Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Inspired by Space--Authors & Poets

In Isaac Werner's time there was no television or radio weather report.  People paid particular attention to weather signs, alerting them to changes in the weather.  Isaac paid particular attention to the arrival and departure of migrating birds.  There were almanacs that offered some guidance, and many folk sayings that involved weather.  I still remember "Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning, red sky at night, sailors delight."  My father also had some saying about rings around the moon, but I don't recall that anymore.  Then and now, farmers look to the sky.

Wealthy men continue to be motivated to travel into space, however, authors and poets also look to the sky, particularly the night sky.  This week I will share the inspiration four authors and poets have enjoyed by looking to the sky.  While I am sure that lovers also look to the sky, it seems that most of the books inspired by the night sky are science fiction.

The books and movies with a space related theme are countless, but I have chosen two to highlight.  The first, Solaris, was published in 1961, and has been adapted for film three times.  It was written by Polish author Stanislaw Lem, and although it is science fiction, the philosophical story develops the premise of humankind's inability to comprehend extraterrestrial intelligence.  The story takes place in a distant future where humans engage in interplanetary travel, and the book has inspired popular music, theater, operas, a ballet, and a video game.

In contrast to the philosophical theme of Solaris, the second book is comedy science fiction that began as a radio program that became so popular it spawned novels, stage shows, comic books, a TV series, a video game, and a 2005 feature film.   The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was published in 1979.   The creator of this strange transformation from radio series to books (and many other things) was Douglas Adams, who once claimed that the title came from his  using the Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe in his travelsWhile lying in a field after a bit too much to drink, looking up at the stars, the idea came to him that someone should write a hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy.  Later, he admitted that he had told that story about the book's title so many times that he no longer remembers whether it is true.

Shifting to poetry, I will  start with the familiar beginning of "The Song of Hiawatha," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The stanzas are typed without line breaks.  

    The night is come, but not too soon; And sinking silently, All silently, the little moon Drops down behind the sky.

    There is no light in earth or heaven But the cold light of stars; And the first watch of night is given To the red planet Mars.

    Is it the tender star of love? The star of love and dreams? O no! from that blue tent above, A hero's armor gleams.

(I hope at lest some of you take the time to read Wadsworth's entire poem.  'The Light of Stars' in "The Song of Hiawatha" is such a beautiful example of inspiration from the stars.)

Perhaps some of you were inspired by the winter solstice in 2020, when Jupiter and Saturn appeared closer together than they had been since 1226. Like me, you may have stood in the cold darkness to see the planets seem to embrace.  The poet, Oliver Tearle, wanted to write "a sort of modern-day metaphysical love poem, in the era of social distancing, about the two planets thinking themselves an item..."  Granted, the two celestial lovers aren't exactly Romeo and Juliet, but the theme is romantic attraction... 

    We are not seen together during the day, keeping our distance, as one must.  We do nothing we should not, at least since centuries back. Such an alignment is best kept for the dark.

(I hope you find "Conjunction: A Poem," by Oliver Tearle online so that you can enjoy his entire poem.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Trees and the Hand of Man

Isaac Werner must have planted his peach orchard soon after arriving on his claim, for by the time he resumed writing in his journal, he was already enjoying peaches from his trees.  In fact, he admitted that sometimes he was so hungry for fruit that when his peaches finally ripened he was so greedy to enjoy them that he gave himself a 'tummy ache.'

He had melons from his garden, and he tried to add apples to his orchard, especially looking forward to sharing them with his horses, but the delivery of a dozen young trees was too late in the season and his attempt to wrap their roots for planting in the spring failed.  He does mention a single apple tree later in his journal, but whether it was the lone survivor or a different tree planted earlier I do not know.

This blog, however, is inspired by my favorite tree at the farm.  Its spiral-like trunk makes me smile every time I see it, and when we relax on our front porch, I never fail to look over at Mother Nature's own bonsai tree.

When we returned to the farm, there was more than just the old house in need of attention.  Trees had survived, but they needed pruning, and some needed to be removed. We did a great deal of work, but we also had to call in the professionals.

The little spiral tree was in a crowded maze of trees, and most of them were removed.  I can't remember who did the work in that crowd of trees, but thank goodness the interesting trunk was noticed and left to make me smile each time I see it.

Although Mother Nature trained my favorite tree, humans have many ways to alter the appearance of trees.  I found the website of Sudbury Design Group online and am using their definitions for the various alterations.  A visit to their website offers an enjoyable collection of images.

Believe it or not, the two figures at right are trees, an example of Pooktre done by the Sudbury Design Group, by gradually shaping trees into a desired form by starting with a cutting and working with the vine-like area on the branch behind the growing tip.  The new growth follows a wire form, and where it needs to divert, a graft is bonded, which continues growing until the shape is complete.


      Espalier and Pleaching have similar training requirements as well as similar purposes.  Espalier is training a tree to grow up a wall or other flat surface--decorative or to increase fruit production.  Pleaching is weaving tree branches that are aligned to create a mass of plant material, creating a knit look, tunnels, and arbors.  When we traveled to Canada once, we visited a garden in which pleaching had been used to create a path much like the one in the picture.  I don't know what type of tree it was, but its flowers were yellow, and the day we were there not only were the lovely flowers blooming in the branches, the blossoms had begun to fall, and walking through this tunnel of trees was like being rained on by gold.  It was one of those rare moments of being someplace at just the right time to experience magic.

Pollarding involves removing branches (6 to 8 feet high) to create a full top of foliage and branches.  The picture at left shows such a tree in winter, when it has no leaves, but in summer, when the tree is filled with leaves, it is like a bouquet of leaves held in the grasp of the bare branches below.  Pollarding helps maintain trees at a specific height, such as you might want to do with trees lining a street.

The last two examples of man's hand in the growth of trees demand artistry and patience--as Pooktre obviously requires as well.  Probably the most amazing display of Topiary I have ever seen was at Longwood Gardens.  Forms and animals are created by gradually trimming hedges to become a desired shape.  I once saw a picture of a lawn with a series of topiaries, in the lead a fox, and chasing the fox several topiary hounds running after him.  Of course, because hedges constantly grow, maintaining the shapes requires constant trimming. 

In contrast to the speed of growth that requires regular attention, Bonsai requires the opposite.  Growing a mini tree in a pot to mimic its shape in nature through special pruning requires patience.  Shrubs can also be used for creating Bonsai, which would allow a shorter time in which to reach a desired appearance, but shaping a tree grown in a small container to stunt its growth could take a lifetime.  The magnificent example at left must have taken years of careful training and clipping to give the appearance of an ancient tree along a rocky shoreline with prevailing winds constantly directing its grown inland.

I wonder if Isaac had ever heard of such manipulations of plants.  Perhaps his large library pictured such things, and if so, I would suspect his remarkable curiosity would have tempted him to give it a try.  He obviously had the skill to plant and nurture trees, which he writes about in his journal.  He was an inventor, and I find it hard to believe that if he had known about some of the ways to train trees mentioned in this blog he could have resisted.  Even if he had not tried topiary or bonsai, he might have experimented with  pleaching or espalier of his fruit trees to get the advantage of sunlight or protection from strong Kansas winds.  I believe Isaac would have loved the challenge!  

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

How Quickly We Forget

1.  Can you name this once famous New York Yankee hitter?

 I was shocked when I read that most people do not know their grandmother's maiden name.  Part of that may be attributable to the fact that today families scatter, not necessarily finding employment in the community, or even in the same state, where they were raised.  It remains customary for wives to take the surname of their husbands, but wives today are less likely to forego their given names to become a  Mrs. John Jones rather than Mrs. Mary Jones, using their own given name.  As an attorney, I sometimes had to prepare affidavits for women who had signed documents as Mrs. John Jones and who later needed to prove that Mary Jones was the one and only Mrs. John Jones, especially for women who survived their husbands and were left with no 'legal' name of their own.

For those doing genealogy research, it is often difficult to trace female ancestors because their maiden names disappeared at the time of their marriage.  If you wander through old cemeteries you will frequently find headstones of a woman engraved as Mrs. John Jones, providing you not only with no maiden name but also no given name.  In our region, where settlers sometimes moved on, the death of a young wife buried at a grave site at which no other family member was buried, provides no clue to who she was, and some of those headstones actually read, "Wife of John Jones," further ignoring her as a person.

2.  Remember this singer whose daughter also became a singer/songwriter?

You might try a simple test out of curiosity by asking a grandchild what his or her grandmother's maiden name is.  Surveys have shown that the majority will be unable to provide an answer, especially in today's world where families do not always remain in the same community of their parents and grandparents. 

However, it is not just family names that we forget.  Fame can be a fleeting thing.  If you were a sports fan who knew the names of every player the year they won the title, how many of those million dollar players can you name today?  Can you name the player at the beginning of this blog?   

If you were determined to get to the poles to vote in an important Presidential election a few decades ago, can you remember that name of his running mate, whether or not your candidate won?   

3.  This movie won 4 Academy Awards.  Can you remember the year and what the awards were?

If you and your sweetheart had a special song, or a movie that you saw together, what was the song or the movie called?  

History also falls victim to short memories.  My book, Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement is about the era that created the People's Party, the most successful 3rd Party in American history.  Yet, many people living today, even in the region where the party was so successful and even if their ancestors participated in the movement, have never heard of that once famous political event.

Mark Twain said, 'History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes.'  I'm not sure what the moral to this story is intended to be...whether I want you to realize that sometimes things that seem tragically monumental will gradually be overcome, or whether I am disappointed by how quickly we forget things that deserve to be remembered, things from which we could learn beneficial lessons.

Maybe both can be true.

Answers to the quiz  images:

1.  Bobby Richardson was the best hitter for the New York Yankees in 1962 when they won the World Series.  He had a lifetime 266 batting average, with 1,432 hits and 390 RBI.

2.  The wonderful Nat King Cole was popular from the 1940s into the 1960s, and his daughter, Natalie Cole achieved her own success.  With the help of technology, they recorded a duet that topped the charts in 1991, 20 years after his death.  Natalie died in 2015.

3. "Ordinary People" won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screen Play, and Best Supporting Actor in 1980.  Robert Redford won as Best Director with his Directorial Debut, and Timothy Hutton won best Supporting Actor as the young son.  

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

FHSU Homecoming 2021

When my husband and I attended Fort Hays State University, we scheduled all of our classes in the morning so that we could work 30 hours a week--afternoons, late Thursday evenings, and all day Saturday.  We watched the Homecoming Parade through the Duckwall and J.C. Penny plate glass windows.  This year we rode in the parade!

Because the recipients of the 2020 Alumni Achievement Award were honored virtually, we were invited to participate in the festivities for the 2021 recipients at Homecoming, including the parade.  What fun, and what support from the people who lined the street, despite the rain.  Mother Nature must be a FHSU fan, since the rain stopped just as the parade began.  I waved and smiled so much that my face hurt, and people waved back, even the children I disappointed by failing to remember to buy candy to throw.  I even got a hand bump from someone who ran out to tell me he was going to buy my book.

We were kept busy for three days, with more high lights than I can share, but among them was the ribbon cutting for the new Fischli-Wills Center for Student Success, a state of the art building located next to the Union, with a connecting walkway on the second level.

Those of us whose college days go back a few decades know that changes on campus are not just the new buildings.  The book stores we remember from our youth have changed with students using the internet to buy their books, and the former book store in the FHSU Union is now a wonderful shop filled with clothing and other collectibles.  

However, for one afternoon during Homecoming it was once again a place to buy books, as they hosted "Prairie Bachelor" for a book signing!  Thank you to everyone who stopped by to buy a book or just to say "hi."  There are still some books there available for purchase, and I signed some book plates in case you would like one for your book.

Those of you who are FHSUers, whether as graduates or as spouses, parents, or 'adoption by choice,' already know that once a Tiger, always a Tiger, even if you live far away and return to campus in retirement.  FHSU continues to grow and change, but the Tiger Pact that appears as you enter the new Fischli-Wills Center makes clear the goals the University strives to instill.