I’ve been thinking about sine waves lately. Not that I’d ever heard about them until about a week ago when I showed Danny a pattern in Jane Callender’s book, and his automatic response was “that’s a sine wave.” And he proceeded to explain it was a mathematical curve used to graph smooth periodic oscillations over time like the length of daylight hours over the course of a year. At least, that’s what I think he said.
I never took trig or calculus or physics (and he was a star pupil in all of them), so it was all new to me. Anyway, I got out the graph paper and started drawing them (without the mathematics!), and after several hours (and sheets of paper), I had one I liked. I traced that onto a white cotton tea towel, and hand stitched each line. I’m hoping it will be interesting once it is dyed. With all the threads drawn up, it’s hard to tell what it is.
On another note, the men’s book group Danny belongs to just finished reading and discussing Dalva by Jim Harrison. What struck Danny so much about the book was that all the characters were readers, and the books they read were named in the book. Being Danny (who takes notes on the inside covers of books as he reads), he made a list of them. He showed me the list, and said all but two of them were real books. That lit the old reference librarian spark in me. I found one of them in the Library of Congress – always a good place to start when looking for American works. I told him that second one sounded more like the title of a thesis or dissertation than a book. So I searched several open access databases with no success. The author’s name on this second title was listed with initials, but I persevered and found a citation with a similar title with the full author’s name, Tamara Plakins Thornton. And she had indeed published a paper entitled “Cultivating the American Character: horticulture as moral reform in the Antebellum era” in the journal Orion in 1985. The journal is still published, but only the issues since the 1990s have been published, so I’ve reached out to see if I can get a copy of the article.
The first article I found, with a similar title, was “Moral dimensions of horticulture in Antebellum America” and it focused on the growth of horticulture among the Boston elite. There was an upswing in planting fruit trees, especially pear – in mid-nineteenth century Massachusetts, with more than 350 species planted.
I commented to Danny that this reminded me of Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May) who founded Fruitlands in 1843 outside of Boston. He and his followers believed that people could transform society by following a strict regime of veganism and celibacy, looking back to the Garden of Eden. This Utopian experiment was a miserable failure.
Then I remembered the silk mills in Florence, Massachusetts. In 1832 Samuel Whitmarsh planted 25 acres of white mulberry trees in order to raise silk worms. Run as a communal activity by a utopian community of abolitionists, including Sojourner Truth, the community dissolved in 1846, although the mills continued. In 1855 Samuel L. Hill, one of its former leaders, invented a machine that could spin silk fine enough for use in sewing machines reviving the industry. Of interest, Hill’s home in Florence was a stop on the Underground. The spinning company continued in business until 1930.
I learned about the silk mills from Eva Comacho, felt maker extraordinaire, who lives in Florence, and has her studio in nearby Easthampton in an old mill building. I’ve taken numerous felting classes from Eva, and during one she mentioned she was feeding silk worms during spring break for her daughter’s class. Turns out she has some of the old white mulberry trees in her yard.
Now how did I get from sine waves to transcendental utopians planting fruit trees in Massachusetts in the mid-19th century????