Saturday, October 14, 2017

Chuck Yeager Goes Supersonic

Seventy years ago today, October 14, 1947:

... Bob Cardenas, the B-29 driver, asked if I was ready.
"Hell, yes," I said. "Let's get it over with.
"He dropped the X-1 at 20,000 feet, but his dive speed was once again too slow and the X-1 started to stall. I fought it with the control wheel for about five hundred feet, and finally got her nose down. The moment we picked up speed I fired all four rocket chambers in rapid sequence. We climbed at .88 Mach and began to buffet, so I flipped the stabilizer switch and changed the setting two degrees. We smoothed right out, and at 36,000 feet, I turned off two rocket chambers. At 40,000 feet, we were still climbing at a speed of .92 Mach. Leveling off at 42,000 feet, I had thirty percent of my fuel, so I turned on rocket chamber three and immediately reached .96 Mach. I noticed the faster I got, the smoother the ride. Suddenly the Mach needle began to fluctuate. It went up to .965 Mach - then tipped right off the scale. I thought I was seeing things! We were flying supersonic! And it was as smooth as a baby's bottom: Grandma could be sitting up there sipping lemonade. I kept the speed off the scale for about twenty seconds, and raised the nose to slow down. I was thunderstruck. After all the anxiety, breaking the sound barrier turned out to be a perfectly paved speedway.
I radioed Jack in the B-29,
"Hey, Ridley, that Machmeter is acting screwy. It just went off the scale on me."
"Fluctuated off?""Yeah, at point nine-six-five."
"Son, you is imagining things."
"Must be. I'm still wearing my ears and nothing else fell off, neither."
                                                                      . . .

And so I was a hero this day. As usual, the fire trucks raced out to where the ship had rolled to a stop on the lakebed. As usual, I hitched a ride back to the hangar with the fire chief. That warm desert sun really felt wonderful. My ribs ached.

Yeager posing with his Bell X-1, "Glorious Glennis," 1947

The flight didn't hurt his ribs. He cracked two of them in a horseback riding accident a day and a half earlier but he wasn't about to let the issue keep him from an important mission. 

Chuck Yeager rode into the history books on the shoulders of scores of aerospace pioneers who helped him reach that speedway in the sky. Today, Yeager is 94 years old. He lives in Penn Valley, California, and continues to lead a very active life flying, fishing, and managing the General Chuck Yeager Foundation. 

Interested readers can learn more about the man and the early years of the nation's aviation and aerospace history in Yeager: An Autobiography, an outstanding read originally published in 1985. A valuable companion book providing context and additional history on the nation's early manned space program is Tom Wolfe's 1979 classic, The Right Stuff.


Photos and Illustrations:
Yeager with Bell X-1, U.S. Air Force,
Cover photo, Yeager: An Autobiography, General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janus, Bantam, 1985.

quotation, Yeager: An Autobiography, General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janus, Bantam, 1985.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Thoughts On A Father's Birthday

It has been 110 years since the birth of my father on this day in 1907. That's a long time and one indication of why my value programming is different from that of my peers.  In short, I was raised by parents from the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age while most of my classmates, friends, and colleagues had parents come of age during the Great Depression. Attitudes, opinions and beliefs borne out of such a blend bring both opportunity and challenge in the real world.

This is my dad at seventeen, a high school honor graduate and holder of his class medals in English and debate. The year was 1925. He was a mill town boy with high ambitions tempered by the security of a good-paying full-time job straight out of high school and into the midst of the Roaring Twenties. He never got the college degree he wanted but he was successful, building on his strong faith, a solid marriage, and a remarkable work ethic.

When I look at this picture I am reminded that he only had four "good" years before the Great Depression and World War II brought him and the country he loved into sixteen years of hard times. Through it all he survived as a member of the "Greatest Generation" and saw his nation prosper.

My children never knew him - he's been gone for over 35 years - but I think they know him well. I've done my best to teach them who he was and honor him by carrying on his many traditions. How fortunate I was to have him as a beacon in my life. He was a great and careful teacher and a constant and trusted friend. Most of all he was my loving dad. I thank him every day and will love him forever.

Happy birthday, Dad!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Harvest Moon 2017

The full Harvest Moon casts its shadow across the planet tonight. As the moon emerges from the sea, coastal residents can experience the sublime event precisely as it has been viewed by humans for thousands of years. It is no wonder a star-filled dome over land's end and the timeless sound of surf capture and command our consciousness so easily. Add a moon rise and all reason flees.

Lowcountry moonrise over McQueens Island east of Savannah, ca. 1950

The moon, like a flower in heaven's bower, with silent delight sits and smiles on the night.
                                                                                  William Blake

It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes 
  And roofs of villages, on woodland crests 
  And their aerial neighborhoods of nests 
  Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes 
  And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
  Gone are the birds that were our summer guests, 
  With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows 
  Of Nature have their image in the mind, 
  As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer’s close, 
  Only the empty nests are left behind, 
  And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.

                                                           Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

If on her cheeks you see the maiden's blush, The ruddy moon foreshows that winds will rush.
                                                                                    Virgil, 70 B.C.E. - 19 B.C.E.


Photos and Illustrations:
Lowcountry moonrise, Fort Pulaski National Monument Handbook, 1954

William Blake quotation, from Songs of Innocence and Experience, 1789
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Harvest Moon, public domain,

Friday, September 29, 2017

Another Birthday To Share

The day always brings to mind the remarkable coincidence that I share this birthday with two of my favorite personalities from the world of the arts. Studying them in depth came later in my life and it's only been in the last decade that I realized September 29 was a big day we shared. It's a coincidence from somewhere in the stars beyond time. I don't want to attempt an explanation. And there's no delusion here, my friends, I will never approach their genius. Not sure I'd want to. I'll simply leave it at that and let this post unfold.

If I had to choose two personal favorites among American artists, I would choose Walter Inglis Anderson and George Gershwin. I discovered Anderson on my own in the 1970s during the dedication of a National Park Service visitor center in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The award-winning center featured architectural elements incorporating his motifs as well as interior displays of his nature paintings. The building itself was a work of art emerging from the salt marsh at the edge of Davis Bayou. Unfortunately, the center was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In regard to George Gershwin, I had an ear for him very early in life as my mom and dad enjoyed listening to his work on radio, records, and television.

Walter Inglis "Bob" Anderson, Self-Portrait, ca. 1941

George Gershwin in 1937

Anderson and Gershwin were filled with creative genius. Both lives featured tragic loss. Anderson died (1965) in his early sixties recognized as a local artist and obscure introvert wracked by schizophrenia. National appreciation of his contribution to American art would come slowly and long after his death. Even today he's not well known among general populations beyond the South. Gershwin would die of a brain tumor at the age of 38 at the height of his career and known throughout the world.

Frogs, Bugs, Flowers                   Walter Anderson, ca 1945

Walter Inglis Anderson, was born on September 29, 1903 in New Orleans. After training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in the mid-1920s, he spent most of his career associated with Shearwater Pottery, a family enterprise founded in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Though deeply troubled with mental illness for much of his life, he produced thousands of vivid works of art - often called "abstract realism" - seeking to celebrate the unity of human existence with nature. I often describe his work as decorated illustrations that play freely with figure and ground and the positives and negatives of visual perception. His realizations of nature explode in the mind's eye. Observing Anderson is a meditative experience. Visit the Walter Inglis Anderson Museum of Art site to learn more about the life and work of this regional artist who only recently has taken on national significance.

George Gershwin was born in New York in 1898. He went on to become perhaps the most beloved American composer of the last century through his many compositions for the musical stage, the concert hall, and what has become known as the Great American Songbook. Gershwin's appeal comes in part from his colorful and lively incorporation of jazz motifs in all his music. He died in 1937 with what could only be called a spectacular career ahead of him. I often imagine what he could have brought to American music had he lived another forty years.

Today I begin my 71st year still deeply immersed in the amazing output of fellow Librans  Anderson and Gershwin born on this day. Although I'm perfectly happy not to share their fame, I'm honored to share their interpretations of the American experience with anyone. What a fine balance it is.


Photos and Illustrations:

Walter "Bob" Anderson, Self-portrait, 1941. Walter Anderson Museum of Art, Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
Frogs, Bugs, and Flowers, Walter Anderson, ca 1945. Repository: Roger H. Ogden Collection. Copyright held by Roger H. Ogden.
George Gershwin 1937. Carl Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress

Sunday, September 24, 2017

John Rutter: New Visions In Music

John Rutter at Clare College, Cambridge, England

John Rutter, the notable British composer, conductor and arranger, turns 72 today. He is best known and loved for his choral music; his professional choral group, The Cambridge Singers; and their recording label, Collegium Records. Doing an Internet search for Rutter doesn't bring up much more than the same brief biography. Though far from reclusive, the composer enjoys his privacy, but he does have a fairly active Facebook page. In addition, there is the occasional article here, and here that gives readers some insight into the man behind the music. My take on this relative dearth of information is simply that one should get to know the man through his music. Here is an anthem he wrote for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011:

Some in the classical music world, mostly in Great Britain, find Rutter's compositions to be a bit simple, repetitive, and stylistically confused. Others place him at the top among 20th century composers. I have to side with the latter appraisals. The melodies are generally simple, the harmonies beautiful, and the style affords a perfect balance of music and message. Furthermore, choirs of all sizes and skill levels perform his work to appreciative audiences everywhere. If popularity is any indicator, John Rutter's music will be enjoyed for a long, long time.

Here is the finale  of Rutter's 2016 composition, Visions, a four-part work based on the theme of Jerusalem:


Photos and Illustrations:
Clare College Alumn

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Fire Burning In The Darkness

Forty-four years ago tonight, park rangers at Joshua Tree National Monument - now a national park -  noticed a huge fireball on the ridge at Cap Rock. Upon investigation, they found a flaming coffin and the partially burned remains of Gram Parsons, a 26 year old musician who would become a music legend. In his life, lived fast and loose, Parsons would blend rock and country into a new sound as he pursued what he called "cosmic American music." If you listen to The International Submarine Band, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and his work with Emmylou Harris, you know what that sound was all about.

In a few hours, the pilgrims will make their trek to Cap Rock to pay their respects to Parsons as they have for decades. Rangers may close the area, but that won't make a difference. The faithful will be there.

For more on the Gram Parsons story, read the comprehensive Wikipedia entry with many links to his discography as well as a direct link the the entry on his death.


Photos and Illustrations
Full Moon at Cap Rock, Nikhil's Domain 

Eighty Years Of Hobbits

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit. For all Tolkien fans who have come to love the book and stories to follow, Corey Olsen wrote a history of The Hobbit for its 75 anniversary in 2012. Here is a post he wrote about the book and the evolution of its main character, Bilbo Baggins, for The Daily Beast. Olsen included seven illustrations Tolkien drew for the book, one of them being the dust jacket, proving he was not only a superb writer, but also an accomplished artist.

Cover from 1937

The Wikipedia entry for The Hobbit states that a signed copy of the first edition could fetch more than $80,000 at auction.