Dec. 16, 2013

Sheep in the Winter Night

by Tom Hennen

Inside the barn the sheep were standing, pushed close to one
another. Some were dozing, some had eyes wide open listening
in the dark. Some had no doubt heard of wolves. They looked
weary with all the burdens they had to carry, like being thought
of as stupid and cowardly, disliked by cowboys for the way they
eat grass about an inch into the dirt, the silly look they have
just after shearing, of being one of the symbols of the Christian
religion. In the darkness of the barn their woolly backs were
full of light gathered on summer pastures. Above them their
white breath was suspended, while far off in the pine woods,
night was deep in silence. The owl and rabbit were wondering,
along with the trees, if the air would soon fill with snowflakes,
but the power that moves through the world and makes our
hair stand on end was keeping the answer to itself.

"Sheep in the Winter Night" by Tom Hennen, from Darkness Sticks to Everything. © Copper Canyon Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1944 that the Battle of the Bulge began in the Ardennes forest, a snowy mountainous region of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. It went on for more than a month. It was the last major German offensive, and it was the bloodiest battle of World War II for Americans troops. While estimates about the number of American casualties differ, the U.S. Defense Department lists 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded, and 23,000 missing.

It's the birthday of author Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice; Emma; Persuasion) born in the village of Steventon, Hampshire, England, in 1775 (books by this author). Austen was the seventh of eight children, and the second daughter. Her mother wrote lighthearted verse for the family's amusement, and her father, a clergyman, always made sure Jane had a writing desk and plenty of paper.

Her first published work was Sense and Sensibility, in 1811. She was widely read in her lifetime, but published all her books as "A Lady," rather than giving her name. Her health began to decline in 1816, and she died in 1817, possibly of Addison's disease, lymphoma, or — as has recently been suggested — arsenic poisoning. Five decades later, her nephew published A Memoir of Jane Austen (1869), which generated widespread interest in his aunt and led to the reprinting of her novels. It touched off a sort of mania for Jane Austen in the 1880s, known as "Austenolatry." But it wasn't until the 1940s — more than 100 years after she died — that Austen's work became the focus of substantial academic scholarship.

Jane Austen said, "A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of."

Although no official birth date has been recorded, it's traditionally believed that Ludwig van Beethoven was born on this date in 1770. He was born in Bonn, Germany, into a family of court musicians. When he was a teenager, Beethoven visited Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Vienna and played the piano for him; Mozart later wrote to a friend: "I think this one will make a noise in the world."

It's the birthday of the philosopher and poet George Santayana (books by this author), born in Madrid (1863). He's best known for having coined the famous phrase: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

He also said, "History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there."

And: "There are books in which the footnotes or comments scrawled by some reader's hand in the margin are more interesting than the text. The world is one of these books."

It's the birthday of anthropologist Margaret Mead (books by this author), born in Philadelphia in 1901, best known for her book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). She wrote the book after she visited the South Pacific island. She said that Samoan girls did not go through the same tortured teenaged years as girls in the United States did, and she suggested that relaxed sexual attitudes might be responsible.

Today is the birthday of science fiction author Arthur C[harles] Clarke (1917) born in Minehead, Somerset, England (books by this author). He was known as one of the "Big Three" of sci-fi, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. His best-known work is 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

He was also an inventor. He developed an early-warning radar system during World War II, proposed a satellite communication system as early as 1945, and served as the chairman of the British Interplanetary Society on two occasions.

In 2007, on his 90th birthday, Clarke recorded a video in which he says goodbye to his friends and fans. In it, he said: "I have great faith in optimism as a guiding principle, if only because it offers us the opportunity of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. So I hope we've learnt something from the most barbaric century in history — the 20th. I would like to see us overcome our tribal divisions and begin to think and act as if we were one family. That would be real globalization." He died of respiratory failure three months later.

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




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