Wednesday, November 26, 2014

There are scant eyewitness accounts of the first Thanksgiving

Illustration from N. C. Wyeth's Pilgrims

As celebrated as the first Thanksgiving is, there are few surviving eyewitness accounts of what the Pilgrims did to commemorate the harvest of 1621. In fact, according to the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Mass., there are only two primary sources describing what transpired: Edward Winslow’s Mourt’s Relation and William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. Both entries are brief, and only one of them mentions the Pilgrims and the local Wampanoag Indians dining together. Here, using modern spelling, is what Winslow and Bradford wrote.

William Bradford

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty.  For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees).  And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.  Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

Edward Winslow

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

And now, a few words from . . . Henry David Thoreau

I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Tom Toles

Book Review: "Death at the Château Bremont," M. L. Longworth

Find exclusive book reviews at The Walrus Said blog.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Hen Chronicles: Obsessive behavior in the feathered set

On April 21, 2012, my wife Liz and I - chicken neophytes - bought three laying hens, who set up shop in a coop in the backyard of our city lot here in Maine. The makeup of our small flock has changed since then, but not our love of chickens. The Hen Chronicles explore life with our tenants.

The chicken brain may not be very large, but it is complex. Or, at least, baffling.

When we had a spell of unusually cold, blustery weather last week, I was reminded that hens seem to have a switch in their little noggins that we might call the POA, or Poultry Obsession Activator. The problem is that, once a hen flips this switch and becomes fixated, she either can’t or won’t turn it off until a great deal of time has passed. Hence the obsession.

Here’s how it works.

During our recent spate of nasty weather, “the girls” decided that they would not leave the relative comfort of their coop to get some exercise in the outdoor pen, even though their food and water are in the pen and they normally spend most of their daylight hours outside all year long.

On the first unpleasant morning, the three hens emerged for breakfast, then marched right back into the coop and flew up onto the roost, where they nestled together to keep warm and avoid the high winds. After that, they refused to budge, emerging only long enough to wolf down their late-morning and mid-afternoon snacks.

Now, I didn’t blame the hens for wanting to stay out of the elements. If anything, they deserve praise for having enough sense to do so. But even when I moved their feed bowl from the pen to the coop, I could see that their appetites were off, probably because they weren’t getting enough exercise.

On the second day, the winds died down a bit and the weather improved somewhat. But to play it safe, I covered the top of the pen with plywood and the east and west sides with tarps. The north side of the pen is attached to the coop, so only the south side remained open. This made for a cozier atmosphere.

And how did the girls react to this upgrade in their outdoor environs? The POA remained on. The hens hunkered down on the roost in the coop yet again, obsessively convinced that life outside still wasn’t worth living unless there were snacks to be had out there.

It wasn’t until the third day that the hens finally abandoned their preoccupation with round-the-clock coop life. Only then did they remain outside for extended periods of time, as they normally do. But even on the fourth day, they were slow to emerge from the coop first thing in the morning. They eased their way down the ramp tentatively, as if uncertain that “the crisis” had truly passed.

Looking back, I realize this wasn’t the first time I’d seen the POA in use. In the winter of 2013, a blizzard hit central Maine. The day after the storm blew out, it was sunny and relatively warm for winter. There was little or no snow in the pen. But “the girls” refused to leave the coop until the third storm-free day.

Then, as now, though, the hens’ slavish devotion to living the coop life 24/7 was accompanied by another, healthier obsession. Even in the worst weather, they never stopped laying eggs.

And now, a few words from . . . Woody Allen

It's not that I'm afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens.

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Jeff Danziger

Saturday, November 22, 2014

November 22, 1963 . . . for me, it was a birthday like no other

JFK in my hometown, Southbridge, Mass., probably during his U.S. Senate race in 1952 or 1958

Birthdays come and go. When you’ve had 64 of them, you realize that some are far more memorable than others.

My most unforgettable birthday was my 13th, on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It etched itself all the more clearly in my mind because I grew up in a Catholic family in a Democratic town in the state that was home to the Kennedy clan: Massachusetts.

Interestingly, I don’t remember everything about that day. It’s not as if my brain can screen recollections of what happened in a seamless, minute-by-minute chronology, akin to a movie playing itself out in my mind’s eye. But I do have very distinct memories of specific scenes. Some are mundane, as you might expect from a kid. Others, less so.

It was a Friday. I remember a nun bursting into my 8th-grade classroom at St. Joan of Arc School in Southbridge, Mass., and announcing, as she clung to the doorway, that the president had been shot. We immediately dropped to our knees beside our desks as another nun led us in prayer.

I remember being amazed that we were not sent home early. Instead, we stuck to the regular schedule for what was left of the school day, which, for me, included gym class. Of course, we did not know, initially, that Kennedy was dead. My wide-eyed classmates and I, confused and frightened, speculated that Russia, as we called the Soviet Union, would attack us if Kennedy died, to take advantage of what we assumed was our national vulnerability.

I remember walking home from school by myself. It was an unseasonably warm day for New England in late November. Normally busy Worcester Street, where I lived, was virtually deserted. All along my mile-long route, the sounds of radio and television newscasts spilled out from the open windows and doors of homes and businesses, but there was no traffic to speak of. It seemed as if all movement had stopped in our little corner of Massachusetts.

Whatever birthday festivities my parents had planned evaporated before I walked through the front door of our home that afternoon. There was nothing to celebrate. If I received any gifts, I have no recollection of them. I do have a hazy memory of my parents tucking away my unopened presents for another week or so.

Much of that weekend is a blur. Our family, like all of Massachusetts and most of the nation, was in shock. I distinctly remember sitting on the couch in our living room, watching TV with my father on Nov. 24, when Jack Ruby fatally wounded Lee Harvey Oswald on live television. My mother was in the kitchen, and Dad and I shouted out in unison: "Oswald's been shot!"

We were glued to our TV on Nov. 25, the day of the funeral. Some semblance of normalcy returned in the days and weeks that followed. But my life had been changed forever, just as my parents’ generation was transformed when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. No doubt the impact, back then, was especially transformative for those who "celebrated" their birthdays on Dec. 7 and were old enough in 1941 to understand what had happened.

America lost its innocence on Nov. 22, 1963. And so did a freshly minted 13 year old.

We learned, in the ensuing years, that Kennedy was no saint. He was a womanizer. His tenure in office was short. His potential was not fulfilled, and he made his share of missteps. The Bay of Pigs was an unmitigated disaster. His record on civil rights was mixed. His legislative accomplishments were limited.

Yet I choose to remember JFK as the youngest man ever elected president; a gifted orator from my home state; and a dashing and inspiring leader with a dry sense of humor. He saw us through the terror of the Cuban missile crisis, when we truly believed the end might be near. He was a Catholic president at a time when anti-Catholicism remained a potent and, for my family and friends, disquieting force in America.

You can write me off as sentimental and hopelessly nostalgic. But like so many others of my generation, I associate the all-too-short presidency that ended in Dallas on my 13th birthday with a few lines sung by Richard Harris, as King Arthur, in the 1967 film version of Camelot.
Don't let it be forgot 
That once there was a spot 
For one brief shining moment
That was known as Camelot.

And now, a few words from . . . Muhammad Ali

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.