Nov. 11, 2012

A Long and Gracious Fall

by David Budbill

A long and gracious fall this year.
The leaves are down. Gardens: emptied,
manured, tilled, smooth, and waiting.
Mower and tiller serviced and put away.

Smoker put away, as is the summer table.
Prayer flags, windsocks and their poles: down.
Twenty-foot homemade badminton poles,
peace flag at the top of one, store-bought net—
all down and put away for another year. No more
outdoor summer chores.

Fall planting — peonies and tiger lilies — done.
Summer flower stalks removed, beds mulched,
a blanket for the cold. Fall pruning done.

Woodshed roof hammered down and sealed again.
Cellar closed. Drive staked and flagged so the
snowplow knows where to go.

What else is there to do? Finally, for once, we are ready
for the snow. Ready now to come inside. Time now for
words and music, poems and shakuhachi. Time now
to light some incense, sit and stare at candlelight.

"A Long and Gracious Fall" by David Budbill, from Happy Life. © Copper Canyon Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Veterans Day, honoring Americans who have served their country in the armed forces.

November 11 was originally called Armistice Day because it was on this day in 1918 that the First World War came to an end. The armistice was signed at 11:00 a.m., on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. After four years of brutal trench fighting, 9 million soldiers had died and 21 million were wounded. It was called "The War to End All Wars," because it was the bloodiest war in history up to that point, and it made many people so sick of war that they hoped no war would ever break out again.

It's the birthday of a writer who was also a veteran, Kurt Vonnegut (books by this author), born in Indianapolis (1922). He joined the Army, and in December of 1944, he was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was imprisoned in a slaughterhouse in Dresden. On the night of February 13, 1945, British and American bombers attacked Dresden, igniting a firestorm that killed almost all the city's inhabitants in two hours. Vonnegut and his fellow prisoners only survived because they slept in a meat locker three stories below the ground.

He spent the next two decades writing science fiction, but he knew he wanted to write about his experiences in Dresden, and finally did in his novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), about a man named Billy Pilgrim who believes that he experiences the events of his life out of order, including his service during World War II, the firebombing of Dresden, and his kidnapping by aliens. He decides there is no such thing as time, and everything has already happened, so there's really nothing to worry about.

Kurt Vonnegut, also wrote Cat's Cradle (1963), Breakfast of Champions (1973), and many other books. He once said: "Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae."

It was on this day in 1926 that America's "Mother Road," Route 66, was first established as a federal highway. Roughly following a patchwork of old wagon trails that were built on the eve of the Civil War, Route 66 linked the main streets of small towns from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles. Until then, residents of these isolated communities had been cut off from any national thoroughfares. Trade across state lines had been difficult and slow. Travel had been limited.

Midwestern entrepreneurs Cyrus Avery and John Woodruff had been making the case for such a highway system for some time, but it wasn't until the trucking industry took off in the late 1920s, competing with the railroad, that national planners saw the promise of a diagonal route through the Southwest.

Mild temperatures, and a relatively flat open prairie sped up the distribution of goods throughout the country. During the run up to the second World War, the military built training bases all throughout the Southwest, investing millions of dollars of infrastructure into the region. Soldiers returning home who had trained throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and California abandoned the cold and congested cities like Chicago for the laid-back lifestyle of the Southwest.

John Steinbeck immortalized Route 66 in the American conscience with his tale of Dust Bowl refugees fleeing their barren farms for better opportunity in California, The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

Early travelers seeking recreation down the historic highway didn't seek out hotels, but camped along the route in primitive auto camps, where supervisors provided a safe place to park along with firewood and privies. This progressed into cottages with flush toilets, then the modern American motel. Fueling stations, which were often houses with a gas pump out front, evolved into full service stations and an entire roadside infrastructure built around traveling motorists.

Throughout its history, the highway drew writers, wanderers, and adventurers. Kerouac's character Sal Paradise traveled the highway in his novel On The Road (1957), cementing its place in the popular imagination. Bobby Troup's song "Route 66" was covered by everyone from Nat King Cole to the Rolling Stones, advising: "If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, the highway that's best, get your kicks from Route 66."

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




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