Tag Archives: words

words, beautiful words

What are bloggers talking about during these cold January days? Here’s an addictively fun way to find out.

Wordle lets you generate word clouds that are stunningly beautiful to look at. The site calls itself “a toy for generating ‘word clouds’ from text that you provide,” but I’d argue that it’s an interesting way to figure out the gist of what’s being discussed.

Word clouds have been around for a few years now. I wrote about them back in the earlier days of this blog, and this blog displays a tag cloud on the left panel. But Wordle gives you all sorts of control over things like color, font, language and arrangement. Just click on the home page’s “Create” tab to get going. All you need is some canned text, a link to a blog or website with an RSS or Atom feed, or you can enter a del.icio.us username to see a cloud of their tags.

Here’s a quick Wordled look at some of the posts on some California mostly-gardening blogs. I selected black backgrounds for all of them so that there’s a basis for comparing them visually, but I had way too much fun creating color combinations and picking fonts and word arrangements. The blog contents should be current as of last night, January 13.

(There are a huge number of these. I’ve been home with a cold, too messed up to think coherently–but not too compromised to play with shapes and pretty colors. It makes me wonder whether the part of the brain that thinks is even in the same zip code as where artistic activity takes place…)

To start off, the content of this blog, before this post…

California Native Plants…San Diego Style, Wordled.

Sierra Foothill Garden, Wordled.

Weeding Wild Suburbia

Tulips in the Woods

Town Mouse and Country Mouse

The Pitcher Plant Project

Rooted in California… (Did somebody say gelato?)

Queer by Choice

Laguna Dirt

Dry Stone Garden

Chance of Rain

Camissonia’s Corner

Blue Planet Garden Blog

Bay Area Tendrils Garden Travel

Idora Design

How’s Rob?, Wordled. Bees!

Hey Natives

Grow Natives Blog

Breathing Treatment

Deborah Small’s Ethnobotany Blog

GrokSurf’s San Diego

And how do California obsessions compare to those from other parts of the country?

From New Jersey: View From Federal Twist. During the cold of winter, do people living in what I’d call the frozen tundra retreat indoors?

Cape Cod: The Midnight Garden

From in the rain shadow of the Olympics, Washington State: Verdure

Oregon: Danger Garden

Maine: Jean’s Garden

And how about to some blogs from other parts of the world?

From the UK: An Artist’s Garden

Also from the UK: The Patient Gardener

UK again: Plantaliscious

My Little Garden in Japan

South Africa: Elepant’s Eye

So, after looking at of these, do you think the word clouds begin to fairly represent what the blogs are discussing? Or is Wordle really just a toy?

some missing words

The current issue of Orion, one of my favorite magazines, features “World Without Violets,” a scary little essay by Robert Michael Pyle.

A mother in Britain discovered that the editors of the current Oxford Junior Dictionary, in their zeal to bring this little dictionary for children up to date, had removed a long list of words dealing with nature in order to make room for words like “broadband,” “bungee jumping” and “chat room.”

Pyle writes about the universe the editors of the Dictionary have created for the current generation of children who would use it:

It is a world without violets. Spring comes unannounced by catkins and proceeds without benefit of crocuses, cowslips, or tulips. Summer brings no lavender, melons, or nectarines, and autumn is absent of acorns, almonds, and hazelnuts. Winter must be endured without the holly and the ivy, the wren or the mistletoe.

So, suddenly bungee jumping–how retro-80s is that concept?–is more important than tulips, broadband more necessary for children to know about than melons, and chat rooms more of our real world than holly.

If someone decides that we don’t need a word for something, does that something cease to exist? Not really. But what kind of mindset decides that children don’t need to know about their natural world anymore? I was disturbed.

out of darkness something blooms

I had a few CDs cross my desk that were recorded by a San Diego new music collective called Trummerflora. Their name sounded interesting, but I didn’t think another thing about it. Then in the booklet of one of the discs I read its definition:

Trummerflora, or rubble plants and trees, are a special phenomenon unique to heavily bombed urban areas. The bomb acts as a plow, mixing rubble fragments with the earth, which often contain seeds dormant for a century or more. These seeds come to light and those that can live in this new and special earth grow and flourish.
–Helen and Newton Harrison

So something beautiful comes to light through acts of unspeakable destruction. Suddenly I though that it was an amazing word and a concept that holds out some hope that something good can come out of the worst of situations. Of course, this is a particularly tainted kind of goodness, a sort of goodness that you accept because the alternative is so much worse.

Trawling around the web as I write this I couldn’t find other references to this word other than in the context of the musicians or the quote from the Harrisons. Did the Harrisons coin the word? (Of course, just becuase search engines don’t turn up something, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! (Or in this increasingly virtual word, maybe that’s exatly what it means?)) Or did the word spring to life–maybe in Germany?–after the devastation of World War II?

Helen and Newton Harrison. Breathing Space for the Sava River, Yugoslavia, 1988 (detail). Photocollage, text, maps. [ source ]

This whole notion of bringing life back to wastelands has been one of the major themes of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, the artists responsible for the quote in the first place. As a couple they taught at the University of California, San Diego from 1969-1993, and during this time I had the chance to see several of their exhibitions around town. Here’s a description of their working method in Barbara Matilsky’s 1992 book, Fragile ecologies: Contemporary artist’s interpretations and solutions, quoted on a Green Museum page.

After firsthand study, research and interviews with ecologists, biologists and planners the artists create a photographic narrative that identifies the problem, questions the system of beliefs that allow the condition to develop and proposes initiatives to counter environmental damage. They exhibit their documentation in a public forum–a museum, library, city hall–to stimulate discussion, debate, and media attention. By communication to the public the problems that confront a fragile ecosystem and the ways in which the balance can be restored, they exert pressure on the political system and rally public opinion in an attempt to avert ecological disaster.

So, while the Newtons would be pleased to see trommerflora grow and thrive, their greater satisfaction wouldn’t be achieved until we come to an understanding of the systems that brought about the original destruction. And if the projects became so successful that they’d annihilate the need for its the artwork’s own existence? I doubt the Newtons would mind, but I won’t be holding my breath that we get there anytime soon.

Read further: The Newtons in their own words.