Sunday, June 30, 2013

Managing Pain On A Rare Day In June - Or Any Day, Any Month

So far, an exceptionally fine and pain-free day, a "runner's high" for someone who can no longer run.

Photo credit: Still from Chariots of Fire, Oscar winner, Best Picture, 1981.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Quotes You May Know - Session Four

Here is the fourth edition of our series on descriptive writing. I find it interesting that the art of vivid description has an opportunity to flourish particularly among historic resources and their stories we find across our nation. Though the principals may be long-dead, the landscapes and objects that were a part of their everyday lives provide us with appreciation and understanding of who they were, what they valued, and how they lived. Our writing sample today involves a landscape. It begins with a powerful examination of the degradation of resource and process. It ends with animism and a thinking mountain.

Those who make our rich environment, both natural and cultural, a vocation or hobby should recognize our writer. So who is our author - a notable nature writer - and where does this quote appear in his work?

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn … In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers … So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the change. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

Route 66 Redux

Looks like another stretch of the Mother Road will be in my future later this year. Oh yeah! 

From the National Park Service's Route 66 Special Resource Study (July 1995):

U.S. Highway 66, popularly known as "Route 66," is significant as the nation's first all-weather highway linking Chicago to Los Angeles. When contrasted with transcontinental corridors such as the Lincoln Highway and U.S. Highway 40, Route 66 does not stand out as America's oldest or longest road. Nevertheless, what sets this segment of national highway apart from its contemporaries is that it remains the shortest, year-round route between the Midwest and the Pacific Coast. U.S. Highway 66 reduced the distance between Chicago and Los Angeles by more than 200 miles, which made Route 66 popular among thousands of motorists who drove west in subsequent decades.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Johnny Mercer: Summer Wind

June 25, 1976 is a day to remember for many Georgians - especially Savannahians - and fans of the Great American Songbook. It marks the passing of Johnny Mercer, the state's favorite son and sentimental gentleman, and one of the nation's most important figures in entertainment in the last century. Mercer's impact was universal.  He composed melodies, wrote lyrics, sang a wide range of songs, performed in films, kept the nation laughing with his comedy, and co-founded Capitol Records and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

We have come a long way from the advent of rock and roll in the mid-1950's and its dominance in the family tree of popular music. Still, the Great American Songbook, that generation of music beginning around 1930 and continuing into the early 1960's, has found a comfortable niche among music lovers around the world. Many songs in that now-tattered "book" belong to Mercer and stand in tribute to a man described as America's folk-poet and the finest lyricist in our history.

Want to learn more about Mercer? The best and most comprehensive site is The Johnny Mercer Educational Archives.

Here's a sample of the Mercer magic recorded a few years before his death:

And here's how a later generation approaches the old music master:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Quotes You May Know - Session Three

Lower New York From The Bridge                                  John Marin (1870-1953)

Here is your third opportunity to identify the author and title in our descriptive writing challenge. This one should be a serious challenge. Our writer left us with only a limited body of work, an output guarded so carefully by the author that few readers today are aware of its significance. In fact, he may be better known for coming to work for nearly thirty years without publishing a single word.  Enough clues. Here is today's word picture:

Every now and then, seeking to rid my mind of thoughts of death and doom, I get up early and go down to Fulton Fish Market. I usually arrive around five-thirty, and take a walk through the two huge open-fronted market sheds, the Old Market and the New Market, whose fronts rest on South Street and whose backs rest on piles in the East River. At that time, a little while before the trading begins, the stands in the sheds are heaped high and spilling over with forty to sixty kinds of finfish and shellfish from the East Coast, the West Coast, the Gulf Coast, and half a dozen foreign countries. The smoky riverbank dawn, the racket the fish-mongers make, the seaweedy smell, and the sight of this plentifulness always give me a feeling of well-being, and sometimes they elate me. I wander among the stands for an hour or so. Then I go into a cheerful market restaurant named Sloppy Louie’s and eat a big, inexpensive, invigorating breakfast – a kippered herring and scrambled eggs, or a shad-roe omelet, or split sea scallops and bacon, or some other breakfast specialty of the place.

Sloppy Louie’s occupies the ground floor of an old building at 92 South Street, diagonally across the street from the sheds. This building faces the river and looks out on the slip between the Fulton Street fish pier and the Old Porto Rico Line dock. It is six floors high, and it has two windows to the floor. Like the majority of the older buildings in the market district, it is made of hand-molded Hudson River brick, a rosy-pink and relatively narrow kind that used to be turned out in Haverstraw and other kiln towns on the Hudson and sent down to the city in barges. It has an ornamented tin cornice and a slate-covered mansard roof. It is one of those handsome, symmetrical old East River waterfront buildings that have been allowed to dilapidate. The windows of its four upper floors have been boarded over for many years, a rain pipe that runs down the front of it is riddled with rust holes, and there are gaps here and there on its mansard where slates have slipped off.
Better descriptive writing is hard to find.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer Sun Stands Still!

Multi-wavelength  image of our star
Yes, it is that time of year to mark the summer solstice or the day the sun (sol) stands still (stice). Our friends at remind us that the event also means tonight (June 20-21) is the shortest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

The sun reaches its highest point in the sky today, and it is the longest day of the year. Although the sun begins its descent tomorrow, insolation from our star will continue to raise atmospheric temperatures until late July. As this day marks the end of the season of renewal and the beginning of the season of growth and flower, I am reminded of this quote by D. H. Lawrence:

The greatest need of man is the renewal forever of the complete rhythm of life and death, the rhythm of the sun's year, the body's year.
For me the rhythm calls for music for the season. What could be better than the full circle found in Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream, music composed for William Shakespeare's play of the same name.  If you cannot enjoy the full hour, the first and last fifteen minutes should prepare you to enjoy the nights, dreams, and magic of the season.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Igor Stravinsky: He Broke All The Rules

Today is the birthday of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), fondly known as the founder of Modern music. Early last month (May 8) we marked the centennial of  his Rite of Spring (Le Sacre Du Printemps), one of the most popular pieces in classical music. That accolade is a far cry from the rioting that greeted the premiere performance in Paris. Below is an example of the genius at work conducting another of his well-known works, The Firebird:

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day 2013

Best wishes to all dads on their special day. On the left is a picture of my dad taken in 1917 when he was in the fourth grade. He grew up to be a lot happier than he appears here. Maybe it was the Great War or just a bad day.

His mom and dad were the son and daughter of first generation immigrants from Germany and Wales. He was afflicted with polio in his early years, but that didn't stop him. He graduated from high school in the midst of the Roaring Twenties, went to work to support his aging parents and married the love of his life in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933. He was an entrepreneur at heart who was self-employed in the insurance and utilities industries and owned his own business by the early '50's. He left the Rust Belt in 1956 for even better careers in hospitality management, a field he loved dearly because of his commitment to quality service and customer satisfaction. He was "old school:" through and through and never met a stranger.

Nancy and I have raised three fine children to successful adulthood. Though neither of our dads was present during virtually all of our children's "shaping" we know that their values played a major role in teaching our kids to be responsible, caring, and loving individuals. Such continuity is essential if we are to have community and commonwealth in these and future times. Not a day passes without a wish to have our dads and their guidance with us once more. How fortunate we were to have such beacons in our lives. And how wonderful it would be to see the reverence and respect for fatherhood restored in our nation today.

Having expressed that wish for the future, we are left with this wish for today: Happy Father's Day and a big Thank You" to Bill and Vergil, and to fathers everywhere.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Quotes You May Know - Session Two

Here's more vivid writing from a master of imagery. I'd rate this quote an easy one given that it contains a major clue. So who is the author, the character speaking, and the work?

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Quotes You May Know - Session One

It's that time again. After six years of retirement, I'm cleaning out the files. Again. For a liberal arts type who married an English and history major and spent a working life looking at "the big picture" that function can be quite a challenge. I must say it is a bit easier now that my wife and I have shelved any desire whatsoever to re-enter the work world, especially  the world of the federal bureaucracy.  One item I will not toss out is a lesson plan prepared long ago for interpretive writing. In it is a series of examples of techniques illustrating vivid writing that grabs a reader's attention and often embeds itself in memory. There's enough material for several challenges. I expect to present one or two of them every few days over the next month.

I rate today's challenge an easy one for modern fiction aficionados. Just name the author, the character speaking, and the work. I'd be interested in knowing how you have come to know the quote. No cheating! It's way to easy to consult the Internet for even the most obscure texts. Believe me - been there, done that.

The quote of the day is:

...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian  girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

The bloom is surely not off the rose in this one.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Esther Williams: Another Hollywood Great Passes Into History

One of my favorite sources for leads on the great American experience is the polymath, William Katz, who blogs at Urgent Agenda. Katz knows Hollywood and appreciates and understands its historic significance in shaping our national character. Today, he notes the passing of Esther Williams with a brief comment and link to her biography. A more lengthy source of information is here.

Katz writes that few of the Hollywood/MGM greats remain, including Mickey Rooney, Leslie Caron, and Debbie Reynolds. Williams's career peaked in the mid 1950's and I recall my mother and her sisters talking about the many films. In my generation, I imagine some of the girls took note of the lavish water musicals then. The boys were curious about the pinup shots, but they were still deep into baseball.

Williams certainly had an impact on sports, recreation and fashion as well as film.

Imagine that.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Normandy 1944: "...They Fight To End Conquest..."

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy and the beginning of the end of the Third Reich. Learn more about this day here at the American Battle Monument Commission's Normandy Campaign website. The interactive link entitled "The Normandy Campaign" provides a brief but detailed look at the significance of this military action.

And here in a time, place, and national experience that seems far removed from the America we know today, is President Franklin Roosevelt's radio statement delivered a few hours after the invasion began.