Esteemed thinker: Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Memorial Day

Memorial Day 1940s

How long does it take a moment to become a memory? Perhaps the amount of time it takes for us to realize that it has passed and the only way to recapture it is to store it away for later. But there are some memories that should not be stored too snugly, too hidden away in the convenience of “not my problem.” And when things that we tend to relegate far from ease, time rolls around where we are nudged with the thoughts and reminders of those who are gone, but never to be forgotten.

So, it is a with Memorial Day, a momentous occasion where our nation commemorates the lives of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. Words often do not give justice to the thanks and gratitude we feel and wish to offer these great women and men of the armed forces.  As we enter into reflection, a characteristic that comes into our minds is Heroism; a word that we can define with both commonalities and personal experiences; rediscovered when we unite together or rekindled within our own private solitude.

 

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Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr.

I bring to you words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.,  Holmes (1841- 1935), a veteran of the Civil War, delivered his address in 1884; titled “In Our Youth Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire.” His speech was given in Keene, N.H., two decades before his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court in honor of the fallen American soldiers and the meaning of Memorial Day

“So to the indifferent inquirer who asks why Memorial Day is still kept up we may answer, it celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith. It embodies in the most impressive form our belief that to act with enthusiasm and faith is the condition of acting….

But grief is not the end of all. I seem to hear the funeral march become a paean. I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column… bid us think of life, not death – of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”

 

First image: Ashland, Aroostook County, Maine. Memorial Day ceremonies, Collier, John, photographer Published 1943 May.

Second image:Holmes: Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932, and as Acting Chief Justice of the United States January–February 1930

Esteemed thinker: John Muir and respecting nature

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There are few people that would disagree with the idea that humans and plants should and can co-exist. Though we know that there are many species of plants that have raised the ire of both men and woman, for the most part our relationships are of the utmost importance, especially for people. Plants provide us not only shade, food, medicinal benefits, and aesthetics, they are the source that keeps our land from eroding and provides us with oxygen to breathe. All and all it seems as though they are certainly pulling their weight.

IMG_9963 Being this is the case, with all the positives they provide, one can agree… flora and fauna do not ask for much except to be left alone. However, it makes us wonder why it is that some humans have a propensity to destroy or maim with no regard for the outcome of the plants. For example, let us take the bamboo plants that are growing in a particular zoo’s habitat; it offers us the opportunity to walk among the gatherings of these majestic plants that have grown to heights that rival a tree. Such a lovely setting it is until you examine the stalks closely and see the bamboo  has been intentionally carved and defaced with names and dates of those who felt a need to molest the plants. An intentional act with seemingly little value or purpose.

And so, the next time you come upon a plant, take heed for although you may have a yearning to claim it as your own, think twice before putting you signature on Mother Nature’s creation.

Today’s post brings back the esteemed thinker John Muir (1838-1914), a revolutionary preservationist naturalist, writer, conservationist, and founder of the Sierra Club. Born in Dunbar, Scotland in 1849, the Muir family emigrated to the United States, settling first at Fountain Lake and then moving to Hickory Hill Farm near Portage, Wisconsin.muir

In 1867, while working at a carriage parts shop in Indianapolis, he suffered a blinding eye injury that would change his life. When he regained his sight one month later, Muir resolved to turn his eyes to the fields and woods. He walked a thousand miles from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico, sailed to Cuba, and later to Panama. After crossing the Isthmus, he sailed up the West Coast, to San Francisco making California became his home.

John Muir is noted as the Father of the National Park Service, convincing the U.S. government to protect Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as national parks through his writing. John Muir’s words came from his lifetime work as a wilderness explorer, and his unyielding desire to maintain a natural environment that would not be exploited; still a rallying cry for all who wish to preserve our world.

So, I take you out of your hectic world into a day with John Muir and his observation of trees; Feast upon this vivid excerpt from Steep Trails.

“No lover of trees will ever forget his first meeting with the sugar pine. In most coniferous trees there is a sameness of form and expression which at length becomes wearisome to most people who travel far in the woods. But the sugar pines are as free from conventional forms as any of the oaks. No two are so much alike as to hide their individuality from any observer. Every tree is appreciated as a study in itself and proclaims in no uncertain terms the surpassing grandeur of the species. The branches, mostly near the summit, are sometimes nearly forty feet long, feathered richly all around with short, leafy branchlets, and tasseled with cones a foot and a half long. And when these superb arms are outspread, radiating in every direction, an immense crownlike mass is formed which, poised on the noble shaft and filled with sunshine, is one of the grandest forest objects conceivable. But though so wild and unconventional when full-grown, the sugar pine is a remarkably regular tree in youth, a strict follower of coniferous fashions, slim, erect, tapering, symmetrical, every branch in place. At the age of fifty or sixty years this shy, fashionable form begins to give way. Special branches are thrust out away from the general outlines of the trees and bent down with cones. Henceforth it becomes more and more original and independent in style, pushes boldly aloft into the winds and sunshine, growing ever more stately and beautiful, a joy and inspiration to every beholder…”

 

 

Esteemed thinker: Lillie P. Bliss

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The past is a reservoir of names who have left behind their legacies and still continue to enrich our lives… and though they may have been well-noted during their lifespan, time has worn away their memories like the erosion of a seawall. The twenty-first century is especially hard on the past for the present barely has time to take a breath, when sudden at the next exhale the future becomes the present. The bombardment of information is a snowstorm burying facts at an unprecedented rate. So fast is this entombing of details that for those of us who wish a more leisurely promenade are saddened; often what we wish to savor unexpectedly  whizzes by without having a chance to take hold.

Today’s blog brings you a most notable woman, the esteemed thinker: Lillie P. Bliss (1864 – 1931 )American  art collector, patron, and co-founder of the Museum of Modern Art with Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and Mary Quinn Sullivan. Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, she was the daughter of a successful textile merchant who moved his family to the Murray Hill Section of New York City when she was two. Her ambitious and well-connected father became Secretary of the Interior under President McKinley where Lillie acted as hostess for him in Washington when her mother was taken ill. Llilie Bliss

Lillie became an active supporter of the arts, at first particularly of music however her interest in modern art was inspired by the Armory Show of 1913 and her friendship with the painter Arthur B. Davies. Although modern art at the time in the United States was often criticized as inferior, Bliss saw the value in the new art and collected work by, among others, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, and Davies. In 1929 she became one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and when she died two years later she left most of her paintings to the Museum.

And so as tribute to Ms. Bliss, who we can thank for having the foresight to embrace and preserve the arts, we dig deeply into the pile of forgotten names. As remarked by Nelson Rockefeller, “It was the perfect combination. The three women, among them, my mother, Lillie Bliss and Mary Sullivan, had the resources, the tact and the knowledge of contemporary art that the situation required. More to the point, they had the courage to advocate the cause of the modern movement in the face of widespread division, ignorance and a dark suspicion that the whole business was some sort of Bolshevik plot.”

First Image: Armory Show of 1913

Second image: 1924

 

Esteemed thinker: James Smithson

Smithsonian InstituteTo preserve the past is to save the future, and though this observation may be heard by some as a contradiction, it is the very irony of its verbiage which makes it true.  Not all of the events of the past are positive and for that very reason we must not forget them. To discover, reflect, and evaluate what came before may help humanity not repeat its mistakes and crimes.  And so, what better place is there than a museum to learn about what it was like “before”. In glass cases and plexi-glass displays, on walls and  on pedestals are the gatherings of artifacts and relics, all of which made the world we inhabit today. Setting forth newly acquired facts in the fields of anthropology, biology, history, geology, technology, and the arts…they all are set before us with the intention of simply allowing us to ponder.

And so, I encourage you to take a walk and stroll through the corridors of any museum for surely there will be a bit of the world that will amaze you.

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Today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: James Smithson (1765-1829) British scientist who willed his estate to the United States for the creation of what we know today as The Smithsonian Institute. Born in Paris, France, he was the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson and Elizabeth Keate Hungerford Macie, a widow of royal blood. He was named James Lewis Macie at birth however, in 1800 following the death of his mother, he took his father’s name.

Because of his birth status, he was unable to pursue careers of most nobility at that time in the military or clergy, so he turned to the sciences. He went to Pembroke College at Oxford University, and there became interested in the natural sciences. He graduated as a mineralogist and chemist, devoting his life to research. He published at least 27 papers on chemistry, geology, and mineralogy in scientific journals and proved that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals, not zinc oxides as popularly believed.

He inherited a great deal of land from his mother and his management brought him a great deal of money. Having never married, he left a portion of his wealth to his nephew, and “Under the arrangements of his will, the whole estate went “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” As such the reasoning was most likely his resentment over the circumstances of his illegitimate birth. He had once written, “My name shall live in the memory of man when the titles of the Northumberlands and Percys are extinct and forgotten.”

Smithson died in Genoa, Italy, on June 27, 1829, however in 1904, Smithsonian Regent Alexander Graham Bell brought Smithson’s remains to the United States to rest at the Institution he had established.

(In 1865 a fire at the Smithsonian Institute destroyed most all of Jameson’s published work)

First image: Rendering of the Castle Smithsonian Institute, 1840

Second Image: Painting of James Smithson by James Roberts, 1786

 

Esteemed thinker: Herodotus and the past

 

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If you think you can escape the past, think again. We are reminded, though in a subliminal way, of those events or people who came before. In any town, hamlet, and city, one has only to look up at the street signs to be reminded of those who may have made a big or little mark in history. It is a way of honoring those who contributed to a community, a well-meaning intention to give recognition to a person. However, like landmarks, airports, and cities that were named after persons of notoriety, the past today has often little meaning and has become as commonplace as the billboards we drive by each day.

So, here’s to those who may have made a positive mark and those who remember the ones that came before.

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Today’s blog brings the esteemed thinker: Herodotus (c. 484 – 425/413 BCE) a writer who invented the field of study we know today as “history”. He is documented as being the world’s first historian, having authored of the first great narrative history written in the ancient world, the History of the Greco-Persian Wars. He was well traveled, going over the East, Egypt, North Africa and Greece. Acquainted with the Sophoclean circle, he joined the Athenian colony at Thurii in Southern part of Italy and died there before the end of the century. The information he gathered was derived mainly from oral sources, as he traveled through Asia Minor, down into Egypt, round the Black Sea, and into various parts of Greece and the neighboring countries.

Although there are some who claim that his narratives are all but fabrications of tales he designed, criticism of his work may have originated among Athenians who took exception to his account of the Battle of Marathon (490 BCE). While it is said that Herodotus makes some mistakes in his work, it is also believed that his Histories are moreover reliable and scholarly studies in all disciplines concerning his work continue to validate his most important observations.

And so we take time from our busy day to look back into antiquity, and read a snippet from his work, An Account of Egypt (440 BCE) Place yourself in this era, if you dare, and imagine how unbelievable his description must have sounded. I bring you the “father of history”, known only by one name, Herodotus.

“… Of the crocodile the nature is as follows: —during the four most wintry months this creature eats nothing: she has four feet and is an animal belonging to the land and the water both; for she produces and hatches eggs on the land, and the most part of the day she remains upon dry land, but the whole of the night in the river, for the water in truth is warmer than the unclouded open air and the dew. Of all the mortal creatures of which we have knowledge this grows to the greatest bulk from the smallest beginning; for the eggs which she produces are not much larger than those of geese and the newly-hatched young one is in proportion to the egg, but as he grows he becomes as much as seventeen cubits long and sometimes yet larger. He has eyes like those of a pig and teeth large and tusky, in proportion to the size of his body; but unlike all other beasts he grows no tongue, neither does he move his lower jaw, but brings the upper jaw towards the lower, being in this too unlike all other beasts…”

First Image: Street sign and houses, Yates Gardens 1920

 

Esteemed thinker: Eli Terry

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The sun rises and sets, the day begins and the day ends; and then… we have night. It is nature’s way of giving us a sense of time. That is, until the onset of man and woman’s need to keep order, whereby the application of a clock becoming most of humanity’s wakeup call. A clock, a watch, an alarm are not just a visual guide to get you through the day, but the things that sends us scurrying or slows us down. The clock reminds us we are late for work, need to get to the airport, or a badgering cue to “get to bed”. A timepiece is essentially a device that nags us into doing things we rather not do. However, in spite of our unwillingness, we generally and reluctantly abide.

The clock is often blamed for things that are not its fault, such as “the alarm did not go off,” or, “it is slow.” But since time is a made-up, the clock really is not at fault; can it be wrong or is it perhaps not on our time-schedule.

So, the next time you are in London, and see Big Ben, perhaps it is really not just a time-piece hoovering above, but rather a reminder of your obligations! eli terry

Today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: Eli Terry, American inventor and modern thinker (1772-1852) Born in East Windor, Connecticut, Terry became an apprentice to a watchmaker at the age of fourteen.  Clocks at this time were handmade luxury items and considered quite a prestigious item to own. In 1793 he opened his own clock shop.  He had heard of Eli Whitney ‘s methods of interchangeable parts and realized the potential in applying this to his clock making business. Terry adapted his machines to be powered by water and with the help of hired workmen to cut the individual wheels, cogs, and other clock parts, he was able to assemble and produced finished clocks. Such a feat would change the art of clock making into mass-production by factory process.

By 1816 Eli had changed the style from pendulum to ones that were small enough to sit on a mantel. They were sold mainly to rural buyers by travelling merchants, which significant played a role in transforming the rural North from overwhelmingly agricultural to a modern market society.

The entrepreneurship and success of manufacturing clocks in large numbers grew and by 1830, western Connecticut was home to over a hundred firms, large and small, making clocks with wooden movements. Up until his death, Eli Terry continued to improve upon his inventions and help us to “keep time!”

First image: Oil on canvas by Salvador Dali, Persistence of Memory (1931)