Mar. 8, 2001

Her First Calf

by Wendell Berry

THURSDAY, 8 March 2001
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Poem: "Her First Calf," by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems (North Point Press).

Her fate seizes her and brings her
down. She is heavy with it. It
wrings her. The great weight
is heaved out of her. It eases.
She moves into what she has become,
ure in her fate now
as a fish free in the current.
She turns to the calf who has broken
out of the womb's water and its veil.
He breathes. She licks his wet hair.
He gathers his legs under him
and rises. He stands, and his legs
wobble. After the months
of his pursuit of her, now
they meet face to face.
From the beginnings of the world
his arrival and her welcome
have been prepared. They have always
known each other.

It's the birthday of writer John McPhee, born in Princeton, New Jersey (1931), a longtime writer for The New Yorker.  McPhee has a particular interest in geology, the subject of his books Basin and Range (1981), Rising from the Plains (1986), and Assembling California (1993).

It's the birthday of educator Lydia Rapoport, born in Vienna (1923), a pioneer in the education of emotionally disturbed children.

It's the birthday of black actress Louise Beavers, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1902).  She was typecast as a maid or 'Mammy' character in dozens of Hollywood films. Having grown up in Pasadena, she took voice lessons to transform her California accent to a southern drawl.

It's the birthday of chemist Otto Hahn, born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany (1879).  In 1944, he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering the fission of heavy nuclei, which made the atomic bomb possible.  Later, however, it became clear that the prime credit for the discovery of "fission"
actually belonged to physicist Lise Meitner, who had collaborated with Hahn for 30 years. Meitner, who was Jewish, fled Germany for Sweden in 1938, and from then on refused to have anything to do with the development of nuclear weapons.

It's the birthday of Kenneth Grahame, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1859).  He married at the age of 40; a year later his son, Alistair, was born.  When the boy was four, Grahame began telling him bedtime stories about a mole and a rat, a badger, a toad, and weasels.  When his son went away on vacation, the story continued by letter.  A friend who worked for a magazine persuaded him to write it down and submit it, which he did.  The Wind in the Willows came out in 1908, and has been a best-seller ever since. 

Early in Chapter One, Mole asks the Water Rat about boating: 
"Is it so nice as all that?" asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.

"Nice?  It's the only thing," said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for the stroke.  "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing -- absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

From Chapter 8: 
"The smell of buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one's ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries."

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




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