The Original Renaissance Man

Self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci

Last night, we wandered over to the Leatherby Libraries balcony to watch a rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base off to the west, on the coast of Southern California. The payload was super-secret, launched for the National Reconnaissance Office at 9:24p.m. At first, we weren’t sure that the red dot in the distance was the Atlas 5 rocket. But as it rose, the flame became more discernable. Within five minutes, the rocket arced overhead toward the southeast, into the mission’s news blackout, and into the ink-black sky, an apt metaphor for the people who will control the satellite’s function, whatever that may be.

Today, we woke to Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. He’s a favorite of ours because he was exceptionally curious about many things. He invented a bobbin winder that was useful in his own lifetime and composed plans for a helicopter that couldn’t possibly have been built in the days of yore. He thought solar power was a good idea and developed a basic understanding of earthquakes and plate tectonics. He liked to collaborate, he made accurate maps, and he played the lyre pretty well. Of course, he’s best known as a painter and regarded especially for his ability to render the human figure and also the draping of clothes. He was born on April 15, 1492—more than 500 years ago!

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Here are our five suggestions for celebrating da Vinci’s birthday through the weekend:

  • Make an appointment for your annual physical. Da Vinci drew the human skeleton, the vascular system, and other internal organs.
  • Book an airline flight. United Airlines has a deal for Chicagoans to fly to Tulsa this weekend for $140. Southwest Airlines has sale fares to Newark. Leonardo drew many concept flying machines, some of which have since been built, a few of which actually work.
  • Paint that room you’ve been meaning to paint all winter. Leonardo’s painting accomplishments include Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.
  • If you can’t paint, smirk like Mona Lisa. Or pluck your eyebrows.
  • Write left-handed, for that’s what da Vinci did. In fact, write left-handed and backwards, because that’s the way he seems to have written in his journals. One codex of scientific materials was purchased in 2007 for more than $30 million by Bill Gates. To see a page from another of his notebooks, visit the British Museum HERE.

Lest you think Leonardo da Vinci’s is the only birthday to celebrate, tomorrow is the anniversary of Wilbur Wright’s natal day. Whenever there’s a reason to celebrate the Wright brothers, we recommend a punny homage: going out to drink a flight of beer.

Dorothy Wordsworth

And here’s today’s bonus for National Poetry Month and to celebrate the science of botany (though unfortunately, without recoding for stanza breaks). On April 15, 1802, poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, who kept copious notes from which he drew material for his poems, came upon some gorgeous yellow daffodils.


William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

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