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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Falling for a Gal Named Mabel

Most of you are aware of Blues Clues Season 2 Episode 7 where Steve reads a book titled, A Really Great Book. It is indeed, as Steve tells us, "A really great book."

The guy can hardly put it down. To be honest he's kind of a jerk about it. Steve I am a busy man and I need to know what Blue has got on her mind. She is as mysterious as woman. Her clues as tantalizingly obtuse.
This is pretty much your ol' pal Howie every time I sit down and write a blog. Welcome to today's Reading Time. I'm going to be kind of a jerk about it.

Brief aside: at about minute mark 3:30 Steve dispatches of Blue's paw print by drawing a P on it. I'm unsure about the science behind this, but it does raise an interesting question. In many episodes, these paw prints are clearly sentient. They dance, they smile, they giggle when tickled. And yet, episode after episode, they are clearly murdered. Is this a subversive message from "Hollyweird" telling us to eliminate those that don't fully live up to our standards of intelligence, regardless of ability to feel and experience joy? Is Blue's Clues secretly a Randian/Nietzchean objectivist nightmare?

Guess what? I read good one. Like, you guys, it was just wonderful. A lot of times I just tell you about the book I read and then I let you decide if you want to read it or not based on the very brief handful of things I said about it after rambling on about something, like, barely related. This time I will not let you decide for yourself. You need to read this book. It is A Really Great Book.

Before I get there, though, let me tell you a story about me searching for videos of Blue's Clues. We know about Steve, AKA the Greatest Children's TV Host of all Time. We also know about Joe, AKA Not Steve. Joe does a fine job, I'm sure, but he's just a children's host. He does not transcend the medium. By not being Steve, Joe is actually kind of a turd. Sorry, Joe.

But did you know about Kevin?


Sometimes when I sit down to write a blog about A Really Great Book I do a little research and find out that there are other Steves. Brace yourself, children. This goes deep.

Kevin is the UK Steve. Kevin doesn't get a letter. Kevin gets "the post."

I watched a lot of Kevin, you guys. He's pretty good, but I wonder how much of that is the accent? He's somewhere between Steve and Joe in terms of childlike wonder and self-awareness. He is OK. But Duarte? Duarte gets it.

Like Kevin, this next book comes from across the pond. Like Duarte, it is sublime perfection adorned in earth tones. It is H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. After the surprising news of the death of her father, Helen (it's a memoir) feels lost. Like most of us would do, she decides to focus her energies on training a northern goshawk.

Oh here we go, you say. This whole Howie's Book Club experiment has been a clever ruse to lull us into a sense of security before the bird sales pitch. And you're right. Here we go.
One of my first great birding experience was seeing a male goshawk, like this beaut above us, in Logan Canyon. I had just this astonishing moment of just me and him staring at each other until he calmly regarded me, pooped, and flew away. It's a pretty rare experience, you guys. I've seen a handful since, but nothing like the long, unobstructed view that day.

That day was interesting, by the way, because of why I was birding. I was out in the woods up in the canyon because there wasn't any work for me to do in the office. Not that day, not the day before, and probably not the next. I was basically laid off. It was kind of a sad day, if we're going to be honest here. A really sad one. And I needed to clear my head. I went for a hike, saw kind of the bird of my lifetime, watched it for quite a long time, and walked back to my car kind of elated and confident.

MacDonald's experience at the beginning of the book is similar to mine. Tough day, sees a gos, day has some focus to it. She just takes it a step further than I did and decides she wants to devote her every waking moment to training one. The way she writes about it is just the best prose I've read in so long.
Rabbit was born, grew up in the field, ate dandelions and grass, scratched his jaw with his feet, hopped about. Had baby rabbits of his own. Rabbit didn’t know what lonely was; he lived in a warren. And rabbit is now just a carefully packed assemblage of different kinds of food for a hawk who spends her evenings watching television on the living-room floor. Everything is so damn mysterious. Another car passes. Faces turn to watch me crouched with rabbit and hawk. I feel like a tableau at a roadside shrine. But I’m not sure what the shrine is for. I’m a roadside phenomenon. I am death to community. I am missing the point.”
MacDonald's goshawk is named Mabel, following a long standing superstition among falconers. "...a hawk's ability is inversely proportional to the ferocity of its name. Call a hawk Tiddles and it will be a formidable hunter; call it Spitfire or Slayer and it will probably refuse to fly at all." Mabel is pretty much the epitome of the Other that you heard about in intro to lit class. If you didn't have intro to lit or philosophy, Sartre basically said that we can only know our own existence when we see ourselves through the perception of someone or something very different. Watching herself through Mabel's eyes, MacDonald learns a lot.

I say that like I've read Sartre other than this quick Wikipedia search I just did.

Also I'm aware that I started out this post talking about Blue's Clues and ended it with Sartre. Do your precious Buzzfeed top ten lists do that, I ask you? Do not answer, Dear Hypothetical Reader, as the question was rhetorical and I can't hear your answer. We are but two human beings communicating across a vast space, even if you are somehow reading this near to me. The fiber optic tubes and switches between us make us seem close, and yet are as far apart as infinity itself. The way I see the world may seem similar or different, but in reality our perception may be as distinct as that which exists between a human woman and a big smelly bird.

What I'm saying is maybe you like Joe and that's OK.