Mar. 21, 2007
First Day of Spring
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Poem: "First Day of Spring" by Ann Hudson, from The Armillary Sphere. © Ohio University Press. Reprinted with permission.
First Day of Spring
It's a wild March morning in Chicago, the wind
dragging its nets through the streets.
Trawling for its usual and plentiful treasures:
crushed styrofoam cups, torn newspapers,
lost gloves, a blizzard of fast food napkins.
I take my eight-year-old Toyota
through the car wash. Idling in neutral,
I ease past the powerful, shaggy brushes,
the nozzles spraying limp foam onto the hood,
and remember the sick excitement I felt
when my father took my sisters and me through,
all the windows of our '67 baby blue Valiant
tightly cranked, the antenna pushed into its sleeve,
our doors locked against who-knows-what,
the three of us with our identical haircuts
buckled into the back seat, our identical shoes
drumming the vinyl. I was sure
those huge blue brushes would crash
right through the windshield and pin us to our seats.
At eight, a child sure of impending danger this
was about all the thrill I could handle.
I pull out of the car wash into the tangle
of traffic, past the bars that open at nine in the morning
and stay open, past the disheveled and pacing junkies,
past the crumbling theater draped in shadow and disrepair,
and make slow headway against the wind
that gathers the stray grocery bags all over the city,
whipping them against the masts
of budding hawthorns, silver maples,
bald cypress, green ash, green ash.
Literary and Historical Notes:
Today is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The Earth is tilted on its axis, so as it travels around the sun each pole is sometimes tilted toward the sun and sometimes tilted away. It is this tilt that causes the seasons, as well as the shortening and lengthening of daylight hours. On this day, the north and south poles are equally distant from the sun, so we will have almost exactly the same amount of daytime as nighttime.
Emily Dickinson said, "A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King."
Margaret Atwood said, "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Spring still makes spring in the mind,
When sixty years are told;
Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
And we are never old."
It was on this day in 1790 that Thomas Jefferson (books by this author) took office as the United States' first secretary of state, a job that he did not much care for.
He had been serving as the United States' ambassador to France, and he had fallen in love with the city of Paris. The only reason he was willing to come back to America to become secretary of state was that George Washington personally asked him to take the position. Jefferson couldn't say no to George Washington.
He regretted his decision almost as soon as he arrived in Philadelphia. The city had grown bigger, dirtier, and noisier in his absence. The house that he rented was on the main wagon route into the city, which made it almost too noisy to think when he was at home. It didn't help that he was obsessed with remodeling, and so his house was constantly full of carpenters and bricklayers.
And Jefferson immediately found that he did not get along with other members of George Washington's cabinet. He and Alexander Hamilton, the secretary of the Treasury, disagreed about almost everything, from the creation of a National Bank to the country's relations with Great Britain. Hamilton thought it would be to the nation's advantage to have good relations with Great Britain, since it was the most powerful nation on the planet at the time. Jefferson thought the U.S. should ally itself with France, which had recently become only the second democratic government in the world.
Jefferson would suffer from terrible migraines for most of his time as secretary of state, and he later looked back on those years as a kind of torture. But the experience of butting heads with Alexander Hamilton solidified many of his political ideas, and he went on to found the first oppositional political party in American history.
It's the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, born in Eisenach, Germany (1685). He started out as a professional church organist, and he developed a reputation as one of the best organists in the country. Members of his congregation were annoyed by his habit of improvising while playing hymns, which made it difficult for people to sing along.
He eventually moved to Leipzig, where he worked as the city's director of church music for the rest of his life, and where he composed most of his major works. Bach earned a decent living in Leipzig, but he had a grueling workload. He had to write a cantata every month, so in order to get ahead of the deadlines, he wrote one every week for the first two years. In addition to serving as organist and musical director at church services, he had to teach a boys' class in Latin and music, and he was continually frustrated by his undisciplined students and the inexperienced musicians he had to work with.
Despite all his difficulties, he managed to compose some of the greatest works of music in history, including The Passion According to St. John (1723), The Passion According to St. Matthew (1729), Mass in B minor (1733), and the Goldberg Variations (1742). During his lifetime, almost no one appreciated his music. It wasn't until about 75 years after his death that people realized what a genius he was.
Johann Sebastian Bach said, "There's nothing remarkable about [making music]. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®