Friday, May 30, 2014

Squirrel Arithmetic

     My maternal grandfather, James Edgar Black (1871-1931) was a western Pennsylvanian, a carpenter, and a man I never knew.  But Ed, one of my cousins, found among our grandfather's long-stored things a scrapbook of collected poems and other miscellany that he recently passed on to me.  
     The underlying book that holds together this collection is the Report of the Secretary of Agriculture, 1892  (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1893) -- but many of the pages of this report have been pasted over with poems and articles (just as the blank pages of an ordinary scrapbook might be).  The Table of Contents of the original report has been preserved, but it is followed immediately by a poem "Unawares," given without the name of an author.  Along with samples of Lord Byron, Edwin Markham, and Rudyard Kipling are included many articles and poems with strongly Christian views, most by writers unknown to me,
   The following poem (attributed to "Normal Instructor") is one of the few items in Grandfather's scrapbook collection that nods toward numbers:

     The Squirrel's Arithmetic

     High on the branch of  a walnut-tree
        A bright-eyed squirrel sat.
     What was he thinking so earnestly?
        And what was he looking at?
     The forest was green around him,
        The sky all over his head:
     The nest was in a hollow limb,
        And his children snug in bed.

     He was doing a problem o'er and o'er
        Busily thinking was he
     How many nuts for his winter's store
        Could he hide in the hollow tree?
     You might have thought him asleep.
     Oh, no:  he was trying to reckon now
        The nuts the babies could eat.

     Then suddenly he frisked about,
        And down the tree he ran,
     "The best way to do, without a doubt,
        Is to gather all I can."

And here is a photo:   on the left, scrapbook pastings  ("Heinrich Heine's Confessions" and "Learning to Float") cover page 258 and on the right, uncovered and from the original report, a photo of an apple tree.

Report of the Secretary of Agriculture, 1892  (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1893)  

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