Jan. 16, 2000

Where the Picnic Was

by Thomas Hardy

Broadcast Date: SUNDAY: January 16, 2000

Poem: "Where the Picnic Was" by Thomas Hardy.

It's the birthday of popular poet Robert (William) Service, born in Preston, Lancashire, England (1874)—called "the Canadian Kipling" although he had, in fact, grown up in Britain. At 20 he moved to Canada and worked for the Canadian Bank of Commerce, which stationed him in the Yukon Territory for 8 years. Then he turned to journalism as a correspondent for the Toronto Star during the Balkan Wars (1912-13). During World War One he served as an ambulance driver and reporter—but all through those years his mind roamed back through the dramas he had known or imagined in the 'Frozen North.' After 1912, he lived on the French Riviera, but we associate him with the Yukon, particularly with his verse ballads "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee."

On this day in 1920, the "Noble Experiment," Prohibition of the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors, went into effect across America.

It's the birthday of gorilla expert Dian Fossey, born in San Francisco (1932). Her dream to study African wildlife grew until she mortgaged three years' of future income to finance a trip to Africa (1963). It took her a dozen years, but by 1975 she was established in Rwanda [roo-AHN-dah], living close to mountain gorillas—who, she discovered, led peaceful family lives rather than being the violent monsters popular culture had made them out to be. In 1985, Fossey was murdered by poachers whose snares she had cut.

It's the birthday of essayist and novelist Susan Sontag, born in New York City (1933). She was just 21 when she drew literary celebrity with her essay "Notes on 'Camp,' " which explored the "good taste of bad taste," claiming, for example, that an "awful" work of art can be appreciated not in spite of, but because of, its very awfulness. Her new In America: A Novel came out last year (1999) in England, and will be published this year in America.

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