The singing of two great nineteenth century hymns during church service Sunday brought remembrances. At Duke Chapel, the organist opened all stops and the hundred voice choir recessed to “Marching to Zion.” We were Zion-bound, all right. At Trinity United Methodist Church in Denver, CO, our choir sang an arrangement of “It Is Well with My Soul.” At the time we were rehearsing the anthem, I was undergoing dark and rough times, and the support of friends in the choir assured me that yes, once again things would be well with my soul. These transports were so powerful that I reverted to Quaker mode and did not listen to the sermon or participate in communion. I remained in silent meditation, thankful.
A former colleague died last week. I worked with her for only three years. In those years we had only four short conversations about teaching. In two she was positive and supportive, in one she corrected me, in one she opposed me. We can learn a lot from colleagues like that. I don’t remember the occasions of her support, but I do remember the specifics of the other times. My considerations of her objections made me a better teacher. Thanks, after decades, and too late for you to know, Vicky.
It is hard to love some summer days. The humid, hot air is uncomfortable. Short lasting rain pours down in sheets several times during the day. Activity is not invigorating. It is exhausting.
“There are Giants in the sky! There are big tall terrible awesome scary wonderful / Giants in the sky!” So sings Jack, recalling his adventures in the land above the beanstalk in Sondheim’s musical play, Into the Woods, an interesting interweaving of fairy tales.
We took a road through the countryside off US Highway 301 about three miles south of Lucama, NC, to an intersection, Windmill Road. Not far down Windmill we encountered huge, magnificent whirligigs in poor condition at the site of the worship of Vollis Simpson. In a field and by the edge of a pond they remain there, works of an artist that the New York Times, in the obituary, called “Visionary Artist of Junkyards.” We continued to the town of Wilson and drove by the site of the Vollis Simpson Park in downtown, scheduled to open in November. We stopped at a large building, where parts of several of the whirligigs were being assembled outdoors and met Mel, one of the workers for restoration and conservation. He showed us through the shop. showed how the workers were disassembling the huge structures, repairing and replacing parts, repainting and then reassembling them. We were amazed at their size and engineering. Most had several different sculptures, turning in different directions and at different speeds. Simpson often included reflectors for light effects. The first sculpture is on schedule to be assembled for the local park in November.
There will be giants in the sky! Great, tall, whimsical, amazing, funny, wonderful giants in the sky!
Except for Daniel Alarcon’s well-crafted and moving short story, “Collectors,” in the July 29 The New Yorker, my readings this week have been nonfiction.
John Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez recounts the 1940 marine collecting trip to the Gulf of California with his friend, biologist Ed Ricketts. Details of the trip include ruminations on such topics as boat building, our propensity to violence, outboard motors, sea monsters, effects of the moon, types of thinking, islands and the imagination, catalogues of sea life in given areas, odors, drinking, cannibalism, our complicating our lives, the unity of all things. He includes a story of a boy who finds a pearl, later to be written as a novel. The opening, “About Ed Rickets,” is the best character study I know.
Elizabeth Phillips’s Edgar Allan Poe: An American Imagination: Three Essays (1979) shows how Poe’s imagination was shaped by cultural forces of his time. I particularly enjoyed the third essay, “Mere Household Events: The Metaphysics of Mania,” which shows how Poe incorporated medical theories about alcoholism and mental illness into his works. Phillips often presents her perspectives on Poe’s ideas by comparing and contrasting them with those of his nineteenth century contemporaries and comparing them to ideas of twentieth century poets, particularly Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. As in her courses in twentieth century poetry and in the poetry of Whitman and Dickinson, her thoughts are cogent and marked by sharp wit and common sense. Elizabeth was a great, a rare teacher.
Steinbeck’s “The Harvest Gypsies,” a series of articles in the San Francisco News, October 5-12, 1936, and “Starvation under the Orange Trees” from the Monterey Trader, April 15, 1938, are even more harrowing in exposing the injustices and inhumane treatment of agricultural workers, policies marked by “greed and cruelty,” than in the novel The Grapes of Wrath.
I hope you will enjoy a good upcoming week. Thanks for reading.