Monday

Sep. 10, 2012

In Blackwater Woods

by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

"In Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver, from American Primitive. © Back Bay Books, 1983. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the original Rin Tin Tin, a German shepherd dog born in Lorraine, France (1918). The dog starred in 23 movies for Warner Brothers, but in many ways his life was more remarkable than any Hollywood plot. An American soldier named Leland Duncan was stationed in the Meuse Valley and had been ordered to search a bombed-out German encampment. Inside one of the ruined buildings, Duncan found a German shepherd cowering with her pups, which were only a few days old. He named the pups Rin Tin Tin and Nanette, after little finger puppets that the American soldiers carried around as good luck charms. Nanette died shortly before Duncan made it home to Los Angeles, but Rinty, as Duncan called him, became a beloved pet.

After the war, Duncan began entering Rin Tin Tin in local dog shows. At one show, an inventor wanted to try out his new slow-motion movie camera, so he filmed the dog scaling a 12-foot wall. It struck Duncan that maybe he had a future movie star on his hands, so he wrote a silent movie script featuring the dog and shopped it around at various studios. He was turned down by all of them. Then one day he was out walking with Rin Tin Tin when he came upon a film crew trying to shoot a scene with a wolf hybrid. The wolf wasn't cooperating, so Duncan suggested that he and his dog could do the scene in one take. He was true to his word, and Rin Tin Tin had his first big break. He later signed a deal with Warner Brothers, and the dog had his first starring role in Where the North Begins (1923).

In addition to 26 feature films, Rin Tin Tin starred in a radio program, The Wonder Dog, in 1930, in which he did his own barking and other sound effects. The original Rinty died in 1932, and his son, Rin Tin Tin Jr., took over the role in his place. The 12th-generation descendant of the original Rin Tin Tin is still making public appearances across the country as a representative of the brand.

Today is the birthday of poet Mary Oliver (books by this author), born in Maple Heights, Ohio (1935). When she was a teenager, she dropped out of college and made a pilgrimage to Edna St. Vincent Millay's estate in upstate New York, and although Millay had been dead for several years, her sister Norma still lived there. The two women hit it off, and Oliver ended up living on the estate for several years. It's there that she met Molly Malone Cook, who had come to pay a visit to Millay. Oliver and Cook fell in love and moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, together. Cook became Oliver's literary agent, and also sometimes impersonated Oliver for phone interviews because she hated talking to the press. They were together for more than 40 years, and after Cook died in 2005, Oliver published Thirst (2006), a collection of poems about her grief.

She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, for her collection American Primitive (1983), and she's one of the best-selling American poets, but she's a very private person who rarely gives interviews. Oliver's most recent book is Swan: Poems and Prose Poems (2010).

Today is the birthday of Irish author Marian Keyes (books by this author), born in Limerick (1963). Though her novels are often comedic, they usually revolve around dark subjects like domestic violence, rape, and addiction. She's the author of several best-sellers, including Watermelon (1995) and Sushi for Beginners (2000). In 2010, she wrote a newsletter to her fans speaking candidly about her own struggle with clinical depression: "Although I'm blessed enough to have a roof over my head, I still feel like I'm living in hell. I can't eat, I can't sleep, I can't write, I can't read, I can't talk to people. The worst thing is that I feel it will never end."

Earlier this year, Keyes published a cookbook called Saved by Cake (2012). It includes some basic cake recipes for beginners, but it's also an account of her depression, and how the simple act of baking helped her recover. Her latest novel, The Mystery of Mercy Close, is due out this week.

On this date in 2008, the Large Hadron Collider was powered up for the first time. It was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN, to test various theories of particle physics. The LHC, as it is called, is the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator: a massive tunnel-like chamber in the shape of a ring, 17 miles in circumference, buried hundreds of feet underground near Geneva, Switzerland. In the LHC, scientists shoot streams of subatomic particles, known as hadrons, in opposite directions around the ring. The particles pick up momentum as they go, and then they smash into each other in a laboratory simulation of the Big Bang. The collision causes pieces of the particles to break off, and physicists study these particles in hopes of learning new information about the nature of the universe.

One of the projects of the LHC was to find the theoretical Higgs boson, which is sometimes called "the God particle." In the 1960s, a young scientist named Peter Higgs was dissatisfied with the foundational theory of particle physics called the Standard Model. This theory explains the building blocks of the world we know: that subatomic particles come together to form atoms and molecules, which, in turn, combine to form all the elements that make up the universe. But the Standard Model doesn't explain how things have mass, or why some atoms are "heavier" than others. In short, it fails to explain how nothing first became something. Higgs thought that there must be some explanation for this glaring hole in the Standard Model.

In 1964, he and his team came up with the theory of a Higgs field that permeates the universe. As particles move through it, some of them attract other objects, known as Higgs bosons, which stick to them and slow them down. Other particles attract fewer Higgs bosons and are able to move more freely. Higgs was ridiculed by more experienced physicists for his theory at the time, and even though he eventually won them over, he figured he would never be proven right in his lifetime.

But this past July, big news came when scientists announced that they may have found a particle that behaves like the theoretical Higgs boson; if so, it's one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the last century. Higgs, now 83, wept at the announcement. Stephen Hawking said he thought that Higgs would probably receive the Nobel Prize. Hawking added: "I had a bet with Gordon Kane of Michigan University that the Higgs particle wouldn't be found. It seems I have just lost $100."

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

 









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