Friday

Dec. 30, 2011

There

by George Johnston

One keeps itching to get there. Where? Never mind
where; one gets there at last, and does not come back
again to tell anyone else where
or how, or what it is like there.

One drives internal combustion vehicles
or one walks, or one rockets across the sky.
Restlessness is the ness one goes by.
It infallibly takes one there.

"There" by George Johnston, from The Essential George Johnston. © The Porcupine's Quill, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the 50th birthday of Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland (books by this author), born on a Royal Canadian Air Force base in Baden-Söllingen, West Germany. His first novel was Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991), and his most recent novel is Player One: What Is to Become of Us (2010). Player One is set in real time, telling the story of 5 people in an airport cocktail lounge during the apocalypse.

It's the 65th birthday of artist, poet, and punk rocker Patti Smith (books by this author). She was born in Chicago during the Great Blizzard of 1946. She wrote about her bohemian years in New York City in the '60s with her then lover Robert Mapplethorpe in her 2010 memoir, Just Kids.

She made the foray into rock and roll not long after she began giving poetry readings around New York City. One night, a friend with an electric guitar accompanied her, and she began trying to merge poetry with rock and roll, much as earlier poets had done with jazz. She released her first of 12 albums, Horses, in 1975; it's considered a punk rock classic.

She said, "In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth."

Today is the birthday of (Joseph) Rudyard Kipling (1865) (books by this author). He was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India; his father was a British artist who ran an art school there. Kipling went to school in England; when he finished, he worked as a reporter for a British army newspaper in northwestern India, where Britain was at war with Afghanistan. He also started writing short stories and poems, many of them about military life. Though he'd never fought in battle himself, they became classics among British soldiers around the world.

In 1892, Kipling and his American wife, Caroline, moved to a farmhouse in Brattleboro, Vermont, where Kipling began to reimagine the India of his childhood. It's there that he came up with the idea for the stories that would make up The Jungle Book. The couple had a child, and bought 10 acres of land high on a hill overlooking the Connecticut River, where they built a house that Kipling helped to design. He named it "Naulakha," which means "precious jewel." It's there that he finished The Jungle Book (1894), about a boy raised by wolves in the jungle of India; and Captains Courageous (1897), about the spoiled son of a railway tycoon. But Kipling didn't just write. He coped with the long Vermont winters by inventing "snow golf," in which golf balls were painted red and players would compete to see how far they could drive them across the snow-encrusted meadow. He installed a billiard table in the attic and, after Arthur Conan Doyle brought him a pair of skis, may possibly have introduced the sport of skiing to Vermont. His neighbors weren't quite sure what to make of him. One contemporary report said, "He wears shabby clothes, drives shaggy horses, is always saying 'Begad,' and plays with the baby."

The Kiplings left Vermont in 1896, after a quarrel with Caroline's brother made things uncomfortable there. Naulakha was abandoned for much of the 20th century, but was acquired by the Landmark Trust in 1992 and has been restored. It is not a museum; it's available for vacation rentals of up to three weeks. As a bonus, most of the furniture in the house originally belonged to the Kiplings. Even Ruddy's clubs — which he called "golf sticks" — remain in the house, leaning in a corner as though their owner just came in from a bracing round of snow golf.

Astronomer Edwin Hubble announced the discovery of other galaxies on this date in 1924. At the time it was thought that our Milky Way galaxy represented the entirety of the universe. Hubble was studying the Andromeda Nebula using the 100-inch Hooker Telescope at Mount Wilson observatory in California. With a weaker telescope, nebulae just looked like clouds of glowing gas, but with the Hooker telescope — the most powerful telescope in the world at that time — Hubble was able to distinguish individual stars within the nebula. One of the stars in the Andromeda Nebula turned out to be a Cepheid variable: a particular type of star that pulsates and is very bright. Astronomers had figured out a decade earlier that, by observing a Cepheid variable and measuring its brightness and the length of time it takes to go from bright to dim and back again, they could calculate the star's distance from the Earth. Hubble crunched the numbers and realized that the star he was observing was 800 thousand light years away, more than eight times the distance of the farthest star in the Milky Way. It was then that he realized that the "cloud of gas" he'd been observing was really another vast galaxy that was very far away. He renamed the Andromeda Nebula the "Andromeda Galaxy," and went on to discover 23 more separate galaxies. His findings proved that, unimaginably vast though it seemed to us, our Milky Way was just one of many little islands of stars.

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

 









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