Sep. 1, 2004

Chickadees in the Hawthorn Tree

by Candace Black

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Poem: "Chickadees in the Hawthorn Tree" by Candace Black, from The Volunteer © New River Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

Chickadees in the Hawthorn Tree

Seed on a tray remains
untouched, those black-capped
acrobats enjoying
their tussle with dark fruit.
Mid-August, the heavy
green silence of afternoon heat broken
only by a raucous indigo
arrow gliding from tree to fence,
to tree again. The jay
claims this yard. Lettuce
bolts but stays sweet. During winter
we will be fed by what grows
today. The pantry holds
applesauce in quart jars, dark treasure
pots of blackberry jam, chutney,
pickled beets, apple butter.
In those wet dull months, hungry
for this elusive and brief
season, we'll watch
the feeder: the flash of migratory
birds, the dependable colors
of old friends.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of German Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel (1653), born in Nuremberg, Germany. He is best remembered for his Protestant church music, and his Canon in D (in or around 1680) is still heard often at weddings.

On this day in 1773, Phyllis Wheatley published Poems on various subjects, religious and moral. She was purchased as a slave by the Wheatley family of Boston. They didn't know how old she was, but she was missing her front teeth and they thought she must be about seven. They caught her trying to make letters on the wall with chalk. Instead of punishing her, the daughter of the family taught her to read, and she was housed separately from the other slaves. She started to write poetry while she was still a child. No publisher in America would publish her work, so the Wheatleys sent her to London, and her book was published there.

On this day in 1904, Helen Keller graduated from Radcliffe. She was the first blind-and-deaf student ever to graduate from any college anywhere. Annie Sullivan attended every class with her, fingerspelling words into her hand at eighty words per minute, and reading all of her textbooks to her the same way. They read Moliere, Schiller, Goethe and Milton.

Helen Keller met Mark Twain in March of 1895 when she was fourteen. They met at the home of Laurence Hutton, the literary editor of Harper's Magazine. After Keller passed the entrance examination for Radcliffe College, Twain asked his friend Henry H. Rogers to create a scholarship fund to pay her way. "It won't do for America to allow this marvelous child to retire from her studies because of poverty," Twain said. "If she can go on with them she will make a fame that will endure in history for centuries." Rogers paid for Keller's college education himself.

Twain and Keller became friends, and Twain allowed her to read his lips with her fingers as he spoke. They shared many political interests. In March of 1906, they both spoke at a meeting of the New York Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind. Later that year, they wrote to each other about the ineffectiveness of reform efforts. Keller later wrote about her friend, "All his life he fought injustice wherever he saw it in the relations between man and man I loved his views on public affairs, they were so often the same as my own."

Helen Keller's most complete account of her friendship with Mark Twain was published in Midstream: My Later Life (1929). She wrote, "He never made me feel that my opinions were worthless, as so many people do. He knew that we do not think with eyes and ears, and that our capacity for thought is not measured by five senses. He kept me always in mind while he talked, and he treated me like a competent human being. That is why I loved him."

Helen Keller said, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable."

On this day in 1914, Martha, the last remaining passenger pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. It was frozen into a block of ice and sent to the Smithsonian Institution to be skinned and mounted. Passenger pigeons were at one time the most numerous birds on the planet, with billions of them living in the eastern and southern United States. They would fill a tree with as many as a hundred nests. Migrating flocks hundreds of miles long would darken the sky for several days as they passed overhead.

Passenger pigeons were hunted for hog feed and shipped to big cities. In the mid-1800's their numbers fell since they laid only one egg at a time. Nearly all of the remaining quarter million Passenger Pigeons were killed in one day in 1896 by hunters who knew they were shooting at the last wild flock.

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