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Prologue In the late afternoon, at the end of a gloomy, windy, rainy day at the beginning of March 1907, Carl Sauer, just seventeen, sat at the work table by the window of his room at home, thinking about his life. Home was Warrenton, Missouri, a reasonably busy and bustling small country town and county seat that served an indifferent farming district just south of Highway 40, some fifty miles west of St. Louis. From his window he looked across the yard to the woodlot. Through the split-rail fence that surrounded it, his view extended away to the open fields and small stands of trees (and across north–south Highway 47) toward the empty town lots that bordered Walton Street, the only built-up street before reaching Main Street. He was moody and unsure of himself, and worried that he lacked the will power to do things and to get down to his college work. And then his relationship with the local girls troubled him. He decided to start a diary in which he would put down daily happenings “to see if it won’t help to wake me up and to try to do enough each day,” and “to jog my memory.”1 It had been a “dismal day” as March had come in like the proverbial lion, and it made him feel worse. “I must try to make myself be less dependent on the weather,” he wrote. The previous day he had “bummed” the afternoon classes at Central Wesleyan College, and later had gone “down town” to buy some postcards and to try to catch up with some of the college gang. “But there were only the girls there; all listen only half way to me when I talk. Lost my nerve last night, was [as] afraid of the girls as last year.” He thought that he would find consolation in committing his feelings and behavior to his diary. Perhaps, he mused, he’d be like Samuel Pepys, 2 to pass on a good earth and his entries would bring an intimate self-realization. But after one and a half years and more than 300 pages filled with fairly prosaic entries, about the weather, his work at the college, the odd journeys out of town, his exploits with his friends, and particularly accounts of his success or otherwise in “sporting” with the girls, he decided to abandon his diary, stop being moody, and try to be more agreeable. Carl Sauer was simply no diarist, no Pepys. The discipline and humdrum routine of making a daily entry did not suit his freewheeling, speculative mind, even at this early age. He wasn’t interested enough in the major events of his neighborhood or county to be bothered to record them. Nor could he detach himself enough to be introspective and make his own emotions clear. His literary gifts lay elsewhere. He wrote letters—literally thousands of them. In one sense these letters were a continuation of his diary in that they were often self-judgmental exercises , but they were much more than that. They became the means for conveying issues that touched upon his many interests and feelings. He did not want to keep his thoughts to himself but rather to share them with others. He excelled as a communicator, taking up a topic, discussing and dissecting it, and, if a decision was needed, coming up with a commonsense working course of action. Sometimes in later life, when he saw no solution he became melancholy and despondent. His writing was pungent, punchy, and pithy, and littered with phrases that linger in the mind. This shift from teenage logger of everyday events to adult analysis and reasoning happened suddenly, and we get a hint of this other self in his very last diary entries during the long summer vacation before going to Northwestern University in 1908. The first few were typical: June 27th. The other day I played tennis with Lorena [Schowengerdt] and we had a fairly grand time. If I don’t get much better treatment I’ll quit before the summer’s over. I certainly like her, but there doesn’t seem to be much the other way. June 28th. We are going to Charrette [a local scenic spot] Tuesday— and Mrs. Schowengerdt is to be chaperone—pshaw! I am trying to plot Mrs. Schowengerdt out of the way. I might just as well look around for another girl. Prologue 3 After a gap of a month, the...


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MARC Record
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