Sunday, September 16, 2018

clarification with a bit of unctuousness

If you know anything about this woman, please write:

1. After my last post, a reader expressed concern that my weekly (or quasi weekly) posts might be coming to end.

2. This led to a brief email exchange, and, following a suggestion she made, I took the time to learn more about labels, which appear at the bottom of most of these posts and are gathered in those lists over there on the sidebar. Their purpose, according to what I read, is to help the reader navigate. Which is pretty much how I have tried to use them. Even though, it seems, I have done it wrong. The advice is: less is more. And I couldn’t agree more. But sometimes, more is more. And in this case, well, soon there should be even more labels on that sidebar rather than fewer, and specifically more specific labels, fewer general labels, and, supposedly, this is going to be much too difficult for any random reader to navigate, but, after all, what any of this matters, who can say; I mean, do we truly need fewer stars in the sky?

3. Also, I learned that I could add an infinite number of pages to a blog (a blog in Blogger, specifically, which is the medium wherein we meet). Now, if you can stand any more of this “tech talk,” “pages” are one thing, “posts” are another, and I knew posts could go on ad nauseam, and often do, but I did not know that about pages. Here, the pages are those things in the menu above, all except “The Journal,” which is the posts, which is where you’re at, in case you were wondering. Now, and this is key: A person has much more control over how to arrange a list of pages than how to arrange a list of posts or labels.

4. After mulling this over, I realized that the best way to a) write my wax “book” and/or b) somehow separate the random life writing I’ve been doing here for six years from the more clear-headed, structured writing I aim to do about wax was to c) start a new “blog” devoted to writing the wax “book” because my d) writing process, at this point, is completely wrapped up in the blog writing process and this blog is too far gone to make it anything other than what it is and some days, I admit, I like what it is.

5. So now, let it be known: there is a separate site where I am writing the wax book. I call it Wax ., and you can find it at

wax blog

6. The funny thing is, I set up the bare bones of this wax book blog back in March and then, apparently, forgot all about it.

7. Now. Big Question: Will I continue to write here? Small Answer: I don’t know, but I think so. After all, here I am. But it might surprise some of you just how long it takes me to put together a blog post. (It certainly surprises Josie.) And some of that time (and energy) must now go to Wax .. Because I am committed.

In case anyone has forgotten Josie.
Always on the ready to move on.

Now, also let it be known, there is a new business in town. An auto repair shop. So we have two auto repair shops, one post office. And then the murders began.

Meanwhile, Hummie has departed. Late last week he spent a lot of time hovering in front of one window or another. I made sure the nectar in his feeder was fresh. Sunday I saw him there sipping, but while sitting out on the porch Monday evening, I realized it was awfully quiet. I thought: Hummie’s gone. And indeed, despite it being hot and sunny all week, I have not seen Hummie once. Bon voyage, mon ami. May you migrate safely.

Also meanwhile, I remain a-sail with Herman Melville and Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. From Chapter 85: The Fountain:
But why pester one with all this reasoning on the subject? Speak out! You have seen him spout; then declare what the spout is; can you not tell water from air? My dear sir, in this world it is not so easy to settle these plain things. I have ever found your plain things the knottiest of all. And as for this whale spout, you might almost stand in it, and yet be undecided as to what it is precisely.
In Chapter 94: A Squeeze of the Hand, one finds a good deal of unctuousness. And sperm. As in sperm oil, or spermaceti (I think). Which has “... the smell of spring violets … ”. It occurs to me that I have never read anything quite like Chapter 94 of Moby Dick. And recently a pair of spermaceti tapers from the early 1970s or maybe even before sold on eBay for something like $52. Somehow this led me to buy the candle pictured above. It cost much less, has nothing to do with spermaceti, but according to the listing it is “vintage” and “hand-carved.” A sticker indicates it is by Novalum, from Vienna, Austria.
In visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti.
- Melville

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

‘for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head’

As I attempt to wind down writing in this blog—for who isn’t tired of my nattering on, and, plus, I would like to be devoted to wax and candles, and all the other stuff to be basically filed away, preserved elsewhere, ended or extended in some other fashion—I pause after reading Chapter 25 of “Moby-Dick; or, The Whale,” by Herman Melville, to compose a blog post. I’d like to share some quotes from the book. First, take note: There are 135 chapters. The boat has barely left harbor. I’ve a long way to go. But there is something about all the various books I have undertaken the reading of due to their direct or indirect association with wax that I have so enjoyed and that, somehow, seem so present even though for the most part the books are very old. Moby Dick was published in 1851.

We’ll start at the very place I paused, Chapter 25: Postscript, because nobody ever told me Moby Dick is funny. But it is. First, background. In Chapter 24: The Advocate, Melville, or should I say our narrator, Ishmael, offers a defense of whale hunters, who, it seems, the world looks a little down on, as if they were, perhaps, of a lower class, I’m sure you can imagine, the necessary butchers of the sea, but who wants to see them? Ishmael himself is just leaving Nantucket, heading out to sea on the Pequod, embarking on a three-year whale-hunting voyage, and in his defense of whale hunters we get one of the first mentions of light—the light that whale-hunters, via the whale, provide.
But, though the world scouts at us whale hunters, yet does it unwittingly pay us the profoundest homage; yea, an all-abandoning adoration! for almost all the tapers, lamps, and candles that burn round the globe, burn, as before so many shrines, to our glory!
Through whale hunters, the world gets at the whale’s spermaceti, for candles, and the whale’s sperm oil, for lamps and, as we are to learn in Chapter 25, for anointing royalty.
It is well known that at the coronation of kings and queens, even modern ones, a certain curious process of seasoning them for their functions is gone through. There is a saltcellar of state, so called, and there may be a caster of state. How they use the salt, precisely—who knows? Certain I am, however, that a king’s head is solemnly oiled at his coronation, even as a head of salad. Can it be, though, that they anoint it with a view of making its interior run well, as they anoint machinery? Much might be ruminated here, concerning the essential dignity of this regal process, because in common life we esteem but meanly and contemptibly a fellow who anoints his hair, and palpably smells of that anointing. In truth, a mature man who uses hair-oil, unless medicinally, that man had probably got a quoggy spot in him somewhere. As a general rule, he can’t amount to much in his totality.
But the only thing to be considered here, is this—what kind of oil is used at coronation? Certainly it cannot be olive oil, nor macassar oil, nor castor oil, nor bear’s oil, nor train oil, nor cod liver oil. What then can it possibly be, but sperm oil in its unmanufactured, unpolluted state, the sweetest of all oils?
Think of that, ye loyal Britons! we whalemen supply your kings and queens with coronation stuff!
Forgive me for imagining Donald Trump’s coronation and wondering: darest we wait that long? to rub his head with oil in the vain hope of “making its interior run well”?

In Chapter 17: The Ramadan, Ishmael offers a fine take on the human condition.
… let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.
That’s it. Though as long as I am here, perhaps a little final seasoning from Chapter 2: The Carpet-Bag.
—pooh, pooh! What a fine frosty night; how Orion glitters; what northern lights! Let them talk of their oriental summer climes of everlasting conservatories; give me the privilege of making my own summer with my own coals.
Now, back to not writing blog posts.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

the wonderful world of a. b. granville

I have never read anything quite like Dr. A. B. Granville’s autobiography. To hold such a book in one’s hands; to feel the weight of the 144-year-old pages, covers and binding; to smell the attendant must and dust; to read of one man’s life, his own record, set in such sharp, precise type; to turn the thick, stiff pages, especially while one is positioned comfortably below a whirling ceiling fan on what is, after all, just another hot, humid, incredibly buggy August afternoon or, better yet, evening, after the day’s sweat has been washed away, on one’s own sofa in the middle of nowhere America at the start of the twenty-first century: it is a panacea. A. B. wrote his memoir when in his late eighties in consultation with the journals he had kept throughout his life, and the tome was then completed and edited by his youngest daughter after his death. The reading of the book (and I am just now in year 1814, Chapter XXIII) has taken me from late eighteenth century Italy to Greece, its various islands, to Turkey, Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal, England, the West Indies – A.B. starts at the very beginning.
On the seventh day of October, 1783, at early morn, at Milan, Maria Antonietta Rapazzini added a third son to the progeny of Carlo Bozzi, her husband, which in process of time extended to the number of nine children, of all of whom I remain solitary survivor.
Soon I read of how I would like to die, like A. B.’s grandfather.
He was in the act of sipping his chocolate in bed one morning when he expired, eighteen months before reaching a century.
And I agreed with the following.
There is no book, whether on general or special subjects, however insignificant, out of which a reader may not learn something he was ignorant of before. Likewise, in the written life of any individual, however obscure, who has devoted himself to the public service, there will be found in the narrative of its events, faithfully and unreservedly told, some facts, some occurrences or adventures, useful and instructive to some, amusing (perhaps the contrary) to many others.
A. B.’s treatise on Turkish dress illustrates this point, as I felt I learned a lot and was highly amused, particularly by the sash and waltz.
As regards the Turkish costume I may, in my character as a physician, make one or two remarks in this part of my memoirs concerning it. I wore that costume a sufficient length of time to authorize me to express an opinion respecting its superiority over the modern European style of dress, whether with regard to health and the proper development of the human frame, or its suitable and decorous appearance. In each of these requisites the oriental costume indisputably bears away the palm of superiority. The surface of the human body in a state of complete civilization requires to be protected, both winter and summer, from the influence of capricious and frequent changes in the atmosphere by which it is surrounded. The covering should be proportioned to the degree of protection required, and should be uniform for the entire surface. It ought to be of ready and easy application, with few impediments and contrivances to occasion loss of time and temper. It should be free from all tight ligatures, whether partial or general, that tend to impede the free circulation of the blood. It should invest the whole person with becoming decency; lastly, it should not interfere with the free action of all the parts of the external organization. Now each and all of these requirements are attained with the Turkish costume. In five minutes after quitting your couch in the morning, and your general ablution performed, you may don it, and it is as quickly thrown off in the evening when you retire to rest. Every part of the body is uniformly covered. You may even dispense with an attendant to put the long wide sash or shawl round your waist, which is de rigueur; for if you fasten one end of it to the key of your bedroom door, and stretch the shawl to its full length by going towards the opposite wall, you may roll yourself neatly up in its folds, keeping the straight end tight in one hand while you waltz round on your return to the first end, which you then detach and tuck in at the waist. The operation used to occupy me one minute exactly.
From the Smithsonian Libraries Image Gallery.

I’ll admit there is some droning on, but I love the way A. B. can suddenly turn a phrase—you never know when it’s coming. In his early days he came to be a surgeon with the British Royal Navy, and there seems to be always some invasion or war going on, Napoleon playing no small part in this, and at one point A. B. is a member of a shipwrecked crew spending time stranded on an island off the coast of Portugal. This seems, at first, a little bleak, a tad dire, but –
I cannot adequately express, as I felt it on the occasion, the vivid satisfaction, nay more, the delightful feelings experienced when, on a sunny morning, and better still on the declining of the sun, with a round and blue canopy over my head, I stood erect on one of the loftiest pinnacles of this curious group of rocks, surveying the immense Atlantic, as smooth as the Lago Maggiore and as blue as the lake of Geneva, without one token of life but my own breathing.
And the odd bits of detail that get thrown in, like something wonderful you taste in a tossed salad but you have no idea what it is. In 1812 he is stationed in the Mediterranean, growing a bit bored, hoping to return to England, where he had begun making his home.
It was ultimately arranged, that as I was to be a principal witness in the intended court-martial on Lieutenant Donnellan, late of the Maidstone, and nephew to the well-known Captain Macnamara, who shot his opponent in a duel for insulting his dog, I might be sent home with him in the Impregnable, which was under orders to return to England.
Shot in a duel for insulting his dog?

A. B. writes of each stage of his life from Day One onward as if it were as important as the next and indeed important to the next. At one point, in reference to this, this progression of life, he quotes Seneca, in Latin, as he often throws in a little Latin, some Italian or French, he spoke all those languages as well as Spanish, some Portuguese and, of course, English. So some of what he writes, I have no idea what he’s saying. Still, as I suppose Seneca once said –
“Omnia certo tramine vadunt,
Primus que dies dedit extremum.”
And to quote Dr. Granville one last time (for today anyway):
Thus do we go on acquiring wisdom as we progress blundering through the world.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

spermaceti makes a whale of a good candle, but maybe not so good for the whale

From Alice Morse Earle’s “Customs and Fashions in Old New England” (1893):
… In 1686 Governor Andros petitioned for a commission for a voyage after “Sperma-Coeti Whales,” but not till the middle of the following century did spermaceti become of common enough use to bring forth such notices as this, in the Boston Independent Advertiser of January, 1749:
“Sperma-Ceti Candles, exceeding all others for Beauty Sweetness of Scent when Extinguished. Duration being more than Double with Tallow Candles of Equal Size. Dimensions of Flame near 4 Times more. Emitting a Soft easy Light, bringing the object close to the Sight, rather than causing the Eye to trace after them, as all Tallow Candles do, from a Constant Dimnes which they produce. One of these Candles serves the use and purpose of 3 Tallow Candles, and upon the Whole are much pleasanter and cheaper.”
Observation: Every type of candle I have read about is touted as burning brighter, longer, sweeter, pleasanter than some other type, or maybe all other types, of candles. But not all are touted as being cheaper.

From Wikipedia’s entry on spermaceti (2018):
After killing a sperm whale, the whalers would pull the carcass alongside the ship, cut off the head and pull it on deck, whereupon they would cut a hole in it and bail out the matter inside with a bucket. The harvested matter, raw spermaceti, was stored in casks to be processed back on land. A large whale could yield as much as 500 gallons. The spermaceti was boiled and strained of impurities to prevent it from going rancid. On land, the casks were allowed to chill during the winter, causing the spermaceti to congeal into a spongy and viscous mass. The congealed matter was then loaded into wool sacks and placed in a press to squeeze out the liquid. This liquid was bottled and sold as "winter-strained sperm oil". This was the most valuable product: an oil that remained liquid in freezing winter temperatures.

Later, during the warmer seasons, the leftover solid was allowed to partially melt, and the liquid was strained off to leave a fully solid wax. This wax, brown in color, was then bleached and sold as "spermaceti wax".[12][13] Spermaceti wax is white and translucent. It melts at about 50°C (122°F) and congeals at 45°C (113°F).[14]

Also: Time to read “Moby Dick.”

From The New York Times, July 14, 1974:
Candle Crunch
Sometimes the rules of economics just don’t apply. Take the current situation in spermaceti candles.

Mrs. Clifford Allen, the owner of The Candle Shop in Nantucket Island, Mass., believes she is the last manufacturer of this product, which is disappearing because of controversial but widespread bans on the taking of whales.

Yet she sells these scarce white candles, which she hand-dips in spermaceti—a waxy substance obtained from the head of the sperm whale—$1.50 for a 12-inch pair, the same as she charges for ordinary bayberry candles. “It’s a work of love, a hobby,” Mrs. Allen explained.

Her production of spermaceti candles—they last longer and burn brighter than other candles—goes to other shops in Massachusetts, but now Federal law prevents her from selling to shops or individuals outside the state.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits the importation of whale products and prohibits whaling in the United States. Before it was passed, Mrs. Allen’s business sold between 20,000 and 30,000 pairs of candles a year.

Mrs. Allen has had a supply of spermaceti for 20 years, and may run out as soon as this fall. “People are now buying them by the dozen,” she noted.

Nonetheless, the price remains fixed. According to Mrs. Allen, “I don’t intend to try to make a fortune just because there’s an embargo.”
Observation: The productiveness of some people knocks me flat. Hand-dipping on average 50,000 spermaceti candles a year; selling them; making other types of candles (those “ordinary bayberry candles”); running a shop; all as a hobby!

And a realization: In July of 1974 I was on Cape Cod within a ferry ride of The Candle Shop and possibly owning a pair of spermaceti candles, if only I could have fathomed my future, for surely I would love to have a pair of spermaceti candles right now, just as surely as I would hate to see a whale’s head chopped off, the light dipped out of it.

Monday, July 23, 2018

rain, wind, walls, wa-Hoo-hee

The Saturday morning forecast called for rain and wind from the northwest, and as I set up my booth at the farmers market there was rain and wind from the northwest. The tent was up, in its usual place. At first, as I was unloading my stuff, the bins of candles and the table and the little shelf I use on the table, the rain was light, but as I began to set up, getting out the tablecloth, positioning the little shelf on the tablecloth, getting out the first candles, I realized I should get a wall up on the booth’s northwest side. So I went to the storage room at the opposite end of the market, where the Commons building is and where the tents and walls are kept, and got a wall, a large, white, nylon sheet that attaches with Velcro straps to the tent’s braces. I put up the wall, continued getting out candles, then realized a wall on the northeast side of the booth would help so went to the storage room and got another wall, put it up. The rain fell harder. The wind picked up. I realized that without a wall on the southwest side of the booth my table and everything on it would get wet. Very wet. I had to think about this for a minute. The southwest side of the booth is the front of the booth. It is the face I present to the passing throngs of potential customers.

I went to the storage room and got a wall, put it up on the southwest side of the booth. These walls will zip together, form one neat wrap, and eventually I got them all zippered up and felt adequately sheltered. I turned my table to face the southeast opening, which worked well enough as my neighbor on that side is around a soft corner, not exactly perpendicular, but good enough, and people rounding that corner could see into my booth. People approaching from the other way could peer around and in as they passed. Not that there were that many people first thing in the morning in the drenching rain and wind. But there are always some. Inside the booth, the candles and I stayed dry, and if anyone joined us they were out of the rain and wind for a moment.

But it felt odd having walls. It felt even odder facing southeast rather than southwest. Vendors like me who are at the market every week set up in the same place, in the same way, every time. It’s routine, it’s continuity, and it’s a heck of a lot easier than everyone jostling for a space, having to figure out on the fly on a Saturday morning where they are going to be and the best way to set up wherever they land—there are all sorts of variables—and of course with a regular spot regular customers know where to find you. So we have our spots, determined long before the market season begins by the woman who manages the whole thing, and it works, and we develop our routines and our specific ways of arranging things and seldom does it vary throughout the season and for many across the years. Then suddenly one July morning you have three walls, face southeast rather than southwest, and are layered in two shirts and a sweater.

Mid-morning it stopped raining. It stopped blowing. I pulled back the southwest wall, bit by bit, biding my time. Would the dry hold? I got a weather report. It looked good. It looked dry. Cool, cloudy, but dry. I peeled back the southwest wall, eventually taking it down. I moved my table so it was on a diagonal (I always wanted to try that). Then the northwest wall came down, then the northeast, and I opened the back hatch of the car so Josie could watch the action. This is his routine, and he was glad to be back at it. He lays in the back of the car in his bed, his chin on the bolster, looking out, watching (from a raised vantage point as the parking lot is up a few feet), eventually drifting off into a snooze.

All morning, interesting people. A family from Texas; a young couple from Wisconsin on their honeymoon; the Illinois couple who stop to visit whenever it’s a Saturday and they’re in town—we have an odd connection. The husband and I were at junior high together and for several years in our middle-age we worked at the same place, all the while unknown to one another. And there was a person with multiple personality disorder. They told me the Cherokee word for “owl.” I wrote it down as “wa-Hoo-hee,” accent on the “Hoo,” this being the pronunciation and not spelling, and I enjoyed saying it so much I might have said it three or four too many times but maybe not as this person intentionally left two quarters on the table, For the next person, they said. And it became a thing for the rest of the day. A nice thing.

All in all, a good day. But an odd day. Left me feeling skewed. Open to change but vulnerable to change. A strange reverberation.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

dear dr. granville, there’s been a discovery

I just read about the latest discovery in the pyramids—a mummification workshop. Will the great mysteries of Egyptian mummification at last be revealed? Will there be any mention of beeswax? So far I’ve read only of “oils and substances” being found, but surely specific identifications will come, and suddenly my research into Dr. Augustus Bozzi Granville (father Italian, mother Cornish) feels a bit less abstruse. I’m glad I found and snatched up just this week that one copy of his autobiography found online (“First edition, 2 volumes complete, in half leather boards with marbled end papers and cut edge. Minor signs of repairs to the spine creases of Volume 1 and its end paper hinges reinforced with a strip of red tape. Boards clean and bright with some rubbing of the edges. Both books firm with contents in nice condition.”). The books are coming from England. The title alone brings joy.
Autobiography of A. B. Granville, M.D., F.R.S.,—Being 88 Years of the Life of a Physician Who Practiced His Profession in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, The West Indies, Russia, Germany, France, and England. Edited, with a Brief Account of the Last Years of His Life, by His Youngest Daughter, Paulina B. Granville.
To refresh, Dr. Granville (1783-1872) is the guy who scraped adipocere from a mummy, thinking it was beeswax, turned it into candles. Yes, that Dr. Granville and no, I’m not done with him yet because I am so glad to have his account of this event. I perused parts of his autobiography online. He writes of obtaining the mummy:
A young baronet, Sir Archibald Edmonstone, just returned in bad health from a long incursion into Egypt, applied to me for advice, and at the same time commenced a conversation on the subject of Alexandria, which we had both of us visited, branching off into an account of a visit he had paid to the kings’ tombs, where he had been able not only to penetrate into the mummy pits, but, a rare privilege, had purchased one of the best preserved specimens, judging from the exterior case, which was perfect both in material and painting. This he had brought home with him, and kept in his house in Wimpole Street, where I went to see it. …
Of the unwrapping and dissection:
The case was in Savile Row the next day. On that day week my dining-room was open at one o’clock to some scientific and other friends, to witness the examination of the mummy. During the week I had had the case carefully opened, which proved to be made of sycamore wood an inch thick, whitewashed or plastered in its interior, with long ranges of hieroglyphic inscriptions painted in black characters. The body, enveloped in all its cloth wrappers, being taken out and deposited on a long table, was searched all over for papyri or amulets or any ornament, but nothing was discovered except a few segments of very slender glass tubing, tinted pale blue, and looking like enamel, and a few grains of wheat that looked as fresh as any grain of wheat of the last harvest. …
Of the wax:
I claim in this laborious investigation to have demonstrated the fact of wax having been the ingredient which was successfully employed, not only to preserve the body from putrefaction, but also to keep the membranes as well as the ligaments in their supple condition, so that when the wax was discharged from them by the process of boiling in water, the soft parts came out with their natural structure, and in less than twenty-four hours underwent decomposition and putrefaction. To these facts antiquaries and such persons as are versed in the old Egyptian language, add the information that the Egyptian word corresponding to wax is “mum.” …
And, finally, the lighting of the candles made from the wax:
… some of the wax obtained being manufactured into small tapers, which were lighted and burned during the lecture. …
Dear Dr. Granville, Thank you. I turn to you for the last word (for now):
When I look back to the work I spontaneously took upon myself to perform unsolicited by anyone, and to the nature of the work itself, I fear that I must confess that the motives that induced me to undertake it were akin to that spirit of restless impatience which the good preceptors in my college early divulged to my parents, when they sent me home for my holidays with a very gratifying encomium of my intellectual progress somewhat damaged by an explicit lament over the listlessness of my temperament and my love of change. I was born to be a reformer! …

Sunday, July 8, 2018

josie’s world, my world: deer, porcupine, a soybean menu, and adipocere revisited

Josie’s been negotiating property rights with a deer.

And one evening Josie spotted a porcupine by the kitchen stoop. I was elsewhere, but he let me know I might want to look at this thing here and when I saw what it was, I picked up Josie, took him inside, got my camera, went back out.

And as I contemplated writing a book about wax, which of course brought to mind all the times I have contemplated writing a book about anything at all as well all the times I have not written a book about anything at all, I began revisiting my wax posts, taking it from the top, just to see if there was something there (there is always something there, the question is, what is it? what to do with it?), and if nothing else my interest in the topic grew deeper. Which is how I came to learn that in 1941 the Ford Motor Company created a car touted as being made from soybeans, a “soy car.” Apparently Henry Ford was a soybean fanatic and you, too, can see some fun pictures and read all about it at Henry Ford: Soybeans and Henry Ford and His Employees: Work with Soy. For some reason, I found this menu more interesting than the car.

Suffice to say that with this topic of wax I realized there was a bit more to delve into. Which is how I got back to adipocere, the wax our bodies create after we’re dead, and that story about Dr. Granville’s big mistake, mistaking adipocere (which apparently wasn’t something anyone knew about in Granville’s time, two hundred years ago) for beeswax and making candles from the stuff (the stuff he had scraped from the insides of a very old Egyptian mummy that he had unwrapped, dissected, studied, diagnosed, apparently in his own home) and subsequently lighting a lecture hall with said candles while he made a presentation on said mummy and his findings. I found the article he wrote on the mummy and as well the subsequent paper from 2009 that re-examined the mummy, leading to the summation that what Granville took to be beeswax was actually adipocere. I have not yet read the 2009 paper, but I did read Granville’s. I had to look up a few words to get a better grasp on what he was saying, but, all in all, I found it fascinating. Whether it’s more good stuff for a book or not, I don’t know. Whether I actually have the discipline or whatever it is one needs to write something longer than, say, a blog post, I don’t know. Whether the end result of any such effort would be any good, or of interest to anyone else, which, judging by my experience talking to folks at the farmers market and gauging at what point they lose interest in the broader topic of wax, well. Stop now. But, I don’t know. And of course there’s really only one way to find out.

According to Granville, the beeswax made its way into the mummy, the dead body, thus helping to preserve it, by virtue of embalmers soaking it in a bath of wax and bitumen.
To have penetrated thus far, and to have lodged between closely adhering membraneous folds, this mixture must either have been injected quite warm into the cavity of the abdomen, or the body itself must have been plunged into a vessel containing a liquefied mixture of wax and bitumen, and there kept for some hours or days, over a gentle fire.
He goes on about this probability, turns it into an almost undeniable fact, and sums up
that admirable method of embalming, devised and followed by the ancient Egyptians, which my inquiries have been directed to ascertain, and which may be summed up in a few words by saying: that it consisted in impregnating the body with bees wax.
Granville conducts his own experiments with the soak-em-in-beeswax-over-a-gentle-fire embalming method that lend a certain amount of proof, or, shall we say, well, maybe. But he was wrong. Or so they say now. But still, he made candles from the wax he found in a mummy, whatever it was—beeswax, human wax—and the candles burned and no one knew.

A drawing of the head of the mummy Granville unwrapped, dissected, and wrote about.
From the aforementioned article in Philosophical Transactions, Royal Society Publishing, January 1825.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

kool & the gang & all that jazz (sshhh ... ) the night pastor is about to appear

Kool & the Gang. A favorite. Are you thinking “Celebration”?

I like the song, sure, but that’s not it, not my favorite, my favorite is Kool & the Gang’s “Kool Jazz” album that I owned and loved until I no longer owned it, jiminy crickets who knows why, we gather and gather and then winnow away until oops, one day, wait a minute, where is that thing, that song, I loved it … and we go online searching for that thing, that song (that’s why the internet was invented), and all I remember about this one particular song on “Kool Jazz” that truly made the whole album worth it (even though the whole album = very good) is that it had something to do with night, no, wait a minute, it was “Dujii,” that’s it, “Dujii”!

One of my favorites.

Dave Brubeck on the way to the farmers market … Blue Rondo a la Turk jammin’ like walking down a street and all you’re doing is seeing face after face, each face passes by, young, old, middle-aged and pink and red and brown and black and ghostly white; no noise, just music, the groove, the beat, the riff, the storefronts, awnings, scraps of paper, a paper bag, sidewalk, bench, the side of a bus and kids jumping rope; like skimming along on train tracks, a lighted tunnel then over a bridge and woods and mountains flash by between wooden or rusty steel lines, beams and cross-beams, a glimpse of river, lakes, sun sparkling on water, going by, passing by, all in a groove, fish jumping, walking along, moving along, Blue Rondo a la Turk, Take Five.

I inherited from my dad “Sing Sing Sing” on vinyl as recorded famously live at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and I remember another Benny Goodman record and it’s on the hi-fi and I’m dancing in the living room pretending to play a clarinet which was all I could do when it came to playing the clarinet—pretend—and my dad is there and I still have that record, too. And at the farmers market almost every week now a jazz combo plays and I love these guys, just kids, talented, lucky kids playing “Take the A Train” and take everything else and it’s just music, kind and pure.

There’s a Ramsey Lewis Trio record I picked up somewhere, “The In Crowd,” recorded live at the Bohemian Caverns in Washington, D.C., 1965, and there’s a strange and wonderful record my mom had—had something to do with her P.E.O. affiliation, I think—called “The Night Pastor and Seven Friends Play Chicago Jazz.” I don’t remember ever hearing this record growing up. I discovered it as an adult when helping out during a move. No, Mom, I don’t want the china or those salt cellars old so-and-so gave you as a wedding present. But can I have this old record?

The Night Pastor was a real guy, an episcopal priest, The Reverend Robert H. Owen, and a minute or two into Track 1, Beale St. Blues, he says:
Hello. This is the Night Pastor. I’d like to visit with you for a moment, so please pardon me for cutting in on this fine music. First, a million thanks to the musicians who are recording this album and to Dave Remington who got them together. Secondly, thank you for your interest. The Night Pastor program aims at giving pastoral care and guidance to those who work or play at night, called by many “the people of the night.” They are the entertainers and the entertained, the lonely and the lost, those who serve and those who are served, the loving and the loved, the unloving and the unloved, the sleepless, and others who are active at night. Because of the late or strange hours, or for other reasons, many of them have been unable to get the guidance they might want or need. The Night Pastor program is one attempt at helping these people of the night to solve their problems. If you would like to know more about the program, please write to the Night Pastor, 30 East Oak Street, in Chicago. Again, thank you very much. Now let’s get back to the music.
But the music never stops as the pastor’s seven friends jam away quietly below his words turning his entire spiel into poetry. Side Two begins with Saints, as in when the saints go marching in, and this is the only other time the album is adorned with voice, the pastor’s voice, as he riffs along with the musicians starting with just the snare drum and cymbal and the pastor praising Him in all sorts of ways and then Praising Him in the sound of the trumpets (enter the trumpets!) … the lute and harpstrings and pipeswell-tuned cymbals … Well damn and jam. This is absolutely one of my favorite albums. It was recorded in 1965 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, by Claremont Record Company.

(There is a second Night Pastor album, “Music to Lure Pigeons By.” You can listen to it on YouTube.)

I have a number of instrumental jazz albums and CDs randomly collected sans any real education or guidance, knowledge of what I was doing (though my mother would like to interject: “Leslie once took jazz piano lessons and she was very good. She could have been a jazz pianist.” And I will roll on the floor now, in agony.). Among these records and CDs are horns, pianos, marimba, bass, drums, vibraphone, mambo, Dixieland, ragtime, bossa nova, Tito Puente!, standards, classics, improv, the usual and the unusual, stuff I like. Stuff I haven’t yet given away. Stuff I think I will turn to for a while now, as long as it takes, as long as I need to, for pastoral care. Just line it up, let it play.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

when it’s emblazoned on your back, it’s not a hidden message, and the river rises

The river rose fifteen feet Sunday. It was still a few feet from the top of the bank, though in places where the bank is lower it took over low-lying meadows, crept into the woods. The island Josie and I walk to every day disappeared.

otter river upper peninsula

The river dropped a dozen or more feet Monday into Tuesday. By Thursday it had dropped even more. Josie and I walked our usual trail though there was little that was usual about it. It had been ravaged and swept and about halfway along a big wall of debris had been dumped across it. The wall was about eight feet high and several feet thick.

otter river upper peninsula

The first day, Monday, the wall was underwater.

The second day, Tuesday, the wall was adjacent to the water. There was a large muddy puddle in front of it. Josie walked through the puddle, began investigating the wall, looking, no doubt, for a way through. I agreed there were possibilities, but also dangers. At my call, Josie turned back. He took his time and while mucking about in the puddle, he suddenly dropped down. A look of surprise, maybe panic, flashed across his face. He paddled out of the puddle and galloped back up the trail.

Wednesday, the puddle was gone, the wall stood firm. A massive blockade of tree trunks, branches, twigs, sand, mud, pine cones. A whole town could set up in there. We turned back.

Thursday, we moved forward. We proceeded right through the wall. Walls can nearly always be breached. Josie took a lower route through a series of gaps in the debris, I took a higher route going up and around. The bank was steep. The bank was muddy. I used branches and tree trunks for handholds. For a moment, as I slipped, pulled myself up, balanced at the edge of the top of this monstrous pile of flotsam, I thought I was being foolish. I could slip. I could fall. I could get trapped by debris. And I did not know what I would find on the other side. But, once you start a journey, it can be hard to stop, to turn back, because you’ve set your course, made some kind of plan, invested time and effort, perhaps faced a challenge and whether it’s bravery or foolishness you’ve come this far, and it took me just a minute or two to climb up to the top of this wall but that was enough to propel me forward. Josie trotted on ahead, brave and fool-hardy, delighted.

On the far side of the wall, a large smooth tree trunk on its side, roots like a flower before me, needles and cones behind me, continued to block the trail. I stood on the trunk. It felt good, sturdy, and I could see all around. The trail going forward was a mess, obliterated, I was, after all, on a river bottom. But I could see possibilities.

On the island, which was connected to land by a spit of mud, it was nice to see turtle tracks.

Near the island, I wondered what canine had left those huge pawprints in the mud.

And how many nests with eggs had been swept away?

otter river upper peninsula

Chapter 35 of “Beartown,” by Fredrik Backman, begins with this paragraph:
Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.
I always thought hate was hard. When I saw someone investing in hating someone or something, I thought, boy, that must take a lot of energy, be draining. And I thought it was fruitless. To what end do you hate? Then Donald Trump became president, and I saw how hate can be easy, so easy—simple—and I saw that hate doesn’t aim to be fruitful, not at all, hate aims to destroy. It has a goal. To tear down. To tear asunder. And hate used to be something I didn’t see much of—I avoided it. Looked away. Didn’t listen; didn’t respond. But that no longer feels possible. Every day now, I see hate. Every day now, I hear hate. I fumble to navigate, get through, go around, rise above. All these walls, all these lives. Just going to the store can be a little weird. The reduction of human beings to four-letter words. The chip-chip-chipping away, the relentless demeaning language of hate—the us, the them, the blame, the just get rid of them and we’ll be fine. Just send them back, and we’ll be fine. A neighbor comes to visit, it can be a little weird. Did she really just say that? We are miles apart. And that which is ignorant and destructive has been so emboldened—it is impossible not to see it, to hear it, to feel it. It takes its toll. Or maybe it’s just that my eyes and ears have been opened, like a flood, and all I want is to never hear that man’s voice again, to never have to see his words. Because it does, indeed, pull asunder.

But the wall is there.

It was easy, after all, to get around the wall of debris. But this wall, these walls—I don’t know.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

a great rush of candelilla smacking up against the wall and the flood

One night I was in bed reading an article about a canoe trip. The article was in The New Yorker. I have a subscription to the paper edition of the magazine that in essence was inherited from my father and then my mother. The canoe trip article was written by Nick Paumgarten, and the trip included a senator, a Roosevelt, and a groover. They paddled down the Rio Grande and by floating off here and there Paumgarten paints an interesting kind of boots-on-the-ground, paddle-in-the-water reality in which to set this idea of a border wall that’s been bandied about. Among other things, the article pointed out that the wall, which I personally feel is an incredibly stupid idea, would effectively change the location of the southern border of the United States and has already led to the bulldozing of butterflies. What really caught my eye, though, had nothing to do with the wall but with the Great Wax Rush of a hundred years ago.

Now wait a minute. The Great Wax Rush of a hundred years ago? How in all my great wax research did I miss the great wax rush? Am I that lousy of a researcher? Perhaps. From my wax bible I had made this note on candelilla wax:
... coats entire surface of shrub (N. Mex; SW US) ... odor of beeswax ... burns w/ bright flame ... used to harden other waxes ... raises M.P. of paraffin.
I bet I googled “candelilla wax” and got, as I did recently, a bunch of ads. Ads, of course, make my eyes glaze over. But google “great wax rush” and whoa-ho, there’s Texas Beyond History: The Virtual Museum of Texas’ Cultural History. The section “Wax Camps” offers a series of articles and a plethora of photographs, some of which will be copied here. But go to the website (all links below). It tells a fascinating tale of life on the border with candelilla, aka Euphorbia antisyphilitica, aka Euphorbia cerifera, a plant which grows nearly exclusively in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Photo of candelilla from

Much of the text and many of the photos stem from survey expeditions along the Rio Grande in the 1960s and ’70s. A man named Curtis Tunnell, once a state archaeologist of Texas and executive director of the Texas Historical Commission, was a leader of the expeditions. In 1981 he wrote the report “Wax, Men, and Money.”

Photo from

For a period of time beginning about one hundred years ago, the candelilla wax industry flourished back and forth across the border in the area that is now, on the northern side, Big Bend National Park. One reason for the rush was that the wax fetched a good price during World War I when there was an increased need for wax to waterproof tents and ammunition. After World War II, the industry’s flame flickered and activity has, appropriately, waxed and waned ever since. A steady demand, however, remains.
Wax has always flowed across the Rio Grande either because buyers on this side would pay more than the Banco or because cash was more quickly accessible from Texas buyers. It is illegal under Mexican law to smuggle wax out of Mexico, but not illegal under United States statutes to bring it into this country for marketing if it is declared with customs. Heavily laden burros have brought wax into Texas at various places, including Stillwell’s Crossing, Reagan Canyon, La Linda, Boquillas, San Vicente, Solis, Santa Elena, Lajitas, El Mulato, Presidio, and Candel├íria. It is estimated that as many as 1700 tons of wax have been smuggled across the Texas border in some years.
The process of separating the wax from the plant is simple, yet arduous. Paumgarten neatly sums it up; Texas Beyond History branches out with detailed descriptions of the candelilleros and their camps, their burros, their burlap bags and buckets, their vats and firepits. The camps were primitive.
Devices for marking the passage of time such as radios, calendars, clocks, and watches have not been recorded [in the camps]. Basic tools such as axes, hammers, and saws are apparently replaced by machetes and hammerstones. Lighting devices such as flashlights, candles, lanterns, and lamps have never been seen in the camps; moonlight and a campfire suffice at night.
Photo from

There are descriptions of the U.S. buyers of cerote (raw wax) and refining factories; tales of smugglers and smuggling operations that occurred in the dead of night—
Along the river there were many stories about burro trains of wax smuggled across and sold to representatives of the big floor-wax companies
—a story of pesos sewed into a burlap bag, flung from an airplane; an account of the regulations and controls that developed over time; the raids and the border patrols; and, of course, descriptions of the wild, weedy plant it all stems from. When cultivated, the candelilla produces very little wax. Only in the wild does it produce what we want.
The wax of the candelilla is an epidermal secretion on the stems that helps conserve internal moisture of the plants during severe hot and dry periods. The wax, which forms a scurfy coating on the stems, is much heavier in the dry season of the year and during periods of drought. Since average annual rainfall in the desert where candelilla flourishes ranges from about 4 to 20 inches, drought is not an uncommon condition. The moisture-protecting mechanism of the plant is apparently effective for, as Big Bend writer Virginia Madison has said, “You seldom see a dead candelilla plant.”
One chapter of “Wax Camps” is an update circa the early 2000s, when there is significantly less activity in the borderland wax trade. However, descriptions and photos of the production of the wax—the way the candelilla is harvested and the wax boiled out—remains much the same.
Harvesting native stands of the plant and processing the wax under primitive conditions remains the best and perhaps only method of extracting candelilla wax.
Photo from

Now, I’ve played and monkeyed with the ending of this post many times, and I might have finished this morning and posted it with a very different ending had I not been without internet service. Last night there was a great amount of rain and flooding in the area that has disrupted life, though so far it has disrupted mine very little. Internet service was restored by noon. But this morning I had trouble even tuning in local radio stations, and when I finally got the NPR station from Marquette, the first story I heard was from the Mexican-U.S. border. It was about the current U.S. policy of busting up families at the border and it made me think, among other things, of so much of the campaign literature I’ve received over the past few years. The glossy images of men touting themselves as “family men” with “strong family values.” I have often wondered what those terms mean and why anyone thinks they might persuade me to vote for them. Family man. Family values. Do you think I am an idiot? Have you ever heard of a woman being described as a family woman? I haven’t. Why not? Sounds odd, doesn’t it. She’s a family woman.

Photo of a candelillero and his burro

Distractions and tangents take me far, but so often they lead right back home. Like the present being linked to history and history leading right up to now. My original ending went something like this: I really couldn’t tell you how many people have either eked out a living or amassed a fortune from the candelilla plant [but I can tell you who lives on which side of the border], nor how many have enjoyed candelilla wax in one product or another, but it seems to me it’s like so many things: it’s there, a part of our lives, whether we know it or not.

I don’t claim it’s a great ending.

A Voyage Along Trump’s Wall (The New Yorker, April 23, 2018)
National Butterfly Center Staff Surprised by Workers with Chainsaws Prepping Trump’s Border Wall (The Texas Observer, August 4, 2017)
Texas Butterfly Preserve Contests Border Wall in Court (Courthouse News Service, December 12, 2017)
National Butterfly Center
My wax bible
Texas Beyond History, Wax Camps, Main Page
Big Bend National Park
Candelilla Institute
Trade Survey … with Special Focus on Candelilla Wax (Paper submitted at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 2009)
A Photojournalist at the Border (NPR, Weekend Edition, June 17, 2018)
Flooding Hits Local Area, (The Daily Mining Gazette, June 17, 2018)

The flower of the candelilla. Photo from

Sunday, June 3, 2018

einstein’s head: after 71 years, he looks pretty good, but maybe someone could fluff his hair

albert einstein 1947
Albert Einstein, 1947
Library of Congress
In 1947, Albert Einstein, a member of the Faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, went to Katherine Stubergh’s waxworks studio in Hollywood, California, to participate in a “live blast.” Stubergh used this term to describe the process—or event—of making a plaster mold directly on a living person’s face. Into this mold a proprietary mixture of wax would be poured in order to create a replica of the person’s head. Stubergh’s habit was to make two heads from a “live blast” mold: one for the person who had commissioned the work and one for herself. Wherever Einstein’s head—the one made for him—ended up, I don’t know, but the Einstein head Stubergh made for herself is now part of an online auction at Skinner, Inc., in Marlborough, Massachusetts. When I heard of this auction, I got pretty excited and began tracing the route the head took to get from Hollywood to Marlborough and, as well, the route one might take from Pelkie to Marlborough.

einstein wax head by stubergh
Albert Einstein by Katherine Stubergh
Images courtesy Skinner, Inc.
The head’s journey begins in 1969 when Stubergh was raising money to establish a wax museum dedicated to the presidents of the United States. Along with other pieces, she sold Einstein’s head to Herbert A. Moore of Cave City, Kentucky. The head, age 22, was packed in a cardboard box, put on an airplane, flown to the Lexington airport. In Cave City it was put on display at Moore’s Mammoth Cave Wax Museum, sometimes referred to as the Cave City Wax Museum.

In 1982, Moore sold the museum, new owners took over, Einstein stayed put. In 2010 or 2011, the museum sold again, this time to an investment company (or somesuch), and the museum closed. In May of 2012 all of the wax figures, including Einstein’s head, now 65 years old, were put up for sale by auction. Einstein’s head had a reserve price, that price was not met, and in July the head turned up on eBay. The listing is preserved at Greatest Collectibles, and if you enjoy hyperbole and want more of the story in that format I encourage you to read it. I am satisfied with telling you that after seven days, 14 bidders and 81 bids, Einstein’s head sold for $111,100.

einstein wax head by stubergh
But there was a glitch. The winning bidder didn’t have the cash. Enter Preston Evans, an auctioneer from Georgia who had bought many of the wax figures from Mammoth Cave and who had been watching the eBay auction closely. Evans stepped in and proposed a trade. According to an article at Auction Publicity, for Einstein’s head Evans traded “a 1940s-era 4-cylinder motorcycle (worth about $50,000), around 40 vintage trains (including some by Lionel), two Batman arcade games, music boxes and phonographs” and some cash. On the last day of August, 2012, Evans opened Follow the Leader Wax Museum in Warm Springs, Georgia. Einstein’s head went back on display. Less than five years later it was back on the auction block.

When Evans decided to retire, his wax museum closed. Pa. Onsite Auction, a father and son operation, handled the sale of the wax figures, and, as best I can figure, they held on to Einstein. Now, one year later, Einstein’s 71-year-old head is part of a Fine Books & Manuscripts auction at Skinner that includes all sorts of arcana and ephemera such as a John Dillinger “Wanted” poster, very old books, maps, letters, deeds, Audubon hand-colored engravings, Arabic manuscripts, autographed photos, photos taken on the moon, photos from Roseland Ballroom. The auction began May 31, will end June 8. For a few days this coming week, all items will be available for a look-see and even handling at the auctioneer’s site in Marlborough. I am sorely tempted. The route there would go through Ontario, Canada, and follow for a time the route Sheldon and Fidelia Allen, characters in my ancestral journey, reportedly took to get from New York to Illinois in 1837; Josie and I could stop and gawk at Niagara Falls; we could stay one night in Cooperstown, New York; I could visit the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum; and, in the end, I could hold Katherine Stubergh’s Einstein head in my hands, feeling the wax, staring into the glassy eyes, lamenting the bed hair, and inspecting the signature:
Katherine, Much thanks, Albert Einstein
Now, what is that worth?

But after much deliberation and quasi-planning, the mundaneness of bad timing will keep me home. I hold on to the idea, though, that one day I will meet Einstein’s head under circumstances that must remain, only for now, unknown.

Additional Sources
Warm Springs wax-museum figures up for auction, The Newnan Times-Herald, April 22, 2017
Einstein, Dolly Parton, Wolf Man and more up for bid in Gettysburg, Evening Sun, April 13, 2017
The Mysterious Afterlives of a Wax President, MTV News, February 17, 2017
Wax museum opens in Warm Springs, Ledger-Enquirer, August 31, 2012
Mammoth Cave Wax Museum Auction,, May 9, 2012
Ohio auction to feature celebrity wax portraits, Antique Week, May 3, 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2018

josie’s week in review


turkey on the run

Sunday, May 20, 2018

busted by random sensation (bad poetry / rough draft)

Like a Carousel in June, spring is bustin’ out all over
daffodils and tulips bloomin’ red and yeller
volunteerin’ pansies offerin’ up orange
along the riverbank, bloodroot and trout lily
nodding white and yellow, spotted green leaves,
(shy violets in the fields)
and everywhere, and everywhere, green green green –
the pastels of new leaves, sunshine and chlorophyll,
fresh oxygen, zero to sixty, blizzard to bloom,
and actually and truly, factually and fancifully
it’s everything from 25 a’frostin’ to 65 a’bloomin’ and some days
zippety-doo-dah straight on past to 83 &/or 4 and a’wiltin’
bam-zoom, zip-zip, up-down, back-forth
the only thing there’s been little of?

Rain, rain, come again.

(if only the Rain Man were scheduled to pitch here)

Cacophony. Sleepless nights.
chirr-up chirr-up
peep peep peep peep
we be the peepers
twee-ee-ee! twee-ee-ee!
(and on and on and on and on)
chirr-up chirr-up
All night long. A thousand voices. Sunset to dawn.
(which is barely seven, eight hours long)
and then at noon: silence.
chirr-up chirr-up
and a’rattle of cranes

Turkey by the river waits for quiet moment.
Like an underwater scream? surfacing, breaking.
Josie – red lights flashing – HIGH ALERT –
bounce-bounce-leap-leap cross the yard to the head of the trail
Stop. Straight-legged and fierce throwing back his head

Am I in church? Every once in a while I break into song,
join the throng.

Spring is bustin’ out all over …

But one tick and one tick only: May 5
One turtle and one turtle only: May 4
But turtle tracks like country lanes
through the sand
along the river
reminds me of a platypus swimming
circling now back to third grade
and i don’t know why and i don’t know
what it is about a platypus swimming


the noisiest bird of all
the singingest bird of all
ruddy red breast a’puffin’ operatic


i sit on a step in summery heat
a’dreamin’ away and HUMMIE!
darts out from a favorite tree (barely a’leaf)
a’hummin’ and a’hoverin’, pointing, staring,
undeniably indicating
the exact spot where year after year
his feeder hangs and HELLO it is NOT THERE –
I leap from my reverie –
dash inside (josie a’heel) –
sugar! feeder! hot water!
within minutes the feeder hangs
and Sir Hummie is a’sippin’, a’sittin’, a’lookin’ ’round,
ah, I have returned.
May 18: Hummie arrives.
True traveler.
With whom did he spend his winter?

and apostrophes they be bustin’ out all over …
save us

Gauzy parties of caterpillars.
Dandelions and the first whiff of freshly mowed grass.
Wild turkeys trooping by, skirting the yard,
and serviceberries a’bloomin’, even the one in the garden
that I have been seeing
just in my mind
a handful of years.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

statues at the prairie’s edge: presidents, Mother Bickerdyke, a poet, and feathers that flow from fingertips

The nice thing about downtown Rapid City, South Dakota (pop. 74,509), is that there is a potential dog walker on every corner.

“What’s that you say, Bill? Ready to go?”

Of course, them beings being statues, you’re not likely to get very far.

“Not now, Josie. I’m busy striking a Ponderous Pose prior to Signing with Feather Pen
this Highly Important & Indubitably Historic Document.”

I checked into a motel and the clerk gave me a map to the city’s presidents, that is, statues, that is, presidents. She told me that people love taking pictures of them wrapped in scarves and such.

“Here we go! Yes? No? Maybe? O! Patience be a virtue.”

All Josie had was a leash. And a yen. Not enough to get these fellows moving.

I like these statues. I like that they are not on pedestals but on street level in every day poses looking passers-by in the eye. Plus, they got Josie off my hands for a minute so I could take pictures of Josie.

But what is it with South Dakota and all these unavoidable presidents? Not a one was born here, but, of course, there is Mount Rushmore, kind of a presidential calling card, I suppose, a theme to build on. I got to thinking about statues. What are they? Monuments to ourselves? Concrete (granite, bronze) reinforcements of who we are? Of who we think we are? Bold statements, immovable statements, representations of … ? What, exactly.

Mitakuye oyasin. We are all related. On a Rapid City street corner.

From Rapid City I went on to Galesburg, Illinois (pop. 30,960), the part of the trip known as the Graveyard Tour as my recent ancestors (1800s on), for the most part, at least the non-Jewish ones, are resting in a few small towns scattered across eastern Iowa and western Illinois, and, having done most of that tour and now in Galesburg, tired, the last day of the trip before the long haul home (Pelkie, Michigan, unincorporated, pop. 0), I wondered what, if anything, I had the energy to do. I flopped on the bed in yet another motel and flipped through a Galesburg tourism magazine. Aha. Statues. Abraham Lincoln, Mother Bickerdyke, Carl Sandburg.

The Bickerdyke Memorial was, of course, on that list of Galesburg places to visit that in my weariness I had tossed aside. Mary Ann (Mother) Bickerdyke was a Civil War hero of whom I had first learned of a year ago when my sisters and brother-in-law and I gathered in Galesburg to bury my parents’ ashes in the nearby town of Keithsburg. Then the weather had been cold, wet, windy, but, my gosh, today it was warm, sunny, calm. Josie and I went out to gawk at statues.

First stop: Lincoln. He holds court at the train station. A nice statue, kind of like a tall drink, a cool one on a hot summer’s day, appreciated, up on a pedestal with a plaque that tells of Lincoln’s connections to Galesburg, most notably the Lincoln-Douglas debate that was held at Knox College in 1858.

A few blocks away, the Bickerdyke Memorial, on the grounds of the Knox County Courthouse. Mother Bickerdyke, on a pedestal, is on one knee cradling a fallen Union soldier who appears, really, to be just a farm boy. Mother Bickerdyke holds a canteen or somesuch to his lips. In the summer of 1861, when the Civil War was just beginning to pop, residents of Galesburg gathered supplies to send to Union troops in Cairo, Illinois. They chose Bickerdyke, a widow with two young sons, to deliver the supplies. She practiced what they then called botanical medicine, and, apparently, she was well-thought of by her neighbors. After securing care for her sons, Bickerdyke delivered the supplies as if on a mission from God. It was months before she returned home. At the field hospital in Cairo, she saw a need, and proper sanitation and diet, as well as allowing female nurses in the hospitals, were some of the new-fangled ideas for which Bickerdyke fought for the next four years. She broke rules and stood her ground against any who riled her or got in her way, all in the name of helping the Union, her boys in blue. By the end of the war, she had established three hundred field hospitals and toiled and tended to the wounded through nineteen battles. After the war, among other things, she worked with homeless people in New York City and in California worked to get veterans their pensions. She died in 1901, is buried in Galesburg. The memorial to her was established in 1904.

Nearby, Carl Sandburg on a pedestal in a traffic circle, which seemed strange and potentially dangerous, but, turns out, it was easy to park and to cross the street, and well worth it. Any statue of a poet with books, a goat, and a guitar has my vote. Especially if situated in a pleasant park on a fine spring morning.

Then I noticed the quotations. They are embedded in the garden that rings the statue.

What a beautiful partner this morning had become. Magnolias about to bloom.

The next day, a thought. What if I just kept going? Next stop: Paducah, Kentucky (pop. 25,145). The National Quilt Museum. And to whom (or what) has Paducah erected statues? Maybe then on to Montgomery, Alabama, (pop. 200,022). I’d been hearing on the radio about the opening of the lynching memorial. I looked at Josie. He looked at me. I told him what I was thinking; I could tell he was in the groove. We were all packed up, ready to go, getting back in the car. Did you get my blanket? Did you get my food? Yippee. Where to next? Home? Paducah? … ? I realized that despite the pull I’d been feeling for home, I also was feeling the pull of the road—

I thought of Prairie Edge, a store and gallery on a street corner in Rapid City. The statue out front was of a Native American woman and child. I had been taken with it and the store, which is huge with various rooms opening one to another, flowing, some rooms feeling designed for souvenir shopping, others more of a gallery, art, furniture, and one room for books, and then, in a nook on an upper floor, the Italian glass bead library with a display of beads euphoric and by the time I happened upon it I was already in a bubble of wonder that had taken hold down in the gallery with its painted horses racing across buffalo hides, its beaded skulls, beaded bags, bone, fur, feathers, pouches, things I’d never seen, imagined, and colorful hand rattles with feathers sprouting from fingertips—in that space among those things an emotion grabbed me that I could not name and on the second floor, ledger paintings.

An hour or two from home, Josie and I stopped by a wayside to slush about in remnants of winter and to breathe deep the scent of pine. It came to me that it’s all movement anyway, and every day asking what have we here? and isn’t it true, that we’re all just passing through?

This is the third and final post in a series on a recent road trip Josie and I took. The trip encompassed eight days, two thousand four hundred and seventy miles, four motels, one tiny cabin, and some of the most interesting art I have ever seen.

After posting, I saw this article in the Rapid City Journal: Obama statue to be unveiled this fall … It talks about the statues and includes an interview with the current sculptor who is also working on statues of South Dakota governors.