Sunday Nov. 2, 2014

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After Spending the Morning Baking Bread

Our cat lies across the stove’s front burners,
right leg hanging over the oven door. He
is looking into the pantry where his bowl
sits full on the counter. His smaller dish,
the one for his splash of cream, sits empty.
Say yes to wanting to be this cat. Say
yes to wanting to lie across the leftover
warmth, letting it rise into your soft belly,
spreading into every twitch of whisker, twist
of fur and cell, through the Mobius strip
of your bloodstream. You won’t know
you will die. You won’t know the mice
do not exist for you. If a lap is empty and
warm, you will land on it, feel an unsteady
hand along your back, fingers scratching
behind your ear. You will purr.

"After Spending the Morning Baking Bread" by Jack Ridl from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron. © Wayne State University Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this day in 1948 that Harry S. Truman managed one of the great election upsets in American history, beating the Republican governor of New York, Thomas E. Dewey, for the presidency. Truman had been doing badly in the polls in part because he'd come into office after Franklin Roosevelt's sudden death on April 12, 1945, and he'd never really lived up to Roosevelt's reputation. Truman wasn't well known, and people painted him as a country bumpkin from Missouri, with no college degree. Republicans took control of the Congress in the mid-term elections in 1946, and factions of the Democratic Party were splitting off into the Progressive Party and the Dixiecrats. Two months before the election, the pollster Elmo Roper announced that he was going to stop surveying voters, because Truman was so far behind.

But Truman didn't give up. He set out on his Whistle Stop Tour, with a private railroad car outfitted with a sound system so that he could pull into small towns and give speeches directly from the train. That fall of 1948, he traveled 21,928 miles, just short of the distance around the world, and he delivered more than 300 speeches, including the first speech ever delivered by an American president to a black audience in Harlem.

On Election Day, he went to bed early, after a ham sandwich and a glass of milk. When he woke up around midnight and turned on the radio, they were reporting that he was ahead in the popular vote by more than 1 million, but the announcer said that he was still undoubtedly beaten. It turned out that he had won 303 electoral votes to Dewey's 189. Not a single news organization in the country had predicted the election correctly. Two days after the election, Truman was making an appearance in St. Louis and somebody handed him a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the headline, "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN." He held the paper over his head, and that became the source of the famous photograph. An unsigned editorial in the conservative New York Sun said of Truman's upset victory, "You just have to take off your hat to a beaten man who refuses to stay licked."

It's the birthday of the frontiersman Daniel Boone, born on this day in 1734 near Reading, Pennsylvania. When he was young, his family moved to North Carolina, where Daniel loved to hunt in the forest. He educated himself by taking books with him on his hunting trips. He went on long hunting and exploring expeditions, and he crossed the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.

Even during his lifetime, Boone was a figure of legend. He was captured by Indians, and he lived with them as an adopted son before he escaped.

Daniel Boone was a man of few words, so his biographers took free rein and invented long, eloquent speeches for him. They also embellished the facts — these biographies have Boone wrestling with bears or swinging away from Indians on vines. He became so famous as a pioneer hero that the poet Lord Byron included him as a character in his epic poem Don Juan, in 1823.

Daniel Boone, who said, "I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks."

It was on this day in 1889 that North Dakota and South Dakota became the 39th and 40th states of the Union. The two states had long been one of the remotest regions of the country, and one of the least explored by European settlers. The early surveyors labeled the Dakota territories "Indian Country," and that had scared off most travelers. But Lewis and Clark did spend the winter there in 1804. It's where they saw their first grizzly bear. Lewis wrote: "[The grizzly bear is] a most tremendious looking anamal, and extreemly hard to kill. I find that the curiossity of our party is pretty well satisfyed with rispect to this anamal."

The barren landscape of the Dakota territories didn't help attract settlers either. General Alfred Sully patrolled the area in 1864 and described it as "Hell with the fires out."

In 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and a flood of prospectors poured in from the east, battling and displacing the Dakota people as they came. There were numerous battles between setters and Indians over the next decade and a half, but by 1881, most native people had been forced to live on reservations. The Northern Pacific Railway brought in 100,000 more people to settle in the Dakota Territory.

Today, the Dakotas are still pretty remote to most Americans. The population of each state is about the same as it was almost a century ago. North Dakota is still the least visited state in the nation. South Dakota is home to half of the wild buffalo left in this country.

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