May 22, 2009

Rock Tea

by Gary Gildner

At a hot springs in Sawtooth Mountains
   8,000 feet above the level sea,
my two-year-old daughter enters the steamy shallows, and sings
   I'm naked! I'm naked! And clings to herself
as if the pink body under her slender arms might slip away.
   I do not want her to slip away, not ever,
but I know one day she will. I know
   one day she will put on her snow boots
and take up the trail in earnest—and I will call out
   I am happy for her, very happy, but sad too,
and hope I will see her again. From the pool's moony wash
   she brings me her cupped hands. Rock tea, Papa, you like some?
I cup her hands in my own, and drink. It is delicious, I say,
   more delicious than air itself, than life, may I have another?
And perhaps you will have one too? Perhaps, thank you,
   In this way, gently over rock tea,
we celebrate how far we have traveled together.

"Rock Tea" by Gary Gildner, from Cleaning a Rainbow. © BkMk Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Arthur Conan Doyle, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1859). He started writing stories while he went to medical school at the University of Edinburgh, and there he had a professor named Dr. Joseph Bell, who was extremely talented at inferring things from very small observations. Conan Doyle finished his medical studies, and he worked as a medic on an arctic whaler and a ship traveling to the west coast of Africa.

He went back to England and opened his own medical practice, but it wasn't very successful. In 1885 he got married and felt even more pressed for money, so he decided to put more energy into writing. He wrote a couple of novels and a few stories, and then he remembered his quirky professor at the university, Joseph Bell. He used him as a model for a character named Sherlock Holmes, and in 1887, A Study in Scarlet was published.

Conan Doyle's third Holmes story, "A Scandal in Bohemia," was serialized in Strand Magazine and made him famous. The public ate up his stories, but Conan Doyle actually didn't like writing Sherlock Holmes stories very much — he thought they were potboilers. His ambition was to write great historical romances like Sir Walter Scott. To get out of writing Holmes tales, he asked Strandfor higher and higher prices for his stories, ridiculously high, hoping they would turn him down. But they went ahead and paid him anything he asked. Finally he was so frustrated that, as he wrote to his mother in 1891, "I think of slaying Holmes … and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things." She wrote back: "You may do what you deem fit, but the crowds will not take this lightheartedly." She was right. Conan Doyle wrote "The Final Problem," in which Holmes tumbles down a waterfall along with his archenemy Moriarty, and the public was so furious that Conan Doyle had to bring Holmes back and claim that he had survived the fall but faked his death to protect himself from his other powerful enemies. Conan Doyle ended up writing 56 short stories and four novels featuring the famous detective, including The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902).

It's the birthday of the writer, naturalist, and Zen priest Peter Matthiessen, (books by this author) born in New York City (1927). Matthiessen went to Yale and majored in English, but he also took classes in ornithology and marine biology. He published his first short story in The Atlantic Monthly while he was still in college. Then he moved to Paris to write, but he was sick of being rejected from literary magazines that he didn't think were very good anyway. So he teamed up with another writer, Harold Humes, and with George Plimpton, whom he had known since he was eight years old and the boys were classmates. Together they created a literary magazine, and in the summer of 1953, they published the first issue of The Paris Review,with poetry by Robert Bly, an interview with E.M. Forster, and a letter from William Styron, and it has gone on to become one of the most influential literary magazines of its time.

He published two novels, Race Rock (1954) and Partisans (1955), but they didn't make much money, so he began working as a commercial fisherman, and he couldn't make a living from that either. But working as a fisherman reminded him of how much he loved nature, so he decided to write about it. He got a commission from Sports Illustrated to write three articles about indigenous American habitats. He said, "So I looked for a book I could loot but I couldn't find it because there wasn't one." So he decided to do the research himself, and he went on a cross-country trip with a shotgun and a sleeping bag. He ended up with so much research that he wrote a book, Wildlife in America (1959), which launched his reputation as a great nature writer. He has written many books of nonfiction and fiction, including his most recent, Shadow Country (2008).

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




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