Saturday Nov. 4, 2017

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Bird Song, Cannon River Bottoms

I stopped for the sound,
thinking of the end of Keats’s ode,
“To Autumn.”

The cars on the distant road
replaced the lamb’s loud bleat,
and bicyclists went whirling by.

Then choruses
of trills and twitterings
filled the stadium of the air—

then faded away
as quickly as they came.
Two men on roller blades went by,

a siren wailed.
I heard the sound of wings
…and slowly it started up again—

a tweet, a chirp,
a long sentence in a language
that may have been lark.

“Bird Song, Cannon River Bottoms” by Joyce Sutphen from The Green House. © Salmon Poetry, 2017. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of Will Rogers (1879) (books by this author), also known as “America’s Cowboy Philosopher.” He got his start as a circus performer and cowboy, and became one of the most famous humorists in the world. He once said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

He was raised in Oklahoma, started a cattle ranch, sold it for $7,000, and took up with a friend for New Orleans, hoping to head to for Argentina because he’d read dime novels about the country and it seemed exciting. There weren’t any boats, though, so they went to New York and ended up sailing to England, where they finally boarded a ship for Argentina. By the time he got there, he was flat broke and decided to take a job on a ranch, where he learned to lasso over his head from 20 feet behind, a useful skill that landed him a job in a traveling circus. He was so good at rope tricks that later in life, he made the Guinness Book of World Records for throwing three lassos at once: one went around the horse’s neck, one circled the rider, and the third slipped under the horse and looped all four legs together.

Rogers traveled with the circus through Australia, Japan, China, and San Francisco. He once said a friend told his father that Rogers hadn’t done so well financially because “I came home wearing overalls for underdrawers.”

It was while he was in New York, working for the Ziegfeld Follies, that Rogers found his footing, crafting an act that was part cowboy performance and part social commentary. He would twirl his rope and do tricks and entertain the customers with a steady stream of comments about politics and everyday life. Before each show, he scoured the papers for interesting stories and tidbits. He liked to tell the audience, “All I know is what I read in the papers.”

Rogers was a staunch Democrat, but once joked about Roosevelt’s New Deal: “Lord, the money we do spend on Government and it’s not one bit better than the government we got for one-third the money twenty years ago.”

Will Rogers loved air travel so much that it was once estimated that he logged more than 700,000 miles by air in just seven years. He traveled around the world three times, made 71 movies, like Doubting Thomas, Judge Priest, and State Fair, and wrote more than 4,000 newspaper columns in his lifetime. He was even the highest-paid Hollywood film star for a time. He was so popular that he served as mayor of Beverly Hills, acting mayor of New Orleans, and “Ambassador to the World.” His name was even bandied about for the governorship of Oklahoma and for the presidency of the United States.

When he was asked what it takes to be funny, Will Rogers answered: “A gag to be any good has to be fashioned about some truth. The rest you get by your slant on it and perhaps by a wee bit of exaggeration, so’s people won’t miss the point.”

Will Rogers died in 1935 in a plane crash in Alaska. On the value of life experience, he joked: “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

And, “I’m not a member of any organized political party … I’m a Democrat.”

And, “Congress is so strange; a man gets up to speak and says nothing, nobody listens, and then everybody disagrees.”

On this day in 2008, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois defeated Senator John McCain of Arizona to become the 44th U.S. president. Barack Obama was just 47 years old when he became president of the United States, and the first African American elected to the White House. He was the first sitting U.S. senator to win the White House since John Kennedy in 1960.

On the night he won the election, Barack Obama delivered a historic speech before a crowd at Chicago’s Grant Park. His victory came 143 years after the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. He said: “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. […] It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America.”

Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother was from Kansas and his father was from Kenya. Growing up as a mixed-race child was difficult. He said: “I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog […] and that Santa was a white man. I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking as I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me.”

He played basketball, studied hard, earned a place at the Harvard Law Review, passed the bar, and worked for a time as a lawyer and community activist in Chicago before pursuing politics.

When Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the United States on January 20, 2009, more than 1.8 million people watched from the grounds of the National Mall. During his two terms as president, he began a tradition of pardoning not just one, but two turkeys at Thanksgiving. His daughters gave the annual turkeys names like Tater, Tot, Mac, Cheese, Gobbler, and Cobbler.

He is the first president to have been born in Hawaii. During his first two years in office, he oversaw landmark reforms like the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which gave millions of Americans health insurance they desperately needed. On the day he signed the bill in 2010, he said, “The bill I’m signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see. Today we are affirming that essential truth, a truth every generation is called to rediscover for itself, that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations.”

President Barack Obama promised: “We’re going to have a woman president. We’re going to have a Latino president. And we’ll have a Jewish president, a Hindu president. You know, who knows who we’re going to have? I suspect we’ll have a whole bunch of mixed up presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call them.”

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®