Archive for History

A Long Year Already

Cape Cod Beach

Mid-January and already my New Year’s Resolution is being tested.  I resolved to worry less.  Worry – disquiet, unease, anxiety.    In the first six days of the year I celebrated my birthday and was involved in a minor car accident.  Then, on the 7th of January, gunmen attacked Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

Today, I read a poem about an injured deer that finds shelter in a shed and is found in the spring.  It ends like this:  All deer die. / This one is a testament.

Does the poet mean that deer is a metaphor for testament, which is a covenant between god and humans?  Or is the deer a metaphor for god?  As though the human-made shed was not for wood or tools, but for a god, a creator or a spirit.  I will shelter you.

Yesterday, trying to identify a building in one of my photos from our trip to Boston in September, I found the image: Site of the Boston Massacre.  Five colonists were killed by British soldiers on March 5, 1770.  The Brits were occupiers and the locals didn’t like it.  The colonists provoked the soldiers, then attacked them.  The soldiers fired.  Later, most of the soldiers were acquitted because they did not fire until attacked.

Today, a Saudi Imam banned the building of snowmen because nothing can be built or drawn by man that has a soul; only god can do that.

Massacre – an indiscriminant and brutal slaughter of people.  How many deaths equal a massacre?  One black man?  Five colonists?  Twelve cartoonists and staff?  The 66 journalists killed in 2014?  The list is long and historic.

If the image of man cannot be made by man, how then is it souls are so easily destroyed?  How do we remember the dead without names and faces, without knowing their histories?  If a deer is a testament, what are people killed by man?  Testaments to their beliefs?



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Thornton W. Burgess

Entrance to the Wild Flower Garden at Green Briar Nature Center

Entrance to the Wild Flower Garden at Green Briar Nature Center

On a recent visit to Sandwich, MA I discovered that Thornton W. Burgess had been a resident and his home was open for visiting.  The name sounded familiar but it was not until I saw a drawing of a small rabbit that it clicked:  The Adventures of Peter Cottontail.

Burgess wrote children’s books back in the 19-teens.  With titles like Old Mother West Wind, The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad, Jerry Muskrat at Home and The Adventures of Prickly Porky, what is not to like?  Well, I’m sure the books are very tame to children raised on Where the Wild Things Are, but the stories are no doubt as charming as the illustrations, most executed by Harrison Cady.

The Burgess House in Sandwich, MA is no more, sadly.  The house still stands, but barely.  It is too expensive for the Burgess Society to keep up and the cost to renovate for a private home would be prohibitive.  Still, the Burgess Society soldiers on at Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen in East Sandwich, MA.

Burgess’ work as a naturalist and conservationist continues at the Nature Center.  I love that he encouraged children to join the War Bond effort with the formation of the Happy Jack Thrift Club in 1917.  The Burgess Society preserves Thornton Burgess’ legacy of books and articles plus maintains a focus on preserving and conserving natural resources.

However, the Jam Kitchen is where the real work of preservation is done.  In operation since 1903, the Jam Kitchen also prepares sun-cooked fruits in the oldest commercial solar-cooking operation in the U.S.  The names are enough to make your mouth water:  Apple Pie Jam, Beach Plum Jelly and Peter Rabbit’s Carrot Marmalade (with carrots, lemons and almonds).  The sun-cooked fruits are prepared with rum, vodka or Brandy.  ‘Mmmmmm!

The Jam Kitchens products are for sale in the Green Briar Nature Center & Jam Kitchen gift shop or on-line at

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War Imagery in Textiles

Bench Overlooking Pond

Here is a review of War Imagery in Women’s Textiles.  I posted it as a Library Thing Early Reviewer.  Library Thing is an on-line cataloging service for readers, authors and librarians.  The Early Reviewer program offers the chance to obtain free books before they are put on the market.   You can read about Early Reviewers at

I first encountered war imagery in textiles when I attended an exhibit called Weavings of War:  Fabrics of Memory at the University of Wisconsin’s Design Gallery.  I was shocked by the images.  Huey helicopters were the focal point of a quilt and bullets formed the borders.  Appliquéd bits of red fabric depicted blood spurting from a woman who was shot on a bridge while appliquéd soldiers marched appliquéd peasants through appliquéd rice paddies and corn crops.  Rifles repeated in brown patterns looked like trees in a forest.

War Imagery in Women’s Textiles: An International Study of Weaving, Knitting, Sewing, Quilting, Rug Making and Other Fabric Arts by Deborah A. Deacon and Paula E. Calvin documents war as subject matter for textiles.  The authors, both art historians, review the Western tradition of depicting war in Europe, the US and Canada.  In Europe the story starts with embroideries such as the Bayeux Tapestry in the Middle Ages, and includes knitting campaigns during World War I and rugs woven by Bosnian women in the 1990’s.

The U.S. story begins with Betsy Ross, sewing flags for the new nation, a product of revolution.  For both the US and Canada, the authors explore the work of Native Americans affected by westward expansion and the 20th century wars.  Subsequent chapters explore the war textiles of women in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.  In Africa, the authors discovered there is not a tradition of using textiles to express reaction to war.  However, African art does incorporate reactions to colonialism.  In South Africa, apartheid is remembered through memory cloths.  However, neither of these artist traditions contain images of violence.

The pieces I saw on exhibit were made by women from Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, Somalia, Guatemala, and Peru.  The textiles depicted civil wars, colonial wars and foreign invasions.  There were designs showing men rounding up soldiers, peasants herded off their farms and people shot and left to die, unknown, anonymous pawns in national and international war games.

After the soldiers leave, the women do what they have always done:  they make quilts and other textiles about what they know.  They use the traditional patterns and colors and techniques of their grandmothers to sew planes and bombs and dying peasants.  In making the textiles, in recording the horror, the women remember the dead:  a sister, a husband, a child, a parent.  All people with names and hopes and dreams, who laughed and loved and who were loved, but who have been lost to war.

War Imagery in Textiles is thoroughly researched with detailed notes and a lengthy bibliography.  There is also a helpful glossary of textile terms.  The book necessarily traces the historic development of textiles independent of war imagery.  Most of the historical textile artists are anonymous, but each chapter notes the names and biographies of contemporary textile artists.  There are some black and white photos that illustrate historical subjects and a collection of color prints of contemporary subjects.  An index allows the reader to search for topics of interest.

In cutting and stitching, women re-claim themselves in color and texture and story.  They sew the past so they can live again.


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God Writes Straight with Crooked Lines

Sos Del Rey Cotholoica, Aragon, Spain

Sos Del Rey Cotholoica, Aragon, Spain

A Portuguese proverb, “God writes straight with cooked lines,” is the best line and a good summary of The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago, the Portuguese writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. The proverb, which means that strange events become clear with time, is a metaphor for the book, the story of the transport of an elephant from Lisbon to Vienna in the fall of 1551.  

Owned by King Joao III of Portugal, Solomon, the elephant, is given as a wedding gift to Archduke Maximilian of Austria.  King Joao is speaking with his secretary.

Ah, no one can outdo your highness in dialectic and response.  Although there are those who say that the fates who presided over my birth did not endow me with a gift for words, Words are not everything, my lord, going to visit the elephant Solomon today is a poetic act and will perhaps be seen as such in the future.  What is a poetic act, asked the king, No one knows, my lord, we only recognize it when it happens, So far, though, I have only mentioned my intention of visiting Solomon, Ah, but the word of a king would, I’m sure, be enough, That I believe, is what rhetoricians call irony, Forgive me, your highness, You are forgiven, secretary, and if all your senses are of like gravity, your place in heaven is guaranteed.

Portuguese soldiers journey with Solomon and his mahout Subhro overland to Valladolid where the Archduke and his new wife take over and escort the pair by boat to Genoa, across the Alps to Innsbruck and down the Danube toward Vienna.

Like any good travel tale, The Elephant’s Journey is filled with bad weather, poor sleeping conditions, questionable provisions and dangerous conditions including wolves in Iberia and the threat of avalanche in the Brenner Pass.

One day, it starts to rain.

It isn’t true that heaven and the heavens are indifferent to our preoccupations and desires.  They’re constantly sending us signs and warnings, and the only reason we don’t add good advice to that list is that experience, heaven’s and ours, has shown that memory, which isn’t anyone’s strong point, is best not overburdened with too much detail.  Signs and warnings are easy to interpret if we remain alert, as the commanding officer discovered when, at one point along the route, the convoy was caught in a heavy drenching shower.  For the men engaged in the hard work of pushing the ox-cart, that rain was a blessing, an act of charity for the suffering to which the lower classes have always been subject.  Solomon and his mahout subhro also enjoyed that sudden cooling rain, although this did not prevent subhro from thinking that, in future, he really could do with and umbrella in such situation, perched up high and unprotected from the water falling from the clouds, especially on the road to vienna.

This highly improbable endeavor that lasts a good three months and involves the labor of dozens of porters, soldiers, oxen and horses actually took place.  Knowledge of the historical journey was itself the result of an unusual circumstance which came about when Saramago visited a Portuguese professor in Salzburg, Austria who took him to a restaurant that displayed wooden figures of buildings and monuments from cities along the route that Solomon journeyed.

Saramago uses his powers as omniscient narrator to observe the social disparities between royalty and the rest of the entourage, especially Subhro who rides above everyone on top of the elephant but who is totally dependent on the good graces of the archduke.  The elephant, on the other hand, never complains.  He endures an attempt at exorcism, agrees to perform a “miracle” by kneeling before a saint’s stature and saves a child from trampling by wrapping his trunk around her and raising her in the air.  But the people around Solomon are changed by him or by observing Solomon and Subhro together, resulting in respect for the elephant handler and even friendship.

What the reader does not know is that the real Solomon was born to royalty in a town in Sri Lanka that was a Portuguese trading post.   So Solomon has already traveled from Sri Lanka to Lisbon before Saramago introduces us to him.  Solomon’s fall from object of reverence in Sri Lanka to the back of the royal stables in Lisbon is something he bears stoically so long as his rather large portion of forage is consistently available.

In the Alps, a wheel on the Archduke’s carriage tears off, stopping the caravan but resulting in a fortuitous event for Solomon.  The Archduke has renamed Solomon and calls him Suleiman.

With heavy snow like this, the road is always light, no one will get lost, said the  sergeant …  And it was true because, at that moment, the cart carrying the forage arrived, and just in time, too, because suleiman  having dragged his four tons up those mountains, desperately needed to recharge his energies.  ….  When one thinks about it, the accident to the archducal coach could only have been an act of divine providence.  As that never sufficiently praised popular wisdom teaches us, and as has more than once been shown, god writes straight on crooked lines, and even seems to prefer the latter.  (Italics added.)

Saramago contrasts the Portuguese – sunny and intelligent – with the Austrians – cold and hidebound – and is nostalgic for a time before modernity and globalization, which, ironically, was set off in 1497 when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope.

Readers may have difficulty with Saramago’s long sentences and unusual punctuation which neglects quotation marks, capitalization and even periods.  But the book is only about 200 pages long and the people, scenes, events and travel challenges move the book along and Saramago’s observations from high above give the reader something to think about along the way.

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2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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First Snow


This is the scene from my deck door this morning.  It will change soon because the winds are expected to pick up to forty miles per hour this afternoon.   This is the first big snow we have had since February 2011 and the first significant snow this year (19.5 inches of snow!).

Yesterday, before it snowed, I walked outside, possibly the last time for awhile.  It was lovely:  about 34 degrees and the air was full of moisture.  Geese were still on the pond making a great deal of noise.  I told them to get going but when I opened the door this morning I could hear they are still there.  They will stay until the pond freezes over.

The Japanese call the first snow “hatsuyuki.”   According to Liza Dalby, in her book East Wind Melts the Ice:  a memoir through the seasons, during the Heian period, at first snow the Japanese gentry went to the palace to pay their respect to the emperor then they drank sake and composed poems.  Snow viewing, Yuki-mi, was popular as well.  The trio “snow, moon, flowers: – setsu getsu ka – is a set phrase that symbolizes all things beautiful.

Wet grass flattens.

A footprint

fills with snow.

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Howdy!  Just returned from Texas.  Why Texas?  Well, why not?  I enjoy foreign travel and Texas seemed foreign to this northerner.  It was not foreign at all, but definitely regional.  It was fun to learn about the state’s history and to visit some sites:  the State Capital in Austin, the LBJ Ranch near Fredericksburg in the Hill Country, the Alamo in San Antonio and the Padre Island National Seashore.

One of the most interesting facts I learned is that the Texans actually lost at the Alamo…and once again at Goliad before defeating the Mexicans at San Jacinto and becoming the Republic of Texas.   I also learned that Six Flags Over Texas is not the name of an amusement park.  Well, it is, but the six flags that flew over Texas belonged to:  France, Spain, Mexico, The Republic of Texas, the Confederate States and the USA.  They are still going back and forth a little on the last two.

So there was also an election a week ago.  In the run-up to November 6th, NPR ran one of their short short story contests:  write a story that has anything to do with a president in 600 words or less.  My entry not only did not win, it wasn’t even picked to be posted as a “favorite.”  That’s ok.  My story was 599 words and I think their word counter probably added wrong, making my story ineligible.  Uh, huh.

Code Shamrock

The phone implanted in her head woke the President at 1 a.m.  She nodded while she listened.  “So Alex is back in the U.S.,” she said, and paused.  “No, I want to do it myself,” she said.  “Have the Mercedes and a driver ready for me behind the White House.”

Dressing quickly, Patricia O’Brien left the White House bedroom.  A Secret Service officer stood and blocked her path to the Center Hall.  “I have to go out,” O’Brien told him.  “I’ll order a limo,” the officer said, pulling his wrist to his mouth to talk.  “Thanks, but someone is coming for me,” she replied, and ran past him and down the stairs to the Ground Floor.

As the driver raced up Constitution Avenue and neared the National Gallery, O’Brien said, “Stop by the sculpture garden.”  She got out and ran past Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser to the crowd of Abakanowitz’ headless bronze figures.   Just as she stepped up to the first figure, a hand clapped onto her shoulder.  She shoved an elbow into a hard stomach and flipped her assailant, wrapping him around the next bronze figure.

At the entrance to the West Building, O’Brien pushed on the door.  It swung open.  She found the lone security guard at his station near the door.  He had been disabled, along with the alarms and cameras.  As O’Brien ran through the West Garden Court, she thought, how many times have I asked myself:  If I have only one painting to save, which will it be?

After a left turn in the West Sculpture Hall, O’Brien entered the gallery where Ginevra de’Benci by Leonardo da Vinci hung.  With her porcelain skin and slightly sulky expression, Ginevra was one of the most important paintings in the National Gallery.  O’Brien watched a man start to lift the painting from its glass case.  “You can’t have her, Alex,” O’Brien said.

The man turned toward her.  He laughed when he recognized her.  “Madam President,” he said.  “I thought you were out of the museum security business, Patricia.”

“Oh, Alex, I can never resist the chance to save a good work of art,” O’Brien said.  “Do you know what it says on the back of the portrait, Alex?  It’s a Latin inscription, Virtutem Forma Decorte.  It means, ‘Beauty Adorns Virtue.’  This is for Virtue, Alex.”  O’Brien raised a boot and struck him in the forehead.   After cuffing him, she paused in front of the painting.  Smiling, she removed something from her pocket and stuck it onto the glass.  It was a green shamrock.

O’Brien ran past the immobilized guard and into the security station.  She reactivated the alarms and cameras.  Immediately, lights started to flash.  The DC police will be here soon, she thought, and ran out the door and back through the sculpture garden.  The man who attacked her was still on the ground.   She pulled a ratchet strap from her jacket pocket and secured him to one of the sculptures.  She hid in the shadow of the Typewriter Eraser to watch for a Yellow Cab.

“White House,” she whispered, getting in.  She removed her black sweater and put it around her shoulders.  She pulled pearls to the outside of her blouse and smoothed her hair.  “Go to the back entrance,” she told the cabbie.  At the security station, she got out of the taxi and flashed her Homeland Security badge.  “Madam President?” the officer asked, startled.  “National security meeting,” she answered.  “It was an emergency.”

“I didn’t know about it,” he said.

“Well, you can’t know everything the President does, can you?” she replied.



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