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Lessons learned in the past few years

I’ve been away from my blog for a while. I’d like to begin 2020 with a recap of the lessons I’ve learned in the past few years and ideas for the future.

Stuff that didn’t make sense in 2014

It didn’t make sense to me how the media members believed they were covering a story, but they were actually publicizing a fringe opinion. When the media exposed the actions of an extremist group/organization, they appeared to actually give them credence, especially when repeated ad nausium.

It didn’t make sense to me how polarized my country was, how relatives and neighbors could hold such opposite opinions. Even though we disagreed with many, we don’t want to shoot them like they do in other countries where people fight over politics or religion.

It didn’t make sense to me how people looked at land or location as a place to be exploited and not see the beauty of the place. It didn’t make sense to me how destroying a landscape, improves it;  e.g. why do neighbors bulldoze 100-year-old trees that protect fragile land to farm another acre more or build another grain bin.

What did make sense?

It made sense for a society to take responsibility to care for people unable to care for themselves (disabled, elderly, children and disenfranchised). It made sense to me that wealthy people should be taxed more to pay for roads, police, schools, health care, and even bombs. I often felt that I could do more than I do to help others.

It made sense to celebrate life’s events, like holding a Halloween party for friends and family whenever we are able. We may not pass by a person, group, of part of life again in just the same way – it made sense not to miss opportunities. This sentiment has grown stronger as I age.

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What made sense in my life?

It made sense to always support my children as they figure out life.

It made sense to bury the hatchet of conflict with others and let go of past hurts. This one was and is very difficult for me. I take injuries and hurts to heart, expect apologies that won’t be coming, and find it easier to live without hurtful people in my life.

It made sense to learn to forgive so I don’t feel the agony of resentment all the time. It made sense to bury those feelings in the soil, to plant new life internally as I plant flowers and tomatoes in the spring. I’ve been given another year, another spring to work on this and I was grateful to be alive, or as a friend used to say, “every day above ground is a good one”.

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It made sense to me to focus my daily life on things I could manage and control (like mowing the lawn when it is tall, cleaning the house when it is dirty, taking care of pets and livestock, giving my colleagues a place to vent about the very strange politics of the work-place, participating in groups that improve the little space of the world that I live in) and let alone the neighborhood’s, state’s, nation’s bigger problems.

It made sense to celebrate every sunrise, appreciate every sunset, savor the taste of coffee, the luxury of time to sip a couple cups in the morning, dinner with family or friends, finding time to stop, listen to birds sing and share the bounty of my life. I felt very fortunate to be in that place at that time.

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What makes sense in 2020?

This is the first time I’ve considered these issues in the past six years. It seems appropriate to revisit them again as 2020 begins. I noted in 2014 that Americans may disagree but at least we don’t shoot people. I’m revising that statement based on the history of the past few years. People in this country are more polarized now than six years ago.

In recent years people have started to shoot people they don’t like; target racial groups they don’t like, and pursue whole groups of people whose politics they don’t like. People shoot other people in churches, synagogues, and mosques. People shoot children in elementary and high schools, and at colleges and universities. People shoot people in nightclubs and at concerts. People shoot people in restaurants and corner stores. I understand this exhibition of hated even less than I understand the hate that fuels it.

Perhaps I’m looking through the wrong end of a viewfinder, but I don’t understand the continued exploitation of land and water in this country as if there’s always more land out there to move to, dig up, pump water from the ground via irrigation, build wind farms on, or clutter landscapes with mechanical equipment. It makes no sense to me to encase towers in fifty-feet deep cement platforms for the next generation to worry about removing.

It also makes no sense to mine oil from Canadian tar sands and transport it via pipelines to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico to be sold on the world market. Pipelines that cross the United States and pollute our land with every pipeline break seem nonsensical to me as well as being another source of ill-gotten revenue for the one present of ultra-rich that spend fortunes lobbying politicians to make it happen.

Stuff that does make sense.

Generosity to others and kindness continue to be important qualities. It makes sense to help others when possible. It makes sense to adopt shelter pets, like my dog Pickles rather than buy from pet factories.

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I wish sensible actions and attitudes combined into a longer list and perhaps I need to remove my rose-colored glasses and view the world with a different lens. However, I love my country and its multiplicity of residents regardless of our political divisions. We are all more than our political opinions. Please, let’s stop shooting each other!

It also makes sense to me to record events and attitudes as I experience them. This time and place will not come again. I’m still grateful to be alive at this time. It continues to make sense to celebrate life’s gifts.  I hope the world will be a better place for future generations. If each of us demonstrates one kind gesture toward another and befriends folks rejected by others, we will have a beginning.

 

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High Summer

It’s late July, high summer season for garden  harvests, flowers and mosquitos.  It’s also the general timeline I gave myself to make a retirement decision.  I can busy myself picking green beans,  husking sweet corn and pruning flower beds to avoid difficult decisions.  It’s been a great year for green beans.  This is an early harvest.

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Plentiful rain results in beautiful flowers.

IMG_20180708_211918_073 The flowers are pretty even when shared with another of Mother Nature’s creatures.

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Tending to nature’s bounty is a peaceful way to consider options.  Time on the lake fishing is another kind of peace.  My pole’s in the water on a foggy morning.

Lin's fishing pole

This view and the cover photo are of Lake Oahe in South Dakota. http://sdmissouririver.com/follow-the-river/the-four-lakes-and-dams/lake-oahe/

Bonding

Connecting

Welcome back to my blog. Although I’ve made a couple of starts in recent months, I didn’t emotionally connect with any of the topics I selected before this. Please note, this blog is longer than usual. It contains three of my previously published poems, selected to accompany the blog. I have a strong bond to the rural area where I live that includes a grove with cottonwood, elm, and pine trees. There are cedars and ponderosas around the buildings, ash and mulberry scattered where birds have dropped their seeds. Many wild species feast on the mulberries in summer.

Wildlife in the area include rabbits, raccoons, possums, coyotes, skunks, and occasionally deer, fox, and marmots. I sighted a bobcat once. The locale hosts many birds, including red-tailed hawks, giant owls, blue jays, doves, woodpeckers, robins, barn swallows in summer, and multiple brown sparrows’ year-around. As neighbors have torn down building sites and bulldozed nearby trees, more birds have flocked to my little oasis. The wildlife connection will be explained in the following narrative.

Dogs

This is a story of how I came to adopt a dog after my previous dogs died. I’ve always had a strong connection to my pets. My previous dogs were a black lab and Samoyed mix named Cookie and an Australian shepherd mix named Wiggs.

Cookie came to us in 1996 as a puppy. Her start was a rocky one. Three days after she was spade, she worked her stitches loose one morning. She sat by the back door with part of her intestines showing. I called for the family to come quickly. My daughter and I sat in the back of the pickup with her wrapped in a towel while my husband drove us to the vet. The veterinarian was alarmed the stitches hadn’t held, took her into emergency surgery to remove the damaged intestines. Cookie stayed in the veterinarian’s care for another week and miraculously recovered. She got along fine without three feet of intestines for the rest of her life. She had an excess of curiosity, always wanting a closer look at every vehicle driving by our house.

Wiggs was born in 2002, the year my daughter graduated from high school. She was a sweet little dog, all bubbly, lick your face, and crawl all over you, kind of puppy. She was so wiggly; we named her Wiggs. We got her when Cookie the black lab/Samoyed cross was about six. Cookie mentored her, taught her to scratch on the screen door when she wanted in the house and the not so helpful habit of scratching the stair door if she wanted to go outside in the middle of the night. That door still carries the scars. Cookie allowed Wiggs to crawl all over her, chew on her feet, play with her tail, and follow her around. They were great friends and companions. Cookie also taught her to chase cars. That they both lived through those car chases is a small miracle.

Cookie passed from this world at the good old dog years of about 15. She gave up on life one summer day. Her muzzle turned grey, and her legs quit working. My son was here that day with a friend. I sat on the sidewalk and said good-by to Cookie. They took her out and shot her, buried her on a hillside. I wrote this poem about her passing. It is in my book of poetry, A Quilted Landscape.

To The Hill

“But suddenly she was old and sick and crippled …

I grieved for Pollóchan when he took her for a stroll

And put his gun to the back of her head.”     

                                    Praise of a Collie

                                    Norman MacCaig

Cookie sighs, looks up at me

through liquid brown eyes,

places her grizzled muzzle

carefully over folded paws,

patient, as calm in her old age

as she was with Zeke and Liz

when they were young.

I sit on the sidewalk

beside her,

stroking her greying fur,

tell her we love her,

turn my head

when my son takes her

to the hill

overlooking the grassland

she paced so many times.

No longer able to run

she welcomes the single shot

that brings peace.

Wiggs was lonely after that for a while but then she rather liked being the only dog. Cookie always got the lion’s share of the scraps. Now Wiggs got them all. I supposed I contributed to her weight gain because I shared my meals with her after my marriage ended. At one vet check-up, a diet plan was recommended. After her diet went into effect, she lost 8 pounds on her vet-prescribed special diet and no scraps.

My daughter was 18 and My son 21 when Wiggs came into our lives. She was just leaving for college and My son returning to our hometown. My son spent a lot of time with Wiggs over the years and she was attached to him. Whenever he was home, she slept by his door.

Heeding advice about socializing Australian shepherds, and the need for her to be around lots of people, I took her (leased) to parades, on picnics, dog-fundraising walks, and other events. She could go to town and wouldn’t even need a lease, although I always took one along to be on the safe side. She stayed right beside my son when she was with him.

I taught her that it was ok for her to sleep on the daybed but not on other furniture. In the winter she did sleep on the daybed. I could often see her just getting up when I came downstairs early in the morning. She would slide off the daybed like she didn’t want to be seen sleeping. She followed me around the house. If I worked on the computer she slept on the office floor, if I read in the dining room, she slept on the rug by the table and in the winter we both sat by the fire in the living room. Wiggs would lie in front of the stove and soak up the heat until she couldn’t stand it anymore, then move away to cool off.

Wiggs accompanied me to feed the barn cats and horses. She half-heartedly chased horses because she thought it was her job to keep animals away from the house. The horses ignored her. She always barked at them with the safety of a fence between them. She barked at strangers who drove on the place. It was often a deterrent for salespeople. She loved to be petted and certainly took “doggy treats” from strangers. It was all-show or all-bark and no bite.

Wiggs died 8/15/2012. My son was on vacation. I didn’t want to call him and tell him that Wiggs died but I didn’t know how to justify not telling him until he returned home. He had a special bond with her. An e-mail is so informal, yet it seemed best to send something. I missed her sitting beside me as I typed. She was my special companion. She walked with me in the morning. She wandered the property with me as I tried to sort out who I am and what I wanted to do. She helped me screen the men I’ve dated after the divorce. If a guy didn’t like her or she didn’t like him, I didn’t see that guy again.

Wiggs had learned car-watching from Cookie. I could have and should have confined her to the house while I was at work, but I did not do that. She loved to roam around the acreage, sniffing for rabbits, chasing squirrels, and generally serving as watchdog. To my knowledge, she never caught anything but loved the chase.

Returning home from work one summer day, she didn’t come when called. I found her under the lilac bush unable to move. I called my neighbor to help me load her in the jeep and immediately took her to the vet. Diagnosis was a broken vertebra, probably hit by a car but I don’t know for sure. The vet said she couldn’t recover and gave her pain medication to help calm her. I made the dreadful decision to put her down. My daughter and I sat with her when the vet administered the heart-stopping medication. I was heart-broken, losing my puppy companion, my only companion at that time. The vet clinic cremated her and gave me a box with her remains.

I wrote this poem about her, describing an amusing incident. It’s also in my book A Quilted Landscape.

Wiggs Makes Tracks

A Quilted Landscape by Lin Brummels

Wiggs, the Aussie, is eager

to go to the puppy spa

this cool rainy morning,

jumps into the front seat,

misses the cushion cover,

wipes muddy paws on fabric,

as I key the ignition, then

step out of the jeep,

walk to the passenger side,

try to coax her to move

back to the blanket,

but I’ve not learned

to speak dog very well,

load my bag with spare key

and some food in the back,

shut the door just as she moves

like she finally understood, 

accidentally steps on a lock,

leaving me outside, her in.

I call the car-body guy

to rescue her and me;

he comes to our aid,

but can’t pass up the chance

to give me a hard time, 

letting the dog drive?

In future time pups may drive,

but I’ll keep an extra key

in my pocket in case she

locks doors again,

following her instinct

to keep us safe.

I vowed to be dog-less after that. I didn’t want to go through another heart-wrenching loss or place another animal at risk. I went through that fall, winter, and spring without a canine companion. Although it was somewhat freeing not to worry about finding dog care when I traveled, it was also lonesome.

My son, taking care of the place while I was gone one time, remarked that he arrived at dusk to find a possum by the back door. It ran off when he arrived, but the incident did remind me that my canine friends had done a remarkable job of keeping wildlife away from the house. I don’t recall any dog catching a critter, but their barking kept animals away, forming a barking-dog-enforced perimeter around the buildings. A house in the country vacant for even a week or two is fair game for invading animals.

Nine months after Wiggs died, I began to think seriously about looking for another dog. It was like a dog-less pregnancy. I hired a contractor to build a fence around the doghouse so the next dog would be safe from traffic. My daughter and daughter-in-law, both dog-whisperers, accompanied me on the trip to the shelter. We walked through the rooms of animals waiting for forever homes. That walk was a heart-breaking experience all by itself. So many animals abandoned or given up by previous owners, I wanted to take them home. With some restraint I adopted just one dog that day.

The shelter staff said she had been given up by her previous owner who had three dogs in a small apartment. Her name at that time was River. That name did not suit her. We drove through a fast-food place to get something to eat on the way home. My daughter sat in the backseat with her and fed her the dill pickles from her sandwich. The way she relished the pickles, it was clear to us that her name would be Pickles.

Pickles is now ten-years old and doesn’t move as fast as she did. She’s having some problems with one of her back hips. I worry about losing her. When she was younger, she loved to play fetch with a frisbee. She doesn’t play much now. This poem is in honor of those happy times. It can also be found in the same book of poems, A Quilted Landscape.

Joy Under the Trees

A Quilted landscape by Lin Brummels

My sheepdog Pickles

finds her favorite frisbee

lost since early summer

under tall grass

in the grove

until mowed by hungry bovines

Joyfully she drops it at my feet

I throw frisbee

She chases and dives

like outfielder after a fly ball

brings it back to play tug-of-war

I can’t win

her jaws stronger than my hands

wait for her to drop it again

We both race to grab

what’s left of well-chewed disc

She usually wins

but when I get there first

throw it to her again and again

until she tires and leaves

joy under the trees

to discover later with glee

Finding Motivation

“We go through life. We shed our skins. We become ourselves.” Patti Smith

Why write at all: Motivation during Covid

In the past I’ve looked to nature and animals for writing motivation. Spring flowers and emerging life are Mother Nature’s invitation to go outside, hear the birds sing, smell fresh air, dip fingers in warming soil.

This mushroom is a tiny umbrella for the soil

However, the pandemic that has sickened and killed thousands has kept many of us indoors. It’s forced many writers to scribe in isolation and artists to create alone. The in-person gatherings, classes, and workshops that taught us and nurtured us were postponed, then cancelled. We were on our own looking internally for motivation during Covid isolation. Winter months when plants are dormant and it’s too cold to spend much time outside contribute to one’s sense of confinement.

Fresh coat of snow is a blanket covering the landscape

I started this blog discouraged about writing as I reviewed failures of the past year. Once I flipped that notion on its head and looked at accomplishments first, I began to recapture my usual optimistic perspective. After all, if authors stop writing, and publishers stop publishing, readers will have nothing new to read.

During the past two years I’ve read multiple online comments from notable writers in blogs like Brevity and social media sites like Facebook about moments of indecision when they asked themselves “what’s the point in writing.”  These author’s observations are typically followed at the end of their notation or essay by the author’s impressive credentials. Writers also blog about imposter syndrome – the notion that the public will find out they are pretenders, not legitimate journalists, novelists, poets, or essayists, e.g., https://brevity.wordpress.com/2022/02/09/getting-to-the-truth/  That notion certainly describes me. I worry I’m not a real writer and become discouraged.

Reconsidering Accomplishments

In 2020 artistic and literary public events came to a near halt due to the arrival of Covid and its derivatives. We eventually discovered how to use zoom or began to meet outside in person and often in masks. Even with those baby steps it was a quiet year. I, like many people, stayed home and only saw the humans in my bubble.

A group of friends meet for coffee in the park on a warm winter day in 2021

My full-length book of poetry, A Quilted Landscape, was due to be published in 2020 but was delayed until 2021 because of the pandemic. The publisher and I hoped to be able to hold readings and public events in 2021. This was true only to a very limited extent.

A Quilted Landscape was delivered to my house by UPS in the spring of 2021. It turned out beautifully thanks to the terrific editor and publisher at Scurfpea Publishing, Steve Boint. I held a book launch at a coffee shop outdoor dining room in the summer of 2021. Both the publication and the book launch were highlights of the year for me.

Cover of my book of poems, A Quilted Landscape

Another accomplishment was publication of two poems in “Beyond Covid: Leaning Into Tomorrow” anthology during 2021. “Real Women Write” from Story Circle Network is a two-volume sequence about living with and getting beyond Covid. Inclusion in this anthology series is another motivation to write this blog. I, like many others, want to get beyond Covid into a new normal. A journal also published a poem and an essay and one poem was accepted into another anthology.

Story Circle Network Anthologies

I initially became familiar with the idea of “new normal” after the 911 attack on the Trade Center and Pentagon. A National Guard unit from my town was deployed to Iraq. I was one of several Red Cross volunteer counselors who helped the Guard Chaplin work with family members of deployed soldiers. The Chaplin educated the families to the concept of a new normal in case their soldiers returned with physical and/or emotional wounds.

Covid has introduced us to another new normal as the latest Covid variants arise and subside. Schools struggle to stay open, health care workers feel overwhelmed, businesses look for new ways to operate, many people change occupations, and we all wonder what will be next as states drop mask mandates.

Why do we chose to write?

This winter, I am seriously examining the question in the title of this blog, “why write?” or more specifically, “what’s the point, who cares?” As an author in the Baby Boom generation, with my very polite perspective, I would like to find out what may be contributing to my recent string of literary rejections. Most days I don’t have a clear answer to this question, but it seems I’m not writing what the presses want to publish or I haven’t found compatible journals, with a few exceptions.

Literary activity in the second year of Covid, also known as 2021, was slow for me. I submitted 130 poems to thirty-two different journals. Four of them were contests. I submitted essays to five additional journals. One was accepted and published. In addition, I submitted chapbook collections to three presses. One is still pending but none were accepted. I am striving to adopt Sylvia Plath’s attitude when she says, “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”

My writing group has met only sporadically during Covid. The group is currently on hiatus due to several people’s health concerns. I dearly miss the comradeship and editing help from the group. I’ve joined an online writing group that meets on zoom, but it isn’t the same as getting together in person and work-shopping each other’s poems. I’ve also taken several online writing classes to improve my skills.

Publishing Today

There may be journals managed by people in my age bracket but most Baby Boomers (age 57-75), like myself, are retired or semi-retired. Presses and journals are run by Generation X (age 41-56), Millennials (age 25-40), and increasingly by Generation Z (age 9-24). The latter two groups are over-represented in the people who screen submissions. They are the first readers, interns, and students that are the gatekeepers at academic and large presses. Many will say age, gender, disability should not matter, it’s the writing that counts.

Voice

There is the notion of voice or tone of a writer’s work that speaks for them. My voice is usually understated and subtle in tone. I’ve been told by a young reviewer that my voice is so quiet it’s not compelling. On the other side of the voice question, Baby Boomers like myself, have suggested I might need to calm down some poems as too erotic or confrontational. Ultimately, I must be comfortable with the way I write. As Patti Smith says, we become ourselves. I can’t write another author’s words or in someone else’s voice.

In conclusion, on days when I don’t think I have anything to say, I write about that conundrum, and see where it takes me. Today it sparks my motivation to compose all over again.

A Farmer’s Daughter’s look at Ag

I grew up on a family farm. There were always chores to do. I was more interested in reading than farming. I devoured every book and magazine I could find. We didn’t have books at home or at the little country school. I borrowed books from anyone willing to loan them. My rural schoolteacher borrowed books from a bigger library in the county seat, consequently, there were books to read at school. I read when I was supposed to be doing chores. I read when I herded cows along the road, when I was thought to be weeding the garden, and at night after I went to bed. I read when tanning in summer sunshine, and when I took my younger brothers to the creek to swim. Every story was an adventure that took me on a journey away from the farm. My parents and I were all surprised that I wanted to move back to the country to raise my family.

Today I have a home library. The books I discuss in this blog emphasize the importance of farm and ranch land for its spiritual power as well as a means for people to make a living. It is not an attempt at a comprehensive review, rather it’s a consideration of how these Dakota-based authors’ works have left a lasting impression on me. The books remind me of how agriculture’s difficulties influenced my life in the past and continues to do so. The impetus for this literary comparison is an example of reading serendipity in that the books came together unexpectedly in time.

Part of my home library

O.E. Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth, first published in English in 1927, from a Norwegian translation, is often referenced as a seminal work about the immigrant experience in North America. Rolvaag’s book is about immigration to South Dakota. He describes the courageous Norwegian immigrants who first arrived in those vast grasslands and tried their hand at farming. It’s not too much of a leap of faith to conjecture that the immigrants who first encountered the grasslands of eastern Nebraska and North Dakota faced similar challenges to those in South Dakota, albeit with colder winters the further north one settled. This book is referenced by other authors listed below in their descriptions of the Dakota plains. When I read this book, I was struck by the foolhardy bravery of the immigrants and the unbelievable hardship of their lives as they tried to turn native prairie into farmland.

Example of a sod house

I’ve read several of Linda Hasselstrom’s books about South Dakota. Her memoirs, Going Over East first published in 1987 and Feels Like Far published in 1999 describe living and working on her family’s western South Dakota ranch. They are evocative of the demanding work of making a living from the land described in Giants of the Earth. Her poetry is indicative of her tough yet tender relationships with people in her life.

Years ago, I read Kathleen Norris’s Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, published in 1993. It is a look at faith and its connection to her life in North and South Dakota. She presents the idea that the West River area of both states is more like each other, and that the eastern ends of the states also have more similarity to each other, as opposed to any distinction between the states. Hence, she talks about living in Dakota, and lessons she learned returning from a city to live in a family home in a town located on the border between North and South Dakota.

Another author, Sharon Butala, in The Perfection of the Morning, an apprenticeship in nature, published in 1994, writes in the same vein about finding spirituality on the prairies, in this case the Canadian plains, especially southwestern Saskatchewan, just north of the Montana border, a dry country. Ms. Butala finds the solitude of walking over grassland to be an enlightening experience after she marries a rancher and moves away from the city to live an isolated rural life. I find in her accounts of grasslands numerous descriptions of place, solitude, and connectivity to the land that I feel, almost as if she was writing for me.

More recently I’ve read thee more tomes with North Dakota connections; The Farmer’s Lawyer by Sara Vogel published in 2021, The Horizontal World: Growing up wild in the middle of nowhere by Debra Marquart published in 2006, and Yellowbird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country published in 2020 by Sierra Crane Murdoch set in and around North Dakota reservation land.

Vogel’s and Marquart’s books are considered memoir. Murdoch’s is described as literary journalism. Vogel’s and Murdoch’s books include passages describing tragedies people suffer, often at the hands of the federal government. Marquart’s book is a personal journey of growing up in North Dakota. Her descriptions bring home the vastness of North Dakota’s geography necessitating traveling great distances to do practically anything. Remoteness to the Omaha metro area or Lincoln as Nebraska’s capital, are also vast for out-state Nebraskans. The western part of Nebraska is as lightly populated as the western part of the Dakotas.

Sara Vogel traveled the entire state of North Dakota as a lawyer representing farmers mistreated by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Home Administration (FmHA). Vogel’s clients included both white and Native American farmers from reservation land. She also traveled countless miles visiting clients and filing briefs in numerous courts. Her knowledge of legal precedents as a young lawyer was impressive.

I find myself identifying with these authors and people they describe. The Farmer’s Lawyer really brought this to mind as the author lays out the suffering of farmers during the Reagan administration under the guidance of his Secretary of Agriculture Block, nicknamed “Auction Block” by the beleaguered farmers and his chief administrator of the FmHA, Charles W. Shuman.

Farm Loans

FmHA’s federal employees forced thousands of farmers off their land if they didn’t meet President Reagan’s stringent cost-cutting guidelines. Block’s mantra was “get big or get out.” He forced thousands off their land by foreclosing on their FmHA farm loans. Ms. Vogel proves in court that the federal government was not following its mission to save family farms as originally laid out by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) in his New Deal policies to help farmers during the dirty thirty’s financial crises. Vogel does an outstanding job of describing the horror those farm families faced when they lost everything. The farm crisis described in her book started in the early 1980’s and lasted into the 1990’s when Congress finally passed laws protecting farmers.

Family

My first emotional connection with Vogel’s book concerns timing. My parents started farming when Dad returned from World War II. He and Mom got married upon his return like thousands of other returning veterans and their sweethearts. They farmed their entire life while raised five kids (I’m the middle child). After a lifetime on rented farms, they decided to retire. They held a farm sale in March of 1982 just as the farm crises intensified across the country. They got out just as things were going bad.

My parents as newlyweds

Inflation got out of control as the farm crisis deepened. Land prices started to fall as a result. This left thousands of farmers in the unenviable position of having borrowed more to buy land than the land was worth. Although my folks deeply regretted that they were never able to buy farmland, it is a blessing in disguise as they avoided the land value drops of the 1980s.

The second connection I gleaned from reading Sara Vogel’s book concerned my husband’s and my decision to buy an acreage in 1981. We moved from a house in a small town into our new old country house in May 1982 when our son was a one-year-old. Our daughter was born here two years later. We were impacted mightily when we sought a loan to buy the place by the high interest rates that were in effect from the deepening farm crises. We secured a loan to buy the acreage at fourteen percent interest.

Daughter and Son in 1988

Farm Aid

A third bit of serendipity happened when Willy Nelson and Neil Young held a Farm Aid Concert in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1989. We attended the all-day concert held in UNL’s Memorial Stadium. The stadium was full of people who turned out to support farmers. The music was great too.

Sara Vogel provides an accounting of how farmers benefited from the farm aid concerts. I remember only vague reports at the time stating that all proceeds after expenses went to farmers. Vogel’s account is the first I’ve read that tells how the money was used, often in grants for farmers’ travel to national regional and meetings and to support grassroots farm organizations.

Interest Rates

Sara Vogel’s book reminded me of our fourth connection to the farm crises that occurred in the early 1990s. We had an opportunity to buy the farmland around our acreage. Due to Congress passing laws to protect farmers, interest rates on farm loans started to come down. We were able to borrow at seven percent for this loan to buy land. Seven percent seemed like such an improvement over our first loan at the time. Seven percent loans would be considered outrageously high today, although inflation and interest rates are creeping up again in 2022.

Concerts and Farming

Although its outside the scope of books reviewed here, a modern version of a farm aid concert was held north of Neligh, Nebraska on the Art and Helen Tanderup farm to support Native American and white farm families opposed to the XL Pipeline. Neil Young spearheaded this Harvest the Hope concert held in Tanderup’s cornfield on a lovely September day in 2014. Rolling Stone Magazine reported that this concert is Willy Nelson and Neil Young’s first performance together since the 1989 Farm Aid Concert in Lincoln, NE.   I was fortunate to be able to attend this 2014 concert as well.

Poster from 2014 Concert
Willy Nelson & Neil Young 2014 photo by Lin Brummels

My friend Bonnie and I at Harvest the Hope Concert 2014 photo by Kim Smith
Cornfield parking for Harvest the Hope concert – photo by J. Kohles

WIND: A Personal Perspective

I’ve been thinking about wind lately. I grew up on a farm near a village of four-hundred people. My parents lived north of this village until I was ten. Their next rented farm was south of that same berg. These places were the kind of farms that don’t exist anymore. My folks rented their small farms from landowners in nearby towns. They raised dairy cattle, pigs, chickens, and planted big gardens.

The first farm did not have any running water in the house. Consequently, there was no indoor toilet facility. A windmill pumped all water for people and animals. Wind provided the power to the windmill to pump water for everything. My parents and later my older brothers carried water to the house to drink, cook, do dishes, wash clothes, and bathe. Water had to be heated on a stove; a wood burner in winter or a kerosene stove in summer.

Photo by Ernesto Velazquez on Pexels.com

The second farm did have water piped into the rustic house and there was a hot water heater to provide hot water. This house did not have an indoor bathroom either. This farm-site was split by a rural gravel road. The house, clothesline, and outhouse were on one side of the road. The windmill, barn, hog shed, chicken house, corn crib, and Dad’s shop were on the other side of the road.

Outhouse print in Lin Brummels collection

We used an outhouse like the one depicted here, but ours wasn’t as nice. It’s saving grace was a view of the creek in the pasture below the hill. There were often deer grazing with the cows or sipping water from the creek.

Family in front of old house

This is a picture of my parents, two younger brothers and me in front the old house south of town. The landlord eventually enclosed the front porch and painted the beat-up house. Other outbuildings were on the opposite site of the sandy gravel road. We played in the grove of wind-gnarled trees behind the house.

 We depended on the wind to pump water for the animals. There was a tank at the base of the windmill, much like the tank pictured below located on my place today for watering cows and horses in the summer. My tank fills from water piped through an underground line from the well and brought to the surface via a hydrant. I leave a post in the tank as a perch for bees, birds, and other wildlife. In winter animals here drink from a heated automatic waterer.

Dad’s tank was filled by the windmill pumping water when the wind turned the blades. He added a barrel heater to his tank, to keep it ice free in winter. Dad filled his tank-heater with wood for a fire, to keep the water open for the cattle and hogs. The chicken house was also nearby. Mom carried water to the chickens from the tank. Eventually Dad installed an electric-powered pump-jack to pump water when the wind did not blow reliably.

Some years Mom had a garden near the outbuildings so she could water from the tank near the windmill. As my brothers and I grew up and left home after high school she needed to grow fewer vegetables for canning and consequently needed less space for the garden. She moved the garden north of the house to be more convenient for her.

Fifty Years Later

Jumping ahead fifty years, people don’t depend on wind to pump water. Cities and towns have wells that provide regularly tested safe drinking water for their residents. Rural people like me have submersible pumps installed by licensed well personnel. I no longer have a functioning wind-powered windmill.

Wind tower located across the road from my house.

This is a photo of the giant tower across the road from my house. Several more are visible in the distance. I count sixty-two of these behemoths surrounding my back yard marring my view of the horizon in every direction. This one appears pink in the setting sun as it captures the last of the light. These wind machines are very noisy when wind blows at certain speeds and directions. While one may run quietly in a southeast wind, another nearby facing a different direction will roar as its blades turn. The noise location can switch with a change in wind direction and speed. It’s only quiet outside now when the wind is calm.

Today, commercial wind farms are sprouting up in thousands of rural areas including in my county. Rather than the comparatively tiny windmills that every farm used to have, now my home is surrounded by dozens of giant wind-generating mechanisms owned by corporate giants in other countries. These modern wind towers dominate the landscape for miles. The wind system in my county doesn’t provide any power to me or my neighbors. The electricity generated is sold to the highest bidder and send via a power grid to communities far away or to commercial operations like Facebook’s new Data Center in Nebraska.

Photo by Sergei Starostin on Pexels.com

Proponents say that wind farms are a vast improvement to power generated from fossil fuels, but even today’s wind-generated power grid must have a back-up energy source when the wind does not blow. Most will also say that they do not want to live the life of poverty often associated with subsistence farming like my parents and others of their generation.

I also want to make a comment about the blinking red lights on the tops of commercial wind towers. These lights that fill the night sky are an irritant from my perspective. Each system has a red light at it’s tip to warn aircraft of their presence. While these lights are necessary for safety, they fill the night sky that used to be just full of stars here. For every upgrade in lifestyle for an urban dweller there is a cost to someone somewhere.

Is wind a friend to the people living in the middle of a wind farm or an annoyance? The answer to this complex question depends on one’s place in the community and a person’s decisions to participate by agreeing to have a wind tower on their land or not. The farmers that sign up receive lucrative financial contracts to have towers on their land. The answer may not have anything to do with the idea of green energy. I support green energy in theory but dislike living in the middle of the gigantic noisy systems.

Lighting the Dark

Mornings dawn gloomy

It’s been an autumn of gatherings after eighteen months of isolation. The season began with a niece’s wedding in Sioux Falls, SD. It was a lovely wedding and urban weekend. The next event was my daughter’s wedding in my back yard. I’ve written about the planning process for hosting a home wedding in another blog. The third big event was another niece’s wedding in Lincoln, NE and another city weekend. These events were about a month apart and it’s been lovely to see friends and travel a bit. However, each event marches us closer to daylight savings time and less daylight. Pasture grass matures under cloudy skies.

Big bluestem and other native grasses

The third wedding was followed by planning for a small Halloween gathering just a week before the time change this year. Outside lights brighten shorter days. I began to hang white lights on fences and in trees and build roaring fires in the wood stove to warm long evenings inside.

Wood fire before Christmas

I’m a child of the sun. I sit in south windows when the sun shines. The sun is low enough in the sky late November to shine in the house afternoons. The sun warms my sunny south room ten or fifteen degrees during the day. My cats also love to sit in the sun.

Colonel Mustard finds a sunny spot
Maybell & Melvin share the sunny window seat

How to Host an Outdoor Wedding

Have you ever considered hosting a wedding in your back yard? Does that sound like fun, or do you wonder how to make it happen? Especially if it’s early October, you live in a rural area, miles from the nearest towns, the weather is unpredictable, and the country is still in the grips of a pandemic. I’ve included a “how to” outline in this blog.

A long and lonely road.

Then you begin to think about the implications of having a hundred of your daughter’s friends settling in for the evening. What do you need to do? If you are lucky enough to have a super-organized daughter like mine, you can relax a bit and just talk over the details with her.

My daughter and her special guy were married in a private ceremony with just the two of them and a minister last November during a Covid shutdown. This upcoming event will be the celebration they were not able to have last fall. Wedding invitations detail that the event will be outdoors allowing people to spread out as much as they wish to avoid possible Covid contact.

I have three dozen folding chairs and assorted benches acquired over the years to host other events. I’m borrowing tables from a community group. My organized daughter contracted for a caterer, a brewer, a band, a wandering guitarist, a photographer, and a florist. Our local neighborhood brewer applied to the county authorities for permission to sell his beer and other drinks in our location remote from his brewery. The permit is approved, thankfully.

Choose a band

The band, Stonehouse, plays at multiple venues in the area and will be performing for this wedding as well.

Stonehouse

My daughter also plans for decorations, lights, gifts for attendants, and tartan scarves for the moms and grandmothers. Her husband is of Scottish descent. He, his brother, the best man, and a few others will be wearing kilts. We are missing someone to play bagpipes but everything other than that seems to be coming together as I write this ten days out from the event.

Pick a Theme.

Tartan

This event has a tartan theme.

Consider the Weather.

The weather is predicted to be 72 degrees during the day and edging toward 45 degrees later in the evening with several days of possible wet weather between now and then. Rain could be a complication; we hope for a dry day, but forecasts can change significantly in ten days. The meal will be in a large garage we call The Shed. The band will be in The Shed under cover as well. There’s just the question of what to do with the guests if it rains.

Select a Venue

The photo is of a previous event held in The Shed.

To answer the potential wet guest question, we have been cleaning two old barns to serve as extra indoor sites… just in case. Barn cleaning is challenging to say the least. We are sweeping down years of cobwebs, removing old manure in wheelbarrows, and chasing unfriendly smells with bleach and deodorizers. The next step will be to scatter chairs around the barns.

Repurposing Barns

Amenities

There is also the question of parking and bathrooms. My daughter ordered porta-pots to set up in my yard (my rural plumbing will not service large numbers without problems.)  I don’t have a paved parking lot. If the days stay dry, guests will be able to park in a pasture near the house. If it’s raining, they will need to park along the side of the graveled road. Guest can walk to the back yard, or we will ferry them in a Gator two or three at a time.

Outdoor Seating

During the coming weekend the bride, groom and I will do a final cleaning in The Shed. We also need to pick up the borrowed tables, set up chairs, and assemble lawn chairs for outdoor seating. I have a stack of shawls and small blankets to loan for anyone who gets cold.

Enjoy some time outside

Keep you fingers crossed and hope that Mother Nature cooperates to give us a beautiful fall day

Generosity of Strangers

A tied quilt donated to the Winside Museum by a friend of the museum to auction during a fundraising event.

Quilts and generous strangers are often associated. People donate quilts for fundraising events as evidenced by the photo above. Strangers buy raffle tickets for quilt drawings and attend fundraising events where quilts are sold or auctioned.

In my blog Quilt World, I describe how a quilt is assembled and finished. A tied quilt, like the one pictured, is another way to fasten the quilt top to a quilt back with a piece of batting between the quilt sandwich layers. This often involves attaching the parts of the quilt sandwich on long wooden stretchers to establish a flat surface then running a needle and thread through the layers and tying each thread on the top of the quilt. It is often thought to be a faster method of connecting quilting layers, but it requires a large space to set up the quilt frame, and time to add all those ties.

This is a quilt I made and machine quilted, then donated to a museum to be sold at a fundraising event.

In my blog entry, Quilt World, I mention writing a letter to the editor of Nebraska Life Magazine about the International Quilt Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Please check out that blog for more details. That letter led me on an interesting journey.

The answering machine on my phone screens calls. I answer it’s ring when the number appears to be a person rather than a telemarketer. Consequently, something moves me to pick up the phone one Saturday to talk to a woman who says her name is Nancy Smith (this is a pseudonym to protect her privacy). She asks me if I am the person who wrote the letter to the editor in Nebraska Life Magazine about quilts last winter.

I have to think for a few minutes to recall her reference, having forgotten about the brief letter to the editor. Nancy tells me she is looking for a home for four quilt tops. After some discussion, it became clear that she wants to give me the quilts. Surprised and curious, I ask for pictures and measurements. Nancy engages the help of her daughter who takes photos and texts them to my phone. Nancy measures the quilts and texts that information as well over the course of the weekend.

This is quilt #1, a crazy quilt design made from scraps of silk and satin connected with decorative stitching. It appears to be the model for two cotton quilts described below.

The next hurdle for this generous gift is “the how” of accomplishing the quilt handoff. Nancy lives in Lincoln, NE. I live in a rural area approximately 100 miles or around two hours’ drive from Lincoln. I confess to Nancy that I didn’t know when I’d be able to get to Lincoln and ask if she has considered giving the quilts to someone closer to her home, or perhaps donating them to a shelter, imagining it might be easier for her.

Nancy is not interested in donating to a local source. However, she is a determined person, motivated to get the quilts out of her house, and generously agrees to drive more than halfway to meet me that Monday afternoon. I drive to our agreed meeting place. Nancy and her husband soon arrive. He greets me, steps out of his vehicle, and retrieves a box from their SUV. He hands the box of quilts to me.

I stow the box in the backseat of my Chevy Malibu and profusely thank them. Nancy says she wants to talk to me. Her husband walks around their vehicle and gets a walker from the rear seat, unfolds it, and helps Nancy out of the passenger seat. Nancy then walks, using her walker, around the SUV to talk to me. If I’d known about her condition I certainly would have walked to her side of the vehicle.

Nancy explains that she has been diagnosed with MG and asks if I’m familiar with that condition. I am not familiar. Her husband explains, MG is short for Myasthenia gravis. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/myasthenia-gravis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352036 The Mayo Clinic describes the condition as one characterized by weakness and rapid fatigue of the muscles. Nancy explains that she no longer has the strength to finish the quilts.

Quilt #2 is a crazy quilt design using larger pieces of cotton and 1940s feed sack fabric machine sewing to a muslin backing.

I ask for more information about the quilts. She tells me she acquired them from a man from Yankton who advertised them as quilt tops. These quilt tops were not what she was expecting. Nancy said she offered the quilts to her church group, but that group was afraid to work on quilts they feared might be antique.

Quilt top #3 is constructed in a similar fashion to #2 and uses some of the same fabrics.

Nancy also isn’t sure why the original unknown quilter chose to machine sew the crazy quilt pieces to muslin backing. It makes the tops difficult to quilt. Three of the quilts can be considered crazy quilts. The fourth pink diamond quilt is hand-pieced without any facing.

The pink diamond quilt is all stitched together by hand. This quilt top does not have a backing fabric.

After returning home with the quilt tops, I decide to take a tough love approach to the quilts and clean them, like I’ve done with previous rescues quilts. I add a little vinegar in the wash to remove stains and any possible mites. I place the three machine-sewn crazy quilts in the washer, turn it on and hope for the best. I launder the hand-pieced quilt by hand and then hang them all on the clothesline in sunlight, muslin side toward the sun in three cases, backside up on the pink diamond quilt. All of them come through the laundry process in good shape. Two of the quilt tops will need minor repair. Two are ready to be quilted.

The quilt tops are an amazing gift for Nancy to give a stranger. I will try to be a good steward of her largess. One or more of these will make great donations to a community organization when completed.

Quilt World

It’s good to periodically air one’s quilts. This photo shows multiple quilts airing on a clothesline.

I am a quilter and have made many quilt tops, most from established patterns and some I’ve designed. My first quilt was mad from scraps of fabric from old clothes. I enrolled in a few quilt classes and learned that 100% quilter’s cotton is a much better choice. The fabric will last longer, and all pieces of the quilt will be of consistent quality. These characteristics contribute to the longevity of the quilt.

A quilt is like a sandwich, in that it consists of a top, the middle, usually commercially prepared batting (like meat or cheese in a sandwich), and a fabric back, the second slice of bread in the sandwich. Quilt backs are usually one large piece of fabric, although one can piece a quilt back to create a reversible quilt, most people do not. The quilts airing on clothes lines are part of my quilt collection.

I’ve also “rescued” old quilt tops from antique stores and auctions where the unfinished quilt top is an unrecognized treasure. Making quilt tops is the creative part of the quilting process for me. I made the following quilt. It is an example of a finished quilt with a log cabin block design. After machine sewing the quilt top, I took it to a professional machine quilter to assemble and stitch the quilt sandwich. I finished the quilt by adding a binding strip to the edges.

Nebraska Life Magazine https://www.nebraskalife.com/ published an excellent article about the University of Nebraska Lincoln’s International Quilt Museum last year https://www.internationalquiltmuseum.org/ . Coincidentally, the editor of Nebraska Life Magazine asked if I would be willing to write a Letter to the Editor for an upcoming issue about an article of my choice as the magazine needed more letters to the editor that edition. Since I’m both familiar with and love the International Quilt Museum, I wrote a letter praising that institution. It was fun to see my letter in the editorial section and then I forgot all about it.

I’m also a writer and periodically submit poems to Nebraska Life and request the poetry editor’s consideration to publish those poems. The magazine has accepted and published an occasional poem in the past. This spring, I have a new book of poetry titled, as happenstance has it, A Quilted Landscape, published by Scrufpea Publishers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in May 2021. They are poems about place and a few poems in the book have quilting metaphors, like my poem, Truth Unraveled, in the first section of the book.

TRUTH UNRAVELED
"Everything you add to the truth subtracts from the truth"  
Alexander Solzhenitsyn 

Psychologists report that memory 
is susceptible to alteration,

like decorating unsightly facts with rickrack,
lace edgings added for good measure.

Each recollection we believe is memory 
is mentally sorting 

and rearranging the past, 
like wearing hand-me-down clothes 

faded from the sun
last worn by older cousins.

People with recovered amnesia 
have the truest memories; 

like comparing bright colored quilt blocks 
stored in an old trunk away from light.

to the faded quilt on a bed. 
If police investigators and historians 

could time-travel, 
they wouldn’t need to stitch 

stories together, 
just visit the scene of the crime. 

Reality is a moving target,
an invented truth, 

leaving humankind adrift 
in a roiling sea of ethical dilemmas 

and accusations of fake news. 
We treat each other on today’s whim, 

ripping the seams of fragile lives,
frayed fabric and costs be damned.

To promote the book, I’ve made an author page, found a venue for a Book Launch in July, posted information to my author page, developed a postcard, and mailed them to libraries, colleges, and far away friends, hung a few posters in different towns, and will be doing another email barrage to friends and colleagues. I find that self-promotion is one of the most challenging parts of the writing business. Marketing after a book is published, like binding the quilt edges at the end of the quilting process, is necessary, but not always fun.

The cover photo is my photograph taken from the window of a small plane.

Spring into Summer

It felt great to have a few warm March days after a very cold February. It was warm enough to finally bring in the Christmas lights that I strung around the yard during the last warm days in November. All the electric cords were buried under inches of snow and ice for months. John Greenleaf Whittier memorialize winter’s bite in this poem.

Snow-Bound
by John Greenleaf Whittier

All day the gusty north-wind bore
The loosening drift its breath before;
Low circling round its southern zone,
The sun through dazzling snow-mist shone.
No church-bell lent its Christian tone
To the savage air, no social smoke
Curled over woods of snow-hung oak.
A solitude made more intense
By dreary voiced elements,
The shrieking of the mindless wind,
The moaning tree-boughs swaying blind,
Of ghostly finger-tips of sleet.
Beyond the circle of our hearth
No welcome sound of toil or mirth
Unbound the spell, and testified
Of human life and thought outside.
We minded that the sharpest ear
The buried brooklet could not hear,
The music of whose liquid lip
Had been to us companionship,
And, in our lonely life, had grown
To have an almost human tone.

Many large groups of snow geese fly north in March. I live in the great middle-of-the-country flyway and get to hear their calls and watch them pass overhead. The flocks have some dark geese in their ranks that look like dark silhouettes in the sky. In researching snow geese, I learned these are unusual blue geese that look like shadows in the snow-white flock. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snow_Goose/overview

The spring bug bit me for sure, but it was too early to work on the yard. The lawn showed signs of green as snow receded. The garden was still under a snow blanket. I planted a pot of lettuce in an unheated garden shed, placed it in a south window, and after a few days of sun through the window the seeds sprouted. A pot of spinach survived all winter in that space. In a few weeks, a salad.

I spent too much time sitting at my desktop or laptop during the pandemic year. I took classes, attended meetings, and participated in work groups via zoom on the laptop. I’m writing this blog entry on my desktop computer. However, I believe it’s possible to find ways to finish projects without sitting in front of computer screens.

Spring had special meaning this year after a year of Covid seclusion. I emerged from my home this spring like a tulip pushing through cold soil to feel the sun on my face.

March arrived like a lamb delivering a warm spell perfect for basking in warm sunshine, reading, and re-reading books I love like the books listed below that influence Twila Hansen, storied poet. She was Nebraska State Poet for five years and has many publications to her name. Randal Eldon Green interviewed Twila Hansen recently. In that interview he asked Twyla about books she considers important. https://helloauthor.substack.com/p/interview-with-twyla-hansen-2021?fbclid=IwAR2ZvPuk8aBcThJU80DjsSypujeIAICP6mCvOh7zrx9AjErTjUPp3auso6U

In no particular order, here are just a few books that have influenced Twila Hansen:

  1. American Primitive – Mary Oliver
  2. My Antonia – Willa Cather
  3. Giants in the Earth – O. E. Rolvaag
  4. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
  5. Old Jules – Mari Sandoz
  6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  7. Black Elk Speaks – John Neihardt
  8. The Unsettling of America – Wendell Berry
  9. A Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold
  10. Cottonwood County – William Kloefkorn and Ted Kooser
  11. The Solace of Open Spaces – Gretel Ehrlich
  12. Teodoro Luna’s Two Kisses – Alberto Rios
  13. Above the River – James Wright
  14. She Had Some Horses – Joy Harjo
  15. The Immense Journey – Loren Eiseley

The list of books that have influenced me is similar. During the winter of 2020, I read and reread Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt. I am deeply interested in and impressed by Black Elk’s vision dream. I used time in Covid seclusion to craft a quilt with many elements from the vision applicated to a unique visual field.

I enjoy making quilt tops but usually take them to a professional quilter to do the actual quilting, as I have done with this quilt.

This is the finished quilt completed in March 2021.

Spring merges into summer quickly on the Great Plains. Temperatures range from minus twenty-five in February to ninety-five in early June. I wrote this poem to commemorate Black Elk’s vision, my quilt, and drought gripping the west in 2021. Today there is rain.

RAIN MAKER

                                     by Lin Marshall Brummels
                Summer heat,
awake late, reading Black Elk Speaks,  
how Neihardt’s daughters’ record 
the sage’s words, for their father,
Black Elk named Word Sender.
		My quilted dream
version presumptuous perhaps 
in comfort of home these many years 
after John G sat around Black Elk’s 
campfire for months to hear him. 
               Sleep evades
as high pressure builds, I yearn 
for the right words for this poem, 
get out of bed, physically search
for inspiration,
              find a drawer full 
of hair ribbons like rainbows Black Elk 
saw on mountain top after he called 
for rain, sky darkened, rain came, 
earned him title Rain Maker. Today
             Thunder Gods 
from the west sound off, warriors
riding matching black horses,
carry spears flashing lightning,
bring much needed rain.

 

Constructing a Building is like Crafting a Life

Over the summer, I oversaw the renovation of an old garden shed in the back yard and the construction of a new horse shelter in the corral. The garden shed remodeling effort was like remaking my appearance by getting new clothes or dying my hair – mostly cosmetic. However, in the process I learned it’s important to examine fundamentals first, by asking why I want change e.g., am I trying to deceive someone with a new look? If one wants to have more than a decorative fix, foundational defects should always come before surface pretties, e.g. a new outfit or hairdo do not fix underlying anxiety or depression. Hidden issues encountered when remodeling the shed is a construction example of this principle.

Remodeled Garden Shed

I communicated my vision for the garden shed to the contractor, as a three-season building, to extend the growing season in the fall, and a place to start seeds early in the spring. This included adding insulation, windows, and a new door. In this discussion, I requested that they repair problems, seal the building from rodents, bugs, and moisture. I thought those were clear instructions but found I was wrong.

After the shed’s cosmetic remodeling was nearly finished, I discovered the sills under three sides were rotten. The contractor either didn’t notice the rot or decided not to tell me about it. Although he wouldn’t admit it when confronted, I believe he hoped I wouldn’t notice, and he could skip this important step.

I scraped away the rotten wood as much as possible without starting the entire project over and repaired the sills after a fashion with cans of liquid insulation and multiple tubes of calk. This important step should have been done by the contractor before the cosmetic part of the project was accomplished. I learned the hard way to be more hands-on with contractors.

Construction of a new building, on the other hand, requires beginning with a clean slate. Creating a physical clean slate is akin to emotional housecleaning where we dig into our psyche and purge jealously, mean-spiritedness, or other emotional baggage that pulls us down. It can be helpful to consult a licensed mental health professional to assist with this process. Just as we hire professional contractors to build buildings, our emotional life is worth paying a professional counselor to help us monitor our mental wellbeing.

In the new building example, over the course of several years, we made plans to replace a decrepit thirty-five year old windbreak with an open front shed that could serve more than one function; both replace the windbreak and provide stalls for horses. 

To create a clean slate, an old tin windbreak was removed. Rotting posts and support pieces were piled for a future fire. We dedicated two years to removing trees one at a time, cutting and splitting the downed trees into small enough pieces to burn in the house’s woodstove, and finally removing all those pieces from the building site and stacking for future use to heat the house.

Branches from the trees we cut were added to the old lumber pile. We had a bonfire in the spring while the ground around it was wet from snow melt and we didn’t have to worry about the fire getting away.

 After the trees were cut down, about two dozen tree stumps remained. During the third year a friend brought over his giant stump-grinder, and we spent a day chewing the stumps into sawdust.

My tall son, who did all the tree cutting and log splitting), requested a building tall enough to saddle and mount his horse inside during inclement weather.

Oats before a ride

At this point in the journey I hired a contractor to build the new building. He committed to a starting time and I ordered the building materials. As a novice at ordering materials, I overestimated the height of the project. The site we selected was on a slope (a flat space was not an option as every bit of land in this part of the county has rolling hills). Next, I consulted with another contractor about leveling the site. He accomplished this task admirably well and recommended adding bridge planks under the building to help with drainage. The bridge planks provided additional and unanticipated height to an already tall pole shed. It looked like it was made with tinker toys in the beginning.

Horse shed frame with one wall section installed.

The height has provided friends and neighbors with lots of ammunition to give me a hard time. This oft repeated sentiment gives everyone a laugh, “Kind of tall, isn’t it?”  I laugh with them. It is kind of tall but working admirably well to house a weanling filly. There’s room for the older horses to shelter during blizzards too.

Finished Horse Shelter

Now, time to get to work on my emotional baggage this winter while I wait for spring to sow seeds in the garden shed and begin again.