I have been a longtime reader and fan of novelist and short-story writer Stephen Crane. I first read him when I was an impressionable 13 years old and diving into serious literature.

He was born in 1871 in Newark, New Jersey. I was also born in Newark.

On the 100th anniversary of his birth year, I visited his New Jersey grave on the day of his death – June 5.

My first encounter with Crane was via some of his short stories. I knew that “the book” to read by him was The Red Badge of Courage. I read that the summer before my senior year in high school. It was fast read, but I didn’t really enjoy it.

That summer I also started to read more about Crane’s life. He never went to war. The Red Badge of Courage is a war novel by someone who never went to war.

As a young man, Crane wanted to be a professional baseball player. He played catcher on his prep school team in a time when a catcher wore no protective gear and the mitt was basically a gardening glove with some extra padding. Stephen was known for being somewhat reckless, but able to catch anything, even barehanded.

Crane at 17 in a school military uniform

 

He bounced from school to school. He was at the Pennington School in NJ (his father had been principal there), but after 2 years he transferred to Claverack College, a quasi-military school.

He did one semester at Lafayette College and then transferred to Syracuse University. He played baseball at all these schools.

Crane (front center) with his Syracuse teammates

 

During summer vacations until 1892, he was his brother Townley’s assistant at a New Jersey shore news bureau.

I had read Catch 22 and seen the movie M*A*S*H  the year before and my mind was filled with anti-war and anti-Vietnam news. I was thinking about how I had to register for the Selective Service and how I would be in the draft lottery when I got to college.

I went back and reread The Red Badge of Courage that fall through the lens of it being an anti-war novel written by someone who probably equated war with his own sports experiences.

That sounds naive, but it worked for me that year.

Crane cut classes and was spending a lot of time in New York City, especially the poor tenement streets of the Bowery.

He began writing for New York City tabloids while he was still a teenager.

His first novel was Maggie, A Girl of the Streets (1893). It was considered scandalous and unseemly, and booksellers wouldn’t stock it. He gave away about a hundred copies and burned the rest.

He had read a series of reminiscences of Civil War veterans published in newspapers and had met some veterans as teachers in his schools that became the research for his own Civil War story.

In The Red Badge of Courage (1895), we follow Henry Fleming, who signs up for the 304th New York regiment. Henry wants to experience a war that matches the glory of battle that he had read about in school.

The novel made him famous. It was considered to be the most realistic war novel ever written, despite the facts that the author was only 24 and had never been in battle himself.

I have read more recently that some Civil War veterans wrote in to newspapers claiming that they knew Stephen Crane and had fought beside him in various Civil War battles.

Crane admitted to fellow writer Hamlin Garland that he had used his own experience as an athlete as inspiration for the battle scenes.

The novel’s success led to Crane spending the rest of his life working as a war correspondent.

On New Year’s Eve in 1896, the boat he was on traveling to Cuba to cover the Spanish-American War hit a sandbar and sank.

He barely survived in a small dinghy with three other men. They spent 30 hours at sea, then, in desperation, dove in and made for shore.

From that experience, Crane wrote his short story “The Open Boat” which was the first piece of fiction I had ever read by him.

Sadly, that time spent adrift at sea and swimming severely damaged his health and contributed to his death from tuberculosis (TB ) just 4 years later at the age of twenty-eight.

Stephen Crane, 1897

 

It wasn’t until college that I read Stephen Crane’s poetry. He is considered a minor poet and his Complete Poems includes all 135 poems, published and unpublished during his lifetime. I like Crane’s short poems and his use of irony and paradox which were influenced by his reading of Emily Dickinson’s verse. They are generally very accessible poems.

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this; 
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never —”

“You lie,” he cried, 
And ran on.

His life was short, but his output was impressive for that short time that he wrote professionally. I think we could have been friends in another timeline. We would have at least played some pickup baseball together.

Cross posted on One-Page Schoolhouse

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The stars move with our seasons. For most of us, some move below the horizon and we lose sight of them for part of the year. But the circumpolar stars stay above the horizon all hours of the day, every day of the year. They are there now, even if it is daylight as you read this, they are there. there’s not a lot you can count on here on Earth – or even in the heavens – but you can count on them.

The Big Dipper asterism is the best known of the circumpolar groups at all latitudes north of 41 degrees north latitude. (That is the northern half of the mainland United States and most of Europe.)

The Big Dipper is part of a bigger constellation, Ursa Major or the Great Bear.

In Greek mythology, the god Zeus had fallen in love with the maiden Callisto. In a story that would make the news today, and get Zeus some bad headlines, Zeus got her pregnant. Callisto was a nymph in the retinue of the goddess Artemis. But she would not be with anyone but Artemis. Zeus disguised himself as Artemis and seduced Callisto. When the child Arcas was born, Zeus’ wife Hera turned Callisto into a bear in revenge.

Callisto wandered the forest for years in bear form, until a chance meeting with her son, Arcas. He was the king of Arcadia and a great hunter. He raised his spear to strike at the bear, not knowing it was his mother. Zeus stepped in and sent them up to the heavens with Callisto as the Great Bear and Arcas as Bootes the Herdsman. (Or maybe he is Ursa Minor, the Little Bear,  depending on whose mythology you follow.) Hera was not pleased that Zeus stepped in, so she wever, and conspired with the gods of the sea so that the Bear could never swim in the ocean. That is one explanation – totally unscientific – for why Ursa Major never sets

The Big Dipper is circumpolar, so it is visible year round. It is up in the spring and down in the fall. The pointer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper always point to Polaris, the North Star |  |  Image via Chris Mihos, Department of Astronomy, Case Western Reserve University

Where are you? If you’re with me in the Northern Hemisphere, every star north of the celestial equator is circumpolar, and every star south of the celestial equator is below the horizon. At the Earth’s South Pole, every star south of the celestial equator is circumpolar, whereas every star north of the celestial equator remains beneath the horizon.

And at the Earth’s equator, no star is circumpolar because all the stars rise and set daily in that part of the world. You can actually see every star in the night sky over the course of one year.

The June solstice may be the the official jump into summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but today kicks off winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Isn’t that amazing?

Summer slipped in at 10:07 AM UTC which is 6:07 AM in Paradelle (EDT) and I slept through it. It was near sunrise in the Americas, but noon in Africa, and sunset in Japan and Indonesia.

Here there was an early dawn and longer days are ahead with today being the longest day of the year. Sunset will be late. Nights will be short.

I have never been south of the equator. It would be quite strange to go south today and find winter upon me.

It would also be fun to be at Stonehenge where they celebrate the summer solstice. They follow the ancients who knew that the sun’s path across the sky, the length of daylight, and the location of the sunrise and sunset all shifted in a regular way throughout the year.

If I could be at the Sphinx on the summer solstice, I could look at the two pyramids and see the Sun set exactly between them.

This astronomical event is caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and its motion in orbit around the sun. Despite picture we saw and drew as kids, the Earth doesn’t orbit upright, but is tilted on its axis by about 23 degrees.

Right now our planet is positioned so that the North Pole is leaning most toward the sun.

Did you know that no official world body has designated an official first day of any season?
Summer began on June 1 in meteorology. At the New Jersey shore, summer starts with Memorial Day weekend. As a kid, summer started on the last day of school.

And if a kid (or adult) asks you why if this is the longest day, why is it much hotter in late July and August? Tell them it is the lag of the seasons. That is not that lazy feeling we get on a hot, summer day. The planet takes time to warm up after winter. There is still ice and snow in places in June. And the oceans take some time to warm as anyone who has already been to the beach in New Jersey knows.
already in the still blanket the ground in some places. The sun has to melt the ice – and warm the oceans – and then we feel the most sweltering summer heat. The melting runoff from glaciers will peak in July.

Adults have been telling children to be mindful for generations, in the sense of them being more conscious or aware of something. Mindfulness, that mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, is at another level of awareness.

You can find a variety of definitions of mindfulness, but it is more associated with meditation and other practices and involves acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is used to combat stress, improve attention, and often used as a therapeutic technique as well as a spiritual and religious practice.

But is it something we can, or should, teach kids?

benefits: it increases optimism and happiness in classrooms, decreases bullying and aggression, increases compassion and empathy for others and helps students resolve conflicts.

Forbes magazine, an unlikely source, had an article on the benefits of meditation for children, which I don’t think is exactly the same thing as mindfulness.

Research on mindfulness for children is not as extensive as research on adults brains, but what I have seen is positive.

There certainly is no lack of articles online or books for parents and teachers on how-to mindfulness. If you read some of the popular books, such as I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness and Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents)  or the more serious Mindfulness for Children, you will find suggestions and exercises that sound pretty similar.

One caveat: to teach mindfulness to a child (yours or others), you should practice it yourself.

For example, there are listening exercises where you focus on a single sound, such as a bell. It doesn’t have to be a special Zen bell or “singing bowl” but you want a long sustained tone that kids will listen to and signal when the sound disappears. Then you focus on all the other sounds surrounding you. As in meditation, it is hard for beginners to turn off all the “noise” of thoughts in their mind and clear it to focus on one single thing. This exercise does that with a literal thing first.

Another activity is to use your sense of smell as the focus. You give the child something fragrant. Not perfume or anything artificial – orange peel, a sprig of mint, a flower. Close your eyes, breathe in and focus only on the smell. Not quite aromatherapy, but a powerful thing to focus on.

Other activities to teach kids mindfulness focus on the other senses and, of course, on breathing. Following your breath is standard in mindfulness practices. With kids, you might have the child put a small object on their belly as they lie on the floor. They breathe in silence for a minute and watch how the object moves up and down. They observe their breath. One article suggests that you tell them that if any other thoughts come to them to turn the thoughts into bubbles and float them away.

I can imagine some parents or teachers saying ” How do i get them to sit or lie still and be silent?” Will mindfulness eliminate tantrums and make a hyperactive child calm? They may become calmer, but that was never an objective of mindfulness or meditation, though it may be a “side effect.”

On the leftbrainbuddha.com site, there are more activities there are some that I learned in adult classes. With kids, you might call this the “squish & relax” exercise. I learned it as a way to relax and it has helped me fall asleep. Lying down with eyes closed, you tense (squish) each muscle in your body starting with your toes and feet and moving up. You hold the muscle tight for a few seconds paying attention to how that feels, and then release. It relaxes the body and is a very real way to understand and be “in the present moment.”

, tighten the muscles in their legs all the way up to their hips, suck in their bellies, squeeze their hands into fists and raise their shoulders up to their heads. Have them hold themselves in their squished up positions for a few seconds, and then fully release and relax. This is a great, fun activity for “loosening up” the body and mind, and is a totally accessible way to get the kids to understand the art of “being present.”

Of course, you would hope these tools would be useful for a child who has trouble sleeping, concentrating on an activity or relaxing, but sharing these activities with your children or your students together is also a way to connect on a different level.

 

My Dad kept a compost pile in our backyard garden when I was a kid. It really was a “pile” contained by some posts and chicken wire.   I learned to layer things. (Don’t put in a lot of grass clipping unless you want it to smell like a public restroom.) Some leaves, some clippings, some dirt, some green leftovers from the kitchen, a bit of wood chips or sawdust, some sand (not the salty stuff from the beach), even some shredded paper. You have to turn it. Mix it up and add some water, but never make it soggy. “Friable” was the word my dad used – an unusually fancy vocabulary for him to use that I had to look up in the dictionary.

I have my own compost non-piles. I have the more modern plastic tumbler that allows you to roll the compost around to mix it up. I’m not sure my dad would approve of such a purchase. he probably would have built his own from an old trash can or something. I do love after a few months to dump out the rich, friable, soil mix to add to my garden. Growing a few vegetables has been a summer tradition for me ever since my childhood in “The Garden State.”  (And yes, many people in New Jersey do keep gardens and on the vegetable side you are almost required to have a few tomato plants – hopefully at least one Rutgers tomato plant. (I would like to recommend that their next species be a “Scarlet Knight.”)

The more figurative composting that I do has to do with writing. This composting means writing down all kinds of ideas in notebooks, in my iPhone Notes, and  as drafts online. They often come to me while walking, in the shower, while reading or listening to podcasts and while working in the garden.

I allow these layers to pile up in layers. I mix them. We are often a bit too much in love with our newest idea. In her excellent book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott advises that we allow ourselves to write a “shitty first draft.” Like my garden manure, those drafts help the compost work.

Garden composting requires water, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen, and micro-organisms to break down organic matter to produce compost. Bacteria abounds. Actinobacteria is needed to break down paper products such as newspaper, bark, chips and sawdust. There is some fungi, molds and yeast that can break down materials that bacteria cannot. I haven’t looked under a microscope, but those protozoa from high school biology class consume bacteria, fungi and micro organic particulates. I have read that there should be some rotifers in there to help control populations of bacteria and small protozoans.

I put in any earthworms I find while digging and weeding the garden. In my less formal compost pile that I keep for extra leaves and clippings in the style of my dad’s piles, I will find earthworms there naturally who are not only ingesting partly composted material and depositing rich soil, but also continually creating aeration and drainage tunnels as they move through the compost.

I won’t take my writerly composting metaphor further and try to figure out what bacteria and earthworms are at work there, but time certainly does some of the work. The writing that emerges often looks very different from the raw materials that went into the pile. Hopefully, it is deeper, richer and bears more fruit.

I heard an interview with writer Richard Powers. I haven’t read his books and from that interview about his newest book, The Overstory, I thought the book was non-fiction. It’s not.

His books are often described as: compelling, cerebral, dramatic, emotionally involving stories. His 2006 novel The Echo Maker is about neurology. It won a National Book Award.

The new novel is The Overstory is about our endangered biome and it revolves around trees. The overstory is that part of a forest that is above the canopy. The canopy is the “ceiling” of the forest. There is also is the understory that sits below the canopy but above the ground, and the shrub layer below that and, finally, the forest floor where we walk.

Of course, overstory and understory also suggest the story of writers.

This is Powers’ twelfth novel. It’s a novel of activism and resistance . It’s a love song to the natural world.

This is a long book and I am not finished with it, but I am enjoying it. The first part of the novel consists of 8 separate short stories (ranging from 9 to 33 pages) telling us about what seem to be unconnected characters.

There is an Air Force soldier in the Vietnam War is shot while flying, falls, but is saved by falling into a banyan tree. An artist inherits many photographs of one doomed American chestnut. A college student is brought back to life by nature. A scientist discovers trees are communicating with one another.

I’m not a fan of this kind of novel structure and I know that the four of them and some others will eventually come together. Networks of roots. Concentric tree rings.

The main character, so far, is a young botanist named Patty Westerford who is the one that discovers that “trees are social creatures” In the interview I heard that Patty is based on some real scientists and a book called The Hidden Life of Trees.

I think it is the ideas presented in that book that most intrigued me to read Powers’ book. Tree families are like human families – or maybe we are like trees. Tree parents live together with their children. They communicate with them. They support them as they grow. They share their food with them. They protect them from diseases, and the climate extremes and changes.

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