Wednesday Oct. 8, 2014

The Hill

I have come this far on my own legs,
missing the bus, missing taxis,
climbing always. One foot in front of the other,
that is the way I do it.

It does not bother me, the way the hill goes on.
Grass beside the road, a tree rattling
its black leaves. So what?
The longer I walk, the farther I am from everything.

One foot in front of the other. The hours pass.
One foot in front of the other. The years pass.
The colors of arrival fade.
That is the way I do it.

"The Hill" by Mark Strand, from Collected Poems. © Knopf, 2014. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of British poet and author Blake Morrison (books by this author), born in Skipton, North Yorkshire, in 1950. He worked for the Times Literary Supplement and then went on to become literary editor for The Observer and The Independent. In addition to journalism, he's written fiction, poetry, criticism, libretti, and adapted a couple of works for the stage.

He wrote a memoir called And When Did You Last See Your Father? (1993), about his complicated relationship with his father, Arthur. Arthur, a country doctor, never approved of his son's literary aspirations, even after Morrison became a successful writer and critic, and the story unfolds as the family cares for Arthur in the last few weeks of his life. The book was made into a film in 2007, starring Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth. Morrison also wrote Things My Mother Never Told Me (2002), about his mother's life in Ireland.

It's the birthday of Frank Herbert (books by this author), born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1920. He's best known for his science fiction masterpiece Dune, which was rejected by 20 publishers before it was finally accepted by Chilton — a publisher who was best known for producing auto repair manuals — in 1965. He lied about his age to get his first newspaper job in 1939, and he worked as a photographer for the U.S. Navy during World War II. He took a wide variety of courses at the University of Washington, not to earn a degree but to learn about things that interested him. He became interested in the environmental and conservation movement early on, and got the idea for Dune — which is set on an extremely arid planet where people conserve and recycle every last drop of moisture — while researching an article on the sand dunes of the Oregon coast. He used some of the profits from the book to develop solar- and wind-powered energy for his home.

It's the birthday of the British novelist, essayist, poet, philosopher, and oratorJohn Cowper Powys (books by this author), born in Derbyshire England (1872). In 1930, he retired to upstate New York and turned to full-time writing: It was here that he produced such masterpieces as Weymouth Sands and his autobiography, A Glastonbury Romance. He returned to Great Britain in 1934, settling in North Wales in 1935, where he wrote the historical novels Owen Glendower and Porius, the critical studies of Rabelais and Dostoevsky, and The Brazen Head and other inventive fantasies. Powys was at heart a luddite, for whom virtually every modern invention was anathema. He never drove a car and never used a typewriter. He thought television was pernicious. He didn't like talking on the telephone, because he didn't want his words violated by a tangle of wires.

Powys said: "A great modern novel consists of and ought to include just everything."

Today is the birthday of historian and nonfiction author Walter Lord (1917) (books by this author), born in Baltimore, Maryland. As a young boy, he became fascinated with the sinking of the Titanic, prompted in part by his mother's stories of ocean liners she'd sailed on, and also by what he put down to typical boy behavior: "I suppose if there is anything more exciting to a young boy than an ocean liner, it is an ocean liner sinking." Lord grew up and took a job at an advertising agency during the day, but at night he was still researching the Titanic and interviewing its survivors. He then crafted a factually accurate — and yet dramatic and compelling — story of the final night of the unsinkable ship: A Night to Remember was a best-seller upon its release in 1955, and it remains the chief source of information for Titanic buffs. Lord credits the success to the subject: "The appeal seems universal. To social historians it is a microcosm of the early 1900s. To nautical enthusiasts it is the ultimate shipwreck. To students of human nature it is an endlessly fascinating laboratory. For lovers of nostalgia it has the allure of yesterday. For daydreamers it has all those might-have-beens."

It's the day that the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus reached the New World. On this day in 1492, one of the sailors on the Pinta sighted land, an island in the Bahamas, after 10 weeks of sailing from Palos, Spain, with the Santa María, thePinta, and the Niña. Columbus thought he had reached East Asia. When he sighted Cuba, he thought it was China, and when the expedition landed on Hispaniola, he thought it might be Japan. Legend has it that only Columbus believed the earth was round, but that's not true; most educated Europeans at the time knew the earth wasn't flat. However, the Ottoman Empire had cut off land and sea routes to the islands of Asia. Columbus became obsessed with finding a western sea route, but he miscalculated the world's size, and he didn't know the Pacific Ocean existed. He called his plan the "Enterprise of the Indies." He pitched it first to King John II of Portugal, who rejected it, and then to the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. They also turned him down, twice, before they conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January 1492 and had some treasure to spare. Columbus led a total of four expeditions to the New World during his lifetime. And over the next century, his discovery made Spain the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.

On this day in 1956Yankees pitcher Don Larsen pitched a perfect game. He faced 27 batters and not a single one made it to base. It remains the only perfect World Series game — indeed, the only perfect post-season game — and one of only 23 perfect games in baseball history.

For the fourth time in five years, the Yankees were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers; it was Game Five and the series was tied two games to two. According to Larsen, he didn't even know he would be pitching until he got to the ballpark. He'd had a disastrous Game Two, lasting only two innings and allowing four runs on four walks. The Yankees had been up 6-0 when he took the mound, and they ended up losing, with a score of 13-8. Larsen was as stunned as anyone when he reported to the park for Game Five to find that manager Casey Stengel had tucked a baseball in his spikes. In the locker room after the game, Larsen said, "When it was over, I was so happy, I felt like crying. I wanted to win this one for Casey. After what I did in Brooklyn, he could have forgotten about me and who would blame him? But he gave me another chance and I'm grateful."

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