Be Like Audubon And Fly

Common American Swan

Common American Swan

John James Audubon’s father wanted his son to be a navy guy, but luckily for us he flunked the officers’ qualification test and  happily went back to studying birds, traipsing around America and drawing what he saw. Back then some birds were so unused to humans that they had no fear and sometimes would alight upon a person’s shoulder in curiosity. Enormous flocks of birds could cloud a sky for hours on their travels and John James was there to witness it.

audubon-vii-showy-birds-nocturnal-hunters-and-superb-aerialists-mourning-dove-aka-carolina-turtle-dove-or-carolina-pigeonHe came to stay with the Blackwell family, fell in love with the daughter,  fell into a river and came out with a fever–his future wife Lucy at his side. To please Lucy’s father he went into the import/export business and was married a few months later to the girl who shared his passion for the natural world. In fact Lucy so admired John’s work she supported him by working as a teacher when times were lean. I wonder now if she ever felt annoyed at not getting enough credit. As humans we’re quite obsessed with getting credit, aren’t we?

audubon-viii-gleaners-of-forest-and-meadow-eastern-phoebe-aka-pewit-flycatcherI like it when people without advanced degrees set up their own museums and conduct experiments just because they want to–what joy! John banded Eastern Phoebes and proved they returned to the same nesting spots year after year. What a nice thing to prove and how many of us like to investigate things and wait a year for answers?

School makes us ask permission. May I draw? Can I go to the bathroom? Of course you can–hahaha–yawn. Teachers are so amusing. Can I–I mean may I think my own thoughts, investigate things teachers don’t care about, correct the teacher? No. Not now, it’s time for another assembly about turning in your friends for bullying.

Columbia-Jay-001The theme this week seems to be  that you don’t need money or permission to do stuff. Band your birds, investigate your options, thumb your nose at the culture and the counter culture and every other social grouping that clips your wings.

www.theguardian.com/books/gallery/2012

Link to his pretty pictures

Saving the American Soul from Total Surrender to Materialism Starts with Walking

Walker/hero

Walker/hero

I used to think animals were better than people and cars were the ultimate evil. I still think baby animals are cuter than most people, but who doesn’t? Maybe the people who club baby seals . . . hmm. But the mind tends to wander when you walk–alone–without a blue tooth in your ear.

Riches never bothered him.

Riches never bothered him.

Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt walked thirteen miles a day for fun with his kids? I tried a walk with my kids (one mile) and it goes down forever in their minds as the forced march. Even our dog had to be carried off the nature trail, foaming at the mouth.

As a kid my parents kept weird hours. We’d get up, feed ourselves then leave for the day as far as our feet would take us. I went to the polluted Hackensack River mostly and mourned the occasional dead fish, throwing my muddy little fist up towards God who created death and chemicals. I’d sit on a moss covered spot for what seemed like hours under a tree overhanging the sad river and contemplate things 7-year-olds contemplate–death, loving your enemies even when they throw Pepsi cans in the river and why school was invented to enslave innocent children.

Am I going to get to the 19th century with all of this? Okay, calm down, this is a meandering walk/post. Theodore Roosevelt swam across the Potomac. Can you imagine? My mother swam in the Hudson the day before they put up signs saying the pollution had won and swimmers had lost.

Bearded wonder . . .

Bearded wonder . . .

Walkers are great. They’re not intense fitness joggers who look like they’re dying and wear stupid clothes. They’re not cyclists constantly veering out of the bike lane (need I say anything about their clothes?). Walkers think. They stop when a golden retriever crosses their path. They have time to note the beaver swimming in the canal beside the towpath. They’re almost as cool as shepherds.

Back in the good old 19th century, places with names like Tannersville and Gloversville really messed with the rivers making gloves and tanning leather with BAD chemicals. But there were cool walkers back then, too.

John Muir not only had the whole beard thing going on, he really was the GUY who convinced Theodore Roosevelt to save some great walking spots from the constant onslaught of materialist land grabbers (hey, we all do this–we live in houses or apartments on land that used to be wild–downtown Manhattan streets follow the deer and Indian trails of long ago). John walked 1000 miles just for the hell of it from Indiana to Florida and wrote about it in A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. He didn’t do a blog tour and never made much money in life, but he didn’t seem to care. His passion was wild. When he finally married and settled onto his wife’s orchard she’d laugh when that look came over him and shoo him up to the mountains where he’d spend nights in swaying pine trees as sudden storms whipped through the forest.

John’s father beat him as a kid and forced him to memorize the Bible. Did the psalms about the wonder of creation come to mind as he roamed? He wrote his own psalms. The words and actions of his life offer profound insight into stewardship. Speaking of sight, he was blinded for a time when working at a sawmill led to an eye injury: “This affliction has driven me to the sweet fields. God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons.” Very true words, Mr. Muir.

Imagine a country so young that rules and regulations and super highway systems didn’t choke off the walkers’ vast possibilities? Sure there were Indians, but usually these meetings were fairly harmless. Muir’s first experience with them led to his favorite horse being stolen, but the further west he went the more he grew to have at least a grudging respect–for some of them (and why must we cage people by their ethnicity or praise them for it either?).

Muir with Burroughs.

Muir with Burroughs.

When he walked he read Emerson and when he read Emerson he wanted more walking. In the end his love affair with creation and its beautiful wildness in America saved bits and pieces of it for us. Walk on, you walkers. You bless the world more than you know.

http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/people/historical/muir/

Books I’ve Known And Loved

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If you imagine, based on your high school American history class, that reconstruction was a bore-fest, think again. John William De Forest brings the reader on a trip to Greenville, South Carolina and introduces us to the colorful characters (black and white) he dealt with as an agent of the Freedman’s Bureau. There’s no whitewashing, no PC language, no modern sociological studying here–just one decent man’s appraisal of a bad (sometimes funny) situation. Here is yet another white man with compassion, intelligence and humor. It’s fun to see how a northerner felt about his southern brethren as well as some of the fairer sex.

Tasty tidbit.

Tasty tidbit.

As an interesting aside De Forest is thought responsible for the phrase “the great American novel.”

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Cowboy Hat History and a Few Friday Funnies

Roping a grey wolf. Everett Collection

Roping a grey wolf. Everett Collection

Will Rogers quotes swiped from www.truecowboy.com

There’s two theories to arguing with a woman. Neither one works.

 Never miss a good chance to shut up.

We can’t all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

I never expected to see the day when girls would get sunburned in the places they now do.

There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence.

What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds.

Diplomacy is the art of saying “Nice doggie” until you can find a rock.

An onion can make people cry but there’s never been a vegetable that can make people laugh.

If you’re riding’ ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there.

Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier’n puttin’ it back.

Chiricahua Apache

Chiricahua Apache

History of the hat:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stetson

http://bossoftheplains.blogspot.com/

Radio Lab interview with Jonnie Hughes author of The Origin of Teepees:

http://www.radiolab.org/story/boss-plains/

She’s a Little Young, Isn’t She? 19th Century Age of Consent

"Know All Men by These Presents"  Coles Phillips

“Know All Men by These Presents” Coles Phillips

What do you do when two characters have a tiny talk in the second book of your series at a disastrous Christmas dinner and you suddenly realize that at some future date they will be married and one of them is a bit young? How young? Well, here’s what happened: Once I realized the girl was infatuated with the boy I  started counting back time and figuring and re-figuring and I really couldn’t get around the fact that she would be 13 going on 14 when the boy (about twenty one) realized he loved her in return. Mind you, once the idea arrived there was no going back–they HAD to be together!

"Portrait of a Girl (Sophie Gray)"  Sir John Everett Millais

“Portrait of a Girl (Sophie Gray)” Sir John Everett Millais

But would this make the male character a weirdo or again a creature of his time? I went with choice two, hesitantly at first but as the books unfold their relationship makes perfect sense. As an aside I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it is to know so early in a series that two people are destined for each other–you can make so many little moments fill up with great meaning especially since the boy is so oblivious. Maybe that’s a cliche but so is love and I don’t care.

"Girl in a Green Dress" by William Etty

“Girl in a Green Dress” by William Etty

My mother met my father when she was 13 and would have married him then and there if my father wasn’t such a stickler about what others would say. My mother read a book to us as a child Thelma and in it two guys fall in love with the same woman. We all wanted the underdog guy to get her, but the perfect guy did. I guess the author felt bad and made Thelma’s daughter end up with the underdog (so he had to wait years before she grew up–now that’s a little weird). Did you know that Almanzo Wilder  already had his eyes on Laura when she was quite young?  Of course in fiction having a bunch of catty relatives whispering about an unseemly marriage is great!

Age of consent laws in Texas 1898

Interesting paper on long term marriage patterns in US

Legal Consent  Campaign

Books I’ve Known and Loved

All men should have his hat and his dog when trying to attract women.

All men should have his hat and his dog when trying to attract women.

Can we all agree that men polish up quite nicely in uniform? Why else would we have cop groupies? My father had a charming charisma, but the uniform brought the groupies. Anyway, men look good in uniform–especially late 19th century military uniform–I happened to notice this at all the Civil war re-enactments–when the weekend was over and some of the men came into camp dressed in modern jeans and dorky t-shirts commemorating a Gettysburg anniversary and white sneakers.

So here’s the sort of book/eye-candy I feast upon when I’m too damned tired to figure out what’s happening in Saratoga 1888 and in finance in my latest rough draft. If you like cute guys, or like uniforms or like military history or like illustration–okay, you know what I like.

Even the horse looks proud to be seen with men in uniform.

Even the horse looks proud to be seen with men in uniform.

I’d probably have to steal the trousers with the yellow stripe down the side. I don’t want to be a soldier but the tailoring of the clothes–to die for. Many women felt the same way and so even though women loved their skirts the fashion world, then as now, always threw out a few military-style garments for the ladies–no camo please.

Bad-boy punishment.

Bad-boy punishment.

We like the bad-boys with the good hearts hidden beneath the uniform–though when Richard Gere started sobbing like a baby in An Officer and a Gentleman I got kinda repulsed–but then I’m no Richard fan so . . .

Pretty colors, many flavors . . .

Pretty colors, many flavors . . .

And a bonus Sound the Charge picture of my hero General George Crook who helps save John Weldon’s ass a few times in  The House on Tenafly Road:

Frienemy of the Indians.

Frienemy of the Indians.

 

Loving the Brits and Finding an American Voice

Pinckney Marcius-Simons (1865 – 1909) The Writer

Pinckney Marcius-Simons (1865 – 1909) The Writer

http://theamericanscholar.org/voices-of-a-nation/#.U3YR2yhAg_g

http://www.neoamericanist.org/review/anglophilia-deference-devotion-and-antebellum-america

and a beautiful art blog full of 19th century images perfect for research and awe:

http://b-womeninamericanhistory19.blogspot.com/2013/10/19c-americans-in-their-grand-victorian.html