, and, on getting a bit closer, I found, to my astonishment, that it was a tall, slender white thing with branches just like a tree, only it was not behaving like a tree. Although there was not a breath of wind, it kept lurching with a strange, creaking noise, and I felt it was watching me, watching me furtively, just as if it had eyes, and was bent on doing me all the harm it possibly could. I was so scared, I turned tail, and never ceased running till I had reached home.”

“Home!” I said.

“Yes, a clump of bushes near the ditch, where I always turn in of nights. It ain’t much of a home, to be sure, but it’s the only one I’ve got, and I can generally count on lying there undisturbed till the morning.”

I gave him a few coppers, and he blessed me as if I had given him a fortune.

Thomas Jefferson’s plexi-chronometer

The saxophone was a bit before Thomas Jefferson’s time. However, the third president of the United States played the violin very well. Some said he was one of the best of his day. Others said he had no more than a “gentleman’s proficiency”. Regardless, his interest in music was as vigorous as it was with every other human endeavor. In a letter to Francis Hopkinson, a delegate of New Jersey and designer of the first American flag** (see the note below), Jefferson goes into unnecessary detail describing an early metronome he wanted to modify and affix to a harpsichord:

Turning to your Encyclopédie, Arts et Metiers, tome 3, part 1, page 393, you will find mentioned an instrument, invented by a Monsieur Renaudin, for determining the true time of the musical movements, largo, adagio, &c. I went to see it. He showed me his first invention; the price of the machine was twenty-five guineas: then his second, which he had been able to make for about half that sum. Both of these had a mainspring and a balance-wheel, for their mover and regulator. The strokes are made by a small hammer. He then showed me his last, which is moved by a weight and regulated by a pendulum, and which cost only-two guineas and a half. It presents, in front, a dial-plate like that of a clock, on which are arranged, in a circle, the words largo, adagio, andante, allegro, presto. The circle is moreover divided into fifty-two equal degrees. Largo is at 1, adagio at 11, andante at 22, allegro at 36, and presto at 46. Turning the index to any one of these, the pendulum (which is a string, with a ball hanging to it) shortens or lengthens, so that one of its vibrations gives you a crochet for that movement. This instrument has been examined by the academy of music here, who were so well satisfied of its utility, that they have ordered all music which shall be printed here, in future, to have the movements numbered in correspondence with this plexi-chronometer. I need not tell you that the numbers between two movements, as between 22 and 36, give the quicker or slower degrees of the movements, such as the quick andante, or moderate allegro. The instrument is useful, but still it may be greatly simplified. I got him to make me one, and having fixed a pendulum vibrating seconds, I tried by that the vibrations of his pendulum, according to the several movements.

thomas jefferson's metronome clip 2

Every one, therefore, may make a chronometer adapted to his instrument.

For a harpsichord, the following occurs to me:

thomas jefferson's metronome clip 1In the wall of your chamber, over the instrument, drive five little brads, as, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, in the following manner. Take a string with a bob to it, of such length, as, that hung on No. 1, it shall vibrate fifty-two times in a minute. Then proceed by trial to drive No. 2, at such a distance, that drawing the loop of the string to that, the part remaining between 1 and the bob, shall vibrate sixty times in a minute. Fix the third for seventy vibrations, &c.; the cord always hanging over No. 1, as the centre of vibration. A person playing on the violin may fix this on his music-stand. A pendulum thrown into vibration will continue in motion long enough to give you the time of your piece. I have been thus particular, on the supposition that you would fix one of these simple things for yourself.

**Hopkinson requested that he be payed in “public wine” for his “Labours of Fancy”:

For these Services I have as yet made no Charge, nor received any Recompense. I now submit to your Honour’s Consideration, whether a Quarter Cask of the public Wine will be a proper & a reasonable Reward for these Labours of Fancy and a suitable Encouragement to future Exertions of a like Nature.

True friendship, for the virtuous dog

True friends?

Has Oscar found true friendship in his all-furry twin?

Aristotle might think so. He thought that true friendship can only exist between men of equal “goodness” (virtue). The affection you feel for a friend of this kind comes from an admiration of their virtue, and since your ability to recognize, admire and value their virtue comes from being equally virtuous yourself, the love of a true friend is a love of the self, a second self**:

“The truest kind of friendship is that which exists between good men, as we have said more than once. For it is agreed that what is good or pleasant absolutely is lovable and desirable absolutely, and what is good or pleasant for a particular person is lovable and desirable for that person.

But friendship between good men rests on both grounds – the good are good and pleasant absolutely, and good and pleasant to each other… In loving a friend men are loving their own good, as a good man benefits a person whose affection he wins. Each party to a friendship therefore promotes his own good and makes an equal return in goodwill and in the pleasure that he gives. There is a saying, ‘Amity is equality’, and this is most fully realized in the friendships between good men.

Friendship is essentially a partnership. Also a friend is a second self, so that our consciousness of a friend’s existence, when given reality by intercourse with him, makes us more fully conscious of our own existence.”


True friends.

**This quote is from a version of the Nicomachean Ethics called “Aristotle’s Ethics for English Readers” and seems to include a more colloquial translation differing from many others, particularly with the reference to the friend as a “second self” made explicit. For reference, here’s a more recent translation of the Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics translated by Joe Sachs, which – as a whole text – was intended to remain more faithful to the Greek and better suited to understanding the place of friendship in the structure of Aristotle’s metaphysics as a whole:

“Friendship, then, belongs most of all to good people, as has been said repeatedly; for it seems that what is loveable and preferable is what is simply good or pleasant, while what is loved and preferred by each person is what is good or pleasing to that person, and to a good person, a good person is that way on both counts.

Affection seems like a feeling, but friendship seems like an active condition, for affection is no less present for inanimate things, but loving in return involves choice, and choice comes from an active condition. And people wish for good things for those they love for those others’ own sake, not as a result of feeling but as a result of an active condition. And by loving the friend, they love what is good for themselves, for when a good person becomes a friend, he becomes good for the one to whom he is a friend. So each of them loves what is good for himself, and also gives back an equal amount in return in wishing as well as in what is pleasant; for it is said that ‘friendship is equal relationship,’ and this belongs most of all to the friendship of the good.”

Don’t open the moon room

Last week, something strange happened in Francine’s bathroom. Unbeknownst to our heroes, a moonbeam came in through the bathroom window to rustle the bale of Oscar’s fur left in the tub. We’ll find out what happens this week, but it’s no secret that people have always thought of moonlight as the cause of many ills.

Maybe that explains why Lassie’s foster-mother kept the moon, the stars and the sun trapped in closets. Today’s “From the Bookshelf” is from a beautifully illustrated book of Norse folk tales called East of the Sun and West of the Moon. The whole book is worth a read.

out popped the sunNow, when the Lassie had grown to be big enough to know right and wrong, her Foster-mother got ready to go on a journey.

“You have my leave,” she said, “to go all over the house, except those rooms which I shew you;” and when she had said that, away she went.

But the Lassie could not forbear just to open one of the doors a little bit, when—Pop! out flew a Star.

When her Foster-mother came back, she was very vexed to find that the star had flown out, and she got very angry with her Foster-daughter, and threatened to send her away; but the child cried and begged so hard that she got leave to stay.

Now, after a while, the Foster-mother had to go on another journey; and, before she went, she forbade the Lassie to go into those two rooms into which she had never been. She promised to beware; but when she was left alone, she began to think and to wonder what there could be in the second room, and at last she could not help setting the door a little ajar, just to peep in, when—Pop! out flew the Moon.

When her Foster-mother came home and found the moon let out, she was very downcast, and said to the Lassie she must go away, she could not stay with her any longer. But the Lassie wept so bitterly, and prayed so heartily for forgiveness, that this time, too, she got leave to stay.

Some time after, the Foster-mother had to go away again, and she charged the Lassie, who by this time was half grown up, most earnestly that she mustn’t try to go into, or to peep into, the third room. But when her Foster-mother had been gone some time, and the Lassie was weary of walking about alone, all at once she thought, “Dear me, what fun it would be just to peep a little into that third room.” Then she thought she mustn’t do it for her Foster-mother’s sake; but when the bad thought came the second time she could hold out no longer; come what might, she must and would look into the room; so she just opened the door a tiny bit, when—POP! out flew the Sun.

But when her Foster-mother came back and saw that the sun had flown away, she was cut to the heart, and said, “Now, there was no help for it, the Lassie must and should go away; she couldn’t hear of her staying 69 any longer.” Now the Lassie cried her eyes out, and begged and prayed so prettily; but it was all no good.

“Nay! but I must punish you!” said her Foster-mother; “but you may have your choice, either to be the loveliest woman in the world, and not to be able to speak, or to keep your speech, and to be the ugliest of all women; but away from me you must go.”

And the Lassie said, “I would sooner be lovely.” So she became all at once wondrous fair; but from that day forth she was dumb.

Master Wiggles is ready for his primming.

Prepare the parlor.

With Oscar’s Big Haircut this week, we dug up some advice for Francine from fancy dog groomers in the Victorian era.

book of the dog cover

From Chapter III, Grooming:

A great deal in a dog’s appearance depends upon whether his owner has him well groomed or not… Grooming, to be effective, must be constant and thorough. A casual overhauling with a dirty brush once in two or three months does not at all represent our views on the subject… Conspicuous amongst inventions which are really serviceable is the hair-glove, and no breeder of smooth-coated dogs should be without some of these in his kennel. In the case of the long-haired varieties a coarse comb and dandy-brush are about all that are necessary. Very hard brushes, as a rule, are best avoided; they may do no harm to a thoroughly healthy coat, but the skin even of a healthy dog is peculiarly susceptible of irritation, and any undue stimulus may start him scratching till he is almost raw. A hard brush may therefore inflame some pustule on the skin, and before the injury is discovered a dog may have disfigured himself for months to come. A hard short-bristled brush, if constantly used, is also liable to remove more hair than is necessary, and thereby injures the dog’s appearance.

book of the dog sheepdog

Many dogs are very fidgety when they are being groomed, and throw themselves about in a manner which renders the operation a tedious one. There is no remedy for this but patience, and after a dog once becomes accustomed to his morning’s grooming, he soon gets to like it, and seems to look forward to the luxury. It is always desirable to chain him up when grooming is carried on, in case he breaks away and gets into mischief. The modus operandi is very simple, but we have always found it best to let the dog lie down, and do as much of his legs as possible first. The reason of this is that during the grooming of his legs a dog very often lies down and fidgets about, and in this way gets his coat all covered with sawdust or whatever may be laid on the floor of the kennel. This is not so annoying when his back and sides have yet to be groomed, and he can return to his bench neat and tidy. The legs should be thoroughly rubbed with the brush or hair-glove, care being taken to pass the hand in the direction the coat runs, or instead of benefiting the coat it will be injured by being made rougher than it was before. Attention should then be directed to the head and ears; the back must next be done, and the proceedings terminate by brushing out the tail. Under ordinary circumstances the hair-glove is sufficient for smooth-coated dogs, but its bristles are neither long nor stout enough to penetrate the jackets of the long-haired varieties’ When the latter have to be dealt with a dandy-brush will usually suffice, the comb only being resorted to when the coat is knotted and tangled up. In using the comb the operator should be as gentle as he can, for if he drags tufts of hair out he hurts the dog and injures his appearance. A thorough combing-out is an excellent practice before a dog is washed, as it helps to remove all superfluous hairs, but when the coat is wet it is always more or less tangled, and should not be combed. As we have said before, systematic grooming is at the bottom of many a dog’s blooming condition, and no morning should go by without strict attention being paid to his toilet. Careful grooming also assists greatly in the destruction of fleas and other vermin, and renders the coat sweet and clean.

We may remark that these hints on grooming refer solely to general management, and no allusion is made here to any special attention show dogs may require in the course of their preparation for exhibition, as such will be fully gone into in the chapter on exhibiting. A good rub over with a large dry chamois leather after the brushing out is completed is an excellent termination to the grooming, but in ordinary cases is not so essential as the brush or hair-glove.

Hedge maze before maize maze

Plan_du_Labyrinthe_de_VersaillesThe first corn maze didn’t come along until the late twentieth century, but it was inspired by European hedge mazes, which date back centuries. The Labyrinth of Versailles was one of the more famous and elaborate of these hedge mazes, featuring elaborate sculptures and fountains modeled after selections from Aesop’s Fables. Charles Perrault’s Labyrinte de Versailles described the labyrinth in detail. It was first printed in 1675 and was eventually translated into English about a century later. In 1778, Louis XVI replaced the garden with a arboretum.

Of particular interest, in reference to our most recent chapter of Fretter’s Creek, is the description of the entrance. The thread in the maze trick is never straightforward, is it? Poor Henry.

On each side of the entrance into this Labyrinth, which is a very grand and magnificent portal, there stand two brazen Statues, painted in the most elegant manner, after the life, each on a pedestal of rock work: One is the grotesque figure of old Æsop, and the other the soft image of the young Son of Venus [cupid]: The former holds a scroll of paper in his hand; the latter, on the other side, stands in a most agreeable attitude, with his arm extended, and a large ball of of silk between his fingers.

Inscribed at the entrance was a dialog between “old Æsop” and cupid.

Cupid, with the ball of thread in hand: “Yes, I can now close my eyes and laugh: with this thread I’ll find my way.”

Aesop: “Love, that slender thread might get you lost: the slightest shock could break it.”

Perrault summarizes the moral for us:

The lesson of instruction to be drawn from this fiction is this: That tho’ the God of Love is too apt to involve mankind into a thousand petty broils and perplexities, yet he has the secret art of extricating them out of the maze they are thus led into, when he is accompanied by Prudence, to the practice whereof he is here directed by the sage Fables of Æsop.

Hungry boars in the Great Smoky Mountains

For our first “From the Bookshelf” feature, an excerpt from a study of European boars in the Great Smoky Mountains conducted by the NPS in the 1970’s. If you’re interested, I’ve provided some links to the species of boar treats they found.


Acorns of several species were the major portion of the diet in fall, winter, and spring at low elevations. In summer, at high elevations, serviceberries and blueberries ( Vaccinium spp.) were important during short periods. At low elevations in summer, the samples was dominated by one individual’s consumption of Japanese quince (Chanomeles lagenaria), an introduced species found at old homesites.


Green foliage (leaves and stems) composed the bulk of the high elevation spring and summer diet (73.2 and 52.3 percent). Vernal herbs such as spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), great chickweed (Stellaria pubera), Trillium spp. and Viola spp., and aestival herbs such as white snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum), wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), and Aster spp. were most important. More than 23 species of herbs were eaten. Grasses, especially sedges (Carex spp.) were found in all seasons in all locations, although they were never a major component (0.6 to 8.3 percent) of the diet.

Roots and Bulbs

This category included woody roots, tubers, bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and other underground bodies. Roots and bulbs, predominantly spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) corms were an important part of spring and summer diet (25.2 and 31.1 percent). Only in summer, at low elevations, were woody roots found to be an important constituent (13.2 percent).


Mushrooms and other fungal material were found only during summer at low elevations (18.6 percent). It is not possible to identify these because of considerable mastication and digestion.


Invertebrates were found in all but two stomachs analyzed, although their percent composition is rather low (0.15 – 8.2 percent). Insects and other arthropods, as well as snails (Gastropoda) and earth worms (Oligochaeta), were found. Walking-stick insects (Phasmatidae) were very important during a period in the fall. Other insects found were helgramite (Corydalidae larvae) , several families of adult and larval beetles (Coleoptera) , caterpillars (Lepidoptera larvae) , fly larvae (Diptera) , and ants (Hymenoptera) . Other arthropods found were millipedes
(Diplopoda), centipedes (Chilopoda), and crayfish (Decapoda). There was no recognizable seasonal trend in types of invertebrates consumed, except that earthworms were only eaten during during warm months and at low elevations. There seems to be a trend in volume, however. Fall is very high compared to others, but this may be due to Cades Cove bias.


Frequency of occurrence for vertebrates was high (45 percent), although percent volume was low (0.0 to 2.3 percent). Salamanders (7 species) were especially common. Best estimates of absolute number of salamanders eaten in summer at high elevations is 1.75 salamanders per stomach, of which 1.33 were the endemic Red-cheeked salamander (Plethodon jordani jordanl) , with as many as 7 of that species of salamander in 1 stomach. Salamanders occurred in 53 percent of all stomachs examined. Small mammals were found, but were generally so severely masticated that identification was not made. Mice (Peromyscus spp.) and a shrew (Sorex spp.) were noted. Portions of 2 reptiles were found and also portions of an identified snake and a shell fragment of Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) . Several small feathers were found but these may have been consumed as litter. Other unidentifiable animal tissue, which may have been eaten as carrion, was also found.