Wednesday

Apr. 30, 2008

April in Maine

by May Sarton

The days are cold and brown,
Brown fields, no sign of green,
Brown twigs, not even swelling,
And dirty snow in the woods.

But as the dark flows in
The tree frogs begin
Their shrill sweet singing,
And we lie on our beds
Through the ecstatic night,
Wide awake, cracked open.

There will be no going back.

"April in Maine" by May Sarton, from Collected Poems: 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton & Company, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1789 that George Washington took office as the first president of the United States. Two weeks earlier, he had begun his journey from his home in Mount Vernon to New York City, where the inauguration would take place. He wrote in his journal on April 16th:

About 10 o'clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity, and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York in company with Mr. Thompson, and Colonel Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.

It took him seven days to travel the 300-mile route to New York City, then the nation's capital. He passed through crowds of cheering well-wishers along the way, following a path that went through Alexandria, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton, Princeton, and New Brunswick. When he reached Bridgetown, New Jersey, there was waiting for him a large barge built just for the occasion and manned by 13 pilots all dressed in white. A Spanish vessel anchored in the harbor fired 13 guns as a salute and displayed the flags of nations all over the world.

It took the House and the Senate a few more days to work out the details of the inauguration, including how to address the president. Vice President John Adams thought it should be, "His Highness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties." Others thought "His Serene Highness" or "His Excellency" or "Mr. Washington" were better choices. The ad hoc Congressional Committee finally decided on "The President of the United States."

The Oath of Office took place at Federal Hall on the corner of Wall Street and Nassau Street, on a balcony outside so that many people could witness it. Washington wore a dark brown suit, white silk stockings, shoes with silver buckles, and a sword. New York Chancellor Robert Livingston administered the Oath: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Washington appended the words "so help me God" to the Oath and then kissed the open Bible, which had been missing moments before the ceremony, and when found for the oath had been hastily opened to a random page, which turned out to be Genesis 49. In his inaugural address, Washington asked for the divine blessing of the "benign Parent of the Human Race" on the new government.

It's the birthday of expatriate writer and literary confidant Alice B. Toklas— (books by this author) the partner of Gertrude Stein—born in San Francisco (1877). In 1907, she went to Paris and there she met Stein, whom Toklas described as wearing "a large, round coral brooch, and when she talked &$8230; I thought her voice came from her brooch. It was unlike any other else's voice — a deep, full velvety contralto's, like two voices." She immediately thought Stein was a genius.

The two became lovers and on a trip to Tuscany a few years later, Stein proposed to Toklas. They returned to Paris and moved into 27 rue de Fleurus, dislodging from the apartment Stein's older brother. The place became a social center for various artists and young writers, and Toklas regularly prepared elaborate meals for Picasso, Hemingway, Matisse, and Fitzgerald. She later included some of her recipes and stories in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (1954), in which she wrote, "In the menu, there should be a climax and a culmination. Come to it gently. One will suffice."

Stein proposed that Toklas write an autobiography and suggested that it be called "My Life with the Great" or "My Twenty-Five Years with Gertrude Stein." But instead, Stein herself wrote the book she called The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). In the book, Stein writes in the voice of Alice:

"I am a pretty good housekeeper and a pretty good gardener and a pretty good needlewoman and a pretty good secretary and a pretty good vet for dogs and I have to do them all at once and I found it difficult to add being a pretty good author."

It's the birthday of Annie (Doak) Dillard, (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1945). After writing a master's thesis on Thoreau's Walden, she moved to a cabin along Tinker Creek in the Virginian Blue Ridge Mountains. There she wrote poetry and also kept a daily journal of her observations of nature and her thoughts about God and religion. She wrote in old notebooks and on four-by-six-inch index cards, and when she was ready to transform the journal into a book, she had 1,100 entries. The result, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, was published in 1974. It became a Book of the Month Club selection that year and received the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1975; she was only 29 years old.

She has published collections of essays and of poetry, as well as an autobiography. Her most recent work is a novel, The Maytrees (2007).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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