Monday, July 27, 2009

Beneath Tropic Seas

"You are standing on a metal ladder in water up to your neck. Something round and heavy is slipped gently over your head, and a metal helmet rests upon your shoulders.

"Turning your head you see emerald waves breaking upon the distant beach of ivory, backed by feathery palms waving in the sunlight against a sky of pure azure.

"You wave goodbye ..and slowly descend, climbing down step by step. Then the world changes.

"There is no more harsh sunlight, but delicate blue-greens with a fluttering of shadows everywhere. Huge pink and orange growths rise on all sides -you know they are living corals.

"Now your feet touch ground ostrich feather of a sea-plume as tall as yourself sweeps against your elbow is a rounded table of lapis lazuli on which are blossoming three flowers...Their petals are resplendent in hues of gold and malachite,and are fluted and fringe like some rare unknown orchid.

"You are troubled with a terrible sense of loss that twenty, thirty, or fifty years of your life have passed and gone without your knowing of the ease of entry into this new world.

"Only a moment has passed since you left the world overhead, or was it many hours?

"All I ask of each reader is this- Don't die without having borrowed, stolen, purchased or made a helmet of sorts, to glimpse for yourself this new world. Books and aquaria are, to such an experience, only what a time-table is to an actual tour, or what a dried dusty piece of coral in a parlor is to this unsuspected realm of gorgeous life and color existing with us today on the self-same planet Earth"

From Beneath Tropic Seas: A Record of Diving Among the Coral Reefs of Haiti, by William Beebe, published by Blue Ribbon Books, 12th Printing, July 1936

Offered for sale as of 7-27-09:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Value of Military Discipline

You never know who will show up when you throw a Revolution. Could be a young officer, thirsting for his first success, destined to be the Father of His Country. Could be a fiery Virginian, shouting Give me Liberty or give me Death.

Or it could be a penniless, unemployed, recently discharged-for-dubious-reasons, German captain who arrives dressed in a red -and-blue British general's uniform.

Enter the man who would become General von Steuben, said to be a curious mix of "Baron Munchausen and Don Quixote".

Enter the man who would become the second most important man in the American Revolution, the first being Washington himself.

Steuben contributed the incomparable ingredient of military discipline to the ragtag Continental Army.

From General Von Steuben*:

"The progress attained seemed almost the soldiers grew in skill they grew in soldierly pride and that a new morale nevermore to be extinguished soon pervaded the ranks of the Continental Army. The army grew rapidly in numbers and in discipline at the same time. This new birth of the Continental Army as a trained fighting machine is Steuben's contribution to the history of the War for Independence."

No small contribution. Translation: If it wasn't for Steuben, we might still be British subjects.

His contemporary Alexander Hamilton stated:

"I never knew or conceived the value of military discipline till that day."

Listed this evening through Chewybooks at Amazon, this particular copy includes some interesting extras tucked inside its covers:

  • A letter from the author Brigadier General John McAuley Palmer dated January 1938, to The Steuben News, thanking them for the most kind review of his book, and ordering extra copies of the paper.
  • A letter from the Chairman of The Steuben News, attached, dated February 1938, with both letters sent to Bertha Schrader, the author of the book review and also the owner of this particular book edition (her name is written on the first loose endpaper)
  • An original newspaper clipping of the actual review Ms. Schrader wrote
  • A newpaper clipping of an eloquent plea for recognition of General Steuben, with the enigmatic dates of 1777-1927
  • The remains of the original front and rear panels of the dust jacket

All foldout maps are present and in pristine condition. Pages 206 and 331 have carefully tape-mended corner tears.

*General Von Steuben, by Retired Brigadier General John McAuley Palmer, published 1937, Yale University Press

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Innumerable Silences of Stars

The photo above is often attributed to being the wonderful T.E. Lawrence and his favorite camel, unfortunately it's a fake, nevertheless, it conjures up the spirit of his best-known work: Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances. For years we lived anyhow with one another in the naked desert, under the indifferent heaven. By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were dizzied by the beating wind. At night we were stained by dew, and shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silences of stars. We were a self-centred army without parade or gesture, devoted to freedom, the second of man's creeds, a purpose so ravenous that it devoured all our strength, a hope so transcendent that our earlier ambitions faded in its glare.

Blood was always on our hands: we were licensed to it. Wounding and killing seemed ephemeral pains, so very brief and sore was life with us. With the sorrow of living so great, the sorrow of punishment had to be pitiless. We lived for the day and died for it.

Lawrence wrote his memoirs back in the day when an author was expected to enchant and seize the reader with the first sentence (Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances).

Tell me, did it enchant you?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Very First Book

Do you remember it?

The very first book you ever read.

The very first book you ever yourself.

I do.

It was Mabel the Whale by Patricia King.

It was part of the Follett Beginning-To-Read Book Series , and it was illustrated by Katherine Evans.

Mabel was a whale. She lived in the Pacific Ocean. The water was very deep. The water was very blue.

(I lived on the Gulf Coast. The water was very deep, and it was very blue. We didn't have whales, but we did have dolphins that would swim next to our boat).

Mabel was a happy whale. She lived with her cousins. She played with her cousins. They swam in the deep blue ocean.

One day some men came. They came in a ship. The men caught Mabel. They did not hurt her. They put Mabel in the ship.

Then the men took Mabel away from the deep blue ocean. They took her to live in a place called Marineland. In Marineland fish and sea animals live in big pools or tanks. People come to see all the fish and sea animals.

(One of the reasons I spent so much time on the Gulf Coast was because my dad was a fisheries biologist. He spent time putting fish in big pools or tanks, so that people could come to see all the fish and sea animals).

Mabel was put into a tank. The tank was small. The water was not deep or blue. the water was not deep at all. Mabel could not hide in it. The sun shone down. It was very hot. Mabel could not hide her top fin under the water. So the hot sun burned Mabel's fin.

(The sun was very very hot on the Louisiana Gulf beaches. From time to time we would help dolphins back into the water, splashing them with water so they didn't get sunburnt).

People came to see Mabel. They looked at her through the glass. The people liked Mabel. But Mabel did not like the tank. The water was not deep. Mabel was very unhappy and she was very sad. Her fin hurt. Soon, Mabel was very sick.

She even stopped eating. Then the men at Marineland had an idea. There was a very big round tank in Marineland. If they moved Mabel to the big tank, she would have more water.

The men brought a big crane. Then they brought many mattresses. Then they bought a raft.
They put Mabel on the mattresses. Then the men lifted the raft, the mattresses, and Mabel with the big,big crane. They put the raft, the mattresses, and Mabel on a big truck. The truck moved Mabel to the big tank.

Soon Mabel felt better. She swam around her new tank. The water was deep. The water covered Mabel's fin. Mabel was happy. Mabel was a happy whale. Everyone at Marineland was happy because Mabel was well again.

Of course, even my little 4 year old mind wondered why the men just didn't put Mabel back in the deep, blue ocean.

Then we'd have a story about free whales, that swim anywhere they like, and people that wander about in boats, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mabel and her cousins.