Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sedimentary Formations


Natural Bridge near Sun City before demolition
Some of you who are long-time followers of this blog may remember the blogs about the Natural Bridge near Sun City, KS, and you may also remember the blogs about Isaac Werner's potato-selling trips to Sun City, during which he ruminated about the unusual terrain and rock formations.

The photograph at right clearly shows the layering of sedimentary rock in the Natural Bridge near Sun City taken prior to its destruction.  It also shows how water gradually cut an opening in the rock to create the bridge.

Photo credit:  Moondigger
Many beautiful formations can be found in the United States.  The picture at left, taken from below with the camera aimed skyward "Inside Lower Antelope Canyon" by Moondigger, shows the effect of erosion by wind and water that has exposed the elegant sculpturing of layers of sandstone.

In Southwestern Utah a more rugged example of Sedimentary Formations consisting of siltstones and limestones from the Middle Triassic Period illustrates another means of layering in sedimentary Formations.

Viewed by us but not my photograph
Others of you who follow the blog regularly will also remember my posting of photographs taken of Castle Rock and surrounding outcroppings in that area of northwestern Kansas.

My fascination with sedimentary formations caused me to see one particular circumstance in a geological manner, rather than observing it for what is actually was.

Castle Rock in Kansas
A Kansas "mountain range"
Use your imagination to picture the "mountain range" at right as a sedimentary formation, laid down layer by layer.  That is exactly what I did for a split second as we drove by a Kansas field.  Of course, what I saw was not a mountain range built up layer by layer over eons but rather piles of grain unloaded side-by-side by a Kansas farmer who must have found himself lacking granary storage space.

While it may not have been a mountain range, it was beautiful and offered an interesting comparison of how different materials deposited on top of each other over many eons created the sedimentary rock formations we see today in such places as those pictured above.

The photograph at right shows the grain auger used to transfer the grain from the truck that brought it to the site onto the cleared area on which the grain is being temporarily stored.

The last image shows more closely the layering resulting as the auger deposits the grain on the pile, truck load by truck load.

Beauty is all around us, and with a little imagination, what we see can transport us to imagined places--a wind-shaped canyon, a far-away desert, a distant planet!

Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.








Thursday, July 13, 2017

What is Populism?


Isaac Werner's Journal
The discovery of Isaac Werner's journal is what led to my manuscript with the working title of "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Homesteader and the Populist Movement."  However, what intrigued me as I read his daily accounts of solitary work, neighborhood activities, and trips to surrounding towns, was the social and political involvement that culminated in the Populist Movement.  Although I was raised in Isaac's community, I knew little about the important participation of my community and region in that movement.

I hope I have informed those of you who follow the blog about that involvement; however, the news of recent months has made "populism" a common word.  Just what is Populism?  How could news reporters have described the campaigns of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as attracting a populist base, and what would their campaigns have in common with the Populism of the late 1800s with which Isaac Werner and his region were so involved?

I'll start with a simple definition.  The word comes from the Latin word populus, meaning people, and is intended to emphasize the power of common people and their right to participate in government through their numbers by using their votes to confront the smaller numbers of the wealthy and political insiders.  While that is a simple definition, the term is used in ways that have very different meanings, depending on the political goals of those being described.

Populism is not unique to America.  Populist Movements have arisen all around the world, and populist leaders have been elected in many countries.  Populism has been employed by both political parties considered liberal and those considered conservative.  It has been used to gather votes but abandoned once in office.  It has been applied to candidates as an insult and as a virtue.  In short, answering the question I raised in my title is probably impossible for one blog!  Perhaps it is nearly impossible for any number of words to pin down!

Political cartoon from the County Capital in St. John, KS
In an article by Marie Antelme posted in April 2017, she wrote:  "...there is no single definition of populism, and no common ideology that defines populist politics."  She did seek to distinguish between "Leftist political populism," which she described as more likely to attract lower- and middle-income voters confronting the wealthy, politically powerful and economically influential elite, and "Rightest" populism, which she identified as more likely to be anti-immigrant, racially resentful, and disliking elites whom they saw as protecting or supporting such outsiders.  Ms. Antelme is an economist with a South African asset management investment firm.  She analyzed populism from an economic perspective, concluding the "Countries with ageing population (like the US and many European countries) need a pragmatic, agreed policy on immigration," and concluding that the political parties in these countries need to find "...the right kinds of jobs--with sufficient pay--in a world of integrated supply chains and disruptive technologies, while providing effective social support as populations age."

Bloomberg writer Stephen Mihm, writing Dec. 13, 2015 during the political campaigns referred back to populism's origins in the late 1800s, describing it as a rural movement arising during the Gilded Age.  He wrote,that "...the Farmers' Alliance morphed into the People's Party" in order to confront "an era of rampant inequality, devastating financial crises and a pervasive belief that the game was rigged against ordinary Americans."  Mihm saw Populists of that era as very different from today's populists, but he listed five things populists of differing times have in common:  1. Anger, 2. Nativism, 3. Dislike of Wall Street, 4. Religious Prejudice (Jews in earlier times and Muslims today), and 5. Conspiracy Theories. (Examples of this might be Foreign Syndicates in the late 1800s buying mortgages to reduce farmers to serfs and accusations of 'fake news' today.)

FDR and Populist ideas

On March 22, 2017, Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio published a detailed examination of populism titled "Populism:  The Phenomenon."  He wrote:  "Populism is a political and social phenomenon that arises from the common man, typically not well-educated, being fed up with 1) wealth and opportunity gaps, 2) perceived cultural threats from those with different values in the country and from outsiders, 3) the 'establishment elites' in positions of power, and 4) government not working effectively for them. ...Populist leaders are typically confrontational rather than collaborative and exclusive rather than inclusive."  He summarizes, "In other words, populism is a rebellion of the common man against the elites and, to some extent, against the system."  His article goes further and contains interesting charts and graphs further explaining his analysis.


These three articles were chosen to represent the challenge of specifically defining Populism.  It is the origins of populism in the late 1800s in which Isaac Werner, his region, and his state played such a significant role, with which my manuscript deals.  The next historic period during which populism played a significant role was between the World Wars (1920-1930s).  According to one of Dalio's charts, not since 1930 has such a spike in populism occurred as we are seeing in recent years.

It is important to understand historically how Populism came into existence and the various ways in which the term has been used.  Kansas and Texas, as well as other states with large farming and working class populations, played instrumental roles in the creation of a movement as timely as today's news!




Thursday, July 6, 2017

History in Everyday Places

Recently we attended the annual Willa Cather Conference in Red Cloud, Nebraska, and I was reminded how everyday we have occasions to learn more about the history of our nation and our region.  One of the speakers, Bob Ferguson, a stamp collector, spoke about images on stamps which share history.  Among the images he displayed during his talk was the one to the right, showing the stamp recognizing The Homestead Act.

The image shows a dugout which may very well resemble the type of dwelling Isaac B. Werner built when he first arrived in Stafford County, Kansas.  Partly dug into the earth and partly created with blocks of sod stacked to create walls, it would have been suitable for land like Isaac's where the terrain was less satisfactory for creating a cave.


Mr. Ferguson also showed the first day cover of the stamp honoring Nebraska's first homesteader.  With stamps from his own collection and images taken from the internet, he used stamps to share the history that is to be found in everyday places.  Even the more commonplace stamps we use can remind us of our past, not only historic events but also memorable people--politicians, sports figures, scientists, authors, and movie stars to suggest a few.

















We also stepped inside the Red Cloud post office to enjoy another example of history in everyday places.  The paintings on the walls of the post office remind visitors of history in two ways.  First, the subjects of the paintings depict "Loading Cattle," "Stockade Builders," and "Moving Westward."

Second, the paintings also remind visitors of the 1930s and 1940s when they were created.  I had mistakenly believed that the post office art was the result of the Work Projects (WPA) initiated during the Depression to provide employment of various kinds, including the employment of artists to decorate government buildings with murals.  However, the post office art was created under the authority of the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department.  Artists of respected talent were selected by the Section of Fine Arts to decorate public buildings--if funding was available.


The art in the Red Cloud Post Office is oil on canvas created by artist Archie Musick in 1941.  He is considered a Regionalist, and he studied with Thomas Hart Benton.  He developed a particular technique using egg tempera and colored pencil, which technique he employed the remaining years of his career for smaller paintings.  He also authored the book Musick Medley:  Intimate Memories of a Rocky Mountain Art Colony, which described the art world of the Colorado Springs area from the 1920s to the 1950s.

So, while I have chosen to share history through my writing, there are places for us to be made aware of history all around us, including while doing such every-day tasks as adhering a stamp to an envelope and entering a post office to mail a letter.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

History from a Tourist Perspective

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick
Several of my blogs have been the result of an impulsive response to a highway sign directing my husband and me to some historical site off the beaten path.  Sometimes those side trips occurred as we were traveling to a planned historical destination, and along the way we discovered something else worth seeing.  Brent Glass, Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, has written a book to assist Americans in learning about their country by traveling to important places, and many of the destinations described in his book include nearby or related sites worth including in the visit.  Titled 50 Great American Places, it represents what Glass considers Essential Historic Sites Across the U.S.  


We met Brent Glass at the recent Cather Conference in Red Cloud, Nebraska, where he was one of the speakers.  Naturally, I was eager to read his book!


First, I was pleased by how many of the sites he recommends are places we have visited.  Perhaps that should not have been a surprise, since we both enjoy learning about history and plan many of our trips for that purpose.

Second, I was tempted to add more of his recommendations to our bucket list of future trips, as well as being affirmed in my hopes to visit places already on our list.

Several of my blogs have emphasized the lessons history has to teach, as well as pointing out that history has a way of repeating itself--not always directly but certainly in ways that share common issues.  Consider, for an example, the struggles of Isaac Werner and other farmers and working class people in the late 1800s during which time another group of Americans were living in what came to be known as the "Gilded Age."  In Chapter 38, Glass shares a quote from Will Rogers speaking in 1931:  "The only problem that confronts this country today is...to see that every man that wants to is able to work...and also to arrange some way of getting more equal distribution of the wealth in the country."

While considering the similarities of the economic issues of those two historic periods, reflect on some of the things we are hearing in the news of today.  The ability of Will Rogers to use humor to address serious social issues remains as relevant today as it was during his lifetime, and the state of Oklahoma has recognized his ongoing contribution to the nation's dialogue by naming Route 66 "Will Rogers Highway."

Route 66 opened as a federal road in 1927, and Glass points out the significance of multistate roads in giving Americans greater independence and mobility.  However, Route 66 also became the pathway to California taken by the Dust Bowl farmers migrating west.  During the Steinbeck Retreat about which I have written in recent blogs, we spent a great deal of time discussing The Grapes of Wrath, from which Glass quotes:  "...the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads."

Yet, many of us think of Route 66 as the theme of Nat King Cole's rendition of the popular lyrics urging a generation to 'get your kicks on Route 66' or we think of the TV show in which the Corvette was as important as the characters.  Route 66 was decommissioned as a highway in 1985, but Clinton, OK has a museum that preserves memories of the road's glory days.

At the end of the chapter, Glass suggests the following places to include in your visit in addition to The Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch, and the Museum in Claremore (www.willrogers.com):  Trail of Tears National Historic Trail (www.nps.gov/trte), Gilcrease Museum (www.gilcrease.utulsa.edu), Woody Guthrie Center (www.woodyguthriecenter.org), Rogers County Historical Society (www.rchs1.org), and Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program (www.nps.gov/rt66).

This blog shares only one of Brent Glass's recommendations, but there are 49 more in his book!
  
(Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.)




Thursday, June 22, 2017

Trains Settle the West

The theme of the 2017 Willa Cather Conference, held recently in Red Cloud, Nebraska, was "Picturing the American West, The Railroad and Popular Imagination."  Linked with the subject of railroads were the Opera Houses that were built in prairie towns served by railroad lines.  Not only did visitors coming to see performances in the Opera Houses sometimes arrive by train, more importantly, the trains allowed performers to travel from town to town, easily transporting their costumes and scenery. 

The image at left is from the County Capital in St. John to which Isaac Werner subscribed.  You will notice that the advertisement is dated June 4, 1890, but the railroad had arrived in St. John earlier than that date.

Sharing his stories about abandoned rail lines was James Reisdorff, who spoke to us from the Burlington Depot on the southern edge of Red Cloud.  His program was titled "Pulling Up Stakes:  When Trains Leave Town," and he shared the impact on towns that lose their railroads.  He also described how others like himself go in search of abandoned sites, some still having evidence of the old rails while others are discernible only from the elevated grade.


James Reisdorff at the Red Cloud Depot





The last morning of the conference a panel of Dr. Ann Tschetter, Dr. Elissa Sartwell, city planner and author Ann Satterthwaite, and Dr. Mark Facknitz discussed 'Railroads:  Myth & Metaphor.'  Dr. Sartwell addressed the tragic mistreatment of Chinese workers laying the transcontinental lines, using references from plays performed in the Opera Houses and cartoons belittling the Chinese to illustrate the era.  Particularly illuminating was the work of Dr. Facknitz, pointing out the significance of the railroad in Cather's writings.  I do hope their papers are published so that I can study them further.

Dining one evening at the Red Cloud Depot
A special treat was the performance of The Red Cloud Cannonball, a vaudeville-inspired performance of classic railroad tunes and humor.  Seated in the Red Cloud Opera House Auditorium, we felt as if we were experiencing exactly the sort of show Willa Cather might have seen.

For Isaac Werner and his contemporaries in Kansas, the railroads represented a love-hate relationship.  On the one hand, populists blamed the railroads for the unfair shipping costs charged struggling farmers to ship produce to the East, compounded by the distrust and resentment felt for the wealthy and powerful exerting unfair political influence concerning railroad regulation.  On the other hand, they sought railroad lines near their communities for transportation and shipping, and they desired the prestige of being a local director for the advancing railroads.  Isaac wrote in his journal about the stimulus to growth of the small prairie towns when the railroad arrived. 

I will never again take for granted the role of the railroad when I read a Willa Cather novel or short story, and I will reflect more closely on the role of the railroad in my manuscript about Isaac and the Populist Movement.   

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Preserving the Old with Something New

Dedication speakers and honorees with Rev. Charles Peek
Laura Bush delivering keynote
In 1932 a young teacher arrived in Webster County and was introduced to the writing of a former resident,  Willa Cather.  Cather could not have inspired a more devoted fan!  That young teacher was Mildred Bennett, and she is considered the founder of the Willa Cather Foundation, although it should be recognized that every leader must have those who share her vision and follow her.  When Mildred Bennett died, her vision was well established, but equally important, others have carried on the dreams she imagined, which include championing the arts and humanities.

Bennett's gift for dreaming big must have inspired the Foundation Board when they undertook the restoration of the Moon Block, a 2-story collection of commercial buildings stretching north from the beautiful Opera House all the way to the end of the block.  In 2015 my husband and I attended the ground breaking ceremony for the project and toured the interior.  Oh, my!  It took real vision to imagine that the neglected building could ever become the structure that was planned.

Ribbon Cutting at Cather Foundation Dedication
Yet, it has.  Because Mildred Bennett was a teacher who came to love the writings of Willa Cather and who asked, "What better way would there be for us to understand each other than through the fields of humanities and the arts?" who better to deliver the keynote address at the dedication of the National Willa Cather Center than a former teacher and librarian who as our nation's first lady stressed the importance of reading, and who just happens to be a great Willa Cather fan herself.  Fortunately, just such a person exists and agreed to speak at the Dedication!   On June 3, 2017, former First Lady Laura Bush presented the Dedication Address and joined other key individuals in cutting the ribbon opening the Willa Cather Foundation expansion into the Moon Block.


The Foundation carries on the mission envisioned by Mildred Bennett, not only preserving structures identifiable as the models for Cather's novels and short stories so fans from around the world can literally step back in time to experience sites described in her work, but also welcoming researchers to the ever-growing archives, hosting plays and lectures and other performances in the Opera House, providing writing seminars, hosting working retreats for visiting artists, and awarding scholarships to young scholars.  The back-stage facilities had been inadequate for performances in the Opera House, and some of the Moon Block space has remedied that.  The archives available to researchers, both in person and to fulfill requests sent from distant places, make preservation and access possible.  The hosting of events, the office space, the display of objects and information are now adequate to the Foundation's mission.


At street level, the renovations have created beautiful commercial spaces, which will be leased to business tenants.  In that way, the Moon Block renovation not only serves the Cather mission but also serves the entire community commercially.

I hope my blog posts over the years have made some of you curious to visit Red Cloud, and to hike the 612-acre native prairie just south of town.  To learn more details, visit the Foundation website at www.willacather.org.   Remember, you may click on the images to enlarge them. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Home on the Range at the Orpheum

Orpheum Theater in Wichita, KS
A recent blog shared Oscar Wilde's visit in 1882 to theaters in Kansas.  This week I am going to share a visit to another one of the great old theaters in Kansas to attend a showing of Home on the Range.

First, a little about the theater.  The Orpheum Theater opened September 4, 1922 and was designed by architect John Eberson to create the impression of a Spanish garden, with sidewalls depicting mock tile roofs, window grills, and wooden lattice arches across the ceiling.  When it closed in 1976, its appearance and the standard of its entertainment had deteriorated significantly.  For nearly two decades the theater remained dark, but today it is Wichita's Non-Profit center for the performing arts, concerts, films, and more.  It was decided to open the theater and complete renovations as money was available, most of which has come from private grants and individual donations.  The Orpheum is like a grand old lady with a few runs in her stockings, her hat slightly askew, and rouge that can't conceal the wrinkles, but the elegance underneath all of that remains.  



Our evening at the Orpheum began with meeting the cast of Home on the Range in the lobby before viewing the movie, after which the cast assembled on the stage to speak about their experiences making the movie, why they were drawn to the project, and their careers in general.  Starting at the left is Michael Martin Murphey, who not only played Judge John Harlan in the movie but was an early supporter of the project and of the restoration of the Home on the Range cabin.  Next is Darby Hinton, an actor from early childhood who portrayed the bartender in San Antonio, Albert Fraidlich.  Well known from playing Newly in TV's Gunsmoke, and a highly collected artist, Buck Taylor is seated in the center of this group and portrayed Trube Reese in the movie.  Next is Rance Howard, a life-long actor who portrayed Cal Harlan.  Rance has the further distinction of being the father of actor-director Ron Howard.  At far right is Mathew Greer, who played the old cattle trail cowboy Bill Jack Curry.  In the movie, Mathew sang the version of the song Curry remembered from hearing it on the trail. 



 Picking up from Mathew, (holding the microphone) in the next picture is Mitch Holthus, who played the announcer in the radio studio, an appropriate bit of casting, since off screen he is known as the 'Voice of the Chiefs' in Kansas City.  Mitch was raised in Smith Center and his father has been a driving force behind the saving of the Home on the Range cabin.  To his right is Mark Mannette, who played the lawyer-investigator, Samuel Moanfeldt, who determined the true origins of the song.  An actor and a professor, he bears a remarkable resemblance to the real Moanfeldt.  Seated at far right is Director, Ken Spurgeon.  


Our evening was not over, for we enjoyed the delight of front-row seats for a concert by Michael Martin Murphey.  While he may be best known for his sad ballad Wild Fire, the talents of this singer-songwriter extend well beyond that mega-hit song.  Even more to be admired by Kansans is his generosity toward the preservation of the Home on the Range cabin near Smith Center. 

We were in for an additional treat when Michael invited his son to join him on the stage.  I had never realized that the clear pitch-perfect voice that sings Western songs so beautifully is the voice of a genuine Irish tenor--although his name certainly should have been a clue!  That Irish heritage is further honored by his son's artistry on the Irish harp, and we had the opportunity to not only hear him accompany his father but also to enjoy a solo on his beautiful instrument.  Our evening at the Orpheum was definitely one to remember! 

You may click on the images to enlarge them.  

You may wish to visit www.lonechimneyfilms.org to read more, and to link with sources to buy the Home on the Range CD at that site.  You may also visit www.wichitaorpheum.com to learn more about the theater and see upcoming performances appearing there.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hometown Memorial Day

I have written about the traditions of our community on Memorial Day in other blogs posted in late May or early June, and I am writing this blog in the evening after attending the 2017 Memorial Ceremony in our hometown.

My husband marches in the honor guard, so we arrive early so he can assemble with the other marchers, and I use the time to make a complete circuit of the graves of all of our ancestors and many of our friends.  It is a route learned when I was very young and the original part of the cemetery had many flowers decorating the graves.  Today, only a few in that section had flowers, their descendants having joined them in their final rest, or members of their families no longer living in the area.




Most people now decorate graves of parents and friends in the newer sections of the cemetery.  Even the open lawn purchased for expansion has gradually acquired gravestones.  For people like me, with ancestors that came to Kansas as homesteaders in the late 1870s and 1880s, several generations are buried in Farmington Cemetery.  Among those in the community who have carried on  family farms, more generations are likely to follow.






The Memorial Day Services are conducted at the 'new' monument near the west gates, but it is the second Memorial Monument in the cemetery.  The original  monument honored soldiers, sailors, and marines of the "Civil, Spanish-American, and World War.'  Remember, W.W. I was believed to be 'the war to end all wars,' and it was not called W.W. I until there was a W.W. II.

When my husband began marching in the honor guard, there were several W.W. II veterans among the marchers, and the Vietnam veterans were the 'young guys.'  Gradually the W.W. II veterans became the ones being honored in the memorial ceremony, and the Vietnam veterans became the marchers with gray in their hair.  With our current all volunteer military, there are fewer young veterans in our community to carry on the tradition.

As I walked the cemetery I thought about all of the people I had known who are now buried there, and since I have spent so much time with Isaac's neighbors as I researched the late 1800s described in his journal, I have come to feel as if I know many of that generation who are buried in Farmington, their stones in the section of the cemetery where three sets of my great grandparents are buried.

However, perhaps what I recall most from the 2017 Memorial Ceremony was the participation of the two remaining W.W. II soldiers that once marched with other veterans their age. Although they no longer march, they still participate.  One delivers the familiar lines promising that although the flowers placed on their graves will fade, the veterans being honored will not be forgotten.

The other W.W. II veteran marched last year, although for the first time he did not carry a rifle.  This year he was not able to march, but he waited at the Memorial and joined the other marchers to stand between the flag bearers, supported by a helpful arm.  As determined as he was to stand, the ceremony was long, and he needed his wheel chair.  Yet, he remained with the other veterans, doing his part as best he could.  That is what moved me.  Every one of those men, (and this year, a female service member) was there because he or she saw it as their duty to serve.  They had served their country when the call came, and today they came when they were called to march in honor of those with whom they had served and generations of veterans before them.  It made me proud.  

(Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Oscar Wilde in Kansas?

Oscar Wilde
Can you picture Oscar Wilde scheduling a speaking tour in Kansas?  Yet, in 1882 he arrived!  This week's blog owes a debt to Charles Harmon Cagle, whose full article can be found at www.kshs.org/publicat/history/1981winter_cagle.pdf.  I have supplemented research found in Cagle's article with some of Wilde's quotes that I thought you would enjoy.

"I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying."  

The population of Kansas rural areas has dwindled since the time of Isaac Werner and smaller cities have shrunk, leaving emptier rural landscapes and a few larger cities.  However, in the 1880s great curiosity about the "wide open spaces" attracted foreign visitors.  Even small cities built opera houses that accommodated performances of all sorts.  In 1882 the famous English writer and lecturer Oscar Wilde came to Kansas.  Not everyone was impressed.

Pessimist:  One who, when he has the choice of two evils, chooses both.

Oscar Wilde spent only five days in Kansas, arriving in Leavenworth on April 19, 1882, and departing following his final lecture in Atchinson on April 24.  The opinion of the reviewer in Leavenworth was immediately apparent from the headline:  "His Lecture Falls Flat."   The reviewer of another Leavenworth paper briefly described the lecture:  "The famous aesthete, Oscar Wilde, who lectured to and bored such a small audience ..."

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad.  People are either charming or tedious."

After traveling to Topeka, Wilde was interviewed by a more sympathetic reporter, who wrote:  "Mr. Wilde has a handsome soft womanish face, around which his long wavy hair fell in the finest decorative art.  He is a very pleasant conversationalist, has a wonderful command of words, and expresses himself in a very clear lucid manner, much contrasted with the soulful utterances of his burlesquers."  However, as for the lecture, he called it, "...an unrelieved waste of words, words, words; like a great desert of sand with the edges all around touching the sky and no green thing in sight."

"Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter."

In Lawrence the reaction was not hateful but clearly tepid, describing Wilde's delivery as a "...not disagreeable sing-song, perhaps what an aesthete would call rhythm."  The Atchinson newspaper, however, held nothing back, reprinting a Kansas City paper's description of "...a tale told by an idiot, full of sound, and trash, signifying nothing."  But adding, "People will, of course, continue to go to see him as they do to view sideshow curiosities and monstrosities."

"Those who find ugly meaning in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.  This is a fault."

A different Atchinson reporter suggested:  "Mr. Wilde should dress like a gentleman, cut his hair, learn to speak plain, stop calling everything 'lovely' and 'joyous,' or 'stoopid' and 'dreadful,' and so convince the world of the existence of the good stuff there really is in him, buried beneath a heavy weight of idle affection."

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.  Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."

So, who was this Englishman that got such treatment?  Born in 1854, a decade after Isaac Werner, Wilde was a writer of great variety--novels, essays, plays, and poetry; however, he may be best remembered for his unorthodox dress and his clever commentary, as are indicated by the photograph and quotes scattered throughout this blog.  At a young age he became a spokesman for aestheticism, and even in college he attracted attention by decorating his room with peacock feathers, sunflowers (which became a symbol for aestheticism), and blue China.  Mocked as that era's equivalent of a "sissy," he surprised four fellow students who physically attacked him by defending himself effectively.

"The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible."

Wilde's trip to Kansas was only part of an American lecture tour which began in January of 1882.  His lectures were received more warmly in places other than Kansas, and the originally scheduled four months were extended to nearly a year.  His flamboyant appearance and his literary successes, such as The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, are part of his enduring fame, but also the scandal of his personal life, which lead to imprisoment for two years 1895-1897, is part of his reputation.  

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes."

After leaving prison he made his home in France, where he died in 1900.  He is buried outside Paris, having died of cerebral meningitis which may have been traceable back to the incredibly harsh treatment he suffered at Pentonville Prison.

"Memory...is the diary that we all carry about with us."

Isaac Werner must  have known of Oscar Wilde, although none of his books were mentioned among Isaac's library.

"Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught."  

Isaac Werner believed in education, just as I do, but it is sadly true that we do seem compelled to learn some hard lessons for ourselves that past generations would have been all too glad to have taught us, had we only  been willing to learn from both their wisdom and their mistakes.

"Always forgive your enemies--nothing annoys them so much."

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Books in Our Lives

Jefferson:  "I cannot live without books."
When I did the series on favorite children's books and ask readers of the blog to share the favorites from their childhoods, I was inundated with so many replies that it took several blogs to share all of your favorites.  Last week, I invited readers to share their favorite adult book titles, and only a few of you replied.  Since I know that so many of you were eager readers as children, and because educators believe forming the habit of reading in childhood will develop active adult readers, I expected to be inundated with adult book titles.  I'm disappointed, but I did receive some great replies!  

One of my foreign followers  loves reading history, so he began by admitting that he doesn't read much fiction.  However, he does like John le Carre (1931-    ) spy novels and named The Night Manager as his favorite.  He also enjoys Westerns, naming Ernest Haycox  (1899-1950) and, especially, Jack Schaefer (1907-1991) as favorites.  He warned against trying to take the easy way out by seeing movies based their books--pale imitations, in his opinion!

Edward Bellamy
I have another friend who enjoys mysteries and travel books, neither of which appeal to me.  She has shared some wonderful suggestions outside those genres that I have loved.   Our friendship really took root when we discovered we both had read The House by Otowi Bridge by Peggy Pond Church (1903-1987).

Two people responded to my call for favorite adult books by telling me we share a favorite.  LS chose To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1926-2016), which I think every aspiring lawyer should read.

SGR agrees with me about East of Eden being our favorite among John Steinbeck's novels.  She is a voracious reader and declined naming a specific favorite among all the books she loves.  However, she did share a favorite from  among books recently read, and her recommendation came with three reviews and an interview of the author as attachments.  Yes, she has tempted me to read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (1964-    ).

Life is too short to read all of the books I'd like to read, so I enjoy recommendations from friends who are readers.  Recently, JD recommended The Sympathizer, which I mentioned in last week's blog.  I would never have read it without his recommendation, and I'm so glad that I did.  In turn, I recommended All the Light We Cannot See, and he tells me he enjoyed it.

I do believe what we read shapes who we are, and for that reason I find no pleasure reading books that are no more than a way to pass the time.  Researching my manuscript about Isaac Werner, I felt that I came to know him from the books he chose to read.  He also led me to books being read during the populist movement, so that I came to understand what inspired and shaped working class people of that time.  Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1850-1898) was so popular that Bellamy Clubs, whose members sought to implement some of his futuristic ideas, were formed around the world.  Mark Twain (1835-1910) is still popular today.  Other books that he owned are no longer read, but I appreciated the immersion into that era that reading those books gave me.

Thanks to those of you who shared "the books in your lives!"

Thursday, May 11, 2017

What and How We Read

Steinbeck Home and Restaurant
Recently a friend we met on the John Steinbeck Retreat forwarded news that Steinbeck's childhood home, which had been operated as a lunch-time restaurant by volunteers (with a professional chef and helper in the kitchen) was closing because of inadequate funds to sustain its operation.   The day our group ate there, all of the tables were filled; however, that included 24 of us.  My husband and I ate there when we visited Steinbeck Country several years ago.  It is a wonderful part of the Steinbeck experience, and it would be a shame for it to close.

Mural across from Steinbeck Center
I suppose I am not a typical reader.  I have mentioned my Millennium Reading List, which I compiled at the turn of the century, consulting the lists of great books several publications printed at that time, supplemented with titles from other sources.  My intention to select 100 Great Books quickly expanded beyond the 1900s and grew to more that twice the intended number, and it continues to grow faster than I can keep up, encompassing both fiction and nonfiction.  My attitude is that life is too short to read everything, so why waste time reading junk!

Not all my favorite authors are dead.  I have a shelf of David McCullough histories, and I am a fan of Barbara Kingsolver.  I do read Best Sellers, but usually months after they were on the Best Seller lists, and only if reviewers (professional and friends) that I respect have recommended them.  It sometimes seems that each book I read leads me to more--by the same author, on the same subject, or to learn more about the history of the period described in the book.

Steinbeck Center
Those of you who regularly follow this blog know that I love Willa Cather, and now you know that John Steinbeck is one of my favorites.  I am a great believer in the importance of a literate citizenry necessary to support a great country.  I have shared a favorite quote from Einstein:  "If you want intelligent children, read them fairy tales.  If you want more intelligent children, read them more fairy tales."  Several of my past blogs have dealt with encouraging the habit of reading in our children.  Most adults who are regular readers of books learned that habit as children.

I fear that reading is a habit on the decline.  Even in her home state of Nebraska, the great Willa Cather is no longer on the required reading list of public high schools.  Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" is still read in many schools, but it is often relegated to younger readers who may not fully appreciate it.  Too few readers get past Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath," a great book but not the only one worth reading.  Despite the huge popularity of "Downton Abbey" on PBS, few readers explore the great English novels written in the 1800s, of which my favorite, "Pride and Prejudice," is only one.

Enjoying access to archived material
But I will continue to be a cheerleader for reading, and sharing time with others who love to read is a special treat for me.  The photographs in this week's blog were taken when our retreat group visited Salinas, California, Steinbeck's childhood home.  We toured the Steinbeck Center and enjoyed a special opportunity to view items from the museum archives not usually seen by visitors.  We had lunch in Steinbeck's childhood home, and we ended our day with a visit to the graves of Steinbeck and other family members.

My favorite Steinbeck book is "East of Eden," a challenging book that I first read about fifteen years ago.  I will close by sharing a conversation from that novel between Samuel Hamilton, who visited his younger friend Adam, to help select a name for the twin boys whose mother had deserted them soon after they were born. In his grief at having been abandoned by his wife, Adam neglected his sons, imposing fears about their mother's evil having been inherited by the boys.  Samuel tells him:  "I don't very much believe in blood.  I think when a man finds good or bad in his children he is seeing only what he planted in them after they cleared the womb."  Adam:  "You can't make a race horse of a pig."  Samuel:  "No, but you can make a very fast pig."    

Graves of Samuel & other family members
Just as Samuel believed in bringing out the best that was possible in Adam's sons, I admit that I believe that reading quality literature and learning from reading history can bring out the best in all of us.  I would love it if you took the time to share the titles of your favorite books with me.  The long-time readers of this blog will remember what a popular series of blogs resulted from your sharing of favorite childhood books, so sharing titles of favorite books you have read as adults should be fun too. 

It was Isaac Werner's love for books, and his amazing personal library, that drew me to him, after all!



(Remember, you can click on images to enlarge.)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Reclaiming Our Own Lives

Isaac B. Werner's Journal
We are the beneficiaries of a homesteader named Isaac B. Werner who kept a daily journal from 1884 through 1891 describing his daily activities and what was happening in the surrounding communities.  From his journal I learned about weather and implements and barn dances and illnesses and young deaths, and I have shared that on this blog.  I have also shared how communities built school houses, established newspapers, formed local organizations, and joined national organizations.  They slaughtered their own hogs, plowed fields one row at a time, sewed and mended their own clothing, built homes in dugouts, from sod, and with dearly bought lumber.  They fought prairie fires and built roads and bridges with their neighbors. From Isaac's journal we know that he and other ordinary people accomplished amazing things, day in and day out.

Homemade Sand Hill Plum Jelly
How did they manage?  We have the benefit of automobiles, microwaves, frozen dinners, ready-made clothing, hospitals, computers--tools, equipment, conveniences that they could not have imagined, and we have diversified labor so that we no longer build our own homes, sew our own clothing, build our children's school houses, grow our own food, fight our own fires or build our own roads and bridges.

Most of the things Isaac Werner and his neighbors did for themselves we no longer do.  And yet, how many of us complain that we are overworked and tired all of the time.  As hard as we try, we never seem to get everything we meant to accomplish finished at the end of the day.

A recent article in "Live, Write, Thrive," a writer's blog I follow, was intended as guidance for writers who struggle to find enough time to write, but I think many of you who read my blog will find some of the ideas meant for writers very applicable to your own daily lives.  The title of the article is How We've Ruined Our Brains in This Modern Era.

Quilt making--hobby or necessity?
When I was practicing law, I had a routine around which I organized my day.  It began the evening before, when I stacked all of the files I had to handle the following day in order of priority--the ones I absolutely had to attend to on the top, the ones that might be put off another day in the middle, and the ones I hoped to find time to look at on the bottom.  When I arrived the next morning I was able to focus my attention on one matter at a time, without being distracted by concerns that perhaps something else deserved my attention.

The point of the article How We've Ruined Our Brains in This Modern Era is that today many of us fail to prioritize and concentrate on one priority at a time.  We multitask!

Sod School House
In thinking about your own day, consider how many times you are interrupted by your phone.  Consider how you use your computer, turning it on to do one thing and realizing you have spent two hours jumping from one interesting distraction to another.  Consider how much time social media interrupts what you are doing.  Even when you think you are relaxing, do you take your phone when you go for a walk, work in the garden, go to the gym?

In the book, Disorder:  Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us,"  Larry D. Rosen, PhD, writes:  "The bottom line is we are all constantly self-distracting, whether you're in school, at your job, or just at home."

In "Live, Write, Thrive" the following statistics were cited:
Multitaskers experience a 40% drop in productivity.
Multitaskers take 50% longer to accomplish a single task than if focusing only on that task.
Multitaskers make up to 50% more errors.
Multitaskers take four times longer to recognize new things.
Multitaskers spend 40% more time switching tasks.
(The source for these statistics was not identified.)

When Ira Flatow on NPR's Science Friday interviewed, Clifford Nass, a Stanford University professor and researcher, and author of the book, The Man Who Lied to his Laptop, Nass said, "People who multitask all the time can't filter out irrelevancy...They're chronically distracted.  They initiate much larger parts of the brain than are irrelevant to the task at hand...they're even terrible at multitasking.  ,,,they've developed habits of mind that make it impossible for them to be laser-focused.  They're suckers for irrelevancy.  They just can't keep on task."

Main street:  Iuka, KS 
When I reflect on how Isaac Werner described his days, he did many tasks during the year, but he prioritized what was to be done, without jumping unnecessarily from one to another.  He planned work to match the seasons.  Crops had to be planted, weeded, and harvested when those tasks were essential at a particular time.  Homes had to be readied ahead of dropping temperatures by stuffing or plastering cracks and readying fuel if occupants were to survive the cold winter weather. Winter was the time for mending, repairing tools and sharpening shears, studying seed catalogues, and socializing.  The year Isaac was distracted by attending political rallies and taking photographs he failed to market his potatoes when he should have, and the price dropped from $1.25 a bushel  to a third or less.  He ended up feeding potatoes to his pigs.  Tasks that had to be done in town were accumulated so that the trip accomplished more than one thing.  Homesteaders multitasked in the sense of being able to do many things, but they learned how to stay on task and prioritize.


Not all of us feel as if we have "ruined our brains," but many of us agree that we are self-distracting by the way we allow ourselves to be interrupted.  Not only the distractions initiated by others cut into our days, but also our own choices.  Do you go online to check your e-mails and find yourself following links for two hours?  Do you allow yourself to half-watch television every evening when you could have been reading a good book or playing games with your children or having a real telephone conversation with an elderly parent or friend.  Do you start making a grocery list in the kitchen and wander off to put clothes in the washer only to return to the grocery list and spend five minutes rethinking where you were in remembering the things you needed.  Do you get sidetracked by the greeting card rack or the holiday display just inside the entrance when you run into a store just to buy aspirin?  
Gardening--hobby or necessity?

I came upstairs this morning to print something, and since I was at my computer anyway, I thought I would quickly check my e-mails.  I opened "Live, Write, Thrive," and decided a comparison of today's distractions and tasks with the distractions and tasks of Isaac Werner's times might be interesting.  My morning is gone and I didn't finish reading my  e-mails.  I did draft this blog, however, and at least I remembered to print the document that was the reason for my having come upstairs!