icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.


That's my reminder for things to write about this week -- along with "L," which doesn't work as an acronym.   The first two usages of "B" actually are one – "birds and bees."  There could be a third, "butterflies," and even a fourth, "books."  I find such word association helpful when there's no electronic device, or even a pencil, nearby for jotting down ideas.  Such as when I'm sitting on a porch.  I recently did a lot of porch-sitting at my daughter's home in Manassas, Virginia, looking up from my book now and then to think about what was going on in the natural world. 


I've never understood why people up there are so crazy about boxwood, which doesn't have any interesting flowers, but now I'm beginning to understand.  From George Washington's day onwards, almost every Virginia homeowner grew boxwood.  Daughter's hedge is high enough to hide the front porch from passersby, and I soon noticed that it also attracted lots of bees.  In an era when sugar was imported at high prices, honey was important.  People planted things that bees liked, which also fertilized the blooms of other plants.  That was vital to agriculture prior to hybrid seeds.  Bees were essential back then, and they were not swatted nor sprayed because of fear of stings. 


I have no idea where their hives are now in suburban Washington, but I guess the queen bees have figured this out – and some conscientious, skilled people collect the honey.  Indeed, daughter's kitchen held a half-dozen kinds of honey from local sources.  I know of a few honey-makers here in Florida, mostly from bees feeding on orange blossoms, but it isn't nearly at the level that it could be if we laid aside the pesticides and let nature take its course.  I'm sorry to report that I just now looked for "Florida honey," and one of the first things to come up was an ad for killing bees.




I've never been a birdwatcher, either, although there was a time when I bought ornithological equipment for Hubby.  The most impressive was a camera that he could wear on his head and press a button when he wanted to take a photo of flying birds.  He did a lot of off-the-road adventuring between urban meetings, but the camera now is unused.  It probably is pre-digital, but I'd be glad to give it to anyone who wants it.


He preferred pictures of the wading birds that populate Florida swamps.  Virginia doesn't have our spectacular avian variety, but I was there at the right time to see babies learning to fly.  They were indifferent to the person on the porch, but mama birds were not.  Several screamed loudly at me and especially at the two cats who often were nearby.  But the baby birds were like fearless teens:  they defied mama and carried on with their experiential learning. 


Some were on their own, but in several cases, presumable siblings worked together.  A brave one would come awkwardly down to the ground, hop around, and peck at a seed; when the others saw that he still was alive, they did the same.  I also watched them measure a flight route in their bird-brains, and then the leader would take wing to a roof or some other landing spot; the more timid ones followed.  Once I saw two perfectly matched birds alight on perfectly opposite sides of a hanging basket with pansies; they rested there for a long time, as if posing for a picture.


It reminds me that birds and lots of other wildlife need seasons, especially spring.  Because of ambitious PR programs and thoughtful local ordinances, most of us are aware of sea turtle egg-laying season – but too few of us think of the maternity needs of other species.  This is true even of people who should be environmentally conscious.  I remember a county land-use "expert" who pushed to create what he called an artificial wetland here in East Hillsborough.  It actually was designed as a place where septic tanks could dump their waste, and I took him on.


Like way too many bureaucrats, he trusted jargon and truly seemed to believe that calling it an "artificial wetland" solved any problems.  Finally I reminded him that septic dumping would be constant throughout the year, and animals need a dry season to rear their young.  Plants, too, need a dry season for their seeds to mature and reproduce. This was a new idea to him, and he kept rejecting me by saying, "but this is an artificial wetland – to the point that I embarrassed him by asking in front of other committee members if he intended to use artificial plants.


Lots of officials have caught on, though, and we have made much progress during my lifetime.  I remember when progressive governments posted signs declaring that their town was a bird sanctuary.  I've not seen one of those signs for years, as almost no one now would shoot birds in a town.  Except in hunting grounds designed for that purpose – mostly ducks – birds can fly without concern that they will be shot out of the sky.  We even have created sanctuaries where they can peacefully rest on long migrations between continents.  (See "Holla Bend," near my family's cabin on the Arkansas River.)  We humans are becoming much better at living with our fellow creatures.




I saw butterflies in Virginia, of course, but I see them every day outside my study window, where I planted cardinal flowers years ago to attract them.  Instead, a few words about books.  Both daughter and son-in-law are addicted to bookstores, and their home probably has a couple of thousand.  The dining room features books on food; the living room is mostly history and biography; you can find travelogues in the laundry room; and the guest bathroom has humor.


Because my spine still can't handle heavy lifting, I judged books not by their cover, but by their weight.  The result was that I read nearly a book a day, but I'm going to tell you only about one.  Lincoln and the Immigrant, is part of the Concise Lincoln Library, and I naturally was drawn to it because I've written two books on immigration.  Its thesis nonetheless was new to me, and on reflection, I agree:  Lincoln narrowly won the 1860 election because of immigrants, especially immigrants from what now is Germany.


A much larger factor in the victory, of course, was that Democrats split into Northern and Southern units and a fourth candidate further complicated things.  This allowed the one-term congressman from Illinois to squeak in with a plurality, but not a majority, of the popular vote.  He was the first Republican to win, and at the time, it was the liberal party.  Most of its adherents were anti-slavery people from the Northeast, but some were immigrants in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys.


Irish Catholics, the first big immigrant group, were almost entirely urban dwellers, and they decidedly did not support Lincoln nor his anti-slavery platform.  Most had come in the 1840s, but the 1850s brought a different kind of immigrant -- Scandinavians and German-speaking people from numerous small kingdoms.  A bit of unease existed between the Scandinavians, especially with Swedes looking down on Norwegians, but it had been centuries since they resorted to war.  Such contentment was not the case on the continent.


From Poland to Italy, liberals revolted against their oppressive governments in 1848.  They lost, and those who could, fled to the United States.  Here they were called "Latin Farmers" because many were educated people who had no option except to try to wrest a living from the land.  Others brought skills, especially in business, and they soon helped build cities such as Ohio's Cincinnati and Wisconsin's Milwaukee.  German-language organizations and newspapers flourished in this part of the Midwest, and they reflected the refugees' democratic values, including opposition to slavery.


Both Lincoln and his major opponent, Democrat Stephen Douglas, were from Illinois, but Lincoln did a better job of reaching out to immigrants in his own and neighboring states.  He learned a few German phrases, courted their liberal leaders, and organized well enough to win those votes.  That made the difference.  Although almost no one recognizes it now, freedom for African Americans owes a debt to those 1848 Europeans who sought freedom for themselves.


By the way, Abraham Lincoln's father was illiterate, but his grandfather signed his name as "Linkhorn."  That grandfather, also named Abraham, was a veteran of the American Revolution, and the family settled in what now is Kentucky.  Their farm was on land that belonged to Native Americans, and they fatally shot him and one of his sons (Mordecai) in 1786.  The future president fought against the Black Hawk tribe in 1832 -- but time moderated his racism and ultimately he is remembered as the Great Emancipator.


Sorry that I didn't get to the "Q" of "BBQ."  I'll let you guess until next week.



Make a comment to the author