Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Hallows Eve 1517: Here I Stand

Martin Luther Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin

In 1517, Martin Luther knew that All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany, would be filled with worshipers on November 1 for All Saints Day celebrations. For this reason he posted his ninety-five theses on the door of the church the night before to publicize his disgust with the Catholic practice of collecting indulgences from sinners seeking salvation. Little did Luther know that his protest on October 31, All Hallow's Eve, would start a revolution within the church. Today, Protestants around the world commemorate this event every October 31 as Reformation Day.

Johann Sebastian Bach, the musical voice of the Reformation in the Baroque period, wrote the following cantata for Reformation Day 1725:

1. Chorus

God the Lord is sun and shield. The Lord gives grace and honor, He will allow no good to be lacking from the righteous.

2. Aria A

God is our sun and shield!
Therefore this goodness
shall be praised by our grateful heart,
which He protects like His little flock.
For He will protect us from now on,
although the enemy sharpens his arrows
and a vicious hound already barks.

3. Chorale

Now let everyone thank God
with hearts, mouths, and hands,
Who does great things
for us and to all ends,
Who has done for us from our mother's wombs
and childhood on
many uncountable good things
and does so still today.

4. Recitative B

Praise God, we know
the right way to blessedness;
for, Jesus, You have revealed it to us through Your word,
therefore Your name shall be praised for all time.
Since, however, many yet
at this time
must labor under a foreign yoke
out of blindness,
ah! then have mercy
also on them graciously,
so that they recognize the right way
and simply call You their Intercessor.

5. Aria (Duet) S B

God, ah God, abandon Your own ones
never again!
Let Your word shine brightly for us;
although harshly
against us the enemy rages,
yet our mouths shall praise You.

6. Chorale

Uphold us in the truth,
grant eternal freedom,
to praise Your name
through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Almost four years later, Martin Luther was urged to recant his theses as he stood before the stood before the Diet of Worms. He replied:

Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.

 With Luther's statement, attempts at reforming the Christian Church has reached a tipping point. There would be no turning back .


Photos and Illustrations:
Conrad Schmitt Studios, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Bach translation, emmanuelmusic,org

Friday, October 27, 2017

Dylan Thomas: "Rage, Rage Against The Dying Of The Light"

Today marks the birthday of the Welsh writer, Dylan Thomas an artist whose work reflected his immersion in the themes and images of coastal living. His lyrical descriptive writing, poetry and unforgettable voice brought him great fame in the United States in the decade prior to his untimely death in New York in 1953.

Thomas in a London park

Thomas and his native land have special meaning to me. My great grandparents from my mother's side immigrated from Cardiff, Wales, to the United States in the 1870's. Though I never knew my grandmother - she died before my second year - my father often recalled how she took pride in her Celtic roots and the Welsh love for song and singing.

It is interesting that he should remember the talk of song and singing. Many critics and authorities write that Thomas's recitations are spoken words that approach song. Readers can reach their own conclusion by listening to the poet reading Poem in October, his recollections of his thirtieth birthday. Audio quality isn't the best. I suggest earphones and closed eyes for this sound journey if you choose not to read along.

What an unforgettable voice. I first heard a recording of Thomas sometime in elementary school. There's a good chance few students in any grade have that opportunity today. How unfortunate. We often think education has come a long way over the last seven decades. Perhaps it has, but somewhere on that journey we have undoubtedly lost some very precious cultural experiences. If we could hear Thomas's truth singing every year, we would know so much better who we are as individuals and as a people. 

Here is Thomas reciting most famous poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, a powerful, emotion-filled villanelle addressing the end of earthly life. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Picasso: "Everything You Can Imagine Is Real."

The world-renowned artist, Pablo Picasso, was born on this day in 1881 in the city of Malaga, Spain. When he died 91 years later in 1973, Alden Whitman said this about him in the opening paragraphs of a New York Times obituary:

There was Picasso the neoclassicist; Picasso the cubist; Picasso the surrealist; Picasso the modernist; Picasso the ceramist; Picasso the lithographer; Picasso the sculptor; Picasso the superb draftsman; Picasso the effervescent and exuberant; Picasso the saturnine and surly; Picasso the faithful and faithless lover; Picasso the cunning financial man; Picasso the publicity seeker; Picasso the smoldering Spaniard; Picasso the joker and performer of charades; Picasso the generous; Picasso the Scrooge; even Picasso the playwright.
A genius for the ages, a man who played wonderful yet sometimes outrageous changes with art, Pablo Picasso remains without doubt the most original, the most protean and the most forceful personality in the visual arts in the first three-quarters of this century. He took a prodigious gift and with it transformed the universe of art.

The artist in 1908

To learn more about Picasso read his biography here. The New York Times obituary continues here.  It's impossible to select a representative display of his work in this small post; therefore, I recommend readers visit the extensive website of the Musee Picasso Paris where over 300 Picasso works can be viewed. Wikipedia's Picasso page has several external links that may be of interest.


Photos and Illustrations:
Musee Picasso Paris

A Picasso quote appears in the title.

Friday, October 20, 2017

October: When An Early Autumn Walks The Land...

When an early autumn walks the land and chills the breeze
and touches with her hand the summer trees,
perhaps you'll understand what memories I own.
There's a dance pavilion in the rain all shuttered down,
a winding country lane all russet brown,
a frosty window pane shows me a town grown lonely.

In October 2008 I wrote the first of many revised editions of the story of the annual October closing of my family's "summer place" in the West Virginia mountains near Cumberland, Maryland. Those who follow this blog likely know more about the Burlington campground than most current residents of that village. Still, it's an important story in the Old Tybee Ranger's formative years and it's worth repeating. There is one significant change in the story this year. The magnificent two-story cedar pavilion that stood for nearly a century as the focal point of the property had become unsafe and was demolished. For much of the last forty years it served more as a landscape feature than a facility and had been abandoned to the elements and, now reduced to a memory. And speaking of memories, from 2008...

Every October 15, my mind floods with wonderful memories. From birth through my 27th year, the date marked an important event in my life. The story descends out of my dad's membership in the Uniform Rank of the Knights of Pythias. The URKP was an elite military-style company within a fraternal organization born out of the search for national reconciliation following the Civil War. Every good military organization needed a campground, with lodging, mess hall, recreation pavilion, and parade. The URKP had theirs in the small village of Burlington, West Virginia. It also served as a regional park, complete with playground, and was often rented for the day for family reunions, company picnics, church functions, and other large gatherings.

"Camp" at Burlington was paradise for a young boy. A creek bordering the camp offered hours of fun. You could explore the woods and fields forever. The frequent social events made the playground a great place to meet new friends. But "camping" at Burlington was, by no means, a wilderness experience. We were lucky to use a cottage that had every comfort of home. And there was a drive-in theater next door where I enjoyed the snack bar as much as the movies. Across the road was a small airfield with several Taylorcrafts and Piper Cubs, and a hangar that gave birth to many "homebuilts" over the years. I can say with confidence that Burlington was never boring.

Through the summer of 1974, I spent many weeks at "camp" every year, including several weekends of "cold camping" in the off-season. Opening the cottage and grounds for the summer, though exciting, was not especially memorable. Freezing temperatures lingered into May, so the campground usually opened on Memorial Day weekend. On the other hand, winterizing the place was like saying "Goodbye" to an old friend. Thoughts of family, friends, the big fish, fireworks, that scary movie, the old biplane, all those memories accumulated over the past six months filled your mind. Amid the blazing gold sycamores, brilliant fire oaks and maples, the smell of wood smoke, and a harvest of black walnuts, we went through the years-old closing procedure until the last item - pouring anti-freeze into sink traps - was checked. At that point, it was time to load the car, proceed with all those repetitive tasks one does "just to be sure," then close and lock the big red door until Spring.

As American society changed, the URKP fell out of fashion. Lodge members grew old and passed away. In 1974, the lodge itself and all its assets dissolved. I haven't locked that big red door for 34 years now, but I still have the key and a remarkably detailed mental picture of the cottage and landscape that I loved.

In many ways, Burlington is with me every day, for my experiences there helped shape my values, and define my career, hobbies, and general interests. The impact has been so profound that I have asked my children to do their best to provide the same opportunity for their own families.

In weaving all of the memories about this weekend, I ask you, my readers, to do the same: Find a nearby paradise and escape to it often while your children are young. There will be no sorrow there.


Illustrations and Photos:
all photos from OTR family archive

opening quote, Early Autumn, lyrics, by Johnny Mercer, The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer, Johnny Mercer, edited by Kimball, Day, Kreuger, and Davis; Knopf 2009

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, www.af.mil
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, www.poets.org