Poetry

It Happened Last Night Outside My Window

Last night the ginkgo

Paved our street with golden fans.

We step carefully.

Usually it happens later in November. But it happened last night on the street where we live. The two ginkgo trees outside the window decided “that’s it! we’re out of here!” and dropped all their leaves.

Ginkgos do this. Unlike modern trees like the maples, oaks, and beeches, which put on a dazzling show of color and then turn brown and gradually drop their leaves, the gingko opts for a dramatic all-at-once exit. No one knows why they do it this way. They say it somehow has to do with its antiquity and the way it has evolved since before the days of the dinosaurs.

The gingko is a tough tree, able to withstand a lot of abuse, which is why you find so many of them on New York City streets. And when it’s time to go, they do it with authority and get the hell off stage. And you know then that winter is really around the corner. Time to get out the humidifiers and the Verilux sun lamp.

Late in November, on a single night

Not even near to freezing, the gingko trees

That stand along the walk drop all their leaves

In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind

But as though to time alone: the golden and green

Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday

Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.

Howard Nemerov

Conservation · Culture

Growing Up Before Smart Phones

Letters home from far away.

In looking through some old posts, I ran across one written in 2012  about finding boxes of letters our girls wrote the first few years they were away from home on their own: Elly at the University of Oregon and Sarah in New York City at the Academy of Dramatic Arts.

In the ensuing seven years since I wrote that post, there has been an enormous change in the attitude and behavior of young people who have left the nest to pursue higher education. For the most part this new breed seems to be too  fragile, too insecure, too frightened to take on the job of becoming thoroughly grown up. We call them “snowflakes” for good reason. I just read that somewhere a professor of literature feels obliged to issue a trigger warning when they are about to read and discuss fairy tales! 

The  collection of letters from our daughters, tell the story of the everyday activities and concerns of teenagers during their first years away from home, learning to be independent during the seventies, when the digital age was just around the corner.

They are already historic documents of a sort

Hardly anyone writes letters like this any more. They were frequent and long— page after page of complete sentences. And almost all of them are written in longhand—very readable and consistent cursive. Sarah had no need for a typewriter since few papers were required at the Academy (her tool of learning was a cassette tape recorder). Elly had a typewriter, but chose to write in longhand instead of typing. The letters are truly charming, often funny, and frequently contemplative.

But I think even more important than that they represent the dying tradition of newsy letter writing is the fact that these girls were truly away from home and their parents. Today, maturing children can text and Skype and email and immediately get help, advice, or at least sympathy. Our girls had to figure it out by themselves. They could have phoned, of course, and sometimes they did, but I don’t recall too many phone calls, probably because it meant an international phone call charged by the minute. Today  young people have contemporaneous back and forth texting at their fingertips. Even a phone call requires a certain amount of retrospective synthesizing of experience before you talk about it. Texting soon after or, for heavens sake during, an experience removes the probability of mulling it over independently.

However, I don’t think it was necessarily a totally positive situation. Learning to fly is hard, and many times I have thought how wonderful it would have been if we could have instantaneously communicated by email. And I am sure there were occasions that would have benefited from adult intervention. But our girls learned to manage—no doubt faster than if we had been available to help solve problems immediately. Both of them eventually lived in private housing and dealt with associated problems with landlords,  phone companies , and the like. If they needed to go to the doctor, they just did. We learned about it later–a week or two later.

Instead of stuffing the letters back in the box we found them in, we decided to store them in archival boxes. Digitizing them is a bridge too far for us, but maybe someone someday will decide to do that.

Things worth saving need a safe place to live.

I dare says everybody has important paper objects that need to be saved and protected for future generations. Not just the obvious diplomas, birth and marriage certificates, awards, and so on, but personal letters, photographs, post cards, greeting cards, children’s drawings, homework, and recipe cards. Yes–recipe cards!

If you want to know all about organizing and preserving your family memorabilia, check out  the this source: http://thefamilycurator.com

 
 
 
 

haiku · Poetry

Outside My Window

Monday was one of those dismal, dark days with periodic rain and no sunshine. As I gazed out the window, here is what I saw—and thought:

A pink umbrella
And a yellow taxicab.
Things aren’t all gray.

Hey! That’s pretty poetic. Actuallly, It sounds like a haiku. That ancient Japanese verse form doesn’t employ rhyme and meter like English poetry but specifies three lines, a total of 17 syllables, distributed so: 5-7-5.

I counted the syllables. Only 16 syllables, so I fixed it. And there you have it! I’ll call it 

A Rainy Day

A pink umbrella
And a yellow taxicab.
Things are not all gray.

Books · Culture · Role of Women

What Do You Do for Firewood When There’s Not a Tree in Sight?

Pioneer woman hauling buffalo chips (dessicated buffalo poop).

Before beginning the perilous journey westward, the pioneers congregated on the edge of the prairie in what would eventually become my hometown of Kansas City. Here they outfitted their wagon trains in preparation for the arduous journey ahead. 

I’ve often wondered where these women got the courage to leave loved ones and friends and all their familiar routines and possessions for an incredibly dangerous journey and a life of extreme hardship and scarcity as they tried to build a new life in a strange and lonely place. 

The feminist historian, Julia Roy Jeffreys, wondered the same thing. In 1979 she consulted over 200 of those diaries, reminiscences, and collections of letters written by these women in preparation for writing Frontier Women: the Trans-Mississippi West 1840-1880.

In the introduction to this edition of the book Jeffrey writes, 

I hoped to find that pioneer women used the frontier as a means of liberating themselves from stereotypes and behavior which I found constricting and sexist.

The behaviors and stereotypes she refers to constituted what is called “the doctrine of separate spheres” which dictated that woman’s place was in the home; man’s place in the world. The Victorian woman was expected to be submissive to her husband, concerned only with her home and children, having no interest or ability to engage in public affairs. She was above all genteel, pious, and pure. She was “the angel in the house; the madonna in the nursery.”

But what Jeffreys discovered surprised her

She found that frontier women did their best to maintain the Victorian stereotype even as necessity forced them to face decidedly unfeminine challenges.

That really didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me about this book was the author’s perserverance in spite of the fact that her research proved her assumptions incorrect at every turn and that in the end, though her core belief in feminism remained unshaken, she was willing to be wrong about the subject of her study.

Though my own ideological commitment remains the same, I now have great sympathy for the choices these women made and admiration for their strength and courage. I have continually wondered if any of us would have done as well.

Today, 40 years later, the attribute of open mindedness is in short supply. You just don’t see it very often, certainly not among third wave feminist academics., 

Uncategorized

For All You Cat Lovers Out There—

Renoir, Sleeping Girl With Cat, Clark Museum, Williamstown, Massachusetts

I hope you won’t hold it against me, but I have never been able to warm to the species. Not that I’m completely close-minded on the subject. Recently Herb and I even cat-sat brothers Ed and Nono for a week. First off, possibly resentful that he had been left with two complete strangers , Nono peed on my bed. That was not good.

If my friends and family are any indication, I’d say there may be more cat people than there are dog people.

It does seem there is something mysteriously attractive about cats.  Every culture, every age honors them, not only as beloved pets.

There was even a time when they were considered gods.

Painters have found them and their relations to humans inspiring (see above.)

The poet, TS.Eliot, wrote a whole book  of poetry about them.

“The Ad-dressing of Cats” From Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

You’ve read of several kinds of Cat,
And my opinion now is that
You should need no interpreter
To understand their character.
You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse—
But all may be described in verse.
You’ve seen them both in work and games,
And learnt about their proper names.
Their habits and their habitat:
But
     How would you ad-dress a Cat?

     So first your memory I’ll jog
And say: A CAT IS NOT A DOG.

      Now dogs pretend they like to fight;
They often bark, more seldom bite;
But yet a Dog is, on the whole,
What you would call a simple soul. 
Of course I’m not including Pekes,
And such fantastic canine freaks.
The usual Dog about the Town
Is much inclined to play the clown,
And far from showing too much pride
Is frequently undignified.
He’s very easily taken in—
Just chuck him underneath the chin
Or slap his back or shake his paw,
And he will gambol and guffaw.
He’s such an easy-going lout,
He’ll answer any hail or shout.

     Again I must remind you that
A Dog’s a Dog—A CAT’S A CAT

     With Cats, some say, one rule is true:
Don’t speak till you are spoken to
Myself, I do not hold with that—
I say you should ad-dress a Cat.
But always keep in mind that he
Resents familiarity.
I bow, and taking off my hat,
Ad-dress him in this form: O CAT!
But if he is the Cat next door,
Whom I have often met before
(He comes to see me in my flat)
I greet him with an OOPSA CAT!
I think I’ve heard them call him James—
But we’ve not got so far as names.
Before a Cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is neeeded, like a dish of cream:
And you might now and then supply
Some caviare, or Strassburg Pie.
Some potted grouse, or salmon paste—
He’s sure to have hisi personal taste.
(I know a Cat, who makes a habit
O eating nothing else but rabbit.
And when he’s finished, licks his paws
So’s not to waste the onion sauce.)
A Cat’s entitled to expect
These evidences of respect.
And so in time you reach your aim
And finally call him by his NAME

     So this is this, and that is that:
And there’s how you AD-DRESS A CAT.

Eliot’s cat book was the inspiration for Cats, the Musical, which ran on Broadway for 18 years and 7,845 performances. A movie version is coming. No doubt about it; people are crazy about cats! But you cat lovers have to admit; they are very sneaky. You never know where they are.

Call me crazy, but I find it disturbing to encounter a grey fuzzy cat critter lying in my bathtub or perched on top of the refrigerator.

Nono on refrigerator

 

 

 

 

 

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