Jun. 26, 2006

The Bear

by Jim Harrison

MONDAY, 26 JUNE, 2006
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Poem: "The Bear" by Jim Harrison from Saving Daylight. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Bear

When my propane ran out
when I was gone and the food
thawed in the freezer I grieved
over the five pounds of melted squid,
but then a big gaunt bear arrived
and feasted on the garbage, a few tentacles
left in the grass, purplish white worms.
O bear, now that you've tasted the ocean
I hope your dreamlife contains the whales
I've seen, that the one in the Humboldt current
basking on the surface who seemed to watch
the seabirds wheeling around her head.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1974, bar codes were first used in supermarket checkout lanes. In a Marsh's supermarket in Troy, Ohio, the first product to be scanned was a 10-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum. It just happened to be the first thing lifted from the cart. Today, the pack of gum is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

It was on this day in 1870 that the first section of the Atlantic City Boardwalk opened to the public. It was a doctor named Jonathan Pitney who got the idea for developing Atlantic City into a resort. He envisioned Atlantic City as a health spa, where people from Philadelphia could come to enjoy the benefits of fresh air and ocean bathing. Soon, developers were building luxurious hotels and fine restaurants. There was just one problem: All those fancy hotels and restaurants had a hard time keeping their establishments clean, because of all the sand. A railroad conductor named Alexander Boardman also had a hard time keeping his railroad cars clean. So he came up with the idea of building a boardwalk, so that people could walk along the beach without having to step on the sand. He persuaded the city to use $5,000 of its tax revenues to build an eight-foot-wide wooden walkway from the beach into town that could be dismantled during winter. It opened on this day in 1870.

It's the birthday of civil war hero Abner Doubleday, born in Ballston Spa, New York (1819). Doubleday's distinguished career began at West Point and continued on through the Mexican War and in a campaign against the Seminole Indians in Florida. He was a staunch unionist who opposed slavery and supported Lincoln. He was stationed in Charleston Harbor in 1860, aimed the first shot fired from Fort Sumter at the outbreak of the Civil War, and went on to serve in numerous other campaigns throughout the war. Doubleday's fame, however, comes not from his being a war hero, but from the mistaken notion that he invented the American game of baseball. In fact, he was not even in the area in 1939, and never referred to the game in any of his numerous diaries.

It's the birthday of novelist Pearl S. Buck, (books by this author) born Pearl Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virginia (1892). Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries, and Buck was born while they were on vacation in the United States. When she was three months old, they took her back to China.

She was the youngest of her parents' seven children, and all but two of her older siblings had died of tropical diseases. Her parents lived in the Chinese community, and Buck learned to speak Chinese before she learned to speak English. She said, "I almost ceased to think of myself as different, if indeed I ever thought so, from the Chinese."

In 1922, she wrote a description of Chinese daily life and sent it to The Atlantic Monthly, which began to publish her articles regularly. Her first novel, East Wind, West Wind, was published in 1930 and became a small success. The following year she published The Good Earth (1931), about a Chinese peasant who becomes a wealthy landowner. At the time, Westerners saw China as one of the most exotic places on earth. Pearl Buck was the first writer to portray the ordinary lives of Chinese people for a Western audience. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize and became an international best-seller.

Many critics didn't take Buck seriously because her novels were so popular. In her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize committee, she said she didn't mind being a popular novelist. She said, "[A novelist] is a storyteller in a village tent, and by his stories he entices people into his tent. ... He must be satisfied if the common people hear him gladly. At least, so I have been taught in China."

It's the birthday of children's book author Walter Farley, (books by this author) born in Syracuse, New York (1916). From an early age, there was nothing he wanted more in the world than his own horse. Unfortunately, his parents couldn't afford one, so he spent all his time reading and writing about horses.

Between the ages eleven and fifteen, he wrote dozens of short stories with titles like "The Winged Horse," "My Black Horse," "Red Stallion," and "The Pony." He later said they were all rough drafts for the novel that he finally finished while he was a student at Columbia University, which he called The Black Stallion (1941). It's the story of a boy and a wild stallion who survive a shipwreck and become friends on a deserted island.

The book was so popular that Farley went on to write twenty novels about that horse.

It's the birthday of novelist Thomas Boyle, (books by this author) born in East Stroudsburgh, Pennsylvania (1939), author of several mystery-thriller-police-procedurals, including The Cold Stove League (1983) and Only the Dead Know Brooklyn (1985).

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