Aug. 8, 2012

In the Moment

by Maxine Kumin

Some days the pond
wears a glaze of yellow pollen.

Some days it is clean-swept.
The trout leap up, feasting on insects.

A modest size, it sits
like a soup tureen in a surround of white

pine where Rosie, 14 lbs., some sort
of rescued terrier, part bat

(the ears), part anteater (the nose),
shyly paddles in the shallows

for salamanders, frogs
and little painted turtles. She logged

ten years down south in a kennel, secured
in a crate at night. Her heart murmur

will carry her off, no one can say when.
Meanwhile she is rapt in

the moment, our hearts leap up observing.
Dogs live in the moment, pursuing

that brilliant dragonfly called pleasure.
Only we, sunstruck in this azure

day, must drag along the backpacks
of our past, must peer into the bottom muck

of what's to come, scanning the plot
for words that say another year, or not.

"In the Moment" by Maxine Kumin, from Where I Live. © Norton, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Britain's "Great Train Robbery" was carried out on this date in 1963. In the pre-dawn hours, a Royal Mail train bound from Glasgow to London was stopped by an unexpected red signal on the line. When the conductor stopped the train to investigate, 15 men in ski masks, armed with iron bars, boarded the train and relieved it of 124 sacks of bank notes worth well over £2 million.

The robbers made a getaway to their farmhouse lair about 30 miles away, where they counted and divided the money and even played Monopoly with it. They cleaned the place before they left, but didn't do a very thorough job, and police were able to recover the fingerprints of all of the robbers. Twelve of the 15 men were captured and tried within six months, but shortly after the trial, two of them — Ronnie Biggs and Charlie Wilson — escaped prison and fled to Paris, where they had plastic surgery to change their appearance. The other three, including mastermind Bruce Reynolds, also evaded police for several years, but eventually all of the robbers were captured.

On this date in 2000, the submarine H.L. Hunley was raised from the bottom of Charleston Harbor, where it had lain since February of 1864. The Hunley was about 40 feet long and four feet in diameter. It was made of cast and wrought iron, and it was propelled through the water by the means of a hand-cranked propeller. The sub was designed for a crew of eight: seven men to turn the propeller crank and one to steer. It had two small, watertight hatches and two ballast tanks, which could be filled with water or pumped dry, depending on whether the sub needed to dive or surface. As soon as it was successfully tested, the Confederate Army seized it for the war effort.

The sub — also called a "torpedo fish" — set out on its first and last mission of the Civil War in February 1864. The Union warship Housatonic was guarding the entrance to Charleston Harbor when the Hunley embedded a barbed torpedo in the Union ship's hull. The bomb detonated as the sub made its retreat, sinking the warship and making the Hunley the world's first successful combat submarine. The crew gave the "mission accomplished" signal to Confederate forces on the shore, and began to make their way back to port. But the Hunley never arrived.

Author Clive Cussler spearheaded the 15-year effort to find and recover the Hunley. A diver finally found the wreck in 1995, about 100 yards from the wreck of the Housatonic. The submarine was buried in silt, which had kept it preserved and hidden for more than a hundred years. After it was raised on this date in 2000, it was put into a tank of fresh water to leach the salt water out of the iron hull. Conservators have been working on the sub for the last 12 years, removing sediment, skeletons, and personal belongings from the interior. The public got its first look at the full submarine this past January, and conservators are still working on removing rust and corrosion from the hull and preserving it with chemicals so it can be displayed in the open air.

On this date in 1929, the Graf Zeppelin airship took off from Lakehurst, New Jersey, on a round-the-world flight. It was the first such flight by a passenger aircraft. The trip was partially funded by media mogul William Randolph Hearst; he covered half the cost in exchange for exclusive media rights in the United States and Britain. There were 61 passengers and crew on the historic flight: 60 men and one woman. Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, a journalist, covered the flight for Hearst. She was also the first woman to fly around the world. The trip from Lakehurst to Lakehurst took just over 21 days, including stops.

Graf Zeppelin had a remarkable nine-year career. Before its round-the-world trip, it was also the first commercial passenger flight across the Atlantic Ocean. It flew more than a million miles, safely carried 34,000 passengers, flew a scientific mission over the North Pole, and routinely flew passengers back and forth across the Atlantic. But the age of the giant dirigibles came to an end when Graf Zeppelin's sister ship, the Hindenburg, went up in flames in 1937.

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