• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • ChasDarwinHasAPosse
  • Farm School: A Twitter-Free Zone

    antitwit
  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Remembering Pete Seeger: “I’ve got a song to sing, all over this land”

Here’s an edited repeat of a post from May 2009 celebrating Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday; you can read the original here. I was saddened, though not surprised, to read last night of his death at age 94. His was one of those long lives well lived, and so many of ours were that much richer for his.

(I haven’t checked all of the links, so if any are broken, please let me know.)

*  *  *  *

Pete Seeger has been presence in my life since childhood with his records and music, and I still recall one marvelous autumn day when I was about nine or 10 and we got to meet him and listen to him sing at South Street Seaport (I think I remember a pier covered with pumpkins, and while I don’t remember the sloop Clearwater, I think it must have been there as well), well before it was fixed up and turned into a tourist destination. We were also fortunate to live down the street from Pete Seeger’s old friend, Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, who died in 1987), who would sit on the sidewalk with his guitar and give impromptu sidewalk concerts. Together the friends collaborated on a 1974 children’s album, “Pete Seeger & Brother Kirk Visit Sesame Street”.

As fascinating as Pete Seeger’s life story and career is his family.  He was the son of musicologist and composer of Charles Seeger and violinist Constance Edson; his stepmother was the noted composer Ruth Crawford Seeger;  his uncle Alan Seeger was the celebrated poet killed in World War I; his eldest brother Charles was a pioneering radio astronomer; his brother John, a longtime teacher at New York’s Dalton School, also founded Camp Killoleet in the Adirondacks; his half-sister is the singer Peggy Seeger; his half-brother is singer Mike Seeger.

No childhood is complete without Pete Seeger — for the music he has sung and written, for his sense of history,his family’s place in the history of American music, and his environmental and political activism.  You can listen to his music and listen to songs about America as it was, and America — and the world –  as it should be. Here’s a list, not nearly complete or comprehensive, of some of our favorite Pete Seeger records, books, and more.

Music especially for children:

“Abiyoyo and Other Story Songs for Children”

“American Folk, Game and Activity Songs”

“Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes (Little and Big)”

“Folk Songs for Young People”

“Song and Play Time”

Pete Seeger’s “Children’s Concert at Town Hall”

Music for the entire family:

“American Favorite Ballads”, on five CDs

“Frontier Ballads”

“Headlines and Footnotes: A Collection of Topical Songs”

“If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle”

“Love Songs for Friends and Foes”

“Pete Seeger Sings Leadbelly”

“Sing Out!: Hootenanny with Pete Seeger and the Hooteneers”

“Traditional Christmas Carols”

Pete Seeger/The Weavers 3 CD box set

“Pete Seeger at 89″

Pete Seeger discography at Smithsonian Folkways.  By the way, SF has a new publication, “Folkways Magazine”, just debuted with the Spring 2009 issue, and the main article is “Pete Seeger: Standing Tall”

Pete Seeger discography and biography at Appleseed Records

Books (many of which are children’s picture books based on his songs):

Abiyoyo with accompanying CD; and Abiyoyo Returns

Turn! Turn! Turn! with accompanying CD

One Grain of Sand: A Lullaby

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: A Musical Autobiography

Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book

His memoirsWhere Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singer’s Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies

The biography How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway, the companion volume to the radio series produced by Dunaway (see below)

Audio and Video:

PBS’s American Masters episode: “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”; now available on DVD

How Can I Keep from Singing?, the three-part radio series produced by David King Dunaway

“To Hear Your Banjo Play” (1947)

“How to Play the 5-String Banjo” DVD, Davy’s favorite; there’s also an accompanying book (not on film, but also instructive and instructional is Pete Seeger’s “The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide”)

At NPR; and the NPR appreciation, “Pete Seeger At 90″ by Lynn Neary and Tom Cole.  At the latter link, you’ll find a little orange box on the left with The Pete Seeger Mix, a “five-hour mix of Pete Seeger classics and covers” put together by NPR Music partner Folk Alley

Pete Seeger at the pre-inaugural concert for Barack Obama

Websites:

Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, where Pete Seeger worked as an assistant in 1940

Clearwater, the organization Pete Seeger established in 1969 to preserve and protect the Hudson River

Bits and bobs:

Studs Terkel’s 2005 appreciation, in The Nation, of Pete Seeger’s 86th birthday

The New Yorker‘s 2006 profile, “The Protest Singer”, by Alec Wilkinson, and in hardcover

Pete Seeger’s biography at the Kennedy Center, where he was a Kennedy Center honor recipient in 1994

Your own private writing seminar

with John McPhee, via the Spring issue (now online, thank goodness) of The Paris Review.

For example, the importance of using an outline, from the interview with Mr. McPhee by Peter Hessler, “The Art of Nonfiction No. 3”:

INTERVIEWER
Where did this method come from?

MCPHEE
It goes back to Olive McKee at Princeton High School, and the structural outline that we had to have before doing any piece of writing. It came up again when I worked at Time. My first cover story just floored me. It was five thousand words, and I really struggled with the mass of material. I was pretty unhappy. It was just a mess—a mess of paper, I didn’t know where anything was. So I went back to Olive McKee and the outline, sorting through this matrix of material, separating it into components and dealing with one component at a time.

INTERVIEWER
Is there ever a risk of it becoming too mechanical?

MCPHEE
It sounds very mechanical, but the effect is the exact opposite. What it does is free you to write. It liberates you to write. You’ve got all the notes there; you come in in the morning and you read through what you’re going to try to write, and there’s not that much to read. You’re not worried about the other ninety-five percent, it’s off in a folder somewhere. It’s you and the keyboard. You get away from the mechanics through this mechanical means. The spontaneity comes in the writing, the phraseology, the telling of the story—after you’ve put all this stuff aside. You can read through those relevant notes in a relatively short period of time, and you know that’s what you want to be covering.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Also in the Spring issue, Ray Bradbury interviewed on the Art of Fiction, by Sam Weller, from which,

INTERVIEWER
You’re self-educated, aren’t you?

BRADBURY
Yes, I am. I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college. I went down to the library when I was in grade school in Waukegan, and in high school in Los Angeles, and spent long days every summer in the library. I used to steal magazines from a store on Genesee Street, in Waukegan, and read them and then steal them back on the racks again. That way I took the print off with my eyeballs and stayed honest. I didn’t want to be a permanent thief, and I was very careful to wash my hands before I read them. But with the library, it’s like catnip, I suppose: you begin to run in circles because there’s so much to look at and read. And it’s far more fun than going to school, simply because you make up your own list and you don’t have to listen to anyone. When I would see some of the books my kids were forced to bring home and read by some of their teachers, and were graded on—well, what if you don’t like those books?

I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.

INTERVIEWER
You have said that you don’t believe in going to college to learn to write. Why is that?

BRADBURY
You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.

Read the rest of Mr. Bradbury’s interview, especially on why he refused to write the screenplay for War and Peace, here. (I wrote about Mr. Bradbury and libraries last year here.)

And don’t miss the Review’s interview index, with gems from 1953 to the present.

*  *  *

Books by John McPhee, wonderful wonderful stuff and the perfect living books to include in your home school studies with older children, especially for science.  If you have to choose only one, make it Annals of the Former World, Mr. McPhee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of four books on the geological history of North America, published in a single volume in 1998.

High end

The great William Zinsser, in a recent “Zinsser on Friday” column/blog post, “Life and Work”, over at The American Scholar,

I’ve never been–perhaps to my shame–a citizen of writing. I don’t belong to writers’ organizations, or attend writers’ talks and panels, or lunch with publishing potentates. I don’t hang out with writers. Writers tend to be not as interesting as they think. What they mainly want to talk about is their own writing, and they also have a ton of grievances, their conversation quick to alight on the perfidy of publishers, the lassitude of editors and agents, and the myopia of critics who reviewed–or didn’t review–their last book.

I’m a lone craftsman, not unlike a potter or a cabinetmaker, shaping and reshaping my materials to create an object that pleases me–nobody else–and when it’s done I send it forth into the world. I don’t have an agent. I never show my writing to other writers; their agenda is not my agenda. For the objective judgment and emotional support that every writer needs I depend on the individual editors of my books and magazine articles–fellow craftsmen–and on a few trusted friends. …

It may seem perverse that I compare my writing to plumbing, an occupation not regarded as high-end. But to me all work is equally honorable, all crafts an astonishment when they are performed with skill and self-respect. Just as I go to work every day with my tools, which are words, the plumber arrives with his kit of wrenches and washers, and afterward the pipes have been so adroitly fitted together that they don’t leak. I don’t want any of my sentences to leak. The fact that someone can make water come out of a faucet on the 10th floor strikes me as a feat no less remarkable than the construction of a clear declarative sentence.

Read the entire piece here.

Find the Zinsser on Friday archive here.

Find a list of William Zinnser’s books here, and read them.  He is one of the best writing teachers around, for the price of a book, and, nowadays, a rare fount of common sense.  As his Zinsser on Friday pieces prove.

Carriers of arts, letters, and dumplings

I had a post yesterday on Rebecca Mead’s current New Yorker essay, “Learning by Degrees”, on the purpose of education, which I agree with her should not be to “compete in the global economy”, as our politicians like to natter on about, but as Ms. Mead wrote, to “nurture critical thought; to expose individuals to the signal accomplishments of humankind; to develop in them an ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently.”

So I was interested last night to read in yesterday’s New York Times Wednesday food section the article, “Their Future, Made By Hand” about a new twist in the road for “young, college-educated, Internet-savvy, and unemployed” New Yorkers who now find themselves at “the intersection of the economic downturn and the rise of the local artisanal food movement”, leading to “the recent flowering of small culinary start-ups” and food entrepreneurs:

As the next generation of cooks comes of age, it seems that many might bypass restaurant kitchens [and possibly college…] altogether. Instead, they see themselves driving trucks full of artisanal cheese around the country, founding organic breweries, bartering vegan pâtés for grass-fed local beef, or (most often) making it big in baking as the next Magnolia Bakery.

That “ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently”, learned in high school or in college (if not afterwards for many of us), can come in very, very handy. Keep your mind and your options open, and your future might well be delicious.  Read the rest of the Times article here. (And while you’re at it, go get the recipe for 1989 Rhubarb-Strawberry Mousse.  Yummy.)

Related Farm School posts:

Moving in a common rhythm; from which one of my favorite Andy Rooney quotes, from his 2000 commencement address at the University of Virginia, “Don’t rule out working with your hands. It does not preclude using your head. There’s no reason why education should be incompatible with craftsmanship.”

Craftsmanship

Hands

Tonic and toast

Further thoughts on self-esteem and self-confidence

All roads lead to home and hard work

More thoughts on independence and freedom

Carriers of arts, and letters

Rebecca Mead, in her latest comment piece, “Learning by Degrees” in the current issue of The New Yorker, writes,

The skip-college advocates’ contention—that, with the economic downturn, a college degree may not be the best investment—has its appeal. Given the high cost of attending college in the United States, the question of whether a student is getting his or her money’s worth tends to loom large with whoever is paying the tuition fees and the meal-plan bills. Even so, one needn’t necessarily be a liberal-arts graduate to regard as distinctly and speciously utilitarian the idea that higher education is, above all, a route to economic advancement. Unaddressed in that calculus is any question of what else an education might be for: to nurture critical thought; to expose individuals to the signal accomplishments of humankind; to develop in them an ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently.

All these are habits of mind that are useful for an engaged citizenry, and from which a letter carrier, no less than a college professor, might derive a sense of self-worth. For who’s to say in what direction a letter carrier’s thoughts might, or should, turn, regardless of the job’s demands? Consider Stephen Law, a professor of philosophy at the University of London, who started his working life delivering mail for the British postal service, began reading works of philosophy in his spare time, decided that he’d like to know more, and went on to study the discipline at City University, in London, and at Oxford University. (A philosophy graduate in the Class of 2010, by the way, stands to earn an average starting salary of forty thousand dollars a year, rising to a lifetime median of seventy-six thousand. Not exactly statistician money, but something to think about.) Indeed, if even a professionally oriented college degree is no longer a guarantee of easily found employment, an argument might be made in favor of a student’s pursuing an education that is less, rather than more, pragmatic. (More theology, less accounting.) That way, regardless of each graduate’s ultimate path, all might be qualified to be carriers of arts and letters, of which the nation can never have too many.

Read the entire piece here.

Of course, one nice think about home schooling is that you can start early nurturing critical thought, exposing the small individuals you love to the signal accomplishments of humankind; and developing that ability to respond intelligently.  You also have the chance to teach them basic economics, that expenses should not exceed income, so that they don’t find themselves with an enormous, unpayable bill at the end of four years; and also marketing 101, that there are wonderful professors to be found at institutions without snazzy T-shirts.

National Poetry Month 2010

April, as always, brings May showers and…

National Poetry Month

brought to you as always by the Academy of American Poets.  You can request your own poster, designed by Canadian artist (and recent TEDTalk 2010 speaker) Marian Bantjes.

Here are some bits and pieces from some of my previous posts on National Poetry Month, with a few updates, and at the end links to various Farm School poetry posts (most of which you can find at the green “Poetry” tab at the very top of the blog on the right):

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in Spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets.

New for 2010:

The CD “Poetic License”, featuring 100 poems read by 100 performers, comes out April 2, in time for National Poetry Month.  It’s the first project from the new label GPR Records (Glen Roven, Peter Fitzgerald, and Richard Cohen), which will record and distribute Broadway, classical, spoken word, and children’s music.  Poems and performers on the new CD include Louis Zorich with Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”, Michael York with Kipling’s “Tommy”, and Barbara Feldon with Margaret Atwood’s “I Would Like to Watch You Sleep”.

My old blog friend Gregory K. at GottaBook celebrates the month with his second annual 30 Poets/30 Days celebration.  You can find last year’s celebration here.

This year’s Cybils children’s poetry book winner is Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarensky; winner too of a 2010 Caldecott Honor award.  The list of all the poetry nominees is here, and Ms. Sidman has a free online reader’s guide to the book for students in grades 1-4 here.

Poet J. Patrick Lewis asked last month, “Can Children’s Poetry Matter?” in the journal Hunger Mountain. It’s aimed toward parents with children in school, but there’s still much that parents who home school can learn:

American children grow up in a country that poetry forgot—or that forgot poetry. The reasons are not far to seek. I have visited four hundred American elementary schools here and abroad as a latter day Pied Piper for verse, and I can confirm that too many teachers still swear allegiance to an old chestnut: the two worst words in the language when stuck side by side are “poetry” and “unit.” …

Children rarely gravitate to poetry on their own. It’s an acquired taste. They must be introduced to it early and often by their teachers and parents, the critical influences in their lives. And not in the way Billy Collins has memorably described — and vilified — by tying poems to chairs and beating them senseless until they finally give up their meaning. We do not look to poetry to find answers or absolutes. Nor do we investigate verse with calipers and a light meter, though at least one benighted school of thought has tried. …

But any genre buried in unread books is useless. Make poetry a habit with students. If children are reading poetry they find insipid or pointless, they naturally reject it for the playground. Let them choose their own verse favorites. Encourage volunteers to read them. Open a Poetry Café, no textbooks allowed. Ask students to ask their parents for their favorite poems. Then invite the parents to the classroom/café to read them.

Go to the source:  Seek out the poetry lovers among teachers and discover the strategies that have worked best for them.

Read the rest of Pat’s essay here, and then go back to the list of the Cybils children poetry book nominees, write them down or print them off and head to your favorite bookseller or library.

Crayola’s activity pages for National Poetry Month 2010 include coloring pages of Langston Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe and a Poem in My Pocket craft.

Poetry Friday is celebrated in the blogosphere all year, every year, and you can read more here and here.  For all of the Farm School Poetry Friday posts, just type “Poetry Friday” in the search box above.

Some of our family’s favorite poetry resources:

Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work, from Tennyson to Plath (book and three CDs), edited by Elise Paschen (2007 saw a new expanded edition)
Poetry Speaks to Children (book and CD), edited by Elise Paschen

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry (book and CD), edited by Michael Driscoll and illustrated by Meredith Hamilton

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, edited by Caroline Kennedy and illustrated by Jon J. Muth
The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, edited by Caroline Kennedy

Poetry Out Loud, edited by Robert Alden Rubin

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Eric Beddows

Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris

The Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work (audio CD); ignore the publisher’s sloppy labeling job and just sit back and listen

Seven Ages: An Anthology of Poetry with Music (audio CD) by Naxos AudioBooks

Voice of the Poet: Robert Frost (audio cd), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series
Voice of the Poet: Langston Hughes (audio CD), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series. Search for “Voice of the Poet” at Powell’s, Amazon, B&N for the rest of the series.

Poetry for Young People series; includes volumes of poetry by Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Coleridge, Longfellow, and more.  Very nicely done and perfect for strewing about the house.

Emily by Michael Bedard and illustrated by the marvelous Barbara Cooney
The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires
“The Belle of Amherst” on DVD; Julie Harris in the one-woman stage production about the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson

“The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (1934) on video, starring Norma Shearer as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Frederic March as Robert Browning
The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, illustrated by Kate Greenaway

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi and illustrated by the fabulous Edward Gorey
How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi

Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People, edited by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children by Kenneth Koch
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry by Kenneth Koch
Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch

Beyond Words: Writing Poems with Children by Elizabeth McKim and Judith Steinbergh

A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra and Diane Boardman

Magnetic Poetry (something for everyone)

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

New from my old blog friend Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children: poetry podcasts

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

*  *  *

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures and Happy National Poetry month!

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli

Poetry sings

More poetry aloud, with PennSound

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light (National Poetry Month 2008)

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (NPM 2006)

“Feed the lambs”: On the difference between poems for children and children’s poetry, Part 1 and Part 2

Thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

An appreciation of John Updike and light verse

Langston Hughes, the “social poet”

Eugene Field, “the children’s poet”, and his plea for the classics, for ambitious boys and girls

Robert Browning, with another plea and an explanation of how children learn best

You can also use the “category” clicker on the sidebar at left to find all of the Farm School Poetry and Poetry Friday posts

Schnitzels and shells: Cooking behind the lines

This being what the Canadian government now calls Veterans’ Week, it seems a good time to note that the new documentary film “Cooking History” by Peter Kerekes just had its New York City premiere at the American Museum of Natural History.  From the website,

What keeps the armies of the world going? Tanks, submarines, airplanes, bullets, bombs? Actually, bread. Bread and blinis and sausage and coq au vin, even “monkey meat” rations. As one cook puts it, without food, the army would be in a shambles. Taking a tour of 20th century battlefields, Peter Kerekes revisits its mess halls and field kitchens, asking the cooks to recreate the meals they served at the front. One Russian woman prepares blinis she once made for the soldiers fighting off the Germans outside Leningrad. Another hunts mushrooms in a Czechoslovakian forest. Hungarians slaughter a pig for kolbasz. A German sings a fight song while baking black bread for the soldiers who just took Poland. A French conscientious objector chases a cockerel for his dinner. Reliving the battles while they prepare the food, the cooks are proud of their roles in serving their countries yet remain haunted by the suffering.

You can watch the trailer at the AMNH website, too.

And from Variety‘s review,

Proving the maxim “An army marches on its belly,” playful docu “Cooking History” inventively uses the field kitchen as a prism through which to view 20th-century European history. Slovak multihyphenate Peter Kerekes (“66 Seasons”) provides fascinating sociological insights via powerfully staged interviews with a baker’s dozen of military cooks, plus Marshal Tito’s personal taster. Already released in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic and winner of the international feature prize at Hot Docs, this tasty morsel (including 10 recipes) should be gobbled up by niche arthouse distribs and broadcasters around the world.Structured as separate episodes that consider conflicts such as WWII; the Russian invasions of Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Chechnya; the Franco-Algerian war; and the Balkan bloodbaths, Kerekes lets his articulate (and mostly aged) subjects hold forth in monologues, prompted every now and then by his off-camera questions. Through their subjective recollections, food preparation becomes a metaphor for battle strategy.

Engrossing as the cooks’ personal histories are, the extraordinary nature of the docu lies in the theatrical way in which the monologues are staged. Never mere talking-head shots, they take place against clever and elaborate backgrounds; in some instances, the subjects play to the artifice of the helmer’s setup, deliciously adding to the stories they tell.

For instance, Peter Silbernagel, the only crew member to survive the sinking of the submarine Hai in 1963, talks about his experience while preparing schnitzel on a sandy beach in Sylt, Germany, as the tide slowly rolls in and floats his table away.

I’ll end with an excerpt from Blue Trout and Black Truffles: Peregrinations of an Epicure (1953) by the reporter Joseph Wechsberg, who wrote for The New Yorker (more here), Gourmet, and Esquire:

For a great many people 1929 was the end of Prosperity.  For me it was the end of Gastronomy. I was drafted for eighteen months’ service into the Czechoslovak Army.  

Military experts have called the old Czechoslovak Army a good army, but I’ve often wondered how far the army would have got if, following Napoleon’s celebrated dictum, it had had to march on its stomach.

At five in the morning — the hour when I’d gone to bed in my happier days of freedom — we had to queue up for something called, for lack of a more suitable word, “café.”  This “café” came in large squares, which had the size of tombstones, the color of dehydrated mud, and the smell of asphalt.  The squares were dumped into large containers of boiling water, where they dissolved instantaneously into a witches’ brew.  It was always lukewarm when the cooks poured it inot our tin cans, though it might have been piping hot only a moment ago.  “Café” and a piece of dry bread were the soldier’s breakfast.  Fifteen years later, when I was drafted into another army — the Army of the United States — there used to be much griping at breakfast-time because the eggs were not sunny-side up or the milk wasn’t cold enough.

There were no such gripes in the Czechoslovak Army.  There were no eggs.  There was no milk.  We hated the witches’ brew until the winter maneuvers started.  After lying outdoors all night long in snow and ice, we were overjoyed at the sight of the field kitchen arriving through the misty dawn.  Something miraculous had happened to the “café“: it was piping hot, had the color of fine Italian espresso, and tasted like an exquisite blend of Puerto Rican and Guatemalan coffees.

Trip report, part 5: NYC, Lego and lights

At FAO Schwartz, the boys were delighted to find another giant Lego sculpture, but had to wait for lots of adults to get out of the way before having their own picture taken,

100_3232

On Thursday evening, we went to see the Metropolitan Opera’s lively production of “The Barber of Seville” at Lincoln Center, Tom’s and the kids’ first live opera. The production was very, very good and the kids, and Tom, enjoyed themselves. Joyce DiDonato was especially good.  There weren’t many kids in attendance, and other audience members seemed truly delighted to find children — especially those who weren’t the seat-kicking and when-is-this-over kind — there.

Tom and Laura loved the Sputnik chandeliers in the opera house,

100_3247

Washington, DC sights and resources: Part 1

Before we dash off this afternoon to pick cherries (hurray!), here are some things I’ve recently discovered and what we’ve been reading and watching to prepare for our trip next month:

The National Portrait Gallery: when I was living in Washington in 1985-90, this was nowhere near as crowded as the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, and I’m hoping this is still true now.  The NPG has a “Face to Face” podcast series, which I plan to load on Laura’s iPod; current exhibitions include Thomas Paine; Presidents in Waiting; America’s Presidents; American Origins, 1600-1900; and Twentieth-Century Americans.  Opening at the end of this month is Faces of the Frontier: Photographic Portraits from the American West, 1845-1924.   Also useful before you visit are the NPG’s brief “orientation videos”, one for teachers and one for students.

Capital by Lynn Curlee; I bought a hardcover edition from BookCloseouts several years ago and was delighted to find it on the shelves the other day.

Thomas Berry, 1914-2009: Losing, and finding, the universe

Thomas Berry, the writer and environmentalist who considered himself a “geologian” —  “a historian of the Earth and its evolutionary processes” — died earlier this week at the age of 94.

There are biographies of Dr. Berry at his foundation’s website, here and here.  There are obituaries in The New York Times and in the National Catholic Reporter, which noted,

Fr. Thomas Berry, described in Newsweek magazine in 1989 as “the most provocative figure among the new breed of eco-theologians,” was among the first to say the earth crisis is fundamentally a spiritual crisis. His diagnosis of the negative effects of our religious views on our treatment of the planet rang true for many who were willing and able to work for a cure. Many created their own earth ministries, inspired by the work and life of Fr. Thomas Berry.

An excerpt from Dr. Berry’s book The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (emphases mine):

I was a young person then, some twelve years old. My family was moving from a more settled part of a Southern town out to the edge of town where the new house was still being built. The house, not yet finished, was situated on a slight incline. Down below was a small creek and there across the creek was a meadow. It was an early afternoon in May when I first looked down over the scene and saw the meadow. The field was covered with lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something, I know not what, that seems to explain my life at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember.

It was not only the lilies. It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in an otherwise clear sky. It was not something conscious that happened just then. I went on about my life as any young person might do. Perhaps it was not simply this moment that made such a deep impression upon me. Perhaps it was a sensitivity that was developed throughout my childhood. Yet, as the years pass, this moment returns to me, and whenever I think about my basic life attitude and the whole trend of my mind and the causes that I have given my efforts to, I seem to come back to this moment and the impact it has had on my feeling for what is real and worthwhile in life. …

It seems to me we all had such experiences before we entered into an industrial way of life. The universe as manifestation of some primordial grandeur was recognized as the ultimate referent in any human understanding of the wonderful yet fearsome world about us. Every being achieved its full identity by its alignment with the universe itself. With indigenous peoples of the North American continent every formal activity was first situated in relation to the six directions of the universe: the four cardinal directions combined with the heavens above and Earth below. Only thus could any human activity be fully validated.

The universe was the world of meaning in these earlier times, the basic referent in social order, in economic survival, in the healing of illness. In that wide ambiance the muses dwelled whence came the inspiration of poetry and art and music. The drum, heartbeat of the universe itself, established the rhythm of dance whereby humans entered into the very movement of the natural world. The numinous dimension of the universe impressed itself upon the mind through the vastness of the heavens and the power revealed in thunder and lightning, as well as through springtime renewal of life after the desolation of winter. Then, too, the general helplessness of the human before all the threats to survival revealed the intimate dependence of the human on the integral functioning of things. That the human had such intimate rapport with the surrounding universe was possible only because the universe itself had a prior intimate rapport with the human.

This experience we observe even now in the indigenous peoples of the world. They live in a universe, in a cosmological order, whereas we, the peoples of the industrial world, no longer live in a universe. We live in a political world, a nation, a business world, an economic order, a cultural tradition, in Disneyworld. We live in cities, in a world of concrete and steel, of wheels and wires, a world of business, of work. We no longer see the stars at night or the planets or the moon. Even in the day we do not experience the sun in any immediate or meaningful manner. Summer and winter are the same inside the mall. Ours is a world of highways, parking lots, shopping centers. We read books written with a strangely contrived alphabet. We no longer read the book of the universe.

Nor do we coordinate our world of human meaning with the meaning of our surroundings. We have disengaged from that profound interaction with our environment inherent in our very nature. Our children do not learn how to read the Great Book of Nature or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens.

We have indeed become strange beings so completely are we at odds with the planet that brought us into being. We dedicate enormous talent and knowledge and research to developing a human order disengaged from and even predatory on the very sources whence we came and upon which we depend at every moment of our existence. We initiate our children into an economic order based on exploitation of the natural life systems of the planet. To achieve this perspective we must first make them autistic in their relation with the natural world about them. This disconnection occurs quite simply since we ourselves have become insensitive toward the natural world and do not realize just what we are doing. Yet, if we observe our children closely in their early years and see how they are instinctively attracted to the experiences of the natural world about them, we will see how disorientated they become in the mechanistic and even toxic environment that we provide for them.

To recover an integral relation with the universe, planet Earth, and North America needs to be a primary concern for the peoples of this continent. While a new alignment of our government and all our institutions and professions with the continent itself in its deep structure and functioning cannot be achieved immediately, a beginning can be made throughout our educational programs. Especially in the earlier grades of elementary school new developments are possible. Such was the thought of Maria Montessori in the third decade of this century.

In speaking about the education of the six-year-old child, Maria notes in her book To Educate the Human Potential that only when the child is able to identify its own center with the center of the universe does education really begin. For the universe, she says, “is an imposing reality.” It is “an answer to all questions.” “We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” This it is that enables “the mind of the child to become centered, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge.” Then the writer mentions how this experience of the universe creates in the child admiration and wonder and enables the child to unify its thinking. In this manner the child learns how all things are related and how the relationship of things to each other is so close that “No matter what we touch, an atom or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe.”

The difficulty is that with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than a communion of subjects. We frequently identify the loss of the interior spirit-world of the human mind and emotions with the rise of modern mechanistic sciences. The more significant thing, however, is that we have lost the universe itself. We achieved extensive control over the mechanistic and even the biological functioning of the natural world, but this control itself has produced deadly consequences. We have not only controlled the planet in much of its basic functioning; we have, to an extensive degree, extinguished the life systems themselves. We have silenced so many of those wonderful voices of the universe that once spoke to us of the grand mysteries of existence.

We no longer hear the voices of the rivers or the mountains, or the voices of the sea. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence. Everything about us has become an “it” rather than a “thou.” We continue to make music, write poetry, and do our painting and sculpture and architecture, but these activities easily become an aesthetic expression simply of the human and in time lose the intimacy and radiance and awesome qualities of the universe itself. We have, in the accepted universe of these times, little capacity for participating in mysteries celebrated in the earlier literary and artistic and religious modes of expression. For we could no longer live in the universe in which these were written. We could only look on, as it were.

Read the rest here.

A partial Berry bibliography:

The Great Work: Our Way into the Future

The Dream of the Earth

Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community

The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos, with physicist and mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme

The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Berry, edited and with a foreword by Mary Evelyn Tucker (Columbia University Press, August 2009)

Some Berry links:

An 2006 interview with Father Berry: “I did walk in the woods a great deal when I was a child. Already, the woods and nature were the most important things in my life. By the time I was ten or eleven years old, I had a feeling that something was wrong. I didn’t, of course, have the least idea of what this was all about, but I grew up with the feeling that I couldn’t trust the developing industrial world in which I was living.”

A 2002 interview originally published in The Sun Magazine: “Much of the Bible is concerned with how humans should relate to God, and to one another. What’s gotten lost is our intimate relationship with the natural world. Our theology is highly developed, and our anthropology — our study of each other — is highly developed, but our so-called life sciences are still trying to figure out how nature works in order to control it.”

“I’ve got a song to sing, all over this land”

Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger.

If you’re in New York City today, you can swing by Madison Square Garden and help celebrate his 90th birthday.

Pete Seeger has been presence in my life since childhood with his records, and I still recall one marvelous autumn day when we got to meet him and listen to him sing at South Street Seaport (I think I remember a pier covered with pumpkins, and while I don’t remember the sloop Clearwater think it must have been there as well), well before it was fixed up and turned into a “destination”. We were also fortunate to live down the street from Pete Seeger’s old friend, Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, who died in 1987), who would sit on the sidewalk with his guitar and give impromptu sidewalk concerts. Together the friends collaborated on a 1974 children’s album, “Pete Seeger & Brother Kirk Visit Sesame Street”.

As fascinating as Pete Seeger’s life story and career is his family.  He is the son the musicologist and composer of Charles Seeger and violinist Constance Edson; his stepmother was the noted composer Ruth Crawford Seeger;  his uncle Alan Seeger was the celebrated poet killed in World War I; his eldest brother Charles was a pioneering radio astronomer; his brother John, a longtime teacher at New York’s Dalton School also founded Camp Killoleet in the Adirondacks; his half-sister is the singer Peggy Seeger; his half-brother is singer Mike Seeger.

No childhood should be complete without Pete Seeger — for the music he has sung and written, his family’s place in the history of American music, for his sense of history, and his environmental and political activism.  You can listen to his music and listen to songs about America as it was, and America — and the world —  as it should be. Here’s a list, not nearly complete or comprehensive, of some of our favorite Pete Seeger records, books, and more.

Music especially for children:

“Abiyoyo and Other Story Songs for Children”

“American Folk, Game and Activity Songs”

“Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes (Little and Big)”

“Folk Songs for Young People”

“Song and Play Time”

Pete Seeger’s “Children’s Concert at Town Hall”

Music for the entire family:

“American Favorite Ballads”, on five CDs

“Frontier Ballads”

“Headlines and Footnotes: A Collection of Topical Songs”

“If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle”

“Love Songs for Friends and Foes”

“Pete Seeger Sings Leadbelly”

“Sing Out!: Hootenanny with Pete Seeger and the Hooteneers”

“Traditional Christmas Carols”

Pete Seeger/The Weavers 3 CD box set

“Pete Seeger at 89”

A Pete Seeger discography at Smithsonian Folkways.  By the way, SF has a new publication, “Folkways Magazine”, just debuted with the Spring 2009 issue, and the main article is “Pete Seeger: Standing Tall”

A Pete Seeger discography and biography at Appleseed Records

Books (many of which are children’s picture books based on his songs):

Abiyoyo with accompanying CD; and Abiyoyo Returns

Turn! Turn! Turn! with accompanying CD

One Grain of Sand: A Lullaby

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: A Musical Autobiography

Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book

His memoirs, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singer’s Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies

The biography How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway, the companion volume to the radio series produced by Dunaway (see below)

Audio and Video:

PBS’s American Masters episode: “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”; now available on DVD

How Can I Keep from Singing?, the three-part radio series produced by David King Dunaway

“To Hear Your Banjo Play” (1947)

“How to Play the 5-String Banjo” DVD, Davy’s favorite; there’s also an accompanying book (not on film, but also instructive and instructional is Pete Seeger’s “The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide”)

At NPR; and today’s NPR appreciation, “Pete Seeger At 90” by Lynn Neary and Tom Cole.  At the latter link, you’ll find a little orange box on the left with The Pete Seeger Mix, a “five-hour mix of Pete Seeger classics and covers” put together by NPR Music partner Folk Alley

Pete Seeger at the pre-inaugural concert for Barack Obama

Websites:

Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, where Pete Seeger worked as an assistant in 1940

Clearwater, the organization Pete Seeger established in 1969 to preserve and protect the Hudson River

Bits and bobs:

Studs Terkel’s 2005 appreciation, in The Nation, of Pete Seeger’s 86th birthday

The New Yorker‘s 2006 profile, “The Protest Singer”, by Alec Wilkinson, recently released in hardcover

Pete Seeger’s biography at the Kennedy Center, where he was a Kennedy Center honor recipient in 1994

A history of Canada in folksong

Shortly after the Music Festival wrapped up earlier this month, Laura started talking about song choices for next month.  While I was tempted to ask her to change the subject after weeks and months the practicing, rehearsing, and performing, I was happy to see her excited about the festival and interested in finding some new and different songs.

For a while now I’ve been looking for a good source of Canadian folk music, because the songs are part of my children’s heritage and because they’re such a fascinating way to study history.  But it’s not a particularly popular subject for some strange reason.  Finally, poking through the library system’s database, I stumbled across “A Folksong Portrait of Canada”, an out-of-print three-CD set of songs compiled by Samuel Gesser, the impresario and record producer who had been the Canadian distributor for Folkways Records in the fifties and sixties, now part of Smithsonian-Folkways (which has a nifty Tools for Teaching page for educators).  The songs had all appeared on such LPs as “Canada’s Story in Song” by Alan Mills and Edith Fulton Fowke, “Songs and Ballads of Newfoundland” by Ken Peacock, “Folksongs of Ontario” by Edith Fowke, “Folksongs of the Canadian North Woods” by Samuel Gesser and Wade Hemsworth.  Many of these can still be found and purchased as CDs at, or downloaded from, Smithsonian-Folkways, but for us the three-CD set through the library is an easier, more affordable option, especially after factoring in the exchange rate and shipping.

The CDs are arranged geographically, with songs of the Atlantic Provinces and of Quebec on the first disc, songs of Ontario and of the Prairie Provinces on the second disc, and songs of British Columbia & Yukon of Native Peoples on the third disc.  The three discs include 94 songs by 70 singers, including Alan Mills, Wade Hemsworth, Kenneth Peacock, and Hélène Baillargeon (the star of the celebrated early Canadian children’s television show, “Chez Hélène”).

The set (Smithsonian-Folkways, 1994) is delightful, perfect for anyone with an interest in folk music, Canadian history, and Canadian singers. Check your library when you have the chance.  And a belated thanks to Mr. Gesser, who died about a year ago at the age of 78, for his efforts to preserve, protect, and promote Canadian music and Canadian history.

And a worthwhile link, Teachwithmusic.ca. Here’s the Canadian history section.

Just a theory

To help Cambridge University celebrate its 800th anniversary, illustrator and Cambridge alumnus Quentin Blake has made a series of special drawings of two other celebrated alumni, Charles Darwin (celebrating his own birthday this year) and Isaac Newton. Mr. Blake‘s drawings will be projected onto Cambridge’s Senate House and Old Schools today, Saturday, 17 January (7:15pm to 10pm — sorry, I’m too late for this one); Sunday, 18 January (5pm to 10pm); and Monday, 19 January (5:15pm to 10pm).

The BBC has a video of the light show and animated sketches here.

For the other Darwin illustration (old Charles and his tortoise) go here.

*  *  *

Some of our favorite books illustrated by Quentin Blake (and you can be sure that children who read Blake books when young will grow up with a decent sense of humor):

The Twits and The BFG by Roald Dahl (Mr. Blake has illustrated the entire works of RD)

Drawing: For the Artistically Undiscovered by Quentin Blake and  John Cassidy (a Klutz book)

Tell Me a Picture by Quentin Blake, the book version of his National Gallery art appreciation/education exhibit for children

The Uncle books by J.P. Martin, recently reprinted as part of the New York Review Children’s Collection

Mr. Blake is also one of the illustrators featured in the recent Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art, compiled by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  And his newest (I think) book is Quentin Blake’s Ten Frogs/Dix Grenouilles: A Book About Counting in English and French

The value of art, even in troubled times

Carol Vogel at The New York Times writes about lean days ahead for museums, but ends on a hopeful note:

And some directors argue that museums are not simply a great escape, but good value compared with a movie that can cost about $12 and end in two hours. At a museum, many said, visitors can spend an entire day and often take in a movie, too.

Then there’s the more cosmic view. “Art doesn’t lose its emotional or artistic value,” [Michael] Govan [director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art] said. “That doesn’t change no matter what the economy.”

So go to a museum, and shop at Target too, if there’s one near you.  While some corporate sponsors of museums, such as Lehman Bothers, have disappeared, The Times reports that “discount retailer Target, for instance, continues to finance 1,500 free days a year at more than 70 museums across the country even though it reported that its sales are down 3 percent from this time last year.”  At MoMA in New York, for example, admission is free for all visitors during Target Free Friday Nights, every Friday evening, 4-8 p.m.  More Target-sponsored museum programs and schedules here.

A niche issue for some

If I were more of a cynic, I’d think that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s latest election promise today, a tax credit for children’s artistic activities, is aimed more at competing with the NDP’s latest election promise than at rectifying his recent anti-arts and culture words and deeds:

Speaking in Ottawa, Harper said the Conservatives would extend the new credit worth an estimated $150 million a year to lower-income families, along with the existing children’s fitness tax credit.

The credit will apply on up to $500 of eligible fees for children under 16 who participate in eligible arts activities, he said. ..

The move comes as the Conservatives have faced intense criticism, especially in Quebec, over a decision to cut up to $45 million in federal funding for numerous arts programs ahead of the Oct. 14 federal election. ..

“Today’s announcement shows once again, as I’ve been saying, that this government, in fact, does support culture and arts,” Harper told reporters.

“We spend a lot more on culture and arts, but we do so in a way that we ensure is an effective use of taxpayers’ money and ultimately, in this case, benefits families and all of society as well.

I suppose the lesson is to make the most of those music, drama, and drawing lessons, kids, because once you hit the age of 16, the Canadian government is no longer interested in your artistic pursuits. Better yet, keep up with those no-tax-credit French lessons and you can move to France.

Paddle your own canoe

We were doing farm chores and driving around in truck the other week with the radio set to CBC, as usual, when I caught a bit of music and Shelagh Roger‘s comment that it was based on the Caldecott Honor book by Holling Clancy Holling — long appreciated by homeschoolers as an author of marvelous living geography books — Paddle-to-the-Sea, originally published in 1941, about a young Indian boy from Nipigon, on the shores of Lake Superior, who carves the small figure of a man, named Paddle-to-the-Sea, in a canoe, which begins its journey on a snow bank near a river leading to the Great Lakes and ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean, in a journey fraught with danger. Think of it as a North American version of Hans Christian Andersen’s Steadfast Tin Soldier (to which the modern Ratatouille also owes a debt), but less morose and more delightful. Since the CBC website didn’t have the information up right away, I Googled around for a bit and, though I didn’t come across the answer I was looking for (until the next day), I did discover a few interesting things.

First, there’s a National Film Board movie version of the book, directed by the legendary naturalist, canoeist, film maker and author Bill Mason (1929-1988). The movie, made in 1966 and running just under 30 minutes, is available to watch free online at the NFB website. From the website: “For all children and those adults for whom the romance of journeying is still strong. This great NFB children’s classic is adapted from a story by Holling C. Holling. During the long winter night, an Indian boy sets out to carve a man and a canoe. He calls the man “Paddle to the Sea.” The boy sets the carving down on a frozen stream to await the coming of spring. The film charts the adventures that befall the canoe on its long odyssey from Lake Superior to the sea. This delightful story is photographed with great patience and an eye for the beauty of living things, offering vivid impressions of Canada’s varied landscape and waterways.”

Second, celebrated Canadian classical guitarist (and one-time squeeze of late PM Pierre Trudeau, which becomes more interesting shortly) Liona Boyd in 1990 put out a CD of original music along with her reading of the book. The CD is out of print, but I’ve been able to find a copy on audio CD through interlibrary loan. Still in print, though, is a a Boydless unabridged audio CD of the book available from Audio Bookshelf, read by Terry Bregy.

So we’ve begun rereading the book (which Davy barely remembers), listening to the CD, poring over maps, talking about trees, and when we’re all done we’ll watch the movie.

* * *

Holling Clancy Holling, the American author and illustrator, was born in Jackson County, Michigan in 1900. After graduating from the school of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1923, he went to work in the taxidermy department of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and also worked under assistant curator and noted anthropologist Ralph Linton. In 1925 he married Lucille Webster, and they worked together in the writing and illustrating of numerous books. Before turning to writing full-time, Mr. Holling also worked as a teacher at NYU, a freelance designer, an advertising artist, and illustrator for other people’s books.

Mr. Holling’s last books, from Paddle-to-the-Sea onwards, are a masterful blend of history, nature, art, and storytelling (which, yes, sadly, may be too slow-moving for many of today’s high-speed children), and the marginalia is fascinating. Holling Clancy Holling died in 1973.

Holling C. Holling books still in print:

Paddle-to-the-Sea (1941)

Tree in the Trail (1942); “The story of a cottonwood tree that watched the pageant of history on the Santa Fe Trail where it stood, a landmark to travelers and a peace-medicine tree to Indians, for over 200 years.”

Seabird (1948); a carved ivory gull becomes a mascot for four generations of seafarers aboard first a whaler, then a clipper ship, a steamer, and finally, an airplane.

Minn of the Mississippi (1951); a turtle hatched at the source of the Mississippi is carried through the heart of America to the Gulf of Mexico.

Pagoo (1957), illustrations credited to both Holling C. Holling and Lucille Webster Holling; the study of life in a tide pool through the story the hermit crab, Pagoo.

* * *
For more wonderful movies by Bill Mason, including several with more paddling:

Song of the Paddle (1978); “Outdoorsman Bill Mason, his wife, and two children set out on a wilderness canoe camping holiday. In this film, the art of canoeing is more than technical expertise; it becomes a family experience of shared joy. Along the way there are countless adventures and much lovely scenery, including the Indian rock carvings of Lake Superior.”

The Path of the Paddle series, volumes one, two, three, and four

and two classics about wolves, Cry of the Wild and Death of a Legend

A few extra Canadian canoe resources:

The Canadian Canoe Museum, in Peterborough, Ontario, whose website used to, but sadly apparently no longer, include a page of profiles of patriotic paddlers, including Bill Mason and Pierre Trudeau, who paddled as well as he pirouetted, and who wrote an essay in 1944, when he was 25, “Exhaustion and Fulfillment: The Ascetic in a Canoe”: “What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.”

Trudeau’s fringed buckskin jacket and canoe have been on exhibit at the Canadian Canoe Museum since 2002; the canoe was on temporary loan to the ROM in Toronto, through January 2008 as part of the Canada Collects exhibit.

UPDATED to add the Old Curmudgeon’s suggestion, Canoeing with the Cree, the late reporter Eric Sevareid‘s account of the expedition he, then 17, and 19-year-old friend Walter Port embarked upon several days after graduating from high school. The boys paddled 2,250 miles in an 18-foot canvas canoe, from the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling to Hudson Bay.

And a marvelous, though not Canadian, book, John McPhee’s The Survival of the Bark Canoe

And finally, from the Canadian Poetry Audio Archives,

Said the Canoe
by Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850-1887)

My masters twain made me a bed
Of pine-boughs resinous, and cedar;
Of moss, a soft and gentle breeder
Of dreams of rest; and me they spread
With furry skins and, laughing, said:
“Now she shall lay her polished sides
As queens do rest, or dainty brides,
Our slender lady of the tides!”

My masters twain their camp-soul lit;
Streamed incense from the hissing cones;
Large crimson flashes grew and whirled;
Thin golden nerves of sly light curled
Round the dun camp; and rose faint zones,
Half way about each grim bole knit,
Like a shy child that would bedeck
With its soft clasp a Brave’s red neck,
Yet sees the rough shield on his breast,
The awful plumes shake on his crest,
And, fearful, drops his timid face,
Nor dares complete the sweet embrace.

Into the hollow hearts of brakes–
Yet warm from sides of does and stags
Passed to the crisp, dark river-flags–
Sinuous, red as copper-snakes,
Sharp-headed serpents, made of light,
Glided and hid themselves in night.

My masters twain the slaughtered deer
Hung on forked boughs with thongs of leather:
Bound were his stiff, slim feet together,
His eyes like dead stars cold and drear.
The wandering firelight drew near
And laid its wide palm, red and anxious,
On the sharp splendour of his branches,
On the white foam grown hard and sere
On flank and shoulder.
Death–hard as breast of granite boulder–
Under his lashes
Peered thro’ his eyes at his life’s grey ashes.

My masters twain sang songs that wove–
As they burnished hunting-blade and rifle–
A golden thread with a cobweb trifle,
Loud of the chase and low of love:

“O Love! art thou a silver fish,
Shy of the line and shy of gaffing,
Which we do follow, fierce, yet laughing,
Casting at thee the light-winged wish?
And at the last shall we bring thee up
From the crystal darkness, under the cup
Of lily folden
On broad leaves golden?

“O Love! art thou a silver deer
With feet as swift as wing of swallow,
While we with rushing arrows follow?
And at the last shall we draw near
And o’er thy velvet neck cast thongs
Woven of roses, stars and songs–
New chains all moulden
Of rare gems olden?”

They hung the slaughtered fish like swords
On saplings slender; like scimitars,
Bright, and ruddied from new-dead wars,
Blazed in the light the scaly hordes.

They piled up boughs beneath the trees,
Of cedar web and green fir tassel.
Low did the pointed pine tops rustle,
The camp-fire blushed to the tender breeze.

The hounds laid dewlaps on the ground
With needles of pine, sweet, soft and rusty,
Dreamed of the dead stag stout and lusty;
A bat by the red flames wove its round.

The darkness built its wigwam walls
Close round the camp, and at its curtain
Pressed shapes, thin, woven and uncertain
As white locks of tall waterfalls.