Robert Service was an adventurer and a renaissance man born in 1874. Among his trades, he was a poet. His wild and rhythmic poetry is absolutely captivating.
I happened on this jewel in the back room of a pizza joint, in a box full of books marked 50 cents. Score!
Here’s a bit of his poem, “The Heart of the Sourdough:”
(hold fast for the delicious things wafting up from the words in the second stanza- you can practically smell the bacon and beans and the crackle of campfire!)
There where the mighty mountains bare their fangs unto the moon,
There where the sullen sun-dogs glare in the snow-bright, bitter noon,
And the glacier-glutted streams sweep down at the clarion call of June,
There where the livid tundras keep their tryst with the tranquil snows;
There where the silences are spawned, and the light of hell-fire flows
Into the bowl of the midnight sky, violet, amber and rose.
There where the mighty mountains bare their fangs unto the moon
There where the rapids churn and roar, and the ice-floes bellowing run;
Where the tortured, twisted rivers of blood rush to the setting sun —
I’ve packed my kit and I’m going, boys, ere another day is done.
* * * * *
I knew it would call, or soon or late, as it calls the whirring wings;
It’s the olden lure, it’s the golden lure, it’s the lure of the timeless things,
And to-night, oh, God of the trails untrod, how it whines in my heart-strings!
I’m sick to death of your well-groomed gods, your make believe and your show;
I long for a whiff of bacon and beans, a snug shakedown in the snow;
A trail to break, and a life at stake, and another bout with the foe.
With the raw-ribbed Wild that abhors all life, the Wild that would crush and rend,
I have clinched and closed with the naked North, I have learned to defy and defend;
Shoulder to shoulder we have fought it out — yet the Wild must win in the end.
Isn’t it wonderful? It’s a long shot from the very first poem of his career (which is still wonderful), written when he was six years old:
God bless the cakes and bless the jam;
Bless the cheese and the cold boiled ham:
Bless the scones Aunt Jeannie makes,
And save us all from bellyaches. Amen.
You hungry yet?
When the season starts changing, my subconscious finds a book to highlight the colors with words…a story for the stage. Usually when the leaves start turning I start turning the pages of The Hobbit – it’s a yearly ritual – but this year I went for a smaller, tidier book: Jackaroo, by Cynthia Voigt.
It’s a high-adventure story (think Robin Hood) yet still deals (deliciously subtly, I must add) with painful subjects in a way that leaves the reader empowered rather than desolate, unlike so many “realist” novels that dump you into the depressing mud of “real life” and leave you there to wallow. This book gave me a different inner attitude that inspired me to the kind of quiet action that just might actually change the world. But you’ll have to read it to find out what I mean!
In this story, you’ll meet many tantalizing characters and places:
-princes and lordlings setting off across the distant mountains
-robbers and villains (with a surprising past)
-a mysterious man who rides under cover of night in a dashing disguise
-a merry inn on the edge of town
-a feisty girl with a quiet courage
-a stable boy with broad shoulders and gentle hands
-and (as an unexpected surprise) thick hearty soup often gracing the pages and the hearths
I found the recipe for Stormy Day Soup in good ol’ Betty Crocker Cookbook (I have an old dusty version my grandma found at an estate sale) and it is simple and delicious. Go put some on the stove and highlight the day with a story!
So my dear friend Emily told me about this rhyme.
(I’m fresh out of cocoa pictures, but this darling little poem
is rife enough with imagery for even the dullest imagination : )
Animal Crackers by Christopher Morley
Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink,
That is the finest of suppers, I think;
When I’m grown up and can have what I please
I think I shall always insist upon these.
What do you choose when you’re offered a treat?
When Mother says, “What would you like best to eat?”
Is it waffles and syrup, or cinnamon toast?
It’s cocoa and animals that I love most!
The kitchen’s the cosiest place that I know:
The kettle is singing, the stove is aglow,
And there in the twilight, how jolly to see
The cocoa and animals waiting for me.
Daddy and Mother dine later in state,
With Mary to cook for them, Susan to wait;
But they don’t have nearly as much fun as I
Who eat in the kitchen with Nurse standing by;
And Daddy once said, he would like to be me
Having cocoa and animals once more for tea!
Growing up I’d go visit grandma’s house and in the basement (the kind of basement with a wood-stove) there were baskets full of books.
One of my favorites was The Giant Alexander by Frank Herrman. A little-known story published in 1964, it’s one of the best-buried secrets of children’s literature.
Here is how the book begins:
The Giant Alexander lived in a big, black barn in Maldon near the sea in England. He was sixty feet tall, which is as high as one telegraph pole on top of another. He looked rather fierce, though he was really very friendly, and he had a thick reddish-brown beard.
He is your typical warmhearted bachelor, quite content living in his comfortable barn and taking a bath once a week in the local swimming pool. He is a Giant-of-All-Trades, putting his extraordinary size to good use. In the story, he kindheartedly goes about rescuing a ship stuck on the sandbank during a gale, walking to London at the request of the Lord Mayor of London to clean Nelson’s Column of pigeon poo, and helping a small-town farmer unbury an enormous wealth of treasure from his fields.
Alexander’s life is full of delicious things.
Like the bucket of hot cocoa with honey from Coastguard Pennock that the giant drank after the ship-rescue so he wouldn’t catch cold.
And the six barrels of cider and an enormous Dutch cheese that the sailors gave him as thanks for rescuing them.
And the soup tureen full of tea that Lord Mayor of London served after the giant finished cleaning Nelsons’ Tower.
The last, of course, is best. (I know because I’ve made it myself several times) After all of the treasure is unburied and Giant Alexander is rich, he invites all of the children of the town for breakfast:
He bent down as low as he could and said very politely, “yes, thank you, I’m very well indeed.” Then he said, “Would you all like to come and have breakfast with me? I’m going to have roast pork sausages, fried onions and fried potatoes.”
As he said this, the children’s eyes grew bigger and bigger and rounder and rounder. They had never had sausages and onions and potatoes for breakfast.
“Oh yes please!” they yelled, and rushed home to tell their mothers.
The sent Robin Bingo to get a truckload of sausages. Then he went to Robin’s barn and stuffed his pockets with onions. After that he took some sacks of potatoes and started cooking.
The Giant Alexander gave each boy and girl an enormous and wonderful breakfast.
Don’t ask how he got that many knives and forks. Even giants have their secrets. But we do know that to this very day, any Maldon child can tell you that “A Giant’s Treat” means roast pork sausages, fried onions and fried potatoes for breakfast.
I’ve only read the classic “A Wrinkle In Time” once so far.
I read it because my friend Connor was talking about hot cocoa.
“It’s a brother-sister thing,” he said, and began explaining a story about a girl named Meg who loved equations and science and books. This girl named Meg would shuffle downstairs on stormy nights to find that her brother Charles had put a pot on the stove and stirred up some hot cocoa for her.
Then they would sit and talk late into the night.
I knew I had to read it.