Thursday, March 22, 2018

UND Writers Conference 2018

Jim and I attended the 49th Annual UND Writers Conference this week, where he was a presenter on a panel entitled "What's News? The State of Journalism in North Dakota and Beyond," convened by Chuck Haga of Grand Forks.

I seized the opportunity to do some research at UND's Chester Fritz Library, reading from dozens of reels of microfilm on a topic of interest to me. I also visited the Special Collections department, a treasure house of North Dakota information.

Here is a video of what Jim Fuglie and Mike Jacobs, longtime North Dakota journalists, had to say. While all of the panelists' thoughts were fascinating, my arms got tired, so I didn't film the entire 45 minutes of the program. Jim and Mike get the last word as far as this blog is concerned.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Quilting bee weekend with my sisters

We're not certain what constitutes sufficient numbers to be able to call a gathering such as the one I attended this past weekend a "bee," but I was invited by my older sister to a "quilting bee" so by gosh I'm going to call it a "bee."

I was a member of this bee, held in the Bad Lands south of Medora, by the invitation of my elder sister. My younger sister and I drove over together. She asked me if I had ever done this, and confirmed that she had not. I asked her how old she, little sister, is, because this helped me determined how long it had been since I had last quilted. Little sister was a baby in a bassinet the last time that my mother put up the frame in our Slope County living room and we quilted with Mama Crook, my paternal grandmother. The bassinet was tucked under the quilt frame allowing us to keep an eye on her. Thus, for me, it had been more than 45 years since I had quilted.

There was a great deal of laughter and self-poking of fun at lack of needle skills. The quilt we were working on was pieced about thirty years ago. There was plenty of becoming acquainted and sharing stories. The hospitality was very fine indeed, with much delicious food shared with those of us who had traveled from afar to "assist" (I hesitate greatly to describe the work I did with my needle "helping"). We each fell into our own rhythm as the day progressed.

We also shared our memories of ancestors' quilting activities and the beautiful craftsmanship we have seen on display as well as in our personal collections of quilts. We talked of what bees would have been like in bygone days and of quilt auctions we've all attended as fundraisers.

Then, it was time to put away the work for the day and celebrate St. Patrick's Day, dining on rich Irish stew and freshly baked soda bread. We compared pin pricks on fingers and sore muscles from a hunched-over day's work.

The weekend ended with a good night's sleep in the silence of the Bad Lands, followed by fellowship this morning at the Medora Lutheran Church, and . . . more food!

Life has surrounded me with good people, and the best two sisters a gal could wish for.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Red Oak House Garden notes no. 35

March 15 is "plant the tiny tomato seeds" day at Red Oak House. When I wandered into the kitchen this morning, Jim asked me, with great delight in his voice, if I knew what the significance of this day was. I had not yet had coffe and was stumped (I'll admit that I didn't try very hard).

This project is tedious joy for Jim, if I may use an oxymoron to describe this. You can see in the photo below that he has to use a tweezer.

Yes, he saves his seeds from the previous harvest, as shown here.

Yesterday he transplanted the pepper sprouts into small pots. Next week, we will celebrate the vernal equinox, the arrival of spring. We chose this date for our wedding date, after much thought. The days ahead will be busy with joyful tasks.

Spring and All by William Carlos Williams

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast -- a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines --

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches --

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind --

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined --
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance -- Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Operation Snowbound: a book review

Operation Snowbound: Life Behind the Blizzards of 1949 by David W. Mills. North Dakota State University Press, c2018 (260 pages, photos)

How's this for timing? I finished this interesting new book, one of the many excellent books being produced by NDSU Press, just as the biggest winter storm of the season was upon us.

This is the story, as described in the subtitle, of the 1949 blizzards that nearly paralyzed a portion of the United States, specifically the northern plains and the inter-mountain west, including North Dakota. The writer and historian, David W. Mills, tells this vivid tale using a rich array of source material, dotting the story with vignettes of individuals who had to cope with the effects of these storms, and the many heroes who played their role in the response. The accompanying photographs enrich the text.

"By the end of January, the devastation was staggering. The western United States had suffered through one of the worst winters on record with at least another month to go. Roads blocked with mountains of snow prevented travel throughout Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. Snow isolated farms, ranches, or entire communities for weeks at a time. Livestock losses were staggering, but the extent of the catastrophe remained uncertain until the snows melted and the carnage lay bare." (pg. 211)

I learned a great deal about a chapter in North Dakota history about which I'd known almost nothing and I'm eager to share this book with my mother, who would have lived through this ordeal in Slope County, and to hear her personal stories. That is the magic of books and history, well told. This book falls into that niche and I tip my hat to the author and the folks at the NDSU Press.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Toast to my "Wild" Girlfriends

I am blessed with several wonderful girlfriends, fellow travelers who love wild landscapes as much as I. Together, we have explored these places, on a regular occasion.

We are of a similar age and share between us a deep love and commitment to the Bad Lands. These are very smart and strong and brave women friends. My life is deeply enriched by their presence. Like many enduring friendships, we've seen highs and lows, standing by each other through the rollercoaster ride of life.

Two on my mind today are Valerie Naylor, now retired from the National Park Service, former Superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Jan Swenson, Executive Director of Badlands Conservation Alliance.

This photo was taken on our first wild adventure as a trio. The t-shirts are advertising White Butte, the high point of North Dakota. Although we've all been to the top, we didn't go there on this particular trip. On this weekend, we explored other Bad Lands places, some secret.

Jan, Valerie, and Lillian

May you all be as blessed with friends as I.

A toast to my wild girlfriends, far away or nearby. Keep your feet on the ground and your boots muddy.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Red Oak House garden notes no. 34

Last night, I dreamed of the upcoming garden season, a dream filled with blossoms and bounty.

The gardening season has begun here, in the basement, as Jim has planted the pepper seeds in the basement and tiny sprouts have emerged. In two weeks, he will plant his tomato seeds.

Many of the seeds we are using were purchased at Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa, when we visited there last fall. Jim also saved some of his seeds from last year's harvest.

I have this year's zinnia seeds in hand, from Park Seed Co. and have pre-ordered bedding annuals from Baldwin Greenhouse, north of Bismarck.

The time is approaching when we must wrap up winter projects. Hopefully, Jim & Jeff will squeeze in more ice fishing in the next weeks as they are many Lent Fridays left!

Here's to dreams filled with flowers and not woes.

"The Sun will rise and set regardless. What we choose to do with the light while it's here is up to us. Journey wisely." Alexandra Elle

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson: a book review

Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson (Liveright Pub., 2016, 259 pages, illustrations)

In between watching the Winter Olympics these past weeks -- wasn't that fun! -- I read this interesting book by the great Edward O. Wilson, one I purchased last summer and tucked aside for winter reading. The endorsement we heard last year from Paul Simon, during a Billings, Mt. concert, was added incentive to read this.

Wilson, who has published thirty other books, makes his case in enormously readable prose. He details the biodiversity that is being lost in these times and what might be done to save it. "Leaders in biodiversity research and conservation have long understood that the surviving wildlands of the world are not art museums. They are not gardens to be arranged and tended for our delectation. They are not recreation centers or harborers of natural resources or sanatoriums or undeveloped sites of business opportunities--of any kind. The wildlands and the bulk of Earth's biodiversity protected within them are another world from the one humanity is throwing together pell-mell. What do we receive from them? The stabilization of the global environment they provide and their very existence are the gifts they give to us. We are their stewards, not their owners." (pgs.84-85)

I am a big admirer of Wilson's book Biophilia, published in 1984. He received the Pulitzer Prize two times for other works of non-fiction. You can learn more about him here and by watching the excellent PBS film about his life, Of Ants and Men.

In reading this book, I also learned about the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Encylopedia of Life which seek to provide everyone with access to a plethora of information about life on Earth.

In his chapter on "Restoration," Wilson's words had particular resonance for me, an activist who has spent my life becoming more deeply acquainted with my landscape: "For a large minority of conservation projects, some amount of restoration, meaning human intervention, is necessary. Each project is special unto itself. Each requires knowledge and love of the local environment shared by partnerships of scientists, activists, and political and economic leaders. To succeed, it needs every bit of their entrepreneurship, courage, and persistence." (pg. 175)

Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University and lives in Lexington, Massachusetts. Treat yourself to this thoughtful book by this gentleman.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Winter Olympics Hiatus

I'm gaga over the Winter Olympics.

My family and friends know this. I have been for decades. I like the Summer Olympics too, but the Winter Olympics, for me, are the pinnacle. Perhaps it is because I live in the north country and have dabbled in many of the sports, downhill and cross-country skiing as well as ice skating and curling.

I clear my calendar for those weeks inasmuch as is possible and binge watch, all projects on hold. I've downloaded the NBC Olympics app on my phone and I'm good to go.

This year, four events will make their debut: speed skating mass start, mixed doubles curling, big air, and mixed team alpine skiing.

I have many vivid memories of Winter Olympics past and even occasionally watch the Olympics channel our cable provider offers. Who can forget the moment when Neil Young appeared in the Vancouver closing ceremonies? My husband teases me about my admiration for Evan Lysacek.

Because of this passion, my blog will be on hiatus most of the rest of February.

Happy watching.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Wild Lands in North Dakota: A Red-letter Day in Our History

Today was a red-letter today in North Dakota history, specifically ND conservation history. This morning, at the Bismarck Public Library, the film "Keeping All the Pieces," was released by the Badlands Conservation Alliance and the North Dakota Wildlife Federation (you can watch the film by following the link). Presented by Jan Swenson, BCA Executive Director, and Mike McEnroe, of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation, this 15-minute film dramatically captures the critical stage we find ourselves in with respect to the Bad Lands landscape and the future of this hauntingly beautiful place. Many North Dakotans stepped up for interviews in this film, sharing their deeply-felt personal perspectives and concerns. In the months leading up to this release, Swenson and McEnroe have shown the film in communities across the state to more than a thousand interested parties. Now the film is out there for everyone to see. I urge you to watch it and to share it with your family and friends.

From the flyer available at today's release: "The Badlands are in crisis. Ninety-five percent of the Little Missouri National Grassland is open for oil and gas development. The future of the Badlands should be a decision made by the people, not the oil industry."

This landscape is the heart of my personal geography, my sense of place. I grew up in rural Slope County, in the southern portion of the Little Missouri National Grassland. Jim and I have been working on these issues for decades, with BCA, and other organizations, and in his entries on his The Prairie Blog. Together, on our own, or with friends and family, we've spent countless days and nights in the Bad Lands, camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, star-gazing, birding, and hunting. As Swenson says in the press release for this film, "We do this now or we lose our Badlands."

Also on my mind are two publications that were released some time ago, documenting the lands worth saving and calling for more permanent protections. The first was Badlands on the Brink: North Dakota Wilderness and Wild and Scenic River Proposal, published by the Teddy Roosevelt Group of the Sierra Club, in May 1993.  I hope to have a link to the pdf of this proposal in the future to post on this blog, as copies are difficult to locate.

The second is a document that I contributed to, along with Jan Swenson, Bart Koehler, Kirk Koepsel, Carol Jean Larson, Larry Nygaard, Mary Sand, Wayde Schafer, and Webster Swenson. Prairie Legacy Wilderness: North Dakota's Citizen's Proposal for Wilderness on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, is a proposal by the North Dakota Wilderness Coalition, a broad variety of ND citizen organizations, made up of people who believe that the remaining fragments of wild lands in North Dakota are deserving of lasting protection. It was published in February 2008 and is available on the Badlands Conservation Alliance webpage by following this link.

What is important in this issue to remember is this: in the early 1970s, 500,000 acres of the Little Missouri National Grassland qualified for wilderness designation, By 1993, when Badlands on the Brink was published, only slightly more than 150,000 acres of potential wilderness remained. By the time Prairie Legacy Wilderness was released, less than 40,000 eligible acres remained wild.

"If we the public are not engaged, we likely will not like the results 10, 20, and 30 years from now." Jan Swenson, BCA Press Release Feb. 1, 2018

Please get involved in these discussions. View the film. Join a ND conservation organization that is actively working on these issues. Make your voice heard for wild North Dakota lands to endure for the enjoyment of future generations.

My heartfelt thanks to Jan Swenson, Mike McEnroe, and everyone else who contributed to the making of this fine film. I will confess that when I was shown an early version of this moving film, I shed tears.

". . . where Nature can heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike." John Muir

Little Missouri River, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit (photo by Lillian Crook)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Prairie Post Office: a book review

The Prairie Post Office: Enlarging the Common Life in Rural North Dakota. K. Amy Phillips and Steven R. Bolduc, history by Kevin Carvell. North Dakota State University Press, 2017, 102 pages, color photographs, maps and other illustrations.

Box 172, Rhame, North Dakota. That was my childhood address in Slope County. Our school bus driver was also our rural mail carrier, driving the route on gravel roads twice most days, and once on Saturdays. Our mailbox on the main road was mounted on a decorative iron piece that my father made in his GI Bill welding class in nearby Bowman. Somewhere I have a picture of my younger sister, age four, standing on that mailbox.

What takes me down this particular memory lane is my recent reading of the beautiful and interesting book, The Prairie Post Office, published last year by the NDSU Press, sent to me in Bismarck via, what else but, the mail.

This book describes in rich detail how the community post office is the linchpin of the rural town in which it is located. We all attend different churches and shop in different establishments (now frequently online). Many North Dakota towns do not have clinics or hospitals or even schools. But, what many do have is a post office. It is what remains in the town as its beating heart. Here neighbors meet and chat. Here the diligent postal staff sees to it that everyone in their respective communities receive their mail, no matter its importance. And the potential loss of these rural post offices causes tectonic shocks to reverberate throughout these communities.

The book opens with a top-notch history of the postal service in Northern Dakota Territory and North Dakota by the inimitable Kevin Carvell, of Mott, N.D. Thereafter the chapters include highlights of the public service that the post offices fulfills and the social, economic, and symbolic role of these places.

Each chapter is filled with photographs of the post offices and the people who keep them running, as well as citizens' thoughts on their local post office's importance.  The layout is pleasing and the writing compelling -- all the elements of the book make for a fine reading experience.

"As with areas elsewhere in the United State, rural North Dakota reflects the dynamics of change and continuity. . . . In our interviews, the prairie post office was referenced as representing and supporting this rural way of life. . . . Rural community members view the local post office as a symbol of social connectedness. . . .important indicators of the community's place in the body politic." (pg. 85-6)

When I finished this book, I found I had a strong desire to see a picture of that old-fashioned metal door with Box 172 stamped on it. Sadly, I learned in a phone call to the current Rhame postmistress that progress had built a new building in Rhame and the old boxes were gone. Where she did not know. She remembered me though, and I knew who she was. This is the link that bonds us as North Dakotans, as Americans. Here is a photo from the book that took me down this memory lane.

When I was first married, we lived in rural Dunn County. One of the most thoughtful wedding gifts we received was a good old-fashioned mailbox, the kind one can buy at Menards or Ace Hardware. Our routine, like every other citizen in the state, was to stop at that box each day and collect our mail. Oftentimes, we indulged in a long walk (about a mile, one way) to the mailbox. The elderly gentleman from whom we bought the place expressed shock at this, telling us that in the more than fifty years he lived there he never once even considered walking to the mailbox. In that time period, Jim took a part-time job as a rural mail carrier and often said that one really gets to know the neighbors by delivering their mail. When we moved to Medora, we rented a post office box, and the post office there was definitely a hub of the town. Medora still has those old-fashioned metal PO box faces as it happens and a colorfully decorated exterior of the building, complete with a western theme.

These days, here at Red Oak House, we have a red mailbox of Scandinavian origin mounted on the front of the house. I've seen these for sale at the Norwegian store at Kirkwood Mall. I'm on a first name basis with my mail carriers, sometimes handing them a popsicle on a hot August day. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Read this book and I promise you many happy thoughts about your connection to the prairie post office, the glue of our communities. Thank you to the authors and to NDSU Press for capturing this in a charming book.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Mother Daughter Date to Theodore Roosevelt National Park

My daughter and I had a Theodore Roosevelt National Park getaway yesterday. She hadn't been out there since Labor Day and she described the day as "rejuvenating."

She loves the Bad Lands as much as I, and she is particularly in love with the wild horses who inhabit the South Unit of TRNP. She is a photographer and a member of the group North Dakota Badlands Horse. This non-profit organization publishes an annual guide to the horses and my daughter, Chelsea Sorenson, has had her photographs featured in the 2017 and 2018 guides.

Yesterday was a very monochromatic day in the park, with overcast skies, but not a breath of wind. There were very few other visitors and the entire loop road was open, something very unusual this winter as it has been closed most previous winters. In addition to seeing fifty horses, we spotted a few bison and some activity in the prairie dog towns. We also saw several hawks, six wild turkeys, lots of magpies, and two golden eagles perched on a clay butte. A bald eagle flyby was the day's finale.

The highlight of the day was that she got to see a stallion she'd never seen before, which is pretty remarkable considering all of the hours she's spent at the Park.

Here are some of Chelsea's photographs from the day. You can follow her work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at Wild Dakota Photos.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Wonder of Birds: A Book Review

Thank goodness for winter, a time here at Red Oak House for us to catch up on reading.

About a year ago, I bought myself the book The Wonder of Birds: What They Tell Us About Ourselves, the World, and a Better Future, by Jim Robbins (Spiegel & Grau, c2017). I tucked it away, waiting for an opportune time to read it. This week was that time.

Robbins, a Helena, Montana, native, is an accomplished and respected writer. He has written for the New York Times for more than thirty-five years, and for a variety of other magazines, covering environmental and science stories. He is also the author of the books: The Man Who Planted Trees, Last Refuge: the Environmental Showdown in the American West, and A Symphony in the Brain.

In this book, The Wonder of Birds, he wanders through a wide variety of locations, from wild places all around the world to a business that creates feather clothing and costumes of all varieties, the Mother Plucker Feather Company.

He writes of the transformative and healing powers of birds, something I can attest to from decades of birdwatching. "Walking across the broad sweep of grassy prairie of northern Montana day after day is an immersion into a starkly beautiful landscape. On the days I hunt I become a predator, and the experience touches some deep and ancient part of my psyche, a calm, though vigilant, deeply felt energy, providing me with the stamina to hike mile after mile along creeks and down one-lane dirt roads, all but oblivious to distances covered or the hours passed, consumed only with thoughts about in which patch of chokecherry, cattails, or thick grass the birds might be hiding."(pg. 104) My husband, Jim, recounts that he also has a greater ability to walk without tiring when in the wild than when he is at the YMCA, much like Robbins describes. Speaking for myself, I get bored walking around the track but can walk for miles on a hiking trail. The presence of the birds is a part of that.

Robbins meets with Cagan Sekercioglu, an associate professor of biology, who says, "Even if you just look for birds you'll see the best parts of the planet. Not just landscapes and biodiversity, but some of the last remaining interesting cultures."(pg.115)

Each chapter begins with a lovely pen and ink illustration by DD Dowden. The chapter devoted to ravens and crows is particularly delightful.
Illustrations copyright by DD Dowden, 2017
Again, from the book, "If we can learn how to move beyond the subconscious terror we all carry and the emotional numbing we take on to shield ourselves, if we can tap into the extraordinary power of birds and bottle this lightning, if we learn from our relationship with birds to fully understand our nervous system and the full range that we are capable of feeling and sensing in the world, we will find something inexhaustible and profound, even life-changing."(pg. 280)

In this, the "Year of the Bird," this book was worth every penny and a delight to read. I give it my highest recommendation. If you google the title, you will see that many other reviewers agree with me.

While you are at it, do check out this delightful issue of National Geographic magazine.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Secret Ministry of Frost

Jack Frost visited Red Oak House today.

Although this is a time of fallow in the yard, there is beauty everywhere, for those who pause to look. The hoary white bits coat everything and the air is still.

It makes me think of this poem, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Here are the first and last few lines.

"Frost at Midnight"

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud--and hark, again! loud as before
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon. 

Last night, there was a luminous crescent moon low on the southwestern horizon. On the owl nest front here at Red Oak House, there is nothing yet to report. In time, I'm confident that there will be inhabitants. The feeders bustle with winter visitors and squirrels.

Our Red Oak tree was front page news this morning in the Bismarck Tribune, and I've had so many cheerful comments about it today as I've gone here and there. I'd like to see the city put in a sidewalk there, after this news!

My research took me again today to the State Archives at the Heritage Center. The capitol grounds are just as lovely with today's frosty coating. I wrestled with microfilm and found what I was looking for, departing with a sense of satisfaction. 32 cents and some time were all it took. That, and the dedication of the good folks who work there. Many thanks.