Feb. 28, 2006
The Bear's Money
Poem: "The Bear's Money" by Louis Jenkins from The Winter Road: Prose Poems by Louis Jenkins. © Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted with permission.
The Bear's Money
Every fall before he goes to sleep a bear will put away five or six
hundred dollars. Money he got from garbage cans, mostly. Peo-
ple throw away thousands of dollars every day, and around here
a lot of it goes to bears. But what good is money to a bear? I
mean, how many places are there that a bear can spend it? It's a
good idea to first locate the bear's den, in fall after the leaves are
down. Back on one of the old logging roads you'll find a tall pine
or spruce covered with scratch marks, the bear runes, which
translate to something like "Keep out. That means you!" You can
rest assured that the bear and his money are nearby, in a cave or
in a space dug out under some big tree roots. When you return
in winter, a long hike on snowshoes, the bear will be sound
asleep. ... In a month or two he'll wake, groggy, out of sorts,
ready to bite something, ready to rip something to shreds ... but
by then you'll be long gone, back in town, spending like a
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1953 that James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of the DNA molecule. They were working in a lab in Cambridge, England, where they didn't even have the right equipment to examine DNA. That equipment was located at King's College in London. They learned that a woman named Rosalind Franklin was taking X-ray pictures of DNA there, and they decided that the only way to discover the structure was to look at those pictures.
Watson got to know Rosalind Franklin's lab partner, Maurice Wilkins, and one night he persuaded Wilkins to show him one of the X-ray pictures that Franklin had taken of a DNA molecule. Watson took a train back to Cambridge after seeing the picture, and he made a sketch of the molecule on a newspaper. When he got back to his lab, he and Crick spent several days building theoretical models of the molecule. They hit on the correct structure on this day in 1953. Once they realized what they had accomplished, they went to the local bar to celebrate.
Toasting their discovery, Watson suddenly shouted, "We have discovered the secret of life!" They would go on to win the Nobel Prize for their discovery.
And it's the birthday of the man who almost beat Watson and Crick to the discovery of DNA, the chemist Linus Pauling, born in Oswego, Oregon (1901). He studied chemistry at the Oregon Agricultural College and then won a Guggenheim Fellowship which he used to go abroad to study the new field of quantum mechanics with some of the most important physicists of the era.
At the time, quantum mechanics was revolutionizing the way scientists understood the nature of individual atoms and molecules. Using his new knowledge, Pauling became the first chemist to examine individual molecules with X-rays, and he showed how the various properties of a chemical, its color and texture and hardness, are a result of its molecular structure. He won a Nobel Prize for his work in 1954.
Linus Pauling said, "The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas."
It's the birthday of The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, born on Long Island, New York (1953). He studied economics at MIT and became one of the leading economists in the U.S., specializing in international trade. But he decided that the best way he could contribute to the world of economics would be to explain economics to ordinary people, and so he wrote several books in the 1990s for the general public, including The Age of Diminished Expectations (1990), Peddling Prosperity (1994) and Pop Internationalism (1996). He became an op-ed columnist for The New York Times in 1999, and he has since become a fierce critic of the Bush administration. His book The Great Unraveling came out in 2003.
It's the birthday of the great essayist Michel de Montaigne, born in Perigueux, France (1533). He was the first person to call short pieces of prose "essays" from the French word for attempt.
He lived at a time when religious civil wars were breaking out all over the country. Protestants and Catholics killing each other, the Black Plague was ravaging the peasants in his neighborhood, and he once saw men digging their own graves and then lying down to die in them. But he spent most of his time writing about the most ordinary things, like his gardening or the way radishes affected his digestion.
He wrote, "To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battle and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. ... The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®