Friday Sep. 8, 2017

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The Field

Remember that meadow up above the ridge
where the dog ran around in circles
and we were tired from the climb up
and everything was tilted sideways
including the running in circles
of the ecstatic dog his bright tongue
lapping at the air and we were
leaning into the heart of the field
where no battle ever took place
where no farmer ever bothered
to turn the soil yet everything
seemed to have happened there everything
seemed to be happening at once enough
so we’ve never forgotten how full the field
was and how we were there too and full

“The Field” by Tim Nolan from The Field. © New Rivers Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

On this day in 1930, St. Paul, Minnesota, manufacturing company 3M began marketing Scotch tape. It was waterproof, transparent, and pressure-sensitive. An employee named Richard Drew had figured out how to coat strips of cellophane with adhesive. It was first called “Cellophane Tape,” but legend has it that “Scotch” came into play during the trial run, when the tape popped off a St. Paul car dealer’s automobile and he barked at Drew, "Take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!" At the time, people used “Scotch” as an adjective for “cheap.” The tape had adhesive only on the borders, not the middle, so Drew fixed this, and soon enough, it was being used regularly by bakers, grocers, and meatpackers. Sales skyrocketed during the Depression when people realized they could use the tape to repair items rather than replacing them.

In later years, 3M introduced the “snail dispenser,” which is still in use today, and a kilt-wearing mascot named “Scotty McTape.” Scotch tape became so ubiquitous that Saturday Night Live parodied the product in the 1970s with skit about a store that only sold varieties of Scotch tape.

Scotch tape’s triboluminescent radiation is strong enough to leave an X-ray image of a finger on photographic paper. Enough tape is sold annually to circle the globe 165 times.

On this evening in 1971, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., was inaugurated. The opening feature was the premiere of Mass by composer Leonard Bernstein, a work based on the Tridentine Mass of the Roman Catholic Church, but which featured performers in blue jeans and songs in English, provided by pop singer Paul Simon, as well as songs in Latin. The work was commissioned by President John F. Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline Onassis. The piece featured more than 200 performers, a full rock band, two choruses, a marching band, and 20 singers who doubled on kazoos. Bernstein was an ardent political activist. And because of his leftist political views, the FBI kept a large file on him and warned President Nixon that Mass probably contained anti-war messages. Nixon stayed away from the premiere, but said it was because the night should really belong to Onassis, Kennedy’s widow.

A Category 4 hurricane hit Galveston, Texas, on this date in 1900. The city is located on a low, flat island off the coast of Texas, about 50 miles southeast of Houston, and in 1900 it was a bustling port city. On this late summer day in 1900, Galveston was packed with tourists and vacationers, in addition to the town’s 40,000 permanent residents. People were aware of a strong tropical storm that had hit the Florida Straits on September 5, and Cuban meteorologists tried to warn their American counterparts that the storm was strong and damaging. The U.S. Weather Bureau ignored the warnings, convinced that the storm was on a curved path that would take it up the Eastern Seaboard.

With the limited technology available to forecasters at the time, it was very difficult to predict which way the storm would go, and the bureau deliberately avoided using the word “hurricane,” for fear of causing widespread panic. As a result, the people on Galveston Island weren’t warned until the central Weather Bureau office in Washington, D.C., sent out a warning on September 7. The weather seemed fairly calm, so most people on the island disregarded the warning.

The highest point on the island was only nine feet above sea level, and there was no sea wall because no one believed it was necessary. The hurricane brought a storm surge 15 feet deep and submerged the whole island, knocking buildings off their foundations. Telegraph lines and bridges to the mainland were destroyed. There was no escape and no way to call for help. A survivor later told the New York Times: “I managed to find a raft of driftwood or wreckage, and got on it, going with the tide, I knew not where. I had not drifted far before I was struck with some wreckage and my niece was knocked out of my arms. I could not save her, and had to see her drown.” Another survivor said: “It's a sight I hope I shall never see again. Destruction and desolation; wreckage strewn everywhere, chaos, and that voice still ringing in my ears, ‘Save me!’” The Great Galveston Hurricane killed 6,000 to 12,000 people, and remains the deadliest natural disaster in United States history.

Today is the birthday of Jimmie Rodgers, the American singer-songwriter and guitarist known as “The Father of Country Music.” Born in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1897, Rodgers was one of the first nationally recognized country music stars and the first inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His influence reached later country musicians, including Hank Snow, Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb, and Lefty Frizzell.

Rodgers’ music merged blues, jazz, and country traditions. His lyrics were folk tales of crime and regret, stories of railroad hands and train-hopping tramps, and breakup ballads reviewers branded “yodeling revenge.” He was known as “The Singing Brakeman” after his job as railroad brake operator, and many of his songs describe life on the road. “I’m goin’ to California, where they sleep out every night,” he sang on “Blue Yodel Number 4 (California Blues).” “… Got a home everywhere I go.” After his mother died when Rodgers was a child, he spent much of his time traveling with his father, who worked on the railroad. Jimmie worked for the railroad himself from the age of 14 to 28.

Tuberculosis forced Rodgers to leave the rails, and only then did he turn to music. Singing and picking guitar with traveling shows put him back on the road. Rodgers died from TB in 1933, at the age of 37, but not before he had recorded more than 100 songs and traveled all over the country, especially the South and Southwest.

Rodgers’ music differed from traditional, early country, which often described rural life. His songs focused on movement rather than bygone days on the farm. Recording and performing during the Great Depression, Rodgers’ interest in the life of the wanderer struck a chord with his fans, many of whom were displaced in search of work. Rodgers’ song “Hobo’s Meditation” follows a lost generation riding the rails. In it, Rodgers asks, “Will there be any freight trains in heaven?”

Today is the birthday of Terry Tempest Williams (books by this author), the American environmentalist and author of 18 books. Born in 1955 in Corona, California, Williams grew up in Salt Lake Valley, Utah, where her ancestors had settled for generations. She writes about wilderness, public lands, womanhood, war, and faith, to name a few topics. In 1991, she published Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, which merged the flooding of a beloved bird refuge near the Great Salt Lake with the story of Williams’s mother’s struggle with cancer. Williams’s combination of natural history, cultural criticism, spiritual inquisition, and personal narrative launched a new era in memoir. In Refuge, as in many of her books to follow, Williams wrestles with her Mormon faith. She wrote, “Faith is not about finding meaning in the world, there may be no such thing — faith is the belief in our capacity to create meaningful lives.”

It’s the birthday of American politician Bernie Sanders (books by this author) born and raised in Brooklyn, New York (1941), the son of paint salesman from Poland. Bernie Sanders grew up on East 26th Street in Midwood, Brooklyn.

Sanders says his interest in politics began at a young age. He says: “A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So, what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”

On his way to becoming a U.S. senator, Sanders was active in the Civil Rights movement while at the University of Chicago, served as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, for three terms, and has also been a Head Start teacher, a carpenter, and a filmmaker.

Sanders is fond of calling himself a “democratic socialist,“ saying: “All that socialism means to me, to be very frank with you, is democracy with a small ‘d.’ I believe in democracy, and by democracy I mean that, to as great an extent as possible, human beings have the right to control their own lives. And that means that you cannot separate the political structure from the economic structure. One has to be an idiot to believe that the average working person who’s making $10,000 or $12,000 a year is equal in political power to somebody who is the head of a large bank or corporation. So, if you believe in political democracy, if you believe in equality, you have to believe in economic democracy as well.”

Sanders is the longest-serving Independent in United States Congressional history.

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