Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Ralph Waldo Emerson's Message" from VOA.



SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: I’m Shirley Griffith.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Today we tell about the life of nineteenth century philosopher and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The United States had won its independence from Britain just twenty-two years before Ralph Waldo Emerson was born. But it had yet to win its cultural independence. It still took its traditions from other countries, mostly from western Europe.

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What the American Revolution did for the nation's politics, Emerson did for its culture.

When he began writing and speaking in the eighteen thirties, conservatives saw him as radical -- wild and dangerous. But to the young, he spoke words of self-dependence -- a new language of freedom. He was the first to bring them a truly American spirit.

He told America to demand its own laws and churches and works. It is through his own works that we shall look at Ralph Waldo Emerson.

STEVE EMBER: Ralph Waldo Emerson's life was not as exciting as the lives of some other American writers -- Herman Melville, Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway. Emerson traveled to Europe several times. And he made speeches at a number of places in the United States. But, except for those trips, he lived all his life in the small town of Concord, Massachusetts.

He once said that the shortest books are those about the lives of people with great minds. Emerson was not speaking about himself. Yet his own life proves the thought.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Emerson was born in the northeastern city of Boston, Massachusetts, in eighteen oh three. Boston was then the capital of learning in the United States.

Some say he was the most influential American writer of the 19th century
loc.gov
Some say he was the most influential American writer of the 19th century

Emerson's father, like many of the men in his family, was a minister of a Christian church. When Emerson was eleven years old, his father died. Missus Emerson was left with very little money to raise her five sons.

After several more years in Boston, the family moved to the nearby town of Concord. There they joined Emerson's aunt, Mary Moody Emerson.

STEVE EMBER: Emerson seemed to accept the life his mother and aunt wanted for him. As a boy, he attended Boston Latin School. Then he studied at Harvard University.

For a few years, he taught in a girls' school started by one of his brothers. But he did not enjoy this kind of teaching. For a time, he wondered what he should do with his life. Finally, like his father, he became a religious minister. But he had questions about his beliefs and the purpose of his life.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In eighteen thirty-one, Ralph Waldo Emerson resigned as the minister of his church because of a minor religious issue. What really troubled him was something else.

It was his growing belief that a person could find God without the help of an organized church. He believed that God is not found in systems and words, but in the minds of people. He said that God in us worships God.

Emerson traveled to Europe the following year. He talked about his ideas with the best-known European writers and thinkers of his time. When he returned to the United States, he married and settled in Concord. Then he began his life as a writer and speaker.

STEVE EMBER: Ralph Waldo Emerson published his first book, Nature, in Eighteen thirty-six. It made conservatives see him as a revolutionary. But students at Harvard University liked the book and invited him to speak to them.

His speech, "The American Scholar," created great excitement among the students. They heard his words as a new declaration of independence -- a declaration of the independence of the mind.

Emerson's study room at his home in Concord, Massachusetts
loc.gov
Emerson's study room at his home in Concord, Massachusetts

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: "Give me an understanding of today's world," he told them, "and you may have the worlds of the past and the future. Show me where God is hidden...as always...in nature. What is near explains what is far. A drop of water is a small ocean. Each of us is a part of all of nature."

Emerson said a sign of the times was the new importance given to each person. "The world," he said, "is nothing. The person is all. In yourself is the law of all nature."

Emerson urged students to learn directly from life. He told them, "Life is our dictionary."

STEVE EMBER: The following year, Emerson was invited to speak to students and teachers at the Harvard religious school. In his speech, he called for moral and spiritual rebirth. But his words shocked members of Harvard's traditional Christian church. He said churches treated religion as if God were dead.

"Let mankind stand forevermore," he said, "as a temple returned to greatness by new love, new faith, new sight."

Church members who heard him speak called him a man who did not believe in God. Almost thirty years passed before Harvard invited Emerson to speak there again.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Away from Harvard, Emerson's speeches became more and more popular. He was able to make his living by writing and speaking. "Do you understand Mister Emerson?" a Boston woman asked her servant. "Not a word," the servant answered. "But I like to go and see him speak. He stands up there and looks as if he thought everyone was as good as he was."

Many people, especially the young, did understand Emerson. His ideas seemed right for a new country just beginning to enjoy its independence -- a country expanding in all directions.

Young people agreed with Emerson that a person had the power within himself to succeed at whatever he tried. The important truth seemed to be not what had been done, but what might be done.

STEVE EMBER: In a speech called "Self-Reliance" Ralph Waldo Emerson told his listeners, "Believe your own thoughts, believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men."

Emerson said society urges us to act carefully. This, he said, restricts our freedom of action. "It is always easy to agree," he said. "Yet nothing is more holy than the independence of your own mind. Let a person know his own value. Have no regrets. Nothing can bring you peace but yourselves."

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The eighteen fifties were not a peaceful time for America. The nation was divided by a bitter argument about slavery.

Emerson's grave in Concord, Massachusetts
loc.gov
Emerson's grave in Concord, Massachusetts

Most people in the South defended slavery. They believed the agricultural economy of the South depended on Negro slaves. Most people in the North condemned slavery. They believed it was wrong for one man to own another.

Emerson was not interested in debates or disputes. But he was prepared to defend truth, as he saw it.

Emerson believed that the slaves should be freed. But he did not take an active part in the anti-slavery movement. All his beliefs about the individual opposed the idea of group action -- even group action against slavery.

As the dispute became more intense, however, Emerson finally, quietly, added his voice to the anti-slavery campaign. When one of his children wrote a school report about building a house, he said no one should build a house without a place to hide runaway slaves.

STEVE EMBER: Emerson's health began to fail in the early eighteen seventies. His house was partly destroyed by fire. He and his wife escaped. But the shock was great. Friends gave him money to travel to Egypt with his daughter. While he was gone, they rebuilt his house.

Emerson returned to Concord. But his health did not improve. He could no longer work. In April, eighteen eighty-two, he became sick with pneumonia. He died on April twenty-seventh. He was seventy-nine years old.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Ralph Waldo Emerson's death was national news. In Concord and other places, people hung black cloth on houses and public buildings as a sign of mourning. His friends in Concord walked to the church for his funeral service. They carried branches of the pine trees that Emerson loved.

After the funeral, Ralph Waldo Emerson was buried in Concord near the graves of two other important early American writers -- Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: This Special English program was written by Richard Thorman. I’m Steve Ember.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: And I’m Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another People in America program on the Voice of America.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"The Man Who Painted Washington" from Edcon Publishing

"George Washington" by Stuart Gilbert, 1803


Someone you will read about: Gilbert Stuart-an American painter

Gilbert Stuart was an irresponsible, temperamental rogue, but he was a talented artist as well.

Even though George Washington died in 1799, just about every American recognizes him on sight. From the walls of classrooms, post offices and meeting halls all over our country, the same familiar portrait gazes down. Sometimes people are curious about the lower portion of that painting, which has a white spot that looks like a misplaced cloud, but not even that can diminish the painted dignity of our first president's features. During his life time he was the subject of many portraits, but George Washington clothed in that cloud is the George Washington most of us know best. In fact, Mark Twain once said that if Washington were ever to return to life and be found not to resemble that portrait, he would surely be rejected as an impostor.

In contrast, few people today know anything about Gilbert Stuart. Yet, Stuart, the painter of that conventional Washington portrait, was also famous in his own day. Fame is perhaps the only way in which subject and painter were similar, however.

Washington is remembered as honest and sober, worthy of trust and respect. Stuart, when he is remembered at all, is thought of somewhat differently. His speech was colorful, his habits reckless, his personal and professional life in constant turmoil. Regarded as perhaps the foremost portrait painter of his time, he did more than one thousand pictures and earned huge sums of money, but never enough to keep him out of debt.

Catherine Brass Yates, 1793
As a boy, young Stuart spent much of his time stirring up mischief and leading his schoolmates in their pranks. One such episode took place on a night when Gilbert and a companion, armed with a gun and a bag of blood from the butcher's shop, concealed themselves outside a certain cobbler's open window. While one boy fired, the other squirted blood on the bald head of the cobbler, who fell shrieking to the floor, apparently convinced that he was fatally wounded. Not until a doctor, summoned by the cobbler's wife, had washed the blood
from the "wound" was the truth discovered. Gilbert and his friend, having stayed a little too long to watch the fun, were shortly found in bed still wearing their shoes and were punished for their cruel prank.

Between pranks, Gilbert also found time to draw pictures, often with a lump of clay or soft stone. These were so well done they attracted the attention of a local doctor who presented him with brushes and paints, and commissioned the first Gilbert Stuart painting of two dogs lying under a table. A professional painter, persuaded by the doctor, took the boy as a pupil, and so began his rise to the top of the first hill in a life which would prove to be a perpetual roller coaster ride.

When his teacher decided to take him to study in Scotland, it must have seemed an opportunity almost too good to be true. And so it proved to be, for in less than a year the teacher was dead and Gilbert found himself, at the age of sixteen, alone in a strange country, destitute and forlorn. Eventually, he enlisted in service on a coal boat, which amounted to little more than slavery, and worked his way back home. Though he loved to tell exaggerated tales of his own experiences, good and bad, he found this period of his life so distasteful that he was never known to speak of it afterward.

Not long after his arrival back in America, his fortunes once more took an upward turn, and the handsome young portrait painter was caught up in a round of parties and social events. At the same time he was beginning to develop his own unique approach to painting, less artificial and elegant than the conventional style of the time. But the coming of the American Revolution put another temporary end to his hopes. Though Stuart later insisted he had really wanted to join General George Washington's Revolutionary Army, the fact is that in June or July of 1775 he boarded one of the last ships sailing for England.

Abagail Adams (Mrs. John Adams) 1800
Arriving there with no plans and little money, he quickly found himself in the same lonely and destitute state he'd been in four years before. Over the next several years, though, a series of events brought about remarkable changes, and by 1786 Stuart's success was great enough to surpass his wildest hopes. He stood at the peak of his chosen profession, lived in grand style, and made huge sums of money. Yet his life was in some ways in more of a turmoil than when he was poor. He always managed to spend more than he earned, and in the autumn of 1787, he and his wife and children completely disappeared, leaving behind a mountain of debts.

After a gap of some months they turned up in Ireland. According to one story, told by Stuart himself, he was thrown into an Irish debtors' prison from which he painted his way out, earning the needed 110ney by painting portraits 0: the jailer and other local off;,'ills. From Ireland, he traveled back to the United States, leaving behind a great many portraits, none of them finished, for which he had been paid in advance.

Stuart was immediately and immensely popular in New York, as a painter if not always as a person. Sometimes charming, with a wealth of jokes and witty stories to tell, he also had a terrible temper and would attack anyone he suspected of criticizing him. Certain remarks of Washington's Secretary of War were so distasteful to him that he refused to finish the man's portrait, using it instead as a gate for his pigpen.

When a husband complained that Stuart's portrait of his wife did not make her beautiful, Stuart replied that you couldn't bring a portrait painter a potato and expect him to paint a peach. Another woman, who chatted more than he liked, took a look at her partly finished portrait and declared, "Why, Mr. Stuart, you have painted me with my mouth open." "Madam," he replied, "your mouth is always open," and refused, in typical fashion, to finish the picture. Despite such difficulties, he did complete a great many portraits during this time, including four which have since been called masterpieces.

Famous as he was, Stuart's chance to surpass all his previous triumphs came with the painting of that portrait of George Washington. Whether or not we'd be right in regarding a Washington who didn't look like that picture as an impostor, people at the time found it a marvel. The demand for copies was so great that Stuart continued to dash them off, sometimes at the rate of one every two hours, almost until his death. Though later critics have declared these hasty copies to be of very poor quality, everyone wanted one and paid well for them, so that Stuart called them his "hundred dollar bills."

In order to make copies, of course, he needed to keep the original portrait, and so he did. Each time Mrs. Washington would call to inquire about her husband's picture, Stuart would insist it wasn't finished, pointing to that empty space that looked like a cloud, until finally the Washingtons themselves had to settle for one of the copies.

Thomas Jefferson, 1821
His reputation as the greatest painter in America did little to relieve Stuart's personal problems. In the later years of his life he was frequently drunk and always angry with someone, yet still in great demand. As always before, he had better periods and worse periods, but the roller coaster was heading down the last long hill. His later portraits show evidence of a shaking hand, and he seems for some reason to have painted his own large and unusual ears onto a variety of subjects.

The man who had painted not only Washington but Presidents Adams, Jefferson and Madison, and so many others as well, and who lived a life of such achievement and turmoil, died at the age of seventy-two, deep in bitterness and, of course, in debt.

COMPREHENSION CHECK


1. Gilbert Stuart's "hundred dollar bills" were _________________
a. the original set of currency.
b. counterfeit money.
c. a rare collection.
d. portraits of George Washington.

2. According to the selection, which of the following statements is not true?
a. Gilbert Stuart is as popular as his paintings.
b. Gilbert's paintings were popular in his day.
c. Gilbert produced hundreds of paintings.
d. Stuart made a great deal of money.

3. George Washington had _______________
a. the original of his portrait.
b. a copy of his own portrait.
c. a cloud painted on his portrait.
d. his portrait returned to England.

4. Gilbert Stuart was _________________
a. temperamental and talented.
b. trustworthy and honest.
c. happy with his life.
d. clever and well-liked.

5. This selection could be found in a book entitled __________
a. "Famous Artists of the 18th Century."
b. "The President's Cabinet."
c. "A Defeated Statesman."
d. "European Painters."

6. The people of the 1700's put up with Gilbert Stuart because he ____________
a. was considered a great artist.
b. was a perfectionist at his work.
c. worked for small sums of money.
d. was amusing and self-critical.

7. First, Stuart's teacher took him to study in Scotland. Then, his teacher died there. Next,_______________
a. Stuart painted portraits of George Washington.
b. Stuart joined Washington's army.
c. Stuart painted Irish officials.
d. Stuart enlisted on a coal boat.

8. The white spot on Washington's portrait remained there because _________
a. Stuart claimed it was not finished so he could keep it.
b. Stuart liked white clouds and set the Presidents in them.
c. Stuart died before he could finish the painting.
d. the President requested that it be done that way.

9. Another name for this selection could be _____________
a. "A Portrait of Two Men."
b. "A Life of Ease."
c. "A Dream Come True."
d. "Scandal in Washington."

10. This selection is mainly about ___________________
a. the creation of a masterpiece.
b. the people of 18th Century America.
c. the life of our first President.
d. the life of a once famous painter.

Gilbert Stuart Show from Youtube:



More Gilbert Stuart Paintings; from the National Gallerty of Art. Click on the link to view the painting, then click again on the painting to see it larger.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Christian The Lion, an Amazing Story"
written and recorded by John Robinson



In 1969, Ace Bourke and John Rendall, two young men and good friends from Australia arrived in London, England. They visited Harrods Department store which at the time were selling exotic animals such as snakes, monkeys, and birds. In one cage, Ace and John saw a baby male lion. The baby lion was not much bigger than a house cat. The department store wanted to sell the baby lion because it had escaped from its cage the previous night and destroyed a lot of merchandise in the store. The young men decided to purchase the lion and keep him as a pet. It was a very unusual thing to do. They named the lion “Christian”. The lion got its name from the fact that during the Roman Empire, Christians were fed to hungry lions as an entertainment in the Roman Colosseum. Christian was a very friendly and good natured little lion. However, John and Ace didn’t know anything about raising lions. They had to rely on their experience with different pets they had when they lived in Australia.

They lived in an apartment above “Sophistocrat” an antique pine furniture shop where they both worked. With the owner’s permission, they were able to keep the young lion, Christian, in the basement below the furniture store. Every afternoon, Ace and John took Christian to an enclosed church garden for exercise. Christian loved to play and so did John and Ace. They became very close. By this time, Christian was 35 pounds, about the size of a small dog. He continued to grow. Christian especially enjoyed playing at the seaside.

In a few months, he grew to weigh 185 pounds. Now, he was too large for his environment and he was beginning to frighten some of the customers at the furniture store. Fortunately, Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna came to the store to shop for furniture. Bill and Virginia were actors. They had starred as George and Joy Adamson in the film “Born Free” about a lioness named Elsa. The film is the story of a lioness raised by the Adamsons and then returned to the wilderness of Africa. The film was based on the book “Born Free.” Both the book and the film were very successful. Bill and Virginia suggested contacting George Adamson. They thought it was possible to return Christian to the African wild, just like Elsa.


Since Christian was almost one year old and growing stronger and larger every day, Ace and John decided to take him to Africa to meet George Adamson. Adamson was a lion expert. He had a lot of experience with lions, especially helping lions not born in wild Africa to adapt to wilderness conditions. There were a lot of dangers and things that could go wrong. Adamson knew the dangers and how to avoid them. He met Christian and saw that the young lion was very strong, adaptable, and brave. He thought he could build a pride of lions with Christian as the pride leader. The wilderness was selected by the Kenyan Government. It was a site called Kora in north-east Kenya. This area was chosen because it was far from local villagers, hunters, and tourists. It was therefore the best location for a young pride to get started. In 1970, Adamson began preparing Christian to enter a natural life in the wild.

It would be challenging. Christian would have to survive in a difficult environment. He would have to learn to hunt for his own food. Wild male lions, always competing for females, would try to drive away any strange male lions. Christian had good instincts and was very strong, but he was young and had no experience of the wild. It would be a very difficult first year for him.

One year passed. Christian was on his own, now learning to be a wild lion. He had been gone from George’s camp for longer and longer periods. Now, Ace and John wanted to see how he was doing. When they arrived at George’s camp, George said he didn’t know where Christian was. They would have to go looking for him. They were both somewhat nervous. How would Christian react when he saw them? Would he remember them? Lions could be very dangerous. Would Ace and John have anything to fear from their old friend? Would Christian turn on them and attempt to harm them?

After a long search, Ace, John, and George came to a very remote place in the Kora region of Kenya. Christian suddenly appeared on the top of a rocky hill. He was much larger now, with a fully developed mane. He started walking slowly towards the two men, his former friends. He didn’t appear to be attacking, just curious. Ace and John were so excited to see Christian that they forgot about the fact that a grown, wild lion was approaching them. They smiled warmly at their former pet, and they called his name, “Christian.”

Then, Christian suddenly began to run joyfully towards his friends. He did recognize them! He placed both his paws on their shoulders, nuzzled them, hugged them, and played. He even introduced them to his mate, a young lioness. This whole wonderful event was captured on video. The video is available on Youtube. It’s called “The Reunion.” It has been seen by millions of people all over the world. This amazing story, with the Youtube video has inspired people world-wide to think more deeply about environmental issues and about the welfare of wild animals.

Christian was last seen in early 1973, heading in the direction of the larger and more remote Meru National Park. He had survived the most dangerous early years and had grown very big and was intelligent and brave, Ace and John realized that Christian had his own pride of lions and lived possibly another seven or eight years. Some lions living there now are probably his descendants. They are the relatives of a lion raised in a basement under a furniture store in London, England.

COMPREHENSION CHECK
1. Ace Bourke and John Rendell ____________ .
a: didn’t know much about raising lions.
b: were experts in training lions.
c: had never had pets in Australia
d: had some experience with wild lions in Africa

2. The “Reunion” between John, Ace, and wild Christian took place ____
a: in London, England.
b: in Meru National Park, Kenya
c: in 1971
d: in 1969

3. Ace and John ________________ .
a: found Christian living wild in a park in London
b: purchased Christian from Harrods Department store
c: bought Christian from the London Zoo
d: adopted Christian from a wildlife area of Africa

4. When Christian grew to be much larger, _____________ .
a: Ace and John had to move to a larger apartment
b: Ace and John had to quit their jobs
c: Ace and John decided Christian could no longer live in London
d: Ace and John decided to sell Christian to a zoo

5. George Adamson _______________ .
a: was an actor in a famous movie called “Born Free”
b: specialized in returning domesticated lions to the wild
c: made films for television and Youtube
d: sold baby lions to Harrods Department store in London, England

6. One difficulty that Christian didn’t have returning to the wild of Kenya was ______ .
a: surviving in spite of his inexperience
b: mating with a female lion
c: killing prey in order to survive
d: keeping in touch with Ace and John

7. An area called Kora in North-east Kenya was chosen for Christian’s new home
because __________________ .
a: it was close to George’s camp in case Christian got in trouble
b: it was near a village so that Christian would have a source of food
c: it was full of wild male lions so that Christian could test his fighting skills
d: it was far from tourists, villages, and not used by hunters

8. Before their reunion with Christian, Ace and John felt __________ .
a: a little apprehensive
b: joy and excitement
c: exhausted from the long search for him
d: hungry for good meat they hoped Christian would provide for them

9. Another name for this selection could be _______________ .
a: “A Young Lion Born to be Wild”
b: “The Leader of a Pride of Lions in East Africa”
c: “Two Australians and Their Exotic Pet”
d: “The Technique for Re-introducing Cats Into the Wild”

10. This selection is mainly about ____________ .
a: Ace Bourke and John Rendall’s African adventure
b: George Adamson, an expert with lions
c: Christian’s life in London and in Africa
d: Christian’s early life in London, England

Now, here is the amazing filming of the reunion between Christian and his friends, Ace and John.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Emperor Penguin: The World's Greatest Survivor" from VOA



I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today, we tell about a very special bird called the emperor penguin. This bird struggles to survive in one of the most extreme climates in the world.

There are seventeen kinds of penguins in the world. All of them live in the southern hemisphere. Only a few species live on the continent of Antarctica at the bottom of the world. The emperor penguins are the largest. They are about one hundred centimeters tall and weigh about thirty kilograms. Their special method of mating makes them different from all other penguins.

For thousands of years the emperor penguins have lived on the freezing continent of Antarctica. These black and white birds live in large groups or colonies. There are about forty emperor penguin colonies on Antarctica. In total, there are about four hundred thousand birds.

These birds spend the summer swimming in the ocean in search of food such as fish and squid. Penguins are not able to fly, but they are excellent swimmers. They can dive as deep as four hundred and sixty meters and hold their breath for up to twenty minutes. But when summer ends, so does this easy time spent by the water. The penguins jump out of the water and onto the ice. They know it is time to find a mate and reproduce.

(MUSIC)

In order to mate, the penguins must travel many kilometers inland from the ocean. They do this to find a safe area to spend the many months needed to produce and develop an egg. They must find an area with some shelter from the freezing winds.

Hundreds of penguins walk in a single line for up to seventy kilometers to find a mating place. This trip is a long and cold one. Winter is beginning. The days are getting shorter and temperatures are quickly dropping. The trip takes many days. The birds must walk carefully on their short legs through icy areas. When their feet get tired, they slide themselves on their stomachs across the ice.

Once they arrive at the right place, the mating process begins. Males and females walk around and make singing noises as they decide on a mate. They must also memorize their mate's special song. Penguins are unusual because they stay with the same mate for the entire period of producing a baby penguin or chick.

After the female produces an egg, she must carefully slide it onto her feet. Then she must pass it to her mate. This can be a very difficult act. If the birds are not careful, the egg will fall on the freezing ice. If the egg touches the ice or breaks, the chick will die. All of their hard work will have been wasted. Once the female passes the egg to the male, he places it on his feet and protects it with his body. Both male and female penguins have a special place on their body to protect their young. A piece of skin under their stomachs forms a pocket or pouch where an egg or chick is protected from the cold.

The male penguin incubates the egg for about two months. This means that he keeps it warm while the baby penguin inside the egg develops.

During this time, the mothers must leave the colony and walk many kilometers back to the sea. The females are tired from mating and producing an egg. They are also starving from more than one month without food. During this period, female penguins can lose up to one-third of their body weight. Many do not survive the long walk back to the sea. The ones that do survive dive into the ocean to catch fish. They eat for several months to gain weight. They must also get food for their chicks.

While the mothers are feeding, the hundreds of male penguins work together to survive. They stand very close to one another to form a tight group. This helps them keep warm. They continuously change places. The colder penguins on the outside of the group move to the warmer places on the inside of the group.

(MUSIC)

Winters in Antarctica are difficult for the penguins. There are only a few hours of sunlight a day. Temperatures can drop to minus fifty degrees Celsius. Air masses called catabatic winds blow over the continent at speeds of up to two hundred kilometers per hour.

The penguins have developed special bodies to survive such freezing temperatures. They can control their body temperature with a special system of blood exchange. The centers of their bodies keep warm, while the outer parts of their bodies stay almost as cold as the outside temperatures.

Another way they survive the cold is by releasing a special oil from their skin. This oil helps waterproof the feathers that cover their bodies. A layer of air between their skin and the oil provides protection from the cold. Also, they have a thick layer of body fat that further protects them from the cold.

Two months later, the females return to the colony and must find their mates. Many of the chicks have hatched and come out of their eggs. The family is united for the first time. However, the father must leave immediately to go feed in the ocean. He has not eaten for more than three months and has lost a great deal of weight. Before he leaves, though, he must learn the voice of his chick. The chick also memorizes his father's voice. When the father returns, he must be able to identify his chick in order to bring it food.

(MUSIC)

The male and female penguins continue to take turns caring for their chick and bringing back food from the sea. When the chicks are about one month old, they start to spend time outside their parents' pouch. When they get bigger, the chicks stay together in large groups. Their parents still bring them food. But when they are about five months old, the chicks must feed themselves. They make their first trip to the ocean.

However, not all the chicks survive this long. About twenty-five percent die due to starvation or cold. Some chicks are hunted and killed by large birds called giant petrels. However, if the chicks survive their first year, they generally live through adulthood. When they reach the age of five years, it is time for the young penguins to mate. A new generation begins this special mating process of travel and survival.

(MUSIC)

In two thousand five, a French filmmaker named Luc Jacquet released a film about these special birds. The film is called "March of the Penguins." It beautifully shows how the birds survive in the extreme environment of Antarctica. This rare look at their lives is truly special.

You can see the penguins walking across the white ice of Antarctica. Diving deep into the ocean waters. Moving their egg carefully from the mother's feet to the father's feet. Crowding together to keep warm in a snowstorm. Kissing their newly hatched chicks.

"March of the Penguins" is the first full-length film to show the life of the emperor penguin. The crew chose to film a colony of penguins that was near a scientific research center. This way, the filmmakers had a base where they could live. They were also able to cooperate with the nearby Institute for Polar Research.

Producing this film was very difficult. The movie crew had to survive the extreme cold for a whole year of filming. If the weather was too bad, they could not go outside and film. Also, trying to film the birds from very close up was not easy. The filmmakers had to be very careful not to harm the penguins. They made special devices that helped them get close to the penguins without interfering with them. Luc Jacquet even hired a specialist to film the underwater scenes.

"March of the Penguins" was difficult to make for other technical reasons. The crew had to have special cameras made that could work in extremely cold temperatures. Also, they could not watch what they had filmed. This is because they did not have the equipment to develop the film. So, they had to remember the details of every picture they took and hope they turned out well. When they finished filming, they had more than one hundred twenty hours of film.

Director Luc Jacquet says his film crew had to treat the penguins with care and consideration. He says his movie is a story of bravery and excitement. He also calls his movie about the emperor penguins one of the most beautiful love stories on Earth.

(MUSIC)

This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

COMPREHENSION CHECK

1. Emperor Penguins begin to mate and bear chicks __________________ .
a: during the winter
b: at the end of summer
c: during the summer
d: at the end of spring

2. When a penguin father returns, he can find his chick by the chick's ____________ .
a: appearance
b: flying movements
c: song
d: mother

3. The word "hatch" means ___________________________ .
a: the mother brings out the egg
b: the egg is protected by the parents
c: the egg passes from father to mother
d: the egg breaks and the chick is born

4. __________________ are not a threat to newborn chicks.
a: Giant petrels
b: Winter storms
c: Hungry fathers
d: Freezing temperatures

5. Probably the least difficult part of producing "March of the Penguins" was ____________________ .
a: editing the 120 hours of film
b: not being able to watch what they had filmed
c: shooting film during extreme cold
d: shooting underwater scenes

6. Director Luc Jucquet calls "March of the Penguins" one of __________________ love stories on earth.
a: most beautiful
b: the more beautiful
c: the most beautiful
d: the beautifulest

7. If chicks survive their first year, they ________________ adulthood.
a: generally live through
b: might reach
c: sometimes live through
d: still might not reach

8. A special oil penguins release from their skin helps to _________________ .
a: keep their wings from becoming too stiff
b: keep them from starving
c: waterproof their feathers
d: make their journey from the sea smoother

9. "Catabatic" is a type of _____________________ .
a: penguin
b: fish in the sea penguins catch
c: very powerful wind
d: extremely cold ice found on Antartica

10. While the mother penguins are feeding in the sea, the male penguins ___________________ .
a: fly in search of warmer territory
b: band together in a tight group to keep warm
c: march to the sea
d: fight each other over precious eggs


Here is the trailer for the film, "March of the Penguins"



Monday, September 5, 2011

"Katharine Hepburn: The Elegant Actress" from VOA


STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell about Katharine Hepburn, one of America’s great film and stage actresses. Hepburn’s career lasted almost seventy years. During that time she made more than fifty films. She became known all over the world for her independence, sharp intelligence, and acting ability.

Katharine Hepburn holds the record for the most Academy Awards for Best Actress. She won the honor four times. This star holds a special place in American film and popular culture.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born in Hartford, Connecticut in nineteen oh seven. She came from a wealthy and highly educated family. Her father, Thomas Hepburn, was a successful doctor. Her mother, Katharine Martha Houghton, was a great supporter of women’s rights issues including the right to birth control. The Hepburns made sure to educate their children about important political and social subjects. The family members were not afraid to express their liberal opinions.

BARBARA KLEIN: Doctor Hepburn also believed in the importance of intense exercise. For most of her life Kate was an excellent athlete. She rode horses, swam and played golf and tennis. Here is a recording of Katharine Hepburn from a film about her life. She is talking about the values her family taught her. She says she is not strange, but is fearless.

KATHARINE HEPBURN: “I don’t think I’m an eccentric, no! I’m just something from New England that was very American and brought up by two extremely intelligent people…who gave us a kind of, I think the greatest gift that man can give anyone, and that is…sort of freedom from fear.”

STEVE EMBER: Katharine graduated from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in nineteen twenty-eight. She soon started appearing in small roles in plays on Broadway in New York City. That year she also married a businessman named Ludlow Ogden Smith. Their marriage lasted only a few years. But Katherine later said Ludlow’s support was very important to her during the early part of her career.

(MUSIC)

BARBARA KLEIN: Katharine Hepburn was not the usual kind of actress during this period. She had a thin and athletic body. She spoke with a clear East Coast accent. And she was very independent in her thoughts and actions.

For example, she wore men’s pants as clothing at a time when women wore only skirts or dresses. Sometimes her independence and liberal opinions got her in trouble. After a few successful plays in New York, Hollywood filmmakers became interested in her. She later signed with the film production company called RKO pictures. Her first movie came out in nineteen thirty-two.

STEVE EMBER: The next year she made the film “Morning Glory.” In her role as Eva Lovelace, Hepburn plays a stage actress fighting for a successful career. Few directors are interested in her. But by the end of the movie, she has a chance to let her acting skills shine and she becomes a star. This movie earned Hepburn her first Academy Award for Best Actress. Here is a recording from the movie. Hepburn’s character, Eva, tells about how she has changed her name in preparation for becoming a great actress. She talks very quickly, but you can sense the energy behind her performance.

KATHARINE HEPBURN IN “MORNING GLORY”: I hope you’re going to tell me your name. I want you for my first friend in New York. Mine’s Eva Lovelace. It’s partly made up and partly real. It was Eva Love. Love’s my family name. I added the Lace. Do you like it or would you prefer something shorter? A shorter name would be more convenient on a sign.”

“Still, Eva Lovelace in ‘Camille’ for instance, or Eva Lovelace in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ sounds very distinguished, doesn’t it?

I don’t want to use my family name because I shall probably have several scandals while I live and I don’t want to cause them any trouble until I am famous, when nobody will mind. That’s why I must decide on something at once while there is still time, before I am famous.”

BARBARA KLEIN: During the nineteen thirties, critics either loved or hated Katharine Hepburn. Some thought she was a fresh and exciting addition to the Hollywood industry. Others decided she was too bold and self-important. They thought her way of speaking sounded false. But Hepburn wanted to face the movie industry in her own way. She liked to play the roles of strong women.

She did not want to be like other actresses. She did not wear make-up on her face. She would not let photographers take sexy pictures of her. And she did not like talking to her fans or the media.

STEVE EMBER: Katharine Hepburn continued to work very hard making movies. Yet by the late nineteen thirties she had become unpopular with the public. So movie producers stopped wanting her in their films.

But Hepburn was not raised to quit easily. She decided to return to the stage on Broadway in New York City. She starred in a play called “The Philadelphia Story." Hepburn's friend Philip Barry wrote the play especially for her. It is about a wealthy and intelligent woman named Tracy Lord. She is about to marry a man she does not love. In the movie she learns to be more honest with herself and others. She decides to marry a man from her past whom she has always loved.

BARBARA KLEIN: The play was a great success. Hepburn immediately bought the legal rights to the play. She knew “The Philadelphia Story” would be made into a movie. And she wanted to make sure she was the star of the film version.

In nineteen forty, “The Philadelphia Story” became a great movie success. Hepburn received another Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She had taken control of her career once again. And she would stay in control of it from now on.

Here is a recording from "The Philadelphia Story." Katharine Hepburn’s character, Tracy Lord, is talking with her new friend, Macaulay Connor, a writer. She has just read his book and discovered something surprising about him.

(SOUND FROM “THE PHILADELPHIA STORY”)

TRACY: These stories are beautiful! Why Connor, they’re almost poetry!

MACAULAY: Well, don’t kid yourself, they are.

TRACY: I can’t make you out at all now.

MACAULAY: Really? I thought I was easy.

TRACY: So did I. But you’re not. You talk so big and tough, and then you write like this. Which is which?

MACAULAY: Both, I guess.

TRACY: No. No, I believe you put the toughness on to save your skin.

MACAULAY: Oh, you think so.

TRACY: I know a little about that.

STEVE EMBER: In nineteen forty-two, Katherine Hepburn starred in “Woman of the Year.” This was the first of nine movies she starred in with actor Spencer Tracy.

They would soon become a famous couple both on and off the movie screen. Usually their movies dealt with finding a balance of power between their two strong characters. Hepburn and Tracy had a magical energy when they acted together. But in real life they kept their love hidden from the public.

Spencer Tracy was married to another woman. For religious reasons, he would not end his marriage and divorce his wife. So Hepburn and Tracy led a secret love affair for more than twenty years. Katharine Hepburn had had other love interests. She once had a relationship with the famous American millionaire Howard Hughes. But Spencer Tracy remained the love of her life.

(MUSIC)

BARBARA KLEIN: One of Katharine Hepburn’s most famous roles was in the movie “The African Queen.” She made this movie in nineteen fifty-one with the famous actor Humphrey Bogart. In the film, their two very different characters fall in love on a riverboat in the middle of Africa.

As Katharine Hepburn became older, she played more and more wise and complex characters. In nineteen sixty-seven she starred in her last movie with Spencer Tracy. He died a few weeks after filming ended. For this movie, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” she won her second Academy Award. She won her third Academy Award the next year for “A Lion in Winter.” And, in her mid-seventies she won her last Academy Award for “On Golden Pond.”

STEVE EMBER: Even into her eighties, Katharine Hepburn kept working. She had roles in several movies and television programs. She also wrote several books, including one about her life. In two thousand three, Katharine Hepburn died. She was ninety-six years old.

As part of her last wishes, she helped create the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center at Bryn Mawr College. This program helps support the things that were important to her: film and theater, women’s rights, and civic responsibility.

BARBARA KLEIN: An actor who worked with Katharine Hepburn once said that she brought with her an extra level of reality. He said that when she was near, everything became more interesting, intense and bright.

This intensity and intelligence shine in the films that Katharine Hepburn made over her lifetime. People still enjoy her films today. Katharine Hepburn’s work and personality have had a great influence on American film and culture.

(MUSIC)

STEVE EMBER: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. You can download this program and others from our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

COMPREHENSION CHECK

1. In her first film, "Morning Glory", Katharine Hepburn plays _______________ .
a: an alcoholic
b: a woman who doesn't love her fiance
c: an aspiring actress
d: a woman on an African journey

2. Katharine Hepburn liked to __________________ .
a: wear make up
b: talk to her fans and the media
c: play the roles of strong women
d: be like other actresses

3. Philip Barry wrote "The Philadelphia Story" for Katharine Hepburn __________________ .
a: before producers stopped using her in films
b: after its successful opening
c: after her films lost popularity in the late 1930s
d: after it was made into a movie

4. Katharine Hepburn never ____________________ .
a: had a role in a television show
b: won an Olympic Medal
c: fought for women's rights
d: wrote books

5. Which of the following statements is true about Katharine Hepburn?
a: Katharine Hepburn married Spencer Tracy after they made films together.
b: Katharine Hepburn never won an academy award.
c: Katharine Hepburn liked to wear men's pants.
d: Katharine Hepburn died in her late 70s.

6. Katharine Hepburn grew up in a ____________________ family.
a: poor and liberal
b: rich and conservative
c: poor and conservative
d: rich and liberal

7. In 1928, Katherine Hepburn's career started __________________ .
a: in Hollywood
b: in Paris, France
c: on Broadway in New York
d: in New England

8. Ms. Hepburn believed that the great gift she received from her parents was __________ .
a: liberal thinking
b: freedom from fear
c: intelligence and talent
d: the habit of daily exercise

9. Another name for this article could be "_________________".
a: Movies Kate Hepburn Appeared In
b: The History of Film Before World War Two
c: Kate Hepburn's Leading Men
d: The Life and Career of Katherine Hepburn

10. This article is mainly about ___________________ .
a: the filming of "The African Queen"
b: Katherine Hepburn's amazing personality and career
c: the loves of one of Hollywood's greatest actresses
d: how to succeed in film and television in Hollywood

Julia Roberts gives a tribute to Katharine Hepburn at the 2004 Academy Awards.


Monday, August 15, 2011

"One Thousand Dollars" by O. Henry, from VOA



FAITH LAPIDUS: Now, the VOA Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.

(MUSIC)

Our story today is called “One Thousand Dollars.” It was written by O. Henry. Here is Steve Ember with the story.

STEVE EMBER: "One thousand dollars," said the lawyer Tolman, in a severe and serious voice. "And here is the money.”

Young Gillian touched the thin package of fifty-dollar bills and laughed.

"It's such an unusual amount," he explained, kindly, to the lawyer. “If it had been ten thousand a man might celebrate with a lot of fireworks. Even fifty dollars would have been less trouble."

"You heard the reading of your uncle's will after he died," continued the lawyer Tolman. "I do not know if you paid much attention to its details. I must remind you of one. You are required to provide us with a report of how you used this one thousand dollars as soon as you have spent it. I trust that you will obey the wishes of your late uncle."

O.Henry
"You may depend on it," said the young man respectfully.

(MUSIC)

Gillian went to his club. He searched for a man he called Old Bryson.

Old Bryson was a calm, anti-social man, about forty years old. He was in a corner reading a book. When he saw Gillian coming near he took a noisy, deep breath, laid down his book and took off his glasses.

"I have a funny story to tell you,” said Gillian.

"I wish you would tell it to someone in the billiard room," said Old Bryson. "You know how I hate your stories."

"This is a better one than usual," said Gillian, rolling a cigarette, and I'm glad to tell it to you. It's too sad and funny to go with the rattling of billiard balls.

I’ve just come from a meeting with my late uncle's lawyers. He leaves me an even thousand dollars. Now, what can a man possibly do with a thousand dollars?"

Old Bryson showed very little interest. "I thought the late Septimus Gillian was worth something like half a million."

"He was," agreed Gillian, happily. "And that's where the joke comes in. He has left a lot of his money to an organism. That is, part of it goes to the man who invents a new bacillus and the rest to establish a hospital for doing away with it again. There are one or two small, unimportant gifts on the side. The butler and the housekeeper get a seal ring and ten dollars each. His nephew gets one thousand dollars."

"Were there any others mentioned in your uncle’s will?" asked Old Bryson.

"None." said Gillian. “There is a Miss Hayden. My uncle was responsible for her. She lived in his house. She's a quiet thing…musical… the daughter of somebody who was unlucky enough to be his friend. I forgot to say that she was in on the ring and ten dollar joke, too. I wish I had been. Then I could have had two bottles of wine, given the ring to the waiter and had the whole business off my hands. Now tell me what a man can do with a thousand dollars."

Old Bryson rubbed his glasses and smiled. And when Old Bryson smiled, Gillian knew that he intended to be more offensive than ever.

There are many good things a man could do with a thousand dollars,” said Bryson. "You?" he said with a gentle laugh. "Why, Bobby Gillian, there's only one reasonable thing you could do. You can go and buy Miss Lotta Lauriere a diamond necklace with the money and then take yourself off to Idaho and inflict your presence upon a ranch. I advise a sheep ranch, as I have a particular dislike for sheep.”

"Thanks," said Gillian as he rose from his chair. "I knew I could depend on you, Old Bryson. You've hit on the very idea. I wanted to spend the money on one thing, because I have to turn in a report for it, and I hate itemizing.”

Gillian phoned for a cab and said to the driver: "The stage entrance of the Columbine Theatre."

(MUSIC)

The theater was crowded. Miss Lotta Lauriere was preparing for her performance when her assistant spoke the name of Mr. Gillian.

"Let it in," said Miss Lauriere. "Now, what is it, Bobby? I'm going on stage in two minutes."

“It won't take two minutes for me. What do you say to a little thing in the jewelry line? I can spend one thousand dollars."

“Say, Bobby,” said Miss Lauriere, “Did you see that necklace Della Stacey had on the other night? It cost two thousand two hundred dollars at Tiffany's.”

Miss Lauriere was called to the stage for her performance.

Gillian slowly walked out to where his cab was waiting. "What would you do with a thousand dollars if you had it?" he asked the driver.

"Open a drinking place," said the driver, quickly. "I know a place I could take money in with both hands. I've got it worked out--if you were thinking of putting up the money.”

"Oh, no," said Gillian. “I was just wondering.”

Eight blocks down Broadway, Gillian got out of the cab. A blind man sat on the sidewalk selling pencils. Gillian went out and stood in front of him.

"Excuse me, but would you mind telling me what you would do if you had a thousand dollars?” asked Gillian.

The blind man took a small book from his coat pocket and held it out. Gillian opened it and saw that it was a bank deposit book.

It showed that the blind man had a balance of one thousand seven hundred eighty-five dollars in his bank account. Gillian returned the bank book and got back into the cab.

"I forgot something," he said. "You may drive to the law offices of Tolman & Sharp.”

(MUSIC)

Lawyer Tolman looked at Gillian in a hostile and questioning way.

"I beg your pardon," said Gillian, cheerfully. "But was Miss Hayden left anything by my uncle's will in addition to the ring and the ten dollars?"

"Nothing," said Mr. Tolman.

“I thank you very much, Sir," said Gillian, and went to his cab. He gave the driver the address of his late uncle's home.

Miss Hayden was writing letters in the library. The small, thin woman wore black clothes. But you would have noticed her eyes. Gillian entered the room as if the world were unimportant.

“I have just come from old Tolman's," he explained. “They have been going over the papers down there. They found a…” Gillian searched his memory for a legal term. “They found an amendment or a post-script or something to the will. It seemed that my uncle had second thoughts and willed you a thousand dollars. Tolman asked me to bring you the money. Here it is.”

Gillian laid the money beside her hand on the desk. Miss Hayden turned white. "Oh!" she said. And again, "Oh!"

Gillian half turned and looked out the window. In a low voice he said, "I suppose, of course, that you know I love you."

"I am sorry," said Miss Hayden, as she picked up her money.

"There is no use?" asked Gillian, almost light-heartedly.

"I am sorry," she said again.

"May I write a note?" asked Gillian, with a smile. Miss Hayden supplied him with paper and pen, and then went back to her writing table.

Gillian wrote a report of how he spent the thousand dollars: “Paid by Robert Gillian, one thousand dollars on account of the eternal happiness, owed by Heaven to the best and dearest woman on earth."

Gillian put the note into an envelope. He bowed to Miss Hayden and left.

His cab stopped again at the offices of Tolman & Sharp.

“I have spent the one thousand dollars," he said cheerfully, to Tolman. "And I have come to present a report of it, as I agreed.” He threw a white envelope on the lawyer's table.

Without touching the envelope, Mr. Tolman went to a door and called his partner, Sharp. Together they searched for something in a large safe. They brought out a big envelope sealed with wax. As they opened the envelope, they shook their heads together over its contents. Then Tolman became the spokesman.

"Mr. Gillian," he said, “there was an addition to your uncle's will. It was given to us privately, with instructions that it not be opened until you had provided us with a full report of your handling of the one thousand dollars received in the will.

“As you have satisfied the conditions, my partner and I have read the addition. I will explain to you the spirit of its contents.

“In the event that your use of the one thousand dollars shows that you possess any of the qualifications that deserve reward, you stand to gain much more. If your disposal of the money in question has been sensible, wise, or unselfish, it is in our power to give you bonds to the value of fifty thousand dollars. But if you have used this money in a wasteful, foolish way as you have in the past, the fifty thousand dollars is to be paid to Miriam Hayden, ward of the late Mr. Gillian, without delay.

“Now, Mr. Gillian, Mr. Sharp and I will examine your report of the one thousand dollars.”

Mr. Tolman reached for the envelope. Gillian was a little quicker in taking it up. He calmly tore the report and its cover into pieces and dropped them into his pocket.

"It's all right," he said, smilingly. "There isn't a bit of need to bother you with this. I don't suppose you would understand these itemized bets, anyway. I lost the thousand dollars on the races. Good-day to you, gentlemen."

Tolman and Sharp shook their heads mournfully at each other when Gillian left. They heard him whistling happily in the hallway as he waited for the elevator.

(MUSIC)

FAITH LAPIDUS: “One Thousand Dollars” was written by O. Henry. It was adapted for Special English by Lawan Davis. The storyteller and producer was Steve Ember.

You can read and listen to other American Stories on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Faith Lapidus.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Passenger Pigeon - from Edcon Publishing


Flocks of these birds could quickly strip a field of grain.

A place you will read about: Montreal, a large city in Canada .
People you will read about: John Jacob Audubon: an American painter who studied birds.
Alexander Wilson: a man who studied birds and made pictures of them.

Once there were millions and millions of passenger pigeons in North America. The early settlers could hardly believe the size of the flocks they saw. When they wrote to Europe, they told their friends that there was no limit to the number of pigeons. They wrote about the flights of birds that filled the skies for miles. The Europeans found it hard to believe that there were such glorious flights of birds anywhere. No one in Europe had ever seen such a sight.

An American observer of nature, Alexander Wilson, wrote in 1810 that he saw a flock of over two thousand million birds. He wrote that the flock was so thick that it darkened the sky from horizon to horizon for four hours. He said the birds flew past him at sixty miles an hour. They were flying faster than most cars travel on our highways today. The flocks were so huge and glorious that people in America thought that these birds would be here forever. But now the great mass of pigeons has disappeared. There are no passenger pigeons left anywhere in the world.

What happened to them? One trouble was that it took so much food to keep the huge flocks
alive. They ate berries, small fruit, acorns, and other nuts. But sometimes they ate the farmers' grain. Alexander Wilson figured that the tremendous flock of pigeons that he saw would eat a total of 17% million bushels of grain in one day. At that time there were only about six million people in the United States. Wilson's flock could eat more grain in a day than the entire population of the country would eat in a year!


Naturally, the farmers in the United States and Canada were very unhappy to see such huge flights land in the woods near their fields. Near Montreal, Canada, in 1687 the number of pigeons was enormous. They ate so much grain that the farmers considered them evil beings. They asked their church leaders to get rid of the pigeons with specially blessed waters.
Wherever the great flights traveled, they frightened some people with their huge numbers that darkened the skies for hours. They were not flying to find a different climate. They were simply searching for food. When the pigeons discovered enough food, they would land on all of the trees in the neighborhood. Every twig on every branch became a landing place. Sometimes so many birds landed on a single branch that the branch broke. Sometimes an entire tree would be stripped of every twig by the weight of the passenger pigeons.

Although the pigeons ate a lot, they were also good to eat. They were good-sized birds with heavy bodies. Counting their eight-inch tails, the male pigeons were about seventeen inches long. The males were colored dark blue above and deep red below. Their necks were brilliant shades of shining colors. The females were not so brilliant. They were smaller and less colorful.

The early settlers found both the males and females very tasty. At first they would eat what birds they could and preserve a few barrels of pigeons to help feed their families through the long winters.

Then the trains came along.

There seemed to be no limit to the number of birds that the railroad cars could carry for sale in New York and Boston and other eastern cities. John Jacob Audubon, a famous student of nature and painter of birds, reported that in 1805 he saw ships in New York's harbor loaded with pigeons to be sold in Europe for one cent each.

Hundreds of thousands of live pigeons were captured. Many thousands were kept in cages and fattened for the market. Other live pigeons were used in "trap shooting." These pigeons would be let out of traps and then shot by men with guns. Finally the public was angered and put a stop to this cruel sport.

But the public could not save the glorious pigeons that thrilled people in North America for
nearly three hundred year~. One reason was that their number was so tremendous. People did not think that they would ever disappear from the skies. However, the female pigeons would breed only once a year. They would lay only one or two eggs at a time. This rate of breeding was not enough to make up for the total number of birds killed every year.

About one hundred years ago, some people began to doubt that the pigeons would thrive much longer. But every year millions of birds were still reported. Most people thought that there was just no limit to their numbers. When one of the great flocks was reported, people would come from miles around to kill the birds by the thousands. Some came just to watch the killing. The number of wild pigeons was dropping rapidly.

The last glorious gathering of pigeons - at least one hundred million birds - was last seen in Michigan in 1878. About twenty years later the last wild passenger pigeon was killed. The brilliant flashing flights were seen no more.

In 1914, in a Cincinnati zoo, a bird named Martha died at the age of twenty-nine. She was the last passenger pigeon in the entire world.

1. The passenger pigeon was ____________________
a. brought to America from Europe.
b. a native American bird.
c. always a rare bird.
d. killed for its brilliant feathers.

2. Because there were so many passenger pigeons in 1810, people thought that _________
a. they would scare the little children.
b. they would be here forever.
c. they would frighten the other birds away.
d. a national park should be set aside for them.

3. There were so many pigeons in some flights that _____________
a. they darkened the skies for hours.
b. they kept crashing into each other.
c. they frightened the settlers back to Europe
d. they prevented the crops from getting rain.

4. One of the largest flights reported had at least __________
a. several hundred birds.
b. several thousand birds.
c. a million birds.
d. many millions of birds.

5. The early settlers found that the pigeons ate ____________
a. fish and small game.
b. only nuts and berries.
c. their grain crops.
d. mostly insects.

6. The weight of a flock of pigeons often _______________
a. broke in the settlers' roofs.
b. broke the twigs off trees.
c. caused landslides.
d. crushed the grain fields.

7. The last flock of passenger pigeons was seen _______________
a. in Michigan about one hundred years ago.
b. in a zoo in Europe.
c. in Montreal, Canada, a few years ago.
d. in California during a snow storm.

8. The saddest fact about the passenger pigeon is that ______________
a. it ate so many berries.
b. it used to darken the skies.
c. it broke down so many trees.
d. it is no longer living.

9. Another name for this story could be _________________
a. "The Most Brilliant Birds in America."
b. "The Last of the Wild Animals."
c. "The Greatest Flocks That Ever Flew."
d. "The Bird They Could Not Tame."

10. This story is mainly about ____________________
a. a kind of wild bird.
b. the food of the early settlers.
c. the largest bird that ever flew.
d. how to breed pigeons.

More on the extinction of the passenger pigeon

You'll find many more interesting reading materials at Edcon Publishing Group.