Saturday Sep. 6, 2014


I eat these
wild red raspberries
still warm from the sun
and smelling faintly of jewelweed
in memory of my father

tucking the napkin
under his chin and bending
over an ironstone bowl
of the bright drupelets
awash in cream

my father
with the sigh of a man
who has seen all and been redeemed
said time after time
as he lifted his spoon

men kill for this.

"Appetite" by Maxine Kumin, from Selected Poems: 1960-1990. © Norton, 1990. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer Alice Sebold (books by this author), born in Madison, Wisconsin (1963). Her breakthrough was her first novel, The Lovely Bones(2002), the story of a 14-year-old girl who is raped and murdered and narrates the whole novel from heaven while looking down on her family and murderer. It remained on theNew York Times best-seller list for more than a year.

She said: "I was motivated to write about violence because I believe it's not unusual. I see it as just a part of life, and I think we get in trouble when we separate people who've experienced it from those who haven't."

It's the birthday of the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize: public health worker, community organizer, and social activist Jane Addams, born to a wealthy Quaker family in Cedarville, Illinois, 154 years ago today (1860).

She suffered from depression and went to Europe, thinking it would help. She visited a settlement house in London, a place that offered social services to the poor. She was deeply impressed by it, and after founding an experimental house like this in England, she returned to the States to establish one on the South Side of Chicago in the 19th Ward, a neighborhood full of poor immigrants from Russia, Greece, Italy, and Germany. It was in an abandoned mansion formerly owned by Charles Hull, and so she called it Hull House. It had a communal kitchen, a day care, a library, and a little bookbinding business.

Women boarded at Hull House, and it was also a neighborhood center, a performing arts center, and a space where book club meetings and classes were held. Two thousand people showed up each week from the area, and Hull House grew to add a dozen more buildings. Addams wrote about it in some of her books, including Twenty Years at Hull House (1910).

Addams was a leader in the women's suffrage movement, fought for immigrants' rights, and lobbied for labor reform. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Her books include The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (1909) and Peace and Bread in Time of War (1922).

It's the birthday of Robert Pirsig (books by this author), born in Minneapolis (1928). He's the author of the cult classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (1974), a book that has sold more than 5 million copies, which is a lot for a book on philosophy. It's an account of his road trip from Minnesota to California, and his quest to reconcile Eastern and Western philosophical traditions. The book begins:

"I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning. The wind, even at sixty miles an hour, is warm and humid. When it's this hot and muggy at eight-thirty, I'm wondering what it's going to be like in the afternoon. [...] In the wind are pungent odors from the marshes by the road. We are in an area of the Central Plains filled with thousands of duck hunting sloughs, heading northwest from Minneapolis toward the Dakotas. [...] I'm happy to be riding back into this country. It is a kind of nowhere, famous for nothing at all and has an appeal because of just that. Tensions disappear along old roads like this."

The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England on this date in 1620. The ship carried 102 colonists, about 40 of whom were what we call "Pilgrims" today. They referred to themselves as "Saints" or "Separatists" because their aim was to sever all ties with the Church of England, which they viewed as corrupt and idolatrous. The Separatists had originally planned to settle in Holland, which was free from religious persecution, but they soon found the country's morals far too lax for their liking. William Bradford, who would go on to become governor of Plymouth Colony, wrote that the young people were being seduced "by evill example into extravagance and dangerous courses." They set their sights on the New World instead.

Back in England, the Separatists hired two boats: the Speedwell and the Mayflower. TheSpeedwell wasn't seaworthy, as it turned out, and they wasted valuable time in port trying to fix her before finally giving up. By the time they finally left, the weather and currents were not favorable, and the ship didn't make very good time, averaging about two miles an hour. About halfway to the New World, the ship ran into a fierce Atlantic storm, which cracked one of the ship's massive beams. And they went a bit off course, landing near Cape Cod when they'd intended to land in the Virginia Colony. The two-month journey was not an easy one. Since the Mayflower had originally been a merchant ship, it wasn't designed to accommodate large numbers of passengers. About 130 people were crammed into a boat that was probably only 90 feet long. Since the passengers were, in this case, the cargo, they had to live in the cargo hold, with its thin walls and low ceilings. Anyone over five feet tall was forced to stoop. Larger livestock was left in England, but passengers brought other farm animals like goats, pigs, and poultry; some of them even brought their dogs, cats, or pet birds.

The Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod in the middle of December. Most of the passengers remained aboard the ship, while a few hardy souls braved the harsh winter and began work on building shelter. Only half of the passengers and crew made it through that first winter; those that survived finally moved ashore in March. Since the colonists' settlement contract with England had specified the Virginia Colony, they did not have permission to settle in the Massachusetts Bay. To rectify this, 41 of the passengers drew up the Mayflower Compact, which promised to create a "civil Body Politick" with "just and equal laws" that would be loyal to the English king. Every adult male had to sign it before he and his family were allowed to go ashore.

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