Friday May 22, 2015

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May opens wide

The rain that came down last night
in sheets of shaken foil while thunder
trundled over the Bay and crooked
spears of lightning splintered trees

is rising now up stalks, lengthening
leaves that wave their new bright
banners tender as petals, seventeen
shades of green pushing into sun.

The soil feels sweet in my hands
as I push little marigolds in.
Bumblebees stir in the sour cherry
blossoms floating like pieces of moon

down to the red tulips beneath
the smooth barked tree where a red
squirrel chatters at my rescued tabby
who eyes him like a plate of lunch.

“May opens wide” by Marge Piercy from Made in Detroit. © Knopf, 2015.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer Arthur Conan Doyle (books by this author), born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1859). He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and there he met Joseph Bell, his favorite professor. Bell taught his students how to make a successful diagnosis through observation and deduction.

After graduating, Doyle opened his own practice and wrote fiction in his spare time. In 1887, he published A Study in Scarlet, a mystery featuring a character based on his old professor: the detective Sherlock Holmes. He ended up writing 56 short stories and four novels with the famous detective, including The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902).

Doyle said, "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

And Sherlock Holmes said to his sidekick, Dr. Watson, "You have a grand gift for silence, Watson. It makes you quite invaluable as a companion."

It's the birthday of writer Peter Matthiessen (books by this author), born in New York City (1927). He grew up in a wealthy family in Connecticut, where he went to boarding school before joining the Navy during WWII. He went on to Yale and later studied at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Matthiessen published his first short stories in The Atlantic Monthly, but he was barely scraping by teaching creative writing courses, when one of his Yale professors, Norman Holmes Pearson, asked if he would work for the newly formed CIA. Matthiessen didn't have much interest in politics, but he asked if he could be sent to Paris, and Pearson agreed. "So," he said, "out of sheer greed and opportunism, off I went."

The CIA thought that Matthiessen needed a better cover than struggling novelist, so they helped support his founding of The Paris Review. Most of his work for the CIA involved infiltrating the lives of French communists, but as the McCarthy trials gained attention in America, Matthiessen resigned, and he later called his work as a spy "the only adventure I've ever regretted."

He then spent three years working unsuccessfully as a commercial fisherman on Long Island. He said, "I had picked up a very wide, if not very deep, knowledge of the natural world, when I then failed as a fisherman I realized that I could write about nature." In 1956, 29-year-old Matthiessen took off across the country in his Ford with a sleeping bag, some books, and a shotgun. He wanted to visit every wildlife refuge in the country. The result was Wildlife in America (1959). It caught the eye of William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker. Shawn funded Matthiessen's trip to the Amazon, where he wrote The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness (1961), which was serialized in The New Yorker.

Matthiessen continued to write novels, such as At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965), as well as books about nature, such as The Snow Leopard (1978).

He said, "I've never been bored one day in my life. I could fill 500 years with no problem."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

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