Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Trail Through Leaves

From A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal As A Path To Place:

"It took many years of writing, thousands of pages, to discover that I could not find the fit between experience and record by writing with "summing up" words. To say that a canoe trip was wonderful, and that the river was beautiful, and that I had many adventures accomplished nothing in the journal: I didn't even have the pleasure of reliving the best moments while writing about them. And yet this ingrained tendency to generalize I still have to fight daily.

"A journal filled with "nices", "wonderfuls", "terribles", and "interestings" is one drained of any live juice. If that kind of writing merely reflects habit, there is hope for change. If the writer insists in it, consider it a sign of a deep-seated fear of the real."

This is the most intimate book on the craft of writing I have ever read. It falls somewhere between a suggestion of how and why to keep a journal, and a detailed, vividly illustrated book of nature. I've seen it featured on other sites as a way to teach writing through science. I believe it's closest cousin would be the much-loved Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden (1906).

Highly recommended to any aspiring or accomplished wordscribe or naturalist.

"Sometimes the pen on the page is alive, and sometimes it seems stupid and stumbling. Often I wait, bending over that dark pool full of hidden words, and suddenly the right ones surface. I'm ready for them, and feel something of the keen pleasure as I did when speed and strength became equipoise over a jump.

"Other times the pool stays blank, just a maddening lifeless flatness. The presence or absence of flow can't be dictated, but a person can remain agile and alert, ready to recognize and act on whatever comes.

"The pleasure of encountering the next blank page-spread in the journal seems never to diminish...."

A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal As A Path To Peace, Hannah Hinchman. Offered for Sale by Chewybooks, as of October 29, 2009.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Magic Descending

In 1833, there was a now-legendary, magical display in the heavens...the Leonid Meteor Shower. From New York to California, from Canada to Alabama, all the world seemed caught up in the trail of the comet Temple-Tuttle.

A firsthand account, from the early morning hours of November 13, 1833:

"See! The whole heavens are on fire! All the stars are falling!" These cries brought us all into the open yard, to gaze upon the grandest and most beautiful scene my eyes have ever beheld. It did appear as if every star had left its moorings, and was drifting rapidly in a westerly direction, leaving behind a track of light which remained visible for several seconds.

"Some of those wandering stars seemed as large as the full moon, or nearly so, and in some cases they appeared to dash at a rapid rate across the general course of the main body of meteors, leaving in their track a bluish light, which gathered into a thin cloud not unlike a puff of smoke from a tobacco-pipe. Some of the meteors were so bright that they were visible for some time after day had fairly dawned.

"Imagine large snowflakes drifting over your head, so near you that you can distinguish them, one from the other, and yet so thick in the air as to almost obscure the sky; then imagine each snowflake to be a meteor, leaving behind it a tail like a little comet; these meteors of all sizes, from that of a drop of water to that of a great star, having the size of the full moon in appearance: and you may then have some faint idea of this wonderful scene." Samuel Rogers, circuit preacher, Toils and Struggles of the Olden Times, 1880.

Many years later, in 1934, Carl Carmer would write a fascinating book Stars Fell on Alabama, an authentic collection of folkways, customs, and an honest look at Alabama circa 1934, complete with poverty and racial violence. Illustrations were provided by the incomparable Cyrus Leroy Baldridge. The frontiespiece was a carefully drawn state map, designating The Red Hills, The Foothills, Black Belt, Cajan Country, and Conjure Country, with a Baldridge illustration for each section, in addition to smaller drawings tucked in along the page edges.

A brief excerpt:

"Alabama felt a magic descending, spreading, long ago. Since then it has been a land with a spell in it - not a good spell, always. Moons, red with the dust of barren hills, thin pine trunks barring horizons, festering swamps, restless yellow rivers, are all a part of a feeling - a strange certainty that above and around them hovers excitement - an emanation of malevolence that threatens to destroy men through dark ways of its own.

"...once upon a time stars fell on Alabama, changing the land's destiny. What had been written in eternal symbols was thus erased - and the region has existed ever since, unreal and fated, bound by a horoscope such as controls no other country."

A bit later in Conjure Country:

"I saw them walking down the hill from the direction of the old house...they wore their Sunday-best - black suits and white shirts and collars for the men, black skirts and white shirt-waists for the women - adding to the silhouette effect as I looked up at the long line of them in sharp outline against the red clay of the barren slope and the light blue of the sky behind it. They were singing a spirtual, one I have rarely heard, 'Break Them Chains', and they were swaying slowly in time to its minor cadences."

From Tuscaloosa Nights:

"Beneath the tall elms on Queen City Avenue rode three horsemen robed in white. As they passed the black background of the big tree trunks the moonlight picked them out distinctly...

"Behind the mounted trio stretched a long column of marching white figures, two and two, like an army of coupled ghosts, their shapeless flopping garments tossing up and down in the still night air.

"Look," he said, "can you see their shoes? They tell alot."

"Moving under the edges of the white robes were pants-leg ends and shoes, hundreds of them. A pair that buttoned and had cloth tops, a heavy laced pair splashed with mud, canvas sneakers, congress gaiters - a yellow pair with knobbly toes swung past. At the very end a lone figure in sturdy grained oxfords, his sheet twisted awry, stepped gingerly - a little uncertainly."

"So I have chosen to write of Alabama not as a state which is part of a nation, but as a strange country in which I once lived and from which I have now returned...."

Stars Fell on Alabama, Carl Carmer, Offered for sale by Chewybooks as of October 27,2009.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No Regrets

In 1935, FDR endeavored to provide jobs for the 20,000 - 30,000 unemployed actors, directors, writers, stagehands, and designers left idle in the Great Depression. The Federal Theatre Project ran from 1935-1939, and was overseen by Hallie Flangan (above) a drama professor from Vassar. FDR personally chose Flanagan to run the national program that eventually employed 13,000 people in various theatres in thirty-one states.

Eventually, this very successful program ran afoul of the political redbaiting of the time and Hallie Flanigan (having had visited Russia at one point in her life, and therefore obviously being a Communist) had to testify to a government committee as to exactly what the theatres were up to. Need I say that the Representative who saw a Communist behind every theatre curtain was Republican?

A brief excerpt from Arena, The History of the Federal Theatre Project:

"Just as it sometimes happens that a drop of water in a certain light mirrors a landscape, so the Federal Theatre was a microcosm reflecting changes in American attitudes. The Federal Theatre cost money; it represented labor unions, old and new; it did not bar aliens or members of minority parties. It was perhaps the triumph as well as the tragedy of our actors that they became indeed the abstract and brief chronicles of the time.

"Thus the Federal Theatre ended as it had begun, with fearless presentation of problems touching American life. But I do not believe that anyone who worked on it regrets that it stood from first to last against reaction, against prejudice, against racial, religious and political intolerance.

"Anyone who thinks that those things do not need fighting for today is out of touch with reality."

Arena, The History of the Federal Theatre Project,by Hallie Flanagan, 1980 printing,
Offered for sale by Chewybooks, as of October 20,2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Toledo Reeks of Mysticism

In 1928, the European Tour was a rite of passage for upper class American college kids (much the same as for their 1960s and 1970s counterparts). For both generations, half the fun was bumming around Europe, ferreting out the cheapest deals on good food, places to stay and late night entertainment.

Enter The Hand-Me-Down-1928. Created at the end of the summer in 1927 "by several hundred students who pooled their European hotel findings and their pet discoveries that they might be passed on to future student travelers, to save their pocketbooks and enrich their trips."

"The result is the 1928 Hand-Me-Down, which you have just received in exchange for fifty cents...Amended Hand-Me-Downs will be handed down to students to come in 1929 and everafter.

"There are a number of blank pages at the back of the book for memorandums and instructions as to how to record your information. At the end of the summer those pages may be torn out and sent to..."

"Don't expect the book to be perfect - romance for Sally may not be romance for John; what pleases Peter may not please you. It goes without saying that the Hand-Me-Down is not public property. It is for STCA passengers only, and only 1500 of them."

And what sort of impressions did the 1928 student traveller leave?

"In Arles, France, the Treviot Restaurant....has a sawdust covered floor but serves delicious meals for 12-15 fr

"In Carcassonne, France, Notes: A very, very old lady who sits outside the walls near entrance will teach you how to weave fish nets

"In Paris, France, Chateau Madrid Restaurant: Dancing out of doors, tea is less catastrophic

"Winchester, Great Britain,Black Swan Hotel: Don't get a room on the road if you want to sleep

"Florence, Italy, Picchiole Hotel: excellent and cheap, but pigeons have a habit of flying right into your room

"Krak0w, Poland, De France Hotel: Cheap and delightful, chambermaids are barefooted

"Toledo, Spain, Notes: Unexcelled location on top of hill, accessible only by two very fine bridges. Don't fail to overlook lower city at night... Toledo reeks of mysticism."

Offered for sale, The Hand-Me-Down 1928, as of October 16, 2009, by Chewybooks.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The First Oil Rush

"A Seneca woman knelt by a creek in the Allegheny hills and spread an open blanket over a rainbow of colors that shimmered on the water. Then she carefully pulled in the heavy, dripping blanket and squeezed it over a pail. A dozen times she repeated the process until at last the pail was filled with.....oil. The year was 1750.

"Just as they stored meat, so the Senecas stored crude oil. They dabbed it on wounds and bruises. If a wound was slow to heal, they wrapped a stick in dry vines, dipped it in crude oil, and set fire to it. The flaming stick was used to burn away dead, decayed skin. Frequently they swallowed the crude oil a gulp at a time to cure fever and headache. When mixed with colored juice squeezed from berries and leaves, it became a war paint that stayed on through the sweat of battle. Each year after the spring floods, the Senecas would gather by the banks of the oil creek, bringing their sick and wounded to be healed in the soothing water. At the end of the day, the oily slick on the water would be set afire with a torch. As the flaming waters lighted up the night, shout after shout would burst forth from the assembled Senecas.

"A little over a hundred years later Colonel Edwin L. Drake brought up from the bowels of the earth near this creek the first oil ever mined in America - and the world's most lucrative business was born."

An interesting read, as we argue whether or not we've reached "Peak Oil".

The First Oil Rush, by Frances G. Conn and Shirley Sirota Rosenberg, Stated First Edition, 1967, with dust jacket. Offered for sale as of October 12, 2009 by Chewybooks.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Take Your Family To Work Day

"The Williams family sailed the seas in the great days of American whaling. Eliza Azelia Williams set out from New Bedford in 1858 aboard her husband's vessel, the 'Florida', for a three-year voyage. She had two children born at sea, and the boy William grew up to go whaling in his turn, while the girl married Edgar Lewis "the Whalebone King." William was only twelve when the Williams' ship was abandoned with thirty-one others in the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean. He was fifteen when he became a junior office on the whaler 'Florence'.

So much for the old sailor's prejudice against having women onboard a sailing ship. Actually, reading the entries of Eliza's diary, there are more than a few meet-ups with other whaling ships, and their captains, along with their respective wives.

Not only did the good Captain Williams take his wife to sea with him, but she was four months pregnant when they set sail. On January 12, 1859, Eliza delivered a boy and continued filling her journal pages with whales, assorted tropical islands they stopped at, exotic natives and so forth. Not until late January does she mention "we have a fine healthy Boy, born 5 days before we got into Port".

That's it. The woman delivered a boy, by herself, onboard a whaling ship, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and didn't even blink.

One Whaling Family, Edited by Harold Williams, First Edition, 1964, Offered for sale by Chewybooks, as of 10-6-2009.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

So Bends the Bamboo


After it all has been said,

Can ought be left to say?

Havoc has spread down its bed

With the dead in the night.

Rains cannot hope to smother

Hope, rising through the mist.

Man and forgotten brother

Clasp hands, in faith, again.

Poems of 1959 Japan, from a Western point-of-view, written by Virginia L. Lantz.

So Bends The Bamboo, 1959, First Edition without dust jacket; signed by author on reverse of first title page.

Offered for sale by Chewybooks as of 10-4-09.