Oct. 19, 2006


by Gary Snyder

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Poem: "Map" by Gary Snyder, from Left Out in the Rain. © Shoemaker & Hoard. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


A hill, a farm,
A forest, and a valley.
Half a hill plowed, half woods.
A forest valley and a valley field.

Sun passes over;
Two solstices a year
Cow in the pasture
Sometimes deer

A farmhouse built of wood.
A forest built on bones.
The high field, hawks
The low field, crows

Wren in the brambles
Frogs in the creek
Hot in summer
Cold in snow

The woods fade and pass.
The farm goes on.
The farm quits and fails
The woods creep down

Stocks fall you can't sell corn
Big frost and tree-mice starve
Who wins who cares?
The woods have time.
The farmer has heirs.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the anniversary of the surrender that ended the American Revolutionary War, in Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. George Washington had had a difficult spring. His troops were low on supplies and food, their clothing was in shreds, and there had been a steady stream of desertions from his ranks.

By summer, Washington had only a few thousand troops camped at West Point, New York. The British expected Washington to attack New York City, which he had been planning to do for most of the spring. But when he learned that the British forces under the control of Lord Cornwallis were building a naval base on the Yorktown Peninsula in Virginia, he decided impulsively to march his army from New York to Virginia, in the hopes of trapping Cornwallis and capturing his army.

Washington's plan was one of his boldest moves of the entire war—moving his army 400 miles in order to catch his enemy by surprise. He had to march his troops toward New York City first, to scare the British into hunkering down for an attack. Then he quickly moved south.

Washington's men and their French allies marched every day from 2:00 a.m. until it grew too hot to continue. It was a hot summer, and on one day, more than 400 men passed out from the heat. Few armies in history had ever moved so far so fast. Lord Cornwallis learned of Washington's approach before he arrived, but Cornwallis chose not to flee, because he thought his troops would be evacuated by the British navy. He didn't realize that the British ships had already been routed by a French fleet from the south. So in the early weeks of October, he watched as Washington's troops surrounded the city and began a siege. After several days of bombarding the city with gun and cannon fire, Washington received word that Cornwallis would surrender. Washington requested that the British march out of the city to give up their arms, and the surrender began at 2:00 A.M on this day in 1881. The one soldier who didn't surrender was Cornwallis himself. Instead, he sent his sword with his second in command to be offered to the French general, signifying that the British had been defeated by the French, not the Americans.

In didn't matter though. England didn't have enough money to raise another army, and they appealed to America for peace. Two years later, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and the war was officially over.

It's the birthday of the novelist Tracy Chevalier, (books by this author) born in Washington, D.C. (1962). Her novel Girl with a Pearl Earring became a best-seller when it came out in 2000.

After college, she got a job as a reference book editor, editing anthologies of literature. She worked the job for 12 years, getting more and more bored. She said, "I wasn't having much fun. ... But I hung on—I thought things would eventually improve." So she decided to start writing novels. Her first novel, The Virgin Blue, was a moderate success.

Chevalier wasn't sure what to write about next. One day she was lying on her bed, and she looked up at a poster on her wall of the Johannes Vermeer painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring." She'd owned the poster since she was 19 years old, and she looked at it all the time. She later said, "It's such an open painting. I'm never sure what the girl is thinking or what her expression is. Sometimes she seems sad, other times seductive. [That morning] I looked up at the painting and wondered what Vermeer did or said to the model to get her to look like that. And right then I made up the story."

Chevalier started writing the novel in February of 1998, and it was around the same time that she got pregnant. She knew she had to finish the book before the baby was born, or she might never finish it, so she wrote as quickly as she could, and managed to finish two weeks before the birth of her son.

It's the birthday of the novelist who writes under the name John le Carré, (books by this author) born David Cornwell in Poole, England (1931). He got a job in the queen's secret service as a young man, but he found the actual work of a spy pretty boring. He said, "[It was] spectacularly undramatic."

Since he was disappointed in his life as a spy, le Carré decided to entertain himself by writing novels. He had to keep his identity secret, so he used the pen name John le Carré. He said, "I wanted something three-syllabled and exotic." Le Carré means "the square" in French. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), was so successful that he quit his job as a spy and began to write full time.

It's the birthday of the novelist Philip Pullman, (books by this author) born in Norwich, England (1946). He's best known as the author of a trilogy of fantasy novels that have been best-sellers among children and adults, and the last of which, The Amber Spyglass (2000), was the first children's novel ever to be nominated for Great Britain's prestigious Booker Prize.

Philip Pullman said, "There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book."

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