Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Giants Power Vacuum

Carlos Beltran as a Giant

That sound you hear--SWOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSHH!!--is the sound of air power being sucked back into the San Francisco Giants offensive balloon.

Jeff Keppinger as a Giant

Last season, in the heat of the National League West pennant chase, the Giants acquired the services of Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets (on July 28, 2011), and Jeff Keppinger from the Astros (on July 19th). The completely obvious reason for these mid-season acquisitions was to bolster a chronically weak hitting offense, a condition which has characterized the Giants make-up since the end of the Barry Bonds Era. Both players performed admirably, Beltran hitting .323 with 7 homers with 18 RBI's and 17 Runs Scored in just 44 games, Keppinger hitting .255 with 17 runs and 15 RBI's in 56 games. Beltran, 34, and Keppinger, 31, were (and are) still in their prime, and were measurably better than the alternatives (in Keppinger's case, Freddy Sanchez was down with injury, and Mike Fontenot was no more than a utility "plug-in" journeyman--and Sanchez's career looks to be about over this year; in Beltran's case, Schierholtz, Rowand, Burrell, Cody Ross and even Andres Torres couldn't generate as much offense between the whole lot of them, as Beltran could).

And yet, at season's end in 2011, Brian Sabean refused to bid seriously for either player, Beltran going to the Cardinals, and Keppinger ending up with Tampa Bay. So far this year at the mid-season mark Beltran has 23 homers, 73 RBI's (leading the league), and is batting .282. Keppinger is hitting .316.

The Giants have hit a paltry 62 homers (dead last in the league) with 408 runs so far this year, which is an even 4 runs scored per game. As a team, they trail the leading teams by almost a hundred runs! But this is nothing new, as any loyal Giants fan knows. The Giants success over the last half decade has been built on strong pitching, though the strategy which one might have expected, in acknowledgment of the difficulty of hitting homers at Pac Bell Park (with its yawning empty spaces in right and right-center field)--fielding a scratch and hustle group, or getting right-handed hitters with power to left--seemed not to materialize. Picking up Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan obviously was intended to fill this need. In Cabrera's case, the bet has paid off beautifully, but Pagan has tailed off considerably after an early season tear, and neither one has made much of an impact as a base-stealer. But a team built on weak offense, almost by design, can only work about half the time, since every team plays half its schedule in other parks. Even playing in smaller parks, Posey and Sandoval (and Cabrera) would have much higher power numbers.

The baseball wisdom was that the 2010 World Champs won with the good pitching formula, but people forget that that year we did have measurable power--

Posty 18
Huff 26
Uribe 24
Sandoval 13
Burrell 18
Torres 16

--which are the kind of numbers you expect of a strong offense. Sabean's eccentric insistence on not investing in power-production had, by late last year, begun to seem like an unsupportable fetish which was costing the team wins. And when he let Beltran and Keppinger go, I had that familiar feeling of expecting the worst. That premonition was confirmed this year as the Giants proved unable to hit in the clutch, and, with Brian Wilson on the shelf with Tommy John surgery, unable to hold those slim leads in the late innings. It seemed clear, once more, that the Giants could certainly contend for the division lead, but it would be touch and go.

When the Dodgers went out and acquired Hanley Ramirez (from Miami) and Shane Victorino (from Philadelphia) it was clear that the power balance in the division was shifting. This was made manifest when Los Angeles came in over last weekend and swept the leaders three straight, allowing only 3 runs in 27 innings! The Dodgers have good, but not great, pitching, but to be held to 1 run per game in your own park is an embarrassment. Of course this was payback for the nearly identical shellacking we had given them on their last visit here, and we were still in first place after they left, but Sabean could see the handwriting on the outfield wall. Strong pitching is fine, but if you're being shut out, a low team ERA is small consolation.

New Giant Marco Scutero

All of which is prelude to the news over the last few days of the Giants' recent acquisition of two more mid-season spark-plugs, meant to put more horsepower into the team's offense for the pennant run. Marco Scutero (from Colorado) should provide a bit of punch at third base, where Joaquin Arias's numbers left much to be desired (in Pablo's absence, the victim of yet another minor injury--a groin strain from stretching to take a throw at first base).

Then yesterday afternoon, the baseball world was buzzing about the Giants' trade for Hunter Pence, in exchange for Nate Schierholtz and two minor leaguers (one a good catching prospect). Schierholtz, as our fan base knows, has never lived up to his promise, and would probably have remained a platoon player for the rest of his career in San Francisco--a nice guy, an excellent fielder, with speed, but unable to overcome a couple of obvious weaknesses at the plate, particularly his tendency to misjudge inside pitches. There was also the revelation, in conjunction with the news, that the Giants had actually been trying to get Pence as early as last year, before the Phillies landed him from Houston (his original team). And Nate, it should be noted, had come out publicly in the press with his frustration at not being given full-time playing duties, asking (in effect) to be traded.

The Phillies, meanwhile, like the Astros, have embarked on a housecleaning, believing that their chances to compete this year were inexorably slipping. A team rich in talent, especially offense, they had let Jayson Werth go after 2010, Raul Ibanez after 2011, and now Pence and Victorino. Werth's career has declined, and Ibanez is age 40, but Victorino, and especially Pence, both with power and speed, are stars--not the kind of players any team relinquishes voluntarily. With all these players gone, it's hard to see how Philadelphia remains a contending team in the near future; Philly is still an older team.

With Pence, the Giants finally have a right-handed threat, a hitter whose home-runs should come with some regularity at Pac Bell, and elsewhere. Unlike Sandoval, he doesn't seem injury prone, and we shouldn't lose anything in outfield coverage (in exchange for Schierholtz). Pence is a frightening presence at the plate, taking monster cuts. Last year, he hit .314, and his lifetime average is .290, with over 90 RBI's a season. All Star material, right down the line. The real question, given the Giants' payroll, is whether Sabean can justify keeping him in the future. With Wilson nearing the end of his career (or maybe already done), the team will need to develop or acquire a certified closer--a key component of any serious contending team in this era. Sabean has always come down on the side of pitching, but perhaps now he may decide upon a "relief by committee" if he can increase the team's offensive production by another 50 runs a season. If you can average 2 more runs than the opposition, the importance of a lights-out closer is much less. Winning games the way the Giants have over the last three seasons is always exciting, but you wish that with all these great starters, we could rest a little easier in later innings. With Pence hitting, say, behind Posey or Sandoval, those guys should expect to get better pitches, too. How good could the team be with the following line-up?--


It's always dismaying to see how fast line-ups change over time. Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Cody Ross, Torres, Schierholtz, Rowand, Burrell, Uribe, Molina, Jonathan Sanchez--all fading from memory, all once major pieces in the shifting puzzle of baseball's unified field theory of team viability. So long, Nate, hola Hunter! And the guy even wears his socks high!

New Giant Hunter Pence

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Due Diligence - The Sandusky Verdict & Aftermath

The Trial of Jerry Sandusky has ended, the x-coach found guilty by a jury of 45 counts of child molestation. He is awaiting sentencing. Experts predict that he'll get a life term. Given that he's 68 now, that would probably mean something like 10-20 years, depending upon how long he lives.

The Sandusky affair--which dates back at least to 1998, when complaints about the Assistant Coach's involvement with young boys began to surface--has caused a national media fire-storm of controversy and indignation, leading to the dismissal of the Penn State University President, Vice President Gary Schultz, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and late Head Coach Joe Paterno, each of whom was heavily implicated in a coordinated cover-up, designed to limit publicity and protect the reputation of the lucrative and popular Penn State football program, perhaps the most successful such organization in the country.

It had to have been apparent to Paterno, as well as others with direct involvement with the team, in and around team headquarters and gymnasium, showers, etc., that Sandusky had had a "problem" with small boys, for years. Victims coming forward during and after the trial have reported abuse dating as far back as the 1970's. It strains credulity to imagine that Sandusky's activity could have gone on undetected and unconfirmed for almost four decades. Sandusky's activities, following the initial investigation in 1998-99, became so brazenly open that he seemed to be daring his colleagues to out him.

Sandusky had been involved in charity work for disadvantaged kids, and had used this to gain access to his victims. A classic pedophile, he would seduce the boys by taking them on trips, buying them gifts, and offering them rewards for cooperating with his sexual advances. A married man, Sandusky and his wife had no children of their own, but adopted six children, at least one of whom, Matt Sandusky, now claims to have been molested by his adoptive parent.

Penn State University has been severely sanctioned by the NCAA, and the university itself hired X-FBI Director Louis Freeh's firm to investigate the whole affair, and following his recommendations, have instituted sweeping changes in their regulations and practice with respect to the athletics programs, particularly their varsity football program.

The Sandusky Affair, and the public's reaction to it, raise a number of interesting questions, by no means confined to the officially, politically correct, sentiments so far expressed. Contemporary morality officially condemns what it regards as impermissible sexual behavior, but how this is defined in law, and how it is perceived in the general culture, differ significantly. Sandusky was found guilty of, for instance, "involuntary deviate sexual intercourse," unlawful contact with a minor," "indecent assault," "corruption of minors," and "endangering the welfare of children." All of these constitute chargeable crimes, which can be prosecuted in open court, punishable by varying terms of imprisonment--at least in Pennsylvania State Law. "Molestation" apparently is a lay term, not used to define sexual abuse crime directed at children.

On its face, Sandusky's behavior looks wholly culpable, and I have no doubt that he is guilty of the crimes with which he has been charged, but the nature of his crime, and how society goes about defining what is and is not, for instance, "involuntary" or "deviate" sexual activity, goes to the heart of our hypocrisy about ethical behavior and the appropriate response to perceived mischief.

We know that minors--that is, boys and girls under the age of 18--are routinely engaged in all kinds of sexual activity. In certain minority cultures, in the U.S., young girls as young as 10-14 are routinely subjected to non-voluntary sexual exploitation. In many "primitive" or non-Western, and even in some remote Western, cultures, the practice of "child-brides" is a common tradition. The so-called "age of consent" means little in circumstances where, absent any legal authority or defined body of conduct, both men and women are regularly subjected to many different kinds of sexual assault. In Mormon subculture, for instance, multiple female marital partnerships often occur with girls in their early teens.

In the wider contemporary homosexual culture, "man and boy" relationships are coming to be considered just as common as man and girl relationships. The usual stereotype of "statutory rape" victims is of a young girl becoming involved with an older man. But in homosexual culture, the absence of the risk of pregnancy does not make what is otherwise an identical kind of violation any different, in theory or practice. Accounts of sexual initiation usually focus on events happening when individuals are still technically minors. While society officially frowns on young girls engaging in sexual acts in early puberty, unofficially it is tacitly acknowledged that many, if not a majority, of them actually do. Why should it come as a surprise that homosexuals are in fact "initiated" to what is called "deviate" sex in the same way, and at the same tender ages?

What would have happened had Sandusky been raping young girls? Supposing a female coach of the girls' basketball team (Penn State does have one) were to have been implicated in the sexual exploitation of players? Would society, and the press, have shown more indignation and shock at these sorts of "crimes," or less. There are countless reported instances--no doubt the very tip of the iceberg--of male athletes leading illicit sexual lives, often with very young women. We think of these kinds of activities merely as predictable bad behavior, though society is coming more recently to demonize people who exhibit this behavior, and to pursue those whom it regards as criminals.

It is perfectly understandable that Paterno, faced with the probable scandal that would ensue, had he chosen to go directly to school authorities, to the public media, or to the police, would naturally tend to want to shield his storied team and program. He would certainly have realized the consequences of any kind of such disclosure. Did he believe that the "crime" of which Sandusky was guilty, rose to the level of harm or perceived evil that revealing it justified the destruction of a program he had given his life to build? In a large organization such as a big college football team, which competes on the national stage, and commands millions of dollars annually in revenue, and directly involves the lives and careers of hundreds of men each year, a scandal which involves, at most, a handful of people (less than a dozen, say), can have catastrophic effects on nearly everyone else, all of whom are, in fact, innocent.

A lot of sentiment in the press, and in the court case, has been built around the idea of "abuse of authority"--as if the fact of Sandusky's connection to Penn State, to his charity for young boys, made his crimes more heinous. He was acting "in a position of trust" (as it is often put), by exploiting his access and presumed higher moral standing. But we know that people in position of authority or trust are no more likely to be sexually decent than others. In fact, the stress of high office, and the character traits likely to lead to advancement in employment in any walk of life, would suggest that it may indeed be more likely that leaders and climbers would be aggressively "sexual"--more prone to engage in extramarital affairs, more apt to pay for sex, to have multiple partners, and more likely to act out the so-called various "deviant" sexual roles. Sandusky's behavior, in the context of this kind of authority-role profile, seems actually to have been predictable. According to his official biography (on Wikipedia), Sandusky was friendless in high school and college, had a childless marriage (with only adopted children), and as his career progressed, spent more and more time pursuing his little "hobby" of buggering boys.

But if the occurrence of sexual exploitation of minors is as common as we now generally acknowledge, certainly Sandusky's problem was in his relentlessness, indulging repeatedly and regularly, to an obsessive degree, the sexual exploitation of those who were sexually innocent, and powerless to resist him.

We ordinarily think of sexual maturity in legal terms, but we all know that sexual awareness, sexual desire, and sexual activity, occurs prior to attainment of majority. Everyone matures at a different rate, both physically and mentally (emotionally). As I discussed in my piece on sexual morés in The Lolita-Complex in the World of Jock Sturges (January 7th, 2010)--

". . .we know without any doubt that what we think of as settled society and culture is a very late (new) human development. Our ancestors didn't begin living in "permanent" communities until very late in the game. Life expectancy in pre-civilized circumstances (tribal and/or nomadic), which went on for hundreds of thousands of years, was short, perhaps 30-35 years. It is generally assumed that sexual activity began much earlier in "pre-civilized" human society than it commonly does these days. Girls reaching puberty at age 12-14 began to bear children immediately, experiencing multiple pregnancies, accompanied by many lost infants, by their mid-twenties. What this means in real terms, is that what we now tend to regard with surprise and perhaps revulsion, was probably the behavioral norm among primitive human societies. The idea of regardng very young girls as potential sex objects, desirable and ripe for indoctrination and mating, is a much older and more common "tradition" than the customs, laws and habits which have developed over the last 4000 years. Age-of-consent debates, and various controversial religious precepts regarding procreation notwithstanding, cultural notions of prescribed social and sexual interaction between individuals have undergone changes over time, and there are significant differences among present-day cultures--primitive, residual and "modern"--which suggests that there is no hard and fast definition across the spectrum of human society that supports a single interpretation . . . ."

Faced with the clear evidence of our natural proclivity towards sexual activity prior to legal notions of maturity, we are coming more and more to expect, and even to tacitly accept the idea that sexual activity in puberty is a completely natural behavior. In a Puritan culture like that of the early Euro-American period, strictly defined (and governed), sexual behavior has traditionally been regarded with a kind of hypocrisy. On the one hand, our morality acknowledges the tendency innate in human character to engage in sexual experimentation, while on the other it resists incorporating this reality into official practice and duty.

Over the last century, there has been an increasing liberalization in the definitions of "normal" and "permissible" behavior. In America, as in many other "civilized" countries of the world, homosexuality, lesbianism, transsexuality, and--perhaps now--man and girl, man and boy, woman and girl, even woman and boy relationships are coming to be an expected and tolerable form of sexual feeling and expression. In homosexual culture, in particular, arguments in favor of sexual activity involving under-age boys are being served up with brazen audacity. Much of the literature of so-called "deviant" kinds of sexual behavior involve fantasy projections involving children. Any science which merely "describes" such kinds of "deviant" behavior--rather than proscribing it--risks being thought immoral simply by being disinterested. In science, outcomes are of utmost importance; they constitute the proof which is the basis of the formulation of laws. If every kind of sexual behavior is ultimately "normal" simply because it "exists" in some measurable proportion in the larger sample, then it must be tolerated. It is, by definition, "natural."

In law, we like to say that "involuntary" or "forced" interaction constitutes the measure of crime. If a 12 year old girl, say, in Utah, voluntarily enters into a marital "relationship" with a man of 50, joining three other women who also began their life as "wives" when in puberty, then this is "okay." But a determination of "okay" is ambiguous in the context of a specific culture. If you are raised to expect to be married by, for instance, age 14, then the sexual relations you have with a man older than yourself are by definition, completely ethical and sensible. If a rich man has intercourse with his (ethnically minor and underage) maid, this is permissible if neither party is married, and if the issue is accommodated by the superior party. If a Gay boy has sexual relations with a much older and experienced man, this is counted tolerable if the younger one consents. But the line between "consent" and "obedience" or "coercion" can be very grey, depending upon the case.

If Sandusky is a freak and a monster, what of other older men and women who secretly, or even openly, fantasize about, or even actively pursue, minors as sexual objects? Today we are asked to accept that anal intercourse is just another "variation" on the sexual menu for a certain segment of the population. Whether we accept this as a scientific description, or as the eruption of a new kind of moral degeneracy, one must admit that the implied schism cannot be simply resolved either through law, or custom alone. On the one hand, we spit vituperation and abuse on those whose behavior or feelings we condemn as deviant or just sick. But then we entertain notions of public tolerance which bleed right into the same areas of conduct and belief. We say that there should be no prejudice or persecution of those whose tendencies have traditionally been regarded as wrong, but then pretend to be surprised and "shocked, shocked!" when presented with the actual evidence of their "secret" behavior.

Sandusky himself, who had admitted in print that he liked the "risk" of challenging boundaries, may have actually felt a growing sense of permission after 1999. Taking boys into the public gymnasium shower and buggering them, may have seemed to him to be somehow "okay" if actually crazy, in retrospect. "Oh, that's just Jerry, horsing around in the shower again." If Sandusky's behavior had come to be accepted, albeit reluctantly, by Paterno, and Curley, and Schultz, and President Spanier, as an unfortunate footnote to the success of the Penn State football tradition, it may be that it was a consequence of the atmosphere of tolerance which we have increasingly been expected to condone. Sandusky was a "good man" with professional credentials as a successful coach, physical education teacher, the founder of a recognized charity, a family man. A model citizen. A man who had let his secret fantasies and desires get the better of him. Who had liked "little boys" all his life and found them sexually irresistible. He couldn't help himself. He needed help. He was abnormal. He was sick. He was a criminal. He was all these things.

And yet, we know that's not the end of the argument. We know that sexual "deviance" isn't uncommon, and we know that sexual feeling may be channelled into many different kinds of behavior. For thousands of years, we've frequently treated women with little regard for their autonomy, and that brand of persecution and exploitation continues today. We can shake our heads in consternation and distaste over someone like Sandusky, but we know that his kind of sin is just another form of the same old abuse of power and authority. Ultimately, what is sexual activity between older and younger individuals? Society provides definitions for preferred outcomes, but it can't regulate behavior until it resolves the contradictions inherent in its underlying assumptions. And those assumptions mostly go unremarked, or unexamined. If anal intercourse is wrong, for instance, it must be wrong not just for Sandusky and his young boys, but for everyone, under all conditions. If taking a woman of 12 as a wife is wrong, it should be wrong whether you are Mormon, or Catholic, or Jewish.

We would like to think that Paterno is an immoral man, who sacrificed the welfare of young boys on the altar of his vaunted athletic program. But in the larger scheme of things, he was able to justify his silence by excusing behavior which he found unpleasant, probably, but not rising to the level, say, of kidnap or murder. Is it worse for soldiers in a war to rape women, or for an assistant football coach to bugger 13 year old boys in the shower? What is the difference between an older man, like Sandusky, persuading a 13 year-old boy to have oral sex, and a man seducing a 14 year old girl to have unprotected intercourse? No difference, you say? So what is the context? It may all come down to how you are raised, and what your preconceptions are about human behavior. "Training," after all may consist of initiations of one kind or another. A lot of religionists will counsel silence and prohibition, but fail to acknowledge the importance of unlicensed kinds of experience. If the majority of young people today are "experimenting" with sex, then it should come as no surprise that those experiments won't be limited to one kind of expression. It may be that children are a lot more cognizant than we give them official credit for. Once you understand the mechanics of sex, and of the probable consequences of different kinds of practice--such as anal penetration, or unprotected contacts with multiple partners--you're much less likely to indulge in risky behaviors, no matter who is advocating them. The real crime in the Sandusky case was that his "victims" were uninformed and powerless, not that they were simply young. They didn't have a chance to make a choice. It was forced on them. And yet, any one of them could grow up, as many do, feeling as if their first encounter was their original sin, and they become themselves homosexuals, or pedophiles. Which is how many people come to see their own sexuality, as a consequence of their initiation, their special fate. At what age is any one truly responsible for choosing who they are? And what is the correct kind of training? And when should it be applied?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Leather & Lace -- a Bonny New Mixture

Most all the days we spent in Scotland, it rained. Or rather, didn't rain, it misted. You had to keep the windshield wipers going all the time. Venturing outside, you might stand for a few minutes, hardly noticing, or you might walk two blocks in Glasgow, and be none the worse. But if you stayed out, you'd get a fine mist in your hair (or your beard), and your shoulders would gradually darken with soak. This mist isn't exclusively Scottish, or Irish, but it's thicker up north than elsewhere in the British Isles. It's what keeps things green, though the Scots have cut most of their old forests down, and hillsides are covered in gorse and heather and low shrubs which color subtly in changing light.

Nothing like a shot of Talisker, if coming in from sauntering abroad on the heath, as they say. Nothing like that and a good fire and your woolen socks steaming in front of a good fire. Wear a familiar cap and your hair will turn grey at 33, a tribute to your doggedness and mild frustration.

This is a sweet one, like the two weeks before you're married, and the two weeks afterwards! Drambuie is often mixed with scotch--the classic "Rusty Nail" made 2 to 1--but there's no scotch here, this is a little more subtle, the Irish Mist (concocted from Irish whiskey, heather, honey and herbs etc.) providing just the right suggestion of leather, with the subtlety of the Drambuie masked slightly. The Canadian whisky is like a binder, linking the rum to the liqueurs.

This one gains nothing from agitation, so a vigorous swirling in ice is more than adequate. It could be served with or without lemon garnish, but the lemon isn't exactly the association it requires. It could even be served in one of those squat little drink tumblers that taverns seem to like nowadays, as long as the glass is well-chilled. It doesn't get better as it warms.

This recipe should make two medium-sized portions:

3 Parts Mt. Gay rum
2 Parts Canadian whisky
1 Part Drambuie
1 Part Irish Mist
1 Part fresh lemon juice

For the lads and and lassies in convivial circumstances. Leather for the riding. Lace for the ladies. And good luck to you!

The Black Cats

You see them in Marseilles, lounging near the fish-stalls in the morning, bathed in the low-tide odors of the Mediterranean catch. You see them in Mykonos, posing on whitewashed staircases at noon. You see them in Alexandria, hunched on a window-sill, looking at the tourists. In Paris, beside a flowerbox on the third floor, or sneaking down a back alley on some private assignation. In London, on a leash, or sipping water from a catch-basin. In Barcelona, scurrying across a deserted square at dawn. In Brussels, licking cream from a dish at the back door to a famous restaurant. You see them in New Orleans, in the French Quarter, peering out behind a rusted iron grill. Looking scrawny and forlorn in Bangkok, orphaned. Or pampered and fat in Amsterdam. But always alone, standing some way apart from the tabbies, marked out by their difference, independent, isolate, imperturbable. You see them in Pasadena, homebound and spoiled, by an old rich lady in furs. You see them on cottage roofs in the Cotswolds, hunting mice among the thatch. In Berlin, in the rain, huddled under a shrub. You see them in Rome, furtive and wily, suspicious of you. Walking along the river one day in Boston, one crosses your path, not looking back. They belong to no one, these black cats, they are incognito and ubiquitous, and though they may camp under your roof, and purr with a pleasure that is neither here nor there, they are wild, only pretending to be civilized. Born in captivity, or perhaps in a barn, in wet hay. Nurtured, or abandoned, they would fend for themselves, or find a mate. Or a caretaker. Loyal to no one. Selfish, unpredictable. Bland, passionate, lazy, enterprising. Lost; found. Curious; mysterious. Watching from the edge of a wood. Calculating the odds. Preening. Posing. Dreaming. From the dark side of the moon. Sleek. Elusive. Sly. Companionable. Clairvoyant. They are the black cats.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Minimalism XIV: Grenier's Sentences Towards Birds

By 1975, I had published five issues of my little magazine, entitled, simply L. There had been a feeling of finality about that. I had begun working for the government in San Francisco the year before, and the idea of participating in a literary "scene" in the Bay Area seemed more and more illusory. I realized I could go on publishing issues of the magazine, but the effect such an enterprise might have, to define my taste and to broadcast it into a vague and undefined "audience" felt less and less compelling. Books of poems, however, had more material impact, and could make a more unified literary statement. Magazines might be formally cohesive, but individual voices could have a power and purpose beyond mere style.

During this period, little magazines were ubiquitous. Federal and state monies were available, and a lot of people were "making their own scene" regionally, especially in big cities. The split between the official verse culture maintained by the publishing, academic and critical media and the "outlaw" literary world of younger writers who were following the trends initiated by the early Modernists, was becoming marked.

As a junior English major at UC Berkeley, I wanted to take a poetry writing class. I had been writing verse since my sophomore year in high school. I was haunting used bookstores, and finding all kinds of obscure but fascinating work, but it seemed a chaotic scene without definition. Denise Levertov, who had been hired to teach that year, had been delayed in her arrival by the legal difficulties of her husband Mitch Goodman who had been convicted for conspiring to counsel youths to disobey the military draft. Her delay led to two "replacements" being hired in her stead--Richard Tillinghast and Robert Grenier. Both Tillinghast and Grenier were former students of Robert Lowell at Harvard, though in Grenier's case the placement had been a result of the recommendation of William Alfred (another Harvard teacher of Grenier's). In any case, when I came to submit work for placement in a poetry writing class, Grenier's was the one I made contact with.

Bob had recently graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and spent a year abroad in England on an Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship. His first book, Dusk Road Games (Pym-Randall Press) had recently appeared, and (as I would later learn) his second collection, Water Farmer, had been rejected by New Directions. An early apprentice of the work of Robert Creeley, Bob had nevertheless a wide reading and appreciation of different kinds of writing, both traditional and experimental, and could speak authoritatively about dozens of poets, and the competing literary movements in the national scene. In many ways, Grenier was the perfect teacher for a young aspiring writer, because he read closely, and wasn't afraid to show you his taste. It was an honesty and concentration that would move my own writing very quickly into the central preoccupations of contemporary poetry. Within six months, I could see where I might fit into that world, and by my senior year (and second round of "workshop" classes) I was writing well enough that I was encouraged to apply for acceptance to Iowa myself as a graduate writing student.

I would eventually go the Iowa, and in the immediate years following, would expend a good deal of effort to produce work, and to move into the literary scene by getting myself published and to disseminate the work of those I admired with my magazine, still later by publishing books. The first project that occurred to me was a collection of short works by Grenier. Bob had been working on a long collection of short poems called A Day at the Beach--a much altered and pruned version of which appeared years later (from Roof Books, 1984). But he'd either abandoned that, or had set it aside to concentrate on a new form of expression which would in due course be called "Sentences"--short poems conceived as unbound cards, unsequenced, neither chronological nor organized according to any ordered priority. I suggested to Bob then, that, given the significant dimensions of this new work, it might be useful to make a modest selection as a dry run, to try out the form he had been meditating, and to initiate my publishing venture with a novel new form. It would help him to think through the meaning of this form. Bob agreed and made a short selection. Recalling the cover design of the Pym-Randall book, I went on a search for "period" postcards which would echo the earlier jacket design illustration. I found a postcard which I thought perfectly caught the spirit of the earlier photo of a car driving down an old tree-lined street. Grenier had grown up in Minnesota, where the winters tend to be long and hard. Bob himself had a kind of "wintry" side to his nature, which was expressed through the hard clarity of his poetic vision. There was also the sentimental, nostalgic quality of a lost childhood, which had formed a crucial part of his earliest work.

So I published Sentences Towards Birds, printed at the West Coast Print Center, with typesetting by Barry Watten. Barry had invited me to meet him at the Center, to pick up the cards, which had been printed on larger sheets to be trimmed later to size. When I arrived, Barry accompanied me down to the printing shop, and we carried the huge stack of printed card-stock sheets over to the big paper-cutting machine. Barry carefully checked the measurement of the sheets, set the trim dimension, and then pulled down hard on the big armature lever. The blade sliced convincingly through the stack, and we pulled the trim block away from the guillotine. Barry raised up the top few sheets, but exclaimed in agony (!)--the stack had not been in order, the top sheet laid at 90 degrees to those underneath. The whole stack had been trimmed on the wrong side and four of the cards had been sliced right through the middle! Since about half of the cards had already been trimmed, it wasn't a complete disaster, but the total number of copies for publication had suddenly been reduced from approximately 160 to about 120.* I located an envelope size which perfectly fit the dimensions of the original post-card design, and sealed each copy with a big red adhesive dot. All in all, I was very pleased with the way it turned out. When Bob's very much larger work, Sentences (Whale Cloth Press, 1978)** appeared, the earlier selection proved to be an important item in Bob's bibliography, and extant copies of it now go for around $100 or more apiece! But Sentences Towards Birds was the first official separate publication of Sentences (though Bob would include a small packet of them as an enclosure to this #5 [1974] (16 index cards with 30 poems printed one to a side held with a rubber band)), and I feel privileged to have husbanded that selection into print as early as I did.

In any case, Sentences Towards Birds was published, though not without another editorial contretemps. Bob had apparently originally intended that the title should be Sentences Toward Birds, leaving off the "s" in toward. When the envelope of cards was published, Bob was adamant that he'd wanted it to be "Sentences Toward Birds," and we had a friendly argument about whether toward or towards was 1) the proper grammatical form, and 2) more accurate to the meaning, or more aesthetically pleasing. The hard "d" sound has a kind of aural quality that is perhaps more "like" Bob's intent, but towards implies the more "British" prepositional sense of the fitness of a comparison, and not limited to the dictionary sense of "at-" or "more at." Grammar, in its strictness sense, prescribes no preference. If I were to publish a second edition of the work, I would probably consider changing the title to Sentences Toward Birds, but for the time being, posterity will have to live with the error--if indeed it is one.

There have been, and there will be more, critical discussions and analyses of Sentences, in the future, about its possible meanings, and the implications of its unique form. It can function as a collection of comic short hits, or can be meditated at length as a complex, witty conception whose dimensions are vast. The choice to refuse elaboration or development, in favor of mysterious fragments of phrase and reconstructed speech units, has many possible meanings. I've explored some of the separate poems which pre-date Sentences in my previous blog posts on Grenier's work, notably in Minimalism X and XIII--each devoted to separate poems from his book Series: Poems 1967-1971 (this press, 1978) which readers may wish to refer to. A great deal can be discovered and explored through the consideration of individual pieces, but the meaning of the Sentences (the whole work--its range and breadth) has yet to be fully considered, in my opinion, by the literary community. My continuing series on Minimalism is one effort to increase awareness of Bob's work, particularly that written between his departure from tradition "poems" in the early 'Seventies, and his abandonment of traditional text composition in the 1990's (the S C R A W L S).

Grenier's minimalism in Sentences is different, for instance, from that of Saroyan. For Saroyan, the letters and words of the poem establish the parameters of its apprehension. Aram's poems are deductive, creating incrementally the limits of their own definition, dominating the range of possible interpretations (readings). A Saroyan poem may literally set up a horizon-line, or a row of fence-posts, but in Grenier's work, this visualizing materiality is a minor element, seldom present. Rather, the larger implication of a metaphysical SPACE--in the way that space, as the defining set of coordinates for the positionality of the poet (proprioception) in the universe--is the point of intersection/decision-making, is an all-encompassing FACT throughout the poems in Sentences.

That space, sometimes from his memory, is Midwestern (Minnesota), bordered by the prairie or the plains; and sometimes New Englandish (woodsy and rustic); and still other times Pacific (boundless and Whitmanic). This symbolic space, which surrounds his poems, stands for (is) a forcefield of energies, at all times in flux, consuming. It is empty limitless American ponderable hunger, consuming, lost. Threatening at any point to render (any) man's efforts and dreams irrelevant through decay, entropy, death.

Unlike Creeley, Grenier's words in Sentences aren't intensely felt and motivated towards some ulterior extremity of pain, or affection, or remorse, or other emotional condition. They have a similar brand of self-consciousness, but not the willful, deliberate, pressured orality, which characterizes For Love, Words, Pieces or A Daybook. Though Creeley's work is a starting-point for Grenier's own liberation as a writer, and Bob continued to follow BC's development throughout the elder's life, his own work soon veered off in a different direction.

In Sentences, the "poem" becomes the scene of a discovery or realization of some fact heretofore unnoticed or unexampled in language, becomes a wholly objectified presence outside the realm of the individual bodied speaking voice. The separate cards become specimens whose unique occasion is set adrift from the narrative of argument, from social conditions, and "they see us" as detached phenomena. They may describe something in our lives or the life of the speaker, but there is no dialectic set up between concerned speaker and "audience." They do not describe, or enact a speech act moment, but exist apart. The poems strive towards a condition of released appraisal of phenomenon, so that language is listening to itself, watching itself, toying with the generative switches of impulse, of pre-emptive command--is emancipated from ordinary discourse.

What did I think of the dematerialization of text--of book--which the loose'n'd unbound cards implied? I woke up with (the) cards somewhere nearby. Remembered to. Separate parts chasing each other. In a single head these separate occasions might co-exist as unlinked events each of which had an integrity of its own, unrepeatable and self-effacing. How to stop time in order to savor the experience the moment allows. Each one alone, untethered.

If birds could talk, a robin hopping might be thinking in rhythm of the number of chirps to describe what it means to cross the distance between two trees. A bird might be undecided about that. Did Charlie Parker riff a familiar lyric? Bird-head bobbing or dipping down. Thinking in that motion as an imitation of wild song. Do birds think musically?

An erection of monumental proportion. Land grants depth perception. Words perch on lines.

I thought to speak before I spoke. Getting to a point beyond the city limits me. Allowed me space to appreciate the sound of my own phrasing. Making fun sound serious on vacation. That's my parole.

The hum of the external world is a pleasant pastime for the mind grid. The human impulse to respond to sound is imitation all the way. The sound is merely a by-product of another set of priorities. Getting you from one place to another. When a flea jumps, it doesn't know where it's going to land--the leap is both an escape, and an adventure into possibility. Leaping is a survival mechanism.

Other voices. The familiar become unfamiliar, as if overheard in a shared dream under the Milky Way. This is still a "poem" like a single flower in a field of weeds. It wants to.

For me, publishing Sentences Towards Birds was both an homage and an appropriation of an exploration, the parameters of which were--at that point--still in the process of formation. Coherence. The universe in which it functions hadn't yet been described, but there was enough space set aside to include everything necessary, whole unto itself. Sentences can be seen from this perspective (now) as an intermediary step between the Concrete works of Series--and the physical enactments of the S C R A W L S.

What's next?


*Later, as I would learn, reviewing Grenier's correspondence file at the Green Library at Stanford University in 2004, Barry would write a letter to Bob a few weeks later (in 1975), complaining that I was "stashing" unsold copies of the edition in my "closet,"--though it wasn't at all clear, then, or now, why I would have been doing such a thing. Maybe Barry believed that this would be a way of covering up his error by claiming that the small number of copies available for distribution was a result of my hoarding, instead of his carelessness.
**If there are any readers who are still unaware of it, Grenier's Sentences can be read in an online version provided by Michael Waltuch's Whalecloth website (just click on the online version link). It's constructed to be displayed in a different order each time it's read, an interesting and apt take on the randomness principle inherent in the unbound nature of the cards.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

From the Gallery of Heroes - Beatrix Potter

As an only child (until the age of 13), growing up in the 1950's in suburban California, I was the focus of my parents' expectations regarding my future potential as a well-rounded adult. As "respectable" lower middle-class Midwesterners who had grown up before World War II, they were raised in an atmosphere of deprivation and social embarrassment, which they thought of a a normal state of affairs. Nevertheless, following the prevailing social mores of the time, they believed that reading to children constituted almost a christian duty, something good for its own sake, and a crucial element in juvenile education. Perhaps this is one reason that reading had so official and important place in our sense of daily life; it was something you could do in privacy, and it didn't involve any interaction with society. Reading, as a form of cultural enrichment, was a discipline and a pleasure all parents should strive to pass on to their children. They had both been avid readers in their youth, though my mother tended to read books less often as she aged.

Hence, from the age of 3, I was introduced to the world of juvenile literature, mostly by being read to, out loud, on a regular basis.

Among the many titles I was read was Beatrix Potter's classic children's story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Like many children, I learned the words to stories by heart, through repetition and emphasis, and could anticipate nearly every sentence or phrase as it was read to me, as I was encouraged to do. As each page was turned, and I saw the illustration, I would begin to speak the next sentence before Dad would say it, a kind of anticipatory proof of memory, and interest.

A lot of stories for children are "softened" to make them less frightening, but Peter Rabbit, like the Pooh stories, or Raggedy Ann, weren't particularly strong stuff to begin with. I'm not sure why, but I rather imagined as a child, that the author, Beatrix Potter, must be a late middle aged matronly sort of woman, modest and reserved, perhaps even a bit smug. But I was surprised to learn, looking her up lately on Wikipedia, that she was a rather liberated 19th Century woman, self-supporting, forward-looking, with wide interests, an active life, and a great talent for writing as well as drawing and painting.

There are artists who lead lives of outward simplicity, but whose inner life is busy and fascinating. Then there are artists (or writers) whose artistic endeavors are but one facet of a varied personality. In Potter's case, her art work and her interest in biology and farming and (what would one day become known as) "ecology" (conservation) were melded into an integrated life of purpose and value and meaning. Upon her death, her considerable real estate holdings in the Lake District were donated to the National Trust, and her land became the basis for the Lake District National Park. But my purpose in addressing a child's tale--a genre which some of my readers may think I fail to appreciate, based on my criticism of Tolkien and Rowling--is to explore the feelings this story inspired in me as a small child.

I have reprinted the whole story here--without most of Potter's exquisite illustrations--since it's such a model of economy and concision. Rhythmic language and the characteristic intonements of grammar and syntax are employed with great subtlety, to manipulate a child's emotions in ways that are powerfully persuasive and effecting.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
by Beatrix Potter 
Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names
and Peter.
 They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a
very big fir-tree.
  'Now my dears,' said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, 'you may go into
he fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden:
your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs.
McGregor.'  'Now run along, and don't get into mischief. I am going out.'
  Then old Mrs. Rabbit took a basket and her umbrella, and went through
the wood to the baker's. She bought a loaf of brown bread and five
currant buns.
  Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, who were good little bunnies, went
down the lane to gather blackberries:
  But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor's
garden, and squeezed under the gate!
First he ate some lettuces and some French beans; and then he ate
some radishes;
And then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley.
But round the end of a cucumber frame, whom should he meet but Mr.
  Mr. McGregor was on his hands and knees planting out young cabbages,
but he jumped up and ran after Peter, waving a rake and calling out,
'Stop thief!'
  Peter was most dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the garden,
for he had forgotten the way back to the gate.
He lost one of his shoes among the cabbages, and the other shoe
amongst the potatoes.
After losing them, he ran on four legs and went faster, so that I
think he might have got away altogether if he had not unfortunately
run into a gooseberry net, and got caught by the large buttons on his
jacket. It was a blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new.
  Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were
overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great
excitement, and implored him to exert himself.
  Mr. McGregor came up with a sieve, which he intended to pop upon the
top of Peter; but Peter wriggled out just in time, leaving his jacket
behind him.
  And rushed into the tool-shed, and jumped into a can. It would have
been a beautiful thing to hide in, if it had not had so much water in it.
  Mr. McGregor was quite sure that Peter was somewhere in the
tool-shed, perhaps hidden underneath a flower-pot. He began to turn
them over carefully, looking under each.
  Presently Peter sneezed--'Kertyschoo!' Mr. McGregor was after him in
no time.
  And tried to put his foot upon Peter, who jumped out of a window,
upsetting three plants. The window was too small for Mr. McGregor, and
he was tired of running after Peter. He went back to his work.
  Peter sat down to rest; he was out of breath and trembling with
fright, and he had not the least idea which way to go. Also he was
very damp with sitting in that can.
  After a time he began to wander about, going lippity--lippity--not
very fast, and looking all round.
  He found a door in a wall; but it was locked, and there was no room
for a fat little rabbit to squeeze underneath.
  An old mouse was running in and out over the stone doorstep, carrying
peas and beans to her family in the wood. Peter asked her the way to
the gate, but she had such a large pea in her mouth that she could not
answer. She only shook her head at him. Peter began to cry.
Then he tried to find his way straight across the garden, but he
became more and more puzzled. Presently, he came to a pond where Mr.
McGregor filled his water-cans. A white cat was staring at some
gold-fish, she sat very, very still, but now and then the tip of her
tail twitched as if it were alive. Peter thought it best to go away
without speaking to her; he had heard about cats from his cousin,
little Benjamin Bunny.
  He went back towards the tool-shed, but suddenly, quite close to him,
he heard the noise of a hoe--scr-r-ritch, scratch, scratch, scritch.
Peter scuttered underneath the bushes. But presently, as nothing
happened, he came out, and climbed upon a wheelbarrow and peeped over.
The first thing he saw was Mr. McGregor hoeing onions. His back was
turned towards Peter, and beyond him was the gate!
  Peter got down very quietly off the wheelbarrow; and started running
as fast as he could go, along a straight walk behind some
black-currant bushes.
  Mr. McGregor caught sight of him at the corner, but Peter did not
care. He slipped underneath the gate, and was safe at last in the wood
outside the garden.
  Mr. McGregor hung up the little jacket and the shoes for a scare-crow
to frighten the blackbirds.
  Peter never stopped running or looked behind him till he got home to
the big fir-tree.
  He was so tired that he flopped down upon the nice soft sand on the
floor of the rabbit-hole and shut his eyes. His mother was busy
cooking; she wondered what he had done with his clothes. It was the
second little jacket and pair of shoes that Peter had lost in a
  I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening.
His mother put him to bed, and made some camomile tea; and she gave a
dose of it to Peter!
'One table-spoonful to be taken at bed-time.'
  But Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and
blackberries for supper.

Critics of children's literature have observed the division between some of Potter's illustrations, and the course of the narrative text. But that kind of observation isn't something that would occur to a child to notice. I'm not sure why children accept anthropomorphic projections with such ease, but I never saw anything unusual about dolls or animals having human characteristics, such as higher cognition or the ability to perform complex human movements. Animal or doll characters become stand-ins for the childhood identity projection, they live through these personifications, and experience their world as if they were living inside the character's bodies. Their travails and pleasures and perceptions become theirs, and they suffer or delight right along with them.

The idea that animals might be sympathetic creatures, whose plight humans could appreciate, was a fairly new idea in the 19th Century. Children's Literature, as a distinct literary genre, was just getting its start when Potter began to conceive of turning her own efforts into publications with a wider audience. The "child market"--which we think of today as a major commercial enterprise--was a novel notion in 1900. Potter herself ingeniously understood this untapped market, and copyrighted knock-offs of all kinds based on her popular children's books, authorizing the production of dolls, toys, board games, wallpaper, etc.; it was an early version of the merchandizing of paraphernalia which has become commonplace since the 1930's, and has grown into the huge advertising machines of our day, which play off of movies and popular genre books like Star Wars, Harry Potter and Spiderman.

Peter Rabbit departs from the manageable child story in several respects, which is one reason why it became so popular, and has endured. To begin with, Peter is a "bad" little rabbit (or boy). Ignoring his mother's advice to avoid Mr. McGregor's garden, he heads straight for it and immediately puts himself into jeopardy. In my mind, this meant two things: One) Peter was naughty, but much in the same way that adventuresome children often are, insisting on following their curiosity where it will lead them, and Two) Peter was a brave boy, who was willing to face danger head on in order to seize pleasure or excitement wherever it lay. I rather assumed that Peter's three sibling bunnies were girls, which would explain why they were timid and did their mother's bidding, avoiding mischief. Too, though I identified with Peter (as if he were a kind of hybrid "human" boy--in rabbit's habit) his entering the "human world" of Mr. McGregor was like entering foreign territory, an alien precinct. I was thus identifying with the non-human world, siding with "nature" against mankind's ordered appropriation of landscape. The rabbits exploit their environment in much the same spirit as mankind, though they also "steal" the gardener's product. This parasitic dependence never entered my mind as a child, but it conditioned me to think in terms of wild, undomesticated animals (like rabbits) as having their kind of integrity (their own discrete domesticity). Peter's family has a home, and tasks and responsibilities.

Peter's father, who has been caught, killed, and eaten by the McGregors--"put into a pie" as Peter's mother puts it--is gone, no longer able to provide for, or watch over, his family. Peter is thus, in a way, the "man in the family," who must step up and become the brave man we imagine his father must have been. Peter's adventures therefore are an admixture of foolish derring-do, and masculine heroism--not qualities, obviously, which Victorian parents would be likely to encourage in their children, for whom obedience and devoutness and mindfulness were the prevalent, preferred virtues. One can see Potter's own independence of mind and identification with nature in Peter's character, though his innocence and unmanageable temper are aspects of his youth and daring.

I can still recall clearly my sense of fear and loathing, feeling Peter's terror as he rushes into the tool shed, and jumps into a watering can full of cold water. No matter how many times I read the story, I felt near hysteria as Mr. McGregor began turning over pots trying to locate Peter. McGregor tries to step on Peter, but misses. Did I think about what fate might befall him if the gardener actually caught him? Did I imagine that Peter could be killed? Probably unconsciously.

As a child, Beatrix Potter had had rabbits (as well as other non-domestic animals) as pets. She and her brother Bertram were raised by enlightened, well-to-do parents, both artistically inclined. The children were encouraged to follow their interests, she becoming absorbed by natural history. Beatrix kept an intimate diary, in which she records her growing interests in nature and science. She became an expert in the study of mushrooms (fungi), and wrote an illustrated paper, which was submitted by proxy to the Linnean Society (because she was not allowed to attend due to her sex). (Were she to have been born a hundred years later, there's little doubt that she could have had an important scientific career.) Potter was born in 1866, seven years after Darwin published The Origin of Species. Much of the anthropomorphic content and meaning of stories like Peter Rabbit derive from the unified ecological theory of nature which Darwin's theories embody. Potter clearly understood the symbiotic interconnectivity of life forms, both as a force and as a principle.

Though Peter Rabbit appears to us now as a straightforward narrative combining elements of the adventure story and classic nature myth, it had a revolutionary quality in its time. Rather than a mysterious, hostile context, nature for Potter is "home"--not just an external precinct filled with danger and hostility. The human world of Mr. McGregor and his cultivated garden is in open competition with the rabbits for food, and control of the environment, but though they vie for common ground, they are part of a whole system, none of whose inhabitants have moral superiority over another. The birds, and the cat, and the mouse all belong to a world whose ultimate reckoning of life potential is shared. Animals (and plants) aren't provided merely for man's enjoyment and exploitation, but as different forms of organic development with equal claims to survival.

Though Darwin didn't know how genetics works, he understood the inter-relationship of environment and evolution. With enough time and pressure, and the occasional favorable accident (mutation). . . .

The lessons which Peter is learning will enable him to survive to adulthood, provided he isn't caught or killed in the process. Mr. McGregor, and the cat (a carnivorous predator), are the savage cannibals in the world of this story. The rabbits are vegetarians. But they're also opportunists--thieves. They see garden vegetables simply as part of nature's bounty, which exists for the taking. They don't comprehend ownership, or trade, or private property. Peter wears a little coat, and shoes, but he doesn't wear any pants! He's a little rascal, but as children we want him to succeed. With him, we suffer danger, discomfort, fear, illness, and the relief of home and a nurturing mother. But these are all presented as perfectly natural conditions, within a context that is not limited to human ingenuity and invention.

As a fable of Man versus Nature, The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a cautionary moral tale, but ambiguous in its message. As products of a liberated "new (British) woman," and a frustrated would-be scientist (biologist/botanist), Potter's juvenile stories are seen in the context of a campaign to husband in a new view of life. Her intended marriage to her publisher, Norman Warne, ended in tragedy, as he died a month after their engagement. Later, she would marry the town solicitor in Sawrey, who had helped her acquire properties in the area she had marked out for preservation. She became an accomplished farmer, and was active in community affairs, while continuing to publish numerous juvenile titles with Warne. Peter Rabbit was published when Potter was only 36, an age in Victorian times when a woman's life would be well-established in habit and role. But for Potter, it was just a beginning. Her art, her skills, her mercantile instincts, her scientific interest in nature and domestic cultivation and conservation, her marital alliances--everything was coordinated and fed into an integrated purposeful life.

Peter's return from the danger of the alien human world to the comfort of home and its homely virtues parallels Potter's destiny as a skilled country wife, dedicated to regional improvement and preservation. She had previsioned her own future life, which would be a fulfillment of her early interest in nature and science.

As a child of 4, I could hardly have dreamed of how worldly and accomplished Beatrix Potter had been. I doubt that my parents did either. All I knew, or needed to know, was that a little Rabbit wore shoes and a coat with brass buttons, and mischievously stole carrots and lettuce from grouchy old Mr. McGregor's garden. Would Peter survive into adulthood, or fall prey to a hunter's gun? Would he one day father a generation of his own "-opsies" in the British countryside?