Robins migrate, all schoolchildren
learn but here on the Cape, every
winter a flock forms and stays,
long frigid months after their
compatriots have flown south.
They live deep in the woods on
hips and berries wizened by cold.
Sometimes they appear here
among the feeder birds, one
or two almost outcasts.
Off Alaska when humpback whales
leave in fall as the waters freeze
and the world turns white, heading
for mating grounds off Hawaii
and Mexico, certain whales remain.
What makes a creature stay when
almost all of its kind have moved on?
In burned-out areas of Detroit,
you’ll notice one house still wears
curtains, a bike locked to the porch.
Sometimes in the suburbs among
tract houses with carpets of grass
one farmhouse lurks, maybe even
with a barn. I imagine its owner
grey and stubborn, still growing
the best tomatoes for miles, refusing
to plant inedible grass, fighting
neighbors about her chickens,
a rooster who crows at four,
her clothesline a flag of defiance.
“Remnants still visible” by Marge Piercy from Made in Detroit. © Knopf, 2015. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It's the birthday of children's novelist Astrid Lindgren (books by this author), born in Vimmerby, Sweden (1907). She grew up on a farm in southern Sweden, playing with her brothers and sisters and listening to her family tell stories. Eventually, she got married, had a daughter, and gave up working at age 24 in order to stay home and take care of her kids. One day, her daughter, Karin, was sick in bed, so Astrid started telling her stories of a spunky, strong, independent girl who mocks adults and manages to get by just fine without a family, caution, education, or the opposite sex. And that girl was Pippi Longstocking, with magical powers, a pet monkey, freckles, and bright red pigtails that stuck out on either side of her head. The book was published as Pippi Långstrump (1945) in Sweden, Pippi Longstocking in English, and it became one of the most beloved children's books of all time.
It's the birthday of cartoonist and author and William Steig (books by this author), born in New York City (1907). When he was 23, The New Yorker bought his first cartoon for $40. He collected his cartoons in books such as Small Fry (1944), Spinky Sulks (1988), and Our Miserable Life (1990). It was only late in his life that he began writing books for children. In 1990, he wrote Shrek!, about a green ogre whose name means "fear" in Yiddish and who has nightmares about fields of flowers and happy children who won't stop hugging and kissing him. He eventually meets an ugly princess and they fall instantly in love. Shrek! ends with the line: "And they lived horribly ever after, scaring the socks off all who fell afoul of them."
It's the birthday of Claude Monet, born in Paris (1840). He and his friend Auguste Renoir were among the first European painters to take their canvases outside to paint directly from nature. They would often work as quickly as they could, so that their paintings looked like sketches, and that sketchy style became known as Impressionism. Monet spent the rest of his career exploring the idea that you can never really see the same thing twice. In a single day, he would often paint the same subject half a dozen times, from slightly different angles and in slightly different light, spending no more than about an hour on each canvas.
In the last 30 years of his life, he painted almost nothing but the water lilies in his garden at Giverny. Monet bought the four-acre property in 1883, built the bridges, dug the lake, and selected all the flowers and plants himself. His gardens are now the property of the French Academy of Fine Arts, which hosts visitors from all over the world.
Claude Monet, who said: "I am following Nature without being able to grasp her. I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."