Happy Birthday, Julia Ward Howe!

Julia Ward Howe, ca. 1855

Julia Ward Howe, poet and activist, was born on May 27, 1819, and lived a long life ever dedicated to social reform.

She’s best known as the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the stirring Civil War anthem still sung at military events and in churches today; I remember singing it at Mass growing up. Filled with Biblical imagery, it reminds me of the Old Testament-inspired Second Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln. In it, he addresses the terrible costs of the war in lives and property, surmising that God’s justice may demand that ‘all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk., and …every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword’ in recompense for the terrible sin of slavery.

Howe wrote her Hymn in 1861, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural was delivered in 1865. Lincoln is known to have heard the Battle Hymn and reported to have wept when he did. Lincoln was well versed in Scripture and references it liberally in his writings and speeches; nevertheless, he may also have had Howe’s Hymn in mind when he wrote his Address. In any case, both remain prominent in American historical memory, continuing to resonate and inspire today in our Protestantism-derived culture. John Steinbeck uses her Book of Revelation-derived phrase The Grapes of Wrath as the title of his great novel about the suffering of Dust Bowl refugees fleeing to California. The great Leonard Cohen references her Hymn in ‘Steer Your Way’ from You Want It Darker, his final album released shortly before his death last fall. Howe’s lyric ‘As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free’ becomes ‘…let us die to make things cheap.’ Cohen redirects her line to critique today’s great sin of destroying our environment likewise out of greed, complacency, indifference to the fate we’re creating for our descendants, and slavish adherence to the ‘way it’s always been done.’

Julia Ward Howe postcard dated August 28th, 1903, from the Hutchinson Family Scrapbook in the collection of the Lynn Historical Society in Massachusetts. I was here in spring 2016 following the life and ideas of Frederick Douglass. The Hutchinson family dedicated their musical skills to the abolition movement and other reform causes and were friends with many prominent activists of their day. The scrapbook doesn’t note which member of the Hutchinson family Howe wrote this card to.

Read more about this great abolitionist, feminist, and author:

Julia Ward Howe, 1819–1910: BiographyPoetry Foundation

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) – by Debra Michals for the National Women’s History Museum

‘The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe,’ by Elaine Showalter – by Jill Lepore for The New York Times

Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910, Volume 1 – by Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards, Maud Howe Elliott, and Florence Howe Hall, 1915

*A version of this piece was previously published at Ordinary Philosophy

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!

Happy Birthday, Julia Ward Howe!

Julia Ward Howe, ca. 1855

Julia Ward Howe, poet and activist, was born on May 27, 1819, and lived a long life ever dedicated to social reform.

She’s best known as the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the stirring Civil War anthem still sung at military events and in churches today; I remember singing it at Mass growing up. Filled with Biblical imagery, it reminds me of the Old Testament-inspired Second Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln. In it, he addresses the terrible costs of the war in lives and property, surmising that God’s justice may demand that ‘all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk., and …every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword’ in recompense for the terrible sin of slavery.

Howe wrote her Hymn in 1861, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural was delivered in 1865. Lincoln is known to have heard the Battle Hymn and reported to have wept when he did. Lincoln was well versed in Scripture and references it liberally in his writings and speeches; nevertheless, he may also have had Howe’s Hymn in mind when he wrote his Address. In any case, both remain prominent in American historical memory, continuing to resonate and inspire today in our Protestantism-derived culture. John Steinbeck uses her Book of Revelation-derived phrase The Grapes of Wrath as the title of his great novel about the suffering of Dust Bowl refugees fleeing to California. The great Leonard Cohen references her Hymn in ‘Steer Your Way’ from You Want It Darker, his final album released shortly before his death last fall. Howe’s lyric ‘As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free’ becomes ‘…let us die to make things cheap.’ Cohen redirects her line to critique today’s great sin of destroying our environment likewise out of greed, complacency, indifference to the fate we’re creating for our descendants, and slavish adherence to the ‘way it’s always been done.’

Julia Ward Howe postcard dated August 28th, 1903, from the Hutchinson Family Scrapbook in the collection of the Lynn Historical Society in Massachusetts. I was here in spring 2016 following the life and ideas of Frederick Douglass. The Hutchinson family dedicated their musical skills to the abolition movement and other reform causes and were friends with many prominent activists of their day. The scrapbook doesn’t note which member of the Hutchinson family Howe wrote this card to.

Read more about this great abolitionist, feminist, and author:

Julia Ward Howe, 1819–1910: BiographyPoetry Foundation

Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) – by Debra Michals for the National Women’s History Museum

‘The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe,’ by Elaine Showalter – by Jill Lepore for The New York Times

Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910, Volume 1 – by Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards, Maud Howe Elliott, and Florence Howe Hall, 1915

~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Podcast Episode: Two Stories About Following the Life and Work of John Steinbeck

Bust of John Steinbeck and sculptures of people who inspired Cannery Row, Monterey, CA

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

March 4th – 9th, 2017

For several days this last week, I’ve been on a literary retreat hosted by Clay Jenkinson, Becky Cawley, and Russ Eagle. You may remember Clay and Becky from the account of my last retreat with them at Lochsa Lodge in the Bitterroot Mountains in January. Clay is a humanities scholar who has been very influential in my own study and thought for the last few years, Becky has worked with Clay for many more years than that co-creating historical, cultural, and literary tours throughout the United States, and Russ Eagle has made Steinbeck a special study for many years as well. At Lochsa Lodge this winter, we read and discussed Walden Pond and Henry David Thoreau’s concept of living deliberately, as well the history of the Native Americans of the Great Plains and the wars of the United States’ expansion into their territories through the 1800’s, and the echoes of those wars and that expansion in the DAPL fight today.

This tour took us to Monterey, Pacific Grove, the Salinas Valley, and the mountains and coastline of this beautiful region of California following the life and work of the great American writer John Steinbeck

* See my profile of Julia Ward Howe, whose Battle Hymn of the Republic provided the title of The Grapes of Wrath, and which is printed in the opening pages of the novel

Read the written version here and here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

John Steinbeck Country Part II: Grave Site and Fremont Peak State Park Hike

San Ardo Gas and Liquor Store, in San Ardo, off highway 101 in central California

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

I head north from Paso Robles, where I dropped off a troupe of long-distance cyclists this morning, via the 101 back towards the San Francisco Bay Area. My route takes me through Salinas and other old stomping grounds of John Steinbeck. I want to visit one site I missed when I was here last time on a cultural tour following his life and writings, and to revisit another site more thoroughly. On the way, I stop for gas in a little agricultural town called San Ardo, having forgotten to fill up in Paso Robles. I’m glad I have to stop here, because this little town reminds me of happy times visiting so many other small towns rather like this on road trips. I stop into the cafe to fill my thermos with coffee and buy some cookies for the road, and have a chat with the friendly young man who works here, in English and in Spanish.

San Ardo Cafe, outside and in, San Ardo, CA, 2017 Amy Cools

The town’s appearance, too, is probably not unrecognizable from Steinbeck’s time. Who knows, he may have passed through here, it’s not far from his old home territory. The people who live and work here are in many ways Steinbeck’s people, those who work the soil so that we can eat but who we have often long neglected and abused. He made it his business for much of his career to illustrate the lives, circumstances, and sometimes desperate plights of these people, often immigrants and refugees fleeing hard times in their places of origin, for the often oblivious American public.

Guide sign to John Steinbeck’s grave in the Garden of Memories, Salinas, CA

Steinbeck and Hamilton family plot, Garden of Memories, Salinas, CA

I continue an hour north to Salinas, where I visit Steinbeck’s grave in the Garden of Memories at Abbott St and East Romie Ln. Here he lies surrounded by his family. His headstone is the one decorated with tributes: coins, pens, and one pine cone (artfully placed by nature or a fan, I don’t know). You may recognize some of the names from his novel East of Eden: Hamilton, the family name of his mother; John Ernst, the first and middle name of the author and his father; and Olive Hamilton, the schoolteacher daughter of Samuel Hamilton and the author’s mother. It’s pretty here today, very green, with tiny white daisies and various kinds of yellow flowers blooming everywhere.

East of Eden is a double Cain-and-Abel story about two pairs of brothers in which one brother enjoys the love of his father with seeming little effort, and the other is jealous and driven to despair when his strenuous efforts to win that same love are rejected. Steinbeck wrote this novel for his sons and in hopes of creating the Great American Novel. It is an excellent novel, great in parts, but not the Novel. If any of his works are contenders for this mythical status, he had already written it as The Grapes of Wrath.

John Steinbeck’s grave marker

Fremont Peak State Park entrance sign, Cold Springs trailhead is to the right through the gate

Then I return to Fremont Peak, which Steinbeck ascended during his Travels with Charley to take in the broad view of his homeland from above. I plan to climb it from the bottom or as near as I can get to it, but find that Fremont Peak State Park is surrounded on all sides by private property until you’re well up the mountain. It was hard to tell this from Google Maps and from my print California maps. The park brochure, which is available free for visitors at the main parking lot near the center of the park and online, contains the map showing the entire trail system. I decide to walk them all, in an order which will take me winding counter-clockwise all around the park, leaving the loop about two-thirds of the way around for an out-and-back to the peak. I’m guessing Steinbeck would likely not have walked this long way up and around. His health was not great: he had long-term heart problems and was a lifelong heavy smoker, which seems to have aged him more than necessary for his years.

On Cold Springs Trail, Fremont Peak State Park, CA. Left, the windy and narrow under the mossy oaks. Right, a small abandoned shack which on first glance appears to be a two-room outhouse but which contains no signs of plumbing or waste pits. The sign above the trough warns that the water no longer piped here is unsafe for drinking

I backtrack to Doe Flat Day Camp near the park entrance and park my car there. As you’re entering the park on Juan Bautista Road, Doe Flat is to the left of the Fremont State Park entrance sign. The trailhead to Cold Springs Trail, on which I commence my hike, is across the street from the campground and through the gate, unmarked except on the park map. I had missed it when I first entered the park since it lacks a sign and because it’s so overgrown. Only a little, narrow, blurred strip of dirt marks the way that evidently few hikers take. It’s green and lush here, a gift of the winter and early spring heavy rains that ended our drought of the last few years. Miner’s lettuce, wood fern, thistle, various grasses, and maidenhair proliferate and revel in the joy of living. The trail is obliterated in many places by fallen trees, the less fortunate recipients of the storms. At one point, I use my head as a battering ram to get through the branches that my hands are already too full to push aside. I’m grateful for my new red sun hat, broad-brimmed and made of a not too heavy but very sturdy synthetic material. It keeps my hair free from the tangling twigs and my shoulders free from scratches. Its bright color will also serve to mark the site of my remains if I am one of those few Californians that make a meal for a mountain lion every two decades or so, if such an enterprising feline takes advantage of my aloneness on this solitary trail. My shins and ankles, however, are shit out of luck.

Left: Maidenhair, miner’s lettuce, spiny wood fern, and grasses. Right: Fallen logs. On Cold Springs Trail, Fremont Peak S.P., CA

Except when it comes to poison oak. I keep an eagle eye out for it; I still have scars from the last time I was here. It’s much easier to see now since the leaves have grown in thick and it’s already starting to redden in some places. I’m also alone this time, and hence undistracted.

Suddenly, the path changes. It’s broader and sandier, and the mossy oaks abruptly give way to manzanita, toyon, and coyote brush. Now I can look up and out at the view because the growth is lower and sparser here, and because the poison oak clearly doesn’t like this dry and sunny side of the hill. Soon after the change, I come to a clearing where a signpost marks the beginning of Valley View Trail where Cold Springs ends at a fire road crossing. There are two weathered picnic benches to my left and a beautiful stand of purple lupine to my right. I veer left on the fire road, then right to continue on to Valley View Trail. The oaks have reappeared, interior live, scrub, and poison. I pick my way with great care again, but the trail is so overgrown and the fallen branches so tangled with it that I’m not sure if I successfully avoid all danger. I’ll be sure to take a hot shower with a scrub brush and plenty of soap when I get home.

Left: Fremont Star Lily. Right: California Mountain Lilac. Fremont Peak State Park, CA

Milk maids and miner’s lettuce in bloom around a mossy trunk, Fremont State Park, CA

The wildflowers are not so thick now in most spots, though I can see the dried and shriveled evidence that they were not long ago. They may soon enjoy a second bloom from the straggler storm that passed through recently. Those still here are just beautiful, white, pink, yellow, purple, and blue. I see waxy yellow California buttercups, blue witch and blue-eyed grass, purple shooting stars and larkspur, golden poppies, white woodland stars, and many, many more. A woodpecker knocks overhead as other birds chatter, squawk, trill, and call with that ‘wheeeeeew’ sound that accompanies old-time comedy scenes.

I cross a little road and Valley View Campground, a sweet little spot. On the other side, Valley View Trail becomes a much wider and well-traveled one, and I start meeting hikers now and again. A pair of lovers frolic and laugh somewhere nearby, fitting in perfectly with the bird chorus. A barbed wire fence running along the right of the trail marks the park boundary.

Left: Hound’s Tongue. Right: Woodland Star. Fremont Peak State Park, CA

Left: Wild Pansy. Right: Royal Larkspur. Fremont Peak State Park, CA, 2017 Amy Cools

Captain John Fremont 1846 flagpole story sign, Fremont Peak State Park, CA

I arrive at the parking lot near Oak Point Campground where the Peak Trail begins, which I ascended with the John Steinbeck Odyssey Tour group in March. There’s a large sign framed in stone which tells the story of Captain John Charles Fremont’s run-in with Prefect Manuel Castro and General Jose Castro in 1846. It tells it as if it’s a heroic tale on Fremont’s part, but it reads to me like an act of arrogance and a provocation to war, waltzing into another’s country with an army and without a by-your-leave then planting your nation’s flag in their soil. His flagpole blew down, however, and the superstitious general hightailed it out of there with his soldiers before any fighting started. The roof of this monument has likewise fallen and a shirtless beefcake is reflected in the sign as I take a picture. The circumstances of this moment make me chuckle.

Rocky trail to Fremont Peak

Wildflowers along the grassy hill side of the trail to Fremont Peak

Panoramic view from Fremont Peak

Historical marker and flagpole on Fremont Peak

In all seriousness, though, this is a beautiful spot, conducive to much loftier thoughts and feelings. I climb to the peak, and the view is incredible. It’s even greener than it was in March, and now it’s wildflower season. The Monterey Bay spreads out ahead and a little my left, and the crop fields grow to my right. The Salinas Valley region is one of the most productive agricultural areas of California. The sight of Fremont’s flagpole here at the top has been marked by another, much sturdier one, and a brass plaque set in concrete, which tells the tale even more heroicly. I chuckle again as my reflective mood is broken.

Then I remember my travel companions gathered with me on the last occasion which brought me here, and sigh. I miss them.

At the foot of the Peak Trail, I turn right onto Carmen’s Trail, which zigzags thinly through slopes thickly covered with softest greenery and more thistles, which gently sting my ankles. It’s lovely and cooler here in the shade of taller oaks, which need to reach higher for the sun in this little canyon. The narrow creek bed running along its bottom is already dry. On the other side, the trail ascends a grassy, open hillside, the green just barely beginning its Midas’ touch transformation into the gold of summer. It’s inset with jewel-bright lupine and poppies throughout.

View from Carmen’s Trail, Fremont Peak State Park

Amy Cools on Fremont Peak

Carmen’s Trail ends at a little pointy shingle-sided building of quality construction, handsomely finished in varnished wood and teal paint, perhaps a cabin. I turn right just before I reach it and take Tony’s Trail, which returns me in short order to Doe Flat. I dine on some leftover pizza which I had set to warm in its foil on the sunny dashboard. It’s more delicious than it was when it was fresh at last night’s dinner.

It’s been a delightful day.

* See my profile of Julia Ward Howe, whose Battle Hymn of the Republic provided the title of The Grapes of Wrath, and which is printed in the opening pages of the novel

*Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Steinbeck Retreat, Monterey Bay and Salinas Valley Region of California, March 4th – 9th, 2017

Bust of John Steinbeck and sculptures of the local people who inspired Cannery Row, Monterey, CA

For several days this last week, I’ve been on a literary retreat hosted by Clay Jenkinson, Becky Cawley, and Russ Eagle. You may remember Clay and Becky from the account of my last retreat with them at Lochsa Lodge in the Bitterroot Mountains in January. Clay is a humanities scholar who has been very influential in my own study and thought for the last few years, Becky has worked with Clay for many more years than that co-creating historical, cultural, and literary tours throughout the United States, and Russ Eagle has made Steinbeck a special study for many years as well. At Lochsa Lodge this winter, we read and discussed Walden Pond and Henry David Thoreau’s concept of living deliberately, as well the history of the Native Americans of the Great Plains and the wars of the United States’ expansion into their territories through the 1800’s, and the echoes of those wars and that expansion in the DAPL fight today.

This tour took us to Monterey, Pacific Grove, the Salinas Valley, and the mountains and coastline of this beautiful region of California following the life and work of the great American writer John Steinbeck. It was a special joy for me that this retreat was all about history, literature, and gorgeous scenery from my home state of California. I had read and loved Steinbeck’s novels especially when I was in my late teens to mid-twenties but it had been far too long since I revisited his work. I re-read some of his novels for this occasion, and some were new to me. I found a rich source of beauty and wisdom much more revealing to me with the added benefit of a decade and more of life-years.

Interior of Rocinante, the customized camper truck from John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley

We read Travels with Charley, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl; selections from The Red Pony, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, and East of Eden (though most of us read the latter in full since it’s a general favorite); and read and discussed most in depth what Clay, myself, and many others consider his greatest work, The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath, as you may know, is the story of the epic journey of the Joad family as they flee the loss of their crops and their family home in the Dust Bowl disaster in Depression Era America. The Joads are a fictional family but their struggles are closely based on the struggles of actual immigrants as they face the life of much-maligned, much-neglected, and much-abused refugees from drought and debt in their own nation. Some members of the clan die in the course of their journey, some strike out on their own, a family friend who accompanied them is murdered by a vigilante trying to break up the worker’s rights movement that he had joined, and one becomes a fugitive after he kills his friend’s assassin. Throughout the novel, Ma Joad is transformed from mother to matriarch as she holds the family together through the terrible hardships they suffer in search of work and a new home. She’s one of my favorite female characters in all fiction in her strength, courage, integrity, wisdom, generosity, and great heart. Others in the family are ennobled and transformed as well: the ex-convict, fugitive son Tom joins the worker’s rights movement after his friend is martyred; the disillusioned, tortured loner and binge drinker Uncle John works until he nearly drops to help save the family from a flood and sends a stillborn infant downstream in a crate, Moses-on-the-Nile fashion, to alert others of the migrant’s wrongs; and narcissistic, immature daughter Rose of Sharon … well, I won’t spoil the powerful, disturbing, beautiful ending in case you haven’t read it yet.

Bust of Ed Ricketts memorializing the spot where he died in Monterey, CA

Over the course of several days, we toured Monterey and the settings of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, centered around the character of Doc, modeled on his great friend the charismatic biologist Ed Ricketts, and visited one of Steinbeck’s homes in neighboring Pacific Grove, only several blocks away. We visited the aquarium, housing so much of the marine wildlife which fascinated Steinbeck and Ricketts; walked beautiful Point Lobos, well-loved by Steinbeck and where his family held a memorial service for him and spread some of his ashes; hiked in Pinnacles National Park, not directly associated with Steinbeck but linked to the Gabilan Mountain range which Steinbeck describes in such glowing terms in East of Eden; and, on perhaps my favorite outing of all, we climbed Fremont Peak, as Steinbeck did when on a visit to his old home town in Travels With Charley. Fremont Peak itself is beautiful, its chapparal terrain glowing green from the prolonged rains that rescued California from severe drought this winter and spring, scattered with cloud-gray rocks of the perfect size and grippy roughness to scramble around on, and the view from it is just spectacular: sprawling agricultural fields on one side, Monterey Bay on the other.

The rest of the retreat group spent their last day in Salinas at the Steinbeck Center, the Steinbeck House, and the Garden of Memories where Steinbeck and many of his family members are buried. I didn’t make it to Salinas with the group, having to return to work for the day, but I did visit the Steinbeck Center and House earlier on the first day of the trip since I was free. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to make it to the Garden of Memories before I was due to join the retreat.

I didn’t take many pictures during the trip; I was in retreat mode and in the mood to mostly leave my electronics put away so as to lose myself in the beauty and spirit of these places, unfiltered, unmediated. But I did chronicle my own visit to the Steinbeck Center and the Steinbeck House in Salinas and our day touring Monterey and Pacific Grove. Here are a few photos, below, in addition to the ones above.

It was such a lovely week, and I’m still enjoying the afterglow. Thank you, older, newish, and brand-new Odyssey Tour friends! ‘Til we meet again…

* See my profile of Julia Ward Howe, whose Battle Hymn of the Republic provided the title of The Grapes of Wrath, and which is printed in the opening pages of the novel

*Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Main Street, Salinas, CA. According to a sign out front, John Steinbeck ate at Sang’s Cafe, in the white building with the blue trim just to the left of Maya Cinemas

Rocinante, the customized camper truck from John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley. As you may remember, Rocinante was the name of Don Quixote’s horse. At the Steinbeck Center in Monterey, CA.

Steinbeck House, Salinas, CA, where John Steinbeck was born

Ed Ricketts’ Pacific Biological Laboritories, Monterey, CA. Ricketts was an important figure in Steinbeck’s life and work. Steinbeck also studied marine biology at Stanford, but did not receive a degree there. But not for lack of interest in marine biology or learning in general…

Interior of the downstairs lab area of Ed Rickett’s Pacific Biological Laboratories.

Discussion with Susan Shillinglaw, Steinbeck scholar and writer of books about him and others central to his life and work, upstairs in the Pacific Biological Laboratories, with Clay Jenkinson and Russ Eagle

John Steinbeck’s home and garden at 147 11th Street in Pacific Grove, CA

Monterey and its beautiful Bay with its rich tidepools

Me on Fremont Peak. Thanks for the photo, Larry!