Thursday, January 23, 2020

How Our Presidents have Communicated

At the peak of the Populist Movement of which Isaac Werner and many of our ancestors were a part, the People's Party had succeeded in electing not only local candidates but also state and federal officials.  The People's Party was challenging the Republicans and Democrats for the votes of primarily working people, but also some professionals.  

In 1896, however, they took a strategic risk.  They decided to nominate as the People's Party presidential candidate the same man as the Democratic nominee--Wm Jennings Bryan, a 36 year old man from Nebraska.

Their strategy failed, and it split the People's Party.  But, during his campaign, Bryan used the trains to reach more potential voters than a presidential candidate ever had, traveling 18,000 miles between September 11th and November 1 to give 600 speeches to an estimated 5,000,000 people.

The American constitution stipulates that the president "shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."  We are now familiar with seeing the sitting president deliver the annual State of the Union Address on our televisions, but George Washington delivered his message to congress in the provincial capital of New York City on January 8, 1790, and his 'recommended measures judged necessary and expedient' were left to be conveyed to the public in newspapers and broadsheets..  

How communication has changed over the years!  Rutherford B. Hays was the first president to speak by telephone from the White House in 1877, but it was Abraham Lincoln who installed a line for his use in the War Department, used to communicate with state governors and generals.

Although Warren G. Harding was the first president to make a speech by radio, on June 14, 1922, his voice was first transmitted by telephone to a broadcasting station and from there broadcast over the radio.  Of course, the president we think of as a master of radio is Franklin Roosevelt, who reached out to Americans so effectively in a conversational manner during his regular "fireside chats."

The first televised address was given by Harry Truman on October 5, 1947, but Dwight Eisenhower was the first to use television regularly, particularly his use of television commercials in his 1952 campaign.

What Richard Nixon called "the most historic phone call ever made from the White House" on July 20, 1969, occurred when he spoke to the Apollo astronauts on the moon.  The call was set up in advance over a microwave link between Washington and Houston, then out via microwave link to the Deep Space Network, then over DSN stations with the moon in view via S-band.

Bill Clinton was the first president to use email, initially more of a test to show the president how emails were done.  President Clinton himself regards the first e-mail he sent as president to be the one he sent to astronaut John Glenn soon after he boarded the International Space Station.  About a year later, Clinton became the first president to participate in a Webchat hosted by Democratic Leadership Council and an internet company.

While Obama's 2008 presidential campaign used social media very effectively, the first tweet by President Barack Obama was on January 18, 2010 when he hit the "send" button for a tweet composed by an employee hosting the president and first lady on a tour of the Red Cross headquarters in Washington.

Great technological changes in communication have occurred over those decades.  Today, the faces
The Home of our Presidents
and voices of our presidents are familiar from their many appearances on television.

Donald Trump, our current president, is not the first president to tweet, but he is certainly the one to have made tweeting his trademark.  According to Bustle, an online magazine for American women, Trump tweeted 2,568 times during his first year as president.  An article in the New York Times documented the most tweets sent by Trump in one day, in mid-December of 2019, as 123 tweets.

I do not tweet and I have no account, but many people around the world do.  If fact, it was estimated as of September of 2019 that there were about 350 million global monthly active twitter users, with 100 million active daily, 20.5% of those being in the United States.

I cannot predict the methods future presidents may use to communicate to America's citizens.  I can only hope that the future of communication bears no likeness to the telescreens in George Orwell's classic novel, 1984.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Nature's Voice

In past blogs I have shared Isaac's Werner's connection with nature and ways our parents and grand parents and great grandparents predicted the weather by signs that became sayings.  In last week's blog I shared a book that urges the importance of children's exploration of nature.  To my surprise, it touched the emotions of many followers of this blog.  This week I will share some of the comments I received from readers, and some quotes that may surprise you.  The photographs I share in this blog are taken at our farm, beauty captured as I roamed the places I explored as a child.

Cottonwoods in the Pasture, Credit Lyn Fenwick 
Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature.  It will never fail you. --Frank Lloyd Wright, (1867-1959) American Architect, interior designer, writer & educator


A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by fathers, but borrowed from his children.  --John James Audubon, (1785-1851)American ornithologist & painter

Trees are the earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.  --
Rabindranath Tagore, (1861-1941) polymath, musician, poet & artist

Cottonwood seeds on the Lawn, Credit Lyn Fenwick
To me, a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.  --Helen Keller, (1880-1968) American author, political activist & lecturer


And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.  --Khalil Gibran, (1883-1931) Writer, poet, and visual artist  


I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.  --Walt Whitman, (1819-1892) American poet, essayist & journalist


Stranger in the Driveway, Credit Lyn Fenwick
All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child.  --Marie Curie, (18867-1934) Physicist & Chemist

Nature teaches more than she preaches.  There are no sermons in stones.  It is easier to get a spark out of a stone than a moral.  --John Burroughs, (1837-1921) American naturalist & nature essayist

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.  --Albert Einstein, (1879-1955) Theroetical physicist

I'm about halfway through [Last Child in the Woods] but am ...taking my time to soak it all in...to pass those foundations down to [my daughter.]  C.L. blog reader, KS

Hedgeapple Shadows, Credit Lyn Fenwick
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.  --Rachel Carson, (1907-1964) American biologist, author, and conservationist

There is an outdoor classroom and an edible schoolyard at our daughter's childcare center, and I'm so grateful.  Simply no substitute for outdoor play and exploration.  A. O., blog reader in NE

The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration.  --Claude Monet, (1840-1926) French impressionist painter

Nature's Travelers, Credit Lyn Fenwick
Nature is just enough; but men and women must comprehend and accept her suggestions.  --Antoinette Brown Blackwell, (1825-1921) First woman to be ordained as a mainstream Protestant minister

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks.  Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.  Linda Hogan, (1959-    )  Television personality

Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives.  Thomas Berry, (1914-2009) Religious scholar & student of man's role in Earth history & evolution

We grew up in years & a place that this type of learning was a part of our normal childhood.  R.V.H, blog reader, NM

 The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God.  Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be. ...And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.  Anne Frank, (1929-1945) Diarist
Prairie Gold, Credit Larry Fenwick

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.  There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature--the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.    Rachel Carson

As the saying goes, with my own edits, 'Why does the Lord give us trees, mountains and dirt?  So we can learn to climb...and have a place to land when we fall.'  NONE of us, ESPECIALLY the young, are climbing and falling enough.  R.G., Blog Reader in Texas

I must close this post sometime, so I will end the blog with two more e-mails I received from readers.

My dad always thought of a pasture or a grove of trees as a perfectly appropriate playground for us, and boy was I surprised to learn that other parents weren't letting their children experiment on plants or arming them with field guides and turning them loose to identify birds.  T.T. in NE

And the last...

Your recollections made me smile and think of the time we lived in St. John (from 3rd grade thru the 7th).  ...I've surely told you stories of living on the north west edge of town, a farmstead across the street with all the farm animals farms had in those days.  A mile and 1/2 catty corner NW across wheat fields was a grove of trees for day trips with a buddy or alone.  On the edge of the tree grove was the Rattle Snake Creek.  It had water in it in those days and nice holes deep enough to skinny dip in.  Good memories.  A. H. in KS

Thank you to everyone who shared their memories and experiences.

Remember, you can click on images to enlarge them.








Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Kids and Nature, (first titled Confessions of a Slow Reader)

I just finished a wonderful book titled Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.  In fact, I loved it so much that I bought several copies of the book to gift to friends who have young children.  I recommend it very highly.

The Last Child in the Woods is about the importance of providing childhood experiences with nature.  Louv is not opposed to watching nature programs on television nor walks in parks with carefully mowed lawns, tidy flower beds, and playground equipment designed for safety.  However, he advocates for children's need to experience the untamed woods and prairies that fuel  and develop an unsanitized, curiosity-motivating, imagination-inspiring, unsupervised, relationship-developing opportunity for children to experience the natural world that is rapidly disappearing.  He advocates our responsibility to provide that opportunity. 

Louv argues in his 2006 book that in our desire to keep children safe, we have cocooned them from opportunities to experience the wonders of nature which are needed to create healthy children.  He points to such issues as childhood obesity, depression, and attention disorders as side effects from restricting exposure to interactions with nature.

Photo credit:  Shealah Craighead
Paul Harvey (1918-2009), a well-known radio pundit in the late 1900s, appeared in the city where we lived when we were fresh out of college, and I have never forgotten an analogy he used in his speech.  He said, 'you can't sweep the floor with a broom and expect not to have to sweep it again.'  Problems may be resolved, but they will not stay that way without ongoing efforts.  (Harvey received the Medal of Freedom in 2005, and the photograph at right shows that ceremony.)

Using Harvey's analogy, we can compare our efforts to build safe playgrounds and to protect children from the dangers of strangers and unsupervised explorations beyond the boundaries of home to aggressively sweeping away not only the bad but also the good things of childhood.  Richard Louv would suggest that we should learn to sweep more thoughtfully--realizing that our aggressive sweeping has also swept away the very things that fuel imagination, inventiveness, problem solving skills, working with others, unstructured active play, and other things important to children's healthy growth.

It is the nature of life that there will always be issues to resolve, misdeeds to confront, and lessons to learn, and we should never expect a perfect world.  But, if we discover that we may have swept the floor too clean, perhaps we should try a different broom.

Our own histories can often guide us in raising the next generation.  I, for one, certainly remember hours spent in the sand hill plum thickets, creating imaginary rooms in areas cleared of thickets by cattle or other animals.  I'm sure the sharp thorns in the thicket drew my blood many times, and my mother may have worried about the dangers of a thorn damaging an eye, or perhaps she worried about snakes, badgers, and ants sharing my playground. But, she didn't stop my fun, and I survived.  I wandered for miles bare foot on our sandy roads, and I disappeared into the fields and tree rows for hours without telling anyone where I was headed when I left the house--primarily because I had no idea where I was going.  I wandered and experienced the joy unanticipated discoveries.  Of course, the world has changed, and the dangers parents fear for their children today are real, but children still need the freedom to explore and imagine.  Louv reminds his readers of that.

Without the courage and curiosity of our ancestors, they would not have crossed oceans.  Without the imaginations and initiative of homesteaders like Isaac Werner to confront the unknown dangers of the prairie, the lives of their descendants would certainly have been different--assuming that those descendants would even have been born.

Richard Louv worries that if a generation of children mature without the unplanned discoveries of nature's beauties and wonders, not only will it be a great loss to those children but also a huge loss to nature itself when a generation without the childhood experiences of nature become decision-making adults.  Those of us in farming communities may not understand how nature-starved urban children can be, with buildings instead of trees casting shade, paved playgrounds and sidewalks offering no opportunity for making mud pies or feeling sand between their toes, with the beauty of stars bleached by constant lights and the explosion of colors as the sun sets blocked by a profile of roof tops.

After talking with a group of children, Louv asked them to describe their favorite place to play.  One little boy said, "in the house."  When Louv asked him why, the boy said, "because that's where all of the electric receptacles are."

It is certainly something to think about.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Look at the Stars

A fairy ring in our yard
Some time ago our nephew, who lives in a city, visited our farm with his family.  They had come for the day and had meant to get  home before dark, but they stepped out our door just at that magical time when the sky is a deep velvet blue but not completely dark.  The stars truly were like diamonds in that deep blue sky.  Yet, it was simply that time of evening when, if we bother to look up and the night isn't cloudy, anyone who lives in the country can see such a sky.

In a voice filled with awe, our nephew said, "Look at the stars."

A garden spider's web
The rest of his family looked up, and someone may have said, "Yes, pretty" as they hurried toward their car, anxious to be on their way.

I have never forgotten the wonder in his voice as he saw stars usually obliterated by the city lights where he lived.  He was young enough that those stars seemed like a miracle.  

Living in the country, after spending our adult lives in urban environments, we appreciate the magnificent sunsets and sunrises we see most days.  Recently we experienced the most incredible double rainbow that reached nearly to the ground at both ends.  It cast a spell on both of us that made us unable to walk away from something so very beautiful.

Cicada exuviae on an iris leaf
Imagine what our ancestors must have seen as settlers on the open prairie.  Isaac writes in his journal about watching an eclipse from a rooftop he was shingling.  He describes, almost poetically, the first tornado he watched, dipping down from the clouds and raising a cloud of dirt before pulling back into the cloud from which it had dropped.  He admits his dislike of walking at night during a lightning display, although in fair weather he walked under moonlight and starlight regularly.  

After living in large cities, we bought acreage when we moved to Texas, and we built a home miles from the city, but we could not enjoy the blue-velvet sky we now see at our farm.  Even in the deep of night the lights from the city and the businesses along the interstate had bleached the sky over our Texas country home, to say nothing of the constant rumbling of the trucks on the interstate several miles away.  One night I set the alarm to awaken in the middle of the night to watch the spectacular meteor shower predicted for our location.  I lay in our driveway and looked to the northeast where the meteors were said to be most prevalent, and I saw a few faint drifting dots during the half-hour or so I watched, but the urban lights faded nature's meteor display and, disappointed, I returned to bed.

A wing more delicate than leaded glass
The first entry every day that Isaac made in his journal was weather.  Most of his day was spent out-of-doors, and even indoors weather intruded with the cold winds of winter and the blistering heat of summer.  Yet, Isaac's journal contains few complaints about the weather, except for truly extreme temperatures.  Rather, he writes more about the pleasures of crooking frogs at evening and the return of song birds in spring.

For many of us, weather is something to hurry through on our way between an air-conditioned car and an air-conditioned building, or its opposite, rushing through winter's chill between our centrally heated houses and seat-warmed cars.  Like our nephew, suddenly seeing the stars that are always over his head but are obscured by city lights, all of us are guilty of ignoging the beauty nature offers us constantly, and we obliterate her offerings with lights, earphones, and indoor comforts and entertainments.  

Living at the farm has reawakened my notice of the small everyday things I have included in this blog--things that Isaac Werner cherished in his daily life--and I feel very lucky. 

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