If you read Garrison Keillor today, you’ll discover it’s the birthday of William Wordsworth. I observed Mr. Wordsworth’s birthday last year, so I don’t feel the need to do it again. I do feel the need, however, to point out that it is also the birthday of Billie Holiday, the great jazz singer, and of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, a writer whose little biographical sketch you ought to read. Her book The Everglades: River of Grass sounded so fascinating that I went over to Amazon and bought it. The work, Douglas’s lifetime achievement, sounds like it’s a cousin to what many people consider to be Mark Twain’s best book, Life on the Mississippi.
How pleasant it would be to be so filled with the love of one subject that, in the end, one’s ashes are spread over the very thing one has loved, as Douglas’s ashes were over the ‘glades. Years ago, I had the strong desire to be buried on the campus of the University of Illinois, I loved the place so much. That desire has been tempered by time somewhat, but it’s still a beautiful setting. Landlocked, but beautiful. Despite the fact that we Houstonians live so close to a major body of water, the water is not my thing. I am not a beach person or even a lake person, unless I’m fishing, which I rarely get to do these days.
Yet, bodies of water as a subject of study do interest me. They are the carriers and the sustenance of life itself, and anything we can do to preserve their ability to sustain that life is a good thing.
It also happens to be the birthday of Donald Barthelme, who was raised in Houston and taught writing at the University of Houston for many years. It was Barthelme’s well-publicized early career that encouraged me to continue on my own path as a lover of English, both reading and writing; and his little book Snow White (1967), an academic parody of the fairy tale, made me crack up when I was finishing my doctorate.