Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

I Love You Madly Madam Librarian

September 28, 2013

 

When I was in the fifth grade, I think it was fifth grade, I cheated.  The class was library and we were supposed to commit the Dewey Decimal System to memory.  I loved (still do) the Dewey Decimal System but since there was a big poster with the details on the wall, I saw no reason to waste time memorizing and I wrote it in pencil on my sleeve.

  Kindly librarian liked me even though I hadn’t been that great of a student and so when I aced this test she made much of it.  I felt a twinge of guilt which grew to immense proportions came the weekend.  I went pheasant hunting with my father and several of his friends.  One came up and introduced himself as the librarian’s son and proceeded to tell the assembled group about my perfect score. 

  Dad beamed and later told me how proud he had been.  “Keep it up son and you’ll go far.”  Well, I never felt worse in my entire life.  Dad’s favorite aphorism was “honesty is the best policy” and I had just cheated and abetted an implicit lie, and to this day I remember averting my gaze as he looked into my eyes.  I’ve done wrong since, but I don’t remember cheating at school again.  And, funny thing, I began to work harder at my studies and got better grades.

  The episode rekindled a fondness for librarians that began in Chicago about five years prior when my folks took me to The Music Man at the Schubert Theatre.  Librarians.  Marian was beautiful, could sing, and had a tender heart.  Anyway, the research project currently occupying my time has brought me up to speed as to the nature of modern librarians and an even more profound admiration and respect.  Few examples: 

  First, I found myself in need of something from the Buckminster Fuller archive at Stanford.  (Fuller was the guy who invented the geodesic dome).  I looked through the online Finding Aid (basically a detailed outline of the papers and objects) and located the folder in which was the stuff of my interest.  I emailed a request and sort of forgot about it for a few days when an envelope arrived in the mail with copies and a bill for six bucks.  Six bucks!

  Later I found that in a library at Harvard were copies of letters between various members of a certain family written over a period of seven decades.  On the site I found mention of a student research assistant service.  For fifteen dollars an hour I could engage a student to look through files under my direction.  So, using that Finding Aid I narrowed the huge trove down to the correspondents and time period that were pertinent. 

  The person looked through those files and without going into great detail told me what he thought he’d found.  Sounded interesting and so he had them scanned and sent and interesting isn’t the word.  Fascinating is more like it.  New details, corroboration, and different points of view – all from the comforts of my office.  Right here in River City.  Got out my binoculars as I waited for the download. 

  Emboldened, I began a search at the National Library of Australia.  Similar but different.  The Finding Aid held tantalizing clues and Canberra is even much further than Palo Alto or Cambridge.  No research assistants there, but  there is a society of professional historians and several responded to my query.  One was such a perfect fit it was scary.  I must be piggybacking my roommate’s karma. 

  But everybody isn’t involved in research and one might think that Amazon could  have wrought the same sort of havoc in the public stacks as it has with bookstores.  Not so.  They always seem busy.  There are all sorts of reference materials, scads of periodicals, wi-fi, and of course books.  Recently I asked a librarian friend in New England about the books.  “Do people still come in to read yours?”  I asked.  She chuckled and replied “The large print editions are very popular.  We had 200 people on the waiting list for Fifty Shades of Grey when that first came out.”   And that’s in a town of 6,600 fine souls.  The building is only a few years old, but they’re already in the process of doubling the size of their parking lot.  Hmmm.  I wear glasses.  I’ve wondered.  And I’m headed east in the morning…

Wait, what?

May 10, 2013

river 1

  John McPhee has recently written two pieces for the New Yorker* that have made me feel much better about myself.  The first word in one is “Block” – as in writer’s.   The other begins (well a sentence or so in…): “I lay down on it (a picnic table) for nearly two weeks, staring up into branches and leaves, fighting fear and panic, because I had no idea where or how to begin a piece of writing…I had assembled enough material to fill a silo, and now I had no idea what to do with it…”

  The project I’ve undertaken is a big one and the research part is fun.  I greatly enjoy learning new stuff and meeting interesting people.  The problem comes when I try to convince myself to to make something out of it all.  As opposed to McPhee though, I don’t fight fear or panic, I just daydream,  something at which my roommate will tell you I am very very good.

  Above you see the view out the window of my office.  Nice, huh? On the far side of the river is a ‘tow’** making its way through the lock and dam.  It is interesting because the river’s high just now and I’ve noticed that there is an extra towboat out there to help ensure smooth passage of the narrow channel.  I looked into it and found that the Corps of Engineers mandates the presence of  auxiliary muscle when the river level is above a certain point.  And that each nudge costs the barge line hundreds of dollars.

  The bridge you see isn’t the original.  The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi was up river just a hundred or so yards  from there.  Its development and construction were problematic and contentious with Jefferson Davis,  Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce,  preferring a span further to the south and the steamboat lines, fearful of competition, claiming that a bridge would impede efficient river travel.   Litigation ensued but the project moved forward nonetheless with a survey by Robert E Lee.

   The last rails were laid on the morning of April 21, 1856 and a steam locomotive pulled the first cars across soon thereafter.  Fifteen days later disaster struck.  On the evening of May 6 the nearly new Effie Afton, was making her way up river and several hundred yards after she passed through the draw, something caused one engine to fail, she heeled to starboard, and crashed into the bridge.  The resulting conflagration destroyed both. 

  Hearing the news the next day, steamboats up and down river blew their whistles in solidarity.  Capt John Hurd filed suit against the Railroad Bridge Company claiming that eddies created by the bridge’s piers had been the cause of the loss of his ship and cargo.  The Rock Island Railroad Company held that the crash had been deliberate and hired Abraham Lincoln to defend their interests. 

  The case ended with a hung jury which was considered a victory for Lincoln, the Rock Island Lines, and Chicago over the steamboats and St Louis.  It was crucial to his career as a lawyer and an important precursor to his first presidential campaign three years later… Lincoln? The Rock Island Lines?  Steamboats and St Louis?  Wait, uh, what were we talking about?

*1/14/13 and 4/29/13

** “Tow” is the term used to describe a floating means of transporting freight comprised of a towboat and as many as forty 200’ barges, though not so many this far north.  Odd that they’re call ‘tow’boats because they don’t  tow, they push.

Benefits To A Wife For Being Nice To Her Husband

December 15, 2012

  Anne Boleyn

  This is three steps from being original, but I found it so touching that I could not but pass it on.  Not original because I didn’t do the research, haven’t read the book, and did not conduct the interview.  Heard Terry Gross discussing Man Booker Prize winning historical novel Bringing Up The Bodies with author Hilary Mantel.

  This is the second in a series of three books set during the time of Henry VIII in 16th century England.  The first concluded with the demise of Thomas More because he opposed Henry’s move to split with the Church of Rome in order to facilitate his trading Catherine of Aragon in for a newer model – Anne Boleyn.

  As you might know, a relationship with Henry doesn’t turn out all that well for Anne either.  But in the interview I learned that it wasn’t because Ms Boleyn wasn’t able to produce a male heir as I’ve long thought and most fiction holds.  Author Mantel says: “I think it is a great mistake to regard these women as victims.”

  The power that accrued to a Queen of England created a far larger sphere of influence than existed for other women of the era. And both Catherine and Anne were very intelligent, strong, political, and clever. “They are really strong; they are really involved.  They’re deeply drawn into the political process, and they’re actors in it…agents of their own fate.”

  Henry divorced his first wife for her inability to bear a son, he didn’t kill her.  Anne Boleyn didn’t have a son, but her fate was different because her activities led Henry to believe that she had become a diplomatic liability and perhaps involved in a plot on his life.  She had to be executed.

  The benefit to Anne for apparently not having made ice cold Henry’s heart?  Glad you remembered to ask.  He ordered for her the most expeditious manner by which to leave this world and enter the next – a horizontal swing of a broadsword through her erect neck as opposed to a chopping block and a grunting axe man.  The former was thought to be more humane. 

  “But she will kneel.  She must be informed of this.  There is no block, as you see.  She must kneel upright and not move.  If she is steady, it will be done in a moment; if not, she will be cut to pieces… Between one beat of the heart and the next, it is done.  She knows nothing.  She is in eternity.”   

  Ms Boleyn would have been blindfolded and the executioner (of renowned talent and brought all the way from Calais, by the way) approached  silently in slippered feet from an unexpected angle.  Nice guy that king Henry, really.  He could have had her burned or hanged, let alone dispatched with an axe.  I’ll admit though that one does wonder what of his qualities most attracted wives three through six.

*Interested in the last thoughts of anther wife’s head?  Go to post of May 20, 2011

**Photo above of Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn in “The Other Boleyn Girl” in which she goes to the block for failing to produce a male heir…

Voici Mon Secret

July 6, 2012

 

  Most will instantly recognize in the image above the style of Roy Lichtenstein.  It is indeed one of his paintings and is representative of what is probably the most widely familiar part of his career – apparent reproductions of comic book panels complete with thought balloons and Ben-Day dots.

  Icons of 60’s pop culture, they epitomized “cool”.  In an essay* Martin Filler tells us that Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol were “the foremost exemplars of Cool among their generation of American visual artists…that quality of being simultaneously with-it and disengaged, in control but nonchalant, knowing but ironically self-aware, and above all inscrutably undemonstrative.”  Like Steve McQueen and Miles Davis.

  I had only a vague awareness of Lichtenstein’s oeuvre beyond those executed during the course of that decade and thus found much of interest in a retrospective up now at Chicago’s Art Institute.  Though there are elements common through much of the work, there’s also was an evolution I’d not expected.  Filler tells us that Lichtenstein was “Acutely concerned about repeating himself…”

  Below you see a photo of one of his “Landscapes in the Chinese Style” which was his last series, having been painted in the late nineties.  Healthy and active, Lichtenstein expected to live to 100, but died in 1997 at seventy-three of an infection he contracted while in a hospital with pneumonia. 

  Though greatly taken by traditional Chinese painting and the sense of nature conveyed therein, he said that “I’m not seriously doing a kind of Zen-like salute to the beauty of nature…”, and though Filler and others suspect that the artist “intended to capitalize on the increasing presence of high-rolling Chinese collectors”, it is difficult – for me at least – to not feel my spirits lift while looking at Lichtenstein’s last works.

  Reminds me (for some reason – the following bit being not perfectly apropos) of something from St Exupery’s Petit PrinceThe Little Prince:  “Voici mon secret.  Il est tres simple.  On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur.  L’essential est invisible pour les yeux”.  “Here is my secret.  It is very simple.  One can only see well with the heart.  What’s essential is invisible to the eyes”.

 

*New York Review of Books June 21, 2012

**Gagosian press release March 2012

   

Life Shrinks or Expands in Proportion to One’s Courage -Anais Nin

March 18, 2012

Or, uh, be careful what you wish for.  As I mentioned a few weeks back, this chicken is about to cross the road and wonders what’s on the other side – free range or a barbecue.   Miss Nin’s comment came to mind at this juncture because I heard her speak at a previous flex point – college commencement so many years ago.  Nearly forty now.

I had no clue why she was deserved of an honorary degree.  What’s so great about sleeping around?  And why would you want to write about it?  Interesting to me now is that the realization that I then had far less knowledge of what was going on inside my head than did she.

All those voices!  Id, ego, anima, shadow et al; Mom, Dad; and cultural stereotypes roared up a cacophony while my own only piped up a few notes now and then – most notably in the throes of  life’s more beautiful duties.  Cannot but take a while though I guess, for experience and effort to begin create a melody out of all that noise.

It’s quiet at first, but soon enough clarity increases and then the dynamics ensue.  As it becomes more crisp and apparent you can either begin to not worry about scorn or embarrassment and try to hum along or else at your peril drown it out with some sort of overindulgence.  It won’t go away.  In other words: “the requirement [is] that a man, whatever his age or station, pull out of his reflexive behaviors and attitudes, radically reexamine his life and risk living out the thunderous imperatives of his soul”.

Further, “The terror he may feel on the high seas of life is understandable, but in relinquishing the imperative to sail on, in giving over to an ideology or to dependency on someone else, he loses  his manhood.  It is time to come clean, acknowledge the fear, but live the journey.”*

Gulp.  We shall see what we shall see.

*James Hollis, What Matters Most

Live Your Life

December 30, 2011

 

   Clearly and obviously I am among the more dazed and confused.  Can’t stay on topic.  Short attention span.  Where some, most it seems, see the path before them plain as day – even if it be one requisite of adroit maneuver – I usually can’t see my own fingers if arm’s at full extension.

  Sometimes there’s something going on in my head that causes not a little distress.  Though I’ve had florid (sober) hallucinations, I’ve have never heard voices and never lost a reality test (at least not one of which I was aware), but I have indeed felt the weighty presence of an uninvited emotional tone.

  Makes me think of a couple of things.  First the Russell Crowe/John Nash character in A Beautiful Mind.  Like I said, I don’t have manifest imaginary friends but do occasionally have stuff I sometimes successfully banish to the periphery.  A dismal succession of future events more often than a winning lottery ticket.

  Secondly Julian Jaynes.  I’ve previously mentioned his incredible book Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  The chief premise is that human preconsciousness was characterized by auditory hallucinations – voices -“gods”.  Of which such things occurring here and now are vestigial traces.  From barely discernable rumblings all the way to schizophrenia.  Hmmm.

  Maurice Sendak. Listening to an interview with him yesterday on that wonderful NPR “Fresh Air” program I heard him tell Terri Gross:  “…which is what the creative act is all about.  Things come to you without you necessarily knowing what they mean… when I was younger I was afraid of something that didn’t make a lot of sense… [but now I know that]  There’s nothing to worry about.”

  Maybe there’s hope.  I do indeed agree that it can help to write shit down.

GROSS: Well, I’m really glad we got the chance to speak because when I heard you had a book coming out I thought what a good excuse to call up Maurice Sendak and have a chat

SENDAK: Yes, that’s what we always do, isn’t it?

GROSS: Yeah, it is

SENDAK: Thank God we’re still around to do it.

GROSS: Yes

SENDAK: (Who’s 83) And almost certainly, I’ll go before you go, so I won’t have to miss you.

GROSS: Oh, God what a…

SENDAK:  …It doesn’t matter.  I’m a happy old man. 

GROSS: I wish you all good things

SENDAK: And I wish you all good things… Live your life, live your life, live your life.

  That’s going to be my New Year’s Resolution.

*If you haven’t ever listened to “Fresh Air” you are doing yourself a great disservice.  Go to the website and listen to the podcast of this interview.  It was played yesterday as an encore from September because it was the most commented upon interview of the 2011.

Haruspex

October 15, 2011

 

  The painting above is “The Ray” by Jean-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) and is remarkable for the rendering of a gruesome scene as something compellingly sublime.  Of it Marcel Proust wrote: “strange monster…tinted with red blood, azure nerves, and white sinews like the nave of a polychrome cathedral”.

  Imagine!  An intellect as great as Proust comparing a painting of mangled dead sea ray with the central aspect of a type of architecture that reached its zenith there inFrancesome centuries earlier.  Philosopher Diderot wrote of Chardin’s talent: “secret of redeeming through skill the disgusting aspect” of a reality.

  Reminds me of writer Cormac McCarthy who accomplishes the same feat (maybe even outdoes Chardin) with his prose.  Check this out:  “His entrails were hauled forth and delineated and the four young students who bent over him like those haruspices of old perhaps saw monsters worse to come in their configurations”.

  OK. It is clearly impossible to convey, with a short excerpt, the entirety of a book in the way one can of a picture with a reproduction.   But of its essence a great writer might.  Let me elaborate a bit on that sentence and hopefully you’ll get an idea of the magnitude of McCarthy’s skill.

  Those words come near the end of Child of God and describe the final stages of a med-school dissection of the corpse of the chief protagonist and in their brevity almost recapitulate the entire work.  Elmer Ballard was a murderer and necrophiliac who roamed the hills of East Tennesse, was never indicted, and checked himself into the state home (“I’m supposed to be here”) where he died.

  Ballard was then the referent to the idea of “monsters worse to come” and one of those he indeed was.  The redemptive qualities of McCarthy’s prose McCarthy draw us inexorably through the stunning tale.  It’s not that we can’t look away – we don’t want to.

  The title of the book is also a referent of a word in the sentence quoted above.  Taken at face value, Child of God says that yep, white with the black, we are all part of the Lord’s flock.  Taken ironically: the thought of a dude up there in a robe and slippers is no less nuts than the reading the future in entrails – which is what a particular sort of ancient Roman priest (a “haruspex”) did.

  After Ballard’s remains were interred the bodies of more victims were discovered in a cave.  Here’s how the book ends: “In the evening a jeep descended the log road towing a trailer in the bed of which lay seven bodies bound in muslin like enormous hams.  As they went down the valley in the new fell dark basking nighthawks rose from the dust in the road before them with wild wings and eyes red as jewels in the headlights.”

*Chardin’s painting came to mind from reading Mary Tompkins Lewis’ take on it in the 10/8+9 WSJ.

Pas Timide

June 17, 2011

 

  Can you believe the news of men of late?  Deeds done that you’d call inane if not for collateral damage, ramifications, and victims?  A presidential candidate with a love child.  A governor with one too.  A congressman broadcasting his ‘package’.  The French president of the International Monetary Fund accused of violent sexual abuse.  Jeesh.  Brings to mind the first line of a Neruda poem: “It so happens I am sick of being a man”.

  Well, I don’t wish I played for another team and understand those actions to be, like, mutations in the drive without which none of us would be here.  Still, what’s up?  Take the last incident cited above.  How could one of the most prominent men on the planet undertake such horror?  From whence could he have come?

  First reports from France conveyed a sense of outrage for the fact that a front runner for their next presidential campaign was seen across all media doing a perp walk.  Soon though came reports of other unwanted encounters with DSK and then, amazingly, of a broader related permeation of French society.

  It was incredible to listen to a female editor of the prominent French newspaper, Le Monde, describe conditions for women, though not perfect, as much better here in the USA than en France.  This from a culture in which the employment of idiomatic Americanisms can be illegal and American taste and popular culture vilified. 

  Made me break out de Tocqueville.  “In France… women commonly receive a reserved, retired, and almost conventual education… then they are suddenly abandoned, without a guide and without assistance, in the midst of all the irregularities inseparable from democratic society.”

  Yikes!

  “Long before an American girl arrives at the marriageable age, her emancipation from maternal control begins: she has scarcely ceased to be a child, when she already thinks for herself, speaks with freedom, and acts on her own impulse.  It is rare that an American woman, at any age, displays childish timidity or ignorance.”

  Democracy in America was first published in France en Francais in 1835.  Perhaps “plus ca change plus ca meme chose” – More things change the more they remain the same.  The American women with whom I’m most familiar would most definitely not be taken for ignorant or timid.  Toward one should an uninvited paw be extended, a bloody stump would be what was pulled back. 

*Walking Around

**cf post of 10/9/09 for more examples of neat stuff us guys think up

I (Sorta) Wonder What It’d Be Like…

May 20, 2011

 

  Brother was riding his bike recently, came upon an unexpected obstruction, went over the handlebars, and fractured his wrist.  His recollection of the event was interesting.  “It was all in slow motion.  I remember the sound pattern made by my helmet on the sidewalk.”

  Perfect timing.  Maybe not for him, but for us.  In the April 25 edition of the New Yorker, there’s an article about scientist David Eaglemen whose research seeks to understand our perception of time.  He was drawn to that study by the experience of falling off a roof as a child.  “In life threatening situations, time seems to slow down.  It’s a moment of absolute calm and eerie mental acuity.”

  Why?  Well, it seems that it’s a matter of how much information is on the way to the brain and how it coordinates.  By way of example, light travels faster than sound, but they use a starting pistol in the Olympics instead of a light flash because the brain reacts more quickly to sound.  Cavemen would have been well advised to flee a rustling of the brush long before a predator presented itself visually.

  The more stimulating and/or serious a situation, the more input sent to our accreted cerebral “hodgepodge of systems”.  One component, the amygdala, is sort of an emotional node and seems to become hyperactive when scared and records far more detail than when bored. 

  As a result, one’s experience of the passage of time is vivid and slows significantly.  During an experiment, subjects terrified by a uniquely “plausibly deadly” amusement park ride overestimated the passage of time by thirty-six percent.

  Ok.  What event would put one most in extremis… would push the phenomena the furthest?  Having your head cut off comes most immediately to my mind, but to be honest I have to admit that not an original thought.    

  From the perspective first of a caveman finding his neck in the jaws of a saber toothed tiger, through the likes of John the Baptist, Anne Boleyn, and Marie Antoinette, writer Robert Olin Butler wrote a book entitled Severance in which he presents sixty-two different takes of what the experience of decapitation might be like.

  He begins with these two epigrams to set tone and style:  “After careful study and due deliberation it is my opinion the head remains conscious for one minute and a half after decapitation.” (Attributed to a Dr. Dassy D’Estaing 1883) And: “In heightened state of emotion people speak at the rate of 160 words a minute.”  The math works out to about 240 words for that ninety seconds and is thus the length of each of the stories.

  Sweet précis, eh?  Mull that around a bit.  Would you be dizzy if your head rolled? Would it feel claustrophobic if your noggin fell into a basket?  Would you be able to close your eyelids?  Would you if you could?

  Courtesy of Mr. Butler, here’re the last 240 words that came to the mind of Ta Chin, a Chinese wife beheaded by her husband in 1838:

“straight and whole are my feet I would rise and run as I have loved for many winkings of the moon to run with my brothers but I press my feet side by side and wiggle my toes this last time and whisper to them goodbye I know what is before me my mother in the courtyard singing prayers to Kuan Yin the goddess of mercy, not to spare me a life of pain but to wither my feet to perfection, the mercy of the golden lotus, the mercy of a wealthy man to keep me, I tremble I am ready to weep but for these tiny stones of anger Kuan Yin has placed in the corners of my eyes even as the footbinder puts the soaking tub before me that first night even as my husband trembles before me in the torch light trembling always from the opium but this night he trembles from what he believes about the brushing of my sleeve by a man he himself brought to our house and my mother sings and my toes are seized and folded hard under and the wrappings wind and wind and squeeze and my arch cracks and I see Buddha in heaven sitting on his lotus but it is my naked foot the golden lotus he sits upon and hands push me down my neck made bare and I cry please, before my head cut off my feet

  Think I’d try to think of the Marx Brothers.  Or maybe Mel Brooks.  Ya, that’s it – Young Frankenstein.

*New Yorker, April 25, 2011, “The Possibilian” by Burkhard Bilger

**Sculpture above?  It’s Woman With Her Throat Cut by Alberto Giacometti.

Salutations!

September 10, 2010

 

  Ever watch a garden spider spin her web (yes, only the girls make the big ones)?  It’s an amazing process requisite of a highly evolved bit of anatomy.  There are six different glands nearly filling a spider’s abdomen each producing different sorts of silk.  Ductwork connects the glands to spinnerets, which are in fact repurposed vestigial legs.

  When ready to set up her redoubt our little friend secures a perch some distance above the ground or any other more or less horizontal feature.  She then simultaneously secretes silk from several of her spinnerets divergently aimed.  Light wafts of air will thus cause the threads to loosely combine and form a sort of kite.  With luck, said waft will carry said kite downwind TO sticks to some solid surface.

  She will then grab the secured line with her hind legs and begin to roll it up while simultaneously attaching a new one behind her by which to let herself across – still aloft.  Once to the middle, she connects the two ends and lets herself down.  Critically, she then moves a few paces perpendicularly one way or another before affixing that end thus ensuring that the plane of the finished product will be inclined.

  Complex, but similar steps create the rest of the web’s framework.  Last but not least is the sticky part – the only sticky part.  Working from the outside toward the middle she winds a spiral of thread beaded with a glue like substance.  Guess the reason for the inclined orientation of the web plane?  Ms. Spider moves about her orb by grasping the nonstick  framework from its underside.  Neat huh?

  Even though she has eight eyes, she doesn’t use them to locate entrapped quarry.  Instead, she employs a remarkable sense of touch.  The impact of, say, a fly would of course be very apparent due to the reverberation.  To find and dispatch fly before it dispatches itself, spider plucks the threads like an angel of death with a guitar strumming a chord in a minor key. Specific vibration pattern pinpoints next meal.

  Now even if you’re an arachnophobe (and I’m related to at least one with a real problem*) that is pretty amazing.  No matter what your metaphysics, you have to agree with the preacher in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web: “…human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders”.        

  Remember Charlotte?  A great book.  Eudora Welty called it “just about perfect… about friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time.”**

  Here’s Charlotte telling spring pig friend Wilbur how to construct a web: “Take a deep breath.  Now climb to the highest place you can get to.  Then make an attachment with your spinnerets.  Throw yourself into space and let out a drag-line as you go down.”  A plenty good description for a naïve little pig.

  As I’m sure you’ll recall, Charlotte soon uses her skills to save Wilbur from getting turned “into smoked bacon and ham”.  Farmer Zuckerman and soon neighbors from near and far marvel over patterns in Charlotte’s web that first read” “SOME PIG”, then when people seem to get bored with that “TERRIFIC”, then “RADIANT, and finally “HUMBLE”. 

  At one point rat friend Templeton suggested “crunchy” to which Charlotte responded “Just the wrong idea” for obvious reasons.  Asked about all that effort in his behalf she responds: “You’re my friend, Wilbur.  That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

  Wilbur returns her vital favors by ensuring the safety of her egg sack and its 514 occupants.  As we leave the scene, Wilbur regales several progeny, Joy among them, with tales of their mother.  You should maybe reread the book.  Besides the simple vocabulary, it’s easy because as Ms Welty also wrote: it is “a book for children, which is nice for us older ones as it calls for big type.”

*One time oldest daughter awoke in a small room to see a web wove just above her – plane parallel to floor – and affixed to all four walls.   She not same since.

**NYT 10/15/52

***”Salutations” was the first word Charlotte was heard to utter as well as that of daughter Joy both in address to Wilbur.