First the Chickadees take
their share, then fly
to the bittersweet vine,
where they crack open the seeds,
excited, like poets
opening the day’s mail.
And the Evening Grosbeaks—
those large and prosperous
with the latest equipment, bright
yellow goggles on their faces.
Now the Bluejay comes in
for a landing, like a SAC bomber
returning to Plattsburgh
after a day of patrolling the ozone.
Every teacup in the pantry rattles.
The solid and graceful bodies
of Nuthatches, perpetually
upside down, like Yogis…
and Slate-Colored Juncoes, feeding
on the ground, taking only
what falls to them.
The cats watch, one
from the lid of the breadbox,
another from the piano. A third
flexes its claws in sleep, dreaming
perhaps, of a chicken neck,
or of being worshiped as a god
at Bubastis, during
the XXIII dynasty.
“At the Feeder” by Jane Kenyon from Collected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of Canadian author and conservationist Farley Mowat (books by this author), born in Belleville, Ontario (1921). He had numerous pets as a kid: the usual cats and dogs, but also a squirrel, an owl, some insects, and an alligator. He wrote a book about his own dog, called The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be, and it was published in 1957. He’s best known for his books about the Canadian Arctic. His book Never Cry Wolf became a best-seller when it came out in 1963.
It’s the birthday of the artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (books by this author), born in London (1828). His sister, Christina Rossetti, was also a poet. Their father was an Italian expatriate, and their home was always wide open to any other Italian expats in London, from politicians to organ grinders. Rossetti studied art at the Royal Academy and was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of artists who rejected any art from Raphael onward. They wanted to return to the lush colors and passionate subjects of 15th-century Italian painting. Rossetti was fascinated with medieval culture, especially the legend of King Arthur, and a lot of his subjects were drawn from stories of the Middle Ages. He often wrote sonnets to accompany his paintings, and also provided illustrations for his sister Christina’s poems. When his wife, Elizabeth, died of a laudanum overdose in 1862, he buried many of his poems with her. Later, his friends persuaded him to exhume the poetry, which he published in 1870. They were sensual and erotic, and caused a scandal.
Today is the birthday of the poet and artist Edward Lear (books by this author), born in London in 1812. He was one of 21 children, about half of whom died in infancy. His older sister Ann raised him and taught him to draw and paint. He found work as a drawing teacher, a sign painter, and an illustrator of medical textbooks. He was hired by the London Zoological Society to produce a series of bird paintings, and he insisted on painting only from live specimens, not stuffed dead birds. His paintings impressed the Earl of Derby, so he asked Lear to come and document the animals in the private zoo he kept on his estate. Lear lived at Knowsley Hall for four years, working on the paintings, which were eventually published in the book Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall (1846). He also befriended the Earl’s grandchildren, and he began writing poetry for them, lots of limericks and nonsense verse, including “The Owl and the Pussycat.”
It’s the birthday of Florence Nightingale (1820), the founder of modern nursing. Nightingale was born to a wealthy English family in Florence, Italy, and raised in London. Her father believed girls should be educated, which was unusual for the time, and tutored Nightingale in Latin, Greek, philosophy, and mathematics. Later in life, she became an excellent statistician, inventing the pie chart as a way to explain the spread of contagious disease.
Her parents forbade her to enter nursing, which was considered a working-class occupation. Her mother wanted her to marry, but Nightingale refused. She wrote to a friend, “God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.” In 1850, she visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein in Germany, where she observed the deaconesses caring for the deprived and ill. She took four months of medical training there, the foundation for her future as a nurse.
Returning to London, she took a position at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen. Her father, resigned, supported her financially. Her mother wrote to a friend, “I do not expect that love passages will be frequent in her life.” Indeed, Nightingale did have suitors, and one in particular for nine years, but she broke it off, thinking it would interfere with her vocation.
During the Crimean War, British citizens were outraged to learn their wounded soldiers were being treated poorly. In October of 1854, Nightingale gathered 38 volunteer nurses and 15 Catholic nuns and traveled to the Ottoman Empire. They were horrified to find that the British hospital sat over a large cesspool, which had contaminated the water. Water was being rationed, rodents roamed in large numbers, medicine was scarce, and hygienic practices were nil. Nightingale established a laundry, kitchen, classroom, even a library, and instituted hand-washing procedures for everyone. During her war service, she reduced the death rate from 42 percent to 2 percent, mostly by introducing sanitary reforms, which helped control the spread of infection. She advocated for personal care for patients, roaming the hallways at night with a lantern, chatting with the wounded. She became known as the “Lady with the Lamp,” and the Times of London said of her, “She is a ‘ministering angel,’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her.”
After the war, Nightingale was treated like a hero for her efforts, though she generally spurned the attention, saying: “They (patients) don’t want you to be lachrymose and whining with them, they like you to be fresh and active and interested. [...] A sick person does so enjoy hearing good news.”
When she returned to London, she established the Nightingale Training School to train nurses. It is now called the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery and is part of King’s College, London.
Her book Notes on Nursing: What it is and What it is not (1859) was one of the first texts on the nursing practice and even sold well to the public. It’s still considered a cornerstone of the nursing curriculum and includes advice and practice on procedures such as the cleanliness of rooms, observation of the sick, and ventilation and warming. Her ideas on patient room design have influenced hospital architecture this day. She said, “I have seen [...] the most acute suffering produced from the patient not being able to see out of the window and the knots of the wood being the only view.”
Nightingale’s birthday is International Nurses Day, a celebration that marks the contributions of nurses to society. It’s been celebrated by the International Council of Nurses since 1965. Australia chooses a Nurse of the Year. In China, nurses recite the Florence Nightingale Pledge, a modified version of the Hippocratic oath, created in 1893. It reads, in part: “May my life be devoted to service and to the high ideals of the nursing profession.” In the U.K., during a service at Westminster Abbey, a symbolic lamp is taken from the Nurses’ Chapel in the Abbey and handed from one nurse to another, then to the Dean, who places it on the High Altar. The lamp symbolizes Nightingale’s lantern, which is now on display in the Florence Nightingale Museum in London, along her with stuffed pet owl, her letters, and her nursing uniform.
Florence Nightingale said, “Women should have the true nurse calling, the good of the sick first, the second only the consideration of what is their ‘place’ to do — and that women who want for a housemaid to do this or the charwomen to do that, when the patient is suffering, have not the making of a nurse in them.”
On this date in 2002, Jimmy Carter arrived in Cuba for a five-day visit. He was the first U.S. president — sitting or former — to visit the island since Calvin Coolidge made the trip in 1928, well before Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.
Carter, his wife Rosalynn, and some representatives of the Carter Center were greeted warmly upon their arrival in Havana. “We have arrived as friends of the Cuban people,” Carter said in Spanish. Castro said: “More than once during our brief encounters abroad, I had expressed my wishes for you to visit Cuba. Today those sincere wishes are a reality,” Later, he added, “You will have free access to every place you want to go, and we shall not take offense for any contact you may wish to make, even with those who do not share our endeavors.” During his visit, Carter called for an end to the United States trade embargo, publicly chided Castro’s regime for its poor human rights record, and took in a baseball game.
Carter returned to Cuba in 2011, at the invitation of Cuban president Raúl Castro, Fidel Castro’s brother and successor. President Carter again called for an end to the trade embargo and argued for more protection of human rights. And earlier this year, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge. “My lifetime has spanned a time of isolation between us,” Obama said. “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.”