August 31, 2017
There are times when one should wonder if the unexpected is really unexpected rather than an unconscious plot hidden from the conscious mind that surreptitiously directs us to the place we need to be.
Such was the case when I received an invitation from Archivist Rodney Obien of Keene State College to travel to Dennysville, Maine, to view the opening of a Robert Munford exhibition in that village of just over 300 people in Washington County, the size of Rhode Island and Delaware with only 34,000 people in it.
In the 1970s, I had camped at relatively nearby (60-70 miles) Jonesport, Maine, and recalled it as already cut-off from the rest of East Coast United States—a place one went to escape. Jonesport is also the beginning of how to really understand what “DownEast” means.
But to truly comprehend DownEast, one should head north on Maine’s U.S. 1, past the Freeport outlets, past the Boothbay Peninsula where the highway’s northern suggestion gradually undulates eastward, past the summer playground of Arcadia National Park where the remaining holiday tourists peel off, leaving only the determined traveler who still must wind east and pass Machias (pronounced Ma-CHI-es) until he or she reaches Lubec , (pronounced like a trochee: LOU-BEC) a town of about 1,400—the eastern-most spot in the United States. 1,400 people in this county is a metropolis. (While we’re at it, Calais, Maine, is pronounced: like callous.)
Next, take the state highway down a long, narrow, peninsula and you will discover West Quoddy Light State Park.
If you walk to the eastern corner of the cyclone fence protecting you from falling over the reddish stone cliffs, you can situate yourself upon the easternmost corner of the continental United States. Not that there is any mystical vibration at the spot but if one is go down east from most of Maine which is north and east of Portland, one might as well go all the way.
For a seaside town in August, being able to find parking space on the street directly in front of Frank’s Harborside Restaurant also makes one recognize just how far away the rest of the tourists have lost themselves. I sat on the noon-time deck of Frank’s and discarded any ideas a choice other than seafood . While I waited, I ordered a local brew: Presque Isle Honey Ale which arrived in a can and a pilsner glass that I set on the railing of the deck where its honey colo and foamy white head, made perfect contrast to the blue sky and the swirling currents of Cobscook Bay.
Out in the bay, five seals surfaced, snuffed their snouts and brought in fresh breath, and then raised themselves to see if anyone watched. I was and they raised even higher, saying, “Look at Me! Look at me! I am the ME-ning of Life.” I did, they rolled and dived and shortly came up again to see if I was still looking. I was. We repeated. I have no doubt that if I were sitting on the rocks below, they would have swum up, ambled aboard and sniffed, slobbered and snuffled me in delight at my attention.
Despite this late summer lifting of the spirit, the darker side of life is never far way, especially for a fishing village like Lubec, At Lost Fishermen’s Memorial Park, the triangular granite, so much an echo of Maine Mountains or the more distant gray, mountainous North Atlantic seas, has already received 113 names etched into its gray stone.
Across a narrow, two-lane arched bridge lies Campobello Island, the summer home of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt. It is now the site of The Roosevelt Campobello International Park. One must enter Canada via customs and return to the U.S. via customs, and a passport is desired, since I had forgotten my passport, but I was easily allowed to enter and return though U.S. Border agents did present me with a “Noncompliant Citizen” tag upon my return.
Nowhere is the current hypocrisy of “America First” more evident than at this international park by two nations to one of the United States’ greatest leaders. I hear our current President is under great stress. If only Melania might convince him to relax into a chair and wheel over to Campobello and into Tea With Eleanor where maybe the heart-felt stories told by three Canadian docents might somehow find entry into his consciousness and the planet would be better off because of it. Something else about a visit to the park, particularly Roosevelt Cottage, is we forget that Roosevelt did not catch polio until he was 38 and for those first 38 years, was a physically active bundle of energy. The family photogpraphs are a reminder of those first 38 years.
Campobello Island is also home to West Quoddy’s sister: East Quoddy Light. On my drive to visit it, Deer Island framed the channel where finback whales and porpoises played in the waters. On my return, I stopped again at Lost Fishermen’s Memorial Park and noticed the small boat landing leading down into the water of Cobscott Bay and Quoddy Narrows. No agents, no barriers, just a sign posted for the boaters coming onto the landing: Non U.S. Citizens should (walk down Water St. a couple of blocks) check in with U.S. Customs. These neighbors show exactly how a border between two nations ought to exist.
edited Munford for Mumford, 9-2-17
July 8, 2017
A Much-Needed Fourth of July Commentary
During graduate school in the late 1970s, a professor assigned me to read Supreme Court opinions (both pro and con) of the major educational issues the country had faced in its history. What struck me then was that regardless of whether I agreed or disagreed with the decisions, the reasoning on both sides convinced me regardless of the outcome, both sides had sound reasons for making their choices.
This speech by Chief Justice John Roberts to his ninth grade son and classmates, assured me that the helm at The Supreme Court is still in good hands. It is 18 minutes in total, but even the first five-minute introduction is worth hearing.
February 18, 2017
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Emma Lazarus
Sat., Feb. 18, 2017 10:02 a.m. EST
Eight people flee U.S. border patrol to seek asylum in Canada Full story at Reuters, Canada. It’s hard to fathom the party of Lincoln has forced the resurrection of the Underground Railway.
And for the holier-than-thou-party-leaders of Franklin Roosevelt especially in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, they have on one to blame but themselves because:
According to Henry Grabar, Slate staff writer, research by political scientist Jonathon Rodden of Stanford University, “Even in 2016, Democrats Carried Rust Belt Town Centers.
“For Democrats, the problem with these people isn’t that they didn’t vote Democratic; it’s that they didn’t vote at all. In some cases, turnout in downtown precincts was about half what it was a few miles away. Clinton still carried them,” wrote Grabar.
January 14, 2017
If 2017 or The Year of the Rooster in China has an inaugural need it might be this graphic which my co-advisor at The Equinox, Keene State College’s award-winning student media organization, forwarded to the editors. As near as I can tell, it is a web post from a French Catholic institution though I suspect, since the image is in English, it also came to them second-hand. Regardless, it is a fitting image for a time that feels as if we are reliving the last century and Yeats’s “Second Coming” where:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.”
Were I President-Elect Trump, who talks as if he believes he has the power of decree, I would decree the poster be placed as the screen-saver of every mobile device, computer screen, and television set in the nation. Then perhaps any conversation of substance between those with differing ideas might take place with some semblance of reason and respect that one’s personal perspective might not be the whole picture.
Alas then I see my Facebook notices and e-mail forwards and I’m reminded belief has little to do with reason or truth, and snake oil has now been replaced by fake news. Mark Twain’s Duke of Bilgewater has become real again.
Social media, despite its ability to fool us into thinking it contains that most critical and important third dimension—depth─is still only a flat, two dimensional recreation of reality (just like the graphic at the top of the post). For all our back-slapping progress, we have progressed intellectually not much farther than Plato’s cave. Social media is simply the modern substitute for the reflection of the unseen flames outside the cave. Though as I look at those Facebook posts and ads and forwarded e-mails, maybe we are not even as far along as Plato. At least Plato’s shadows were a reflection of an actual flame.
Twitter is the perfect example of the social media dilemma. It has real value for breaking information or life threatening issues like tornadoes, tsunamis, accidents, ice on the roads, any immediate problem, but beyond that? Well, the root of “twitter” is “twit.”
If we are going to govern via Twitter, Congress’s opening 12-hour fiasco and its about face on its first vote to pull the teeth from the House Ethics Committee is only the initial and smallest of the roller coaster rides we have embarked upon. Propaganda always has a kernel of truth in it, just enough to get a believer to hang his or her hat on its peg.
But we also now have fake news. The Chinese get fooled by The Onion; Americans get fooled by the KGB. What is that cliché that so wonderfully bogged President George W. Bush: “Fool me once . . . .”
All this brings to mind another of the lesser quoted lines from Yeats’s “Second Coming:”
“The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;”
Yeats may have been talking about his theory of two-thousand-year cycles of civilization, but the symbolism of a falcon: a predator (and all it implies in our current technology), a hawk, and finally America itself unleashed from its moorings because of noise.
I suppose, if you are still reading this, you have become as discouraged as I have been over the months I’ve tried to write this. Let me offer a kernel of light; as I re-read Yeats’s poem a thought struck me—the hawk’s primary method of orienting itself is sight not sound. I checked with poet Henry Walters, a falconer himself, (see Sept. 14, 2014 post, MPIB 2014 Archive) and he confirmed that sight, not sound is a hawk’s primary contact with his “lure” (An animal part the hawk learns to associate with food, for example, part of a grouse wing). Though Walters also noted if the hawk circled behind a hill, the falconer might use sound to help bring it back but generally the hawk will circle higher and find its lure on its own.
Therefore if we, as a nation, have circled our predatory selves behind a hill and lost sight of our lure, all we need is a thermal to push us a little higher, then despite the noise, we will see our lure and our way home.
Walters also pointed out that once a hawk returns to its lure, it will not leave again until it has been fed. Noise-makers would be wise to take note of that.
October 19, 2016
Tippecanoe and Tyler too?
The Election of 2016
“Mercy!” as voice of the long-time Red Sox announcer Ned Martin used to say when baseball things did or did not go very well for the Sox.
Mercifully, in three weeks I have faith the next Presidential election will end. But one thing puzzles me: The number of Americans distraught over the vulgarity of this campaign as if it is something new. I agree it is vulgar and the most vulgar since World War II, but we elders may have grown up in a civility bubble thinking this was normal because of the impact that war had upon the planet. This 2016 campaign certainly isn’t alone in a long history of American vulgarity during Presidential elections; it is simply a reversion to the mean (or would meanness suit better than a mathematical term?) that goes right back to the Founders. Sometimes sanitized history blinds us to our actual history.
Is anything the Trump or the Clinton campaign has said about the other much different than what James Callender, a Scottish-American political pamphleteer published when he wrote that George Washington “had ‘debauched’ and ‘deceived’ the nation by promoting himself as a popular idol.” Or as Kerwin Swint points out in his article on what James Callendar published later, after falling out with his sometimes mentor Thomas Jefferson, that Jefferson had an “illicit affair with his slave Sally Hemings . . . siring five children.”
A few campaign cycles later, the Campaign of 1828 might cause even Donald Trump–or at least Bill Clinton–to blush. Andrew Jackson’s wife, Rachel, was called a “convicted adulteress” because years earlier she had married Andrew Jackson before her divorce from her first husband finalized. One newspaper editorial asked, ‘Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband to be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?’ “
It didn’t stop there. another paper reported “General Jackson’s mother was a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterward married a mulatto man, with whom she had several children, of which number General Jackson is one!” Not bad for a creative, and fictional political slur, though, a Kenyan-born, Muslim President and a drug-addled, abuser, murderer Secretary of State would hold pretty good currency in that 1828 election.
The election of1884 managed to delve into vulgarity as well—though I’d have to give it third place in the contest between 1828 and 2016–using rhyme undercuts the nastiness. The two Presidential front-runners, James G. Blaine and Grover Cleveland Alexander, had this so to say about the other:
From Grover Cleveland: “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine.”
From James G. Blaine: Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa? referring to the out of wedlock child Cleveland allegedly had fathered.
The Judge magazine made it visual as well, printing the following cartoon:
When Cleveland won the closely contested election, his campaign had a final parting verse:
Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa?
Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha.
In case one might think this is all about the men, Belva Lockwood also ran for President in 1884 and lost. Puck gave her and her followers this post-election cartoon on Nov. 5, 1884.
Even the second national father, Abraham Lincoln did not escape the mudslinging that currently taints the top Presidential front runners. The Atlantic Monthly ran a story by Mark Bowden in 2013 that helps set that record straight by taking the following excerpts from Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2008) by Michael Burlingame. Only two years in someone was already hinting at assassination.
It wasn’t just the cartoonists, Burlingame noted, “George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer and diarist,” besides producing letters for Ken Burns Civil War series “wrote that Lincoln was ‘a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.’
“The 1862 commanding general of his armies, George McClellan, called Lincoln a coward, ‘an idiot,’ and ‘the original gorilla’” and then ran unsuccessfully for President against Lincoln in 1864. Apparently gorilla was the Nineteenth Century substitute for Kenya.
According to Burlingame’s book, the slinging of mud wasn’t confined to only men. “Abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, called Lincoln ‘Dishonest Abe’ in a letter she wrote to Wendell Phillips in 1864, a year after Lincoln had freed the slaves in rebel states and only months before he would engineer the Thirteenth Amendment. She bemoaned the ‘incapacity and rottenness’ of his administration to Susan B. Anthony . . . and swore to Phillips that if he is reelected I shall immediately leave the country for the Fijee Islands.”
We can pardon Stanton’s lack of civility toward that Canada since Canada did not achieve independence from Great Britain until 1867 and there may have been lingering Yankee animosity toward a Canada which had three times successfully repulsed American invasions.
A good place to wind this down would be Burligame’s find that a Pennsylvania newspaper reported on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address by writing: “We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” A London Times correspondent wrote, “Anything more dull and commonplace it wouldn’t be easy to produce.”
On the eve of the third and final 2016 Presidential Debate it would be wise to recall the elections of the Nineteenth Century as antidote to the slings and arrows surely to be shot this year.
PS: Thanks to the solicitations of John Hodgen and Russell Hay plus commiseration with John Hofmeister, I am nudged out of this election-year torpor
June 5, 2016
The Isles of Scilly, Part II:
The SS Schiller, Graves, and The Myth of The German High Command
On May 7, 1875, the German steam and wind-powered passenger ship Schiller sank after striking some of those rocks on the western side of the Isles of Scilly. It sank with the loss of 335 of the passengers and crew. 37 survived. The sinking made the front page of major newspapers in Europe and the U.S. including The New York Times. It was the Titanic story before the Titanic.
The people of the Isles of Scilly buried many of the victims in two, long rows of graves dug at Old Town Church cemetery and that incident has spawned another myth. The legend which has now made its way onto web sites such as Wikipedia and The Scilly News is this: “German authorities were so impressed with the way that Scillonians handled the tragedy, orders were sent during the two subsequent world wars, that Scilly and Scillonians should be spared from being bombed or attacked, in recognition of the kindness shown to their countrymen by Islanders, so may years before.”
If something sounds too good to be true—well you know the rest–it likely isn’t. On May 17, 2016, during this trip to the Isles of Scilly to determine how much of another legend, the 335-year war, was myth and how much real, an opportunity presented itself to speak with 89-year-old Alfred Llewelyn Hitchens of Hugh Town, who was a boy during World War II and could attest to what he recalled of those years. When asked of that Schiller legend, he said it was a story that went around but certainly “the modern Germans paid no attention to it.” Hitchens’ World War II recollections about that “non-aggression” story confirm that. He was a boy of twelve or thirteen in 1940 when he remembered “ten consecutive days of bombing” by German aircraft to destroy radio towers on St. Mary’s alone. He particularly recalled one Sunday afternoon in 1940 when “one of them dropped an incendiary by the mill and set it afire. It was after Sunday school. We took off our ties and were up on the hill with a bucket brigade carrying water when this plane came in from over Tresco, and we thought it looks like a Blenheim, one of ours. Then we could see it was Junkers 88 or something spraying bullets.
“So we all dived for shelter. Nobody got hit. I was going to get up and do a runner and an older person said, ‘Lie down you silly bugger.’ So we got down between the walk around the tower and an adjacent field. Then he [The German] went around for a second circuit, and I decided I would be a runner. I sprinted down a field and went into the first house I saw. I think there were twenty-two of us under a stairs.”
Amanda Martin, curator of the Isles of Scilly Museum, has stored in the museum collection notes taken by another Scillionian from a diary which recorded all the air attacks on the Isles of Scilly from 1940-1943. They total 25 separate incidents (including the August 25th, 1940, attack Hitchens referred to).
One of the side notes to that list is an entry indicating a German aircraft bombing of Old Town Church Cemetery—the very place those victims of the Schiller disaster are buried. And lest, as so many who have not experienced war tend to do, one thinks war is a junket, those notes also show an entry for August 26, 1942, “Bombed Bona Vista. . . . Dorothy Paice killed. Sylvia Banfield Jenkins killed. “
A third news entry for June 3, 1941, from a site which provides a daily time line for events during World War II—apparently there were still civilian flights even as the Battle of Britain began to heat up—refers to a civilian flight from the Scillies to Penzance: “The . . . aircraft had just taken off from St. Mary’s on the Isle of Scilly . . . when it was intercepted by a Heinkel III . . . . The forward guns easily dealt with the unarmed aircraft, which crashed into the sea with no survivors.” Its crew and passengers: Capt. William Donald Anderson DFC killed, Passengers: Mrs Sheelagh Leggitt, killed; Mr. John Leggitt, killed; Jeannie Leggitt, 11, killed; Romalita Leggitt, 9, killed; Georgina Griffith, killed. Despite the rhetoric of too many of today’s presidential candidates, war is not a junket.
Should one wish to think perhaps the German High Command of World War I harbored an attachment to this non-aggression story differently during the First World War, here is a scan of a photograph in The Scillonian, (No. 223, Summer, 1986, p. 130) in which a German U-Boat (U-29) surfaces and prepares to sink the SS Headlands “off Scilly during The Great War.”
Where does a myth like this gain its legs? As in most good legends, myths, and propaganda, there usually is something real to base the digression upon. Part of this misconception may have started with the discovery of a map taken from a downed German aircraft in 1943 which showed a ninety kilometer zone for the Isles of Scilly excluding daylight flights by German aircraft. A romantic might argue it as proof of that Schiller non-aggression legend, but if the logs in Scilly at War by R. L. Bowley are accurate, it would be far more reasonable to conclude the reason the German High Command made the Scillies off-limits to Luftwaffe daylight flying was more likely because the Hawker Hurricane squadron stationed on St. Mary’s airfield was shooting down too many of the German aircraft which ventured near the isles during the day.
The story of German military commands honoring a non-aggression pact because of the treatment of the Schiller victims is false.
Despite the fallacy of that particular story, the 1875 ship disaster still resonates on the Scillies in other ways. Though the Schiller sinking may have been as well-known as the Titanic later became, Amanda Martin notes that much of the institutional record of where these victims are buried is becoming lost and the human connection, that oral tradition of passing on stories, is also disappearing as the great grandchildren no longer have that contact to great-grandparents who were on the scene in 1875. In a 2013 article in the International Business Times by Hannah Osborne, one sees the upper row of burials at Old Town Church as they looked in 1875. Martin’s concern is that some graves may have been placed on top of the hasty graves of those Schiller victims buried in those rows.
Here is what those rows of graves look like in 2016:
Considering ancient grave sites like Bant’s Cairn or even two-time UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s grave in Old Church Cemetery pop up all over these islands, it is not surprising how any burial site to any particular person would be treated with utmost deference.
During one of the walks through the interior lanes of St. Mary’s near Trenoweth, I came across this recent stone placed in an orchard. It was created out of the grief and love of a mother for her 25-year-old son:
Gloucester, Massachusetts, has the sculpture for the ten thousand Gloucester sailors lost to the sea in four hundred years. How many, then, must Scilly have lost to the sea in four thousand years?
Innisidgen (Upper Burial Cairn )
Like a navigator reckons safe passage
for a pilot safely over chartless water,
a granite V points eastward
to Great Arthur and his Isles.
A fleet of Roman, Celtic, Bronze
and Neolithic memories float
above the channel: Scillonia,
Enor, Lyonesse, Camelot.
Perhaps the cleft is nature,
perhaps it’s man knowing the only
place to die is home–even
after four thousand years. Beyond the tomb
a child’s rope swings from a branch,
irresistible desire for flight,
but like a father, a warm, western breeze
urges one return to earth,
enter the tomb quietly, touch the stone
understanding; the spirit
will find its way here and find it
poem edited 6-17-16