Feb. 28, 2006

The Bear's Money

by Louis Jenkins

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Bear's Money" by Louis Jenkins from The Winter Road: Prose Poems by Louis Jenkins. © Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted with permission.

The Bear's Money

Every fall before he goes to sleep a bear will put away five or six
hundred dollars. Money he got from garbage cans, mostly. Peo-
ple throw away thousands of dollars every day, and around here
a lot of it goes to bears. But what good is money to a bear? I
mean, how many places are there that a bear can spend it? It's a
good idea to first locate the bear's den, in fall after the leaves are
down. Back on one of the old logging roads you'll find a tall pine
or spruce covered with scratch marks, the bear runes, which
translate to something like "Keep out. That means you!" You can
rest assured that the bear and his money are nearby, in a cave or
in a space dug out under some big tree roots. When you return
in winter, a long hike on snowshoes, the bear will be sound
asleep. ... In a month or two he'll wake, groggy, out of sorts,
ready to bite something, ready to rip something to shreds ... but
by then you'll be long gone, back in town, spending like a
drunken sailor.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1953 that James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of the DNA molecule. They were working in a lab in Cambridge, England, where they didn't even have the right equipment to examine DNA. That equipment was located at King's College in London. They learned that a woman named Rosalind Franklin was taking X-ray pictures of DNA there, and they decided that the only way to discover the structure was to look at those pictures.

Watson got to know Rosalind Franklin's lab partner, Maurice Wilkins, and one night he persuaded Wilkins to show him one of the X-ray pictures that Franklin had taken of a DNA molecule. Watson took a train back to Cambridge after seeing the picture, and he made a sketch of the molecule on a newspaper. When he got back to his lab, he and Crick spent several days building theoretical models of the molecule. They hit on the correct structure on this day in 1953. Once they realized what they had accomplished, they went to the local bar to celebrate.

Toasting their discovery, Watson suddenly shouted, "We have discovered the secret of life!" They would go on to win the Nobel Prize for their discovery.

And it's the birthday of the man who almost beat Watson and Crick to the discovery of DNA, the chemist Linus Pauling, born in Oswego, Oregon (1901). He studied chemistry at the Oregon Agricultural College and then won a Guggenheim Fellowship which he used to go abroad to study the new field of quantum mechanics with some of the most important physicists of the era.

At the time, quantum mechanics was revolutionizing the way scientists understood the nature of individual atoms and molecules. Using his new knowledge, Pauling became the first chemist to examine individual molecules with X-rays, and he showed how the various properties of a chemical, its color and texture and hardness, are a result of its molecular structure. He won a Nobel Prize for his work in 1954.

Linus Pauling said, "The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas."

It's the birthday of The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, born on Long Island, New York (1953). He studied economics at MIT and became one of the leading economists in the U.S., specializing in international trade. But he decided that the best way he could contribute to the world of economics would be to explain economics to ordinary people, and so he wrote several books in the 1990s for the general public, including The Age of Diminished Expectations (1990), Peddling Prosperity (1994) and Pop Internationalism (1996). He became an op-ed columnist for The New York Times in 1999, and he has since become a fierce critic of the Bush administration. His book The Great Unraveling came out in 2003.

It's the birthday of the great essayist Michel de Montaigne, born in Perigueux, France (1533). He was the first person to call short pieces of prose "essays" from the French word for attempt.

He lived at a time when religious civil wars were breaking out all over the country. Protestants and Catholics killing each other, the Black Plague was ravaging the peasants in his neighborhood, and he once saw men digging their own graves and then lying down to die in them. But he spent most of his time writing about the most ordinary things, like his gardening or the way radishes affected his digestion.

He wrote, "To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battle and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. ... The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness."

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show