Monday, November 26

The Last Days of November

The Full Beaver Moon is waning, and finally, four days from the end of November, things are getting bare. For most of the months the oranges and reds of all hues have held on to the trees and shrubs, and the expected final blast didn't come until last night. Now there's intermittent rain and gusts of wind to blow most of them down.

Coming up this week are the birthdays of Tina Turner, Jimi Hendrix. Bruce Lee, James Agee, Berry Gordy, Madeleine L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, and Louisa May Alcott.

The Urban Almanac for 2006 quoted St. Francis of Assisi thus: Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. The other side of that is letting the dishes pile up in the sink [substitute and image of entropy] with he result that the next day you don't have time to go past what's necessary. many people live their lives keeping up with the necessary, some because it's all they can manage, and others out of a spiritual laziness that doesn't dare to dream -- or won't get off the couch. Fear or laziness, it all leads to nothing.

I meant to speak of Thanksgiving. Most of the tributes and reflections I've read recently have been either the typical ThanksyouGoiforeverything" or have been thoughtful and religiously non-committal musings on the good things all around us.

I'd like to write an anti-Thanksgiving prayer or statement. Because behind most of the celebration in this country (at least among those who are safely and securely living here) lies the Puritan belief that we deserved these blessings because we were among God's chosen ones, on a divine mission to settle here. Yes, they were thankful at Plymouth, of course, for surviving the winter, for food and houses, for freedom, and for -- so far -- cordial relations with the native people. But while they gave thanks they simultaneously included the affirmation that God was on their side. I know that the national holiday didn't exist until Lincoln's time, but the roots are in Plymouth, and we never forget it.

Why am I talking about this? Because I would like to declare that I am NOT "thankful" in the common American meaning of this. I am appreciative to be sure and thankful in my own sense for what I have and that I don't live under hardship, and I love all the simple things of nature and life and blah blah blah -- BUT I DON'T in fact thank anyone for any of this, because however it all came into being I do not think that a God person gave it to me for a purpose. Maybe there's teleology in biology, I tend towards the teleological explanations of things where they're possible, but none of it issued from a person-like creature to whom I can talk or who "knows" me.

I read thew Psalms for comfort. but I do not really think that there is One Who Knows my innermost soul.

I love to go to Plymouth and eat ice cream at Peaceful Meadows and clams at Wood's and buy postcards and visit the Mayflower and walk the old streets and look a,t the eroding rock, but it's more a feeling of being at home on those sandy grassy shores by the salt bay, forty miles from where I grew up.

Sunday, November 25

Entertaining Ourselves

Artist's Studio, West Barrington, RI, 2007

Unlike my children, I don't write only when I have something to say. I'd rather write a non-memorable paragraph every day than less, just for the practice of seeing my words in print, and for the discipline. Maybe a new winter's resolution is to do just that.

Here's a passage from one of my favorite books, Now That We Have to Walk by Raymond Tifft Fuller (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1943):

"... a dismaying proportions of us Americans buy too many superfluous gadgets to save time and labor (working still harder than ever to possess and maintain them); neglect our health and our insurance, and live always above our income-level; we have put far too much of our 'saved' time into being entertained. Seductively placed before us is a variety of more or less effective diversions perhaps never equalled since the days of the Caesars. Eighteenth century royalties never had the time-killing opportunities we common Americans have. We are being painstakingly trained to regard entertainment and ever more entertainment as the crowning feature of civilized life. Subtly the passive role has been glorified into being the characteristic element of a high standard of living..... Millions of Americans have surrendered all personal sovereignty over their fun and their interests."

Zow. I say this all the time. Or, rather, I think it but do NOT say it, as I have an antipathy toward stating the obvious. And it's been said many times, probably centuries before Fuller. But this is from 1943 -- how long must the prophet speak in the wilderness?

I had a couple more passages to copy here, but this is enough food for thought for one session.

Saturday, November 24

Beckoned by Bivalves

I don't know if it's just the NY Times, or if everyone's doing it, but I've been noticing a number of alliterative headlines lately. And you can tell they're deliberate, because they're repeated on the inside page, the "Story continues on" page. There was a super duper one a couple of months ago in the theatre section: No Wonder He's Crunchy, He's Covered With Condiments." I like that. And I especially like "Beckoned By Bivalves," the header for a story about life on Prince Edward Island, a northernfFantasy if there ever was one.
As the url of this blog suggests, I grew up in the company of bivalves, so they have been beckoning to me all my life, along with the bear in "Snow White and Rose Red," Reddy kilowatt, and Winnie the Pooh, up in his forest. I don't think bivalves presented as food would be very tempting to someone not raised near salty tidal flats: they're slippery looking, with odd translucent yellow and grey parts, and an ominous dark stomach. Not food for the squeamish. You don't hare to travel like Anthony Bourdain to find squeamly food: just go to our Pilgrim shores. But to one raised on them, there is nothing more succulent than a cold, briny, littleneck on the half shell, unless it's an oyster, similarly served. With a touch of lemon and maybe a dash of cocktail sauce, but slid down from the shell with the salty liquid, it's food for the gods.
i consider bivalves among my earliest friends also because my first assigned research paper was a report on the quahog (the round bivalve of Rhode Island and nearby waters). Mr. Curran gave us the assignment (because, as he said, he'd once had to write an article on the quahog and it was darned hard, or interesting, or something. So we paired up, Valerie Cameron and I, and set out on the town. To the Providence Public Library and our first experiences in the dizzying world of microfilm and primary sources. We read old newspaper accounts and saw old photos of East Providence in its heyday of steamer rides up and down the bay and clambakes at the Squantum Club for the posh set and shore dinners at Crescent Park for the rest of us.
We rode our reporters' bikes down to Blount Seafood, on the waterfront street in Bristol, a place still operating and still housed in a green painted building with a large yard covered with crushed clam shells. We were received like the true reporters we were (barely out of our Nancy Drew days) and, seated in a large office with large brown chairs, we were told the story of commercial quahog harvesting.
And back in those dark days before anyone in the schools spoke about Native Americans except the obligatory paper hats and paper feather cutting and Thanksgiving stories, we learned that the Indians' form of cyurrency, , was made from the insides of the quahog shells. White beads were smaller units, as most of the inner shell was white; the violet was less plentiful and so provided t higher denomination beads. Before Mr. Rogers and Schoolhouse Rock, we at least learned a sold bit of American history and anthropology.
I'm sorry the paper we wrote has disappeared. I think it was 9 or 14 pages, handwritten, in all. It's disappeared, and I live farther from the salt-water mollusks and bivalves, but they always beckon.

Sad footnote: My third child just visited a mecca of the bivalve, Portland, Oregon and the Pacific Coast, but he doesn't like any kind of "seafood." I'm very glad he went but wished he could have capped off the trip with the ultimate bivalve experience.

Tuesday, November 20

My Soccer Team

Since I forgot to bring home the book of science essays with Stevenson and Burroughs and Lewis Thomas, instead I'll present the roster of my school's fall varsity soccer team. All names are aliases, but they represent the variety of boys on the team.

Sam Willett

Gus Peterson

Tomas Arroya

Heinrich Heinicke

Henry Cho

Joe Spumoni

Blackmer Root

Ake Makole

McMillan Mulligan

Russell Pinckney

Tony Capisco

Rodney Yee

Anatoli Boxwood

Derek Walcott

Ali Mahoub

Tyler Spinnaker

Herb Yonik

and so on. That's a lot like our list. they are from North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Jamaica, Korea, Sweden, Minnesota, Africa by way of East Tennessee and Washington State. just a slice of boarding school life in the southern mountains.

Now I'll look into my picture hoard and try to find something new.

Friday, November 16


This is way too much fun.

Tuesday, November 13

Daisy, Stripe and Button: A New Rutabaga Tale, or I Serve the Muse

All day they were playing the Story Game, a version of Dungeons and Dragons and Zork and their always love for stories, with one person setting the plot and giving choices. The oldest's was many branching, wide open, and recently informed by the newly discovered pleasure of Zork, the ultimate imaginative adventure set in white text on a black ground, representing the Story master's voice and the response. The second played a similar story, but with predetermined choices: "You see a big tree. What do you do? Do you want to climb the tree?" "Yeah...." "You go into the town full of shops. Where do you go?" "I go to the pub, to talk to people and have a beer." "No, there's a weapon shop. You go to the weapon shop." "You meet a big monster. What do you do?" "I talk to the monster and offer him some of my lunch from the brown sack." "No -- you KILL the monster." "Oh."

Later, the little sister takes her turn. She is newly five. I cannot do justice to her story, can only tell you about it. She begins: "Once there were three people, Jemmy, Junny and Bami." (Bami was a nurturing African nurse in last night's book, Jim's Lion by Russell Hoban.) "No, they had different names. They were... Daisy, Stripe, and Button."*

The story continues (here's where I can't do it justice). It has three sections, three quests, with the last, Daisy's, being the triumphant one. The story structure is perfect, the plot perfect. It incorporates elements of the day's storytelling -- a maze, paths in the forest, treasures, choices. it is economical, and it is perfect. And there is a coda -- at the very end, there's a surprise ending: the grandmother appears and spanks them all!

*As i heard these names and wondered, I realized immediately that sitting by Daisy and listening were her brother in *striped* pajamas and her grandmother, in a brown sweater with large white *buttons.*

The imaginative power is strong, absorbent, as Maria Montessori observed, effortless, and instantaneous. Most of us lose it in the ensuing muddle that is life; a few, the poets and magicians, retain it.