Everyone thinks that their dog is special, and I am no different. Our dog, Harley, happily coexists with my backyard flock. This is pretty amazing considering that he is a Cairn and should be fascinated with vermin, squirrels, chipmunks, mice and the like. I don’t think that hens darting around the yard is much of a leap of instinct, but somehow he has managed to understand my ladies are off-limits. This is even more of an amazing feat when you realize that Harley did not grow up with chickens or me. We adopted him at about age four from a local shelter, and it was immediately obvious to us he was a townie. Yet in just six months he has settled into the country life. He is no ordinary dog.
I have always loved photography. Now with the digital age one can easily take hundreds of pictures. I miss that capturing of the true reflection of light on the film, the lines, the colors, all of that has been lost with the end of Kodachrome and the migration away from print photography. On the other hand the digital age has reduced the expense, and most days I can live with the pixels and 200% magnification.
No matter what your photograph digital or traditional, I find that you can get a great scenic picture, but you can never truly capture the essence of the sunset, sunrise or other magnificent outdoor event. I am not sure if it is knowing the sounds that were there when I took the photo or feeling the breeze on my face but I always feel like something is missing in even my best photos. In spite of that we keep taking pictures, as we should.
There are many signs of spring; the first robin, tulips, yellow forsythia, pussy willows, melting snow, and soft roads. Today I discovered another you can add to the list, an egg from my backyard flock after a winter hiatus.
For those of you not familiar with chickens, they need a certain number of hours of sunshine to lay eggs. The magic number of hours varies by breed, but I have tried hard to select birds who are a little less fussy about the length of the day. You can help them along by adding a light to your coop and keeping it on to get your ladies the light they want.
Up until this year I have always managed to get just enough eggs all winter without supplemental lighting. I fight the use extra light for an assortment of reasons, but mostly it seems to me almost puppy mill treatment to “demand” your hens lay non-stop. But this year all my ladies went into a moult in November and by December 1st, I was rationing the last of free-range eggs. To add to all the things that make winter a dreary season I can now add store-bought eggs. This was the first time years I had to buy eggs, which made the first spring egg extra special. Even with a winter weather advisory in place I know spring is on the way.
We got a new cat recently from the local shelter. One of the criteria when picking our cat was that she could not be a kitten. It had to be an adult. We ended up with a one-year-old calico cat, we call Abby. Little did we know that at one a cat is still very young.
We have been painting our living space, and we left the ladder sitting in front of the door last night. Abby quickly found that ladder, climbed the steps to the top and started looking out the window at the top of our door. As many times as we took her down, she would climb up again and peek out the window. Today she still heads there when she gets the chance and always ends up sitting there looking out the window.
It does make me wonder what looking out the window is like from the point view of a cat.
There are still inches of snow on the ground and I am sure many more to come, but this week I received my first seed catalogue. It is a sure sign the number of days left in winter are fewer than those I have already endured.
I love seed catalogues. I am from a Midwest where every family had a garden. I can remember going to the local hardware store and them having bins upon bins of seeds. They had amazing names like Super Sweet Corn, Big Boy Tomatoes and the traditional favorite Blue Lake beans. There you could buy seeds measured out on scale and carefully marked on the brown paper bag what you had selected. It was a precious cargo, seeds that would provide for our winter larder.
Our family had a garden that seemed huge to a child, a now as a adult realizing size know it was 3 pushing 4 acres, and that makes it insanely large. It was technically grandma and grandpa’s garden, but our family worked it with him from the first seed to cleaning off the last plant getting it ready for a winter rest. We worked that garden by hand, no tractor, just a rototiller and lots of women and children with hoes. We sold some of our bounty but most of it would be canned, frozen or put in the root cellar to feed our family.
Today seeds are mass marketed and appear in your local Ace, K-mart and even grocery store. They are packaged in colorful boxes and envelopes touting their qualities. There are many more hybrids and varieties to pick from. It is wonderful that we now have tomatoes that can grow in the short growing season I have in Montana, and this year I even see a sweet corn I might even try. To sit a home warm inside, studying the descriptions and picking seeds that will be most successful here will take many a night, and help to pass the days of winter that we still have left.
Sunday morning David Sherman Virtue passed away at 94 years of age. To me this man was my Uncle Sherm, though to be correct he was my Great Uncle.
Uncle Sherm was the keeper of the story, our family story. He carried on a tradition started long before him. Our first ancestor to come to Northwestern Illinois was James Britton Timms. James kept a journal of life in on the edge of western civilization. I can only imagine what he wrote, and wonder what ever happened to that journal. His daughter Addie would be the next keeper of our family history. She used James’s journal and her life experiences and began to document life on not only the frontier of Illinois, but her life as a young woman settling in Kansas with her new husband and baby. Both Addie and her brother, Harvey, made attempts writing something grander, but I have never been able to find anything more than a few starts at stories and notes they wrote.
Uncle Sherm as the modern keeper of our history, worked diligently to make sure that we all knew about our family and where we were in the history of Illinois. Uncle Sherm was part of a group that ensured that the Blackhawk War Memorial, started by James on a piece of our family farm would eventually become a National Monument. When the dedication of the memorial occurred Uncle Sherm was in his glory telling the story to all.
Another way Uncle Sherm kept our family history was by keeping the family farm in our family for another generation. He and my Aunt Leola would retire to the home place. This farm was homesteaded July 1st 1845 by James Timms and has been owned by a son or daughter every generation since…166 years! I have read many a history about this farm, the battles that were fought there and the nursery stock that people came from all around to purchase. Uncle Sherm has walked my husband and I around the property more than once telling about the trails that if you look just right you can still see in the grove of oak trees across from the house. I can remember the foundations of old buildings long since gone and the history they represented.
The house though it looks like a modern farm house, but I know that part of the place still has some of the original log building underneath the “modern” walls. A painting hangs on the wall that my Great-Grandmother painted in her youth. My grandparents lived in this house when they were first married and my mom was born there. Oh if those walls could talk, the stories they could tell.
I have been fascinated for many years about the family history. I was inspired by the Roots miniseries and Uncle Sherm. Many of my mom’s generation have bits and pieces of the family story. But few of my generation know much about our history. The passing of the person who kept our family history reminds me that I can help be a keeper for the next generation, for stories lost are lost forever. Facts and figures can later be found again but oral history once lost can never again be found. I hope that Uncle Sherm, Addie, Harvey and James, the pioneer, look down from heaven and smile as I work to help be a story keeper for the next generation.
One of my dearest friends is struggling in her fight against cancer. Up until now her fight has been going as smooth as this fight can go for someone with her amazing resiliency, belief in the positive and dogged determination in spite of the trials of surgery and chemotherapy. Today it took a wicked twist, and she is headed across the state for another surgery that we are not sure if it is caused by the disease or all the drugs used to fight it.
All of this made me reflect on my last blog about loosing myself, not taking time for myself, not taking care of myself or my life. My friend, Barb, is one of those friends who always makes me more grounded and more balanced. When we get together we don’t talk about her disease. We laugh about our childhoods and families. We count the blessings of our spouses and the lives we live with them. We encourage one another to pursue our creative dreams; write, draw, paint, cook, create, blog and more. Our critters always visit during our time together to remind us that they are one of part of our crazy lives. We share risks we want to take but haven’t yet and encourage one another to take that first step.
Barb and I stayed connected while I let my work take over my life, a phone call here, an email there, and an occasional Facebook post. All the while promising the week after the conference we would make time to get together in person. While I am not sure if I will see my friend this week, like always she is making me grow, reminding me to embrace the moment. Praying for a speedy recovery for my friend, Barb.